Sunday, August 27, 2006

CONSIGNED TO DEATH by Jane K. Cleland (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Whistle blowers might come off on the high moral ground, but they frequently lose trust among their peers. That's what happened to Josie Prescott, who left her NYC job at a well-known auction house to establish her own company in New Hampshire. Things have gone well for her, but they've been slow—she's had to train a staff from scratch, acquire items, and build a warehouse and showroom. She's excited about her opportunity to land an entire estate of fabulous proportions when she suddenly becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation. After all, the antiques trade can be cut throat in more ways than one. "Antiques Roadshow" junkies will revel in Josie's world; cozy readers will delight in the beginnings of a new, articulate series. Like Oliver, I ask for "more, please."

DYING LIGHT by Stuart MacBride (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Finally Scotland has another dynamite police procedural series. MacBride makes both his fictional and physical homes in Aberdeen. Detective Sergeant Logan MacRae was once a shining star on the force, but a bad tip which resulted in critically injuring a fellow policeman (with no arrests) delegates him to the "Screw-Up Squad." MacRae must use all his skills to find a serial murderer of prostitutes, which no one else believes is such, while most of the manpower of the force is focused on a series of murder by arson. Complicating MacRae's efforts are the two women in his life—his live-in lover, WPC Jackie Watson, and his new detective inspector Roberta Steel. MacRae's personal relationships add a lightness to the reality of the dark crimes, reminding the reader that there is, indeed, a silver lining out there—somewhere.

THE MORTICIAN'S DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Bloom (Mysterious Press)

Just when you think things can't get any worse, they do. Ginny Lavoie's personal life and career are in shambles when she hears from her best childhood friend, "Danny's dead." Knowing the death of a child will trump most any other problem, Ginny leaves New York for the run-down mill town in the Berkshires where she spent her childhood. On her return, she realizes even a disgraced NYPD detective can do more to find Danny's murderer than the incompetent local police chief. Like Thomas Wolfe, she also realizes it's hard to go back home again. Finding the answers to Danny's death means asking questions about the past—and few of the folks involved want to bring old stories to light. Bloom writes cliff-hanging chapter endings that made it very difficult for me to put this book down. I'll look forward to continuing my new relationship with Ginny Lavoie.

Friday, August 04, 2006

STILL LIFE by Louise Penny (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Miss Jane Neal never got to see her first art exhibition. She died, apparently shot by a hunter, on Thanksgiving Sunday, just after her work was accepted for an upcoming show. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec brings his investigative team to the rural village south of Montreal, all of them expecting a short stay. No matter how the facts are assembled, the obvious conclusion of accident doesn't fit, no matter how the locals present the facts. Gamache is sure there's more to this small village than meets the eye. Indeed, the reader learns many village secrets never revealed to Gamache, much like reality. As the investigative team sorts through clues, the story builds to a (dare I say it?) novel ending. Louise Penny will very likely garner a long list of award nominations for this debut.

THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE by Rennie Airth (Penguin)

Seeeing some names on book covers causes me to plan a reading break. Rennie Airth is one of them. Inspector John Madden is now retired from Scotland Yard and living with his physician wife and children and running their farm. Coming home from Sunday luncheon, a detour brings them face to face with an un-Sunday-like gathering of men in a neighboring hamlet. Recognizing a village bobby in the crowd, Madden feels a "chill of premonition" and joins the group. A missing child and an impending storm prompt a search; a grisly discovery and subsequent manhunt call forth an absorbing mystery. Without today's advanced technologies, Madden is forced to solve a crime using manpower and brain power. Airth shows no hesitancy in employing the reader's emotions to hold his interest. A compelling read!

SUFFERING FOOLS by Ed Gaffney (Dell)

I rarely reach for legal thrillers when I first visit my bookshelves, but I'm nearly always glad when I do. This one is no exception. What we have here is enough conflict for several novels, but Gaffney boils everything down into a manageable load. Zack Wilson and Terry Tallach, successful attorneys, accept a pro bono case—very commendable. Several problems arise: their befuddled client doesn't answer to his own name, the state has a compelling case, and the investigator has gathered top notch evidence. Like a knitter adding bits of colorful yarn to a complicated pattern, Gaffney pulls all the strings to just the length for a tight knot at exactly the right time. This the type legal thriller that keeps drawing me to that section of the bookcase!

A KILLER CONNECTION by J. B. Stanley (Berkley)

I picked up this first "collectible mystery" with the thought that it would be a light cozy. To my delight, however, it's a cozy with depth. Molly Appleby is a writer for "Collector's Weekly" magazine, and she comes to the job with a background rooted in the antiques business—her mother once owned a profitable antiques business and is now a premier pottery collector. Invited to a Seagrove (NC) kiln opening, the two are appalled to witness the death of the state's most obnoxious collector. Something Molly sees causes her to doubt the accidental death ruling. As she learns more about North Carolina pottery making, she is more and more convinced that George-Bradley Staunton was murdered. Mystery lovers and pottery collectors alike will enjoy Stanley's fine first outing.

THE YELLOW DOG by Georges Simenon (Penguin)

Everybody who claims to be a mystery reader should have several authors' works snuggly in their "already read" list. One of the more prominent is Simenon, whose Inspector Maigret has entertained readers for 75 years. Three of Maigret's most compelling cases are now reprinted in small paperback format designed for summer reading. When a series of crimes befall the leading citizens of Concarneau, only one is fatal, but the targets are quickly brought to quivering mass while waiting for the next attack. Adding to their fear, a mysterious yellow dog is found near the scene of each assault. Maigret's thinking-and-watching detecting methods are ridiculed by the town's pompous mayor, but the observations prevail when the pipe-smoking Maigret reveals not only who dunit, but why.