IT IS PURELY MY OPINION - Reviews by L. J. Roberts [November 2005]
JANE ADAMS - Bird (Macmillan, UK hardcover, 1997; Suspense/Paranormal; England; Standalone)
Marcie, “Bird” to her Jack who raised her, has come to his bedside as he is expected to die. Although she loves him, she had run away from home at 16. But Jack is haunted by memories of the past; a woman hanging from a tree and the ghost of a woman with a noose around her neck. When Marcie also sees this specter and awakes from a nightmare with rope marks around her own neck, she becomes determined to uncover Jack’s secrets.
*** The single word to describe Adams’ writing is atmospheric. It’s also subtle, which makes the tension all the more effective. When she writes of ghosts, you turn on lights. But the story is a mystery dealing with uncovering secrets and crimes from the past. Adams creates interesting, fully dimensional characters whom you may not like, but whose motivation you understand. The ending is surprising and memorable. I've become a huge fan of Adams’ work. It’s not always easy to find her backlist — try addall.com – but well worth it. Good Plus
SIMON BEAUFORT - The King’s Spies (Severn House; UK hardcover; Sir Geoffrey Mappestone; Historical Mystery; England, 1102; 4th in series)
Crusader Knight Sir Geoffrey Mappestone witnesses a man who is murdered by hanging. The man is a member of the Belleme family, who repeatedly conspire against King Henry. There is some evidence that the Belleme family has found the secret of Greek Fire and plan to use it against the King. Henry orders Geoff to infiltrate the Belleme castle to ensure their defeat and exile from England.
*** This is a wonderfully written book full of interesting, and mostly fact-based characters: Geoff, who’d rather be back at the Crusades; his loyal friend Roger, who is not always the sole of discretion; the gay squire Durand; Bishop Maurice of London, who insisted his frequent need for sex was a medical necessity; and the Belleme women who practice witchcraft and fight as knights. This was a fascinating time in British History, and Beaufort does an excellent job of using that period as a backdrop to what is essentially a murder mystery. Fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this. VG
MICHAEL CONNELLY - The Lincoln Lawyer (Little, Brown; hardcover, 2005; Legal Thriller, Los Angeles; Standalone) – VG
Attorney Mickey Haller does most of his work from the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car. As a defense attorney, the ideal case is a franchise case, one that will pay big. He feels he’s found that with his new client, Beverly Hills realtor Louis Roulet, who is accused of severely beating a woman. When Haller realizes the current victim looks very similar to the victim of a case from the past, one whose perpetrator is now on death row, he realizes he has a bigger challenge then winning his current case.
*** All the usual hallmarks of Connelly's work are here: interesting characters, excellent dialogue, strong sense of place, and a fast-moving, gripping plot. Add to that an interesting look at the defense side of the legal system and you have a very good legal thriller. I particularly enjoyed the character of Mickey; he’s not as dark as some, but he believes in what he does and is growing as a person. I love an author on whose work you can rely, and Connelly certainly is that. Well done! VG
PHILLIP DePOY - The Witch’s Grave (St. Martin’s Press; hardcover, 2004; Fever Devilin; Amateur Sleuth; Georgia; 2nd in series)
Fever Devilin, a folklorist, has returned to his home deep in Appalachian Georgia. Truevine Deveroe, a local girl considered to be a witch, has gone missing; the mortician Harding Pinhurst, one of Fever’s least favorite people, turns up murdered; and Truvine’s fiancé, Able Carter, is the suspect. Fever, his friend, houseguest and Shakespeare scholar, Dr. Winton Andrews, and childhood friend Deputy Sheriff Skidmore Needle, need to find Truevine and Able, and Harding’s killer.
*** It’s hard to resist a protagonist who is in his 30s, is almost 7 feet tall, has snow-white hair and sees ghosts. Or a story that’s filled with music, folklore, literary quotes, southern food, humor, unique characters, an excellent sense of place, suspense and twists along the way. My recommendation is, don’t try to resist. Sit back and enjoy the world of Fever Devilin. I certainly did. VG
MARTIN EDWARDS - The Coffin Trail (Poisoned Pen Press; hardcover, 2004; Amateur Sleuth; England; Standalone)
Daniel Kind and his lover Miranda buy a house in the Lake Country: a house once lived in by a boy accused of murder, who was found dead of an accident. Daniel’s policeman father investigated the case, but Daniel never believed the boy was guilty. Now Daniel is asking questions and causes the police to take a new look at the murder. The locals are not happy, particularly when someone else dies.
*** The basic story, the descriptions of the Lake District and the overall writing were enjoyable. But this was offset by lack of character development, being irritated by the relationships of the two main couples, and the coincidences. The scene exposing the killer just wasn’t realistic. I found myself having trouble caring about the story or the characters. It wasn’t a terrible read, but there are many better out there. OK
BARBARA FRADKIN - Mist Walker (Rendezvous Press; trade paperback, 2003; Inspector Michael Green; Police Procedura; Ottawa, Canada; 3rd in series)
Inspector Michael Green is about to leave for home when a woman asks his help finding a missing man. Matthew Fraser was a teacher when accused of molesting a young girl. He served his time but is now trying to prove his innocence. When a burnt body is found, it appears Matt was murdered, and it raises questions about the original crime.
*** I really like the character of Green; he is solid, realistic and has a normal married life. I enjoy the setting of Ottawa and the twists to the story. I did get frustrated that Green was so willing to accept each new revelation as fact, and that there were a number of lose threads left unresolved. But the book was good enough that I’ll read her more recent work and hope the shortcomings have been resolved. Good
KERRY GREENWOOD - Flying Too High (Allen & Unwin; Australian trade paperback, 2005; Phryne Fisher; Amateur Sleuth; Australia, 1920s; 2nd in series)
Phryne Fisher has been called to investigate two separate cases: the kidnap of an 11-year-old girl and to prove the innocence of a man accused of murdering his father. What ties them together? Airplanes.
*** I want to be Phryne when I grow up. She’s smart, resourceful, talented and independent. She is wealthy but remembers what it was like to be poor. She cares about people and can distinguish between the criminal and the misguided. This is a quick short read that is well plotted and has wonderful supporting characters that kept me involved from the first page. Although this entry isn't quite as strong as others in the series, it is still a delight to read. I’m delighted Poisoned Pen Press is publishing this series for the U.S. audience. Good Plus
CHARLAINE HARRIS - Grave Sight (Berkley Prime Crime; hardcover, 2005; Harper Connolly & Tolliver Land; Amateur Sleuths; Arkansas; 1st in series)
Harper Connolly, and her stepbrother Tolliver Lang, have a job that keeps them traveling the country. Harper can sense the dead and experience their last moments of life. They’ve come to Sarne, a small town in the Ozarks of Alabama, to find the body of a young girl and learn how she died. Harper finds the girl, who was murdered, but she also tells officials that the boy with her was murdered, rather than committed suicide as was thought. When another woman is murdered, the police won’t let Harper and Tolliver leave town as they are caught up in something much more complex than the job for which they were hired.
*** This is a darker series than Ms. Harris’s others, and I really enjoyed it. The characters are fascinating; Harper is vulnerable, Tolliver, protective and, although some of their history is given, you know there’s more to come. The characters in Sarne may not be likable, but they are realistic. Even though I figured out where the story was going, I enjoyed the journey and the suspense. I applaud Ms. Harris for creating a different, very interesting character, and I look forward to seeing where the road takes them next. VG
JONNIE JACOBS - The Only Suspect (Kensington Press; hardcover, 2005; Suspense; California; Standalone)
Dr. Sam Russell had been tried for murdering his first wife, but a single juror resulted in his not being convicted. Now, several years later, his second wife has disappeared. Detectives Hannah Montgomery and Dallas Pryor are in charge of the investigation. While Pryor is convinced Russell has murdered his wife, Hannah believes there’s more going on than is apparent. As the suspense mounts, Sam and the detectives each work to find out what happened, telling the story from alternating points of view.
*** Ms. Jacobs is a very good writer, and I’ve enjoyed her other books. This book has an excellent premise – the innocent man who appears guilty. Unfortunately, it’s offset by stereotypical characters: the overbearing male detective, the female detective who believes the suspect in spite of the evidence because she feels an attraction to him, the in-laws who never thought he was good enough for their daughter, the underachieving brother, etc. There were twists to the plot, but I found most of them predictable. It’s a fast paced book that would make a great airplane book, but I think she’s written better. Good
EDITOR’S NOTE: An interview with Jonnie Jacobs conducted by Pamela James appears elsewhere on this website.
ANDREW KLAVAN - Shotgun Alley (Forge; hardcover, 2004; Weiss & Bishop; Private Investigators; San Francisco; 2nd in series)
A local politician hires the Weiss agency to find his 17-year-old daughter Honey. She has run off with the head of a violent motorcycle gang, and he wants her found and brought back. Scott Weiss sends Jim Bishop in to infiltrate the group, but he doesn’t plan on Bishop’s attraction to Honey. In addition, a woman hires the agency to find the person who has been sending her erotic emails.
*** Shotgun Alley is dark, violent and filled with profanity. It is also wonderfully written, engrossing and filled with intriguing characters. The writing style is unusual in that there are three protagonists: Weiss and Bishop, whose parts of the story are told in third person, and a young narrator whose name we don’t know but whose portion of the story is told in first person. The story is introspective, suspenseful, and expertly crafted. Because of the violence, it’s not for everyone, but I highly recommend it for those who like dark PI novels. VG
JOHN LESCROART - The Motive (Dutton; hardcover, 2005; Legal Thriller; San Francisco; 16th book)
A fire in one of the Painted Lady Victorian houses in San Francisco’s Alamo Square reveals bodies of a man and woman, both shot. The man is a successful attorney with political connections, and the woman, his fiancée. When the Mayor asks Deputy Police Chief Abraham (Abe) Glitsky to become involved in the investigation, it places him in a difficult position, as the lead investigator on the case, Dan Cueno, is suspect of Glitsky and his close friend, attorney Dismas Hardy. Things become more complicated when Cueno arrests the victim’s daughter-in-law, Catharine, a woman Hardy once dated.
*** Dismas and Abe have a strong, realistic friendship and personal lives. Lescroart obviously knows and loves San Francisco to the point that it almost becomes another character in the story. The story itself is interesting and involved me from beginning to end. I’ve only read one other book by the author, but I didn’t feel lost in the series. I enjoy books with strong, believable characters, and Lescroart certainly knows how to write them. VG
ED McBAIN - Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man (Doubleday; hardcover, 1973; 87th Precinct; Police Procedural; Isola; 22nd in series; 3rd Deaf Man)
The Deaf Man is back, and for the third time taunting the man of the 87th Precinct. But that’s not their only case — a young man has been stripped and nailed to the side of a building, and cat burglar has been making off with the jewels of the wealthy.
*** It always amazes me that in, in this case, 231 pages, McBain could create three-dimensional characters, excellent dialogue, a perfect sense of place, plus humor, tight plots, and suspense. There was truly no one better. I shall miss new entries to this series, but I will always be grateful for how prolific he was. McBain’s stories are as good on the second or more reading as they were on the first. EX
JAMES W. NICHOL - Midnight Cab (Canongate; US hardcover, 2002; Suspense;Canada/Jamaica; 1st book)
When Walker Devereaux was three, he was found clinging to a fence by a country road. Now that he’s 19, he is determined to find out about his mother and his past. The only clue is a photograph of a woman with two teenage girls and a letter written from one of the girls to the other.
*** This began as a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio show, which means there are very good plot flow, dialogue and characters. Just when you think you know where the story is going, it turns on you. Toward the end, I did see the resolution, which lessened the suspense a bit. Still in all, I very much enjoyed this first book by Nichol and look forward to the next. VG
JAMES PATTERSON - Along Came a Spider (Warner Books; paperback, 1992; Alex Cross; Police Procedural; US; 1st in series)
The daughter of a famous actress and son of the secretary of the Treasury has been kidnapped. After he boy’s body is found, and the kidnapper demands that Detective Alex Cross be the one to deliver the $10M ransom for the girl. The money is taken, but the girl is not returned and Alex joins forces with Jezzie Flanagan, the supervisor of the Secret Service, to find the kidnapper.
*** I had some real problems with this book. The alternating first person, third person telling of the story was distracting. Alex seemed the whitest black man I’ve ever read, and there was next to no character development. There were hints of the mastermind fairly early in the story, the kidnapper was stereotypically evil, and the very ending was unrealistic. The story did move well for about the first half, and then I found myself getting bored. Judging by his popularity, one can only assume Mr. Patterson's writing improved radically after this book. Poor
ANNE PERRY - A Christmas Guest (Ballantine Books; hardcover, 2005; Amateur Sleuth; England, 1800s; 3rd Christmas story)
Grandmama Mariah Ellison has been sent to spend Christmas with her daughter Caroline and actor son-in-law Joshua Fielding. Not only are they at Romney Marshes, a provincial town by the sea, but Joshua’s cousin, Maude Barrington arrives. Maude is much traveled, lived in foreign lands and has an enthusiasm for life that displeases Mariah even more than usual. But when Maude is found to have died during the night, Mariah feels something is not right, and she decides to find out the answers. But as she learns about Maude and her family, she realizes some truths about herself as well.
*** Ms. Perry is a superb writer. Her descriptions of characters, time and place put you in the story. You feel Mariah’s sense of abandonment and displacement, then determination, then realization. While there is a murder involved, it really is the story of Mariah and her self-discovery. I’ve loved Ms. Perry's previous two Christmas books, but I feel this is her best so far. EX
FREDERICK RAMSEY - Secrets (Poisoned Pen Press; hardcover, 2005; Sheriff Ike Schwartz; Police Procedura; Virginia; 2nd in series)
When Sheriff Ike Schwartz is called to the murder scene of Waldo Thompson, the organist at Stonewall Jackson Memorial Church, things become much more complicated that one would expect. Waldo turns out to not to be Waldo, the Church’s minister has a past he’s trying to overcome, the secretary is a gossip and troublemaker, and the FBI come to town.
*** Ramsey has created some interesting characters of whom I’d like to see more, but he offsets that with a bit too much spent expressing his views on academia, intellectuals, politics, religion and fat men in Speedos. Good Plus
RUTH RENDELL - The Rottweiler (Arrow Books; UK paperback, 2004; Mystery; London; Standalone)
Antique storeowner Inez Ferry is a young widow who takes in tenants. However, a serial killer is on the loose, and one of them is not as they seem.
*** There were too many characters, and none of them really stood out. Once I knew the killer, I didn’t really care any longer. It was well plotted, but the ending was anti-climatic. It was okay, but I just wasn't that impressed. OK
JAMES SALLIS - Drive (Poisoned Pen Press; hardcover, 2005; Noir; Los Angeles; Standalone)
Driver, the protagonist in this novella, does just that; he drives. Legitimately, he drives for action movies, but in his off time, he drives for criminals who hire him to drive the get-away car. When a job goes bad, a contract is put out on him.
*** Although I am not a noir fan, I appreciated Sallis’s writing skill and ability to create a tight, action-oriented scene. It skips around in time, but not so that I was lost. However, I read for character development and interaction, so this book didn’t appeal to me as much. The character is intriguing; he just wasn't fleshed out enough to be truly satisfying for me. I do think the true noir lover would enjoy this book. OK
SHIRLEY TALLMAN - The Russian Hill Murders (St. Martin’s Press; hardcover, 2005; Legal Suspense; San Francisco, 1880s; 2nd in series)
In spite of the pressure to resign from her employer, Sarah Woolson is determined to succeed as one of the few female attorneys in the late 19th century. While attending a charity dinner for a Women and Children’s Hospital, a wealthy woman dies of an apparent heart attack. Sarah suspects unnatural causes, particularly when others associated with the Hospital also die. When the hospital’s Chinese cook is accused of murder, Sarah is asked to defend him. In the meantime, a pregnant widow asks for Sarah’s help in finding and penalizing the owner of a sweatshop in which a fire killed her husband, and she agrees.
*** I am so enjoying this series. The story moved right along, keeping me interested and wanting to know what was coming. The final courtroom scene was a bit melodramatic, but it didn’t put me off the book. Tallman has created a smart, feisty character supported by her family but fighting society’s norms. The supporting characters are equally interesting. I eagerly await the next book. VG
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