Friday, December 19, 2008
The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black (audio)
Protagonist: Gannet Quirke
Setting: Dublin, 1950s
This is the second in the series by Black (author John Banville, who uses a pseudonym for his crime fiction) about a pathologist investigator. Quirke is asked by former school acquaintance Billy Hunt to forego a postmortem on his wife, the attractive Deirdre Hunt, owner of The Silver Swan beauty parlor. Of course, Quirke is now curious, and a look at the body reveals a needle mark. Deirdre, pulled from a river, was thought to have been a suicide. The scenes of Quirke’s investigation are interwoven with flashbacks of Deirdre’s life. Quirke’s daughter also becomes entangled in the investigation when she starts a relationship with Deirdre’s lover. In this series, it really pays to have read the first book, since the second has more resonance if you know the history. While I liked Black’s first book, Christine Falls, for its lush prose, I found The Silver Swan an even better book. In addition to that wonderful prose, there is a very good mystery here.
A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry
Protatonist: Superintendent Runcorn
Setting: Island of Anglesey off the north coast of Wales
Superintendent Runcorn of Scotland Yard is on vacation in Wales when he comes across a young woman’s body in the village churchyard. Although a chief constable is called in from the mainland, it soon becomes clear that someone more experienced is needed, and so Runcorn steps in. Runcorn, a lifelong bachelor at 50, also finds himself falling in love. Runcorn is also a central character in the William Monk series, but nonreaders of the series (such as I) can still enjoy this novella.
Legally Dead by Edna Buchanan
Protagonist: Michael Venturi
Setting: South Florida
This is the first in a new series in which Venturi, a deputy U.S. marshal in the Federal Witness Protection Program, takes matters into his own hands when he finds out that a mobster they’ve been protecting has been sexually assaulting and killing young girls. This, of course, gets him fired. Venturi moves to Florida, where he (with some help from friends) start staging fake deaths for people they feel are deserving – who’ve been falsely accused of something, for instance, but still are villified. Declared “legally dead,” they can begin their new lives in another country under new names. One after another, “clients” start appearing. The number of clients is a bit of a stretch, but I did like these individual stories. But soon, something goes wrong. Someone is killing those whom Venturi protected as a U.S. marshal -– and then someone kills one of his innocent clients. While the book has some faults, such as some thinly-drawn characters and a plot that goes overboard at times –- it was a fun, fast read for me.
Strange Affair by Peter Robinson (audio)
Protagonist: Insp. Alan Banks
This is the 15th in the series, but this is not a problem if you haven't read the rest (or just read one other, like myself). Banks is on a leave of absence, dealing already with personal problems, when his somewhat estranged brother leaves a message on his answering machine, asking for help. Unable to reach him, Banks drives to London, only to find his brother's door unlocked -- and no sign of his brother. Meanwhile, a woman driver is killed on the highway. And Banks' address is in her back pocket. As partner Annie Cabbot investigates the death, it soon becomes clear that there's a link between the two incidents. A police procedural, this is also a heart-wrenching novel. It makes me want to go back and start the series in order.
Caught Out in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
Protagonist: Rose Trevelyan
Setting: Penzance, Cornwall, England
Rose Trevelyan almost always seems to be in the right place (or maybe the wrong place) at the right time. Here, she witnesses a man scoop up a little girl at the beach, and minutes later realizes she's seen a kidnapping, when a little girl goes missing. Rose, who is dating Det. Insp. Jack Pearce, is soon nosing around. This was not a book that grabbed me and made me want to read more in the series, but it was still pleasurable enough. The characters were barely sketched and the mystery was easily solved beforehand, but Bolitho's descriptions of Cornwall made up for that. This is the seventh in the series, and the last, as Bolitho has passed away.
The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns
Setting: Town of Aurelius, upstate New York
This is not a crime novel in the usual sense, although several crimes are committed. It's about how a small town reacts when three girls, one after another, are abducted. The three girls are never found alive -- but we know that from the opening pages -- so this is really not about them. It's about the rest of the town. Residents begin to turn on each other, suspect each other, and even attack each other. Although Dobyns has written a mystery series, this falls more into the category of psychological thriller.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
This is a slim children's book (can be read in an hour or less), and I'd only recommend it for the die-hard Potter fan. These fairy tales, especially the last one ("The Tale of the Three Brothers") plays a part in the last Potter book. As such, it's a nice edition to the Potter folklore.
4.0: A book I'd recommend
3.0: Mediocre to good
2.0: Pretty Bad