Sunday, August 20, 2006

Roth trilogy

By far the best books I've read this year (and even last year, for that matter), Andrew Taylor's Roth trilogy (The Four Last Things, The Judgement of Strangers and The Office of the Dead) traces the psychological development of a serial killer, back to her years as a young girl. The books go back in time, each narrated by a different person, and interweaving the lives of two families. Well, three families really. Layered onto the main story is the mystery of Francis Youlgreave, a mad poet-priest who died 50 years before Angel, the serial killer, was born. Yet, his life is intertwined with hers. It is a masterful approach, like nothing I've seen before. The final pages of the last book will leave you stunned. Rating: A+++

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A mixed bag

A mixed bag of mysteries lately:

A Season for the Dead by David Hewson. An author with many fans, but I wasn't one. While this book was set in Rome and had a likable detective, I couldn't help but see it as a DaVinci Code clone. Not very gripping, with a love story that was unbelievable and unlikely. Rating: C

Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride. A well-written book. Again, a detective I really liked. A setting that draws me (Scotland). But the book was hard to read -- it was about the kidnappings, killings and mutilations of young children. That's a subject that turns me off automatically, but I finished the book for my discussion group. I would read another MacBride, though, because I thought his writing was great. Rating: B-

Flesh and Blood by John Harvey. Thirteen years ago, a teenaged girl disappeared. British Det. Elder, now retired, works with police in reopening the case. Then another teen is killed and Elder's own teenage daughter is kidnapped. Is this being done by the original suspects, or a copycat? Interesting, complex story. Very well-written, with strong characterization. My only complaint has to do with the ending. Rating: A-

Lost by Michael Robotham. It reminded me quite a bit of Flesh and Blood. Missing girl, cold case. The book opens with Det. Insp. Vincent Ruiz being pulled out of the Thames, a bullet in his leg and no memories of what happened. All he knows is that it has something to do with Mickey Carlyle, a 7-year-old who disappeared three years ago. With help from psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, he begins to piece together his memories, and comes to believe Mickey is still alive. A great detective thriller with a wry sense of humor. Rating: A

The Dead Hour by Denise Mina. Second in the Paddy Meehan series. This has become one of my favorite characters, a young journalist working in 1980s Scotland. Paddy takes a bribe to walk away from what seems a domestic abuse case, and the next day the woman is found brutally murdered. Now Paddy can't let it rest until she finds the killer. In the meantime, Paddy's life takes an interesting twist. Rating: A+

Mad Hatter's Holiday by Peter Lovesey. One of the early books by this great English writer. Cross between an old-fashioned murder mystery and a police procedural. Rating: B

The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen. First in a series. Wise-cracking private eye with a past -- pretty formulaic, but OK for a first novel. At times, the character reminded me of Spenser or Kinsey Milhone. I wouldn't necessarily read his next book, though. Rating: C+


Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan opens with: "It's not that I don't like people. It's just that when I'm in the company of others -- even my nearest and dearest -- there always come a moment when I'd rather be reading a book." Right away, I knew I had found a kindred spirit in Corrigan, who reviews books for NPR and The Washington Post. Her memoir is that of a book lover. She's also a professor of literature, and at times the book becomes a bit too academic, but overall an engrossing read -- for those of us who love to read. Rating: A.

Personal History by Katharine Graham. For a long time, I put this off (maybe because it's a long book). Then I found an audiobook copy at the library. Even though I own a copy of her book, I went with the audiobook (so much easier at times!). The book is long, and at times slow, but her personal life was more interesting and complicated than I would have thought. I met Graham in 1985, as an intern at the Post, and she seemed so poised and self-assured. Interesting to read then that, as one of the first women publishers, she was unsure of herself and her decisions for many years. Yes, there's some interesting insights into journalism in this book, but really it's her life that's more interesting. Rating: A+

Shining a Light

P.D. James' The Lighthouse is not her best effort, yet even a mediocre James is a great read. Her books may be a bit formulaic, yet no one else writes the traditional English whodunnit like James. In the Lighthouse, a much-hated author is killed by hanging (from the lighthouse) on an island accessible to only a few people. Adam Dagliesh, along with Kate Miskin and Francis Benton-Smith, are brought in to solve the crime, but then Dagliesh is infected by SARS, and the island is quarantined -- with the killer among them. Rating: A+

Other recent reads:
The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears. The first in his art history mysteries, set in Italy and London. Fast-paced, with charming characters and witty writing. A series that will go to the top of my TBR (to be read) list. Rating: A

Bad Twin by Gary Troup (aka Laurence Shames). This book is a tie-in to the Lost TV show, although there was little to actually tie it in. On its own, stands up well as a private-eye book. Rating: B-

Friends, Lovers and Chocolate and 44 Scotland Street, both by Alexander McCall Smith. Both were audiotapes, which I find the best way to "read" McCall Smith. His books are a light romp, with enjoyable characters and minor mysteries (although 44 Scotland Street is not a mystery). I enjoy hearing the lilting Scottish accent, which helps transport me to his Scottish settings. Rating: B

Another Man's Poison by Ann Cleeves. Another underrated British mystery. The sixth in a series featuring bird-watcher and crime solver George Palmer-Jones and his wife Molly. In investigating whether a politician poisoned protected species of birds and if that had to do with a woman's murder, they come across long-ago family secrets. Rating: B+