Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pick of the Month: The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
Protagonist: Det. Harry Hole
Setting: Oslo, Norway
Rating: 4.7
Ah, another Scandinavian writer, I thought. In recent years, seems there's been a raft of excellent crime writers from Nordic countries: Arnaldur Indidason, Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, Hakan Nesser, Asa Larsson and Ake Edwardson. Now add Jo Nesbo to the list.

In The Redbreast, he has written an intricate and long (521 pages) book. I had to make notes just to follow. But even with notes, Nesbo takes you on such a complicated, twists-and-turns journey that the ending is still a stunner. The action keeps shifting between 1942, when some Norwegians joined and fought with the Nazis, to present day (1999-2000), when some of their actions come back to haunt them. Harry Hole, an alcoholic prone to falling off the wagon under stress, has been promoted from the Crime Unit to POT (the security service unit) because of a mistake he has made and which his bosses want covered up. He's shuffled off to do paperwork, but Hole doesn't go quietly. He takes what seems a small item buried among the paperwork and starts following the clues, while a killer hunts down those who were part of a small unit at the Eastern Front. Part police procedural, part mystery and part thriller, The Redbreast gets my pick of the month, hands down. And best yet: there's a second in this series: The Devil's Star.

Monday, January 21, 2008

January Reads

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Rating: 3.5
A post-apocalyptic book in which all of Earth is gray and ash, and survivors have to be wary of each other. A father and son take to the road in order to survive. Many have found the ending to be uplifting, and it is, to some extent. The writing is sparse, but beautiful. Yet, in the end, I found this to be the most depressing book I've ever read.

A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill (first in the series)
Protagonists: Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe
Setting: Yorkshire
Rating: 4.0
A small-town female fatale is found dead inside her home, clubbed to death. Was it her husband, at home with a concussion? It could be anyone, really, since, as Pascoe tells Dalziel: "I didn't know the lady as well as you, sir, but she seems in all particulars to have been a pretty clubbable woman." Although the first in what is now a 23-book series, Dalziel and Pascoe are already fully formed.

The Man Who Invented Florida by Randy Wayne White (third in the series)
Protagonist: Marion "Doc" Ford
Setting: Sanibel Island and Mango Island (Everglades), Fla.
Rating: 3.0
The weakest of the three books I've read so far, as there's hardly a mystery in this one. This book involves a crazy scheme by Doc's uncle, from whom Doc has been estranged. I might have given up on this book, but White does write some great passages about Florida. When he writes about a dolphin giving birth, you wish you had been there to see it in person.

The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill
Protagonist: Insp. Simon Serrailler
Setting: Lafferton, England
Rating: 4.7
Hill's book are slow-moving, drawing portraits of Serrailler and his family, as well as the victim's family. In this one, Serrailler is in Venice when he's abruptly called home for a family emergency. Back home, a young boy is kidnapped, and Serrailler, already back home early, jumps into the case. I like Hill's books because she never gives you the expected -- which a mystery writer should do, but many don't succeed as does Hill.

Miami Blues by Charles Willeford (first in the series)
Protagonist: Det. Hoke Moseley
Setting: Miami, Fla., 1980s
Rating: 4.3
Just out of jail, "Junior" flies into Miami from California, unintentionally kills a Hare Krishna at the airport and then, coincidentally, ends up moving in with the Krishna's sister. When Moseley grows suspicious, Junior starts to go after the detective himself. While hard-boiled is not my usual fare, Willeford really nails down my hometown in the '80s. The quirky characters and situations are a plus. I'll definitely spend more time with Moseley in Miami.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (audio)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (audio)
Protagonist: Harry Potter
Setting: Hogswarts and the non-muggle world
Rating: 5.0
The final two books in this fantastic series. Enough has been written about this series, which I'm sure is destined to become a classic. But I'll say that Rowling's story-telling is so masterful (and Jim Dale so wonderful as the audiobook narrator) that I became a little Potter-addicted, toward the end. I couldn't wait to get in my car and drive, so I could hear what happened next!

Rating system:
5.0: Wow!
4.0: Pretty good
3.0: Mediocre to good
2.0: Pretty Bad
DNF: Did not finish

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Best reads of 2007

Top mystery reads:

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny. This is the second in a series that captured me from the first moment. Penny does everything right: character, plotting and setting. I love Three Pines, the small fictional Canadian town that is oh-so-idyllic (except for an abundance of murders). Det. Armand Gamache has been described as a cross between Colombo and Poirot, a quirky character in his own right. This novel is set between Christmas and New Year's -- and that's when I read it. A perfect book with which to end the year.

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. On the list of my favorite authors, Cleeves writes wonderfully about another closed community -- the Shetland islands (where Scotland meets Scandinavia). This is the first in a quartet that features Insp. Jimmy Perez, an unlikely detective hero.

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill. When Hill was compared to P.D. James, I knew I had to read her books. Again, this is the first in a series -- the fourth book will be released next year. Hill slowly unravels a novel, giving us rich portraits of each characters, including the victims. And with one of the most shocking endings I've ever read.

Naked to the Hangman by Andrew Taylor. Eighth in another series that is a favorite. In this one, Det. Richard Thornhill becomes the suspect, and it is up to his wife, Edith, and his former lover, journalist Jill Francis, to find the truth. Taylor never takes you where you are expecting to go. In my eyes, one of the finest British writers around.

The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees. First in a series, Rees has an unlikely detective: Omar Yussef, an elderly history teacher. This is set in the Mideast, the villians are a martyrs brigade, and the police chief is hesitant to take action. It is a mystery like none other that I've read, and it has stayed with me long after I put it down.

The Devil's Feather by Minette Walters. Set in another war-torn area, Sierra Leone, the story moves to an English countryside -- where the real tension begins. Walters is known for delving into psychological terror, and she doesn't disappoint here.

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason. A sort of cold case book that jumps back and forth between 1940s and present-day in Reykjavik. Wonderfully done, I enjoyed this much more than his first book, Jar City.

Recalled to Life by Reginald Hill. Part of the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and another sort of "cold case" (the detectives go back to a 1963 case as they try to clear a colleague's name). Great for the working relationship between the two detectives, the humor and a Golden Age mystery as well.

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman. Again, a cold case mystery, based on a true story of two sisters who disappeared in Baltimore. Here, Lippman takes the premise and asks: what if a woman suddenly appeared 30 years later, claiming to be one of the missing girls?

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. More gothic than mystery. I recommend this in audio, as the narrators' voices are wonderful. If you like your secrets unraveled slowly, and you're a fan of Bronte, this is a must-read.

All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Fifth in the series about Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne and the Rev. Clare Fergusson, and the most powerful so far in the series. I was so hooked on this series, I read all five in a matter of months.

Tops in other fiction:
Saturday by Ian McEwan
In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Looking forward to in 2008 (novels and release dates):

January: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. First in a trilogy. Have heard many, many good things, including at this blog.
February: A Grave in Gaza by Matt Beynon Rees (second in his series)
March: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (third in her series, and she's already set up one cliffhanger in the second book)
April: White Nights by Ann Cleeves (second in the Shetland series)
May: Bleeding Heart Square (presumably a standalone) by Andrew Taylor
June: The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill (fourth in her series)