Friday, February 25, 2011

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson

Protagonist: Reggie and Nigel Heath
Setting: London and Los Angeles
Rating: 4.6
Reggie Heath and his law firm have moved into a building on Baker Street. In the lease comes a stipulation that they answer all letters written to 221b Baker Street -- the fictional address of the fictional Sherlock Holmes. His brother Nigel, suspended from practicing law, is supposed to answer the letters, sending a form reply. But Nigel becomes too caught up in a set of letters -- the first one dating back 20 years, when an 8-year-old girl from Los Angeles wrote to Sherlock, asking for help in finding her missing father.

Soon, Nigel is on a plane to Los Angeles. Reggie follows him, but seems to always be two steps behind Nigel. Death also seems to follow Nigel -- he’s accused of a murder in London and then another in L.A. Can Reggie find him before he gets in even deeper?

It's always tricky writing a book about Sherlock, but Robertson gives it a neat twist. This is an engaging debut about two brothers, often at odds, who come together to solve a crime (or two, or three). The book has already been optioned by Warner Bros. for a television series, and the second in the series, The Brothers of Baker Street, is due to be released soon.

Crossing by Andrew Xia Fukuda

Protagonist: Xing Xu
Setting: Ashland, New York
Rating: 4.0
Xing Xu is a loner in his high school, Chinese-born and shy. His only friend is Naomi Lee, beautiful and more popular. When high school kids start disappearing, Xing first tries to investigate, then becomes a suspect. Usually invisible or bullied among the mostly-white school, Xing starts coming out of his shell when a teacher notices his singing voice. Later, he's tapped to star in a school play when the lead becomes one of the disappeared students. More than a murder mystery, this is also the story of an immigrant.

The writing is spare and haunting, and the narrator -- Xing -- tugs at your heartstrings. After fleeing from China, his family settles in upstate New York, but his father dies in an accident. This is how Xing describes his life: "I went to a school where students were well bred, immaculately groomed, suave, and hip; whose parents were CEOs and doctors and partners of law firms. Not Chinatown hawkers. Not Charlie Chan kow-tow specialists who spoke in choppy, sloppy Chinglish, who took in with grubby hands crumpled dollar bills, who were told to keep the change and invariably did."

Crossing is billed as a young adult/crossover-into-adult book. It does have an unresolved ending that might leave you unsatisfied -- although, in keeping with the book, it makes a strong statement. I'd recommend this for YA readers over 13.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Review: The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill

Protagonist: Simon Serrailler
Setting: Lafferton, England
Rating: 5.0
A serial killer is shooting and killing young women, most of them newly married. We know the why -- chapters from the killer’s point of view show us he was spurned once by his fiancee for another man -- but not the who. In the meantime, Lafferton plans for a big fair and a bigger wedding (the royals Charles and Camilla are supposed to show). Will the serial killer strike then?

In previous books (and this series must be read in order; Vow is the fourth), Hill has been light on the crime aspect. But in this novel, she delivers a solid police procedural.

As always, there’s also a lot going on with the Serrailler family: their newly widowed father, Richard, is seeing a new woman. And Cat, back from Australia, is dealing with a serious illness in her family. There’s a new character, Helen, a widow who has begun dating a man; her fundamentalist son doesn’t approve of him. A couple of characters from previous books make an appearance, Karin McCafferty, a friend of Cat’s, and Jane Fitzroy, much more than a friend to Simon.

Hill's themes are about death, but not always the death that comes with serial killers or other crimes. She writes gracefully about families, love and life, and that makes her series, for me, a standout.