Tag Archives: mystery

Reading: Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles

natchez-burning

Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles

Raised in the southern splendor of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage learned all he knows of duty from his father, Dr. Tom Cage. But now the beloved family doctor has been accused of murdering the African American nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the 1960s. Once a crusading prosecutor, Penn is determined to save his father, but Tom, stubbornly invoking doctor-patient privilege, refuses even to speak in his own defense.

Penn’s quest for the truth sends him deep into his father’s past, where a sexually charged secret lies. More chilling, this long-buried sin is only one thread in a conspiracy of greed and murder involving the vicious Double Eagles, an offshoot of the KKK controlled by some of the most powerful men in the state. Aided by a dedicated reporter privy to Natchez’s oldest secrets and by his fiancée, Caitlin Masters, Penn uncovers a trail of corruption and brutality that places his family squarely in the Double Eagles’ crosshairs.

With every step costing blood and faith, Penn is forced to confront the most wrenching dilemma of his life: Does a man of honor choose his father or the truth?

I confess, I’m supposed to be finished Natchez Burning today, for a TLC Book Tour, but I’m only about halfway through. But that has nothing to do with the book, and everything to do with life getting in the way of reading, as it has a tendency to do occasionally. I’ve had a ton of exciting things happen in the past month, not least of which has been landing a freelance contract with Scholastic Books in the U.S.–yay! It’s been a fun ride so far, but in the meantime, I haven’t had much time left for reading.

Which does make me sad. But I WILL finish Natchez Burning, and not just because I’m scheduled to write about The Bone Tree, book two of the trilogy, next month. Natchez Burning is a great read, and it’s a book I need to finish. I want to find out what happens!

Here, in list form, are my thoughts so far:

  • This is one intense read. From the very start, I could feel my heart beating faster, my entire body tensing up as I read.
  • It’s a good novel to read in these times. It’s given me much needed insight into the roots of the racial conflict we see today, and a better understanding of how it is, after all our years of progress, we still really aren’t very much further than we were in the 1960s when it comes to racial inequality.
  • It has been, at times, a gut-wrenchingly difficult read for me. Brutal violence washes through the pages, and when I sit back to take a breath, it brings me to tears to know that it’s a violence that’s not fantasy, not made up, but rather, solidly rooted in facts. Iles doesn’t hold anything back; there’s no sugar coating anything. To say it brings history alive is an understatement. I’ve also spent a lot of time while reading this book reflecting on man’s inhumanity to man.
  • Despite being a difficult read in that way, it’s also magnetic, pulling me through its pages.
  • And the suspense! It’s so suspenseful, for quite a few of its chapters, I’ve had to quickly flip to the end of the chapter to see how it ends, and then go back to the beginning of the chapter and find out how things got to that end. It’s a little bit of cheating, I know, but there’s no other way I can handle the suspense. Yes, it’s that good.

I have no doubt this will be a book that will stay with me for days when it’s done–weeks, probably. It has so many things going for it: it’s intense, it’s a thriller, it has such an epic sweep, it’s a multi-generational saga, it weaves history throughout its more contemporary timeline in an effortless way … I could go on and on. And that’s just based on what I’ve read so far!

The Read List: City of the Lost, by Kelley Armstrong

city of the lost

Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday this crime will catch up to her. Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again.

Diana has heard of a town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you’re accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. As a murderer, Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want: She’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding?in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives.

My thoughts on City of the Lost:

I adore Kelley Armstrong’s work. She’s an amazing writer and even more amazing in person. If you’ve been following her writing recently, you’ll have noticed she’s started doing a lot more non-urban fantasy books. The new books are more on the thriller or mystery side, and they are good!

  1. I actually came to Kelley’s works through her Nadia Stafford series, so in a way I got to know her through her non-fantasy works to begin with. (In case you’re not familiar with them, the Nadia Stafford series is about a female assassin–and they are very good reads.) So City of the Lost was right up my alley.
  2. Kelley has such a way with atmosphere, and she’s as brilliant as ever with building atmosphere here. Even though I knew this wasn’t an urban fantasy, I kept thinking something paranormal or supernatural would show up. But I wasn’t disappointed in my anticipation; the things that did happen, while not paranormal, were very creepy and eerie and in total sync with the atmosphere.
  3. Did I say creepy? I need to say it again. Creepy. Eerie. In a good way.
  4. I really liked Casey Duncan. Strong, independent, a self-thinker. Her flaws added strength to the story. Also, she’s half Asian, and it’s so nice to see an Asian protagonist in a book. And perhaps what I like most about her being half-Asian is that Kelley doesn’t make it into some big deal. It’s just who Casey is.
  5. There’s a romance. I’ve never been big on romances in my thrillers (I tend to prefer them in my romances, you know?), but this romance felt so natural and didn’t detract from the story events at all.
  6. Rockton–such an interesting concept for a town!
  7. Dalton, the sheriff, is an interesting character, and the more I read, the more interesting he got. Talk about a backstory!
  8. And as for the ending, I definitely didn’t see it coming.

My verdict: a very good read indeed.

 

The Read List: Death at Breakfast, by Beth Gutcheon

deathatbreakfastI hate to say this, but Death at Breakfast just didn’t work for me. When TLC Book Tours sent me their list of upcoming books going on tour, I read the synopsis for this book and loved the sound of the two main protagonists:

Indulging their pleasure in travel and new experiences, recently retired private school head Maggie Detweiler and her old friend, socialite Hope Babbin, are heading to Maine. The trip—to attend a weeklong master cooking class at the picturesque Victorian-era Oquossoc Mountain Inn—is an experiment to test their compatibility for future expeditions.

Hope and Maggie have barely finished their first aperitifs when the inn’s tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Alexander and Lisa Antippas and Lisa’s actress sister, Glory. Imperious and rude, these Hollywood one-percenters quickly turn the inn upside-down with their demanding behavior, igniting a flurry of speculation and gossip among staff and guests alike.

But the disruption soon turns deadly. After a suspicious late-night fire is brought under control, Alex’s charred body is found in the ashes. Enter the town’s deputy sheriff, Buster Babbin, Hope’s long-estranged son and Maggie’s former student. A man who’s finally found his footing in life, Buster needs a win. But he’s quickly pushed aside by the “big boys,” senior law enforcement and high-powered state’s attorneys who swoop in to make a quick arrest.

Maggie knows that Buster has his deficits and his strengths. She also knows that justice does not always prevail—and that the difference between conviction and exoneration too often depends on lazy police work and the ambitions of prosecutors. She knows too, after a lifetime of observing human nature, that you have a great advantage in doing the right thing if you don’t care who gets the credit or whom you annoy.

Feeling that justice could use a helping hand–as could the deputy sheriff—Maggie and Hope decide that two women of experience equipped with healthy curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a cheerfully cynical sense of humor have a useful role to play in uncovering the truth.

Don’t Maggie and Hope sound just lovely? I think the mystery world is really really ready for a pair of middle aged sleuths like them. So as I settled in to read, I was all set to cheer for Maggie and Hope, and ride along as they set out on their first mysterious adventure. Only … it didn’t turn out that way, because I didn’t really get a chance to get a sense of who Maggie and Hope are.

Unfortunately, it takes a good long while before the murder in this murder mystery actually happens, and in the scenes leading up to it, we get into Maggie’s or Hope’s POV just a few times. Now, the murder itself doesn’t have to happen quickly in order for a murder mystery to be good; Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mysteries come to mind as an example of long build-ups to the murders themselves that work well. But George is also a master of characterization, and good characterization is something I found Death at Breakfast lacked.

A lot of the scenes in the book are scattered among an astonishing number of secondary characters. At first I’d start reading a new scene, be confused about who this particular character was, flip back to find out, then start back on the scene again. After a while, though, I got tired of doing that, so I just kept plodding on, on the assumption that sooner or later it would dawn on me who this person was. But having to do that just doesn’t add up to very enjoyable reading for me.

The writing itself is fine, with a nice turn of phrase here and there. But without solidly fleshed out characters and a better developed plot, I wasn’t really drawn into the story itself. It’s a little bizarre, but I found the character I liked best, in that I was intrigued by her and actually wanted to learn more about her, was Artemis, a celebrity pop star who never physically shows up in the book.

When I finished reading, I headed over to Amazon and Goodreads to see some of its reviews; I like to do this when a book doesn’t work for me because there’s always the chance I missed something that could have made a difference. But after reading through the reviews, it occurred to me that Death at Breakfast would probably be enjoyed by the reader of general fiction, but perhaps not so much by mystery aficionados.

And on a side note, it was interesting to see one reviewer had actually counted the number of secondary characters who make an appearance in the book: there were twenty-three of them! That’s a lot of secondary characters, and with several of them getting their own scenes in the book, it was all too confusing and unwieldy for me.

Depending on your reading tastes, your mileage with this one may be different, though.

 

The Read List: Die Again, by Tess Gerritsen

die again

So … I figured out “whodunnit”. Not until close to the end, but definitely before the big reveal.

Sigh.

It’s never nice when that happens. Still, this was an okay read. I particularly liked the parts of the narrative that took place in Botswana, and I enjoyed the mystery of how those parts fit in with the rest of the story. Unfortunately, once I found out exactly how those bits fit in, the rest of the puzzle pieces slipped into place–just a little bit too early.

Botswana? you say. But I thought Die Again was a Rizzoli and Isles mystery … And so it is. Here’s the synopsis:

When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast—right down to the claw marks on the corpse. But only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls. Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he’s ever hunted?

Maura fears that this isn’t the killer’s first slaughter, and that it won’t be the last. After linking the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country, she wonders if the answers might actually be found in a remote corner of Africa.

Six years earlier, a group of tourists on safari fell prey to a killer in their midst. Marooned deep in the bush of Botswana, with no means of communication and nothing but a rifle-toting guide for protection, the terrified tourists desperately hoped for rescue before their worst instincts—or the wild animals prowling in the shadows—could tear them apart. But the deadliest predator was already among them, and within a week, he walked away with the blood of all but one of them on his hands.

Now this killer has chosen Boston as his new hunting ground, and Rizzoli and Isles must find a way to lure him out of the shadows and into a cage. Even if it means dangling the bait no hunter can resist: the one victim who got away.

So yes, the Botswana parts were good. Figuring it out early? Not so good. Still, it was nice to meet with Rizzoli and Isles again.

But I have to say, I’ve not been all that interested in the story arcs of a number of continuing series characters for a while now, this one included. I don’t mind the conflict going on at Rizzoli’s parents’ house (although someone really really needs to sit Angela down and talk some sense into her) but the whole thing with Isles and her sociopathic mother? It’s like, the priest thing didn’t work out (both literally and also as the continuing story arc) so we have to have something just as dramatic going on. We share DNA so we have a bond … I mean, really. Isles is supposed to be a scientist.

And while I’m not one to rip covers apart, and I love the woman’s eyes in the cover of the hardcover version (which is the version I read), I really don’t get the connection between that cover and the story.  I think the paperback cover provides a much better connection to the story:

die again v2

 

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

If you’re a Rizzoli and Isles fan, you’ll probably enjoy this one.