Friday, February 28, 2014

Never Tell a Lie, by Hallie Ephron

Ephron, Hallie. Never Tell a Lie. New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2009. 271 pages. ISBN 9780061567155.

David and Ivy are a happily married couple who are expecting their first baby when they decide to hold a yard sale and sell off the items left behind in their Victorian home by the previous owner. One of their customers turns out to be someone they went to school with years ago, and Melinda convinces them to give her a tour of their house, in which she had played as a child. A few days later Melinda is reported missing, and the last known sighting of her was going into Ivy and David's house. Bloody clothes and a weapon are found by the police, and David is quickly arrested. As Ivy's due date rapidly approaches, she frantically tries to gather evidence to prove to the police that her husband's not involved in Melinda's disappearance. Or is he?

This is a suspenseful, fast-paced novel. While I didn't find all of the plot points entirely convincing, it was a good read. I recommend it to anyone who likes crime fiction and thrillers.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Night Watch, by Linda Fairstein

Fairstein, Linda. Night Watch. New York: Dutton, 2012. 402 pages. ISBN 9780525952633.

Alexandra Cooper, a Manhattan prosecutor, is involved with two unrelated cases in this fast-paced mystery. The book begins with Ms. Cooper on vacation with her boyfriend Luc in France, when a body is found in the small country village where he lives. The victim has been murdered, and is holding a souvenir from one of Luc's restaurants. Simultaneously, Mohammed Gil-Darsin, the head of the World Economic Bureau has been arrested for raping a hotel maid in New York, a plot line that follows closely on the real life events around Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Ms. Cooper rushes home to help with the rape case, but finds that the events in France have followed her home when a second murder victim is found, also with a souvenir from Luc's restaurant in his hand.

Night Watch is full of action-packed sequences, and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing throughout the book. I recommend it to anyone who likes crime fiction or thrillers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane

Lehane, Dennis. Moonlight Mile. New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2010. 324 pages. ISBN 9780061836923.

For those of you who were fans of Dennis Lehane's Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro detective series, Moonlight Mile brings them back to wrap up one of his earliest plots, in Gone, Baby, Gone. Twelve years ago, Patrick was hired to find the kidnapped daughter of a local meth addict. Patrick's decision to return Amanda to her mother has haunted him ever since. In the meantime, the little girl has grown into a super smart and capable sixteen year old, still living with her hopeless mother and her mother's drug dealer boyfriend. Now we find that Amanda has gone missing again, and Patrick agrees to try to find her, leading him into a world of Russian mobsters and identity theft.

Patrick and Angela have married and have a four year old of their own. All of his decisions are made against the context of his new life and role as a father. He's trying to land a job with benefits so that he can better support his new family as Angela pursues a master's degree. He doesn't have a lot of wriggle room financially, and it's important for him to wrap up this investigation so that he can take on a full time job with a corporate security firm.

I found Moonlight Mile as compelling as the first five books in the series (published 1994-1999). As Patrick rethinks all of his decisions in Gone, Baby, Gone, readers can see how marriage and fatherhood have changed him, but without changing his core values. Of course, there's a lot of high-tension action and great dialogue. Gone, Baby, Gone was made into a movie by and starring Ben Affleck. It would be great to see more of the Kenzie/Gennaro books made into movies, including Moonlight Mile. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys detective and crime fiction.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Boy in the Suitcase, by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

Kaaberbøl, Lene and Agnete Friis. The Boy in the Suitcase. New York: Soho, 2011. 313 pages. ISBN 9781569479810.

After writing children's fantasy for many years, Lene Kaaberbøl has turned her attention to writing adult crime novels. Partnering with Agnete Friis, she has created a compelling character in Nina Borg, a nurse who can't resist getting drawn into any circumstance in which she feels that women and children are being abused. In The Boy in the Suitcase, Nina is convinced by a friend to run an errand for her: pick up a suitcase from a train station locker. When Nina realizes that the suitcase contains a young boy, obviously drugged, she tries to track down her friend to find out what's going on. But Karin has been murdered, and Nina has to find out who's responsible, and protect the boy at the same time.

Convincingly plotted and expertly translated, this book kept me turning the pages until I finished. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys crime fiction and thrillers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Murder in Pigalle, by Cara Black

Cara Black. Murder in Pigalle. New York: Soho Crime, 2014. 310 pages. ISBN 9781616952846.

Murder in Pigalle is the latest in a series of mysteries set in Paris with Private Investigator Aimée Leduc as the main character. Aimée and her partner usually investigate cyber crimes, but she's drawn into a criminal investigation when her friends ask her for help finding their daughter who has disappeared. Zazie, who's 13 years old, has been obsessed with a series of rapes that have taken place over the last six months. One of the victims was Zazie's friend Melanie, and Zazie is determined to find the perpetrator. As Aimée digs deeper into the circumstances of Zazie's disappearance, she uncovers evidence of a much broader conspiracy.

While I found Murder in Pigalle to be an amusing diversion, I don't think the writing is particularly strong. The book races along at a breakneck pace, with the characters running from one action-packed scene to the next. There is little reflection and there is almost no development of the characters or what makes them tick. The author drops in short French phrases and words throughout, which I found annoying after a while. Readers of this type of light mystery will likely enjoy this book, but I wouldn't particularly recommend it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Conspiracy of Faith, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Jussi Adler-Olsen. A Conspiracy of Faith. New York: Penguin, 2013. 504 pages. ISBN 9780142180815.

A Conspiracy of Faith is the third book in Jussi Adler-Olsen's "Department Q" series. Adler-Olsen has been described as the Danish Stieg Larsson. Following on The Keeper of Lost Causes and The Absent One, A Conspiracy of Faith continues the story of Carl Mørck, leader of Department Q, a police unit that investigates cold cases.

A message in a bottle has turned up in Scotland. After sitting for years on a windowsill, it was opened by an investigator who quickly realizes that it is a real call for help. Who wrote the message, and when? After the language is identified as Danish, the message is returned to the Danish police for them to investigate as a potential violent crime. The many years have taken their toll on the quality of the paper and the message takes some time to decipher. It becomes apparent that the message describes the kidnapping of two brothers, one of whom wrote the message and feared for their lives. Each new word or phrase gives them another clue to follow. Soon, they realize that the kidnapper and killer may still be on the loose. Carl works with his assistants Assad, a Syrian immigrant, and Rose to track down the serial kidnapper and killer. In the meantime, Carl continues to fend off his estranged wife's demands, and to face his guilt over his former partner's condition. Hardy is paralyzed from the neck down after being shot in an operation in which Carl froze up from fear. Carl's romance with his therapist Mona continues, and Rose's "twin sister" Yrsa takes over Rose's responsibilities in Department Q when Rose walks out in a huff.

I've enjoyed all three of the books in this series. The characters are interesting, and each book gives us more insight into their personalities and history. There are mysteries around Assad's background in Syria, and Rose's relationship with her sister Yrsa. What is the truth about what happened with Carl and Hardy? Maybe the fourth book in the series will reveal all: The Purity of Vengeance is available now in hardcover. I would recommend this book and series to anyone who likes Scandinavian crime fiction.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Witch & Wizard, by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet. Witch & Wizard. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. 305 pages. ISBN 9780316074810.

Witch & Wizard is the first book in a series by prolific author James Patterson. Four have been published so far; in addition to this one there are Witch & Wizard: The Gift, Witch & Wizard: The Fire, and Witch & Wizard: The Kiss. Coming out in 2014 is Witch & Wizard: The Lost. This series continues Mr. Patterson's practice of co-authoring books with lesser known authors, allowing him to, for example, "write" and publish 13 books in 2013.

The book begins dramatically with one of the two main characters, Wisty (short for Wisteria), describing how she and her family came to be at the point of execution by the New Order (N.O.), the ruling government. Wisty and her brother Whit have been identified as the witch and wizard of the title. The N.O. has been rounding up everyone with special powers, putting them in jail, and conducting mass executions. Wisty breaks the narrative to tell us how they came to be in this predicament, leading the reader through their arrest, imprisonment, and breakout. They joined the "resistance", made up of teenagers like themselves, all the while looking for their parents, who were arrested as well.

Witch & Wizard is fast-paced and humorous. Although the themes of arrest, imprisonment, and execution are mature, the book is aimed at the middle school reader. I received an advance reading copy of this book at a BEA convention several years ago, and just now got around to reading it. I was looking for something light, and this book definitely fit the bill. It's entertaining and fun, and it's a quick read, but I wouldn't go so far as to recommend it to any of my friends who also like YA and children's literature.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Recent (and not so recent) films

American Hustle: I just saw this in January, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be my favorite movie this year. It was that good! Those of us of a certain age will remember the headlines in the news about this.

The Place Beyond the Pines: One thing I like about independent films is that they're unpredictable. This was filmed in nearby Schenectady, so there's a local connection. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are pretty amazing in this film.

Broadway Idiot: I'm a big fan of documentaries, and this one about the creation of a musical based on the Green Day album American Idiot is interesting and funny. It includes a lot of the rehearsal performances, including some of Billie Joe Armstrong's sessions.

Enough Said: It was great seeing James Gandolfini playing a different kind of role; otherwise I would always have thought of him as the violent Tony Soprano, or the thug from True Romance. I enjoyed seeing Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a different kind of (still kooky) role. Good acting; nice story.

Captain Phillips: My main question throughout this film was why didn't they have any weapons on board? Was it illegal for them to carry weapons through international waters? This film brought up close issues that have been in the news for years: the danger for ships travelling around the horn of Africa. Good acting on the part of Tom Hanks and others, and lots of suspense, even though I knew how it ended.

The Sessions: I know, everyone else saw this two years ago. This was one I missed in 2012, but I'm glad that I finally saw. It shows the sad story of Mark O'Brien, paralyzed by polio at the age of six, and his desire not to die a virgin. The acting is amazing, and the story moving.

Gandhi: I missed this film when it came out in 1982, but I'm glad I finally saw it. I enjoyed the film but I had a hard time at first getting past Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Kingsley is a great actor, but why didn't they find an Indian actor to play the part? Still: great movie, great acting. (I still think E.T. should have won best film that year, though!)

Dallas Buyers Club: I could barely recognize Matthew McConaughey in this film; he lost so much weight for it. This is the story of a man with AIDS in 1985 who was given 30 days to live when he was diagnosed. He lived another seven years, actively importing experimental drugs into the U.S., and fighting with the FDA to be allowed to do so. Jared Leto does an amazing job playing a transgender man with a female gender identity. McConaughey's acting is also stellar.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Children of the Revolution, by Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson. Children of the Revolution (An Inspector Banks Novel). New York: William Morrow, 2014. 336 pages. ISBN 9780062240507.

Gavin Miller was a former college instructor who left work after being accused of inappropriate behavior towards a student. Since his dismissal he has been living in near poverty. Recently he told a friend that things were starting to look up for him, but within a week he turns up dead after falling from a bridge. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks believes that he was murdered and begins digging into Miller's background to find out who might have motive to kill him. Banks' investigation includes both Miller's work at the university as well as his own experiences as a student 40 years previously, when he was friends with students in the Marxist movement. Perhaps one of them has something to hide?

This was my first mystery by Peter Robinson, although he's already published two dozen books. His characters are well-drawn and intriguing, and the plot moved along at a good pace. I enjoyed all of the pop culture musical references, and the contrast between the cultural knowledge of Banks and that of his younger colleagues. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys mysteries, especially those set in the English countryside.

This review is based on the galley; Children of the Revolution will come out in April 2014.