Category: Mystery Review (page 1 of 2)

#BookBeginnings The Pyramid of Mud by Andrea Camilleri

Today let’s look at The Pyramid of Mud by Andrea Camilleri and translated by Stephen Sartarelli for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-andrea-camilleri

The Pyramid of Mud by Andrea Camilleri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When someone shoots accountant Giugiù Nicotra  in the back on a construction site, the victim crawls into a water supply tunnel. Inspector Montalbano comes to investigate and soon begins to wonder if the place Nicotra died was supposed to send a message.

Note:  Author Andrea Camilleri is currently 92 years old and is still writing.

First Sentence:

The thunderclap was so loud that not only did Montalbano suddenly wake up in terror, but he gave such a start that he nearly fell out of bed.

Discussion:

I always wonder about translations. How much freedom does the translator have? For example, in this one I wondered about the “not only, but” construction, which seemed like it should be “not only, but he also“?

I haven’t read any Inspector Montalbano mysteries before. I picked up this copy from our local library’s new mystery display. The books in the series seem to be quite popular. Now I wonder whether I should go pick up the first one before going any further with this one.

What do you think? Have you read any mysteries in this series? Should I read it in order?

The Magic of Abracadabra by David Kranes

Time to take a look at a new mystery, Abracadabra by David Kranes, published by University of Nevada Press (November 1, 2017).

Elko Wells can find things that no one else can. His amazing ability surfaced after he received a severe head injury as a professional football player.

When apparently normal, decent guy Mark Goodson fails to reappear on stage while serving as a volunteer during a magic act, Goodson’s wife hires Wells to track him down. Wading through the chaos that is Las Vegas at its liveliest, with the help of celebrity look-alikes and cocktail waitress sleuths, Wells follows the missing man’s trail.

Described as written in the noir tradition, this novel blasts along at a frenetic pace. David Kranes’s dialogue is whip fast and authentic. For example, you can sense the sparks in this exchange between Mark Goodson and his wife Lena (who wants to go to the Rhino):

“Can we still go to Picasso?”

“I thought we could go to…what was it called? The Rhino.”

“I want to go to Picasso.”

“Even though he cuts people up?”

“That makes one of us an accomplice.”

In case you didn’t know, the Rhino refers to an actual strip club or “gentlemen’s club.” Picasso is a Las Vegas restaurant.

 

Public domain photograph by Jean Beaufort

Setting

I love a book with a strong setting and Abracadabra has setting in spades (sorry, I couldn’t resist). David Kranes lives in Salt Lake City, Utah where he is a professor emeritus at the University of Utah. It would appear, however, that he has spent a great deal of time in Las Vegas. He knows the different casinos, the games, the restaurants, and the people with the precision of an insider who has spent hours observing in real life.

For example, when protagonist Elko Wells isn’t finding people, he runs a celebrity look-alike service. When he spots someone who resembles Martin Sheen,  Elko follows him to see if the man has potential as an employee. Kranes’s description of the scene could only come from someone who knows his way around Las Vegas casinos:

Martin Sheen sits down and Elko does the same thing, a stool away. The possible Sheen orders a Dewar’s and water, slips in his club card, glides a hundred into a multigame validator and starts playing Double Double Bonus.

Apparently he is talking about some kind of slot machines.

The Bottom Line

Abracadabra would be a good choice for readers who love Las Vegas. It is also for those who want a fast-paced mystery with a noir spin.

See (and listen to) a review of Abracadabra by Mary Sojourner at KNAU

Disclosure: This book was provided for review purposes by the publisher. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. If you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a small commission at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

#BestsellerCode100: Number 73. The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, 73. The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Two young girls, Calli and her friend Petra, go missing in the night. Now their families struggle to find out what happened to them.

This is Heather Gudenkauf’s debut novel.

Have you read The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about  The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf? Feel free to add a link to your review to the comments.
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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 72. The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst (2012) – Discussion begins November 27, 2017
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Number 76. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling* by Robert Galbraith

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym used by J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. She also wrote The Casual Vacancy, another title on The Bestseller Code list.  This makes J.K. Rowling the only author with two novels in our best of the bestsellers challenge.

Summary:  When a supermodel falls to her death, her brother doesn’t believe that it is suicide. He hires private investigator Cormoran Strike to find out the truth.

This is the first in a series. The Silkworm is the second novel and Career of Evil is the third novel in the series.

Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith? Feel free to add a link to your review here.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 75. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008) – Discussion begins October 16, 2017
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker Prize

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Daddy’s Gone A Hunting

Time to explore Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark from a writer’s perspective. The discussion began here.

This post may contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Why does Kate Connelly ask a retired employee Gus to meet her at the family’s antique furniture museum at four thirty in the morning? What were they doing when the building explodes, leaving Gus dead and Kate in a coma?  Are they victims or perpetrators?

(Public domain photo via Visualhunt.com)

 

Plot

In the Acknowledgements, Mary Higgins Clark writes that her editor of nearly forty years, Michael Korda, was the one who suggested “DNA” of the plot. As an example of domestic suspense (defined here), it centers around members of the Connelly family.

The story unfolds in a unique way. Clark writes a multitude of short chapters (97!) each revealing a small bit about a select group of characters before jumping to another. Because the chapters are so short, most only 2 to 5 pages long, the pages fly by.

At first it isn’t clear how the characters relate to one another, but over time the different threads start to come together until all is revealed at the end.

Characters

Daddy’s Gone a Hunting has many, many characters. The cast includes the members of the Connelly family, the Schmidts, the Sloane’s, the fire investigators, various police and private detectives, plant managers, lawyers, etc. The list goes on and on. Some characters seem to be included solely to serve as love interests for others. The main character is Kate Connelly, who ironically is in a coma for the majority of the book while others piece together how she ended up there.

As we’ve read through The Bestseller Code list, I’ve noticed a trend that more experienced authors have many more characters in their books than debut authors.  The debut novels The Silent Wife and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet have a limited cast of characters, whereas Easy Prey, the 11th in a series, has many characters. The most glaring exception is Primary Colors, which has the largest number of characters of any book we’ve read. Perhaps that is due to the fact the author is a reporter with many published articles before he wrote a work of fiction.

In the past I’ve tried to cut back the number of characters in my novel, but based on these bestsellers, perhaps that isn’t necessary or even desirable.

Setting

The setting is various regions of New York City. Clark seems to assume the reader is familiar with the city and treats locations in an offhand way.

Discussion

Although I generally enjoy domestic suspense, I struggled with this novel. Each character was given such brief coverage, and the story jumped around so much, I found myself not caring what happened to any of them. I did wonder, however, if switching back and forth between different characters, plus the topic of family, were the reasons the computer algorithm picked it.

That said, I’m not ready to give up on this author. I’m going to look for some of her earlier titles.

Have you read Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark? Are you a fan of hers? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

The next book is number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (2010) – Discussion begins September 4, 2014
Animal-themed humorous short stories

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Easy Prey by John Sandford

Easy Prey by John Sandford is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This book is #11 in a series of twenty-seven (so far) novels starring Lucas Davenport, a police officer and war games designer.  Interestingly, all twenty-seven books include the word “Prey” in the title.  Does that tell you anything about the series?  In Easy Prey, the body count mounts quickly.  

This post does not contain spoilers.

Easy Prey* by John Sandford

This review is written about the first half of the book, up to Chapter 19.

Police Procedural

Easy Prey is a police procedural novel, which means that the murder mystery is solved by those trained to solve murders, the police, and the story is heavy on the police process.  This is a new type of mystery for me to read and, so far, I like it.  As Roberta mentioned in her Writer’s Review, this book has a lot of characters, but I’ve been able to follow along and keep them all straight without too much difficulty.  I was struck by the amount of detail Sandford gives for each character. For example, in Chapter 6 we are introduced to Lapstrake, a police officer from the Intelligence division.

Lapstrake was a bland, twenty-something guy with a home haircut who wore blue Sears work pants and a blue shirt that said “Cairn’s Glass” on the back.

A blue shirt wasn’t descriptive enough.  Sandford added “Cairn’s Glass” to the back of it.  I had to wonder why Cairn’s Glass, if that would be significant to the story later on, but it did succeed in making Lapstrake’s character more memorable.

Appreciation of Women

Lucas Davenport is not your typical police officer.  For one thing, he’s wealthy; he invented board games to supplement his police income, which turned into computer games and led to his own company selling simulations to law enforcement.  For another, Davenport has an innate appreciation of women, especially beautiful women.  He notices and responds to small things about women that seem atypical of a middle-aged male, let alone a street-hardened cop.  For example, in Chapter 2 he interacts with the wife of a friend:

She and Lucas had always liked each other, and if things had been different, if the Clays hadn’t been quite so happy with each other…She smelled good, like some kind of faintly perfumed soap.

Later, when Davenport is home, he continues to think of her:

Clean, mellow, starting to fade, the memory of Verna Clay’s scent still on his mind, he dropped into bed. He was asleep in five minutes, a small easy smile on his face.

Each woman Davenport interacts with affects him in some physical way, and he interacts with several in this book, in multiple ways.  I feel I’m at a bit of a disadvantage, meeting Davenport midway through the “Prey” series; throughout the book there are mentions of past relationships that I am certain were main themes in previous novels.  He is a character that I want to see from the very beginning in order to watch his growth and learn how far he’s come.

Bodies Galore

I’m only halfway through the book, but the body count is up to six and potentially there are at least two different killers, maybe more.  It’s a lot to keep track of, and even more to consider for motives and means, but I’m hooked.  I’m eager to finish this review so I can get back to reading!  And then I’ll have to track down the first book in the “Prey” series, Rules of Prey.

Do you like police procedural mysteries?  What did you think of Easy Prey?

Related posts (links will be added as posts go live):

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 85. The Klone and I by Danielle Steel (1998) – Discussion begins June 12, 2017.
Touted as a high-tech love story.

The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott

J. Todd Scott‘s debut novel, The Far Empty, starts out with a bang:

“My father has killed three men.”

With tough, gritty language the narrator describes what happened to the three men his father killed, interlaced with evidence that his father’s three wives all died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances as well. Is the narrator’s father a hardened criminal? No, he’s the local sheriff.

J. Todd Scott’s The Far Empty*


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Characters:

The story is told from the points of view of several characters. In the prologue, the first person narrator turns out to be seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross, whose mature voice belies his age. Caleb has seen way too much in his young life.

After the prologue, each chapter is named for the character who narrates it (from the third person point of view.) For example, “Chris” is Deputy Chris Cherry, who responds to the call when a rancher discovers a body on his land. At first Chris thinks it might be an immigrant who died of exposure — a common occurrence  in that area — until he notices that someone tied the arms with zip-ties. Realizing the implications of what he sees, he investigates the murder and unknowingly triggers a violent chain of events.

Setting:

The setting is the fictional town of Murfee, Texas. It is located in the wide open spaces near Big Bend National Park, a harsh area along the border of Texas and Mexico. People really do die there and law enforcement officers aren’t always whom they seem.

Big-Bend-J. Todd Scott

Public domain photo via Visual hunt

The Author

As mentioned in a recent  book beginnings post, J. Todd Scott visited our writing group last Friday. He told us about his journey to becoming a published author.

Highlights:

Like many of us, he got his start with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Because J. Todd Scott has a job as a DEA agent, he gets up two hours early every weekday morning to write, trying for 600 words per day.  It is working because he has two more novels due out over the next two years.

He mentioned that although the stories of the new novels follow characters from The Far Empty, the next two will be branded as mysteries rather than western crime because they are set in other locations.

A bit of a maverick by modern writing standards, Todd revealed he didn’t share his work with critique groups or beta readers. His agent was the first person to read his first novel. Perhaps that’s why his voice is so strong and clear, because it is not sanded down by the comments of others.

Review

When some members of my writing group said how much they enjoyed The Far Empty, I was excited to get my hands on it.

The author develops powerful and interesting characters. Although it’s a cliché, you will love some of the characters and others you will love to hate. I’ll admit that at first the multiple character narration was a bit disorienting. Who is this person and how do they relate to the others? I gave it a chance, however, and things came into focus.

J. Todd Scott has a unique voice, writing with a combination of English major prose and law enforcement realism. These two ingredients make The Far Empty a novel that will stick with you.

Have you read The Far Empty? What did you think of it?

No End to Trouble

A month or so ago author Marianna Heusler contacted me about reviewing her cozy mystery No End to Trouble: A St. Polycarp Elementary School Mystery. It is the third book in a series and the fourth is coming out soon.

 

Mrs. Hopwood and Mrs. Johnson are friends who teach at St. Polycarp, a Catholic school. When the head master leaves, the new principal shakes things up. Even worse, a cafeteria lady dies. Will the two be able to figure out who killed her without riling the new principal enough to lose their jobs?

Does it sound like something you’d like to read? Here’s an excerpt from page one to help you decide.

He heard footsteps behind him.
He stopped and saw the shadow of someone dressed in black.
He opened his mouth to ask if the person needed help, but he never uttered a word.
Instead he saw the flash of a metal object come flying towards him and hit his skull with a massive force. He heard something crack and he tasted hot blood, as it poured into his eyes and his nose.

Intrigued? As of today, the Kindle Unlimited e-book version is available for free at Amazon.

Series: St.Polycarp Elementary School Mysteries
Paperback: 282 pages
Publisher: Hilliard & Harris (August 9, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591334128
ISBN-13: 978-1591334125

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, by Steig Larsson, is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Stieg Larsson first introduces us to Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (check out my review at Musings, Mischief, and Mayhem), where Lisbeth and Mikael team up to solve the mysterious disappearance of 16-year-old girl more than forty years ago.  The Girl Who Played With Fire continues the saga, with Lisbeth eventually confronting her father, the terror of her childhood, with disastrous consequences.  In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, Larsson pulls the various story lines from the preceding books together for a thrilling conclusion.

When I first saw this book on our list, I knew I would be reading all three books in the trilogy for a couple of reasons:

  1. I hate reading books out of order
  2. To compare the three books to figure out why only the third book showed up on our list

Each of the books in this trilogy became bestsellers, so why did the computer “kick out” this particular book as the best of the best and not the first two in the trilogy?

After reading all three books, I believe the answer is in the level of human interaction that Lisbeth achieves in this third book.  More than one character throughout the books made the observation that Lisbeth might be autistic.  She has extreme difficulties making and maintaining friendships and in sharing personal details about herself with others.  Partly this is a learned response – during her childhood, authorities repeatedly ignored her statements and requests.  Even worse, there was a government group that conspired to incarcerate her in a mental institution as a preteen in order to protect the identity of her father.  But even Lisbeth knows she’s different; she just doesn’t view friendships and social norms the same as others do.  She expends great energy, time, and expense in the first two books protecting her personal privacy to the point of anonymity.  Yes, that’s partly due to safety issues, but also because that’s how she prefers it.  Even those closest to her have learned they will never really know anything personal about her.

Personal Crisis → Growth?

In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, though, Lisbeth undergoes a trial by fire that brings her to a personal crisis.  She must decide whether to take the advice of others, to rely upon others, to resolve her legal issues.  Without their help, it’s certain that she will end up incarcerated in a mental institution for the rest of her life.   Only with their help does she have a chance to be free.  And then when she achieves that legal freedom, Lisbeth goes through more personal conflict before she ultimately admits to herself that she has friends, that she needs friends, that she wants friends, and opens herself and her life up to them.

Larsson’s trilogy is Lisbeth Salander’s story, and it is in this third, and final, book that we see real character growth in her. Without this growth, even though the series wraps up nicely, we would not care as much for Lisbeth.  If she continued her solitary life, continued to ignore and block out of her life those who helped her, all she went through in the three books would have been pointless.  She might as well have allowed those conspiring against her to lock her back up.  Instead, Larsson allows Lisbeth to open the door to a potentially more fulfilling life.  And that, I believe, is reason enough for book three to make the 100 Books List.

What did you think of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

_________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 93 on the list, Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (2008) – Discussion begins February 13, 2017.  This books is classified as Literary Fiction.

Craig Johnson (Longmire Series) @poisonedpen Bookstore

Have you ever met Craig Allen Johnson, who is the author of the famed Longmire Mystery series?

Johnson was in Arizona recently to discuss the release of his newest novella,  The Highwayman.

 

(Amazon Affiliate Link)

We are lucky in Arizona because The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale regularly brings in top-notch authors to give talks. Even better, they record many of the events and post the videos on Livestream. Being able to watch on your own schedule is so helpful for those of us who are constantly overbooked.

If you have a few minutes, check out how living on a Wyoming ranch adds balance to Craig Johnson’s life and creates the setting for his books.

 

 

It is such a treat to get the inside scoop on what the author’s typical writing day is like. In this case, Johnson talks to his horses and ends his work day looking up at the stars in the clear Wyoming skies.

The discussion about the novella length is also fascinating. There’s the impression a novella is a short story, but really it is a 200 page novel. Johnson convinces us that sometimes the story shouldn’t be padded with extra words just to meet the novel-length page requirements.

John is a staunch plotter, writing from an outline he sets up ahead of time. He says it helps prevent the potential from writer’s block because he always knows what is coming next.

I think watching interviews like these help inspire and inform one’s own work. What do you think?

Are you a fan of the book series? What about the TV series based on the books?

If you watch the video, what parts resonated with you?

 

scenic-milky-way-above-forest-in-night-sky

Photo via Visualhunt

Disclosure:  I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. If you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

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