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Saturday, 19 April 2014

‘Poisoned Ground’ by Sandra Parshall

 Published by Poisoned Pen Press,
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0226-1

Rachel Goddard is the vet in a small, rural community in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia. Although Rachel is a relative newcomer, her new husband, Tom Bridger, who has been recently elected Sheriff, is a native of Mason County and has close ties to the community. The Packard development company decide that they wish to create a luxury leisure resort in the area, but it will only go ahead if all the landowners are willing to sell. This divides the community. Many people are desperate for the employment and income the development would bring, even though Rachel's researches reveal that the Packard company is an unscrupulous and ruthless employer. Some landowners are eager to accept Packard's offer, others are undecided and Joanna MacKendrick, Rachel's closest friend, is determined not to sell her flourishing stables. Another couple who have been unwilling to sell are Lincoln and Marie Kelly, despite the temptation to acquire the money to move to a place where it would be easier for Marie to get care for Lincoln, who is suffering from Alzheimer's and growing increasingly irrational. When Marie and Lincoln are murdered, it is a shock to the whole community and a grief to Tom, because his late mother had been one of Marie's closest friends.

As Tom and his deputies struggle to solve the murder and contain the hostility the opposing sides are exhibiting, more violence, arson and vandalism occurs and Rachel is threatened by an unknown adversary. The close community has many bitter secrets that have lain dormant for years and now, under the pressure of the disruption and division caused by Packard's proposal, the evil of the past erupts into fresh violence.

This is the sixth Rachel Goddard mystery and I very much regretted not having read the previous books. It is an intriguing story, filled with beautifully drawn characters. It intrigued me that some of the people and situations were comparable to rural England when I first moved into the country from London, forty years ago, (although fortunately with a lot less firearms.)  Rachel and Tom are thoroughly appealing protagonists and I was totally on their side and hoping that everything would work out for them and Tom's orphaned nephew, Simon. It is especially refreshing to have a female protagonist who, while helping her husband investigate in any way she can, does not recklessly put herself in harm's way.

Poisoned Ground is an excellent read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it wholeheartedly. I certainly plan to read others in the series.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Sandra Parshall  was born and raised in South Carolina. Her first job that paid  her for writing was that of weekend obituary columnist on her hometown paper, The Spartanburg Herald. Eventually she became a reporter. From there I went to jobs on newspapers in West Virginia and The Baltimore Evening Sun. Sandra had  written fiction since childhood, but I didn't find the genre comfortable in -- mystery/suspense -- until a few years ago. The Heat of the Moon was her first attempt at psychological suspense. With its publication, she set off on a new phase of life.
She lived for many years in the Washington, DC, area, and currently share a house in McLean, Virginia, with my husband, a long-time Washington journalist, and two unbelievably spoiled cats. (See below. They demanded their own bios.)

 Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013, About the Children is to be published March 2014.

Friday, 18 April 2014

‘Mrs Bazalgette’s Agent’ by Leonard Merrick

Published by British Library, 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7123-5702-9

The story starts in 1887 when Miriam Lea is alone in the world, living in a dingy boarding house in London and feeling very much afraid that soon she will not be able to afford even that. Miriam was dismissed from her post as a governess when it was discovered that she had previously been on the stage and cannot find any alternative respectable employment. In desperation, Miriam applies to be taken on by Mr Bazalgette's detective agency and convinces them that an accomplished lady, able to speak several foreign languages and to move in polite society is a desirable commodity. '”I should have thought,” I remarked with emphasis, “a lady would have been valuable from the first; I have understood that Scotland Yard will pay any amount for ladies and gentlemen, they are so difficult to secure, and still more difficult to keep!” I had not understood anything of the kind, but it was a venture, and it told.'

Miriam's first assignment is to discover the whereabouts of Jasper Vining, a fraudulent bank clerk. Having identified her quarry, she pursues him through many European cities because whenever she makes contact with him he moves on. Eventually she runs him to earth in the diamond fields of South Africa. From the first Miriam has desired to be successful in her mission and justify Mr Bazalgette's faith in her, but as she spends more time with the fraudster, who is now calling himself Jack Vane, she realises that she cares for him and must choose between her honour and her love.

Mr Balzalgette's Agent is an extraordinary book. It was published in 1888 and features the third-ever professional female detective in crime fiction. The book never became widely popular and, some years later, the author decided he disliked it and attempted to buy up all copies of it and destroy them. Fortunately he failed and the British Library published a reprint in 2013.

Miriam Lea is a charming, lively and witty heroine and the whole book is written with a wry humour that does not fully mask the desperation of a young Victorian woman without family, friends or job to support her. Although ostensibly in a diary form, the voice that comes through is that of Miriam Lea confiding directly to the reader.

I would recommend this as a very enjoyable read and for any reader who is interested in the history of crime fiction it is a delightful and intriguing slice of detective fiction, set in the same year that the adventures of Sherlock Holmes first appeared.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Leonard Merrick was born as Leonard Miller in Belsize Park,  After schooling at Brighton College, he studied to be a solicitor in Brighton and studied law at Heidelberg.  Subsequent to his father suffering a financial loss he travelled to South Africa  where he worked as an overseer in the Kimberley diamond mine,  and in a solicitors office.  After surviving a near-fatal case of "camp fever, he returned to London in the late 1880s and worked as an actor and actor-manager under the stage name of Leonard Merrick. He legally changed his name to Leonard Merrick in 1892. He later worked his experiences in South Africa and in the theater into numerous works of fiction. Merrick's novels include Mr Bazalgette's Agent (1888), a detective story; Violet Moses (1891), about a Jewish financier and his troubled wife; The Worldlings (1900), a psychological investigation of a crime; Conrad in Quest of His Youth (1903), the tale of a disillusioned man who, at thirty- seven, sets out to pick up the romantic threads of his younger life, it is "judged his most successful work" George Orwell thought that this is because it is one of the few which is not set against a background of poverty. Merrick died at the age of 75, in a London nursing home on 7 August 1939.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013

Monday, 14 April 2014

‘The Tooth Tattoo’ by Peter Lovesey

Published by Sphere,
13 February 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5060-3

Out of work classical musician Mel Farran is thrilled when he's chosen to join the Staccati, a string quartet of great renown, filling a vacancy created by the disappearance of a former member four years ago. With a residency in Bath, he settles into a life of rehearsal, private concerts and one-to-one tuition with young students, as well as getting to know his new colleagues.

When the body of a young Japanese woman is found drowned, suspicion turns to the music world as the police discover that she was an ardent fan of string quartets. Then the police learn that another young Japanese woman who adored classical music died in similar circumstances in Vienna some years earlier - when the Staccati were performing there. By a horrible coincidence, Mel was there with another orchestra as well, so he cannot be ruled out as a suspect even though he was not with the Staccati at the time.

Both the police and the musicians are shocked when the missing member of the Staccati appears after a four year absence, sharing outrageous stories of the Japanese mafia, kidnap and torture. Before they can question him further, he is found dead. Presumed suicide, the forensic evidence proves it was murder and suspicion regarding the Staccati deepens...

The author weaves a clever tale that draws together the threads of private and public life into a seamless, if fortuitously convenient, tapestry. The characters take time to develop but ultimately their personalities and motivations shine through, although the reader is kept guessing until the very end. I enjoyed this so much that I almost forgot the intent was to review the book, not just read it! I would recommend this for a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the fireplace, perhaps even with a string quartet playing on the stereo…
Reviewer: Joanna Leigh

Peter Lovesey  was born in 1936, and attended Hampton Grammar School before going to Reading University to study fine art. He soon switched to English. National Service followed before Peter qualified as a teacher. Having already published The Kings of Distance, named Sports Book of the Year by World Sports, in 1969 he saw a competition offering £1,000 for a first crime novel and decided to enter. Wobble to Death won and in 1975 Peter became a full-time crime writer, winning awards including the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000 in recognition of his career in crime writing.

Joanna Leigh studied French and German at university. She works in the aerospace industry and is a chartered marketer in the UK. She describes herself as a voracious reader, enjoying genres as varied as crime thrillers, historical fiction and autobiographies. Joanna lives in London. She is the daughter of crime thriller writer Leigh Russell.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Thomas Mogford

Radmila May reviews two novels by Thomas Mogford

Both these novels feature Spike Sanguinetti, a native Gibraltarian who practises in the colony as a tax lawyer. Spike lives with his father Rufus who is physically frail but mentally highly alert. Spike’s mother is long dead.

‘Sign of the Cross’ by Thomas Mogford
Published by Bloomsbury Press, 11 April 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4088-2918-9

 Sign of the Cross is set in Malta. It appears that Spike’s uncle has killed his wife after a brutal sexual attack and then himself. As executor of both their wills Spike travels to Malta to settle their affairs. But he, and his father, are not convinced that his pious, gentle, art historian uncle was responsible for both deaths and that the Maltese police were wrong to close the case. His search leads him through aspects of Malta far removed from the popular tourist sites: sunny beaches, the carnivals and religious festivals, and the prehistoric temples. At the refugee camp where his aunt was a volunteer worker he encounters Zahra now working there as a teacher. She regrets the deaths of Spike’s aunt and uncle but is also concerned at the disappearance from the camp of a young Somali mother and her baby. But it also seems that there are links with the famous painter, Caravaggio, and with the powerful Knights of Malta. Moreover, it is clear that some people do not want Spike to be in Malta and will go to considerable lengths to stop his investigation. And then Zahra disappears . . .

Spike Sanguinetti is a welcome addition to the ranks of action heroes, capable of using both his brain and his fists, tenacious in pursuing his aims, while showing concern for those in need of help. The action is fast and gripping and the on-off relationship with the feisty, independent Zahra adds a certain romantic tension to the series so far although back on Gibraltar is there is also the beautiful police woman Jessica. The sense of place in each novel - Gibraltar, Morocco, Malta - is powerfully evoked; one wonders on which Mediterranean islands Spike will find himself in future novels. Recommended especially for thriller readers.

‘Shadow of the Rock by Thomas Mogford
Published by Bloomsbury Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-4088-31392

In Shadow of the Rock Spike is asked for help by an old school acquaintance, Solomon Hassan, who is on the run from the police in Tangier where he is suspected of the murder of a young Spanish woman, Esperanza. As a tax lawyer with no knowledge of criminal or extradition law, Spike is at first reluctant to be involved but when Solomon’s mother demands that Spike assist her son; as a Jew, she says that he will not have a fair trial in Morocco. So Spike agrees to represent Solomon at the extradition hearing in Tangier. Solomon is an accountant with the giant energy firm Dunetech which specialises in solar energy from the desert sun; the murdered girl was the stepdaughter of his boss. Spike’s search to find out more about Esperanza and her last evening leads him to a squalid nightclub; he learns that she had a quarrel with a young Bedouin woman Zahra. Zahra is at first hostile to Spike but when he rescues her from being not-so-accidentally run down she is prepared to help him although she is more interested in finding out what has happened to her father who disappeared several years ago after a dispute with Dunetech. Together, facing violence and danger, they seek the truth through the sordid slums of Tangier and the arid desert sands.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Thomas Mogford  has worked as a journalist for 'Time Out' and as a translator for the European Parliament and UEFA Champions League. While studying to be a lawyer, he looked into practising abroad. Instead, he decided to write a series of thrillers set around the Mediterranean. "Shadow of the Rock" introduces Spike Sanguinetti, a lawyer from Gibraltar who is willing to risk everything to protect his client. It was shortlisted for the 2013 New Blood Dagger Award for best new crime writer. The third novel in the series, Hollow Mountain, will be published in April 2014.

‘The Weeping Girl’ by Hakan Nesser

Published by Pan,
26 September 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-4472-1658-2

The Weeping Girl features one of Van Veeteren’s former colleagues, Inspector Eva Moreno. She is on her way, unwillingly because she is supposed to be on holiday with her boyfriend, to the town of Lejnice to interview the minor criminal Franz Lampe-Leerman. During the train journey she becomes aware that a young girl in the same compartment is weeping. That girl is Mikaela Maager and she has just learned from her mother that her father Arnold Maager fifteen years before had been convicted of murdering a girl, Winnie Maas, who was a pupil at the school where Arnold was a teacher. Arnold and Winnie had been having an affair and he had confessed to the murder. Now he is confined to a mental hospital and Mikaela, who has not seen her father since she was three, is on her way to visit him. But after that meeting she disappears. Shortly afterwards so does Arnold. It becomes necessary to delve into the circumstances around Winnie’s death. Eva is drawn into the investigation while at the same time Lampe-Leerman has been making accusations about an unnamed police colleague, allegations of paedophilia which could be substantiated - for a price.

It is strange that Nesser’s novels are only now being published in English. With their intricate yet believable plotlines and convincing characterisation they are a substantial contribution to Scandinavian crime fiction. This novel ishighly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Other novels by Hakan Nesser: Borkman’s Point, The Return, The Mind’s Eye, Woman with a Birthmark, The Inspector and Silence, The Unlucky Lottery, Hour of the Wolf.

Hakan Nesser  was born February 21, 1950 in Kumla Sweden. He attended Uppsala University. He is a celebrated award-winning Swedish crime writer whose novels have only recently been translated into English. His series detective is Van Veeteren, although by the time of the novels reviewed below he has retired and is now running an antiquarian bookshop. He is often called upon for informal advice by his former colleagues who value his insight and ability to make connections that others miss. The novels are set in a fictitious country, never named but an amalgam of  Holland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and perhaps others. The police headquarters is in the town of Maardam.

‘The Strangler’s Honeymoon’ by Hakan Nesser

 Published by Mantle,
26 September 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-230-766-259

In The Strangler’s Honeymoon a nameless man is in holiday in Greece with his wife but when she tells him that she is going to leave him for someone else he strangles her and dumps her body in a ravine. Two years later he picks up a girl in a London pub but when she first encourages his advances and then rejects him he strangles her too. A year later in the fictitious town of Wallburg a third woman is strangled. And a year after that, in Maardam two women, Martina Kammerle who is bipolar, and her 16-year-old daughter Monica are in a sexual relationship with a man calling himself Benjamin Kerran. Because of the mother’s illness both women lead very isolated lives and when they both go disappear they are not missed for some time. A priest in whom Monica had wanted to confide but only with a promise not to go to the police consults Van Veeteren but he is about to go on holiday and tells the priest to come back later. However, before Van Veeteren returns the police dies in an accident - but was it an accident? Meanwhile Martina’s decomposing body has been found in her flat and there are now deep concerns about Monica. All these strands are seemingly unconnected and the many clues resulting from police enquiries seem to lead only to dead ends. It takes Van Veeteren’s intuitive skills to re-examine the clues and find the one which will lead the police along the trail of guilt through the labyrinth to the final revelation.
This is a very long book with a complex narrative. But the author’s skill in handling not only the complicated plot but the enormous cast of characters, each one of whom is tellingly differentiated, is manifest.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Other novels by Hakan Nesser: Borkman’s Point, The Return, The Mind’s Eye, Woman with a Birthmark, The Inspector and Silence, The Unlucky Lottery, Hour of the Wolf.

Hakan Nesser  was born February 21, 1950 in Kumla Sweden. He attended Uppsala University. He is a celebrated award-winning Swedish crime writer whose novels have only recently been translated into English. His series detective is Van Veeteren, although by the time of the novels reviewed below he has retired and is now running an antiquarian bookshop. He is often called upon for informal advice by his former colleagues who value his insight and ability to make connections that others miss. The novels are set in a fictitious country, never named but an amalgam of  Holland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and perhaps others. The police headquarters is in the town of Maardam.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

‘After I'm Gone’ by Laura Lippman

Published by Morrow (USA),
February 11, 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-062-08339-5

Laura Lippman is known for her wonderful series featuring PI. Tess Monaghan, among other terrific books.  So I started this book believing it to be a murder mystery, especially as it begins with the discovery of a dead body.  But then it appeared that I was wrong, that it was instead a very interesting character study, or rather 'studies,' dealing as it does with a dysfunctional family, the wife and three daughters (as well as their significant others) of a
fascinating man, Felix Brewer, rarely seen in these pages, the husband and father of these women, and others who were close to him.  These latter included the lawyer and bail bondsman who were his best friends since their Baltimore high school days, and Julie, the younger mistress with whom he had cheated on his wife for several years as the story opens, which story encompasses a 35-year period.

Felix met Bernadette ("Bambi") when she was 19 years old at a Valentine's Day dance and quickly swept her off her feet, marrying her soon after.  (Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, when Felix and Bambi married, and July 4th are significant dates in the story.)  A bookmaker, he keeps her in very comfortable surroundings until he is arrested, convicted, and about to start serving a prison term when, on July 4th, 1976, he vanishes, with no clue as to his plans or his whereabouts, leaving his wife relatively impoverished, his mistress slightly less so.  Ten years later, to the day, Julie vanishes as well, her dead body found soon after.  The present-day narration begins 26 years later, when Roberto ("Sandy") Sanchez, the Cuban-born retired Baltimore cop who, as a consultant working on cold cases for the police department, picks up the murder file.

If all this was was a book encompassing character studies of each of these, it would very interesting reading.  But that would be selling Ms. Lippman quite short:  She has rendered a fascinating mystery, dealing with Brewer's disappearance, his mistress' murder, and the complex stories of the lives of these people, the detective on the case as well as all the others who make up the suspect group, each rendered in fine detail.  Infidelity, in several manifestations, plays a large role in the plot.  The author has fashioned an ending that you won't see coming, even when you're sure you do.  (Parenthetically, the tie-in to Tess Monaghan near the book's end was a delight.)  As with all Ms. Lippman's books, this one too is highly recommended.
Reviewer: Gloria Feit

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about "accidental PI" Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light. Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.