Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Man on the Washing Machine ~ Susan Cox

Cox, Susan. 2015. The Man on the Washing Machine. New York: Macmillan (Minotaur Books). ISBN:  978-1250065803. $25.99 USD.

Winner of the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel award, Susan Cox’s debut mystery is set in a close-knit community in San Francisco, and is full of well-drawn characters the reader will enjoy getting to know.  Theophania Bogart has fled a family scandal in England and settled anonymously into a courtyard community in the Bay area.  Theo witnesses a man fall from a nearby window and finds herself caught up in a series of crimes that ultimately affect her and her entire group of friends. A plump, grieving baker, a stoic surgeon ex-lover, a shady business partner, a troubled teen, a talented gardener, a grumpy Italian professor and the ubiquitous gay best friend surround the main character and provide humorous dialogue and intriguing plot elements. Rounding out this cast is a female Columbo-like detective and a handsome yet mysterious lawyer who runs a women’s shelter.  As the crimes increase and the motives remain murky, the reader will have fun trying to figure out “who-done-it,” and will be surprised once the tale is told.  A charming debut.  

The Verdict ~ Nick Stone

Stone, Nick. 2015. The Verdict. New York: Pegasus.
ISBN: 978-1605989235.  $25.95 USD

I will always remember where I was when I finished Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow all those many years ago (a small dilapidated rental in Indianapolis, Indiana), because the twist ending totally surprised me (which doesn’t happen often)!  Nick Stone has been described as England’s John Grisham, but I see more of Turrow in him, myself.  The Verdict doesn’t have one big surprise ending, but multiple twists throughout the narrative that make it almost impossible to put down.  (I actually stayed up until 1:00 a.m. finishing this book on a work day)! 

One of the things I most enjoyed about this novel was the view into the British legal system, and the similarities and differences to our own. Suspects are "cautioned" rather than "Mirandized," and there are different rules of evidence, procedure and jury selection.  But the thing I most enjoyed was the story itself.

Terry Flynt is a law clerk (as opposed to a paralegal, solicitor or barrister) whose temporary job has turned into a full time stint at the prestigious Kopf-Randall-Purdom law firm where he assists the head of the Criminal Defense Division – essentially keeping the wealthy corporate clients and their progeny out of trouble and/or jail.  When KRP lands a big case, the defense of a wealthy banker accused of murdering a woman in his hotel room, the entire firm is ecstatic – except Terry. For Vernon James, the accused, is a former friend from Terry’s past who was instrumental in a huge betrayal from which Terry is still recovering.

To keep his job, Terry must participate in VJ’s defense, but his hatred of his former friend causes an internal moral struggle – help find evidence of VJ’s innocence, ignore evidence of his guilt, or do his best to make sure VJ is incarcerated for the rest of his life.

Who is telling the truth and who is lying?  What really happened in that hotel room?  Does insurmountable evidence necessarily prove guilt?  And what secrets should remain hidden?  Nick Stone provides enough twists and turns, as well as fascinating trial details, to keep the reader quickly turning the pages of this legal thriller, until the satisfying, but unexpected, ending.

The Passenger ~ Lisa Lutz

Lutz, Lisa. 2016. The Passenger. New York: Simon & Schuster.
ISBN: 978-1451686630.  $25.99 USD.

Kudos to author Lisa Lutz for moving beyond her Spellman Files into more serious fiction in last year’s How to Start a Fire, and now, The Passenger.  Fans of the Spellman series may object to this transition since it is hard to let go of Izzy, Rae and the rest of the Spellman crew.  (I miss you, guys)!  However, I’m glad I had an opportunity to read The Passenger, a novel of hidden secrets, fake and found identities and road trips.  The main character -Tanya? Amelia? Debra? Emma? Sonia? Jo? -  is hiding from a secret in her past and has become an expert at assuming new identities in order to survive.  When her tavern-owner husband is killed in an accidental fall (are we sure about that?), Tanya goes on the run, afraid she’ll be a suspect in his death.  Criss-crossing the United States, in a variety of dilapidated vehicles, with fewer and fewer resources at hand, our protagonist begins to lose more and more of herself, her integrity and her courage as she tries to stay hidden.  Along the way she encounters a wide variety of characters and situations that seem helpful at first; but we soon see the darker side of the life she is being forced to live.  The narrative is interspersed with old e-mails from someone in Tanya’s past, and we gradually are given more and more clues about why she has been on the run for almost 10 years.  Darker than her previous novels, but propulsive in narrative and dialogue, we can’t help hanging on for the ride to a surprising twist of an ending.  Though I will always have a soft spot for The Spellmans, some of my favorite literary characters, I enjoyed being part of the road trip in The Passenger.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Marked In Flesh: a Novel of the Others ~ Anne Bishop

Bishop, Anne. 2016. Marked in Flesh. New York: ROC. 
ISBN 978-0451474476. $27.00 (USD).

Picking up shortly after the events of Vision in Silver, Anne Bishop’s 4th novel of “The Others” succeeds in immersing fans of this excellent urban fantasy series in the lives of the characters living in the unique world of the terra indigene, or earth natives.  Readers accustomed to tough-as-nails urban fantasy heroines are initially surprised by the innocent and naive Meg Corbin, who escapes a horrific life of abuse and captivity and lands in the middle of the Courtyard of the shape-shifting Others.  But Meg is more than she seems: a cassandre sangue, or blood prophet, who has visions when she sheds blood.  Meg's visions have helped the Others in the Courtyard, and some human friends, as well, survive a number of traumatic events.  In this novel, the Humans First Movement (the HFM), is planning multiple attacks against the Others and the humans who are their friends.  It will be up to Meg and her allies in the Courtyard to avert the coming crisis triggered by the animosity between the members of the HFM and the Others, while the terra indigene Elders decide whether the entire human population should be destroyed forever.  Readers unfamiliar with this series may have trouble comprehending the story due to the complex world-building the author has created in her previous novels in the series.  However, those who have long been fans will enjoy spending more time in this unique world of “The Others.”

Black Rabbit Hall ~ Eve Chase

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Chase, Eve. 2016. Black Rabbit Hall. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN: 9780399174124 PRICE $27.00 (USD)

What really happened at Black Rabbit Hall?  That's the mystery that drives the protagonist as well as the reader of this intriguing debut by Eve Chase.  Shifting back and forth in time, the author drops subtle clues in the narratives that keep the reader turning the pages, and made it hard for this reader not to skip forward to the end.  I'm glad I resisted, otherwise I would have missed out on some of the beauty of the author’s prose and the clever way she leaves cliff-hangers as she shifts between the lives of Amber Alton in 1969 and Lorna Dunaway in present-day London.

Something happened at Black Rabbit Hall, the summer home in Cornwall of an affluent London family one summer in 1969. Years later Lorna Dunaway, driven by a vague memory of a place she visited with her recently deceased mother, searches for a location to hold her wedding. As Lorna spends time in Cornwall, she is pulled into the mystery of the Alton family and the role that Black Rabbit Hall played in the course of their lives, and hers, as well. Filled with well-drawn characters and propulsive suspense, Eve Chase’s debut will keep the reader engaged and intrigued as the secrets of Black Rabbit Hall are gradually revealed. An outstanding first novel.