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Sunday 31 May 2015

‘The Gray Man’ by Mark Greaney

Published by Sphere,
9 October, 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5025-2

I've not heard of this author before, but he can certainly pack a literary punch.  His protagonist, Court Gentry, is a professional hit-man and – as so many of them are, perhaps from necessity – a loner.  Only one man knows who he really is. He possesses the ability to do his job and vanish, leaving no clues at all. 

I enjoyed this book though some of its action sequences stretch the reader's belief almost to breaking point.  For a novel of this kind, the writing style is superior. In this book, he himself is being pursued by international teams of elite hit-squads trying to find and eliminate him, after he kills the brother of the Nigerian President. 

For a top-notch assassin, and despite his tough-guy occupation, and superhuman Gentry is much like your man on the street.  Since he suffers from vertigo, he is afraid of high places, and seems to have a weak bladder since he takes regular toilet breaks. On the other hand, his talent for withstanding an enormous amount of personal injury while continuing to take on or elude those who are out to get him transform him into a super-hero.
Reviewer: Susan Moody

Mark Greaney  was born in Memphis. He is an American novelist, best known as Tom Clancy's collaborator on his final three books, and for continuing the Jack Ryan character and "Tom Clancy Universe" following Clancy's passing. He has a degree in International Relations and Political Science.  In his research for The Gray Man novels he has travelled to more than fifteen countries, visited the Pentagon and many Washington, D.C. Intelligence agencies, and trained alongside military and law enforcement in the use of firearms, battlefield medicine, and close-range combative tactics. Marks books are published in several languages and are available in paperback, ebook and audiobooks. A feature film adaptation of The Gray Man is in development by Columbia Pictures. Mark lives in Memphis, Tennessee

Susan Moody was born and brought up in Oxford.  She has published over 30 crime and suspense novels, including the Penny Wanawake series and the Cassandra Swann bridge series.  She is a past Chairman of the British Crime Writers' Association, a member of the Detection Club, a past Writer-in-Residence at the University of Tasmania and a past President of the International Association of Crime Writers.  She divides her time between south-west France and south-east Kent.   Nominated for the CWA short story award.  Nominated for the RNA's award. 

Saturday 30 May 2015

‘Falling in Love’ by Donna Leon

Published by William Heineman,
9 April  2015.
ISBN: 9780434023585

In this, the 23rd Donna Leon novel featuring Commissario Brunetti of the Venice police, we meet again the fabulous soprano Flavia Petrelli whom we met in the first Brunetti novel, Death at La Fenice.  Now, after many years and a number of husbands and lovers (of both sexes) Flavia whose voice has achieved full maturity has returned to the opera house La Fenice to sing the lead in Puccini’s Tosca. She is quite rightly applauded by all for the strength and passion of her performance. Her fans are numerous. But there seems to be one fan whose admiration amounts to obsession: Flavia is being bombarded by bouquets of yellow roses, not just in Venice on stage but in her dressing room and even in her flat. Nor is it only in Venice; there have been similar episodes in London and Paris. Flavia is as strong and independent as Floria Tosca herself but this anonymous pursuit amounts, she feels, to stalking and stalkers, she knows, can be dangerous. She seeks advice from Brunetti but he is not minded to take Flavia’s fears seriously until a young woman, also a singer, whom Flavia knows slightly, is pushed down some steps and seriously injured. Brunetti suspects there is a link but it is difficult to establish although in the end he does do so but by this time Flavia’s own life is in danger. Once again he has had to rely on Signorina Elettra’s internet skills and on the co-operation of his police colleagues, while his boss Vice-Quaestore Patta does his best to obstruct him.

It’s always a pleasure to read a Brunetti novel; doubly so in this case because the first opera I ever saw was Tosca and I was utterly blown away by the music and the drama. And Brunetti’s domestic life is always a relief to come to after all those police procedurals in which the investigating officer is a lone misery beset by relationship and alcohol problems. Apparently the Brunetti novels have been produced for German TV; maybe one day they could be bought for the BBC4 Saturday night slot.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Donna Leon was born in Montclair, New Jersey of Irish/Spanish descent. She first went to Italy as a student in 1965 returning regularly over the next decade while pursuing a career as an academic in the States and then later in Iran, (where she taught English to helicopter pilots for three years), China (teaching literature at a university near Shanghai) and finally Saudi Arabia.  Donna then decided to move to Venice permanently, where she has now lived for more than twenty five years.  Her novels are all set in Venice, featuring police Commissario Guido Brunette and are widely praised, amongst other things, for her ability to create a remarkable sense of place, and to conjure up the sights and smells of Venice.

Radmila May was born in the US but has lived in the UK ever since apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and has been working for them off and on ever since. For the last few years she has been one of three editors working on a new edition of a practitioners' text book on Criminal Evidence by her late husband, publication of which has been held up for a variety of reasons but hopefully will be published by the end of 2015. She also has an interest in archaeology in which subject she has a Diploma.

Friday 29 May 2015

‘Whiskers of the Lion’ by P L Gaus

Published by Plume,
9 April 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-14-218173-7 (PB)

The Amish are gentle, peace-loving folk, and an Amish-country mystery with a particularly violent death in the first chapter seems, at first sight, like a contradiction in terms. But in a way, that’s the whole point of P L Gaus’s carefully plotted, atmospheric novel, and possibly of his entire series of Amish-country novels.

Fannie Helmuth is a young Amish woman, and a key potential witness in a major drugs case; she has gone missing, in fear for her life. The leading perpetrator is still at large, and Fannie is in extreme danger until the woman is caught. The Amish community has ways of protecting its own; as long as she remains among her own people, Fannie is safe – but the FBI are desperate to lay hands on her, to ensure she is available to testify when the drug-dealers are finally tracked down.

Sheriff Bruce Robertson is not Amish himself, but he has great sympathy with them. An Amish community follows its own traditions and practices within his territory, and he is keen to shield them not only from the criminal underworld which seems to exist everywhere, but also from less congenial elements of his own community of law-keepers. So he devises his own plan to keep Fannie safe, and protect her and her people from the worst excesses of the FBI.

The result is an engaging account of how his plan plays out, interwoven with an insight into the ways of the Amish people. They are the true heroes of the story: old-fashioned and naive by some standards, but canny and astute under their quaint, ingenuous exterior. The narrative moves at a leisurely pace, but since that’s how life is in rural Ohio, it’s appropriate.

The novel contains the essential elements of a good murder mystery: gruesome death; interesting characters with plenty of backstory, who make you want to cheer when they get one over on the  FBI men; those hobnail-booted federal agents ripe for duping, who seem to be de rigueur in an American mystery set outside the big city; and of course a dramatic final take-down. But it also has a lot more. There’s a generous helping of gentle humour; a sense of life going on outside the story, in an environment that is brought vividly to life; and an ending which is satisfying on its own terms, though possibly not in a conventional way.

There’s a whole series of Amish-country mysteries; Whiskers of the Lion is the tenth. They may not be easily available in UK bookshops, and eBook editions seem to be in short supply too. I think that’s a great pity.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

P L Gaus was born in Athens, Ohio, in 1949, and he has lived in Ohio for most of his life.Paul’s extensive knowledge of the culture and lifestyle of the Ohio Amish comes from over thirty years of travel throughout Holmes and surrounding counties in Ohio, where the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite population sprawls out over the countryside near Millersburg, Wooster, and Sugarcreek. Paul took an interest in writing fiction in 1993, and with the advice and encouragement of author Tony Hillerman, he began writing mystery novels set among the Amish in Holmes County, Ohio. The first of Gaus’s mysteries, Blood of the Prodigal, An Ohio Amish Mystery, was published by Ohio University Press in June of 1999, and a total of six novels have appeared in this series: Broken English, 2000, Clouds without Rain, 2001, Cast a Blue Shadow, 2003, A Prayer for the Night, 2006, and Separate from the World, 2008. A seventh novel in the series is in preparation. Paul retired recently as the Benjamin S. Brown Professor of Chemistry at The College of Wooster, where he was Chairperson of the Chemistry Department. He was educated at Miami University (B.S.) and Duke University (Ph.D.), and he has held positions as Visiting Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, Texas A&M University, University of Wisconsin (Madison), and The Ohio State University.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘The Cold Dish’ by Craig Johnson

Published by Orion,
28 April 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-4091-5903-2 (PB)

The high plains of Wyoming are better known as a location for an old-fashioned cowboy adventure than a 21st century murder mystery – but give or take the odd mobile phone and helicopter, there’s not a lot of difference between the two in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series.

The Cold Dish is the first, newly available in the UK though nearly ten years old in the USA. Walt Longmire is the long-serving sheriff of Absaroka County, leading a small team of deputies from a tiny town which hardly qualifies as the one-horse variety.

Since The Cold Dish is the first of the series, in addition to plotting the mystery Johnson has to introduce his cast of richly-drawn, idiosyncratic characters. This makes for an unhurried pace – probably much like day-to-day life on the high plains, where the lawmen spend much of the day with their feet up on the desk, and most serious crime in an average week is a bar-room brawl.

But this is no average week. A body is found out on the high plains, and Sheriff Walt quickly identifies the victim as one of a gang of teenagers who raped a young disabled Cheyenne girl a few years earlier. The weapon is a distinctive type of antique rifle, and the owners of at least two of them in the vicinity happen to be Cheyenne. Is it a revenge killing? And if so, are the other gang members the next targets?

Suddenly Walt’s three and a half lawmen have a real crime to investigate – just as winter arrives in Wyoming with its usual disruptive flourish, and the state police want their piece of the action.

Johnson succeeds admirably at leading the reader round the same convoluted path as Walt finds himself following, at the same time bringing to life the people who inhabit both the foreground and the background of the vast and treacherously beautiful landscape. Among others, we meet Henry Standing Bear, Walt’s closest friend, a Cheyenne man of few words but much thought; Victoria Moretti, his potty-mouthed deputy from the eastern USA, far and away the best detective on the small force; taciturn Ferg and cocky Turk, the other deputies; Lonnie Little Bird, the raped girl’s wheelchair-bound father; Vonnie, Walt’s embryo love interest; Ruby, his sharp-tongued dispatcher and office manager; and a whole lot more besides, who hopefully will reappear as the series progresses. They all have backstory and baggage, which makes for a lot of potential.

The Cold Dish has plenty of appeal for lovers of old-fashioned westerns and modern murder mysteries alike. And Walt Longmire is a character  and a half. The series has a dozen titles in it; fingers crossed they all make it across the Atlantic.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Craig Johnson has received both critical and popular praise for his novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man's Moccasins and The Dark Horse. All five novels have been made selections by the Independent Booksellers Association, and The Cold Dish was a DILYS Award Finalist and was translated into French in 2009 as Little Bird and was just named one of the top ten mysteries of the year by Lire magazine and won the Prix du Roman Noir as the best mystery novel translated into French for 2010.  Death Without Company was selected by Booklist as one of the top-ten mysteries of 2006, won the Wyoming Historical Society's fiction book of the year. Kindness Goes Unpunished, the third in the Walt Longmire series, was number 38 on the American Bookseller's Association's hardcover best seller list.
Another Man's Moccasins, was the recipient of Western Writer's of America's Spur Award as Novel of the Year and the Mountains and Plains Book of the Year.  The Dark Horse, the fifth in the series has garnered starred reviews by all four prepublication review services, one of the only novels to receive that honour and was named by Publisher's Weekly as one of the top one hundred books of the year.
Craig lives with his wife Judy on their ranch in Ucross, Wyoming, population 25.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.