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September 9, 2019
Between the Bahamas and Brexit, some may have found it difficult to turn off the TV recently. But we all need some respite and certainly the books we read this time should provide it.
First up is the return of an old favourite of mine and of Barbara Fister's as well, who reviews THE SECOND BIGGEST NOTHING, by Colin Cotterill, starring Dr Siri Paiboun. This is the fourteenth time the Laotian doctor has made his appearance and Barbara admits that it might be a bit difficult for newcomers to the series to begin with this one but readers who have read at least a couple of the earlier books will feel happily at home with it.
Patrick Coleman's THE CHURCHGOER, on the other hand, is a debut, and by no means an easy read. Susan Hoover reports that this excursion into the dark side of religious fundamentalism, narrated by a lapsed preacher, may fail to engage readers uninterested in the philosophical questions it raises but says that Coleman writes so engagingly that most will follow the story to its conclusion.
We have two police procedurals this week that have a lot in common, but differ largely in their emphasis, which reflects their countries of origin. The first is also a debut, but one written by an experienced creator of TV thrillers, Søren Sveistrup, who was responsible for the hit Danish series The Killing. THE CHESTNUT MAN follows the investigation undertaken by two police detectives to establish that a current series of killings is connected to an earlier case thought to have been solved. The police work is very solid and the obligatory element of gruesome Scandi noir sufficiently restrained, I thought. THE WHISPER MAN, by Alex North, only appears to be a debut, since its author is said to be a British crime novelist who writes under another name. Cathy Downs calls this a "nice, tight thriller," one that focusses on father-son relationships and the psychology of the serial killer at large.
The next two books are both set in Maine, but draw upon rather different social milieus. Both, however, are concerned with secrets and the problems that arise when they are unduly kept. Edwin Hill's THE MISSING ONES, a psychological thriller, takes place largely on a small island off the Maine coast, a place that has plenty of secrets it wishes to keep hidden. Meredith Frazier says that the author makes us care about the characters and worry about their fates in this suspense-filled novel. The characters in Cambria Brockman's TELL ME EVERYTHING are also situated in Maine, but in a small liberal arts college, a different sort of island, I suppose. They are, Cathy Downs tells us, true Gen-Xers and this is a book that deals with parenting failures and the struggles of young people to grow into functioning adults.
We move away from the psychological, whether pathological or just ordinary, with two novels that deal in different ways with current political concerns. Peter Steiner's THE GOOD COP undertakes to provide a brief outline of German history from the late Weimar Republic to the Second World War with an eye to provoking a contemplation of similarities between those years and the present moment. The issue here is the role of both the press and the forces of law and order in aiding the destruction of democracy. It's not a polemic, however. Steiner never forces the issue - the parallels suggest themselves. Steiner is a New Yorker cartoonist and I felt that this, which is essentially a novella, would provide an excellent basis for a graphic novel. FAKE, by John DeDakis, deals with current events head-on - with fake news, scandal, the #MeToo movement, pro-life, and gender identity - from the perspective of an author who used to be senior copy editor for Wolf Blitzer's program on CNN. Anne Corey found it made compelling reading.
Leaving the present for the moment, we can go back in time to when Agatha Christie, as Andrew Wilson imagines her in DEATH IN A DESERT LAND, not only solves fictional mysteries but real ones too. This time Christie is at an archaeological dig at Ur where she uses her deductive skills and her nursing experience to solve a murder in true Poirot fashion. Meredith Frazier enjoyed this especially for its mixture of fact and fiction and for its convincing representation of Christie as though she were a detective in one of her own books. A LADY'S GUIDE TO GOSSIP AND MURDER by Dianne Freeman takes place in the late 1890s among the upper crust of British society. Here the American-born Countess of Hartleigh must solve a murder in order to clear suspicion from her cousin. PJ Coldren says this is a well-plotted and entertaining traditional novel with an element of romantic tension.
Other cosies include two culinary and one with cats. AND THEN THERE WERE CRUMBS, by Eve Calder, is the first in the Cookie House series. Diana Borse had a mixed response to this one, feeling that it conformed rather too closely to the demands of the cosy when it might have easily gone off in a more interesting direction. Still, she found the characters well drawn and concludes that the book should do well among the audience for which it is intended. The characters in JEALOUSY FILLED DONUTS by Ginger Bolton are also the strong point, says PJ Bolton, who is happy that the book only teeters on the brink of the far too cute without going over the brink.
As you might well guess from the title, THE TIME FOR MURDER IS MEOW, by T.C. LoTempio, involves a cat. Well, more than one. But never fear. Ruth Castleberry assures us that the author is well able to create feline characters who are convincing, amusing, and engaging.
Our guest this week in the "Sixty Seconds With..." spot is Terry Shames, author of the Samuel Craddock historical series. You'll find her answers to our questions in the box to your left.
Our friends at CRIMEREVIEW have also been reading a lot and that's where to go to find out what is going on in UK crime these days.
We'll be back around the end of the month and hope you'll join us once more as the nights draw in and we creep inexorably in the direction of Halloween.
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