Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Lost Empress by Steve Robinson

First Line: This would be his first murder, and he hoped it would be his last.

Genealogist Jefferson Tayte's client has an interesting ancestor. Every record Tayte can find insists that this ancestor drowned one hundred years ago when the Empress of Ireland sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence River; however, his client's very existence proves that can't be true. He has to get to the bottom of the mystery, and the bottom is in England. Tayte's search will have him uncover secrets buried before the beginning of World War I, and-- once again-- he's going to be a part of an investigation into murder. Who says researching family history is dull?

As in his previous book To the Grave, author Steve Robinson tells his story with two narratives; one in 1914 and Tayte's in the present day. It is a technique he does well. I found both narratives to be equally interesting, and both kept me guessing at how all the pieces fit together. 

In addition, Robinson shines the spotlight on an almost forgotten tragedy: the sinking of the Empress of Ireland. With a death toll almost as high as the Titanic, the Empress of Ireland has long been overshadowed by the Titanic, the sinking of the Lusitania, and by the beginning of World War I. The Lost Empress does deal tangentially with the Great War and its centenary this year by focusing on some of the events that led up to it. This strong historical foundation adds a great deal to the past narrative in the book.

As someone who's read all four of Robinson's Jefferson Tayte mysteries, it's easy to see what a canny writer he is. One of the things I enjoy the most is his character's use of basic genealogist's tools to solve mysteries. Having lived with two of this breed, I know just how much information can be found in old records, be they census records, wills, photographs, newspaper accounts, or letters and diaries. To the uninitiated it may seem incredulous that Tayte can solve crime using these methods, but it's not. (Did you know that there's such a thing as forensic genealogy?)

Another thing that Robinson has done throughout this series is vary the action. From someone who blundered from one concussion to the next in the first book, Tayte has become calmer and more assured-- even to the point of dodging bullets in The Last Queen of England. Robinson knows that there aren't many genealogists out there who dodge bullets for a living, so there's no repeat of that in this book. Instead the focus is on that very puzzling ancestor and her story, and it's a very rich and satisfying mystery to solve.

This book can easily be read as a standalone, but as the story ends with Tayte being on the verge of making a life-changing decision, chances are excellent that this is one series you're going to want to continue following.

The Lost Empress by Steve Robinson
Thomas and Mercer © 2014
eBook, 337 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #4 Genealogical Crime mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley 

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

From the Acknowledgements: After I was fortunate enough to win the Cowboys & Indians Tony Hillerman Award with "Old Indian Trick," the first short story in this collection and the first short story I had ever written, I got the bright idea that I'd send it to the folks who subscribed to my newsletter as a free gift for the holidays.

Author Craig Johnson just didn't know what he was getting himself into. The following November fans starting asking him about that year's Christmas Eve story, and thus began a tradition. Each Christmas Eve, those fans who've signed up at Johnson's website are treated to a short story-- another little glimpse into the life of beloved character Sheriff Walt Longmire. It didn't take long for folks to start asking about print editions of these stories, and Wait for Signs is the first collection. 

Having read each tale-- except for the brand-new "Petunia, Bandit Queen of the Bighorns"-- in my Christmas Eve emails, I looked forward to having a copy sitting on my Craig Johnson shelf in my personal library. With an introduction by Lou Diamond Phillips who portrays Henry Standing Bear on the hit television series Longmire, this volume contains gems, including "Divorce Horse" and "Messenger" which have only been available as digital editions. These stories are filled with humor, with the characters so many fans have grown to love like family, and with glimpses into Walt's present and past. 

Wait for Signs is the perfect introduction for new readers who have yet to travel to Absaroka County, Wyoming, and it's perfect for fans. As soon as I got my copy, I had to sit down and start reading because I quite simply needed a Walt Fix. Yes, I'd read them before, but there's no better pick-me-up than to laugh at the sly wit in "Old Indian Trick," to revisit the Port-A-Potty in "Messenger," to meet the woman who believes Walt is a deity in "Ministerial Aide," or to laugh at the pork rind-addicted crooks in "High Holidays."

I'd better warn you: if you're a first-time Craig Johnson reader when you pick up Wait for Signs, don't be surprised if you immediately begin a fevered quest to get your hands on all books Walt Longmire. Craig Johnson's writing is more addictive than those Lays potato chips we used to hear about all the time.

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson
ISBN: 9780525427919
Viking © 2014
Hardcover, 192 pages

Short Stories, Sheriff Walt Longmire
Rating: B+
Source: Publicist 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where Should You Travel To?

You Should Travel to Africa


You are ready for a grand adventure, and you're not afraid to get off the beaten path completely. You are ready to immerse yourself in nature, thrills, and very foreign lands. You want to experience culture shock.

Whether you're hanging out in Cape Town by the beach or going on a week long safari, you'll love the journey that is Africa. You're looking for a trip that will change your perspective (and your life), and Africa is the perfect place to do just that! 


Betty Webb at The Poisoned Pen!

To be perfectly honest, I've had better weeks. I'm still recuperating from some sort of stomach bug that laid me so low that I missed a favorite author at The Poisoned Pen, so I was bound and determined that I'd make it to Betty Webb's official launch party for Desert Rage.

It was a gorgeous October afternoon and crosstown traffic was light, so I made good time to my favorite bookstore. I had plenty of time to chat with one of the staff, buy some books (pictured to the right), and reserve a copy of yet another book before I sat down with my advance reader's copy of Timothy Hallinan's latest Poke Rafferty mystery. 

At least that was my intention. Instead I heckled David and Jeff as they set up the chairs, and got to chat with Betty as she sat down by me to autograph a big stack of mail order copies of Desert Rage. "I've been told that the room where I usually sign is a mess, and they're afraid books will fall on me," Betty told me. "I think that would be the perfect death for an author-- to be buried under a mountain of books!"  As she went off to browse, I did finally find myself lost in Thailand with Poke, but Betty's fans began arriving in smiling, chatting groups, and I was torn between people watching and reading. 

Betty Webb with one of her fans.
Of course people watching in a bookstore means I'm also keeping an eye on the books they want to buy. We fans are here because we love one author in particular, but what other books and authors do we enjoy? I usually find the results are fairly evenly divided between those who choose other books I love and those who choose books that I don't care for. 

While I was ruminating over the other folks' reading material, Betty was laughing and chatting with one fan after another. Being a local author, she knew several by name and gave one or two big hugs, but she was happy to talk with everyone who approached her. 

A Puffin on the Horizon

Background L to R: Betty Webb, Barbara Peters. Foreground: Ariel with the cake!

Since this was a launch party for Betty and her latest Lena Jones mystery Desert Rage, The Poisoned Pen staff made sure there was cake and iced tea for everyone, and the goodies underscored the festive atmosphere. Seconds before the official start of the event, which was recorded on Livestream,  host Barbara Peters donned her editor's hat and asked if there was a puffin on the horizon-- referring to the next Gunn Zoo mystery, The Puffin of Death. Betty smiled and said, "It's moving right along!" which is wonderful news to everyone who loves her second, light-hearted, series. 

Once the camera began to roll, Peters told us that there was indeed a puffin on the horizon, although she thought the book was "a rather spurious reason for a trip to Iceland." Betty knew she was being teased, but she did mention that she'd already been audited, so she'd just have to wait and see. Peters (who is also a lawyer) said, "As long as you produce the book, the IRS won't care!"

Back in editor mode, Peters said that Webb hardly needs any editing now. "I think that's because I've grown into the voice of Lena," Betty said. Barbara agreed. "In the beginning I constantly had to remove all the cute words Betty used because they just didn't suit Lena." 

Webb laughed and said, "Anyone who knows me knows that the voice of Teddy is the real Betty Webb. I can let my own voice really rip in the Gunn Zoo books."

Desert Rage & Lena

Warning us that there wasn't a lot that could be said about this latest book without giving too much away, Betty gave a brief synopsis of the novel. A right-wing candidate for the U.S. Senate wants Lena to investigate the gruesome murder of a Scottsdale family to which the 14-year-old daughter and her boyfriend have confessed. Lena doesn't like the woman or her politics and doesn't want to take the case. The woman persists, so Lena insists on knowing why the woman is so interested in the case. When the woman was a poor, struggling college student, she sold some of her eggs to a fertility clinic. After doing her own investigating years later, she discovered that the 14-year-old girl who's confessed to torture and murder is her biological daughter. With that information-- and the knowledge that the girl's boyfriend is a product of the same foster care system that Lena herself barely survived-- Lena agrees to take the case.

Available Now!
One of her fans asked Betty where in Scottsdale these characters lived, was it north? Betty laughed and said, "Whenever I talk about big bucks, I have to move my characters north of where I live here in Scottsdale!"  

"Since we can't talk much about the book," Peters asked, "what's been going on in Lena's personal life?" Betty began to fill us in a little bit.

As fans, we all knew that Lena Jones is a product of the foster care system and had to survive more than one abusive foster parent. In doing research for her character, Webb learned that adults who have gone through this are usually in one of two groups: they become clingy because their emotional needs have never been met, or they go out of their way to form no close attachments to other people. Lena belongs to the second group. She's had several relationships, but none of them have ever lasted. In fact, she's been the one to end many of them. This pattern of behavior begins to change in Desert Rage. As she gets deeper into the case, she forms an attachment to young Ali and her boyfriend Kyle. This growing closeness blinds her to some of the facts she uncovers in the investigation.

"But Lena does get to spend a lot of time with the wonderful foster mother who changed her life," Barbara said.

"Yes, she does," Webb agreed. "For quite a while readers were led to believe that this woman was dead, but she's not. She's an artist who lives between Apache Junction and Florence-- which just so happens to be on one of my favorite stretches of road to drive. And you'll notice as you read the books that Lena always has to interview someone in Apache Junction!"

"Write what you know..."

Betty Webb
Betty Webb's books are usually written in main character Lena Jones' voice, but in Desert Rage Lena shares the spotlight with the voice of 14-year-old Ali.

"In order to get ready to write in the voice of a 14-year-old, I read all of Jodi Picoult's books. I used to make fun of Jodi Picoult, but now I love her!" Webb laughed.

"I was a beast when I was fourteen," Betty divulged, "which made those parts of Ali easy to write."

"Well, you know what they say: write what you know," Barbara quipped, which made us all laugh.

Talk turned to the future of the Lena Jones series, which was originally planned to be nine books. (Desert Rage is number eight.) "I've thought of some prequels!" Betty said, which perked us all up after the news that the next book was supposed to be the last. After all, prequels means more than one, right?

Barbara Peters didn't look all that enthusiastic, but Webb didn't notice because she'd immediately gone on to tell us that the ninth Lena Jones book is tentatively titled Desert Vengeance and will have Lena begin to understand what happened to her as a child. "Remember that I said 'tentatively,'" Webb cautioned. "This eighth book was originally titled Desert Regret, but Barbara changed it."

"Yes. I read the manuscript and told Betty, 'Everyone in this book is enraged, not regretful,'" Peters said.

Betty then told us that there would be ten books in the series, but Barbara jumped in to say that she wouldn't be surprised if the series went to twelve.  It's no surprise that everyone in the room really liked the sound of that.

"I have to admit that my husband is the one who suggested prequels," Webb said. "He asked me what Lena was like in college."

Again, talk of prequels had made Peters' face darken slightly, but the mention of college visibly cheered her. "For a minute I was afraid this meant that we'd be seeing Lena as a four-year-old. Lena as a college-age student would be interesting. Who are you going to channel for the 19-year-old Lena?" she asked Betty.

"Oh, I can channel myself for that one!" Betty assured us.

The two women then went on to talk about how characters age in books. Lena Jones is an active woman who often finds herself in dangerous physical situations. In a long-running series, authors have to take care in how they age such physically active characters; otherwise, Lena would find herself too old and decrepit to get herself out of danger. Peters then mentioned that Ian Rankin had had to stop writing his Rebus books because Rebus had reached the mandatory retirement age for a policeman in Scotland-- an age limit which has since been raised. "I still think the Scottish Parliament changed the retirement age for policemen so Rankin could write more Rebus books," Barbara said with a twinkle in her eye.

Talk began to wander from one interesting tidbit to the next. For instance, I never knew that Lena lives above the original location of The Poisoned Pen, which means Desert Investigations is located in the former bookstore. This fact has always made Barbara feel a little proprietary about Lena's business.

From that we went on to learn that Betty would prefer to be executed by firing squad during a short recap of the way Arizona has executed its prisoners on Death Row. (Hanging, which changed to firing squad after a woman's hanging was horribly botched, to electric chair, to lethal injection.) When Betty referred to someone as having been hung, Barbara hopped in with "Pictures are hung. People are hanged"-- something that I'd heard in the last episode of "Lewis." With James Hathaway and Barbara Peters reminding me, I think I'll remember!

Cross Genre!

Betty Webb
Probably the biggest laugh of the afternoon came when talk returned to the Gunn Zoo mysteries, and Webb referred to "Desert Anteater"-- a perfect blend of Lena Jones whose book titles all begin with "desert" and the very first Gunn Zoo book The Anteater of Death.

A fan had asked when Webb had begun writing her second series in relationship to her Lena Jones books. "I started writing the Gunn Zoo books after the fifth Lena Jones book, Desert Cut," Webb said. "Writing Desert Cut was so grisly and disturbing that I decided I needed a little cheer in my life so I wrote Desert Anteater."

"Oh, we're going to have a cross genre book now!" Peters exclaimed. "Lena Jones will be investigating the death of an anteater, and the Phoenix Zoo will be the venue!"

When Webb began writing her second series, she used the Phoenix Zoo as the location for the books, since she'd been a volunteer there for many years, but she soon realized that the location would have to change. "Oh my God, they're not going to let me volunteer there anymore if I keep having people die in their zoo!"  So the location was changed to the Monterrey Bay area of California. Gunn Landing is based on Moss Landing (population 500), "a great town-- I stay at the Captain's Inn every time I'm there!

Betty and Barbara


It was definitely the type of afternoon a person hated to see end. In the free flow of questions and answers, more interesting morsels were shared.

The idea for Desert Run came from Webb's newspaper days when a nearby reporter was interviewing a former prison guard for the World War II era German POW camp in Scottsdale.

The Maytag family was responsible for giving the land (and a large chunk of money) for the creation of the Phoenix Zoo. 

Another great town was mentioned when Betty declared, "Globe [Arizona] is a great town. I'm going to kill someone in Globe someday!"

Webb started out in art school. She's a very visual person, but when reading David Morrell's The Successful Novelist, she came across the fact that most writers leave out a very important sense when setting a scene: the sense of smell. She now tries to include that in her writing.

Barbara added that it was due to Betty's second Lena Jones book, Desert Wives, that they all learned the importance of footnotes. Desert Wives deals with the polygamist sects up on the remote Arizona-Utah border, and Webb included her research in several footnotes, both to enhance her story, show that she was telling the truth, and to ward off lawsuits. 

The polygamists' location was very carefully thought out. If Arizona law enforcement officers showed up, all they had to do was step over the border into Utah, and when Utah law enforcement officers showed up all they had to do was step into Arizona. It was clear that only some sort of technicality would put a stop to something which has wrecked countless human lives. Like income tax evasion brought down Al Capone, something as simple as federal welfare fraud could bring down the polygamist leaders of the Arizona Strip. Barbara Peters sent a copy of Desert Wives to then Governor Janet Napolitano who read it with a great deal of interest, and you might just remember the trial of Warren Jeffs.

The afternoon ended on another humorous note when Betty mentioned a book review of Desert Wives by a syndicated reporter living in Nevada. The reviewer panned the book, stating over and over how nothing in the book could possibly be true. Since she was syndicated, that review appeared all over the United States.  "You can almost track my sales by where that review appeared!" Betty laughed.

Although none of us wanted the afternoon to end, it did. At least there was cake and tea waiting for all of us!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The New Neighbors Weekly Link Round-Up

Denis and I belong to an online neighborhood group that keeps everyone apprised of all sorts of things: block parties, information about trash pick-ups, news of break-ins, and so forth. This past week, there was news of a different sort that raised my eyebrow. In my neighborhood, people are being advised to keep their cats indoors. Why? Because four coyotes, a javalina (a type of large, hairy wild pig), and a raccoon seem to love the Palo Verde Golf Course, which isn't all that far away from our house. 

This little tidbit answered a question I'd been asking myself during the last half of summer: our property went from being overrun with feral cats to my not seeing any at all. I hadn't given voice to my question about the lack of cats because I was afraid that, if I did, we'd experience another population explosion. (That's how my luck tends to run.)

For those of you who think of me as Ellie Mae Clampett due to my love of wild critters, you won't be surprised that I think it's kinda cool that we have new neighbors. I've known for a long time that coyotes live in every major city in the good old US of A, but I am wondering how in the Sam Hill a javalina and a raccoon made their way to the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Raccoons don't like this climate, and javalina usually don't like urban areas. It is a puzzlement. 

There is a remote possibility that these critters could make their way through the fences surrounding our "estate," and if they do and if they fall in the pool, I won't mind hauling them out of my cement pond. I'm just hoping it's not the javalina that goes for a swim. I've got experience in hauling a struggling, squealing Vietnamese pot-bellied pig out of the pool, and it took a few days for my bruises to fade!

Okay. Exit Ellie Mae Mode. Enter Link Round-Up Mode!

Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits
  • Scarlett Johansson is to star in a television adaptation of one of my favorite books-- Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country
  • Here's an infographic on little-known punctuation marks. I may have to start using some of them!
  • A mystery from 1925 still haunts a Philadelphia graveyard.
  • Another of my favorites has been snatched up by the developers: Eddie Izzard will be adapting Timothy Hallinan's Junior Bender novels for NBC.
  • Lost stories written by Truman Capote have been published.
  • I loved reading this article about Nancy Wake, a Resistance heroine who led 7,000 men against the Nazis. 
  • I was thrilled to see that Malala Yousafzai has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • 10 brilliant British TV shows you need to watch. I've seen half and will be checking Netflix to see if I can watch the other five. 
  • More proof that Mother Nature knows what she's doing and that we should leave Mom alone: just see what changes have occurred in Yellowstone National Park since they reintroduced wolves
  • This cable channel is now called Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and I just may have to start watching. 
  • The perfect one-Tweet response to people who say all Muslims are violent.
  • The second I saw this article about Pappy Van Winkle, I immediately thought of author Craig Johnson.
  • Dozens offer to read books to a blind man after an advert in a bookshop window was spotted and posted to Twitter.

Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones
  • Undersea archaeological sites hold crucial clues to early humans.
  • A silver tiara is among the treasures discovered in a Bronze Age tomb.
  • The drought has exposed a once-submerged Oregon town to an archaeological dig.
  • Archaeologists are revisiting a rich Roman wreck off the coast of Greece.
  • Archaeologists think they know why the mysterious "witch girl" was given a deviant burial in Italy.
  • 40,000-year-old Asian cave paintings are making archaeologists reconsider history.
  • I've shared several links to the ongoing dig in Greece, and it's now been confirmed that Alexander the Great's father, King Philip II, is buried there. 
  • Secrets of the burned Magna Carta.
  • Archaeologists in Kent, England, were shocked to discover World War I trenches on the Isle of Sheppey.
  • While they've been identifying the remains of Alexander the Great's father, they've also found a large floor mosaic in the tomb at Amphipolis, Greece. 
  • Metal detectors strike again! A Viking treasure haul has been unearthed in Scotland.
  • Scientists may have accidentally solved the hardest part of building space elevators
  • A Bronze Age warrior chariot has been discovered in the UK.

I  ♥  Lists

Book Candy

That's all for now. Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll share a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

First Line: Fond as she was of solitary walks, Jane had been wandering rather longer than she had intended, her mind occupied not so much with the story she had lately been reading as with one she hoped soon to be writing

24-year-old Sophie Collingwood has a degree from Oxford and a deep and abiding love of books. After her beloved uncle's death, Sophie inherits his London flat and takes a job at an antiquarian bookshop where two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book. In searching for the book, Sophie is drawn into a mystery that will not only cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice but will also threaten her life.

I love Jane Austen's novels although I wouldn't call myself a diehard fan, and I do occasionally read one of the books that have proliferated like mushrooms since the BBC and Colin Firth propelled her back into the limelight in 1995. After finishing Charlie Lovett's book, I loved it. I loved Sophie's relationship with her Uncle Bertram and their mutual passion for books. I loved learning about rare books and printers and old documents long forgotten in library archives. I got caught up in Sophie's quest to find out if Jane Austen was a plagiarist. It was only after those first impressions faded that I really began to mull over what I'd read, and that's when my opinion began to change slightly.

Lovett's tale is told in alternating chapters, Sophie's in the present day and Jane's between the years 1796 and 1817. Due to the 200-year differences in the spoken language there is never any difficulty in knowing if you're reading about Sophie or Jane. First Impressions is alive while Sophie's uncle lives. Every bit of Lovett's passion for books glows on the page, and I read that section with a big smile on my face. 

Jane's chapters are strong throughout. The author uses quite a bit from the historical record that anyone even vaguely familiar with Austen will recognize. I enjoyed the friendship between Austen and the elderly clergyman Richard Mansfield-- a kindred spirit who (for the purposes of this book) was Jane's sounding board when she was uncertain about her writing. 

Although in my mind the outcome was never in doubt, I also enjoyed reading Sophie's quest to prove that Jane Austen was not a plagiarist. The problem I found that I did have was with Sophie herself. After Uncle Bertram's death (which happens very early in the book), Sophie soon has two handsome men after her, and her chapters begin to dip too far into chick lit for my taste. It was obvious to me which man she should fall for, so the similarities with Stephanie Plum's inability to choose between Moretti and Ranger were unwelcome. There was also the matter of Sophie's ethics. She has a sense of entitlement that does her no credit, and the first time she steals something, I was flabbergasted.

Fortunately Sophie isn't the only character in the book. Her sister Victoria, her Uncle Bertram, Jane and Richard Mansfield-- thankfully they all outweighed my opinion of Sophie, and they along with an intriguing story line are the reasons why I still found a great deal of enjoyment in reading this book. One questionable apple doesn't always spoil the barrel.

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen 
by Charlie Lovett
eISBN: 9781925095494
Viking © 2014
eBook, 368 pages

Literary Mystery, Standalone
Rating: A-
Source: Net Galley 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie

First Line: In the first moment of waking, he had no idea who he was.

After a deadly grenade goes off in historic St. Pancras Station, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his new murder investigation team take charge. Fortunately they have help. Gemma's colleague and friend, Melody Talbot, witnessed both the protest and the subsequent explosion. When interviewed the protesters insist that the young man who was killed was only supposed to set off a smoke bomb. Since the grenade went off in an historic building with loss of life, Duncan and his team are working with an anti-terrorism unit, and it is imperative that the case is solved as quickly as possible.

Long-time fans of Deborah Crombie's wonderful series might find To Dwell in Darkness a bit of a mixed blessing. In the "good" column is no longer having to wait for the next book and to be rejoined with the best married police officers in all of crime fiction. In the "not-so-good" column is a lack of the richness and depth of story that fans have come to expect.

Most of the rushed quality to this book is due to its time frame. This is the most thriller-like of all Crombie's books, with the action taking place in just four days. A lot has to happen in a short period of time, and that means that all those secondary characters who add so much to the series are scarcely seen or even mentioned. I missed them, as I'm sure other readers will. 

Another thing that will drive some readers absolutely wild is that Duncan's situation-- which was a cliffhanger in the last book The Sound of Broken Glass-- is not cleared up by the end of this book. Yes, To Dwell in Darkness ends in yet another-- rather chilling-- cliffhanger, but unlike some readers who prefer that everything be resolved at the end of each book, I do not mind a dangling plot line. I tend to like story arcs that develop over the course of a few books, and I trust Crombie to deliver the goods. (It also doesn't hurt that I was present at an author signing in which Crombie said that she's going to deal with Duncan's situation in the next book.)

While Duncan is dealing with the explosion at St. Pancras, Gemma has her own case to solve, but even though her investigation does provide Duncan with the inspiration to solve his own, there's so little of it that Gemma almost feels like filler, and that didn't set well with me at all. However, her case does prove that it's often the attention to even the smallest of details that can go on to solve murders.

Yes, I've been grumbling just a bit, but there is a lot to like in this book. I enjoyed seeing Duncan out of his comfort zone. He's used to being liked at work, and he's not in his new position. His second-in-command, Detective Inspector Jasmine Sidana, seems to have little use for him at all, and Duncan has to learn how to deal with that. Cat lovers in particular will rejoice when Duncan and Gemma's two sons rescue a mother cat and her kittens and insist on bringing them home. Speaking of those two sons, as the series progresses, I am more and more impressed with the oldest. Kit is growing up and proving that he can think on his feet and take appropriate action when something doesn't feel right. 

Crombie is known for weaving a bit of history into her books, and in her latest she shares her knowledge of London train stations. She had me so fascinated that I was looking up the London station from which our train will be leaving for Inverness next year.

I always look forward to Deborah Crombie's next book, and I'm all for any author trying something different, but I have to be honest and admit that I'm hoping that she's got the thriller out of her system and will return to the richness of her earlier books. To Dwell in Darkness is a good book. It's just not her best.

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie
ISBN: 9780062271600
William Morrow © 2014
Hardcover, 336 pages

Police Procedural, #16 Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James
Rating: B
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach

First Line: The day Josie ran away was the beginning of everything-- the bones in the canyon, the haunted mountain, the buried treasure, the town full of secrets-- but the Barker boys didn't know it then.

Having just moved to Arizona from Illinois, the three Barker brothers haven't had a chance to get to know anyone in their small town of Superstition. It's summer, and they're tired of hanging around the old house their parents inherited from "crazy Uncle Hank." Their dad is busy at his masonry business, and their mom is a medical illustrator with a deadline who works at home. When Josie the cat runs away, it gives Simon (11), Henry (10), and Jack (6) something to do-- even if the cat seems to have headed straight for Superstition Mountain, a place their parents have repeatedly warned them to stay away from.

As the boys search for Josie, they can't help feeling that there's something creepy about the mountain. When they find three skulls sitting on a ledge above a canyon, that feeling changes to certainty. They know there's a mystery that needs to be solved, and with the help of their new neighbor Delilah, they're determined to solve it. 

Elise Broach does an excellent job of weaving together various legends about the Superstition Mountains just outside of Phoenix, Arizona-- including the one about the Lost Dutchman Mine. Children will be reading an exciting tale of adventure, but they'll also be absorbing the deeper subjects of history, friendship, and exploration. 

When this book was offered to me, I wasn't told that it was a children's book, but since it is a mystery, and it is set right in my own backyard, it didn't make much difference. What impressed me was how much I enjoyed reading it, and how much it reminded me of similar books I read when I was a child. Simon, Henry, and Jack are following in the footsteps of the Hardy Boys, and it was wonderful to read about four children who were off on their bikes exploring and not cooped up inside enslaved to electronics. In fact, they're only on the computer once for a brief time in the entire book.

Since this is the first book in a trilogy, it will be interesting to see how the characters and the story develop. Simon is the responsible older brother with just a touch of the know-it-all. Jack is the extremely annoying little brother his siblings wish they could leave behind, and Henry as the middle brother feels a bit like a misfit. The story is mostly told from his point of view, so we get to know him best. Delilah? She's the first friend the boys have made in Superstition, and even though she's a girl, she's a big help and can't be left behind. The parents are there behind the scenes. They're busy keeping the bills paid so the boys can have adventures.

It's obvious that this is the first book in a trilogy because little plot threads are left dangling. I'm convinced Josie the cat knows a lot more than she's admitting, and what about the behavior of the local librarian? Is she hiding something? And there was definitely something odd about those tombstones in the cemetery!

If it sounds as though I was hooked after reading Missing on Superstition Mountain, I was. I'm looking forward to seeing what those four get up to next.

Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach
ISBN: 9780805090475 
Henry Holt and Company © 2011
Hardcover, 272 pages

Children's mystery (ages 8-12), #1 of trilogy
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap