Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mykonos After Midnight by Jeffrey Siger

First Line: The man kept pressing on the doorbell.

Although Greece deals with a dire financial crisis, there are people who live on the island of Mykonos who are some of the country's wealthiest people due to the island's status as a tourist mecca and summer hangout for the world's rich. No Mykonian has played his cards better than nightclub owner, Christos Vasilakis-- until he's found bludgeoned to death in his home. Everything seems to point to robbery by thugs, but Tassos, head of the Cycladic Islands' homicide unit, thinks differently. Rumor has long had it that Vasilakis had many of the country's most powerful people dancing to his tune, and small clues in the dead man's home have the Greek homicide inspector calling in the big guns: Andreas Kaldis, head of Greece's special crimes division.

Kaldis agrees with Tassos' assessment and they begin poking around. These men soon find themselves at war with a clandestine group that's determined to gain control of Mykonos and all the resident opportunities for wealth. The people who want control of Mykonos are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Kaldis and his men are going to have to be every bit as determined to prevent them.

What can I say? Jeffrey Siger always delivers. As soon as you begin reading any of his Inspector Kaldis novels, you are instantly transported to Greece-- not only by the sights and smells and sounds, but by the customs, the people, and the political atmosphere. Whenever I want to immerse myself in another country, Jeffrey Siger is one of the writers I turn to first.

The plot of Mykonos After Midnight is fast-moving and hard-hitting. The clandestine group fighting for control of Mykonos is utterly believable because of the people its leader targets to recruit: "...the camaraderie they shared as ignored and undervalued human beings united by a common lack of faith in governments and endless suffering at the hands of society's empty promises. They were the disenchanted, the crazies, the betrayed, the outcasts, the exploited."  There are plenty of people like that in the world. Why wouldn't some of them begin banding together to attain their own ends?

The story gathers speed like an avalanche rumbling down a mountainside, and as a result, some of my favorite characters in crime fiction are put in terrible danger. Kaldis and his men are smart, funny, honest, and dedicated to their jobs. They are also quite good at thinking outside the box in order to bring the bad guys to justice, but they aren't bulletproof. Knowing that harm can come to these characters makes me even more invested in the story's outcome.

But Kaldis and his men do not rule the roost. Not by a long shot. There are two women I love even more than Kaldis and Tassos: Kaldis' wife Lila and his secretary Maggie. These two are every bit as smart, brave, and determined as the men-- and they are even funnier.

Are you like me and reading your way around the globe? Take it from me, one of your stops must be Jeffrey Siger's Greece.

Mykonos After Midnight by Jeffrey Siger
ISBN: 9781464201837
Poisoned Pen Press © 2013
Paperback, 259 pages

Police Procedural, #5 Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen 

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Type of Bee Are You?

You Are a Drone Bee


It may sound like you're the type that just follows the herd, but you are actually the type most likely to be a free spirit. You are adventurous and likely to wander. You tend to have a very different personality from those around you.

You are more of a searcher than most people. It hasn't been easy to figure out your purpose in life, but you're getting there. You have never been one for a desk job; you would rather get out there and explore. And you have friends who are just as antsy as you are. 


Scene of the Crime with Author Sheila Connolly!

Not all that many authors like their book tours to stop in the Phoenix metropolitan area in July and August, and I can understand why. These two months try everyone's air conditioning, patience, and deodorant. Since I'm not haring off to The Poisoned Pen every week, I thought it was high time I resurrected one of my favorite features, and the very first author I thought of contacting was Sheila Connolly, author of the County Cork mysteries, Buried in a Bog and Scandal in Skibbereen, that I've enjoyed so much. I posted my review of Buried in a Bog earlier this summer, and my review of the second book just went live, but in the meantime, I think you'll enjoy getting to know this very talented writer of four series and several standalones!

Sheila Connolly
As usual, I've gone detecting throughout the internet, looking for links so that you can learn even more about Sheila Connolly and her books. Let me share the wealth here before we continue:

Now let's get to the fun part-- the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. It was released in 1955, which is just about the time I read it. Yes, I read it—I was a precocious child, and could read early. Why did I find it so appealing (apart from the fact that I could read it all by myself)? It was about an inquisitive kid who liked to explore things, and it was a wonderful tribute to a child’s imagination. I wish I had that original copy (which my mother gave away at some point), but I did buy one as an adult.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

There are two ways to answer that. The first is: what the heck is free time? The second is, I love to write, and I find that almost anything I do I consider research for some future book. So when I’m excavating a trash pit under my house (which I did), I’m thinking, what does this stuff tell me about the people who lived here? Why did they throw this particular batch of trash away? (It included a Civil War cannonball and a coffin plate.) I do love to restore things, large and small—houses, furniture, broken china. I used to knit, but now I have three unfinished projects sitting around making me feel guilty (the earliest dates to 2002). And I love to travel— which is why I set my three series in places I like to visit anyway, so work and play blend seamlessly.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

"Plimoth Plantation 2002" by Nancy
Well, that kind of depends on what I consider my hometown, if I even have one. I’ve lived in quite a few states (New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, California, North Carolina and Massachusetts), but not for very long in any one town (except Swarthmore, PA, with a record-breaking 16 years in the same house!). I went to high school in New Jersey but haven’t spent more than two days in the area since. Massachusetts was my first and lasting choice for home state, but I still feel like a newcomer in the town where I currently live. If you arrive in a new place and don’t have kids in the local school system, it’s hard to get to know people.

Locally…I would send people to Plimoth Plantation, for a taste of life in 1627. Or Old Sturbridge Village (about an hour away), which covers New England life between 1790 and 1840. Then there’s the herring run on the Nemasket River, that runs through town here. Thousands of herring swim upriver each spring, and it’s quite a sight to see—the water is silver with flashing bodies fighting the fish ladders (now don’t you want to know what those are?).

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Laura Linney
Funny you should ask—last year I wrote a book loosely based on an actual trip to Italy with 40 college classmates (Reunion with Death, only nobody died on the real trip), and since the others thought I should write about it, we kicked around who to cast for which person in the movie. The narrator was more or less based on me. First I thought of Meryl Streep (who, by the way, attended high school in the town next to mine), no surprise, but then I decided she’d have more fun with the sidekick role. So instead I chose Laura Linney. She’s intelligent, quiet but observant, and has a sense of humor, as well as a great voice.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane. I first read Gaudy Night when I was in college (and will be eternally grateful to the person who handed the book to me and said, “Read this!”), and then worked through the whole series—and a lot of other mystery series after that. What I love about Harriet is that she is intelligent but shows her uncertainties, which makes her convincingly real. (And thank goodness she doesn’t do stupid things like putting herself at risk for the sake of the plot!) I’m still looking for my own Lord Peter.

If you could have in your possession one signed first edition of any book in the world, which book would that be? Why that particular book?

Gaudy Night (see above). There is no other single book that has had such an impact on my life. I own three copies (including that first one), only because I can’t bear to see them orphaned at book sales. I confess I have checked out autographed first editions on antiquarian booksellers’ websites, but they’re a bit out of reach. Although one book might not be enough, because what is so impressive to me about the series is how the author created characters who grow consistently and increase in complexity from start to finish.

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

Like so many writers, selling a book was a long and rejection-filled process for me. I had submitted to my current agency (among many) four times, with four different books, but the last rejection got lost in the mail (only the empty envelope arrived), so reluctantly I emailed the agent just to confirm that yes, it was a rejection. But then, to my surprise, the agent apologized for the mix-up and said, would you be interested in trying out for a Berkley Prime Crime for-hire series? Of course I said yes. They liked it, and when the agent called to tell me, I was naïve enough to say, “Does that mean you’re representing me?” So it was a two-fer: a great agent and a major publisher. The rest is a blur—there may have been champagne involved.

Name one thing on your Bucket List.

Buying a cottage in County Cork (preferably one with indoor plumbing).

You've just received a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice. Which bookstore are you making a bee-line for?

Yikes! I’ve got two, I guess: locally, the New England Mobile Book Fair, where (full disclosure) my daughter worked for four years after college. It’s an independent bookstore and it’s huge, with something for everyone— and plenty of mysteries. 

But I’m also fond of Hodges Figgis in Dublin, in part because it’s the only place in any country where I’ve found an entire section proudly labeled “Cozies” (in two languages, no less!).

Available Now!

Thank you so much for spending this time with us, Sheila. It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you a little better! I doubt that many of your readers have ever found a cannonball underneath their house.

If none of you have read Sheila Connolly's County Cork mysteries, I recommend them highly!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Scandal in Skibbereen by Sheila Connolly

First Line: Now that the high season had arrived, Sullivan's Pub was busier than Maura Donovan had ever seen it.

Maura's only been in Ireland for three months, and she's been a pub owner for an even shorter length of time, so the tourist season means she's had to hit the ground running. Having had a chance to do little but give the pub a good clean, at least Maura's settling in her new home.

The pub has drawn many a tourist in through its doors, but none stranger than Althea Melville, fresh from New York City and hot on the trail of an extremely valuable Van Dyck painting. Rumor has it that the only place in County Cork where the painting may be found is at Mycroft House, home of the Townsends. Although Althea is one of the rudest, pushiest people Maura has ever met, she reluctantly agrees to help the New Yorker meet the Townsends-- partly because she's learned that her grandmother used to work there before she immigrated to America. But in no time at all, the gardener at the manor house is murdered, and Maura begins to question Althea's motives. This pub owner is going to have to delve into the local history a bit to find the painting and to catch a killer.

Sheila Connolly scores once again with her second mystery set in County Cork, Ireland. She is adept at adding just enough local history and flavor to make her setting shine without making it confusing to those unfamiliar with the Auld Sod. The book would be worth reading for the setting alone, but wait-- there's more!

Add to the sparkling setting a complex mystery. I always love mysteries about long-lost masterpieces, so Connolly had me at Van Dyck. However, there are also people and motives galore, and it takes time to sort through them all. Fortunately Maura runs a pub, and while she pulls pints and clears tables, she can learn all sorts of things about the area and its people.

Setting and plot are all well and good, but no cozy is worth its salt unless it has a good, solid cast of characters. Scandal in Skibbereen delivers the goods in this respect, too. Maura Donovan is a strong, intelligent woman who-- whether she likes it or not-- is a natural born leader and authority figure. She's only been in Ireland for three months, but her friends, co-workers, and those who come into the pub want her included on anything that's being planned. Part of the reason for that is that she's willing to learn about the local people and their history. She's not the type of person to wade in and insist, "We never did it this way in Boston!" She's also learned that family means a great deal in this area. There are people who remember her grandmother and other family members who used to live there, and that carries weight in the community.

In stark contrast to Maura is fresh-from-the-Big-Apple Althea Melville. If it's not done the way it is in New York City, Althea doesn't like it. Althea also has no concept of personal space, dressing appropriately... or even of being polite. I would imagine most townspeople wanted this abrasive woman to be paired with their new pub owner in hopes that Maura might rub off on her.

Maura and Althea aren't the only characters to enjoy in this book, however. Maura even has a bit of a love interest in this book, and it's fun to watch her deal with it. From Maura to the man and his daughter who work in the pub, to her grandmother's friend, to the old man who practically lives at the pub, all the way to those in residence at Mycroft House, there are plenty of characters to savor along with the setting and the mystery.

The only thing left for me to say is, "Bring on book three!"

Scandal in Skibbereen by Sheila Connolly
ISBN:  9780425252505
Berkley Prime Crime © 2014
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #2 County Cork mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Evolutionary Weekly Link Round-Up

This week's post title is due to the reaction my "The Evolution of a Mystery Reader" post has received. Some of you have shared your own reading evolutions with me here on the blog, but several others have sent theirs via email. No matter which method you chose, I've loved reading each and every one, and I will respond to your emails!

In between life's little interruptions, I've been enjoying books in the pool and ruminating over a post about the importance of a book's setting to me. But since I have to make an all-important run to the grocery store, I'd better get this week's links lined up and shared!

Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits
  • The French do buy books-- real books-- and it probably helps that their government is protecting the publishing and bookselling industries.
  • Amazon may have an eBook subscription service in the works.
  • BAFTA filmed several British actors (like Benedict Cumberbatch) while they spoke about acting. As much as I appreciate Cumberbatch, I have to admit that my favorite voice belonged to James McAvoy.
  • Here's a literary atlas of Ireland.
  • On the Game of Thrones front, Keisha Castle-Hughes may be joining the cast, and George R.R. Martin seems to be pushing for a feature-length film.
  • Singapore bans children's books featuring gay characters.
  • For the first time, an independent bookstore-- Politics and Prose-- has been chosen as the official bookseller for the National Book Festival. (Thanks for the link, Ken!)
  • An infographic showing how famous creatives spent their days.
  • I'm looking forward to seeing Pixar's newest short film, "Lava."
  • I used wikiHow to link Kittling: Book's Facebook page to Twitter.
  • What happens when a writer purges his library.

Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones

I  ♥  Lists

Book Candy

That's it for this week. Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll have a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner

First Line: Storm clouds raced over the barren plain between the fortifications and the goods station at Les Batignolles, where the scrubby grass smelled unpleasantly of sewers.

It's Paris during the 1889 World Exhibition, and the thing to do is go up the brand-new Eiffel Tower to sign the book proving you've been there. When a woman dies on one of the viewing platforms, her death is attributed to a bee sting, but when other "bee sting" deaths begin cropping up in close proximity to the stunning landmark, bookseller Victor Legris thinks there may be another, more sinister, cause of death. His investigation takes him all over Paris, and his list of suspects include his surrogate father and a beautiful Russian artist. One thing is for certain-- he'd better hurry up because he's drawn the attention of the killer, and time is running out.

This book is a splendid evocation of Paris during the Belle Époque, and Legris' frequent walks in various neighborhoods made me very happy indeed. The two women booksellers who write as Claude Izner bring their setting to life.

The mystery is also a good one. By the time I pieced all the clues together, it was almost time for the reveal. The list of suspects is a long one and represents almost all the various social strata in the city, which gives the authors more opportunity to depict their beloved Paris.

The one aspect of the book that I felt was lacking was the cast of characters. The only character in the entire book whom I felt had a real spark of life to him was Joseph, the assistant in Victor's bookshop. (While I'm on the subject of that bookshop, librarians and booksellers reading Murder on the Eiffel Tower will see that customers really haven't changed much from one century to another.) The main character, Victor Legris, is what I've always thought of as a boulevardier-- a man-about-town. He dresses well, he dines well, he has a mistress. Victor has many things and does many things (even deigning to work in his shop from time to time), but he still felt a bit two-dimensional, a bit reserved, as did everyone else.

As much as I loved mentally walking the streets of Paris in the late nineteenth century while solving an enjoyable mystery, it's the stiffness of the characters that will make me hesitate to continue with this series.    

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner
Translated from the French by Isabel Reid
ISBN: 9780312383749
Minotaur Books © 2008
Hardcover, 304 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Victor Legris mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Paperback Swap 

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

First Line: "Are you here about the dust?"

There's one week left until the huge asteroid hits and ends life as we know it on planet Earth. Hank Palace has only one thing on his to-do list: find his sister Nico. The last he heard, she was hooked up with a group of people who had some sort of plan to save the world, so he leaves the well-stocked safe house in the woods and travels through a bleak landscape in order to find her. At any other time Hank's task would be a simple one, but with the clock ticking, one obstacle after another is put in his path.

Ben H. Winters' Last Policeman trilogy began with a built-in expiration date, and World of Trouble ends it in style. There may be a week before the end of the world, but the landscape Hank Palace travels through looks as though it's already happened. Technology died a long time ago. Cities are blackened and abandoned ruins. Bicycles are the most advanced mode of transportation. People have turned into hoarders and scroungers. Very few have the courage or the desire to show kindness to strangers, so Hank and his dog Houdini have no one to rely on but themselves.

While the first two books in the trilogy were pre-apocalyptic mysteries (The Last Policeman and Countdown City), this final book begins as a straightforward tale of a brother going to be with his sister at the end of days. But Hank Palace is a young man who has always done his best to do the right thing, so it should be no surprise that he manages to find a puzzle or two that need solving before time runs out.

Anyone who wanted a more explosive ending to the trilogy may not like this rather quiet, somber book. I didn't know what to expect and was content to let the story unfold. I was not disappointed.  Hank Palace is a character that will live on in my memory as will the author's vision of the end of the world. I'm sad that the trilogy has come to an end; however, Winters appears to have followed the advice of P.T. Barnum: Always leave them wanting more. I'm looking forward to what Winters' imagination has in store for us next.

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
ISBN:  9781594746857
Quirk Books © 2014
Paperback, 350 pages

Police Procedural, #3 Last Policeman
Rating: A
Source: publicist 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Beaglemania by Linda O. Johnston

First Line: I am not a killer. At least not a killer of animals.

Lauren Vancouver runs a no-kill animal shelter north of Los Angeles called HotRescues. When she is called in to help shut down a puppy mill, she believes that a man with a history of dog abuse is responsible for throwing some of the beagle pups down a storm drain. When that same man is found stabbed to death at HotRescues, guess who's Suspect #1? You got it-- Lauren-- and she knows she's going to have to sniff out the killer before she's the one being thrown in a cage.

Beaglemania is filled with useful information on shelters, puppy mills, and how to care for animals, and I enjoyed all of that very much. If only the rest of the book had been as interesting.

The mystery is fairly predictable, and I knew the identity of the killer in the first scene in which that person made an appearance. (I hate that when it happens.) Even then I would have liked the book if I'd liked the characters, but they seemed lackluster as well. The rest of the cast takes a backseat to Lauren Vancouver, who has an irritating tendency to fly off half-cocked. She's trying to find a killer, so she goes off to question the people on her suspect list by herself. She's lucky she didn't get stabbed and shoved down a storm drain. Then she agrees to an interview and expects the media not to do a slice-dice-and-spin-it-our-way on the tape. It's very difficult for me to like a character who repeatedly forgets to use her little grey cells.

I was expecting something a little bit different in this book because of the first two lines I quoted-- which I found very intriguing; however, those lines came to nothing, and I was left feeling as though Beaglemania was a sad-eyed dog that couldn't wag its tail.

Beaglemania by Linda O. Johnston
ISBN: 9780425261040
Berkley Prime Crime © 2012
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Pet Rescue mystery
Rating: C
Source: Paperback Swap