Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ill-Gotten Panes by Jennifer McAndrews

First Line: For generations, my family followed a simple principle: If everything goes wrong, go back to the beginning.

After having lost her job and her fiance, Georgia Kelly has left the Big Apple and retreated to the one place she's always felt safe: her grandfather's home in Wenwood, New York, a crumbling small town that's on the verge of going under for the third time. There's only one thing that can keep Georgia's mind off her job search-- her grandfather is accused of murdering the owner of the local hardware store. The police in town seem to be third-string Keystone Kops, so Georgia feels obligated to conduct her own investigation in order to save her grandfather from a prison sentence.

Author Jennifer McAndrews has the bare bones of what could turn into an excellent cozy series-- an appealing young heroine, an adorable kitten, a quirky best friend, and an eccentric grandfather. In a departure from the usual dream-come-true small town, McAndrews has created Wenwood. Wenwood was once a thriving town, but with the closure of its brick factory and the horrific national economic downturn, it's barely surviving. The series could receive quite a boost if Georgia and the other residents band together to save the town.

McAndrews has also written a fine mystery that kept me guessing, but then less positive things begin to rear their ugly heads. The "hook" of this series is that it's supposed to be one in which stained glass plays an important role. It certainly doesn't in Ill-Gotten Panes. The pitifully few scenes are certainly interesting, but you could also excise them from the book, and you'd never be able to pinpoint where they'd been. I will cut some slack for that because Georgia does say that everything in her life at that point must be put on hold until her grandfather is cleared of murder. 

But speaking of her grandfather and the rest of the characters, most of them are so unlikeable that I really have no desire to pay a return visit to Wenwood. Her grandfather is a crotchety old cuss who drives his employees to distraction and is usually downright nasty to his granddaughter. Georgia's new best friend Carrie takes a shine to her for no reason at all-- Georgia's charm isn't exactly in evidence when they meet-- then hits our heroine up for a favor and gets contrary about the kitten Georgia's become attached to. 

In addition it would appear that the economic blight in Wenwood has turned everyone into rumor-mongering grumps. Georgia's turned out of more than one business just because her grandfather has been accused of murder. Even the hunky contractor who's trying to turn the old brick factory into a marina to save the town has his anti-social moments. 

Combine a hook that goes nowhere with a passel of unlikeable characters, and you have the beginning of a series with which I'm not quite sure I want to continue... even though there is true promise in those pages.

Ill-Gotten Panes by Jennifer McAndrews
ISBN: 9780425267950
Berkley Prime Crime © 2014
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Stained-Glass mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Stone Wife by Peter Lovesey

First Line: "Will somebody start me at five hundred?"

No one in the auction house would ever have believed that bidding on a decrepit lump of stone would go so high, but when masked robbers show up to steal it and wind up killing the highest bidder, the bizarre scene becomes truly incredible. Now it's up to Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond and his team to find the killers.

The dead man was a professor who believed the stone to be a centuries-old carving of Chaucer's Wife of Bath, and Diamond has the stone moved to the police station while its origins are being researched. Diamond takes the direct route to Chaucer's home in Somerset while a colleague goes undercover to try to track down the source of the murder weapon. Meanwhile, the Wife of Bath seems to be turning into a jinx.

Peter Lovesey knows just how to combine a fascinating historical tidbit with an intriguing investigation conducted by one of the best policemen in all of crime fiction. The dialogue and humor sparkle, the characters are individual and memorable, and the plot is a finely tuned race car. 

Peter Diamond is a gem. He can be cunning, impatient, funny, insightful-- and that's on a slow day-- and he's definitely the heart and soul of his team. When asked what makes Diamond tick, one of them says

"He brings out the best in the team. A good brain, which is essential. You think you can predict how he'll handle any situation because he's a seasoned cop, and then suddenly he'll surprise you. I've never known anyone quite like him. He plays up to his image of being all fingers and thumbs and at war with technology, but I suspect he could build his own spacecraft and fly it to the moon if needed."

Yes, Peter Diamond is definitely the sort of copper who keeps you coming back, book after book. 

I loved the humor in The Stone Wife, particularly when the cumbersome Wife of Bath stone is stored in Diamond's office. I was expecting Health and Safety to come bustling in at any second to add more spice to the mayhem. Unfortunately the secondary investigation into the source of the gun doesn't hold together as well as tracking through Chaucer's life in Somerset. It's almost-- but not quite-- a bit over the top in terms of characters and actions. 

I've been jumping around in this series and not reading the books in order, and I don't feel I've been hampered by my peripatetic behavior. If you're thinking of sampling Peter Lovesey's marvelous series by starting with The Stone Wife, I think you're really going to enjoy yourself. Only longtime Diamond fans may feel that this one isn't one of the best in this stellar series.  

The Stone Wife by Peter Lovesey
ISBN: 9781616953935
Soho Press © 2014
Hardcover, 368 pages

Police Procedural, #14 Peter Diamond mystery
Rating: B
Source: the publisher


Monday, September 15, 2014

What Kind of Hero Are You?

You Are a Genius


You aren't necessarily going to run into a burning building, but that doesn't mean you're not a hero. You prefer to think through problems carefully, and you have the brainpower to come up with some pretty interesting solutions.

You don't feel like any problem is too small or too big for you. You are willing to put your mind to fixing anything. Your heroism may go unnoticed, and that's fine by you. You get more satisfaction out of solving a real life puzzle than from public accolades. 


Scene of the Crime with Reavis Z. Wortham!

Have you ever met an author for the first time and just known that you were going to love his books? That's what happened when I met Reavis Z. Wortham at The Poisoned Pen one evening in August. I went home, read the first of his Red River mysteries, The Rock Hole, added it to my Best Reads of the year list, and emailed him about the interview I'd mentioned that evening at the bookstore. Now you get to learn more about this author, too, and I certainly hope you're intrigued enough to pick up one of his books and read it. This man knows how to write!

Reavis Wortham
I haven't done one of these interviews in a while, but I'm sure some of you remember the drill. I've been scouring the internet looking for websites and social media so that you can learn more about this author and connect with him. It took me longer than usual because I kept reading through his tweets and Facebook posts. "Old Timey Words," S&H green stamps, tape recorders... Well, take a look for yourself!

Now let's get to the fun part of this whole shebang-- the interview!

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

The first title I can recall was Smokey, The Cowhorse, by Will James, but that isn’t the one that sparked me to write. I was that born reader, a kid with no interest in anything but books. In the first grade, back in 1960, Mrs. Latimer read to us from the Dick and Jane books, sparking an interest in reading that still burns hot today. I don’t remember the titles of those, but through my elementary years, I was the only student in my school who was allowed to check out two books at a time. On Saturdays, a bookmobile came to within a block of the house and I always came home with no less than seven more books stacked on the handlebars of my bike. So to finally get around to your specific question, the first one I remember reading…and loving…was The Two-Ton Albatross by William C. Anderson. This humorous, fictionalized account of a real family hit me like no other book before. It was part travel, part true life, and written as a comical autobiography. It had everything I wanted in a book at that time, and I absorbed it like a sponge. After that, I re-read it at least once a year until I was in my twenties. I still read it every couple of years, and enjoy it each time. That one book started me on a course toward an architectural degree, a specific type of house that I still want to own, travel, and a career as a writer. It helped define my writing style, and I still periodically refer to it…. and yep, it’s about time to read The Albatross again.

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

At any time, I have three or four books going in various places throughout the house. They are stacked on my desk, beside the bed, and beside my recliner. When they’re finished, they go on the shelves of my extensive and growing library.

I’m also a serial home renovator. We built our house in 1998, and I have remodeled, renovated, and/or repainted every single room since that time. We began upgrading the master bathroom, and I’ll revisit it again within the month. There isn’t one square inch of this house I haven’t touched in some way, including the back yard which has become our tropical oasis in this growing city of Frisco, Texas. It was a sleepy farming town when we moved here, and today it’s the fastest growing city of its size in the nation. Sigh. We love to travel, also. I’ve been to every state in the union, Mexico, and have traveled much of Canada. I met my wife in 1990 and we married in 1998, so we’re now trying to revisit all those places I’d visited before then. We travel by truck (yep, I’m from Texas) for relatively short distances (meaning when we’re on a time limit, we consider a 20-hour drive as short), or when the distance is too great, we fly. I love to visit this nation’s great natural wonders, and am a huge fan of history. We love the outdoors. I hunt, fish, canoe, backpack, and of course read to excess.

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.)

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
That depends on what we define as my home town. As noted on my website, we lived in Dallas, but each weekend, holiday, and during much of our summer vacation from school, we traveled the 120 miles to my grandparents’ farm in the tiny rural community of Chicota, Texas (renamed Center Springs in my Red River series). There you might want to visit the Rock Hole, the local swimming hole on Sander’s Creek. It became the setting and title for my first book. That would lead us to visit all the locations described in the novels, because they exist and are almost exactly as described. Though things have changed since the setting of The Rock Hole in 1964, there is a lot to see. I can even point out the Red River sandbars, the mean honky-tonks across the river in Oklahoma, the location of the Cotton Exchange in Burrows (which was really the now-defunct Speas Vinegar Plant), the angel in a cowboy hat grave marker in Paris, the Bob Swaim hardware store that still sells mule harness and other near-forgotten items, the Eiffel Tower in our town, and any number of other sights that I’ve visited in the series.

If you’re interested in Dallas, or Frisco, then I’ll have to make the local chambers mad and tell you there isn’t much that you won’t find in guidebooks. Nothing much interests me here except for the 6th Floor Museum. How about the original Preston cattle trail that is now a six lane highway only half a mile from my house? It’s a centuries-old road first established by Indians, then it became a road created by the Republic of Texas in 1841 to link Preston, Texas on the Red River, south to Austin, Texas. Then it became a cattle trail that came to be known as the Texas Road and later as the Shawnee Trail. If the weather is right, we can drive a short distance north to the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge to watch clouds of geese come in ahead of our Texas blue northers.

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

I can see Sam Shepard or Ed Harris. Either of those fine actors will bring their energy and interpretation to the project, but lord knows, there probably won’t be enough action or interest for a movie. 

Now, if you really want to talk characters and actors, How about Robert Duvall to play my main protagonist, Ned Parker? Huh, huh!!!???

[Sounds excellent to me, but by the time Hollywood grinds its way to any sort of decision, he'll probably be celebrating his 100th birthday....]

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

John Dortmunder, the hangdog criminal in Donald E. Westlake’s quirky crime novels. This likable but pessimistic and hard-luck professional thief leads an ensemble cast of characters who are seldom successful in their endeavors, though they are always entertaining. I’ve collected Westlake’s books for years, and the Dortmunders are the best. In a recent review by BookList, my latest novel, Vengeance is Mine, was compared to two of my favorite Westlake books. What a great honor!
Booklist Starred Review: "Mob enforcer Anthony Agrioli’s latest assignment is to rub out some Cuban casino owners in Las Vegas—and their young children. He takes care of the adults without trouble but has some problems killing the kids. He takes it on the lam, beating it out of Vegas before his boss can track him down, but not before hooking up with a beautiful blonde (who will turn out to be a handful of a different sort than he had hoped). Hiding out in Center Springs, Texas, Anthony soon finds out this seemingly peaceful town is like a beacon for violence and corruption, most of which has nothing directly to do with him, but all of which soon ensnares him. This very entertaining novel, set in 1967, is reminiscent of Donald E. Westlake’s Mob comedies The Fugitive Pigeon (1965) and The Busy Body (1966), which, like this book, feature offbeat characters getting themselves into offbeat situations—although this book also has a more serious side, too. Those who have read the author’s earlier books, including The Right Side of Wrong (2013), will be familiar with Center Springs and its rather unusual denizens, but knowledge of those earlier volumes is not required. This is a fully self-contained story, and it’s a real corker."

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? 

 It would have to be The Old Man and the Boy by Robert C. Ruark. I neglected to mention his work in a previous question because I wanted to address it here. This book had a significant impact on my life, and should be read by anyone with an interest in the outdoors. I recommend it to all my friends whose children like to read. Written in 1957, it is the captivating story about the relationship between a young boy and his grandfather, but it goes much deeper. Ruark’s style is absorbing, and the stories ring true to any boy who loved to be outside the four walls of his home. This novel led me to read and eventually collect first editions of all his works. He was a bestselling author in the 1950s and 60s, and for me, all his works are captivating.

 But why this particular book? Like Ruark, I was was a loner. His conversational writing allowed an underweight, asthmatic kid the opportunity to enjoy his chosen sports. The novel also taught manners and respect. He was a mentor in absentia, and an inspiration for a budding writer. The Old Man and The Boy eventually launched my career as a columnist, and ultimately my current position of Humor Editor in Texas Fish and Game Magazine. If not for Ruark, I might never have found my writing “voice” that defines my columns and magazine articles, and ultimately the Red River series.  If I had my way, this intellectual sportsman named Robert Ruark would be required reading for students of the literary arts.

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?

My bride found out before I did. She was checking our emails when word came through that The Rock Hole would be published. When I came home from work, she told me the computer was messed up and asked if I could read the error message that popped up. When I sat down and saw the email instead of a problem, I was at first stunned, then thrilled.  I hugged her and we celebrated by popping the cork on a bottle of champagne and drinking it out beside the pool.

When I saw The Rock Hole on the shelf, not far from books by Donald E. Westlake, I felt that I’d finally arrived. I simply stood there and grinned like an idiot.

Name one thing on your Bucket List.

To see Bestselling Author on the cover of my newest books. I think I’ll get there. The next check mark will be one beside the words: New York Times Bestselling Author.

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

That would be Half-Price Books in the Dallas area. I know, authors don’t make money from resale in used bookshops, but that’s where I discovered C.J. Box, Lee Child, James Magnusen, Annie Proux, Mark Sullivan, Texas authors Jeff Long and Joe Lansdale, and James Rollins. 

Once I read these authors, some now friends, I purchased their other works and look forward to their new books, which I pick up as soon as they are released.

An extremely reliable source tells you that a thinly disguised you is a character in a book that's currently high up on the New York Times Bestseller List. What kind of character do you think you are? 

I’ll have to answer it like this. I created a character named Tom Bell in my third novel, The Right Side of Wrong. My family says I wrote myself as a tough old 80-something cowboy who does what’s right, no matter what the situation. I would hope that’s what another author would see in my personality and use in their works, though I’m not sure I need to be that old (I’m 60). There is no black and white in this world, and we should always do what’s right…period.

Available Now!

It's been an absolute pleasure getting to know you a little better during this interview, Reavis, and I know my readers feel the same way.  Thank you so much for spending this time with us!

May your book sales do nothing but increase... and may we see "New York Times Bestselling Author" on your book covers soon!

(If you haven't done so, please take a few moments to read my review of The Rock Hole, the first Red River mystery by Reavis Z. Wortham. Thanks!)


Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Rock Hole by Reavis Z. Wortham

First Line: I came to live with my grandparents up on the Red River in the summer of 1964.

In farmer Ned Parker's world, it's time to start getting the cotton picked. Since he's also a part-time constable in Center Springs, Texas, he's thankful that those responsibilities tend to be nothing more onerous than hauling in drunks, busting up stills, and settling the occasional domestic disturbance. Parker likes keeping things simple; that way he and John Washington, the first official black deputy in the area, can take care of things without having to deal too much with the despicable sheriff.

When the bodies of brutally tortured animals begin popping up all over the area, Ned Parker starts to worry. He worries because this is happening so close to home. He worries because it seems to be happening more and more frequently. He worries that he may actually know the person who's doing it. And he's really worried because he believes the person torturing and killing animals is going to start doing the same thing to human beings-- and his beloved ten-year-old grandson Top is living with him now. Constable Ned Parker is right to be worried. Right on all counts. He does know the person. The person's focus does change from animals to humans. And Ned's going to have to do everything in his power to keep his grandchildren safe.

I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy this first book in Reavis Z. Wortham's Red River mystery series, but I had no idea that I would love it and immediately go back to the bookstore to buy the rest of the series. As I read The Rock Hole, I was reminded of another perfect evocation of a time, a place, and the loss of innocence: William Kent Krueger's Ordinary Grace. Wortham's carefully chosen details, eccentric characters, and country humor transported me to a small town in Texas in 1964, and his lightning pace and deft plot kept me spellbound until I'd finished the book. 

Roughly half the chapters are written in the first person point of view of ten-year-old Top. His adventures with his slightly older cousin Pepper ring with spirit, humor, and affection which makes the rapid erosion of these two children's innocence even more startling and painful. The rest of the chapters are in the third person from Ned Parker's point of view. This is where you get the bluntly accurate picture of life in this small Texas town with its racist sheriff and moonshiners who always seem to be a step ahead of the law. The portrait Wortham paints of this place and time isn't always funny or charming or pretty, but it's always true-- even if it sometimes puts his characters in a negative light.

Once I'd finished The Rock Hole, I had to wait for my heart to slow down, but one thing was certain: I'd fallen in love with Top and his grandparents and Pepper-- even with Center Springs itself-- and I simply had to have the rest of the Red River mysteries in my possession. Once you read The Rock Hole-- and believe me, you should-- I think you're going to feel the same way.

The Rock Hole by Reavis Z. Wortham
ISBN: 9781590588864 
Poisoned Pen Press © 2011
Paperback, 284 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Red River mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Bog of a Weekly Link Round-Up

It's been a week with no visit to The Poisoned Pen, but Denis and I have had other things with which to occupy ourselves. For one, yesterday morning saw us heading to a nearby theater to see an excellent cast headed by Helen Mirren in "The Hundred-Foot Journey."  What I'd like to know is... why do I enjoy movies about the joy and passion of cooking when I hate to cook? I think it has a lot to do with one of the lines in this particular film. Marguerite looks at Hassan and says, "Food is memories." Food is indeed memories. As I sit and allow my brain to partake of a banquet of cinematography, soundtrack, and dialogue, my heart fills with so many memories of my mother and grandmother in their kitchens. The smells, the tastes... the love they infused in the food they prepared. Half the time when watching a film like this, I'm sitting in a dark theater with tears welling up in my eyes and a huge lump in my throat.

After the water had gone down quite a bit...

But this week hasn't all been cinematic roses. A good portion of it has been a quagmire. Literally. Thanks and a hug to those of you who emailed me to ask if Denis and I were all right. We are. I can't say the same for the property, however. Many of you have seen Phoenix, Arizona, in the news this week. The remnants of Hurricane Norbert decided to wreck havoc with portions of California, Nevada and Arizona. In our case, Norbert dumped three inches of rain in a couple of hours. Go ahead and scoff if you like. If I were still living in central Illinois, I would laugh at a mere three inches of rain in two hours. But let's put it into perspective. This is the desert, with ground so sun-baked that torrential downpours will not-- and cannot-- soak in. This is the desert, where three inches of rain equals almost half our annual rainfall. In two hours. In one storm.

Our yard was completely flooded. Water made its way onto the floor in my craft room. The pool is a bog of mud and debris. But it could have been a lot worse. Many other Phoenix area residents were much harder hit. Denis and I have lived through this before, so we know the drill. It's just tiresome, and I'm an extra layer of miffed because I'm fairly certain Norbert stole the last bit of pool reading season from me, the bugger.

Now, my friends, let us move from the bog to those links. I've had them rounded up for you, now it's time to move 'em out on the page!

Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits

Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones

I  ♥  Lists

Book (& a Bit of Puppy) Candy

That's all for now! 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, September 11, 2014

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

First Line: As Clara Morrow approached, she wondered if he'd repeat the same small gesture he'd done every morning.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has retired from the Sûreté du Québec, and with his beloved Reine-Marie and their dog Henri have moved to the village of Three Pines. Gamache relishes the peace he finds there among friends and loved ones, and his wounds-- both inner and outer-- are healing. 

Every morning Clara Morrow watches Gamache sit on a bench in the morning sun, reading a book and looking off into the distance. One day she decides she can wait no longer, so she joins him on the bench and tells him what is troubling her. Clara's husband Peter has not returned as he promised on the anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache to help find her husband. At the thought of leaving Three Pines, Gamache almost becomes physically ill, but he rises from the bench, begins contacting those who will help them, and joins Clara on her search for Peter.

If you've heard all the praise for Louise Penny's books and are thinking of reading this-- her tenth book to feature Armand Gamache-- first, I urge you to think again. Each book in this series is a chapter in a much larger tale; therefore, to begin reading a book at chapter ten may leave you wondering what in the world is going on. 

The story of Clara and Peter Morrow has been a constant thread throughout this series, and The Long Way Home continues this story by showing us the corrosive power of jealousy. This book has much more to do with searching and less to do with mystery, which may not set well with some readers, but if you are as intensely involved in the lives of these wonderfully realized characters as I am, you will be willing to let Penny tell her story in her own fashion. For me, soul searching can be every bit as fascinating as the search for a missing person-- as long as someone as gifted as this author is telling the tale.

As Clara, Myrna, Gamache and Jean-Guy follow Peter's trail closer and closer to "the land God gave to Cain," readers are treated to conversations with beloved characters like Ruth who, in her own inimitable way, has profound advice to share. As usual with Penny's writing, gestures, glances, and words left unspoken can have great import, and conversations can range from the existence of a tenth muse to overworking a painting. 

Lest the search for a jealous man become too grim, Penny shows that she can do more than bring her characters or scenes of nature and food to life. Having Clara, Myrna, Gamache and Jean-Guy experience life aboard ship is a brilliant section that gives the book some badly needed lightness and humor. 

Yes, this book is a bit of a departure from the rest of the books in the series, but that's not a bad thing. Gamache is retired, so there's no way he can lead an investigation into a murder. The Long Way Home is not your typical police procedural. In fact it moves quite a distance from that particular subgenre. What this retired man can and will do is to leave his comfort zone to go in aid of a friend, and as such I found it to be a brilliant and loving continuation of Penny's series. 

At the beginning of The Long Way Home, Armand Gamache looks out over the village and wonders, "Was Three Pines a compass? A guide for those blown off course?" For me, Louise Penny's creation is exactly that, and each time a new book is released, I feel the pull of that compass to remind me to return to the shelter of that small and wonderful village.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
ISBN: 9781250022066
Minotaur Books © 2014
Hardcover, 384 pages

Police Procedural, #10 Armand Gamache mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill

First Line: I write.

Jimm Juree still misses the bright lights of Chiang Mai. Forced to move with her family to the dilapidated Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant in rural Thailand, she has become the sole support of her family. She cooks and cleans and has taken on two part-time jobs to make sure there are at least a couple of coins to clang together at the bottom of the family coffer. 

The online journal for the Chumphon Gazette (one of those part-time jobs) sends Jimm to interview a local British mystery writer, Conrad Coralbank. She's also been asked by a friend to look into the disappearance of the local doctor who never returned from a conference. It doesn't take long for Jimm to learn that the doctor isn't the only woman who's gone missing-- no one's seen Conrad Coralbank's young, pretty Thai wife either. Jimm's grandfather is suspicious, Conrad has a gleam in his eye every time he looks at Jimm, and there's a major storm moving in. There just might be a hot time at the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant....

Colin Cotterill is one of the sneakiest writers I know. Author of the superb Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries and now the Jimm Juree mysteries set in rural Thailand, Cotterill is a master at writing books so filled with wit and whimsey that you may not realize that you're actually learning something as you read. With the Jimm Juree books, you learn how a Westernized Thai city girl gets used to life out in the country. You learn about the political atmosphere in Thailand. You learn how poor people survive with no real help from the government. You also learn how a family-- rather bizarrely comprised of a mother with dementia, a retired traffic cop grandfather who seldom speaks, a twentysomething bodybuilder son who's in love with a woman bodybuilder in her late fifties, and a daughter who still longs to be a big city crime reporter-- live together, argue with each other, and (most importantly) love each other. And I didn't even mention the sister who's a transsexual former beauty queen and erstwhile computer hacker who refused to move out of the city. As I read each Jimm Juree novel, I wonder if a dysfunctional family like that can love and support each other, why do so many "normal" families have such a problem doing it?

With family members like these, you know that Cotterill is playing it for laughs, and there are plenty of those. One of Jimm's part-time jobs is as a translator for anyone who wants their signs accurately translated from Thai to English. Each chapter heading is an example of a poorly translated sign, and they alone are worth the price of admission. Then there's Jimm's ongoing correspondence with Clint Eastwood. She's determined to sell him a screenplay, and I love watching her try to make her dream come true.

Cotterill ups the anty in The Axe Factor with two things: a thinly veiled version of himself as Conrad Coralbank, and pages from a serial killer's journal that are truly chilling. No laughs where those pages are concerned because Cotterill can do scary very well, too. As Jimm falls deeper under Coralbank's spell, and as her grandfather becomes more suspicious, those journal pages are enough to really make readers fear for Jimm's life-- and it's a life that we become better acquainted with in this book, particularly her insecurities.

The Axe Factor is the perfect blend of chills and laughter-- and one of the best examples of misdirection I've ever read. It also ends with a nice little cliffhanger. On the surface, Cotterill's books all appear to be light and breezy, but don't be fooled; there's real depth to be found in them as well. I make it a habit never to miss a single one.

The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill
ISBN: 9781250043368
Minotaur Books © 2013
Hardcover, 304 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #3 Jimm Juree mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.