Friday, April 17, 2015

A Pondering Weekly Link Round-Up

For the past week or so I've been sitting out in the back garden by the pool just to watch all the butterflies. I never get tired of them. All they are is beautiful. They don't bite or sting. They help pollinate plants. And I get to see them almost every single day here in Phoenix.

Every time I visit the Butterfly Pavilion at the Desert Botanical Garden, there is usually at least one grade school class visiting, too. My heart hurts each time I see a child who's scared to death of butterflies, and it's usually because they've never seen them before. I just can't imagine my life being so completely out of touch with the natural world.

My mind has been comparing the human world versus the natural world. Of a world with no agendas and the most basic of needs-- many of which can be met without harming anything else. Of a human world that seems bent on destruction and hate. If the haters can't ban people due to their sexual orientation, then they turn to trying to strip things from the poor. After all, we all have to hate poor people, don't we? If you're poor, it has to mean you're a loser, and America is all about winners, right?

A rather catchy song has a line that says "haters gonna hate."  Why?

I'm a rotten philosopher, so let me round up some links!

Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
  • They're now letting us take a look at the cover of the fourth book to feature Lisbeth Salander, The Girl in the Spider's Web.
  • A 20-year-old claims he can rid the world's oceans of plastic. It certainly needs to be done!
  • Kevin Macdonald is set to direct the Stephen King mini-series 11/22/63.
  • Finland-- with one of the best education systems in the world-- is doing away with the teaching of "subjects."
  • Amazon has filed the first-ever suit over fake product reviews.
  • President Obama will be asked to put one of four women on the face of the new $20 bill. (I never have thought Andrew Jackson was a good choice.) The Women on 20s website is where you can vote for your choice.
  • A New Yorker copyeditor dishes on the wacky side of her job.
  • Do our children think there are moral facts?
  • What the world was like 90 years ago when The Great Gatsby first appeared.
  • Truth is stranger than fiction: a man in the UK retired, moved, and discovered his doppelganger
  • Construction has begun on the new Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum
  • Book collecting is still going strong.

Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones
  • Archaeologists have unearthed a medieval graveyard beneath one of the colleges at Cambridge.
  • Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient "spooning" couple in Greece
  • A 4-year-old boy found rare 100-million-year-old dinosaur bones in Texas. 
  • Paleontologists have uncovered a tyrannosaur skull that bears the scars of a fierce battle.
  • Artifacts lost in a shipwreck 191 years ago are being returned to Hawaii.
  • Hand me the aspirin. A medieval man may have had his head drilled in an exorcism
  • I don't think I'd want one of these terror birds stalking me!
  • The battered remains of a medieval knight have been discovered in a UK cathedral. 
  • More metal detectors in the UK are finding treasure. One in Hertfordshire, and another near Kirkcudbright in Scotland.
  • Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring: Who was she?

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • The world's first octographer? (I have to admit that this one blew my mind!)

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • The Happy Wanderer isn't quite so happy over the persistent rumors of a mega-mall/entertainment/hotel complex at the Grand Canyon. To cut to the chase... where's all the water supposed to come from?
  • Improbable libraries- unusual places to bury your head in a book.
  • Saving what's left of Utah's lost world
  • 5 must-do American road trips.

►I  ♥  Lists◄ 

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

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell

First Line: Titian, Rubens, and Van Dyke, it is said, always practiced their art in full dress.

In the London of the 1850s, a series of murders has almost brought the city to its knees. Not only are these killings horrific, they mirror crimes that were committed decades earlier... and they also seem to have the same blueprint: Thomas De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." 

Two Scotland Yard detectives are working against the clock in order to capture the killer, and whether they like it or not, they find themselves working with De Quincey and his daughter Emily. Crippled as he is by his addiction to opium, this frail man in his sixties still has a brilliant mind that can look into the thoughts of a brutal murderer and know he must be stopped at all costs.

While I was in college, I read Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. When I recently learned that David Morrell had written a mystery with him as a sleuth, I thought back to De Quincey's Confessions and knew what a marvelous character he could be. To my delight, Morrell has done him justice. And then some.

During this investigation, Scotland Yard detectives Ryan and Becker do the hard work while De Quincey is the ideas man. De Quincey was saying things about dreams and the subconscious (he even coined the word) many decades before Freud, so it is a definite battle of wills between this frail, brilliant, and odd little man and the detectives who are used to a more physical style of investigation. Ryan and Becker also have to get used to the bloomer-wearing Emily De Quincey who has been raised to think and speak for herself. As much as she shocks the two young men, she isn't the hindrance they're convinced she'd be. Quite the opposite in fact, and one of the pleasures of reading this book was watching the two men begin to admire her.  Is there a budding romance in Emily's future? And with which of the detectives will it be? This is only one of the many reasons why I look forward to reading the next book in this series.

Morrell brought Victorian London to life, and the action sequences were excellent. (Any time I read an action sequence and become worried or frightened, I know it's good.)  We are treated to excerpts from Emily's diary throughout, and although these entries bring a needed break from tension, I have to admit that Emily's eye for detail had me wondering if she had a photographic memory.

Occasionally Morrell would change to a third person omniscient point of view to share facts about Victorian England that were important to the plot. As interesting as these passages were, I found that they took me out of the story, although I haven't got a clue how the author could've imparted this information in a less intrusive way.

With a hair-raising story, excellent action sequences, perfect period detail, and a marvelous cast of characters, I can't wait to get my hands on the next Thomas De Quincey book, Inspector of the Dead.

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell
ISBN: 9780316216784
Mulholland Books © 2014
Paperback, 384 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Thomas de Quincey mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Prospecting for Murder by Larry Names

First Line: A knock at the front door interrupted Charlie Siringo's writing.

Deputy Walt Phillips has been murdered in one of the back alleys of Harqua Hala, a small mining town in Arizona. When the sheriff can't find the deputy's killer, he calls in some pretty high-powered help: ex-lawman Wyatt Earp. Earp also puts in a call for help from former Pinkerton agent Charlie Siringo, who welcomes the interruption from writing his memoirs.

After meeting in Wickenburg to talk strategy, the two men travel under assumed names to Harqua Hala, and it's not long before they find all sorts of suspects and not much proof. And there's a young fellow named George Patton who's nosing around town, too. Whatever's going on, the two seasoned lawmen are running out of time. It won't be long before President Theodore Roosevelt is in town.

I purchased a copy of this book shortly after it came out, but it rapidly became buried under all the other eBooks I downloaded to my brand new eReader. Recently when I was scrolling through all my acquisitions, I couldn't even  remember why it was there, so I opened it and began to read. From almost the very first page, I remembered. An historical mystery set in Arizona months after it came a state and featuring real-life figures Charlie Siringo and Wyatt Earp? I was hooked!

The mystery is a good one and certainly kept me guessing. I also enjoyed the journey through Arizona at the turn of the twentieth century-- especially through places like Harqua Hala, which has long been a ghost town. The author had me slapping off clouds of dust and hearing the jingle of spurs while I tried to figure out what was going on.

Unfortunately, a couple of things let down the quality of the writing. One was the fact that there were a few too many historical figures. Earp, Siringo, Patton, Bat Masterson, and Ben Kilpatrick from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's Hole-in-the-Wall Gang to name a few. Sure these folks may all have known each other, and may even have been in roughly the same place at the same time, but it would have freed up the story to have a bit more fiction and a little less history.

The other thing that let down the story quite a bit was the lack of proofreading and poor-quality formatting. The spelling of two characters' surnames changed back and forth throughout the book. When mines run out of ore, they don't "pay out," they "play out," and most maddening of all, one section of the book was liberally sprinkled with ¼'s.

Did I enjoy the story? Very much so. Names brought the Arizona of that period to life for me, and watching Earp and Siringo solve a mystery was fun. Would I read another of the author's books? Yes, I certainly would, but I would hope the proofreading and formatting would now match the quality of his writing.

Prospecting for Murder by Larry Names
eISBN: 9780910937153
Eagan Hill Publishers © 2012
eBook, 218 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Charlie Siringo mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


I've Got Denise Mina Covered!

Once again, here I am-- the novice book cover critic-- with another two covers for the same crime fiction book. 

One cover is from the US publication of the book. The other is from the UK publication.

Why do I do this? Because I like to compare. It's the same book... is there anything the publishers on either side of the pond saw in the same way? Or are the two covers so completely different that you'd never dream they were for the same book?

This week I've chosen another favorite author, Scotland's Denise Mina. The book is her latest Alex Morrow book to be published here in the US, The Red Road.

Let's take a look!

All righty then!  They're just a tiny bit different, aren't they? 

The US seems to have taken the title at its word. The US cover definitely has red, even though there's nothing about a literal road on it. I think the road is more of a figurative one. That tower block of apartments doesn't look like anyplace that I'd want to live. In fact, it looks as though a few tenants might have jumped out of the windows. And although that tan border running vertically along the lefthand side just puts the building in relief, to me it looks like one of those cheap plastic spiral bindings on a training manual. Have you ever had one of those things? It's almost impossible to turn the pages properly in something with a binding like that.

The US cover completes the picture with a mention of the previous book in the series, the title, the author's name, and a quote from Entertainment Weekly to let us know what a good writer Mina is. (She is. EW isn't gilding the lily.) All in all, the US cover is rather bleak and utilitarian-looking.

On the other hand, the UK cover could almost be called pretty, especially if you love the color blue (as I do). There are a couple of crow-like birds dive-bombing the title, and a cityscape. Since Mina is extremely well-known in the UK, there aren't any quotes to tell us how good she is. Nothing telling us what the previous book in the series was. I think the UK publisher is taking it for granted that you're already going to know all this. In fact, I'm slightly puzzled about one thing. Denise Mina is a popular crime fiction writer in the UK. Why isn't her name above the book title? Is it because the story she's written is more important to her than fame? I wouldn't be at all surprised.

Now to get down to the nitty gritty. Which cover do I prefer? The UK cover is almost too pretty, if you know what I mean. The subject matter isn't pretty. It's grim and dirty and ugly. So... although blue is my favorite color and the UK cover is appealing, my vote is going to the US cover. It's grim and utilitarian and a bit ugly. The US cover may not be pretty or appealing, but I think it gets the story across better.

What about you? Which cover do you prefer? The US cover? Or the UK cover? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham

First Line: I like the police force.

Things are going rather well for Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths of the Cardiff, Wales, police force. For once she feels as though she may have a shot at living on planet Normal. Until the box she ticked on a form stating she was interested in undercover work comes back to haunt her. 

Working undercover as a payroll clerk and an office cleaner, Fiona Griffiths is now Fiona Grey. She's had to give up her old life entirely in order to infiltrate a criminal gang, and when she's finally accepted as one of them, she's totally alone and vulnerable. And the most unpredictable person you'll ever run across.

Quite simply put, I love this series. Three books featuring Fiona Griffiths have been published so far. I've read all three, and I've given all three the highest rating possible. I've never done that before, and it will probably be a long time before I do it again.

My passion for this series has everything to do with the marvelous character Harry Bingham has created. Fiona Griffiths has Cotard's syndrome, a rare mental illness in which the afflicted person is deluded into thinking that they are dead, either figuratively or literally. This affects everything about her. Her behavior. What she eats. If she eats. The way she views the world. What she thinks of other people. Everything. What Fiona wants most in the world is to be a citizen of the planet Normal, and she has to work hard at it. She has to remember to say the things that her boyfriend expects to hear, for instance. 

She's a by-the-book supervisor's nightmare. On the Cardiff police force, she's usually given work that's performed alone because she works best that way-- even if she has grown tired of it. If you begin reading the series from the beginning (Talking to the Dead)-- which I recommend you do-- Fiona's going to seem downright weird. But there's something appealing about her. Perhaps it's because she tries so hard to be normal. Before you know it, you realize that Fiona's stopped being weird; you've actually grown to care about her and to want her to succeed.

The plot of The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths is guaranteed to tie you into knots. The absolute worst thing a person with Cotard's syndrome can do is to work undercover, but that's exactly what Fiona does-- for months at a time. As I watched her begin to melt into her undercover persona, I actually became worried. This book-- and the entire series-- is something that you can easily lose yourself inside, just like Fiona Griffiths is losing herself in Fiona Grey.

The gang she finds herself working for puts her through incredible security measures, and her isolation grows steadily since the only person she has any real contact with is Vic, the extremely violent security specialist for the villains. Fiona's own unpredictability adds to the suspense and to a very real feeling of danger. You never know what she's going to do. Has she just done something incredibly stupid that's ultimately going to get her killed? Or has she just done something brilliant that will convince the bad guys that she's completely under their thumb?

Yes... you can read this book as a standalone if you must, but I don't recommend it. If you're looking for an excellent characterization and tightly woven, exciting plots, you deserve to read every single Fiona Griffith book. Fiona deserves it, too. She's brilliant.

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham
ISBN: 9781409140924
Orion Books © 2014
Hardcover, 442 pages

Police Procedural, #3 Fiona Griffiths mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon at The Poisoned Pen!

If I had to catch a gut-wrenching virus, at least I'd done it and had time to recuperate fully before going to The Poisoned Pen. I hate even the slightest possibility of spreading such nasty germs. It did seem rather strange to be going without Denis, but I was glad he was at work. Historical fiction really isn't the man's style!

Knowing that bookstore owner Barbara Peters was off traveling the world and that Diana Gabaldon was the evening's "celebrity pinch hitter" interviewing Susanna Kearsley, I made certain to get to my favorite bookstore in plenty of time to reserve my seat... and to do a little browse-buy.

The chairs hadn't been put up yet, so I sat at the back to read a bit. i was soon joined by another woman who wanted to reserve a seat before going to a nearby restaurant. The usually well-oiled machine of The Poisoned Pen experienced a slight hitch, and the other woman and I helped the staff get plenty of seats out. Neither of us minded a bit because we had an absolutely wonderful time talking books and Scotland. (Such a wonderful time in fact that we neglected to ask each other's name!)

"What if...?"

L to R: Diana Gabaldon, Susanna Kearsley

The bookstore quickly filled with chattering, excited women (and a few men). One couple had come down from Utah especially for the event, and another was from Nova Scotia. We were all a bit stunned when Susanna limped in on crutches, one foot firmly shielded in a protective boot. Never once saying what put her on the disabled list, Kearsley just smiled and said that a "skydiving accident" was tops on the list of guesses.

Diana said she was the choice to fill in for Barbara because "Not only are Susanna and I friends, I also like her books, and her latest book is about the Scottish Jacobites." This raised such a cheer in the room that I think Scotland would've gained its independence if we'd all been allowed to vote last year.

"This book deals with the first unsuccessful Jacobite rebellion," Diana went on to say, "and there's a tall, mysterious Highlander in it, too! There's also a contemporary story that winds in and out of the historical story, and Susanna will tell us a bit about what joins the two."

Susanna Kearsley
"My books aren't written as any sort of series," Susanna said, "but they all inhabit this world I've created, and sometimes you'll see the same characters appear. As part of my research for The Firebird-- the book before A Desperate Fortune-- I was reading a letter book that had originally belonged to Admiral Thomas Gordon, and I came across an old numerical Jacobite cypher. Since it contained drafts of his letters, I could see how he changed the wording in some letters and how he decoded the various letters he received from King James and King James' secretary. 

"I like code-breaking and cypher stories anyway, so I thought I'd like to include some sort of code in this book. Usually I use a light paranormal thread to bind the past and the present together in my books, but this time I wondered... what if there's a journal that needs to be decoded? So this time we have Sara who is deciphering the journal and Mary, the person who wrote it."

Serendipity & Spanking

Diana has long been a fan of Susanna's detailed research-- like the cypher in A Desperate Fortune-- but many times, she's attracted by the objects that Kearsley adds to her stories. Sometimes these objects have a real purpose in the plot; sometimes they don't, but they always add to the verisimilitude. She pointed to the large piece of jewelry Susanna was wearing on her tartan, part of which you can see in the photo above. It is called an "equipage," a collection of articles for personal ornament. 

"It's actually meant to be worn at your waist," Susanna told us. "It would clip on your skirt. It's the earlier version of a chatelaine [a hooklike clasp or a chain for suspending keys, trinkets, scissors, a watch, etc., worn at the waist by women]. This one was made by a local jeweler when they found out about the story I was writing. It's very special to me and is a sort of good luck charm for me while I'm doing this tour."

Diana Gabaldon
After talking for a minute or two about the sort of pencils used in the eighteenth century (very similar to the mechanical pencils of today), Diana asked Kearsley about the cost of an antique chatelaine or equipage. "They cost a lot more than I can afford right now. I just give them to my characters, and I dream!"

"These objects often play a part in the plot, like the watch on Mary's equipage which falls off and breaks, leading to our mysterious Highlander who is a watchmaker's apprentice!" Gabaldon said. "This is one of those woo-woo moments for writers. It's nothing you prepared for, it's nothing you expected, it just happens. Historical serendipity. The more you learn about a time period, the more you learn how the people thought, and the more these types of things can happen.

"It always helps when you have proof in the historical record. That way, if someone tells you something couldn't possibly have happened, you can whip out your proof and tell them, 'Oh yes, it can!' You wouldn't believe how many times I've been asked about spanking in the eighteenth century!" (Slight pause to give us all time to stop laughing and compose ourselves.)

A Desperate Fortune

Available Now!
Putting her latest book in historical context with Gabaldon's bestselling series, Kearsley told us, "A Desperate Fortune takes place during Jamie Fraser's father's generation. I always told myself that I would never never never never never write a Highlander because Diana's already put her stamp on that. When Hugh my Highlander walked in, I said, 'No! He's going to be shorter. He's going to have dark hair. He's going to be a Lowlander...' all the time thinking 'I can't believe I'm writing a Highlander!'

"There's always a lot of research that never makes it into the book, but you need it to create your characters. I went looking into the watchmakers of Inverness at the time, and you can get into the guild books. You can see who was practicing, what the ages of their apprentices were, what sort of life they had, and this is how I created Hugh.

Diana then wanted to know about Sara Thomas, the character in the contemporary storyline who works to crack the code in the Jacobite journal.

"I have a few people in my life who are very close to me, and they have Asperger's," Susanna said. "Asperger's has almost become 'hip' now, but I've wanted to portray a character with this syndrome for a while now. One of the people close to me is female, and one of the things I learned in my research is that Asperger's is harder to diagnose in females because they tend to be much better mimics.

"All the Aspys in my life like The Big Bang Theory, but they don't like the fact that Sheldon Cooper is always the punchline. I wanted to portray a much more realistic picture of people with Asperger's syndrome."

"Well, Sam, you can..."

After Kearsley mentioned that she sees "a book like a film in my mind while I'm writing," Diana remarked that A Desperate Fortune is "a very deeply emotional book, but you don't realize it until you get to the end."

"I like to use real people whenever possible in my books," Susanna said, "but I'm more interested in the common people because they're the ones who really made the history. There's a quote at the end of Henry V-- and I'll probably start crying-- where Henry is brought the news of the victory at Agincourt, and he asks for the names of the dead. Three or four lords' names are given, but [catch in her voice] those aren't the names Henry wants. He wants the names of the common soldiers who fought and died.

Susanna Kearsley
"I love to be able to bring these voices back. I feel a great responsibility to these forgotten voices-- to make them right."

The only historical character Susanna feels a deep connection to is James VIII of Scotland (James III of England, Bonnie Prince Charlie's father) because she's been writing about him since he was fifteen. "I have watched him age, and I have read all his letters. He was a phenomenal man, a great soul. He has been so maligned by historians that I get very angry. When I write him, I use his own words."

It was wonderful to see how knowledgeable Kearlsey is about the history of the time and how much it matters to her. A couple of minutes later, Diana Gabaldon had her own catch-in-the-throat moment in telling us about her then fifteen-year-old son Sam who at that age read fantasy exclusively. Diana was busy at her keyboard when Sam looked up from his book and rather wistfully said, "I wish I could really do magic, Mom." Diana stopped typing, looked over at him and said, "Well, Sam, you can. It's just much harder than most people think." Wise words spoken by a woman who creates magic at her keyboard.

The Writing Life

Both writers agreed that good-bye scenes are the hardest to write. Kearlsey told us of one such scene she was writing. When her husband came home, he discovered her at her keyboard, her neck wet because she'd been crying so much. Without missing a beat, he called out to the children, "Come on, kids, we're going to McDonald's!"

Both women also tend to write in a more or less linear fashion-- from the beginning to the end-- unless "something's broken." Kearsley said, "I'm a former museum curator, so I'm used to working linearly. And music has started playing a part in my writing when it never has before. I also don't think I'm through with Hugh and Mary [two main characters in A Desperate Fortune] yet!"

Diana Gabaldon
Diana told Susanna that she's often been asked what her writing space looks like. "I don't have a writing space," Gabaldon said. "It's all inside my head. What about yours?"

"I do love organization, but my writing space looks like an episode of Hoarders," Kearsley admitted to much  sympathetic laughter in the audience.

She continued, "I also find that I need the physical things around me-- like rocks from various castles that I've written about." Looking at us all, "Don't tell Customs!"

Diana laughed and said, "If the beagles can't smell it, you can bring it in!" (Which made me wonder if beagles were going to out me in the fall when I return from Scotland with a bunch of sea shells....)

As a museum curator, Kearlsey was involved in the repatriation of many Native American artifacts, and as she spoke, I realized that I could listen to her talk about this one facet of her life for hours.

Both women are passionate about the accuracy that can be found in historical fiction. "History is not what happened. It's what was written down," Gabaldon said. Kearsley nodded in agreement, saying, "Historical fiction writers are just as careful-- if not more so-- than historians."

When asked what inspired them to write about the Jacobites, Gabaldon said that "It was a really old Dr. Who episode where the doctor picked up a young Jacobite in a kilt." When we all stopped laughing, Susanna told us that it was a true history book, Playing the Scottish Card by John S. Gibson.

As the evening drew to a reluctant close, one fan told Kearsley how much she'd enjoyed one of her books because she was completely thrown by the twists and turns of the plot. Did Kearsley always know how the story was going to turn out before she started writing?

"No, I really didn't know how that book was going to turn out," Kearsley admitted, "which horrifies my engineer father. How can you write a mystery and not know who the villain is? Oh well, you know, Dad.... I had a book once where I thought I knew the bad guy, but the dog liked him, so I knew that wasn't going to work!"

What a fantastic evening! Although I tried to include as many of the best bits that I possibly could, I didn't want to write something the size of War and Peace, so please head on over to Livestream if you'd like to watch the entire event!

Friday, April 10, 2015

From Nurse to Patient Weekly Link Round-Up

Links are a bit light on the ground this week. As many of you know, Denis and I were clobbered by a nasty stomach virus last week. For me this meant that I didn't pick up a book, and I didn't turn on my computer. (Like I said-- nasty!) There have been weeks that were bulging with links, so this one just evens out the score a bit.

The good news is that Denis is bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and back to work. Me? I'm still getting a bit tired if I forget and try to woge into a super hero (any Grimm fans?), but I'm back to attending events at The Poisoned Pen!

Let's see what I did manage to round up for you....

♦ Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits ♦
  • T.S. Eliot's old summer home may become a writers' retreat.
  • This time Amazon is having difficulties renegotiating contracts with HarperCollins, so it may be a good idea to learn where else you can buy this publisher's eBooks.
  • A leading marketing expert thinks that-- when it comes to books-- libraries and publishers should be working hand in hand.

♦ Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones ♦

♦ Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett ♦

♦ I  ♥  Lists ♦

♦ The Happy Wanderer ♦
  • 28 lighthouses that have stood the test of time (and weather). 

♦ Book Candy ♦

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

Have a great weekend-- and read something fabulous!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Privileged to Kill by Steven F. Havill

First Line: I saw Wesley Crocker for the first time on a cold Thursday afternoon in October, three weeks before Election Day.

Posadas County Undersheriff Bill Gastner sees Wesley Crocker walking his flat-tired bike alongside the road and gives him a ride into town. No job, no car, no bath... Crocker is the first person all the townspeople suspect when the body of 15-year-old Maria Ibarra is found underneath the bleachers at the high school. Gastner feels the man is innocent, and thus begins a non-stop investigation for this old cop who eats too much Mexican food and gets too little sleep. The only thing standing between Bill Gastner and a murderer is the very real possibility of a heart attack.

I love this series, and it would be extremely easy for me to sit down and read each book one right after the other. But I don't. I make myself parcel them out one at a time-- almost like giving myself a gift every six months or so.

What makes this series so good? Just about everything. Fictional Posadas County, New Mexico, is right on the border with Mexico. Havill uses the landscape and the weather to paint in details of his setting, but he also uses situations that arise with our neighbor to the south. In the case of Privileged to Kill, it's the sad fate of Maria Ibarra, an illegal immigrant who's come from Mexico to get an education and a future only to die an ignoble death. It's details like this that make Havill's stories ring true.

Then there's always some sort of science/technical angle that's downright intriguing-- like the car wreck in this book. I know that not everyone is interested in such things, but not to worry. The author doesn't bog down the story with these facts. He uses them to add some spice to the investigation.

Hands down, the absolute best part of this book-- and the entire series-- is the cast of characters. Bill Gastner isn't in the best of health, but he's just the kind of tough old cuss who's going to die in harness. He doesn't know when to quit. He usually has his breakthrough flashes of inspiration when he's had the least sleep... and he's compassionate. Most people would drive right on by Wesley Crocker, but not Bill Gastner. He stops. He talks with Wesley for a minute or two, then he helps load the bike into the trunk of his patrol car and gives Wesley a ride into town as well as tips on places to eat and sleep. Bill's the type of man who's going to give everyone a fair break.

We also get to see Gastner mentor his boss. Sheriff Holman has a lot to learn, and he's smart enough to pay attention to his undersheriff. Most of the time. The same can't always be said for Pasquale, the new deputy. Gung-ho Pasquale wants to make a name for himself, and that just might wind up getting him killed. Gastner knows this, and I liked watching how he worked with the younger man.

Gastner's wife is dead, and his four sons live far away, but he is not without family. Adopted family. Deputy Estelle Reyes-Guzman and her doctor husband are valuable additions to the town of Posadas, and they care about Gastner as much as he cares for them. It's a pleasure watching Estelle and Gastner work together. Also, the lives of these three main characters grow and change with each book. Can you read this book as a standalone? Yes, you can, but if you love excellent characterizations, start at the beginning and savor each one.

I could ramble on forever. I love Havill's characters. I love the way he brings New Mexico to life. I also love how his stories are so simple on the surface (like the one here in Privileged to Kill) yet have real depth. Steven F. Havill's Posadas County mysteries truly deserve to be bestsellers instead of the hidden gems they tend to be. I highly, highly recommend them.


Privileged to Kill by Steven F. Havill
ISBN: 9781890208653
Poisoned Pen Press © 2001
Paperback, 266 pages

Police Procedural, #5 Posadas County mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.