Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cradle to Grave by Aline Templeton

First Line: She had no idea how long she had been walking, though such light as there was had begun fading into an ominous twilight.

Nanny Lisa Stewart has been accused of murdering the baby in her care, and she steadfastly maintains her innocence. Found not guilty, she changes her name and her hair color and tries to find a place where she's not known, but the horrible threats always follow her. At her wit's end, she finally decides to "hide in plain sight"-- within a mile or two of her most persistent accuser. Is she an innocent victim or a calculating murderer? Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming, fresh back from a four-month suspension, will have a chance to find out when a murder occurs where Lisa has gone to ground.

When I saw that it had been over two years since I last read one of Aline Templeton's Marjory Fleming mysteries, I was ashamed of myself. "Big Marge" is one of my favorite characters in all of crime fiction, and Templeton not only knows how to create marvelous characters, she's equally skilled with plot and action. Before I go any further, I'm going to tell you right now-- if you like police procedural series set in the UK and you haven't read Aline Templeton, well... you need to correct the oversight as soon as possible. (And start with the first book, Cold in the Earth.)

Templeton's characters are real. Marge isn't perfect (which can be seen by her recent suspension), but she is a good police officer. Her marriage to a farmer is solid but not without its occasional problems, and her two teenage children alternate between being angels and demons, as all good teenagers do. Marge's righthand man, Tam MacNee, is an odd little man who observes all, voices strong opinions whenever he feels like it and is excessively proud of his Glaswegian heritage. But he's off his feed in Cradle to Grave, and one of the mysteries readers must solve is why. Added to the team is newcomer Detective Constable Kim Kershaw, who began working while Fleming was out and doesn't know quite what to expect from her new boss.

The synopsis of the book makes you think that there's only one mystery in Cradle to Grave, and that is quite misleading. There's a lot going on besides the innocence or guilt of Lisa Stewart. A music festival is scheduled to be held at Rosscarron House if the torrential rain ever lets up, and everyone who's gathered there-- including one of Marjory's old flames-- is up to something... including the eight-year-old boy. The trick is trying to figure out what each of them is doing, and that's amidst all the weather-related action, instances of sabotage, and one very scary killer wandering around the countryside.

Templeton's characters always feel so true and grounded in the here and now that it's a pleasure to immerse myself in their lives while trying to untangle all the threads of the mystery. I came very, very close to giving Cradle to Grave my highest rating, but in the end, I had to admit that there was a bit too much going on. Not to the point where I'd completely lost the plot, but there was a time or two when I'd read a character's name and ask myself, "Now, who's he when he's at home?" Except for that memorable eight-year-old boy....

Aline Templeton is a British author whom I believe should be much better known here in the United States. I can always rely on her to carry me away to Scotland in the midst of characters I love and plots that are a pleasure to unravel. I urge you to give her books a try.

Cradle to Grave by Aline Templeton
eISBN: 9780062301819
HarperCollins © 2014
eBook, 410 pages

Police Procedural, #6 DI Marjory Fleming mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Now More Than Ever...

Remember the man. Celebrate his life and what he tried to teach us all. It matters. Now more than ever.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Corking Weekly Link Round-Up

This is the time of year our snowbirds love here in the Phoenix metropolitan area. As much of the rest of the country has either frozen or been digging out from mudslides, everyone here has been basking in sunshine and temperatures in the 75°F (24°C) range. Someone on my Facebook page told me that that was almost pool weather, but the water in my unheated pool is currently 54°F/12°C, and that's just too cold for all my damaged joints. If I got in there now, Denis would find a Cathy-shaped iceberg in a matter of minutes!

As you can see by the photo to the left (taken at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve), there is such a thing as a purple cactus. It's the Santa Rita variety of the prickly pear. As I was looking at the holes in the saguaros to see if I could spy any birds looking out at me, two men walked by, pontificating on the purple prickly pear. (Nice alliteration, eh?) There are white cottony patches on the cacti, and the men said that it was too bad that the cacti were diseased and someone should take care of it. Now... I've seen lots of Santa Rita in my years here in the desert, both cultivated in places like the Desert Botanical Garden and here at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve as well as in the wild, out miles from civilization. I've seen plenty of Santa Rita with those white patches, and they very seldom seem to die from them, so... Google is my friend.

Come to find out that those white patches are natural, and when you see them it means that the cactus is "corking." A Santa Rita cactus can grow to be huge, and corking is one of the ways the plant has of fortifying itself both to deal with its size and to prepare for a growth spurt. Hhmmm...the next time someone mentions my snowy white hair, I think I'll tell them I'm corking. And on that note, it's out to the corral. Head 'em up! Mooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Adorable lemurs roam free on this ancient island.
  • How peacock spiders (I love 'em!) make rainbows on their backsides.
  • Watch rare footage of the elusive Javan Warty Pig in the wild.
  • Wisdom, the oldest known albatross, is expecting. (Again.)
  • Amazon bird is revealed to be an extremely rare hybrid species.
  • What would you do if you looked out to see this critter sleeping on your porch?
  • More than thirty hilarious dog snapchats that are impossible not to laugh at. 
  • After eight years, a family finally realizes why a squirrel has been tapping on their window every day.

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! 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, January 11, 2018

Mourning the Little Dead by Jane A. Adams

First Line: The day she heard about Helen had been heavy with the threat of storms.

A signed, sealed confession is found in a dead man's papers, and now the spotlight is back on a twenty-three-year-old cold case. Twelve-year-old Helen Jones was on her way to school when she disappeared without a trace. What is chilling is that this has come to light as yet another young girl has gone missing.

Naomi Blake was Helen's best friend and the last person to see her alive. Now Naomi is blind, a reluctant ex-policewoman, and she decides to uncover what really happened to Helen Jones. What bothers Naomi is that the police are keeping very very quiet about the confessor's identity, but that's just the first unsettling incident in this very personal case.

Having a blind, ex-police detective as the main character is what drove me to read Mourning the Little Dead, and the characters are the strongest part of the book. I enjoyed seeing the world from the point of view of a blind person, and her service dog Napoleon is a gem. Naomi is able to keep up with most points of the investigation because her boyfriend Alex is a police officer, and she has a wonderful, supportive group of friends to help her. Of those, my favorite is the teenage Patrick who has a very level-headed way of seeing things-- and who loves spending time with Napoleon.

For me, the weakness in the book is the fact that I deduced the killer's identity very early, and once that happened most of my interest in the book waned, regardless how much I liked the characters. However, I do like Adams' writing style and her characters enough to be interested in reading the next book in the series.

Mourning the Little Dead by Jane A. Adams
Endeavour Press © 2015
eBook, 400 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Naomi Blake mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wandering through the Water Ranch

It's been way too long since I've visited one of my favorite places here in the Salt River Valley. The Gilbert Riparian Preserve's use of reclaimed water in a series of ponds and streams has created an oasis here in the desert. It's home to all sorts of wildlife, and migratory birds love to winter here.

The Preserve is filled with walking trails, and you'll always see people carrying cameras and tripods because rare birds are sighted here all the time. The wildlife has a healthy respect for humans, but if you're quiet and don't move around a lot, it's not unusual to have critters come right up to your feet. One of my fondest memories is of sitting on a bench in a secluded spot with a mother duck and her babies napping just a few feet away. (Mother kept one eye open at all times but didn't move otherwise!)

I'm always on the lookout for ospreys and kingfishers, but you never know what you're going to see when you start walking those trails. Follow along with me on my latest visit. You'll see sights that you normally wouldn't think occurred in a desert. If you'd like to see any of the photos in their original sizes, just click on one of them, and a new window will automatically open so that you may do so. Now... let's start wandering through the Water Ranch!

That sun made the available shade welcome!

As long as I didn't move, this mourning dove and its partner stayed right at my feet.

Water and shade, two of the most valuable commodities in the desert.

Little did I know that this wouldn't be the first egret I'd see!

A group of ducks was having a fine old time, quacking, racing, and splashing.

I love these shady paths. I always feel as though I'll find secrets in them.

Egrets, a great blue heron, and cormorants enjoying the sun and water.

I know they can't help it, but herons and egrets always look grumpy!

These Neotropic cormorants look ungainly beside their egret and heron friends.

A friendly white-crowned sparrow.

A Northern shoveler duck. The bill says it all.

One of the biggest mesquite trees I've ever seen.

A hungry Gambel's quail.

On our way out to the parking lot-- the sentinels of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaros.

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to my next visit to the Water Ranch!

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

First Line: On the morning Perveen saw the stranger, they'd almost collided.

In 1921 Bombay, India, Perveen Mistry has joined her father's law firm as one of the first female lawyers in the country. When one of the firm's clients dies, leaving three widows behind, Perveen goes to the Farid home to discuss all the things the women need to know in order to make informed decisions. Her father believes his daughter to be the perfect representative because the Farid widows live in purdah-- complete seclusion-- and have no contact with any man outside the immediate family.

Perveen is looking forward to this meeting because she's noticed some inconsistencies in the legal paperwork. She wants to get to the bottom of it so the women and their children will not be cheated. Perveen's visit creates tensions that rapidly escalate to murder. She realizes her suspicions were correct, and now she feels that it's her responsibility to find out what really happened on Malabar Hill-- and to ensure that no innocent women or children are at risk.

Having been a fan of Sujata Massey's award-winning Rei Shimura mystery series, I was thrilled to hear about this first Perveen Mistry mystery set in 1920s Bombay, India. There are two interwoven timelines in The Widows of Malabar Hill. One is present-day Bombay in 1921 which shows us Perveen working hard to become an integral part of her father's law firm. The second timeline takes us back to 1916 so we can learn what happened to Perveen to make her the woman she is five years later.

The story itself is a version of the locked room mystery. The widows live in purdah on Sea View Street. They stay in the women's section of the house, they do not leave their home, and they do not speak to any man who is not part of the immediate household. When a man dies inside a house where few people are admitted, it's going to take knowledge of the interior workings of the place to learn the truth. As a woman, Perveen is perfect for the role of investigator. She's also perfect in another way: she's become a feminist who's passionate about the rights of women and children. She shows us how such restricted lives are led and the intricate maneuverings that must be done in order to conduct an investigation. (Some policemen are much less willing to conduct themselves according to the beliefs of those who have become a part of their investigation.)

The mystery is a strong one because readers must acquaint themselves with this unfamiliar world in order to piece together what happened. And what can I say about the setting? Massey pulled me right into this world, and I was almost on sensory overload. The old ways versus the new. Bombay's rapid growth into a vibrant major city. The various political, religious, and social factions that chafed against each other on a daily basis. And one woman, with the support of her parents, who's strong enough to stand up for what's right.

I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series!

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
ISBN: 9781616957780
Soho Crime © 2018
Hardcover, 400 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Perveen Mistry mystery
Rating: A+
Source: the publisher 

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Black Painting by Neil Olson

First Line: Last night she dreamed of the house on Owl's Point.

The house on Owl's Point has long been haunted by a painting rumored to cause madness and death. The self-portrait by the brilliant Spanish artist Francisco Goya was stolen years ago, and the Morse family patriarch has always been convinced that someone in the family was the thief. Now he's called the family together. Speculation is running high as to the reason for his summons, but the old man dies before the gathering is complete.

Now it's up to the youngest and most fragile of the Morse cousins, Teresa, to uncover the reasons behind her grandfather's death and the painting's theft, but she has no idea how many ugly family secrets she will be discovering along the way.

I've always been an easy mark for any book focusing on art theft and art history, so when I learned of The Black Painting, I had very high hopes. For the most part, those hopes were not realized. As much as the very first sentence tries to evoke Daphne du Maurier's superb Rebecca, it falls short. The entire cast reminded me of the motley crew of Gone Girl-- scarcely a one of them that I wanted to have anything to do with and none of them that I cared one tiny bit about. Self-absorption and greed ruled their lives. Yawn. Teresa is, by far, the best of the lot, but she's so ethereal she's like a bit of fog blown on and off screen. She's not enough of a presence to carry the narrative load.

Most of the time, this unlikable bunch of misfits prowled around the property like a pack of hyenas, their sole concern being the amount of money they inherit from their grandfather. The only time the book came to life was when Goya's fantastic Black Paintings became the focus. The first time I learned of their existence was when I took an art history class in college. Even as mere illustrations in a book, these paintings are so powerful that they've remained in my mind ever since. If only Olson's novel had one-tenth their power!

The Black Painting by Neil Olson
ISBN: 9781335953810
Hanover Square Press © 2018
Hardcover, 320 pages

Literary Mystery, Standalone
Rating: C-
Source: the publisher

While Miz Kittling Knits: A Touch of Frost

Although I'm still working on an afghan, I do have other knitting projects in various stages of completion. That afghan is getting much too cumbersome to pick up when I only have a very few minutes to get my needles clacking.

I've also been energized by something that I was told the last time I went in for a haircut. The salon wants to have some sort of little boutique area next Christmas where folks can buy stocking stuffers and the like. I liked the sound of that. Who knows? If I'm lucky, I may be able to keep myself in yarn, says I with a wink.

I've been using a super bulky acrylic yarn for a pattern the designer calls the "strawberry jam neck wrap." Since I'm allergic to strawberries, I've just been referring to it as a neck wrap. One of the things I like the most about this pattern is that it's quick and easy, using size 15 needles and that super bulky yarn. The only thing I've had to do is keep track of how many rows I've knitted, which is easy with a row counter. (I have three or four row counters, since using one is essential for the afghan I'm making.)

The other thing I like about the pattern is the different ways the neck wrap can be worn. Here are some photos to show you what I mean.

With Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick and Quick in "Blossom."

In Loops & Threads Country Loom in a discontinued color.

Discontinued baby yarn in a color called "Big Bird."

I really like how these look with a shawl pin holding them in place, but the pattern calls for a button closure. The pink one does have a button, and another reason to like the pattern is that it has eyelets-- one of which can be used as a buttonhole so I don't have to make one.

Now... what have I been watching as I'm knitting up a storm? Take a look!

On Denis's days off, we've been watching David Jason in "Only Fools and Horses," a long-running British sitcom. Denis already knows this so it won't come as a shock if he reads it here: I don't like David Jason's character Del Boy in that series. At all.

When I saw that Britbox not only had all of "Only Fools and Horses," but all of a crime series called "A Touch of Frost" that Jason starred in, I thought I'd give it a go.
"A Touch of Frost" ran for fifteen seasons, beginning in 1992, and it's not a forensics-and-science-driven series.

David Jason plays Detective Inspector Jack Frost. His personal life has been anything but happy. He's extremely unconventional, sympathizes with the underdog, and strongly believes in moral justice. He doesn't always have a pen and notepad, and the top of his desk looks like a dumpster. He also comes up short when it comes to showing his superior officers the "proper respect," but no one can beat his intuition when it comes to finding the bad guys. So far I've watched him solve cases in which there was no evidence...but he knew exactly how to trick the guilty parties into leading his team right to what would put them behind bars. I do enjoy coppers who use their brains to solve crime.

I have to admit that I much prefer David Jason as Jack Frost, and I'm looking forward to many more evenings spent solving crimes with him while my knitting needles work away.