Thursday, June 24, 2021

Killman by Graeme Kent

 

First Line: The twenty naked young virgins undulated slowly in front of Sister Conchita and the morose visiting female academic on the plateau next to the waterfall above the saltwater village.
 
It is young Sister Conchita's misfortune to find the drowned body of Papa Noah, head of the Church of the Blessed Ark, outside the ark he's been building with so much care. Since this is the third death by drowning on the island of Malaita (two of them with no nearby source of water), rumors immediately begin to circulate that there is a Japanese soldier, a killman, on the loose unwilling to admit that the war has been over for fifteen years. Within days, Sister Conchita's mission is inundated with islanders in search of a safe place from the killman.

While she's dealing with a packed mission and a visit from a formidable man known as the bishop's fixer, Sergeant Ben Kella has his own problems. He's been taken to task by the elders of the islands for his absence and his neglect of local problems. It's not Kella's fault that his superior has sent him on one useless assignment after another for months at a time, but the elders refuse to accept excuses from their custom-law enforcer-- a type of island law enforcement officer who takes the islanders' various religious beliefs into account as he dispenses justice.

There's a potentially deadly religious confrontation brewing in the Solomon Islands, and Sergeant Ben Kella and Sister Conchita are right in the middle of it.

~

Graeme Kent's Sergeant Ben Kella and Sister Conchita historical mystery series is perfect for the armchair traveler, and it's so good that I'd almost give my right arm to have more than three books in the series. The first book, Devil-Devil, was a Best Read of 2011, the second, One Blood, was a Best Read of 2012, and Killman came very close to being a Best Read this year. I am so glad I found it while doing some research.

I am of an age where I remember Japanese soldiers being found in the jungle in areas like the Solomon Islands, either not knowing or refusing to believe that World War II was over twenty and thirty years after the fact. Since Killman is set in the Solomons in 1960, this is a perfect thing to incorporate in a mystery involving mysterious deaths.

Another strong element in the mystery is that of religion. Christianity (and not just Catholicism) has a strong hold in the Solomon Islands, but there are still many who hold on to their pagan beliefs with their strong attachments to the natural world. What Kent brought to life for me was the very real danger of a type of religious war involving the differing beliefs of Christians and of those peoples living in saltwater villages as opposed to those living in the bush (jungle). 

The various religions aren't the only things that Kent brings to life. The Solomon Islands themselves play a major role. I can feel myself walking along a beach and breathing in the sea air... or being covered in sweat and slapping mosquitoes as I travel through the jungle and up into the mountains. There are political aspects to life in the islands. The Japanese are showing interest in the natural resources to be found there, and the Americans are showing interest in the Japanese. It's a land still struggling through the aftermath of World War II. Of all the equipment left behind by both the Japanese and the Americans. Of all the wreckage littering land and sea from the battles for Guadalcanal and the other islands. 

Kent does such a marvelous job of putting readers in the midst of life in the Solomons. Of the tremendous navigational skills of the Polynesians. Of the eighty different dialects spoken there. Of the towering banyan trees, symbols of eternal life. And of island occupations such as that of tree shouter. It is such a rich culture! One of the characters is an academic gathering island songs for a book she's writing. Kent uses her as an example of the danger academics can face in traveling to remote areas on fact-finding missions. (Whom do you trust to tell you the truth?)

The major thing that makes learning about the area so enjoyable is the pair of Sergeant Ben Kella and Sister Conchita. A young Catholic nun from Boston, Sister Conchita chose her name because she thought she was going to be posted to South America, and she wanted a name that the people would find familiar. She thought wrong, but she has adapted to life in the South Pacific beautifully and has become the mainstay of the mission. She also has a flair for deduction which Sergeant Ben Kella reluctantly admits is useful. As Sister Conchita shows us life from an outsider's point of view, Kella has the insider's side of the story, and it's the blending of the two that makes this series so special.

I could wax poetic about this book... the entire series... for page after page, but I won't. This is a series that I hope all of you will give a try, especially if books with a strong sense of place are your favorites. Give island life a try. You can't have two better guides than Sister Conchita and Sergeant Ben Kella.

Killman by Graeme Kent
eISBN: 9781472104762
Constable & Robinson © 2013
eBook, 272 pages
 
Historical Mystery, #3 Sergeant Ben Kella & Sister Conchita mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Nest of Vipers by Andrea Camilleri

 

First Line: He found himself in a dense forest with Livia, having no idea how they got there.
 
When wealthy widower Cosimo Barletta is found dead with a gunshot wound to the neck, his past is opened to scrutiny as Inspector Montalbano and his team work to find the man's killer. And what a past it is. Barletta has spent a lifetime cruelly extorting beautiful young women to become his mistresses, and if that weren't enough, it becomes obvious that his wealth was based upon greed and corruption. It might take Montalbano extra time to sort through all the people Barletta has done wrong in order to find the killer. But if anyone can do it, the wily inspector can.

~

In a series that has run as long as Andrea Camilleri's has, not every installment is going to be a barnburner. That is the case with A Nest of Vipers. In his Author's Note, Camilleri admits that the plot of this book is very similar to that of The Paper Moon, the difference being that he became stronger in writing about a certain topic in A Nest of Vipers. I could tell you what that topic is, but it would give away too much of the story. Personally, I think it's one that doesn't need multiple covers due in part to the fact that it can be too easily deduced.

Speaking of deduction, Salvo Montalbano is never at his best when confronted with beautiful young women. One after another, he is brought face to face with drop-dead gorgeous young things as he tries to work his way through all the dead man's mistresses. They are prime suspects after all. Also, in previous reviews I've made it very clear that I don't like Montalbano's longtime girlfriend, Livia. She can't cook. She's vindictive. She hates Montalbano's housekeeper. And--worst of all in my book-- she lives to pick fights with the inspector. But... if you are one of the many who believe fighting adds spice to any romance, this relationship will be right in your wheelhouse.

For me, the saving grace of A Nest of Vipers is its humor. From the gold standard dialogue of Catarella to the coroner whose aspiration in life is to perform Montalbano's autopsy to the inspector's finding a new home for his mountains of paperwork, there are plenty of smiles, chuckles, and outright laughs to be found.

If only there hadn't been an overload of estrogen. Poor Montalbano has so much trouble dealing with it.

A Nest of Vipers by Andrea Camilleri
Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli
ISBN: 9780143126652
Penguin Books © 2017
Paperback, 272 pages
 
Police Procedural, #22 Inspector Montalbano mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Paperback Swap

Celebrating Mysteries: Europe

 


First of all, I just want to say Thank You to everyone for their response to last week's first post in this series, Celebrating Mysteries: Africa & Australasia. Reading your tweets, emails, and comments added to my own Need to Read list just as I hoped it would, and it was gratifying to see how many readers love books with a strong sense of place.

Last year when the pandemic was raging, reading books set in far-off places kept my mind off the fact that I was a gnat's eyelash from going stir crazy. Reading mysteries set in places I knew well made me vigilant in checking the author's facts. Did they get everything right? Reading books set in places I've never been to helped satiate my wanderlust-- especially if they were set in places I never intend to travel to. 

I love learning about the landscape, the culture, and the food of other places. This world and the people in it are so diverse that the more I learn, the more connected I feel to others. There's no way I can express how much I appreciate authors who can bring another place, another culture to life for me. The only way I can try is to list some of my favorites. 

This week, I'm concentrating on the countries in Europe. There are big gaps in my list, and I'm hoping that you can fill in some of them with your comments. I found that, although I do have many favorite authors whose books are set in Europe, their emphasis seems to be more on character and story rather than putting much emphasis on place. The following authors are my favorite exceptions to that. Clicking on the link in the book's title will take you to my review.


England

William Shaw, compared to many others on my favorites list, is a relative newcomer, but I've been recommending his Alexandra Cupidi series to anyone who will listen. The setting of the marshlands of southeastern England plays a large role in these books. It's a haunting landscape, an elemental landscape, one that reminds me of watching Patrick McGoohan as The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh as a child. It's the perfect setting for Shaw's marvelous characters and stories.


The Birdwatcher is the first book in the series (although it's not always listed as such)
Salt Lane is book two
Deadland is book three
Grave's End is the fourth book

There are currently five books in this series.


I've been a fan of Kate Ellis's Wesley Peterson mysteries for years. She writes a marvelous series with two timelines. One set in the past and one in the present day. The area around Dartmouth plays a role in these books in both the present and the past. I can't begin to tell you how much I've learned about England's past by reading these enjoyable stories.


The Merchant's House is the first book
The Armada Boy is the second
An Unhallowed Grave is the third
The Funeral Boat is the fourth

This series currently has twenty-four books. There are no links to reviews for the first four because I started reading them long before I began blogging, but you can check out my review for the later Dead Man's Lane to get an idea of what I'm talking about.


Finland

James Thompson wrote a police procedural series set in Finland featuring Kari Vaara, who began as a police chief in Lapland and later moved to Helsinki as a detective. The series was cut short by Thompson's untimely death. This American-Finnish writer taught me a lot about the people and landscape of Finland in his hard-hitting mysteries.


Snow Angels is the first book
Lucifer's Tears is the second
Helsinki White is the third
Helsinki Blood is the fourth
 
There are only four books in this series.
 
 
France
 
It's a little-known fact that I began my college career as a French major; therefore, when I read mysteries set in France where the setting is so good that I begin thinking in French, I know they're good. There are two series set in France that have that effect on me.
 
If you want to feel as though you're in Paris, all you have to do is read Cara Black's Aimée Leduc series. Aimée is a private investigator who knows how to accessorize, and she'll take you through the mean streets of Paris, one arrondissement at a time. 


Murder in the Marais is the first book
Murder in Belleville is the second
Murder in the Sentier is the third
Murder in the Bastille is the fourth

There are currently nineteen books in this series. I've jumped around in my reading which is why there are no links to reviews for Sentier and Bastille.


Anyone who's been reading my blog for a long time knew that Martin Walker's Bruno Chief of Police series would definitely be on this list. I fell completely in love with the very first book. Of all the mysteries with a strong sense of place, I think Walker takes the cake. I've learned so much about the Périgord, its history, its people, the culture, and the food! I've learned the hard way that it's not a good idea to be hungry when I pick up a Bruno mystery. Yikes!


Bruno Chief of Police is the first book
The Dark Vineyard is the second
Black Diamond the third
The Crowded Grave is the fourth

There are currently thirteen books in the series.


Greece

When I think of mysteries set in Greece, two authors immediately spring to mind. If I want to be transported to ancient Greece, I definitely want Australian author Gary Corby to be my tour guide. I've had a front-row seat at the Olympic Games, and I've narrowly escaped death at sea in a trireme. Not only does Corby have me walking the mean streets with his two sleuths, his sense of humor can keep me laughing, too.

The Pericles Commission is the first book
The Ionia Sanction is the second
Number three is Sacred Games

There are currently seven books in the series, and I hope there will be more.


When I want to travel to modern Greece, the silver-tongued devil himself, Jeffrey Siger, is my preferred guide. From politics to food to history to gorgeous landscapes to the merest facial expressions, I've learned so much about the Greece of today while enjoying the investigations conducted by Andreas Kaldis and his crack team.
 

 Murder in Mykonos is the first book
Assassins of Athens is the second
Prey on Patmos is the third
Target: Tinos is the fourth

There are currently eleven books in the series.


Iceland


Longtime readers will also know that I sing the praises of Ragnar Jónasson regularly. Jónasson has taught me quite a bit about that amazing country, especially the remoter regions, and-- you know me-- the remoter the better I always say. Jónasson has written some standalones as well as a fantastic trilogy, but it's the series featuring Ari Thór Arason, the young police officer in the far north of Iceland who's probably taught me the most about his country: food customs, landscape, weather, winter darkness... It's an alien place to me which makes it all the more special to learn about it in this series.


Snowblind is the first book
Blackout is the second
The third is Rupture
The fourth is Whiteout

There are six books in the series.


Italy


Andrea Camilleri's long-running series featuring irascible Inspector Salvo Montalbano has been a favorite of mine since the first book. This series is more than a police procedural. The humor is often laugh-out-loud funny, and Camilleri-- through Stephen Sartarelli's masterful translations-- has taught me so much about the landscape, food, customs, and politics of Sicily. 
 
The last book in this series, Riccardino, will be published in September, and it will be sad to see the series end. These books are treasures.
 

 The Shape of Water is the first book
The Terra-Cotta Dog is the second
Third is The Snack Thief
 
There are thirty books in this series, and how I wish there could be more. Thank you for so much enjoyment, Mr. Camilleri.
 
My blog was just four months old when I posted the review for Voice of the Violin. You can also read my review of a much later book, A Beam of Light, if you are so inclined.


Scotland
 
My ancestral roots run deep in the mountains and glens of the Scottish Highlands, so it's no surprise that I'm partial to a well-written Scottish mystery series or two (or three or...) When I think of mysteries with a strong sense of place that are set in Scotland, two authors spring automatically to mind.

Author Peter May has written a fantastic trilogy set on the islands of the Outer Hebrides, and he brings that stunning, brooding landscape to life.


The Blackhouse is the first book
The Lewis Man is the second
The Chessmen is the third


Aline Templeton is the second author who springs immediately to mind when I think of mysteries set in Scotland. Let's face it, the big cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow get most of the crime fiction attention, but authors like Peter May and Aline Templeton know that the lesser known corners of the country are no strangers to criminal deeds. Indeed, Val McDermid refers to Templeton as "the crime czar of the Scottish small town." 

One of my favorite series is Templeton's police procedural featuring Marjory "Big Marge" Fleming who is a detective inspector in Galloway, which is in southwestern Scotland. If you want to get a feel for that part of the country, you'll get it in these books, and from different perspectives, for example, as Marjory's husband is a farmer who lost most of his animals to mad cow disease.


Cold in the Earth is the first book
The Darkness and the Deep is the second
The third is Lying Dead
Number four is Lamb to the Slaughter
 
There are nine books in this series.

Templeton also writes a series featuring Kelso Strang, a detective inspector who finds himself traveling from one Scottish village to another solving crimes. The first book in this (currently) three-book series is Human Face.

Thus endeth my list of European mystery series that have a strong sense of place. Now it's your turn. When it comes to Europe, which mystery series transport you to another country-- its landscape, its customs, its food? You added to my Need to Read list last time, and I'm counting on you to do it again this time. Inquiring minds need to know!

Next up at a future date: Asia!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

First Line: The first time I met Lillian Pentecost, I nearly caved her skull in with a piece of lead pipe.
 
Little did circus runaway Willowjean "Will" Parker know that saving the life of Lillian Pentecost with her knife-throwing skills would change her life. She didn't realize that she was saving the life of New York City's finest and most unorthodox private investigator.
 
Pentecost's multiple sclerosis means that she's not able to keep up with her case load, and she wants to hire Will as her right-hand woman. In return, Will will receive a salary, room and board, and training in Pentecost's methods of investigation.
 
Three years later, the two are on the Abigail Collins case, the case of a rich woman who was bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball during a booze-laced Halloween party in her home. Rumors are flying that the woman was killed by the vengeful spirit of her husband, who committed suicide in the same chair in which Abigail's body was found. The police can't seem to find any answers, so the Collins family hires Pentecost. 
 
The case proves to be even trickier than Will expected. There's a spiritualist involved whom Pentecost has had her eye on for years, and then there's Becca Collins, the gorgeous daughter of Abigail whom Will finds herself falling for. Will the two investigators be able to navigate all the twists and turns in order to bring a killer to justice?
 
~
 
I feel as though Fortune Favors the Dead should win some sort of special award. You see, it's the first audiobook I've listened to that didn't put me to sleep in under thirty seconds. Granted, I wised up and had my knitting needles busy while I was listening, but I think the book would have kept me awake regardless. 
 
Stephen Spotswood has written an engaging story set in 1940s New York City that has a hint of noir, a dash of humor, and two unusual and mesmerizing characters in Willowjean "Will" Parker and her boss, Lillian Pentecost. It's not often that you read a mystery that involves a female circus runaway and a middle-aged woman with multiple sclerosis and a glass eye. Will is the book's voice, and that voice drew me right into the story with its sass and spark. She kept me listening as the story unfolded, and I didn't even particularly mind that the identity of the killer wasn't that difficult to deduce.

As a novice audiobook listener, it hasn't taken me long to learn that the narrator has a lot to do with a book's success. I found that the narrator of this book, Kirsten Potter, was perfect. Her Will was smart and sassy and her Lillian was calm and determined. She did a good job of creating different voices for all the characters even though I don't find that to be a necessity. (Just don't have a run-of-the-mill voice that drones.) In fact, I found Potter to be so good that Spotswood's series is one that I'll continue to follow in audiobook format. Now all I have to do is wait patiently for Pentecost and Parker to make another appearance. 

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood
Narrated by Kirsten Potter.
ASIN: B085J1TKR2
Random House Audio © 2020
Audiobook. 8 hours, 31 minutes.
 
Historical Mystery, #1 Pentecost & Parker mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Audible.

Monday, June 21, 2021

On My Radar: Michael Connelly's The Dark Hours


If you've been with me for a long time, you know that I love Michael Connelly's Renée Ballard mysteries, and if you know that, it will come as no surprise to you that I did a happy dance when I learned that a new Renée Ballard mystery is set to be released this year. 
 
I'm going to get straight to it and tell you more about it!
 
 
Available November 9, 2021!
Synopsis:
 
"There's chaos in Hollywood on New Year's Eve. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD Detective Renée Ballard seeks shelter at the end of the countdown to wait out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. As reports start to roll in of shattered windshields and other damage, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party.

It doesn't take long for Ballard to determine that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky. Ballard’s investigation leads her to look into another unsolved murder—a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch.

Ballard and Bosch team up once again to find out where the old and new cases intersect. All the while they must look over their shoulders. The killer who has stayed undetected for so long knows they are coming after him.

Sounds like vintage Bosch, doesn't it? And he's the perfect mentor for Renée Ballard. They are two of a kind... Everyone Counts, or Nobody Counts. I've loved that phrase since the first time I read it. Michael Connelly is one-of-a-kind, and you know I'll be lining up to get my hands on a copy of The Dark Hours

Will you? 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Winner of A Peculiar Combination!

 


I want to give a big thank you to everyone who entered to win an autographed copy of Ashley Weaver's first Electra McDonnell mystery A Peculiar Combination. You certainly kept me hopping! 

Now it's time to announce the winner.

Congratulations to Libby D. from Florida! I'm getting your book ready for the mail, and it will be posted by Tuesday at the very latest.

Friday, June 18, 2021

An If It Ain't One Thing... Weekly Link Round-Up

 


Robert Burns sure knew what he was talking about: "The best-laid plans of mice and men..." Denis and I have been itching to get back to the zoo because of all the baby animals there are to see, but one thing after another has prevented us from going. If it's not my leg acting up and requiring extra care, then it's Denis catching some weird eye disease where he actually had things growing on his corneas. (If you just screwed up your face and said, "ICK!" I don't blame you.) Needless to say, his eyes weren't up to the outing especially since one of the symptoms of this disease is extreme sensitivity to light. (And if there's one thing that Arizona has an abundance of, it's painfully bright light.)

Now we're both in shape to get to the zoo, and what I feared would happen is exactly what's happened. We've advanced to the frying pan days of a Sonoran summer with temperatures hovering right around 120°. Now it's too blasted hot to meander around the zoo in the blazing sun and wilting heat. If I were of an age to be sitting in a high chair, I'd be tossing my bowl of strained veggies across the room and screaming fit to rattle the windows.

But I must be an adult about it whether I want to or not. Instead of doing any further whining, I'll show you my living room nest, complete with side bolsters on the daybed and that new table I asked your opinion on last week. The almost unanimous opinion was that table #4 was the best option, but I went with table #2. I liked the book shelf that made it look like a library table as well as the look of the wood, and as you can see in the photos, it does what I want it to do. I didn't choose #4 because-- even though the wheels locked, I thought they'd manage to find a way to be a major pain, and from the photos, it didn't look as sturdy as the other choices. Now I'll shut up and show you the photos.
 





Enjoy the links!
 

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄
 
►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
 
►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
 
►The Happy Wanderer◄
 
►Artisans◄
  • Derek Pearce's Water Tables are designed to look like animals half-submerged in water.
  • 92-year-old knitter Margaret Seaman recreated Queen Elizabeth II's Sandringham estate in yarn.
 
►Fascinating Folk◄
►I ♥ Lists◄

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.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And don't forget to curl up with a good book!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sins of a Shaker Summer by Deborah Woodworth

 

First Line: "I'm thirsty," seven-year-old Betsy grumbled, plunking her cracked white teacup on the ground.
 
Sister Rose Callahan is slowly acclimating to being the new eldress of her community of Believers in Kentucky, even though Brother Wilhelm, the elder of the community, would like nothing better than to see her thrown out on her ear.
 
However politics and emotions should take a backseat when two little girls are poisoned. All signs point to the medicinal herb shop and the group of Believers recently arrived from another community who work there. Something isn't right, and Sister Rose is determined to find out what it is in order to keep the community she loves safe.
 
~
 
Deborah Woodworth's historical series featuring Sister Rose Callahan is one that I've enjoyed from the first book, Death of a Winter Shaker. One of my cherished memories is of visiting Pleasant Hill, a Shaker community in Kentucky when I was sixteen. I found the history of the Shakers and their accomplishments fascinating, and I still do. The second Sister Rose Callahan starts walking the streets and paths of her community, I am immediately transported to Pleasant Hill.
 
Woodworth's research is impeccable, and she weaves it all seamlessly into her story. There's no feeling that you've been thrown into history class and are about to face a pop quiz. 
 
The mystery in Sins of a Shaker Summer is a good one. Readers are quickly drawn to the new group of Believers who arrived from another community. They're secretive, don't talk much, and they seem to be conducting strange experiments in the medicinal herb shop, which is one of the many ways the Believers earn money. But what exactly is going on, and which one of the newcomers is responsible? This takes some work to figure out.
 
But no matter how strong the mystery is or how wonderful the sense of place and time is, the story isn't going to shine unless the characters do. The characters shine in this book. Sister Rose is a conscientious, compassionate woman who wants everything in her community to run well and for everyone to be healthy and happy. She also is a first-rate investigator. Brother Wilhelm, the other person in charge is a rabid fundamentalist. He wants everything like it was in the Good Old Days, and he believes Rose is too modern and should be thrown out of the community. Wilhelm wants to ignore the outside world even though the Shakers must rely on non-Believers to buy their goods and for converts to their faith.

There are also other dynamics among the characters. Newcomer Sister Patience is causing concern and divisiveness with her visions and pronouncements, and it's up to Sister Rose to find out if the woman is a true visionary or a fraud. And... looming over the entire community is the outside world. Everyone is suffering through the Depression, and when any little thing goes wrong, there must be someone to blame. For those living outside the Shaker community, the best scapegoats are always the Believers. They're weird. They believe in celibacy. Their religious services sometimes look like a circus sideshow. Yes, the Believers are very easy to blame for anything that goes wrong, and it's this attitude that brings a very real sense of menace to Sins of a Shaker Summer and the other books in the series.

If you're in the mood for a historical mystery that will transport you to another time and place, one with a strong mystery and even stronger characters, I recommend Deborah Woodworth's Sister Rose Callahan series. It's been one of my "go-to" series from the very first book.

Sins of a Shaker Summer by Deborah Woodworth
ISBN: 0739401394
Avon Books © 1999
Hardcover, 261 pages
 
Historical Mystery, #3 Sister Rose Callahan mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap