Review: Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell

waterloo by bernard cornwellFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: military history
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

On the 18th June, 1815 the armies of France, Britain and Prussia descended upon a quiet valley south of Brussels. In the previous three days the French army had beaten the British at Quatre-Bras and the Prussians at Ligny. The Allies were in retreat. The blood-soaked battle of Waterloo would become a landmark in European history, to be examined over and again, not least because until the evening of the 18th, the French army was close to prevailing on the battlefield.
Now, brought to life by the celebrated novelist Bernard Cornwell, this is the chronicle of the four days leading up to the actual battle and a thrilling hour-by-hour account of that fateful day. In his first work of non-fiction, Cornwell combines his storytelling skills with a meticulously researched history to give a riveting account of every dramatic moment, from Napoleon’s escape from Elba to the smoke and gore of the battlefields. Through letters and diaries he also sheds new light on the private thoughts of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, as well as the ordinary officers and soldiers. Published ahead of the upcoming bicentenary in 2015, Waterloo is a tense and gripping story of heroism and tragedy – and of the final battle that determined the fate of Europe.

My Review:

To meet one’s Waterloo, has become almost a cliché, a byword for meeting one’s final or ultimate defeat.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812

The term, as well as all of the cities and towns named Waterloo, come from one singular battle – the place where Napoleon Bonaparte met his own personal and political Waterloo at the hands of the Duke of Wellington.

Today, June 18, is the 200th anniversary of that battle. While a cannon’s weight of books have been published this year to commemorate the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, I wanted to pick just a couple to hopefully expand my understanding of what happened that day.

It is a difficult thing for an author, any author, to build excitement and anticipation into a story where we already know how it ends. Wellington won, Napoleon was finally and ultimately defeated.

The story of the Battle of Waterloo, at least as told by Bernard Cornwell, is a story where we know the ending, more or less, but it is the middle that is obscured, both at the time and even 200 years later.

Or perhaps especially 200 years later, as there has been plenty of time for myths, legends, obfuscations and half-truths to find their own little corner of that field.

As the battle was taking place, a lot of the confusion can be blamed on the fog of war. In that battle, and in that era, it was at least partially a real fog, the smoke from the hundreds of cannons and howitzers, and from the tens of thousands of muskets, all seemingly firing at once at obscuring the participants’ view of anything not immediately next to them.

What we all know is that Napoleon escaped from his exile on the Island of Elba, was declared Emperor again, and marched on Brussels. He intended to retake Belgium, which had been severed from the French Empire after his earlier defeat.

The Duke of Wellington, by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Painted in 1814, a few months before the Battle of Waterloo.
The Duke of Wellington, by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Painted in 1814, a few months before the Battle of Waterloo.

Wellington met him at Waterloo, and eventually defeated Napoleon after three days of bloody battle. Napoleon retreated, and finally surrendered to the British, who promptly exiled him to Saint Helena, where he remained until his death.

This book of Waterloo is an attempt to bring coherence to all of the various eyewitness and survivor accounts of what was a long, hard-fought and ultimately confusing battle fought on multiple fronts by multiple armies over a lot of churned up and muddy ground.

Everything was important, from the drenching rain and mud, to the stone farmhouses and barns that dotted the region, to the tempers of the commanders and the trust (or lack thereof) between the armies.

Even the style of the various commands – where Napoleon led from the rear and delegated everything and Wellington, who seems to have led from everywhere at once and delegated nothing to Blücher, the Prussian general who came to Wellington’s aid, who fought while wounded and at the age of 73, pressing ever forwards in the midst of his men.

The personal accounts are often humorous, in the sense of gallows humor that war brings out in both fact and fiction. Some of the survivor’s’ accounts contradict each other, as they each only saw or heard one tiny sliver of a massive campaign.

Cornwell brings the disparate sources into a coherent whole, and gives even someone with only an extremely casual interest in military history and tactics a sense of what happened and why it happened.

Even though I knew how it ended, finding out how they got there was fascinating.

Escape Rating A-: Waterloo is a battle that was such a turning point in history that we all know how it ended. One of the things that this book does well is to make the reader see how easily it could have gone the other way. Actually, several other ways.

One has the feeling that the contest turned out to be between Napoleon’s overconfidence and Wellington’s ability to pick his ground and utilize it to the fullest extent. Wellington found a place that he could defend, and then settled his troops in to defend it.

Blücher as he appeared (ca. 1815–1819)
Blücher as he appeared (ca. 1815–1819)

We also see the fruits of the trust between Wellington and the Prussian General Blücher, which may have been unlikely (and one of Blücher’s aides hated Wellington) but saved the day.

The descriptions of the way that artillery worked and how it did what it did give the reader an awful sense of just how deadly they were, even if they were damnably difficult to aim. I also finally understand the different infantry formations for the first time.

The author describes the calculus of warfare as a deadly game of rock, paper, scissors, and the analogy works very well.

This is not the only book this author has written titled Waterloo. In his Sharpe’s series, there is a fictional book about the battle and Sharpe’s participation in it. The Napoleonic Wars, including the Battle of Waterloo, have been used as a backdrop in fiction in virtually every genre.

You may have read about the Napoleonic Wars and Waterloo without even realizing it.

In science fiction, David Weber’s Honor Harrington series is the Napoleonic Wars as fought between star empires. In Naomi Novik’s Temeraire, the Napoleonic Wars are fought with dragons. In C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series, the titular character finds himself aiding the police as a way of dealing with his own PTSD after Waterloo. Stephanie Laurens’ Bastion Club features a group of men who were English spies in France during the Wars, and now that the war is over, have discovered that one of their greatest foes is operating in England.

Last, but certainly not least, the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian details a naval officer’s career during the heady years of the Napoleonic Wars.

So for even an inveterate fiction reader, Waterloo and the Wars that it ended have a tremendous influence on so many works that came after. Reading so many things that are set in or influenced by the era, it is easy to think that we know all we need to know.

Bernard Cornwell’s non-fiction account of Waterloo shows us just how much depth there is to explore.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman

rock with wings by anne hillermanFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Navajo Mysteries #20
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Navajo Tribal cops Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, investigate two perplexing cases in this exciting Southwestern mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Spider Woman’s Daughter

Doing a good deed for a relative offers the perfect opportunity for Sergeant Jim Chee and his wife, Officer Bernie Manuelito, to get away from the daily grind of police work. But two cases will call them back from their short vacation and separate them—one near Shiprock, and the other at iconic Monument Valley.

Chee follows a series of seemingly random and cryptic clues that lead to a missing woman, a coldblooded thug, and a mysterious mound of dirt and rocks that could be a gravesite. Bernie has her hands full managing the fallout from a drug bust gone wrong, uncovering the origins of a fire in the middle of nowhere, and looking into an ambitious solar energy development with long-ranging consequences for Navajo land.

Under the guidance of their mentor, retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, Bernie and Chee will navigate unexpected obstacles and confront the greatest challenge yet to their skills, commitment, and courage.

My Review:

I found myself watching the third season of Longmire at the same time that I was reading Rock with Wings. Even though Longmire is set in Wyoming, the series is filmed in New Mexico, so this is not as far off as one might think.

Hillerman’s Navajo Mysteries series is set in the Four Corners area, where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet. Much of the action in this story centers around Shiprock, New Mexico and the lonely monadnock from which it takes its name.

Shiprock - Tse Bit'a'i
Shiprock – Tse Bit’a’i

Ship Rock, the geological feature, is the “rock with wings” of the story. Monadnock turns out to be the name for what’s left of a volcano after the land around it wears away.

There are lots of monadnocks in nearby Monument Valley, where the rest of this story takes place.

But enough about the geography, what about the story?

In Rock with Wings, married Navajo Tribal Police Officers Jim Chee and Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito spend much of the story apart, dealing with family issues in the wake of an aborted vacation attempt. They thought they’d be spending a week with Jim’s cousin Paul in Monument Valley.

Instead Bernie rushes home to deal with yet another one of her younger sister’s arrests, and Jim is stuck, not just because he agreed to help his cousin with the start of his tourist business, but also because he agreed to help the local Navajo Police office out for a few days while they are stretched thin dealing with a Hollywood crew filming in the Valley.

Instead of a vacation, Jim ends up working in the place where the classic film Stagecoach was filmed, in the middle of a Hollywood created zombie apocalypse. He starts out hunting for a missing woman, and trips over an unauthorized burial, complete with bone fragments. It looks like a publicity stunt for the movie, but too many people involved with the production seem to have more to hide than an ill-advised and illegal grave. Unless there’s a fresh body in it.

Bernie, back at home, also finds herself back at work when her sister gets out of jail and goes back to help care for their aging mother. This endless series of crises is a gift that keeps on giving Bernie headaches, but there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable, and reasonably affordable solution.

But Bernie has a case of her own. In the middle of a major drug operation, Bernie pulls over a car filled with one very nervous driver. The guy is so nervous that he offers Bernie $500 and a rifle to make the traffic stop go away. Instead, she arrests the guy, only to discover that there isn’t anything to discover. No drugs, no other weapons, no dead body in the trunk – just some boxes of dirt and a case that the local FBI agents make disappear. Along with the driver.

Jim’s unauthorized grave in Monument Valley and Bernie’s dirt smuggler should not be connected. And they mostly aren’t. But they also kind of are, and not just because both Bernie and Jim use their need for a bit of assistance in both cases to get the Legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn back to his computer providing them with his own prodigious investigative instincts and decades of knowledge of the area.

It turns out that Jim and Bernie will need all the help they can get to solve this set of interlocking and very puzzling, crimes.

Spider Women's Daughter by Anne HillermanEscape Rating A-: On the one hand, it was terrific that this case got Joe Leaphorn at least partially back in the saddle after his near-fatal gunshot at the beginning of Spider Woman’s Daughter (reviewed here). Leaphorn’s shooting is still haunting Bernie – she can’t help but think that if she’d been just a couple of seconds faster she might have prevented it. As the entire Navajo community respects Leaphorn, everyone that Jim or Bernie run into asks after Leaphorn and wishes him well.

But Leaphorn was shot in the head, and his rehabilitation is taking a while. He still can’t speak, but when Bernie rearms him with his computer, he’s able to do research, provide insight, and start to get back in the game. His sometimes cryptic advice provides just the right spark to keep Jim and Bernie on the right track without his taking over either of their cases.

This is a story where Jim and Bernie spend most of the story apart, investigating separately. They aren’t used to being separated, and aren’t used to not having the other available to bounce ideas off of. Because of the geography of the Four Corners region, they truly are separate – cell phone coverage is so sporadic that even the instant communication of the 21st century is usually not available.

It’s damn hard in our era of online-all-the-time for an author to create a reasonable excuse for why people can’t just whip out their cell phones and make their problems disappear, but this one definitely works.

Jim’s case starts in Monument Valley, where his search for a missing woman finds too much – the woman and a grave on Navajo land, along with some campers who are camping out where they shouldn’t be.

As the investigation into the illegal gravesite keeps getting deeper and deeper, Jim finds himself taking a hard look at the movie company filming out in the Valley. While they are bringing much needed dollars to the region, they are also bringing more than their fair share of trouble. And Jim Chee, as is typical for him, refuses to take the simple and easy explanation that the grave was just a publicity stunt. There are too many people on the set that keep dodging him and his questions.

And then the dead bodies start turning up.

Bernie is home near Shiprock, juggling her responsibilities as her mother’s oldest daughter with her duties as a cop. But she can’t get the case of the nervous dirt smuggler out of her head. And she’s right not to.

Bernie’s predicament showcases a conflict that plagues women much more than it does men, and not just in traditional societies. She wants to take care of her mother – who admittedly doesn’t believe she needs taking care of. However, Bernie sees where the old and the new worlds conflict, in that she knows that no matter how responsible she is, or how much she helps, she can’t keep her younger sister on the straight and narrow. If Darleen continues to hang out with the wrong crowd and drink and get herself arrested, there is no way another person can stop her from continuing down the road she’s on. Darleen has to decide not to be an alcoholic for herself.

And Bernie’s job is every bit as important to her as her family. She finds herself often second guessing her choices about having to ask for time off to deal with her family issues. She’s all too aware that the male officers have sisters or wives who are handling those traditional responsibilities for them, where she has to juggle both.

In the end, Bernie saves not only herself but also an old man who becomes the target of a crazed activist. Her police work resolves all the crime-related riddles, including the ones that Chee has turned up over in Monument Valley. It is telling that her family issues have no clear resolution, only more problems to be solved.

Police work may be complicated but the solutions are often clear-cut. Family is just plain messy.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Pleasantville by Attica Locke

pleasantville by attica lockeFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery, thriller
Series: Jay Porter #2
Length: 432 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date Released: April 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In this sophisticated thriller, lawyer Jay Porter, hero of Locke’s bestseller Black Water Rising, returns to fight one last case, only to become embroiled once again in a dangerous game of shadowy politics and a witness to how far those in power are willing to go to win

Fifteen years after the events of Black Water Rising, Jay Porter is struggling to cope with catastrophic changes in his personal life and the disintegration of his environmental law practice. His victory against Cole Oil is still the crown jewel of his career, even if he hasn’t yet seen a dime thanks to appeals. But time has taken its toll. Tired and restless, he’s ready to quit.

When a girl goes missing on Election Night, 1996, in the neighborhood of Pleasantville—a hamlet for upwardly-mobile blacks on the north side of Houston—Jay, a single father, is deeply disturbed. He’s been representing Pleasantville in the wake of a chemical fire, and the case is dragging on, raising doubts about his ability.

The missing girl was a volunteer for one of the local mayoral candidates, and her disappearance complicates an already heated campaign. When the nephew of one of the candidates, a Pleasantville local, is arrested, Jay reluctantly finds himself serving as a defense attorney. With a man’s life and his own reputation on the line, Jay is about to try his first murder in a case that will also put an electoral process on trial, exposing the dark side of power and those determined to keep it.

My Review:

black water rising by attica lockePleasantville was every bit as terrific as I expected it to be, and the story makes an excellent bookend to Jay Porter’s legal career. We saw it take off in Black Water Rising (reviewed here) and in Pleasantville we see what could be his swan song, or perhaps a new renaissance. Time will tell.

Jay’s own story seems to be a parable on the cliche that if it wasn’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any at all. He has an unfortunate knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and nearly getting himself killed extricating himself from the mess that he has accidentally landed in.

In this particular story, Jay also finds himself caught in the middle of a mess that could be described as “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, along with a cautionary tale about not getting in the way of someone who gets their jollies by being a very big fish in a very small pond.

I used to know someone who referred to some folks who fit that category as being a shark in a goldfish bowl. The problem that Jay discovers is that those type of sharks will do just about anything to maintain their sharkitude.

Pleasantville takes place in 1996, fifteen years after the end of Black Water Rising. During those intervening years, Jay’s career has risen and finally fallen. He’s gone from being in his 30s to pushing 50, and sometimes feeling 50 push back. In Black Water Rising, his wife Bernice was pregnant with their first child. In Pleasantville, he is a widower raising their two children alone, after Bernice’s death from cancer the previous year. His once burgeoning civil practice has sunk to one last case that he is afraid to go to court with – after the death of his wife, he has lost his own fire.

In the autumn of 1996 the country was about to elect Bill Clinton for his second term. In Houston, a historic mayoral race has come down to a runoff between the first black Houston police chief and the second woman to run a viable campaign for mayor. The politics are dirty and getting dirtier by the minute.

In the middle of the campaign, a young female campaign worker is murdered, and the pattern of the crime fits two other recent murders of young women in the Pleasantville neighborhood. The murder is tragic, but political considerations overtake the investigation of the crime.

Former police chief Axel Hathorne is from Pleasantville. His opponent, District Attorney Wollcott, decides to prosecute Axe’s nephew Neal for the crime, based on extremely flimsy evidence. As Neal is his uncle’s campaign manager, it looks a lot like a cheap stunt to tank Axe in the upcoming runoff election.

Jay takes Neal’s case. At first, simply because he is in the police station when Neal is brought in for questioning. A happenstance. The patriarch of the Hathorne family, Sam Hathorne, asks Jay to take the case for real when Neal is charged. Jay doesn’t trust Sam, doesn’t trust himself in a courtroom, but can’t manage to stop himself from taking up Neal’s case when it looks like he wasn’t just falsely accused, but falsely accused in order to finagle the outcome of the election.

But the case turns out to be much different than Jay imagined. Not because of the election angle, but because old Sam Hathorne, the unofficial mayor of Pleasantville, has committed many more and dirtier deals than anyone in his community imagined. He’s sacrificed everyone’s best interests in order to maintain his position as the shark in his particular goldfish bowl.

And Jay won’t let him get away with it any more than he’ll let the DA and her dirty tricks manager get away with pursuing a trumped up murder charge to steal an election.

Escape Rating A+: Pleasantville was even better than Black Water Rising. The story has just as many thrills and definitely chills, but the scope was larger and the chills further reaching. While Black Water Rising was about one man’s fight against corporate corruption, Pleasantville has a broader theme about the far reaching consequences of political corruption, and the short term memories of the electorate. It’s a story about the changing nature of one community, and how that change is reflected in the wider world.

The dirty tricks campaign against Alex Hathorne in Houston is intended as a precursor of the long-drawn-out fight that turned into the 2000 presidential election where our fate was decided in a courtroom. The manager of the dirty tricks in this Houston mayoral race moves on to bigger and better (or worse, depending on perspective) things as a manager of the Bush campaign in 2000. It’s easy to see a connection between this mayoral campaign and the Swift Boat deceptive advertising in the 2004 election.

But this story personalizes the political dirt by focusing on the bogus case against Neal Hathorne. Through the case of one young man who has an alibi for the time when the crime took place, we see how easy it is to obfuscate the facts in order to forward an agenda. The opponents didn’t need to convict him, they just needed to dirty his name for 30 days, long enough to win the election. That Jay is willing to do whatever it takes to thwart that ambition tells both him and the reader that he still has something left to live for, and still has something to give back to his community and his clients.

That he is unwilling to bury a difficult truth in order to keep the status quo in power shows that he is still an idealist after all. And those choices are what make him so fascinating to follow.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes

behind closed doors by elizabeth haynesFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: thriller
Series: DCI Louisa Smith #2
Length: 496 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: March 31, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

An old case makes Detective Inspector Louisa Smith some new enemies in this spellbinding second installment of New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Haynes’s Briarstone crime series that combines literary suspense and page-turning thrills.

Ten years ago, 15-year-old Scarlett Rainsford vanished while on a family holiday in Greece. Was she abducted, or did she run away from her severely dysfunctional family? Lou Smith worked the case as a police constable, and failing to find Scarlett has been one of the biggest regrets of her career. No one is more shocked than Lou to learn that Scarlett has unexpectedly been found during a Special Branch raid of a brothel in Briarstone.

Lou and her Major Crime team are already stretched working two troubling cases: nineteen-year-old Ian Palmer was found badly beaten; and soon after, bar owner Carl McVey was found half-buried in the woods, his Rolex and money gone. While Lou tries to establish the links between the two cases, DS Sam Hollands works with Special Branch to question Scarlett. What happened to her? Where has she been until now? How did she end up back here? And why is her family–with the exception of her emotionally fragile younger sister, Juliette–less than enthusiastic about her return?

When another brutal assault and homicide are linked to the McVey murder, Lou’s cases collide, and the clues all point in one terrifying direction. As the pressure and the danger mount, it becomes clear that the silent, secretive Scarlett holds the key to everything.

My Review:

The case in this story is fascinating and incredibly chilling. Both the detective and the victim are women worth watching, although in completely different ways.

under a silent moon by elizabeth haynesDetective Chief Inspector (DCI) Louisa Smith’s first case as a new DCI was told in Under a Silent Moon (reviewed here). It was a story where we both see into the intimate details of police procedures and watch as DCI Smith learns how to be a boss instead of just one of the truths.

She makes mistakes in both her personal and her professional life, but she gets the case mostly solved – some of it touches on organized crime organizations that have been operating for years, so just one case, no matter how big and bloody, is not enough to bring everyone involved to justice.

But while Smith is still tying up loose ends from that case, one of her very first cases as a Detective Constable, ten years ago, crawls out of the past and into the present. And it has ties to the organized crime case she is still trying to wrap up.

Scarlett Rainsford was 15 in 2003. She disappeared from a family vacation in Greece, and was never heard from again. Based on the evidence at the time, it was believed that she had been killed and her body never found.

In 2013 her body, very much still alive, is discovered in a sex trafficking sting near her parents’ home. Scarlett is not herself a prostitute, but she is working in a brothel and certainly knows what’s going on. The question is how she got there.

We see Scarlett’s story in flashbacks to her abduction and later life. Considering where she is found, it is not a complete surprise how she got there. What catches you by the throat is why she got there.

Not that she is telling, because she is keeping as quiet as possible. She doesn’t want to reveal what she knows about the brothel, and she doesn’t want to go back to her parents. (She’s 25 now and doesn’t have to.)

DCI Smith is now leading the investigation into how Scarlett got trafficked back to Britain, and where the original investigation went wrong. What she uncovers is a cesspit of lies, all leading back to Scarlett’s parents.

We’re not sure until the very end exactly what started Scarlett down the path to where she ends up, but we know it was awful. Her traffickers are neither the first nor the worst people to abuse her in her young life.

All she’s ever wanted is to save her younger sister Juliette. But they are trapped in a situation where no one can truly be saved.

It’s up to DCI Smith and her team to pick up and sort out the bloody pieces.

Escape Rating A-: Smith’s personal life, her hangups about her family and her possibly together possibly apart possibly breaking up relationship with her boyfriend sometimes take focus away from a case that will chill you right down to your toes, and probably keep you awake long after you’ve finished the book.

The real tragedy in this case “is not that it occurred, but that it was allowed.” I’m paraphrasing Dragon Age Origins here, but the situation is horrible in the same way, even if the events are not.

It’s obvious from the very beginning that something is seriously wrong in Scarlett Rainsford’s family. We don’t get the details until the end, but it’s very clear that Clive Rainsford is emotionally and physically abusing his entire family in various ways. Not just the two girls, but also his wife, whom he married when she was 16 and he was 31. Annie Rainsford has no thoughts or opinions of her own, and the girls are beaten if they step just a tiny bit outside the lines he has drawn. Yet to the outside world, they present the picture of the perfect middle class white family, and no one takes a look behind the closed door – not even when Juliette attempts suicide.

It’s clear to DCI Smith that Clive and Annie Rainsford knew more about Scarlett’s disappearance than they ever told the police. Back in 2003, Smith was one of the most junior officers involved in the investigation, and even then she noticed something hinky. Now in 2013, she finds the lies and inconsistencies in the old statements, but it isn’t until the end that Scarlett reveals just how much was left out.

Clive Rainsford was a sick man, and you’re not sorry that he finally gets his just desserts. Not surprised either – only sad that Scarlett and Juliette’s closure is going to ruin the rest of their lives. Although they both may find prison an improvement – which says a lot about the family, and none of it good.

The case, and its investigation, are gripping from beginning to end. At first, I found the flashbacks to the events in 2003 distracting from the narrative, but as we get deeper into both what happened to Scarlett and the current investigation, the two stories merge seamlessly together. We need Scarlett’s perspective in order to see the lies and evasions in her parents’ story. What they said, and what they thought, versus what was actually happening, will make you want to scream and wring someone’s neck. Or curl up into a fetal ball and shake.

Scarlett’s case does tie back into the murder and attempted murder that Smith is investigating at the same time as she is covering the Rainsford case, but just not in the way that anyone expects, which is awesome and horrible at the same time.

The author was inspired to write this book after reading Slave Girl by Sarah Forsyth, a true story of a young English girl who was trafficked into Amsterdam from the UK after she answered an ad for child care workers. Scarlett Rainsford’s fictional story, like Sarah Forsyth’s true-life account, sets out to show that trafficking can happen anywhere to anyone, particularly any female one, and that it happens right under our noses. Behind closed doors.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

dangerous place by Jacqueline winspearFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover ebook, audiobook, large print
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #11
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: March 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Maisie Dobbs returns in a powerful story of political intrigue and personal tragedy: a brutal murder in the British garrison town of Gilbraltar leads the investigator into a web of lies, deceit and danger

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way.

My Review:

maisie dobbs by jacqueline winspearCompared to how much I loved the two other books in the Maisie Dobbs series that I have read, Maisie Dobbs (reviewed here) and Leaving Everything Most Loved (reviewed here), I have some very mixed feelings about A Dangerous Place.

It certainly is dangerous – Maisie is in Gibraltar in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. While the war did not touch Gibraltar directly, refugees fled into or through the city every day. Sometimes a trickle, sometimes in droves. The British officialdom at this normally quiet and tiny outpost of the Empire was officially overwhelmed.

And Maisie throws herself into the middle of the mess, because it is preferable to throwing herself into the arms of death, one way or another. At the end of her rope, she finds purpose again in Gibraltar by going back to her own beginnings, at least professionally.

Why is Maisie so close to self-destruction? That’s the hard part of this story. It has been four years since the end of Leaving Everything Most Loved, and in that intervening period, Maisie has been surprisingly happily married, pregnant, miscarried and widowed. All those harrowing events are dealt with in a series of letters that form the first chapter of the book.

Maisie spends the entire rest of the story dealing with her overwhelming grief while trying to put the pieces of her life back together. It is a harrowing chain of events, and Maisie is still not past them enough to even function. She is on her way back to England from India when she realizes that she cannot yet bear the thought of seeing all the places that she and James knew together, so she disembarks at Gibraltar in order to prevent being overcome by her own depression.

Only Maisie could find a dead body under these circumstances, but find one she does. And slowly, reluctantly, Maisie takes on the unofficial case of determining how and why Sebastian Babayoff really died. Was he just a victim of a desperate refugee and unfortunate circumstances? Or, as Maisie begins to suspect was Babayoff murdered because he was a young, foolish and occasionally intrepid photographer who took the right picture at the very much wrong time.

As Maisie investigates, she begins her return to the practices that her mentor Maurice Blanche instilled in her before she fell in love with James or even thought that she might marry someday. Taking up the threads of her old profession helps her to root herself back into the person she was before tragedy struck her life. She is keen to hunt down the truth, and to befuddle the agents of the British Secret Service who are tailing her, seemingly at the request of her father-in-law and for her own good.

Maisie has never had much truck with people who attempt to do things for her supposed own good, especially when they neglect to consult her about what that good might be. But she still feels herded and manipulated at every turn.

With good reason – the Secret Service is attempting to herd her towards a conclusion of their making. In the end, Maisie understands much, but does not completely condone their reasoning.

And at last she finds a purpose that she can believe in again for herself. So she gives everyone the slip and returns to a profession in which she can do the greatest good, and hopefully find her way back to a self that can carry on.

Escape Rating B+: As I said at the beginning, A Dangerous Place gave me a lot of mixed feelings. That being said, I still love Maisie herself and I remain very interested in her journey.

However, I found the way that the author dealt with the tumultuous years between Leaving Everything Most Loved and A Dangerous Place left me feeling a bit short-changed. While I realize that the Maisie Dobbs series is mostly about Maisie’s cases and not about Maisie’s love life, events that cause so many profound changes and her and her circumstances deserve more than a few letters.

I would love to have seen a book where Maisie solves a case in Canada during the time of her marriage that allowed the author to cover the tragedies and still tell a Maisie story. I like Maisie and wanted to be there for her and with her. I say this fully recognizing that this is the author’s series and not mine and that it is up to her to write the books her way. But I missed the sense of following along with Maisie during those four eventful years.

And because we weren’t with Maisie, we see her grief at second hand, instead of being in there with her. She talks about it and feels it (and occasionally takes morphine for it) but we are standing outside it and wondering when she is going to pick herself and get on with things. Because the Maisie we know and often love is a person who gets on with things no matter what.

The circumstances in Gibraltar are incredibly murky. History tells us that the Spanish Civil War was a proxy war for the Great Powers before the start of World War II. And even though we know that Britain’s policy in the Chamberlain years was to appease Nazi Germany at all costs, it is hard to see those costs being weighed up in lives lost and villages destroyed.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Guernica by Pablo Picasso

The bombing of the Spanish/Basque village of Guernica that drives so many people to action in the story was immortalized in a famous painting by Pablo Picasso, also titled Guernica. The world tour of the painting brought the attention of the world to the Spanish Civil War, just as the action itself brings the war home to so many people in the story.

But Maisie spends a lot of the time in A Dangerous Place muddled and confused. While taking on Sebastian Babayoff’s case brings her out of herself and out of her depression, she has a difficult time picking her way through the loose threads and the dangling red herrings placed in her way by the British Secret Service. Her confusion becomes ours, and in the end Babayoff himself is lost. We have come to expect more from Maisie.

The ending of the case is not satisfying. The ends have been forced to justify the means by the exigencies of an empire that is fading. What does satisfy is the way that Maisie takes charge of her own life at the end, even if she has to run away again in order to achieve it.

I am looking forward to more of Maisie’s adventures. Now that the Secret Service has her fixed in their sights, I expect her to do some very interesting and hush hush work for the Government in the impending war.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

leaving everything most loved by jacqueline winspearFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #10
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: March 26, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The death of an Indian immigrant leads Maisie Dobbs into a dangerous yet fascinating world and takes her in an unexpected direction in this latest chapter of the New York Times bestselling series “that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).

London, 1933. Two months after the body of an Indian woman named Usha Pramal is found in the brackish water of a South London canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs to find out the truth about her death. Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, evidence indicates that they failed to conduct a full and thorough investigation.

Before her death, Usha was staying at an ayah’s hostel alongside Indian women whose British employers turned them out into the street–penniless and far from their homeland–when their services were no longer needed. As Maisie soon learns, Usha was different from the hostel’s other lodgers. But with this discovery comes new danger: another Indian woman who had information about Usha is found murdered before she can talk to Maisie.

As Maisie is pulled deeper into an unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case as well as a growing desire to see more of the world, following in the footsteps of her former mentor, Maurice Blanche. And there is her lover, James Compton, who gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore.

Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved marks a pivotal moment in this remarkable series.

My Review:

maisie dobbs by jacqueline winspearThis review is part of the “Month of Maisie Readalong” at TLC Book Tours. For those interested in reviews of the rest of the series, the list is here. Since the readalong starts with the second book in the series, Birds of a Feather, if you want to start your reviewing with Maisie’s introduction in Maisie Dobbs, you can look at my review last week.

We’ll be back next week with the review of the most recent book in the series, A Dangerous Place.

While I have not yet had the pleasure (and it will definitely be a pleasure!) of reading all the books in this series, I am very glad that I read the first book, Maisie Dobbs, before Leaving Everything Most Loved. While I don’t yet know all the experiences that have led Maisie to this point, all of the characters in Maisie’s life, all those people who are most loved that she leaves, are introduced at the beginning of the series.

When Leaving starts, Maisie is contemplating two very different futures. Her lover, James Compton, is going to Canada with his employer to work on airplane designs for the war that Churchill sees is coming. In the 1933 setting of this book, Churchill was experiencing his years in the political wilderness, and very few people believed him. History as we know it shows that he was right, but in 1933 he and anyone who believed as he did, were definitely in the minority.

But to go with James to Canada, Maisie will finally need to make up her mind to marry him. And she isn’t ready to give up her independence. Also, James’ employer is a unconscionable blackguard. She and James both know that he is willing to commit murder in the name of his greater good, and that he is too influential to bring to justice. Maisie believes he is right about the upcoming war, but she strongly disapproves of his methods of getting there. Especially since one of her own, her assistant Billy Beale, was almost a victim of his machinations.

Maisie herself is drawn to a different journey. She wants to retrace some of the steps of her late mentor, Maurice Blanche, and travel the world. She particularly wants to see India with her own eyes.

But before she can make a final decision, India comes to her in the person of Usha Pramal, an Indian woman of Maisie’s own age who came to England many years before as a governess in the service of a British family. Usha has been murdered, and her brother is referred to Maisie to help find her killer.

Because Usha was Indian, the local police don’t seem to have tried terribly hard to find her murderer. Maisie will try very hard indeed.

Her quest to find the killer takes her to the many and varied faces of the Anglo-Indian community in London, and all the ways that unprotected young women can be taken advantage of, especially when their skin is brown. At the same time she sees women who have adapted and adopted into the community, in many different but equally successful ways – including an Indian woman who has become a successful part of the Anglo intellectual community in her own right, while maintaining a marvelous marriage of equals with her English husband.

Maisie turns to Chaudhary Jones for both personal and professional advice, as she works her way through the case and her own personal dilemma.

The solution to the case stretches all the way back to India, and into the darkest places of the human heart and mind.

Maisie’s own solution was in her heart all along.

Escape Rating A: At 3 am, I closed the book with a very satisfied sigh. Even without having read the middle books in the series, Leaving successfully closes up a lot of the loose ends in Maisie’s personal and professional life, not always successfully from the perspective of the end being tied up. The first chapter of her life as an independent practitioner in London has come to an end. Her unfinished business is finished, and she has taken care of those she feels responsible for. It is time for Maisie to move on to the next chapter in her life.

Her last two cases turn out to be one case. Neither Maisie nor her mentor believed in coincidence, and that proves true again here. She is looking both for a missing boy and a murderer. While these two things should not be tied into each other, they are. Although not quite the way that one expects.

What carries the story, and what makes this series so interesting, is the character of Maisie Dobbs herself. She begins the series as a costermonger’s daughter, goes into service, receives an excellent if unorthodox education, becomes a nurse in WW1, and finally becomes a private investigator. Not by accident either, but definitely by intention as well as skill.

If her experiences as a nurse resemble Bess Crawford (A Duty to the Dead) and her education is more than a bit like Mary Russell (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice), then her life as an independent woman and private investigator looks more than a bit like Phryne Fisher in Kerry Greenwood’s series beginning with Cocaine Blues. Although Maisie is deliberately nowhere near as flashy as Phryne.

Maisie has assistants who work for her, and one of her major concerns with traveling aboard is that she feels that she must provide for them. Not charity, she wants to make sure they have new jobs before she leaves. She also needs to make sure that her father is comfortable. By the time of this story, Maisie is 36, so her father must be in his late 50s or early 60s at the very least. He is still working, but is not as young as he used to be. Maisie fears leaving him alone, and worries that if she travels too long she may not see him again. Some of her worries are resolved, but some are simply a risk she feels she must take.

She delays a final decision with James. He is very patient, and also tries to understand Maisie’s reluctance. But Maisie makes her decision and her conundrum very real for readers. While women have more independence than they did before the war, there are some rights that she will lose if she marries. Also James worries about the danger of her work, which is quite real. If they marry, he will be in a position to force her to stop.

And of course, there is the problem that she trusts James’ boss about as far as she could throw the man. Maybe less. She would be tying her life and her livelihood to a man who she believes is a cold-blooded killer who is always able to make excuses for himself or have them made for him.

But before she can think about leaving, she still has two cases to solve. In solving the murder of Usha Pramal, she runs into prejudice on every side. And in the case of the missing boy, she finds yet again that the wounds of the late war were not confined to the battlefield, and that the consequences are felt by an ever-widening circle of those who did not serve themselves, but were inextricably linked to those who did.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

lovers at the chameleon club paris 1932 by francine proseFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 453 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: April 22, 2014
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, exploring the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself.

Paris in the 1920s shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club’s loyal denizens, including the rising Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, the socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol; and the caustic American writer Lionel Maine.

As the years pass, their fortunes—and the world itself—evolve. Lou falls desperately in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with startlingly vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant twenties give way to darker times, Lou experiences another metamorphosis—sparked by tumultuous events—that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more.

My Review:

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 is a portrait, not merely of the two individuals pictured in the photograph, but also of the City of Lights in the Jazz Age, the 1920s and 1930s. Hemingway’s Paris. Picasso’s Paris. The Paris of the famous “Lost Generation”.

The portrait is drawn through the eyes of four disparate individuals who sometimes connect, and sometimes push against each other, until the Fall of Paris to the Germans and the subsequent division between collaboration and resistance push them all toward a final climax.

It’s also a story about the mutability of memory, and the way that eyewitnesses to the same event often remember totally different factors, some because they can’t get out of their own perspective as the center of the universe, some to protect the innocent, and some to protect the guilty. Particularly when they are the guilty parties themselves.

Time, in this case, both heals all wounds and wounds all heels.

Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932 by Brassaï
Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932 by Brassaï

The story revolves around the fictionalized character of Lou (Louisianne) Villars, purported to be the villain who revealed the location of the terminus of the Maginot Line to the Germans. But that’s not where Lou’s story begins. She begins as a young French girl who would quite probably rather have been a boy. She wants to dress as a man, and also to act as a man, including her preference for female lovers. She wants to participate in sports at the men’s level. Today her behavior and preferences wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but in France in the 1920s and 30s it was illegal for a woman to dress in men’s clothing.

Lou’s tragedy is that she never seems to grasp whatever she is reaching for, whether that is success in sports, or happiness in love. She gets close, but never quite grabs the brass ring. And her lovers all turn out to be bad choices that lead her to destruction, both her own and other people’s. To the point where the conceit of this fictional biography is that Lou’s history was erased because she became a symbol of the evils of Nazi collaboration in France.

The photographic portrait for which the book is named is by the photographer Gabor Tsenyi, and its subjects are Lou and her first lover, Arletta, at their famous table at the Chameleon Club. In the photo, Tsenyi captured the end of their relationship, but also immortalized Lou dressed in a man’s tuxedo.

That photograph, along with others taken in the same period, makes Tsenyi’s career. His perspectives on Paris in the 20s and 30s, as written in letters to his parents back in Hungary, present an entirely different point of view on the scene.

As do the quasi-journalistic ramblings of his best friend, the American author Lionel Maine.

And last but not least, the perspective of Baroness Lily de Rossignol, who begins the story as Tsenyi’s patron, employs Lou in one of her several attempts at conquering the world of sport, and finally, as a member of the resistance helping to spirit people away from Lou and the Gestapo.

These differing viewpoints; the sarcastic writer, the artistic photographer, the socialite afraid of boredom and the sportswoman seduced by speed, the wrong women and Hitler, weave a tapestry of light, music and the beauty of Paris.

But is any of it what they really remember?

Escape Rating A-: Lovers at the Chameleon Club is a story that starts out slowly, but spins faster and faster as it races towards its conclusion. As each person adds their perspective, the portrait becomes deeper and richer; the more characters in the stew, the more of Paris is revealed.

Lou is not a likable character, it’s not just that nothing goes right for her, but that she seems to make the worst choices for reasons that are not clear. But even as she falls, and keeps falling, fascinating things happen around her and/or because of her. Her life is a train wreck, and once you’ve noticed, you can’t look away.

The Baroness is not likable either, but where Lou would be unhappy that she wasn’t liked, the Baroness thought much too much of herself to care what other people thought, as long as they danced to her tune.

The most sympathetic character in the story is Gabor Tsenyi. His is the eye that sees the beauty of Paris, and captures it with his lens. Because his part of the story is revealed through his heartfelt letters to his parents, we view events as they are happening, or in their immediate aftermath. While he admits to exaggerating, he isn’t trying to rewrite history to whitewash his past, because it doesn’t need whitewashing.

In the end, I found myself doing a wikipedia search for Lou Villars. Although Lovers at the Chameleon Club is fiction, and I knew it was fiction, it felt like a real history.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

under a silent moon by elizabeth haynesFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery, police-procedural
Series: DCI Louisa Smith #1
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date Released: April 15, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Two women share a grisly fate in the first entry of this exciting new British crime series—a blend of literary suspense and page-turning thriller that introduces the formidable Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith—from the New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Haynes, “the most exciting thing to happen to crime fiction in a long time” (Sophie Hannah, author of Kind of Cruel).

In the crisp, early hours of an autumn morning, the police are called to investigate two deaths. The first is a suspected murder at a farm on the outskirts of a small village. A beautiful young woman has been found dead, her cottage drenched with blood. The second is a reported suicide at a nearby quarry. A car with a woman’s body inside has been found at the bottom of the pit.

As DCI Louisa Smith and her team gather evidence over the course of the next six days, they discover a shocking link between the two cases and the two deaths—a bond that sealed these women’s terrible fates one cold night, under a silent moon.

In this compelling new detective series, Elizabeth Haynes interweaves fictional primary source materials—police reports, phone messages, interviews—and multiple character viewpoints to create a sexy, edgy, and compulsively readable tale of murder, mystery, and unsettling suspense.

My Review:

This is the first book I’ve read by Elizabeth Haynes, but based on this outing, I will definitely be looking for her in the future.

I always enjoy a good police procedural, especially British police procedurals–probably because I watch too many BBC mysteries on the “telly”. Under a Silent Moon reminded me particularly of some of those series, as there is a side-character in the book who seems like a younger and less foul-mouthed version of Andy Dalziel in Dalziel and Pascoe. He’s even named Andy, but he doesn’t have Dalziel’s nose for pulling a solution to the crime out of his hat (or his arse) in the nick of time.

The lead detective in this case is Louisa Smith, and it’s her first case as DCI (Detective Chief Inspector). She’s the supervising investigator into a particularly messy murder at a farm. The case is complicated enough by the victim’s life, it seems as if she was in or had broken up a relationship with every adult in the village, married or single. The number of ex-lovers and cheated-on spouses seems to be legion.

But Polly Leuchars isn’t the only dead body in the neighborhood. Barbara Fletcher-Norman committed suicide by driving off a ledge into a rock quarry on the same night that Polly Leuchars was murdered. Two unrelated deaths on the same night in the same small village is a bit much for the long arm of coincidence.

The story is in the evolution of the investigation and the unraveling of the myriad secrets and lies that link the close-knit inhabitants of this small community. The more that the investigation pulls itself together (sometimes because of, and sometimes in spite of the investigators) the faster that relationships fall apart in the village.

The way that the course of the investigation changes and morphs as the team pokes at all the holes in every witness’ story is fascinating. First it seems as if it’s all about sex. Then the tide turns, and it’s all about a cover-up. At the last moment, it turns into something else entirely. But the readers are just as caught up in following the trail of evidence as the police, and are just as surprised at the end.

Escape Rating A: Under a Silent Moon definitely puts the “procedural” in police procedural, but in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are a part of the investigation. The device of showing the reader the police reports as they are being written draws one compellingly into the action as it happens.

Louisa Smith is a sympathetic point-of-view character with a whole bunch of flaws that make it easy to identify with her. She’s smart and capable, but also has realistic self-doubts about leading a team for the first time, especially with the Deputy Chief Constable believing that he is her sponsor and mentor and has boosted her career.

Unfortunately, Louisa’s big flaw is not that she is a workaholic, although she is, but that she looks to her co-workers to serve as her dating pool. It was a problem when she was just a Detective Inspector, but now that she’s a boss, there’s big trouble up ahead. And behind, as one of her former lovers is on her team, and it makes a mess for both of them.

Still, I really liked her as a protagonist, and particularly the way she let her team members be the experts in their respective fields.

The way that the case continued to reveal more and more layers of the town’s secrets, and how that pushed the investigation into different directions kept me picking up the book every spare minute to see what happened next. I truly hope we’ll see more of DCI Louisa Smith and her team!

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Something Wicked by Angela Campbell

Something Wicked by Angela CampbellFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Romantic suspense
Series: Psychic Detectives #2
Length: 263 pages
Publisher: Harper Impulse
Date Released: October 31, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

Psychic medium Alexandra King is sick of being pestered by her boss’s dead mother demanding help to reunite her two estranged sons. Determined to get some peace and quiet again, Alexandra follows a lead in finding the younger Collins brother to Charleston, South Carolina, where she immediately meets the hottest man she’s ever laid eyes on and finds herself a willing participant in seduction. Of course, her one-night-stand turns out to be none other than Dylan Collins — her boss’s younger brother and a homicide detective who believes psychics are a complete waste of time.

All Dylan wants is a few hours of pleasure to take his mind off of the case haunting him. A serial killer is stalking the streets of The Holy City — a killer who calls himself The Grim Reaper. When the woman he’d just spent the night with turns up and offers her services as a psychic consultant on the case, his ardor quickly cools. Last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a con artist.

It doesn’t take long for Dylan to realize Alexandra is the real deal – and the killer’s next target. Dylan’s protective instincts battle his reluctance to get too involved with a woman he isn’t sure he can trust. As they get closer to finding the killer, they also grow closer to one another, but will Alexandra’s secret agenda destroy their chance at happiness — if the killer doesn’t strike first?

My Review:

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”, or so says one of the witches in Macbeth.

Something Wicked is also the darker second book in Angela Campbell’s Psychic Detectives series, after the first book in the series, the light-hearted romp On the Scent, reviewed at Book Lovers Inc.

I picked Something Wicked as my Halloween review because it considerably darker than the first book in the series. While the story still contains a romance, there is much more of a feeling of suspense and absolutely a heart of darkness; psychic medium Alexandra King and Charleston Police Detective Dylan Collins are on the trail of a serial killer calling himself “Grim Reaper”; all the while that Grim Reaper is stalking them.

on the scent by angela campbellThe story starts as a simple quest. At the end of On the Scent, the late, lamented Rebecca Collins pesters Alexandra King until she agrees to go to Charleston to attempt to reunite her two sons, Zachary and Dylan. Alexandra left Zachary in Atlanta, happily in love with Hannah at the end of the previous story, but unfortunately very much estranged from his younger brother Dylan.

Dylan is a cop in Charleston, and Rebecca is sure that he is in danger, and not just the everyday kind of danger a cop usually faces. In case you missed it, I called Rebecca the “late, lamented”. Rebecca is a ghost, and Alexandra does, indeed, see dead people. This is that kind of story. It is Halloween, after all.

There’s “meet cute” and then there’s “meet really cute.” Alexandra gets to Charleston, goes to a bar/restaurant recommended by her hotel, has a meal, picks up a gorgeous guy, has a night of really fantastic sex, and never gets the guy’s name.

The next morning, her visions show her that there’s a serial killer in town, and that the cop leading the case is both her one night stand and the guy she came to find. Only then does she discover that Dylan Collins hates psychics. Dylan does not want her on the case. His boss does. The police need all the help they can get, even from a psychic.

Something Wicked should have been the same kind of lighthearted romp that the first book was, but it isn’t. Not just because the serial killer is not merely a sick bastard, but he’s chasing Alexandra and Dylan while they’re chasing him. It goes further than that. Alexandra has a sympathetic relationship with ghosts, she helps them “cross over” to the other side. Something evil is messing with the ghosts of Charleston, and is making living people get sick, too. A demon gives Dylan’s partner pneumonia. Charleston has LOTS of ghosts (think Civil War) and the demon is suborning those ghosts and getting them to attack the living. It’s very creepy.

So we have a live serial killer, killing people, and a dead serial killer messing with ghosts doing even more evil. Kind of a double-creepy effect. This shouldn’t work but it very much does.

Because Alexandra talks with ghosts, she can be affected from both planes, so both the serial killer and the demon are out to get her.

It all starts because one mother wanted to make sure her sons reconciled. If Zachary and Dylan work together, maybe they can manage to save both Rebecca and Alexandra.

Escape Rating Boo+: Something Wicked is a wickedly fun read for Halloween, although it will help you enjoy the story if you read On the Scent first to get introduced to Alexandra and the other Collins brother, Zachary. The scene late in the book where Zach figures out where Alexandra is will be way more fun (and loads funnier!) if you know their history.

Dylan and Alexandra have a lot to work through. They start out not being honest with each other, at least partially because they start out not sharing much except hot sex. No introductions were made. It’s only later that Alexandra neglects to mention that she’s in Charleston because she knows Dylan’s brother.

The scene where Alexandra gives Dylan a complete dressing down for his assumptions about psychics is funny but also spot-on. He has a lot of baggage he needs to lose before they can have a real relationship. He spends most of the story dropping those bags, piece by piece.

This story had just the right amount of creepy factor for a Halloween read for me. I don’t like straight out horror, but I was looking for something with those elements to give the season that appropriately shivery sensation. Something Wicked was just right!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman

Spider Women's Daughter by Anne HillermanFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, large print paperback, audiobook
Genre: Mystery
Series: Navajo Mysteries
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: October 1, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of someone very close to her. With the victim fighting for his life, the entire squad and the local FBI office are hell-bent on catching the gunman. Bernie, too, wants in on the investigation, despite regulations forbidding eyewitness involvement. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to sit idly by, especially when her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is in charge of finding the shooter.

Bernie and Chee discover that a cold case involving his former boss and partner, retired Inspector Joe Leaphorn, may hold the key. Digging into the old investigation, husband and wife find themselves inching closer to the truth…and closer to a killer determined to prevent justice from taking its course.

My Review:

Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito witnesses the shooting of the “legendary” retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn while she is talking on the phone with her husband, Officer Jim Chee. Bernie sees a slim white figure conceal a gun and drive away in a battered blue truck as she rushes to the aid of the fallen father figure of the Navajo Nation Police.

If the opening scene of this story isn’t a metaphor for the way that Anne Hillerman is bringing back her own late father’s evocative mystery series following the cases of Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, I’ll eat my own hat.

The blessing way by Tony HillermanInstead of following Leaphorn and Chee, with Leaphorn in the hospital in Santa Fe clinging to life, we follow Bernie and Chee, but primarily, and this is where Anne takes the series and makes it her own, we follow Bernie. This allows the author to show us a perspective on life in the Four Corners that is different from what we saw in the earlier series that started with The Blessing Way and ended with The Shape Shifter.

Although Bernie is an officer in the Navajo Nation Police, just as her husband is, she also has more traditional roles to play as her mother’s oldest daughter and as the older sister of a young woman who may be falling into alcoholism.

The case is a troubling one, and it’s one that Bernie is not supposed to be working on. Seeing a fellow officer gunned down is a traumatic experience. Feeling that if you had been just a few seconds faster you might have prevented the whole sad business leads to an endless cycle of “what ifs”.

And it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of potential suspects. Leaphorn had a long and successful career with the Navajo Nation Police before he became a private investigator. Like any good cop, he put away a lot of bad guys, any of whom might want some payback. Or the shooting might be related to one of his current investigations.

Or it might be a random cop killer.

The worst part of the whole investigation is that the person that every single officer in the Navajo Nation Police usually takes their thorniest cases to is the one man who can’t help them this time. It’s up to Bernie and Chee to discover how well the “legendary” Lieutenant’s lessons have stuck.

Escape Rating A+: Striking Leaphorn down at the beginning of Spider Woman’s Daughter was a brilliant move on the author’s part; it clearly hands the reins of the case, and the series, over to Bernie (and Anne). Even though the case turns out to be rooted in Leaphorn’s past, the perspective on solving it needs to be different and new.

There’s definitely a new sheriff in town and she’s got one hell of a mystery to solve. Bernie (and the reader) are sure from the beginning that it isn’t any of the easy suspects that the other cops go after. Figuring out who the would-be killer really is (and why they did it) takes the reader on the investigation of Bernie’s life. This one keeps everyone guessing up until the very end.

And Bernie has to juggle her two roles in a way that neither Leaphorn nor Chee ever did. Leaphorn was a skeptic about many traditional beliefs, and Chee tried to straddle two worlds, but not in the way of being sandwiched by caring for actual individuals. Bernie’s need to both be “all officer” on the job and still be “traditional daughter” for her mother is a role-split that faces women much more often than men in any culture.

I can’t help but think there is some wish fulfillment on the part of the author at the very end of the story. And I understand.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.