Celebrity in Death

If Eve Dallas were of a more philosophical bent, she would have meditated on the “life imitates art imitates life” nature of her latest case in Celebrity in Death. But the character that J.D. Robb created over 30 books ago is all hard-nosed murder cop, and that’s why we love her adventures. That’s also why her multi-billionaire ex-criminal husband Roarke loves her too.

But Celebrity in Death is a story-within-a-story. And possibly several iterations beyond that.

For Eve, it’s only been a couple of years since she cracked the Icove case. Dr. Wilfred Icove tried to beat death by cloning human beings, and died for his sins, and his secrets (Origin in Death). The case was so high-profile, and so scandalous, that Eve’s friend and go-to reporter, Natalie Furst, was able to make a best-seller out of her book on the inside story. That book, The Icove Agenda, is being filmed in New York, and the producers want to get all the real-life principals to interact with their actor-counterparts.

The resemblances are eerie, at least the physical ones. Especially when the makeup is in place and the camera is running. But off-camera, the differences are glaring. One difference in particular–Detective Delia Peabody is a genuinely nice woman, but the actress portraying her, K.T. Harris, is an absolute bitch.

Eve Dallas always stands for the dead, whether they are likeable or not. So when K.T. is murdered in the middle of a dinner party Eve is attending for all the movie people and all the original participants in the drama, Eve dives into the hunt for her killer. But not until after she shakes off that cold shiver at seeing a dead ringer for her partner dead in a pool.

At first there are too many suspects, and too few. Everyone detested the dead woman, but no one remembers who left the party and when, because the entire group was watching the movie “gag reel” at the time of death.

As events unfold, Eve discovers that K.T. Harris was both victim and victimized in her life. And although Eve sees the similarities to herself, she doesn’t sympathize much. K.T. made her choices, and they were all the wrong ones.

The case takes a surprising twist, and there are more dead for Eve to stand up for than she expected. But that’s what Eve Dallas does, every time.

Escape Rating B+: While I enjoyed this one, it wasn’t as riveting as New York to Dallas (see review), or my personal favorite, Fantasy in Death.

The dynamics of the cop shop are as much fun as ever. The scene where Dallas and Feeney have to watch a recording of a suspect couple’s private moments to determine whether or not it was tampered with is priceless. Their mutual embarrassment is just so perfect for their relationship.

This story didn’t ratchet up the tension the way that the stories normally do. There isn’t a lot of death, and there just doesn’t seem to be a lot at stake for most of the participants. While a lot of people involved are being bribed, few seem to be getting blackmailed. Something is missing.

Only in mystery fiction do we go looking for more death. But for my taste this story needed a couple more fresh corpses to give it body.


Death of a Kingfisher

I got hooked on M. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series back when I used to drive a lot. Notice I said hooked. Rather like a trout in Macbeth’s lovely Highland village of Lochdubh, I was caught, and now I can’t escape the net.

The latest entry in the series is Death of a Kingfisher. The Kingfisher in this instance is a beautiful bird, the showpiece of The Fairy Glen, a new tourist attraction at the nearby village of Braikie.

The locals weren’t to happy about The Fairy Glen, not at first, but it’s brought tourist traffic and tourist money to an economically depressed area of Sutherland, and the owner, Mary Leinster, has charmed the pants off of any opposition. In the case of her male opposition, possibly literally. She’s also played successfully on long-held superstitions. Mary doesn’t just claim to have the “second-sight”, her vision of a boy falling in the pond came true, and the boy nearly drowned.

But the death of the beautiful kingfisher was no accident: the bird, his mate and their chicks were poisoned.

The kingfisher is the first to die, but not the last. And the other deaths are human. First a wealthy and elderly woman dies when her motorized wheelchair lift practically skyrockets her up a staircase, and it is discovered that the seatbelt of the chair was tampered with. The woman may have been a cantankerous old baggage, but she didn’t deserve to fly through her own skylight. Then it’s discovered that she was robbed before she was killed.

After that, murders turn up all over the township, as anyone who hints at knowledge of the murder or the robbery is mysteriously eliminated before the police can question them.

And what about the police?

Hamish Macbeth is the local constable in Lochdubh. His tiny station covers most of the small towns and villages in the county of Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, which is actually very far north.  Hamish wants to be sure he stays in Lochdubh, the place he loves, and does not get sent to the “big city” of Strathbane.

So Hamish usually makes sure that credit for solving the crime goes to someone else, so that he can remain just where he is. However, he continually worries that budget cuts may close all of the local stations, and there won’t be any place for him except Strathbane.

This crime has him stumped. The suspects always seem to have an alibi, and the alibi is usually CCTV. But there are two sets of crimes. The murders, and the robbery. Once Hamish realizes that there may be two sets of perpetrators, and that there are ways to fool CCTV, he’s well on his way to solving this mess, and getting back to his life.

Escape Rating B: Hamish is a likeable character, and this is a police procedural series although sometimes Hamish spends more time trying to figure out a way around the procedures than using them. But once he figures out which way the crime might have gone, it’s easy to get caught up in the chase.

One of the very interesting things about Hamish is that he has found the place he wants to be in life, and is doing everything he can to stay there. At the same time, he needs to make sure justice is done. So he lets others take the credit.

Something I discovered recently: BBC Scotland loosely based a TV series on the Hamish Macbeth series between 1995 and 1997. In the books, Hamish is described as very tall, thin and with bright red hair. The actor who portrayed Hamish in the series is Robert Carlyle, best known in the U.S. as Doctor Nicholas Rush in Stargate Universe, and Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold in Once Upon a Time. Hamish is extremely likable. Rush and Gold are anything but. I keep wondering which one would be considered casting against type?



Heat Rises

Every time we watch a few episodes of Castle, I experience the irresistible urge to read another one of the Nikki Heat books. It’s a compulsion, I can’t help myself. I know there’s another potato chip in that bag, and it’s calling my name.

The third Nikki Heat book is Heat Rises, and so far, they are maintaining the illusion that the books are written by Richard Castle. What can I say? So far, it’s working for me. As a matter of fact, it’s working pretty darn well. The Nikki Heat books may be mind candy, but they are very tasty mind candy.

Heat Rises starts out with Heat and Rook enduring a separation in their slightly undefined relationship. However, the lack of definition in their relationship is more a question of whether their heated fling has turned into an exclusive relationship that involves four-letter words like “love”. All Nikki knows is that she misses Rook pretty badly while he is undercover in South America doing research on one of his dangerous in-depth articles, this time on illegal arms trafficking. He’s out of reach and she’s starting to want to know where they stand.

And it’s the middle of a very cold winter in New York City, and she’s also missing the warm body to sleep with at night. And not just for sleep.

Then the dead body turns up. In a dominatrix’ dungeon, strapped to a piece of bondage equipment. Unfortunately for the victim, where he was found is the last place he should have been seen, dead or alive. The homicide victim turns out to have been a Catholic priest.

The situation goes from bad, to worse, to crazy.

Her captain investigates the victim’s residence, alone. Then Internal Affairs starts breathing down his neck. Captain Montrose hasn’t been himself since his wife died a year previously, but something about this case sends him totally off the rails. He boxes Nikki in, hamstringing her investigation.

Meanwhile, Rook returns, and screws up. He has dinner with his editor, and gets his picture splashed all over the gossip columns, before he comes to see Nikki. The future for their relationship starts looking none too hot.

Last but certainly not least, the results of Nikki’s Lieutenant’s exam come in. Well, the rumors of those results leak out, all over the place. Nikki Heat scored higher than anyone in decades. Suddenly there are administrators from 1PP courting her as a rising star, while her Captain’s star is falling through the floor of his office, along with his entire career.

Suddenly her world collapses. She takes her investigation of the priest’s death out of the box the Captain has imposed. A professional hit squad guns for her. The Captain eats his gun. And Internal Affairs takes her shiny new, almost there promotion and doesn’t just whisk it away, but suspends Nikki Heat from the NYPD.

So who does she turn to? Jamison Rook.

Escape Rating B+/A-: If you’re looking for a few hours of pure escape, it’s all here. There’s a murder to solve, there’s a relationship to figure out, and there’s absolutely wonderful cop shop banter to chuckle over. I couldn’t put this one down.

I knew it had to parallel the third season of Castle, so I was looking for that, but at the same time, there are definitely differences. The case that brings Captain Montrose down, and why, is not the same one that brings Montgomery down. It does have to do with something from his past, but that’s the only similarity. And that’s part of why Heat Rises was so good. It used the story from the show as a jumping-off point, but didn’t slavishly follow events.

The dedication of the book to Montgomery is excellently done. I love the way that the books refuse to break the fourth wall. I’m looking forward to Nikki Heat’s next case, Frozen  Heat, in September.

Naked Heat

Richard Castle books are a lot like potato chips–you can’t read just one. As soon as I finished Heat Wave (see review) I started craving another Castle book, and I caved in within a couple of days and started Naked Heat. It was pure indulgence, and I loved every sinful page of it.

This story starts with Lt. Nikki Heat and her two detectives Raley and Ochoa discovering Jameson Rook at the scene of a recent homicide, listening to his iPod, with the body of the victim in the next room. (Any resemblances between events in the book and episodes of seasons 2 and 3 of Castle are undoubtedly intentional).

Heat hasn’t seen her former shadow and occasional lover, journalist Rook, for a few months. Not since his article in First Press magazine about his “ride-along” with her and her detectives was published. That article made her the focus of the piece, and brought her a lot of unwanted attention. Nikki only wants to be a cop, not a media darling. And the article made her look like a one-woman crimefighter, totally shortchanging her team.

No one at the Precinct really wanted to see Rook again. He’d screwed all of them in that article, one way or another.

But the dead body in the next room was Cassidy Towne, mud-slinging gossip-raker extraordinaire…and Jameson Rook’s current subject. Without, as he explained to Nikki, the sex.

Even if none of the team wanted Rook back, they needed him this time. He was the insider, both in the publishing world, and on the subject of Cassidy Towne’s current projects and potential enemies.

So they were stuck with Rook after all, trying to charm his way into everyone’s good graces again, and back into Nikki’s bed. All the while, trying to help the police solve the case of Cassidy Towne’s death before the killer strikes again.

Escape Rating B: I was struck by how much Nikki Heat reminds me of Eve Dallas in the J.D. Robb In Death series. And through Dallas, Sigrid Harald from Margaret Maron’s series as well. The tough female detective with the damaged past who builds a family out of the members of her precinct house, and eventually finds love in a most unlikely place. Nikki, Eve and Sigrid are all sisters under the skin.

But if Nikki is an avatar for Eve Dallas, Jameson Rook is no Roarke. Not on Rook’s best day and Roarke’s worst. I like Jameson Rook as a character, but there’s no resemblance. The analogy just doesn’t stretch that far, in spite of the similar names.

Jameson Rook, unlike Richard Castle, is a magazine writer, and presumbly doesn’t make as comfortable a living. So Rook has to supplement his earnings by writing under a pseudonym. And what does Jameson Rook write, and as whom? Under the name Victoria St. Clair, Jameson Rook writes romance novels. And he’s not the first fictional hero to make his living this way, either. In Tanya Huff’s Blood series, Victoria Nelson’s vampire partner, Henry Fitzroy, also wrote historical romances. I keep imagining Henry and Rook meeting at a romance writers’ convention. It would have to be at night, of course.

I read this book just for fun. I’m posting this review in the middle of the ALA Midwinter Conference because there are a lot of librarians out there on the conference floor picking up Advance Reading Copies to read, just for fun. Even more importantly, a big part of our jobs is to select books that folks in our communities we hope will be dying to read, just for fun.

Naked Heat is one of those books.

Three-Day Town

Three-Day Town is a reference to New York City: James Cameron once referred to it as “the finest three-day town on earth”. In Margaret Maron’s very fine new entry into her Judge Deborah Knott series, Deborah and her husband travel to New York for a belated honeymoon. Their stay is longer than three days, because they become involved, as usual, in both family business and murder.

In 1942, a naive college freshman pilfers a risque and disgusting piece of object d’art from a college professor that she is certain is a complete poseur. In her 18-year-old certainty, she is absolutely sure she knows everything. She’s right about one thing, the piece is so vulgar, there are so many possible suspects, and the college is still so mired in puritanical values, that the theft will not be reported. It takes her almost 60 years to try to give it back, and when she does, it becomes evidence in a murder. But it’s still vulgar.

Judge Deborah Knott and her husband, Major Dwight Bryant, escape Colleton County North Carolina for week’s vacation in New York City. They’ve been married for a year, but this is the first chance they’ve had to take a honeymoon, between her sitting on the bench as a county judge and his duties with the sheriff’s department. It’s certainly a long-awaited vacation.

They’re borrowing Dwight’s sister-in-law’s apartment for a week.  It’s a co-op in a secure building close enough to the Theater District to see the lights. And they have a family errand to run–Deborah has a package to deliver from a distant cousin to that cousin’s daughter. It should be simple, and they should have a relaxing and enjoyable trip.

But things start going wrong the first evening.

The superintendant of the building is murdered in their apartment. And that package? It turns out to be the original disgusting sculpture from 1942-but no one knows the history yet, just that it’s vulgar and artistic. And then there’s the cousin. Cousin Anne is in New Zealand, but her daughter is the one who comes to pick up the package, and ends up investigating the murder. Anne’s daughter is Lt. Sigrid Harald of the NYPD Homicide Division, and she is on the scene visiting with Deborah and Dwight when the body is discovered.

Deborah and Dwight become involved in the investigation in New York, as well as familial crime-solving long distance–there’s a problem back in North Carolina that requires Deborah’s skills. This vacation turns out to be more of a Busman’s Honeymoon, but this couple is always happiest when they are crime-solving, until Deborah’s nosiness puts her in the killer’s sights.

Escape Rating A+: Three-Day Town was a treat! The story takes Deborah and Dwight away from their home ground but still shows them doing what they do best, solving a murder by poking their very intelligent noses into everyone else’s business. At the same time, the strong family ties that make me follow this series are very much in evidence. Deborah solves a problem for her cousins back home, and, best of all, Sigrid Harald is back!

Sigrid Harald is a police lieutenant in the NYPD, a tall, slim, angular woman who solves homicides and doesn’t have much of a personal life. Except that one very interesting man saw something beautiful in her that no one else saw, and because of him, her life and world opened up. If that description sounds familiar, it’s intended to. I think Sigrid Harald may be one of Eve Dallas’ literary fore-mothers. Except that Sigrid had a better childhood and a less happy ending than Eve, at least so far. It was good to see Sigrid again. I’ve missed her.

If you enjoy police procedural-type mysteries with strong female detectives, I highly recommend both the Judge Deborah Knott series and the Sigrid Harald series. Three-Day Town was a fantastic visit with both of these fine investigators, but if you have never met these women before, I would start with the first book in each series, Bootlegger’s Daughter for Deborah and One Coffee With for Sigrid.

The next Deborah Knott book will be The Buzzard Table, sometime next year. Another year, another dead body. Or two.  With buzzards in the title, it sounds like she’ll be back in North Carolina. I can hardly wait.