Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb spends his spare time digging on the moors, hoping to find where his Uncle Billy is buried. Almost twenty years ago, eleven-year-old Billy went missing and was assumed to be murdered by Arnold Avery, a serial killer of children. Steven feels his sorry home life would improve if both his grandmother and mother had some closure, so he takes his search a step further when he writes to Avery in prison hoping to coax his uncle's whereabouts out of the mind of a man who would love nothing more than to kill again. But Avery is unused to attention after being locked away for all these years and relishes nothing more than playing games with the letter writer, especially after he discovers that the person is a young boy. Does young Steven realize just how perilous the game can become? Blacklands, a first novel, by Belinda Bauer packs both a emotional and psychological punch. I had a hard time putting it down and can't wait to see what the author writes next. Creepily good....

Monday, December 28, 2009

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

Lady Julia Grey travels with her sister, Portia, to Grimsgrave Hall in Yorkshire. Portia is going to help out the new owner, Nicholas Brisbane, get the decrepit estate in order. Julia, in love with Brisbane, uses the visit to spend time with him. The sisters, however, are shocked at the state of the place and the behaviors of the last members of the destitute Allenby family, who are living at Grimsgrave thanks to Brisbane's kindness. It's up to Julia to untangle the mystery of the Allenbys after someone is poisoned. Silent on the Moor is the third book in the Lady Julia Grey series and while it's about the same number of pages as its predecessors suffers from too little plot to sustain a book of that length. However, I'm thrilled to see the relationship of Julia and Brisbane move forward, so I'll look for the next book when it's published.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler

When sixty-one year old Liam Pennywell is let go from his job teaching fifth grade at a private boys school in Baltimore, he decides to downsize to a smaller apartment. After moving in, he wakes up in the hospital with no memory of being knocked unconscious by an intruder the night before. Upset by his brief amnesia, he visits a neurologist. There, he encounters a woman named Eunice who is assisting a wealthy patient as a sort of "memory aide." Liam is first intrigued by her job and then by her. With a lot of free time on his hands (and spurred by his recent misfortunes), Liam also reflects on his relationships and mistakes with his former wives and three daughters. Anne Tyler has written another novel that is perfect for book groups and those who love her eccentric character studies. It will be published in early January.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton

Private detective Kinsey Millhone is hired by Michael Sutton to find out if something he has just remembered from his childhood really happened. When he was six in 1967, he remembers being in a neighbor's backyard and seeing two men burying something. He feels it was the body of Mary Claire Fitzhugh who was kidnapped back then and never found. Now in 1988, he hopes Kinsey can find the grave and the men. Alternating back and forth between the past and present (as well as the points of view of Kinsey and other characters possibly integral to the crime), Grafton has written a more complex mystery than some of her earlier books in the series. It was an enjoyable read.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fell Purpose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Detective Inspector Bill Slider and his team from the Shepherd's Bush police station are called to the scene of the death of a teenage girl, Zellah Wilding. Zellah was an only child with an overprotective father and a mother who wanted to give her more freedom. While from a modest background, she was best friends with two girls who came from families that were well-off. After interviewing people who were close to Zellah, it appears that she showed different sides of herself to everyone and even had a secret man in her life. The police find no shortages of suspects and hope that they will find the man who ended Zellah's short life. Fell Purpose is the latest book in the long-running Bill Slider series. I'm so glad that Severn House has picked up the publishing of the series in the U.S. The books are not as well known as some of the other more popular British police procedurals, but just as good.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stitches by David Small

In this graphic novel memoir, illustrator David Small recounts growing up in 1950's Detroit in an emotionally stunted home. Given numerous x-rays to cure sinus problems during his childhood by his doctor father, he ends up unable to speak after an operation to remove one of his vocal cords. Fourteen at the time, David is stunned to discover he has lost his voice--he had no idea he had cancer and was kept in the dark about his condition. Slowly, David grows up using his talent as an artist to escape the trauma of his childhood. Stitches is a moving book, with the black and white pictures adding to the emotion impact of the story.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snow Angels by James Thompson

Kari Vaara is a police inspector in the small town of Kittila in the Arctic Circle. When an immigrant Somali actress, Sufia Elmi, is found brutally murdered, Kari's prime suspect turns out to be the man his first wife left him for many years ago. Soon, both the Finnish press and the international media are focused on the case and have sensationalized Sufia's death, comparing it to the 1947 Black Dahlia murder in Los Angeles. He also has to deal with the fact that some people feel the arresting of his ex-wife's boyfriend is strictly revenge. In addition, Kari is worried about his American wife, Kate, who is pregnant with twins. She has become unhappy with the bleakness of life during the long winter and wants to leave. Snow Angels emphasizes darkness, both literally and by giving the reader a view of contemporary small town Finnish life. Since the author is an American who lives in Finland, the style of writing and the conciseness of the story is similar to where he came from. However, due to its dreary setting and descriptions of graphic violence, the novel reminds me most of the Canadian mystery series by Giles Blunt. If you enjoy both American and Scandinavian procedurals, give this one a try. In case it's not clear, I really liked it. Snow Angels will be published next month.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris

Charlie Baker is a CEO at a Chicago ad agency when he's fired out of the blue. Over the years, he's given more and more time to his work neglecting his wife, Donna, and teenage son, Kyle. After being let go, he finds he can't even tell Donna about his job loss and realizes he's missed years of Kyle growing up. What ensues is Charlie's attempt, sometimes lightheartedly misguided, to get his family back. He also interacts with other unemployed executives at Rogers and Challenger, an outplacement firm, along with the man helping in his job search, Ned Meyers. In his third novel, Kokoris has created another humorous emotionally clueless main character very similar to the father in The Rich Part of Life. After the misstep of his second novel, Sister North, it great to see Kokoris shine again.