Ian Rankin: Impossible Dead Sunday, Feb 26 2012 

Fans of Rankin’s creation Inspector Rebus were more than disappointed when he retired that character. But his newest creation, Matthew Fox, is proving a strong contender for our interest. First introduced in The Complaints, Fox and his team are called that because they work in the oft-despised area of Internal Affairs. “How come you hate cops so much?” is the question they are often asked.

The Impossible Dead brings readers into close contact with Fox and his team in this second installment, and we’re liking him more and more. Different from Rebus, he has his own tough job, with the team never welcomed. What is supposed to be a temporary assignment leaves Fox wondering how he can meld back into the CID department. Now they’ve been asked to investigate off their home area, in Val McDermid’s turf of Kirkcaldy, and their reception is less than warm. Detective Paul Carter has been found guilty of misconduct, a charge led by his own uncle, retired from the same force. Fox’s team are to clear up allegations that Carter’s colleagues had been covering up for him, turning a blind eye to the sexual favors Carter had supposedly exchanged with a variety of women, from drug addicts to casual offenders, to drop their charges.

But when they arrive to start their interviews, the three men they’ve arranged to see are at not at the station, and Tony Kaye, Fox’s colleague, can’t contain a nasty comment, to Fox’s chagrin. “News would now travel through the station: job done. The Complaints had come to town, found no one home, and let their annoyance show. The desk sergeant shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying not to seem too satisfied at this turn of events.”

And so it goes: the lack of cooperation; the inadequate office space; the interviewees, when they are finally approached, sullen and uncooperative. There are hints of corruption, and a possible conspiracy, and Fox needs to widen his investigation. Then suddenly a murder occurs, and forensics show the weapon used should not even exist.

This sets off a chain of events that will take Fox back to ties within his own family, and with political connections to the social and politically-charged era of 1985. Fox finds himself following the past, which leads him to a visit the state mental hospital, where a patient with history and information Fox needs will correct his definition of power. “It’s something you hold in both hands like a weapon, something you can choose to use to strike at your enemies’ hearts.”

As Fox’s team concentrate on the current problem, Fox will delve into these buried secrets from the past, flushing out dangerous truths that could ruin reputations and threaten lives, even Fox’s own, and leave him questioning his role as a detective.

This is an intricately-plotted thriller, entangled with subplots involving Fox’s ill father and the damaged relationship he has with his sister. People are not whom they seem on the surface, in small and large ways. Rankin knows crime, and he knows human nature. A thoroughly satisfying read that will leave readers anticipating the next outing with Rankin and Matthew Fox.

Kate Flora: Redemption Sunday, Feb 19 2012 

HOMICIDE: OUR DAY BEGINS WHEN YOUR DAY ENDS.

That’s the slogan one of homicide detective Joe Burgess’ colleagues wears on a T-shirt.

Welcome to the very real, very gritty world of Joe Burgess, a cynical Portland, Maine cop with a soft heart and a tenacious nature that propels him to follow threads and solve his cases.

Burgess is a seasoned detective, coping in this volume with the added pressures of a committed relationship. He yearns for the resiliency of his younger years. “Between the unspeakable things people did to each other and the cases he couldn’t fix, the iron that held him upright and hopeful was rusting.”

But with age comes experience, and Burgess will need all of that and more to solve the murder of Vietnam vet and old high school friend, Reggie the Can Man.

Reggie’s alcoholism and mental problems post-war haven’t stopped Burgess from keeping an eye of Reggie and continually trying to rescue him since their shared days as 19-yr olds in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Reggie has spent decades alternating between appearing fine and then dropping into the dark hole of mental illness, propped up by his brother, Clay, and Burgess. On a perfect autumn Columbus Day, when all Burgess wants is the quiet calm of a picnic, Reggie’s body is found in the water off a pier in downtown Portland, and Burgess’ weekend off is lost.

When the drowning is questioned as deliberate, Burgess steels himself to do this last act of kindness for Reggie–find his murderer and bring him to justice. For Reggie had managed to keep secrets to protect the ones he loved, and it will take all of Burgess’ instincts and people skills to tease out the reason Reggie needed to die.

In the course of his investigation, Burgess will run up against a host of likely suspects, ranging from Reggie’s ex-wife and his wayward son, who also happens to be Burgess’ godson, to corrupt businessmen and a woman who claims to be a witch. She tries to prove it to Burgess in a most unusual way.

Flora gets the Portland area just right, from the lovely countryside and fishy scent of the harbor area, to the unused lot Burgess and his team scour for clues: ” … his nostrils were filled with the smells of crushed grass and weeds, mildew, and the sourness of rotting vegetation. Every season had its scent, and fall’s crisp scents of fresh air and burning leaves were underlain by the odor of death and decay. Like his life.” The people and the setting will jump off the page; the details of the police procedural are done just right, with distinct characters helping Burgess, even if he would sometimes use the word “help” sarcastically.

Her character’s are well-drawn, distinct individuals, but it’s Burgess and her story who will keep you reading for the resolution. Flora’s novels include seven in the Thea Kozak mysteries, a true crime novel and a suspense thriller. Finding Amy was nominated in 2007 for an Edgar and has been filmed for TV. Teaching writing for Grub Street in Boston, Flora has a new true crime project underway revolving around a Canadian serial killer, and is working on a screenplay.

Redemption is the third Joe Burgess novel. Auntie M will be reading the first two.

 

P D James: Death Comes to Pemberley Friday, Feb 10 2012 

Fans of P. D. James will find this newest offering to be very different from her carefully plotted, meticulously described, and heavily psychologically-oriented crime novels. Readers familiar with James’ autobiography Time to Be in Earnest will know of her lifelong passion for Jane Austen. Indeed, one of her daughters is named Jane.

So it’s no surprise that James has adeptly recreated the world of Pride and Prejudice, and readers of Austen will be plunged immediately into the familiar landscape of those novels.

It’s 1803, and Elizabeth and Darcy are settled comfortably at his magnificent estate at Pemberley, parents to two healthy little sons, aptly named Fitzwilliam and Charles. With her favorite sister, Jane, and Jane’s husband, Bingley, and their family living nearby, Elizabeth has grown into her role, running the household competently. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, is contemplating marriage prospects. It is an idyllic life, soon to be in disarray.

The estate is preparing for the autumnal Lady Anne’s ball, silver being polished, flowers being chosen with care, when a flying chaise arrives on the eve of the ball, “lurching and swaying down the woodland road towards the house, its two sidelights blazing like small flames. Imagination provided what was too distant to be seen–the manes of the horses tossed by the wind, their wild eyes and straining shoulders, the postilion heaving at the reins.”

And we’re off and running with the story, as Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s younger, most unreliable sister, runs into the house, screaming hysterically that her husband has been murdered. Suddenly everyone at Pemberley is thrust into a frightening situation which threatens the peace and future of all who inhabit it. Secrets will be unearthed and confidences made public as the weeks unfold, for it is not Wickham who has been killed; he is instead arrested as the murderer. Darcy will play several roles in the drama, even as he finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being called as a star witness in the eventual trial. At times it seems there is little chance for a peaceful resolution. But to expect that would be to underestimate P. D. James.

James is spot on with the period details, as well as the mores and customs of the time. She has a gift for the cadence of Austen, too, with a lovely use of language and syntax which represent another era. The details of the unfolding mystery are parsed out as the story unfolds, and the mystery is eventually solved with great consideration.

Some readers have pointed out that the mystery seems to take a back seat to the perambulations of the story; no Dalgliesh investigation here. Indeed, James prefaces the novel with an Author’s Note apologizing “for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation … ”   But Auntie M feels Jane Austen would applaud James for her wise craft and gratifying skill in bringing crime to Pemberley.

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