Blue Monday by Nicci French Thursday, May 31 2012 

Nicci French is the pen name of the married team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, known for their psychological suspense novels. Starting with The Memory Game in 1996 through their twelfth, Complicit, in 2009, the team now brings forth a new character to start what promises to be a thoroughly intriguing series in Blue Monday.Image

Psychotherapist Frieda Klein is a solitary woman who suffers from insomnia that pushes her to walk nights following the course of the ancient London rivers that now run underground. Order matters to Frieda, as she believes the world to be an uncontrollable place, and her personal integrity sets her apart as she gets involved with her patients and helps them to see that what is controllable are their thoughts. Her entire world is interesting, and Auntie M can see this as the start of a compelling series.

Matthew Farraday is a five-year-old who has been abducted. Along with a strong police response, his photograph is splashed regularly across UK papers. When one of Frieda’s patient’s starts having dreams of a child who closely matches Matthew’s description, Frieda cannot ignore the coincidence and turns to Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson for help.

Karlsson is the perfect foil for Frieda; equally intelligent, and just as prickly, his first response is to dismiss her fears–until a connection with an eerily similar unsolved abduction of twenty years ago emerges and Frieda and Karlsson race as the tension builds to find a kidnapper and rescue the child.

The plotting here is meticulous, with extravagant details given to the characters and their lives so that they jump off the page in gritty detail. There is a wealth of raw emotion, too, as people are misunderstood, and the suspense piles on. The twists and turns will keep you turning pages to the stunning ending.

Don’t miss this new start of what promises to be a wonderful series. The second Frieda Klein novel, Tuesday’s Gone, will be published this July, and this reader can hardly wait.

 

The Boy Who Stole the Leopard’s Spots by Tamar Myers Sunday, May 27 2012 

Tamar Myers is the author of two extensive mystery series set in the US, but in her newest tale, she brings her personal history and knowledge of the Belgian Congo to the forefront. Born and raised there, this is the third in her Belgian Congo series, following The Witch Doctor’s Wife (2009) and The Headhunter’s Daughter (2011). Myers parents were missionaries to a headhunting tribe who used human skulls for drinking cups. Her family was the first white one to live peacefully with the tribe. These rich and searing experiences all come to the forefront in this compelling novel.

Myers’ deft hand mingles superstitions, rites, and evil omens with an historical look at changing life in colonial Africa and the social changes of that time as colonial rule neared its end, as she moves her story moves back and forth between two eras.

In the Belgian Congo of 1927, villages thrive in an era filled with witch doctors, headhunters and cannibalism and wild names given to children, often based on their physical attributes, such as Protruding Navel. After the chief of a Bapende village slays a man-eating leopard that has terrorized his village, he returns to find his favorite wife had given birth to twins. The superstition around twins means an evil spirit has entered one of the infants–but how to tell which one? The village witch doctor would have both boys left to die after torturing them, but the chief manages to convince the tribe that the spirit of one of the twins has stolen the dead leopard’s spots, so both twins are spared, only to have one molested by a white man. When this is revealed, a young priest must take part with the tribe in eating the offender.

Fast forward decades later to 1958, and these same twins are now known as Jonathan Pimple and Chigger Mite, and become the central figures in a secret that will shock the residents of Belle Vue, a scenic town whose inhabitants are separated by much more than the bridge crossing the Kasai River that separates whites and natives.

All the clashes of culture, religion, language, superstition, and discrimination rear up in the various factions trying live together. There’s the voluptuous Colette Cabochon, born in the Congo to Belgian parents and living the life of other wealthy whites. She is bored and unfulfilled, residing with her alcoholic, abusive husband in a villa that sprawls the top of the hills. There is the Protestant missionary, Amanda Brown, whose growing attraction to the police chief, Capt. Pierre Jardin brings out the worst in Colette. Amanda  and a few of the other character’s appear in the first novels in the series.

Amanda’s pregnant servant Cripple is one of the most interesting characters, a wise, clever woman married to a failed witch doctor. There are also Roman Catholic priests, determined to save what they see as heathen souls in sometimes unorthodox ways, and one who arrives and is thrown into the rich mix is a childhood friend of Colette, a Monsignor Clemente.

Despite the growing resistance to decades of oppression by the indigenous people, tired of being used as personal servants or as workers in the diamond mine, when a murder occurs, this wild tale becomes, after all, a mystery to be solved.

This is a highly unorthodox novel that paints a vivid picture of a society far removed from what readers are used to and what they can imagine. The lush, tropical feel of the place is reverberates off the page; the characters are drawn with wit and a heavy dose of acumen relating to human nature.      

Mary Alice Monroe, author of Last Light over Carolina, says of this book: “Only an author with an intimate knowledge of the Congo–its people, landscape, and culture–could write … with such confidence and authority.” Myers experiences of living in Africa, where she grew up eating elephant, hippopotamus and monkey, make this book glow in a vivid and compelling manner that will delight fans of historical fiction who appreciate a mystery laced with a hint of romance and dry humor.

 

 

 

Katherine Webb: The Unseen Sunday, May 13 2012 

Welcome to Berkshire, England, and the compelling story in Katherine Webb’s second novel, The Unseen, published this week by William Morrow.

Weaving her tale between 1911 and 2011, Webb has constructed a story that examines the class structure of Edwardian England set against the deception and illusion that occur one summer in the sleepy village of Cold Ash Holt.

In 1911, the Rev. Albert Canning and his naive wife Hester cannot begin to imagine how their quiet lives will be changed when their new maid, Cat Morley, is absorbed into their small, rigid household. Cat has her own past to deal with, and longs to escape a life in service.

Hester knows something is wrong with her young marriage, and yearns for a child from her devout husband.  Then Canning becomes fascinated with idea of theosophism, and even more so with one handsome young practitioner, Robin Durannt, who is drawn to the village by Canning’s almost hysterical vision of elementals in the water meadows near the Canning’s home. When he welcomes Durannt into their home, Canning sets up a series of events that summer that will irrevocably change the lives of everyone living in The Old Rectory.

Fast forward to 2011, where journalist Leah Hickson needs a great story to bring her out of her depression and sink her investigative teeth into once more. Finding the identity of a World War I soldier recently found in a bog in Belgium seems to provide the work she needs, although it is not without its own entanglements.

When she’s shown several letters preserved with the soldier, linking him to Cold Ash Holt, Leah’s hunt begins. What she cannot know at that point is how caught up she will be in the past she unearths, and how the lives of those people and their ultimate fate will impact her own wounded heart.

The women are strong characters in this novel, where grief and passion are a counterpoint to all of their actions. You will be drawn into caring about them and their futures, in this highly engrossing novel that rushes to a strong climax.

Readers familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle’s article that embraced what is now called the Cottingley fairy photographs will understand the highly charged atmosphere that revolved around the occult at this period. Webb has done a wonderful job of recreating that furor and the emotions it raised, even as she has crafted a poignant and skilled novel that will have you remembering her characters, long after the last page is turned.

Richard Helms: The Unresolved Seventh Sunday, May 6 2012 

Richard Helms practiced as a forensic psychologist until 2002, and his personal experience adds tremendous credibility and validity to his newest forensic procedural novel.

He introduces Ben Long, now a college psychology teacher, who retired suddenly four years ago from practice and lives in al secluded mountain-topped home. He enjoys cooking good food, drinking decent wine, and listening to classical music. Unfortunately,  the new DA happens to have a history with Long, and Sidney Kingsley doesn’t intend for Long to remain in isolation.

Kingsley’s office has charged Junior Torrence with murdering his brother’s fiancee, based on his own confession. Torrence’s lawyer hires a psychologist to prove the young man is mentally handicapped and therefore ineligible for a capital trial. Kingsley needs Long to perform his own separate evaluation to prove the man is competent to stand trial. At first Long refuses, for his own very good reasons. Then a tragedy with one of Long’s students occurs and Long relents.

When Kingsley assigns savvy law clerk Paula Paige to be Long’s assistant in his evaluation, it doesn’t take her long to see she’s dealing with a different personality. She finds him prickly, more than a bit odd, with a tendency to lecture her. He avoids metaphors or anything that could be called an abstractions in his speech. In short–he creeps her out. Ben Long is brilliant, but saddled with Asperger’s disorder, an atypical type of autism.

Yet as they begin to work together, Paula’s admiration for Long’s unusual practices rises, even as she must learn to duck and swerve his unorthodox methods during testing and interviews. And at the heart of the matter is the main question: is Junior Torrence, whose “confession” is revealed to be less than reliable, even capable of committing the crime. But if he’s innocent, then a murderer is still at large.

This is as unorthodox an unraveling of a mystery as Ben Long himself. Long and Paige are well-rounded, and it’s interesting to see how Paula learns to cope with Long, even though he considers her a “neurotypical” and explains what this means: ” … your speech only reflects your thought, which is chaotic and disorganized. Facts get all bound up with emotions … You don’t ask questions because you fear others will think you an imbecile. You form your opinion based on emotion rather than what you know to be true … everything is about other people. Neurotypicals are obsessed with being social, even with people they can’t stand.”

And when Paula counters that what he’s describing is simple good manners, Long replies: Oh, balderdash. It’s called lying to yourself…” which is something Ben Long does not have the capacity to do.

Watching these two compelling characters learn to respect each other and work together is half the fun of reading this compelling novel. Watching the clues come together is done with skill and an unusual twist. Let’s hope we get to see more of both of these characters in future mysteries.

Helms credits listening to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, one of Auntie M’s favorite books which features a child with Asperger’s, as inspiring him to create his protagonist. Helms is a Derringer Award-winning author and 2011 winner of the ITW Thriller Award, who like Ben Long, teaches psychology.

You can read more about Richard Helms and his other novels at http://richardhelms.net/

 

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The Life of Guppy

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Reading is a wonderful adventure!

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“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” ― Carl Sagan

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