Harry Bingham: Talking to the Dead Sunday, Jan 27 2013 

Wales is the destination in Harry Bingham’s absorbing and highly original novel Talking to the Dead, featuring a fresh new character, DC Fiona Griffiths.13414567

Fiona talks directly to the reader, and this first person point of view goes down extremely well as it’s clear that Fiona is, well, perhaps the kindest way of putting it–a little odd.  “I’m not that good at feelings. Not yet. Not the really ordinary human ones that arise from instinct like water bubbling up from a hillside spring . . .”

She’s attractive but emotionally blunted, very intense in her job, and isn’t the best at social interactions. It’s not that she wouldn’t like to appear more normal; it’s just that for Fiona, there’s a gap between what she sees in others and how she reacts herself. And let’s not mention that two-year gap in her teens that anyone who hears of readily assumes was a breakdown.

She also one of the most unique and endearing characters created in fiction that Auntie M has come across in a long while.

In Cardiff, her newest case’s crime scene contains two bodies: a young, single mother whose prostitution and sometimes drug habit probably went a long way to contributing to her death; and the victim’s six year-old daughter, horribly murdered when the killer dropped a farmhouse sink on her head, killing her and pinning the child underneath it, wiping out the top half of her face.

Also found at the house is a perplexing piece of evidence: the credit card of long-presumed dead, wealthy tycoon Brendan Rattigan. What was Janet Mancini, sometime prostitute and heroin-addict, doing with Rattigan’s platinum card? And how does it tie in to her death and the murder of her daughter, April?

Fiona takes her orders seriously but works overtime on her own theories. Then a second prostitute is found dead, and the risks she faces escalate quicker than she can handle.

This is the complex mystery with a compelling new heroine, whose secrets threaten to overwhelm her at every turn. It is to Bingham’s credit that he includes Fiona’s nearby family, and for once, this is a loving support system for the main character, who faces her own demons.

It is little April who captures Fiona’s attention, sure that the half-faced child is trying to communicate an important piece of information. When Fiona figures out what this is, the reader will be as surprised and blown away as Fiona. Not all of the questions will be answered when you’ve finished reading, which is why Auntie M can’t wait for the next Fiona Griffiths novel. The author’s note at the end (don’t cheat and read it first; it will spoil the ending for you) assures that this character will be one you’re going to follow.

 

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Brad Parks: The Girl Next Door Sunday, Jan 20 2013 

Parks’ third mystery featuring journalist Carter Ross is a filled with the wry humor of the protagonist that makes The Girl Next Door a delight to read.9781250013408

Set in the neighborhoods of northern New Jersey, Parks shows the dichotomy of the different areas he has Ross visit in his tenure on Newark’s Eagle-Examiner,  and the different attributes and customs that go along with each one.


Here’s Ross describing his personal attitude after years of experience : “As a newspaper reporter, I’m required to move in all strata of society. I get to observe human behavior everywhere, from the meanest housing projects to the gilded symphony hall. And what always strikes me is that when you strip away the superficial differences in clothing, setting, and dialect, groups of people everywhere are more or less the same . . . most of us are just trying to find a way to fit in.”

Reading the paper’s obituaries leads Ross to come across the death of Nancy Marino, a “girl next door” forties-something carrier for his own paper. When he decides to write a feature story about an everyday woman who dies too young, Ross naturally heads to her wake to meet her family and to hear the stories of this common woman.

So he’s more than surprised and quickly intrigued when one of Nancy’s sisters insists that the hit-and-run accident that claimed Nancy’s life was not an accident at all, but a cold-blooded murder. Adding to his interest is the appearance at the wake of his own newspapers publisher, the smarmy Gary Jackman, who refuses to give him an interview but has an arugment  with another man attending the wake that Ross overhears.

The reporter’s investigation reveals the never-married Nancy held down two jobs while caring for her elderly mother, who lived a few blocks away. Besides being a paper carrier, she worked part-time as a waitress at a local diner and was shop steward for her carrier’s union.

Ross digs into the case, convinced he’s on the right road to find Nancy’s murderer. He’ll get in trouble in far too many places at once, including with his boss and editor, who is his infrequent girlfriend, Tina Thompon. He’ll also become saddled with an intern who reads Emerson and Thoreau and is planning a thesis on Philip Roth, one of New Jersey’s hometown boys.

Parks’ creation is articulate and a pleasure to read; his characters are quirky and colorful. And best of all, his plotting twists and turns as it delves into the gritty world of some of the not-too nicest characters and neighborhoods of New Jersey. And some of those are the friends Carter Ross will depend on when he needs a helping hand.

Filled with action and unexpected turns, it’s difficult at one point to figure out how Ross will come out on top of this one. Keep reading.

Peter Robinson: Watching the Dark Sunday, Jan 13 2013 

Robinson’s twentieth Chief Inspector Banks novel starts off in an unlikely place: St. Peter’s Police Convalescent Treatment Centre, just north of Eastvale, his stomping grounds. watching-the-dark

Watching the Dark opens with the introduction of DI Lorraine Jensen, recovering from multiple leg fractures, the result of a fall from a second-story tower block chasing drug dealers. Awakened early one morning by the pain her leg, she moves outside to watch the sunrise and wait for her painkillers to kick in.

As she sips her tea she notices a bundle of clothes on the far side of the lake. Using her crutch to get closer, she realizes the bundle is really a very dead man, kneeling forward with his head touching the ground.

When the team arrives and the police surgeon turns the body over, everyone is shocked to see a crossbow bolt sticking out of the man’s chest. A recent widower, DI Bill Quinn was a patient at St. Peter’s for issues with his neck.

When Banks decides to search the victim’s room himself, it appears there is little joy to be found. Quinn’s room sports a series of fishing and gardening magazines and only one book: Practical Homicide Investigation.

The well-practiced team swing into action. Interviews of the twelve resident patients and staff, as well as room searches, are carried out quickly and efficiently. That the Centre pays lip service to security is immediately apparent. The thing left to resolve: was Quinn’s murder revenge from a former convict? Or something more deep and sinister.

Then Banks takes a closer look at the book found in Quinn’s room. Under the endpapers, the detective has secreted a thin envelope containing three photographs of himself and a young woman in compromising positions.

But what do these photos have to do with the man’s murder? And how to they tie in with a dead migrant worker found in an abandoned Yorkshire farmhouse?

Then a cold case appears connected.  19 year-old Rachel Hewitt had disappeared on a hen party in Estonia several years ago and was Quinn’s biggest regret, a case he considered his only failure. Would her case provide the key to unlocking why DI Quinn had to die?

Complicating Banks investigation are two women. DI Annie Cabbot, Banks’ former lover and longtime colleague, due back after six months rehab from a shooting incident, is due to return to work in two days. Will she be up to the task or will her demons prevent her from doing her job?

Then Banks’ ACC throws him a curve ball in the form of a Professional Standards Inspector who is assigned to investigate Quinn’s death alongside Banks. Joanna Passero has her own agenda, and finding out if Quinn was a bent copper is just her surface assignment. She painfully dogs Banks’ steps, hampering his quest.

Robinson moves Banks around to Europe and the change of scenery keeps Banks on his toes and readers turning pages. Not all policemen have the same scruples, he will be quick to learn. But how does that tie in with people trafficking, migrant labor scams, and most importantly, murder?

Fans will be delighted to see Banks in action in this highly readable and compelling new novel from a master at the top of his game.

Nele Neuhaus: Snow White Must Die Sunday, Jan 6 2013 

German author Neuhaus is making news with the first English translation of a police procedural that will surprise readers and introduce them to a new detective duo to follow.

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Actually the second in the series, the international best seller features Detective Oliver von Bodenstein, troubled and distinctive, and his partner, Pia Kirchhoff. In this first US import, the Grimm fairy tale describing Snow White becomes a refrain to the story Neuhaus tells of 30-year old Tobias Sartorius. It opens as he leaves prison after serving ten years following the disappearance of two teenaged girls last seen in his company. Having no recollection of most of the events of the evening, his time in prison has been tortuous as he’s come to accept he must have murdered the two girls, despite having no memory of the night in question.

Of the two missing girls, the dark-haired Stefanie Schneeberger had been cast to play Snow White in the local play. On the night the girls disappeared, she was supposed to have broken off her dating relationship with Tobias.

Returning to his small home town, Tobias is shocked to learn the pretense his parents maintained while he imprisoned. They’ve lost their business and separated, and while his father still lives on in the same house, the town has made the family pay for what they feel is Tobias’ murder of the two missing girls by outcasting his parents and damaging their property, with continued harassment.

When Tobias’ mother is pushed from a pedestrian bridge onto the hood of a car below, the two detectives investigation is met with stony silence from the villagers. Then a young girl disappears, and the past seems to be repeating itself. With the villagers certain Tobias is to blame, his life hangs in jeopardy as the Oliver and Pia race against time to find the truth before the villagers take matters into their own hands.

This is lively nuanced mystery, with increasing suspense, and well-crafted characters. The effects of gossip, the use of local power, and the idea of keeping up appearances for outsiders will all be explored, even as Oliver and Pia have their own domestic issues barging into their hectic days. The novel is surprising at times as the events kick up and the pace surges ahead. Readers will become addicted to turning pages as the story engages them. Neuhaus lets them in early on a secret to that they have more information than the detectives, a device which serves to nicely up the suspense factor.

The well-drafted thriller will allow readers to see why Neuhaus is Germany’s top crime writer. In Europe the sixth in the series is in print, and readers here in the US can only hope the translators are hard at work to bring us the next installments of this complex and widely-read crime writer.

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Liz Loves Books

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