Tag Archives: Canada

Still Waters

A Summer Mystery Series Update.

Proof of Guilt (nook book)

Proof of Guilt: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $12.99, 352 pages)

In a series marked by smooth transitions and character development, this, the 15th Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery is sure to please fans of the writing duo who go by the name, Charles Todd. As is the case with this series, the story is set in post World War II England with all the charm and quaintness expected of the genre. The plot is intricately woven with multiple generations of two families that together founded an upstanding firm. The firm produces and distributes fine Madera wine. The vineyard is located on Madera and the distributorship is headquartered in London.

Rutledge, although an inspector with Scotland Yard, is assigned to a death case where the unidentified victim has been struck down by an automobile and appears to be a man of means – based upon his clothes and a fine old gold pocket watch that was originally sold in Lisbon, Portugal. Motoring fatalities are not Rutledge’s specialty; however, the lack of an ID on the man and his appearance — which includes gentlemanly hands and fingernails — makes him more than some poor devil who was plowed down by an auto.

There are many instances where Rutledge and his fellow law enforcement personnel rely on class distinctions to parse out the relationships among the two families and their employees. Class seems to be a prominent part of daily life in the early 20th century and the lack of modern scientific methodology for solving crimes puts relationships and motives to the forefront in crime solving. Pursuit of truth and uncovering deceit are foremost on Rutledge’s agenda for this assignment.

Of note is the personal progress made by Inspector Rutledge. He has been very close to his sister, Frances, ever since the end of the war. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder seems to be abating somewhat and his improving mental health bodes well for a shift in his relationship with Frances.

Highly recommended.

Lost: A Novel by S. J. Bolton (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 391 pages)

Lost

Fast forward to modern day London, this is where we catch up with Lacey Flint, the beautiful but tortured British detective constable whose life is filled with heroics and victimhood. Lacey is on leave from her job following a brush with death (Dead Scared).

Lacey and a young boy who lives next door become unlikely partners in solving a rash of pre-adolescent kidnappings/murders. Barney, the 11-year-old next-door-neighbor, is forever searching for his mom who disappeared when he was a toddler. Lacey uses Barney’s quest and a need for distraction and escape from her own demons and proclivities to work behind the scenes while her heartthrob, Detective Mark Joesbury, and Detective Dana Tulloch are the assigned investigators on the case.

Of course there are gruesome scenes involving really twisted criminals and perilous situations for all involved. It wouldn’t be an authentic S. J. Bolton mystery without these compelling elements. This one is as good as its predecessors!

Highly recommended.

The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 390 pages)

The Beautiful Mystery (nook book)

Our next stop is deep in the wilderness of Quebec, Canada behind the massive door of a fortified monastery, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his younger protege Jean-Guy Beauvoir are investigating the murder of the monastery’s choirmaster. The tale is a classic locked door and limited list of suspects mystery. (The book is the eighth in this series.)

Gamache is true to form with his nearly-infinite patience and calm demeanor. The monastery is world-famous for the spectacular Georgian chants performed by the choir. All the monks participate in the singing; it is what they do, along with their daily chores and the creation of chocolate covered blueberries. Gamache is ecstatic because he is the first non-religious person to enter the monastery and he loves the Georgian chants.

The ultimate joy is when a visit to the monastery proves to be literally fruitful — blueberries covered with chocolate! Jean-Guy and Gamache explore the entire building and its walled garden while seeking a murderer among the seemingly-pacifist monks. Still waters run deep and even the motive for the murder is well-hidden.

This reviewer listened to the audio book read by Ralph Cosham. The beautifully pronounced French words made the experience very enjoyable. Reading the words in hard copy has been a challenge!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher. Lost was released on June 4, 2013, and The Beautiful Mystery was released on July 2, 2013.

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Over the Rainbow

The Cruelest Month: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 320 pages)

A slew of awards and seven best sellers later, writer Louise Penny caught my attention.   As a prominent Canadian mystery writer, she has the credits to sell books easily.   Too bad this one took some getting used to before the charm of her tale took hold.   The rocky start was due in great part to the confusing character names, relationships and eerie references to a past horror experienced by the folks who inhabit a tiny village named Three Pines.   Yes, this is a village-set mystery in the style of Agatha Christie.   Moreover, there are multiple nationalities represented by the characters that make it quite interesting.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the French Canadian officer who is called in to determine whether the person who died during a séance in a spooky abandoned house was the victim of a murder or merely a weak heart.   To make matters complicated, the house was the scene of a previous death that was investigated by – you guessed it, Inspector Gamache.   Gamache has divided loyalties as this is the place where he feels most at peace, despite having traveled far and wide.   His internal struggles with the politics within the police force where he is high in the chain of command provide an engaging counterpoint to the main story line.

Penny’s writing style is lush and layered with quips that reference casual, current day commercial aspects of life such as, “he appeared closer than he looked.”   This comment was made by one of the characters who spied his reflection in an automobile side mirror.   There are also smart segues linked by subject matter as various characters are interviewed separately by two policemen.   In one instance sandwiches are being served in a small cottage and the handoff comes as sandwiches are being served at the town bistro.   These may be small matters but they serve to keep the reader involved through the use of everyday occurrences.   The other-worldly portions of the story and the location provide the escape element that readers of mysteries often seek.

Personal reactions by both police investigators and village folk to the events that transpire after the murder add a human touch and a sense of grounding.   Specifically, the notions of beliefs (Wiccan or Catholic) and relationships (gay/straight and human attachments to pets/animals) are intertwined with the wonder that comes from being in the presence of true artistic talent.   The village of Three Pines is home to Canada’s most prominent poet and one of its best-known painters.

This reviewer was struck by the depth of soul-searching and philosophizing that’s depicted in the book.   There is truly value added to the usual murder mystery in The Cruelest Month.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Many mystery buffs have credited Louise Penny with the revival of the traditional murder mystery made famous by Agatha Christie.”   Sarah Weinman

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Runnin’ Down a Dream

33 Days:  Touring in a Van.   Sleeping on Floors.   Chasing a Dream.   by Bill See (Lulu; available as a Kindle and Nook Book download)

Bill See’s account of a band on the run has its moments but…  If L.A.’s Divine Weeks was chosen as one of the best bands in the mega city by the hallowed Los Angeles Times in 1987, one has to wonder why its four members (George, Bill, Raj and Dave) decided they needed to make a tour of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and the mid-west to southern United States to prove their worth.   If you believe See’s words, it was not for a lack of ego:  “Sometimes you can tell the crowd wants it…  you have to understand something.   We really do believe we’re operating on a totally different plane than other bands…  we’re completely full of ourselves…”

Well, you can see videos of Divine Weeks on You Tube and judge for yourself.   To my eyes and ears, this was a decent band for the time (the late 80s), but nothing special – not great nor horrible, and on a par with what you’d see in a typical Sacramento club during this era.   Was Divine Weeks on the same plane as, say, Jane’s Addiction?   Absolutely not.   (Personal disclosure:  I was not a fan of Jane’s music, but their musicianship was beyond question.)

What 33 Days does offer is a glimpse of what life is like on the road for a struggling traveling band.   In itself that’s an interesting tale, but See detracts from it by spending a bit more time than is necessary telling us about his off-and-on relationship with quasi-girlfriend Mary.   It proves to be both distracting and tiring.

The best moment in the narrative is when See explains, early on, the power of music.   “Ever since I’ve known music, I’ve felt that my life could be lifted up by it.”   This is admirable but the egocentric prospective winds up making this a band biography that is less than the sum of its parts.   This reader came to feel as if only truly got to know two members of the band – the Paul McCartney-like Bill and the George Harrison-like Raj.   It felt, in the end, as if something was missing.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the author.

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Free Fallin’

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Loneliness Is Just A Word

Lonely: A Memoir by Emily White

“…the lonely were more likely to have died than the nonlonely.”

Emily White’s Lonely succeeds as a survey book, specifically when she examines the surprising lack of research on what would appear to be a nearly essential topic for study – human loneliness.   She finds, for example, one study which demonstrated that post heart surgery patients were twice as likely to die if they experienced the effects of loneliness.   She also describes the  more standard physical impacts that plague the person who is determined to be lonely, and to her credit she had “to find the papers…  myself.”

The book is much less effective when it attempts to serve as a self-proclaimed memoir.   To be explicit, the book would have been far more engaging if it had begun with a review of the research on the matter of loneliness, and then finished with White describing its impact on her own life.   This is because much of what she stated in the opening seems either odd or contradictory.

This reviewer suspects that most readers will approach the topic with an understanding of loneliness as isolation.   We are lonely when we must be away from the people who are close to us; as when, for example, someone leaves the family nest to go to a faraway college.   But such loneliness is temporary and others come in to fill the empty spots in our existence.

White, however, is the person who is lonely in crowds; she states that, “I just feel a lack of connection around people, even when I’m around people.”   Thus, she responds to this by spending more time alone and, “The more time I spent alone, the more difficult I found it to be around others.”   This seems desperately confusing, especially when we read about how she chose to live way across town from friends and relatives:  “…odd…that I should have chosen a place so far removed (to live).”

White also appears to display a knack for making lemons out of lemonade.   Of cherished car drives with her father she complains that they “always ended.”   And although in law school she was surrounded by smart people, it seemed to signal the start of her era of self-isolation.

This reviewer must disclose that my life and the author’s appear to be considerably parallel as to our experiences, and yet, the very ones that she found limiting were for me empowering.   Thus, we may have a clash of perspectives here.   So, I will re-emphasize that White presents some valuable information when one views this work as a review of a little-developed field.   To her credit, she raises some questions that do call out for an answer – such as whether or not loneliness is inherited.

White might have been served by having the assistance of a professional writer who could have toned down her tendency to look at life through somber dark-colored glasses.   A second set of eyes in the person of an editor might have added a bit of needed joy to this look at our lives and the need we have to share it with others.

A review copy was provided by Harper.

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Another Book Giveaway!

Thanks to Anna at Hachette Audio, we’re giving away three (3) audio book sets of On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System by Henry M. (Hank) Paulson, Jr.   This is the unabridged version, on 13 CDs, that contains a special conversation with the author not found in the printed book version.   Each audio book is valued at $34.98 U.S.; $41.98 Canadian.

Here is a synopsis of On the Brink, followed by two excerpts from recent reviews:

When Hank Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, was appointed in 2006 to become the nation’s next Secretary of the Treasury, he knew that his move from Wall Street to Washington would be daunting and challenging.   But Paulson had no idea that a year later, he would find himself at the the very epicenter of the world’s most cataclysmic financial crisis since the Great Depression.   Major institutions literally teetered at the edge of collapse.   Worst of all, the credit crisis spread to all parts of the U.S. economy and grew more ominous with each passing day.

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime economic nightmare.   Events no one had thought possible were happening in quick succession.   All eyes turned to the United States Treasury Secretary to avert the disaster.  

This, then, is Hank Paulson’s first-person account.   From the man who was in the very middle of this perfect economic storm, On the Brink is Paulson’s fast-paced account of the key decisions that had to be made with lightning speed.   On the Brink is an extraordinary story about people and politics – all brought together during the world’s impending financial Armageddon.

Paulson’s first-person account of the epic financial collapse is just that – straightforward and direct.   Shorn of anonymous, unsourced dish, it nonetheless offers plenty of excellent color and detail.   Daniel Gross, The Washington Post

Provides a palpable sense of the nearly moment-to-moment developments and obstacles…   Ted Sturtz, New York Journal of Books

This contest is easy to enter.   Just post a comment here or send an e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as one entry.   For a second entry, just tell us why you like to listen to audio book versions of best sellers.  

You must be a resident of the U.S. or Canada and have a valid residential address.   Audio books cannot be mailed to P.O. boxes.   

The On the Brink contest will be open until midnight PST on Sunday, April 18, 2010.   Good luck and good listening!

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