Tag Archives: London

Time Travel Mysteries

The Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton (Atria Books, $26.99, 496 pages)

Every family has a secret or two.   It might be an escapade by great-aunt Sally that nobody wants to acknowledge for fear of losing social standing in the community.   On the other hand, it might be a secret so huge and shocking that it lays buried in the subconscious of the only witness to the event.

Author Kate Morton makes good use of poetic illusions and warped time as she slowly peels back the layers of a family history with Laurel Nicolson (a renowned actress), Vivien Jenkins (a lovely and wealthy socialite), and Dorothy Nicholson (the mother of Laurel, her sisters and her brother) at its center.   The tale switches back and forth between time periods, mostly World War II and 2011.   Although the reader is provided with ample notice of the time switches, there exists a vague sense of unease and confusion conveyed by Laurel and her sisters.

Perhaps the fact that this is a story with action locales in the English countryside and sea-shore, London, as well as a flashback to Australia adds to the sense of wondering and aimlessness felt by this reviewer.   The descriptions of the devastation wrought by the London bombings are no doubt accurate and they are terrifying.   Also, there were times when a look back at prior chapters was necessary to clarify character names and roles.   This mild discomfort was well worth enduring for the remarkable payoff Ms. Morton reveals at the conclusion of her saga.

Well recommended.

Far North: A Magnus Jonson Mystery by Michael Ridpath (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)

Get ready for a strange adventure when you read Far North.   By strange I mean out of the ordinary in terms of setting and vocabulary.   The setting is Iceland and the time is post-2007 economic crash that basically ruined the economy of the country.   While the rampant cheating and leveraging engaged in by business and banking moguls all over the world caused great harm, it was devastating for this cold and wind-swept country of less than half a million residents.

Basically, the tale is an English style detective story displaced to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.   As such the reader is treated to a nice travelogue with multi-generational murders and Nordic style myths and sagas.   Time switches among several periods beginning with August 1934 and progresses in odd intervals toward the fall of 2009.   Main character/protagonist Magnus Jonson is a detective of Icelandic background whose home is Boston, Massachusetts.   Magnus is hiding from gangsters he has fingered in Boston as he attends the police academy in Iceland.

Conveniently, Magnus is the sort of detective that can’t help detecting, even when the case may not be his own assignment.   Along the way he coordinates with other detectives to make sense of revelations he has made.   Childhood traumas have a way of insidiously seeping into the actions of damaged adults.   That lesson is hammered home throughout the gripping tale.

Note to potential readers:  The complex naming system for people in Iceland may be confusing and the pronunciation of geographic names may be daunting.   Don’t let that get between you and an exhilarating chase to the end.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

Blood Line: An Anna Travis Novel by Lynda La Plante (Harper Paperbacks, $14.99, 480 pages)

She gave him a smile and then returned to weaving in and out of the traffic, constantly using the car horn and swearing as they hit a snarl up by Ladbroke Grove.   Paul felt very uneasy and not just because of her erratic driving, although it did make him cringe back in his seat a few times, but rather because of her attitude.   Anna seemed pleased about Alan Rawlings possibly being a victim.

Betrayal is the mother of invention in this rambling tale of a missing person and possible murder victim.   Author Lynda La Plante is a celebrated and highly successful mystery writer.   Her most famous work is the British television series, Prime Suspect.   In Blood Line, La Plante takes every opportunity to delve into the psychology of each of her main characters.   She literally weaves the story among the characters and around the landscape where the action takes place.

The story line provides some rather blunt evidence of man’s inhumanity to man and to helpless creatures as well.   A reader would have to be numb not to feel an emotional connection to some of the victims – the subject of the prologue and a herd of retired circus seals.   When it comes to knowing more about the prologue victim, a handsome young man whose body is missing, the emotions felt for him may change for the reader.

Anna Travis is a newly-badged detective chief inspector who is recovering from the loss of her fiance.   To complicate matters, Anna’s supervisor is her former lover.   To say that she has raw spots in her heart is an understatement.   What begins as a missing persons report filed by an anxious father, morphs into an all-out race against evil to bring the disparate elements of the case together for a satisfying conclusion.

As a fan of the Prime Suspect series, this reviewer turned the first page of Blood Line with a definite bias toward trusting the author to provide an enjoyable read.   That trust was validated.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Blood Line was released on October 23, 2012.   “Fun, fearsome, and fiercely independent.”   Sunday Telegraph (London)

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Blood Line: An Anna Travis Novel by Lynda La Plante.

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Invisible Touch

Charlotte Street: A Novel by Danny Wallace (William Morrow, $14.99, 416 pages)

A heartwarming everyday tale of boy stalks girl.

If you’ve enjoyed reading Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) and David Nicholls (One Day), you’re likely to very much enjoy this soon-t0-be-released debut novel by Danny Wallace.   Like Hornby and Nicholls, Wallace uses a fun, positive, life affirming voice even as he writes of a world in which everything’s going to hell in a tattered hand basket.

Jason Priestly – no, not the 90210 actor – is a former schoolteacher who is now a London restaurant critic and sometime music reviewer.   He writes for London Now, a daily rag that’s handed out free to subway riders.   Jason has almost hit the wall after being unceremoniously dumped by his long-time girlfriend Sarah, and after sleeping with his boss Zoe.   Just when he thinks there’s no reason to go on, he spots The Girl…  She’s a vision in a blue dress and coat outfit struggling to load her shopping bags into a taxi.   Jason rushes to help her, receives a great smile for his efforts, and then realizes – as the cab zooms off – that she’s left something of hers behind.   Ah, so Jason has the justification he needs to spend his time searching all over greater London for her.

Jason has a lot to deal with as he begins his great adventure.   His male friends and his roommate are childish (still stuck on playing outdated video games); Sarah, now engaged and pregnant, keeps returning to him like a bad toenail; and Abbey has suddenly appeared – a young attractive university student who wants to hang around Jason, and who is seemingly willing to help him find The Girl who will be more perfect for him than she is.

Jason, like some, if not many readers, is an Everyman who is constantly looking to the future to bring him happiness as he looks past what he already possesses.   Will he find what he truly needs at the end of this romp?   You’ll need to take a journey down Charlotte Street to find out.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Charlotte Street will be released on October 23, 2012, and will be available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition e-book.   “Looks to be (this year’s) One Day…  a delight.”   http://www.net-a-porter.com/ .

“It will have you laughing out loud and melt your heart, all at once.”   Cosmopolitan (U.K.)

Note:  Not feeling great?  I’m not a doctor – although I did stay once at a Holiday Inn Express – but I can offer you this prescription:  Read this book and you’ll feel better!

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Charlotte Street: A Novel by Danny Wallace.

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Maybe I’m Amazed

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes (Da Capo, $20.00, 624 pages)

In Fab, biographer Howard Sounes achieved his self-stated goal of creating “a better balanced, more detailed and more comprehensive life of Paul McCartney than has previously been achieved.”   It surpasses the earlier-recommended Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin, and provides details that are not found in any of the band bios of The Beatles.   For example, want to know why Paul began wearing a moustache in the 1970s?   (Something the other members of the band quickly copied.)   The answer is found within the pages of Fab.   Want to know why George Martin admitted that he “made the biggest mistake of my professional career” when it came to compiling the songs for the Sgt. Pepper album?

A highly illustrative example of Sounes’s thoroughness is when he explains the many surprising similarities between Linda Eastman McCartney and Yoko Ono.   The “two strong women” both grew up as girls in Scarsdale, New York; and each of them had a very successful, domineering father.   Both attended and withdrew from Sarah Lawrence College.   Both became involved, as young women, in the New York City art scene and both had an initial unsuccessful marriage that produced a daughter.   Linda and Yoko were to each make “a beeline for the The Beatles,” and they each achieved their goal of marrying one of the best known men on the planet.   Sounes even throws in the fact that when John Lennon had a tiff with Yoko in 1973, and left her in Manhattan for a fling in Los Angeles with their assistant May Pang, he was seeing a childhood friend of Linda’s!

Most every other writer who touches the story of the Beatles will tell you that Linda and Yoko were very different women.   Kudos to Sounes for arguing that the exact opposite is true…  Another strength of this account is that Sounes does not give short shrift to McCartney’s time with Wings.   Fab devotes just as many pages covering Paul’s time with Wings, and their tours, as he does to McCartney’s time as a member of the Fab Four.   This is quite fitting as Sounes notes that during the years 1989 through 1991, Paul and Wings played live before 2.8 million people – including this reviewer and Sounes.

Sounes’s weakness is when it comes to Paul’s music.   He makes some huge mistakes, as when he critiques the song Let Me Roll It for sounding too much like John Lennon.   Wrong, it was Paul’s intent to show how “easy” it was for him to write and perform a song that sounded like John and the often-ragged Plastic Ono Band.   And he criticizes Magneto and Titanium Man from Venus and Mars as being “virtually unlistenable” – it’s still a very fresh sounding track – while ignoring the brooding classic Letting Go, where Paul compared Linda to wine and cocaine.

“There is one thing you’ve got to remember about Paul: he’s a very, very private guy.   He doesn’t like to be talking about his family, or anything to do with anything other than music, if he can possibly help it…  He doesn’t like to share things.   He takes them on his own shoulders.”

Speaking of shoulders, Sounes includes several interesting tales about Paul’s songwriting experiences, including one about how when Paul was finishing the song Hey, Jude he was determined to excise the line that reads, “The movement you need is on your shoulders.”   It was John Lennon who convinced him to leave the  line in, and John who realized that the throw-away line was brilliant (many heard it as Paul’s way of encouraging John’s son Julian to use his brain as a means of taking a hard life – a sad song – and making it better).

The Sir Paul McCartney portrayed within the pages of Fab has not led a perfect life, but then no human being does.   He is shown to be a sentimental creature (“Obviously one of my feelings is how proud my mum and dad would have been…  But I won’t go into that because I’ll start crying.”), sometimes harsh, but often generous with those in need.   His career, without a doubt, has been a fine gift to the world of music and the world in general.

This intimate biography is a model for future rock biographers.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Fab delivers all you need to know.”   Rolling Stone magazine   “A McCartney bio that intrigues all the way through.”   The Times of London/U.K.

Howard Sounes also wrote Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan.

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In Dreams

Now You See Me & Dead Scared (Lacey Flint Novels) by S. J. Bolton

Now You See Me (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 400 pages)/Dead Scared (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)

Have you ever been afraid to read a second book by an author?   If the first one is as convoluted, terrifying and overwhelming as Now You See Me, you’d understand this reviewer’s hesitation to begin reading author S. J. Bolton’s latest novel, Dead Scared.   Bolton knows how to reach that deeply-hidden vulnerable spot in her reader’s emotions.   She has also perfected the scene switch that moves the story line beyond mere entertainment to fully conscious attention.   The locations for the book make like a travel guide for Britain which balances nicely with the sinister and often gory action.

The two books bode well for an engaging series; however, main character Lacey Flint will have to tone down her activities if she wants to reach middle age.   Flint’s shady past is revealed in Now You See Me and her career as a detective constable in England evolves as do her detecting skills in Dead Scared.   There’s a love interest, albeit experienced more as longing and yearning than romance.   The plot lines are not as important as the lessons Bolton puts forth regarding trust, loyalty and vulnerability.   What you see is not always what you get.

Perhaps the best indicator for the success of a book is the affinity a reader develops for the characters.   This holds true for Lacey Flint’s effect on this reviewer.   At least one or two more tales from Bolton that feature the spunky detective would be most welcome.   Let’s hope Lacey keeps her energy level high and finds more baffling mysteries to solve.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.   “Readers will be caught up in the twists and turns that leave them hanging until the final paragraph.”   Library Journal  

  

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Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

The Burning: A Novel by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 354 pages)

Here’s a mystery novel for fans of the TV show Law and Order: Criminal Intent.   Author Jane Casey has launched a new detective series featuring a young female British detective constable named Maeve Kerrigan.   Maeve yearns to prove herself; however, as the sole female in an investigative team assigned to identify and apprehend a serial killer, she has many obstacles to overcome.   Moreover, the team’s boss, Superintendent Godley, makes every effort to provide Maeve with opportunities that will allow her to advance in her career.   Being the favorite can create some serious challenges for getting along with the rest of the investigative team.

The serial killer has been nick-named The Burning Man because his victims are found amid the ashes of their bodies.   These victims were thoroughly beaten to a pulp before being torched.   The fifth victim is found but not exactly in the same condition as the prior four.   Yes, she has been burned, but no, her head has not been bashed in.   Maeve and her coworkers sift through the scant evidence in a race to find the killer before he strikes again.

Ms. Casey uses the tried and true technique of devoting chapters to individual characters.   She uses the first person narrative in different type fonts to draw the reader into the two main character’s minds and experiences.   Maeve and Louise – the best friend of the fifth victim,  are highly developed persons with a strong dedication to their own goals.

The mystery moves along at a steady pace and the reader’s never bored or overwhelmed by the action.   Having a story told from a variety of perspectives serves to heighten the drama and intrigue.   Ms. Casey’s conclusion is also a beginning for the next book in her series.   Let’s hope it’s as good as this, her second novel.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   In Europe, the title is The Burning: A Crime Novel.   “Astute, complex, layered – and very twisted.”   Lee Child

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Brand New Day

Oxford Messed Up: A Novel by Andrea Kayne Kaufman (Grant Place Press, $24.95, 336 pages)

“I was lost, double crossed with my hands behind my back…”   Van Morrison (“Brand New Day” – Moondance album)

Yale grad Gloria Zimmerman is so germ-phobic that she endures an overnight flight from Chicago to London and then an excruciating car ride to Oxford University without peeing.   When she and her nearly bursting bladder finally reach her flat – and the private bathroom that she will sanitize and make her own – she discovers to her horror that she must share it with a neighbor.   Not only that, but he is messy and dirty – and he is occupying the toilet when she arrives.

Gloria is a Rhodes Scholar who is studying feminist poetry.   Her untreated Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has always prevented her from forming close friendships.   But even though flatmate Henry Young, a music student and son of a priggish and disapproving Oxford don, is an “unrefined, germ-infested oaf,” he intrigues her.   Or, more to the point, his taste in music does.   They share a love of the music – and the poetry – of the iconic rocker Van Morrison.

That small spit of common ground is enough for love to wedge its foot between the door and the jamb.   Henry embraces Van Morrison’s “fatalistic optimism” and dedicates himself to releasing Gloria from the prison of her cleaning compulsions.   But is it enough to keep the door open when the true extent of Henry’s vile germs becomes apparent?

Author Andrea Kayne Kaufman is a lawyer and a professor of educational leadership at DePaul University in Chicago, where she serves as chair of the Department of Leadership, Language, and Curriculum.   In an interview on her website, she speaks of her belief that people can overcome “irrevocable” damage with hard work and hope.   Her characters Henry and Gloria both view themselves as unlovable.   But as Van Morrison wrote, “It’s a marvelous night for a moondance…” and attraction compels them to muster the strength to try to help each other

Experts on OCD have raved about Kaufman’s sensitive and accurate portrayal of the condition as viewed from the inside.   But readers of all stripes will appreciate Oxford Messed Up for its unique take on what it means to love another human being, warts and all, and for its profound message of hopefulness.   Well recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Oxford Messed Up is also available in a trade paper version for $14.95, and as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.

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I’m Sorry

The Confession: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 344 pages)

His voice was hoarse, but still recognizable.   “Damn it, Morrison, there’s nothing to confess.   I just need to talk to someone.”

In The Confession, the mother and son writing team known as Charles Todd delivers the 14th episode in the evolution of Inspector Ian Rutledge, the well-respected Scotland Yard detective.   Rutledge is continuing to transition from a World War I shell-shocked soldier back into his civilian life.   Understandably, such a process is open-ended.   To make matters more complicated, Rutledge has the ghost of a fallen comrade lodged in his subconscious.   From time to time this fellow enters his current thought process with unsolicited advice and observations.

The presenting case involves an unsolicited confession to a murder; however, proving the confessor’s guilt or innocence proves to be a challenge that even Rutledge finds a bit overwhelming.   The plot becomes a bit crowded with confusing names and relationships.   Adding to the confusion are the many trips Rutledge makes between London and a small seaside village in Essex.   The characters are not who you think they are – a reasonable device considering this is a mystery.

Regardless of the red herrings, multitudes of characters and the era when the tale takes place, the basic theme ties to the presence of evil which knows no time limit.   Evil is contrasted sharply with the values Rutledge holds sacred and dear.   Along the way the reader experiences the overwhelming impact of group mentality and shared secrets.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Todd serves up plenty of period detail and plot twists, but the real attraction here is Rutledge, a shrewd, dedicated detective grappling with the demons of his past.”   Booklist

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