Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Innocent Man

The plot device of the good man wrongly accused of a crime is a popular one in our culture.  I wonder what social scientists would say about that...are we so afraid of the authority of the police that we subconsciously write stories that show us triumphing over their perceived injustice?  Well, I don't know what the prevalence of these stories says about us as a culture,  but given my reading history I have come across a lot of these kinds of mysteries.  Night Work, by Steve Hamilton, has the benefit of having an ending that I didn't really see coming-as out there as it was!

The main character, Joe Trumball, is a probation officer who specializes in working with youth, trying to keep them from entering the prison system.  His work became his saving grace when his fiancee, Laurel, was murdered on the eve of their wedding.   Two years later, he is finally getting his life back in order.  He goes on a blind date...and that is when the real craziness starts.  His date is murdered, as are two other women loosely associated with him, until finally he is accused of murdering not just the three recent women, but also his beloved Laurel.

This is a perfect popcorn novel.  The action was predictable enough to be comforting, but the twist at the end was actually surprising, at least to me.  It's not a terribly believable twist, but it doesn't really matter.  This is not a novel that will inspire any great discussions of social issues or philosophical ideas.  It is just plain fun.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's Monday!

Well, fellow book lovers, this week I actually completed a book!  <>

I finished The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin.  Here's my review...The Serpent's Tale

I am in the middle of Night Work right now, a mystery by Steve Hamilton.  It's entertaining enough, but it's your basic good-man-gets-framed-for-murders-he-didn't-commit-by-someone-with-a-grudge.  My money's on his best friend as the framer...anyway, after that I plan to read some old Rita Mae Brown paperbacks, and any other skinny volumes on my shelf, since I'll be doing a lot of it on a plane going to and from Las Vegas!  Gotta have the small ones to carry in my carry-on.  Have a great reading week!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Serpent's Tale

Any regular readers of my blog know that I am a fan of mysteries.  While I choose more literary fiction when my brain can handle it, when I am super busy and stressed with work, home, and life in general a good mystery is like comfort food.  The authors I tend to read write characters and stories that are predictable in the best sense of the word.  Slipping into an Alex Delaware novel or a Myron Bolitar story is like putting on a comfy old pair of jeans.  But sometimes a mystery writer will surprise me, and I have to say that my last read was a pleasant surprise indeed.

I guess the universe must have sensed I was ready for something different, because instead of the usual formula mystery I picked up The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin.  I was intrigued by the premise, and I was right to be.  Ms. Franklin blends modern mystery sensibilities with historical fiction in a new and ingenious way.  Her heroine, Adelia Aguilar, is a doctor of the dead, trained by the illustrious medical school in Salerno-during the 12th century.  It is a time of superstition and blind devotion to Catholicism for most people, but not for the forward thinking Adelia and her Saracen helper, Mansur.  When Henry II's mistress, the Fair Rosamund, is poisoned, she uses her medical knowledge and fierce intelligence to discover who the murderer is-and to avert a civil war between Henry and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Having been interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine for her early feminism since my teens, I've read a fair amount on her life.  It seems that Ms. Franklin is spot on with her historical accuracy.  She deftly describes the contradictions of the time-blind faith in the superiority of Catholicism, coupled with bishops and priests having relations outside their vows of chastity; the plight of the poor against the noblesse oblige of the rich.  It is almost as though Adelia herself is a visitor from our own time to this strange land of our cultural ancestors.  So trapped is she by the assumptions and attitudes people have about both women and science that she must sacrifice the man she loves just to be allowed to continue her calling to medicine-a calling she can only fulfill by pretending to be the assistant of her Muslim friend.  In that time of the Crusades, those ruling England would rather put their trust in an infidel who happened to be male than in a Christian female.  Yet within this rigid social construct she is able to use her scientific mind in ways that mirror many modern forensic techniques-at least the ones that don't require 21st century technology.  There is a lot going on in this novel, but despite the questions and challenges it raises for the reader it is not a difficult read.  As this is actually the second novel in a series, I am going to go back and read the first, Mistress of the Art of Death, as there was some backstory I was obviously missing.  If you haven't read Ariana Franklin before, I suggest you do the same.  But either way, The Serpent's Tale is worth the time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Are You Reading? Monday

This week was a slow reading week for me...I didn't finish anything!  But I am reading The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin.  It's a mixture of historical fiction and mystery-very fun so far.  I got a new game for my birthday, which is cutting into my reading time!  Maybe being home today celebrating ol' George Washington's birthday will get me get going again.  Have a great reading week!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chasing Darkness

Most of us have regrets-things that we did or did not do that we wish had turned out differently.  For Elvis Cole, the private detective main character in Robert Crais' Chasing Darkness, that thing left undone may have had fatal consequences.

Elvis Cole considers himself one of the good guys.  Whether helping the police (or rather, trying to help the police while they attempt to block his every move) or working for one of his defense attorney clients, he believes in the search for the truth.  So he is taken aback to discover that a man that he thought he had proved could not have committed the murder of a young woman three years ago may in fact have been a serial killer.  Lionel Byrd, a misanthropic man once charged with murder, is found in his house during a wild fire evacuation.  He has apparently committed suicide, holding a photo album containing "kill shots" of several women on his lap, including the woman whose murder Cole had helped clear him of.  That convinces the LAPD that Byrd was in fact the killer, and it sends Cole off in search of evidence to clear his reputation-and his conscience.

The Cole books are the kind of mystery series that loyal readers love to follow. His characters are engaging, sometimes a little scary, and always interesting.  Cole's partner is a laconic ex-cop named Joe Pike, who reminded me very much of Harlan Coben detective Myron Bollitar's best friend, Win.  With the help of Pike and his legion of contacts in all aspects of LA society soon help him discover that all is not as it seems in the case of Lionel Byrd-and that the LA police may in fact be involved in conspiracy.  The action is well-paced, and there is a good mix of exposition and character development.  The final twist is satisfying, especially since I didn't have it figured out ahead of time, as I often do when reading mysteries.  Formulaic yes, but also exciting.  This is his 12th Elvis Cole book-I would recommend jumping in and meeting Mr. Cole for yourself.

Monday, February 01, 2010

What Are You Reading? Monday

Well, after a very successful reading weekend, I am just starting a Robert Crais book, one of his Elvis Cole mysteries, Chasing Darkness.  Popcorn mysteries are about all my brain can handle right now!  Have a great week reading!