Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book, er, report: Through a Glass, Darkly, by Donna Leon

Through a Glass, Darkly is a Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery from prolific author Donna Leon. I've read and heard about this series often through the years, but for some reason never picked one up to read it.  It's our February book for the library mystery book club, so here's my chance.

(The cover on the library copy I had, only without the intensely 
annoyingly poorly-placed library stickers! Grrrrrrr....)

Commissarrio Brunetti is a very likeable detective, a contented family man, seemingly easy-going, thoughtful and honorable, but not naïve in the convoluted politics of Venetian power. This case starts out as a sort of off-the-books look-see on his part, having been requested by a friend of a friend to find out if there is really any danger of the 2nd friend's decidedly awful father actually trying to kill 2nd friend's husband, as he's threatened to do (before witnesses). It's all involved with Venetian politics, environmental malfeasance, and a couple of the famous Murano glassworks factories still operating in the city.

I'm not going to try to get into it any farther than that - for one thing, it's too complicated for me to try, but mostly to avoid spoilers. It does become a murder mystery, sadly, and as is apparently frequent in Brunetti's life, Powers-That-Be do kind of swirl around him and threaten his career but he never lets that take precedence over hunting down the killer.

After reading this, and enjoying it very much, it did occur to me that it doesn't have the nail-biting, heart-pounding dénouement we perhaps expect these days in murder mysteries. Again, I'll stop with that statement to avoid spoilers. It isn't that the stakes are not high, they are frighteningly high, but it's not resolved with car crashes and shootouts and high-wire theatricals. And that is just fine with me. Along with a great hero and a good mystery, it's fun reading about everyday life in Venice, a city I'll never get to. I'm really glad there are like, dozens of Brunetti books that I still have to look forward to!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: Remains of Innocence by J.A. Jance

I think this is the first Jance mystery I've read. It's our book for the mystery book club at the library tomorrow evening, so I thought I'd give myself a couple of days to get it read - but I read it straight through, took me about 7 hours yesterday afternoon through evening. So that should tell you I liked it! It's a real page-turner.

It starts with a young woman, Liza,  steeling herself to enter her dying mother's house. Her mother was a lifelong abusive alcoholic and hoarder, and Liza left home the minute she graduated from high school, and though she lived in the nearby small town she hadn't seen her mother for many years. What she finds in the house turns her life upside down in very short order: Over a hundred thousand dollars in cash, hidden in the thousands of books and magazines mixed among the filth and debris in that nightmarish house.  She doesn't realize it's tied to her father who abandoned the family when she was an infant; she knows almost nothing about him.

She uses some of the money to hire locals to empty and clean out, and refurbish the house for sale, while her mother is in hospice. A stranger approaches her with a dire, one-sentence, obscure warning at her mother's funeral, and before that day is over the house is burned to the ground, and her innocent, elderly landlady is brutally murdered. Within 24 hours Liza is on the run from whoever is looking for her - heading for her long-estranged brother in Bisbee, Arizona who is the only person on earth she has left.

In the meantime (as the old movies liked to say), Arizona’s Cochise County Sheriff Joanna Brady has a brutal murder of a locally-loved developmentally disabled man to deal with, and she has to call the ME back from his scheduled getaway weekend. He agrees, resentfully, but then he never shows up for the autopsy. The first murder involved disturbing evidence of a potential Beginner Serial Killer's work, but the second murder is out-and-out torture and murder. Short-handed, Brady juggles all the inter-jurisdictional and budgetary burdens her office is plagued with as well as trying to do her own family justice.

I had only one complaint about this book and it was about an increasingly annoying habit of Liza constantly - I mean CONSTANTLY - identifying the local people she knew with their regular order at the diner she worked at. It was fresh and kind of cute the first two times, but I have to say, eventually I almost gave up on the book because of it. For awhile I was thinking, well, Jance must have had a reason to do this - maybe what someone eats will turn out important to the story. After that though I realized nothing she could do with it could make it worth the aggravation. I was never so glad for anything as when Liza finally left town and got away from all those diner regulars. JEEZ it was annoying!

HOWEVER, that said, I really like the characters and the story and the descriptions, and that she sprinkled real surprises throughout the plot. I will definitely recommend this to mystery readers, and I'll be reading more Jance in the future!

Monday, January 04, 2016

2015's reading tally, and a new book review

and on the day I'm "supposed" to post a book review. Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

OK I added up all the books I read in 2015, and it amounted to 73. That's 3 more than in 2014. I started quite a few more than I finished; as I get older, my patience is thinner and I'm more ready to put a book aside if it doesn't grab me in the first 50 pages. Time's running out, you see, and there are a lot of good books out there for me to find!

One of the books I read last year in 2013 was London Falling, by Paul Cornell. It's the first in a series about a special office in the Metropolitan Police Division (if that is the right name) that deals with supernatural crime in London. Cornell writes a compelling book, with interesting and (sometimes) likeable characters. I am not always good at following supernatural phenomena as written in books, and I have to say there were times here when I didn't really know what was going on, but that didn't mean I didn't want to find out how it ended up! It's a police procedural, in many ways, with the focus being on bad guys of some other dimension that have always shaped and influenced human societies in the London area, from even before there were people there. The odds are always stacked well against our heroes, and they don't help matters sometimes with their own weaknesses and doubts, but they're very smart, talented people and while all is not set right in the end - far from it - they manage to win through enough to make me hope for a long series to enjoy.

This week I read the next one in the series, The Severed Streets. Someone - or some thing - is murdering rich white men in highly public circumstances, yet no witnesses seem able to say what happened. Our DI James Quill and his now Sighted (able to see much from the other plane, wherever that is) squad, are on the case - which soon seems to be an extension and variation from the old familiar Jack the Ripper. I won't say much about this book except that it's even better than the first one, there's a scene about a third of the way in where I found myself thinking "Hang on, that character sounds a lot like - NO WAY! It IS [famous author]!  Well that's interesting. [Famous author] and Cornell must be buddies, for him to be kind of a featured minor character."  And about 2/3 of the way through, something really awful happens - something doubly awful, had me going NO NO NO NO but it was Yes. And so of course I had to keep reading until 3 this morning to get to the end to see what happened next. I can't imagine what the next one's going to be like. With some truly shattering changes happening to some of the squad members, and relationships within the squad even more fraught and precarious than ever, I feel sure it'll be a doozy. This is one (as is the first novel) I'll be re-reading through the years.