Sunday, August 23, 2015

Time of Death by Mark Billingham

Description: The astonishing thirteenth Tom Thorne novel is a story of kidnapping, the tabloid press, and a frightening case of mistaken identity.

Tom Thorne is on holiday with his girlfriend DS Helen Weeks, when two girls are abducted in Helen’s home town. When a body is discovered and a man is arrested, Helen recognizes the suspect’s wife as an old school-friend and returns home for the first time in twenty-five years to lend her support. As his partner faces up to a past she has tried desperately to forget and a media storm engulfs the town, Thorne becomes convinced that, despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, the police have got the wrong man. There is still an extremely clever and killer on the loose and a missing girl who Thorne believes might still be alive.

Time of Death is the 13th Tom Thorne by Mark Billingham but the first one I’ve read. There wasn’t a problem picking up the story, as it functions as a stand alone. The characters were interesting, particularly Hendricks when he entered the picture. His interactions with Tom and Helen, Tom’s fellow officer and girlfriend, were particularly entertaining.

The story revolves around the disappearance of two girls from Helen’s home village, one of whom has turned up dead. The husband of a childhood friend is accused and Helen decides to divert her and Tom’s vacation to be with her old friend despite the years since she’d last seen her. Tom tags along and can’t help but unofficially intrude in the investigation. He’s convinced the local cops have it wrong but having a difficult time proving any alternative theories.

Time of Death is a cleverly put together thriller, with fairly dark subject matter. Tom’s instincts that something’s not right hang on the thinnest of evidence, but it’s all laid out in a convincing manner. From facts that don’t seem to quite add up to the desire by local cops to close the case, not out of malice, but out of hope to put the events behind them.

Helen’s reasons for returning are as much a mystery as the dead and missing girls. Her reasons are eventually revealed, but her interactions with just about everyone else are often jarring and she comes across as somewhat unlikeable.

Hendricks is a breath of fresh air when he enters the story and despite the darkness of the subject matter, he brings levity and lightness. He is definitely a character I want to see more of.

Time of Death is not a page turner, but it moves forward at a steady pace along with an exciting conclusion. This is a well written book with engaging characters and a thoughtful plot. Existing fans of the series will be satisfied and new readers will be encouraged to continue reading. Recommended read.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry

Description: The 30th novel in the popular series featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, along with favourite characters Vespasia and Narraway.

When Commander Thomas Pitt is ordered to protect a young woman visiting London from Spain, he cannot see why this is a job for Special Branch.  When she disappears in the dead of night from Angel Court, however, he is faced with a dangerous mystery.  Sofia preached new, and some say blasphemous, religious ideals, and her life has been threatened.  But Pitt senses there is some deeper and more dangerous reason for her kidnap - if that is what it is.

Three men are caught up in the hunt for Sofia - her cousin, a banker for the Church of England, a popular and charismatic politician, and a journalist who seems determined to goad Pitt to the truth.  Each seem to be hiding something, and as the search for answers stretch from London to Spain, Pitt knows that time is running out, and the nation's security could be at stake …

The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry is the latest in the long-running historical mystery series featuring Charlotte and Thomas Pitt. This was my first time reading Anne Perry but either the series is getting a little long in the tooth or this was not the best example of the quality of the series.

The book centers around Sofia Delacruz, an English expatriate who has returned from Spain to preach a form of the gospel that is considered either revolutionary or blasphemous depending on your perspective. Pitt, as head of Special Branch is assigned to protect her. It seems a trivial duty, but when she goes missing and two of the women who were with her are found gruesomely murdered, it is clear that more is going on than would appear on the surface. This triggers an investigation of the both the people around her, as well as her family in England and husband in Spain.

Sofia goes missing relatively early in the story, which is unfortunate as she is the most interesting character in it. Pitt’s search for her is rather pedestrian as well as political considering Sofia’s family’s status, the circumstances of her marriage in Spain, and the timing of her decision to return to England.

There is much discussion between Pitt and his wife and their children about Sofia’s message and her disappearance. The self-involvement of a former cricket star turned politician and an ambitious reporter add some intrigue, but the detecting part is fairly by the numbers. Uncovering Sofia’s real motive for coming to England is intriguing, but a lot of that is left in the hands of Charlotte’s aunt Vespasia and her husband (and Pitt’s former boss) Narraway. Vespasia and Narraway make a far more interesting couple than Charlotte and Thomas Pitt in this story.

The story is intriguing and the resolution satisfying, but the pace drags and some of the characters feel a little stagnant. In the audio version, the narration is a little flat and lacking distinction between characters. This necessitates a close listening and paying attention to context to make sure you know who is speaking.

The longevity of this series means it has a number of fans. For new readers, I would pick a different place in the series to start.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Description:  Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.
Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.
Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior.
She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Crossing half the world to find allies against the ruthless High King, she learns harsh lessons of blood and deceit.
Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon.
Beside her on the journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill, a failure in his eyes and hers, but with one chance at redemption.
And weapons are made for one purpose.
Will Thorn forever be a pawn in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path?

Half the World is the second book in the Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. The narrative in this book is handed over from Jarvi, the half-crippled king from the first book, to Thorn Bathu. Thorn is a teen girl who only wants to be a warrior. She is unfairly sentenced to death for the accidental death of a fellow warrior-in-training when an exercise is rigged against her. Her friend Brand loses his own place for standing up for her.

Yarvi doesn’t disappear in this book, but he does take a back seat. Still, it his manipulation of events and long-range plans that drive the narrative. He manipulates Thorn and Brand into becoming tools he can use. He likewise maneuvers half the kingdoms in the Shattered Sea into unlikely allies.

Abercrombie does an excellent job of creating memorable and likeable characters. In somewhat of a departure from a lot of YA fantasy, the battle here is less a straightforward battle between good and evil and more the political machinations of persons with different goals. The extent to which the goals benefit individuals or their respective kingdoms or both is never clear.

The events in Half the World,  as seen through Thorn’s eyes, are fascinating. The thrill is watching Thorn’s growth, both as a young woman and as a warrior being sharpened into a deadly tool. Brand also undergoes a great deal of growth in understanding himself and his place in the world.

The action is top notch and the political manipulations add a level of complexity to what may otherwise be a simple story. The audiobook is narrated by John Keating who does an amazing job at bringing the characters to life. The voices are easily distinguishable and he underscores the drama and humor in the story without overpowering it.

Half the World is an exciting and intriguing middle book in the Shattered Sea trilogy and I look forward to its conclusion.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Breaking Creed by Alex Kava

Description:  Ryder Creed and his dogs have been making national headlines. They’ve intercepted several major drug stashes smuggled through Atlanta’s airport. But their newfound celebrity has also garnered some unwanted attention.

When Creed and one of his dogs are called in to search a commercial fishing vessel off the coast of Pensacola Beach, they discover a secret compartment. But the Colombian cartel’s latest shipment isn’t drugs. It’s human…

Meanwhile, FBI agent Maggie O’Dell is investigating a series of murders she suspects to be the work of a brutal assassin. By the time she uncovers a hit list with Creed’s name on it, it might be too late to help him. For someone is already on the way…

Breaking Creed introduces a new character for Alex Kava in the form of Ryder Creed. Creed is a dog trainer who helps law enforcement find everything from drugs to missing persons or bodies. He’s a likeable enough character, but I never completely warmed to him. Maggie O’Dell, the veteran of several other Alex Kava thrillers comes across as a more assured and likeable character. Her, along with Creed’s dogs (especially Grace) are the real stars of this book.

Since the story here revolves around drug smugglers and one young girl’s attempts to escape them, half-hearted as it is, there should have been more sympathy for the girl. I just never liked her that much. Many of her actions, and Creed’s as well, were just too stupid to forgive. You can accept a certain amount of character stupidity if there is a reason for their actions, be it acting on bad information or making emotional decisions that are recognized as bad upon reflection. That doesn’t happen here. There is no excuse given for some of the mistakes and lapses in judgement.

The bad guys aren’t much smarter, just more ruthless, which I guess evens things out. The action is good, especially an attack on Creed at his home which cleverly involves Creeds well trained dogs. The writing flows well and Maggie O’Dell is an interesting character, but the dogs are the real star of the show. I listened to the audio book and the narration was done well.

Breaking Creed is an interesting book but not a standout. Maggie O’Dell is a more interesting character and I’m more likely to follow her stories than ones with Creed, although I will miss the dogs.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Description:  Link has won an ardent following for her ability, with each new short story, to take readers deeply into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed fictional universe. The nine exquisite examples in this collection show her in full command of her formidable powers. In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a middle-aged movie star makes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.

Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz,superheroes, the Pyramids . . . These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded by sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty—and the hidden strengths—of human beings. In Get in Trouble, this one-of-a-kind talent expands the boundaries of what short fiction can do.

I’d been wanting to read Kelly Link for a long time because of all the good things I had heard about her. The collection of stories in Get in Trouble confirms her reputation as one of the best short-story writers working today.

Link’s work defies easy pigeonholing. It straddles genres and time periods. What it does is create an immediate sense of place and of mood.  Always slightly surreal and with a sense of foreboding. You quickly identify with her characters, even if you are never sure if you can trust them. She draws you in and pulls you along with beautiful prose and twists that you can’t quite see coming, even if you know something is coming.

Link’s characters remain grounded and real, no matter how bizarre the situation they find themselves in. You can find something of yourself in her characters, which at times is truly frightening. Her settings are fully realized no matter how far from our reality they stray.  

The nine stories in Get in Trouble criss-cross the world in setting, and even venture into outer space. Each of them feels real. These are stories to be experienced as much as read. Kelly Link deserves all her accolades. If you haven’t read her before, you are in for a treat. This is a great collection of short stories.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.