Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (Lady Julia Grey #1)

6933131“Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.”

These ominous words are the last threat that Sir Edward Grey receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, he collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a long-standing physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that her husband was murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers damning evidence for herself, and realizes the truth. Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

Review:

My part of Japan has been buffeted by tons of typhoons this season.  In anticipation of yet another worrying night I started Silent in the Grave and it was just the escapism I needed.

The good:

  • World building is here and in spades as Raybourn builds out a corner of Victorian London for us.  We don’t see a wide swath but we are shown is well crafted and interesting.
  • The writing grabbed me from the first line.

    To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor.

  • This combination of world building and just-my-style writing made this the perfect escapist read.  What, is that a typhoon howling outside?  Sorry, I can’t hear it, we’re on the hunt for a killer!
    Silent in the Grave
  • As you can see in the chart by my estimation it’s a setting-heavy novel, and they are so rare!
  • It’s a very feminist tale at heart.  Some people have gripped about it being unrealistic or too much for the times, but in our year of 2018 I will take whatever feminist escapism I can get, thank you.
  • There are topics I’ve rarely seen broached in lighter historical fiction, like (happy!) lgbtqia+ folx and flattering depictions of the Romani.
  • I didn’t have a firm idea who the killer was… but then again, I never do.

The not-so-good:

  • The espousing of feminist values will be too much for some.  Likewise, historical sticklers will be shocked that a Lady had a conversation about xyz with her brother/servant/whomever.
  • If you know a lot about the Victorian era some parts may feel over-explained.
  • The plot has a bunch of moving parts and there are many characters to keep straight.  It didn’t bother me but it may irk some.
  • If you’re looking for a straight up mystery with lots of investigating you’ll be disappointed.  This is a bit more holistic.  As I keep saying, it was fine by me but others may not care for it.
  • Lady Grey doesn’t always make the most logical decisions.  In fact, she makes a bunch of poor ones, things you can see are wrong off the bat.  A couple of them made me sigh but it was never enough to keep me away from the page.

If you’re interested in this book the best advice I can give is to hunt down a sample of the first chapter.  If you’re smitten rock on, but if it leaves you wanting you may want to look elsewhere.  Personally I can see the flaws but the world and escapism mixed with mystery made this the right book at the right time.  I’ll definitely be reading the next one on a long flight or during a period of exceptionally bad existential angst.

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Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter (Caroline Mabry #1)

18918083Spokane, Washington: a bustling city split by hurtling white-water falls. During a routine drug bust, Detective Caroline Mabry finds herself on a narrow bridge over the falls, face-to-face with a brutal murderer named Lenny Ryan. Within hours, the body of a young prostitute is found nearby, dumped along the riverbank. Then another. And another. Soon Caroline and her cynical mentor Alan Dupree are thrown headlong into the search for a serial murderer police have nicknamed the Southbank Strangler. But while Caroline hunts a killer, he may also be hunting her.

Review:

This is the perfect book for someone that has read a ton of police procedurals and gripes that they’re too “same-y”.  Walter starts down that road but by the halfway point he’s subverting some tropes and dissecting others, exposing them to the light.  I haven’t read enough murder mysteries to do it justice in this review, but I’ll try.

Caroline Mabry is a new-ish detective that finds herself in the middle of a serial murder case.  Along with her philosophical mentor and a technologically savvy greenhorn, they hunt down a killer who is offing prostitutes and hiding their bodies after rubber banding some money to their hand.

When the body count starts to rise Mabry is sent to consult with Blanton, an expert profiler of legend.  He reminded me in some ways of Robert Ressler in that he’s known for getting into the minds of men who commit these heinous acts over and over again.

Blanton is not too happy that a woman has been sent, as:

I’ve never met a woman who contributed much to these kinds of cases. Fortunately for them, they don’t have the capacity for understanding this type of killer, for understanding the fantasy.

In other words, something about raping and killing people is inherently male, a fantasy that every guy harbors in some part of his (hopefully subconscious) brain.

Disturbing, no?

Maybe there were no monsters. Maybe every man who looked at a Penthouse was essentially embarking on the same path that ended with some guy beating a woman to death and violating her with a lug wrench. No wonder Blanton was dubious of Caroline’s role in the investigation. If she couldn’t imagine the violent fantasy, what could she imagine? The victim. The fear. And what good were those?

Over Tumbled GravesBlanton continues in this vein, echoing stuff that I’ve read in nonfic about profilers and remaining very disturbing.  By framing the book from a female detective’s perspective the unease settles in our bones, and I may never look at serial killer cases the same way again.

It bothers Mabry that the victims are seen as a collection of clues and not people – the number dead matters more than who they were.  She concentrates on those killed in stead of blindly following the profilers on her way to solving the case.

Walter made me think about serial killer literature in a new way.  If you’re well read in the genre I’m sure you’ll find more flipped and subverted tropes than I did.  On top of that the writing is a cut above and Spokane, or more accurately its waterways, is a character itself.

Eventually, the water prevails, even in cities of the dead. Eventually, the water comes for us all, washes over the statues and through the crypts, topples the headstones and tumbles the graves.

Plotty with well-characterized protagonists and much to mull over, Over Tumbled Graves is a heckuva book and is perfect for my Serial Killer Summer.  I’m looking forward to returning to it once I have more murder mysteries under my literary belt.

Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb (In Death #4)

268610They died with smiles on their faces. Three apparent suicides: a brilliant engineer, an infamous lawyer, and a controversial politician. Three strangers with nothing in common–and no obvious reasons for killing themselves. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the deaths suspicious. And her instincts paid off when autopsies revealed small burns on the brains of the victims. Was it a genetic abnormality or a high-tech method of murder?

Review:

As always I have the jacket copy above but I had to take out part not for space, but for spoilers.  The last couple of lines point directly to something that takes Eve a couple hundred pages to figure out, gah.  It dented my enjoyment of this otherwise fine entry in the In Death series.

Rapture in DeathYou can see in the elements chart that plot is a big part of the appeal but I’m going to leave out a discussion here.  Four books in we have a feel for life and crime in 2058 New York, so if you’re already a fan of the series you’ll be fine. I do want to mention, though, that mind control becomes a kind of thing.  I didn’t think it would squick me out but I had a hard time reading through a couple of scenes because of it.

The best part of this series, I’m finding out, is the character development. Partner Peabody is blossoming into herself, best friend Mavis is nothing but herself, and Eve is figuring out who she is and what past events mean for her future.  Pretty much all of the major characters from past books make an appearance and it doesn’t feel crowded or forced.  Add in some levity…

For the next few days, Eve beat her head against the wall of every dead end. When she needed a change of pace to clear her mind, she beat Peabody’s head against the wall.

…and, despite the mind control squick, I’m excited to read the rest of the series. Yes, all 40+ books of it. 🙂

Immortal in Death by J.D. Robb (In Death #3)

238126She was one of the most sought-after women in the world. A top model who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted — even another woman’s man. And now she was dead, the victim of a brutal murder. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas put her professional life on the line to take the case when suspicion fell on her best friend, the other woman in the fatal love triangle. Beneath the facade of glamour, Eve found that the world of high fashion thrived on an all-consuming passion for youth and fame. One that led from the runway to the dark underworld of New York City where drugs could fulfill any desire — for a price . . .

Review:

The last In Death book I read was five years ago but I was still able to jump in with no problems. The series follows Eve Dallas, a homicide detective in New York circa 2058, and her friends and coworkers as she solves murder cases. Robb is a pen name for Nora Roberts so there’s a small romantic storyline, as well.

The mystery is engaging and kept me interested, so no problems there.  And who can say anything bad about Roberts’ writing?  The plot and characterization are solid and I like learning about the slightly dystopic world. It’s not flashy or literary but it pulls me back to the page to see what happens next.

…which is good, because I read a paperback with a tight spine and OW.  After ten or fifteen minutes pain settled into my wrists and I had to put the book down.  Thank goodness for digital and my ultra light e-reader – it would be hard for me to read as many books as I do without it!

Three books into the series the world is built out enough that Robb can flesh out minor characters, which I appreciate. I like the crew surrounding Eve and Rourke and look forward to following them through dozens (!!) more books.

Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey #3)

192892The wealthy old woman was dead – a trifle sooner than expected. The intricate trail of horror and senseless murder led from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of “amour” – staged by the debonair sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. Here the modern detective story begins to come to its own; and all the historical importance aside, it remains an absorbing and charming story today.

Review:

Listening to this book cemented my love for Ian Carmichael’s narration.  I’ve since watched bits of the BBC series, where he plays Wimsey, and you get the feeling he’s doing loving caricatures of his fellow actors.  I couldn’t help thinking, “he out-Bunters Bunter!”  Just delightful.

Unfortunately the mystery in Unnatural Death is my least favorite so far.  We have a good idea who the murderer is but Wimsey and his crew have a hard time getting motive, means, and opportunity  to align.  Genealogy and the vagaries of inheritance law play key parts, and neither sketching family trees nor debating the legal meaning of the word “issue” work well on audio.

Even with a less than enthralling story line I enjoyed hanging out with the regular cast of characters, and I’ll be saving the next book in the series for a literary “rainy day”.

A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell #3)

93938August 1923. All is quiet in the Holmes household in Sussex as Mary Russell works on academic research while Sherlock Holmes conducts malodorous chemistry experiments. But the peace quickly disappears as out of the past comes Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archeologist from the Holy Land, who brings the couple a lovely inlaid box with a tattered roll of stained papyrus inside. The evening following their meeting, Miss Ruskin dies in a traffic accident that Holmes and Mary soon prove was murder. But what was the motivation? Was it the little inlaid box holding the manuscript? Or the woman’s involvement in the volatile politics of the Holy Land? Or could it have been the scroll itself, a deeply troubling letter that seems to have been written by Mary Magdalene and that contains a biblical bombshell…

Review:

I love this series. It’s been two years since I’ve read the last book and everything came back quickly – the awesomeness of the characters, the interesting mysteries, the glimpses into human nature that are striking, quiet, and earned.

The mystery is good but it’s not the real reason I’m here. I mean, I enjoyed it, of course! The setup is interesting, and it’s always fun to see Holmes surprise Russell in some sort of disguise. But the whodunits aren’t why I keep coming back to the series. It’s the characters. They live and breathe, have faults and tics and ideals and tendencies. They’re people, damnit, and I want to spend more time with them.

At the end of the previous installment the relationship of Holmes and Russell goes through a major change… a change I was afraid would squick me out. I should have known King would have things well in hand, though. A gap of four years between the last book and this means that we miss any troubles our leads may have worked through, instead seeing them now as intellectual partners that have a deeper insight into each other than before.

Are they in love? You bet. But they don’t drool over each other. It’s an intellectual and emotional partnership first, with the physical aspects falling far behind. With both Holmes and Russell being analytical minds insights abound. For example, Russell notes:

An unread paper meant an unsettled mind, and to this day the sight of a fresh, folded newspaper on a polished surface brings a twinge of apprehension.

Some parts are just fun, like Holmes writing to Russell while on a train:

“I should prefer to have the patterns reflected either by your perception or Watson’s lack thereof; however, a stub of lead pencil and this unsavory length of butcher’s paper will have to suffice. (From the expressions on the faces of my compartment mates, none of them has ever before witnessed the miraculous generation of the written word. I shall attempt not to be distracted.)”

My e-library doesn’t have this book so I ended up buying a paper copy. I liked filling it with post its, but not being able to carry it around easily meant it took much longer to finish than I would like. I think it may have been a four star read if I were able to keep the momentum and get through it faster… guess I’ll have to reevaluate when I reread it. (‘Cause I’ll totally reread it!)

Jackaby by William Ritter (Jackaby #1)

23003390Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Review:

I mostly enjoyed my time with Jackaby, but after coming highly recommended I was hoping for more.

The good:

  • I enjoy the time and setting, 1890s New England not being one of my usual literary destinations.
  • The story is Sherlock Holmes inspired with a paranormal element.
  • The characters were interesting and have room to grow as the series continues.
  • Even though the story is about Jackaby and his assistant there is no wiff of romance between them, huzzah!  The titular-guy-falls-for-the-new-gal trope has been way, way over done.
  • In its place there’s the hint of a romance with another character and I like where it may head.

The not-so-good:

  • While I like the setting it wasn’t evoked very well.  I could picture the inside of houses well enough but once the action headed outside I felt lost.
  • The mystery wasn’t all that mysterious.
  • There are tons of paranormal creatures but the lack of world building makes each feel like a one off.  I don’t need a taxonomy of creepy crawlies but a hint at some structure would be nice.
  • Overall the writing and characterization were thin and obvious.  It’s a common complaint I have with YA books, but there you go. ~shrug~

While I might recommend Jackaby to my niece I don’t see myself continuing the series.

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey #2)

192888Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt – until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket and was Lord Peter’s brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey’s own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn’t enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be – a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt … a grieving fiancée with suitcase in hand … and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey.

Review:

I loved the first Peter Wimsey book, Whose Body?, and have been doing my best not to blast through the entire series.  I’m saving them for when I need a fun, thinking, comfort read and Clouds of Witness delivers.

This time I went with the audiobook and I have a much better grasp of the characters now that I’ve heard them.  It must be hard to do British narration, having to take into account geographical accents as well as those of class, and Ian Carmichael does a great job.   The scene with a drunk Wimsey is pure gold that left me giggling.

The mystery itself kept me interested and guessing… the latter isn’t a high bar considering this is me, but hey.  I enjoyed the twists as well as the meta comments Sayers puts in here and there.

Here’s the thing, though – I don’t know if I want to continue the series in print, which shows off the writing, or on audiobook, where the characters come to life.  Have you read the Peter Wimsey series?  Do you prefer audio or print?

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Synopsis:

10112885Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an engima. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.

On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.

For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.

The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality.

ONCE WE FACE OUR DEEPEST FEARS, WHAT LIES ON THE OTHER SIDE?

Review:

The last thing I want to do is spoil anyone so please excuse any vagueness or odd hand waving. Hopefully those who have read the book will know what I’m getting at.

Like any good mystery we start off with a bunch of intriguing questions – was Ashley’s death really a suicide? Who is this reclusive Cordova guy, anyway? And what kind of guy would make such twisted films?

The (non-spoilery) good stuff:

  • The backstory. Pessl obviously put a ton of work into Cordova’s filmography and it shows. I was worried that with a dozen or so film titles being thrown around I would get confused but there was always ample context.
  • How the arc of the book as a whole mirrors… something else. While some might be annoyed with the end I thought it was fitting, especially how it related to… that something else. ~shakes a fist at the spoiler-free sky~
  • Cordova’s philosophy. I can’t say I agree with it, but it’s intriguing and made me think about how I’m living my own life. Not to mention that I need to read a certain poem now.
  • Most of the characters are on the “unlikeable” side of the scale but they didn’t make me want to throw the book across the room. All have their own motivations (however twisted) and it works.

The (zero spoiler) not-so-good stuff:

  • In the first half of the book question after question is raised but precious few are answered, and around the 50% mark I started to lose interest. Why should I keep reading if it just digs me deeper into a hole? Near the end things picked up and gave me some stuff to think about but it was a struggle to get there.
  • The extras available through the “decoder” app. A couple were neat (a filmography, primary documents) but some were maddening. An interview with a murderer was especially bad, because…
  • …the interview is poorly written. The questions sound like they’re being read in order, no matter what the subject says. The murderer in particular leaves all these juicy tidbits hanging in the air, begging for follow up, but the interviewer just goes to the next question on her list. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Terry Gross but it was beyond annoying.
  • The voice acting in the app left much to be desired. It sounded like reading, not acting out a part.

Overall it was an interesting read that left me thinking but sadly it didn’t live up to the hype.

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (Fox and O’Hare #1)

Synopsis:

16169737FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare is known for her fierce dedication and discipline on the job, chasing down the world’s most wanted criminals and putting them behind bars. And while Kate has made quite a name for herself for the past five years, the only name she’s cared about is Nicolas Fox—an international crook she wants in more ways than one.

Audacious, handsome, and dangerously charming, Nicolas Fox is a natural con man, notorious for running elaborate scams on very high-profile people. At first he did it for the money. Now he does it for the thrill. He knows that the FBI has been hot on his trail—particularly Kate O’Hare, who has been watching his every move. For Nick, there’s no greater rush than being pursued by a beautiful woman . . . even one who aims to lock him up. But just when it seems that Nicolas Fox has been captured for good, he pulls off his greatest con of all: he convinces the FBI to offer him a job, working side by side with Special Agent Kate O’Hare.

Review:

What we have here is a typical heist novel set out in the way you would expect. We meet the characters, see a previous con to see what the baddie can do, set up the Big One, put together a crew, then pull off the whole shebang in spite of complications. While the tried and true formula is a little worn in spots Evanovich and Goldberg handle it well enough.

Early on I got the feeling that they’re building a world for a long series. Kate and Nick can do all kinds of different heists, characters’ back stories can be explored, new crew members can be brought in… in other words, infinite combinations of the same thing. And isn’t that what a mystery series is about? All the setting up left some characters a little flat (a moment here for poor movie effect/blood splatter dude) but I’m sure they’ll get their due in upcoming books.

I love witty banter and Evanovich and Goldberg deliver. Some bits made me laugh out loud, like when Kate’s sister Megan asks what her dream is. Kate replies,

“Daniel Craig, a tropical island, a quart of Oreo cookie ice cream, and a pair of handcuffs.”
“Who’s wearing the cuffs?” Megan asked.

Gender is handled well throughout, which makes sense as the novel was written by a male/female team. Kate, an ex-Navy SEAL, is more likely to come up with ideas using brute force while Nick, the con man, is more likely to come up with a sneaky plan. Both use sex and charm to get their marks. Willie, who can drive anything with a motor, is female. Good signs all.

A couple things did bother me, though. Kate is described early on as someone whose stomach is “flat and toned despite her terrible eating habits”. A girl who has her cake and eats it too, grah!

The cast also contains two potential deus ex machina – Nick, with his smarts and incredible list of contacts, and Kate’s father, with a somewhat different set of smarts and an even more incredible list of contacts. I can forgive one know-it-all but two is a bit much. As a result I didn’t feel much stress as the big heist goes awry at the end of the book – someone was sure to fix everything somehow.

The Heist was a fun escapist read but if you like real thinking mysteries you’ll have to go elsewhere.