Posts Tagged: Books
Recently, I ventured to Scotland for “holiday” (as the Brits call their vacations), armed with my iPad, loaded with an Ian Rankin mystery. Rankin, a Scot, is best known for his Inspector Rebus series, set in the gritty underbelly of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. I’ve read quite a few Rankin books, both from his lengthy John Rebus series and his standalone thrillers, and have always been mystified at what drives an author to set story after story in the same town (there are 19 Rebus books in the series, which the author ended in 2007).
Once in the historic city, I began to see what inspired Rankin to write Rebus in Edinburgh for 20 years (his first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, was published in 1987). Edinburgh, like any major city, is chaotic and cluttered and dirty and crowded and on and on. But, UNLIKE most major cities (especially the ones on THIS side of the pond), Edinburgh is filled with a captivating and fascinating history around every corner. And, because of its hilly, winding streets and dark gray buildings (the porous stone has absorbed years of soot and dirt), not to mention the pretty regular mist and/or fog that hangs over the atmosphere, Edinburgh lends itself perfectly to the criminal element. This is not to say I encountered any nefarious sorts in Edinburgh (hardly! — unless you count men in kilts nefarious) but I can understand why Rankin’s Rebus feels so at home here…fighting crime in a city from another time…feeling almost like another world. So, if you want to visit Edinburgh, you can either hop a plane at O’Hare or you can pick up a John Rebus mystery by Ian Rankin. Both give off the same eerie effect, but one will be MUCH easier on your wallet (whether in British Pounds or dollars!).
Oh, and Rebus is also available as a TV series on DVD: the first set with John Hannah as Rebus and the three more sets with Ken Stott as the Edinburgh inspector.
Wickham scores again…this time with a fun, highly biting commentary on the social strata in England. Not unlike my favorite author Edith Wharton (who wrote about society in early 1900s New York), Wickham here uses her fine writing skills to make sweeping and also pointed gestures about the differences and familiarities between the middle and upper classes. Not that I would compare Wickham’s writing or plots to Wharton, but Wickham’s finger is definitely on the pulse of what makes society both tick and falter here. The story takes us to a fine manor house in English Countryside (but not far enough out maybe). Caroline and Patrick, the manor house, nouveau riche owners, invite several couples over for a weekend-long tennis party, including a stuffy man and his new rich wife and then former neighbors from their old “poorer” neighborhood out on the outskirts of London. What transpires is funny, sad but most of all a I’m sure pseudo-realistic view of what goes on behind closed doors of those large stately homes. LOTS of fun to read and educational as well for those interesting in climbing to social ladder!
One of the better novels I have read in a while…this one makes you laugh, cry and long for your friends. Rayner, a Brit, weaves a compelling tale filled with sudden loss, friendship, gradual loss, sexual identity and all sorts of relationships. The main characters are the storytellers here…Karen who experiences sudden loss right at the beginning of the book, Anna, who is Karen’s friend and is in the midst of a doomed relationship with a man with dependency problems, and Lou who enters Karen and Anna’s lives through sad happenstance and who is dealing with her own private identity battles. All of these characters on their own would make compelling fiction, but all three of them create a vivid and dynamic tale that not only holds the reader’s interest, but inspires them as well. An excellent novel!
From Chicago author Libby Fischer Hellmann, here’s a top-notch mystery with a strong female main character, Georgia Davis. She’s feisty, proud, confident and able. She’s a good PI who isn’t a “superhero” type…meaning she get afraid and is not ashamed to show it. In Doubleback, Davis gets involved with a kidnapping/murder/financial malfeasance plot that takes her from Chicago to the Arizona-Mexico border. Hellmann’s writing style is good, though I think sometimes she can be a bit choppy. But, the great character construction and well-laid-out plot make up for this. Though the plot can be a bit far-fetched (as most thrillers and mysteries can be), Davis also seems believable in her role…meaning she doesn’t just happen to “fall” into situations, rather the escapades she finds herself in are essential to the plot. I would read more tales about Georgia Davis and her sometimes partner-in-crime Ellie Foreman (Hellmann does a series with Foreman as more of a primary character too).
Knowing I’m always in the market for a good mystery, especially a good British one, I recently got a recommendation to read the Ruth Galloway series from Elly Griffiths. And what I discovered is a fantastic new writer who weaves an excellent British mystery with an archaeological spin. Set in the eastern English county of Norfolk, Ruth is an archeologist who gets called in by the local authorities to check the age of a skeleton that was found. This find leads to Ruth getting emerged in a missing person’s case and a whole web of mystery and murder. I VERY MUCH liked the chemistry between Ruth and the inspector who works with her…Nelson. And a surprise at the end of the book means that their relationship is only beginning. Nelson is the kind of “man-you-love-to-hate…” meaning he’s gruff and harsh, with a sweet side and a heart of gold. And Ruth herself is a refreshing female mystery character, who is less amateur sleuth and more “right place, right time” gal. She never ASKS to be involved in the police investigation…it just sort of happens. And Ruth is full of spunk and vitality, though she’s more than her fair share of self-effacing. I will read more from Griffiths and look forward to where she leads Ruth and Nelson next!
One of the best beginnings of a mystery (historical or otherwise) I’ve read in a long while. I was just literally fixated for the first 100 pages. After that, we gets a little too convoluted with less-than-necessary characters and too many plotlines that pop up and lead nowhere. But, it is a must read for those first chapters! The story revolves around nurse Bess Crawford who is working the frontlines during WWI when she stumbles upon a body that was not shot, but rather had its neck broken. On her way to report this, she faints and succumbs to the Spanish flu, an epidemic that taking almost as many lives as the war. Once she is better, she finds out that the only people who know of this “mysterious” body are dead, most likely having been killed. Bess is a fabulously feisty character who is almost as good of an amateur sleuth as she is a nurse. A mother and son writing team work under the pseudonym Charles Todd and their writing is highly vivid and strong and the way they create the mounting suspense leaves the reader craving more. I could not put this one down. I will continue to read this Bess Crawford series for sure!
First of all, I don’t want to give the impression I am pitting these authors against each other. Anytime I see “vs.” between two names, I think of an anticipated boxing match. My goal here is to compare, non-violently, these two historical romantic suspense authors and help readers decide if one or both of these authors are for them.
First, Deanna Raybourn, who I have loved since her first book featuring Lady Julia Grey, Silent in the Grave, is an author with an exceedingly light touch. A light touch in writing style…a light touch when it comes to Lady Julia and a light touch when it comes to the story. Nothing ever gets too dark or threatening here. Even when Lady Julia or another character, such as her P.I. husband Nicholas, encounters a dangerous and potentially fatal situation, Raybourn always shines a little air of affability into the mix. Saying that, this does not mean I do not savor everything Lady Julia does. I do and I try my best to wait patiently for her next book. All I’m saying is that there is no sense of continual doom with Raybourn like there are with some suspense writers. She keeps it light…and I keep reading.
Onto Tasha Alexander, who I first discovered at a mystery writer’s conference where I bought a book and had Alexander sign it based on hearing her speak. But, the book sat on my shelves for over a year until Julia Keller, the Chicago Tribune’s Cultural Critic, wrote a piece on Alexander (December 4, 2011, Arts and Entertainment) for Keller’s LitLife column. So, I got the book, A Fatal Waltz, out, dusted it off and began, quite pleased I did. Unlike Raybourn, Alexander’s writing style is a little more refined, a little more literary. I hesitate to say more polished, since I think Raybourn is a good writer, but Alexander’s entire style does enhance the affluent world that her main character, Lady Emily Ashton, lives in. Both Raybourn’s Lady Julia and Alexander’s Lady Emily are wealthy Victorian London crime-solving ladies, but the way Alexander writes her tales includes the required upper-class effect. Does this mean I like Alexander more? No. It means that when I’m looking for something lighter, I will reach for Raybourn and Lady Julia. When I am ready for something more meaty and more challenging, I’ll pull out another Alexander and Lady Emily.
Both writers create fiercely strong ladies who enjoy solving crimes, even though it’s highly unladylike in late 1800s London. Both writers weave compelling stories that hold the reader’s interest from start to finish. Basically, both writers excel in this genre (or is historical romantic suspense a SUBgenre?). Try both and see for yourself.
OK — I LOVE this series but some of the more recent ones of the series have been just so-so. As with all of them in the Lady Julia Grey series, Raybourn pairs Grey with her now-husband, private investigator Nicholas Brisbane, who is trying his best to control Julia’s wild and un-ladylike impulses. In this book, Brisbane and Julia find themselves embroiled in a murder inquiry where psychics and séances are par for the course. Naturally, their lives are in perpetual danger as they do their investigating, but that never slows them down much. Since they are now married, the sexual tension has been replaced by a type of fun, bickering tension…Brisbane is always worried about Julia…Julia is always upset he does not include her in his investigating. Yes, it sounds a little tedious, but somehow Raybourn makes it work. The first one in this series, Silent in the Grave, is still the best, but this one is a close second! I’m glad Raybourn is back in top form!