Tag Archives: mystery/suspense

I want to like noir mysteries…

…but somehow they haven’t worked for me.  Maybe I’m picking the wrong ones?

Off Side seemed promising – a mystery set in Barcelona in the years just before the Olympics.

Pepe Carvalho could care less about soccer, but then an executive from Barcelona’s world-famous soccer team pays him a visit. “The center forward will be killed at dusk,” reads the note the exectuvie gives to Carvalho.

With that, the detective, former communist and one-time employee of the CIA, must find out where this note is from.  Is the threat real? Is it the work of one person? Or is it one of the real estate moguls tearing Barcelona apart in their battle over the most important properties of Catalonia?

Here Montalban does for the game of soccer what he has done for food. In an exquisite portrait of Spain’s most beloved sport, soccer and politics mix in a gripping mystery about the reckless excesses – and limits – of power.

I only managed to finish 86 of 275 pages; I’m not sure how many chapters that worked out to be because although there are what appear to be chapter breaks, they aren’t numbered.  The writing was fine, but I was just not interested in the story or engaged by any of the characters.  Carvalho came across as remote, aloof, and condescending.  The women were all pathetic prostitutes or greedy prostitutes or drunk shrews or twits.  The characters all complain about foreigners a lot — they are a worse class of criminals than old-fashioned Catalan criminals.  Eighty six pages in, and I’m not sure why anyone really cares about the center forward enough to make him a possible target.

The book might get better.  But I’m beginning to think that noir mysteries are just not for me.


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Recycled plots and characters

Nostalgia has me pick up Nora Roberts releases every so often.  And her new one, The Liar, was for sale on Kindle for $5.49 a while back, which is a bargain given the hardback price.  So…

This new one wasn’t terrible.  It was pretty standard NR.  NR is a good storyteller.  She is.  And she has a distinctive voice.

But I’m really over the home reno and gardening porn.  And I find her dismissal of urban community to be problematic.  Rural communities are not inherently better or kinder or closer, which is the implicit message I get in a lot of her work. (Which makes the NYC setting of her In Death books kind of jarring, to be honest.)

I found the characterization of the narrator-heroine to be pretty inconsistent.  She was young and naive and a victim, and not at all responsible for anything.  She’s strong and independent and bounces back from a years-long emotionally abusive relationship immediately; and she’s beautiful, and has a professional-quality voice, and has business acumen, and wonderful design taste, and is the best daughter and mother ever.  In short, she’s perfect and the hero falls in love at first site.  The hero was a non-entity really.  All the Bad Guys (and there are bad guys and Bad Guys) are one note evil and/or petty, targeting the heroine because they are Just That Evil/Mean. And the plot twist is pretty predictable to almost anyone who has ever read suspense or watched a Julia Roberts or Ashley Judd movie.  I kind of wonder if NR has written something similar in the past, but don’t care enough to dredge my memory through her backlist to figure it out.

I’m sorry to say that I think I’m entirely done with NR.  It was a good run while it lasted.  (It lasted 25 years, since I started reading her as an early teen, which is a pretty good run.)

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Plus and minus

On the plus side:  I finished a book!

On the minus side:  It was kind of ~meh~.

The book in question is Why Kings Confess by CS Harris, one of the library books I picked up on Saturday.  It read well enough that I managed to finish it by Sunday evening, so it can’t have been terrible.  It was just…predictable.  As in, it was clear who and why, although not necessarily how, fairly early on.  But then again, it’s a 19th century police procedural, so maybe I should cut the author some slack.

Next up is A Corner of the World, which opened well.  The Richard Castle book is still sitting on my coffee table, so maybe I’ll circle back to it eventually.

And there’s tennis to watch (because #sleepisfortheweak) and the next few episodes of Orphan Black.  On the plus side, it’s different.  On the minus side, the science is kind of ridiculous even for a non-science-y person like me.


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Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Copyright: Published 2010 by William Morrow

Genre: Mystery/suspense/procedural

From Lehane’s website:

Amanda McCready was four years old when she vanished from her blue-collar Boston neighborhood. Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro risked everything to find her—only to orchestrate her return to a neglectful mother and broken home. Twelve years later, Amanda, now sixteen, is gone again.

The disappearance of little Amanda was the case that troubled Kenzie and Gennaro more than any other. Still haunted by their consciences, they must now revisit the nightmare that once tore them apart—following the trail of a lost teenager into a world of identity thieves, methamphetamine dealers, and Russian gangsters, right up to the doorstep of a dangerously unstable crime boss and his demented wife. Once again Patrick and Angie will be putting everything that matters to them on the line in pursuit of the answer to the burning question: Is it possible to do the right thing and still be dead wrong.

This is a series book – must the whole series be read in order for the book to make sense? I have read Sacred, an earlier Kenzie/Gennaro book, and really enjoyed the dynamic of the two main characters, the procedural aspect, and the use of location in the plot. I have not read Gone, Baby, Gone yet although I saw the film adaptation; it precedes this book in the series, but does not need to be read in order to understand the events of this book.

About the book: Patrick and Angie are in a far different place than when I last left them as a reader, both personally and professionally. Patrick, always independent, is trying to get taken into a big PI firm, and Angie is finishing up a degree in Social Work. There’s a whole backstory that Lehane just hints at — moral dilemmas and physical danger faced, as well as financial risk following the 2008 crash. I appreciated being told just enough to explain the changes in the characters without extraneous infodumping.

There’s no good way to describe the plot (aside from the blurb above) and my reaction to the resolution without spoilers. I’ll just say that I saw part of the end and Big Reveal coming, but not all of it.

As much as I enjoyed reading the book, I feel ambivalent about Amanda as a character and I’m not sure what Lehane is trying to say through her (if anything). That having a shitty childhood justifies criminal behavior? That manipulation and murder a la Robin Hood are okay? I don’t know. I struggled to feel any sympathy at all for most of the characters. Except Patrick and Angie, of course, since Patrick narrates and Angie is his near constant companion and conscience (sort of).

This bit from near the end are my favorite lines of the book:

I’m a deeply flawed man who loves a deeply flawed woman and we gave birth to a beautiful child who, I fear sometimes, may never stop talking. Or squealing. My best friend is a borderline psychotic who has more sins on his ledger than whole street gangs and some governments. And yet . . .

. . . And yet, this life we’d built filled our car.

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely.


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Recently read

Beautiful Sacrifice by Elizabeth Lowell — suspense with a little bit of romance.  Lowell has always done a good job of integrating research into geology, gemology, archaeology, etc. into her work.  This book is set in 2012 and centers around Mayan archaeology, history, and culture.  The main character is a museum curator and archaeologist specializing in the area, and the plot revolves around mysterious, priceless artifacts in the run up to the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar.

As a mystery it was merely okay — the Big Bad and Big Confrontation were predictable — but I appreciated the plot.  Lowell used some standard romance mechanisms: the heroine describing herself via reflection, the hero finding admirable in the heroine some average characteristics that were described as absent in all other women, etc.  At one point in an important scene, the hero began not knowing about an important gang (of sorts) but finished the scene by lecturing another character and sharing information about the gang based on his prior experience, which made me scratch my head.  If he didn’t know who they were at the beginning of the conversation, how did he have that expertise less than 10 minutes later?

Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Dearly Devoted Dexter, and Dexter in the Dark by Jeff Lindsay.  Loved the first book, liked the second book, bored by the third.  Perhaps it was a bad idea to read them all in quick succession?

Next up:  some urban fantasy?


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Progress on the shelf clearing

+  More than 100 older category novels have been bagged for donation.  I’m not sure how much interest the library will have in them, given the short shelf life of categories, but large chunks of the backlists of several category authors are going.

~  I read Nightfall by Ellen Connor.  It was the first book of a post-apocalyptic trilogy; I think I acquired it at RWA a couple of years ago — it’s an autographed copy and that’s the only place I can think I might’ve gotten it.  Liked the idea of the book more than the execution, primarily because I didn’t feel engaged by the plot or the narrators.  Also, the POV shift near the end felt odd and inconsistent with the POV for the 75% of the book that had come before.  Not a keeper but not bad, the thing that stands out most is the cover art showing a Caucasian hero…despite the description of him as having skin the color of coffee with cream, which reads as darker than Caucasian to me.

~  Third You Die by Scott Sherman.  Third mystery in the Kevin Connor series, ostensibly the final book.  Enjoyed the mystery and the amateur sleuth, thought it stood alone well — having read the 1st book but not the 2nd.  Thought the ending personal bit felt a little tacked on but it makes sense if this is the last of the Kevin Connor books.

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Reading right now

A while back, while browsing at B&N, I noticed Soho Crime’s reissues.  Well, maybe they aren’t all reissues, but the ones I’ve seen are…  Anyway, the cover art for each book is a black and white photography, which seemed appropriately noire-ish.  I picked up a Joe Sandilands book that was recommended to me at one point, as well as the first in Cara Black’s Aimee Leduc series, Murder in the Marais.

The book is set in 1993, so there are things that I have to stop and think about sometimes. For example, why are they using francs rather than euros?  But it’s very good so far.

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Long, long ago

And far, far away…  Oops, wrong opening.

Years ago on the old AAR message boards or maybe a now-defunct Yahoo! group, someone recommended to me Nice by Jen Sacks.  The recommendation was (and this is not a spoiler, given the backblurb) that it was different because the narrators are killers.  Apparently I found a used copy online based on the recommendation, and the book languished on my shelves for years.

Fast forward to my recent book purge activities.  Nice was in my current pile of read/toss books, and I grabbed it this morning to read on the train.  And now I’m sucked into it.  It reminds me in some ways of Hello Kitty Must Die, although that had more dark humor.  This is more deadpan and there’s a lot of subtext (I think) about behavioral expectations for women.

I’m curious to see how Nice ends…and I’ll probably get to the end tonight, since it’s a pretty quick read.

Afterthought:  the tag line is “Bridget Jones gets homicidal.”  And Janet Evanovich gives a blurb.  Those two thing,  frankly, would have caused me to reject the book outright if it hadn’t been recommended:  I DNF’d Bridget Jones’ Diary and abandoned Evanovich a dozen books ago.

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On a happier note

On a happier note, in terms of reading, I pulled A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie from the TBR shelf (paper).  It is/was her debut novel.  It’s not quite a cozy mystery, especially since the main characters are actual inspectors/detectives, but it’s much less violent and graphic than a lot of the more recent suspense I’ve tried.  (Has the gore factor gone up?)  I guess most readers would call it a traditional English detective novel.  It worked for me well enough that I’ll be checking out the rest of the series with Inspector Duncan Kincaid and DS Gemma James.


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Two Tana French novels

Some spoilers follow, but not the whodunit or exactly why.

I think Tana French must be chalked up as one of those writers whose writing I can admire, but whose storytelling doesn’t suit my reading tastes.

Until recently, I’d heard great things about Tana French’s books, but never got around to reading her.  I did manage to buy a couple of her books at the UBS, but they sat in the TBR pile for ages; one of them still sits there.  B&N had a sale and I had a coupon, so I bought a copy of French’s new release, Broken Harbor, for a little less than half price, and began there. (Which may have been a mistake? Perhaps this is an author best read in order.)

I found the writing to be extremely good, and narrator’s voice to be gripping.  Kennedy is a hard-nosed cop, a cliche in some ways.  He’s got a pretty jaded worldview when it comes to being a Murder Detective, but it seems to have worked for him in the past because he’s got a good solve rate.  The set up of the central mystery here is pretty universal following the financial crash of 2008: it could be set in Ireland or Spain or Florida or Southern California. A family is found dead in a nearly empty, failed development that crashed with the real estate market.  The whodunit…I figured out early on, but still enjoyed the steps of the procedural.

What I struggled with is the treatment of mental illness through out the novel.  It is an illness.  It needs to be treated, not shoved under a rug or “fixed” by well-intentioned family who don’t know what they are doing.  On one hand, that’s what creates the internal and external plots of the book, and without it there is no book.  But as a reader, that being the ultimate causation for the plot is depressing.


French’s The Likeness is another police procedural, murder mystery.  Also tightly written with an engrossing first person narrator.  The whodunit is narrowed to a group in the beginning, so the mystery is more about unpuzzling the victim and the group than anything else.  The difference here is that the narrator is incredibly unreliable and unstable (IMO) to the point that the wrap up of the murder is a cheat.  For all the narrator’s discussion about the value of truth, she spent a fair amount of time lying to everyone, including herself, and twisted the truth out of recognition.  As a reader, I don’t trust that narrator and don’t find her sympathetic or empathetic.  I’m not sure I’d be interested in reading more procedurals with her as lead, and feel sort of sorry for her fiance in the ostensible HFN.


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