Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “detective”

rdoak03’s #CBR4 Review 34: The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell

Seeing as this was the first Scarpetta novel I have ever read, I kinda felt like I was walking into a family reunion that wasn’t mine. The characters obviously have a lot of history together, and it was somewhat of a drawback to starting in the middle/end of a series. That being said, I think their individual characters came through crystal-clear, and you got a good idea about how they interact with each other. The plot was decent, but what you’d expect from a forensic mystery. Read my full review here.

ElCicco #CBR4 Review #37: The Holy Thief by William Ryan

This is the first in what promises to be an excellent detective series from Irish writer William Ryan. His protagonist, Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev, is a detective with the Moscow Militia’s Criminal Investigation Division in 1936. That little tidbit of information alone had me hook, line, and sinker. I love detective novels and I have a PhD in Russian/Soviet history (actually did my dissertation on early Soviet prisons and penal theory). I knew I would either love this book or hate it. It’s love! Ryan’s bibliography at the end shows that he did smart up-to-date research on politics and life in Soviet Russia on the eve of the Great Purges. I also really liked the way he portrayed Korolev as a man who believes in the Soviet system but slowly begins to question some things and knows that his own neck is on the line as he investigates a series of brutal torture/murders that seem to somehow involve the NKVD — Stalin’s secret police.

The novel opens with a description of the torture and eventual death of a woman in a church told from the point of view of the torturer. Whoever the woman is, she is refuses to talk. The identity of the torturer is also a mystery, but he has been given sanction to torture the woman to death from “the highest levels.”  When the body is discovered the next day, the case falls to Korolev, but he soon receives contact from Col. Gregorin of the NKVD and the criminal case becomes a complicated political case. Korolev has to walk a tightrope between the criminal and political divisions of law enforcement to find the killer(s).

Ryan has created a great group of supporting characters for Korolev to work with. His CID boss General Popov is respected by his men but has been accused of a lack of vigilance by political enemies. The coroner Dr. Zinaida Chestnova and crime scene photographer Gueginov can tease details from a crime scene and a dead body that the average investigator might miss. Count Kolya is the “prince of thieves” in Moscow. Korolev’s sidekick Lt. Semionov seems very young but has interesting contacts around the city. The lovely Valentina Koltsova and her daughter Natasha share a flat with Korolev and are wary, given his occupation. And renowned writer Isaac Babel happens to live in the same building and helps Korolev in unexpected ways.

I absolutely love how Ryan shows street life in Moscow 1936. His description of the scene at a soccer match was brilliant, from the details about the architecture of the Hippodrome, a grand building falling into disrepair, to the gangs of youths trying to crash the gates. Ryan also nails criminal culture — how thieves rank themselves, interact with each other, their code, if you will. There is a passage on thief tattoos and their significance that is fascinating. Ryan also addresses the very real problem of orphans in Moscow in the ’30s, the result of political arrests that left children with no family and no home. Gangs of abandoned children banded together on Moscow streets and supported themselves through crime or else died of starvation and exposure. And no crime novel would be complete without some sort of chase scenes. My favorite is at the end of the story and involves a hot pursuit dangerously close to the annual parade celebrating the October Revolution, wherein large inflatable balloons representing life on the collective farm (think Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade) are released into the skies.

If you enjoy detective/crime novels, this is a good choice. The Holy Thief was shortlisted for several crime fiction awards. If you aren’t familiar with Soviet history, this is a well researched introduction to a regime known for its oppression and brutality. It looks like the second book is already out, too: The Darkening Fields (US version of The Bloody Meadow), also shortlisted for some awards.

ElCicco#CBR Review #35: Nox Dormienda by Kelli Stanley

Nox Dormienda or A Long Night for Sleeping by Kelli Stanley is an attempt at what the author calls “Roman noir.” Set in first century AD Roman Britain, it has snappy dialogue and typical noir characters — prostitutes with hearts of gold, the hot blond who’s trouble but irresistible, the side kick, the muscle, fog and shadows courtesy of Londinium in winter. And of course there’s the private eye who can take as well as give a hit, has a past, and is nobody’s fool.

Our private eye Arcturus finds himself in a unique position. His mother was a native Brit/druid, his father a legionary. His adoptive father made him “Roman” and thus legitimized his position in Roman society. He is close to Agricola, the governor of Roman Britain, and thus close to power due to the fact that Arcturus is a medicus/healer. Yet he is still one of the people and has maintained ties to his native community.

The plot: hot blond visits Arcturus to tip him off that harm is going to be done to Agricola. A  messenger is coming with word of Agricola’s disfavor with Emperor Domitian and his imminent recall. The messenger is a swarthy Syrian named Maecenas who also is engaged to our hot blond Gwyna. Gwyna comes from a native family that served Rome and benefitted but now finds itself in decline and needing money. Gwyna hates her betrothed and says she would kill the guy herself. Later that night, Maecenas is found dead on the alter to Mithras, with half of a ripped message in hand and bag of money on his body. Whodunnit? Gwyna’s native boyfriend Rhodri, known for his druid ways and hatred of the Romans? Was it a political murder? What did the message from the emperor really say? Arcturus has one week to find out before Domitian gets suspicious about the lack of response from his messenger and Agricola will have to consider civil war to keep his position. Arcturus’ sleuthing takes him to druid neighborhoods, a rundown bar/brothel owned by a wealthy smarmy Roman and staffed by his slaves, army barracks, the sacred shrine of Mithras and the halls of power in Roman Britain before he cracks the case (and gets some cracks to the body for his trouble).

Stanley is a classics scholar and is careful and meticulous with her details of life in the Roman Empire in the first century. She creates a decent plot but it’s the noir aspect that makes it such fun to read. Stanley in her afterward writes: “By noir, I mean the classic private eye language of Chandler, Hammett, and the snappy-tough dialogue of films from the period. The noir style is born from urban life, and Rome defined urbanitas for centuries. Ancient Roman culture was, in essence, a noir culture. All they lacked were cigarettes and scotch.” A couple of my favorite lines:

I was shaken up inside like a small pair of dice in a too large cup — tossed by a drunk on a losing streak.

She wanted Maecenas dead, now he is, and her boyfriend was right there. That’s as obvious as a middle-aged redhead.

If you like detective novels, historical fiction and noir, you’ll have fun reading Nox Dormienda.

lyndamk #cbr4 review #17: The Vault by Ruth Rendell

Wexford ain’t no Wallander. Read more at my blog …

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #37 The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

This book has become the quintessential noir detective story (and film, since the movie version follows the book pretty much word for word).  Sam Spade can be credited as the basis for many a hard-nosed detective that came after him and Brigid O’Shaughnessy is the epitome of a femme fatale.  At over eighty years old, there are still few detective stories that can come close to topping this one.

The story begins with a beautiful woman needing the detecting services of Sam Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, to follow a man named Floyd Thursby.  Soon Miles is dead and Thursby soon after.  Spade is a person of interest for police.  While avoiding taking the rap for Miles and Thursby, he dives deeper in the seductions and mysteries of Brigid O’Shaugnessy.  Soon the detective is embroiled in the hunt of the Maltese Falcon, a historical artifact of priceless value.    More murders and intrigue ensue, with the introductions of the effeminate Joel Cairo and the jovial Gutman.

Hammett never met an adjective he didn’t like and with his staccato sentences, you can almost hear him banging this novel out on his typewriter and smell the stuffy odor of too many cigarettes smoked in a small room.  His vivid imagery in this book has made me put all of his other novels on my to read list.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #32 The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

The noir Phillip Marlowes all seem to have flown away to Europe in recent years.  Most of the old style detective stories are now being written in Sweden (by Kjeld Eriksson) and Norway (by Jo Nesbo).  I even think that the Lizbeth Salander trilogy borrowed heavily from the detective noir genre, which used to be an American export.  Not that I’m complaining; I’m glad to see its resurrection.  Even murder mystery novel could benefit from a Humphrey Bogart character.

The Redbreast’s Marlowe is Detective Harry Hole  Like all noir detectives before him, Hole suffers from a vice.  Nesbo went with the old stand-by of alcoholism, which plagues so many literary detectives.  He had previous appearances in Nesbo’s first two books, but I have not found their English translations.  The book does mention some of his early adventures, but it’s possible to read this one without reading the other two first.

The book starts out with Hole’s bumbling of an important political event, which gets him promoted from the police force to a Department of Homeland Security-like position, in order to avoid a scandal.  Hole pieces together small tidbits of intelligence over the months that he’s there to reveal an issue of national security involving former Norwegian soldiers who fought on the German side on the Eastern Front during WWII.  At times the story gets a bit unbelievable, but the fast pace and interesting characters make up for it.

The story ends without resolving a subplot, which is a bit of a letdown.  Hopefully it will be resolved in the next novel as the characters involved in that subplot were very dull.  I really hope he was not trying to make a Moriarty for Hole as this Moriarty is a bit, well, dim.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #24 The Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler

The Memory of Blood is latest, and probably one of the last, of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series.  The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a special branch of London’s police department, in operation since WWII.  The Unit originally specialized in cases pertaining to national security.  However, over the years, the Unit began to take on the weird and esoteric cases occurring in the city.  The Unit technically has a supervisor, but the two real forces behind it are Arthur Bryant and John May.  Bryant is…hard to describe; I always picture him as one of the trash people from Labyrinth.  If you read the series, you’ll see that it fits.  He rarely ventures into reality and instead tries to piece together cases by examining London’s past.  May is the more professional one, although he occasionally gets too emotionally involved in the people he’s investigating.  There a few more officers in the Unit, but the only other one worth mentioning is Janice Longbright, a sort of Joan from Mad Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer hybrid.  She’s one of my favs.

One thing to keep in mind about the Peculiar Crime Unit series is that Fowler relies heavily on London history.  The Memory of Blood is no exception.  The book  begins with the party for a theater group.  The theater owner, who models his life philosophy on Mr. Punch from the Punch & Judy puppet plays, is universally despised.  Half way through the party, someone throw his newborn baby out the window.  Yes, a baby gets chucked out the window.  Soon the murders seem to revolve about the characters in the old Punch & Judy plays.  (About halfway through the book I had to take a Wikipedia detour because Punch & Judy doesn’t seem like something my parents would’ve ever let me see as a child.)  There’s a climatic big reveal, at the 11th hour, with the fate of the Unit riding on the successful arrest, which is pretty much how all of these books end.  However, this one gets my personal stamp of approval because didn’t figure out the murdered until the reveal, which is usually the case in this series, which is another reason this series has a special place on my bookshelf.

I did mention that this may be one of the last in the series.  Fowler makes mention in the Acknowledgement section at the beginning that he has been trying to kill off the two main characters for a while now.  Also, as I mentioned before, the Unit is permanently in a state of possible foreclosure.  The subplot in The Memory of Blood wasn’t neatly wrapped up in the end, ensuring that the next book with be The Unit vs. The Unit’s Detractors in the British government.  On the one hand, I hate when a writer gets brunt out on their own.  But I also ahte it when a good mystery series ends.

CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR IV Review #6: Grave Peril: Book Three of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

I read this book 2 months ago, so I am foggy on the details. I also read books 1 & 2 of this series back in 2010, so I’m fuzzy on the back story as well.
Harry Dresden is a wizard-for-hire in modern-day Chicago. He frequently works with the police department on their “Special Investigations” unit. He has helped them stop rogue wizards, werewolves, and vampires. He’s also kind of a smart-ass so he has made many enemies not only in the supernatural world, but on the police force.
Someone or something has pissed off the ghosts in Chicago. They are raging and rampaging all over town. The novel starts with Harry and Michael Carpenter, a holy knight, trying to stop an evil ghost in the infant ward of the hospital. They soon discover that the ghost has been tormented and driven mad by a torture spell. Then a bunch of stuff happens that I don’t remember and don’t want to spoil if you haven’t read the book.
I really enjoy this series. It is like a hardcore detective novel mixed with the supernatural. It is reminiscent of the early Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novels. The good ones. Before they turned into supernatural orgies. Not that Harry is a priest. Just not the total slut-bag that Anita turned into. I also love Harry’s snappy one-liners and witty asides. I recommend it, but read Storm Front and Fool Moon first.
4/5 stars

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #21 A Curtain Falls by Stefanie Pintoff

If you enjoy mysteries and detective stories, you probably try to read the books that make it as finalists for the Edgar Awards (named for Edgar Allan Poe).  I came across Stefanie Pintoff a few years ago when In the Shadow of Gotham won for Best First Novel.  Pintoff’s novels are set in the turn of the 20th century, when criminology was first becoming a field of study and an influence on police investigations.  I’m curious is Pintoff was ever a Criminology student, as she name drops several of the scientists the devoted themselves to crime theory during this time period.  There’s really not much of a use knowledge like this, unless you’re on Jeopardy.  Or writing turn of the century detective novels.

A Cutain Falls picks up a few months after Gotham ended.  Detective Simon Ziele is back and is called in to investigate strange deaths occurring in the city’s theaters.  Young women are found dead, poised n stage and glamorous even in death.  The murderer is also leaving notes at the scenes and at the newspapers.  He seems himself as Pygmalion, making perfect women.  Ziele eventually calls on his old friend and noted criminologist, Alistair Sinclair, to help track down the murderer before he strikes again.

This was one of the most enjoyable detective mysteries I have read in awhile.  Usually the hunt is more fun than the actual big reveal at the end and it feels like such a letdown.  This reveal was very far from a letdown.  If you’re a big fan of Caleb Carr’s work The Alienist and love Agatha Christie’s intricate plots, then I highly recommend this book.

toepic’s #CBR4 Review #3, Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

The orphan, the freakshow, the tugboat, the narrator; this is Lionel Essrog. Through his mind, riddled with tourettic symptoms, we view his own private Marlowe detective story.

Lionel, along with 3 other orphans from St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, is mentored and employed by Frank Minna, a small time mobster that runs a car service/detective agency. The 4 boy’s entire world view is filtered through Frank’s observations and teachings. When Frank is killed, it falls to ”the Freakshow” to solve his murder.

Frank used to say“wheels within wheels” to sneer at the boys’ notions of coincidence or conspiracy. Motherless Brooklyn is full of wheels within wheels. Why is the Giant chasing Lionel? Where did Frank’s wife go? How are the Buddhists connected? What does this have to do with sea urchins? Can Lionel get thru an interrogation without screaming “Stickmebailey!!”?

Lethem has been praised for blending literary fiction with genre fiction. I think, in Motherless Brooklyn, he’s created an incredible book. It’s incredible because I generally hate any literary fiction set in New York. God help me if it’s literary fiction about a writer living in New York. Oh, you could have gotten the pretty girl but you screwed up?  😦  die in a fire.

Where was I? Oh right, this wasn’t anything like that. It was a mesmerizing look into the life of someone suffering from Tourettes, and a killer mystery to boot.

Most highlighted quote from Kindle users: And he was too moronic to be properly self-loathing—so it was my duty to loathe him instead.

If you like Michael Chabon, but wish he wrote more like Raymond Chandler.

Movie note: Edward Norton has optioned the film and plans to adapt, star in and direct. This is good news. Norton plays some of the best ‘crazy’ in Hollywood.

For all my reviews plus a baby goat on a skateboard click here.

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