Saturday, January 4, 2014

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie's After the Funeral is one of the books chosen for World Book Night USA 2014.  My uncle had given me these hardbound sets of Agatha Christie's books when I was in high school.  Like many mystery fans, I'd fallen in love with St. Mary's Mead and the London of Hercule Poirot.  I'd read the birthday books, as many of the books as I could find in my grandfather's library, my school library, and whatever I'd bought out of my allowance.

I love my Kindle and I've been downloading too many Agatha Christies one after another.   I'm certain that there's little more to be said about her books. Surely,  anything that can be written has already been written in the decades that her books have been published, shared, cherished.

I'll write very brief bits about the mysteries as I reread them.  Perhaps it'll get others to reread her stories.  Not that she needs a shout-out - she's one of the best loved authors of all time.  But it's always good to spread the word, especially to younger readers who might have bypassed her books as "old fashioned".

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ten Lords A-Leaping by C.C. Benison

The blurb:
A skydiving routine for charity goes horribly awry, leaving a wealthy lord dead and his household at odds as to whether it was an accident... or coldblooded murder at 20,000 feet.  To fundraise for the parish at bucolic Thornfield Regis, Father Tom Christmas skydives, plummeting for charity.  While his landing is bumpy, it's nothing to compared to that of Hector, Earl of Fairhaven, who leaps from 20,000 feet with disastrous results. 

Some residents of the town, including every member of the household, believe those results were not accidental, and soon Tom Christmas is investigating a crime that will take him into the secrets of his own past, and in for a very hard landing of his own.

The latest Father Christmas mystery, Ten Lords A-Leaping,   is squarely a cozy mystery.  Though there are several suspicious deaths, intrigue, romantic rendezvous, you won't find much of the action that characterizes the usual detective novels or thrillers.  

Instead, we are treated the story told from the point of view of Tom Christmas, an amateur sleuth and young vicar.  Tom is father to twelve year-old Melinda, a widower, and a personable young man.  While he doesn't usually mix with the aristocracy and he's not fully at ease with them, he's got excellent manners and is generally well liked.  

In this episode, the earl of Fairhaven has opened up his estate to a fundraising parachute jump by a group of philanthropic and adventurous peers who call themselves "Ten Lords A-Leaping".  Tom's parish is the beneficiary, so he joins the group in this fundraising parachute jump.  There is a terrifying moment during the jump and Tom is injured in the event.  Tom is invited to recuperate on the estate as s a guest at Thornford Regis.   Tom's  nervous about being the odd man out during the house party of sorts but his friends Lady Jane Kirkbride and her husband Lord Jamie Kirkbride are also guests on the estate. The rest of the guests are related whether through marriage or by blood.  It's an unusual set with half-siblings, step siblings, cousins that share overlapping and conflicting interests in priceless art collections and estates but little genuine affection.  

Tom Christmas comes across the first dead body and finds himself in the middle of an investigation.  Trapped in the country by his sprained ankle and the suspicious death, Tom and Miranda must stay until the very end.  

I enjoyed Ten Lords A-Leaping largely because Tom Christmas' voice is engaging, funny, and with just enough self-depricating wit.  If you prefer your mysteries action packed, this book isn't going to do it for you.  But if you're looking for a light, escape in an English country house full of eccentric lords and ladies, precocious children, a secret passage and a priest's hole, you will likely enjoy Ten Lords A-Leaping.

Series: Father Christmas Mysteries
  • ISBN-10: 0385344473 - Hardcover $25.00
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press (December 3, 2013), 512 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

About the Author:
C. C. Benison has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book editor, and as a contributor to nonfiction books. A graduate of the University of Manitoba and Carleton University, he is the author of six previous novels, including Twelve Drummers Drumming and Eleven Pipers Piping. He lives in Winnipeg.

C. C. BENISON is the nom de plume for Arthur Ellis Award-winning author Doug Whiteway. He studied comparative religion at the University of Manitoba and journalism at Carleton University, in Ottawa, and has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book editor, and as a contributor to nonfiction books. He is the author of the Her Majesty Investigates series of crime novels, a stand-alone novel, Death in Cold Type, and, more recently, the Father Christmas series, which includes Twelve Drummers Drumming (2011), Eleven Pipers Piping (2012) and Ten Lords A-Leaping (2013). He lives in Winnipeg.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The blurb:
With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.
Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body—though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring—and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.
Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha—or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

I came to this series recently and haven't read the first two books. Nonetheless, I found The Republic of Thieves to be an engrossing read and wonderful escape. The main characters are sympathetic and complex. The narrator in particular has a compelling story - orphan, surviving on the dangerous city streets with a group of thieves and he meets and falls in love with a slightly older and more accomplished child. He's smart, precocious and attempts all sorts of feats of daring to prove himself, get her attention, and rise through the ranks. He rises quickly and they develop a rivalry between them - as well as a complicated love affair.

Years later, after having lost his fortune and barely escaped with his life, he comes across her again and is pitted against her in a high stakes competition. She still has her hold on him and it makes things complicated, fascinating, and an even better read.

The Republic of Thieves is wonderfully long, complicated, and satisfying.
  • ISBN-10: 0553804693 - Hardcover $17.91
  • Publisher: Del Rey (October 8, 2013), 672 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
Scott Lynch was born in 1978 in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he still lives now. In addition to being a freelance writer for various role playing game companies he has done all the usual jobs writers put in their bios: dishwasher, waiter, web designer, marketing writer, office manager and short-order cook.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Tenth Circle by Jon Land

I first read Jon Land's Caitlin Strong series, so I expected strong characters and fast paced action but I enjoyed the historical backstory which complicated the story in The Tenth Circle.

Land takes us to Virginia in 1590, British settlers return to find the colony at Roanoke Island missing. There are no survivors, no trace of their bodies or what may have happened to them. Not only is the mystery of the colony at Roanoke is somehow linked to the disappearance of crew of the Mary Celeste in 1872, but the danger that was first recorded in the 1590s continues to exist and may harm us today.

Blaine McCracken and his old comrades are brought out of retirement to take on a strange alliance of dangerous characters. We find Vietnam and Korean war veterans pitted against power hungry military and paramilitary types. Shadow ops, religious fanatics, life long loyalties all make The Tenth Circle an engrossing read. Blaine McCracken's always been brought in to solve the unsolvable and he has the same sort of confidence and disregard of all rules even as he's gotten older. We have a hero in his 60's and he's had to face aging just like everyone else, but he fights against it and somehow he has the spirit and fight to overcome men in their prime. The aging heroes give the story a certain lightness and fun.

ISBN-10: 1480414794 - Paperback $12.49
Publisher: Open Road Media E-riginal (December 17, 2013), 536 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Since his first book was published in 1983, Jon Land has written twenty-eight novels, seventeen of which have appeared on national bestseller lists. He began writing technothrillers before Tom Clancy put them in vogue, and his strong prose, easy characterization, and commitment to technical accuracy have made him a pillar of the genre.

Land spent his college years at Brown University, where he convinced the faculty to let him attempt writing a thriller as his senior honors thesis. Four years later, his first novel, The Doomsday Spiral, appeared in print. In the last years of the Cold War, he found a place writing chilling portrayals of threats to the United States, and of the men and women who operated undercover and outside the law to maintain U.S. security. His most successful of those novels were the nine starring Blaine McCracken, a rogue CIA agent and former Green Beret with the skills of James Bond but none of the Englishman's tact.

In 1998 Land published the first novel in his Ben and Danielle series, comprised of fast-paced thrillers whose heroes, a Detroit cop and an Israeli detective, work together to protect the Holy Land, falling in love in the process. He has written seven of these so far. The most recent, The Last Prophecy, was released in 2004. 

Recently, RT Book Reviews gave Jon a special prize for pioneering genre fiction, and his short story "Killing Time" was shortlisted for the 2010 Dagger Award for best short fiction and included in 2010's The Best American Mystery Stories. Land is currently writing Blood Strong, his fourth novel to feature Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong--a female hero in a genre which, Land has said, has too few of them. The second book in the series, Strong Justice (2010), was named a Top Thriller of the Year by Library Journal and runner-up for Best Novel of the Year by the New England Book Festival. The third, Strong at the Break, will be released this year, and the fourth, Blood Strong, will follow in 2012. His first nonfiction book, Betrayal, written with Robert Fitzpatrick, tells the behind-the-scenes story of a deputy FBI chief attempting to bring down Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger, and will also be released in 2011.

Learn more about Jon Land on his website at