Discover Belinda Bauer

rubberI came across author Belinda Bauer thanks to Marilyn Stasio’s review in the New York Times. Rubbernecker – which features an amateur sleuth with Aspergers syndrome – sounded interesting. And interesting it was… it took me until page 145 to figure out why the book was even considered a mystery!   By the time I finished the book, anatomy student Patrick Fort had figured out that the man he was dissecting in the cadaver lab was murdered, how it was done, who had done it and why. And in a parallel plot, I also knew exactly what the coma patient with the grieving husband who was being seduced by a wily nurse was trying to tell the world. I put the book down and told my husband, “Wow, that was awesome.” He picked it up, read it, and agreed.

That set me off on a search for a Belinda Bauer backlist. Oh frabjous day, she has one.  There were five additional books to her credit, and I was able to locate four of them. The fifth, Finders Keepers, was only available in the U.K. and thanks to the magic of Amazon, is speeding its way to me from London, arrival expected by February 26. (Evidently traveling by boat.) As I am eager to get reading on the Edgar nominees, I’m going to give you a quick Bauer wrap-up and leave Finders Keepers for later.

blacklandsBlacklands: Bauer’s first book is told from the perspective of 12-year-old Steven Lamb. Steven lives in a small English village that has touched by tragedy. Fifteen years previously, six children were snatched, abused, and murdered by pedophile Arnold Avery. Convicted of these crimes, Avery is suspected of many more – including that of Steven’s Uncle Billy. Billy’s body was never found. Steven decides he will end his grandmother’s uncertainty and let her move on by finding Billy’s body, and he devotes himself to a search. But things get complicated when he decides to ask Avery to reveal the location of Billy’s grave. Steven’s a nice boy with a big heart, but he’s a child and not a particularly bright one, either.   Bauer has an excellent way with characterization. Blacklands is well-written, nicely paced and plotted, and the tension builds to a heart-pounding conclusion.

DarksideDarkside: The second Bauer crime novel features the sad story of lovely Lucy Holly, a young woman who is slowing being overtaken by multiple sclerosis, and her policeman husband Jonas. Jonas is investigating the death of an elderly woman at a nursing home; soon found to be a murder, a special team is brought in and Jonas is relegated to the sidelines.   As more deaths of a similar nature occur, it becomes apparent that someone is ridding the village of nuisances, that is, people who should just go ahead and die, but don’t. Our fear? That Lucy Holly is next. As with Blacklands, there are multiple perspectives, multiple well-drawn characters, and as an especially nice touch, an older Steven Lamb as the local paperboy, whom Jonas pays to check in on his wife.   DCI Marvel, as the big city copper brought in to solve the crime and seemingly to humiliate Jonas, is a revelation. The book has a twist that I won’t spoil, but I will admit I saw it coming. Very late in the game.

shuteyeThe Shut Eye: This book is my personal favorite. In it, James and Anna Buck are the parents of a small boy who has been missing for a few weeks. James blames himself, and his wife blames him, as well, for he is the one who left the front door open that morning, when four-year-old Daniel ran a few steps into the wet cement of the new side walk and then disappeared without further trace. When Anna learns of a “shut-eye” – that is, a person who can see without looking, or a psychic, she is desperate for clues. But what we soon begin to suspect is that it is Anna herself who is a shut-eye. Anna meets DCI Marvel when she tries to use her own visions to help locate a missing dog. Marvel, who is continuing to pursue a cold case, the disappearance of tween Edie Evens, begins to suspect that Anna holds the key to unlocking Edie’s mystery. As with her other books, Bauer does a wonderful job of making all the characters three-dimensional and wholly believable. In the book’s resolution there is both joy and sadness. Fabulous.

factsThe Facts of Life and Death: All new characters in this book, but a reminder of Blacklands because the protagonist is 10-year old Ruby Trick.  Ruby’s mom and dad aren’t getting along; her dad’s been unemployed for several years and there’s no work to be had, now that the ship-builder’s has shut down.  She knows what can happen – when moms and dads are fighting, there’s a divorce, and the dad leaves.  Ruby will do almost anything to keep her father close. As in Backlands, Bauer uses the child as an unreliable narrator.   In Ruby’s small town, someone is terrorizing young women, abducting them, forcing them to disrobe and then to call their mothers to say good-bye.  Soon this assault is not enough, and he escalates to murder.  The town is sick with fear, to the point where local men patrol the area to ensure that women get home safely.  The local men – and Ruby, who accompanies her father while her mother works late.  The reader suspects what Ruby cannot see, and the tension builds to an almost unbearable peak.  Excellent plotting and characterization, as I’ve come to expect from Bauer.

Recommendation:  Definitely take the time to discover Belinda Bauer.  I’m looking forward to the final backlist book, and to future books as well!  (Get writing, Ms. Bauer.)


Edgar list is out!

mwa_logoEvery year, the Mystery Writers of America bestow Edgar awards in various categories, including Best Novel, Best First Novel by an American Author, Best Short Story, and so on. The nominees come out in January and the Edgars are given at a star-studded banquet (think Oscars, but with a lower glamour quotient).  This year’s ceremony is April 28; as always, it’s in New York City.  Oh, I wish I could go!  As an MWA member I get an invite and it. would. be. a. thrill.

This will be my sixth year of reading, reviewing, and ranking the nominees for Best Novel and Best First Novel.  My track record, in terms of agreeing with the MWA, has been mixed.  But since I’m not trying to predict who WILL win, but instead, letting you know who SHOULD win, that’s not a big deal.  Although when we agree perfectly (which has actually happened), I feel a certain smug satisfaction.

And the list of finalists is out!  I’m pretty excited to get started reading.  I see some familiar names, including Michael Robotham, Philip Kerr and Lori Roy.  On the newbie side, I’ve only read Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive.

Best Novel

  • The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
  • The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr (Penguin Random House – A Marian Wood Book)
  • Life or Death by Michael Robotham (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
  • Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (Penguin Random House – Dutton)
  • Canary by Duane Swierczynski (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
  • Night Life by David C. Taylor (Forge Books)

Best First Novel

  • Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
  • Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
  • Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Atlantic – Grove Press)
  • Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (Penguin Random House – Viking

I may even attempt to get to the Best Paperback Novel, but don’t hold me to it.  Here are those nominees.

  • The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
  • The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
  • What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
  • Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
  • Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
  • The Daughter by Jane Shemilt (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

To the nominees:  I know the tension is killing you… who will receive the Literary Lunchbox Edgars?  Watch this space over the next three months to see how you fare against your brethren.  May the odds be ever in your favor.

To the readers:  Ditto.  And  for this who are not up for the tension of reading without knowing who won…  Here’s a list of last year’s nominees AND the winners for your enjoyment.

Tidying Up Not So Life-Changing

magicEvery January, women everywhere go Elfa-mad, visiting the Container Store to find new ways to organize happiness into their lives.  “If only I had a place for everything, and everything in its place, how magic that would be!” they say.  But Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, says no, don’t organize – tidy.  And by tidy, she means throw away.

And telling you how to tidy is what Ms. Kondo does.  At length.  204 pages worth.  And by the time I’ve read the word “tidy” for the 450 millionth time (estimated, I didn’t actually count), it has entered the realm where a word goes when you’ve said it so often it doesn’t make sense.

She instructs you in how to change your life through tidying with a kind of mystical, new age feel.  You must place all your clothing on the floor.  The clothes that “spark joy” will call out to you, and beg to be arranged by weight and type in the closet (they must “rise to the right”).  Sweaters, t-shirts, undies… the all want to be folded into little squares and arranged vertically in drawers.  Stacking them crushes the spirit out of the ones on the bottom.  And balling your socks stresses them out.  If it doesn’t spark joy, out it goes.

Ditto for books.  Put’em on the floor.  The books that you need to keep (those that spark joy, of course) will radiate a kind of gravitational pull when you put your hand on the cover.  Definitely DO NOT open the book or read any part of it.  That will only confuse you.  If there are words that call to you – what the heck, yank those pages out of the book and put them in a clear plastic file!  Most people can get a whole library worth of books onto a single shelf through ruthless culling.

Papers are also so much flotsam on the sea of life.  Toss out those manuals, throw away the credit card bills.  If you’ve touched it once, you’ve dealt with it.  No putting papers in a drawer to languish, forgotten.  (I actually agree with Marie Kondo on her approach to papers.  Out with it all!)

How did I feel after finishing this book?  Sad.  Sad and a little depressed.  Hardly any of my stuff sparks joy.  If I only wore clothes that sparked joy I’d be naked most of the time.  Not that that is particularly joyful, either.  It’s kind of chilly and it scares the dogs.  If I only kept the best of the best books, I’d miss out on the fun of lending books to other people, or even just re-reading all the Ian Rankin books in order.  Yes, I really do that.  Heck, even my husband doesn’t reliably spark joy.  Out he goes!

happinessMuch more helpful was Gretchen Rubin’s approach in The Happiness Project.  Cleaning and organizing was just one chapter in that book, and Gretchen’s cheery attitude and incorporation of what people actually do and experience really struck a chord with me.  I looked back to see my thoughts when I read her book, and you can see those posts here.  I’ve ended up recommending The Happiness Project to many people.

Bottom line:  If The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is calling to you, hover your hand over the cover. If it still  calls your name, read the first chapter.  If there are sparks of joy, keep reading.  If not, switch over to The Happiness Project, chapter one.





Miss Ruffles vs. Peter Decker

choice.jpgEarlier this month, I prevailed upon my Facebook friends to help me decide between two books to read.  One, as you see, features a dog which inherits a fortune.   (Definitely a cozy.)  The other is a latest entry in a series featuring Jewish cop Peter Decker and his wife Rina.  (Police procedural.)  When the votes were in, it was Miss Ruffles all the way.

Dogsitter Sunny McKillip is an Ohio girl transplanted to Mule Stop, Texas.  She’s quickly caught up in the local culture.   When one of her clients, the rich Southern Belle/Grand Dame Honeybelle Hensley dies, she and Ms. Hensley’s housekeeper and butler are tapped to take care of Miss Ruffles.  At the end of one year of care – which means keeping Miss R alive and happy – all three will receive $1 million.  Each.

The circumstances of Honeybelle’s death are certainly mysterious.  She may have been poisoned!  Then Miss Ruffles is dognapped.  It’s up to Sunny to figure it all out.  Quirky characters abound, everybody has a southern accent, and when a tall, handsome lawyer shows up on horseback, you just know what’s going to happen.  He’s engaged, but we know that fiancee is all wrong for him.  Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything is frothy, funny, and goes down easy.

On, then, to The Theory of Death.  Decker, formerly of the LAPD, is now chief of police in a small town in upstate New York.  The pace is slow, the crimes are small, and most of the murders are easy to solve.  Still, when a student from nearby Kneed Loft College turns up in the woods naked and dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot, Decker’s not so quick to accept the obvious.  Top-notch forensics lead to a determination of murder.  On tap to help Decker solve the case is his wife, Rina, and a former Greenbury police intern, now Harvard law student, Tyler McAdams.  More death is on the way, and the solution – when it comes – has a surprising twist.

The Theory of Death is the 23rd book in Kellerman’s series. Regular readers will be familiar with the way the Deckers’ orthodox Jewish culture serves as a backdrop and also is woven into the books, as well as the easy, loving relationship between Decker and his wife.  Fans will enjoy this latest entry, as will newcomers who are not looking for edgy or hard-boiled.

My preference between the two?  I wouldn’t line up to read more about Sunny McKillip, although the book was entertaining, and the Decker/Lazarus books are reliably well-plotted and about equal on the entertainment meter.  So call it a draw.


Quick Review: Mina’s Blood, Salt, Water

Denise Mina

Denise Mina

Denise Mina writes crime novels, suspenseful ones, full of complicated characters and often tinged with a kind of sorrow.  Her latest is Blood, Salt, Water, featuring Glasgow’s DI Alex Morrow, and it’s not to be missed.

The book  starts with a woman’s murder.  It’s premeditated and it’s brutal.  The murderer is a low-life, he’s done time, and he’s none too bright.  But in Mina’s hands, we learn he is much more.  The killer, Iain Fraser, is trapped in a small town that’s run by a hard man and everybody knows what’s what, but nobody’s saying.  Iain’s a loyal man who’s trying to save the friend who’s like a brother to him, desperate to pay off his friend’s debt and save his life.  And so Iain bludgeons a woman to death with the help of another small-time criminal.

But that single crime ties into a bigger criminal conspiracy, and bad guys being what they are, various tangents.  Morrow and her team must untangle them all.   The book ends with some justice done, but not all.  Because that’s how life is, in Mina’s Scotland.  And real life, too.

bloodBlood, Sweat, Water is the fifth in the Alex Morrow series and a great all-around read. It’s a police procedural with a female protagonist who is truly three dimensional.  While each book can easily stand alone, you are best served by reading them in order, as the as there is plot progress and character growth through the series.

Want more Mina?  She has two other series to check out, so visit her website.

Keep the pages turning with You are Dead

you are deadBest-selling novelist Peter James has a winning formula in his Roy Grace series:  classic British police procedural crossed with suspenseful thriller.  You are Dead is #11 in the series.

It starts out with the abduction of a young woman while her horrified fiancé listens by cell phone to her scream, then the silence.  The tension ratchets up on the next page; it’s first line is “Felix is fine with the fact that I kill people.”  (A murdering trio and they’ve taken the woman.)  Then a short side trip to a construction site, where a skeleton is being unearthed.  (What the???)  Then back to the fiancé, who is careening down the highway, frantically dialing her cell and finally 999 (Britain’s version of 911).  Then to the police station where his call come in.

You’re only 15 pages in to the book, Roy Grace hasn’t even made his entrance yet, and you’re already through six chapters.  And James doesn’t let up until the very last page… it’s soon apparent that there’s a very twisted mind at work.  The good news is that the victim is still alive.  And the bad news is – she’s still alive.  Every few chapters, we get one from her perspective.  As her circumstances get more dire, the reader’s tension climbs.

Meanwhile, Grace and his team are working frantically to solve the crime.   When he does, the key to the solution lies deep in the past, but from a source that is very close at hand.

Regular readers of the Grace series will attest that the clever and caring Grace has a complicated personal life.   He’s finally ready to leave the memory of Sandy, his missing wife, behind and make a new life with a new love.  That personal situation promises to be only more confusing in the books to come.

Recommendation:  Although You are Dead easily stands alone, if you are new to the series, I strongly recommend reading them in order – especially if you love character development as much as I do!  Definite thumbs up.   New this year, so a great last-minute Christmas gift.




Carsten Stroud’s Niceville Trilogy Stephen King-esque

nicevilleI’ve been spending every spare moment over the last week reading Carsten Stroud‘s Niceville trilogy.  That is, Niceville, The Homecoming, and The Reckoning.  If you loved Stephen King‘s The Stand, The Dead Zone, Salem’s Lot and Joyland, you’ll be a fan of Carsten Stroud.

Niceville seems to be a nice enough town, founded by just four families, who continue to have an oversized influence on the town today.  On the outskirts is Crater Sink, a natural attraction that is anything but attractive.  Over the years, it’s become apparent to some that Niceville has an abnormally high rate of stranger abductions – about two a year of unsolved, mysterious disappearances.  (And getting too close to the answer may make your own mysterious disappearance more likely!)

homecomingNiceville kicks off with one such disappearance, a boy named Rainey Teague, who seems to vaporize right off the street while looking into an old mirror in the window of the local pawn shop.  He turns up eventually, rescued months later from an undisturbed, well-buried grave by former Special Forces vet Nick Kavanaugh.  Nick’s married to a founding family descendant, family lawyer Kate Walker.  Where was Rainey in the intervening months?  Nobody knows.

Up till then, Niceville’s been pretty boring, in Nick’s estimation.  But the mystery surrounding Rainey Teague is just the tip of the iceberg.  By the end of the series, readers have been sucked into a world where death doesn’t always equal being dead, where the here-and-now and the long-past flow together, where good people die for bad reasons, and where criminal cops can cold-heartedly blow away innocent colleagues and still live up to a code of honor.

reckoningNot surprising for a three-book series, there’s a lot of plot.  It is large, and has many branches, but is not convoluted, so the reader is always well-grounded.  It helps that the books are populated with nicely drawn, well-differentiated and memorable characters.  Even the scary ones have good reasons for being scary, and there is only one who is truly evil.  (He gets his comeuppance, but I am sure I am not the only one who thinks that we have not seem the last of him.)  Stroud has a sure hand with suspense, frequently ending a chapter with a cliffhanger while he moves on to a different plot thread in the next chapter.

Also good, from my perspective:  he does not go over the top with the supernatural.  Sure, dead folks are walking around, interacting with the living like they’re not dead.  But Stroud handles it so naturally, that even before we know why this happens, readers accept it.  And sure enough, there are rules to this world of Niceville’s.  And the reader is rooting for the good guys.

All in all, big thumbs up for all three books.  Read them in order and enjoy.  Halloween is almost upon us, so ’tis the season!