Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French Audio Edition

With impressive theater backgrounds Stephen Hogan and Lara Hutchinson bring amazing voices to the fifth Dublin Murder Squad mystery.  They seemingly inhabit the characters bringing an intriguing story to vivid life.  This is a series that just gets better and better, but what else would one expect from Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry award winner Tana French? She tells this story from different perspectives, each building to a startling conclusion.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting not too patiently to become a part of Dublin’s Murder Squad.  It appears his time has come when sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey, the daughter of a colleague and a student at St. Kilda’s boarding school, beings him a notice from her school’s notice board known as The Secret Place.  It is secret because girls can pin up what they wish anonymously.  What Holly brings Moran is a bit of a shocker - the year before Chris Harper, a well-liked teenager from the neighboring boy’s school had been murdered, a killing still unsolved.  Holly brings a photo of Chris with the phrase “I know who killed him” on it.

Moran takes the photo to a tough detective whose case this had been - Antoinette Conway.  The two of them visit the school and their appearance as well as their interrogation sparks happenings that draw in Holly and her close friends.

Of course, solving the murder is at the core of this tale but along the way French explores secrets that teenage girls might keep as well as  cleverly drawing in questions of friendship and loyalty.

The Secret Place is an aces tale from start to finish, rich in atmosphere and hidden places of the mind and heart.

- Gail Cooke

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TO DWELL IN DARKNESS by Deborah Crombie

For those of us who have been waiting for the latest in Crombie’s highly acclaimed series featuring London detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, here ‘tis.  As is her wont this writer again gives us a richly atmospheric suspenseful tale without neglecting the personal elements that make her characters so real.

Kincaid has been sent down from Scotland Yard to Camden CID.  This is a surprise to him but he has little time to dwell on this unexpected happening when an explosion occurs in the main hall of St. Pancras Station.  A musical performance had been going on starring DS Melody Talbot’s guitar playing boyfriend, Andy Monahan and singer Poppy Jones.  It seems that a small group of anti-development protestors led by Matthew Quinn had planned to toss a smoke bomb to call attention to their cause.

But, hey, that wasn’t just any smoke bomb - it was a deadly incendiary device. Actually a phosphorus grenade that seriously burns Tam Moran, Andy’s manager, and kills another man who is burned beyond recognition.  Kincaid soon finds himself  leading a murder investigation and dealing with a counter-terrorism unit as all try to determine whether this had been an accident, a murder or an actual terrorist attack.

Things are also heating up on Kincaid’s home front as wife, DI Gemma James, struggles to build a case against shop clerk Dillon Underwood for kidnapping, raping and murdering a 12-year-old girl.  Of course, there are also the children to look after and a stray mama cat with 4 just born kittens.

There’s never a dull page in To Dwell In Darkness as suspense mounts building to a surprising conclusion.

- Gail Cooke

THE BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS IN ASSISI Edited by Gianfranco Malafarina

If you’ve visited the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi or dreamed of doing so here is a book for you.  324 pages graced with 335 color illustrations take you on an unhurried, personal tour of this famous place.  Commentary by noted art historian Malafarina who has written extensively on Italian art enriches your experience.  Words are inadequate to describe the art works housed in the Basilica - they are all treasures by some of the greatest artists of the 13th and 14th centuries, including Giotto and Cimabue.  It is a revelation in this book to view details of their works of art which are often overlooked when seen while in  a crowd of people.  Suffice it to say this is a volume to be perused at your leisure and enjoyed again and again.

As you may know the Basilica was begun in 1228 and is built in the side of a hill.  It is made up of two churches known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church and a crypt holding the remains of St. Francis who was born and died in Assisi.  The Upper Church is perhaps best known for a sequence of enormous frescoes that celebrate the life and teachings os St. Francis - but, see for yourself in this glorious volume.

The Lower Church has been expanded over the years by the addition of several chapels honoring other saints.  There may be found magnificent works of art, including those by Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.

Also the mother church of the Franciscan order of monks the Basilica is one of the most significant places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy.  How fortunate we are to be able to visit or revisit via this beautiful volume.

- Gail Cooke

Sunday, December 14, 2014


"There once was a fellow in Ghent
  Who could never say what he meant,
   When he tried to propose
     She punched him in the nose
      For he asked if she were for rent." - GC

Friday, December 12, 2014


A favorite aspect of reading is the attachment I often feel for a lead character.  After closing a book, while satisfied I may still wonder about a character - what might happen to him or her next, what will that person be thinking in a decade or so?  Thanks to Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Ford I need no longer wonder about an all-time favorite character,  Frank Bascombe.

With Let Me Be Frank With You Ford brings back Bascombe in a collection of four novellas.  Bascombe is older now - 68 and filled with ruminations about life and by turns dismayed or bewildered as are all of us from time to time.  He has retired from the real estate business, is peacefully married to his second wife, and very much aware of the benefits, side-effects, and debilitations of old age.

The time is the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and Frank finds himself commiserating with the fellow who bought his beach house which was recently flattened by the hurricane.   A knock on his front door reveals a black woman who had lived in his house years ago, and slowly tells him of the horrific events that occurred there.  Frank visits the impossible woman who became his ex-wife some 30 years ago.   She is suffering from Parkinson’s and lives in a tony extended care facility.  And, he very reluctantly visits a dying friend to whom he sold a hideous mansion some time ago.

Throughout Frank looks upon himself with wit and honesty, sharing thoughts that may come to many of us as time goes by.

- Gail Cooke

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


     "There once was a woman in Quebec
        Who loved her spouse a bushel and a peck,
         She loved his mental acuity,
          She loved his ingenuity,
           And adored his six digit paycheck." - GC

Thursday, December 4, 2014

THE ESCAPE by David Baldacci

Thanks to the imagination of David Baldacci stern faced but handsome Chief Warrant Officer John Puller returns for a third time to face what appear to be insurmountable odds.  It’s not as if he didn’t already have enough on his plate - his dad, a lionized retired officer is suffering from Alzheimer’s and his brother, Robert, a former major in the USAF who seemed to be on a fast track up has been convicted of treason and is incarcerated in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth for the rest of his life.

Now, Leavenworth is the end of the line - absolutely no way out.  The story opens with a shocker - Robert has escaped and left a corpse in his cell.  Next a threesome of important officials - Army, Air Force and National Security - summon John and order him to find and arrest his brother.  Having a family member involved goes against all protocol, so why did they ask John to do this?  Nonetheless, that question aside he determines to find out who the dead man was, how Robert was able to escape, and where in the world he is now.

If this were not enough an Army Intelligence agent, Veronica Knox, has been assigned to work with him.  He is by turns attracted to her and distrustful.  Unbeknownst to John Robert has completely changed his appearance, bought a car and set out to clear his name.

As with other Baldacci stories it’s exciting and pleasureful to follow along as the complex plot takes us on journey filled with action and surprises.

- Gail Cooke