Thursday, July 10, 2014

BOOTY BONES BY CAROLYN HAINES







Fans of Sarah Booth Delaney, the delightful heroine of Haines’ Southern mystery series, will rally round her as she certainly has her hands full and her heart if not broken is badly chipped.  Readers new to the series will take Sarh Booth under their wings and eagerly await the next book.

With the 14th in this popular series (after last year’s Smarty Bones) we find Sarah Booth trying to help her fiancĂ©`, actor Graf Milieu, recover from a debilitating leg injury, and discover who murdered a man whose daughter believes he found the key to a lost treasure.
Sarah Booth has arranged what she hopes will be a romantic week on Dauphin Island off the Gulf Coast where Graf can heal and they can finalize their wedding plans.  This is not to be.

Shortly after their arrival Sarah Booth is approached by tour guide Angela Trotter who is convinced that the wrong man has been convicted of her father’s murder.  Angela’s father was a sailor and treasure hunter who was murdered just as he thought he was very close to finding a pirate’s treasure that supposedly has been hidden on the island.

Sarah Booth cannot turn down Angela’s pleas for help, and at the same time Graf is becoming more irascible and depressed.  What happened to the romantic week she had planned?

- Gail Cooke

Saturday, July 5, 2014

THE LAST TAXI RIDE by A. X, Ahmad





While this may have been the last taxi ride for someone it is certainly a fast, exciting ride for readers.  Ahmad well knows how to tell a story, revealing just enough with each page to keep us burning the midnight oil.  For many, as it was for me, it is a totally new adventure as we’re introduced to Indian cab drivers, the South Asian expatriate community, Bollywood, and the Mafia.  How’s that for a cast of characters?

As the story opens New York City cabbie Ranjit Singh is surprised and delighted to see that his fare is famous Bollywood actress, Shabana Shah,”....her glossy black hair cascades to her shoulders, She piles three crisp white Prada shopping bags on the seat next to her.”  He drives her to the Dakota, and she gives him a generous tip.  How could Ranjit be so lucky? Well, not really as the next day Shabana Shah is found murdered, her gorgeous face gone.  Ranjit’s fingerprints are all over the crime scene and on the murder weapon, a large marble elephant statue.

Yesterday when Ranjit had arrived at the Dakota he found the doorman was Mohan Kumar, a friend from Ranjit’s army days in India.  That evening the two of them met again at the Dakota where they drank and remembered old times.  A security camera catches Ranjit leaving the Dakota alone.  Now, the police come to Ranjit’s cab company saying fingerprint evidence places him at the scene of Shabana’s murder.  No problem, Mohan can vouch for him but Mohan has vanished.

Ranjit is accused of being an accessory to murder and will face a Grand Jury arraignment in 10 days.  Eleven days shy of when his daughter, Shanti, will arrive from India to make a home with him in the City.  Ranjit has much to do to clear his name in a small amount of time - can he do it?

The Last Taxi Ride is a powerhouse thriller - enjoy!

- Gail Cooke

THE ARSONIST by Sue Miller Audio Edition





For this listener hearing an author read his or her work is a very special treat.  After all, who knows the material better, where emphases should be placed, and what tempos to be followed?  With her reading of The Arsonist I’ve learned that Sue Miller is not only an exemplary writer but a gifted narrator as well.

Once again we’re reminded of Miller’s gift for creating nuanced yet fully fleshed characters when we meet Frankie Rowley, a woman in her 40s who has grown weary of working in East Africa.  She returns home to stay with her parents, Sylvia and Alfie, in a farmhouse in Pomeroy, a small New Hampshire village where her family has summered for years.

As it happens Frankie’s arrival coincides with Pomeroy’s first house fire, which all believe to have been an accident.  But perhaps not as a second fire occurs and then another - six all in all, each a summer resident’s home.  Pomeroy has always been a quiet peaceful town but now neighbors are regarding one another with suspicion.

In the midst of this Frankie met Bud, the editor of the local paper.  And, to the surprise of both they begin to fall in love.  Close to home another drama is unfolding as Sylvia who has always prided herself on her competence and efficiency finds herself having to care for Alfie who is in the throes of early Alzheimer’s.

The Arsonist is an absorbing, honest story of family, love and community by one of our best novelists.

- Gail Cooke

Sunday, June 29, 2014

HELL TO PAY by Garry Disher






One of Australia's best known novelists with more than 40 books under his belt Garry Disher is a writer who wastes not a word, and vividly, relentlessly paints pictures of his native Australia. In this case the scene is Tiverton, a hardscrabble bush town in South Australia suffering from a teetering economy, isolation, police corruption. The one-road town struggles to survive as do its inhabitants. It is here that a recently demoted detective, Paul Hirschhausen known as Hirsch is sent from Adelaide. This is punishment or penance with the latter winning out.

Hirsch is a disgraced cop and no one is about to let him forget it, least of all his bullying boss, Sergeant Kropp. The Sergeant is a man surrounded by mates who never do anything wrong because Kropp easily turns a blind eye to their follies, and perhaps even participates in crimes with them. Alone and friendless Hirsch is by turns bitter, paranoid and determined. The internal investigations bureau is breathing down his neck, eager to convict him of something by any means. And, as if it wasn't already clear that he wasn't welcome in Tiverton a pistol cartridge is left in his mailbox.

When the body of a sixteen-year-old local girl is found by the highway Kropp is quick to label it a hit and run and quickly move on. Hirsch doesn't believe that is the case but just let him try to gain access to forensics or interview subjects.

Hell To Pay has been called Australian crime fiction at its best - I'd simply call it crime fiction at its best. Disher's plotting is deft, his words economical but completely telling as he carefully builds to a smash finish. Wouldn't have missed this one!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

THE HOTEL PLACE VENDOME by Tiler J. Mazzeo






It all seems too impossible, too cloak-and-dagger to be true, but apparently it is.  As the idea for this book was forming in Mazzeo’s mind she was able to speak to the widow of a man who had been in the Resistance, the underground movement that fought the Nazis in occupied France.  The old woman warned her not to write about the Hotel Ritz and the story of the occupation saying the questions Mazzeo was asking were too treacherous and further many of those who claim to have been in the Resistance are “simply liars.”

Obviously, Mazzeo did not listen to that advice for here it is - dare you to put down this fascinating tale of “Life, Death and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris.”  There was also quite a bit of subterfuge, love and illicit liaisons.  And what a cast of characters!  When France fell to the Germans the Ritz became headquarters for the high ranking German officers such has Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring who occupied the most luxurious suite and had an outsized tub built to his specifications.  It was also home from time to time to very rich patrons, war correspondents and the glitterati.

Paris is occupied but picture, if you will, Coco Chanel’s table in the dining room where you might find playwrights, screen writers, ballet stars, even Jean Cocteau and his good looking boyfriend.  More often Chanel could be seen about town with her handsome lover, a ranking German soldier.  Hemingway hung out at the bar as did photographer Robert Capa (Ingrid Bergman’s lover for a time).  Picasso and Proust were often seen there as was Marlene Dietrich.  Add to this mix the staff who pretended to be serving Hitler’s officers while actually supporting the Resistance.  Particularly outstanding was a Jewish bartender who passed coded messages.

It was at the Ritz that the stories of the war were told (such as Wehrmacht officers planning to assassinate Hitler), as well as personal stories dramatically unfolding.  The Hotel On Place Vendome is rich in history, awash in intrigue, glamour and treachery.

- Gail Cooke

Monday, June 16, 2014

ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey




With her debut novel Healey has given us a unique, compelling protagonist in Maud, an octogenarian who is suffering from dementia.  In an attempt to capture what her mind can no longer grasp Maud leaves copious notes not only with what she wishes to remember, but instructions from her grown daughter, Helen, and care givers plus comments on the way she is treated.  Healey describes Maud’s condition with heartbreaking accuracy and bits of black wit.  Thus, we are able to take Maud’s journey with her, ache for her, and be reminded of how condescension may hurt.  Elizabeth Is Missing is a brilliant story, part mystery, part psychological drama, always absorbing.

Maud has become obsessed with finding her best friend, Elizabeth, as she puts it the only friend she has left.  She has gone to Elizabeth’s house, knocked on the door and no one answers.  She has gone to the police several times to report Elizabeth’s absence but they patronize her by saying something like “Of course, the entire force is out looking for her.”  Helen tells her Elizabeth is fine as does Elizabeth’s son, but Maud cannot believe either of them.

Maud remembers the good times she and Elizabeth once had and searches her mind (and her notes)for clues as to where Elizabeth might be.  In doing this Maud is reminded of another disappearance, that of her older sister, Sukey, who vanished in 1948.  She sees again the rupture this caused in her family as her mother and father searched for Sukey.  The police eventually conclude that Sukey has simply run away but Maud cannot believe that her dear sister would ever do that.

This story of friendship, love and loss is not to be forgotten, and Maud is to be remembered.  Emma Healey is an amazing talent and I eagerly await her next book.

- Gail Cooke

Saturday, June 14, 2014

THE LATE STARTERS ORCHESTRA by Ari L. Goldman





In this warm, honest, inspiring memoir Ari L. Goldman (The Search For God At Harvard) shares his life to date, specifically as it concerns his passion - the cello. Albeit this is a passion that has lain fallow for 25 years and is picked up again when the author nears his 60th year.

Now a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Goldman is a former New York Times reporter who started playing cello in his mid-twenties. He was fortunate in being under the tutelage of a masterful teacher whom he regarded with great affection and came to call Mr. J. He studied with Mr. J. For seven years, and to this day words of guidance and inspiration from his teacher remain in Goldman's mind.

However, as Goldman's career grew and his family expanded he put aside his cello bowing to life's practical economic demands. Yet as time passed his cello was not forgotten and he determined to play again in order to perform at his 60th birthday party. Of course, he is plagued by doubts but soldiers on by securing a new teacher, joining the Late Starters Orchestra of New York City, giving up the gym in order to have more time to practice, securing a seat on his 11-year-old son's youth orchestra, and more.

Along the way he learned many lessons, such as "If you think you can play, you can." and to be confident, "If you look frightened the audience will only feel bad for you." Also included in this memoir are the stories of other members of the Late Starters Orchestra of NYC, why they returned to their particular instrument and what music means to them.

While this is, of course, a story about music and musicians it is a story for everyone reminding us of the great resiliency of the human brain and all the opportunities available to us as we grow older. Mr. Goldman has given us a gift in this wonderful story of personal rediscovery - I would love to hear him play!

Enjoy!

- Gail Cooke