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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shameful Murder

A Shameful Murder (#624) by Cora Harrison is an excellent way to end this year of reading.  It's a promising beginning to a new mystery series set in warr-torn Cork, Ireland in 1923, featuring as its main sleuth Reverend Mother Aquinas.

When the body of a young girl washes up at the convent's garden gate, Police Sergeant Patrick Cashman is assigned to the case.  He was not so long ago one of Reverend Mother's more promising students.  Since the city is embroiled in the Civil War, there's always a chance that the death could be political, or an informer executed as an example.  But this young girl is dressed in expensive evening clothes, and students at the convent are from the poorest slums.  When Dr. Scher is called in to exam the body, Reverend Mother feels a responsibility to follow the case, and as a frequent visitor to the convent, she knows that Dr. Scher will be a good source of information.  Although the girl is identified as the daughter of one of the richest men in Cork, something about the family's reaction sets off warning bells.  Angelina Fitzsimon is buried in the family tomb, but Reverend Mother can't help but feel that the matter itself is not yet dead and buried.  There are too many discrepancies and questions unanswered.

How Reverend Mother, Patrick and Dr. Scher arrive at the truth and uncover a murder in their midst will keep you up at night following a trail that leads back to Reverend Mother's own past.  Although the youngsters involved in the case think she's older than dirt, Reverend Mother is glad for the opportunity to use her brains to gently guide the investigation.  St. Thomas Aquinas, her patron, would be proud!

Intricately plotted, and utterly satisfying.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas

For once lawyer Andy Carpenter is eager to take on a case, even over Christmas, since it involves dogs.  Twelve puppies plus their mothe to be exact.  In David Rosenfelt's latest addition to this great mystery series, The Twekve Dogs of Christmas (#623), "Pups" Boyer, an long-time acquintance of Andy's has a complaint lodged against her by a neighbor.  Pups is famous throughout the community for taking in puppies and fostering them until they are old enough to be adopted out to good homes.  Of course Andy Carpenter and Willie Miller, his partner at the Tara Foundation, have known and suppported her work for many years.  Why the sudden complaint, the first of its kind?

When that same neighbor is found murdered shortly afterwards, it slowly becomes clear to Andy that Pups is being set up to take the fall for this murder, as well as two additional killings eighteen motns ago when the gun that killed all three victims is found in Pups' basement.  Who is pulling the strings here, and what could they possibly hope to gain from it?

It's Rosenfelt's usual carefully constructed plot full of more questions than Andy has time or inclination to answer, yet despite himself, he always manages in his usual clever and snarky way to get where he needs to go for justice to be served.  Oh, and this time his family life takes a positive step forward when his adopted son Ricky wants to know for a school project why they all don't have the same last name.  It's fun to watch Andy squirm over this one until of course, he does the right thing.

This book kept me happily occupied over the Christmas holiday, but it doesn't need to be Christmas to enjoy this one!  Unfailingly fun.

Margaret Truman's Deadly Medicine

I really enjoyed reading Margaret Truman's Capital Crimes series.  Since her death, it has been taken over by Donald Bain, a friend of hers and author of the Murder She Wrote series.  I wish I could say that Margaret Truman's Deadly Medicine (#622) was as much fun to read as the original series, but it wasn't.

Mackenzie and Abigail Smith are still here in their Watergate apartment, but the action has largely been taken over by Robert "Don't Call Me Bobby" Brixton, a private investigator working with Mac's D.C. law firm.  Robert has many issues of his own, and frankly, I didn't find him particularly sympathetic or likable.

In Deadly Medicine, Big Pharma is out to suppress the commercial introduction of a plant-based pain medication with no side effects developed by an eccentric physician working in Papua New Guinea. When the doctor is found murdered, his research stolen, and his medicinal plants all burned, it's apparent that keeping his discovery off the market is worth killing for.  Since it's a Washington setting, of course there are corrupt politicians and lobbyists in the mix of money and scandal as Big Pharma tries to make the whole issue go away.

Two things bothered me about this book; first that Jayla King, the murder victim's daughter is presented as drop dead gorgeous yet brilliant, since she works in the field of biological research herself for a second-tier pharmaceutical company.  However, her actions in the book paint her as naive, and just a little too dumb in her reactions to threats.  It was exasperating reading for the umpteenth time that "Of course, Eugene would never do that!"  even though the creep has broken into her apartment and stolen items.  Working in a cut-throat pharma company, how could she not know the ins and outs of her own business?   But gosh, she looks swell in that expensive couture dress!
Second, the political shenanigans and motivations were so murky, I never did get a good feel for who was behind the whole mess.  Bain sort of ties things up, but not to my satisfaction.

Don't get me wrong; Deadly Medicine is a diverting enough read to while away a few hours.  I just know that for me Donald Bain won't ever truly replace Margaret Truman as an authentic "insider" voice on the Washington scene.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Turbo Twenty-Three

Janet Evanovich does it again in her newest Stephanie Plum novel, Turbo Twenty-Three (#621).  She made me laugh out loud while reading about Lula's antics while filming an audition tape for the reality show Naked and Afraid.  Her partner is nobody's favorite little person Randy Briggs, but they provide some powerful comic relief for Stephanie.

She's undercover for Ranger at an ice cream plant which has been experiencing security issues. When their Human Resources Director falls out of one of their high jacked trucks, he's frozen, covered in chocolate and chopped pecans.  Way to put Stephanie off her favorite Bogart Bars forever!  Worse yet, she's recognized at the plant, and someone pays her apartment a visit to warn her off her investigation.  After another body turns up at the plant, Stephanie knows she could be next!  

So many suspects, and she's still working her day job bringing in skips for their day in court.  Ranger would like her to move in with him for security's sake, but Stephanie is still torn between him and long time boyfriend Joe Morelli.  How can she ever choose?  Her grandmother doesn't seem to be having that problem, though, with a new beau to escort her to viewings at the local funeral parlor.

A fast and diverting read, it's the perfect sugarplum for this time of year.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Pushing Up Daisies

Agatha Raisin is at it again in M.C. Beaton's latest mystery in this series Pushing Up Daisies  (#620).  Agatha has her nose a bit our of joint when her closest friend, Mrs. Bloxby, appears to have a crush on a new, good-looking man in town, retired Scotland Yard detective Gerald Devere.  She's dying her hair, and updating her drab vicar's wife wardrobe with attractive outfits.  Agatha has had her eye on Gerald, so she's not pleased with what's going on.  That's what prompts her to volunteer to go talk to Lord Bellington to try to persuade him not to plunk a housing development on Carsely's village allotments.  Not that Agatha has the least bit of interest in gardening, but she thinks such unselfish civic-mindedness might bring her favorably to the attention of Mr. Devere.

What she discovers instead is a most unpleasant man, surrounded by equally unpleasant family.  No one is bothered much when he turns up dead.  Village gossip over cocktails leads Agatha to speculate that someone used antifreeze to murder the man, raising a rumpus.  When it turns out Agatha is right, one thing leads to another.  Agatha is feeling every year of her age as her frequent companion Sir Charles Fraith finally seems ready to settle down with a wealthy young thing, another body shows up, and  Agatha has a fling of her own on the way to solving the case.

Always a fun read, it's like Old Home Week to read about the trials and tribulations of so many familiar and favorite characters.

The Captured Girl

To be honest, I found the first two pages of this novel so disturbing I put it down thinking I would be unable to read it.  However, since I won The Captured Girl - A Novel of Survival During the Great Sioux War (#619) in a GoodReads First Reads giveaway, I felt I owed it to author Tom Reppert to read at least twenty pages before I gave up on it.  I'm glad I stuck with it, as I soon found myself totally caught up in Morgan O'Connor's story.  What I had read that bothered me so much turned out to be character development for Frank Nash, her nemesis.

In 1875, when an Army cavalry raid on a Cheyenne village frees Morgan O'Connor from four years of living with the Cheyennes after all but her younger brother are killed during a raid on their ranch, she has mixed feelings.  She has grown to love some of the Indians who were killed, and runs to save herself  when she is set upon by Frank Nash, one of the scouts.  Second Lieutenant Will Raines rescues her, and is put in charge of returning Morgan to civilization.  Son of a wealthy New York family, this is his first brush with action, and he is sickened by what he has seen, but determined to make his mark in his chosen career.  Babysitting Morgan O'Connor isn't exactly what he had in mind.  Most of the army wives back at Fort Harrison cannot understand how Morgan could have lived with the Indians and not taken her own life to avoid "a fate worse than death", but Morgan is a survivor, and her courage and determination has kept her and her small half Indian son alive.  She refuses to go back to New York City to locate her relatives until she finds her brother Connor, taken at the same time she was, and living with a different band of Indians.  Not until word comes that he is dead does she allow herself to be sent East, where she is famous in the tabloids of the day as "The Captured Girl".  Things are not much better for her there despite her notoriety, and she finds herself longing for Lone Tree, her home.  Frank Nash is still in pursuit of Morgan who he aims to kill.  Her skill with a rifle may be the only thing standing between her and certain death.

This story has everything: strong character development, page-turning action, a love story and a relentless, seemingly unstoppable villain.  But mostly, it's about courage.  What it takes to stay alive in the worst of circumstances, and to even eventually, thrive.

Theology - A Very Short Introduction

David Ford's Theology - A Very Short Introduction (#618) is just one of  approximately 400 titles currently available in this Oxford University Press series.  They are designed "...for anyone wanting a stimulating and accessible way in to a new subject." and this volume certainly delivers.

The Education for Ministry program run by the University of the South uses this book as a text for fourth year students.  Not only does is provide the basics of  what theology is (in this case, using Christianity as its model, but with principles which can be applied to studying the theology of any religion) it provides some of the basics that newcomers to this field would need to pursue their studies further, plus a list for further reading organized by topic.  Though succinct, this text contains much food for thought.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Conclave

When the Pope dies, eligible cardinals assemble at the Vatican from all around the globe to elect a new Pontiff.  The election is carried out in the strictest secrecy within the locked confines of the Sistine Chapel.  This process is called a Conclave, and is the subject of Robert Harris' latest novel, also called Conclave (#617).

Set in the not very distant future, the wheels of the process are set in motion when word is received by senior Vatican officials that the Pope has died unexpectedly.  Cardinal Lomeli as Dean of the College of Cardinals, is in charge according to the Apostolic Constitution, and the story is told mainly from his perspective.  As the Cardinals begin to gather in Rome, the lobbying for power begins.

Lomeli is a man of integrity  struggling with the weight of the burden placed upon his shoulders as he learns that all was not well with the Holy Father just before his death, and that his actions were increasingly under scrutiny by the inner circle around him. Will the Church look forward as he did, or will a Pontiff from the traditional faction try to roll back reforms made since Vatican II?  

This psychological thriller does provide a window into an ancient rite that is hidden from the public, but whose outcome goes far beyond the Roman Catholic Church in its influence.  If you've ever been curious about what goes on behind the closed doors at the Conclave, this is good way to imagine it.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Reckless Creed

Alex Kava has just come out with the third book in her Maggie O'Dell/Ryder Creed partnership, Reckless Creed (#616).  (See my post of 11/28/16.)  This time it's a pair of unrelated suicides - a jumper taking a 19 story plunge in Chicago and a young woman who has waded into a river in a National Forest in Alabama with her pockets full of rocks, that pull Maggie and Ryder together.

Ryder is hired to track the troubled young woman with Grace, his dog.  The local sheriff and a Federal agent need help locating her, but once Grace does her job, she finds some dead birds to bring to Ryder. When that same Federal agent shows up shortly afterwards with a convoy of black SUVs, intent on euthanizing Ryder's entire kennel, an unexpected heroine steps up to stop them.  Meanwhile, Maggie's investigation has tied her Chicago suicide victim back to Pensacola, Ryder's turf.  She suspects murder and the possible return of an old enemy.

Ryder and his crew must teach dogs a new skill to deal with a threat of pandemic infection.  But will they be able to do it without losing their dogs as well?  The race is on the find the nemesis who managed to slip away away from the pair in a prior case.

Every bit as gripping as the previous books.  It's interesting to watch the relationships in the series develop.  I look forward to the next installment.

A Man Called Ove

What can I say about Fredrik Backman's novel A Man Called Ove (#615) except that it's a wonderful read.  Mr. Backman has nailed his Swedish curmudgeon so perfectly that at first you are taken in completely by his prickly non-interest in the people around him, and his general impatience with the world.  It's only as the author switches back and forth in time to illuminate what shaped Ove's personality that you begin to understand him and his extraordinary strength.  By the end of the book I was going through tissues like there was no tomorrow - the best kind of catharsis.

Not that this is a solemn or preachy kind of book; just the opposite!  When my book group got together to discuss it, we disturbed the choir rehearsal across the hall because we were laughing so hard remembering so many episodes involving Ove and his neighbors.  It's just not possible to resist the pregnant Iranian lady who has moved in next door with her utterly unhandy Swedish husband, nor their seven and three year old daughters who will not let themselves be ignored.  Why can't everybody in the neighborhood just leave him in  peace and allow Ove to commit suicide quietly instead of presenting him with one problem after another to solve?

This book truly does have it all.  My advice?  READ. THIS. BOOK. -  SOON!!!