Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Highly Recommended Reading: Ann Cleeves's Shetland Island Mysteries

I'm totally hooked on reading the Shetland Island mysteries by Ann Cleeves. I've churned through the first three in the series and have been highly entertained, and completely surprised, by each book. The protagonist in the books is Inspector Jimmy Perez. Perez is a native of the islands, which are part of the U.K. and celebrate cultural influences from both Scotland and Scandinavia. Cleeves neatly shows us the uniqueness of the Shetland Islands without letting that background dominate the story; and the story here is murder.

The three books in the series that I've read thus far are Raven Black, White Nights, and Red Bones. All three have great atmosphere, the right balance of suspense and character development, and characters to care about. If you like books by Louise Penny or Martha Grimes, I suspect you'll like these books, too. If you've never heard of Penny or Grimes, but enjoy reading a cozy-style mystery where the featured police detective uses his unique skills to puzzle through a murder, then you will likely enjoy these books as well. Great winter reading. Check 'em out!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Recommended Reading: The Trespasser by Tana French

What is it that I think I know? And, am I right?

These are the questions Dublin Murder Squad Detective Antoinette Conway must ask as she and her partner, Steve Moran, investigate when a woman is found dead in an apartment, surrounded by all the elements for hosting a cozy dinner party for two. Conway and Moran work the night shift where they catch an endless series of cases in which one spouse murders the other; domestic cases which, as their boss knows, make Conway mad, and which, professionally speaking, are not particularly challenging to investigate. Now their boss - the gaffer in Dublin speak - has handed them this case, one that appears to be yet another "slam-dunk domestic." But is it?

In addition to the case, the gaffer also gives Conway and Moran backup, an experienced murder squad detective named Breslin. The two partners dislike the implication that they need help to clear the case. And Conway has additional concerns. She wonders if Breslin is on board as part of an effort to get her kicked out of the Murder Squad, a place that has not made her feel welcome or comfortable.

By the time I made it onto the squad, something had changed. . .  I came in at the wrong time, and I got of on the wrong foot. 
. . .
Deep down, though, it wasn't about me being a woman. That was just their in; that was just the thing that they thought would or should, make it easy for them to push me around. Deep down, this was simpler. This was about the exact same thing as primary school, when Ireland was still lily-white and I was the only brownish kid around, and my first ever nickname was Shiteface. It was about the same thing as everything else humans have done to each other since before history began: power. It was deciding about who would be the alpha dogs and who would be at the bottom of the pile. 
I went in expecting that. Every squad hazes the newbie . . . and Murder was already growing a rep for doing it that bit harder, fewer laughs, more edge. But just because I expected it, that didn't mean I was gonna take it. If I learned one thing in school, it's this: you never let them get you on the bottom of the pile. If you do, you might never get up again.
Fighting office politics colors Conway's investigation. Her work has been sabotaged before. But she is determined that it will not happen here, on what may be her last case. And where this dogged determination leads her is an engaging and surprising story.

What does Conway know? And is she right?

The Trespasser is another great read from Tana French.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

IQ by Joe Ide

The mistake I made when I started reading IQ by Joe Ide was in thinking that I was going to be reading a mystery. I was under that impression because the terms used to promote the book include things such as a "clever thriller about a brilliant young private detective."  And the book starts out that way, with a crime, unrelated to the book's main plot, which is detected and solved by the book's protagonist, Isaiah Quintabe, known as IQ. Subsequently in the main story IQ is, indeed, a private detective hired to find out who is trying to kill a famous rap star. Nonetheless, I found that this book is more about the survival of people in tough situations, and tough neighborhoods, than it is about mere investigation or a conventional murder mystery.

It occurred to me that I needed to embrace IQ as something other than a mystery when, part way through the book, I thought, 'this story is incredibly sad.' Now, plenty of sad and bad things happen in most mysteries but this was more grim (promotional materials call it 'gritty'): IQ and his older brother are orphans. IQ's older brother dies. To hang on to their apartment, IQ takes in a roommate he meets in the school principal's office, Juanell Dodson, who has been kicked out of his home. Without his brother or any family to help, the need for cash takes precedence over everything and IQ's dream of college evaporates. He and Juanell start committing burglaries to raise needed money.

This part of the story is told in alternating chapters with the story of IQ's work for his client, rapper Calvin Wright, known as Black the Knife. Cal is also having a crisis: Not only is someone is trying to kill him, but he is unproductive and, despite all is success, he is questioning what he is doing with his life.

How these and other characters work through the daily problems they are confronting is very engaging reading. It is well worth your time to read IQ for the story of how this smart kid, as well as the other interesting characters, survive in a tough place. Although the mystery itself isn't particularly tension filled, the book has an exciting conclusion. I'm looking forward to reading more about IQ in the future.