Wedding Rows

Wedding Rows_KateKingsbury_1598409

 

THE PLANES ARE IN THE AIR

4 STARS

This is the penultimate novel in the Manor House series, following “Fire When Ready.” This is not a standalone novel; all the backstory for the characters has been firmly established many books ago and is not summarized here. And it is set at the end of May 1944. The war in Britain has been going on for 5 years and the Allied Invasion of Normandy is rumored to be only days away.

Each of the seven previous books has revolved around three plot lines – two major, one secondary. The two major storylines revolve around a murder and around the relationship between Lady Elizabeth and Major Earl Monroe. The secondary plot line, that of the relationship between Polly (Lady Elizabeth’s assistant) and Sam Cutter (an injured American pilot now back in the States) is finally resolved early in this book and is replaced by a totally different type of plot – a kidnapping.

The murder plot for this novel involves the demise, during a wedding reception, of the boyfriend of one of the bridesmaids. It seems that the dear departed has been arguing with everyone lately, including the bridesmaid, so there is no lack of suspects. Lady Elizabeth feels that the constables have focused on the wrong suspect and sets out to identify the real murderer.

Lady Elizabeth’s brain, by her own acknowledgement, is over-tasked and muddled by her fears for Earl Monroe’s safety in the air. Therefore, she misses clues left and right, particularly one early on, when a character refers to the manner of death when Elizabeth has not yet revealed that information.

But missing those clues is not just because of her fears for Earl. It is also related to the second plot line. Her housekeeper, Sadie, is the third of three ladies to go missing in less than 24 hours. So now, Lady Elizabeth has to sort out two cases simultaneously, a device that Kate Kingsbury has not used in this series previously.

And another device that is not usually in Kingsbury’s repertoire also shows up in that same kidnapping story line – comedy. When Sadie disappears practically under Polly’s nose, Lady Elizabeth mounts a rescue attempt on her own. Now imagine Lady Elizabeth and Polly on the motorcycle, Constable George in the sidecar and it’s after dark during a wartime blackout. Kingsbury uses 16 pages to affect the chase and rescue. It is hilarious to the point of tears, but it is also totally plausible within the culture and conditions of the time.

But Kingsbury employs yet a third device to bring this story home. Kingsbury has only written Earl into the novel physically two or three times. This is a different absence than the one precipitated by events in “Berried Alive.” By limiting his exposure, Kingsbury is setting the stage for what the series has been leading up to for so many entries.

As occurs in many cozies, the heroine solves the crime but at unintended peril to her own health and safety. But what doesn’t occur in many cozies is a cliffhanger, particularly a cliffhanger that has a huge formation of bombers flying across real cliffs.

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Soulless

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MANNERS, SIR. MANNERS.

4 STARS

This is the first in the 5-book Alexia Tarabotti series. The series is set in Victorian-era London, but the books are in the alternate historical reality of the steampunk genre.

As in many steampunk stories, the main characters are paranormal. Alexia is a preternatural while Lord Maccon and Lord Akeldama are supernaturals, an alpha werewolf and a rove vampire respectively. It is through Alexia’s eyes that we see the story unfold and she is the unique one of the set.

In the world that Carriger builds, a preternatural like Alexia is a soulless human. It is an inherited and extremely rare condition but not an evil condition. It simply means that, with physical contact, Alexia can convert a vampire or a werewolf back to its human state. But the conversion lasts only as long as the physical contact is maintained. Since supernaturals are not born into their condition, the conversion is temporary. 

Alexia inherited her preternatural condition from her Italian father, who is now dead. Her mother has remarried into the lower aristocracy and considers Alexia’s above average intelligence, her outspokenness and her Italian countenance quite the social problem. Ashamed of her, yet totally unaware of her preternatural skills, the mother refuses her a coming-out party. Thus, Alexia is declared a spinster at the ripe old age of 15.

Alexia is now, at the opening of the story, 26 years old and uses her spinsterhood to her distinct personal and intellectual advantage. While her family may not know of her condition, the supernatural world definitely does and she is greatly feared among the vampires.

Carriger builds from this background a story of substance. Using snappy dialogue, knowledge of Victorian era culture and an active imagination, she leads the reader right down the proverbial path from thinking this is a comedic romance to realizing it is a tense mystery of kidnapping and murder.

But throughout the book, even during the tensest and nastiest moments, Carriger uses the oh-so-proper nature of Victorian speech to insert humor. Using double entendre, tongue-in-cheek repartee and out-right snark, the author sets the reader up to suddenly cackle with delight or laugh to the point of tears. And even the non-dialogue parts are done with a Victorian cadence.

As far as a supernatural romantic suspense goes, this is a pretty good one, but it falls short as steampunk. The clockwork and steam mechanisms that usually characterize a steampunk entry are present but not prominent. As the story progresses, the explanations and descriptions provided increasingly leave a fuzzy feeling, as if they are being included only to establish genre. Quite frankly, Bec McMasters does a far better job incorporating such devices with the characters’ roles.

There are two other things that bothered me and caused me to reduce my rating. First, the author repeatedly declares that the soulless preternatural has been used throughout the centuries to kill supernatural creatures. However, the mechanism for doing so was never actually explained. I think I figured it out, but the author should have been far clearer, since simple touch couldn’t do it.

And secondly, the character development, with the exception of Alexia, leaves much to be desired. Even though Lord Maccon, Professor Lyall and Lord Akeldama are clearly intended as major players in the series, their portrayals come off as only two-dimensional.

I do not know yet if I will continue on with the series. While the premise of the series is rather original and the dialogue is refreshing, I was not sucked in enough at the end to pay the price currently being asked for Carriger’s books. 

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The Bone Collector

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A MOST UNUSUAL PROTAGONIST

5 STARS

I have easily read a thousand mysteries in my lifetime, but this one introduces the most unusual protagonist that I have encountered to date. And that’s saying a lot with the current spate of vampires, werewolves, demons and fallen angels that seem to be in vogue these days.

Lincoln Rhyme is a former NYPD detective and former head of the Crime Scene division in the force. He is a brilliant scientist, an acknowledged expert in the field of criminology and the author of several forensic texts. And he is a quadriplegic – now. Injured on the job, he is only able to move his head, his shoulders and the ring finger of his left hand. Through herculean efforts and massive physical therapy, he is now able to breathe without a ventilator.

And Lincoln Rhyme wants to die! He is worn out from the phantom pains in his limbs. He is worn out from the extensive physical therapy required daily to keep his organs from shutting down. And he is afraid of losing what little mobility he has to the inevitable stroke that a newly developed condition has promised. He just wants to go out on his own terms and has been actively seeking assisted suicide for the last year.

As the book opens, he is awaiting the arrival of the doctor who will most likely be the one to do the job. However, before the doctor can get there, his old partner arrives with a horrific and high profile case that the NYPD brass wants Rhyme to work on. When the doctor does arrive, he refuses to continue with the procedure for at least three days. With three days to wait, Rhyme decides to help with the case and it is now game on!

And what an incredibly tense three days it becomes. The author unfolds the story through the viewpoints of Rhyme, Amelia Sachs – a police officer with medical problems of her own – the victims and the killer. These viewpoints lead us deep into the characters, personalities and psyches of both Rhyme and Sachs. The killer’s descent into insanity is deftly crafted. Even the secondary characters come across as three-dimensional and with distinctly different personalities.

By the end of the tale, I had read just about all the descriptions of torture that I could handle for awhile. All were quite graphic and all were necessary to the evolvement of the storyline and the culmination of the hunt for the killer.

By the end of the tale, I had a different opinion on the concept of self-termination and assisted suicide that I had when I started. While having never believed that suicide is a sin, I had always narrowly and simplistically believed that suicide was a self-involved and permanent solution to a temporary problem. But then again, Rhyme’s situation isn’t temporary, is it? Amazing that a work of fiction can sometimes have more educational value than a literary work or a talk show.

And by the end of the tale, I found that my idea regarding the identity of the killer was wrong – logically deduced, but really, really wrong. In fact, when the killer’s identity was revealed 20 pages from the end of the book, I startled everybody in the house with my loudly exclaimed and profane expletive. The next 7 pages were perhaps some of the most intense, edge-of-your-seat reading that I have encountered in a while.

So, does Lincoln Rhyme succumb to assisted suicide? Of course not – this is a series that is still being written and has ten entries as of the date of this review. But the reason for choosing to remain alive is not a simple one and the subject is quite likely to arise again. After all, nothing has changed in his physical condition.

Deaver has written a mystery thriller with multiple twists to a convoluted plot. Add in believable emotional issues and responses along with realistic psychological manipulations and the novel truly becomes one for my all-time favorites list.

However, the movie that is supposedly based on the book is not even comparable. The plot in the movie is adulterated and the characters’ names and backstories are changed to the point of non-recognition with respect to the book. And, of course, after reading the book, watching Angelie Jolie play the part of Amelia is just as incongruous to this die-hard thriller reader as having Tom Cruise cast in the role of Jack Reacher.

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Fire When Ready

Fire When Ready_KateKingsbury_2651083

 

BACK TO NORMAL, SORT OF

4 STARS

This story begins eight months after the conclusion of the previous novel, “Berried Alive.” Major Earl Monroe left Sitting Marsh – and Lady Elizabeth – all those months ago to return to America when his son was critically injured in an accident. In those eight months, Elizabeth has only heard from Earl twice, once to let her know that the son was recovering and then a generic Christmas card essentially addressed to the entire household.

And now, as the story opens, Lady Elizabeth is doing exactly what she has done every single day for the last eight months. She is putting one foot in front of the other and doing her duty to the village as befitting her position as Lady of the Manor. And she is trying to accept her life as it now is, lonely, on the edge of poverty and alone but for her servants and employees.

Then two events transpire on consecutive days. First, the newly opened and actively despised munitions factory is set ablaze, in the middle of the night, killing its manager and a cleaning lady. And on the next day, Lady Elizabeth returns from her initial investigation into the fire and finds a familiar Jeep parked in its special place in the courtyard.

Kingsbury does a marvelous job of constructing the mystery surrounding the fire and deaths at the munitions factory. Even though this is the seventh book in the series, the author is able to create fresh situations and misadventures for Elizabeth to get into. No two murders or murderers or motives are ever the same. These may be cozies by genre, but they are not cookie-cutter books. Each entry advances the personal storyline of each character, major and secondary, and incorporates the events of the mystery into their personalities.

If I have one complaint about this series – and this book – it is the author’s constant need to make Elizabeth incredibly logical one minute and pitifully naïve the next. Kingsbury writes Lady Elizabeth as a character who is highly intelligent, incredibly observant and honorable almost to a fault. Then she belies that intelligence by writing her as a woman with a tendency toward absolutes, constantly using modifiers such as “never,” “always” and “couldn’t possibly.”

And while Kingsbury has Earl repeatedly warn Elizabeth that one day he may not be there or get to her in time to save her from her impetuousness, Elizabeth still, after at least four near-death experiences, believes otherwise. And I quote: “…she went with him into the cool, dark night, secure in the knowledge that no matter what scrapes she might get into, he would always be there for her.”

I realize that this type of statement is an oh-so-romantic end to the book, but it is not realistic. In fact, it clashes with everything else that Kingsbury has had Elizabeth express through her internal monologues. It’s as if Lady Elizabeth, at the end of the story, develops complete amnesia regarding the last eight months without Earl and has truly deluded herself to the fact that he still pilots bombers over Germany.

There are still two books left in the series. Any reader with a lick of experience in a mystery series that has continuing characters can see where this is heading.

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Berried Alive

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REMEMBER WHEN BAXTER LEFT THE PENNYFOOT?

5 STARS

This story begins several months following the conclusion of the previous novel, “Paint by Murder.” It opens with Martin, the butler, who has lost his glasses somehow and four redheaded GIs who have lost their lives, in four separate incidents, as a result of ingesting toxic berries. What do Martin’s glasses have to do with the dead GIs? Not a thing, but they are both mysteries that Lady Elizabeth needs to solve before anyone can rest easy at the Manor House again.

As Lady Elizabeth and Major Earl Monroe work to solve the mystery behind who killed the GIs and why, Kingsbury uses that investigation to explore several major issues. First, Kingsbury explores the devastation wrecked upon British girls and their families when pregnancies occur and the American GIs involved refuse to accept responsibility. And secondly, Kingsbury explores the problem of the married GI and the unmarried British lass.

While this is the situation that Lady Elizabeth and Earl Monroe find themselves in, Kingsbury also brings to the story a situation with a pair who are much younger and of much lesser rank than Elizabeth and Earl. Thus, the author creates yet another opportunity to explore honor and morality versus the desire to live in the moment, all colored by the fear that the GI may be dead the next day.

But it is the ongoing situation – spanning into the 6th book now – between Polly, Lady Elizabeth’s assistant, and Sam Cutter, an American flyboy, that Kingsbury uses to illustrate the emotional toll taken on British women when their Yank boyfriends are ordered back to America. And just when you think that situation, which you have seen coming for the last two books, has played out, Kingsbury jerks you up and twists you in the wind.

So, beware. The end of this tale is not pretty. It is realistic, but it is not pretty.

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Murder Key

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THEY REALLY WANT THAT MAN DEAD

4 STARS

There is so much going on in this 2nd entry in Griffin’s Matt Royal series that I hardly know where to start. Now that doesn’t mean that the book has an overabundance of characters or that it has a morass of seemingly unrelated scenes. It means that Griffin wove his various plot threads together so tightly, even the love interest, that it was a challenge to determine if any of the secondary characters qualified as good guys.

From the first novel we know that our main character, Matt Royal, is a flawed but decent, protagonist. And based on the first novel, we can also place Logan Hamilton, Matt’s good friend, and Bill Lester, the town’s police chief, into the good-guy column. In this second entry, we are introduced to Jock Algren, a government agent who has been one of Royal’s best friends since middle school. We’re never told exactly which alphabet agency he works for but, with his weapons skills, it is definitely not the IRS. So we get to put him in the good-guy column also.

But after that, it is anybody’s guess who is clean and who is dirty – federal agent, police deputy, corporate worker or the person on the next bar stool. And that is the foundation of the major plot thread – someone wants Matt Royal dead. And nobody can figure out why, let alone who, is ordering the hit. All we, and Matt Royal, know is that the attempts to kill him begin the day he discovers, during his morning run, two illegals dead on the beach and a third legal immigrant critically wounded.

Frankly, I lost count of how many times the bad guys tried to kill Matt Royal in this book. But Matt is not exactly defenseless. He was a Special Forces officer in the last years of the Vietnam War and had killed and survived being attacked on multiple occasions then. But it has been years since that innate need of kill-or-be-killed has been required of him. Out of necessity, those killing skills return and, with them, a boatload of emotional and psychological detritus. But it is primarily Jock, his agency contacts and his agency skills that keep Matt alive as they burrow further and further into a multi-national criminal conspiracy. Griffin crafts Jock’s responses both physically and emotionally realistic, making detritus for him, too.

However, it is these repeated attempts to kill Royal that caused me to downgrade my rating on the book. It is only coincidence that Jock has come to Florida from Texas and is sitting next to Matt when the first attack comes. The author acknowledges that coincidence and continues with the story. But the sheer volume of assassination attempts made me begin to wonder just how long Royal was going to survive without the author resorting to a deus ex machina situation.

And, before the story was over, not just one but two, such devices came into play. First, the bad guys, who have consistently used only boats and vans for two-thirds of the book, suddenly decide to drop a trussed up Royal, Logan and Jock at sea from a helicopter. That didn’t work, of course, not when Logan just so happens to be a retired chopper pilot.

That one is borderline plausible. But the second one, where the condo super just happens to turn the key in Royal’s door lock at the exact moment a bad guy has a gun pointed at Matt’s chest just pushed my already frayed suspension of disbelief right over the edge.

The author redeems himself in the end, however. The final conflict is well played and well written, logical and realistic, no coincidences and no suspension of disbelief needed.

And speaking of the end – a caveat here – as you read, don’t skim or skip over the sections that detail Royal’s visceral responses to the physical charms of several of the female characters. If you do, you will miss the import of the novel’s last sentence.

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Longboat Blues

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WHEN IT ISN’T WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

5 STARS

This is the first book in the Matt Royal mystery series by H. Terrell Griffin and it has a copyright date of 2005. At the time of this review there are 8 entries in the series, which is set in the present day.

Griffin’s main character, Matt Royal, calls himself a retired attorney. However, the reality is that he is a forty-ish burn out who had, several years prior, dropped out of the law game – and life – for two reasons. First, he could no longer reconcile the inequities between enacted law, practiced law and the concept of justice. Secondly, after letting his highly profitable career deny his wife both his time and the possibility of children for years, she left him. No ultimatum, no argument – she just requested a divorce one evening when he finally deigned to come home from work and was gone.

So, betrayed by his profession and having betrayed the most important person in his life, Matt drops out of his career as one of the most successful criminal defense attorneys in Florida. He then betrays himself by moving onto his boat on the southwest coast of Florida and becoming a nearly destitute drunk. Then a chance to right one of those legal injustices drops into his lap and a year later he has won more than the case. He is again financially secure, reasonably sober and determined to be the friend to his neighbors on the island that he had never been to his wife.

And then one of those friends, Logan Hamilton, finds the body of his occasional sexual partner on his balcony. Logan asks Matt to represent him on the murder charge, and reluctantly, it’s game on for Matt.

From this point on, the author weaves a well-told story of murder, con games, mysterious disappearances, another murder, drugs, identity theft, yet another murder, domestic abuse, politics and more murder. Since Griffin tells the tale by way of Royal’s first person POV, we only get the clues to it all as fast or as clearly as Royal decides to voice them.

By the time the story reached the trial stage, I was absolutely riveted to my seat. And the author does not disappoint here either. The proceedings feel realistic, and everything does not go Royal’s way. We are treated to the nuances of the game-playing that constitutes a trial in which a person’s life is at stake. And we are introduced to the caliber of attorney that Matt Royal was – and still is. Through the twists and turns of the trial, the author brings home to the reader the type of friend and the type of character that we will be reading about in future books.

But the end of the trial is not the end of the book. Even the least experienced reader can see that there are too many pages left for just an epilogue. However, by the time the blood pressure returns to normal on the last page, the reader should be satisfied. There is no cliffhanger for an ending and all but one of the plot threads are tied up. Just a little hanging thread, leading us on to the next book.

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