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The Kennedy Connection: A Gil Malloy Novel (The Gil Malloy Series)
The Kennedy Connection: A Gil Malloy Novel (The Gil Malloy Series)
by Richard Belsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.58
50 used & new from $2.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Deserves to be shortlisted, September 29, 2014
THE KENNEDY CONNECTION is a surprise, to say the least. Veteran newspaper and television journalist R. G. Belsky returns to the mystery shelves after an extended absence with a new character in the form of Gil Malloy and a new novel in which all of the gears mesh together so nicely that what might have been a merely competent work becomes a title that deserves to be shortlisted for the year-end best-of lists. Yes, it is that good.

Malloy comes with an interesting backstory. He was a once-great reporter for the New York Daily News who made a major mistake. Actually, that’s not accurate. He made the worst error a reporter can possibly make --- he made up a story and passed it off as news. He is still employed by the paper, but barely so. White, male, old and disgraced, his chances of regaining his former lofty position in the firmament of reporter heaven is slim to none, and slim just left town. Belsky does an amazing job of developing Malloy into a character you can see so well that he seems to float off the page right in front of the reader. All of us, in some vocation, know a Malloy. While reading THE KENNEDY CONNECTION, you will play “reminds me of” from the beginning of the story to the end.

The other noteworthy element is the mystery at the heart of the book. Someone in New York is killing people named Kennedy and leaving a Kennedy half-dollar at the scene of the crime. When the doer contacts Malloy and threatens more violence, his editors are understandably suspicious, given his prior history, particularly his penchant for manufacturing evidence. Notwithstanding that, they give Malloy his head, to some extent, pairing him with the current star reporter in a reluctant teaming that slowly but surely starts to mesh.

In the meantime, though, Malloy has two other potential stories. One involves a man who purports to be the son of Lee Harvey Oswald and is working on a book that supposedly tells the truth about the JFK assassination. The other concerns the murder of a Puerto Rican gang member, a cold case of some years’ duration that absolutely no one (well, almost no one) cares about. Malloy had promised to investigate the case, but it looks like he is going to break that vow, which he made to the victim’s family and to himself. As the stories move forward, Belsky, through Malloy, presents an interesting secular version of a question asked in the New Testament: What does it profit someone to gain the world but lose their soul? It is a question that Malloy asks himself, even as he strays from the path of what he should do as he pursues what he must.

THE KENNEDY CONNECTION succeeds as a character study, presenting Malloy as a flawed individual with a great degree of insight who strives, somewhat erratically, to do better. There are also a couple of intriguing mysteries here, and Belsky’s use of the Kennedy assassination as an indirect vehicle for a serial killer is a unique and interesting one. It appears this is the first of a series; if so, it is off to a great and auspicious start.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


The Distance: A Thriller
The Distance: A Thriller
by Helen Giltrow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.09
68 used & new from $6.38

4.0 out of 5 stars Complex but extremely sure-footed debut, September 29, 2014
There are echoes of Charles Cumming and John le Carre throughout THE DISTANCE, but it is not a spy or espionage novel per se. And the voice one hears throughout the book belongs only to Helen Giltrow, albeit channeled through the minds of the book’s two primary characters.

THE DISTANCE takes place mainly over the course of 25 dark and difficult days, which begin when two people who never expected to see each other again experience an encounter designed by one to the surprise of the other. It is Charlotte Alton who is the surprised one. Alton is a wealthy socialite who goes to all the right places and supports the serious cause of the week. She, however, has a hidden occupation. Alton, under the name “Karla,” is a cleaner of sorts. She wipes information, making individuals disappear off the radar as if they never existed. Her clientele, as one might expect, consists primarily of criminals. For them, Karla is a name, never a face. She broke that rule one time, with and for a man named Simon Johanssen, a former special-ops sniper who became a killer for hire. Johanssen was briefly a part of Karla’s life and then disappeared --- until now.

As the meat of THE DISTANCE begins, it is Johanssen who designs their encounter in a manner that startles and unsettles Karla. What he requests startles her even more. As the story proceeds, the narrative is split between Johanssen and Karla. Johanssen has an assignment that requires he break into a special, maximum security detention center named The Program, murder one of the prisoners, and get out again. All three elements of the task seem to be nearly impossible, yet Karla agrees to aid him in his assignment, as much to protect him as to collect a fee. The facility, it develops, is under the de facto rule of a prisoner who is a mortal enemy of Johanssen’s, one who will kill him on sight only if he is fortunate.

Giltrow scatters questions and issues like breadcrumbs during the first half of the book. Why has Johanssen been selected for this particular mission? Why is a somewhat unlikely prisoner, at least at first blush, the target? Who wants the prisoner dead? Those are just a few of the tantalizing issues presented here, not to mention the methods by which Karla plans to get Johanssen into and out of The Program. Then there is The Program itself, an experimental facility that is run along the lines of a small, somewhat self-governing municipality. One could do a series based on The Program alone, but I, for one, am glad that Giltrow chose to focus her story as she did, keeping one guessing as to who was doing what to whom and why, until almost the very end.

THE DISTANCE is a complex but extremely sure-footed debut that blends espionage elements and crime fiction in the best possible ways while gently cajoling the reader into truly caring about the characters, particularly the complicated Karla, who is busily living two different lives while not being truly comfortable in either of them. You will want to spend some time with this one to appreciate all the twists and turns that Giltrow and her characters put you through.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


De Potter's Grand Tour: A Novel
De Potter's Grand Tour: A Novel
by Joanna Scott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.45
55 used & new from $10.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting mix of fact and fiction, September 29, 2014
The historical Armand de Potter was novelist Joanna Scott's great-grandfather. This veteran traveler disappeared at sea, and the real-life mystery of his disappearance inspired the literary mystery at the heart of Scott's new novel, DE POTTER'S GRAND TOUR. Much of the book’s substance is gleaned from de Potter's own writings, as well as the letters and journals of his wife, and is peppered with archival photos of the de Potters and their voyages. This, as well as the somewhat formal language and very objective telling of plot and details, at times makes Scott's newest work read more like nonfiction than a novel.

Despite this somewhat distanced storytelling style, Scott's de Potter is a complicated character whose nuanced personality and motivations come across, especially in the novel's surprising conclusion. Born into a poor and somewhat ostracized branch of the de Potter family, Armand de Potter reinvents himself as an aristocrat and academic after he immigrates to the United States in the late 19th century. He also begins to fashion himself as a collector, starting with objects he retrieves from the New York Harbor as a member of the Dredging Club.

After his marriage to a much-younger woman, Amy (who also reinvents herself as the much more Continental-sounding Aimee), de Potter's collecting ambitions only grow, as the couple relocates to France and begins leading guided expeditions throughout Europe and to Egypt and beyond. In an effort to receive recognition for his collection (and, by extension, validation for himself), de Potter sends most of his acquired antiquities to a small museum in Philadelphia, which, as he discovers during an undercover visit, fails not only to recognize him with the publication of a catalogue (as he's been promised) but also to acknowledge him even with a simple plaque. Nevertheless, de Potter's collecting habit/compulsion continues, as he secretly signs away his family's fortunes to acquire and then ship his collection around the world.

After de Potter's sudden disappearance, his wife is left behind to uncover many of these financial secrets, as well as the confusing and often contradictory life history of her husband. Even as she attempts to keep herself and their son afloat, she wonders if she ever really knew her beloved spouse or if their seemingly perfect life together was just an illusion.

At times, it can be difficult for readers to feel emotionally invested with the de Potters, given Scott's objective distance and the narrative structure, which switches back and forth (subtly, so that readers need to really pay attention to verb tense, etc.) between de Potter's current location and the couple's past experiences. Periodically, though, Scott breaks through this detachment with a perfectly written scene that is every bit as evocative and emotionally compelling as a reader might expect or want. As such, DE POTTER'S GRAND TOUR is an interesting mix of fact and fiction, reporting and storytelling that shows how historical fact can inspire fiction and how fiction can bring history to life.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl


Tokyo Kill: A Thriller (A Jim Brodie Novel)
Tokyo Kill: A Thriller (A Jim Brodie Novel)
by Barry Lancet
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.08
56 used & new from $7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the more interesting characters in the thriller universe, September 29, 2014
Thriller readers were introduced to Jim Brodie last year in JAPANTOWN. Brodie is immediately noteworthy as one of the more interesting characters in the thriller universe. While he might wish that his primary occupation was that of an antiques dealer in San Francisco, he is also part owner of Brodie Security, a protection and private investigation firm in Tokyo, Japan. Author Barry Lancet knows of what he writes, having spent over a quarter-century living and working in Tokyo. TOKYO KILL, his sophomore effort, demonstrates conclusively that the excellent JAPANTOWN was no fluke; Lancet appears to have many more tales to tell, and his latest is one of the best of them.

While the setting for JAPANTOWN was divided between San Francisco and Tokyo, TOKYO KILL begins in Tokyo, as one might expect, but also takes Brodie to the equally exotic (if you know where to look) setting of Miami. At the beginning of the book, Brodie is visiting Tokyo with his daughter, hoping to combine a vacation with a search on behalf of one of his clients for a rare Japanese painting. He is using his office at Brodie Investigations as a convenience, and nothing more, when a very elderly gentleman forcefully presents himself sans appointment, almost begging to be protected.

The unexpected visitor turns out to be Akira Miura, a Japanese Army veteran who saw combat duty during World War II in China. Miura, only a few years shy of the century mark, is terrified of dying, but not from the attritions of age. Two of his friends from his Army days, and their families, have been murdered recently, and Miura is all but certain that he will be next. Brodie is not entirely sure that there is any validity to Miura’s fears, but nonetheless accepts him as a security client.

However, when those fears are validated in a most dramatic fashion, Brodie doubles the guard on Miura and attempts to determine who is behind the systematic and ritualistic murders. His investigation leads him to call in favors from friends and acquaintances on both sides of the law while taking him into a twisted social labyrinth peopled with Chinese Triad members, Japanese kendo students, and a secret society of killers whose thirst for blood and revenge traverses hundreds of years. Along the way, Brodie acquires --- with some difficulty --- a love interest. But will she ease his considerable burdens, or make things even more dangerous for him?

There are any number of high points in TOKYO KILL. A major one is Brodie’s visit to Tokyo’s version of Chinatown, which makes the book worth reading all by itself. The other is Lancet’s presentation of the history of Japanese swords and swordplay, which seems exhaustive and yet, I would wager, provides an accurate scratch upon the surface of the topic. Include Lancet’s afterword concerning the authenticity of what is included in the main narrative (which is every bit as interesting as the latter), and you have a book worth reading and a series worth starting. And never fear: a third Brodie thriller is on the way.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


Haunted (A Hannah Smith Novel)
Haunted (A Hannah Smith Novel)
by Randy Wayne White
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.02
77 used & new from $13.25

4.0 out of 5 stars More sure-footed than its two predecessors, September 29, 2014
Those who are fans of Randy Wayne White and aren’t quite on board with his Hannah Smith series will be pleased to learn that this third and newest installment is a bit more sure-footed than its two predecessors. While it will not necessarily make you forget all about Doc Ford (who is totally absent here, other than for Hannah’s occasional reference to him as “The biologist”), White’s efforts make HAUNTED more than merely an interlude between the Ford novels.

The title refers in large part to an abandoned house located in the Florida Gulf Coast environs of Sanibel Island and the vicinity. The house has been purchased by a wealthy West Palm Beach widow who happens to be the aunt of a local policewoman named Birdy Tupplemeyer, who, in turn, is a friend of Hannah’s. Hannah, a part-time fishing guide and private investigator, has been hired to get the historical goods on the house, which is so strongly rumored to be haunted that it was the subject of a true-crime television program.

For reasons explained at some great length, Birdy’s aunt wants to rescind the deal on the basis that the sale occurred without the real estate agent providing a full disclosure of events that had transpired involving the property and could have the potential of impacting its value. It’s a fatal omission with respect to real estate under Florida law. The house itself is no prize, as is demonstrated in the early goings when Birdy and Hannah are the recipients of a skin-crawling vignette. That is the very least of the house’s problems, however. Its history is both interesting and morbid, given that it was a focal point for an important, if little-known or remembered, Civil War battle, one in which an ancestor of Hannah’s played a prominent role. It is also a bit hard on its prior owners: at least two of them have died under mysterious circumstances.

Hannah sees the project as a chance to track her family history and perhaps preserve the local environs, but a number of people have other ideas. The problem for Hannah and Birdy is that it is difficult to distinguish friend from foe, particularly when the rumor of some buried/abandoned Civil War treasure is thrown into the mix. If that isn’t enough, there is a primate research center nearby that is coupled with a venom milking center, a trailer park that has an extremely interesting set of residents, including a couple of self-styled witches, some circus people, and a psychopath or two. Almost everyone is lying about one thing or another.

Sound interesting? It is. However, White takes a good deal of time toward setting up everything and introducing his characters while describing at great length the natural flora that one expects from a book set in the Florida Gulf Coast. Accordingly, one needs to be patient. When things start to rock and roll about two-thirds of the way through, they really do. Hannah is on the wrong end of an extended pursuit through the Florida wilderness, hampered in a very interesting way but one-upped on her extremely unique pursuers by virtue of the extensive knowledge of the surroundings she has acquired as a fishing guide. That being said, you definitely will think twice about taking one of those hours-long boat tours through the Florida swamp lands or waterways, if you think about them at all. And you won’t be able to visit a zoo anywhere without certain scenes from the book coming unbidden to your mind as well.

What is most noteworthy about HAUNTED? It demonstrates that White most definitely still has the chops to raise a reader’s pulse rate; it just takes him a bit of time to get there, at least at this point in his career.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


Tigerman: A novel
Tigerman: A novel
by Nick Harkaway
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.38
73 used & new from $11.00

5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining, action-packed weekend sit-down, September 29, 2014
This review is from: Tigerman: A novel (Hardcover)
Author Nick Harkaway is no novice to bestsellers in his unique genre. Critics have had a hard time placing this inventive, witty and creative almost-sci-fi, philosophical, action/adventure writer in a niche with his genre-bending ANGELMAKER and THE GONE-AWAY WORLD. I daresay that TIGERMAN lives up to his unique approach to fly in the face of pigeonholing his work. Pity the bookseller who has to find the right place to shelve this one.

The Boy, a street-wise, homeless kid who may or may not be an orphan, dwells on the British colonial backwater island of Mancreu off the coast of Yemen in the Arabian Sea. The island, made up of a gas-belching volcano emitting noxious fumes caused by chemical experiments by an unnamed company endangering the lives of its rapidly dwindling inhabitants, is about to erupt. The stalwart remaining citizens are leaving on a regular basis, and the only rule of law is an out-of-favor British sergeant who refers to himself as “Sergeant.” He is about to retire and has been sent to run the abandoned British Embassy to fill out his final few months of service in order to collect his pension. His sole assignment is to keep order as civility breaks down, as well as oversee the final evacuation of the population before the island is destroyed by a lethal combination created by man and nature.

The Boy lives in a fantasy world of comic book heroes, viewing the Sergeant as a superhero who somehow will come to the rescue of his home. The Sergeant, being a mere mortal who is just trying to keep it together until he can pack his kit and retire somewhere peaceful, is perhaps the most reluctant hero one can imagine as he deals with the remaining stubborn island dwellers.

Harkaway has created an eccentric, amusing and beguiling cast of characters who deal with the poisonous gas clouds, food shortages and mysterious comings and goings of visitors to the Black Fleet, a consortium of large ships that are clustered just outside the three-mile limit of Mancreau. Only The Boy has permission to motor a small supply boat to and from the ships with supplies, and only he seems to be in touch with the powers-that-be who hold the island’s future in their hands.

To say any more would be a rotten spoiler, but this brilliantly conceived plot is good for an entertaining, action-packed weekend sit-down. It verges on a YA (Young Adult) level, but a caveat to the under-15 crowd: One of the main characters can barely exhale without emitting noxiously ripe language, which is at once profane, funny, and perhaps the most creative use of the dreaded “F” word in the verb, noun and adjective form to be found anywhere.

This is my first exposure to the British-born Harkaway, but it won’t be my last. I’ve already downloaded ANGELMAKER to see what all the hype in the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and Booklist has been about. Especially after he was also compared to Pynchon, Pratchett, Vonnegut and Heller in a jacket blurb. Who can resist that?

Reviewed by Roz Shea


Florence Gordon
Florence Gordon
by Brian Morton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.81
54 used & new from $6.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Please get this book, September 29, 2014
This review is from: Florence Gordon (Hardcover)
Brian Morton has given Florence Gordon, a New York feminist essayist who has just turned 75, high credibility in a sharply written novel about her son Daniel and his wife Janine, a granddaughter Emily, some remarkable long-term friends, and her own mortality. I stopped marking the pages to which I wanted to return around page 35 in FLORENCE GORDON. It would have been a dog-eared mess had I continued.

Florence had the good fortune to be a young woman in the ’60s (“bliss was it in that dawn to be alive”). She saw the Beatles come to America and was present at the discovery of sex and the dawn of liberation. Even if she ended up a cranky old lady proud to have been an activist, she reasons, there will always be something in her soul that remains green. She was also a complete pain in the neck.

Florence is currently writing around writing her memoir and wrestles with whether or not it is instead time to say something new. She looks back at notes from years ago when she had flirted with a topic: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman meets Das Kapital. She spends some time reconsidering but realizes again (the reason she had put the project aside before) that “she was a guerrilla fighter, a saboteur, a master of the sneak attack.” She wasn’t a grand system builder. She throws away the box of notes with a tremendous sense of satisfaction. “She didn’t want to change her life. She wanted to keep going.”

Florence’s career takes a distinctive, breathtaking lift upward after a New York Times book review praises her work as brilliant and Florence as “a national treasure” and “an unsung heroine of American intellectual life.” This boost changes little in her exterior life beyond going on book tours and contending with her ex-husband’s jealousy. This moment in the limelight hadn’t been disappointing, vexing or complicated in any way: “It had been that rare thing: an unmixed pleasure.” Her moments of elation are tangible.

Vanessa and Florence have been friends for more than 40 years. They and three others were a study group that outgrew the term consciousness-raising and are now a tribe. They meet together after a conference where Florence was meant to be honored, but instead was insulted by an upstart young woman. This evening, the group of women includes Emily, the granddaughter, who closely watches. They were outraged first by the public insult and then by Obama’s lassitude in pushing healthcare, the Tea Party and the Supreme Court. Vanessa asks Emily what she was thinking about so furiously.

“I was thinking I’m amazed by the energy you all have. I was thinking I admire the way you can still get so indignant.”

“It keeps us young,” Vanessa said.

The youthful indignation about the injustices of threats to affirmative action, for one of many examples, continues among the group’s members, but it is disconcerting to Emily to see that her grandmother for the first time is not angry. She looks defeated.

Although the center of the novel remains Florence, the supporting cast is brilliant in moments of decision-making, regret and passion. Janine, who has been overly devoted to Florence’s intellectual life, has given her husband reason to doubt her fidelity. In a surprise move on his part, he has grabbed the moment and offered to drive her to a conference out of the city. She is not sure whether or not he knows of her maybe-affair. “On the spot Janine invented a theory that there isn’t a wife in the world who doesn’t, in some tiny spot of her consciousness, carry the fear that her husband might murder her someday.” And her husband’s face --- eager, intense elation --- was what she would carry to her grave should her fear ever come true.

On one of her book tours in Boston, Florence trips out of a car in a rush to get away from an overbearing, silly woman who has awkwardly suggested that Florence and her work might be forgotten. Florence sprains her ankle and must use a cane for some days. However, after a healing period, she realizes that her left ankle is still not functioning properly; it is as if it doesn’t want to come along. Her doctor, Noah, runs tests and has her return to his office for consultation. His first medical advice is not to go on the Internet because you can make yourself crazy with all the bad things, which are unlikely and exotic. He knows he’s given this advice before, but it’s worth repeating: If a good doctor hears a hoof beat, he thinks it’s probably a horse, not a zebra. One of the pieces of the novel is diagnostic: figuring out the horses and the zebras in Florence’s life.

FLORENCE GORDON is insightful and fresh. And it’s not just for 70+ women. Brian Morton reveals how all humans reach, miss marks, recalibrate, hit some, and continue to make relevant lives. Please get this book. I would lend you mine, of course, but you’ll want to mark your own copy.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs


Accidents of Marriage: A Novel
Accidents of Marriage: A Novel
by Randy Susan Meyers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.81
47 used & new from $11.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative and stunning, September 29, 2014
While reading ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE, I almost felt like I was taking a peek at someone’s diary as they explained their anguish enduring emotional abuse. You know, the slippery slope of human emotion that is complicated and many times well hidden, yet very prevalent in our society today. By acknowledging the far-reaching effects of this form of domestic violence, Randy Susan Meyers poignantly utilizes the power of her words to tackle this complicated subject in her latest novel. She does so with sensitivity, sharing the complexities of love, imperfection, damage and responsibility as an insightful friend anyone might know.

Making it look easy, Meyers has an innate ability to “pull at the heartstrings” while educating her readers on “this dirty little secret” throughout her narrative. She grabs her storyline and doesn’t let go until the very end, enveloping her audience in a soul-searching and satisfying tale of emotional abuse. Following the “behind the scenes” scenario of a family facing this dilemma of moral decay, it becomes apparent that only a tender and fearless heart can heal their dysfunction.

Maddy and Ben are professionals, trying to balance their careers while raising their three children in a highly volatile home environment. Left with most of the parental duties, since Ben is a busy public defender, Maddy finds herself at odds, trying to balance her job and motherhood. So something has to give, since it is almost impossible to keep up with many of her domestic duties due to work responsibilities. As a result, Maddy becomes an innocent victim when her husband demands more accountability for her household chores while displaying periodic rages.

Vacillating between avoidance and assertion, Maddy is able to minimize some of Ben’s volatile temper and protect her children from it --- which works to keep a fragile peace until that fateful day. Ben, suffering from some road rage when another driver cuts him off on a rainy highway, loses control of their car and crashes into a tree, sending Maddy to the hospital. With Maddy in a coma and fighting for her life, Ben is left to fend for himself, as the family waits and hopes for her recovery.

Following Maddy and her family, as they all are confronted with an uncertain future, is bittersweet and thought-provoking. Faced with the realization that life can change so quickly is a struggle that each one of Maddy’s extended family members and close friends are constantly reminded of. Hardest hit by Maddy’s absence from the family unit, though, is her children. Fourteen-year-old Emma has to be the mother to her younger siblings, Caleb and Gracie. With a maturity far beyond her years, Emma proves to be her mother’s daughter, becoming a woman of grace and integrity.

By taking us into the hearts and minds of her characters --- alternating among the personal perspectives of Ben, Maddy and Emma --- Randy Susan Meyers has created a storyline that is both provocative and stunning. ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE is a novel that will resonate with many women, hopefully echoing the same refrain: domestic violence is neither justified nor acceptable. This behavior is heartbreaking and dangerous to all living things, with emotional abuse just the tip of the iceberg. The cycle of abuse that can result from this beginning leads to nothing but danger, with both the abused and the abuser falling prey to dire consequences, some from which there is no return. Which reminds me of a quote I read once: “All marriages are sacred, but not all are safe.”

Reviewed by Donna Smallwood


To Dwell in Darkness: A Novel (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels)
To Dwell in Darkness: A Novel (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels)
by Deborah Crombie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.95
37 used & new from $14.40

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best police procedural series, September 29, 2014
For those of you who are among the initiated, all I have to do is tell you that TO DWELL IN DARKNESS is a new Kincaid & James novel. You probably already know that anyway, since, being a fan of Deborah Crombie, you’ll be keeping track of such things. For those of you who are new to or unfamiliar with this fine, long-running series, please be advised that you have a wonderful acquaintance to make, and you can start right here.

Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are British detectives who are married to each other and whose cases frequently intersect in one way or another. Kincaid is still reeling professionally, given that he inexplicably has been transferred from Scotland Yard headquarters in London to the relative hinterland of the London borough of Camden. Gemma continues in her professional role as a Detective Inspector, being ably assisted in that role by Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot. It is Talbot who serves as an important focal point in TO DWELL IN DARKNESS as things begin to get rolling.

Talbot is attending a music festival at the historic St. Pancras Station, given that her significant other is part of a duo who are the featured performers there. The performance has hardly started, however, before it is disrupted by a horrific explosion and fire that results in a terrible death and several injuries. Talbot is one of the few witnesses to come anywhere near seeing what actually occurred. The point of origin appears to be a group of protesters who were at the fringe of the crowd, though it is not clear precisely what they were protesting. There is also a mysterious bystander who interacted briefly with Talbot immediately after the explosion and seemed to know something about what occurred, but then he disappeared and cannot be located.

Kincaid and his new --- and implicitly fractious --- murder team are assigned to the investigation, and in short order begin making progress, though each discovery seems to result in more questions. The protesters are located rather quickly, but insist that the only incendiary device in their possession was a smoke bomb. Nonetheless, a pattern begins to emerge, albeit a puzzling one that doesn’t quite make sense.

For Kincaid, a major if secondary issue for him continues to be the reason behind his transfer away from London. It’s not that he can’t get a satisfactory answer from his former boss; he can’t get any response at all, other than avoidance. Gemma’s assistance, officially and otherwise, is invaluable in both cases, as is Talbot’s involvement and that of Doug Cullen, Kincaid’s former sergeant, who still maintains an unofficial connection to his former boss. What Kincaid learns will impact his attitude toward his job and everything that had shaped him professionally. How it will play out in future volumes of the series remains to be seen.

Interestingly enough, Crombie is a native of Texas whose writing is informed by previous residencies in, and ongoing visits to, England as well as Scotland. One of the fortuitous results of these travels is her penchant for including a remarkable, if not popularly known, site as an important element of her mystery of the day. She continues this practice in TO DWELL IN DARKNESS, featuring at the beginning of each chapter factoids concerning the history behind the situs of the St. Pancras Station. Include a set of characters whose personalities and relationships incrementally develop and evolve, book by book, and a tantalizing mystery at the heart of the tale, and you have just three of many reasons to become a fan of this series. Jump on here, or hop on at the beginning and work your way forward, but don’t wait to do so. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on one of the best police procedural series currently being published.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


The High Divide: A Novel
The High Divide: A Novel
by Lin Enger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.05
72 used & new from $8.68

5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkles like a diamond, September 29, 2014
It is nice to see Lin Enger back once again. It has been six years since his debut novel, UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, was published. His new book, THE HIGH DIVIDE, is somewhat different in subject matter and setting from its predecessor. In many ways, though, it examines similar issues --- the secrets men keep, the spiritual debts they owe --- that were explored in his first novel, but from a somewhat different perspective.

THE HIGH DIVIDE qualifies as a western, given its setting in the Minnesota, Dakota and Montana territories in 1886. The story begins in Minnesota, when Ulysses Pope leaves his house to work on a nearby carpentry job and fails to return. He and his wife, Gretta, had quarreled over his use of their home as security for a bank loan, and the disagreement had hung like a shroud over them for weeks. Gretta, a native of Denmark who had settled in the United States before meeting and marrying Ulysses, is certain that the man to whom she has been married for almost 20 years has abandoned her, particularly when his absence stretches into weeks with hardly a word from him as to his activities or whereabouts. Worse, she is unable to make loan payments and is being pressured by the noteholder to make up the arrearage in trade, as it were.

Ulysses’s sons --- the teenaged Eli and the younger, sickly Danny --- harbor hope for their father’s return to varying degrees, but what hope they may have collectively is dashed when Eli intercepts a letter addressed to his dad from a mysterious woman in the Dakotas who is fairly straightforward about her designs upon him. Eli decides that there is nothing to be done but travel across the territories to find Ulysses and bring him home. Surprised and somewhat hampered by the last-minute appearance of Danny at the time of his clandestine departure, Eli makes his way slowly across a countryside that is by turns full of charity and violence. The narrative thread alternates among Danny and Eli, who follow the tenuous trail their father has unintentionally left; the now-solitary Gretta, who makes her own attempt to find Ulysses, only to have her life forever changed; and Ulysses himself, whose enigmatic quest seems to be the product of a fever dream but in fact is something far different.

The quest is most cathartic for Eli and Gretta, given that both discover the man they thought they knew by birth and marriage, respectively, is in reality a different person. Ulysses is haunted by his past actions, which are revealed piecemeal in different ways as the book unfolds. By the end of the tale, debts are paid to the extent possible and a justice of sorts is acquired, though at a price that can only be guessed.

Enger’s prose is matter-of-fact and economical. He is in no particular rush to get his reader to any specific point, yet the story moves quickly; one is never certain what is going to happen next. THE HIGH DIVIDE is also shot through with a quiet irony. For example, Danny and Eli experience a relatively brief but telling encounter with an expedition being conducted at the behest of the Smithsonian Institution that puts Enger’s skills at subtlety on full display. Though his quantity of work is less than one might desire, the quality sparkles, like a diamond under velvet. I hope six years don’t pass before his next novel appears, but if so, it undoubtedly will be worth the wait.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


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