Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Parliament of Spies by Cassandra Clark

Sleuthing nun takes on Chaucer's London and murderous plots

A Parliament of Spies
By Cassandra Clark
St. Martin's Press
This medieval mystery is set in fourteenth century London. The main character, Hildegard, a Cistercian nun at the Abbey of Meaux in Yorkshire, has been summoned by the Archbishop of York to act as his spy in Parliament. As Hildegard, the Archbishop Neville and his entourage journey to London, Hildegard works to solve the murders of more than one servant  in the Archbishop’s employ. Many surprises rear their heads in this dark London, where enemies of King Richard II are everywhere, the French are about to attack, and the city is in an uproar. Hildegard needs to ferret out who can be trusted, to whom she should be loyal, and the answers are not black and white.
I was not able to take the measure of Hildegard during the course of this reading. She is a nun of many somewhat contradictory feelings and actions and her decisions seem erratic. The story was full of descriptions of medieval London and the history of the time and was fascinating. The series begins with Hangman Blind.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

A dark, strange ramble through the Wild West


The Sisters Brothers
By Patrick deWitt
The Sisters Brothers were guns for hire and this is the tale of their last killing assignment. The brothers' adventures were rambling and slow-moving, but bizarre enough to hold this reader's attention. The dialogue seemed formal, which I thought was at odds for the time period and setting, but I noticed that True Grit is written in the same old-fashioned, formal vernacular, so perhaps that was the tone of the Wild West. I had a soft spot for Eli and how he tried in his inept way to make things right or do the right thing; how he tried to show affection without having much experience at being the recipient of any his whole life. The story did drag some, but traveling with the brothers and meeting the characters they met on the way and the strange predicaments they got themselves into was mind-capturing. I liked the brothers' relationship interaction. One downer: I was severely disturbed by the events and injuries surrounding some of the animals in this story (I won't go into detail, but I was really repulsed), but I believe the oddness and gruesomeness was just part of the tale. The message of the story as a whole: good, eventually, triumphs. Reviewer's foot note: Searching the words "The Sisters Brothers" in Google at large, and even inside produces some alarming, verboten results! If curiosity gets the best of you (I did not know there was any demand for THAT sort of literature-perhaps I'm just naive), do try it at home, not at work.

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

Supernaturally creepy graveyards, traditional Southern charm

The Restorer
 by Amanda Stevens
Amelia Gray is a cemetery restorer who becomes a consultant for the police force (in particular the brooding, haunted detective Devlin) when a murder is discovered in the graveyard she’s currently working in. Amelia is drawn to Devlin even though she knows he’s dangerous for her, and she tries to discover his secrets even as she desperately attempts to keep her own lifelong secrets (and herself) safe. I really enjoyed this supernatural mystery. The writing was high quality and pulls the reader in. The author does a good job illuminating the details and importance of family, even family burial grounds, in the South, and balancing the creepiness of ghosts with the mystery and suspense.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg

A tale as delightfully chilling as its coastal Swedish setting



The Ice Princess
By Camilla Lackberg, Translated by Stephen T. Murray
Free Press
The Ice Princess is a suspenseful mystery set in an off-season, Scandinavian seaside village called Fjallbacka.  Erica Falck, a well-known biographer who has moved away from her roots and into a bigger city, has returned to Fjallbacka to organize her parents’ estate after they perish in an auto accident. The cold, gray village, empty of tourists in this winter season, sets the grim mood. Just after arriving, Erica is second on the scene when her dear childhood friend’s body is discovered in what has been made to look like a suicide. Erica teams up with another old friend, detective Patrik Hedstrom, to uncover the true events. I very much enjoyed the story, the dismal feel of solitude that came through very clearly with the author’s descriptions of Fjallbacka in the off season. Although the translator’s accolades include having translated The Millennium Trilogy, I felt in The Ice Princess, just here and there, the ghost of the translator standing between me and the author’s writing. This very thin barrier could have been in my own perception, and I look forward to reading more by Ms. Lackberg to see if the feeling persists. The book was first written in the author’s native language in 2003, and translated to English in 2009. I look forward to reading more by Camilla Lackberg – starting with The Preacher, which is the next in the Fjallbacka series.  

It begins...

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

~ words inspired by Goethe