Thursday, December 2, 2021

Autopsy - Patricia Cornwell

I read Patricia Cornwell's first Kay Scarpetta novel back in 1990 and was immediately hooked on the premise, characters and plotting. Fast forward to 2021. The 25th entry in this series, Autopsy, has just released.

Now, I must admit, somewhere around the 20th book, I threw the towel on this series. The books seemed mired in extraneous detail and became repetitive. But...this blurb from the publisher had me more than a little curious....

"In this relaunch of the electrifying, landmark #1 bestselling thriller series, chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta hunts those responsible for two wildly divergent and chilling murders. Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta has come almost full circle, returning to Virginia as the chief medical examiner, the state where she launched her storied career." 

And you know what? I really enjoyed it and am back on board with this series.

The same cast of characters is present, Kay, her Secret Service forensic psychologist husband Benton, her niece Lucy and my personal favorite - Pete Marino. The relationship between Kay and Marino was contentious in the beginning of the series, but I'm happy with where Cornwell has taken Marino in this latest. He's a valuable resource instead of being portrayed as a thorn in her side. However there is a new thorn in the side character. Kay has inherited a secretary who is loyal to her old boss and quite resentful of Kay. Kay has the same analytical mind. Cornwell keeps the characters moving forward in real time, with the successes and sadness that living life brings.

The 'back to basics' has Kay investigating the death of a young woman found on the railroad tracks. This crime very much reminded me of the earlier books. Political machinations and corruption abounds at a number of levels in this latest, stretching as far as outer space! Kay is called in to examine a remote site. There's yet another thread that I'll let you discover. 

I chose to listen to this latest. The reader was award winning narrator Susan Ericksen. She has read previous Scarpetta books, so the continuity is nice. Her voice is perfect for the mental image I've created for Scarpetta. Her diction is clear, easy to understand, well enunciated and pleasant. The speed of speaking was a bit slow for me, so I sped things up two notches, using the speed adjuster on my device. She provides different voices for the characters, each easily identifiable. Ericksen conveys the emotions of the characters and the action and suspense of the plot with her voice. A great performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Autopsy.

I did find the ending a bit rushed and a slightly too pat, but I quite enjoyed this 'relaunch' of this series. The door has been left open for number 26 - and I for one will be picking it up.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Hello, Transcriber - Hannah Morrissey

The cover of Hannah Morrissey's debut novel caught my eye - and the description of Hello, Transcriber sealed the deal.

"Every night, while the street lamps shed the only light on Wisconsin's most crime-ridden city, police transcriber Hazel Greenlee listens as detectives divulge Black Harbor's gruesome secrets."

We meet lead character Hazel as she stands on a bridge in the city of Black Harbor...where the river is whispering to her to jump.

That dark, unsettling, foreboding tone and atmosphere continues on, living on every page. I was totally drawn into the story from those first pages. And the best bit of all was that I had no idea what was going to happen. The plot of Hello, Transcriber was different, unexpected and appreciated. I was caught off guard many times. Hazel was not what I expected at all. Her choices lead her into questionable relationships and dangerous situations. Definitely some 'don't go into the basement' moments.

The idea of a transcriber getting personally involved with a case was such a great premise. Fellow mystery lovers - can you imagine transcribing the details of a crime and following the investigation - let alone inserting yourself in it? 

The supporting players are also unpredictable and dangerous, each with their own secrets and agendas, keeping their own secrets. The city itself is a character as well, especially that bridge. Morrissey's description are visceral.

Hello, Transcriber was an atmospheric, gritty, addictive read for me. Kudos to Morrissey for a great debut - I'll be watching for her next book. See for yourself - read an excerpt. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

You'll Be the Death of Me - Karen M. McManus

Time for a YA fiction read! Karen M. McManus is one of my favourite teen fiction writers. Her newest is You'll Be The Death of Me.

Cal, Mateo and Ivy were the best of friends in Grade eight. They've since drifted apart and are now seniors. A chance meeting outside the school entrance has them all deciding to pull a Ferris Bueller day. They've each got their own reason for wanting to ditch school. It's a great idea - until it's not. They stumble across a crime scene....

McManus has created three very different protagonists. They're all likable and each brings a different dynamic. McManus always captures and portrays her teen characters in a believable manner. You'll Be the Death of Me is told in rotating chapters from each of the three. As readers, we're privy to their thoughts, angst - and secrets. McManus devotes time to the romantic entanglements as well as family issues of the the three, but this only adds to the overall feel of the book. 

That crime scene? Each of them has a connection to what has occurred.....

McManus gives us lots of choices for the whodunit. The final aha won't be overly hard to suss out, but it's the journey there that's the most fun. And I did have fun reading this one. Ferris Bueller with a side of Scooby Doo. McManus has a formula that works - and she had me happily ensconced on the couch for on rainy Saturday afternoon. See for yourself - read an excerpt of You'll Be the Death of Me. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

A Blizzard of Polar Bears - Alice Henderson

With winter temperatures here and snow on the ground in my part of the world, Alice Henderson's latest book, A Blizzard of Polar Bears, seemed to be a timely listen.

This latest is the second book in Henderson's Alex Carter series. Carter is a wildlife biologist. Her latest research posting takes her to Hudson Bay in the Canadian Artic to study polar bears. But someone seems bent on derailing her research - missing samples, break-ins, staff quitting and more. Why? 

I liked Alex as a lead character. She's dedicated, clever and a bit of a kick butt protagonist. She needs to be tough as she finds herself in more than one life or death situation. 

I was impressed by the detailed descriptions of Alex's research, methods, climate change and reasons why these studies are so important. It was only on looking at the author's bio that I discovered she is a wildlife researcher herself. The book benefits greatly from this insider knowledge. 

There are two threads to the plot with the first introduced in a prologue and the second in the Alex incidents. I wondered how the two would tie together? Well, they're tied together with lots of action! 

A Blizzard of Polar Bears is a different style of mystery and suspense, but one I quite enjoyed. If you've read Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series or Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford books, you would enjoy this title. I'm sure there's more in store for Alex.

I chose to listen to A Blizzard of Polar Bears. The narrator was Eva Kaminsky. She's a talented reader that I've enjoyed in the past. Kaminsky's voice has a low, slightly gravelly, yet smooth tone. It's very pleasant to listen to. She enunciates well and easy to understand. The speed of reading is just right. Kaminsky really captures the danger and suspense of the plot with her voice, employing a staccato, clipped, tight voice that easily communicates the tension. She uses different voices for the characters.  Her reading has lots of movement, easily holding the listener's attention. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of A Blizzard of Polar Bears 

(I'm always curious about the collective terms for animals. I had thought polar bears would be blizzard, but instead it is a 'celebration' of polar bears.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Christmas Promise - Richard Paul Evans

You know Christmas is on the way when Richard Paul Evans releases his yearly holiday read. The Christmas Promise is this year's tale.

As children, Richelle and Michelle couldn't be more different, even though they were twins. As adults, they each went their own way. And now, Richelle finds herself alone. Her work at the hospital keeps her busy and her writer's group lets her dream of being an author. Still, she is lonely. When Justin joins the writer's group, there is an immediate attraction....

You always know what to expect with Evans' annual Christmas missive. Relationships are always at the forefront, as is love, loss, redemption and a satisfying conclusion with fresh starts. 

I liked Richelle as the main character. Her dedication to her patients on the children's ward is admirable and she has aspirations, but she still resonates loneliness. I was happy for her when she met Justin. The connection is there, he says and does the 'right' things. But I'm quite a pragmatic person, so her jumping into the deep end right away seemed to be a bit reckless. And somewhat dangerous as one supporting character voices. 

Now, I had my suspicions as to what might found in the latter chapters. And yes, I was right. Normally Evans would have hit all the right notes for me, but this one just fell a bit short. Why? Justin isn't completely honest with Richelle and her decision making employs the partial truths he doles out. And honestly I found him to be more than a little sanctimonious. (I'm deliberately trying to be obtuse as I don't want to provide spoilers)

Helene Maksoud has narrated some of the previous Christmas novellas by Evans. It's nice to have that continuity. She is an excellent reader and again provided a wonderful performance. Her voice is clear spoken, easy to understand and quite pleasant to listen to. Her reading is well paced. The voice she uses for Richelle suited the character well. As the story unfolds, she uses her voice to capture the emotions, interactions and plot developments. She deepens her tone and provides a male voice that suited the mental image I had for Justin. The two characters are differentiated enough that you always know who is speaking. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Christmas Promise.

A good performance, but just an okay tale for me.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Judge's List - John Grisham

John Grisham brings back Investigator Lucy Stolz in his newest release, The Judge's List.

Lucy works for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, investigating complaints involving judges. A woman who hides behind a number of aliases brings a case to Lucy's attention regarding a sitting judge and some heinous crimes. Jeri has been looking into this judge for over twenty years. She is terrified of the man and wants Lucy to take it from there. 

What a neat concept. I had no idea there was such an overseer of judicial conduct - but there is. Who better than John Grisham to write about a legal process?

You'll be astounded at the perpetrator's motives and methods and fascinated with how he has covered his track for so many years. Quite chilling. Jeri was difficult to like for me - she's pushy, single minded and at first I thought she was overreacting with her precautions. (She's not) I liked Lucy in The Whistler and was quite happy to see her in another book. Her team is an eclectic bunch and add to the story. 

Though mostly told through Lucy's viewpoint, Jeri and the judge also have chapters of their own.

We do know who the culprit is, but it's the race to capture him before he commits additional crimes that is the story. I'm not sure if I was 100% on board with the judge's actions at the end, but I quite enjoyed the journey. And I'd be very happy to see Lucy again.

I chose to listen to The Judge's List. Grisham has an author's note in the beginning and it's a nice opener to the book. The narrator was Mary-Louise Parker. She speaks clearly, is easy to understand. Her speaking speed is at measured pace. The voices for Lucy and Jeri are very similar and you'll have to keep track of who is speaking. A great tale and a good listen. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt The Judge's List.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Pledge - Kathleen Kent

The Pledge is newly released third entry in Kathleen Kent's "Detective Betty" trilogy.

Just when Dallas Detective Betty Rhyzyk thinks life has settled down, the past comes back to bite her - again. A cartel leader who goes by the name of The Knife gives her an ultimatum. Betty has two weeks to find their shared enemy, cult leader Evangeline Roy, or Betty and her family will pay the price. Betty and her wife Jackie have taken in Mary Grace, a young mother of a seven month old girl. But Mary Grace has gone on the run again, leaving the baby behind. So, suffice it to say, Betty's plate is pretty full.

The Pledge takes place over the course of those two weeks. The first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book. The action is non-top and makes for page turning, late night reading.

I really like Betty as a lead character - she's tough, smart, fearless and her family is her first priority. I gotta say she really takes a licking and keeps on ticking. The amount of injuries and lack of sleep she amasses over the two weeks is pretty impressive. And yes, a wee bit unbelievable. But hey, just go with it - the plotting is pretty darn good with some truly nasty antagonists and a number of subplots that are slowly but surely woven together.The supporting cast is good as well. Betty's wife Jackie is the voice of reason. Betty's squad is back as well, with her partner Seth and a new transfer with an attitude. I really liked the two women private investigators Rocky and Peg.

I was quite saddened to hear that The Pledge is the end of the Betty books. Kent ties up all the loose ends in this last entry. If you've read Michael Connelly's Renée Ballard character, you'll enjoy Detective Betty. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of The Pledge.

And I wonder what Kent will write next? Her first two books were historical fiction and are well worth a read as well. Maybe some more crime with the two PI's? Whatever it is, I'll be picking it up!