The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

April 28, 2011

Past due.

Yes, I am a sloth. Yes, I should have reported on these books much earlier.

ESCAPE is a collection of eight short stories, available for ereaders, by Lisa Polisar. The stories are dark and well-drawn, with unpredictable but natural endings. Each tale is original and imaginative, with good pacing and structure. My favorite: Jewel's Tell, about a bank teller and the robber, Alvin Jewel, who kidnaps her.

A DEATH IN VIENNA by Daniel Silva. This was my first reading in this bestselling series about Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon. I generally find stories about Nazis-in-hiding and their sly re-emergence fascinating, and I do see the commercial appeal of this book but at the same time I can't say, with the exception of one scene, that the story ever got my pulse pounding. I finished the book, was not unsatisfied, but am not likely to return for a second helping.

OLD DOGS by Donna Moore. A funny tale about a pair of elderly con women and the mark who's out for revenge, this one felt good after the gloom of the previous book.

Joe McGinniss's FATAL VISION. The true-crime story that just won't die. The Jeffrey McDonald case is endlessly fascinating, but that's hard to tell sometimes as the repetition and the overall structure of the book do little to hold the reader's attention through nearly 700 pages of detail. If you can find the mini-series (Gary Cole as McDonald is terrific), that's a better choice, then check out the latest on the case: McDonald may get a new trial yet.

THE MONSTER IN THE BOX by the prolific Ruth Rendell. A solid psychological mystery about a policeman who has known a murderer for two decades but has no evidence to make an arrest. Not a cozy, not a thriller, simply an engrossing tale. Also a Washington Post Best Book of 2009.

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR BLUE-EYED BOY? by Barry Graham. A slim novel available only for e-readers. A book that has its limitations (for one, sex scenes that do nothing to further the story and read like letters to Penthouse forum) but that also demonstrates a depth in the main character one does not usually see in an action-oriented killer-protagonist. If I say that the protagonist in his youth could have been a friend of Ponyboy Curtis, that should tell you something about him. There is much to like here, and with a good editor to help accent the highlights and sand off the rough spots, I can see a future for Graham.

April 7, 2011

REVIEW: CRYING BLOOD by Donis Casey

Welcome to day four of Moonlighting for Murder, sponsored by Jen's Book Thoughts. This week The Drowning Machine is celebrating amateur sleuth Alafair Tucker, the star of a five-book (so far) series by Donis Casey.

Just a reminder that each day I'm posing a trivia question, and each correct answer will earn you a chance in a drawing (which will be held on Saturday, April 9) for a copy of the newest book in this series, Crying Blood, as well as a $25 gift certificate from Warwick's, a fabulous indie book store. You still have time to answer Tuesday's and Wednesday's questions, and you will find today's question at the bottom of this post.

 CRYING BLOOD

Oklahoma, 1915. Shaw Tucker and his sons, along with Shaw's brother James and James's two sons, are on a hunting trip. When one of the dogs brings in a boot full of old bones instead of a quail, the trip goes south for Shaw in a hurry. The bones belong to an old skeleton that has a bullet hole between the eye sockets. Things begin to happen that no one witnesses but Shaw: snakes out of season, moccasin-clad feet moving through the camp at night, and a voice on the forest wind that twice calls Shaw's name. Shaw isn't a believer in superstitious woo-woo, but he doesn't like to think he's losing his mind either. But when an enigmatic young Creek boy who calls himself Crying Blood is murdered in Shaw's stable -- his locked stable -- Shaw is determined to find the killer. Because Crying Blood isn't really a Creek name, it's a condition of life being out of balance until the dead receive justice.

At the heart of this book are the issues stemming from the treatment of Indians, or Native Americans if you prefer. The lack of humanity that led to the Trail of Tears is well known, but the manner in which land was later allotted to individual Indians in Oklahoma is less familiar. Casey lays it out in simple terms and, without once climbing on a soapbox, reveals the land allotments were either a legal attempt to destroy the communal nature of the tribes, a way of forcing the Indians to live more like the whites, or that that was the unintended consequence.

Although my amateur sleuth for Moonlighting for Murder is Shaw's wife, Alafair, she has a more limited role in this book than in the four previous. Her fans will find her presence sufficient so that no one will suffer withdrawal, but this book really belongs to Shaw. He's been present in the other books, but was not as sharply defined as here, where the reader sees more of his temper, learns more about his childhood, and discovers that he can be pushed to cross legal, possibly even moral, lines in pursuit of justice. Even rough justice.

As always, the author highlights a bygone way of life that calls forth for the reader a nostalgia for simpler times, as well as a deep gratitude that few of us have to do our own hog butchering or many of the other labor-intensive chores of 1915.

THE CONTEST 

A very popular doll was created in 1915 and is still marketed by Hasbro today. This doll has been the basis of books, comics, movies, a tv series, and in 2002 this doll was inducted into the National Toy  Hall of Fame. The doll's brother later joined her there in 2007. What's the name of this doll?


Each correct answer earns a place in Saturday's drawing, so be sure check out the other trivia questions this week. And a reminder once again that Jen is running a comment contest all her own for Moonlighting for Murder, and here's how it works:  Each comment left at any of the theme week posts by the participating bloggers by Friday at midnight (Eastern) enters you into her drawing for a book prize pack. The prize pack will include at least a bag, two books, a small notebook and a bookmark. Other various goodies may also be included as surprise items. So: comment here often, at Jen's Book Thoughts often, and at all the participating blogs.