Monday, 28 July 2014

A Tap on the Window

Finished July 27
A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay

Barclay is a master of the everyday becoming dangerous. Here the setting is the small town of Griffon in upstate New York, near Buffalo. Cal Weaver and his family moved to Griffon about six years ago, when Weaver started his career as a private investigator. Two months ago, Weaver's teenage son, Scott, died tragically. Cal and his wife Donna are struggling to go on, barely interacting with each other, each finding their own way of coping with their grief and loss.
As Cal is returning home one evening, a girl his son's age, taps on a window when he is stopped at a light and asks for a ride. He knows that a man his age giving a ride to a teenage girl looks bad, but when she says she knew Scott and that she thinks someone might be watching her, making her scared, how can he say no? So, he gives her a ride, and when she asks to stop at a local diner because she feels ill, he does that too. Cal begins to sense there is something wrong at this point, but he has already become involved.
When the police stop at his house the next day to say the girl is missing, he immediately starts following what leads he has, determined to find her. His search uncovers the secrets of many people, and some will guard those secrets with threats and force on others.
As Cal uncovers more of these secrets and starts to find out some of the acts that have been going on in his community, he finds his circle of trust growing smaller.
Cal isn't a perfect man, and his grief has caused him to act in ways he is later ashamed of. But he is a good man at heart, trying to make sense of things and trying to protect the vulnerable when he can.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Web and the Wing

Finished July 26
The Web and the Wing by Teresa Raftery

This novel covers the time period from November 11, 1918 to the late days of 1930, and is the first book in a planned trilogy. The story begins in the village of Ardleagh in Lancashire, where the Earl of Eglinton and his family are returning following the was. The eldest son was killed, and James is now the one who will inherit the title, a development that will mean that his father will determine a different course of study for him than James wants for himself.
Claire has returned to the estate to help out, after working as a teacher in the village recently. She was taken in years before by her aunt Anna when Claire's father was killed in a mine accident, and her mother having died when she was just a toddler.
Over the years Claire and James had been playmates, Claire introducing James to the unstructured play of village children and a world his privileged upbringing wouldn't have normally exposed him to. The two also became close in other ways and feelings have developed between them, feelings that Claire knows can lead nowhere due to their difference in class. She determines to find herself a life of her own elsewhere and a chance encounter provides her an opportunity that will lead her farther than she thought.
The Earl's sister Amelia married a Spanish nobleman, and has a daughter Leonora a few years younger than James, and Leonora is allowed to attend boarding school in England and have her social debut there.
Leonora's father, Alva, Duke of Arradova, has a close friend, Raimundo de Conde, a general in the Army. As Spain sinks into political turmoil, Alva and Raimundo are involved and Leonora's future is being determined by her father.
As the plot moves the characters from Lancashire to London, Cordoba to Biarritz, Paris to Berlin, we see the lives of these three young people develop. We also see the political history that leads to the Spanish Civil War and World War II developing.
This is a novel that ties in the personal stories of these characters to history in a very real way. I will be looking forward to the continuation of their stories.

Based on a True Story

Finished July 25
Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti

This is the first novel for Globe and Mail columnist Renzetti, and her writing experience shows well here.
There are two main characters here. Augusta Price is a middle-aged English actress, known for her role as a barmaid on a soap opera, and as a vampire doctor in another show. She also has a history of substance abuse, and has spent more than one session in a treatment center. As the story begins, she has just been released from another treatment center and is already looking for a drink, she has likely lost the chance at an acting role in an upcoming series, and is worried about a book a former lover may be writing.
Frances Bleeker is a journalist in London. She left her native California to make a career for herself in Britain, and has had some success with a tabloid. She has also developed a crush on her boss there, Stanley. New ownership of the paper has her desperate for work, as well as determined to make her own way.
An interview for the tabloid with Augusta about the paperback release of her own memoir brings the two women together, and Augusta's desperation and Frances writing skill and need for a job bring the two of them into a partnership.
This book has a road trip that takes both women on an emotional trip into their pasts, but also offers new hope for the future.
I really enjoyed the complex characters, and the way the plot unfolded.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Secrets to the Grave

Finished July 21
Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag, read by Kirsten Potter

This mystery novel is set in the town of Oak Knoll, California in 1986. A local artist, Marissa Fordham has been found brutally murdered,stabbed dozens of times, with her 4-year-old daughter strangled and left for dead. Except that young Haley survived.
In this time before many of the scientific tools available now, the police have less to go on in terms of evidence. Young Haley is severely traumatized and when led to her memories of the attack refers to the murderer as "bad daddy". But no one seems to know who Haley's father really is, and she seems to call nearly everyone she meets "daddy".
Anne Leone, child advocate, takes Haley into her home and works carefully to heal Haley, as she recovers from her own recent close call with murder. But will this put both of their lives into more danger?
Her new ex-FBI husband Vince, now a consultant, has volunteered his services to the local police and works closely with the lead officer Tony Mendez.
Marisa's sponsor, Milo Bordain, is a self-centered woman who is used to telling others what to do. She is horrified at the murder and tries to get custody of young Haley, despite her lack of mothering instinct.
A good friend of Marisa's Zander Zahn is a well-known math professor, but comes across as odd due to his autism and quirky collections. He is the one who discovers her body, and it seems to have brought back painful memories of his own.
Marisa's best friend Gina is devastated by the loss of her friend, but still seems to be hiding something from the police. Will she survive to tell the tale?
Lots of interesting characters, lots of twists and turns to this plot.
I had already read the book before this one Deeper than the Dead, and it was interesting to see how the characters from that novel were a few months down the road.

A Small Weeping

Finished July 21
A Small Weeping by Alex Gray

This was a new author for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery novel set in Glasgow. The main character here is DCI Lorimer and the case begins with the discover of a prostitute's body in an elevator in the railway station in the wee hours. The station is closed at this time of day, but the murderer appears to have avoided any of the cameras. She has been strangled to death and then placed carefully, with a flower between her hands, which are set as in prayer.
With little to go on, Lorimer asks psychologist Solomon Brightman (Solly) to assist by creating a profile of the killer. He has some ideas, but the case seems stuck until another murder occurs with the same positioning of the body. This time, the victim is a nurse at a private mental institution, and both the staff and the patients come under scrutiny.
The case focuses on the people in a big way, which I always find interesting and although the action mainly takes place in Glasgow, there is a lovely sidetrip to Skye.
There are some side stories here as well: the growing relationship between Solly and Rosie, the very competent pathologist; a visiting police officer from Florida, Lipinski, sharing methods and practices; and Lorimer's wife Maggie, a schoolteacher with dreams of her own.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Plantagenets

Finished July 20
The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones

This extensive history of the Plantagenet line of English royalty includes most of the Norman kings as well, taking us from the reign of Henry I to the ascension of Henry IV.
It begins in 1120, with the shipwreck that killed the son and heir of Henry I, William the Aetheling, which set up a power struggle between King Stephen, nephew of King Henry I and Empress Matilda, Henry's daughter and heir.
The Plantagenet Dynasty began with the next king, Henry II, eldest son of Empress Matilda, who married another powerful woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry II took the throne in 1154. The Plantagent kings reigned as follows.
Henry II (1154-1189)
Richard I (1189-1199), second son of Henry II
John (1199-1216), fourth and youngest son of Henry II
Henry III (1216-1272), eldest son of John
Edward I (1272-1307), eldest son of Henry III
Edward II (1307-1327), youngest son of Edward I
Edward III (1327-1377), eldest son of Edward II
Richard II (1377-1399), grandson of Edward III, second son of his eldest son Edward, The Black Prince
Henry IV, who took the kingdom from Richard II, was also a grandson of Edward III, by his son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his reign began the rule of the House of Lancaster.
This book definitely shows the human failings of the kings, but also the courageous acts and leadership abilities. We see the fear and jealousy, the misguided advice and bad decisions, the political intrigues and the emergence of British law. This is the line of kings that brought us the Magna Carta and parliament, the line that showed that a king had responsibilities towards his subjects of good government.
This set of kings won large portions of what is now France, and lost them again.
Laid out in short chapters, this book shows us predominantly the public side of these men, with glimpses of the personal.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Silence for the Dead

Finished July 14
Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

This novel is set just after World War I, in 1919. Kitty Weekes has just lost her factory job in London. In her desperation she applies for a job at a remote hospital for mental patients, and she is accepted. She spends the last of her money getting there.
What had she expected, she isn't sure, but it isn't what she has found. The hospital is desperately understaffed, and despite her lack of real credentials, she muddles through her duties as a nurse. The men who are patients here are a mix from kind to cruel, from lost to angry. But one thing they all have in common is the nightmares. They don't talk about them, but they all know that there is more here than mental issues. Kitty's lack of knowledge and rebellious nature lead her to break the rules, but also complete the horrific tasks that she is given. When she learns of a secret patient, Patient Sixteen, she finds that she must discover the reason for the lack of information on him.
Given her past experience, Kitty is pretty good at reading people, and she finds that many of the men here turn out to be people that she cares about. She also finds that despite her lack of training, she's not that useless as a nurse as she thinks.
This is a story of ghosts intent on finishing what they started, and of men vulnerable to the influence of such spirits. This is a story of cruelty and madness, but also a story of hope and renewal.
I like the spunkiness of Kitty. She isn't about to give in and do what others want her to unless that is what she wants herself.