Monday, April 14, 2014

The Burning: Jane Casey

From the summary at Amazon:
Maeve Kerrigan is an ambitious detective constable, keen to make her mark on the murder task force. Her male colleagues believe Maeve’s empathy makes her weak, but the more she learns about the latest victim, Rebecca Haworth, from her grieving friends and family, the more determined Maeve becomes to bring her murderer to justice. But how do you catch a killer no one has seen when so much of the evidence has gone up in smoke?
This is another mystery novel that focuses on the search for a serial killer. The bodies that are found are gruesome but there is not a lot of violence. The emphasis is on the methodical sifting through clues, and data, and CCTV tapes looking for evidence to solve the crime.

I thought this was a fine police procedural. I liked the emphasis on Maeve as the lone female policewoman in her group, and the issues that this caused (for her). It was realistic (I think) in that many men she worked with treated her well, others went out of their way to poke fun or make things difficult for her. Yet, Maeve is always determined to do a good job and keeps plugging away. There are no perfect characters in this book; all of them are human with flaws, arguing and making mistakes.

For me, the element that elevated this beyond the standard police procedural was the use of two primary narrators, both female. The alternation between the two gives the reader some insight into knowledge that Maeve does not have.

I also liked that this had a very exciting finish. I felt the resolution was fairly obvious, but I was still glued to the book in the last 75 pages.

Check out these reviews which came out closer to when the book was originally published: At Petrona, and at Reactions to Reading.

I initially was offered this book to read by the publisher. There was a limited time to access it and I saw that I was going to miss that, so I purchased the e-book.

There are more books in this series and I am interested in trying the next one. When I finished this book, I read the first chapter of The Reckoning provided at the end of the e-book and it was appealing.

Publisher:  Minotaur Books; Reprint edition (August 30, 2011); originally pub. 2010
Length: print length 368 pages
Format: e-book
Series:  Maeve Kerrigan, #1
Genre:  Mystery, Police Procedural

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Time's Witness: Michael Malone

Michael Malone is the author of three mystery novels that feature two policemen working in a small town in North Carolina. The two policemen are very different. Justin Savile V is the scion of an old and important family in the state. Cuddy Mangum's origins are much lower, but he and Justin are very good friends.

The first novel in the short series, Uncivil Seasons, is narrated by Justin. In that novel, Justin is charged with solving the murder of his Aunt Cloris, the wife of State Senator Rowell Dollard. I read that book years ago, and all I really remember is that I enjoyed it a lot, and bought several more books written by Malone, both in the mystery genre and not, shortly after that.

Time's Witness, the second in the series and the book I just finished reading, is narrated by Cuddy. Cuddy is educated, but he is not refined, and to the powerful and rich inner circle of Hillston residents, he is a redneck. And at the point in time of this story, he is the Chief of Police. He has cleaned up the police in his town and he has hired women and blacks as police officers. The book was published in 1989 and set around the same time period.

The story in this book centers on George Hall, a black man arrested seven years earlier for killing a white cop. He is now on death row and supporters are seeking a reprieve or pardon. One day after Hall is granted a reprieve, his younger brother, Cooper,  is murdered. About half of the book centers on the investigation of the murder, which leads to the discovery of corruption in the police department and further up in the local and state government. The other half centers on the retrial of George Hall.

This is a very long book and there are many characters, but Malone does a beautiful job with them all. There are some quirky characters and the story is told with humor at times. Yet it is a very serious story. The themes are the death penalty, racism, inequity in the justice system, and the power that the rich can wield to get what they want. The author is passionate about his beliefs; telling the story via Cuddy make this more palatable.

I highly recommend this novel, but I will warn readers that it is not a typical mystery. There is a mystery and the mystery and trial are the primary focus of the book; yet within the frame of a crime story this is the story of a man, his job, his friends, and his love life. The book can easily stand alone; I read the first one so long ago I remember only the two main characters. On the other hand, if the reader comes to the first book after this one some plot points might be revealed. Either way, these are books worth reading.

J. Kingston Pierce (of the Rap Sheet)  interviewed Michael Malone in 2002 for January Magazine. The article and interview are very informative.

The book was published in 1989. It falls at the very end of the range for the Silver Edition of the Vintage Mystery Challenge, hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark [2002], original pub. in 1989
Length: 541 pages
Format: trade paperback
Series: Justin and Cuddy, book 2

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the Heat of the Night (film)

In the Heat of the Night is a film adaptation of the book of the same name, written by John Ball. The book was published in 1965 and the film was released just two years later. The film starred Sidney Poitier, who had won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1964, and Rod Steiger, who won the Oscar for Best Actor for this film. In the Heat of the Night won four other Oscars, including Best Picture.

In the opening of the movie, Sam Wood, a police officer in a small town in the South, is patrolling the streets and finds a body. Bill Gillespie, the chief of police, sends Sam to several areas to look for suspicious characters. At the railway station, Sam finds a nicely dressed black man, Virgil Tibbs, waiting for a train, and arrests him because he has a large amount of cash in his wallet. Eventually it is determined that Tibbs is a homicide cop from Philadelphia and he is coerced into helping out with the investigation.

After reading the novel, I watched this movie again. I had not watched it for a couple of years. I like this movie a lot. Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier were both very good in their roles. I felt like it was a good depiction of the racial prejudices in the South at that time. I did not grow up in a small town, nor did I spend much time in small towns, but I did have relatives that lived in Batesville, Mississippi, a town about the same size as the one in this movie (in the 1960's). The town in the movie seemed realistic to me. I cannot speak to the racial attitudes or tensions at that time in a town like that; but I would guess the scenes in the film were realistic, especially as the 1960's was a time of civil rights demonstrations and unrest.

There are differences between the book and the movie, although the basic story and the intent of the book and the film are the same. The book was set in Wells, South Carolina; the movie is set in Sparta, Mississippi. (The movie was actually filmed in Sparta, Illinois.) The detective, Virgil Tibbs, is from Pasadena, California in the book, and has a much milder manner. In the movie he is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is much more confrontational. In the movie, the main characters are the Chief of Police and Tibbs. Gillespie’s role in the book is minor compared to Sam Woods, his deputy. None of these changes made a huge impact on the story, and probably worked better for the film.

The movie showed more thuggish behavior on the part of townspeople; the novel was more about the shabby treatment Tibbs received from the police and the townspeople, solely based on his color. A key scene in the movie is the visit of Tibbs and Gillespie to the Endicott mansion, where Tibbs is treated poorly. In the book, Mr. Endicott is a highly respected member of the community, originally from the North, and the host of the murder victim; he is not racially prejudiced, and requests that Tibbs continue to help with the investigation.

What I liked about the book over the movie was the role of Sam Woods. The book lets us see a slow transformation as Sam begins to see Tibbs as a human being, and an intelligent, worthy colleague. Although the relationship between Tibbs and Gillespie develops throughout the movie, I found the changes less convincing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed both versions. My review of the book is here.

There is much more interesting background on this film. See this article on 25 Things You Didn't Know About the Sidney Poitier Classic. It is noted in that article that Poitier did not want to film in Mississippi because he and Harry Belafonte had run into some problems while visiting there.

This book and movie review is submitted for Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey.

Friday, April 4, 2014

New to Me Authors January to March of 2014

Today I am joining in on the meme for the best new-to-me crime fiction authors at Mysteries in Paradise. This meme runs at the end of each quarter. Check out other posts for this quarter.

In the first quarter of this year I’ve read 10 books by authors that I have not read before.

A Case for Mr. Crook by Anthony Gilbert
The Danger Within by Michael Gilbert
Judgement Call by Nick Oldham
The Maze of Cadiz by Aly Monroe 
Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage
Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara
The Indigo Necklace by Frances Crane
After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson
Locked In by Kerry Wilkinson

All of these books were very enjoyable reading. Rather than pick one favorite, I will chose one vintage mystery and one contemporary mystery.

Angela Savage, author of Behind the Night Bazaar, is an Australian author. Her series is about a private investigator, Jayne Keeney, living in Bangkok. Jayne becomes involved in a murder investigation while visiting a friend in the smaller town of Chiang Mai. Within this context, the author looks at social issues such as HIV and child prostitution.

The Danger Within, by Michael Gilbert, is a mystery set in a prison camp in Italy toward the end of World War II. The book, published in 1952, was based on the author's experiences during the war. This book combined a realistic view of life in a prison camp with an investigation of a murder.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reading from my TBR Piles

In the first three months of this year, I committed to reading only books from my To Be Read piles, books that had been purchased before the end of 2013. This commitment was for the TBR Triple Dog Dare. I had a few books that I had committed to reviewing for NetGalley before the end of 2013; those were my only exceptions. The TBR Dare was a great motivator to concentrate on the books I already had. 

This post is also a summary of my progress for this quarter for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2014. This challenge is hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. Other summary posts for the first quarter are linked here.

I read 18 books from my TBR piles in January, February, and March of 2014. 

Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi 
A Case for Mr. Crook by Anthony Gilbert
Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
The Danger Within by Michael Gilbert
The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov 
Henrietta Who? by Catherine Aird
The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott 
The Maze of Cadiz by Aly Monroe 
The Death of a Butterfly by Margaret Maron
Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage
Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings
Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara
The Indigo Necklace by Frances Crane
After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson
Touchstone by Laurie R. King
In the Heat of the Night by John Ball
Locked In by Kerry Wilkinson
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

My favorite cover in this group was for A Case for Mr. Crook. I love vintage paperback covers. It is a Green Door Mystery, published by Pyramid Books, and features a skeleton hand. What more could you want?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Reading in March and Pick of the Month

In March I read six books. I didn't have any specific goals for my reading in March. I have planned to read some Very Long Books, and I did read one of those. I joined the Once Upon a Time Challenge, hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings, and read my first fantasy novel for that challenge. 

My reading for March...

After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson
Touchstone by Laurie R. King
The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer
In the Heat of the Night by John Ball
Locked In by Kerry Wilkinson
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to a summary post for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month.

Often it is hard to settle on one of my crime fiction reads as a favorite, and this month was no different. I had two favorites so I will feature both

Touchstone (2007), by Laurie R. King, is set in the UK in 1926. The story centers around the weeks leading up to the general strike. Harris Stuyvesant is an agent of the United States Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, and he has arrived in England to track down the man responsible for terrorist bombings in the US. I liked the writing, the characters, and the setting. This was the long book I read this month, at nearly 550 pages. However, there is no part of it that I would have cut.

The Cairo Affair (Olen Steinhauer) is a spy thriller, which takes place during the activities of the Arab Spring, in February 2011. Sophie Kohl's husband Emmett is killed while they are sitting in a restaurant, Sophie seeks the reasons for his death in Cairo, where he was previously assigned to the American Embassy. Along the way, three other characters get pulled into the quest: Stan Bertolli, a CIA agent in Cairo; Omar Halawi, who works in Egyptian intelligence; and John Calhoun, a contractor working for CIA agents in Cairo. 

I loved the structure of this novel, with the point of view changing focus several times throughout the story, and the story moving back and forth in time. The characterization in the novel is very good. As usual in spy novels, no one knows who they can trust.