Oh Jo . . . :(

51iJd8E+vtL._AA160_So I devoured Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole (pronounced, at least in my mind, HALL-eh because, well, that sounds more Scandinavian than “hole”) books.  Hole fits the mold of flawed detective, battling his own demons (mostly alcohol) and tracking down gritty-crime — serial killers among them — in Oslo, Norway and beyond.  Hole has an on-again, off-again relationship with Rakel whose son, Oleg, considers Harry a father figure.


Nesbo does a  great job of weaving the same characters into the books, but tracks their progress — often in contrast to Harry’s which sometimes seems a little non-existent by comparison.  For example, Rakel moves on to other relationship(s) while Harry seemingly continues to battle the same demons over and over again.

I should love these books, and part of me does.  But with Phantom, Nesbo lost me.  The book exposes the darkest parts of Oslo’s drug scene, the hopelessness of teenaged addicts, and Harry’s shortcomings as a mentor and father.  Life is messy – I get it.  But when major characters are killed off or go completely off the grid, I get a little edgy.  Like Downton Abbey – you kill off Sybil and Matthew and you are dead to me.  I mean really.  I no longer care what Mary, Edith and the Dowager Countess are up to.  Well, I sort of care, because otherwise I wouldn’t rant endlessly about it.  But, I think what really draws me to many mysteries, including these, are the cast of characters — the regulars.  The familiarity of whose going to be involved, who is going to solve the mystery, who is going to help solve the mystery, who is going to be the foil.  Perhaps more than any other genre, mysteries tend to be very character driven.  And, I become very attached to my characters.  51cAFXyh6rL._AA160_

So, obviously Harry continues to fight another day and solve another mystery.  Nesbo has brought us Police, where Hole has to expose a serial killer threatening Oslo.  I just haven’t really recovered from the abrupt coldness of Phantom so haven’t yet picked it up.

Have you?  What did you think?

Happy reading.

A Long Summer . . .

It’s been too long, but I’ve been busy in the PacNW, Oregon to be specific.  Almost too gorgeous to read, but not quite.  As you’ll note from the Eugene lamp post sign, there’s always time to read a great book.photo



And read I have . . .

Back to a few of the books I mentioned on my summer reading list.  Ice Cold, an anthology of short story mysteries set in the cold war context, was excellent.  Compiled by the Mystery Writers of America, Ice Cold offered a precision mix of intrigue, whodunit, and unanswered mystery.  My favorites were Comrade 35 by Jeffery Deaver, Checkpoint Charlie by Alan Cook, and Miss Bianca by Sara Paretsky.  Perfect, perfect summer read — easy to finish a short story at the beach, on a plane, in a hotel room, or on the porch.

I also read one of the Aunt Dimity books by Nancy Atherton, Aunty Dimity & the Lost Prince.  I won’t be reading any more of this series, just not my ‘cup of tea’ as it were, but I’ve seen so many people carrying these books around this summer that I hate to discourage readers.  So, I’ll explain why it wasn’t my speed and maybe you’ll discover it is yours.  First, it invokes what seems to me a rather contrived way of communicating with the deceased Aunt Dimity through a secret journal.  Maybe this works for a fourth grader, or an eighty year-old, but not so much for this reader.  Second, it is super cozy, right down to the required English cottage, crackling fire and requisite cup of tea.  That works for so many people and I almost do wish it worked for me.  But . . . it doesn’t.  I like my mysteries a little edgier, darker and far more messy.  Third, there really was no big mystery or payoff.  Again, some people don’t really like a gruesome murder (or even a proper, ‘off screen’ murder), but I kind of do.  Or, at least, some twist, crime or intrigue.  In Aunt Dimity, everything turned out to be a topsy turvy sort of misunderstanding, complete with a happy-ending reunion of lost loves.  Hmmmm . . . nope.

PalaceI also enjoyed reacquainting myself with Simon Sebag Montefiore, the brilliant author of biographies on Joseph Stalin – Court of the Red Tsar and Young Stalin.  In two novels focused on Stalinist Russia, Montefiore captures the crippling fear, courage and absurdity of this era.  One Night in Winter (based on a true incident known as the “Childrens’ Case”) focuses on a group of high school students — children of the Party elite — who study Pushkin, mistakenly carry out a deadly duel, and face interrogation and torture based on a little red book.  Admittedly, self-selection plays a huge role in what draws me to Montefiore, but he weaves historical characters and events into a fictionalized account (told from several points of view) and it was hard to put down.  In Sashenka, Montefiore revisits some of the same characters, but focuses on the impact of Stalin’s Great Terror more from the adult point of view.  He reveals how painstakingly easy it was to fall from grace, to go from Stalin’s confidante to a cell in the Lubianka and unravels several secrets and mysteries along the way.  Highly, highly recommend both books!

I also finished Tranquility Denied by A.C. Frieden.  Great, fast-paced thriller that I will be reviewing soon.  The action takes us from New Orleans, to D.C., to a remote Swedish island, to Moscow.  Other recent reads – Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason and Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell.  Highly recommend Murder as a Fine Art!  A good friend recommended the book because David Morrell was her absolutely favorite professor at the University of Iowa.  Mr. Morrell does a great job of weaving a true series of Victorian London crimes (the Ratcliffe Highway Murders) into a fictionalized mystery.  I also really enjoyed his technique of narration through Miss DeQuincey’s journal entries.  As an erstwhile writer, I know how clumsy this can sometimes be, but he found precisely the right opportunities to include these entries, and her narration enhanced the story.  Excellent.

photo copyI enjoyed The Dinner by Herman Koch, and likewise with Summer House, but with a few caveats.  Much like the narrator in The Dinner,  I didn’t particularly care for the narrator here either.  Koch so effectively captures the angst of the weak, self-absorbed male, though, that I still find his prose compelling.  The mystery at the heart of the book is satisfyingly revealed and I found myself unable to put the book down, even though I didn’t really like any of the characters.  That says something for Mr. Koch.  Finally, Jar City.  This Inspector Erlendur series may be best read in the summer, when you are warm and (possibly) happy because the crushing bleakness of Finland starts to creep into your soul.  Erlendur is somewhat pathetic, somewhat aggravating, and a satisfying protagonist.  He fills my need for messy, complex characters and plot lines, and I will definitely be reading more in this series, although I highly doubt he will take over for Inspector Rebus as my current, favorite fictional detective.

Happy reading and enjoy the summer!


Add A.C. Frieden to your summer reading list

A friend of mine, the amazingly talented writer, speaker and science geek, has given me a hearty recommendation for A.C. Frieden which means (because she has never steered me wrong) that I am on board.

Sailor's PillarFrieden has an official website, and Tranquility Denied is already on my kindle.  The book’s protagonist, Jonathan Brooks, uncovers a plot involving Navy secrets and cold war corruption that takes him from New Orleans to Moscow.  What could be better?

Fair disclosure that Frieden’s biography is eerily like my own.  He is an intellectual property attorney, has a bit of a thing going with Russia, and he writes espionage thrillers/mysteries.  Not sure if this makes me biased, but based on his positive reviews and sales, I’m not alone.

Plus, Sue, a fellow reader of Frieden’s at Printer’s Row in Chicago this past weekend, was very intrigued by his writing,.  So, enough for me.   I hope to review one of his books soon – let me know if you’ve already read some.

Happy reading.

It’s a Mystery . . .

Yes, this is primarily a blog about mystery books.  But not exclusively.  So, as I ponder the latest mystery books I’m reading – Ian Rankin’s, Resurrection Men, and Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s, One Night in Winter, I thought I’d share some other “mysteries” that confront me on a daily basis.Unknown

First, the musical playlists of my fellow gym rats.  I’m in the “weights” section of my local gym 5 or 6 days a week, though by looking at me you’d never guess.  Yesterday, a guy I recognize but don’t know — maybe late 50′s/early 60′s was standing by a universal set and just nodding his head up and down, clearly to some mysterious beat.  As I, myself, was doing squats and grooving to Young MC’s Bust a Move, I wondered what was on his playlist.  My playlist, at least my current workout playlist, is an odd mix of ancient, not-quite-so-ancient, and soooo last year (as my daughter, Robin, would say):  Queen, The Proclaimers, The Strokes, The Violent Femmes, The Talking Heads, Pitbull, Blink-182, Bloc Party, Fallout Boy, and Florida Georgia Line, to name just a few.  As I watched him, I was guessing maybe he was rockin’ to Robert Palmer, or Bon Jovi, or maybe Foreigner.  But, I’m probably way off.  He could be a Chief Keef fan for all I know.

As I turned my attention to the rest of the lifters on our side of the gym, I spent far too much time trying to guess what was on their respective playlists.  Most of my fellow “lifters” at the time were high school or college boy-men, so it is no stretch to assume that Drake, Kanye, JayZ, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and French Montana were in heavy rotation.  A few younger women were there, and I wasn’t leaning as far to the hip-hop mode with them.  But I’m also thinking Taylor Swift and Katy Perry weren’t in the rotation for these heavily tattooed chicks.  Maybe JUSTICE, Lily Allen, Kesha?  The point is, I’ll never know – it is, indeed, a mystery.  And, like books, I’m sure if I polled my fellow gym rats, I’d learn from their playlists that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Happy reading, and lifting, and doing whatever it is you do!  And, if you have suggestions for my workout playlist, let me know!


What’s New?

A few days ago, a friend asked me what was new in mystery – now that I have a blog and all.  So I thought I’d share a few new (or new to me) mysteries that I plan to read – any you may want to check out.

photoIce Cold speaks to me — largely because it deals with cold war/Russian intrigue, but also because it consists of several short stories, a format that fits better with my short attention span in summer months.  And I typically enjoy recommendations by the Mystery Writers of America group.




photoThe True American by Anand G is on my kindle, next in line.  I heard the author interviewed — well part of the interview anyway — by Tom Ashbrook, on NPR’s On Point.  He struck me as so intelligent.  Then, a few days later, a friend told me about this book interview she heard with Tom Ashbrook that inspired a church in Normal, IL and it happened to be the interview I partially heard about The True American.  Then I saw the book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble and the cover art was really cool.  So three messages from the universe, and I’m in.  It isn’t a straight up mystery, rather it is a non-fiction account of a murder, but I still find the theme of exploring the American “dream” from different perspectives intriguing.

photoI’m going to give Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series a try and although AD and the Lost Prince isn’t the most recent in the series, I liked the onion-domed church on the cover.  So, yes, I am a sucker for cover art.  The series seems to fall into the “cozy” fireside category — not one that I am typically too fond of — but I hope it will make a nice poolside read and segue from the darker, Scandinavian fare I’ve been reading lately.

I’ll keep you posted . . . and let me know what you’re planning to read this summer.


Back to Rebus

Oregon TreesI’d like to talk more about Ian Rankin’s universe, and Inspector John Rebus.  I’m likely to review one (or several) of his books more specifically, but as the series has gotten me through a tough couple of months, I thought I’d encourage people to pick up a Rebus book.  Here’s a little background.

John Rebus works for the Lothian and Borders police force and is based in Edinburgh, Scotland.  His rank, for the most part, is Detective Inspector (DI), although the books flash back to his time as a Detective Constable (DC) and Detective Sergeant (DS).  When Rebus “un-retires” in the more recent books, he is classified back as a DS, and though he isn’t otherwise demoted throughout the books, he is frequently exiled or given junk assignments as penance for coloring outside the lines.

Rebus drinks a lot or a ton, depending on the cases he is investigating and the state of his personal life (which is either circling the drain or clogging it).  Actually, I’m exagerrating.  He has the occasional and seemingly enjoyable fling, and has a less than completely broken relationship with his daughter, Sammy.

As I read this back, Rebus’ life seems pretty depressing but the books do not have a depressing tone.  Sure, they deal with the underbelly of Edinburgh (and at times, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Firth and all points north).  I have never read books that involve more tenements and dive bars.  Which raises a point about vernacular — does tenement mean the same thing in Scotland as it does here?  To me, a tenement is a dirty, unsafe, crowded, dilapidated apartment complex that few would choose to enter and none would opt to inhabit.  Rankin however uses tenement to describe almost every living space that isn’t a stand-alone house.  Rebus’ own complex (in the posh Marchmont area) is frequently described as a tenement.  So, tangent over but keep in mind some “lost in translation” cultural elements exist in the books.

Rankin does an excellent job of weaving Scotland’s history into the stories, and allows it to smack against modern Scotland (replete with building explosions, the ever-present “independence” issues, and environmental concerns).  After reading even a few of the books, you’ll likely be able to describe the layout Ox bar (Rebus’ favorite hangout) and  pick out St. Leonard’s (Rebus’ station)  on a map.  You’ll be able to visualize a stroll through the Meadows, New Town and Old Town areas of Edinburgh.  In short, Rankin richly describes Rebus’ world and plops us squarely in it.

Aside from encouraging Scotland tourism (which, oddly, these somewhat dark crime novels really do), the Rebus books offer a level of comfort and encouragement.  No, they aren’t your typical “cozy mysteries”.  Though they are often set in smaller towns or the countryside of Scotland, they don’t have that rector catches the town gossip poisoning her neighbors at the church bake sale quality. They are comfortable in the predictability of Rebus’ unpredictability.  After a time, you’ll learn that Rebus zigs when others zag, he drinks when he is upset, happy, content, he looks for connections when others see none, he relentlessly pursues the truth.  His world is also sprinkled with familiar characters, including:

  • DS Siobhan Clarke (pronounced shiv-AWN) – Rebus’ younger colleague and protege with whom he has no romantic relationship
  • Samantha (Sammy) Rebus – Rebus’ daughter
  • Patience Aitken – a doctor and Rebus’ on-again, off-again lover
  • Gill Templer – Rebus’ ex-flame and eventual boss
  • Jack Morton – Rebus’ former partner and colleague who helps Rebus stop drinking and smoking (for a time)
  • Big Ger Cafferty – Edinburgh crime boss and Rebus’ nemesis

There is a level of comfort in continuing story lines and knowing that Rebus is likely to veer off task at some point.  And, as evidenced by my own scatological order in reading the Rebus books, it is not critical that you start with the first and proceed to the last.  You’ll get enough background in each book to understand the players.

As for the encouragement part, well, Rebus is tenacious.  He may drink himself silly but hangover and all, he will proceed the following day.  He is flawed and far from perfect, but he has a drive and a code, often sacrificing in order to adhere to them.

So here’s to ya, Rebus and carry on.  Happy reading.


photoSo here’s the deal.  I’ll be writing about books — my favorites have always been mysteries of any sort (classic, spy thriller, crime, suspense), and Russian fiction.  Even better when the two combine.

But, I’ll likely throw in a bit more about movies, TV shows, and life in general.  I’ll nag my friends and family to contribute guest content.  I’ll try very hard not to be boring.

On my radar screen these days have been Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus books.  Don’t ask me why I’m so late to pick up on this series, but I am, and I also only just discovered that Rebus has been brought to life on the small screen.  (Maybe the ersatz title for my blog will be “annie’s got no clue”, but I’ll cop to it and hopefully we can get a clue together. )

photoBack to Rebus, a Scottish cop, a predictably flawed, wonderfully layered guide through Edinburgh’s low life and social elite — equal opportunity criminals in Rankin’s world.  I started with the latest Rebus books — Saints of the Shadow Bible and Standing in Another Man’s Grave (again, I don’t know why I am reading the books in reverse order).  In these books, Rankin collides Rebus’  seasoned, slightly grizzled world with that of another Scottish police officer, Malcolm Fox.  Fox, a bit-player in Rebus’ world is the marquee player in Rankin’s “Complaints” series, examining the Scottish police force through the eyes of a complaints (internal affairs) officer.  Though I’ve yet to read any of the Fox books, I’m wondering whether Rankin has succeeded in creating his own “Marvel universe” — a cast of characters each embodying his or her worlds, who sometimes meet and work together (or at cross purposes), who share common landmarks (Scotland, greater Edinburgh) and cultural references (the Lothian and Borders police force, whiskey, football, Scottish independence).  I hope so.

Happy reading.