Blue Heaven

Book Jacket  4W, 4H

Box, C.J., (c. 2008).  Blue Heaven.  St. Martins Minotaur. 352 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 9780312365707

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

When two children witness a murder in the Northern Idaho, they run for their lives.  But are they safe from the ex-cops they saw commit the crime?

Summary:  

An execution-style murder is witnessed by a twelve year old girl and her younger brother in the backwoods near their home in Northern Idaho.  As if that isn’t bad enough, the four men involved see them.  Running for their lives, the children soon realize that they can’t trust anyone except an old-rancher whose barn they seek out for refuge.

This part of Idaho has been dubbed “Blue Heaven” by the Los Angeles cops who have taken up retirement there.  And it’s the ex-cops that are in pursuit of the children.  But more is going on that brings attention to this part of the country.  Suspicious $100 bills are surfacing that were part of a robbery from a southern California race track years back.  Retired Detective, Villatoro is determined to solve this open case  and follow whatever leads he can find.  As all the pieces start coming together, the rancher Jess Rawlins and Detective Villatoro must face down these highly skilled and highly motivated ex-cops before they kill the children.

Evaluation:

Box skillfully brings together the plot lines and characters to produce his usual back-country brand of justice.  And even without his main series character, Joe Pickett, this stand-alone effectively puts the reader in the middle of beautiful country where human weaknesses have met their match. Box manages to introduce all the characters but gradually expose the threads tying everyone together making the climax not so much surprising but more validated.  In the spirit of the old-western, good versus evil is clearly laid out but with the twists and turns of modern day crime, weapons and greed.   Even if you are a Joe Pickett fan, Blue Heaven still provides all the reasons you love to read C.J. Box but with a whole set of new characters that will grab your heart and scream for justice, the old-west way.

Author’s Website:

C.J. Box

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Crime

Awards:

  • Edgar Allan Poe Awards: Best Novel
  • The Reading List (RUSA): 2009

Readalikes:

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe Kootenai Bay and how does the nickname “Blue Heaven” fit?

2.  What traits does Annie display early on that makes her “a survivor”?

3.  Are Monica’s actions believable or is her character conveniently manipulated for the purpose of the plot?

4. Is Rawlins a throw-back to the Old-West hero?  What makes him the “unlikely hero”?

Reasons for selection:

I am an avid C.J. Box fan.  His Joe Pickett series always sends me back to my summers in Montana, without the murder and mayhem of course.  He was recommended to me by a library patron in 2009 and I haven’t stopped reading him.  I picked up Blue Heaven because it’s one of Box’s stand alone titles that still takes place in the rugged mountains of the north west.

Star Island

Book Jacket  4W, 3H

Hiaasen, Carl, (c. 2010). Star Island.  Alfred A. Knopf. 337 pages , $26.95.

ISBN: This key is a recommended rating system for books read in LIB 220 with Dr. Bodart.  The titles were changed to follow the theme of this blog.

Reviews:

L.A. Times, NY Times

Annotation:

Cherry Pye, the lip-synching, drug-addicted pop star, has a body double whose been kidnapped by a crazed paparazzo.  Can Cherry’s entourage save the double before anyone find outs she exists?

Summary:  

In Star Island, the main character, Ann DeLusia, is a double for a very messed up pop star, Cherry Pye.  Ann stands in for the pop star whenever Cherry is too wasted to show up in public or has to be whisked away to yet another detox center.  Add to this scenario an obsessed paparazzo, a crazed ex-governor with a soft spot for the mangrove swamps, unscrupulous music producers, a weed-whacking body guard and you have a vintage Hiaasen novel.

Ann, mistaken for Cherry, is kidnapped by the infatuated paparazzo, Bang Abbott.   She contacts Skink, the ex-governor, for help knowing that her welfare is not at the top the list for anyone riding the Cherry Pye money train,  namely Cherry’s parents, publicists and producer.  Filled with hi-jinks, capers, plots and thieving land-developers, Hiaasen doles out the justice as the characters race towards the final scene.

Evaluation:

When you pick up a Hiaasen you know that you are in for a wacky and wonderful ride.  In Star Island, he brings back two popular characters, Skink, the ex-governor of Florida (he was in office for about 5 minutes) and Chemo, the eight foot tall one-armed man who lost his arm to a barracuda.   To these intrepid individuals, he adds a list of characters that will keep you laughing and cringing throughout the escapades.  And although a straight up humorous tale, there is, unfortunately, more truth than fiction is his depiction of Cherry Pye’s stardom and the lengths to which people will go to make it shine.  This is another winner.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Humorous

Awards:

  • Booklist Editors’ Choice – Adult Fiction for Young Adults: 2010

Readalikes:

The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Susan McBride.

Turnpike Flameout by Eric Dezenhall

Book Discussion Questions:

1. There are two recurring characters in this book, Skink and Chemo.  What do they represent to Hiaasen and what is their appeal?

2. Hiaasen’s characters dole out all kinds of punishment for various reasons.  Which character receives the worst of it and why did Hiaasen set it up this way?

3.  Is there anything likable about Cherry Pye?

4. Based on Anne’s choices in the epilogue, how do we know that she still has her head on straight?

Reasons for selection:

After reading a Hiaasen selection for another class, I was eager to pick one of his adult books for this class.  I was not disappointed.  I enjoy satirical, quirky, straightforward characters and Hiaasen’s take on pop-culture was wonderfully validating.  I would recommend a Carl Hiaasen, Christoper Moore and Elmore Leonard all in the same breath.

The Yard

  4W, 4H

Grecian, Alex.,  (c.2012). The Yard. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 422 pages. $25.99.

ISBN #:  9780399149542

Reviews:      The Guardian,  New York Times

Annotation:  

It’s 1889 London. The Yard’s Murder Squad is now faced with an even more menacing threat than the Ripper; the murderer is killing detectives.

Summary:  

Inspector Detective Walter Day has just moved to London to work with the Murder Squad, a department that had been recently formed to deal with the new phenomenon of the serial killer.  Since the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper the year before, Scotland Yard has been trying to regain the trust of the population in an environment that is disease ridden, poor and dangerous.  Day is the first detective on the scene when a member of the squad is discovered in a steamer trunk at the railway station with his mouth and eyes sewn shut.  Along with Dr. Bernard Kingsley, London’s first forensic pathologist and a pioneer in his field, Day sets out to piece together the mystery before more detectives are targeted.  The plot is rounded out with a cast of characters involved in separate events but all of which help contribute to the aesthetics of  a Victorian city rife with murder, crime and an overwhelming distrust of the police.

Evaluation:

Grecian captures the gritty, dank nature of Victorian London and the detectives who were determined to try and keep order in this chaotic environment.  He successfully intertwines historical facts with colorful characters to his story. A gripping and atmospheric read, mystery and history enthusiasts will enjoy the story and look forward to more in the Walter Day series.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Historical

Readalikes:

The Alienist by Caleb Carr.  The Railway Detective by Edward Marston.

Book Discussion Questions:

What is significant about the setting for this novel?

Forensic Science was still too new to trust in solving cases.  What type of evidence did they need to rely on to solve a crime?

Grecian includes several settings in this novel.  Which did you find most intriguing?

Reasons for selection:

I discovered The Yard through the Stop Your Killing Me! newsletter  I receive monthly.   I normally stray from historical mysteries because I feel they get bogged down in the atmosphere and fall short of the plot.  I was pleasantly pleased when I read this novel to find that it was a page turner. I was intrigued by the obstacles faced in solving crimes during this post – Jack the Ripper time frame.

The Coroner’s Lunch

  4W, 4H

Cotterill, Colin, (c. 2004). The Coroner’s Lunch.  Soho Press.  257 pages , $22.95.

ISBN:  1569473765

Reviews

New York Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Appointed as State Coroner in Communist Laos, Dr. Siri upsets the Party by taking his job seriously, solving politically sensitive murders with his unique style.

Summary:  

Seventy three year old Dr. Siri is looking forward to retirement regardless of the societal upheaval surrounding him in 1975 Communist Laos.  An apolitical, Parisian educated doctor, the Party magistrate appoints Dr. Siri to the position of state coroner knowing that he will be a good communist and tow the party line.  But Dr. Siri is not one to do much towing and finds himself butting heads with his appointees when he decides to take his job seriously and work the cases brought to him.  Along with his two assistants, Siri uncovers the secrets behind three intertwined murder plots much to the annoyance of those in charge.

1970’s Cambodia is brought to life through the sobering and sarcastic observations of Dr. Siri.  He is a realist that enjoys the beauty of his country while he puzzles over the contradictions of ruling power.  The country’s history is eloquently brought in to the story through the power of dreams which helps remind the readers that Cambodia is a country rich with cultural intent.

Evaluation:

Cotterill successfully describes an area of the world that has long been in a tug-a-war for its identity.  Dr. Siri and his colorful assistants are wonderful characters that add three dimensions to a period of time that proved to be both chaotic and predictable.  Effective sleuthing will appeal to the mystery lover and the area and political turmoil that create such vivid imagery will appeal to the history buff.  The combination is effective and makes for a perfect “cozy” read.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri.  Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill.  Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton.

Book Discussion Questions:

What do we learn in the first pages about Dr. Siri?

What is Laos’s relationship to Thailand? to North Vietnam?

Does the paranormal add to to take away from your enjoyment of the story?

Reasons for selection:

Colin Cotterill was recommend to me by a friend who knew I enjoyed mysteries and stories that took place in other cultures.  Cotterill is a great find and I recommend him to many people who enjoy a light, yet intriguing read with fun, surprising characters.

Purgatory Ridge

  3W, 3H  —  Audio Book

Krueger, William Kent. (p.2001). Purgatory Ridge.  Spokane, WA; Books in Motion. 12 audio discs (13 hr). $69.00.  Read by Jerry Sciarrio.

ISBN #: 1581167733

Reviews:

Publishers Weekly; Kirkus Review

Annotation:  

When Cork O’Connor’s family is kidnapped along with that of wealthy industrialist, Karl Lindstrom’s, Cork must figure out the real motive before more people die.

Summary:  

A bombing and subsequent murder of an Indian elder at the local lumber mill causes even more tension among the people of Aurora, Minnesota.   Due to an environmental uproar over the planned destruction of 300 year old trees sacred to the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe Tribe, Our Grandfathers, the town has been overrun by outside environmental groups, most notably “Echo Warrior” who has claimed responsibility for the bombing.  Karl Lindstrom, the lumber mill owner, has been at the center of the controversy and hires Cork to look into “Echo Warrior” on the side.  Since Cork is part Ojibwe and had been the Sheriff in Aurora a couple years back, Karl knew that Cork could be trusted to straddle the communities to get to the bottom of it.  When both Cork’s and Karl’s families are kidnapped, Cork must rely on his own intuition to determine who is behind the abductions and the true motivations of the criminal.

Evaluation:

Krueger does not disappoint with this third edition in his Cork O’Connor series.  The story starts off with a bang, literally, with the bombing and death of an elder tribe member.  The reader is effectively led into believing certain truths but then the author draws the reader back to take a different view of the surrounding events.   As with Krueger’s first two novels in the series, the wilderness comes alive in Purgatory Ridge as water, trees and weather play a part in the mayhem surrounding Cork’s quest to free his family.  And although the mystery is not so much of a who-done-it, readers will enjoy the twists and turns taken to culminate the tale.

Jerry Sciarrio’s reading is engaging and believable.  The characters are clearly defined and his straightforward delivery helps articulate the honor behind the words spoken by the Ojibwe tribe.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery

Readalikes:

Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

Tularosa by Michael McGarrity

 Awards/Lists:

Minnesota Book Award: Genre Fiction

Dilys Award

Northeast Minnesota Book Award

Book Discussion Questions:

There are a lot of crimes in this story.  How did you feel about their resolution?  Did Krueger do a good job of wrapping things up?

What role did Echo Warrior play in this story?

Krueger’s criminals have different motivations.  Were they clearly delineated?

Reasons for selection:

This is the third book in Krueger’s Corcoran O’Connor mystery series.  The atmosphere of the Minnesota North-west is beautifully described letting the reader envelope themselves in the bleak, cold, crisp settings.  The O’Connor family is simultaneously warm and flawed which develops nicely through the series.  I am always drawn to modern mysteries in natural environments and Krueger’s stories are a bulls-eye.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows

I am half-sick of shadows: a Flavia de Luce novel    4W, 4H

Bradley, Alan. (2011).  I am Half-Sick of Shadows.  New York: Delacorte Press. 320 pages.  $17.99.

ISBN  978-0385344012.

Reviews: 

National Post Review;  The Globe and Mail

Annotation:  

Flavia de Luce, a precocious 11 year old, puts her sleuthing skills to the test when a famous actress is murdered at the family estate.

Summary:  

It’s a few days before Christmas in Bishop Lacey, a fictional village in post World War II England.  As outlined in previous novels, the de Luce’s have financial troubles so to help bring in more money, Flavia’s widowed father, Colonel de Luce, has rented out the family estate, Buckshaw, to a film crew.  The famous actress Phyllis Wyvern will be starring in the film and while all the household is starstruck, it is Flavia that earns her trust.  In the middle of a snow storm that strands the majority of the villagers at the estate, Flavia discovers that Phyllis Wyvern has been murdered.   And although the local police do not always appreciate her help, there is a grudging admiration for her sly and effective ways of always putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Evaluation:

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels always deliver.  The appeal of these books lies in the unique 11 year old perspective that is delivered through the precocious and adventurous eyes of Flavia.  She is the youngest of three girls whose widowed father has detached himself from the world through stamp collection and the older sisters are a constant source of irritation.  Yet Flavia’s keen determination for the truth drives this independent child into situations normally avoided by children her age and most adults for that matter.  And while she is helping to put together the clues of the murder, she is bound and determined to prove her sisters wrong by developing a plan to “capture” Father Christmas on the roof of Buckshaw before he has a chance to get down the chimney.  In true Flavia style, both mysteries are solved simultaneously with impressive energy.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

A fatal grace by Louise Penny

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Book Discussion Questions:

How did Flavia put her chemistry passion to use in this novel?  What has been your favorite use of chemical observations in this series?

Bradley dives deeper into the de Luce family relationships with each novel.  How are Flavia’s observations of her family changing?

At the beginning of the novel, we are in the midst of Flavia’s dream.  How does the dream define Flavia?

Reasons for selection:

This is the 4th novel in the Flavia de Luce series and I have opened every one with great anticipation.  Flavia was introduced to me by a long-time Adult Services librarian who sensed my appreciation for mystery, wit and the cozy feel of the English countryside.  Perhaps this is Harriet the Spy with an even greater IQ and a lot of access.  After all, not every child has their own fully operational chemistry lab!