The Last Policeman

Book Jacket  3W, 4H

Winters, Ben H., (c. 2012).  The Last Policeman.  Quirk Books. 288 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 978-1-59474-576-8

Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews, Petoskey News

Annotation:

With only six months before the asteroid destroys the earth, Detective Hank Palace can’t ignore the superstitious death of local man whose hanging seems out of the ordinary.

Summary:  

In six months an asteroid, nicknamed Maia, is going to hit the earth destroying everything for hundreds of miles.  The problem is, no one knows exactly where its going to hit but they know its coming.  Newly promoted Detective Hank Palace understands why people around him have given up on their careers to fulfill their personal bucket list but its harder for him to deal with those that have given up permanently.  Concord, New Hampshire has been dubbed “Hanger town” because that seems to be the trend for dealing with the inevitable impact of Maia.  But when insurance man Peter Zell is found hung with an up-market belt in the stall of a McDonald’s bathroom, Hank suspects that something more is in play.  Surrounded by people that don’t understand why he even bothers, Hank doggedly pursues the leads in a town that is ready to die.

Evaluation:

This is a first novel of a trilogy that deals with a town that is preparing for destruction.  Although the pace is a little slow, the premise is enough to propel the reader through the intricacies of the crime.  Winters successfully illustrates the diversity of human reactions to this apocalyptic threat.  Some are permanently checking out, others are living life to the fullest, while even more are despondent and unsure of how to act.  And then there is Hank Palace, a man who takes his job seriously and won’t let a six-month sentence stop him from doing what he believes to be the right thing by his community.  Side stories including Palace’s ex-girlfriend, his sister and her radical husband may detract from the story a bit but it is a trilogy so their introduction may be necessary for the continuing story.  This is an easy book to recommend to those that enjoy a mystery but want something a little more to think about.

Author’s Website:

Ben H. Winters

Genre/Subgenre:

Science Fiction/Crime

Awards:

  • Edgar Allan Poe Awards: Best Paperback Original

Readalikes:

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe Hank Palace’s character.  Why does he feel compelled to continue with his job while everyone else is “cashing in”?

2. Concord, N. H. has become a “hanger town”.  Why this method over any other?

3. If you had only 6 months until the world ended, realistically, what do you think you would do?

4.  How does Winters effectively develop the feel of this pre-apocolyptic world?

Reasons for selection:

Another on Nancy Pearl’s “Gift Book” list for 2013, this first in a pre-apocolyptic series intrigued me from the start.  Plus, the movie rights had just been bought so I knew it was going to be a popular series as the movies came out and working in a Public Library you need to stay on top of that stuff.

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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.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

  4W, 4H

Adler-Olsen, Jussi, (c. 2011). The Keeper of Lost Causes.  Dutton.  395 pages , $28.79.

ISBN:  9780525952480

Reviews:

 Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

Relegated to cold cases, Chief Detective Morck finds himself intrigued by the five year old disappearance of a prominent politician.

Summary:  

A shooting that paralyzed his partner and should have ended his career has only served to make Chief Detective Morck bitter and unmotivated, a state that is apparent to all in the precinct.  Delegated to the basement, Morck has been assigned to work on the cold cases where he can pretend to stay busy and useful.  However, his recently assigned assistant, Assad, prods him into action and together they take on a five year old case involving a missing politician.  The circumstances surrounding the disappearance are intriguing enough to make Morck shed his aura of indifference and put his detective skills to work to piece together the puzzle.

This dark and gritty narrative successfully shows the detailed workings of a cold case juxtaposed to the victim’s horrific plight and the horror endured while the detectives methodically work there way to the answer.  Interspersed with wit and colorful characterizations, Adler-Ollsen explores the dark side of human nature and leaves us wanting more out of Department Q.  This is the first book in the series.

Evaluation:

For fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Keeper of Lost Causes hits the mark.  Set in Denmark, Chief Detective Morck wants to give up on life but circumstances won’t allow him that luxury.  Partnered with the ultimate optimist, Assad, Morck finds himself fascinated with the challenges of solving a relatively recent cold case.  The story is compelling, horrific and humorous which is not an easy mix to accomplish but the author succeeds on all levels.

Genre/Subgenre:

Thriller/Psychological Suspense

Readalikes:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Alex by Pierre LeMaitre

Book Discussion Questions:

What makes Carl Morck’s character so believable?

Describe the relationship between Morck and Assad?

Despite the horror of the crime, there is comic relief throughout the story.  How big a part in the story does it play?

Reasons for selection:

I found this in NoveList as an Author-Readalike for Stieg Larsson.  It is the first in the Dept Q series and does not disappoint.  I was hooked from the beginning and managed to get through the pretty grisly parts.

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!