Archive for May, 2016

A Birder, A Murder

A Cast of Falcons: A Birder Murder Mystery, by Steve Burrows, (Dundurn), 384 pages, release date 31 May, 2016

A Cast of Falcons is Steve Burrow’s third “Birder Murder Mystery,” and they just keep getting better. I’ve reached the point as a reader where I devour each title in this series as it appears and then wait anxiously for the next.

Detective Chief Inspector Dominic Jejeune is both investigator and birder, a brilliant, misleadingly placid figure, who is always a step ahead of his cohorts. His back story—originally from Canada, now working in Saltmarsh in Norfolk, a “successful” case that led to the death on one innocent and the rescue of another, and a brother on the other side of the law—is gradually revealed by Burrows.

In this volume Jejeune investigates a pair of seemingly unrelated murders: one of a Scottish birder, the other of a climate change scientist, whose work was underwritten by a family whose wealth comes from oil. A prize offered for a successful method of clearing oil spills may or may not be motivating the murderer.

If you haven’t discovered this series yet, you need to. If you have, like me you’ll race through this title and be eager for more.

May 31 2016 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

Class and Murder in Shakespeare’s England

The Players’ Boy Is Dead: A Shakespearian Murder Mystery, by Leonard Tourney, (Endeavour Press), 169 pages, release date 24 March, 2016

The Players’ Boy Is Dead (note that Shakespeare does not play a significant role in this book despite its subtitle) is an historical mystery that works reasonably well in both categories, but never truly captivates. It kept me reading, but when I’d finished, I could put it aside easily. It’s not the sort of book that lingers.

Clothier Matthew Stock serves as village Constable, reporting to Magistrate Sir Henry Saltmarsh. But what is Stock to do when the murders start piling up and the evidence points to Lord Saltmarsh himself? First, a boy traveling with a group of players, taking the female roles, is found murdered. Then, there’s a suspicious suicide. This is followed by a roadside accident that may not have been an accidental at all.

The Players’ Boy Is Dead illustrates some interesting facets of life at the turn of the 18th Century. Tourney shows us a class-bound society, where changes in status are both difficult and dangerous. He offers a potentially engaging mystery, but gives readers few clues, so that the resolution feels as if it comes by happenstance as much as anything else. The most interesting aspect of the novel is its depictions of the theater scene in London and rural England.

If you’re a fan of historical mysteries, you’ll find diversion in this title, but it’s not apt to prove satisfactory for those not already committed to the genre.

May 17 2016 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

Feline Scientific

Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure, by Dr. Dominic Wallman and Ben Newman, (Flying Eye Books), 56 pages, release date 10 May, 2016

There are so many reasons to love Professor Astro Cat, I just can’t help myself. This brave and brilliant feline, with a mouse sidekick, has already led readers through Frontiers of Space. Now he’s back on an atomic adventure, explaining topics like gravity, the scientific method, atoms, molecules, and laws of force and motion.

Like the first Professor Astro Cat book, Atomic Adventure offers a feast of fact and image. Always dapper—he wears a derby even under his space helmet—Professor Astro Cat models a spirit of inquiry that’s infectious and entertaining.  Grade-school scientists will enjoy poring over the pages of this book, reading main and secondary text, finding fact within fact within fact.

And frankly, Professor Astro Cat’s charm extends well past his grade school audience. Any lover of illustration will be charmed by this book—whether or not she has children in her life. The bright colors and the retro/modern style illustrations are nothing short of visually delicious.

If you know any budding scientists, particularly those who enjoy sorting through data and making their own discoveries, you’ll delight them with Professor Astro Cat. And if you have adult friends who appreciate top-notch design and illustration, they’ll be equally pleased with this title.

May 12 2016 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

A Baseball Mystery That’s Got Lots of Game

Sayonara Slam, by Naomi Hirahara, (Prospect Park Books), 280 pages, 10 May, 2016

The “detective” in Naomi Hirahara’s Sayonara Slam is Mas Arai, former gardener, baseball fan, and resentful host to his extended family. Like most of the characters populating this novel, Arai is fascinating, drawn in careful detail.

The mystery in this mystery novel is the murder of an unpopular Japanese journalist, who drops dead while covering a World Baseball Classic game being held at Dodger Stadium and played between historic opponents Japan and Korea.

More interesting than the mystery (which is interesting) is the network of relationships among the book’s “Japanese” characters. I’m putting Japanese in quotation marks here because their experiences are different enough to make lumping them under a single heading inappropriate. There are the Japanese who lived through internment in the U.S. in World War II. There are the Japanese who returned to Japan rather than be interned. There are the Japanese who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, who are now U.S. citizens. There are Japanese who will acknowledge the wrong Japan committed when it forced Korean women to serve as “comfort women.” There are younger Japanese trying to climb their way up today’s economic ladder. Sayonara Slam lets us sees the complexity of culture played out on both historical and global scales.

Read this book for its central character and for the puzzle it’s built around, but also read it for the rich, complicated world it will introduce you to.

May 10 2016 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

Forgery and Fascination

The Last Weynfeldt, by Martin Suter, translated by Steph Morris, (New Vessel Press), 303 pages, release date 16 February, 2016

If you appreciate interesting mystery novels—and by interesting I mean with unusual settings and particularly well-developed, quirky characters—you’ll love The Last Weynfeldt. Adrian Weynfeldt is an art authenticator and appraiser working for an auction house. He lives alone in a roomy apartment filled with original art, enjoying both comfort and predictability.

The Last Weynfeldt opens just as Adrian’s life is turned doubly upside down: he realizes that a painting he’s authenticated is, in fact, a forgery, and he finds himself involved in an increasingly complex relationship with a volatile woman whose presence is pulling him out of his comfortable habits. One grasps the content of the central mystery fairly quickly, but the resolution is uncertain until the novel’s end, which makes it a rewarding read.

Martin Suter’s writing, as translated by Steph Morris, is a pleasure to read—precise, with effectively painted emotion that never comes across as sentimental. If you’re starting to think about your summer reading pile, add The Last Weynfeldt to your list. Its mix of complexity and charm will prove deeply satisfying.

May 05 2016 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

An Outsider on Roanoke

Left in the Wind: A Novel of the Lost Colony: the Roanoke Journal of Emme Merrimoth, by Ed Gray, (Pegasus) 352 pages, release date 3 May, 2016

One might think that by now the tale of the lost colony of Roanoke had been done to death, but one would be wrong. Ed Gray’s Left in the Wind is a solid addition to the fictional explorations of this colony’s doomed history.

In this version of the story the expedition’s leader, Governor John White, realizing the project is failing, abandons the colonists and sails to England, claiming he is going to secure additional supplies. Meanwhile, the colonists face Indian tribes of varying levels of hostility—and often exacerbate the hostility through their own arrogance.

Emme Merrimoth records these events in her journal. Once White’s lover, she later was both accused of witchcraft and enslaved by one of the local tribes. As a single woman she is much freer than other women of the colony, but also more suspect. As the colony’s failure grows more certain, Emme allows us a viewpoint that is both grounded within the community, but also placed outside of it. She is both participant and observer at the same time, pursuing many of the same questions that readers will find rising in their own minds.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction. Left in the Wind will provide an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

May 03 2016 | Uncategorized | No Comments »