The Final Silence

finalsilenceSince the publication of his debut novel, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (2009), Ireland’s Stuart Neville has become one of the most acclaimed crime authors on both sides of the pond. After a brief venture into history-based crime in last year’s RATLINES, Neville returns to contemporary Belfast and Jack Lennon, a character from his earlier works.
THE FINAL SILENCE is another triumph for Neville and a story that holds our attention not only because of its mystery but also thanks to its cast of intriguing and deeply conflicted characters.

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The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

deadvaultedThe delightful not-quite-twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is once again on the case in Alan Bradley’s THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES, the sixth in the series featuring the irrepressible Ms. de Luce and her eccentric, scatterbrained family. Set in a bucolic England of the early 1950s, the de Luces get into significant trouble, discovering murder and other nefarious deeds in their little town of Bishop’s Lacey.

This time around, the story starts on a different tack. For you see, Harriet de Luce is coming home. Flavia’s mother, Harriet, has been missing for a number of years, lost during a Himalayan climbing accident. But her body has now been found and she is being returned by train to Bishop’s Lacey for burial. Even the vaunted Winston Churchill is on hand to pay his respects as the train comes into the station.

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secret6bullets broads blackmail and bombsSo did you get my little joke I was doing. What do you mean you don’t get it. Well if you go back a few columns starting with ‘Mexicali Blues’ it might dawn on some. I had myself a little idea. To use Grateful Dead song titles as my column titles. Now I did give myself some rules. I could not use the super obvious ones – Truckin’ or Touch of Grey would have been Dead giveaways. Also as much as I would have loved to use certain titles they had to actually fit and work. So sadly there is no China Cat Sunflower, Sugaree or Stella Blue.

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Operation Napoleon

operationnapoleonIcelandic author Arnaldur Indriđason’s OPERATION NAPOLEON is very much different from the other book I’ve read of his, THE DRAINING LAKE, which I reviewed here earlier at Bookgasm. Whereas THE DRAINING LAKE was a taut and thoughtful police procedural, OPERATION NAPOLEON is a full-bore thriller, complete with a downed Nazi plane, an intrepid but foolhardy woman who gets in way over her head during an investigation, lots of dead people, and a red herring-filled plotline that frankly, doesn’t disappoint at all.

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The Secret History of Wonder Woman

secretWWWonder Woman holds a special place in the history of comic books. Aside from Superman and Batman, no comic book superhero has lasted as long or had as wide and passionate a following. She is without question the most popular female superhero of all time. Still while the character’s origins as an Amazon Princess may be well known, little has been documented about the creation of Wonder Woman.
That’s changed, thanks to Jill Lepore, a Harvard professor of American history and staff writer for The New Yorker, and THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN, her fascinating book devoted to the creation and creator of the superhero.

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Die Easy

dieeasyDIE EASY, Zoë Sharp’s tenth novel featuring close protection specialist (bodyguard) Charlie Fox, is the first I’ve read in the series but it looks like I’ve missed quite a bit of action. The opening few pages discuss Fox and her partner Sean Meyer. Apparently, Meyer has been through the wringer, having been shot in the head, and his recovery, while exemplary, has some disturbing gaps. He doesn’t seem to remember the last four years he spent with Fox as lovers, and instead, tends to think of her as some sort of scheming liar. Hmmm.

So neither really trusts the other, which is problematic as they are both assigned to bodyguard work at some kind of post-Katrina charitable function. Their client, Blake Dyer, seems affable enough and no one’s really expecting trouble, but trouble comes a-callin’ anyway.

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Watching the Dark

watchingdarkDetective Chief Inspector Alan Banks is once again on the prowl in the Yorkshire Dales in Peter Robinson’s WATCHING THE DARK, the twenty-first (or twentieth if you don’t count short stories) entry in the Banks series. This time, Banks is called to the scene at St. Peter’s Police Treatment Centre, a hospital that caters to law enforcement personnel who are recuperating from injuries received on the job.

Unfortunately, this time, the recuperation has ended rather spectacularly for one Detective Inspector Bill Quinn. A resident of the centre, he is found by the hospital pond, bent over double, a crossbow bolt shot through his heart. Banks begins to look into Quinn’s past and discovers some oddities, including compromising photos of Quinn with a very young, very beautiful woman.

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manning1bullets broads blackmail and bombsRocket number nine ready for blast off. Are you ready to take a trip in my rocket ship. Space is the place this time in Bullets and Broads land. Be it a seriously retro trip, or a voyage in a famous blue box. Or maybe a very sexy vistor to our planet. These tales are definitely different from one another. So strap on your rocket packs as we peruse the skies for aliens and other goodies.


When I say we are going retro. I mean we are really going retro and what a way to start. This is science fiction of the old pulps. Yes thats when these stories were first published. I’m talking women shooting ray guns while wearing a mini skirt facing off alien frog men type of stories. Yes seriously old school fun.

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The Burning Room

burningroomTHE BURNING ROOM, the 19th in the Harry Bosch crime series, is particularly notable for the unusual case that challenges our protagonist. This is fortunate since we regrettably learn nothing new about Bosch himself over the course of this latest story. Still, Michael Connelly’s latest presents ample reason why he is among the most popular crime authors working today.

As the days tick off towards his mandatory retirement, Harry Bosch and his new young rookie partner, Lucia Soto, suddenly take on a case that is unique even for the Open-Unsolved Unit of the LAPD. Orlando Merced, a Mariachi musician, has died ten years after a bullet fired from somewhere in a public plaza lodged in his spine.

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3 New Books on Crime More than Worthy of Your Time

artenglishmurderIt’s no wonder our media is as bleeds-and-leads today, because it turns out to be nothing new. That’s one of the key takeaways of Lucy Worsley’s THE ART OF THE ENGLISH MURDER, a brief, absorbing history lesson on how the UK’s obsession with bloody deeds changed not only methods of law enforcement, but fertilized the roots of modern popular culture. Worsley has written ART as a companion piece to a 2013 BBC docuseries; when such a spin-off is undertaken, I can’t help but wonder if it’s merely a cash-grab or will render its parent project obsolete. In this case, neither is true. There’s just too much good stuff contained within this thin volume, as the erudite author recounts a few horrendous murders in 19th-century England that saw a hungry populace eat up every detail, turn out for public executions and purchase souvenir figurines of murderers and their victims for display on the mantle. Borne from this madness are an actual division dedicate to homicide investigation, waxworks as entertainment, a big break for a young writer named Charles Dickens, and a slew of detective fiction — hello, Sherlock Holmes! — still read today on both sides of the Atlantic.

lockedroomSpeaking of whodunits with long lives, anthologist extraordinaire Otto Penzler is wholly responsible for yet another must-have, brick-sized BIG BOOK of genre fiction. Following up equally definitive collections of pulps, ghosts, zombies, vampires and Christmas-themed mysteries is THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF LOCKED-ROOM MYSTERIES. That mouthful of a title is indicative of the collection’s breadth and depth, but anyone who’s had the pleasure to peruse the other wrist-strainers of the Vintage Crime series knows that its claims of completeness are not mere publisher hype. Of these 68 stories of the seemingly impossible, underheralded master of the subgenre Edward D. Hoch deservedly makes three appearances, each of which is worth the cover price alone. More widely known are classics by Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe, but the discoveries are bound to delight. My favorite — and one of my five favorite short stories of all time — is Jacques Futrelle’s “The Problem of Cell 13.” I defy any reader who’s never uncorked its more-clever-than-clever puzzle-box narrative to try not to devour it in one sitting. Also represented are such stalwarts as Erle Stanley Gardner, Lawrence Block, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Wilkie Collins, Ellery Queen and some dude named Stephen King.

mystery19thAnd seriously, does Penzler ever sleep? Because if the LOCKED-ROOM MYSTERIES weren’t enough, the man delivers another solid sleep-robber in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY. While not a BIG BOOK in brand, it may as well be, as the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover is no slouch as 624 pages and 33 classic tales. Poe’s “Murders of the Rue Morgue” from the book above also makes an appearance here, but the story is so excellent, influential and rich in repeat value that one hardly can fault the overlap. (“The Purloined Letter” also appears, making Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin character this collection’s MVP.) Other vaulted names include Jack London, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Washington Irving, Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce, but not represented with the pieces one is likely to expect. That’s hardly a knock — in fact, it’s yet another notch for the “highly recommended” column. —Rod Lott

Buy them at Amazon.

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