M.T. Edvardsson’s A Nearly Normal Family

  Now available in hardcover from Celadon Books / Due in paperback on June 30, 2020.  Support your local indie bookstore with your purchase or pre-order!

Welcome to Scandinavia – again (and again).  Sweden, in this case, but not just another Scandinavian mystery novel.  Yes, there’s a murder, and no, we’re not sure who the murderer is, but the mystery is not the story.  The murder may be the reason we have a story, but it is not the story.  The Sandells, the nearly normal family, now there’s the story.  Adam Sandell is a minister in the Church of Sweden, and his wife Ulrika is an attorney.  Daughter Stella is turning eighteen, finishing school and dreaming of traveling on her own in Asia.  Always a headstrong girl, she’s highly intelligent, but likes control and is quick to anger.  Stella loves her parents but is a challenging daughter, and as a friend, she is loyal to a fault.  She stands firm in her individuality, refusing to be anyone other than her unique self.  And she stands accused of murder.

Adam and Ulrika Sandell love each other deeply.  They love Stella as only parents can, but each relates to her quite differently, and their reactions in the face of the charges against her are markedly different as well.  A pastor and an attorney and all that is presumed to entail:  morality, ethics, beliefs, legal and religious standards, personal integrity.  Firm convictions and principles.  Holding fast on higher ground.  Really?  Is it humanly possible?  In these circumstances?  I’d guess so; I’d certainly hope so.  Is it possible for this particular pair, though?

As robust a cast of characters as you’ll find, and as flawed as human beings come.  None will elicit your complete sympathy throughout.  The murder victim himself is pretty despicable, and, in fact, I’m not sure Mr. Edvardsson could have pulled his concept off if the victim had been worthy of our concern.   So then . . . are some less-worthy people more worthy of murder?  Interesting question.  Here’s another:  Did Stella kill him?  You know, I almost felt like I became a character in this book because there are decisions to be made, big, crucial ones; and so many people are in over their heads.  And that’s where you come in.  Calmer, unbiased heads must take a look.  Readers, in all your infinite wisdom, I guess it’s up to you.  Enjoy Sweden.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Celadon Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

 

Olaf Olafsson’s The Sacrament

    Release Date:  December 3, 2019 / Support your local indie book store and snag a copy here!

A good book, this.  Spare and haunting as Scandinavian works often are, suspenseful and mysterious, a bleak, cerebral look at the darker sides of otherwise decent human beings.  And still I couldn’t help wishing for an even better book – because I think it could have been.  Perhaps it is just that – a “look at” rather than a “look into”.  Motivations are pretty apparent, but something was missing or in the way of understanding the “who” of the characters.

Sister Johanna is sent by Cardinal Raffin to Iceland to investigate allegations against Father August Frans, headmaster of a Catholic school there.  Initially we don’t know what the allegations are, but one is tempted to make an educated guess, of course.  Other than speaking Icelandic, Sister seems an unlikely choice for this assignment, but Cardinal Raffin has knowledge that he holds against her and it soon becomes apparent that this is not meant to be, must not be, a serious investigation.  No one really wants to get at the truth, to have it known.

While the book moves back and forth in time providing background, I still felt that something, some piece or pieces were missing, and I found the chronology somewhat confusing at times, though easy enough to resolve.  Maybe just me and my soggy synapses.  Of course, it’s a rare book that ticks all the boxes, and in spite of all that and the painfully guarded characters, this book is a worthwhile read.  As usual, the driver for me is that I had to know.  So will you, and when all is said and done, you might find yourself conflicted about what you know.  You’ll know the who and the why right enough, but trust me, not just anyone would do….that.  Hmmm, a book that drives you to find out and then leaves you mulling its outcome.  Now, you see, that sort of quandary, that sort of something to think about, can go on the plus side for Mr. Olafsson’s book.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers / Ecco via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Soren Sveistrup’s The Chestnut Man

Am I right in thinking that, ever since The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo made such a splash, Scandinavia has become the epicenter of smartly written mystery thrillers?  Maybe it’s the long, cold winters, huh?  Nothing to do but cozy up by the fire, drink hot chocolate, and dream up unspeakable acts of utter depravity.  Then it’s either write them up or commit them, I guess, but scriptwriter and TV producer Soren Sveistrup writes, thank goodness, and he does it well.  His creation, the Chestnut Man himself, is a shoo-in candidate for the Boogey Man Hall of Fame – whip smart, cool as a cucumber, driven by vengeance, and he is human.  Well, he looks human, anyway.  And speaking of deceiving appearances, seedy, sad sack detective Mark Hess, on reassignment for Europol, is sharper than he appears and finally puts it all together after local authorities have botched it.  You know they did.  Mark’s character will pique your interest, and so I’m thinking, hoping, more to come, maybe.  In the meantime, read this one, and if someday you stumble upon a crude doll, a little man made of chestnuts and matchsticks, run……..run like the Boogey Man is after you.

This one won’t be released for a couple of months, September 3 I believe, but it’s worth the wait.  Support your local indie bookstores and pre-order here.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers / Harper via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Greg Keen’s Soho Angel

Title #3 in a series I did not know, the Soho Series, and it is a ton o’ fun.  Of course, if being hung by your heels in an abandoned abattoir and threatened with a bolt gun by a guy wearing a Trump mask is not your idea of fun, well, then….catch you later, OK?  Kenny Gabriel is a down-at-heels PI, the sole employee of OC Trace and Find where he does the leg work for the owner, a morbidly obese agoraphobic named Odeerie, and he drinks himself to sleep every night on Monarch of the Glen.  You see, all kinds of “nice” touches.  There are weird aging rock stars, an ex-roadie, now tattoo artist, named Sweat Dog, and the body?  Oh, it’s been right where they left it for over twenty years.  Unfortunately we will have to wait for #4 to find out if Kenny survives his surgery…….hey, no fair!  In the meantime, track down numbers 1 and 2, Soho Dead and Soho Ghosts.  Promising leads.

Shop your local indie bookstore for all the titles in the Soho series.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Amazon Publishing UK / Thomas & Mercer via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Leonard Goldberg’s The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth

This third in the “Daughter of Sherlock Holmes” series was my introduction to Joanna Blalock Watson and her small family, born sleuths, all of them.  Joanna is the flesh and blood daughter of the famous detective, and her father-in-law is the ever-present Dr. Watson.  Her husband, Watson’s son, narrates, and her son Johnny promises to be his grandfather Sherlock all over again.  It’s World War I, so, as you’d expect, there are German spies, zeppelins and U-boats, encryption and experts, clandestine affairs (or not?), and a dastardly traitor.  Who?  (I figured it out; I figured it out!)  There’s even a fake funeral involving a long-dead cat.  Nice touch.

All this gives Joanna ample opportunity to dazzle with that famous deductive reasoning, but, in the Holmes tradition, there can be no rush to judgment.  She moves at a measured pace, dispensing conclusions in small, intriguing doses, and, like her father, is more than a bit condescending to those of lesser gifts……and isn’t that everybody?  While it may be something of a trudge for the modern reader, if you’re a Conan Doyle fan and don’t want to re-read him for the umpteenth time, this is well-done and as close as you can get.  Prefer your detective series in order?  Begin with The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes and follow with A Study in Treason.  This installment makes its appearance on June 11 from Minotaur Books.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

 

Helen Phillips’ The Need

Helen Phillips, this novel left me reeling.  So real it could be yesterday in my own kitchen, but then so utterly, devastatingly surreal.  Is it alternate realities, or a frazzled mother’s mind unraveling into madness, or is it a wicked human plot?  Or is it creepy with the supernatural and spooky portals to other planes?  Are the children going to die, or are they already dead?   What it is…….is a consideration, a contemplation, if you will, of a mother’s love, so fierce and so fraught with its intensity and its burden.   Tiny Ben and lively Viv (a masterpiece, the most fully realized fictional four-year-old ever), the warm funk of children sleeping, their unremitting needs, tantrums, vomit, Cheerios, yes, and the bone-deep fear of it all.   But make no mistake.  This is not a horror story.  It is a human story.  Helen Phillips, your talent is frightening.

Readers, make haste to your local bookstore (support the independents, please!) to pick this one up on July 9 from Simon & Schuster.  Or to pre-order from Amazon.com, click here: The Need

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Dave Robicheaux Returns: The New Iberia Blues

Been hanging out in the Delta with my friend Dave Robichaux.  I don’t know how old Dave actually is now (two hundred three or so?), but he’s still kicking butt, breaking hearts and doing his own yardwork at his peaceful Cajun cottage on the bayou.  No matter.  For the creator of this all-time great detective series, I’ll willingly suspend any disbelief.  The man is a writer.  He can tell a story and write up a storm.

You do know James Lee Burke, don’t you?   If you don’t or you think he’s mass market dross ‘cause he’s on every drugstore rack, get over it and get on with it.  If you’re a returning devotee like me, New Iberia Blues is a good place to jump back in.  If you’re a devotee-to-be, start here or anywhere, or, if you want, go back to where it all began with The Neon Rain.  You will, anyway.   Feel the soft bayou breezes through the window screen, fluttering the curtains just before the storm.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.