Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Good Detective

The Good Detective by John McMahon
Penguin Random House; 3/19/19
hardcover; 320 pages
Detective P. T. Marsh #1

The Good Detective by John McMahon is a very highly recommended procedural and the un-put-downable first book in the P.T. Marsh series. The two P.T. Marsh books are some of the best novels I've read this year.

In Mason Falls, Georgia, Detective P.T. Marsh is struggling, making poor decisions, and drinking too much after his wife and young son died in an accident. It wasn't a good decision to help out an abused stripper named "Crimson" by having a little late night discussion with her boyfriend. The decision seemed even worse when the boyfriend, Virgil Rowe, is found dead the next day and Marsh can't remember if he did it or not. He knows his fingerprints are all over the crime scene. Things get worse when the investigation into Virgil's death sends Marsh and his partner Remy Morgan to a burned-out field where they discover the burned body of a black teenager, Kendrick Webster. His death appears to be raced related. Marsh realizes that he may have killed the number-one suspect in the teen's death. As Marsh and Remy investigate, the trail leads them to a decades old conspiracy.

After reading and loving the second book in the series, The Evil Men Do, I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Good Detective, the first book. I loved it, and, although I would very highly recommend reading both novels, don't follow my example - read them in order. They are both excellent, skillfully written procedurals where the clues are carefully followed. I was riveted to the pages and enjoyed following along as new developments are revealed in the intricate plot. The plot is complex and layered in both novels.

Having already met Marsh through The Evil Men Do, this first book fully develops his character. Readers are privy to Marsh's thoughts and insights. His emotional wounds are fresher in this novel; he is closer to the original pain. His personal demons are closer to the surface here. (Thankfully, I already knew where he would be in the future and didn't have to wait.) I'm going to be anxiously awaiting the next investigation P.T. Marsh undertakes.  (I have to say this reminds me a bit of Greg Iles, whom I also love. It is part Southern fiction and part complicated, nuanced characters struggling with their own personal issues.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of John McMahon.

The Book of Koli

The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey
Orbit; 4/14/20
eBook review copy; 416 pages
Rampart Trilogy #1 

The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey is a highly recommended dystopian coming-of-age tale and the start of a new trilogy.

Teenage Koli Woodsmith lives in the small village of Mythen Rood in a postapocalyptic place called Ingland (U.K.) during a time when murderous, genetically modified trees, plants, and creatures or shunned men outside the protected city walls will kill you. Mythen Rood is governed and protected by the Ramparts, which one family controls. They also control the old tech that is used to protect the village. Koli learns a secret that results in his banishment from the village, which normally means certain death in the hostile wilderness. But Koli has a secret helper and an ally in Ursala, a traveling doctor.
This is Koli's story and he is the narrator. The dialect he uses may be a problem for some readers. I had times when it annoyed me quite a bit while reading; much of my annoyance was due to the poor grammar and syntax. You will have to ascertain your ability to overlook a whole lot of word usage like, "Of course I knowed it." or I could of brung I recently learned in real life that my tolerance is low for this over time. Overlooking this and the slow start to the action will pay off later. The world building is interesting and the characters are unique. Old tech (tech we'd understand) needs to be figured out by someone who doesn't have a clue.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hachette Book Group.

The Good Family Fitzgerald

The Good Family Fitzgerald by Joseph Di Prisco
Rare Bird Books; 4/14/20
eBook review copy; 480 pages

The Good Family Fitzgerald by Joseph Di Prisco is a highly recommended family saga of money, ambition, crime, and the Catholic Church. 

The Fitzgerald family is one of wealth and privilege. Paddy (Padraic) is the patriarch of the family who built up the family wealth through his dubious business interests. Currently he has a young mistress ensconced in a penthouse apartment and has complicated relationships with his children. His oldest beloved son, Anthony, left his wife Francesca a heart-broken widow. Philip is a Catholic priest who is struggling with his ideals versus his human nature. Matty is a teacher who has struggled to find his place, but who also seems to instigate trouble. The youngest, Colleen is a seeker who styles herself the outsider and the conscience of the clan. The whole Fitzgerald family experience one crisis and catastrophe after another. Many of their problems are direct results from their own actions and leave them battling others and each other.

This is a well-written, sprawling family saga that takes patience to get through but readers sticking to it will be rewarded. The language in The Good Family Fitzgerald certainly points to Joseph Di Prisco being a poet, as well as a novelist and memoirist. Themes hearken back to Di Prisco's own life and family experiences, including organized crime, the Catholic Church, and teaching. The characters are finely crafted and well-developed fleshed out characters with definite personalities and reactions to events.

While at the end it was worth the struggle, the novel is slow to start, moves slowly, and sometimes seems a chore to read. Rarely do I bring real life into reviews, but during this stressful time when I am essential, I will admit that I read a chapter and then set it aside for another book and did this over several days. I rarely do this as I like to start a book and finish it before starting another. I read for escapism and relaxation and the slow pace wasn't always what I was craving as far as reading. That said, if I had the spare time this would have been a good book to sink into and immerse myself in the story as it unfolded.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Rare Bird Books.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Strike Me Down

Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia
Simon & Schuster; 4/7/20
review copy; 352 pages

Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia is a highly recommended thriller featuring two strong female leads - a forensic accountant and legendary kickboxer.

As a forensic accountant and partner at Parrish Forensics in Minneapolis, Nora Trier is very good at catching thieves. She began her career as a CPA whistle blower who took down a powerful CEO who also happened to be a family friend. She lost her job and her family over this, but it began the start of her 15 year career. Now, 65 convictions later, Nora is known for her tenacity and independence. Her reputation is why the business Strike came to Parrish Forensics.

Strike is a fitness/athletic company owned by legendary kickboxer Logan Russo and her husband Gregg Abbott. They have an empire built on fitness clubs and supplements. It is a week before their major kickboxing tournament named Strike Down where fighters will be competing for twenty million dollars in prize money and the chance to be the new face of the company. They have come to Parrish Forensics because they have discovered that the prize money is missing. Nora is unsure if she should work on the case because she has connections to both Logan and Gregg, but ends up in charge of the investigation.

The narrative alternates between the first person point-of-view of Nora and Gregg. There is plenty of backstory explained and we come to know the characters quite well, or actually what they chose to expose. Are they likeable or trustworthy characters? No, not really, but once they start telling their stories and the investigation unfolds, you will be glued to the pages to find out what happens next. This does seem surprising with a forensic accountant investigation, but it clearly becomes much more dangerous that you would expect.

Mejia brings it home in the quality of the writing. She makes the investigation interesting and compelling as it is full of twists and turns. The descriptions are admirable and the plot is perfectly planned out. It is a complicated investigation with plenty of machinations going on behind the scenes between controlling and strong characters. The strong ending was surprising and well done.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Something She's Not Telling Us

Something She's Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell HarperCollins; 4/7/20
review copy; 320 pages

Something She's Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell is a recommended psychological thriller. "Is anyone ever really who they say they are…?"

Charlotte is a floral designer who lives in Manhattan’s East Village with her husband, Eli, and their five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Charlotte is close to her younger brother, Rocco, and tolerates being introduced to his numerous bad girlfriends. Now Rocco's latest girlfriend is Ruth. Ruth seems better than the previous girlfriends, but her almost immediate obsession with Daisy makes Charlotte uneasy. Daisy is a shy child with asthma, however she seems to like Ruth too. The novel opens with Charlotte and Eli's daughter being kidnapped from her after school program by Ruth.

After the opening, the novel jumps back in time to when Rocco first introduces Ruth to Charlotte, Eli, and Daisy. The chapters in the narrative then alternate between being narrated by Charlotte or Ruth. The timeline of their relationship progresses forward from the time they met to the current day kidnapping. It is clear that Charlotte is increasingly concerned about Ruth as her obsession with Daisy grows and she doesn't trust her. Ruth, on the other hand, is concerned about Charlotte's protectiveness over Daisy. She also knows instinctively that Charlotte has a secret. The question is what is real, who is telling the truth, and what is really happening?

The opening immediately captures your attention as Daisy is kidnapped by Ruth and Charlotte is frantic to find her. Then the story is reduced to alternating perspectives of Charlotte and Ruth. When the narrative next jumps back in time and requires the reader to work our way forward to find out what just happened and why, it loses steam and becomes a pedestrian she said/she said plot device. Sometimes this plot structure works well, but I didn't feel it was as successful this time. It might have pulled ahead if the ending was a clincher for me, but, alas, it wasn't.

Setting the structure of the novel, Bell's writing is quite good and she captures these two different women and their personalities well. The characters are well-developed, but soon you will be questioning them as neither one feels like a reliable narrator. And, again, the characters just don't work as well at the ending. This isn't an awful novel and those who like having a dramatic start and then jumping back in time to learn about events leading up the the event will enjoy Something She's Not Telling Us.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.


Coffeeland by Augustine Sedgewick
Penguin Random House; 4/7/20
eBook review copy; 448 pages

Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug by Augustine Sedgewick is a very highly recommended discourse on the history of coffee working from the perspective of the Hill family plantation in El Salvador.

Like many people in the world my day revolves around coffee, so I understand existentially why coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism. The fact that it is the leading source of the world's most popular drug, caffeine, is simply a bonus. In Coffeeland, Augustine Sedgewick traces the history of coffee consumption and its spread across the world.

The story is told through the life of a prominent planter in El Salvador,  James Hill. Hill, a British ex-patriot, founded a coffee dynasty by shifting the focus from communal subsistence farming to growing a staple crop, coffee. "Adapting the innovations of the Industrial Revolution to plantation agriculture, Hill helped to turn El Salvador into perhaps the most intensive monoculture in modern history, a place of extraordinary productivity, inequality, and violence." The USA is the world's biggest coffee market, thanks in part to Hill's distribution plans and the invention of vacuum-sealed tin cans.

But this fascinating history is not only focused on Hill and El Salvador, it also covers a myriad of other topics that all tangentially relate back to coffee. Sedgewick covers the wide reaching world economic impact and political machinations of coffee. There are so many aspects of history that involves coffee, areas that I never really considered before reading this interesting narrative. The interplay of various aspects of history is really brought alive in Coffeeland.

This is a well-written and meticulously researched book.  Sedgewick provides a copious amount of notes for each chapter, as well as a large selected biography. This is an excellent choice for those who enjoy history, especially if you also like coffee.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Redhead by the Side of the Road

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
Penguin Random House; 4/7/20
review copy; 192 pages

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler is a very highly recommended, compassionate novel about misconception and the importance of relationships. This may be my new favorite Anne Tyler novel.

Micah Mortimer, 44, is a creature of habit who has his whole life carefully organized. He is superintendent of his Baltimore apartment building and self-employed in his business called Tech Hermit. Micah has a schedule he follows for every day and week. He is comfortable with his quiet, defined life, so it comes as quite a shock when his careful routines are challenged. First Cassia (Cass) Slade, his woman friend, is worried that she is facing eviction and will have nowhere to live. Then 18-year-old Brink, the son of an old college girlfriend, shows up and asks if Micah is his father (he's not). In a mishap of epic proportions, Micah allows Brink to stay overnight in his spare room, which results in Cass breaking up with him. This incident leaves Micah to reexamine his life, his routines, his interpersonal connections, and his choices.

I love everything about Redhead by the Side of the Road - the writing, Micah, the story, the ending, the meaning of the title - everything. The writing is absolutely exceptional. This is a character study of a man and the character of Micah is perfectly captured and described. I was instantly empathetic to Micah's plight and his caution in approaching life. I felt such compassion and sympathy for Micah when the misunderstandings and sudden upheaval in his routine caused the introspection and self-examination on his approach to life and relationships.

The novel is short, but tender and poignant. We all deserve second chances and Tyler flawlessly captures this realization and desire in Micah. It ends on a perfectly hopeful note. As I said, this may be my new favorite Anne Tyler Novel. Certainly this is one of the best novels I've read this year.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.