Category Archives: Mystery

Adair, Liz; Trouble at the Red Pueblo (Spider Latham IV); Kanab, Century Press, 2014


Trouble at the Red Pueblo is a fun murder-mystery with a  “Christian-literature” style that is probably most interesting for adults.

“ALL SPIDER LATHAM wanted to do was get home. He wanted free of the choking black necktie, free of the memory of his mother in a cheap casket. If he was a drinking man, he’d head right to the whiskey. Instead, he thought he’d fix the fence that ran along the south property line. It’d been on his to-do list for a while, and the work would be hot, hard and demanding.”

Instead Jade Tremain turns up at the Latham’s door-step with an offer from his father, Brick Tremain, that Spider cannot refuse. Times are difficult and Spider’s job as a deputy detective pays less than it used to. He and Laurie have cut back on anything possible. When asked to look into a situation at the Red Pueblo Museum in Fredonia, he does not hesitate. Laurie tags along and the two of them leave for Kanab.

After settling in, they of them drive to their appointment with Martin Taylor, the museum’s director, only to discover him being taken away to the hospital. A tale of woes needs investigating. Some time ago a false law-suit left the Taylors broke. As if that wasn’t enough, another law-suit was then made to claim a cache of artifacts Taylor had found on his land. The only thing of monetary value in the cache was a piece of paper with Abraham Lincoln’s signature and the text:

“Sgt Oscar Goodman, as noted in Archibald letter, take Oath of Dec 8 and be discharged. Jan 16 1864.”

Plaintiff is a woman by the name of Alyssa Goodman, who claims to be a direct descendant of the above Oscar Goodman. In spite of being in the right, the Taylors cannot afford a trial and are desperate for a solution in their favour. Piece by piece the Lathams unravel a crime of greed.

Apparently “Trouble at the Red Pueblo” is the fourth mystery in the Spider Latham series. I had not read any of the previous ones, yet had no trouble understanding who Laurie and Spider were. At times the story suffered from sentences such as:

“When he was finished, he looked at his watch and debated whether to wait for Leona to return, but in thinking about how she had described the door locking behind him, he figured she intended for him to go.”

Spider’s jealousy of Laurie’s third cousin detracted from the rest of the story, and interactions between the three would have been better without.

There was no sense of being preached to. I enjoyed Adair’s nudge with regards to Muslim-hysteria and also noticed a certain blindness regarding white/Native-American issues. If you want a light read that deals with shady characters, strange car-brands, murder, property deals and artifacts, then “Trouble at the Red Pueblo” could be a story for you.

Carvic, Heron; Picture Miss Seeton (Miss Seeton 1) (1968)

I bow down to Heron Carvic. Intelligent humour. British humour. If you aren’t a fan of either of those, don’t bother. I giggled. Then I giggled some more.

Each one of Carvic’s gallery is a Character in some way. I’m sorely tempted to compare with other authors, but that goes against everything I believe about writing reviews.

“Miss Seeton prepared to hurry by a couple pressed into an adjacent doorway, when the girl spat:

“Merdes-toi, putain. Saligaud! Scélérat, si tu m’muertes …” She ended on a gasp as the boy’s arm drove into her side.

Oh, no. Really. Miss Seeton stopped. Even supposing the girl had been rude – and it had certainly sounded so – that was no excuse. A gentleman did not hit … She prodded him in the back with her umbrella.

“Young man …”

He whirled and leaped. Deflected by the umbrella he landed beside the prostrate Miss Seeton. Grabbing her by the coat, he jerked her towards him. …”

Miss Seeton is close to retirement age, single and a teacher. Her thoughts are associative and others have trouble following along. She is like this all the way through the book. Well, not all the way. Other things do happen and other people have their own things going. But many of Miss Seeton’s encounters are about her minding her own business until some other person decides to intrude upon it. I have not met such a delightful creature in a long time.

Carvic (pen-name) understood that she needed a strong supporting cast for the concept to work. There is. Due to the crime’s nature, the police – Scotland Yard are involved. Superintendent Delphick (the Oracle) leads up the investigation involving a killer. Deplhick appears able to understand Miss Seeton’s way of thinking. Poor Sergeant Ranger often finds himself at a loss for what to say when Miss Seeton opens her mouth. The village of Plummergen is certainly not ready for her. Except for the gossips. Does she ever fuel their terrible rumours. Then we have Nigel who is trying to save his childhood friend from herself.

British humour is seldom solely about the humour. At least that is the way it seems to me. I did not have to look very hard to find a bit of satire. Yet kind. In that sense Carvic reminded me of a few favourite authors from that part of the world. Picture Miss Seeton is a mystery parody, or a parody mystery, set in a time before electronics took over our lives. I would guess that number one is set at around its publication date in 1968. This e-edition is based on the 1988 version. Apparently parts have been removed from the original version. There are 23 books in the series. Only the first five are by Carvic (he died). Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Available at Internet Archive

Torr, Edwin; Blood, Bone and Coffin (Dead Means Dead 0); Obulus Books, 2017

The relative merits of my weapon of choice all became a little academic when my phone began to play the Mexican Hat Dance. I rummaged in my pocket, wishing I was better at technology so that I could change the ringtone or at least mute the damn thing. It’s hardly appropriate for a Specialist Funeral Director to have such a chirpy tune ringing out across a graveyard. I pulled the phone out and stabbed randomly at the buttons, trying to silence the thing. It was then I realized that in doing so, I had inadvertently stood up, revealing myself to the dead head.

“Hello?” Detective Inspector savage’s voice sounded incredibly loud. Somehow, I’d managed to put him on speakerphone. “Are you there, Coffin?”

The dead guy spun round. He looked fast for someone who had died a few weeks ago and just finished the impossible journey from six feet under the soil to the surface. He also looked like every one of the days of those weeks had taken its toll on him. His face was bloated and grey, the skin splitting around his forehead to reveal white bone and a lining of something creamy. He gave a low growl from his black lips which gave me a lovely view of his yellowed, uneven teeth.

“Hi, Savage, can I ring you back? It’s not a good time right now.”

Savage was one of those people who never took the hint. “It won’t take a minute, Coffin. We’ve had a report of an open grave in a place called Hampton Green…”

“I’m dealing with a lich, right now, Savage, I can’t really…” I didn’t finish the sentence. The dead guy launched himself forward and rammed his shoulder into my gut, grabbing me round the waist and forcing me backwards onto the ground. (ch. 1)

Blood, Bone and Coffin is a prequel to Demons. It is a novella about the Specialist Funeral Director whose job it is to lay the undead to rest. Sometimes the police give him work to do. Usually, they do not call him at such an inconvenient time as the one in the quote. Or perhaps Coffin learns how to silence his cell-phone.

What begins with the request to lay a zombie to rest, ends up being a search for the killer of residents at the Twilight Grove Nursing Home in Hampton Green, England.

BB&C is a fun little paranormal whodunit with odd people all over the place. Recommended.

 

China, Max; The Sister; Skinnybirds Productions; 2014

My copy of The Sister, is the 2014 edition. Apparently, some of the problems in the 2012 edition have been corrected.

“You should have learned to swim.”

The perfect murders are the ones where the murderer is never discovered. As The Sister is a traditional mystery-thriller, that cannot happen. Having said that, the boiler-suit murderer seems a likely candidate for a murderer who might never have been caught in real life. That has to do with his methods.

When we are introduced to him, we find ourselves in Cornwall during the summer of 1967. The year my sister was born.

“You told Lei you were coming here?” the girl asked. “Are you sure she won’t get lonely and come down to join – us?”

“No. She won’t come here. Like I said, we argued, and now we’re not talking … besides, she is scared of this place, what with all those old stories …?”

20 August 1967 three things happen simultaneously. The Milowski family decides to go on a picnic not far from a haunted site. Something he sees through a telescope unsettles seven-year old Bruce, and he decides to investigate that feeling. He is too young to realize how dangerous following such hunches might be.

At the same time, the above-mentioned Lee follows in the foot-steps of her disappeared boy-friend.

Rescuers found his tent pitched near the mine’s entrance. It was empty, his equipment missing. Unable to find any trace of him outside, the rescue team concluded that he must have decided to sleep in the mine. …

At the same time, at Celtic Deep, Vera begins seeing things, and the first thing she sees is the death about to happen.

All three lives are irrevocably changed, while the boiler-suit serial killer gets to keep on doing what he enjoys most in the world.

The Sister is about power. The lengths to which we are willing to go to have it and the lengths to which others choose to go to take it from us. Max China also shows us some long-term effects of traumatic events. Some of these ways of dealing with trauma, reminds me of how I used to deal with my own experiences. I was also reminded of the strength it took to discover how to live with PTSD and to acknowledge the effects of that survival.

China’s serial killer is frightening because he is believable. Watching programs and reading articles about real life serial killers has shown me that the boiler-suit killer would fit right in. Vera’s powers are what brings The Sister into the realm of fantasy/paranormal fiction. I would not want a stone like the obsidian stone in my life, nor would I wish the slightest ability to see into the future. I liked Vera. She is a woman who chooses to bear burdens that most of us would be unable to carry.

The editing of The Sister is good. It is a relief to read a story where the author understands the words he uses, has a basic understanding of spelling and grammar, seems to have the ability to listen to what editors and beta-readers suggest and understands the music of words. In addition, the characters are believable. While I might not like all of them, they are people I can relate to on some level. Yes. Even boiler-suit man. Finally, I prefer the third-person point of view China uses in his storytelling.


Reviews:

Gardner, Richard; Deadly Partnership; 2017

His best hope of escape was to reach the hedge and look for a gap to crawl through.

Deadly Partnership begins with a roundabout introduction of our main character. The story then takes us to Paul Jenkins’ retirement and the decisions that he makes regarding the years ahead. One of those includes living with his sister, Julie, in their child-hood home. Tsk, tsk. Some decisions are disastrous.

At last the medium got to her feet. Middle-aged, she was small and round with short, dark hair and smiling eyes behind her glasses. Julie could imagine her sitting in a tent behind a crystal ball at a fairground, perhaps using the name of ‘Mystic Mary’ or something very similar.

Our first meeting with ghosts comes when Julie attends a spiritualist meeting. The medium turns out to be a true one. If her warnings had been heeded things would have gone differently for quite a few of the characters. Of course, then there would have been no Deadly Partnership. The story weaves its way through secrets, murders, relationships, and has a dash of ghostly activities.

“If I didn’t know you better I’d think you actually enjoyed murdering the poor bastard,”

The main character is fairly well-rounded. He is an example of not judging people from appearances. Paul is a bit mental but he hides it well. Maybe mental isn’t a fair description because his insanity only comes out to visit when his world view is challenged. He does excel at rationalizing his behaviour. Secondary characters are much flatter, but they are essential to the story. Julie is Paul’s sister and Gary is his son. Gary is a pretty good example of how regular people sometimes do terrible things. I doubt many people set up an appointment to murder.

Deadly Partnership has a good plot line and we get excellent examples of rationalization processes. There aren’t many spelling problems. At times confusion about correct word usage arises: “conscious” instead of “conscience”. Quite a few paragraphs need tightening. Lengthy explanations lower the quality of Deadly Partnership.

I was given a copy of Deadly Partnership in exchange for a review


Reviews:


Deadly Partnership is available at Amazon UK and Amazon USA

De Pierres, Marianne; Peacemaker 1 (2014)

The Peacemaker series begins with the novel Peacemaker. Peacemaker also has a first installment of the webcomic edition on De Pierres website. De Pierres has called her Peacemaker stories cowpunk, meaning they are Australian Westerns (yes there is such a thing) with possible aliens/paranormal creatures, technologically enhanced humans and animals and an environmentally challenged country. Australia has gone from having its current 500 national parks to only one, Birrumen Park. There was still an outback while Virgin’s father was alive. He started a park lobby because he saw the direction real estate developers were dragging the country in. Now, Birrumen lies, as the last of its sort, in the heart of a supercity and is surrounded by a road, The Park Esplanada. Noise, people and buildings drench the outside of the park.

Peacemaker is told by Virgin. She is our main character.  Most of her childhood has been spent with her father in Birrumen Park. He taught her to not trust anyone, least of all those closest to her, and to love the park as much as he did. Virgin is passionate about keeping the Park out of the hands of real estate developers. As long as the tourists keep coming, the Park still has a chance.

… the company scientists deemed it too environmentally fragile to handle the impact of permanent residents. Tourists did enough damage.

And we had to have tourists.

The Park saved Australia’s tourism industry and tourists save the Park. My daughter just did her BA dissertation on eco-tourism. Many places depend on tourists to stay alive, but tourists bring their own set of problems that aren’t compatible with keeping a place “untouched”. Owners of the park are forced to make concessions like the Wild West theme of Birrumen. The future we see in Peacemaker is a likely one. Humans don’t have the intelligence to control our population growth or our ecological foot-prints.

Benny, Virgin’s horse, and the Park both ground Virgin when the chaos of the city becomes too much. Both are filled with technology. Benny has been augmented with recording equipment, and endurance and cognitive enhancers. All of his augmentations send information back to Totes, the park tech, and then on to the company storage and processing centre. Birrumen has all sorts of measuring equipment to make sure the park is left as undisturbed as possible. An electromagnetic field above the park keeps unwanted people out and the view in. No human is supposed to be in the park after dark. One evening Virgin forgets her phone inside and has to go back in.

Even though I’d been ranger here for a few years, I was suddenly a little nervous. The sand and rock and palms that I knew so well during the day had taken on an eerie quality.

The company didn’t like us “on board” (their expression for being in the park) after dark – something to do with insurance. I always pushed that directive to the limit because I like to see the sunset. …

As I bent to fumble with the pump, I felt my phone underfoot. Then another sound attracted my attention – muffled voices from the other side of the semicircle of palms that skirted the Interchange area.

Voices? Impossible! I was the last person out of the south-east sector every day. Park scanners and satellite imaging confirmed it, as well as my own visual sweep.

I picked up my phone and crept towards the sound, my boots silent on the sand. There were two of them, arguing, but I couldn’t get a handle on the thread. …

A strangled cry got me running toward them, hauling my pistol free from my holster. …

But the pair had fallen down onto the sand.

I flicked my phone light on and shone it at them. Only one person was there. Blood trickled from a small, deep wound on his neck.

Impossible! There were two! …

Weirdness arrives in the form of a crow. Virgin is attacked and wounded but manages to escape. On top of that, she was supposed to pick up her new partner, Marshall Nate Sixpence, but made it too late to make a good first impression. Then, her imaginary friend from her childhood reappears, a large wedge-tailed eagle called Aquila. Virgin is certain she is going insane because she is the only one who sees Aquila. Except she isn’t. Turns out Nate can also see imaginary friends. Hmmm. Maybe they aren’t as imaginary as Virgin thinks. Nathan calls them disincarnates. Her life is turned on its head. She goes from routine to chaos, from safety to one life-threatening situation after the other. Therein lies the mystery. Virgin’s investigative journalist friend, Caro, helps Virgin many times. Her boss, Bull Hunt, Superintendent of Park Ecology, remains on her side even when the police go after her. He used to be friends with her father and has continued to take care of her.

In some ways Virgin is a loner. She certainly thinks of herself as one, but tends to gather friends because of the way she treats people: Blunt but tries to protect the weak. Some of those friends are interesting cases. Totes, the park tech, is one such. Even though he bugs her apartment, Virgin keeps him on because she believes he is on her side. Chef Dabrowski feeds her and is as much of a surrogate parent as she will let him be. She is the kind of person who does not want to be a burden to the people she loves, yet does her best to help the very same people. Her personality appeals to my Asperger.

This is my favorite De Pierres series thus far. Her writing is compelling, the story asks interesting questions, is fun, full of action, full of interesting characters and has a great female lead. Plus it’s in Australian English. So, a definite yes from me.


Reviews:


Winner Aurealis Award– Best Science Fiction Novel, 2014

Brin, David; Kiln People (2002)

As with many of his novels, David Brin’s Kiln People is an excellent science fiction story about a highly possible future. David Brin seems to keep himself up-to-date on neurological research and extends that information into alternatives we might well encounter if humans do not destroy themselves (also highly probable) before such technology becomes possible.

Racism is a huge part of the short lives of dittos in Kiln People. Dittos are clones, made of nano-clay, who live only 24 hours. A person’s  consciousness is copied into them and all of their experiences may be copied back into your consciousness again – as long as it is done within 24 hours after their birth. At that time, dittos turn into a kind of sludge. The color the ditto equals its value and abilities. Prices go from the cheapest Orange dittos, that are generally used for manual labor where independent thinking or sensing is seldom required, to the most expensive Platinum ones, that are like a better version of their Archie (original). Dittos are have varying degrees of independent thinking but must always be obedient to their Archie’s commands. They can be forced to do anything you can possibly imagine. Dittos are made to fight each other to the death, to be sex-slaves, to dig in the mines or to be substitute private detectives. Their sensory system can be hyper-sensitive or practically non-existent depending on exactly what you want them to experience, which leaves a lot of room for shitty owners to make their ditto’s life a living hell. While an Archie may do anything to a ditto they meet, instant destruction follows if a ditto harms an Archie. Even though people are allowed to make their dittos do anything, only wealthy people get away with “real” criminal activities. So, just like today. No matter how nice their owner is, dittos are still at the bottom of the social ladder. Albert Morris is a fairly decent owner.

“… I figure if you make a creature, you’re responsible for it. That ditto wanted to matter. He fought like hell to continue. And now he’s part of me, like several hundred others that made it home for inloading, ever since the first time I used a kiln, at sixteen.”

“… The copier sifts your organic brain to engrave the Standing Wave onto a fresh template made of special clay, ripening in the kiln. Soon a new ditto departs into the world to perform errands while you have breakfast. No need even to tell it what to do.

It already knows.

It’s you.”

Albert is the main character. As a private investigator he uses dittoes to go where he does not want to go. In fact, with enough money, he would never have to leave his home. Depending on the case, Albert uses different colored dittos. In Kiln People, Albert uses Ebony (huge processing abilities), Greys (used as representatives) and Greens (used for his dirty work).

Albert has two missions in life. One is to reveal the identity of Beta. Beta and Albert have a long history of killing each other (i.e. their dittos), and Albert really wants to know who is behind his arch-nemesis’ alias. Being as good a private detective as possible is his second mission. Corporate espionage and digging up dirt on  competitors is something private investigators continue to do in the future.

“Ugh. What put me in this mood? Could it be Ritu’s news? A reminder that real death still lurks for us all?

Well, shrug it off! Life’s still the same as it was in the old days.

Sometimes you’re the grasshopper.

Sometimes you are the ant.”

Albert gets hired by incomprehensibly wealthy Aeneas Kaolin, co-inventor of dittos and owner of Universal Kilns, to look into the disappearance of Kaolin’s long-time friend, Yosil Maharal. When Maharal turns up dead in what seems to be a car accident, Albert wonders if it might be something more.

One thing I really liked about Kiln People was the way Brin told the stories of Albert’s dittos in Albert’s voice. At one point, there were four Alberts at the same time. None of them knew what was going on with any of the others because they had not been reintegrated into their Archie. Brin’s world-building happened through the eyes and ears of the various Alberts. What they learned, we learned.

I would not have wanted to live in such a society. I find ours challenging enough. It was an interesting society, though, and one I think most people would embrace. No room for Aspies though. Genetic tinkering had become common enough that our worst ailments were eradicated. That, I wouldn’t mind. Just as I think of today’s society, some of the political choices of the society of Kiln People did not make sense. At least the fanatics behaved predictably.

Towards the end, I felt preached at. I don’t mind crazy men’s ranting, but this felt more like Brin telling, not showing. I also enjoyed Brin’s sense of humour.

“Albert? Is that you in there?”Illusion or not, I couldn’t refuse her anything. Though lacking a body – or any other means to make sound – I somehow gathered strength to mouth four words.

“… just … a … fax … ma’am …”

In conclusion, I think I can safely say that there is plenty of action, no romance, much social commentary, humour, and some preaching. I liked it.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Audible: Read by Andy Caploe; Brilliance Audio, 2016
  • Bulgarian: Килн хора; Translated by Венцислав Божилов; Бард, 2002; Goodreads
  • English (British): Kil’n People; London, Orbit, 2002; Review
  • French: Le Peuple d’argile; Translated by Thierry Arson; Presses de la Cité, 2004; Review
  • German: Copy; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; Heyne, 2005
  • Hebrew:  אנשי הכבשן; Translated by Ṿered Ṭokhṭerman; מודן הוצאה לאור, 2004; Review
  • Hungarian: Dettó; Translated by Haklik Norbert; Budapest, Metropolis Media, 2009; Reviews
  • Japanese: キルン・ピープル; Translated by 酒井昭伸 (Sakai Akinobu);  ハヤカワ文庫 (Hayakawa bunko) SF1628, 2007; Cover art: 加藤直之 (Katou Naoyuki); Review
  • Russian: Глина; Translated by С. Самуйлов; АСТ: Люкс, 2005 г; Cover art: SharksDen и Д. Бернса; Reviews
  • Spanish: Gente de Barro; Translated by Rafael Marín Trechera; Nova, 2003; Review