The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver

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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m no fan of crime books. But I’m also not a stickler when it comes to things I generally love, like books. So, yeah, there are crime books I read, and, hell yeah, Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series is part of that exception. I may think of it as Sachs/Rhyme series, I may think of Rhyme and Sachs as the actors who played them in that one very memorable movie: The Bone Collector, and I enjoy the heck out of my own take on the story.

There are 12 books to date in the series with Rhyme and Sachs also appearing in XO from the Kathryn Dance series (which I also enjoy). The Kill Room is #10 and I’ve read each of the books before it, and the next in the series is already sitting in my book pile. I’m not searching feverishly when the next book of the series will be published, I actually stumbled across these two at the library, but I enjoy this crime series more than any other crime book I’ve read by any other author. Jeffery Deaver writes a compelling team of forensical analysts, two characters I simply love.

That said, here’s what happens in The Kill Room:

An anti-American activist is murdered in the Bahamas. As it turns out, he was on a goverment Special Task Order that has been leaked and prosecutor Nance Laurel wants the men responsible for the murder behind bars – one of them is NIOS director Shreve Metzger who may have tempered with the order to fit his own agenda.

Rhyme and Sachs are helping with the investigation, bringing Lincoln back out into the field and Amelia under the watchful eye of the killer, or one of the killers. Because there seem to be more than one cook in the kill room with a knife.

Since you already know that I like this series, you can guess that I liked this one as well. It’s true Jeffery Deaver, true Rhyme and Sachs. Their personal story intervenes with the investigation, plot twists are happening left and right to divert the reader from the true motive, or the true killer, or the one evidence that turns the investigation on its head. Because one thing a Deaver book never is: boring.

This is the series where you will never be able to follow all the clues. But that’s not the only thing that has me coming back. Amelia Sachs and Lincoln Rhyme, Thom and Sellitto, Pulaski and Cooper, they’ve all become part of a crime fighting family. And the reader, me, you, everybody, is part of that family, too. I often find myself breathlessly waiting for something to happen to any of them, because they’re often in danger, but often just too good at their job to get caught so easily off guard. I tend to mumble threats at anyone threatening Sachs, because she’s my main focus, my favorite character. I just love the series so much. Not in the way that I miss them and eagerly await a new book, but in a way that when, after years of absence, I discover the next in the series I don’t hesitate to buy. Deaver is a safe bet for a thrilling story, and Rhyme and Sachs are his most appealing characters – imho.

 

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The Old Deep and Dark by Ellen Hart

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This is the 22nd Jane Lawless Mystery. And it’s the first I’ve read. You might wonder why, and having read it, I wonder the very same thing: Why am I only discovering this series now? Whatever the reason, one thing is clear – The Old Deep and Dark won’t remain my only venture into this series.

Here’s what happens:

Jane’s friend Cordelia bought an old theater. Not only is the place historically relevant and haunted, Jane and Cordelia discover a body in the cellar, which once upon a time was a speakeasy. And that’s only the first body recovered, because country singer and friend to Cordelia Jordan Deere is found dead on a jogging path.

Investigating this murder with her father, lawyer Raymond Lawless, Jane discovers the truth of an old saying: Everybody lies. And the Deere family turns it into a kind of art and everyone becomes a possible suspect who may not only have murdered Jordan Deere, but also the bodies that keep piling up in Cordelia’s theater.

I’m not going to reveal the murderer, don’t worry. But I’m also not saying that they’re difficult to discover, though Hart sure keeps one guessing. That’s one of the appeals, of course, but it may not be the greatest, because Hart’s writing is wonderful, her characters delightful, and the hints toward solving the crime subtle.

Subtlety isn’t the characters’ best feature, though, and it’s probably luck that the real killer is finally revealed. While Jane is hard-working and committed enough, she’s also distracted by personal problems. Fortunately for her, she has able assistance in finding this serial killer.

Hart’s ensemble of characters is solid and one can read this book – and I would guess every book in this series – as a stand alone. But then, how can one not want to know their complete story? Hints are given throughout that it’s an exciting one and I, for one, won’t likely miss out on more of these entertaining volumes. I’m looking forward to discovering Jane Lawless and her friends, one book at a time.

Legend by Marie Lu

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This book… feels sexy. It does. It’s got a roughened cover and just feels nice. Yeah, I know book cover fetish, but seriously, if you find it somewhere (the Speak edition from 2013): feel it.

And it doesn’t just have a sexy outside, the inside has its own magic you might want to discover. Here’s what’ what:

The North American states (that’s the Republic and the Colonies) are at war. Before this background, June Iparis wants to avenge her brother’s death. Only suspect is Day, a much sought-after criminal, who’s never killed before. But before June even knows that she’s found him, she spent some time with him undercover and (of course) falls for him. Turns out, he did not kill her brother, but others did. And they have more than that one secret to protect.

There’s much more to this story, naturally. This is a different North America from what we know, but it’s not Suzanne Collins united version, either. The Republic is a sinister place where the lines between rich and poor are quite severe. Much like in The Hunger Games and Divergent, there is a Trial children have to go through – this one is to rid the gene pool of its bad apples.

Day is such an apple. Even though he had a perfect score in The Trial, he was told he failed and was given over to experimentations (while the public thinks, children who failed The Trial were send to labor camps). But he survived and he wants revenge on a corrupt system. June is a prodigy of the system. She also had a perfect score, but because she was born to rich parents, she started training for the military, following in her brother Metias’ footsteps. But her family has a secret of their own, and as she finds out about it, her loyalties are tested until they break away.

I already compared this to The Hunger Games and Divergent, and it’s not far fetched. And yet, Legend is also different. Lu decided to break the book into two distinct voices, June and Day’s. Both are equally important, both are the main characters, and also I-narrators. I think she solved the problem I had with Divergent (or rather its sequel Insurgent) cleverly – giving Day his own voice, keeps this book from being about Day in June’s voice, while June is free to explore her own story.

Yes, there’s quite a bit of romance between the two characters, and I must confess, those pages bored me a little. But the story is so well written, so well thought through, that they were the only moments I did not entirely enjoy. It also made apparently clear to me how much I yearn for a story like Legend, or The Hunger Games with a queer protagonist (or two queer protagonists).

Legend is a really good book and it’s part of a series, followed by Prodigy and Champion, which I will probably read soon and will probably tell you about. I honestly hope Legend will get made into movies, and I also hope that these movies will not white-wash Day who is half-Mongolian. In fact, Legend lends itself perfectly as a series that could bring more Characters of Color to a ‘whitened’ genre.

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

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The problem is this: in Germany, we don’t get to see movies in the English original, unless there happens to be a movie theater near that offers to do that. They didn’t offer Carol and I’m loath to watch the German dubbed version. What did I do? I bought the book.

The Price of Salt (the original title when it came out in 1952) has been on my reading list for some time, but as it always goes, I hadn’t come to it yet. The movie put the book in my local bookstore and there you go. I bought it, and I’m not sorry I did.

Here’s what Carol is about:

19-year-old Therese Belivet works in a department store over the holidays. Carol Aird is a customer looking for a doll for her daughter. Their eyes meet and from that moment on they yearn to be together. They try to be friends, but on a trip they take together they finally succumb to their desires. Waterloo is their downfall. But Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband has sent a private detective after them and their affair doesn’t stay undetected. The price of salt being the custody of Carol’s daughter.

Lauded as the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, this lauding took away the surprise of the ending. Because one could not help being surprised at a happy ending for a novel that seems melancholy. The love between the two women seems doomed and thus I had the feeling at the end that the ending doesn’t quite fit.

This however does not take away from the beauty of the novel. Told from Therese’s point of view, but not in the first person, it is a story of youthful awkwardness and misunderstandings. But it is a story of growth in a human being, maybe even more so than a love story. Through her love for Carol Therese grows into an adult. While Carol is certainly a guiding person, she is far from perfect. Her mood swings sometimes dramatically, and the audience – together with Therese – can only wonder at her attraction to the young woman. But it’s there, it is just hidden because Carol knows better than to fall for a woman again.

The book is an emotional roller coaster, and while one does not always understand Therese’s feelings or actions, they make sense for her. The same goes for her misunderstanding of Carol who remains a mystery for most of the tale.

Throughout the read, I kept underlining passages that are so beautifully written they took my breath away. While the book is of spartan discription, the inner musings are philosophical, sometimes poetic. The love falls in front of a cold backdrop, it being winter and even Therese wishing her feelings had fallen into spring. But love does not wait for the perfect backdrop, it just happens. And the book never doubts that it did happen for Therese, she’s not shy to even confess to them before she even knows that Carol feels for her too. These feelings overwhelm her, they’re too powerful to doubt them.

CarolThe Price of Salt – is a beautiful book, it’s an important book, it’s the book you should read in 2016 if you haven’t read it yet. I still can’t quite put my head around it, but it’s a great read, an emotional one too. It’s not a pleasant summer read, but it’s worth your time.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.

Panic by Lauren Oliver

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A paperback has become a rare occasion with me, but it felt good to go back to the printed copy and actually feel paper, turn pages, smell the glue of the binding. I like all these things. I also liked Panic.

The novel is about the youth of small town Carp who participate in a game called Panic after graduating high school. The lure is money, the danger is dying. Heather Nill participates to guarantee that her sister Lily doesn’t have to live in a trailer park for the rest of her life. Dodge Mason wants to get back at the brother of the guy who is responsible that his sister Dayna is now in a wheel chair – a direct consequence of entering the joust finale of Panic.

From the beginning the idea reminded me of something Stephen King might have written. It would have been set in Maine instead of New York, of course, but the idea is really that good. And it’s well-written and gripping, too. Given, it is not Stephen King, and that’s okay, only, I wondered reading this book what he could have made of this idea.

Oliver is an able story-teller, she weaves a gripping tale. I liked the idea with the tigers even though the final appearance of one might have been a little predictable. That is also the part with which I had my most issues – the ending. The last chapter was a little too happy ending-like for me, especially since some of the issues – What about Heather’s mom, didn’t she try to cut into the Panic-cake? Has Dodge simply forgiven his friends? Why did Luke had to appear of all people? – weren’t solved. In the end, the money from the game made everything okay, but nobody tried to put a stop to Panic, like it’s supposed to happen. And if Panic is supposed to happen, then Carp hasn’t changed at all and is still the dreary, hopeless place it was in the beginning. Could this town produce a happy ending like Oliver wants us to believe it did?

While the ending leaves things to be discusssed, the story as a whole is very enjoyable. Panic is well-written, the characterization is very good. You suffer with Heather and Dodge. Sometimes I wish that young adult novels weren’t so hopelessly heteronormative, but that’s not exactly a new problem. It would be nice, though, to have at least one main gay character… just saying.

It’s a good read, you should check it out. I’m not sure, but there might be a sequel in the works.