This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham: DC Fiona Griffiths solves a impossible crime or two in this compelling read

I didn’t do justice to my notes below — just took too many of them –but I’m hoping I did justice to the book. If there’s something you think needs expanding — well, that’s just one reason for the comment section…

This Thing of DarknessThis Thing of Darkness

by Harry Bingham
Series: Fiona Griffiths, #4

Kindle Edition, 576 pg.
Orion, 2015
Read: June 13 – 16, 2018

I think police rules matter and I’ll try to abide by them. But the dead matter more. Their rules are sacred and they last for ever.

For a change, Fiona Griffiths is making a serious, concerted effort to act the way that a Detective Constable is supposed to — crossing Ts, dotting Is, using warrants, court orders, rules of evidence, and so on — I’m not saying she’s successful at it, but she made an effort. Sure, she had to set the rules to the side in the beginning, and the had to put them in the dustbin towards the end — but during that middle part? She came awfully close to being a proper DC from Planet Normal.

So, Fiona is assigned to help out in Evidence Collection — going through all the gathered evidence, cataloging, tracking, documenting the chain of custody, etc. for a major sexual assault case. She has no use for the lead investigator — and the feeling is mutual — but she’s quite skilled at this sort of thing, so she has to stay on the case. Meanwhile, she’s also studying for the Detective Sergeant’s exam (or she’s supposed to be) — her superiors have very high expectations for her. Oh, and she’s been given a stack of cold cases to leaf through to keep her mind engaged. Two of this stack of cases catch her eye — and because she’s Fiona Griffiths, it turns out that her curiosity was piqued by cases that turn out to be more than anyone expected.

In one case, some very valuable art was stolen from the second floor of a home — all the security was located on the first floor, and there’s absolutely no indication that the first floor was accessed at all. Yet (with no obvious sign of break in), the second floor was picked pretty clean. There’s also an accidental death as the result of a fall from a rocky path near a cliff where a man who’d been drinking was walking at night. It’s not long before she’s able to demonstrate one solid explanation for the break-in, why it happened the way it did; she’s able to demonstrate that the accidental death wasn’t one, and is able to identify similar crimes. From there…well, things get complicated.

On the one hand, what Fiona and her colleagues uncovers is one of the most outlandish, hard to believe schemes I can remember in crime fiction. On the other hand, I just know that there are probably actual crimes that make this look pedestrian, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are real life analogues to the crimes in this book. Also, when Fiona starts putting pieces together and explaining things to her superiors, it all makes sense in a way that you can’t believe you didn’t figure it out a dozen pages before her.

Naturally, this book puts Fiona in a couple of very difficult situations — and both make what she’s gone through before seem somewhat tame. Part of this takes place on a fishing boat in the Atlantic — I make no bones about it, I need to be on land. I cannot handle being on anything in the ocean for longer than…4 minutes. Reading those portions of this book were pure horror for me. I’m not going to slap a Trigger Warning on this or anything, but you might want to consider popping a Dramamine. Watching Fiona endure these extremes, while keeping her wits (mostly?) about her, planning her way out of them, and dealing with her mental health issues — it makes for great reading. Pure and simple.

Meanwhile, Fiona is making strides in her personal life, growing as a person — finding her relationships with her exes evolve and mature. Forging new relationships, realizing how to recognize attraction to someone, forging friendships, etc. She is getting closer to her goal (whether or not she’ll ever reach it, I don’t know, but she’s closer) of a “normal” life. Also, thanks to the mentorship and guidance (frequently firm) of her superiors, she’s advancing at work. Sure, she spends a lot of time stuck processing evidence — but that just adds fuel to her creative fire when she is investigating and coming up against brick walls. Also, the last chapter features some of the most overtly “fun” writing in the series — and that’s due to the relationships with her superiors developing the way they do.

It would’ve been very easy for Bingham to crank out a few books about the quirky and charmingly unbalanced Fiona acting like a maverick cop, investigating on her own and finding ways to justify everything for the brass. Instead, we see Fiona wrestling with her condition, making progress (and then regressing) with it — yet finding ways to integrate professionally and personally with others.

Not only that, but Fiona makes significant progress on the two ongoing investigations she’s been handling on her own since the first book — there’s been some incremental progress when it comes to tracing her personal history, and her campaign to learn more about those who were tied to the ringleader in Talking to the Dead in the last couple of books — but she makes strides greater than I really ever wondered if she would in this book — and I know she’s not done yet.

That reminds me — this novel revisits (in at least some small way) the victims and perpetrators of the cases in the firs three books in the series. Not many mysteries do that, but Bingham makes sure that Fiona can’t shake the ghosts of the cases she’s worked — no matter how they resolved.

There’s really very little that Bingham and Fiona don’t do well in this layered novel — whether we’re dealing with one of the many criminal investigations, her personal grown, or just understanding herself better, this book does a great job with everything. I am always forgetting how much I like these books, and just how good Bingham is — I’m not sure why it’s something I need reminding of. The balance of mystery, thriller, and character study is really outstanding. Obviously, if you watch Fiona’s growth from the get go, you will appreciate what happens in these pages better. But this would work as a jumping on point, too.
Definitely recommended.

—–

4 Stars

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Brief Cases by Jim Butcher: ‘Scuse me while I unleash my inner fanboy

If you’re a Dresden fan still working their way through the series and haven’t gotten to the end of Skin Game yet, DO NOT READ this post. Go catch up first.

Brief CasesBrief Cases

by Jim Butcher
Series: The Dresden Files, #15.1

Hard Cover, 448 pg.
Ace Books, 2018
Read: June 13 – 16, 2018

Being a wizard is all about being prepared. Well, that and magic, obviously.

Generally, when I start a book, my question is: how much am I going to like this? (Occasionally, the question is: I’m not going to hate this, am I?) But there are a few authors that I ask a different question with: How much am I going to love this book? Jim Butcher is probably at the top of the latter list, and the answers are typically: a lot, a considerable amount, and WOW, SO, SO, SO MUCH. I make no bones about it, I don’t pretend to be anything like objective. I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m not looking to convince anyone to give him another shot (but I’m willing to give it a shot if someone wants me to), but for many, many reasons, I’m an unabashed and unashamed Jim Butcher fan and Brief Cases gives several reasons why I continue to be one.

Incidentally, I started this collection assuming the answer would be “a lot.” It ended up being on the other end of the spectrum of love. I’ll explain that shortly.

This is not a novel (alas!), it’s another collection of short stories and novellas, like Side Jobs. It’s been awhile since I’ve read or thought about that collection much, but I believe that this is a stronger batch on the whole. I’ve only read “Cold Case” from Shadowed Souls before, so this was a lot of new material for me — and I enjoyed it immensely. It was great spending a few days in the pages and world of probably my favorite ongoing series.

Five of the twelve stories here were told from the point of view of a supporting character in the series. Anastasia Luccio told “A Fistful of Warlocks” about a little adventure she had in Dodge City, which opened the collection on a fun note; we got to know “Gentleman” John Marcone a little better than we wanted to in “Even Hand,” (which doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the story). Molly got to shine in “Bombshells” and the aforementioned “Cold Case.” And Waldo Butters’ opening lines to “Day One” — the tale of his first adventure as a Knight — will go down as one of my favorite opening lines of 2018. I really got a kick out of all of these — “Bombshells” and “Day One” were probably the most effective for me, but I’m not going to complain about any of the rest. Actually, after reading “Day One,” I figured I got most of my money’s worth just for that one.

Which leaves us with seven others from Harry’s perspective — there are the three Bigfoot stories that were published in various collections and then in Working for Bigfoot. I’ve been kicking myself for a while for being too budget-conscious to get that collection when it came out, yet unable to bring myself to get the e-book. Thankfully, I have them now — and they were great. Not worth the $80 that used copies seem to go for now, but still pretty good. I really liked the characters in these stories and would gladly see them again. “Curses,” was a lot of fun; “AAAA Wizardry,” was a good story that I’m glad I read, but I can’t say it was great; and “Jury Duty” was okay, but had its moments.

Which leaves us with “Zoo Day” — the only original piece in this anthology, a novella about Harry taking Maggie and Mouse to the Zoo. And it was great. Just great. I know I’ve got a healthy dose of recency bias working here, but I think in 5 years if you ask me for my favorite pieces of Butcher writing that it will be in the Top 10 — maybe Top 5. Watching Harry try to figure out how to be a good dad, while watching Maggie try to not drive him away, while Mouse just wants the two of them to understand each other . . . it just melts your heart. Yes, there’s still supernatural and dark things afoot — many of which we’ve never encountered before that could really mess things up for all three of these characters (and the rest of the Dresden Files cast, come to think of it) — and there’s at least one scene that creeped me out in a serious way. But mostly? I just loved the characters interacting with each other. My “Day One” affection and excitement remain intact, but they pale compared to what I thought about this novella. My notes (again, recency bias may play a role here) read, “A little slice of perfection. I didn’t know a 50 page story could make me so misty-eyed and so happy all on its own.” But it did, and I feel the heart-strings being tugged again as I write this.

Simply, this was a joy for me, and I imagine most Dresden Files fans would feel the same way. If you haven’t read Jim Butcher’s books about a Wizard P.I. yet, and have somehow read this far into the blog post, you really, really should. This collection isn’t the place to start — but it’s a great place to hurry up and get to.

Loved it, loved it, loved it.

—–

5 Stars

Towel Day ’18: Some of my favorite Adams lines . . .

There’s a great temptation here for me to go crazy. I’ll refrain from that and just list some of his best lines . . .

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
  • This must be Thursday. . . I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
  • “You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”
    “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
    “You ask a glass of water.”
    (I’m not sure why, but this has always made me chuckle, if not actually laugh out loud. It’s just never not funny)
  • He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
  • In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centuari. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before . . .
  • “Look,” said Arthur, “would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  • It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N-N-T’Nix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.

    The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

(It goes on for quite a while after this — and I love every bit of it.)

  • “One of the interesting things about space,” Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying . . . “is how dull it is?””Dull?” . . .

    “Yes,” said Slartibartfast, “staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there’s so much of it and so little in it.”

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

  • Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.You’d probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and told nobody anything they didn’t already know — except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing eventually had to be scrapped.
  • Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with authority.”Life,” he said, “is like a grapefruit.”

    “Er, how so?”

    Well, it’s sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy the middle. It’s got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.”

    “Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?”

  • Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry. He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her.”Why’s this fish so bloody good?” he demanded, angrily.

    “Please excuse my friend,” said Fenchurch to the startled waitress. “I think he’s having a nice day at last.”

Mostly Harmless

  • A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

  • Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

(I’ve often been tempted to get a tattoo of this)

The Last Chance to See

  • “So what do we do if we get bitten by something deadly?” I asked.He looked at me as if I were stupid.

    “You die, of course. That’s what deadly means.”

  • I’ve never understood all this fuss people make about the dawn. I’ve seen a few and they’re never as good as the photographs, which have the additional advantage of being things you can look at when you’re in the right frame of mind, which is usually around lunchtime.
  • I have the instinctive reaction of a Western man when confronted with sublimely incomprehensible. I grab my camera and start to photograph it.

And a couple of lines I’ve seen in assorted places, articles, books and whatnot

  • I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
  • A learning experience is one of those things that says, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”

Towel Day ’18: Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

One of my long-delayed goals is to write up a good all-purpose Tribute to Douglas Adams post, and another Towel Day has come without me doing so. Belgium.

Next year . . . or later.

Adams is one of those handful of authors that I can’t imagine I’d be the same without having encountered/read/re-read/re-re-re-re-read, and so I do my best to pay a little tribute to him each year, even if it’s just carrying around a towel (I’ve only been able to get one of my sons into Adams, he’s the taller, thinner one in the picture from a couple of years ago below).

TowelDay.org is the best collection of resources on the day, recently posted this pretty cool video, shot on the ISS by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Even better — Here’s an appearance by Douglas Adams himself from the old Letterman show — so glad someone preserved this:

Love the anecdote (Also, I want this tie.)

The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe: I hate to say good-bye to the Tufa, but this is the way to do it.

I’ve got to stop doing this. I had most of a post written about this book for yesterday, didn’t like it and trashed the whole thing. This isn’t as analytical as I wanted to be, but it does a better job capturing what I felt about the experience, and I think I happier about that than I’d have been with my planned post.

The Fairies of SadievilleThe Fairies of Sadieville

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #6

Kindle Edition, 368 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: May 9 – 11, 2018

For many years [the Tufa] were on the wrong side of the South’s color line, and suffered for it. Their secretive ways and legendary musical aptitude spawned rumor and legend, which in turn prompted more and more withdrawal.

But now the twenty-first century, with its pervasive interconnectedness, pushed against this isolation. More and more Tufa risked the consequences of leaving and sought their way in the world. They all knew they would someday have to come back, since all Tufa were inextricably tied to Needsville. But they also knew that the seclusion of the past was no longer practical. Like it or not, the world now knocked on their door.

Such a depressing thought, but a pretty good summary of the State of the Tufa.

I still remember some of the reactions I had back in 2011 during my first read of The Hum and the Shiver and met the Tufa. There was something otherworldly, ethereal and haunting — and yet, very human, and even fun. It was, in short, magic. I thought the same when I re-read it before the sequel, and maybe it impressed me more that time. Each book since has felt the same — not all have them as successful as the first, but they’ve all had that same core magic.

When it was announced a couple of months ago that this was going to be the final novel in the series I was struck by two thoughts — the first, and strongest, was lament. The second was, “how?” There’s not an overarching narrative that needs tieing up, a goal to meet or anything. Partway through this book, I started to understand how Bledsoe was wrapping things up and concluding the series — and it felt perfect. I should add at this point that I was wrong about what he was doing, and that the reality was better than my guess.

As it’s the final book, all bets are off — the first novel contained many hints about the nature of the Tufa, but the successive books were less and less subtle in that regard, and ended up telling more than the previous. At this point, there’s no hinting, no suggesting — not only that, Bledsoe answers many questions readers have had since the beginning, and probably a few we should’ve had. And he does so in a way that enriches the series and the Tufa, not just something that reveals. There were so many little tidbits that came out that just made me smile or utter a quiet “Ah ha!”

I actually haven’t talked much about the plot yet — how odd. There are a couple of graduate students from a university in Tennessee — one in psychology (would be parapsychology if she could get away with it) and one in English with a focus in folk music as a way to improve his own music (minor spoiler: I spent a few pages waiting for him to be revealed to be a Tufa — nope, just a kindred spirit). These two have come across an old film — silent film old — shot near Needsville, showing a young woman losing her glamour and flying off on wings. There’s no way that it could be silent film quality FX, it’s a woman with wings. This town it was filmed in, Sadiesville, disappeared shortly afterwards. The two want to find this town and explore what happened to it.

Which brings them into contact with the people of Needsville — and the night winds have instructed them to help these two find what they’re looking for, despite the fact that no one in Needsville has a clue about the town. For readers, the idea that Tufa have forgotten anything that happened in their area is pretty astounding the kind of thing that piques your curiosity.

What happens next is wonderful, and horrible, and beautiful — awful in every sense, archaic and otherwise. I loved it and hated it while admiring how Bledsoe played this out. Structurally, tonally, thematically different from the rest (as each book in this series has been), yet undeniably part of the series. I loved seeing friends who’ve been around since The Hum and the Shiver or those as fresh as Gather Her Round just one last time (not that the new characters are slouches. For example, Veronica, our aspiring parapsychologist, is someone I’d hope to see if there was going to be a book 7).

There are a million little touches here — none of which I can talk about without ruining something, that make this good-bye the best installment of this series since The Hum and the Shiver. This is a must for Tufa fans (not that they need me to say it), and one more chance for me to suggest that people who haven’t started the series yet get on it. I don’t believe in actual magic — but Bledsoe’s series make me want to, especially if it looked like this. I hate to say good-bye to this series, but this is the way to do it.

Bravo.

—–

5 Stars

Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins: Atkins delivers a solid dose of Old Boston Magic

Old Black MagicRobert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #46

Hardcover, 319 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Read: May 2 – 3, 2018

Wow. The Forty-Sixth Spenser novel. Atkins’ seventh, too — it’s hard to believe. I can still remember some of these as clearly as if I read them yesterday — I’m a little vague on some of them, I have to admit (sorry Bad Business and Painted Ladies), but by and large, this is one of those series that’s defined me as a reader. This is one of those that in years to come that I’m going to remember pretty clearly, too, I’m glad to report.

Also, I’m pretty sure that 46 books in, nothing I say here is going to get the series a new reader. Still, I want to talk about it some.

So here’s the pitch: Locke, an older P.I. and friend/associate of Spenser, comes to him for help — he’d like Spenser to take over one of his cases, as she’s fighting a losing battle with a medical problem. Twenty years ago, a Boston museum was robbed — two paintings and one Picasso sketch were stolen. The Boston Police, the FBI and he have turned over every rock they can think of, he’s traveled the word just to find them. But he’s gotten no where — but there’s some new information coming to light — and with the statute of limitations about to kick in, there’s probably no better time to find the painting then now. Spenser agree and plunges right into the hunt.

Whether you’re Spenser or Nero Wolfe, the worst type of client has to be a committee or board* — a committee that’s not entirely sure they want you to work for them is even worse. The museum committee is led by a classic stuffed shirt, Spenser’s always fun to read when he’s antagonizing the pompous. We’ve also got another Spenser trope — a tough, no-nonsense, hard-to-impress client that Spenser slowly wins over — in the museum director. Putting the two of those together is a good combination. The committee has their own replacement for Locke — an anti-Spenser. British, polished, cultured (he’s probably forgotten more about art than Spenser has ever known), not obviously prone to violence, with an approach to this case that’s very different from Spenser’s. As much as I disliked him, I wish we’d gotten a little more time with him.

This is a novel largely dependent on the non-regular characters — clients, witnesses, sources, suspects. There’s no Hawk, no Sixkill, limited Susan, not enough Pearl — so who does Spenser talk to? Henry (a little more than usual), Frank, Quirk, and Rita — and a couple of chats with Vinnie Morris. Things are still not good with Vinnie, but there might be room in that direction — and common enemies can help a lot. Given the Gino Fish connection, of course we have to have a lot of Vinnie.

Spenser’s approach to this case is classic — he goes around talking to every witness, suspect that he can — annoying some, charming some, learning a very little. Then he moves on to the next and the next, and then circles back to the first. Prying a little more, and a little more. This is a very talk-y book. There’s the threat of violence — and even some actual violence — but most of the actual violence was associated with the original burglars, so we hear about it, but don’t see it. Atkin’s solid take on Parker-dialgoue means that this is a fast, fun read. And that’s fine with me.

Back when Robert B. Parker was writing multiple series, one of the fun aspects was watching characters from one series (typically the longer-running, Spenser books) show up in one of the others. Watching Capt. Healy’s interactions with Jesse Stone, for example, provided an interesting counter-point to the way Healy and Spenser got along. Now that there are three authors actively writing the Spenser-verse series, there’s an added twist to that. Recently (long enough ago that I don’t feel too bad saying it), Reed Farrel Coleman killed off Gino Fish. There are huge chunks of this book that are little else than seeing the effects of that death in Boston’s criminal society (for lack of a better term).

How do we get to Gino Fish? When it comes to Art Crimes — especially higher-end stuff — and the resulting fencing, at that time in Boston everything came through Gino’s fingers. Between the references to the late Gino and the fact that the crime in question took place two decades ago, there’s a lot of history covered here as Spenser talks to various criminals/criminal associates while hunting for these paintings. I do mean a lot of history — going back to events in Mortal Stakes (my first encounter with the series) and characters from The Godwulf Manuscript (the first in the series). Yes, there’s a certain element of this being fan-service-y nostalgia on Atkins part. As a serviced-fan, I’m not complaining. But I think it’s more, it’s the kind of series that Parker and Atkins have given us — one that is very aware of its past and draws on it always. (there’s an interesting contrast to be made with the Jesse Stone series on this front).

If you’re looking at this as a mystery novel, or focusing on the plot — I’m not sure how successful it is (better than many, but I’m not sure it’s up to Atkins’ typical standards). But, if you look at it as some time with old friends — Spenser primarily, but even Quirk, Belson, Henry, etc. — it gets better, especially if you’ve got as much history with these characters as many readers do. Throw in the atmosphere, the perfect voice, the longer-term character moves, and you’ve got yourself a heckuva read. Spenser #46 is as entertaining as you could ask for and I’m already looking forward to #47.


* Yes, it bothers me that I can only come up with two names for this truncated list. I can’t imagine that other P. I.’s are immune to this kind of client, but I can’t think of another example. I’ll probably lose sleep over this memory failure.

—–

4 Stars

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

I had this pretty much ready to go yesterday and the day before that, but I didn’t like what I’d written — it’s not like I disagreed with myself (I’m funny that way), but I just had gone off on a tangent and ended up writing about things I didn’t care that much about, and ignored the things I’d been thinking about since I read the book. This isn’t exactly what I meant to talk about, nor is it as clear as I wanted things to be — but it’s close enough. Hope someone gets something out of it.

Burn BrightBurn Bright

by Patricia Briggs

Series: Alpha and Omega, #5

Hardcover, 308 pg.
Ace, 2018

Read: March 7 – 8, 2018

Anna was her father’s daughter, and her father believed in science and rational thinking. She’d been a werewolf for years now, and she still tended to think about it from a scientific viewpoint, as though lycanthropy were a virus.

Faced with a wall of briar-thorned vines straight out of a Grimms’ fairy tale, she’d never had it brought home so clearly that what she was and what she did was magic. Not Arthur C. Clarke magic, where sufficient understanding could turn it into a new science that could be labeled and understood. But a “there’s another form of power in the universe” magic. Something alien, almost sentient, that ran by its own rules-or none. Real magic, something that could be studied, maybe, but would never rest in neatly explainable categories.

I appreciated this look into Anna’s thinking. It matches up with what we’ve seen of Mercy’s take on magic, but not completely, underscoring the differences in t heir personalities and way of looking at the world.

Burn Bright takes place on the heels of Silence Fallen — Bran’s not back yet and Charles is handling things. At least as much as Leah will let him. We’ve known for quite some time that Bran’s pack is full of misfits, wolves that need extra care and attention that they probably couldn’t get elsewhere — particularly older werewolves, the type who are nearing the point where they can’t keep control. Asil is a prime example of this — but now we learn that Asil actually is an example of an older wolf who’s doing just fine and that there are a half-dozen or so living near the Marrock, but that don’t come into town or have much at all to do with anyone not Bran, Charles or a small number of specific individuals.

Now, while the Marrock is gone, someone is targeting these wolves — and all signs point to someone within the pack. Can Charles, Anna and others protect these pack members from this new threat? Can they identify the traitor in their midst, and will Charles have to kill someone he trusted to preserve the safety of all the wolves?

One thing I noticed last year doing my re-read of the Mercy and Alpha & Omega books was just how comfortable I felt in these books — that holds true here, too. It doesn’t matter about the peril being faced by Charles and Anna (or any of the rest of the pack), reading this book was a nice, relaxing time with old friends. Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, she’s not, but Briggs sure writes a cozy novel. I cannot put my finger on why — if it’s something in Briggs’ style, her voice, the stories, a combination of the three — but it doesn’t matter. As long as she does that, she’ll have loyal readers.

This was a very talk-y story (and maybe all the Charles and Anna stories skew this way, but this seemed a bit more pronounced). More than once I asked “Do we need to tell this story now? Can’t we come back and chat about this later, you know, after everyone is safe?” Of course, the answer is now, and we need all the talk-y bits to get the understanding and information necessary to defeat the bad guys. Still, the author and readers know this, but Charles, Anna and the rest don’t know that and I wish they displayed a greater sense of urgency.

Most of the talk-y portions were discussing the wildlings being targeted by the mysterious (and well-armed) forces at work here. Which at least pays off in the readers getting to know them — which I greatly appreciate. The other person we get to know better is Leah, Bran’s wife and his wolf’s mate. Between these books and the Mercy novels we’ve gotten to know here a bit, but this novel fills that knowledge out. Between Leah and Chrissy (Adam’s ex- in the Mercy books) Briggs displays a real talent in writing women that you cannot stand or trust, but have enough sympathy for that you can’t just hate. They’re manipulative, conniving, and self-promoting in ways that are clearly meant to set your teeth on edge — but there’s something very vulnerable about them, too.

There’s a reveal or two later in the book that seem inevitable — only because that’s how stories work, even when (especially when?) everything is pointing in one direction, but there’s no way an author of any experience would go with something so obvious. It’s hard to get more specific while not giving away the details — but those reveals ended up leaving me dissatisfied only because I called them so early. It feels like when you’re watching a police procedural and identify the killer when the guest star makes their appearance in the first 10 minutes — sure Castle might be charming, Bones’ intern might be delightfully quirky, or Rizzoli might have some sort of compelling side-story, but the mystery part of the story is a disappointment because how is Morgan Fairchild not going to be the killer?

But the focus of the book is on the relationship between Charles and Anna, their mutual trust, the way they help each other in ways no one else can. That part of the novel is rock solid, and as long as Briggs delivers that, who’s going to complain?

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, don’t misunderstand me. And the more I learn about Bran’s pack in Montana, the more I like it and the more I want to know. Asil, as always, was a joy. But . . . the more I think about Burn Bright the less satisfying it seems, the slighter it feels. I’m glad I read it, I’ll likely gladly read it again — and I look forward to the next adventure with these two. But I think Briggs could’ve — and should’ve — done better.

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3.5 Stars