Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook)Whispers Under Ground

by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)
Series: The Rivers of London, #3

Unabridged Audioboook, 10 hrs., 17 min.
Tantor Media, 2012

Read: July 24 – August 5, 2017


Okay . . . man, how to sum this one up. Peter, Lesley and Abigail Kamara (a teen-aged neighbor of Peter’s parents) go down into the tunnels of the Underground to look for ghosts, and find one. What we learn here will be important come The Furthest Station. This is a fun little foray into the wider supernatural world of this series.

And then we get back to police work — a man is stabbed at the Baker Street tube and there’s enough for Stephanopoulis to bring in Peter just to rule out magic. Which he can’t do. It turns out that the victim is an American, which makes everything unnecessarily complicated. And then it turns out that he’s the son of a US Senator, and things get worse. The FBI sends an agent — Kimberly Reynolds — over to help out/observe/get in the way. So Peter has to handle to non-normal side of the investigation, keep Seawoll from having to hear about magic (because it interferes with actual police work in his mind), and not let Reynolds know that there’s anything not run-of-the-mill about Peter and the investigation. All at the same time.

Very quickly, it seems clear that there’s something going on that Peter and the rest just don’t get. Yeah, magic was involved in the killing, but there’s no real trace of it in the victim’s life — not with him, his school, his friends, his enemies, or anything. So where’s that come into play? The answer comes when it’s least expected and in a direction that was impossible to predict.

Aaronovich really pulled a rabbit out of his hat this time. Sure, he made both the rabbit and the hat, so it’s to be expected that he’d do that. But, there’s just something about the way he did this one — police procedural that accidentally turns up the answers and leads to something bigger than anyone expected. A great balance of UF and Procedural (the last one was a bit too light on the procedural for me).

Guleed doesn’t get enough to do, but I liked her presence. Lesley really gets to shine a bit here, and her inability to be a regular part of the police force is underlined here for her and Peter — and just how horrible that is emphasized throughout. When Stephanopoulis is the rational, supportive authority figure for Peter (other than Nightingale), you know that Seawoll is a little over the top in his antagonism to all things Folly. But mostly, this was about characters we know and like getting to do things to keep us liking them, and probably liking them more while introducing some new figures for us to enjoy.

Really, the main take away I had from this audio production was a bit of joy over the fact that Holdbrook-Smith isn’t perfect. His Agent Reynolds was just bad. At least the American accent part of it. I enjoyed his flubbing of that more than I should have. Meanwhile, everything else he did was just fantastic — especially Lesley. The range of emotion, sarcasm, etc. that he can put into her voice while still accounting for her lack of face is just incredible. Also, Zach Palmer — the roommate of the murder victim — was just hilarious. I know a lot of that was in the text, but the way Holdbrook-Smith brought him to life was wonderful.

As impressed as I was with the way that Aaronvich did everything he did, something about this one didn’t work for me as much as others in the series do (either in this re-read or originally). I’m not sure why. Still, this was a good, entertaining book that anyone who likes the concept of a Police Officer/Wizard in training should enjoy.

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3.5 Stars

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The Late ShowThe Late Show

by Michael Connelly
Series: Renée Ballard, #1

Hardcover, 405 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2017

Read: July 17 – 22, 2017


Det. Renée Ballard works the graveyard shift out of the Hollywood Station, nicknamed the Late Show. She and her partner, the veteran detective John Jenkins, are basically place-holders — they handle the initial investigation of a crime (or sign off on a suicide) and then hand off their notes to one of the other detective squads that work days. It’s not demanding work — Jenkins likes it because there’s almost no overtime, and he can go home and be with his sick wife during the day. Ballard is stuck on the Late Show because she made some political waves a couple of years back, she couldn’t be fired over it, they could just make sure she found the prospect of another line of work appealing.

We meet Ballard on a pretty eventful night, she and Jenkins look into an elderly woman’s report of her purse being stolen and people using her credit cards; the vicious assault of a transvestite prostitute; and are involved in a minor role following a night club shooting. She and her partner are supposed to be turning over their involvement in these cases to someone else, but Ballard just can’t let go. She works the murder under the radar (as much as she can), gets permission to keep at the assault (which should not be construed as her investigating it according to Hoyle), and is brought back into the robbery organically — I stress this because it’s not all about Ballard skirting regulations, she works within (or near) the system.

Connelly constructs this like a pro — weaving the storylines into a good, cohesive whole. Each story feels like it gets enough time to be adequately told (without the same amount of space being devoted to each), there’s no grand way to connect them all into one, larger crime (which I almost always enjoy, but this is a bit more realistic), while something she learns on one case can be applied to another.

There’s one point where I thought that a plot development meant “oh, now we’re going to wrap things up now — cool.” Which I never would have thought if I bothered to pay attention to which page I was on, but it still seemed like the point that most writers would wrap it up. Instead, Connelly plays things out the way you expect, and then uses that to turn the novel in a different direction.

The book is full of nice little touches like that — Connelly’s been around enough that he knows all the tricks, knows all the plays — he can give you exactly what you think he will and then have the result come up and Connelly’s you.

In the future, I’d like to see a little more about Jenkins — but then again, how much did Connelly really develop Jerry Edgar or Kiz? Still, this is a new series, so he can develop things a bit more — I don’t think there’s a lot that can be done with Jenkins, but he can be more than just the guy who splits paper work with her. I hope that [name withheld] doesn’t become Ballard’s Irving, but I can think of worse things that might happen, so I won’t complain. I also hoped I’d get out of this with only 1 bit of comparison to the Bosch books. Oops.

The best thing — the most important thing — to say here is that Renée Ballard is not a female Harry Bosch; all too often, an established crime writer will end up creating a gender-flipped version of their primary character — basically giving us “X in a skirt” (yeah, I’m looking at you, Sunny Randall). This isn’t the case here. There’s a different emotional depth to Ballard, different lifestyles, different aspirations. Sure, she’s driven, stubborn, and obstinate, just like Harry — but name one fictional detective that isn’t driven, stubborn and obstinate. Readers don't show up in droves for slackers. Is there plenty of room for development and growth for Ballard in the future? Oh yeah. She's not perfect by any means (as a fictional character or as a person). But what a great start.

Same can be said for the series, not just the character — this book does a great job of capturing L.A. (an aspect of it at least), has a great plot, with enough turns to keep the reader satisfied, and a final reveal that's truly satisfying. The last thing that Connelly really needed was to start something new — but I'm glad he decided to.

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4 Stars

The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #16

eARC, 352 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: July 3 – 5, 2017


On the one hand, I know that Coleman is a pro, and that he’s going to approach each series, each character from a different angle. But he’s so effective at writing a broken, grieving Gus Murphy, that you have to expect a grieving Jesse Stone to be written as effectively and with a similar depth. Which gave me a little pause when it came to cracking this one open — how much of a mess would Jesse be?

Big. A big mess.

Still, I was chuckling within a few pages — Jesse’s pursuing a path to self-destruction unlike any he’s had before, even that which cost him his career with the LAPD, but at his core he’s still the same guy we’ve been reading for 20 years. He may not care about himself (or at least he wants to punish himself), but Suit, Molly, and the rest of Paradise. When push comes to shove, he’ll do what he has to do. Some times he might need prompting, however.

But let’s set that aside for the moment — there are essentially two stories involving Jesse and the PPD. There’s the titular sonnet — a reference to a legendary lost recording by Massachusetts’ answer to Bob Dylan, Terry Jester. Sometime after this recording, Jester pulled a J. D. Salinger and disappeared from the public eye. Jester is about to turn 75, and a large birthday gala is being planned on Stiles Island. Jesse has to consult with Jester’s manager, PR agent and the chief of security for the island. Jesse can’t stand this idea — he can’t stand much to do with Stiles Island — he just doesn’t want to put up with the hassle, the celebrities, the distraction from the typical duties of PPD. But he doesn’t have much choice — for one, there will need to be something done to deal with the traffic, celebrities, and what not; but Jesse also has to deal with the mayor’s political aspirations. And you don’t get very far without the support (and money) of celebrities and the positive media coverage that kind of thing should bring.

On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, but under suspicious circumstances. She has deep ties to the history of Paradise, causing her death to grab more headlines than it might otherwise. Did I mention the mayor’s political aspirations? Well, the last thing she needs is an unsolved murder when she’s trying to cash in on the media attention that Jester’s celebration will bring. So she starts applying pressure to Jesse. When Jesse starts to think there’s a link between her death and the hunt for The Hangman’s Sonnet master recording, the pressure — and the urge to drink — increases for Paradise’s Police Chief. Thanks to the Law of Interconnected Monkey Business, the reader knew there was likely a link all along, so I don’t think I gave away too much there.

That right there would be enough to get me to read and probably recommend. But you add Coleman’s writing into the mix and you’ve got yourself a winner. There’s a wonderful passage where Jesse meditates on the beauty of the accessories to his drinking — the different glasses, the bottles, the rituals. The mystery was solid work — and I was close to figuring everything out, but not close enough. When the final reveal was made, I felt pretty stupid, all the pieces were there I just didn’t assemble them correctly. There were a couple of “red shirt” criminals early on that were so well written, that even when you know they’re not going to stick around too long, you get invested in them (one of them had a death scene fairly early that most writers would let be predictable — and the death was — but the way that Coleman wrote it got me highlighting and making notes). Coleman even does something that Parker said he couldn’t do.

I won’t say that everything that happened during Debt to Pay has been dealt with thoroughly — it hasn’t. But, most of the characters have been able to get a degree of resolution and closure that means they can move forward. Not perfectly, perhaps, but honestly. Jesse, in particular, might come back for book 17 in a significantly better place (or at least significantly different) — but the core will be there, and woe on any criminal that steps foot into Paradise.

Great character moments; slow, organic development; and top-notch writing. Coleman delivers again, continuing to take the foundation laid by Parker and building on it in a way that’s true to the spirit of the world Parker created, but brought to us with a newfound depth.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 1/2 Stars

Moon Over Soho (Audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Moon Over Soho (Audiobook)Moon Over Soho

by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)
Series: The Rivers of London, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs.
Tantor Media, 2012
Read: June 21 – 23, 2017

When I think back over the first books in this series, I remember them being a lot of fun — pretty funny, really, with moments of tension and drama.

I don’t know why I think that. Listening to the first two have been a good corrective. Yes, Peter is witty, and some of what he does while learning magic or talking to other police officers is amusing. But these are not light books — this is solid police work mixed with dark magic. They’re still fun, just a lot less light than I recall. Actually, my poor memory extends beyond just the tone. I remembered almost nothing about the plot of this one (I remembered almost everything that wasn’t involved in the main plot, the long-term investigation into the Faceless Man, the stuff with Lesley, etc.). Which made it a great experience to re-read.

Jazz musicians are dropping dead after performances of a lifetime — in ways that seem like natural causes, but Peter (and Dr. Walid) can tell there’s something more going on — just what that might be is a touch beyond them. There’s another supernatural predator traveling in London hotspots, preying on unsuspecting men. Peter and DS Stephanopoulos work together to get to the bottom of things — we also meet PC Sahra Guleed. After Guleed’s appearance in Body Work, I’ve been trying to remember where I knew her from, but I couldn’t come up with it, so pleased to have that question resolved for me — I remember now, and I remember what a great character she is.

Peter’s spirit, his curiosity, his drive — they make for a great protagonist, and I quite enjoy spending time with him. I would’ve liked a bit more Nightingale — but I understand why he wasn’t around. Even Peter’s new love interest and his new musician friends are a blast. Really, I can’t think of any characters in here I don’t dig.

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith . . . I’m telling you, this guy is just great. His characterizations of the regular characters, plus the ones that we meet here, are great, he just brings everyone to life. But, the job he does with Lesley May’s voice as she recovers from the devastating injuries she sustained at the end of Midnight Riot? I don’t know how to talk about how wonderful — and heartbreaking — I found that.

Another little plus that the audio books bring (not attributable to Holdbrook-Smith) are the interstitial music, that little jazz bit between chapters. It’s just perfect for this series. If you could get that on a chip in the paperbacks to play when you turn the page of a new chapter (or on a whim)? That’d be gold.

A great installment in the series, solidifying the world and helping every character move forward following Midnight Riot.

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4 Stars

The Fallen by Ace Atkins

The FallenThe Fallen

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #7
eARC, 384 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: June 6 – 8, 2017

Each of the Quinn Colson books has 3 or 4 things going on (it really depends how you want to break things down): There’s a central crime story, a Quinn story, a wider Colson-family story (usually Caddy-centric — by the way, try writing about Caddy right after listening to a novel featuring Walt Longmire’s daughter, Cady, it’ll bend your mind), a story about goings-on in the wider Tibbehah County and Jericho area (typically criminal, but not necessarily part of the other crime story). Now, these blend into each other all the time, and are hard to strictly delineate, but that’s how I think about these books anyhow. Were a grade or degree on the line, I could define this better — but we’ll settle for this. Now, typically the central crime story is just that, central — it’s the driving force behind the novel and the other things happen around it. With The Fallen, however, it felt like the central crime story functioned mostly to give an excuse to tell the other stories — sort of a time frame to hang the rest on.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing — but it’s not a good one.

There’s a group of highly efficient, disciplined bank robbers on a spree through the south, and naturally they hit Jericho. They’re out of town in a flash, with Quinn and Lillie not able to do much. Still, this is a challenge that Lillie sinks her teeth into (and Quinn, too — to a lesser extent). The trio is not as amusing as the goofballs from The Redeemers, and thankfully, they aren’t has horrifying as some of the others (see The Innocents, for example). I could easily have spent some more time with them, though. Their story is pretty compelling and rings true.

Quinn is settling back into his job as Sheriff, with Lillie as his Assistant Sheriff . There’s a new county supervisor, Skinner, making life difficult for everyone, although Boom Kimbrough and Fannie Hathcock seem to be top of his list. But it doesn’t seem like anyone who doesn’t share his vision for Jericho — a halcyon 50’s vision — will have much of a chance against him. You get the impression even Johnny Stagg prefers his incarceration to dealing with Skinner. We’ll be seeing more of Skinner.

Caddy and Boom actually get the more interesting investigation in the novel — with some help from Lillie. Caddy’s looking for a couple of teen girls that she’s afraid have fallen into Fannie’s employment — but it turns out to be more complicated than that. What they stumble on is disturbing, at the least, and will push Caddy’s buttons in a way little else has. Once he learns about it, Quinn’s not crazy about what she’s up to — but when is he?

There’s a lot of movement in long-term arcs, and while it’d be wrong to say that nothing happens other than moving pieces around on the chessboard to set up for books #8 and on, it frequently feels like it. I’m not crazy about any of the things that did occur in this novel (matters of taste and how I want things to go for particular characters — Atkins nailed it all, it’s not on his execution) — but man, what it means for the next couple of books has got me ready to fork over money right now.

Still, while I found the main crime story wanting, and wasn’t crazy about the long-term arc developments, this was a good book. Atkins has infused — and continues to do so — this community and these characters with so much life, so much reality, that the reader gets sucked in and can’t help but care about everyone. It’s only when I stopped to think about and write about the book that I had these issues — in the moment, I couldn’t have cared less about what was going on in actual Idaho — Jericho, Mississippi was what it was all about.

Solid crime fiction from one of the best working today.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this..

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4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

The Furthest StationThe Furthest Station

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #5.7eARC, 144 pg.
Subterranean Press, 2017
Read: April 24, 2017

He asked if we were really ghost hunting, and I said we were.

“What, like officially?”

“Officially secret,” I said because discretion is supposed to be, if not our middle name, at least a nickname we occasionally answer to when we remember.

This novella hit the spot — a short, but fully developed, adventure with our friends from the Rivers of London series — full of action, a bit of snark, and seeing Peter in his element (and far out of it, too). Would I have preferred a full novel? Sure — but if I can’t have one, this is more than adequate.

Peter Grant, apprentice wizard and Police Constable, is investigating several reports of a ghost terrorizing people on the Underground during the morning commute. Naturally, even when interviewed immediately following a sighting the witness would only be able to remember details for a few moments before they forgot and/or rationalized them away. Which makes it pretty difficult to ask follow-up questions. As Peter continues to investigate, he ends up finding a very non-supernatural crime that he needs to deal with, even if he goes about it in a pretty supernatural way. While there’s little in this series that I don’t like, but Peter doing regular policework is one of my favorite parts.

Along for the ride (and looking for trouble) is his cousin, Abigail Jumara, acting as a summer intern for the Folly. Honestly, I barely remembered her when she shows up here — but I eventually remembered her, and I was glad to see her back. I’m not necessarily sure that I need to see her all the time, but seeing more of her would definitely be pleasant.

In addition to the subplot about Abigail’s future, there’s a subplot revolving around another personification of a river — not one of Mama Thames’, either. I enjoyed it, and thought it fit in nicely with the rest of the novella, while giving us the requisite dose of a body of water.

There’s not a lot to sink your teeth into here — but the novella length doesn’t leave you wanting more (like a short story would). It’s good to see the Folly involved in smaller cases. Not just the serial killing, major magical threat, etc. kind of thing — but the “smaller” stuff, too.

For any fan of the Folly/Peter Grant/Rivers of London series, this is one to get. It’d even make a pretty good introduction to the series for someone who hasn’t yet discovered this fun UF series.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Subterranean Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both, I needed something like this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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4 Stars

Gather Her Round by Alex Bledsoe

Gather Her RoundGather Her Round

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #5

Hardcover, 315 pg.
Tor Books, 2017
Read: May 29 – 30, 2017

Man, it’s hard to write much that doesn’t boil down to: It’s the new Tufa book by Bledsoe — it’s great, go read it. Which is essentially a tautology followed by a natural conclusion. And isn’t that interesting (then again, I never promised you interesting, Dear Reader).

So, what sets this one apart? Well, there’s the pretty mundane nature of the inciting incident (mundane meaning not magical, not mundane meaning ordinary), the framing device, and the . . . I don’t want to say resolution (because there are a few — and yet none), I guess the way things end.

The framing device is perfect for a Tufa novel — Janet Harper, a noted musician and actress is at a story-telling festival and brings her guitar onstage to use with her story — one that’s true, but that no one in the audience will believe, as much as she says it. She does change the names of the participants (which makes her different than Ray Parrish) to protect everyone involved — including herself (see Ray Parrish).

Janet tells the story of Kera Rogers, who goes for a walk one morning to go play a little music, relax a bit, sext a little with a couple of guys, think a little about cutting out one or both of the guys when she’s attacked by a wild animal and is never seen again. At least not most of her — a small body part or two shows up. The community is horrified that this happens and her parents grieve the end of her young life. Duncan Gowan is one of the boys she was involved with — and thought he was the only one — is wrecked by her death and learning that she was also sleeping with someone else.

The rest of the tale traces the ripples from this event over the next few months (almost a year) — and the next victim to fall prey to the animal — Kera’s family moving on, Duncan getting involved with another woman, the hunters that come in to track the beast (which will also hopefully prevent any police investigation). One of the hunters gets involved with a Tufa we’ve known since the first book, and is introduced to the real culture of Needsville.

While all this is going on, we get the best picture of how things are going with the faction formerly led by Rockhouse Hicks, now led by Junior Damo, and it’s clear to everyone that Junior is not the new Rockhouse — which is mostly good, but there are some real drawbacks. Mandalay Harris takes it upon herself — even though the dead are Junior’s — to get to the bottom of what happened. Sure, it was a wild animal attack — but is that all it was? Her methods aren’t exactly anything you’ll find in a police procedural, but produce results that Gil Grissom and his kind would envy.

The best parts of these books is the way that people like Junior, Mandalay, Bliss, and Bronwyn are secondary characters; while people we’ve never met (or just barely) like Kera, Duncan, Janet, and Jack Cates (the hunter) are the focus. Yet somehow, we care about them almost as much — and through the eyes and experiences of the new characters we learn more about our old friends and see them grow and develop. Bledsoe is fantastic at making each of these books very different from the rest, yet clearly part of a series.

Like every novel in this series — this can be your introduction to the world. Actually, this one may be a better intro-book than any but the first (even as I write that I can think of arguments against it, but I think I can stick with it). You don’t have to have any advance knowledge of this world to appreciate 98% of the book.

There’s heart, magic, fun, wonder, vengeance, a dash of romance and mystery wrapped up in this novel — expressed through very human characters. The humanity shown by these people who aren’t all that human shines through more than anything else.

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4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge