The Shanghai Moon by S. J. Rozan

The Shanghai MoonThe Shanghai Moon

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #9

Hardcover, 373 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2010

Read: February 16 – 18, 2016


Oh, man . . . things got away from me and I haven’t been able to reconnect with Lydia or Bill for too long now (14 months between books I think) — I missed them. Thankfully, it took no time at all to get back in the groove.

Speaking of breaks, following the shattering events of Winter and Night, Bill Smith pretty much took a break from everything — including Lydia. She understood that but didn’t like it one bit. So when he does come back into he life early on in this book, she doesn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, and makes him jump through a few hoops to get back into her good graces (but not nearly as many hoops as she intended).

But before we get to that, a one-time mentor and occasional colleague, Joel Pilarsky asks Lydia to help with an investigation. Some jewels have recently been uncovered in China, stolen and theoretically brought to New York to be sold. The client wants Pilarsky to track them down — he suggests that he’ll cover the Jewish jewelry shops that might buy them, and hires Lydia to do the same with Chinese jewelers. What makes these jewels special is that they belonged to Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai, and were probably owned by the same person who owned a legendary piece of jewelry from that time — The Shanghai Moon. Not that the client, a lawyer focused the recovery of Holocaust items, bothers to mention The Shanghai Moon (she has a lame excuse for that oversight when Lydia brings it up later).

Yes, I did say Jewish refugees in Shanghai. I felt bad about not knowing anything about that until Lydia confessed it was news to her, too. She’s intrigued by this notion — and the story of the owner of these jewels, much of which is preserved in letters she wrote to her mother after fleeing from Europe and are now part of a collection of Holocaust documents. We get these letters to, and read them with Lydia and slowly we’re drawn in to the saga of this poor woman and the Chinese man she marries while Lydia and Joel search for her heirlooms.

The investigation soon focuses on The Shanghai Moon — and the murders that appear to be connected to this crime. Bill returns to Lydia’s life in time to help with this investigation. Before you know what’s happening, we’re immersed in a mystery that stretches over decades and involves Nazis, Communists, Japanese military, NYC Chinese gangs and much, much more. The threads that connect all these to the jewels and the family tied to them are so many in number and complex in nature, that I wouldn’t try to explain it even if it wouldn’t spoil the book.

I didn’t get as invested in the historical material as Lydia did — but i came close, and I think most readers will, too. If for no other reason than Bill and Lydia do. There’s a history professor that the pair interview for some more context that I’d love to meet again (I can’t imagine how that’d happen) — he’s a fun character that’s much better developed than most characters filling his role would be in detective novels.

I don’t know if I’ve liked Lydia’s mom as much as I did in this book before (or enjoyed her as much) — it took Lydia far too long to understand what her mother was doing throughout the novel, and the growth/change it represented, but I thought it was great. I’m actually looking forward to reading about her in the next novel (I’ve never disliked the character, just have never been that interested in her).

Best of all, as normal, was the banter and other types of conversation between Lydia and Bill. I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it again, but I’d read a couple hundred pages of them just talking over tea and snacks. There was a lot unsaid between them about the months between the novels, but Rozan had them not say it in a great way — and what they said was as good as usual.

Throw in a juicy mystery, good characters and a missing treasure? You’ve got yourself a winner. No surprise that I liked the ninth novel in a series I’ve enjoyed the previous eight in — but that doesn’t make it any less good, it just means that Rozan’s consistently on target. I strongly recommended The Shanghai Moon along with its predecessors.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2017

Read: February 21 – 22, 2017


David and Adele have just moved to London to try to get a fresh start — she’s a stay-at-home wife, gorgeous, and seemingly frail — most of all, she’s deeply devoted to her husband. David’s a psychiatrist who might be a bit too fond of his drink, and doesn’t seem to be as devoted to Adele as she is to him. From the get-go we know there’s a few things really wrong with their marriage, and you can tell that finding out just what they are (and if the drinking is really as bad as it seems) is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Louise is a single mom who needs something fun in her life — things are going well for her ex and his girlfriend, and her son is going away for a month with them. Louise doesn’t have a lot going on in here life other than her son — she has pretty much one friend, a part-time job, and a social life that mainly consists of Netflix, cigarettes and wine. She’s our point-of-entry character, the reason we care about anyone else in the book — she’s relatable, she’s fun, she’s real. On a rare night out, Louise meets and kisses a man (David) who later confesses to be married and leaves.

Naturally, the next day Louise meets her new boss — David. They pledge to forget that night and move on professionally. Soon afterwards, Adele runs into Louise and a friendship develops between them — Louise carefully never admitting that she knows Adele’s husband.

Yeah, up to this point, this could be the fodder for a comedy — something that Jennifer Weiner might write, but with a little more edge, and involving people in London. So maybe it’s a dark Helen Fielding feel. Anyhow, Louise’s relationships with each get deeper. And as that happens, the tone gets darker and darker — everyone involved has secrets, and at least two of the people in this triangle aren’t who we think they are. And before you know it, you’ve left Women’s Commercial Fiction and turned the genre corner into Crime Fiction. There is evil or madness — maybe both — at the core of this story, and it’s dark. But the book never goes as far as it could into the darkness — it’s careful about showing it. Just lets it out every now and then, so you know it’s lurking out there.

The story is told from Adele’s and Louise’s perspective — with flashbacks to earlier in Adele’s life. Adele clearly has some problems, but it’s unclear what they really are. It’s tough to know whose perspective on things is more realistic — particularly their competing ideas about David. Eventually, we start to see that one of these women is manipulating the other two in the triangle and their plans are pretty serious.

Pinborough does a masterful job of drawing you into the story, the characters, their destinies — you can’t help but care, and even before things become a psychological thriller, you’ll find yourself very invested into what’s going on with these people and what will happen. Once things become perilous . . . forget it, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from this book. I loved the tone, the character development — Louise is one of my favorite characters of 2017.

Now, for the first 290 pages I was enthralled and was about ready to call this the best thriller I’ve read in months — maybe years. You can understand the hype about this book — why Two Crime Writers and a Microphone devoted an episode to this book, etc. But the last 16 pages . . . I just don’t know. It’s impossible to really discuss these pages without defying my “no spoiler” policy. Let me put it this way, if you can swallow X — you’ll dig the last 16 pages, and your jaw just might drop in the final 6. Me? I choked on X, and was fed up with the last 6. Since I finished it, I can understand what Pinborough was trying to do — and can even make a decent argument defending it. But I don’t like it — and think that even the best argument in her defense is codswallop.

Behind Her Eyes is a really strong book that will grab you, keep you entertained and will give you a conclusion that you’ll talk about for days (at least).

What I want to give it after the last 16 pages:

—–

2 Stars

Buuuut. . . . I think it really deserves this:

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Opening Lines – Dead Gone

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

She hadn’t been afraid of the dark.

Not before.

Not before it entered her life without her knowing, enveloping her like a second skin, becoming a part of her.

She hadn’t been claustrophobic, petrified the walls were closing in around her. Crushed to death without knowing they’d even moved. Not scared of things that crawled around her toes. Wasn’t afraid to sit alone in a darkened room and wonder if something was touching her face, or if it was just her imagination.

Nope. She wasn’t scared before.

She was now.

It took time to become afraid of those things, and time was all she had, stretching out in front of her without end.

She blamed herself. Blamed her friends. Blamed him. She shouldn’t be there, and someone was to blame for that.

Had to be.

from Dead Gone by Luca Veste

This tells you so much about the victim, her life and what’s about to happen to her (and who’s behind what’s about to happen) — such a good opening.

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin

Knots & CrossesKnots & Crosses

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #1

Hardcover, 256 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1987

Read: February 1 – 4, 2016

Yet there had to be clues. There had to be. Rebus drank his coffee and felt his head spin. He was feeling like a detective in a cheap thriller, and wished that he could turn to the last page and stop all his confusion, all the death and the madness and the spinning in his ears.

After 21 novels and 30 years of being in print, I finally decided to give DS John Rebus and his author Ian Rankin a shot, it looks like they might stick around for a bit. Seriously, I’ve seen the names a lot over the last few years, and despite being unimpressed with his appearance in the Face/Off collection a couple of years ago (I’m sure I’ll change my opinion once I get to know Rebus a bit), when I needed a new mystery series to sink my teeth into, this looked like a good candidate.

In Knots & Crosses we meet DS John Rebus, a former SAS officer, now a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh. He’s scraping by, he has an ex-wife and daughter; a small, dusty apartment; stacks of books; a pretty successful brother that he really has no relationship with; a large capacity for drinking; a surly attitude; and a not-that-successful program to limit his smoking. On the whole, that sounds a lot like many other fictional detectives (police and otherwise) — but there’s something about him that doesn’t seem that cookie-cutter when you read him. Maybe it’s just Rankin’s writing, maybe there’s something else — I’m not sure yet, I’ll have a better idea in a book or two (which will also give Rankin the time to distinguish Rebus). There is one other thing that separates him, but that’s the crux of this book, so I won’t get into it.

There’s a serial killer at loose in Edinburgh, killing girls and sending little notes to Rebus, taunting him about it. Sadly, Rebus doesn’t realize that for quite some time. Whoops. Not that there’s any reason for him to have seen the link, really — the killer was really more clever than he needed to be on that front. Rebus is part of the army of police working on his case, while dealing with some personal demons of his own — hopefully, the latter doesn’t prevent him from doing his part to help with the former.

The best part of the book for me was Rankin’s writing — the book is full of great sentences. Not so much that it distracts from the characters or story, but enough that you can admire his prose while enjoying the rest. This book wasn’t intended to be the beginning of a series, and doesn’t really feel like one — it’s a character study (probably a couple of characters, really), but one that’s rich enough that Rankin could come back to Rebus and build. There’s no way that future cases will be solved the way that this one was, this isn’t a prototype for Rebus’ methods, but an introduction to the detective and his world.

I liked Rebus — well, not “liked,” really. But as a character, he’s someone I want to spend more time with. Like Harry Bosch, he doesn’t seem to be a likable person, but frequently, those are the kind of guys you like reading about. I also liked that he wasn’t some sort of super cop. At one point, he’s described as not “a very good” cop, merely “a good one” (or something quite like that, I don’t have the book on me to get the exact wording). I imagine that over another 20 novels, he’ll get better — and I look forward to seeing that growth.

I really wish I’d known what “Noughts and Crosses” was before the killer mentioned it late in the book, sending me to google. I’m not sure it would’ve improved the book much for me, but I’d have appreciated aspects more and when I should’ve. Stupid “two countries separated by the same language”-thing….

Anyway, a solid beginning to the series, and more importantly, a good read for those who like police procedurals. I’ve already got the sequel on my shelf and will be getting to it in a week or so.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Say NothingSay Nothing

by Brad Parks

eARC, 448 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017

Read: January 19 – 21, 2016


Since his debut novel, Faces of the Gone in 2009, I’ve considered myself a Brad Parks fan — but when I heard that he was going to step away from his series for a stand-alone, I got a little nervous. Maybe I wasn’t a Brad Parks fan — maybe I was just a Carter Ross fan. Honestly, the parts of the Carter Ross novels that he doesn’t narrate aren’t my favorite. Also, we all know all too well that for every Suspect or Mystic River, series writers can give us a The Two Minute Rule or Shutter Island — maybe grabbing this book was going to be a mistake.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

While working on this post, I saw this from Sue Grafton talking about Say Nothing: “Terrific book. Truly terrific. Tension throughout and tears at the end. What could be better than that?” I’m a little annoyed by this, honestly. That’s pretty much how I was going to sum up things for this post. Frankly, I wish Grafton would focus her efforts on finding another 5 letters between X and Z rather than preemptively stealing my lines.

We meet Judge Scott Sampson a few minutes after the biggest crisis of his life has started — and a few minutes before he leans about it. Once you get to learn Sampson a little, you’ll see that the bar for biggest crisis for him is set a little higher than for most. He’s informed that his twin children have been kidnapped and is provided some pretty compelling reasons to believe that he’s under surveillance (and will soon be given even more reason to believe that). Basically, the message he gets is this: if you want to see you children alive and well, you will do what we tell you to with a case. There are a few tests he has to pass to demonstrate his compliance — tests that may do lasting damage to his career. But Sampson is eager to prove that he will do whatever he’s asked for his children, consequences notwithstanding.

This isn’t going to be an overnight escapade — in fact, for Sampson and his wife (how have I failed to mention Allison?), this is an ordeal of indefinite duration. The stress, the worry, the intense reaction to this situation begins taking its toll almost immediately. These pressures test their individual ethics, bring secrets to light, expose and exacerbate problems in their marriage, and generally bring them both to the breaking point. They are also both driven to discover their inner-Liam Neeson in order to get their daughter (and son) back — neither, really possess a particular set of skills fitting this goal, sadly. These attempts just make their personal and interpersonal woes worse — and their lives continue spinning out of their control.

There is a relentlessness to the pace that’s a pleasure — and a drain. Jack Reacher gets a good night’s sleep and enjoys coffee (and the less than occasional romantic interlude), Harry Bosch has jazz to relax him, Elvis Cole has that cat and Tai Chi — as intense as things may get, by and large these guys get a break. But for Scott and Allison — their children don’t stop being kidnapped, and whatever solace they might find in alcohol, sleep or family — it’s a temporary band-aid at best.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not an enjoyable read — Scott is a charming character and you will like him as you learn more about his life and family. You will not approve of every move he makes here (I guess you might, but I hope you don’t), but on the whole you will understand why he makes them and won’t judge him too harshly. Whoops, I was talking about tone here — I had fun with this, even as I was feeling a shadow of the pressure Scott and Allison are under, I even laughed once. There’s a real sense of peril when the narration focuses on the children — but it never feels exploitative.

Like most readers will, I had a couple of pretty compelling theories about who was behind everything (and why), and focused on the correct one pretty early on. Which didn’t stop me from being taken aback when it Parks revealed it — he really handled that well. Another weakness comes in the last couple of pages where Parks ties up a few loose ends, and a couple of them feel too tidy. But it’s instantly forgivable, and you want these characters to have something tidy after all they’ve gone through. On the whole, however, the characters and situations are complex and real (if heightened) — Parks nailed this whole thing. I think this will hold up to at least one repeat reading — the second read might even be more rewarding since you can appreciate what Parks is doing without being distracted by wondering what’ll happen.

The tears that Grafton mentioned? Yeah, she got that part right, too.

This is a thriller filled with real people and situations that you can believe. You’ll run the emotional gamut a time or two while reading this and will wish you could read faster just so you can make sure these kids make it home. I think I like the Carter Ross books more than this, but it’s in Say Nothing that Parks finds his stride as a crime fiction writer. Really well done.

By the way, It turns out that I am a fan of Brad Parks. Phew.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, although my Primary Care Physician probably isn’t crazy about what it did to my blood pressure.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

This is one of those I spent a couple of days futzing around with — not sure I made it better (or worse) by doing so — I re-arranged a lot, that’s the best I can say. Both Murphy novels are tough to talk about in the abstract, which I think is a pretty good thing. There’s not a lot of fat on them — just good lean prose.

What You BreakWhat You Break

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Gus Murphy, #2
eARC, 368 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: December 1 – 5, 2016

Why? It’s three letters that permeate this novel. We’re all familiar with the need for an answer to that question. From the time that a toddler starts ever so persistently asking that question until the end, we keep wondering, “why?” Few need the answer as much as someone who has to deal with the unexpected death of a younger family member. In Where It Hurts, we saw just what the lack of an answer did to Gus Murphy and his life. So when a grandfather comes to Gus for help finding out why his granddaughter was brutally murdered, there’s no way that he can turn his back on the request. Especially given the inducements being offered.

He wasn’t recruited to solve the murder — the police have a man awaiting sentencing for the crime. But he won’t tell anyone anything about the crime or his relationship (or lack thereof) to the victim. The grandfather, Micah Spears, rubs Gus wrong from the get-go — if it weren’t for Father Bill’s endorsement, and his understanding of Spears’ deep need to know, Gus would’ve walked. It probably would’ve been better for him if he had. Almost no one — especially her family, the police (many of whom are still angry for what Gus turned up in the last book) — wants him to pursue this. The more Gus learns about Linh Trang (she preferred “LT”), the more he becomes convinced that there’s no reason for the killer to want her dead, which just makes the “Why?” even more pressing.

Before he can really start to work for Spears, Gus has a few other why’s to answer — why did his friend/co-worker, Slava, just drive off with the mysterious new guest at the hotel? Why did a Russian gangster get assassinated before Gus’ eyes shortly after Slava and the guest talk to him? Why is there a very formidable Russian running around Long Island looking for Slava? The focus of the novel is on the Spears case, but this storyline casts a shadow over everything. I didn’t really spend too much time in Where It Hurts worried about what would happen to anyone, and the Spears case is more of a puzzle than anything — but there’s peril to this Russian story, and the reader will become convinced that whatever happens in it, will have a large impact on Gus (and not just because of Slava’s involvement).

Gus has grown a bit, made some steps toward health since we last saw him, but he has a lot of work to do. Things with his ex- are about where they were previously, but with less anger (mutually), his romance is progressing with Maggie, and so on. Basically, Gus is becoming someone different from just the ex-cop with a dead son. That sill the core of his being, but there’s something more to it than that — maybe even some room for happiness. It’s hard to discuss briefly, but simply: Gus was better off by the end of Where it Hurts than he was at the beginning, and at the start of this novel, he was better off yet. As for the ending of this book? Well, read it and decide for yourself.

This book deals with some pretty potent things — as Coleman did when we met Gus — there’s love, friendship, loss, grief, confusion and resentment, to name a few of the ingredients in the emotional cauldron everything in the novel is steeping in. Not just from Gus, Slava and Spears — but everyone in the book is dealing with things that no one should have to, but most of us do. I’d like (but cannot expect) to circle back around and see how LT’s friends are doing in a couple of years, ditto for her sister and ex-step-grandmother. I’d like a lot more time with a judge that Gus interviews, as well as Gus’ lawyer. I expect the latter, at least, will be granted to me.

Spears and Gus do get some answers as to why LT was killed — but, as is so often the case, really those answers don’t satisfy much and lead to further questions. No tidy bows here for anything — which isn’t to say the concluding scenes of the novel won’t satisfy the reader, just that there’s no pat endings or rides off into the sunset. Just survivors (not saying how many of them there’ll be) moving on. The Epilogue will stay with you. That’s really all I can say.

This book put me through the wringer — not as much as Gus and Slava were, but still — Coleman has really topped himself from Where it Hurts, we know these people better now, so he can push them further. I lost sleep with this one, which isn’t that unusual, but I lost more sleep staying up to get through this than I have in a long time. There’s a darkness, an emptiness throughout that wasn’t there in our first encounter with Gus — or if it was, it’s changed in source and intensity. I’m not sure many readers will like where Gus is by the time we get to book 3 or 4 (including me) — but I’ll understand it. Coleman’s making sure his writing and characterization is honest, as real as fiction can get.

Once again, he delivers a crime novel that could be mistaken for a non-genre novel (as if such a thing exists), suitable for thoughtful crime readers or those who don’t mind crime to show up in a novel about a parent redefining himself after the death of a child.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. It didn’t change my opinions on the book, I was simply able to form them a couple of months early.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Innocent (Audiobook) by Taylor Stevens, Hilary Huber

The Innocent (Audiobook) The Innocent

by Taylor Stevens, Hillary Huber (Narrator)
Series: Vanessa Michael Munroe, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs, 30 min.
Random House Audio, 2011
Read: January 23 – 30, 2016


Michael Monroe’s best friend and most trusted ally, Logan needs help — he was raised by a cult as were most of his close friends, and despite being free of them for all of his adult life, he’s not been able to truly put The Chosen behind him. His friend, Charity, is possibly the only one closer to him than Michael, she grew up in the same cult and also left when she was old enough to make it on her own. Eight years before this book, her daughter was kidnapped by a member of The Chosen and taken somewhere to South America . Now, after years of searching, and her being moved from location to location, they have located her. There’s only one person that Logan trusts to bring Hannah home.

Locating one girl in the city of Buenos Aires is no easy feat. Extricating he from a controlling atmosphere without harming anyone isn’t much easier. Getting her out of the country and back into the US? More difficult yet. Throw in some donors and allies to The Chosen that aren’t who you’d expect — and aren’t nearly as pacifistic as the cultists — and you’ve got yourself a thriller.

Ever since the events of The Informationist, some months earlier, Michael’s been haunted by the deaths she’s caused — and is experiencing some kind of night terrors that keeps her chasing danger. Her own subconscious might be the biggest opponent that Michael has to deal with.

Frankly, for the first third or so (probably less), I had to force myself to stay with it, trusting that Stevens knew what she was doing — the way that Michael’s internal conflict was presented — as well as the way that Logan approached things, just didn’t work for me. I’m not sure if it was the way Stevens wrote the problems/solutions. But it wasn’t until the Michael got to Argentina that things really got me interested.

Hubner’s narration was capable and engaging — it wasn’t dazzling, but it delivered everything you want.

Despite a rocky start, once things got moving, this proved to be another satisfying thriller with Michael Monroe — and demonstrates what this series can be. I’ll be back for more soon.

—–

3 Stars