Friday, 19 March 2010

3 Canadian Mysteries - Canadian 3 Eh! Challenge reviews

I have been busy reading mysteries for the past few weeks. With Carl's Once Upon a Time IV Challenge about to begin, I wanted to catch up a little on my planned 'read 50 mysteries this year', before plunging into fantasy for the next several weeks.

I didn't plan on reading 3 mysteries for the Canadian Challenge, though as this is my third year with the challenge, I am finding that reading spontaneously works best for me with this challenge. So, when I found myself dropping by the tiny used bookstore in my neighborhood two weeks ago and coming home with three books, one of which was Prized Possessions by LR Wright, I thought, right, time for more spontaneity.

Prized Possessions - L.R. Wright (#5 in the Karl Albright mystery series)
I first read an LR Wright mystery two years ago for the first Canadian Challenge, A Touch of Panic . I didn't know that Prized Possessions follows in the series, until just now when I went hunting for my review! So, with two years between books, how does Prized Possessions hold up? Very very well. Now that I've read two books in the series, I can say that Wright does a wonderful job of getting in the head of her criminals. Eddy, the criminal in this mystery, falls into crime almost by accident, but the set-up and why he does, is chilling. He is every innocent person's nightmare. He can't let go of a slight, and it snowballs into terrible crimes. As with A Touch of Panic, there are two main storylines that intersect, and while it could seem forced, it doesn't. Everything about the other person, Emma, and how she crosses paths with them, makes for a breathtaking ending. Emma is my personal nightmare of what I call the 'empty woman', someone who exists only for her man. Ugh! LR Wright makes her believable, and how she finds herself on a country road late at night with a gun in her pocket, sad. This is a mystery about choices, and how even those with no idea of crime, can find themselves contemplating breaking the law.

The detective in this series, RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg is on leave for this mystery, bereavement leave because his father has just passed away. As a favour, he investigates the disappearance of Emma's husband, who drives away one Saturday morning and never returns. Alberg has a girlfriend, Cassandra, who is facing her own mid-life crisis, and how they work through and resolve changes in their relationship, makes a lovely counterpoint to Emma and Charlie's marriage.

This is a satisfying mystery on its own, enhanced by its setting in the lovely BC Sunshine Coast. The Sunshine Coast really exists, as does the towns of Sechelt and Gibson's Landing, the two principal towns in this mystery. I've only ever seen Gibson's Landing through the lens of tv, as one of Canada's longest running series, The Beachcombers, was set there in the 1970's and '80s. The way Wright describes these towns reminds me of small-town BC, where I have lived before, and I get homesick for the mountains and forests, and especially, the Pacific Ocean. There is definitely a cosy mystery feel to this series, which makes a change for me from the police procedurals that I normally read. 4.7/5

The Red Fox - Anthony Hyde.

This mystery thriller first came out in 1985. It was Hyde's first novel, and received widespread acclaim, althougth I had it on my shelf for over 20 years to read because a friend's husband loved it. So, last month, I finally read it. The good thing about books is that they will wait until we are ready to read them. The bad thing is, occasionally, they become dated, and that is what has happened to The Red Fox. Most of the tension in the book is because of the Iron Curtain, because of the tight grip that Communism had over much of Eastern Europe at that time. I'm old enough to remember how hard it was to get any news out of the East, how restricted getting in even to visit was, and how dear everything from the west was to those who lived behind the Iron Curtain. So reading The Red Fox brought this all back to me. Now of course, there is no Soviet bloc, there is no blackout on news, there is no Us and Them, as there was while I was growing up. I'm glad, but this book shows just how much has changed since the Wall came down in Berlin. As a historical book, funnily enough, it is very well done - for anyone who wants to know how the Soviet bloc looked to us, in the 1980's, this book is one of the best for capturing the fascination and fear we had towards the east. As a mystery, it is also satisfying. The ending has a twist that is very much about the fascination we had in the 1970's and 1980's about the change of power at the turn of the century, when Russia went from a royal family to Trotsky and then Lenin and Stalin and communism. As a thriller, this is unputdownable. I found the middle of the book a bit slow, mostly because I didn't care for the character of May's father Harry, so I didn't care if he was alive or dead. There is a reason for this distance from the character, however, and by the ending, we know why idealism and politics always lead to disillusionment, and now secrets from the past always catch up, sooner or later. It's a well-done mystery, and I certainly enjoyed and liked Robert Thorne, who is clever and resourceful while not being a spy. This was also refreshing in a thriller!

There are several layers of story here, from the ex-girlfriend, May Brightman, of the hero, Robert Thorne, as he searches for the disappeared father of the ex-girlfriend, to how he ends up learning why his own father committed suicide. World War II, and some history of Communism in Canada as well as in Paris as the Germans marched on the city, are all entwined with present day Canadian settings as Robert looks for clues as to why his girlfriend's father has disappeared. Who was Harry Brightman? When he learns that May was adopted, this leads him to a discovery that changes everything and leads him on a path of death and destruction as a hidden group search for something Brightman has hidden, and will do anything to remove their traces, while Thorne races to uncover what might be threatening May.

This is a well-written novel, very enjoyable, and it is extra-delightful that it is written by a Canadian author! This is an intelligent thriller, along the lines of Le Carre, and nothing at all like Dan Brown. 4/5

Bones to Ashes - Kathy Reichs

I read this last summer, when the Canadian Challenge 3 had just started, and then lent the book to a friend because it was so good. I haven't received it back, so I will have to write my review from memory.

I had read the first three in the Temperance Brennan mystery series when they first came out - Deja Dead was published in 1997, and won the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel. But I found the series got too bloody and brutal for me, and I put the series aside for a while. I kept hearing good things about the latest books in the series, and finally my friend at work who also reads mysteries (we are always giving each other books to read and talking about authors) said Bones to Ashes was very good, as was the next in line, Devil Bones, which she couldn't put down. so I picked Bones to Ashes first - it was in paperback, and I loved the cover with the tree, which kept catching my eye. It wasn't as gory as I remembered! In fact, this one had a sad air to it, as Temperance is handed a girl's skull that she wants to uncover the forensic secrets to as well as historical. She discovers many sad things about the Indians of New Brunswick and how they were treated historically, and how her childhood friend who has long since disappeared from her life, possibly suffered from the same disease that the girl whose skull she holds died from. How she finds her childhood friend, and what has happened to her, make for a very satisfying mystery. We also see the appearance of Temperance's sister, who is a breathe of Texas fresh air and pure feminine delight in this series! I like Temperance very much as a character, but I find her moody and too self-contained sometimes - broody almost, and her sister is a nice counterpoint to Tempe's seriousness. There is a very satisfying shoot-out at the end of the book, and resolution to both Tempe's childhood mystery, at the same time. I'm definitely continuing with this series.

I did find that her affair with Detectifve Andrew Ryan is one I want to continue, and was depressed that Tempe let herself get dragged back into her ex-husbands life so easily. I found myself saying no more than once to all three of these characters as they walk into and out of each other's lives - they were well-written scenes and the understanding that Reichs shows of the human heart in this love affair that has its up and downs makes this series richer and satisfying for me. 4.7/5

I am even more delighted that this series is doing so well. Though I do have a question: Kathy Reichs is not a native Canadian, she was born in Chicago, and works and lives in both Charlotte North Carolina and Montreal. Since the books are set in Montreal, where Temperance works out of the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Québec, just as Kathy herself does, my question is, does this make this a Canadian book? I think it does, so I'm counting it towards Canadian books read for the Canadian Book Challenge 3. What do you think? Does it count as a Canadian mystery?

I also admit that I don't watch Bones, the Fox tv series based on these mysteries. Even though Reichs is now listed as one of the producers of the show, and this year has Booth and Bones drawing closer together, I like the books better. I have difficulty separating the tv characters from the books, which is why I'm picky about what I see. I loved Roy White as Dalgliesh, the portrayals of DCI Frost, Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, to which I find the tv casting is perfect and enhances my reading of the mysteries. Who could forget Hamish McBeth as portrayed by the wonderful Robert Carlyle? I haven't seen enough of the Elizabeth George series on tv (they came over in a jumble, out of sequence, and so I like my mysteries shown properly!) to know how the actor did with the portrayals, although I like the lead actor very much anyway. So I'm not against mystery series being translated to the screen. I've just had a problem with David Boreanz replacing Andrew Ryan in my mind, because Andrew Ryan in my mind is slightly dangerous and intensely loyal, and no matter how I know Boreanz is a good actor, I always find him just a little boring. But that's just me, apparently 10 million plus people in the US disagree!! I'll stick to reading the series, though.

This brings my total to 8 books read for the Canadian Book Challenge 3. I'm delighted. Only 5 left to go, and I still have 3 months and some very good books on my list: Three Day Road, Monkey Beach, Moonheart, The Rez Sisters, The Murder Stone, Bluenose Ghosts, Late Nights on Air.......

Happy last day before Spring arrives!!


Julia Smith said...

Hamish! I loves me some Hamish MacBeth.

I think Reich's living in Montreal and setting her stories there make them Canadian novels for your purposes.

Susan said...

Julia: thank you! I think so too, for Kathy Reichs :-) and I miss new Hamish MacBeth. That was a wonderful series, wasn't it?

Nan said...

Those were really excellent reviews! Didn't Eric Wright have another series about a librarian?? The Red Fox sounds very appealing to me. Thank goodness there were books written then about the subject. It gives such authenticity. And Robert Carlyle was a perfect Hamish. I've been reading a little Hamish lately, and it is great to picture him as the character.

Susan said...

Nan: thank you! Eric Wright is another Canadian mystery writer that I haven't read yet, but have seen his books around for years. There are many more mystery writers than I would have expected! If he had a librarian as a character though, I couldn't say.

I agree with what you say about The Red Fox. The more I think about it, the more I like that authentic feel. I hope you get to read it. When you get to the ending and the twist, let me know when you figured it out - I'd guessed about 3/4 of the way through the book.

We're hoping to get a WEst Highland Terrier, all because of Hamish Macbeth! well, that and my husband's family had one too when he was growing up :-) I always wanted to move to the village where they filmed the tv series! I have some of the books, just have to get around to reading them one day.

Nan said...

Duh! I just saw the 'Wright' and Canadian, and thought immediately of Eric. Good thing I'm not a witness in a trial. :<) The Hamish books are quick and easy reads but they fill me with pleasure, even when the cases aren't so pleasant. I'm going to request The Red Fox from the library. Thanks again. Will you name him Wee Jock? :<)

Anonymous said...

Actions speak louder than words. ........................................

Susan said...

Nan: lol! Wee Jock, indeed! Well, Snowy (from Tristan fame) is also an option! lol I see you have a book review up, and I almost got it from the library this week! I'll come take a look, see if I regret not grabbing it when I had the chance....

As for Eric Wright and LR Wright, don't worry! Even Canadians get them mixed up! lol