mystery

One of the clerical undertakings that Sidney least enjoyed was the abstinence of Lent. The rejection of alcohol between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday had always been a tradition amongst the clergy of Cambridge but Sidney noticed that it neither improved their spirituality nor their patience. In fact, it made some of them positively murderous.
James Runcie, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

First published in 2012, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is the first collection in an ongoing series of mysteries starring the compassionate and engaging Canon Sidney Chambers. Inspired by author James Runcie’s father, Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, the series captures all the charm of religious life in the English country – with a side of mystery as only the British can conjure. As the first page of the book reads, “Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.” A quiet but spirited Anglican priest, Sidney enjoys tending to the flock of his congregation in the quaint hamlet of Grantchester in Cambridgeshire. He knows his congregants by name, sees them every day and hears about their troubles in his capacity as a spiritual figure. And yet, when the wife of one of his parishioners comes to him with the suspicion that her husband was murdered, Sidney soon takes on – reluctantly – an entirely new and rather dangerous job: uncovering the truth and finding a murderer, a wolf hiding within his own flock of sheep.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death includes six interconnected mysteries which read delightfully on their own or altogether as a series of short, thoroughly entertaining tales. The reader is swept up through Runcie’s smart prose into the social and cultural history of Sidney’s world as the Sherlockian clergyman unravels treacherous plots and uncovers murderous deeds. The first and titular story introduces readers to the cast of characters, many of whom return throughout the stories: Inspector George Keating, Sidney’s best friend and confidant; Miss Amanda Kendall, an enchanting friend from Sidney’s youth; fussy but lovable housekeeper Mrs. Maguire; and a mischievous Labrador puppy named Dickens. While murder is the subject of The Shadow of Death, the stories go on to cover various classic crimes: stolen jewels in A Question of Trust, a suspicious death in First, Do No Harm, a murder at a hot jazz club in A Matter of Time, a hunt for a stolen – and priceless – painting in The Last Holbein, and a murder disguised on the stage in the finale story, Honourable Men.

One of the advantages of being a clergyman, Sidney decided, was that you could disappear. Between services, no one quite knew where you were, who you might be visiting, or what you might be doing: and so, on most Mondays, his designated day off, he would bicycle a few miles out of town, ride out through the village lanes of Trumpington and Shelford, and then take the Roman Road for Wandlebury Ring and the Iron-Age form of the Gog Magog Hills. In such a flat Cambridgeshire landscape Sidney liked the gently sloping elevation of the hills, the prehistoric route ways around him, the sense that he was part of a longer, more distant history, of barrows, vortexes and leylines.
James Runcie, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

Throughout, Sidney’s fortitude and faith are put to the test as he comes to terms with the wickedness of human nature. And yet, Runcie’s utmost goal for Sidney’s adventures is clear: to take readers on a journey of moral introspection to a simpler time, where they might observe the wit and wildness of society in a classically entertaining light.

One of the most pleasant facets of the narrative in these stories, I found, was the examination of Sidney’s moral and spiritual inner-guidance system. Always forthright and never holier-than-thou, Sidney is instantly likable in his determination to see the good in all people, and especially in his enduring sense of hope for humanity – all things that we tend to overlook as worthy enough to be governing traits in characters anymore.

Sidney felt he had to prove himself not only to his parishioners, but also to his rivals. He had to earn his position as Vicar of Grantchester after the fact. This was not always easy, and so he took it upon himself to throw himself into as many situations as possible, doing whatever he could to bring a Christian perspective to everyday events.
James Runcie, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

At a time in our culture when we’re followed incessantly by the droning of over-exposure, when our connectivity to social media and the noise of the Internet is the new normal, book lovers often escape to literature as a means of getting away. With his mysteries feeling at once cozily familiar and excitingly brand-new, Runcie offers readers a unique opportunity not only to escape into a quiet book, but to be swept away to a place that epitomizes “unplugged” where, despite the presumed simplicity, adventure certainly awaits. And on that adventure, no better guide is there than the morally stout, down-to-earth Sidney Chambers with his kind heart and easy charm.

While he loved the concentrated serenity of choral music, and the work of Byrd, Tallis, and Purcell in particular, there were times when he wanted something earthier. And so, on his rare evenings at home, he liked nothing better than to listen to the latest hot sounds from America coming from the wireless. It was the opposite of stillness, prayer and penitence, he thought; full of life, mood and swing, whether it was ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ by the Ralph Sharon Sextet or the ‘Boogie Woogie Stomp’ of Albert Ammons. Jazz was unpredictable. It could take risks, change mood, announce a theme, develop, change and recapitulate. It was all times in one time, Sidney thought, reworking themes from the past, existing in the present, while creating expectations about any future direction it might take. It was a metaphor of life itself, both transient and profound, pursuing its course with intensity and freedom. Everyone, Sidney was sure, felt the vibe differently, although he was careful not to use a word such as ‘vibe’ when he dined at his College high table.
James Runcie, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

It should be noted, Runcie plans to release one book of Sidney Chambers mysteries every year in May, as he has done for the last several years. For anyone who enjoys curling up on the couch with an entertaining and light-hearted mystery, I can’t recommend this series enough. (Runcie also advises – and I second this – that “The nicest way to get a copy is to go into an Independent bookshop and have a lovely time.”)

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Strong Light of Day by Jon Land

by Casee Marie on October 16, 2015

in Fiction, Reviews

“I think the Cold War suddenly got red hot to the touch.”
Strong Light of Day by Jon Land

In her newest adventure, fifth-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes on Russian terrorists with a mission born of history and a new kind of weapon that could completely change the future of the United States. When Caitlin is called to a bayou where a bus full of local teens has gone missing and a cattle ranch where a full herd of cattle has been reduced to skeletons, she never dreams that the mysterious occurrences could possibly be linked. With help from Mexican gunslinger Guillermo Paz and her love interest Cort Wesley, whose youngest son is among the missing, Caitlin works to make sense of the scenarios, uncovering a plot linked back to Afghanistan in 2003 and the ghost of a villain who challenged the Texas Rangers, namely her father, in the ‘80s.

Strong Light of Day, the seventh book in Jon Land’s series, boasts explosive action, heart-pounding drama, and a mystery steeped in history that will keep readers guessing until the final pages. Land has many strengths, not least among them his way of bringing one of the genre’s grittiest and most human female protagonists to life on the page. Readers can always expect Caitlin Strong to go where others won’t, with a will to match her name and an intuition befitting a fifth-generation successor to the Texas Ranger mantle. Land hits all the right notes as he brings Caitlin to life; she’s fearless yet not unfeeling, powerful but relatable and imperfect. Whether her mind is working to put the puzzle pieces together or her heart is hammering in the middle of a gunfight, Caitlin pulls the audience into her experience as only she can do.

Another element that readers can always look forward to in a Jon Land novel is a superbly detailed mystery that winds its way back through history, and this, in the Caitlin Strong series, means plenty of flashbacks to the historic men of Caitlin’s family tree. In Strong Light of Day the story takes readers back to the 1980s where Caitlin’s father Jim Strong teams up with none other than outlaw Boone Masters, the father of Caitlin’s boyfriend Cort Wesley. As Caitlin and Cort Wesley learn about the time their fathers joined forces, Cort Wesley wrestles with his own role as a father as the disappearance of his son Luke leads him to uncover a secret that will test his love.

When the smoke of gunfire clears, family plays a recurring role in the Caitlin’s stories, from her Texas Ranger lineage to the new and unconventional family she forms with Cort Westley and his boys, and even in a sense of her relationship to Guillermo Paz, the reformed killer whose change of heart has left him with the personal life mission of protecting Caitlin from the shadows. Easily one of the most colorful characters to be found in the genre, Paz operates in extremes: one moment he may be speaking philosophically with a priest or visiting a psychic, and the next he bounds into a violet action scene while double-fisting assault rifles. In a way, to describe Paz is to describe the series as a whole: ever unpredictable, and always entertaining.

Land excels again in Strong Light of Day with his penchant for action-packed mystery and in-depth drama; the dialogue between characters maintains a true grit and Southern-born honesty that only adds layers to an already atmospheric thriller. Caitlin Strong is back in all her glory, proving her worth as an honest and bare-knuckled fighter for justice against the greatest of foes.

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The Seven Sins and Black Scorpion by Jon Land

by Casee Marie on April 30, 2015

in Fiction, Reviews

With his 2008 novel, The Seven Sins, and his newest release, Black Scorpion, author Jon Land brings Fabrizio Boccardi’s inimitable Las Vegas hero Michael “The Tyrant” Tiranno to life in a series of pulse-pounding adventures.

Michael Tiranno, also known as The Tyrant, is the imposing force behind The Seven Sins, the most luxurious resort and casino in Las Vegas. Born into poverty in rural Italy, Michael – then Michele Nunziato – was taken under the wing of mafia powerhouse Don Lucciano after the murder of his family, and from there he became Michael Tiranno: Italian for “tyrant”. A larger-than-life persona across the pages, the character first appeared in Jon Land’s The Seven Sins in collaboration with The Tyrant’s creator, Italian investor Fabrizio Boccardi. While “The Tyrant” is in some ways Boccardi’s alter-ego, he’s also something of a superhero for the Vegas set – James Bond meets Tony Stark with a Sin City vibe. Boccardi’s creation comes to literary life through author Jon Land’s timeless skill, resulting in a high-octane thriller that keeps readers on the edge of their seat.

While The Seven Sins introduces readers to the man behind the moniker, Black Scorpion reveals how Michael Tiranno is finally able to fully realize himself as The Tyrant. When his casino is once again under threat, Michael’s investigation leads him to an Eastern European organization that even the most well-informed government entities thought to be a myth: Black Scorpion. And as Michael works to discover the identity of whomever controls Black Scorpion, he’ll find that the sinister organization’s endgame hits shockingly close to home. Caught up in the danger is Michael’s girlfriend Scarlett Swan, a skilled archaeologist on the cusp of a discovery that could change the course of history and unravel the secret behind the medallion Michael has treasured since it was handed down to him by his father. Inscribed with a Latin script that translates as “To Dream, To Dare, To Win”, the medallion has become something of a good luck totem to Michael; he even attributes the slogan of his casino and business brand to the Latin words. But he soon discovers that the mysterious piece of gold may hold greater power and value than he could ever imagine, and it could drive some men to murder at the chance of possessing it.

Land captures the drama and decadence of Vegas superbly in both The Seven Sins and Black Scorpion, the pages humming with the vibrations of a city steeped in decadence and mystery. In a style reminiscent of his other books, he takes the reader across time and into the throes of history as he weaves a story that’s both intricate in its details and lightning fast in its pace. He utilizes short chapters – sometimes pages long, sometimes only a few paragraphs – in a way that makes the reader feel as though they’re locked into a film reel, seeing scenes play out at the speed of a thrill ride. And throughout the different points in history, there’s one thing that connects the story as a whole: the medallion. In The Seven Sins readers are first taken back to the time of Julius Caesar where Caesar acquires the very medallion from Cilician pirates, while other points in the story hint that Michael’s gold piece may actually have gotten the Midas touch. In The Seven Sins readers also meet a modern-day pirate with her sights set on the gold: the elusive and fascinating Raven Kahn. After revelations are made at the end of that book, she returns to the story in Black Scorpion as well, this time with a vengeance. The central plight at the heart of Black Scorpion is the global devastation of human-trafficking and it’s in her empowered determination to free enslaved women and children that we see the true heart of Raven take hold.

Joining Michael on his adventures in both novels are his greatest allies both in the business of Vegas and, it would seem, in the business of saving the world: whip-smart lawyer Naomi Burns and warrior-turned-bodyguard Alexander Koursaris. While Land has a knack for surrounding his protagonists with colorful supporting characters, Naomi and Alexander are especially intriguing; they’re both well drawn and terrific fun to read about. As for The Tyrant himself, it’s no wonder that Boccardi has also brokered deals for comic book and graphic novel interpretations of the Vegas would-be superhero, as well as talk of a film that would adapt both novels for the big screen. Tiranno is an exuberantly likable character with panache as well as heart, equal parts ruthless grit and a do-good attitude; under Jon Land’s literary handling, the character becomes a worthy center for a collection of explosive adventures that will hopefully continue for a long time to come.

[white_box]The Seven Sins: The Tyrant Ascending

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[white_box]Black Scorpion: The Tyrant Reborn

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Thank-you to Jon Land for providing copies of The Seven Sins and Black Scorpion for me to read!

Swindle Town by Molly Greene

by Casee Marie on March 23, 2015 · 1 comment

in Fiction, Reviews

Sassy, spunky private eye Gen Delacourt is back in a new mystery from Molly Greene that finds the amateur detective up to her ears in secrets, lies – and wine.

Molly Greene’s Gen Delacourt mysteries have been among my favorites since the series began several years ago. Over the course of four novels readers have followed Gen on her adventures in San Francisco as she works to uncover truths, catch bad guys, and keep herself alive in the process. In her fifth outing, Swindle Town, Gen is hired to track a series of disappearing empty wine bottles that ultimately leads her into the employment – or maybe the clutches – of a secret high-society wine club where membership fees are in the thousands and a good vintage may be worth killing over. Working the case becomes complicated for Gen when she uncovers connections that hit close to home for her boyfriend, SFPD detective Mack Hackett. Charged with keeping her investigation a secret, she’ll have to put her all into unraveling a mysterious series of threats on the wine club’s owner before things escalate and one of her many, many suspects decides to make their final move.

Swindle Town is a fabulous addition to a dependably entertaining series, brimming with all the wit, intrigue, and adventure readers have come to expect from Gen Delacourt and company. With her growing knack for spinning a grand mystery, author Molly Greene keeps the reader guessing until the novel’s conclusion. The intricacies of California’s wine culture create a fascinating backdrop for Gen’s latest case. It’s a show in which the private eye, fond as she is of life’s simpler pleasures, feels utterly miscast, but her resourcefulness pulls her through and she learns about the pastime of thousand-dollar vintages alongside the reader. Greene’s research of wine collecting contributes to the uniquely interesting undercurrent that drives Gen’s unpredictable plight. On her journey toward identifying a dangerous blackmailer, Gen comes face-to-face with wealthy would-be connoisseurs and all manner of characters, cluing her in on the wild and crazy world of the secretive rich. And as she skirts along the fragility of her new friendships, surprising revelations abound that will test her trust.

Greene has always filled her novels with memorable supporting characters, particularly Gen’s swoon-worthy love interest, Mack Hackett; in Swindle Town, there are familiar faces and new appearances alike. Cambria Butler, Gen’s good friend and the subject of Book #2, The Last Fairytale, uses her resources to help Gen on the case, while Mack’s childhood friend Shiloh James comes on the scene for the first time (and, hopefully, not the last). With every new character she creates, Greene always manages to add another colorful layer to the enchanting world of her novels. Combined with her expert twisty-turny sense for mystery and the lighting-like chemistry she creates between Gen and Mack, Greene delivers yet another delightful novel with Swindle Town.

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Thank-you to Molly Greene for providing a copy of Swindle Town for me to read!

Damaged Goods by Jack Everett and David Coles

February 18, 2015

Having penned five novels together, authors David Coles and Jack Everett are back with the first in their new Inspector White series. Damaged Goods intertwines the stories of a tortured American soldier on a rampage and the crafty British cop on his trail, two very different men whose paths cross in the ultimate test of […]

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Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen

February 5, 2015

In Murphy’s Law Rhys Bowen introduces readers to amateur sleuth Molly Murphy and a colorful reimagining of turn-of-the-century New York City where mystery, romance, and murder await. Molly Murphy is a smart and quick-witted Irish woman on the run from the police in her home country. With a stroke of luck, she befriends a woman […]

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A Thousand Tombs by Molly Greene

November 12, 2014

Molly Greene’s latest story, A Thousand Tombs, is the fourth mystery involving sassy private investigator Gen Delacourt, and this time Gen is up to her eyebrows in intrigue when she and her boyfriend, San Francisco cop Mack Hackett, quite literally stumble upon a teenage boy on the run for his life. Young Luca barrels into […]

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Crane (Legends Saga #1) by Stacey Rourke

October 23, 2014

In the first book of her Legends saga, Crane, Stacey Rourke takes on Washington Irving’s unforgettable tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s a story we’ve all seen retold many times – through animation, on the silver screen, and, most recently, for television . It would be easy for anyone handling the story to fall […]

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