Fabulous Fiction Firsts #365

Peter May is no stranger to mystery fans. Beside several stand-alones, he is the author (website) of 2 series: the award-winning Chinese Thrillers (featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell), and the Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo Macleod, set in France.

Just released in the US is The Blackhouse * *, first in the Lewis Trilogy, set on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides.

Two bodies are found hanging from trees: one in Edinburgh, the other on the Isle of Lewis. Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod is assigned to the case, bringing him back to Crobost, and to a past haunted by tragedy and regrets.

"A gripping plot, pitch-perfect characterization, and an appropriately bleak setting drive this outstanding series debut". In the acknowledgments, May, who is also a long-time television dramatist, reveals that he drew much of his inspiration from five years filming on the island.

Readers might also enjoy Michael Ridpath's Where the Shadows Lie for similar plot, and Tana French for tone. For mysteries with a strong sense of place, try Arnaldur Indriðason, probably the most atmospheric among Nordic crime fiction writers.

* * = starred reviews

Fabulouos Fiction Firsts #364

Michael Ennis's The Malice of Fortune * is a historical thriller on a vibrant canvas and an epic scale - a must for Bravo's The Borgias fans.

Holding her young son hostage, Pope Alexander VI dispatches former courtesan, Damiata, to the remote fortress city of Imola to learn the truth behind the murder of Juan, his most beloved illegitimate son. Once there Damiata becomes a pawn in the political machinations between the charismatic Duke Valentino and the condottieri, a powerful and brutal cabal of mercenary warlords which Damiata suspects. As the murders multiply, she enlists the help of an obscure Florentine diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli, and an eccentric military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci to decipher the killer's taunting riddles.

Ennis, museum curator, former faculty (University of Texas) and an expert on Renaissance history and art, bases this well-researched novel on actual events in the final weeks of the year 1502, as witnessed and faithfully documented in Machiavelli's The Prince, while deliberately burying the truth between its lines.

"This is a dense narrative, permeated by the sights, sounds and smells of Renaissance Italy, and one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, with which it is sure to be compared".

"Fans of superior historical mystery writers such as Steven Saylor (The Gordianus series set in ancient Rome) and Laura Joh Rowland (mysteries set in Edo Japan) will be enthralled".

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #363

The audio edition of Chuck Greaves' mystery series debut Hush Money * * is not to be missed.

Performed by Dan Butler - actor/director with TV credits for Frasier, Monk, House, and film credits for The Silence of the Lambs and Enemy of the State, it captured perfectly, the wisecracking Jack MacTaggart and the Southern California setting.

When Hush Puppy, Pasadena socialite Sydney Everett's champion show horse, dies under suspicious circumstances, junior lawyer Jack MacTaggart is assigned to handle the insurance claim. But the case soon takes an unexpected turn, thrusting Jack into a spiraling web of blackmail and murder in which he finds himself both the prime suspect and the next likely victim.

Winner of the SouthWest Writers (SWW) grand-prize Storyteller Award for 2010 and the Best Mystery of 2010, former LA trial lawyer Greaves "cleverly intermingles equestrian show jumping, insurance claims, and high-tech science in this sunny California thriller" in Hush Money.

The humor will please fans of Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie series, and Robert B. Parker's Spenser fans will find MacTaggart a new hero to root for.

* * = starred reviews

James Bond: Pushing 60 and Still Looking Good

Everyone's favorite suave secret agent, James Bond, is headed back to the big screen with the upcoming release of Skyfall. The new flick stars Daniel Craig in his third outing as Bond, alongside a killer cast including Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem as the newest Bond villain, and Ben Whishaw in his debut as the gadget-master Q. The flick, which continues to dig into Bond's origins as seen previously in 2006's Casino Royale, has been receiving early critical acclaim as one of Agent 007's best. Opening in theaters everywhere November 9, Skyfall happens to come out exactly 50 years after the original Bond movie, Dr. No, which starred Sean Connery in 1962.

But before Skyfall arrives in theaters, AADL's collection offers plenty of ways to celebrate Mr. Bond's big birthday--and another even bigger 007 milestone. WhilJames Bond: Daniel Craig as James Bond.James Bond: Daniel Craig as James Bond.e Bond may be 50 in movie years, he's existed on the printed page for almost 60. Casino Royale, the original Bond story by Ian Fleming, was published in 1953 and is available via the AADL catalog. Fleming went on to write 14 James Bond books. His final one, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, was published in 1966, two years after his death. Fleming's series has been followed by numerous additional Bond books by authors including Jeffery Deaver, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, and Charlie Higson (who wrote the Young Bond series for teens).

And for those looking to get caught up on the movies, AADL has Bond flicks from the original Dr. No to 2008's Quantum of Solace. For true devotees, try the original 1967 film adaptation of Casino Royale, a wacky spoof of spy films with an all-star cast including David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, George Raft, and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #360

In the first of the Valencian crime series, debut novelist Jason Webster introduced Chief Inspector Max Camara in Or the Bull Kills You * * (2011) where he is roped into investigating the grisly murder of a star matador. Not only does he hate bullfighting but what he finds on the blood-stained sand shocks the city of Valencia to its core.

In the follow-up, A Death in Valencia * Max is feeling low and virtually homeless (now that! ... is another story in itself). On the eve of a papal visit, the body of a well-known (and Max's favorite) paella chef washes up on the beach, drawing Max into a web of corruption and violence as he tried to untangle these threads.

"Dark and witty..., the plot is fast and twisting, the scene-setting vivid, and the atmosphere powerfully authentic, showcasing the determined, lonesome Camara, with his love of flamenco and brandy, and occasional doped-out high, A Death in Valencia delves into issues that rouse unruly passions and divide the Spanish people today."

"The undercurrent of melancholy, as Camara finds himself in conflict with the powers-that-be, sets this apart from the usual Southern European procedural/whodunit ". Will appeal to fans of the brooding, sexy Aurelio Zen Series by Michael Dibdin (now available as a PBS Masterpiece Mystery series).
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Born in California, journalist and travel writer Jason Webster (website) moved to Spain in 1993. He lives near Valencia with his wife, the flamenco dancer, Salud.

* * = starred reviews
* = starred review

October's Books to Film

The Paperboy is based on Peter Dexter's novel, the enthralling story of two brothers (Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron) who investigate a case involving a death row inmate (John Cusack). Convinced by a mysterious woman (Nicole Kidman) that the inmate is innocent, the brothers embark on a journey that is filled with betrayal.

Pitch Perfect (PG-13) is based on Mickey Rapkin's Pitch Perfect:The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory. In this new comedy, Beca arrives at her new college, she finds herself not right for any clique but somehow is muscled into one that she never would have picked on her own: alongside mean girls, sweet girls and weird girls whose only thing in common is how good they sound when they sing together. "Loaded with new takes on old favorites to hits of right now that are seamlessly mixed together, mashed-up and arranged like you've never heard before" .

Starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Alexis Knapp, Elizabeth Banks, Rebel Wilson, and directed by Jason Moore of the Broadway sensation Avenue Q, the musical.

Putting a new spin on the Emily Brontë classic, Wuthering Heights is the love story between Heathcliff, a boy taken in by a kind father and Cathy, the farmer's young daughter. This film adaptation promises to be beautiful and evocative, bringing a somewhat more modern take on an old favorite.

Fans of James Patterson's Alex Cross series will be pleased to see the young homicide detective/psychologist (Tyler Perry) coming to life and facing off with a serial killer (Matthew Fox). When the high-stakes game of cat and mouse gets personal, Cross is pushed to the edge of his moral and psychological limits in this taut and exciting action thriller, entitled Alex Cross (PG-13).

Filled with action, romance and mystery, Cloud Atlas (R rated) is a breathtaking adaptation of the novel (also in audio) by David Mitchell - six interwoven stories that leads up to a post-apocalyptic dystopian version of a Pacific Island nation. It explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future, how one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.

Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant.

Local Mystery Book Store Celebrates Anniversary with Visiting Authors


Mystery bookstore, Aunt Agatha's is celebrating their 20th Anniversary by having 15 authors visit their store on Fourth Ave. Aunt Agatha's will be hosting an open house on Wednesday, October 3rd from 4-7pm, feature cake and drinks as well as the opportunity to meet the authors.

A few of the guest authors include:
Alyse Carlson, author of The Azalea Assault
Sarah Zettel, award-winning author of mystery and sci fi books and Ypsilanti native
Steve Hamilton, author of the Alex McKnight series
And many more.

For the full schedule of authors and more information, check Aunt Agatha's Event Page.

Grief Breeds Drama in The Invisible Ones

Stef Penney, bestselling author of her debut novel The Tenderness of Wolves, continues her repertoire with her second novel, The Invisible Ones. Both novels contain suspense-filled stories weaved with strands of mystery and shrouded in intrigue. Penney’s first novel was set among trappers in 19th century Canada. The Invisible Ones delves into the more recent past, focusing on the Gypsy/Romany community of 1980s England.

Private investigator Ray Lovell is not surprised when Leon Wood will only accept his help in discovering what happened to his daughter, Rose Janko, after her disappearance six years ago. Mr. Wood, a member of the Romany community in England, refuses to go to the police, but he is willing to trust Ray because of his Romany heritage. The mystery begins in the present with Ray in the hospital hovering between states of delirium as paralysis grips his body. The story continues to alternate between present and past, including insights into the investigation and viewpoints from Rose's nephew, JJ. Not surprisingly, the Janko family is hard to crack. Not only can the story be difficult to put down from the nagging questions that need to be answered, but Penney's book takes a close look at the culture of Romany families today, including their customs and traditions.

A great historical mystery series

The Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mysteries start out really good and just get better. There are five of them now and, having just finished the fifth, I am bereft. I can’t find any evidence of a sixth on the horizon (though I’m sure there has to be one soon) and I have that feeling there is nothing else worth reading (which will pass). They are a triumph of people, plot and prose.

Set in the latter years of Henry the VIII’s reign, lawyer Shardlake is drawn into the corruption and turbulence of the political landscape time and again, when all he wants is a quiet life. He is not adventurous or daring by nature, but he has demanding patrons, like Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr. These and many other historical characters weave into the stories and even bad boy, King Henry, makes an appearance in the third book.

Author, C J Sansom, is brilliant at weaving just enough historical fact, into compelling, page-turner plots, with rounded, sympathetic characters. Sansom has a PhD in History and was a practicing lawyer, so he is well informed about the back story of the Tudor courts and the tremendous upheaval of religious persecution and political maneuvering which was rampant in this era. The Tower, Bedlam, the execution block, the rack, the King’s “Progress” to York, the naval battles of the war of 1545, the sinking of the warship Mary Rose, the Book of Revelation, and the ancient, incendiary weapon known as Greek fire are all featured prominently at some point in these five stories. Pretty grim, you might think, and you would be right.

But Shardlake is the counterpoint of dignity and kindness in the midst of the insanity and he brings his compassion and brilliance to bear on every case he is thrust into. With a supporting cast of interesting and feisty characters, the books manage to create a bit of light in the darkness that was Henry’s reign. In the end, these are intriguing and engrossing stories which keep you coming back for more. Don’t plan on doing anything important for a few days after you begin one.

Start with Dissolution, a mystery embedded in the chaotic time when Cromwell oversaw the dismantling of monasteries all over England.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #350 - Remembering Marilyn

August marks the 50th Anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death but the appetite and obsession with this universal icon have never waned in the intervening years. Just in the past year, we saw the Hollywood adaptation of Colin Clark's memoir My Week with Marilyn and Smash, the 2012 successful television series (renewed for another season), a musical based on Marilyn's life.

Now we have J.I. Baker's The Empty Glass *, a "heartbreaking, pulse-quickening" novel that delves into one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.

Los Angeles County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald arrives at the scene of Monroe's death and finds her diary. The deeper Ben reads into the diary, the deeper he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy far bigger than he can imagine. Then there were the photos taken of the night stand next to Marilyn's bed, where no water glass was found, contradicting a second set of photographs being used in the investigations.

Debut novelist James Ireland Baker is the executive editor of Condé Nast Traveler and had worked for various national magazines. He is a founding editor of Time Out New York.

If fact is more to your liking than fiction, then check out a new biography by Lois Banner Marilyn :The Passion and the Paradox *.

As one of the founders of the field of women's history, Lois Banner (Scholar/Faculty, USC) appreciates the complexities of Monroe's personal life in the context of her achievements as an actor, singer, dancer, comedian, model, and courtesan. In the research, she gained access to material no one else has seen (personal papers, interviews with Kennedy's Secret Service detail). The new information she unearthed is nothing short of revelatory.

"A passion for precision and truth fuels Banner's electrifying portrait of an artist caught in a maze of paradoxes and betrayals. Here is Marilyn as we've never seen her before."

* = starred review

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