Tag: #MurderMondays

Shell Game by Sara Paretsky

Book Summary

When V. I Warshawski gets word that her closest friend and mentor Lotty Herschel’s nephew has become a suspect in a murder, the legendary detective will do everything she can to save him. The cops found Felix Herschel’s name and phone number on the unknown victim’s remains, but Felix insists he doesn’t know why.

As Vic digs deeper, she discovers that the dead man was obsessed with Middle Eastern archeology—the first clue in a bewildering case that leads to a stolen artefact and a shadowy network of international criminals. But the trouble multiplies when Vic’s long lost niece, Reno, goes missing. A beautiful young woman with a heartbreaking past and a promising future, Reno is harboring a secret that may cost her, her life. V. I. can hear the clock ticking on her niece’s safety and is frantic in her efforts to find her.

Vic won’t leave any stone unturned until these very personal cases are cleared—a complex investigation that will entangle the Russian mob, ISIS backers, rogue ICE agents, a nefarious corporation preying on the poor, and a shady network of stock scams and stolen antiquities stretching from Chicago to the East Indies and the Middle East.

In Shell Game, no one can be trusted and nothing is what it seems, except for the indomitable detective and her thirst for justice.

What I Thought

I was once again captivated reading the latest instalment of Sara Paretsky’s now iconic detective series, Shell Game. In which we see Vic chasing down answers to not one mystery, but two. Paretsky’s MC is steadfast and resolute and will not give up on either case, while chasing down leads that, more often than not, throw up far more questions than answers.

Two seemingly distinct cases that, in fact, slowly merge in that inimitable way Paretsky has of telling her stories, bit by bit. Till it becomes obvious, through Vic’s relentless digging and uncovering of connections, that the implication of Felix in a murder, is tied to the disappearance and kidnapping of Harmony’s sister, Reno.

From stolen artefacts to war torn Syria. From the Oriental Institute to a cleaning company servicing the offices of Vic’s ex-husband, the unscrupulous and ambitious Dick and his new wife, to Homeland Security and ICE agents who think nothing of shooting first and asking questions later.

What I also love about Paretsky, is the way she weaves any number of current social and political threads into her stories. Managing to include, albeit, obliquely, the worst of the Trump presidency setting aspects of her story in and around migrants and refugees living in fear—struggling in an alien and hostile environment, not unlike those they’ve fled elsewhere.

Warshawski—steadfast in her principals—fights for injustice in a world where the odds always seem to be stacked against her. And in a political climate that has become terrifyingly dangerous for those at the bottom of the social ladder, living a precarious existence, feeling powerless to exert change. Loyal to those she loves and cares about, Warshawski continues to do battle and bravely takes on corporate America, as in Shell Game, and yes, occasionally wins.

You can always be sure that in a Sara Paretsky novel, the plots are well conceived and constructed and usually tie-in to current social and political issues. And that the characters are well developed, and the writing is, as always, top-notch.

SHELL GAME [Book #19]
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow, 2019
Paperback, 560 pages
Mystery | Detective

A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

Book Summary

What’s happening in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia? Three elderly men are gunned down over their coffee at a local diner, and seemingly half the town is there to witness the act. Still, it happened so fast, and no one seems to have gotten a good look at the shooter. Was it random? Was it connected to the spate of drug violence plaguing poor areas of the country just like Acker’s Gap? Or have Dean Streeter, Shorty McClurg, and Lee Rader been targeted somehow?

One of the witnesses to the brutal incident was Carla Elkins, teenaged daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Carla was shocked and horrified by what she saw, but after a few days, she begins to recover enough to believe that she might be uniquely placed to help her mother do her job.

After all, what better way to repair their fragile, damaged relationship? But could Carla also end up doing more harm than good―in fact, putting her own life in danger?

What I Thought

This book is beset by the over reliance on lengthy descriptions and, as a result, has choppy pacing issues. There is so much overwhelming description that any plot-points are either lost, or take so long to develop, you begin to lose interest in who did what to whom, and why. The whole story is one of minute detail and everyday minutiae. Characters relationships and general backgrounds are expounded on unnecessarily to the point of distraction. And while I know this is the first installment in what is, I think, a lengthy series, it’s frustrating that a large portion of Bell Elkins’ back story is taken up by a mysterious event that, in and of its self, is both brutal and disturbing. Especially as it does little to establish her behaviour in the present, or have any affect on the unfolding events. 

This novel, is supposed to be a story about the horrors of the opioid crisis set in small-town America, but is written more like a police procedural. The various main characters all have alternating scenes offering up different POV, and while normally I love this way of telling a story, some of those character view points do nothing to advance the story. Nor do they offer up any real enlightenment or insight. I would also add that the character of Chill—as a tough-kid cliché—seems more about adding brazen shock value than anything else. 

Overall, I found this one a struggle to read and finish, neither enjoying the prose nor connecting with any of the characters. Although, if this story had been focused solely on the prosecutor, Bell Elkins, it might have resonated more on a number of levels. For me that’s where the real story lay, a tragedy that was skimmed over, and told haltingly in bits—I wanted to know more about what happened to her and her older sister as children, at the hands of their father. Just what made Bell Elkins who she is, and what makes her tick. 

Questions that might be answered in further instalments of this series, but, sadly, I won’t be hanging around to find out.

A Killing in the Hills
(Bell Elkins #1)
Julia Keller
Minotaur Books, 2013
Paperback, 384 pages

#MurderMondays: Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

Book Summary

The reporter Tatiana Petrovna falls to her death from a sixth-floor window in Moscow the same week that a mob billionaire is shot and buried with the trappings due a lord. The trail leads to Kaliningrad, a Cold War “secret city” that is separated by hundreds of miles from the rest of Russia. The more Arkady delves into Tatiana’s past, the more she leads him into a surreal world of wandering sand dunes, abandoned children, and a notebook written in the personal code of a dead translator.

Finally, in a lethal race to uncover what the translator knew, Renko makes a startling discovery that draws him still deeper into Tatiana’s past—and, paradoxically, into Russia’s future, where bulletproof cars, poets, corruption of the Baltic Fleet, and a butcher for hire combine to give Kaliningrad the “distinction” of having the highest crime rate in Russia.

What I Thought

This chess-inspired 8th outing for the cranky melancholy police investigator, Arkady Renko, is a fast-paced romp through the underbelly of corrupt police/politicians/media in Putin’s crumbling modern Russia. Where just about everyone has an agenda hustling from the streets to the highest office, for everything from stolen goods to billion ruble contracts. And where Cruz Smith’s cast of well-drawn characters are all doing their best trying to avoid being collateral damage amid the warring factions.

I enjoyed the pace, which is fairly brisk and doesn’t lag, because a lot of the action is split between a number of the characters, not just our world-weary investigator. While Renko is essentially trying to discover who killed investigative reporter, Tatiana Petrovna, and more importantly, why, he connects her murder to that of recently assassinated mafia kingpin, Grisha Grigorenko. And, as he pieces together snippets of information, he stumbles upon a much larger picture than just revenge, or murder, collusion and corruption at the highest levels.

What I love about Cruz Smith’s writing, is his seedy bunch of twitchy characters doggedly trying to keep ahead of the action, while also dropping in actual historical events into the background—events like the sinking of the Kursk in the Baltic and the utter destruction of the city of Konigsberg (in an isolated slice of Russia abutting the baltic sea) and the building of the secret city of Kaliningrad. And thus, Cruz Smith cleverly draws us into a tangled web of secrets, lies, and corruption.  

While Renko engages in a game of cat and mouse with mobsters trying to find answers to Tatiana’s murder, his old friend and partner, Victor, along with Zhenya and his girlfriend Lotte, are left behind in Moscow trying to unravel a mystery of their own, never mind survive being murdered. Of course, all the loose ends slowly begin to make connections, leading to a confrontation along with a number of revelations and an open-ending finale that tells us that even Renko cannot bring everyone to justice in a world ruled by corruption.  

I can highly recommend this one if you enjoy a good thriller with plenty of misdirection, well-drawn characters, snappy dialogue. This one has plenty of grit and background detail that all helped bring Tatiana to life.

TATIANA (Arkady Renko #8)
Martin Cruz Smith
Simon & Schuster

#MurderMondays: Fallout by Sara Paretsky

Book Summary

Before there was Lisbeth Salander, before there was Stephanie Plum, there was V.I. WARSHAWSKI. To her parents, she’s Victoria Iphigenia. To her friends, she’s Vic. But to clients seeking her talents as a detective, she’sV.I. And her new case will lead her from her native Chicago… and into Kansas, on the trail of a vanished film student and a faded Hollywood star.

Accompanied by her dog, Peppy, V.I. tracks her quarry through a university town, across fields where missile silos once flourished — and into a past riven by long-simmering racial tensions, a past that holds the key to the crimes of the present. But as the mysteries stack up, so does the body count. And in this, her toughest case, not even V.I. is safe.

What I thought

FALLOUT is Sara Paretsky’s 18th novel in the V. I. Warshawski detective novel series. And instead of being at home, in the safe and familiar confines of Chicago, Paretsky has Vic off on a road trip to Lawrence, Kansas. Vic has been hired by her wayward niece, and in-training hockey player, Bernadine ‘Bernie’ Fouchard, to look for her friend, August Veriden, who is missing after being accused of ransacking the gym where he worked.

But, as anyone who reads Paretsky’s Warshawski series knows, everything is never as it seems. 

It turns out, Veriden left Chicago with ageing black actress, Emerald Ferring, ostensibly to film Ferring’s ‘origins’ documentary. But, somewhere along the road, the two have gone missing. 

This is the set-up to have Vic follow their route, and uncover more than she bargained for. For Lawrence, Kansas, where the University of Kansas is located, has more buried secrets than the CIA. And as Vic digs into the pair’s mysterious disappearance, she starts to uncover layers of deceit, lies, moral ambiguity and ultimately, a cover-up worthy of Watergate that puts Vic in the line of fire.

Every character in this book is there for a reason, and carries the weight of an intricate story that Paretsky skillfully pulls together, meshing a seemingly random number of loose threads, into a tightly woven tapestry, that’s both thrilling, revealing, and oh so plausible. 

Of all the characters Paretsky gives us though, none quite match up to the two who I found the most intriguing: professor Nathan Kiel and his wife, Sonia. Bombastic, loud, outrageous, and thoroughly reprehensible, nonetheless, they are the train wreck you can’t help but stare at. They are, in essence, Burton and Taylor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” majestically flawed on a whole other level.

The plot, on a whole, holds up without too much scrutiny, much of which is due to the expert writing skills of Paretsky who, once again, delivers a thoroughly enjoyable read. 

Fallout is just that, the human, emotional, and physical costs of years of lies, deceit, and betrayal.

Sara Paretsky
William Morrow
Detective | Suspense | Mystery