The St. Paul Conspiracy by Roger Stelljes

I would classify this as a good middle of the road police procedural/mystery genre. It is book one in the Mac McRyan series. He is an Irish cop in St. Paul Minnesota who spends most of his off hours in his families Irish cop bar. There are a lot of Irish cop clichés.

But, the mystery is still pretty good. There is a corporate cover up that is going to be exposed. The corporate players use a serial killer currently at work in the city to hide murders they are committing as part of the cover up.

The serial killer gets pursued and caught. Because he was meticulous in his death count, there are murder victims unaccounted for. The capture of the murderer means the corporate villains have to step up the eliminations in order to continue to hide what they have been up to.

The cat and mouse game takes up the second half of the book and it is good. Lots of twists and turns but also lots of clichés. This doesn’t make it a bad book at all. A little predictable but still pretty fun to read. This is book one in a series but I don’t feel that you need to roll on with this series as it seems like each book will probably work as a stand alone.

It’s a crime procedural. An easy read.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

For those living under a rock or for more causal readers, Robert Galbraith is a pen name used by J.K. Rowling. This is her first book after the wildly successful Harry Potter series. She adopted the pseudonym, no doubt, to see if her writing alone would sell books, to test a different genre than young adult and to escape the expectations that came attached to her name and the success of the Harry Potter series.

Unfortunately, some numbskull at her publisher could not keep their trap shut and her cover was blown before the book even hit the shelves. I did not read any of the editorial reviews. I am not generally a reader of young adult fiction but I finally relented and read the Harry Potter books long after they came out and loved them. I felt that any writer, who could come up with those ideas, was probably going to write well no matter what they chose to write about.

All that being said, I waited quite a while to read this book. I did not want the experience to be tainted by any expectations from Gabraith/Rowlings previous work. I was not disappointed. As I expected, The Cuckoo’s Calling was a superb read regardless of what name is on the cover.

Set in the present day, a supermodel falls to her death from her balcony in a posh and exclusive London apartment building. It is classed as a suicide but her brother, unable to accept that ruling by the coroner, engages a childhood friend of his brother’s, Cormoran Strike, to investigate. Strike is one of the most interesting investigators I have come across in detective fiction.

Ex British military but the son of an aging rock and roll lothario and a super groupie. Yes, you read that right. His back story is as good as the one he is investigating and could fill a whole book in itself. Creating rich, detailed characters is definitely one of Rowling’s strengths and it shines in this book. Every character introduced is given something for the reader to grab onto and consider.

Into Strike’s life, drops a temporary secretary. For every great detective, an equally great offside must emerge and into his walks Robin Ellacot. A girl from the English countryside, newly engaged and with ambitions, she ends up at Strike’s office for a one week assignment. Robin is no rube however and it becomes quickly apparent that she will be there throughout this book and in any future Cormoran Strike adventures. How could it be otherwise?

What unfolds is an engrossing mystery. Cormoran follows leads provided by the supermodel’s brother and friends. Robin digs around the internet and turns out to be a pretty good sleuth herself giving Strike more to work with. By the end of the book, although Robin is still engaged, you get the feeling that her confidence in herself has built to a level that by the next book, that fiancé may be history. Robin might have been a wonderful country/suburban soccer mom but she wandered into Strike’s world and she will be infinitely smarter and more interesting from here on out.

This is a thoroughly engaging read and J.K. Rowling is a writer who can transcend genre’s. I hope she continues to try different types of novels because I suspect her writing is just that good. I know there is at least one other fictional work besides the new Harry Potter novel out and as much as I enjoy H.P., I hope she does not just fall back on that for a buck and continues to grow her craft.

Silken Prey by John Sandford

Silken Prey was a very entertaining read. Set in Minnesota (the Twin Cities) it is a political thriller with a very fascinating side story involving theft. At its heart though, it is all about dirty politics. Unfortunately, it is a representation that is probably accurate because to some extent, the bad guys get away with some things.

The main character is Lucas Davenport. He wasn’t my favorite character because frankly, he was just a little too good to be true. Although he is a state police investigator, he doesn’t do it for the money because he is an independent billionaire married to a plastic surgeon named Weather.

Yes, I hear you laughing. He also drives sports cars and has an expensive wardrobe and an extensive list of under the radar contacts. But ignore Lucas Davenport, because the real pleasure of the story is the story itself.

Surprisingly, most of the other characters are great. I don’t know why the main character is so crazy. Nevertheless, the series is worth picking up. One thing I love is when someone native to the city or state writes about it. Sandford brings Minneapolis/St. Paul to life and that is a treat in itself. The city comes to life as only an insider can show.

Apparently, this author has been recommended by Stephen King. It’s always interesting to read what other authors recommend. This was no exception. I enjoyed the book and would (and have) given it to others to read.

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

This book has been sitting on my shelf forever, waiting for me to exhale and pick it up. I read widely from multiple genres. I never limit myself and I am glad I don’t because you can miss out on discovering great stories or great authors.

The book is set in 1991. It is so strange to think that this book is 25 years old. It feels more recent but one thing that immediately stood out was the changes in the African American experience and story, even in that 25 years. Don’t be afraid to grab some of the wonderful African American authors out there. You might find you have more in common than not.

The four women in this story are all in their 30’s or a little older and all are experiencing what many people experience at that point in their lives. One is going through a divorce; one is trying to figure out why she doesn’t like the nice guys and is attracted to the bad boys; one is moving house, changing jobs and trying to find Mr. Right; and one is a single mother, business owner and activist looking ahead.

They are friends who support one another in their life changing moves and frankly, they were there talking about sex, shoes, hair, men and life way before Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and the other one from Sex and the City. It makes me wonder if this was the blueprint. Ms. McMillan, I think HBO owes you!

While there are certain things that speak directly to the African American experience, anyone who has had any of the life experiences above will be able to relate. If you grew up working class, these are the women who went to college and moved up the economic rung. You will either recognize them, or you are them. It is a great book about, by and for women but men could learn a thing or two by reading it.

I liked the book so much that I ended up staying up till 4:30 am so I could finish the book in one day. Damn your eyes, Terry McMillan!! The characters are great fun and although there are times you want to kick a characters shins ( I am looking at you Robin and Savannah!) they still keep you turning the page in hope.

I had a great time. The only thing that the author may regret in hindsight is describing one of the male characters as modeling himself on Dr. Cliff Huxtable. Who am I to judge? I loved Bill Cosby from I, Spy to The Cosby Show until he let me down. And now I want to watch the movie just to see Leon (who I adored in Oz) and Angela Bassett who I adore in everything. Now I have to go get the rest of the books written by Terry McMillan. And I would like to know how the author views life and love 25 years later. An author discussion Waiting to Exhale: 25 years later is dying to go on tour! I just know it.

The Gone Dead Train by Lisa Turner

 

This was a solid three and a half star read. The pros definitely outweigh the cons but I will start by outlining the cons first because there are only a few and they aren’t that serious. The first would be that there are some cliché’s which is not surprising given that the genre is a police procedural/action/thriller type of book. The lead character is ruggedly good looking and heart broken and his friendships are often down on their luck local characters.

The second con is that as usual, the cop lives in the most unlikely situation one can imagine. He of course got a great bargain on a barge, anchored in the Mississippi River in Memphis. Formerly a restaurant, it is now his home and has all the mod cons. It always makes me laugh that these cops have these great lofts or interesting homes. All the ones I know live in regular houses.

The last con, which is only a con for me, is that this book is part of a series. All of a sudden, every book I seem to pick up is part of a set. This book can easily be read as a stand-alone, but throughout the story, things that previously happened were mentioned. There was enough detail that this did not distract from the story at all but it can be disquieting for readers who feel the pressure to read the whole set.

Now for the great stuff. There are a lot of interesting pieces to the mystery. The first is that a couple of old time bluesmen, on the run from New Orleans, end up in Memphis hiding out. Both of these men, it turns out, are in fear for their lives because they believe they have a curse on them from a woman practicing Santeria.

There was a description ascribed to the book as being a “supernatural” crime thriller. The Santeria aspect does not play out as a supernatural theme or motivator in the story. It is a part of the criminal activity and it is explained very well from several different points of view. It certainly adds to the story.

The main character, Billy Able, is coming off a nine month leave of absence and is skating on thin ice as he involves himself in investigations in which he is not supposed to be involved. There is also a female character, currently a patrolmen, who wants to become a detective.  She admires Billy and together they make a good team.

Memphis is a great place for the story to take place. Much of it centers in and around Beale Street because of the blues aspects of the story. Memphis has so much to offer as a setting. I remembered how much I enjoyed it in Grisham’s The Firm. The sights, the smells and the sounds jump off the page and bring you right to the city. The only far-fetched aspect was the place the cop lived which I have expounded on already. Unrealistic, but fun.

The story has a lot of moving parts. There is the murder of the bluesmen, the murder of an ex-major league catcher with mental health problems, a reformed pimp and madame from New Orleans, a Jamaican con artist, an evangelical preacher with a sordid past and a mystery going all the way back to the Civil Rights rallies in Memphis and Dr. Martin Luther King’s killing at the Lorraine Motel.

This was a thoroughly entertaining read and I enjoyed it. I have no problem recommending this book to others with an interest in a good crime novel.

 

 

The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins

I am prepared for readers to be angry with me. Why? Because despite all the hype, I find this book to be nothing more than average. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong at all with average. It is perfectly acceptable to have a book in your hand and read just to enjoy a story. But in my opinion this is one of those books which was over-hyped to the hilt.

It is an average who dunnit written from the point of view of three separate women. All three look alike and frankly, all three have less than stellar personalities. That fact makes it very hard to work up any sympathy or understanding for their plight. Further, the males in their lives are emotionally, mentally and physically abusive.

I don’t want to create any spoilers because I know there are readers out there who are looking forward to busting this book out from their piles and reading it. Please do not be dissuaded by my review of the book. I just found it to be pedestrian and predictable.

I went into the story reading all kinds of deep meaning into it based on the reviews I read. After a quarter of the book I realized that it was simplistic and dropped all my notions of reading things into it that were not there.

By the half way mark, I had figured out who did it and the second half of the book comprised redundant situations. Rachel was perpetually drunk and stupid; Anna was a narcissistic, dissatisfied former mistress now wife and mother; and Megan was a messed up neurotic who spent time drinking and having affairs.

The men did not fare any better. One was a verbally and emotionally abusive man who was racked with insecurities. Another was a sly manipulator with violent tendencies and more emotional and mental abuse of women. The last major male player was at best and emotional stoic.

It is quite depressing so be sure to use your mood lamp if you are reading it during the winter. Don’t expect good depictions of women. I should have known when the title includes girl to describe a woman in her late thirties. Even the female police officer is disparaged. It almost feels like self-hatred of women on the author’s part. But I probably shouldn’t read too much into it. It’s just not that deep.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Many readers may know this story better by its film name – Blade Runner. For readers who enjoy thought provoking, intellectual science fiction you can’t bypass the works of Philip K. Dick.

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter in futuristic San Francisco. His job is to eliminate androids on earth. Androids were developed in order to be shipped off planet to colonies in the galaxy to act as servants for humans.

There are small bands of humans left on earth in various cities around the world. News is limited to reality based gossip columns that play on television and radio. Emotions and moods are set and reset on a machine in each home in order to offset depression caused by the nuclear winter which hangs over everything.

A new religion or ideological following has emerged called Mercerism. It is tied in with the mood machine and a worship of animals. Many animals are extinct and the prices to own them are very high making ownership of a real animal both valuable and status adding to one’s life. Deckard and his wife are owners of an electric sheep but have aspirations to own a real animal.

A fellow bounty hunter of Deckard’s has been injured on the job and so the hunt for several androids is turned over to Deckard. With the bounties he hopes to be able to purchase real livestock.
From there the story is about the hunt.

The writing is excellent. A very descriptive tale of how the world works, the value of people and human versus android interactions and the role of sentient beings in our lives. One of the strongest underlying themes is that of emotion.

If you have seen the film first, then expect some deviation and a different experience. This author has had many of his stories adapted from page to screen. Some license is always taken because of the intellectual nature of the writing and it is hard to put thoughts onto film.

The story itself is fairly short but it is well worth any amount you have to pay to access it. If you are a sci-fi fan you are probably familiar. If this is a genre you do not usually read from, please try this author. You will not be disappointed.