Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blue Monday

Blue Monday
Author: Nicci French
Penguin Books, 2011
401 pages

My good friend Sophie from Belgium sent me this book a few weeks ago. She has great taste in fiction, so I knew I'd really like Blue Monday even though I hadn't previously read anything by the author (um, authors -- Nicci French is actually a husband and wife team). And wow, this book hooked me from the first few sentences and didn't let go until the very last!

The main character is a London-based psychotherapist, Dr. Frieda Klein, who has a thing for walking the streets of London in the middle of the night. Frieda can seem really cold at times, especially with regard to how she treats her boyfriend and other people who care about her. But perhaps this is what makes her so good at what she does -- helping people.

When a new patient starts telling her stuff that makes her think he might be connected to the recent disappearance of a five-year-old boy, Frieda contacts the police. Suddenly, she becomes a part of the investigation, which has more twists and turns than a mountain road. A five-year-old girl disappeared twenty-two years ago, and her case was never solved. Now it seems the two cases are related, but time is running out for the missing boy. This is edge-of-your-seat reading!

I don't get the luxury of reading an entire book in a single day that often, but in the case of Blue Monday, I couldn't help myself -- I didn't want to put the book down. The addition of some unexpectedly humorous scenes involving a character who's introduced by falling through a ceiling . . . sheer literary brilliance! I fell in love with Josef and if there are more Frieda Klein books (which I hope there will be!), I look forward to seeing more of him.
Thank you, Sophie! :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Shack

The Shack
Author: William P. Young
Windblown Media, 2007
272 pages

This is a book that was a big bestseller here in the States a few years ago. I knew the gist of the story -- and I bought the book -- but I resisted reading it until last weekend. It didn't take me long to get hooked into the story of a man named Mack, his family, and the loss of a child during a family camping trip. That was pretty much the first one-third of the book.

The last two-thirds are how Mack deals with this loss, revisiting the area where the incident happened some four years later after receiving a mysterious invitation in his mailbox. This is where (depending on your personal philosophy) you'll either like or dislike (online reviews are more like "Love!" or "Strongly dislike"). I'm not going to tell you which group I'm in. And I don't want to reveal the plot, so I'll just say that if you like books dealing with spiritual issues, then this might be of interest to you.

I'm glad I finally read The Shack, because now I know what some of my friends and family members have read, so I feel like we're on the same, um, page. Pun not necessarily intended.

I need to follow this up with an easy, simple read, because my brain feels a little like mush right now. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Empty Mirror

The Empty Mirror
Author: J. Sydney Jones
Minotaur Books, 2009
320 pages

I've found an author who seems to love Vienna as much as I do. J. Sydney Jones has published three books (so far) in his Viennese Mystery series -- The Empty Mirror is the first. Set in 1898 as the sun is setting on the Habsburg Empire, this wonderful series features fiction-writing attorney Karl Werthen and his criminologist colleague Hanns Gross.

There's a murderer on the loose in Vienna, and when one of the victims turns out to be one of artist Gustav Klimt's models, the painter himself is arrested and jailed. Werthen happens to be his attorney, and although the Advocat isn't a criminal lawyer, the truth is, he'd like to be.

Of course, we know that Klimt isn't a killer, but the real killer must be found. As Werthen and Gross pursue him, they cross paths with the likes of Mark Twain and Franz Ferdinand. They also spend time in places in Vienna that I used to frequent when I lived there, such as Café Landtmann, the Ringstrasse, and the Prater. I could taste the coffee, the Kipferl, and the Wiener schnitzel as I worked my way through. It was like going back home, while also going back in time.

I love a good blend of history and fiction, and The Empty Mirror didn't disappoint me. Woven into the serial killer storyline are other stories based on actual historical events, such as the mysterious death of Crown Prince Rupert and the assassination of Empress Elisabeth ("Sisi") in Geneva. There are also a couple of references to that famous Viennese psychotherapist, Sigmund Freud. Perhaps Freud will appear in a future Viennese Mystery. I'll keep reading this series!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Coroner's Lunch

The Coroner's Lunch
Author: Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, 2005
272 pages

It's the mid-1970s and seventy-two year old Dr. Siri Paiboun is living in Vientiane, Laos just after the Pathet Lao government came to power. Although he's old enough and would like to be retired, Dr. Siri has been called . . . er, placed into service as the state coroner for the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Not that he's a trained or experience coroner, because he's not.

He's a medical doctor, though, trained in France. Widowed several years ago, he now has some fantastic sidekicks: an ambitious nurse and a morgue helper with Down's Syndrome. And he has friends in high places in the government -- sort of. His neighbor spies on him, and he has a crush on the sandwich maker. These are just a few of the other colorful characters in this wonderful first-in-a-series mystery by English-born author Colin Cotterill.

Dr. Siri is a man who takes things in stride and has a sense of humor despite the time and circumstances. But things get deadly serious when the morgue starts getting customers. A fisherman loses his legs in a horrible boating accident -- but was it really an accident? The wife of a Party leader keels over at a luncheon -- natural causes or murder? Three drowned soldiers  -- what really happened?

These are just a few of the cases that Dr. Siri must solve with his limited skills in forensic sciences. Dr. Siri faces all sorts of challenges, from lack of basic supplies and equipment to lack of support from his own superiors. But he's a resourceful man, and he's also got something else on his side. Let's just say he has some special abilities. 

The Coroner's Lunch is a mystery with added elements of fantasy and historical fiction. Not being very familiar with Laos or its history, I felt like I was learning something while also being entertained by this wonderful main character and his excellent supporting cast. I want so badly to continue reading all the Dr. Siri books in order. I think you'll be seeing more Dr. Siri books on this blog . . . sooner rather than later.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Involuntary Witness

Involuntary Witness
Author: Gianrico Carofiglio (translated from Italian by Patrick Creagh)
Bitter Lemon, 2005
274 pages

Here's a book I noticed on the shelf in the library a few weeks ago without knowing anything about the author or series. Luckily, Involuntary Witness is the first of several books featuring Italian attorney Guido Guerrieri. From the opening pages, a couple of things are clear: Guido's not particularly happy, and he's entering that challenging phase of life known as mid-life crisis.

Guido doesn't seem to really enjoy his chosen profession. He seems lackadaisical about lots of things. At the office, he tends to ignore his assistant, and he often makes his clients wait. His similar lack of enthusiasm at home leads his wife to announce (to his surprise) that she wants a separation, and at this, Guido starts to fall apart at the seams.

But then he's visited by a student from Africa, who tells him about a friend of hers who desperately needs help. The friend -- Abdou Thiam, an immigrant from Senegal, has been imprisoned for the murder of a young Italian boy. Although he was a teacher in Senegal, Abdou is unable to get similar work in Italy so he peddles wares (including a few counterfeits) on the beach near Bari.

Upon visiting Abdou in prison, it's pretty clear to Guido that the man is not a killer. However, according to the Italian legal system, Abdou basically has two choices: 1) he can admit guilt and serve a shortened sentence; or 2) he can have a trial, which he'll probably lose, and spend the rest of his life in jail. Since Abdou maintains his innocence, he decides to risk a trial. As Guido works to free his client, he also attempts to put his personal life back in order.

Guido comes across as a guy who used to be a jerk, but has learned some very big lessons. Actually, he learns several (and somewhat redeems himself) in this book. That makes him a likeable character. He's also quite clever and creative, and the scenes involving some of his adventures can bring a smile to your face.

According to online sources, the author is a former judge in southern Italy (in Bari, the city where Involuntary Witness takes place). He obviously knows his way around the very complex legal system there. That the accused is a "non-European" (the term used in court) immigrant adds an additional level of complexity to this finely-told legal tale.

Another win for the library. Glad I picked this one up.