Wednesday, May 27, 2015

back to the past: Motto for Murder, by Merlda Mace (1943)

Julian Messner, Inc., 1943
213 pp
hardcover

Merlda Mace is the pseudonym of Madeleine McCoy, but beyond that, I can find very little in the way of information about this writer.  I tried obituaries, the usual mystery novelist research sources, but found nothing. Aside from this book, she's also written Blondes Don't Cry (1945)  and Headlong for Murder (1943), both of which feature  "nice girl, with a certain stubborness and inquistiveness" Christine Anderson as the main character.  Motto for Murder was published in 1943 as well; my copy has a "Buy War Stamps and Bonds" message on the back cover. I love these old books -- even if the story isn't so great, having these old tomes in my hands complete with musty smell is heavenly.  



With Motto For Murder, we return to the "country house", closed-circle mystery format, only this time the house is in America, rather than the English countryside.  The setting is just ripe for murder: the house is miles away from anywhere, and there's a snowstorm that turns into a raging blizzard trapping everyone inside.  

The main character in this story is a man who works for the investment firm of Barnes and Gleason as a special investigator.  As Tip O'Neil (whose name actually made me laugh out loud) enters his office one morning, he discovers that he is about to spend his Christmas holiday playing nursemaid for another member of the firm, Jay Hammond.  Hammond, it seems, had "appropriated" around ten grand or so of the firm's money, thinking he'd pay it back before anyone noticed.  Unfortunately for him, the auditors found out, and Hammond now has until the following Tuesday to replace the money. If he fails, he's looking at five to ten in the big house.  His plan: having been invited (along with his two siblings) to his grandmother's Adirondack home called Pine Acres, he will try to convince the old dowager (Marie Hammond) that he really really needs his share of an inheritance left under her control.  The inheritance, to be divided among the three children, was left to them by their grandfather Hammond, to be given to them whenever she felt they were capable of managing their money.  In short, this particularly nasty woman has continued to withhold any money to which the Hammonds were entitled, all in the name of control.   Jay is constantly drunk as a means of trying to cope with his sleazy,  "musical comedy actress" demanding, money-grubbing wife Ivy; he can't tell his grandmother the real reason he needs the money or he'll be disinherited. Tip is to accompany Jay to Pine Acres as a "business friend," to ensure that Jay isn't tempted to do a runner to Canada.  For Tip, it's a Christmas holiday unlike any other -- first, the grandmother (who stays in her room and thumps the floor with a cane to get attention) shares her plans to disinherit the lot of them, changing her will so that they never see a penny; second, one killing turns into multiple murders with everyone stuck in the house, unable to leave.  It's a country home filled with suspects, and since Tip has no emotional or financial interests connected with the family, he takes it upon himself to play detective.

If there's a chance that anyone plans to take on this novel, just so you know, Motto For Murder really shows its age. As just one example, the housekeeper's daughter Molly is banking on a Hollywood career as an ice-skating actress, a la Sonja Henie, to whom she is compared in this book (and who I had to look up because I had no clue as to who she was).  The title itself comes from a Christmas tradition at chez Hammond where "motto candies" are handed out and put on the tree -- somewhat like a confectioner's version of fortune cookies with couplets rather than the standard fake Confucian aphorisms we get these days.  The solution, sadly, is pretty obvious and narrator Tip is a pretty crappy detective, whose one major flash of insight is accompanied by a rather excited "Jumping grasshoppers!,"   but I have to say that  I love this sort of thing.  Despite all of its flaws, it's still a fun little read, and I'm happy to have this book as part of my crime library.  Absolutely perfect for cozy readers and golden-age mystery fans; it may not be the best in the bunch, but I'll happily take on a country-home murder mystery any time.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

according to the Guardian, Ruth Rendell's "five key works" :

 

Ahhhhh. There is nothing so satisfying as a good novel by Ruth Rendell.  I've recently read (reread in some cases) five of her books that The Guardian noted as her "five key works."  In order as they are listed there, these are


  1. From Doon With Death 
  2. A Judgement in Stone
  3. A Dark-Adapted Eye
  4. Adam and Eve and Pinch Me -- and 
  5. Not in the Flesh
I'll take them one at a time in my own reading order.

My personal favorite: A Dark-Adapted Eye


 There is just something so compelling and unputdownable about this dark novel, which opens with a puzzle.  As the narrator, Faith, notes
 "In these circumstances alone one knows when someone is going to die. All other deaths can be predicted, conjectured, even anticipated with some certainty, but not to the hour, the minute, with no room for hope. Vera would die at eight o'clock and that was that." 
So, you say, how can Faith actually pinpoint the time of Vera's death? The first clue comes when Faith reveals that Vera's death is the type which
"takes its victim, ...feet foremost through the floor, Into an empty space." 
Clue number two: Vera's name is on the spine of a book along with those of Ruth Ellis and Edith Thompson. From just that small bit of info, Rendell (here writing as Barbara Vine) goes on to tell a story that illuminates that old adage that nothing is at all as it seems, and does so by alluding to bigger events to come while only providing tantalizing little bits of information until you've got the entire story.  It's those tantalizing little bits that will keep you moving forward in this most excellent novel.  I could go on all day about this book because it is so very good, but I have four more "key" works to go. Adam and Eve and Pinch Me is another great story, this written time as Rendell, but I wouldn't have been at all surprised to see Barbara Vine's name  on this one.  Adam and Eve and Pinch Me has that wonderful claustrophobic feel I love to find when I read, largely due to the fact that a lot of the action takes place in main character Minty's head.
Again - a wonderful yet cryptic and ultimately ironic opening:
"Minty knew it was a ghost sitting in the chair because she was frightened. If it were only something she'd imagined, she wouldn't have been afraid. You couldn't be when it was something that came out of your own mind."
Minty is a perfect example of a Rendell character -- she lives alone in the house left to her by her aunt. She suffers from what Rendell never specifically labels OCD and is obsessed with cleanliness, which is a sort of protection for her against the outside world which she does not navigate with much ease. Her mind, generally without her knowledge, also has a tendency to be what we as readers might consider her own worst enemy, but to her everything makes its own kind of sense.   The story begins in earnest when Minty meets Jock Lewis, who is, unknown to her, the ultimate con artist, and who, as part of yet another con, sets off a chain of events that affects several lives.  This is a story that asks its readers a number of tough questions, among them
"...d'ye reckon anyone does wrong if they don't know it's wrong?" 
and speaks to the idea about being unable to discern between fantasy and reality. As one character notes,
"After a while you stop distinguishing between the fantasy and what really happened; you don't know the reality anymore."
While reading, one might think this is only applicable in poor Minty's case, but Rendell points out that no, that's not exactly how it is. Stunning novel, and if you haven't yet read it, you are really missing an incredible story. As sad as this story is though,  A Judgement in Stone (in my opinion) takes first prize for tragedy. After I'd finished this novel earlier this year, I put the book down and just sat and stared into space thinking about the "perfect storm" of  misunderstandings in this story that collided to create utter catastrophe.   Once again, a stunning opening:

"Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write"
is the reader's first step into a most claustrophobic world of an illiterate woman and how her disability comes to set her on a path of sheer tragedy.  The book also continues the author's penchant for writing misfit characters -- and for me, this is really a huge part of the attraction. Another most excellent novel that I can definitely recommend.  I'm actually torn choosing between this one and A Dark-Adapted Eye for my real-world book group -- both would result in incredible discussions.

And now on to the Wexfords: Not in the Flesh appears on The Guardian's list, but personally speaking, I probably wouldn't have put it there. My guess is this book was chosen because of Rendell's involvement in stricter laws against female circumcision, which is a huge topic in this novel. Technically,


the topic of female circumcision in this book is sort of peripheral to the main crimes that need to be solved in this story, in which two bodies are unearthed in a wooded lot that is empty except for an old ramshackle bungalow.  The task of finding out who these people are, why they were killed and who murdered them falls to Wexford and his team.  This one is much more procedural in nature, and as such, not nearly as intense as the previous three I've just mentioned; for me, I'm much more partial to her more psychological novels than I am toward the procedurals.    Her portrayal here of just what makes various people do what they do, her character portraits and a mystery that goes back into the past are the highlights in this one.   Finally, and while last, certainly not least, there's her From Doon With Death, which is not only  the first Wexford novel but her first book in what I can only describe as a most prolific career.  For me, the book's major importance is in how we get a feel for


Rendell's method for her future works, in which the crimes prove to be much less the issue than her characters and their individual psychologies.  And, as in all of her books, Rendell does not fail to show how past actions continue to reverberate through the years and find their way into the present, usually with disturbing consequences.

So there you have it ... my favorites of this group are the first three, which I would agree definitely should be included in her key works.  At the same time, she has written a number of other most excellent novels that should not be overlooked, and I'm eagerly awaiting (and have already preordered) her Dark Corners, due out in October. I'm sure I will not be disappointed. 



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

now here's something different: Square Mile of Murder: Horrific Glasgow Killings, by Jack House


1902927419
Black and White Publishing, 2002
originally published 1961
190 pp

paperback

After having read a couple of novels fictionalizing the true story of Madeleine Smith, I was doing a little side reading and came up with a reference to this nonfiction book, Square Mile of Murder.  It's definitely what I call a "niche read," meaning it's probably not a book of interest to the general public but more for people like myself who are fascinated with this stuff.  This book contains accounts of four most infamous murders (for the time) which  occurred within in the space of just one square mile of Glascow between 1857 and 1909.

from Wikipedia -- the "square mile of murder"  in Glascow


This book was made into a BBC production which I would kill to see, but like many other BBC offerings, is not available here.

While he offers readers detailed information about each case, the people involved, the trials and the outcomes, the author's main idea in this book is that "the one thread that links all these cases is respectability."  The first three murders he writes about  took place during the Victorian era, during which time Glasgow was "an intensely respectable city," a place where "respectability ruled the roost." The fourth crime took place in 1909, but the author includes it because "the spirit of his case is also Victorian."  Before even getting into the book then, the reader is clued that much of what he or she is going to read  is going to deal with class, status, money and contemporary morality,  and exactly how these elements all figured into and affected the outcomes of the four cases that happened within this "square mile of murder."  It is a wonderful, informative book and the author's writing style is such that often I felt as if he was actually engaged in a conversation here. For example, in the case of Oscar Slater, he relates the first description given to police by a witness, and says in the next paragraph
"Will you please put a book-marker in this page? As this strange case unfolds, it would be a good idea if you now and then turned to this original description of the man in the lobby."
His commentary is also quite witty at times, and he definitely makes his point stick about respectability and its role in all four of these cases. It is just a stunning book - one I can easily and most highly recommend.

Without going into great detail here about each case, I'll offer just brief summaries about the murders. For much deeper insight, there is a great two-part review of this book at a blog written by ten different crime writers called Murder is Everywhere.  You can also find a lot of pertinent info at another great website called The Murder Tree.

The book begins with the case of Madeleine Smith.  The daughter of an architect living in Blythswood Square, Madeleine fell in love and had a fling with Pierre Emile L'Angelier.  L'Angelier wasn't of Madeleine's class and was ten years her senior, but she fell for him all the same.  She met this man in 1855; by 1857 she was on trial for his murder. Even though she had sex with L'Angelier, it wasn't long afterward that she became engaged to a socially-acceptable and parentworthy man and now L'Angelier had to go.  It seems that she gave L'Angelier massive doses of arsenic in his cocoa more than once, but he ultimately succumbed. Sadly for her, he hadn't got rid of the multitude of letters she'd written to him; there was even a letter from her in his pocket when he died. In the author's opinion, L'Angelier died "because Madeleine wanted to become respectable," and at her trial, as the letters were read in open court, Victorian sensibilities were probably much more offended by her frank discussions of sex than they were by the fact of her lover's death.

The Sandyford Murder case occurred at 17 Sandyford Place in 1862. A servant at this home owned by the "passing rich" accountant John Fleming was found to have been quite brutally hacked by a meat cleaver  enough times to merit a comparison by Charles Dickens to the work of Lizzie Borden. John Fleming had left his elderly father (called Old Fleming) home with Jessie McPherson while he was away over a weekend.   On his return, John Fleming couldn't find McPherson, and his father said he hadn't seen her all weekend. Fleming goes down to Jessie's room and finds her dead.  The floor of the adjoining kitchen was still wet from having been washed, as was part of the bedroom floor; three bloody footprints had also been left behind.  Old Fleming noted that some silver-plate cutlery was missing; some of Jessie's clothes were also found to have disappeared.  At first Old Fleming was arrested for the crime, but the police began to focus their attention on a former servant and friend of McPherson's, Jessie McLachlan who was ultimately arrested just a few days after Old Fleming, who was then released.  

Case number three is that of  "The Human Crocodile," aka Dr. Edward William Pritchard. Pritchard did away with three women, the first in May of 1863. He lived just around the corner from 17 Sandyford Place on Berkeley Street for the first murder (where a servant girl died in a fire), and while people who didn't particularly like Pritchard may have voiced their own suspicions about his involvement, he moved on. His family then moved to 22 Royal Crescent and took on another servant, Mary McLeod, 15, who he ultimately "turned into a concubine."



Pritchard was viewed as somewhat of a quack by his medical peers, and was accused of trying to seduce his female patients.  Moving again to Sauchiehall Street in 1864, by October Mrs. Pritchard started to become very ill.  Her husband put it down to "gastric fever," but funny thing -- while she was away visiting her parents in Edinburgh for the month of November through Christmas, her health greatly improved.  On her return, though, just after the New Year, she became ill again.  Her mother came to take care of her, but ultimately both Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Taylor died.  An anonymous letter to the authorities led to a police investigation, and Dr. Pritchard was arrested. 

Moving now to 1909 and to West Princes Street, less than half a mile from the center of this square mile of murder, the author examines the case of Oscar Slater, who was wrongfully accused, arrested and imprisoned for the murder of elderly Miss Gilchrist, who was beaten to death while her maid was out buying a newspaper. The case turned on a diamond brooch that was missing from Miss Gilchrist's apartment and a tip to the police; some time later a man named Oscar Slater had tried to sell a pawn ticket for a diamond brooch, and then took a ship along with his girlfriend to America.  When he discovered that he was under arrest for Miss Gilchrist's murder, he could have stayed in America, but during his extradition hearing, decided that he would go back home to clear his name. Also going against Slater was the fact that he was a foreigner, but he went back, was arrested, tried and sentenced to hang.  What's interesting about this particular case is that the trial was a joke and that an innocent man went to prison. Although his sentence was commuted to life,  the case was later taken up by Arthur Conan Doyle who went through the evidence, and called for a new trial for Slater.  He published his findings in 1912 sparking a public outcry, but  even that didn't turn the authorities around. A policeman even  risked his career in order to get to the truth and try to get justice for Slater during a secret inquiry, but Slater wasn't released until 1927, and even then without his name being cleared. 

Square Mile of Murder is now one of my favorite books and a prized addition to my home library.  Highly recommended to anyone who is, like me, fascinated by historical true crime.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Dead Girl Walking, by Christopher Brookmyre

9780802123640
Atlantic Monthly/Grove Atlantic, 2015
377 p

hardcover (from the publisher -- thank you!)

"What happens on tour, stays on tour." 

Finally - a thriller that works!  That's a big deal coming from me since I am not normally a thriller person, but this one I liked.  To be sure, it has its over-the-top moments but on the whole, I couldn't put this book down -- the story is that good.

Sadly, I haven't read any of the previous five Jack Parlabane series novels (I own the first one, and now it's coming down off the shelf into the soon-to-read tbr pile) because when Dead Girl Walking starts, Jack has lost everything. So it was a little rocky for me at first not knowing his history, but it didn't take long until I was up to speed.  Jack is married, but now separated with little to no hope of reconciliation; he is also a journalist, but now discredited, "a disgraced and disparaged hack nobody in the business would go near again." So when Mairi, the younger sister of one of his friends asks him to look into the disappearance of her client, a rock star named Heike Gunn who seems to have gone missing and bring her home, he takes her up on it.

There are two alternating narratives at play in this novel, one that follows Jack and the other belonging to Monica, who has just joined Heike's band Savage Earth Heart as a fiddle player.  Monica's narrative is presented as a blog written while on tour; it details not only her experiences in the music business but also her growing but very complicated relationship with Heike.  It also underscores the importance of the meaning of a piece of advice she's given:  "what happens on tour, stays on tour."  The technique works very nicely -- while the reader is busy with Monica's story, Jack and his friend Mairi follow in her foosteps knowing pretty much nothing about what's actually happened to try to get to the truth of what happened to Heike.

Aside from the story itself, one of the best things that the author does in this novel happens in Berlin. There the reader is introduced to the city's ghost stations, a very haunting but real phenomenon, part of Berlin's history. As I discovered, these are a series of closed-down stations where trains would slow down but never stopped,  where
"Armed guards from East Germany stood in the dimly-lit stations and before the trains entered East Berlin a loudspeaker announcement was made: "Last station in West Berlin." -- (see link above).
Aside from historical interest, the author links these ghost stations to Heike's inner self -- very well done.

While, as I said, there are a few over-the-top moments, Dead Girl Walking doesn't work along the lines of what seems to pass for thriller novels these days.  First of all, it's extremely coherent.  It is well plotted -- one thing I object to in most thriller stories these days is that authors want to go very big and add everything but the kitchen sink -- that doesn't happen here. Also, aside from the Balkan criminals, the characters don't come across as stereotypical, another problem with more than a few thriller novels these days.  And thank god there is no kick-ass, badass, gun-toting female heroine here; au contraire, considering that a man wrote this, for the most part, he writes the women very well.

Dead Girl Walking was a pleasant surprise -- I do not enjoy thriller novels, but this was a good one.

**
since I have a hardcover copy, if anyone in the US would like my ARC copy, let me know and I'll mail it to you!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Man maybe, book no: The Beige Man, by Helene Tursten

9781616954000
Soho Crime, 2015
310 pp
[originally published as En man med litet ansikte, 2007]
translated by Marlaine Delargy

hardcover

I've been a fan of Tursten's work from the first book of this series, Detective Inspector Huss, and my favorite of all of her novels will always be The Torso, book #3 in the series order. The Beige Man is book #7 and frankly, much better than the last 2 or 3 books that Tursten's produced.

As usual, Tursten captures the reader's attention within the first few opening pages. This time two officers waiting for fast food get a radio call about a stolen BMW.  As they wait, the stolen car flies right past them at top speed, so they take off after it.  While trying to keep up, the officers watch in horror as they see "something fly up in the air, then land to one side of the car."  One of the policemen realizes that the driver of the BMW has just hit someone -- who later turns out to be a retired policemen. Not too much later, the stolen, empty and now torched car is discovered in the vicinity of a holiday village in the forest, and while looking for the drivers, the police bring in the dogs, who make a horrific discovery in an old root cellar: the body of a very young, half-naked girl, who has been physically and sexually abused. However, the driver and passenger of the BMW seem to have just vanished.  As the dual investigation proceeds, the police discover that the little girl may have been a victim of sex trafficking; the only good news is that the cops have a line on the man who may have brought her into Sweden.  All of this happens within the first few pages, so of course, solving these crimes is not going to be that simple, as Irene and the other members of her group (along with the reader) quickly discover.  

There's a very thoughtful blurb on the back cover of my book from The Denver Post which says in part, 
"For decades the Swedes have excelled at crime fiction, which is often as gloomy as their long winter nights, filled with philosophical asides on life and politics."
This time around, the dark world of sex trafficking/sex slavery  is the main focus, and Tursten doesn't shy away from showing her readers exactly how horrific this "trade" really is. First of all, she informs her readers that
"...human trafficking today turns over more money than the narcotics trade."
The girls involved rarely make it out; and those who manage to do so often suffer from severe physical and mental damage. She also notes that most men who pay for sex with a "sex slave" do so likely for reasons of power, and because they see these girls as objects -- not real people. Tursten also reveals that the majority  of men who participate are "socially well-established men with families." What's even more eye-opening here is that there is even a market for killing these poor victims after they're no longer of any use --  pimps sell these girls to people who take money for getting rid of them.  And as an example of an even worse reality, Tursten also reveals that in some cases, the sex-slave trade is protected by politicians and overlooked in terms of the law because of the potentially huge amounts of money involved.  So quite frankly, it boggles my brain when I read an Amazon review of this book where the reader reviewer says the following:
"Maybe I am a bit weary of the crime of sex trafficking so this one was not as good as her others."
Weary of the crime of sex trafficking? I ask you. How does anyone get "weary" of hearing about something that needs so much public awareness?  Not only that, but hello ... the subject of this novel is right on the dustjacket blurb so caveat emptor. Duh.

What I like about Tursten's novels in general is that she doesn't have to resort to the now-standard trope of the badass heroine, but instead focuses mainly on the procedural side of police work. She situates Irene Huss in a workplace which is very much a male-dominated environment where there's no escaping from a couple of misogynistic jerks as colleagues, which is probably a more realistic situation than we non-police people realize.  The down side of this series as a whole is that while I get that the author wants to portray a woman who must juggle work with home and personal life, I'm just not a huge fan of the continuing story of the dog (and I have two dogs of my own) and the issues with the twins, especially now that they're what -- 20? 

While The Beige Man is not my personal favorite of her novels, I must say that the story is much better than the last couple of books Tursten's written and this time around I was pretty much hooked right away and stayed with the story until all was revealed. I will also mention that I had some things figured out early on which is pretty bothersome for me as a crime/mystery reader -- I'm one of those people who wants only tiny little clues to work on until the end so that everything is a huge surprise. That didn't happen here, but that's okay.  I stick with these books because I happen to like Irene Huss as a character, and as long as Helene Tursten keeps writing them, I'll keep buying them.   


Saturday, May 2, 2015

and the world loses another great author: Ruth Rendell, 1930-2015


Sad news for mystery/crime fiction readers.  Ruth Rendell, author of more than sixty books over her long career, has passed away.  She was 85.

The Guardian does a round up of what they consider to be her five "key works" :

From Doon With Death - the first Wexford novel
A Judgement in Stone - my personal favorite of every book she's ever written
 A Dark-Adapted Eye - my favorite of her books as Barbara Vine
Adam and Eve and Pinch Me
Not in the Flesh 

Rendell is a writer who kept me entertained, horrified and guessing for many, many years.  She may be gone from this world, but my bookshelves are filled with her novels, so she continues on.  


sad days

Thursday, April 23, 2015

sneak peek #1 -- coming in May: Café Europa, by Ed Ifkovic

9781464200489
Poisoned Pen Press, 2015
278 pp

arc from the publisher -- thank you!

The subtitle of Café Europa is "An Edna Ferber Mystery," and when I first saw this, I thought "well, there's one I can skip" since crime-solving historical figures aren't really my cuppa. In fact, normally I just won't  read them, but I have to say that I was quite surprised.  I'm still not a huge fan of these sorts of things, but despite my misgivings, Café Europa actually turned out to be a pretty good mystery story.  There are a couple of things I wish the author had done differently, but well, you know -- I'm sort of a persnickety mystery/crime reader (okay, not sort of but full on) so what I see as "could have been better" might be someone else's "cool -- what a great way to do it!".  

Ifkovic has set his novel in 1914 Budapest on the eve of events that will eventually lead to the first world war.  In an effort to make a brief escape from a domineering mother while on a European tour, Edna Ferber has accompanied her friend Winifred Moss to Hungary and the Hotel Arpad.  While they are there, they cross paths with Hearst reporter Harold Gibbon, who is convinced that war and the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are just on the horizon, and he plans to document the end of an era in a book. Of course, while he's there, he is also reporting for Hearst, and he has made a complete nuisance of himself, getting into people's faces asking them all kinds of questions.  Within the Arpad is the Café Europa, a venue where Ferber, Moss and Gibbon meet and watch all manner of people. One particular person catches their attention -- a Miss Cassandra Blaine, whose stuffy but very wealthy American parents have set up an engagement between their daughter and a count.  They are looking to acquire a title while the count's mother is looking for badly-needed cash to fund her pre-Lenten ball gowns. Edna realizes that Miss Blaine is terribly unhappy and arranges to meet her late one night -- but that meeting never happens because (and this is on the back-cover blurb so it's not a spoiler) Miss Blaine turns up dead.  An innocent man becomes the most likely suspect; Edna just knows it can't possibly be him and so starts looking into things.  As she finds out, in this city where anyone and everyone might be a spy, people don't appreciate the questions she's asking.

There are two solid mysteries to be solved in this novel; aside from the plot, however, the author also offers a look at a city and indeed, a Europe on the brink of massive change. Some Hungarians look back to the past as a means of coping, while others are happy to embrace a new modern world free of an outdated, out-of-touch system of government that the Hungarians didn't want anyway.  The author also explores the world of journalism, especially the Hearst style of reportage, where if nothing's actually going on, the reporter here is expected to stir the pot and make something happen or else make something up to create headlines that sizzle. He looks at how Europeans viewed the upstart wealthy Americans who come and spend their money, but don't understand that they're not in Kansas any more -- as an example, wondering why so very few people speak English. It also touches on the status of women at the time, which I was very happy to see.  The book is filled with descriptions that create a sense of place and most especially time (which is conveyed so very well)  -- but personally speaking, the number of combs in a woman's hair, men's styles, types of pastries being eaten, and other minutiae just sort of bog things down and make the story a little longer than it really needs to be. I appreciate that the author has done his homework and wants to embed his readers in this setting, but this is exactly the same issue I had with most of the books by Frank Tallis in his series set in Vienna. Another eyebrow-raising feature here is that the reader is on track for what could be a wowser of an ending, but the way the big reveal at the end is set up just didn't fly with me. The solution is plausible; that's not the problem, but once you read it, you'll understand what I'm saying. On the other hand, I might be the lone stranger here and others may love it  ... as I said, I'm picky. 

I probably will not change my mind about historical figures as crimesolvers, but I do have to say that despite my misgivings, Café Europa turned out to be a pretty good book and I'm glad I changed my mind about reading it.   I really appreciate the fact that the author did not need to resort to blatant gratuitous sex, violence or dropping of f-bombs -- while I'm used to seeing this a LOT, it's actually refreshing when these things aren't there. This is a good, old-fashioned historical whodunit that should definitely appeal to readers of historical crime fiction, although probably not so much to cozy readers.  You do not need to know anything about European politics or the Austro-Hungarian empire to enjoy it -- the author does a fine job of conveying what's going on without making things overly complicated.   All in all -- I enjoyed it. My thanks to Poisoned Pen Press. 




**********
brief sidebar note: 
This is, according to SKYM, the sixth installment in a series, although I'm not quite sure why the author did not choose to write these books in any sort of  chronological order, which to me, would have made a whole lot more sense. 

from stopyourekillingme.com:


Lone Star (2009) [set in 1955]
Escape Artist (2011) [set in 1904] [review]
Make Believe (2012) [set in 1951]
Downtown Strut (2013) [set in 1927]
Final Curtain (2014) [set in 1940]