Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
The Striker is a book by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. You can interpret that as by Justin Scott with Clive Cussler taking credit and providing guidance. This is another Isaac Bell Adventure and takes place in 1902. In this book Isaac Bell is just starting out with the Van Dorn Detective agency. This story takes place in Pittsburgh in the coal mines. The Van Dorn agency is hired to find out who has been sabotaging the operations. I could relate to the geographical area of this book. I went to college not too many miles outside of Pittsburgh and used to hitchhike in to town for a weekend. When they described the area they wanted to move their tent city to, they talked about the area where the three rivers came together and then they said just imagine a baseball diamond here. Well, since this book was written in 2013 we know that the famous Three Rivers Stadium home to the Pittsburgh Pirates was built there. I know the area well. I spent the night sleeping in a phone booth just outside of the stadium. I was a college kid with no money, it was snowing and the phone booth offered protection from the wind. The police did make me vacate and find another place, the bus terminal offered warmth. These Pittsburgh police were nice, the ones in book took easily to swinging clubs, cracking heads and putting people in jail or the hospital. In this book they develop the Isaac Bell character. He is young and has a hard time being viewed as a lead detective of a team due to his youthful looks. It is suggested he grow a mustache. In the other Isaac Bell books his mustache is constantly referred to when describing him. Archie, his best friend is an apprentice in this book and just learning the ropes. It seemed odd to have the great Archie being subservient. In the books I have already read, we have experienced Isaac’s and Archie’s love interests and their marriage, their getting shot, they are seasoned professionals. So to now discover them as neophytes was interesting. In this book we are introduced to why Isaac carries a derringer in his hat. We read of him buying the derringer, and the hat and of the many many hours he spent perfecting his drawing the gun, all the time knowing that he has used this trick of a hidden gun to save his bacon later in his life. I think what I liked best about this book was the development of Isaac’s character and the description of what it was like in 1902; the living conditions, the unions, coal and our dependence on it for fuel. This could make a good movie, steam boats blow up, people get shot all the elements of a good movie.
Private Berlin is another James Patterson, Mark Sullivan novel. This one takes place in place in Germany, bet you could tell that from the title. This mystery revolves around six children who were in an orphanage pre the Berlin wall coming down. Chris, who works for Private in the Berlin branch, see where they cleverly got the name for the book, goes missing. As Mattie and the rest of Private try to find out what happened to Chris they find that it is about these six children now grown up and getting murdered. They are one step behind this mystery man who calls himself the invisible man. Some of the chapters have us following Private and some of the chapters are told by the murderer. We learn that this man likes masks and has many disguises which make it hard to find him. Everyone they talk with describes him differently but he does make a unique clicking noise in his throat when he gets excited. Most of the book has us with the murderer, describing how he gets access to an apartment and kills his victim and then we flip and follow Private on his trail and discovering the aftermath. I don’t want to give too many details as this is a who could this be type novel. Enough people do get killed, usually with a screw driver to the neck and there is enough hot on the trail to keep you interested. They also dredge up the past atrocities that occurred behind the Berlin wall as this excerpt shows “They used torture and execution at Hoshenschonhausen Prison to make family members testify against one another. Starvation, sleep deprivation, mock drowning” I did find it a little difficult with some of the German names and was glad to be reading to myself and not having to read out loud and trying to pronounce these words.
James Patterson books are what you call quick reads, nice big print, short chapters and it is engaging. Alex Cross, Run is written by James Patterson alone, none of that plastering his name on a book with another author and you know James Patterson read it, gave guidance but really the other author wrote it. This book is chucked full of killings. It spends more time on describing killing after killing than sharing the hunt for the killer. Usually I complain that we have to hear about the detective’s theory of what is happening, he thinks it, he tells someone, he sums it up for someone who is helping him determine if the criminal was really putting his full weight on his steps and aha he has a limp. Its filler for the book, nothing new just hammering home a summary for those of you who put down the book and are now picking it up again a week later and you forgot what had happened.
This starts out rather abruptly with Alex and Samson busting up a party that a wealthy plastic surgeon Elijah Creem and his buddy Bergman, who owns a modeling agent are having complete with drugs, underage girls and lots of naked people. It seemed to me to just toss you in the deep end bang lets arrest some slimy people. It was a way to introduce these two guys. For the rest of the book these two have a competition killing people. Creem kills young perfect looking blonde females and Bergman kills young attractive gay guys. There is not a lot of build up to the killings, no long chapters on stalking the victim. It’s just bang Bergman killed and now Creem has to kill to keep up. Creem will keep his phone turned on so Bergman can listen.
The other running story is of a young man, Ron Guidice, who blames Alex Cross for the death of his wife. It doesn’t matter that it was the bullet from another officer’s gun that actually killed her. This guy is a blogger and he writes edgy pieces about Alex painting him to be a bad policeman. And of course any one who had read the Alex Cross books knows that Alex is the best, greatest policeman ever, at least according to Alex Cross. I find him a bit pompous. Ron Guidice does come up with some interesting ways to tweak Alex Cross. I especially like when at a crime scene Ron calls out to Alex Are you high, you look like you are high. Of course Alex doesn’t just walk away, just the opposite, he walks to Ron. Ron sticks him with a needle quickly and with no one else seeing injecting him with a high getting drug. Alex enraged punches Ron several times. Everyone in the crowd is filming it with their camera phones. Alex tests positive for drugs, gets desk duty, his foster kid is taken away and Ron blogs away happily complaining about police brutality and how Alex is a menace. Nicely played Ron. It is not that hard to enrage Alex Cross. Another good one was when Ron keeps shoving his recording device in Alex’s face. Of course Alex does not do the Gandhi and just walk away, he grabs the device and chucks it into the woods. Ron is tickled pink because he now has more fodder for his blog.
The book alternates between Ron’s antics and Creem and Bergmans killings . Truth be told I was rooting for Ron. I like it when Alex gets his comeuppances.
Alex Cross, Run
A co-worker recommended the book A Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to me. What a great suggestion! In 1950’s era England, eleven year old Flavia de Luce finds a body in the family’s cucumber patch. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my entire life.” She attempts to solve the mystery ( sometimes to the consternation of the local police) using her intelligence, advanced knowledge of chemistry, and just plain persistence. A quirky family- two older, literary sisters and a widowed father who is an avid stamp collector-also figure in the story. Canadian author C. Alan Bradley won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for this delightful mystery, the first in a series featuring memorable Flavia.
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris first came to my attention on a “Best Mystery” list. It is a mystery, and much more. Set in modern day Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Nayir al-Sharqi is asked by his friend Othman to go with him into the desert to try and discover the whereabouts of Othman’s sixteen year old fiancé, Nouf. The young woman has disappeared into the desert three days before their wedding, seemingly without a trace. Nayir tries to discover what has happened to Nouf, with the help of Katya, a young woman working in the state medical examiner’s office.
What I found particularly fascinating about this book was the glimpse into modern Saudi Arabian life. The author has lived in Saudi Arabia and so has a unique perspective and insight into the lives of both men and women living and working there. I recommended this book to a friend. Her book group chose it as their monthly read, and she said it resulted in a lively discussion.
If you’re looking for a mystery with a different slant, give this a try!
Michigan author Laura Ellen's Blind Spot left me emotional and confused. For me, Blind Spot is one of those unique novels that gains power over the reader by causing intense emotional turmoil and frustration. Basically, this book made me so angry and frustrated that I haven't been able to banish it from my thoughts.
The main character, Roz, suffers from macular degeneration, leaving her legally blind. She constantly struggles to make up for this deficit as she maneuvers her way through high school, but her eyesight is, unsurprisingly, always on her mind, making her self-conscious and lowering her self-esteem. Constantly frustrated from feeling helpless and out of her element in many situation while still wanting to be able to handle everything herself and without help, Roz has a tendency to jump to conclusions and snap at those around her, even those with the best intentions. This aspect of the novel felt very realistic to me. My younger sister was born with glaucoma and I think she'd identify closely with Roz. I can't say what goes on inside my sister's head, but I do know how she reacted to things when she was in high school and, from my point of view, Roz had similar reactions and thoughts. In the novel, Roz points out that people don't realize how poor her vision is and are constantly asking why she doesn't just get glasses. She can't drive and isn't able to play sports because she's a liability. These are all things my sister struggled with. Also like Roz, my sister could be a bit angry. She didn't like wearing her glasses, which improved her vision but left her feeling dorky and unattractive (which is not fun for anyone, let alone a high school-aged girl), and new situations were extremely stressful because she couldn't see to figure things out.
This is where the similarities between my sister and Roz end, right along with my positive feelings regarding Blind Spot. My biggest issue? I absolutely loathed all of the characters. The teachers, the police, Roz's friends, her mother, her boyfriend: all horrible, mean people motivated by self-interest and unwilling to see things from any point of view other than their own. I know it's a strong word, but I was truly disgusted. Realistically, I know that there are people like this in real life, people that let power go to their head and exploit others, but to have an entire novel populated with them was sometimes overwhelming.
I will say that I actually did enjoy the character Tricia, but she's dead from the first page (the focus of the book is, primarily, her disappearance and murder). Tricia, however, was the only character who, though monumentally messed up, actually seemed to do some genuinely nice, even protective, things for Roz without expecting anything in return.
So, despite feeling extremely frustrated with the characters as I read Blind Spot, I can't really say my strong negative feelings were necessarily a bad thing. Yes, I was disgusted and unhappy and wanted to stop reading because I felt like what was happening on the page was terribly unfair, BUT I didn't. And I can't help but talk about about this book and the messed up characters to anyone who will listen... so disliking the characters of this book isn't the worst thing that could have happened. Having no opinion of the characters or easily forgetting them would be even worse than hating them. In this case, hating the characters is a good thing.
Despite being very unhappy with pretty much all of the characters, I kept reading because I really wanted to know what happened to Tricia. It really bothered me that the one person who wasn't completely horrible ended up dead and I had to know what happened to her.
From the moment I finished Blind Spot, it hasn't been far from mind and I'm still trying to sort out all of my feelings about it. In the end, I want you to read this book. It isn't long and it clips along at a quick pace, but it isn't an easy read. I think it's good to challenge your perceptions and ideas though and Blind Spot allows for this in very interesting ways.
I like James Patterson’s books. The last few years a lot of “James Patterson” books are written under his guidance and he has a co-writer. I still read them. I like his solo books better but I read them all. “Private London”, soon to be followed by “Private Berlin” (reserve your copy now) is written by James Patterson and Mark Pearson. This series follows cases by a detective agency called “Private” because they handle cases for famous, rich people privately. In this one we are in the London office. You get a hint it will take place in London from the title. We are introduced to a new detective Dan Carter, who runs the London office. His ex-wife works for the London Police force, DI Kristy Webb. My synapses made a leap in my brain and I was thinking of Dragnet and Jack Webb, no connection and nothing to do with the story but thought I share that tidbit. Hannah Sahpiro as a child was abducted along with her mother. Jack Morgan, of Private USA found her but too late to save her mother who was raped and killed in front of her. Then we jump ahead seven years and Hannah is on her way to London to go to school and Dan Carter is charged with protecting her. Well, surprise surprise she gets abducted again. It would have made a boring mystery if she hadn’t. Dan Carter draws on the whole resources of Private International, a phrase they use over and over to show you how important they are. They even use it as an excuse for why Jack Morgan failed to save Hannah’s mother, he didn’t have the resources of Private International like he would today. I found the use of the phrase irritating but the actual mystery kept my attention. So if you can stomach that phrase, give it a read.