Category Archives: setting

Sara Paretsky — Dead Land

I’ve only read one other Paretsky novel, Shell Game, which I gave three stars—middle of the road. With Dead Land, I connected with the protagonist, V.I. (Vic) Warshawski, and found her determined and focused on solving the mysteries surrounding friends and family. Previously I found her too angry at the world, scattered in her investigation and her life, and making foolish mistakes. With this story, she seems to have reason behind her decisions, even when her moves are reckless and dangerous. She isn’t filled with anger and even has a sense of humor.

A side character, Coop, is interesting. Even though we see little of him, he’s a major character in the story. I love his dog, Bear.

Even though it twists and turns and has some almost unbelievable connections, the plot of Dead Land makes sense, where Shell Game didn’t. Paretsky connects greed and corruption in Chicago politics with greed and corruption in Chili, all revolving around a famous woman musician, first homeless then missing on the streets of Chicago. She’s another major character we see little of, but we learn a lot about her.

The settings in Chicago and Kansas are both well covered, making me feel the heat in the streets and the muddy rain in the flooded fields.

Although a bit too long, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

William Kent Krueger — Sulfur Springs

This novel gives us a look at the mess at our southern border. Cork O’Connor and his new wife, Rainy, go to Arizona to find her son Peter, who is involved with a group trying to help refugees from Central America. Every time they get a lead on where to look for him, the drug lords and/or the lawmen appear. Who is tipping them off?

A well-written story with a good plot and engaging characters. The coverage of the drug wars and the immigrants escaping through the border wall with Mexico keeps tension high.

Only the second Krueger novel I’ve read, both are about Cork’s children or step-children. He has an interesting family.

William Kent Krueger — Desolation Mountain

I would call this a character-driven, political intrigue novel. It’s my first foray into a William Kent Krueger book. I found some of the characters interesting, but not all. Cork O’Connors’ son Stephen, who has visions, is struggling to know who he is. More than a hundred-year-old “healer” Henry is in touch with the world and the spirits. Bo is a very conflicted character. Cork’s young grandchild (toddler?) Waaboo has far too much insight. But Cork worries his way through the story, and there’s no character growth, except possibly that he learns to accept that Henry can take care of himself. Some of the minor characters are interesting, but most are background noise—especially the women.

The plot is a bit over the top. It jumps around a lot, and people keep chasing around trying to find out what’s happening and to save people in trouble. Then toward the end, we get a lengthy explanation from the villain when there’s no reason for him to be telling it.

The story kept me reading to the end, so I give it three stars.

Heather Graham — The Stalking

The story mixes a stew of many genres—mystery, paranormal (ghosts), FBI agents, serial killer, and romance. It also throws in some New Orleans culture and history for a bit of spice. But it could use some editing. The dialog sometimes drags, the characters are a bit flat (almost everyone is beautiful), and I guessed the villains early in the book.

The Stalking is the first novel I’ve read by Heather Graham. I wouldn’t go out of my way to find more. But I did enjoy the quick light read.

Emily Brightwell — Mrs. Jeffries Delivers the Goods

A pleasant, light, cozy Victorian mystery, with likeable characters. A quick easy read when you don’t want any substance in a novel. But I found it very repetitive and I solved the murder very early in the story. Having the inspector’s household staff and friends doing all the investigating is a fun idea. But keeping their discoveries secret from him, only fed to him through Mrs. Jeffries and his constable, seems a bit far-fetched.

This is my first read in what appears to be a very long series.

Lee Child — Past Tense

I believe Lee Child has a subtle sense of humor in his writing. It feels like he thoroughly enjoys writing Reacher stories, making the unbelievable believable, letting this giant of a man wander across the country taking out all the bad guys in his path, and painting a picture of a country he loves.

I won’t go into the plot of Past Tense. You can read about it in almost every review. But I liked it.

I’ve read most or all of the Reacher books and enjoyed every one of them.

Lisa Gardner — When You See Me

Hikers find a girl’s bones off the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. They turn out to be the remains of a girl gone missing 15 years earlier, a suspected victim of dead serial kidnapper Jacob Ness. The incident brings together a team of crime investigators, led by FBI agent Kimberly Quincy. She recruits a group from Boston who have been tracking Ness’s crimes—police sergeant D.D. Warren, civilian kidnap-survivor Flora Dane, and Flora’s sidekick, computer guru Keith Edgar.

The book combines police procedural and thriller. The first part, mostly procedural and introduction to the characters if you haven’t followed the series, is a bit boring if you’ve followed Gardner’s novels. The pace picks up as it goes along, and the crimes and criminals pile up. The last few chapters are action-packed. The story pace feels like a train slowly chugging out of the station, picking up some speed as it goes through the city, then turning into high-speed rail.

The plot is chilling. Hopefully no real towns exist like the one in this story. Gardner’s excellent writing kept me reading even through the early slow chapters.

The pace and the proliferation of characters keep my rating at 4 stars, not 5. I would prefer fewer POV characters. Four women carry the story, each picking up separate pieces of information—Kimberly, D.D., Flora, and a girl without a name or voice who is held captive by the bad guys.

Even with these flaws, When You See Me is an excellent read. I recommend it, and I recommend that if you haven’t read other Lisa Gardner books…do it now!

P.J. Tracy — Ice Cold Heart

Not having read the previous books in the Monkeewrench series, this was a standalone for me. It was well written, and I enjoyed it.

The characters, good and bad, are interesting, some with unique backgrounds and personalities, but there are too many to follow. I was almost to the end of the story before I had them all sorted out. It probably would have helped to read earlier books in the series first. But they were warm, sometimes humorous, and the baby in the office at Monkeewrench added insight into some of the characters.

I won’t summarize the story; it’s covered many times in reviews. The plot had many twists and turns, but I feel it overdoes the coincidences and connections between crimes, like cop shows on TV. I can’t believe that happens often in real life.

There were several bad guys in this story, and I spotted them all early before they were revealed even though some were painted as good or harmless. But there is a twist at the end.

“You ever notice that when it’s this cold, snow doesn’t crunch, it squeaks?” The bitter cold Minneapolis setting made me shiver, reminding me of my many years living in the north. I’m glad I now live in Florida.

Overall a good read. I would recommend it, but with the caveat that you read other books in the series first.

Erin Morgenstern — The Night Circus

Ms. Morgenstern writes beautiful pictures with her creative imagination. This is a novel for the senses.

Not a particular fan of fantasy, I picked up The Night Circus because I thoroughly enjoyed her second novel, The Starless Sea. I see there are mixed reviews for this story; people seem to love it or hate it. The plot moves slowly, but the author writes beautifully. You need to immerse yourself in the sensations of the circus to enjoy it.

The book is magic.

Catriona McPherson — Scot Free

I’ve been looking for some humor, and in Scot Free, I found it. The last book I picked up to read that was supposed to be humorous didn’t do it for me, but this one makes me laugh.

I read some reviews where McPherson fans were disappointed in this novel, but since I haven’t read any of her previous books, I had no expectations. Her characters are ridiculous and outlandish, and I love them. The residents of the Last Ditch Motel, where Lexi ends up entirely by accident, are unbelievable but loveable and laughable.

Lexi’s descriptions of California life from the point of view of a recent immigrant from Scotland are delightful. The plot is silly and unbelievable but entertaining.