Tag Archives: setting

M.C. Beaton — Death of an Honest Man

Scottish Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is an offbeat character, and so are all the others in this murder mystery. Even a wildcat is a character in the story. A newcomer insults all the people he comes into contact with, so when his body turns up in the heath bog, Hamish’s list of suspects includes most everyone in the area.

This is a fun read full of unbelievable happenings and Hamish breaking the rules again and again. He also manages to lose every assistant his superiors send him—some to become chefs and sheep herders, one to marriage.

I will look for more of Beaton’s books.

Kristin Hannah — The Nightingale

The Nightingale grabs you in the gut—powerful writing!

Hannah takes you on an emotional journey through the German occupation of France in World War II. She follows two sisters with contrasting personalities through horrible events and upheavals in their lives and the world around them. Vianne tries to accept the hardships and follow the rules to protect her daughter. Isabelle resists in every way that she can. She creates an escape route through the Pyrenees, leading numerous downed Allied airmen to safety in Spain.

Usually when I enjoy a book, I read into the wee, small hours of the night. With The Nightingale, I found I needed to stop often to escape the pull of this story. Hannah is an excellent storyteller. She does everything right—the historical research, the characters, the setting, the reactions of the women living through this terrifying time.

Hannah’s novel is probably the best writing I’ve found in a very long time.

An interview with Kristin Hannah about The Nightingale.

John Keyse-Walker — Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed

BVI Constable Teddy Creque is called on to capture a shark that has attacked and killed a woman off Virgin Gorda. But sharks don’t usually attack humans unless they are dead or wounded, and Teddy sees a cut on the woman’s neck that doesn’t appear to be caused by shark’s teeth.

The story unfolds around unique characters, including a brilliant boy who almost never speaks, a parrot who repeats everything he hears, a Russian ex-spy, “De White Rasta” Teddy’s cohort from the previous story, and various other fascinating participants.

bananaquits
Bananaquits

For me, the setting draws me back to the islands. I can picture the people, the shops and houses, the tropical flowers, the warm humid air, the beautiful clear water—even the birds are familiar. I haven’t seen or heard of a bananaquit since I lived in the Bahamas where they would join me for breakfast on the veranda, stealing my food.

I also appreciate that the author didn’t drag us through the protagonist’s depression as many crime novels do. Teddy apparently went through a period of moping over his mistakes and his affair with a not-so-nice woman between novels. But he mostly has his act together by the time this story happens, although he doubts his policing skills from time to time.

Keyse-Walker’s second novel is as engaging as his first. He again captures the spirit of Caribbean island life. This time on Virgin Gorda, a tiny bit faster-paced than Anegada where his first book took place, due to more people, more tourists, etc.

I’m delighted that I went back for seconds.

Peter Cawdron —Retrograde

The scientific settlement on Mars receives word that nuclear war has broken out on Earth, then communications are cut. The community on Mars consists of four modules — U.S., Chinese, Russian, and Eurasians (from various countries). They start pointing fingers and blaming each other’s countries for starting the war. It appears that the module leaders are lying to each other. Then things begin to go wrong in the settlement. But Liz is determined to get everyone working together.

Cawdron paints a fantastic picture of Mars, both topside and in the tunnels where the scientists have built their settlement. His characters are believable, and their reactions to the disaster at home and the hardships imposed by the red planet are realistic.

For those who like hard science fiction, this is a good one. As stated by SpaceX engineer Dr. Andrew Rader in the Afterword of the novel, “…there are no scientific breakthroughs required for the human exploration of or settlement on Mars — only engineering effort and widespread dedication to the goal.” With a few exceptions, all of the technology and science in Retrograde is possible, if not now, in the near future.

Mars

Daniel Suarez — Change Agent

Singapore
Singapore

Kenneth Durand is an Interpol Agent chasing genetic crime in 2045. He is shutting down labs that create designer children for a price. Marcus Wyckes heads the cartel at the top of the black lab food chain. Otto, the “mirror man,” created to survive human disasters and repopulate the earth if humanity is wiped out, hates humans, and is Wyckes right-hand man. He injects Durand with Wyckes’ DNA, expecting Durand to die and be identified as Wyckes. But Durand lives through the DNA change.

We meet all sorts of characters, good and bad, as Durand travels through the underworld of genetics trying to find a way to return to his original self. The setting for the book is fascinating, starting in Singapore, traveling through Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar. Suarez takes us through cities, farm lands, and jungles. He extends today’s technology into the future with interesting devices and transportation. The author also covers many possibilities, promising and terrible, from the results of “editing” DNA in plants, animals, and humans.

Suarez is a NYT bestselling author, but this is the first of his books I’ve read. I could be tempted to read more.

Samuel Bjork — The Owl Always Hunts at Night

Police investigator Mia Krüger and her boss Holger Munch head a team looking into the strange death of a young girl found posed in the woods on a bed of feathers. They discover a film of the girl in a cage, running in a wheel like an animal in order to get food. What sort of sick person would do this?

Maybe it’s the cold and the long dark nights or maybe it’s the books I choose to read, but it seems that whenever I read a novel by a Scandinavian author, they are filled with gloom. Norwegian Bjork fills the story with characters (good and bad) who are depressed or psychologically damaged. It’s set in the beginning of a long, cold, dark, Norway winter.

Even so, I enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns, the unraveling of a very strange murder, and even those bleak characters involved in solving the crime.

David Baldacci — End Game

End Game takes place in a small town in Colorado, but it’s nothing like the quiet, safe, small town in Colorado where I grew up. This is one very bad town, with skin heads, religious cults, biker gangs…you name it.

Will Robie and Jessica Reel are partners—agents and assassins.  They were a couple, but in this novel they’ve split up, for reasons Robie can’t figure out. Their boss has been kidnapped while vacationing in his hometown. Robie and Reel are trying to find out who, where, and why and of course rescue him.

End Game is action-packed and full of twists and turns. A good read.

Although I enjoyed this story, my favorite Baldacci novel is still his first, Absolute Power. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie you should.

Sage Walker — The Man in the Tree

This novel kept me reading until 4 AM. As I said in my last post, science fiction can be almost any type of story. This one is a murder mystery, a romance, a generation ship story, a psychological thriller, hard science fiction, and much more.

The seed ship Kybele is almost ready to leave Earth after years of building and preparation, when a man is found dead in a tree. Helt Borrensen, the ship’s incident analyst is assigned the job of special investigator to determine if the death is suicide or murder and if murder, who is the killer. The investigation is complicated by the discovery that several of the colonists have apparently received large sums of money from an organization that opposes the seed ship leaving Earth orbit. The love story in the novel involves Helt’s attraction for the chief murder suspect.

Sounds like a romance novel, doesn’t it? But this is only a part woven into a complicated plot that explores the birth of a new world, human behavior and interactions, politics, multiple sciences, the controversy of surveillance, new ways to govern, creativity…the list goes on.

Sage Walker is an excellent storyteller.

Cassandra Rose Clark — Star’s End

Star’s End is the ultimate in corporate control. A science fiction story about the Four Sisters, four planets terraformed by Phillip Coromina. He not only owns the planets, he owns the people who inhabit them. Any person who doesn’t follow company rules disappears. Exiled or killed? The family business manufactures weapons. One product of the company is manufactured humans who are programmed in their DNA to be soldiers. They fight wars across the galaxy alongside normal human mercenaries hired by the corporations.  The manufactured soldiers are programmed to be loyal to each other and the corporations.

The protagonist in Star’s End is Phillip’s oldest daughter, Esme. Her mother is a soldier who left her to be raised by Phillip when she was born. Esme’s three-hundred-year-old father is dying. He has a disease which kills even those taking rejuvenation treatments. She is taken by surprise, but she has been waiting a long time. Esme will become CEO of Coromina Group. She wants to change the path of the company and no longer manufacture weapons.

There are also aliens living on the planets. Philip isolated them long ago and they have no contact with the humans. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Fear the aliens; fear anyone different from you instead of learning to live together; creating wars for profit.

Esme’s three younger half-sisters have all disappeared. She is trying to track them down and bring them home before her father dies. Each sister chose to leave when they found out how cruel their father was and what he had done to Isabel, the youngest. But Esme has stayed to work from inside to improve the system.

The novel jumps between present and past. The past POV is Esme, first person past, and the present is Esme, third person past. There are many secrets that we don’t learn until events occur in the past chapters or until Esme reaches a level in the corporation to learn them. Phillip is all about secrets. You are privy to more of what’s happening as you go up the ranks of the company. At the end of the story, Esme is one of the few Ninety-Nines, the highest level who can know all the secrets.

An interesting novel, obviously anti-corporate. I enjoyed it, even if I found Esme reluctantly following her father’s orders hard to take.

Ace Atkins — Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies

If you are a fan of Robert B. Parker, you probably know that his estate selected Ace Atkins to continue the Spenser series of novels. I liked Parker’s writing, but Little White Lies is the first Ace Atkins novel I’ve read. I enjoyed the trip through my favorite city of Boston and the flashback to the TV series, Spenser for Hire with Spenser and Hawk, from the 1980s.

Spenser’s client, Connie Kelly, referred to him by his psychiatrist girlfriend, wants him to find M. Brooks Wells who conned her out of almost three hundred thousand dollars and then disappeared. Spenser finds that Wells’ claims of ex-Navy Seal, ex-CIA, etc. are all fiction. The ATF is also after Brooks, trying to connect the dots in a gun-running case. Connie Kelly follows Brooks to Georgia and is shot. Suicide or murder? Spenser and Hawk catch up with Wells  preaching in a popular church. They work trying to prove Brooks murdered Kelly and to unravel the gun-running ring.

It didn’t feel quite like a Parker novel. But it’s been a few years since I read one, and my memory might be faulty.