Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kings of London by William Shaw

Mulholland Books, 400 pages, $26 (release date - 1/27/2015)

Set in 1968-69, “Kings of London” is a blast from the past. Thirty-two-year-old Marylebone CID Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen is just a one-half step over the line to the right of the music and pop revolution that encompassed London, and then a lot of the rest of the world, at that time. He’s square, doesn’t know the new pop music, is not sure he would recognize Donovan if he stepped on him, silently tut-tuts if a policeman has hair slightly longer than regulation.

Breen is also the square peg trying to fit in a round hole in his precinct office. Half the office seems to be corrupt or negligent, prisoners unexpectedly die in their cells, and women officers are objects of amusement. Breen tries to call the attention of higher ups to the nonsense he sees, but there are a lot of deaf ears.

Breen had spent the last few years caring for his invalid father, at the expense of being a young man enjoying living in London at a time of change. As Breen contemplates just what he should be feeling when his father dies, a new case is given to him. A man has been found burned beyond recognition. A few weeks later, another burn victim is found, but this time he is identified. He is the son of a Welsh government minister. Bizarrely, the son has been partly flayed and drained of blood. Besides the similarity of being burned, Breen cannot identify any connection between the two, and the first case begins to languish.

With the help of temporary Detective Constable Helen Tozer, a young woman set to depart the police department for good in a few weeks to take care of her family’s farm, Breen runs down a few clues to the minister’s son’s death. It seems, however, that the more information Breen turns up, the more it twists to dead ends, pushed there, it seems, by people within the police hierarchy. What is Breen close to uncovering?

Author William Shaw’s writing style is very clever. His scenes are sometimes flash-cut in an abrupt cinematic fashion. Also, it is not obvious that a piece of narrative is missing until Shaw chooses to reveal that missing part. It is not until almost the end that Shaw first writes about the “kings of London,” just before it becomes obvious that the kings (metaphorically speaking) are dead; long live the kings. Very original and slyly slow-moving.

Shaw’s hero is an original, too. (At the same time, I should say that if you have seen the television series, “Endeavour,” you, too, may picture the young Morse as the not-so-young Breen.) Breen evinces an emotional flatness and is unsure exactly what he is feeling, what his motivations are. He can be obstinate and single-minded when trying to make others see things his way. He is aware of and embarrassed by his fears. He’s lonely but not willing to adjust his moral code to fit in with his colleagues. Tozer’s youth and embrace of pop culture confound him. Her world shows him what a fuddy-duddy he has become. 

And then there’s the slam-bang denouement, giving this book a lot to recommend it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2015 Edgar Award Nominations

The Edgar Award nominations are out: http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html.

I've read three of the five nominees for best novel, two of which got an MBTB star from me ("Saints of the Shadow Bible" and "Final Silence"). I wouldn't want to be a judge!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Before He Finds Her by Michael Kardos

Mysterious Press, 384 pages, $25 (release date - 2/3/2015)

In many ways “Before He Finds Her” is a standard thriller. However, Michael Kardos has done a good job creating a young heroine who is resilient and determined, and that makes all the difference.

On a September night in 1991, Ramsey Miller killed his wife, took his young daughter and drowned her, and then disappeared.

Fifteen years later, seventeen-year-old Melanie Denison is grappling with the restrictions placed on her by her caregivers, Uncle Wayne and Aunt Kendra. Although she has a job and is attending community college part-time, she has been sheltered and frightened for as long as she can remember. Frightened because Melanie Denison is really Meg Miller, the daughter everyone thinks is dead, and for as long as she can remember she has believed that her father will find her and finally kill her, too.

When a significant event occurs in her life, it becomes imperative for Melanie/Meg to journey from West Virginia to her old home town of Silver Bay, New Jersey, to see if she can find her father, to finally deal with her fear.

Ramsey Miller’s story, up to that fateful September night, is told in a narrative that alternates with Melanie’s. He was a wild boy who tried to tame himself for the love of Melanie’s mother, Alison. He succeeded until something unexpected makes him reassess his life, what he has attained and what he is still lacking.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Redeployment by Phil Klay

Penguin Press, 304 pages, $26.95 (released 3/2014)

“Redeployment” won the National Book Award for fiction for 2014. It is a stunning collection of twelve stories told by narrators with very different viewpoints of the war in Iraq. Klay himself is a veteran Marine. He was in the military’s public affairs office in Iraq, but toured and saw enough of “real fighting” and talked to enough other military people that his stories ring with deeply felt emotion and truth.

However, this is not a mystery.

Unless war is a mystery to you.