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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Luther: The Calling, by Neil Cross (hardcover, $25)

This is a greasy, grimy gopher guts and mutilated monkey meat of a book. For years, agents and publishers would caution writers, don't harm animals or children in your books; the public won't buy it. Neil Cross saturates his book with dead, dying, tortured, and emotionally fractured animals and children. So there! Cross' novel is almost parodic, except the anguish he generates can be viscerally felt by the reader.

Although this novel was written in 2011, it is the prequel to Cross' hit television series, "Luther," which first aired in 2010. The first episode of the first season of that series picks up exactly where this novel leaves off.

Cross is a very good storyteller. He grabs for the reader's attention, strangles him for a while, then pops a surprise in his face. It's very cinematic but, unlike other adaptations of movie/tv-to-book, has a good flow. It's not just dialogue strung together.

Having come from the "Luther" series to this book, I have a very strong picture of the characters. Idris Elba's imposing presence, for instance, overwhelms whatever you might glean from Cross' writing. As a matter of fact, I don't think Cross even mentions that Luther is black until about three-fourths of the way through the book! Maybe he assumes his readers will be coming to the book from the series. I have to say, not having the option to do otherwise, that would be a great first step: watch the series.

But …

I found the book to be much grislier than the series, perhaps because there aren't as many vigilant censors to be sidestepped when writing a book. 

On the other hand …

The stories of Zoe, Luther's wife, and Ian Reed, Luther's partner and best police mate, are revealed. It gives a little more understanding to what they do in the series.

It was a throat-closing read, but magnetic in its pull.

Busy, busy, busy

I was busy during December, as, it is to be hoped, most retailers are. There wasn't much time for reading. How ironic!

After Christmas, I did read one non-mystery by an author who has written several mysteries/suspense books, Jess Walters ("Over Tumbled Graves," "Citizen Vince"). His "Beautiful Ruins" was fabulous. One of the storylines takes place in Italy during the shooting of the infamous "Cleopatra." As a matter of fact, Richard Burton makes an appearance in the story as a rascally, egotistical bastard. But the story really isn't about him. It's a romantic and very human story about an improbable meeting of the young owner of a hotel on the Italian coast's most inaccessible and forbidding spot and a young American woman who has come to the hotel to ponder her recent diagnosis of a terminal disease.

Perfect writing, perfect dialogue, perfect story.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Rather Lovely Inheritance, by C. A. Belmond ($15)

I don't go out of my way to read books in series order. I realize sometimes when I finally read an earlier book in the series, the dramatic turn of events may lack drama. I already know what happened because it was summarized right at the beginning of the next book. It's the price I pay for being an unorganized shelf wanderer. I look at the covers and judge them, sometimes choosing one just because I like its look. (I know, right, that makes me a compromised bibliophile.) Sometimes I like the title. Sometimes I hit the jackpot: good cover + good title + good book. Example? The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Anyway, back on track.

I read the second book, A Rather Curious Engagement, in C. A. Belmond's "Incurable Romantic" series first. So now I just finished the first book, A Rather Lovely Inheritance. Going in, I knew what happened to the goofily named Penny Nichols. I knew how her great-aunt's estate was settled. I knew the twist at the end.

I enjoyed it anyway.

There are no real thrills and chills. There are a couple of mildly threatening incidents, which are speedily resolved with no harm to fish or fowl. You can know that and still enjoy the story.

Belmond does an especially good job giving us what we want to hear about a cozy villa in France, a cozy small town in Italy, and an elegant (and cozy) flat in London. One or two swear words dot the otherwise impeccable landscape. Comfortably recommend this book to your starry-eyed teenager or your tea-sipping granny, unless both are tough biker chicks with tattoos and spacers in their earlobes who put hot sauce on everything.

The aforementioned Penny is an impecunious American. She is notified that she may have been awarded something from the estate of her recently deceased great-aunt Penelope. As a result, she reconnects in London with her suave cousin Jeremy and other family members. Besides the (awesome) flat in London, she receives an old car, stabled at the French villa. Penny and Jeremy go on a treasure hunt, strange people are also vying for the treasure, and we enjoy a great travelogue.

Belmond shows humor and captures Penny's youthful voice rather well:

"Ah, nuts," I said aloud each time I remembered things I'd said about my love life. "Ah, nuts," I'd repeat. For it wasn't so much what I'd said as how I'd said it. The tone, the gestures. "Loserville," I said aloud, and my tone of agony reverberated in Aunt Penelope's elegant hallway.

Here's Belmond capturing the flavor of her book in a nutshell:

Oh, I knew perfectly well that nostalgia for the past -- especially a past that isn't even our own -- is like believing in fairy tales. But maybe our rushed new century is missing something slow, sweet and elegant from bygone eras. If we even remembered to look for charm and elegance in our lives could we manage to find it? I wondered.