Review of Whiskey Sour: A Jack Daniels Mystery (2004) by J.A. Konrath (Jack Daniels Mysteries #1)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read for hard boiled fans who don’t mind a little cliché and dose of humor in their gruesome detective stories.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Lieutenant Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels is having a bad week. Her live-in boyfriend has left her for his personal trainer, chronic insomnia has caused her to max out her credit cards with late-night home shopping purchases, and a frightening killer who calls himself ‘The Gingerbread Man’ is dumping mutilated bodies in her district. Between avoiding the FBI and its moronic profiling computer, joining a dating service, mixing it up with street thugs, and parrying the advances of an uncouth PI, Jack and her binge-eating partner, Herb, must catch the maniac before he kills again….and Jack is next on his murder list. Whiskey Sour is full of laugh-out-loud humor and edge-of-your-seat suspense, and it introduces a fun, fully drawn heroine in the grand tradition of Kinsey Millhone, Stephanie Plum, and Kay Scarpetta.

Review:

This book was recommended to me years ago, but I put off reading it because I was afraid it would be too gory for me. Make no mistake, this book certainly has its disgusting and violent moments, but for me the light tone interspersed throughout the book (it works better than it sounds like it would) helped me stomach the bad moments. It was suspenseful, interesting, and well written. There were several clichés throughout, but I genuinely liked the main character. It is difficult to create a tough-as-nails female cop/detective that is also feminine (in the “feels like a woman” sense, not necessarily the “pink high heels” sense) and realistic, not to mention likeable, but Konrath has managed that with Jack Daniels.

Two things that annoyed me the were the way over the top incompetent and cardboard FBI agents and the bad guy’s giggling. Other than that it was a very strong read – I will certainly be reading more of the series when I have the time.

 Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? I know the series has been around for almost a decade now – have any of you read it?

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Mystery Series Roundup

We have moved recently, and I have been a little disappointed with my new library. For one, the online e-book lending system has been upgraded since I used it last and I can’t figure out how to browse for Kindle books. It’s very unwieldy. For another, they put all their fiction in one category. ONE. That means mysteries are next to literary fiction, romance next to sci fi, all lumped into one big heap. Of course it’s neatly organized alphabetically by author, but one of the great pleasures of the library is browsing. I find it far too overwhelming to do so when you have such a large and varied selection of books. However, the redeeming feature I’ve discovered is the online hold feature. Essentially you get to shop for books online, for free, and they collect them and put them on a shelf at the front of the library for you. It’s wonderful. I came home with 11 books the last time, many of them first in a mystery series. So here are three that I’ve recently read or reread, and I hope you can find a new-to-you series to enjoy.

How do you like your mysteries? Intensity varies from low (over-easy) to high-ish (over-hard).

Over-easy: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998) (series by the same name) Alexander McCall Smith Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’ve read the first eight or so of these mysteries, and they’re just lovely. Set in Botswana, the pace is slow and rambling, like a story shared by an old friend on a back porch with iced tea. Though there is sadness in the books, the intensity level is very low. The mysteries investigated have more to do with everyday problems than murder and the books themselves are more about the characters than the investigations. A pleasant lazy Sunday afternoon read.

Blurb of first book:

This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

Over-medium: Still Life (2005) (Chief Inspector Gamache series) Louise PennyAmazon, Barnes & Noble

This was a new read for me. It had been recommended by a few different people and I finally got around to reading it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Two things I wasn’t crazy about were 1) there are a lot of characters introduced pretty quickly and 2) the point of view shifts pretty quickly and seemingly randomly. But those were fairly minor annoyances. The setting was great – a small town in Quebec, the characters were very good, and the murder itself was cleverly plotted. Her detective was interesting without being forcibly quirky and I can’t wait to learn more about him.

Blurb of first book:

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

Over-hard: Track of the Cat (1993) (Anna Pigeon series) Nevada Barr Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’ve read perhaps six or seven of this series. Each murder mystery is set in a national park, and investigated by Park Ranger Anna Pigeon. I give high marks to Barr for creating a complex main character – Anna is middle aged, stubborn, occasionally bad-tempered, and very capable – and for setting – I love the idea of using national parks as a background. Although I wouldn’t say the first book, Track of the Cat, is particularly grueling, some of her stories can be very violent and graphic. I have avoided Hard Truth, my “local” national park mystery because of fairly consist reviews saying how graphic the content matter (child abuse). Winter Study was also fairly gritty. That being said, I have continued to read books in this series. If you’re looking for an intense, page-turning mystery with great settings and interesting characters ,this just might be the series for you.

Blurb of first book:

Patrolling the remote West Texas backcountry, Anna’s first job as a national park ranger is marred by violence she thought she had left behind: the brutal death of a fellow ranger. When the cause of death is chalked up to a mountain lion attack, Anna’s rage knows no bounds. It’s up to her to save the protected cats from the politics and prejudices of the locals – and prove the kill was the work of a species far less rare.

 

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Alphabet Mysteries Series by Sue Grafton

Bottom line: A great example of the hard boiled genre, featuring a strong female P.I.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb for First Book: A is for Alibi (1982)

A IS FOR AVENGER
A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.

A IS FOR ACCUSED
That’s why she draws desperate clients like Nikki Fife. Eight years ago, she was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer. But after all this time, clearing Nikki’s bad name won’t be easy.

A IS FOR ALIBI
If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey Millhone feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer–and sharper–than she imagined.

Review:

It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries, so I got A is for Alibi from the library and started over at the beginning (not all of them – I’m dedicated to you, my loyal readers, but not THAT dedicated). I’ve read up through T, though Grafton has published up through V (W is for Wasted comes out this fall). For a series that has 22 published books, plus some short stories (none of which I’ve read), the level of quality is surprisingly consistent – and high. The mysteries and characters are interesting and varied enough so that you don’t feel like you’re reading the same book over and over again. There are, obviously, some books that are better than others, but for the most part they’re very good reads.

One thing to note is that just because this series features a female detective, do not mistake these for cozies. They are definitely hard boiled: gritty and full of the realities of life – sex and bad language and all the rest of it. Kinsey is a tough, prickly, character, one that you come to respect before you necessarily start to like her. In the first book, you get enough details about her earlier life to keep you interested, without there being an info dump of backstory. I find it annoying when within a few strategic conversations in the first chapter you learn everything you need to know about a character. Real life doesn’t work that way. You do learn more about her as the series progresses, in a very natural way.

I’d recommend this series for anyone who likes the hard boiled mystery genre, or even mystery fans in general. Be warned that there is quite a bit of detail involved in tracking down various aspects of the cases; facts don’t seamlessly fall into place on the first try, which I quite like. Another great thing about these books is that any library is almost guaranteed to stock them. So, pick one up and give it a try – if you like it, you’ll eventually have 25 more great books to keep you entertained. Even for someone who reads as fast as I do, that’s at least a hundred hours of happiness.

 Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Three Free Kindle E-Book Mysteries

One of the reasons that I haven’t posted anything in a while is because I’ve been busy chugging though several free mysteries that I had dumped on my Kindle, hoping to find a gem. And of course, by the time I found one I liked, a couple of the ones I was going to mention were no longer free. Fear not, none of them were going to get a recommendation! So, instead of a quick review of five free e-books, here is a quick review of three free e-books.

Frame-Up (Michael Knight #2) (2010) by John Dobbyn

Update: as of  7/2/2013 this book is no longer free

Rating: Recommended

This was the first free e-book mystery that I read in this batch that I couldn’t put down. There are some cheesy moments, but for the most part it is a really fun ride. A lawyer gets pulled into international intrigue involving the Mob, Russian criminals, and a priceless painting. After writing that last sentence, I realize just how ridiculous it sounds, but as you’re in the story, the author makes it all make sense, I promise. There are a couple of other books in this series, and I’m going to have to check them out. If they’re as fun as this, it’ll be worth the read.

 Blood on the Vine (Jay Leicester #1) (2000) by JC Simmons

Update: As of 7/2/2013, this book is no longer free

Rating: Recommended if: you’re looking for a free mystery with an interesting setting, you’re a pilot, or you are a wine person.

I thought this book was ok. I found it a little slow, and felt that the murder solution kind of came out of nowhere. There are a lot of descriptions of food, wine, and the Napa Valley, which was kind of fun, but there are days where you follow the detective around and he does nothing but wake up, shower, talk to a couple of people, drive, eat, almost talk to the beautiful woman around whom much mystery centers, then go back to bed. I would recommend it for an airplane read (something kind of fun, kind of interesting, but won’t keep you reading it all the way through your vacation/meeting when you land) but it does center around a plane crash, so if that makes you squeamish, save it for a car trip.

 A Cold Day For Murder (Kate Shugak #1) (1992) by Dana Stabenow

Rating: Recommended if: you’re looking for a free mystery with an interesting setting.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It takes place in a tiny town in Alaska, and has a pretty good, if slightly predictable, murder/plot. My main issue was with the main character – she just didn’t ring true to me. There were also a couple of instances where two characters lock eyes and then she knew that he knew and they both understood (or something like that) and the reader is left going “huh?”. I thought it had promise though, and was on the fence about trying the next book in the series, but the first chapter is included and I didn’t like it.  So, bottom line is that it just didn’t do much for me, but it wasn’t bad for a free read. Warning: there are some graphic elements, mostly having to do with a traumatic event in her last job.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Murder in the Marais: An Aimeé Leduc Investigation, Vol. 1 by Cara Black (1998)

Bottom line:  There were elements that I didn’t think were done as well as they could have been, but still an entertaining ride for the most part.

Rating:  Recommended if: You’re interested in a mystery series set in Paris, are looking for a new series to get behind, or you can get it for free or on sale.

Blurb:

A new mystery series set in Paris introduces intrepid detective Aimeé Leduc.

It is November 1993 and the French prime ministerial candidate is about to sign a treaty with Germany that will severely restrict immigration, reminiscent of the Vichy laws. Aimeé Leduc is approached by a rabbi to decipher a fifty-year-old encrypted photograph and place it in the hands of Lili Stein. When she arrives at Lili’s apartment in the Marais, the old Jewish quarter of Paris, she finds a corpse in whose forehead is carved a swastika. With the help of her partner, a dwarf with extraordinary computer hacking skills, Aimeé is determined to solve this horrendous crime. Then more murders follow. Her search for the killer leads her to a German war veteran involved in the 1940s with a Jewish girl he was supposed to send to her death. It takes Aimeé undercover inside a neo-Nazi group, where she must play a dangerous game of current politics and old war crimes. Many of the older Jews in the Marais are afraid and prefer to leave the past alone, but the horrible legacy of the death camps and the words “never forget” propel Aimeé to find out the true identities of the criminals past and present.

Review:

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It’s set in Paris, goes back and forth from World War II to the present, and has an interesting murder. However, the pieces just didn’t work for me. I found her characters flat and difficult to relate to, and there are a lot of intricate threads to keep track of during the book. The ending seemed overly complicated and implausible – kind of like Romeo and Juliet but with a slightly happier ending.

All that to say, I didn’t hate the book, I just didn’t love it. There are twelve Aimeé Leduc novels out, and I can see that with a little more polishing and finesse, they could be great. The main characters certainly have potential, they just need a little more fleshing out. I haven’t decided yet whether I want to try any more of these, they’re relatively pricy for an initial novel I wasn’t crazy about, but I got the first one free from my library, so maybe I’ll pick up the second one the next time I’m in.

Be warned that there are some graphic and disturbing elements to the story. I’d maybe rate it on the John Grisham level of intensity.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.