Thursday, June 25, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway, #1) by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places is the first book in the long-running Ruth Galloway series written by Elly Griffiths.

Galloway is a 30-something, archaeology professor at the  fictional University of North Norfolk who lives alone in the nonexistent town of King's Lynn near a saltwater marsh where about a decade before she was part of an archaeological dig which resulted in the discovery of a Bronze Age artifact called a henge. Recently a 6-year old girl has been kidnapped out of her backyard, almost a decade after a similar unsolved kidnapping of another young girl.

The police officer who is responsible for investigating both of these crimes is DI Nelson. He asks Dr. Galloway for assistance in analyzing some recently unearthed bones which they think may belong to one of the kidnapped girls (the bones turn out to be a few thousand years old which makes Ruth happy and Nelson unhappy). He tells Ruth that he has been receiving letters from the kidnapper for several years and let’s her read them since they have odd historical and mythical references . Later, Ruth figures out where the recently kidnapped girl is buried, devastating those parents who had not given up hope their little girl would be found alive.

Eventually things get much more complicated as people close to Ruth become implicated in both disappearances of the young girls as she recognizes some phrases used in the letters as well as the writing and alerts Nelson of her suspicions. The book concludes with a thrilling series of events that results in the resolution of both mysteries and upends several of Ruth’s relationships.

Overall, I quite enjoyed The Crossing Places. Griffiths does an excellent job of providing us a portrait of Ruth which makes her quite appealing. Her chemistry with DI Nelson is intriguing. The mystery was unimpressive (I almost never figure out the perpetrator in mystery books and I was able to guess whodunnit well before the reveal) but as in most genre books the my primary enjoyment is rooted in the connection with the characters and not the plot.

Title: The Crossing Places 
Elly Griffiths.
Paperback: 303 pages.
Date Published: February 5, 2009.
Date Read: June 12, 2020.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Thursday, June 18, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Salvation Lost (Salvation Sequence, #2) by Peter F. Hamilton

Salvation Lost is the second book in the Salvation Sequence by Peter F. Hamilton. Hamilton is one of the most prominent and skilled purveyors of advanced-technology, military space opera science fiction. This new work is another example of this and includes variations on his oft-repeated themes: human contact with alien civilizations, stealth undercover agents, apocalyptic disasters, paradigm-shifting technologies and super-wealthy scions of family dynasties. These themes and others have been present in some of his bestselling work, such as the Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained and The Night's Dawn trilogy. 

The plot of Salvation Lost  is split into two different stories that are set at least ten thousand years apart. The first is about the beginning of an invasion of Earth and its occupied habitats in the Solar System and beyond by 
a recently discovered alien species. The second is about human descendants of the survivors of that alien invasion who are still fighting them in order to get revenge and prevent the aliens from continuing their eons-old plan of searching for and kidnapping sentient beings to fulfill their religious beliefs about collecting all intelligence in the Universe for presentation to their God at the end of time.

The two time lines are connected by the existence of what the later time calls the Saints of Salvation. These are the group of extraordinary individuals in the earlier time who were able to find a way to presumably thwart the intentions of the aliens and paved the way for the later humans to exist and continue the fight.

In the first book Salvation the primary narrative tension was built around trying to figure out which of the main characters in the primary time line turn out to become Saints as well as anticipating the horror of the fall of human civilization by alien invasion. In the sequel Salvation Lost, the names of most of the Saints have been revealed (but so has the fact that some of the main characters from Book 1 are undercover alien operatives). The primary tension in Salvation Lost comes from seeing the details of the alien invasion  (which we know will be mostly successful from the existence of the later time line) 
through the eyes of the characters we were introduced to in the first book as well as seeing the beginning of the counterattack in the later time line and wondering whether it will be successful or not.

Neither time line's story  is concluded in Salvation Lost, which is a typical weakness of the middle book in a trilogy. This doesn’t mean that there’s a surfeit of action, character development or surprises, however. Hamilton does a good job of moving the story of the Salvation Sequence forward in both time lines and I look forward to getting all the answers about the early time line as well as the conclusion of the millennia-old battle with the evil aliens in the third book, The Saints of Salvation (which is set to be published in October 2020)!

Title: Salvation Lost.
Peter F. Hamilton.

Paperback: 494 pages.
 Del Rey.

Date Published: October 29, 2019.
Date Read: May 25, 2020.

★★★★½  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Monday, June 15, 2020

This is a BFD! #SCOTUS Rules 6-3 1964 Civil Rights Act Covers LGBT Workers

Surprisingly, Justice Neil Gorsuch authored a majority 6-3 opinion in a combined case called Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberals (Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer).

A key quote from the ruling:
An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex. It makes no difference if other factors besides the plaintiff’s sex contributed to the decision or that the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group. A statutory violation occurs if an employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee. Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII. There is no escaping the role intent plays: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking.
This is a BFD! 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Stranger You Know (DS Maeve Kerrigan, #4) by Jane Casey

This is the fourth book in the DS Maeve Kerrigan series and may be the best of the bunch so far. I don't think this is not because Rob (or boyfriend/relationship drama) is such a small part of the story but the fact is he is out of the country for most of the time period covered in The Stranger You Know. I like the character of Rob, but I don't like the effect he has on Maeve's sensibilities.

Instead, The Stranger You Know is basically centered around Maeve’s relationship with her police detective partner DI Josh Derwent and his backstory. Derwent is a handsome (and vain) guy with a borderline personality disorder. In previous books he has been mostly a frequent foil and obnoxious obstacle for Maeve as he belittles and berates her while they ostensibly work together to solve crimes.

In The Stranger You Know, the London Murder Squad that Josh and Maeve work for are trying to track a serial killer who strangles his victims and then removes their eyes and places them in their hands, with no sexual contact and no forensic evidence left behind. In time, we find out that some twenty years before when Josh was almost 18 he was the prime suspect in the unsolved violent death of his 15(!)-year-old girlfriend, Angela Poole, who was found strangled with her eyes gouged out. Somewhat bizarrely it’s Angela’s own father who provided the airtight alibi for Josh which prevented him from being charged for murder as her dad had nearly run him over in the public bus he drove at the time and multiple riders could attest to the incident and cemented Josh's innocence.

Because of this unfortunate history, Josh and Maeve’s boss Superintendent Godley removes him from the task force working on solving the Gentleman Caller serial killer case as suspicion mounts that there are connections between that case and the Angela Poole cold case. Things get weirder as the psychological profile of the Gentleman Caller has multiple components that accurately describe DI Derwent. Godley’s second-in-command DCI Una Burt is clearly invested in the theory of Derwent as murderer. This is an example of the ways that interpersonal interactions between members of the team trying to solve the crime(s) become an important aspect of the story.

The author Jane Casey does a masterful job of lathering suspicion on Josh and his circle of friends from two decades before, with several red herrings and side mysteries that distract and attract Maeve (and Josh) as they try and find the killer (or killers??) responsible for Angela’s death and the most recent killings.

One excellent feature of the series is Casey’s characterization of Maeve by providing the reader almost nonstop access to her inner thoughts and in this book far less of the narrative tension is sourced from danger to Maeve and her questionable decisions than in previous entries. Instead the resolution of the cold case and an increasing trickle of discoveries and revelations about Derwent and his childhood friends are more than enough to keep the reader enthralled and entertained in The Stranger You Know.

It’s impressive how Casey has managed to use different styles and writing structures in the first four books of the series while still maintaining the general tropes and narrative structures of the murder-mystery genre. The first book The Burning was about a serial arsonist and multiple first-person accounts were included. The second book The Reckoning was about kidnappings and Maeve herself became a victim of crime in it twice). The third book The Last Girl has her relationship with Rob as a key feature and included more examples of how Josh and Maeve get results together despite their squabbles. The criminal in this book was not a serial killer.

Overall, the fourth book in the DS Maeve Kerrigan series is an excellent entry in the British police procedural with female main character genre with a compelling set of mysteries to be solved and surprising (and welcome) developments in the larger arcs involving her primary romantic relationship, her professional advancement in the police force and the obsessed criminal who is stalking her.

Title: The Stranger You Know
Jane Casey.

Paperback: 400 pages.
 Minotaur Books.

Date Published: May 20, 2014.
Date Read: May 17, 2020.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★ (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).


Thursday, June 04, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Every Dead Thing Charlie Parker, #1) by John Connolly

Every Dead Thing is the first book by John Connolly that I have read, and the first book in his apparently very popular Charlie Parker series. I am always looking for new series and so I was interested in reading this book and checking out Connolly's work, which has relatively high ratings on Goodreads and is well-established. However, I am not completely sure how many more in the series I will read (for reasons I detail below).

One thing I am learning as I read more books in the mystery/thriller/suspense/crime genre is how many different kinds of books there are, and thus I can be more discerning (read: picky!) in the books and series I decide to invest my time in consuming. My sweet spot is generally well-paced police procedurals (often set in Britain) where the plot (often suspenseful) revolves around intriguing mysteries or crimes (not always murders) being investigated by complex, well-developed characters (with diverse and interesting supporting characters). Authors whose work I have generally liked include Peter Robinson's DCI Alan Banks, Ian Rankin's DI John Rebus, Karin Slaughter's Will Trent, Val McDermid's Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, Stuart MacBride's Logan McRae and (of course) Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad and Louise Penny's Henri Gamache series.

 I was a little upset to discover that the Charlie Parker series is in a sub-genre known as a supernatural crime thriller. The first book doesn't go too far in that direction. Generally I am not a fan of supernatural elements, which is why I haven't usually been a fan of Stephen King, but the books I have read of his (The Institute, The Outsider, the Mr. Mercedes trilogy) have all been excellent. However I have heard things get spookier as the series goes on (Book 17 has been published). Book 1, Every Dead Thing, has an extremely high body count and is suffused with violence throughout. It begins with the ritualistic murder of Parker's wife and kids and ends with... (just kidding I don't want to spoil it!).

Parker is an interestingly flawed character (a former police officer whose family was murdered who is willing and able to use his network of contacts to take the law into his own hands) and the setting is New York City, which is also a plus. However one of the main reasons I did not summarily DNF the book about 40% in (after Parker basically solves the initial mystery of a missing girl he was hired to find) was the surprising inclusion of an openly gay, interracial criminal couple named Angel (burglar/thief) and Louis (assassin/hit man). If they play a significant role in the later books I wil probably give the Charlie Parker series a closer look. It's a huge plus to me that the supporting characters are diverse and interesting. And Connolly's prose is definitely well above average for your regular mystery writer. However, most of the mystery/thrillers that I really enjoy either have major characters who are female (Maeve Kerrigan, Sara Linton, Carol Jordan, Siobhan Clarke, Roberta Steel) are written by female authors (Tana French, Karin Slaughter, Val Mcdermid, Jane Casey, etc) but I'm definitely not a fan of romance (Karin Slaughter's Will Trent series gets the balance perfectly). My ultimate series would be a series with a female lead detective with a gay male sidekick (which is exactly what the DI Marnie Rome series by Sarah Hillary is but so far I haven't been impressed by the first two book in the series, Someone Else's Skin and No Other Darkness.

 I realize most of this review of Every Dead Thing has been my musing about the mystery/crime/thriller genre in general. That tends to happen when I get introduced to a new author and I try to compare the new work into my past experiences with the genre. My overall view of Every Dead Thing is that I would say it is a well-written, extremely violent and action-packed story led by a troubled main character and peopled with interesting supporting characters whom I suspect I will seek out in the (far) future.

Title: Every Dead Thing.
John Connolly.
Paperback: 467 pages.
 Pocket Books.
Date Published: July 1, 2000.
Date Read: March 28, 2020.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+/A- (3.5/4.0).



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