A Very Mark Billingham Christmas

photo of Mark Billingham

Or maybe I should really say that it is a very Tom Thorne Christmas. Tom Thorne is the middle-aged UK Detective Inspector that Billingham brings to life in his books and I have been spending some major quality time with him this month.

Thorne is a hard man to pin down, even Billingham has described writing him as “peeling back the layers of an onion” with each book. One of the coolest things about him is that he is different for every reader. Billingham purposely doesn’t describe him physically, so that we all can have our own version in our heads. Of course now that they have made a TV show on Sky, it sort of dims the neat trick for those that live in the UK.

There are 10 books in the series and having read a few out of sequence, (Bloodline, Death Message, & Buried) I decided that, this month, was going to be the one where I go back to the beginning and read the ones that I have missed, in order. Some might say that being mired in death, crime, and Alzheimer’s that the Thorne series brings isn’t very cheery at Christmas.  To those that say that … you have never met my family. Well, we haven’t had any murders, but some say that the Doc giving my Great Uncle George his chemical peel killed him.  (hmm, two references to “peel” in one post.)

There are learning the many benefits of reading a series, one right after another. Everything stays crystal clear in your mind and yet, my picture of Thorne still remains fuzzy, in a good way. One book may have him being tortured in his dreams by the victims of his current case, in the next, he can’t even manage sympathy. One has him so painfully inept at dealing with women that you want to put him out of his misery and the next he will be juggling more women than any man knows what to deal with. That is what, in my mind, makes Billingham an awesome writer, his books don’t become formulaic like so many others that I won’t mention. He hasn’t pinned down his character, so we can’t either. The reader never knows where the line in the sand is for Thorne or how far he will go to solve the case. About the only thing that you can depend on is that the outcome will leave an impression on you almost as strong as it does on Thorne.

Okay, enough with the blathering. I am hip deep in UK crime and slightly in love with both Billingham and Thorne.

Have you ever gone gung-ho on a series?

Merry Christmas to ya’ll.


Bedbugs by Ben H. Winter

bedbugs

The first full length book that I ever remember choosing for myself was Pet Sematary by Stephen King. The year was 1984 and I have no idea where I got it or what my parents thought about my reading choice, but I knew one thing. The suspense of finding out just what happened the day after the father buried his kid’s beloved cat, Church, in the ancient burial ground beyond the town’s pet cemetery was agony. You just had to know what would happen, however, you were in dread at the same time.

Reading Bedbugs brought that feeling back in a freakishly eerie way. Having moved beyond Stephen King long ago; it had been years since I had thought about those nights spent under my comforter, holding the flashlight and reading through the night.
Just why was that Brooklyn apartment such a good deal? Did Susan really see bedbugs or was it all in her head? If a delusion, where did the few bites she had on her arm come from? What would they wake up to tomorrow?

Bedbugs starts out slow, almost painfully slow. There is no escaping telling you that; there is about 100 pages of setting the scene, painting the characters, moments where I found myself jealous of Susan’s situation. She quits work in order to pursue her dream of being an artist while her husband pays the bills, including having a nanny for their daughter 5 hours a day. Most people would kill for that, but in between the fairy tale we start to see cracks in the surface of Susan’s castle. She sees bugs crawling through those cracks, even while no one else does.

It hit me early, this baby would make a killer scary movie. As a book, it just isn’t all that original though. You might even say derivative. I enjoyed it immensely, not only because it was a complete departure from what I have been reading lately, but because it brought back all of those feelings from the past. It got my heart racing, made me itch, reminded me of why I started reading in the first place; to feel things that my day-to-day life just can’t match.

So, if you want some thrills, chills, or just plain want to have the crap scared out of you by things that might, or might not, crawl in the night- read Bedbugs.

Bedbugs by Ben H. Winter
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Quirk Books (September 6, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1594745234
ISBN-13: 978-1594745232


A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun

A Small Fortune

A bit over a year ago, I came upon a great interview of Audrey Braun on Rose City Reader. Usually, I sort of pass interviews by; they are often boring and full of the same non-exciting or canned answers that make me yawn. This particular interview was great fun to read and really did its job – to allow the reader to get to know the author a bit better so that they will go buy the book. At the end, not only did I feel like I had had a drink with fun girlfriends, but I also really wanted to read Audrey Braun’s A Small Fortune.

Shortly after that, Audrey Braun herself contacted me and asked if I would like to read her book. Uhmm, are you kidding? Of course I would love to!

Here is the blurb-

Celia Donnelly sets off for tropical Mexico, longing to repair her nerves, rekindle her marriage, and restore peace with her increasingly difficult teenage son. But just as the radiant coastline begins to thaw the cold within her family, a stranger sparks a long-dead passion inside her, and his connections lead to an unspeakable betrayal. From sea breezes to jungle steam to the crisp air of Zurich, Celia will be forced to uncover what everyone is suddenly after, including her own life. Caught inside a mysterious past, she must throw herself into harm’s way in order to protect her son. But matters are complicated after the stirred passion becomes a fever that cannot be contained. Is this stranger worthy of her love and trust? Or is he just another piece in the sinister plot to steal the very thing that Celia has no idea is hers to take?

What I didn’t expect from Braun, a debut author, was a story so tightly woven and engrossing. There is not one superfluous word in the whole book and that takes talent. These days, so many debut authors feel the need to write flowery chunksters that are so full of things that really don’t add anything to a story that I want to scream.

Not the case with A Small Fortune. At about page 30, it sucks you in and you can’t let go. There are so many twists in the adventure and emotional storylines that there is something here for everyone. Celia seems like a character that has sort of checked out on life and at first, it is a bit hard to relate to her. Slowly, you begin to see how easy it was for her to do that. She was grieving, had a son, and trusted her husband whole-heartedly. She had to grow up and take her power back quickly in the book and you have to respect someone that can do that.

Her wake-up call came when she found herself blindfolded and strapped to a chair in Puerto Vallarta. What would your wake-up call be?

I loved the story. Calling it a “beach read” doesn’t do it justice. There is suspense, a bit of romance and a lot of soul searching that I could identify with. The other amazing thing was how tightly wrapped up the whole package is; the isn’t an extraneous word or a unnecessary diatribe on something that doesn’t push the story forward in the whole 256 pages.

Shortly after reading it last year, Audrey Braun (AKA Deborah Reed) contacted me and asked if I could hold my review back.. The book had been picked up and was to be published by AmazonEncore in 2011. I wasn’t surprised yet, was really eager to sing the book’s praises. I passed it onto my family and they all loved it. Still, I had to wait……and wait…..and wait….until it came out Tuesday to bring it here.

This is the ONLY modern book, I have ever reread. That says a lot because I am firmly planted in the “there are too many books in the world to ever reread one” camp. That means I liked it.. A lot.

To see how the book came about, read her post on the Kindle Blog. I bet you will see what I saw when I first read her interview in 2010; I like her laidback and fun style. The book will not disappoint.

A Small Fortune by Aubrey Braun

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: AmazonEncore (July 19, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1935597655
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935597650
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    The Traitor’s Emblem by Juan Gomez-Jurado

    A Spanish Captain rescues four people afloat on a raft at sea in 1940. They don’t speak Spanish and the Captain doesn’t speak German, but he quietly gets them to safety and in return, the leader gives him a strange gold emblem. For the rest of his life, Manuel Gonzalez Pereira tries to find what the medal means and where it came from. All he ever was able to find that it was a Masonic symbol, but every Mason he ever contacted told him that it was probably fake.

    Pereira eventually dies, leaving the emblem to his son, Juan Carlos. Years later, he crosses paths with a man that has a story to go along with that emblem. It is a tale of families, of betrayal, of father that a son never knew, and a quest that takes place in turbulent 1930’s Munich.

    Earlier this month, I read Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, so delving into the fictional Munich during the same time period gave me such a comfortable feeling. The late 30’s however, were not a comfortable time to live in Germany and The Traitor’s Emblem felt so authentic, almost gave me the creeps as I was reading it.

    I enjoyed this more than his last work, The Moses Expedition. I’ll be honest though, I can’t really put my finger on why. At their most basic, they are both personal quests with political/religious overtones, but The Traitor’s Emblem just seemed more unputdownable.

    The Traitor’s Expedition by Juan Gomez-Jurado

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (July 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439198780
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439198780

  • A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner

    A Conflict of Interest

    Have you ever been at a point in your life where everything is going right and then, like a light switch being flipped off, everything in your life falls apart?

    Meet Alex Miller, 35 years old, partner in a top law firm in NYC, beautiful wife, gorgeous little daughter, and more. He is on top of the world until his father dies. At the funeral he meets an old friend of his parents who asks him to represent him in a brokerage scam trial. A year later, I bet he wishes that he had never said yes.

    A Conflict of Interest is a legal thriller with heart and a great deal of psychology. Don’t laugh. Let me see if I can explain this correctly without any spoilers. There is a lot of seven-year-itch, some seeing your parents in a whole new (and not necessarily flattering) way, temptations, soul searching, and a fair amount of time spent wondering how in the heck did he let it get this bad. See? A sort of midlife crisis, nicely bookended by a thrilling legal battle.

    Mitzner’s work is being compared to Scott Turow and I can see that. Like Turow, he realizes that no one is perfect and that people manifest and manage these flaws in different ways. You can’t predict how his characters will react to what comes their way and yet somehow, you feel like you know them.

    Adam Mitzner has a few tricks up his sleeve and he only shows a one or two with this first book. Can’t wait for the next one.

    A Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery (May 17, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1439157510
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439157510