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.


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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    Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson

    Lucifers Tears

    Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson

    You have to like a character that describes his homeland as the ninth and innermost circle of hell, but can’t imagine himself living anywhere else. Meet Kari Vaara, a tortured Inspector in Helsinki. His face is marked with a scar from past battle, but it is the scars on his heart and mind that hurt the most and make him who he is.

    His wife is pregnant. The last pregnancy, she miscarried and he blames himself. He is terrified that it is going to happen again. He has had a migraine for a year. It won’t go away. His siblings-in-law are coming from the States to help with the pregnancy. The ones he’s never met. The conclusion of his last case left nothing but bodies behind, including his partner and x-wife. The man has a lot of ghosts, just like his homeland, and therefore a lot on his mind.

    Let’s add more to this poor Laplander’s plate. He is handed a horrific murder case and the politicos want him to frame an innocent man. One more thing, they want him to investigate a WWII hero for crimes against humanity and the guy just happens to have served with Kari’s grandfather. (Which means that if this hero was a bad guy, so was his granddad)

    My thoughts-

    There is so much to like in this sequel to Snow Angels that it is hard to know where to start. Kari Vaara is an imperfect human with his heart in the right place. Sort of like how I see myself. Don’t laugh.

    Helsinki and the murder case is gritty and honestly, Thompson’s writing doesn’t make me want to visit there anytime soon. The language is graphic, the murder and ensuing investigation is horrific, violent and well, I will just say it, S&M related.

    I learned a lot of Finland’s history in a way that didn’t feel forced or like learning. I like unforced learning and knew nothing of Findland’s part in WWII.

    This isn’t a book for everyone. You have to be a fan of harsh, no-holds-barred noir for Lucifer’s Tears. Agatha Christie or Cozy Mystery fans need not apply. Still, I am a fan and it made for a page turner, finished it in less than a day.

    Have you ever read any Finnish writers or books set in Finland? Lucifer’s Tears has left me wanting more.

    Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (March 17, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 039915700X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399157004

  • A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor by Robert G. Pielke

    A New Birth of Freedom The Visitor

    A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor by Robert G. Pielke

    • Civil War – Check
    • Abraham Lincoln – Check
    • Robert E. Lee – Check
    • Dire Consequences – Check
    • Man from the Future Asking for Help- What?! – Check

    Now this is Historical Sci-Fi that I can get excited about and I usually hate anything Sci-Fi related.

    In 1849, Abraham Lincoln has a strange encounter on a train. A man, Edwin Blair, says that he needs his help. The catch is that he doesn’t need his help now; he needs it in 14 years, but he will give him the retainer now.

    Fast forward to 1863, the Civil War is raging and Edwin Blair is granted an audience by then President Lincoln. Edwin Blair isn’t selling anything, but what he has to get them to buy is hard to swallow. You see, he is a 19th century history teacher from the future, 2203 to be exact, and he needs both the armies of the North and the South to join together in order to ward off some “pests” that are going to endanger America in the future.

    Blair has to walk a razor thin line between telling them enough to believe him and do what he needs them to do or tell them too much and blow their minds to the point that they won’t take action and lock him in the booby hatch as a crazy person.

    Once he convinces Lincoln and his cabinet, his struggle isn’t over. He has to then go convince Robert E. Lee and the great army of the South to join he and the North in a united cause. It isn’t easy and the clock is ticking. The pests are coming on July 3rd and he needs everyone to be ready to defeat them.

    What I loved about A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor is that even though the sci-fi aspect is hugely important to the story, it really takes a backseat in the action. It isn’t like Edwin Blair blasts onto the scene in a funny Star Wars getup and yells, “I am from the future and aliens are coming to attack!” The aliens aren’t even called aliens, they are pests and Edwin Blair uses his knowledge and love of 19th century history to prove his point, not cool gadgets and tools from the future. Well, he does use a few of those, but he does it sparingly.

    He convinces these important men to stand together by being able to tell them things that he shouldn’t and wouldn’t know if he was just a man off of the street from 1863. By showing Lincoln a message that he had written, but at that time, hadn’t even sent yet. (He got these from the National Archives of the future just like we could)

    The Visitor’s strength also lies in the dialogue. When Lincoln talks, it sounds like what I think Lincoln would say. When Robert E. Lee interacts with Blair, it feels real, not like total poppycock. Pielke has taken a pivotal point in our American history and created another outcome that I couldn’t have imagined pulling off. Even better, he does it well.

    My one gripe- this is a trilogy so the ending is a cliffhanger. That was intentional and I understand that. The thing is, I am not really a fan of cliffhangers, especially when I can’t go and buy the next book right away. I want the next one, now!

    A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor by Robert G. Pielke

  • Paperback: 226 pages
  • Publisher: Altered Dimensions (August 15, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1936021234
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936021239

    I received a PDF copy of this book from Tribute Books, but that fact didn’t influence my review above.