Sunday, 27 November 2011

Favourite Books of 2011 - Part 2

I don't think I've got a particular order or theme with today's list, other than they are all newish authors and series for me and that all are excellent and I highly recommend.

So here we go..

Inspector John Cardinal mysteries

I have blogged about Giles Blunt in previous entries. He is a Canadian mystery writer; his John Cardinal series is set in North Bay, Ontario, although for the purposes of his stories, he calls it Algonquin Bay. As of 2010, there were 5 stories in this series. John Cardinal is a local police detective, who obviously gets involved in cases in Algonquin Bay; generally assisted by his partner, the lovely, Lise Delorme. Also in the frame are the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), who are responsible for overall police coverage in the province of Ontario, and the Horsemen (RCMP) who have a federal responsibility.

Blunt describes the surrounding area so very well, you almost feel you are there. Having spent a few years in North Bay, myself, it is interesting seeing his perspective, recognizing streets and locales, and reminiscing with him. His mysteries are edgy and gritty and Cardinal is an officer dealing with his own personal issues; a wife with a mental disorder, a daughter who won't talk to him and a past criminal issue. Blackfly Season is the third book in the series, released in 2005. The storyline is as follows -

"It's Spring in Algonquin Bay, and the black flies are driving people a little mad. Detectives John Cardinal and Lise Delorme have a strange case on their hands - a young woman has wandered, bug-bitten, out of the Algonquin Bay bush with a gunshot wound to the head. Cardinal becomes obsessed with finding out who she is, and who is trying to kill her. When the body of a local biker, Wombat Guthrie, is found in a cave, it seems the two cases are related - and the link appears to be a drug dealer and self-proclaimed shaman who calls himself Red Bear."

As with the first two stories in the series, Blackfly Season draws you in quickly and has you turning the pages to find out what is going to happen next. The characters are interesting and the plot exciting. And the black flies are biting; I could almost feel them, they aren't among the fond memories I have of North Bay. ;0)

Anna Travis Mysteries
Lynda LaPlante is a prolific, talented writer from Britain. She has written the highly - regarded Prime Suspect series, which featured the talented Helen Mirren, The Widows, featuring Mercedes Ruehl and Brooke Shields and another series, The Commander with Amanda Burton. She recently introduced a new character from her talented mind; DI Anna Travis. I had previously read the first in the series, Above Suspicion, and enjoyed very much.

Not following the sequence of the stories, I read Number Six in the series in October. While in the first book, Anna Travis was a junior Detective Constable, working on her first major case, in Blind Fury, we find her now a Detective Inspector, ambitious and hoping for further rapid advancement. The storyline is as follows -

"when the body of a young woman is discovered close to a highway service station, DI Anna Travis is brought on to the team of investigators by her former lover and boss, DCS Langton. As more evidence is uncovered, the team realizes that they are contending with a triple murder investigation - and no suspects.

But then a murderer Anna helped arrest years ago makes contact from prison. Cameron Welsh insists that he can help track down the killer, but he will divulge his secrets only to Anna herself. Does he really have an insight into another criminal's mind, or is he merely intent on getting into hers?

The team soon realizes that they are dealing with a killer whose deviousness has enabled him to commit horrific crimes, yet remain undetected for years. As the case draws to a close, Welsh's obsession for Anna fuels a terrifying rage that will have disastrous consequences for Anna, who finds herself staring into the face of a desperate personal tragedy."

While I did find flaws with the story, had some issues with Anna Travis' character  (and maybe that's a male thing), the story is tense, well-crafted, leads you down interesting paths and is well worth reading. I am interested in finding the mini-series to see how the stories are portrayed and if they are as interesting as the novel.

Matthew Shardlake Mysteries
I do enjoy good historical fiction and if you throw a mystery into the mix, then there is an added bonus. I have enjoyed reading Ellis Peter's Cadfael mysteries and in the past couple of years discovered another great writer of historical mysteries, C.J. Sansom. Since 2003, he has crafted 5 stories in the Matthew Shardlake series, of which I have now read 3.

Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer during the time of Henry VIII, starting off working special cases for Thomas Cromwell, and after his execution, working for Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. I enjoyed the first story, Dissolution, very much and then the second, Dark Fire, even more. CJ Sansom seems to have found his legs as he further develops Matthew Shardlake's character and has a great sense of the time the stories are set in; the dissolution of the Catholic Church, the selling off of church property, etc. The stories are fascinating and draw you in completely. The third story, Sovereign, finds Shardlake embarking on another mission for the King -

"Autumn, 1541. King Henry VIII has set out on a spectacular Progress to the North to attend an extravagant submission by his rebellious subjects in York. Already in the city are lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak. As well as legal work processing local petitions to the King, Shardlake has reluctantly undertaken a special mission for Archbishop Cranmer - to ensure the welfare of an important but dangerous conspirator who is to be returned to London for interrogation.

But the murder of a York glazier involves Shardlake in deeper mysteries, connected not only to the prisoner in York Castle, but to the royal family itself. And when Shardlake and Barak stumble upon a cache of secret documents which could threaten the Tudor throne, a chain of events unfolds that will lead to Shardlake facing the most terrifying fate of the age... "

Sansom has written this story, creating a fascinating picture of the time, of the preparations for Henry VIII's visit to York, of the political machinations of the time and developed a suspenseful, tense, interesting mystery. I look forward to finding the fourth in the series, Revelation and finding out what next adventure/ mystery Matthew Shardlake will become involved with.

Mistress of Art of Death
 This past year I discovered another new author, Ariana Franklin. In 2011, I read the first two books in the series featuring, Adelia Aguilar, Mistress of the Art of Death for the King of Sicily, who finds herself in England during the time of Henry II. I read the first, Mistress of the Art of Death, in January. It was one of those rare stories that grabs your attention from the very first page; the characters are engrossing, the story is fascinating and you just can't put the book down. The first story has the King of England requesting assistance from the King of Sicily, to help solve murders of four children in Cambridge. He asks for one of the King of Sicily's Practitioners of the Art of Death (the first forensic pathologists) and the King sends Adelia.Not quite what Henry was anticipating as this isn't an occupation that people of that time would expect a woman to be in. Besides that tension, the city of Cambridge is up in arms, blaming the Jewish community for the murders. Adelia and her team must work against time to solve the murders and to prevent the city being burned to the ground. Adding to the interest is Sir Rowley Picot, a former Crusader knight, who has been tasked by Henry to assist and monitor the investigation. There is a mystery about him as well, Adelia wondering if he might, in fact, be the murderer. There are many twists and turns in this story, but it is written so cleverly and with such fire that you follow the story with trepidation and anticipation, until the exciting climax.

Adelia Aguilar 2nd mystery
 In October, I finished the second book in the series, The Serpent's Tale. The plot summary for this story reads as follows -

"In twelfth-century England,, only one woman is trained to uncover the secrets of the dead. The mistress of King Henry II has been poisoned - and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the king's estranged wife, is the prime suspect. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth. But more is at stake than just the identity of a killer: civil war threatens to ravage an already war-sick England.

Joining forces with her former lover Rowley Picot, Adelia investigates the death as more savage killings ensue. Isolated and trapped by snow and cold, Adelia works feverishly to save innocents and protect the peace."

As good as or better than the first in the series, it is a tense thriller, with further development of Adelia's character and those of her faithful team of assistants. I can't speak highly enough about these stories; they are well-crafted, finely written and enthralling. Unfortunately, there are only books in the series, as Ariana Franklin passed away in 2011, just when I discovered her; a tragedy for her family and for the literary community.

Night Soldiers Novels
 Another book I read recently features another new author for me, Alan Furst; an American writer who's 1988 novel, Night Soldiers, set his writing career on the right path. This began a series of spy/ war novels, not necessarily related, but set in Eastern Europe, during the period 1933 - 1944.

Spies of the Balkans was  his eleventh novel of this series and I saw it in a bookstore in Victoria, read the summary and had to try it out. I have to say it did not let me down whatsoever. I loved the story.. fantastic! The plot summary reads as follows -

Greece 1940. In the port city of Salonika, with its wharves and tense political drama is being played out. As Adolf Hitler plans to invade the Balkans, spies begin to circle - and Costa Zannis, a senior police official, must deal with them all. He is soon in the game, working to secure an escape route for fugitives from Nazi Berlin that is protected by German lawyers, Balkan detectives, and Hungarian gangsters - and hunted by the Gestapo. Meanwhile, as war threatens, the erotic life of the city grows passionate. For Zannis, that means a British expatriate who owns the local ballet academy, a woman from the dark side of Salonika society and the wife of a shipping magnate. With extraordinary historical detail and a superb cast of characters, Spies of the Balkans is a stunning novel about a man who risks everything to fight back against the world's evil."

I really can't say it better myself; the story is simply presented, but the events are momentous, the courage palpable. I will definitely be reading more of the Night Soldier series.

So there you have it, installment 2 of my favourite reads of 2011. One more to go. I bet you can't wait!..

Keep on reading. Support your local book store!


  1. 'Widows' was a British TV series too.. before the US remade it with Mercedes Ruehl.
    The British one was better.. but surprisingly the Americans didn't murder it.
    Jo xx

  2. I kind of remembered that as I was mentioning the American show, but I never went any further with my imdb search. It came out in 1983, starred Fiona Hendley, Maureen O'Farrell and Ann Mitchell..


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