Fiction Review

CELEBRATION OF IRELAND’S INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLING HISTORICAL CRIME MYSTERY SERIES

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THE FIFTH FÉILE FIDELMA, 2014

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TO BE HELD IN CASHEL, Co.TIPPERARY 

The 5th three-day gathering of international enthusiasts of the bestselling historical crime series – The Sister Fidelma Mysteries by Peter Tremayne – will be held in Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, from Friday, September 12, to Sunday, September 14, 2014. The venue will be The Cashel Palace Hotel.

This year’s event will be opened by Irish Minister of State Alan Kelly TD of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Spot.

The series, which has appeared in 18 languages, is set in 7th Century Ireland whose sleuthing heroine is Fidelma, sister of King Colgú of Munster. With her companion, a Saxon, Brother Eadulf, she is an advocate of the Brehon Laws of ancient Ireland. There are now 25 books in the series.

Booklist (Journal of the American Library Association) has called it: ‘The most authentically detailed medieval mystery series currently being published.’ The Irish Examiner has also called it ‘the most detailed and vivid recreation of ancient Ireland.’  The Belfast Telegraph comments: ‘This is masterly storytelling from an author who breathes fascinating life into the world he is writing about.’

The organisers of the Féile Fidelma are a sub-committee of the Cashel Arts Festival Committee. The Féile Fidelma was first held in 2006 and has become an important part of Cashel’s literary world. This will be an extra special event as it will coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the first ever Sister Fidelma novel – Absolution by Murder in 1994.

An impressive program has been arranged. Among expert speakers is Professor Ed Rielly from Maine, USA, who is co-editor, with David Wooten, of the academic collection of essays The Sister Fidelma Mysteries: The Historical Novels of Peter Tremayne (2012).

Professor Pádraig Ó Riain of University College Cork, who is Ireland’s leading scholastic expert of the Fidelma’s period, will be talking about the Eóghanachta (Fidelma’s family) and the earliest writings at Cashel.

Dr Ann Buckley of Trinity College Dublin, a leading expert on liturgical music in Fidelma’s time and Dr Regina Sexton, University College Cork, leading expert on food in Fidelma’s time will be talking on their subjects.

A talk on horse breeds in Fidelma’s period, coinciding with a visit to the famous Irish Stud, Coolmore, will be given by equestrian expert Noel Mullins. He has not only authored two books about the origin of horses in Ireland, as well as countless articles in equestrian journals, but he is a expert advising and appearing in many films and television shows on the subject. In 2005, for example, he played a huntsman in the remake of ‘Lassie’ with Peter O’Toole.

David Wooten, the founder of The International Sister Fidelma Society, its director and editor of its thrice yearly journal The Brehon, will be introducing and chairing the evening with the author, Peter Tremayne. He will also be winding up the event on Sunday with his usual look at the state of Fidelma’s World. He will be reflecting on the Society’s thirteen years of existence (it was founded in 2001 and The Brehon was launched in February, 2002). And, of course, he will be examining the Féile Fidelma past and present and future.

The ever popular ‘Voice of Fidelma’, Irish actress Caroline Lennon who reads the UK Sister Fidelma audio books published by Soundings, Isis Publishing Ltd. Audible in the US will soon be issuing all the Fidelma Mysteries read by Caroline. Caroline is also well known on stage and screen. For nine years she played the character ‘Siobhan’ in BBC Radio’s popular soap ‘The Archers’.

On-line registration has already started from March 1, 2014. If you now register before May 1, 2014, there is a 10% discount at US$195 or currency equivalents. From May 1 the full registration amount of US$225 or currency equivalents comes into force. This covers entry to all the talks, the visit to the famous Coolmore Stud farm, the reception, coffee and biscuit breaks over the weekend and the gala dinner at the Cashel Palace Hotel.

Online registrations are made by credit card or PayPal at http://cashelartsfest.com/content/Buy-Tickets.html

Fidelma Society director, David R. Wooten says: ‘When registrations opened on March 1, we were highly delighted with the immediate response. Within three weeks, groups of fans for nine countries had registered and we are still a long way from September 12.  Obviously, the Sister Fidelma enthusiasts believe this is an event that is far too exciting in the calendar of Fidelma’s World to miss. We intend to make it the biggest and most successful Sister Fidelma Mysteries gathering yet.’

Kill Fee by Owen Laukkanen

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A new voice came roaring out of British Columbia a couple of years ago and blew the crime reading public out of the water.  The Professionals was an amazing debut with a fresh conceit, a startling band of outlaws and an unusual odd couple for detectives.  The razor sharp plot and the page turning execution led to huge sales and many awards.  The affable and handsome young lion of an author took the reading public with him for his second book, Criminal Enterprise, and let everyone know that there would be no sophomore slump from this Canuck.  It has been a long wait but Mr. Laukkanen’s new book is finally here.

Kill Fee brings back the odd pairing of Carla Windermere, a black female FBI agent and Kirk Stevens, a married father and Minnesota state cop.  How they come to be working  together is skillfully portrayed in a slam-bang opening scene.  The book once again features a novel idea ripped from the headlines.
What do we do with our damaged soldiers who are returning from a fruitless war. How do we treat the psychic wounds they carry with them?  This problem is cunningly “solved” in an unexpected way by the author.

Like an action film that never lets up, Kill Fee wends its way through a labyrinth of clues as the two detectives find themselves embroiled in a Manchurian Candidate nightmare.  As the tension builds they find unexpected feelings rising between them and how they deal with these only keeps the pages turning.  This is a police procedural and a first-rate thriller. Do not miss it.

reviewed by STEVE SHADOW SCHWARTZ

Names of the Dead by Katia Lief

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What would you do if a young man you knew only vaguely started work at your office, and asked you to share a picnic lunch? How would you feel if he then started to bombard you with gifts, emails and phone calls? At just what point would you decide that this was more than a crush… and needed to be regarded as serious stalking? Questions like these are the starting-point for Names of the Dead, a recent crime thriller by Katia Lief. This author is best-known for the Karin Schaeffer private eye series, but the heroine of her standalone novel, Darcy Mayhew, is an investigative journalist at the New York Times. That means the book will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading novels set in newsrooms, such as Julie Kramer’s Delivering Deathrecently reviewed here at Poisoned Fiction.
A 30-something widow who has moved from Martha’s Vineyard to the Big Apple to rebuild her life, Darcy is an appealing heroine. Anyone who enjoys the whole female private eye style of fiction will immediately be sucked in by her wry, humorous first-person narration, which is compulsively readable. However, as Darcy finds her home life with her young son Nat under threat from a stalker, the appropriately-named mailroom worker Joe Coffin, the book also has strong elements of the “domestic suspense” genre, highlighted in the LA Times.
The novel is quite short, so it can almost be read at a sitting – and it might be a mistake to pick it up if you have to do something urgent in the next couple of hours. The newsroom atmosphere is convincingly created, and, refreshingly, Darcy actually has to work on more than one story at a time – unlike many fictional journalists who can spend weeks at a time on one investigation without their bosses batting an eyelid! All the same, most of her effort becomes focused on one particular scandal, after a whistle-blower approaches her with a story which carries deadly undertones. As she becomes increasingly obsessed by this investigation, it’s all too easy to ignore Joe’s obsession with her, and to convince herself it doesn’t matter all that much. Maybe he was outside her door by coincidence – and maybe leaving a bagel and coffee at her desk for breakfast was just a friendly gesture. Maybe.
The book builds up the tension well, with little details adding together to make Joe an increasingly scary figure. In the UK, the novel is published under a different title, focusing more on the threat he poses – Watch You Die. However, the US title is more true to the book’s main theme, because this is a novel with dark underpinnings, focusing on bereavement and grieving. Darcy is struggling to come to terms with the loss of her beloved husband, Hugo, and to allow herself to love again. Her own emotions also give her an insight into the suffering of her parents, who were both Holocaust survivors. Meanwhile, as she gains a greater understanding of her mother’s feelings in the past, she has to face up to the risk of losing her in the present, as she is a victim of advancing Alzheimer’s Disease. These are grim themes and there is a danger that the piling up of misery could get a bit much, yet somehow the novel never feels depressing. This is mainly because of the witty prose style – and also because there are lighter sections woven in, such as Darcy’s vivid memories of her life in Martha’s Vineyard, and her tentative second-time-around romance with her son’s gorgeous teacher.
It’s not just this novel which goes by more than one name. The author, who is a creative writing tutor, has herself published under three different names. Her first books were issued under her maiden name, Katia Spiegelman, next she wrote her first thrillers using a pseudonym, Kate Pepper (the surname was borrowed from a pet cat) and then she started writing her married name, Katia Lief. She has written a lighthearted essay asking “What’s In a Name?”, where she admits that at times she has ended up confusing herself. Many of her heroines also have similar names, adding to the muddle. It all means that, if you get hooked on this author’s style and want to catch up with her various books, you’ll have to do quite a bit of searching to find them all.
Reviewed by Anonymous

Narcopolis: A Novel of Bombay by Jeet Thayil

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Here at The Poisoned Pen, we never shy away from the grittier things in life. In fact, we like it grisly, murderous, complicated, metaphorical, fantastic, and everything else in the entire range of literature. Maybe because we can see our characters losing control over their lives, we are instantly drawn to the drama that will ensue, or maybe it is the vicarious thrill of doing something dangerous and illegal, something that we would not dare to do in real life. Whatever the reason: murder, incest, violence, sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll, they are all superb backdrops to a really great story. We have reviewed books about drug culture before. The Panopticon was a huge success as a novel and is reported to have secured a movie deal to be made by Ken Loach. Annoyingly, it will have to have a different name as there is already a movie that came out in 2012 with the name “Panopticon”.
 
Right name, wrong movie
It is the same situation with “Narcopolis”. The novel by Jeet Thayil won the DSC prize for South Asian Literature in 2013, quite an achievement for a first novel, but if a movie version is ever made it will have to be under a different name to avoid confusion with a futuristic thriller coming out later this year (2014). The novel is set in the Bombay (now Mumbai) of the 1970s and is the story of several characters who are already part of the opium scene descending further into their own personal hell. Part of the fascination with the novel rests with the author himself. Thayil was an alcoholic and drug addict for twenty years so when he writes of the hallucinations and the cravings, you know that he is speaking from experience, which makes the fate of his characters even more poignant. If you are worried that this genre of fiction glamorizes drugs and substance abuse, rest assured that there is nothing glamorous about the actions of any of the characters.  In fiction, as in real life, the reality of addiction is dark and desperate.
 
The main characters
Rashid is an opium house owner and it is in his den that we meet the other characters. In a way, he is proud of his den. He has the best opium, the best hostess, and the best reputation of all the dens. As he begins to get sucked down into the opium life, however, he starts to lose his grip on it all. His business falls away, unable to compete with the newer, nastier, quicker and harder hitting drugs of the 1980s, and yet he is now powerless to do anything about it.
Dimple is the center of this almost plot-less novel. She is the opium den hostess, a eunuch who turned to opium to relieve the pain of her operation, only to find a whole new world of pain opening up. It is her skills at making up pipes of opium that help to draw other people into the den, yet she is more aware than anyone else in the novel of what is waiting at the end of the line. She is a truly tragic figure, in that she cannot escape her fate. Customers who come and go from the den have a choice of whether to walk away from opium, or stay and spiral into addiction. Dimple has never had that choice, and she faces her ultimate demise with fortitude, fighting only with an attempt to educate herself in order that her life not be wasted.
Mr. Lee’s story is, in a way, the story of opium itself, escaping from China to India. It is he who leaves Dimple his genuine Chinese opium pipes in his will, in exchange for her promise to return his ashes to China, a promise she never manages to fulfill. Of all the characters, we get more back story of Mr. Lee, possibly because it is through him that the opium pipes come to Dimple and thence to Rashid’s den. By the book’s end, heroin and its offshoots have taken over as the self-obliteration of choice, and Rashid’s son runs the den like a business, with total contempt for his staff and customers. In the way that we all love the era in which we were young, no matter what the economic and political situation around us, the opium den with its horrors is viewed with nostalgia.
 
Style
Thayil was a poet before he was a novelist and his skills with words shows throughout the novel. The first chapter of the book is one long, breathless sentence that makes your head spin and your heart race, much as an opium high might do. It is a book both painful and sad, and yet it manages to be funny in places as it flicks from one character to another without much happening directly, while outside the den, Bombay grows up and changes into a harsher version of itself.
Reviewed by Anonymous 

Girl on the Golden Coin: A Novel of Frances Stuart by Marci Jefferson 

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Girl on the Golden Coin Jefferson PP Flirtations of the most dangerous and serious sort entangle Frances Stuart first in the court of Louis XIV and then in the Restoration court of Charles II. Despite the luscious gowns and extravagant jewels she wins for herself, we don’t envy her the high-wire balancing act she must maintain as she tries to win first one king’s influence and then another, while concealing the tragic secrets that would destroy her family and herself. That she manages to hold onto her virginity and her dignity for much of this engaging book while obeying the selfish commands of various powerful women and men is a testament to the inner strength and resiliency of Frances Stuart, the famous mistress of Charles II.  This remarkable woman carries the book—we deeply want her to find happiness and an identity that will allow her to remain true to herself. The first step that she must accomplish is to understand her own nature and sense of purpose. That isn’t easy in the treacherous seas of the courts she grows up in, nor is it easy to find when everyone who should love and protect her is out to use her. Frances carries the weight of her mother’s and siblings’ futures as well as her own. This is a book about an admirable woman in morally ambiguous circumstances where the price of failing at any one moment can destroy a family or a country. That’s a lot of pressure on one young woman, and the turns and twists of her life will keep you thrilled on every page. That Jefferson has so fully and accurately recreated the splendor of the Restoration court—its rich fabrics, gems, palaces, dalliances and betrayals—adds to the delight.

 

Review by Judith Starkston, Judith’s websiteFollow on TwitterFacebook

So West: Crime Time

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Time to once again saddle up and ride the crime soaked mesas and saguaro studded vistas of Arizona.  The local chapter of Sisters In Crime, the Desert Sleuths, has a new anthology out and its hot as a pistol and dangerous as a cornered rattler.  Each year the gals(and a few guys) produce a new collection of Arizona-set crime tales.
This years brace of 20 tales is, I believe, the strongest yet.  Under the editorial lead of the immensely talented Deborah J. Ledford a great set of stories has emerged.  Called “So West: Crime Time” the Sisters In Crime have done themselves proud.
The stories range from comic to bloody.  There is irony and shocks galore.  The entire physical gamut of our state is made use of and the people we meet continually surprise us.  Rather than single out my favorites (I have no wish to incur the wrath of any of these lethally imaginative writers by slighting someone) I want to praise all 19 women and one man for their superior efforts.  These are stories to savor throughout the year.
Arizona has a strong and varied community of writers from all genres.  This collection is in the vanguard of getting that message out.  This is the third in the “So West” series and they are all fine examples of our homegrown talent.  All 3 collections are available at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale.  This is a great chance to support a wonderful local resource and to get a great reading experience.

reviewed by Steve Shadow Schwartz

Chance by Kem Nunn

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With huge dollops of The Big Lebowski and rife with twisted noir tropes Kem Nunn’s latest book, “Chance” arrives like a run-away wrecking ball.  This dense and madly enjoyable novel has the requisite femme fatale, the big city corrupt cop and enough shady characters to please any fan of the psychological socio-crime novel.  This is a high-wire act of a book that runs flat out and never falters.  Mr. Nunn has always been an author on the edge and here he grabs his story by the throat and squeezes it for all it’s worth.
“Chance” is the title and chances are what Mr.Nunn takes in this roiling cauldron of a psycho thriller, social satire and gleeful gore fest.  Dr. Eldon Chance, a neuropsychologist, sets forth on a classic noir path that soon turns into a trip down a rabbit hole of horrors.  His journey becomes a series of switchbacks that gather speed towards a climax that is as hilarious as it is profound.
Since being overwhelmed by Kem Nunn’s first book, “Tapping the Source”, I have been a huge fan of his writing.  With “Chance” he delivers big time.  This is much more than just a crime novel.  Rich with echoes of Hammett and everything since, he pulls us along at lightning speed in this clever and richly plotted novel.  Issues of parenting, manhood, and the failures of the modern family ricochet around the central plot.  This is a rich and heady stew that charges ahead on twin rails of suspense and humor.  To reveal anymore of the story would be to temper the page-turning joy of this brilliant take on the classic San Francisco noir-clouded novel.  Clever, funny and exciting, “Chance” is the product of a terrific writer at the top of his game.  Don’t miss it.

reviewed by STEVE SHADOW SCHWARTZFor further reading:

Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran
The End of Everything by Megan Abbott