Payment in Blood–Elizabeth George

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This is the second in the Inspector Lynley series, and honestly, I should have read it sooner. It’s been several years since I read the first one and I spend a good portion of the book trying to remember who all the recurring characters are and how they related to one another.

These are British police procedural books. Inspector Lynley himself is an aristocrat, but his sergeant Barbara Havers is not and she resents the aristocracy their privilege. Ergo, they are frequently in conflict.

In this novel, a group of people are gathered in the middle of nowhere Scotland to work on an upcoming play. The group includes the playwright, her sister (also an actress in the play) the sister’s ex-husband (also an actor in the play) a famous leading lady and her husband, the director and his new girlfriend, the producer and his family, a literary critic and the staff, which is just the producer’s sister (and owner of the hotel) the chambermaid, the handyman, and the cook.

The first night at the hotel, there’s a massive fight almost as soon as the read-through begins because the playwright has made massive changes. Everyone disperses and in the morning the playwright is found dead, stabbed through the neck in her bed.

Lynley is called in to handle it because the producer is also a titled aristocrat and they want him to be handled gently. (This kind of crap is why Sergeant Havers hates the rich.)

He gets there and finds that all the copies of the play have been burned. The producer claims that the playwright had discovered that his wife had been unfaithful to him years earlier and written a play about that to embarrass him and that’s the source of the fight. But no one can confirm that because 1) there’s no copies of the play around and 2) no one else is talking about what the play was about.

Within the next day, the handyman is found dead. Eventually they release the suspects and start looking for answers outside the Scottish hotel. They find that the producer was covering up far more than infidelity but also that the playwright had more than one dangerously damning project in the works.

I enjoyed this book, although I did resent the fact that at book 2, only book 2, you feel like you’re playing catch-up if you don’t already know all the main recurring characters and their connection to each other.

 

Warriors of the Storm–Bernard Cornwell

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New book alert!

The blurb on the back suggests these books are like Game of Thrones (or more accurately “A Song of Ice and Fire” because we should be comparing book series to book series and not book series to TV show) but I would disagree with that sentiment. These books are far more focused, have less than a million characters and aren’t filled with magic.

Not to mention (AHEM, George RR Martin) these books are actually published as scheduled.

These books follow Uhtred, born to the lord of Bebbanburg, in Northumbira, but captured by Vikings when he was young and raised as a Viking. As an adult, he fights for the Saxons against the Vikings but retains a Viking sensibility and a commitment to the Norse gods in direct conflict with the emerging power of the Christian faith.

In this book, Uhtred is getting older and is in command of Ceaster, a fortified burgh on the river. Holding the rivers protects the interior from Vikings coming from Ireland. The adjoining burgh, at the mouth of the river, has been breached and Ragnall has managed to bring an army of about a thousand men into England and are rebuilding an abandoned burgh nearby.

He doesn’t have the men to repel this invasion but he soon realizes that Ragnall isn’t really planning to take Mercia, at least not immediately, but rather is planning to take control of the unfocused Viking tribes in Northumbria and then lead a massive army down to take Merica. This is not ideal, obviously.

As an added complication, Ragnall’s brother is Uhtred’s son in law. Fortunately, the son in law is sitting this one out in Ireland, mostly because Ragnall would like to take all his land and also take Uhtred’s daughter as his fifth wife.

It’s up to Uhtred to figure out how to save his daughter from Ragnall’s siege, stop the invasion of the Viking army that vastly outnumbers him, and prevent the scourging of Mercia and Wessex.

Fortunately, Uhtred is clever and wiley and still a strong fighter.

I love these books. The BBC is working on a series based on these books and I cannot wait to see it.

 

 

The Blessing Way–Tony Hillerman

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These books are so good. I remember when Hillerman died a few years ago and I was sad because these books are so beautifully well-written and compelling.

This is the first in the series. These books follow the adventures of Joe Leaphorn and/or Jim Chee, Navajo tribal police officers on the reservation in Arizona/New Mexico. This book follows Joe Leaphorn, the older of the two officers.

At the beginning of the book one of his old college friends, an anthropology professor, is in town for the summer to investigate rumors of witchcraft on the reservation. These witches are referred to as “wolves” or a “Navajo wolf” and are greatly feared.

Leaphorn is looking for a young man who injured someone in a bar fight and spreads the word that if he doesn’t turn himself in, Leaphorn will go after him into the depths of the wilderness. The next day the body of the young man turns up, killed in a manner that suggests witchcraft.

This sends the anthropologist and his assistant into the middle of nowhere to track the wolf. One night the assistant doesn’t return, leaving an inexplicable note signed with the wrong name. That night, the wolf comes to the campsite. The anthropologist and the missing assistant’s fiancee who had come looking for him escape the trap the wolf had set for them, but along the way they find the assistant’s car, with the assistant’s dead body in it.

The wolf tracks them down and tries to force them to write similar notes, but an injury the anthropologist sustained in his escape buys them time, so they’re moved to an abandoned pueblo, giving Leaphorn enough time to connect the dots and come save them.

I love these books and think they’re so thoughtful and clever.

 

The Girl in the Spider’s Web–David Lagercrantz

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I was dubious about this coming in. If you’ve read the first three books in the series, written by Stieg Larsson, you know that the series was wrapped up. All the loose ends were tied up. It was very emotionally satisfying. Larsson is dead,and apparently his family gave this other person permission to continue the series. You can understand my dubiousness. Was this book necessary? Is it just a cash grab to take advantage of the fact that this series exploded after Larsson’s death? Would it retain the feel of the originals?

Well. Sort of.

The plot was fine, not quite as convoluted as the previous ones, I don’t think, but fine. The characters seemed familiar, the author got the spirit of the characters right. The tone was off, though. The original trilogy was viscerally intense. I’d be up late reading them, with my heart pounding. I had no problem putting this book down and never felt that terror.

My biggest issue was that they created a character that was most definitely not in the previous books, one that should have been referenced in the previous books if they did exist. This isn’t a minor character, it’s the antagonist. This is LAZY storytelling. I am highly disappointed.

If you are interested in these books, read the originals. Read them in order, that’s very important. Also, if you have Netflix (in the US, at least) you can access the 6 part Swedish mini-series of the series. I highly recommend it, they’re brilliantly done and highly faithful to the books. Don’t read this. Let your memories and experience of this series stand with the original trilogy.