ROGUE'S ISLES, ROGUE'S JUSTICE...etc..by Thomas Gately Briody

Carl Hiaasen and S. V. Date fans, pull up a comfy seat and get ready to enjoy somebody new! These tales are the absolutely perfect beach read! Who ever thought the nation's smallest state is so chock full of comic corruption and characters from chillingly nuts (but in great ways...how about death by 25' boat constrictor?) to chillingly venal to flat-out unlucky. Author Briody knows his state and the state it's in. Enter Michael Carolina, ex- star reporter, laid-back charter boat captain, tempted by Shirley Templeton (really) to return to TV. At once, he is plunged into the wicked world of Rhode Island politics, and the disappearance of Frankie Falcone, president and looter of Amerigo Vespucci Loan & Investment. Frankie's virtual reality sex scenes will leave you gasping. Read the whole series, they're entertaining, and will make a visit to Providence a lot more interesting.  They are, because of what they are (not Hiaasen but close) 4's.


BEAUTIFUL LIES, by Clare Clark

London, 1887, a turbulent time when workers' rights are being fought over, when the grim struggle of impoverished workers comes head-to-head with entrenched wealth unwilling to give an inch (sound familiar?). Beautiful Maribel Campbell Lowe, self-described as a Chilean heiress, hides a secret that could ruin not only her but her beloved husband Edward, a fiery socialist politician. But Edward seems to be doing a pretty good job of ruining his own prospects, particularly once the conniving, self-promoting newspaper editor Alfred Webster zeros in on them. Follow Maribel, a photographer and Bohemian, as she treads a very fine line to assure that her life doesn't crumble to dust. A book group might find this interesting, as there's great political detail, a clear-eyed look at women's positions and the plight of the poor in industrialized England; plus, the story is based on a true person who managed to pull of for decades what Maribel's trying to do. A 4, great for a long weekend on the porch (with bonbons, of course).


One of the pleasures of book reviewing is acquainting friends with authors just discovered. This is not to say that Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo isn't well known, just not known to me. I picked this book up in a store in Hanoi, Vietnam, and was pulled into the plot at once. Good writing, no matter the original language (in this case, Danish), is sill good writing. Made into a movie in 2012, the multi-layered plot stars corporate headhunter Roger Brown, a man at the top of the head game that recruiting is, a man devoted (more or less) to his lovely wife, and to his elaborate lifestyle. But it's a house of cards and Roger must resort to a second career to keep the whole thing from tumbling down around him. When his wife Diana introduces Roger to Clas Greve, Roger sees a perfect candidate...and a perfect victim. Quickly, Roger realises he's made a life-threatening blunder. It's a 5; the plotting is superb, the ending unexpected. You'll put Jo Nesbo on your list of writers to follow.



Since Elizabethan times, the Trencom's of London have operated England's finest cheese shop, where 3000 different cheeses are tucked away in vast underground vaults, and the reigning male Trencom, with his unusual nose, holds court. Edward, tenth generation nose (and it is a whopper, complete with a very unusual bump at the top), discovers he's part of a conspiracy that has killed moswt of his forebears. As he delves into the mystery of why, this man who loves predictability suddenly becomes unpredictable (at times, to his wife's delight). Who are the mysterious Greeks who folow him? Why did Peregrine and Humphrey die? Why did Humphrey's body vanish frm the churchyard? All will be made clear in this whimsical, cheese lovers story. A 4.


A new series by the author of An Instance of the Fingerpost (which I read long ago but I remember it as a 5), stars Italian art detective General Bottando, his sexy and totally competent assistant Flavia di Stefano, and the handsome, mysterious art historian Johnathan Argyll. Set primarily in fabulously intricate and corrupt Rome, the story unfolds across Europe, fetching up in London. Author Pears has marvelous facility with art history (well, he ought to, he teaches it), the machinations of legitimate and unsavory characters, and a really fine eye for intrigue. Argyll claims to have found a missing Raphael, which subsequently vanishes, then turns up, then is burned, then - possibly? - appears once again. This entire series is a lot of fun, with beautifully-developed characters and a wonderful sense of place. These are, for me, a perfect read: 5 for all of them.


Lovers of gritty realism with a rational hero who has a firm (some might think too firm?) grip on reality will enjoy the Jack Reacher novels. This one, set in a completely corrupt Georgia town, and involving Reacher's brother Joe as the...oops, spoiler. Reacher, a man with plenty of history but no present ties is sucked in to a massive international scam run by killers who will stop at literally nothing. Well, you've heard that line before, but the author has done his homework and - other than the too-wierd coincidence of the first corpse's identity - the plot hangs together very well, with an amazing amount of action. Violence, along with some not-graphic sex, is at the heart of things here. Reacher as giver of justice works, as does his involvement with a gorgeous cop. With all the blood and gore, you may (or may not) see the ending coming. It's a 4...and Tom Cruise is absolutely not Jack Reacher.


THE MUMMY CASE, by Elizabeth Peters

All novels by this author are worth reading, even early ones from the 70‘s (Summer of the Dragon, for one). They have high chuckle value; they have well-drawn and totally believable characters; the characters act as would be expected (that is, you don’t get a blind character commenting on someone’s blue eyes, or the hero cowering behind a door, or a villain being anything other than villainous); the settings are invariably foreign and properly exotic. Set in the early 1900’s, the historic and cultural themes are very well drawn. The Mummy Case (originally published in 1985), part of the Amelia Peabody series, marks the appearance of the Master Criminal, Amelia’s bete noir. Once again Amelia and her larger-than-life husband Radcliffe Emerson, and their weirdly precocious son Ramses (and his weirdly precocious cat Bastet) investigate a series of crimes in and around their dig on the Giza plain outside Cairo. You could read this as a stand-alone, but months of pleasure await you if you read these books in order published. All in all, a solid 4+.



Devotees of historical fiction will gobble up this book, which shows its meticulous research in many ways. Set in the court of a very young Louis XIV, it details his courtship of his sister-in-law, Madame (the sparkling Henrietta, sister of England’s ever-amorous King Charles II), and the subsequent involvement with Madame's lady-in-waiting. The politics of court life are fascinating, as are the machinations of Viscount Nicolas, creator of the still-stunning chateau of Vaux le Vicomte. A good read, despite the author’s intrusive and ham-handed comments about what’s going to happen some day. That kind of author's excess takes the reader straight out of the story. A good companion novel to read would be Exit The Actress, by Priya Parmar, about King Charles II‘s court, containing many letters between the two royal siblings. It's a 3+ .


THE DEAD SEA CIPHER, By Elizabeth Peters

Published in 1970, this early Peters book shows the great promise of this prolific, long-honored author. A young woman tours the mid-east. She is sucked into a mysterious (a tad too mysterious, but there’s a major learning curve in writing) search for…what, exactly? In Jerusalem, things come to a head and all the odd characters in the tour group meet at deserted, sun-blasted Qumran in a mad, deadly dash for something so valuable it’s worth murdering for. As always, Peters nails her surroundings, her history, her art. This is a jolly little read, good for a Sunday afternoon in a hammock. And you can say you read Elizabeth Peters way back when, before Amelia Peabody came into being and made Peters the celebrity she so richly deserves to be. It’s a 3+.



Lovers of the impeccably, impossibly sexy Stone Barrington (Stewart Woods improbable male fantasy hero series star) will adore macho, always-gets-the-girls Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis. Author Siger, a long-time resident of Mykonos, knows his Greek culture and doesn't rub your face in it too often. The plot is suitably complex, with Kaldis treading a suitably edgy course. The characters are suitably diverse and fairly well drawn. All in all, despite its writing flaws, a solid 3+.



Beautifully written, when it isn’t obscure and infuriatingly vague, this novel brings to life wartime Berlin, when young, lovely Lucia Muller-Rossi goes from opportunistic survivor to deadly scavenger. A half-century later, in Zurich where Lucia and her young son Nicholas had fled at war’s end, an elderly holocaust survivor sees her own table - the last piece the Jews’ systematic humiliation by the Nazis allowed her to keep - displayed in Lucia’s antique shop window: a piece from Berlin. And, as she tries to find out how the piece got into that shop, lives begin to unravel. Most of the novel and its depiction of wartime Berlin is riveting, horrifying, devastating. It's further disturbing as Sarah Freeman follows a path she can’t leave. But the end is so tangled it was frustrating to try to follow. Some of you may give this novel a 5. But there’s a reason many novel paragraphs and scenes have the characters’ names in them. Pye, an accomplished writer, has chosen to flaunt that custom, and too many of the novel’s final scenes are so murky the pleasure and discovery is lost. Regrettably, a 3.

CITY OF DREAMS, by Beverly Swerling

1650: Nieuw Amsterdam, not yet taken by the British and renamed New York. This first thick volume of the Turner family saga will captivate you, with its depictions of the brutal life in the new world (all the old world’s bad habits plus marauding indians). Love, hate, hope, despair, tragedy and revenge, all here is fine detail, with a plot bolstered by painstaking research. Swerling, a prolific writer, is going on my must-read list. A good, solid 4.


THE JANISSARY TREE, by Jason Goodwin

1/series. It’s almost always a pleasure to read a historical novel by an expert on the time and place: Goodwin is a noted scholar of the Ottoman Empire and his writing style is erudite and still readable. This brilliant first book in a series starring Inspector Yashim – young, handsome, intelligent, a eunuch – revolves around the slave-warrior caste of the Janissaries, in 1836 now disgraced and disbanded…but not defeated. The characters and varies and fascinatng (and beautifully drawn), plot twists and turns are subtle and skilful, the plotting builds to a fine crescendo…I can hardly wait for the next one. It’s a 5.


Book reviews force one to examine a story more closely. After all, while I am no expert on anything but the art of compulsive reading, I'm supposed to tell you about a book and what makes it good, right? This one has me stumped. Is it magic realism? Is it fantasy? It is just out there and who cares why? But when an old man raises his umbrella and leeches rain from the sky, what's a reader to think? And the old man can talk to, in fact has fascinating conversations with, cats; what do we make of that?
Actually, the old guy, reviled because he is stupid, is a charmer. And the role he plays is very deep.
While a teen protagonist is usually the main character in a Young Adult (YA) novel, this is not the case with our young hero; this is definitely adult fiction. Kafka Tamura is an amazingly - at times, unbelievably - mature, well read, and articulate fifteen year old school drop-out and runaway whose life with his distant, sculptor father has become intolerable. Through a series of adventures, he winds up in a private library where he finds a sort of refuge.
The book starts with a conversation with the boy Crow. Who is Crow? As the story unfolds, Crow's real identity becomes clear. But not much else does, as the tale spins farther and farther into fantasy, until all the seemingly disparate strands begin to come together.
I hate spoilers, so I'm not going to tell you any more. If you enjoy a wide-ranging tale with a lot of improbable but charming characters (including a few felines), this could be a book for you. The drawback that I found was that everyone is willing to go into these hyper-detailed explanations of motivation and intent and history, which becomes by the midpoint of the story, a little trying. Nonetheless, this award-winning author has written an original and fascinating story. It's a 3+ for me, with a fair amount of sex - tops out at maybe a 3 - from time to time.

LEFT EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, by Kate Atkinson

British police procedurals are a breed apart, and this one is completely off the beaten track. Retired cop Tracy Waterhouse, large and unloved but still a copper at heart, runs security at a shopping center. In a moment of mental murkiness, she wrests a small girl from the violent clutches of a woman who could been the child's mother...and then Tracy shoves three thousand pounds in the woman's grubby hand, instantly becoming what she never dreamed she'd be: a mother. The deed is witnesses by Tilly, an aging actress who has forgotten where her car is. Silly Tilly. Elsewhere, former soldier/cop/mercenary Jackson Brodie is trying to find a client's birth parents. An almost-retired detective has a secret. And that's just the tip of the knife. Highly-developed characters and an intricate plot that takes its time unwinding, coupled with idiosyncratic writing, are hard to find. If you haven't read Atkinson (I hadn't, but this won't be the last), you may find this rewarding and entertaining. A 4.



2/series. Dido Kent, the irrepressible spinster sleuth intrigued by the unexpected death of a demanding old widow. Her charming nephew is methodically set up for what eventually appears to be a crime; if charged, he will most certainly hang. But Dido, unsatisfied with appearances, thinks otherwise. Very talented author Dean has created the limited 1806 English world in which women were expected to be only compliant and decorative, and leave the real living to the males. This is of no interest to Miss Kent, to the considerable dismay of possible suitor Mr. William Lomax, who attempts to rein in her natural investigative tendency. A 5, and well worth a weekend of pleasurable reading. www.annadean.co.uk


TOMCAT IN LOVE, by Tim O'Brien

Linguistics professor Thomas H. Chippering is many things, among them a man in love with words and women. When his childhood friend and brother-in-law Herbie exposes Tom's love diary (Hundreds of entires! Codes! Hints! Insinuations! But...) to his not-so-doting wife Lorna Sue, Thomas has a new obsession: winning his wife back. Too late: Lorna Sue has moved on, to a Tampa tycoon. And Thomas now wants revenge. At times fall-off-your-chair hilarious, this novel also has poignant moments of confession and soul-baring. And then it's back into the self-inflicted fray as Thomas once again seeks to polish his erotic talents. The man is a mess, but an engaging one. This Book of the Month Club Selection is, for me, a 4.


THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTER, by Julian Stockwin

8/series. Further adventures of Thomas Kydd brings our hero, and his elegant sideman Nicholas Renzi, back to England for a theoretically unpromising tour of coastal duty on a small ship, his beloved Teazer. He’s up against a skilful smuggler, he thinks he’s in love with the Admiral’s delightful daughter, he still strives to become the compleat gentleman…how on earth does he manage to blow it all? Once again, Stockwin delivers a mesmerizing tale; Patrick O’Brien would approve. It’s a 4. In its genre, actually, it's a solid 5. www.julianstockwin.com

SMOKIN SEVENTEEN, by Janet Evanovich

17,series. Better authors than the wildly successful Evanovich have succumbed to the lure of tossing in a lot of needless sex to jazz up a series; okay, that marks me as a sexually-obsessed Andy Rooney, doesn't it? But Evanovich's nutso heroine, skip tracer Stephanie Plum, hops from one steamy encounter to another - once even with her ass riding on a car horn, sheesh! - while tryng to work off a curse from Bella the Witch, and hoping wild gorilla sex will make up her mind which guy she loves more. After the debacle of #16, this does come as a pleasant surprise, as the plot actually is more than destroyed cars and Lula scarfing donuts, and the author's usual clutch of wildly wierd characters are interesting. Even the octogenarian vampire and the demented Lexus driver. Its a 4, but barely.



I really hate it when an author is not only talented but good lookin'...some people get all the breaks. Dickinson's talent is in, among other things, creating the elegant world in which Lord Frances Powerscourt and his lovely wife Lady Lucy, move so effortlessly. In Nevskii Prospekt, of course, the action is in St Petersburg, Russia, during the uncertain period before the Revolution. Dickinson perfectly portrays the gulf between the heedless and arrogant aristocracy and the starving, huddled masses, the beauty above and the incredible cruelty and ugliness that was beneath the glittery surface. In Holy Mountain, the endless Irish Question is brought to the fore as Powerscourt investigates seemingly innocuous theft of family portraits. The author has a great ear for dialect, puts his hero in the appropriate dicey situations, and never loosed control of his story. These two easy reads, part of a long series, are 4 (I wish the dialogue was stightly less stilted, but I guess that's how they spoke in the mid 1800's). Read them in order, with these it does matter.


ANATOMY OF DECEPTION, by Lawrence Goldstone

1889 Philadelphia: an earnest young doctor, studying under a legendary teaching physician who offers to be his mentor, is swept into an intrigue involvng a dead young woman whose body vanishes from the morgue. As young Ephraim Caroll struggles to understand the circumstances, forces arrayed against him - from a seductive young heiress to waterfront toughs to ruthless millionaires - put his life and his future in jeopardy. In the end, his choices are devlishly difficult. An intricate plot, well told. It's a 4.


THE QUEENE'S CURE, by Karen Harper

4/series. Imagine the imperious, mercurial Elizabeth Tudor as sleuth: author Harper makes it believable in this very successful series. As with all skilful plots, this one isn't precisely what it seems, nor are many of the characters, all varied and fascinating. Harper has mastered the intriciacies of court life in the late 1500's, and we are treated to a number of interesting glimpses, including the Royal Wardrobe that was so enormous that it had to be separately housed in a former-monastery (near today's Blackfriar's Tube stop!). If period details absorb you, you'll love this series. It's a 4.


TENACIOUS, by Julian Stockwin

6/series. More sea adventures of Thomas Kydd, this time meeting Horatio Nelson and taking part in the cataclysmic Battle of the Nile, where an outgunned British fleet takes on the might of ascendant France off the coast of Egypt in a blazing, history-changing, battle. The historical research is flawless, the battle scenes are horrific, Kydd's efforts to become a gentleman are heart-rending, and the unending philosophical struggles of Nicholas Renzi are capped by a mortal sickness. I am totally hooked on this delightful series. It's a 5.


HORSE HEAVEN, by Jane Smiley

The inimitable Smiley brings her awesome writing talent to the fascinating subject of horses, partuclarly thoroughbreds. And their owners, none of which are ordinary, and their “staff”. The horses’, not the owners’: grooms, riders, trainers, managers. Tracing it all through the lives of a group of horses, Smiley not only educates us about these sublime beasts, but about the world they inhabit and illuminate and the people whose lives are devoted to them. It’s a big book, and worth every minute of its 561 pages of 8 point type. I love a novel that actually gets deep into a subject. So it's big; so for me it's just more delicious time spent with this world. Horse Heaven is sheer heaven: 5+. While there's a certain amount of hanky panky, there's nothing explicit; could be a great gift for a horse-crazy daughter.


SHADOWS ON THE MIRROR, by Francis Fyfield

3/series. This is the reason I browse the library stacks: stellar authors like Fyfield. Too bad I started with this one, I’m sure it will taint my reading of the two novels that came before. But, what a writer! Every word in place, plotting so subtle you can’t figure out what’s going to happen next, a really horrific villain, two unusual protagonists with really unique backgrounds, a tangled history with near-misses and almost-dids. And, even, a very nice love story. This author should be (probably already is) up there with thegreat, merciless Ruth Rendell, and other realistic British suspense writers. A 5.


THE FLIRT, by Kathleen Tessaro

I love this author's premises and plots! Hughie Venables-Smythe answers an intriguing ad in a London paper for an “attractive, well-mannered, morally-flexible young man”. Quickly, the out of work actor is hired to be a flirt: he’ll beguile women to order. Not for personal gain, but to brighten their days. While Hughie learns the ropes, Leticia Vane’s bespoke underwear business Bordello is in trouble, single mom Rose wants out of her waitressing job, and Olivia Bourgalt du Coudray is suffering the endless tirades of her selfish elderly husband. And that, dear reader, is the tip of this delicious iceberg. See how they all twine together for a marvelously satisfying conclusion. It’s another 5 from this talented author.


BUFFALO MOUNTAIN, by Frederick Ramsay

3/series. Sheriff Ike Schwartz, Jewish copper (and former CIA agent) in a small Shenandoah Valley town, finds a body in the snow. He knows who it is: a former Russian spy. But identification says the man is Randall Harris, possibly related to a local mountain clan. Ike, recognizing that this is far more sensitive than a clan misunderstanding gone viral, stashes the body under its false name, and begins to peel away the obscuring layers. A nicely-tuned plot, a great protagonist (and his college president girlfriend is something else), an assemblage of weird mountain folk, and some real, and unreal, tragedy make for good reading. A 4.


THE PANTHER, by Nelson De Mille

Another high-concept blockbuster by De Mille, the master of such contemporary epics. This one takes place in Yemen, an A-list contender for hellhole of the millennia. John Corey, NYPD Terrorism Task Force member and his FBI wife, Kate Mayfield, accept temporary assignment for a black op, ostensibly to search out USS Cole perps, but actually for something else. But what something else isn’t made clear until Corey unpeels the layers of deceit, false leads, interagency rivalry and betrayal, and some very personal betrayal. Remind me never to go to Yemen. A 4; I get tired of Corey’s endless smartass comments. Reminds me of a guy I dated once...only once.


AN EYE FOR MURDER, by Libby Fischer Hellmann

2/series. Ellie Foreman, Jewish documentary filmmaker, divorced mother of an adventurous nine-year old daughter, finds herself sucked into the aftermath of an old man’s death when his landlady calls her. How is Ellie connected to this reclusive, ninety-year old man? Her own father, and his memories of World War II, may hold a clue. The old saying “there’s always an earlier crime” comes up in spades as Ellie meets a wealthy politician, her aged mother, and a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to a long-dead  Chicago industrialist. With roots in pre-war Europe and the hideous Josef Mengele, Ellie – with some timely help - unravels this old, deadly secret. A 4.



Starlady Sandra, television personality, astronomer, and discoverer of the planet Athena, throws it all over – including her ambitious, high-class swine of a husband – for an eternally on-the-road sax player named Jack. It’s instant lust when these two meet, and the barrister husband is history: but not quite. Jack and Sandra and the one-of-a-kind band tour France in a dying VW bus. Sandra’s meditations on married life, and life in general, could (if you enjoy long and occasionally raunchy episodes of navel-gazing) make this one of your favorite reads. A 4. Sex is a 3, but it never gets out of hand except to the prissy former spouse.


HANGING TIME, by Leslie Glass

 NYPD Detective April Woo’s mother, Dragon Lady Mother, don’t give her daughter no respect. Intent on marrying her only child off to a nice Chinese boy, April spends a much energy on her relentless parent as she does on the criminals she must catch. This time, a shopgirl is found, hanging, in the back room of a classy Upper West Side boutique. But she didn't die from hanging and it wasn't suicide, not with that makeup smeared all over and the oversize dress billowing. Woo and her new partner, smoking hot Mike Sanchez, figure it for a one-off. Then it happens again. As April's old acquaintance, psychiatrist Jason Frank, works with a manipulative client, April asks him to interview a suspect. It comes together almost too late. A 4+.



In 1933, Maybell Brumby, recently widowed, goes to London where her sister and family live and renews her Baltimore childhood friendship with Bessie Wallis Warfield Simpson. Mrs. Simpson, as history has reported, was the woman – and a not very attractive one at that – who was responsible for King Edward VII abdicating on the eve of World War II. David, as family and intimates called the King, was a weak, easily-led manchild who became so dependent on Wallis that he could not function without her. The story, told in the form of Maybell’s diary, is a fascinating, thoroughly entertaining, take on history. Loaded with interesting characters (not least is Maybell’s family, a mixed bag if ever one lived), amusing asides and anecdotes, you’ll come away with a new appreciation for this historically-important tale. After all, it’s why Queen Elizabeth is today’s English monarch (and probably why Camilla and Charles finally wed). A 4.

THE SENTRY, by Robert Crais

14,series. More Joe Pike, and his best friend Elvis Cole, private detective. Cool, silent Pike and joking Cole do their best to find out what’s going on at the po’boy shop. First the owner is roughed up. Pike, who sees the event unfold as he pumps gas across the street, steps in. Dru Raine, the owner’s very pretty niece, arrives, and Pike’s hooked. Now it’s a Sir Lancelot-type mission, something Pike is unusually well suited for. And once Pike’s on a job, he doesn’t step away until it’s finished. But is all as he thinks? Elvis peels back layers, the FBI arrives, bodies pile up, a psychopath surfaces (almost literally), and then Dru disappears. Who’s got her? And why? I love this author, he is simply merciless! It’s a 5! www.robertcrais.com



I'm on the road, currently in Malaysia, and the book is back at the hotel, and I can't remember the author's name. Published in 2012, this achingly poignant novel tells the story of Czech lovers caught up in the chaos and horror of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Ivana, young and lovely and part of the Resistance, meets Tomas. Despite her almost-engagement to another man, a good man who loves her totally, she falls instantly in love with Tomas and is willing to throw over everything to be with this mysterious newcomer. Tomas, too, is smitten...but he has been assigned a special mission, one which will have horrendous results. What happens to these star-crossed people is told by Ivana's son as he tries to uncover the truth about his parents' lives. No spoiler, you'll have to read it. Beautifully written, the author has a way with words and phrases that is stunning without being showy. When Ivana asks Tomas if he will walk with her, he says, "Anywhere." With a marvelous simplicity of words, all beautifully chosen, this author will draw you in a compel you to read. Book reviews for this type of book are so hard to write, simply because superlatives don't tell the whole story. Drag out the hankies and settle down for a fabulous read. It's a 5.

FIREDRAKE'S EYE, by Patricia Finney

London, 1583, Elizabeth's reign. Author Finney comments, "The Elizabethans were not nice people," and goes on to amply demonstrate how not nice they were. Her elegant, sometimes borderline mystical, writing style took a bit getting used to, but the effort was well worth it. Told by mad Tom O'Bedlam, we follow David Becket, a hard-drinking down-and-out master sworsdman, and Simon Ames, a Marano - Portugese Jew - and employee in Sir Frances Walsingham's intelligence office. Simon's specialty is seeing patterns in spies' correspondence, but the Firedrake - financed by Philip of Spain - eludes him. Tom, capering about London with angels and demons, sees it: his hated brother - the one who coldly committed him to the horrors of Bedlam Hospital - return from Rome to assassinate Elizabeth the Queen. The endless privations and brutalities are casually laid out for you to see, as they might have been in 1583. The action is as taut as any modern thriller...but the writing is so good, the story so compelling, the characters so unusual, I didn't want it to end. It's got to be a 5+.


RAN AWAY, by Barbara Hambly

4?/series. A more than usually satisfying tale from this prolific and original writer. The latest in the Benjamin January saga (which begins with A Free Man of Color), this complex tale takes us back to January’s many years in Paris, then to New Orleans where any free black man lives in fear of being forcibly taken as a slave. A Turkish nobleman January had known in Paris is accused of throwing his two concubines from a third-floor window. There is a white, therefore believable, witness, but January knows better. The cast of characters is big, the plot big, the story big. If you like historical fiction, you will gobble up every bit of this marvelous series. A 5. Could make a good series for a book group.


MURDER GETS A LIFE, by Anne George

A “Southern Sisters" novel, with all the Alabam-ese you could possibly stand. Patricia Anne and Mary Alice, sniping siblings with more comebacks than a has-been movie comic, find themselves embroiled in a mess of weirdness when Mary Alice’s boy Ray gets hitched to beautiful Sunshine Dabbs. Her mother is a porn star, her meemaw and pawpaw (grandmother and grandfather to you non-southerners) live in adjacent trailers, and something is obviously rotten in the trailer park when a faux-Indian chief appears totally dead in meemaw’s kitchen. A daring escape (oops, almost told you how) caps it all off. I like stories that don’t end well for everyone; this fills the bill. It’s a fun-filled 4.

BOYLE OF CAIRO, by Clara A. Boyle

This non-fiction biography will appeal to those who have an interest in the Egypt of the last turn of the century, or the British Empire at its zenith. Taken from his correspondence by the widow of Harry Boyle, the brilliant, self-effacing, right-hand man to Lord Cromer (who ran Egypt for a quarter century on behalf of Britain), it gives a marvelous insight into what is almost completely a vanished world: the beginning of the slide of the British Empire into what it is today. At the time, Cairo was the Paris of the Mid-East, a winter waterhole for the rich and privileged and connected, a trading center, the lynchpin on the route between England and India, and a great place to do a little espionage. Lots of anecdotes makes this pretty easy reading. Likely only for the historically dedicated, I nonetheless found it fascinating. A 4. Can be ordered from your library as an interlibrary loan.