Book series – they are both a boon and bane to readers. A boon because they can allow readers a richer connection to favorite characters and have the capacity to explore long, subtle plot arcs. A bane, perhaps, because sometimes when the well goes a little dry for the author, we tend to hang on because we’ve already made the “investment” in reading the series. Mostly, I read books from a series because they’re like comfort-food reading to me: familiar characters and feel that are easy to digest.
This last aspect can make it a bit daunting when it comes to reviewing books from a series though, because much of the review can depend on whether you’ve read any of the previous books. So, in this post, I wanted to offer some mini-reviews for books from series that I’ve read recently.
Tilt-A-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein. This is the first book in the John Ceepak mysteries (of which there are now seven). Ceepak is a former soldier who’s returned from Iraq and taken a job as a cop in small tourist town along the Jersey Shore. The story is told from the viewpoint of his slacker-ish summer-hire assistant Danny Boyle. Often mystery series will seek out more sophisticated and intriguing locations than the Jersey Shore, but as someone born and raised in the Garden State, I thought Grabenstein had a good feel for the towns that dot the shore. Given the premise, I had fairly low expectations going in, but I ended up enjoying this book, which entails the murder of a Donald Trump-like mogul and kidnapping of his heiress daughter. This series might be a good choice for fans of Stephanie Plum-type mysteries. Fun summer read. I will likely give the next book a shot at some point. 3 stars.
A Cat Was Involved by Spencer Quinn. This ebook short story is part of the Chet & Bernie Mystery series which has been a favorite of mine for the past couple of years. Bernie Little is a private detective in Phoenix and his cases are described from the viewpoint of his right-hand dog, Chet. I’ve posted about them before and before and before. These books are definitely targeted towards dog-lovers that like light mysteries. This short fills in the backstory of how Chet and Bernie first met and is a lead-in to this fall’s upcoming release, A Fistful of Collars. 3 stars.
Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.
Turning a fantasy trope on its head is always a good idea and Sanderson starts off in a world centuries after the Big Bad won. Somewhat unfortunately, a whole host of other fantasy cliches are still hanging around: the urchin with untapped potential, the chaotic good trickster/scoundrel teacher, the rogues gallery of support, etc. In the end, this was a pretty good story, but will probably only appeal strongly to fantasy devotees. I’ve had the second one for a while, but haven’t read it. That might say something. 3-ish stars.
The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo. After The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Scandinavian mysteries are most definitely “in” and I certainly have enjoyed both Steig Larsson’s books and the Icelandic Detective Erlandur series by Arnaldur Indriðason. I saw several friends on Goodreads point out that they also like Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, the first of which (in English translation) is The Redbreast. Harry is a bit like a Norwegian Erlandur, cynical and a little beaten down, though he’s a more iconoclastic than the Icelandic detective. In The Redbreast, Harry is called upon to investigate a murder that possibly has ties to a neo-Nazi group in Norway. The murder leads to a much deeper story involving Norwegian activity on the Eastern Front during World War II and the narrative crisply moves back and forth from the war to the present day. Hole is a good protagonist who makes mistakes, sometimes with dire consequences. Really enjoyed this well put-together mystery and am looking forward to reading more Nesbo. 3 solid stars.
Faithful Place and Broken Harbor by Tana French. Tana French has carved out a fascinating middlebrow niche as a writer who produces crime novels that are more than a standard whodunnit, but are still approachable to a wide portion of readers. In these two books, French continues to explore crime in and around Dublin, Ireland, while focusing each book on a character that appeared in a smaller role in one of her previous stories.
In Faithful Place, the discovery of an old suitcase causes Frank Mackey (head of the undercover group that was featured in French’s The Likeness) to realize that the girl he loved, who he thought left him in his youth for greener pastures, may have actually met with foul play. The story follows Frank as he tries to piece together events from decades before and understand who might have harmed the girl that he loved. One problem for Frank is that it isn’t his case and as the former boyfriend he’s a prime suspect. In many ways, Frank should feel like a cliche’ — a hard-working, hard-drinking, wise-cracking Irish rule-breaker that’s gotten ahead by bluster and guile and it’s a testament to French’s writing how fully realized he is as a character. More than just dealing with a murder mystery, we see Frank have to deal with his family, his memories, his guilt over not realizing what happened to his love, and the acidic longing for the life he might have had if things had gone differently. Faithful Place is a well-executed mystery with subtle layering and is my favorite book by French so far. Four stars.
Broken Harbor follows Mike “Scorcher” Kennedy, who was actually the investigating homicide detective in Faithful Place. Like Frank Mackey, Scorcher’s been around a long time, but unlike Frank, Scorcher is a strict rule-follower and has the best solve-rate in the department. He and his new, young, idealistic partner Richie are called in to investigate the brutal attack on a family in a seaside gone-bust housing development, in which only the mother barely survives.
If Faithful Place was about loss and regret, Broken Harbor focuses on psychosis. The investigation finds out how the deceased father started down a descent into mental illness after he lost his job and ended up underwater on their lemon of a house. He’d become obsessed with capturing an animal that seemed to have gotten into their attic, which affected all parts of his family’s lives. As it turns out, Scorcher is no stranger to mental illness — his mother was a depressive that committed suicide and he barely keeps control of his batshit sister (who is a great character). As you might imagine, his experiences shape his approach to the case. Broken Harbor benefits from getting out of Dublin and is probably the creepiest of French’s novels — she abandons the ever-so-slightly supernatural feel of her early first novels– and settles in for a reality that is much more disturbing. Four stars.
Those are my installments for now, though I’m currently working on finishing off The Hunger Games books and enjoying another Bernie Gunther mystery, so there will be more to follow, I’m sure.
What are your favorite “comfort food” series??