Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Couple of British Mysteries Written by Guys Named Peter

These are very different books but both are solid British mysteries and I don't have too much to say about either except that they are excellent reads so check 'em out! Solitaire by Peter Lovesey
Publication Year: 1992
Genre: Mystery
Series:Peter Diamond #2
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Simon Prebble

In book one of the series, Peter Diamond quit his job as a Detective Superintendent with the Bath police.  Practically the first thing that happens in book two is Diamond getting fired as a security guard from Harrods.  He is fired because on his rounds he missed that a young mute Japanese girl was hiding in the furniture goods department.  No one knows where she came from and a month's worth of searching don't turn up a parent or guardian for the child who turns out to be autistic.  Diamond, now unemployed, can't get the little girl out of his head so he starts to investigate and is eventually hired by a sumo wrestler who has also been moved by the girl's plight.  The investigation has international scope and takes Diamond to New York and Japan before everything is sorted out.

This is an older mystery series I've recently discovered and which I like very much probably because it reminds me of all the BBC Mystery! series I watched as a teenager like A Touch of Frost and Inspector Morse.  Like the protagonists of those series, Diamond is not particularly charming but he's dogged, confident, and smart which help him solve the mysteries he is drawn into.  He also seems to get along with shockingly few people besides his incredibly tolerant wife, Stephanie.

The mystery presented here is convoluted in mostly a good way and ends up making surprising connections.  Like the first book some time is spent in other people's perspective rather than just sitting in Diamond's head which gives the story more interest if less forward momentum than your average mystery. The book dives rather deeply into the subject of Autism and the pharmaceutical industry.  I found myself being more intrigued by the brief glimpse that is given of the world of sumo wrestling and spent some time looking things up about it (did you know sumo wrestlers live in "stables"  - i.e. a group that all train and live together in a house and have a strict hierarchy and lots of rules about what they can and cannot do?).   The ultimate role the sumo wrestler plays is a bit far fetched but awesome.

FINAL VERDICT:  An intriguingly complex if workaday early '90's British mystery series for folks who like their detectives curmudgeonly.  3 out of 5 Stars
The Lewis Man by Peter May
Publication Year: 2011
Genre: Mystery
Series: Lewis Trilogy #2
Awards: NA
Format: Hardback (from Library)
Narrator: NA

This is the second book in a series featuring Fin MacLeod, a product of Lewis Island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland who has just quit his job as a police detective in Edinburgh to move back to the Island.  In The Blackhouse, Fin was sent to the island to help investigate a murder while he is still struggling with the repercussions of his son being killed by a hit and run driver.  The Lewis Man starts a few months later as Fin is signing his divorce papers and quitting his job with the police, to move back home where an old love and a newly discovered son await him.  He is drawn into the investigation of a body found buried and preserved in the peat bogs when it is discovered that the body is related to his friend's elderly father.  Since the father is suffering from a severe case of dementia, it is not as simple as asking him what happened.  Fin is racing to discover the truth before the mainland cops descend upon the investigation.

As with the first book in the series, half of this book is told as flashbacks to the past - in this case the elderly father's - and the present.  The flashbacks sometimes supersede, sometimes answer the questions that arise in the modern investigation.  It's an effective way to tell the story though I do have to say that I liked the present timeline more than the past. The past is grim and steeped with a sense of foreboding.  The past storyline mostly focuses on orphans and the way these children were treated, even as late as the 1950s when most of the past action takes place, is particularly horrifying.  The orphaned children don't seem to meet a single adult that shows them even an ounce of compassion and they are more frequently treated with dislike and disgust.  It was hard to read.

The present storyline circles the investigation but also explores further Fin and Marsaili's (the old love) complicated relationship as well as that with his newly discovered teenaged son.   In addition to learning that her father is not what he has always said he is, Marsaili must also deal with his dementia and her mother's complete abandonment of him because she can't deal with his illness.

It all comes together to make an incredibly rich story set against the backdrop of the Hebrides islands' history and legacy.  I did guess the solution to the murder but only just before it is revealed and the reveal and conclusion is sufficiently dramatic and satisfying to wipe away any disappointment in knowing what happened.  The whole book was a page turner.

FINAL VERDICT:  An atmospheric mystery series which successfully intertwines setting, personal stories and a mystery to create a complex and totally satisfying read!  I'm sorry I only have one book left to go in this trilogy.  3.5 out of 5 Stars.

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