New crime fiction reviews

From the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Cannon, reviews of a new crop of crime fiction, by super-star writers.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

By Michael Connelly

Little, Brown, 392 pages, $38

We are well past the usual burnout for series characters but Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books continue to enchant and engage. The Wrong Side of Goodbye manages to be every bit as good as early masterpieces such as The Concrete Blonde and Trunk Music. As fans know, Harry is retired from the LAPD and spends his days working as a part-time private investigator as well as investigating cold cases for the San Fernando PD. The only caveat is that he cannot use police information in his PI work. That doesn’t seem to be a problem until two cases converge in unusual ways. The cold case is that of a serial rapist – clues have been lost, witnesses long gone. The private case involves octogenarian-billionaire Whitney Vance. Sixty-five-years ago, Vance fell in love, impregnated his 16-year-old girlfriend and then his father forced the pair to part. The girl – along with the baby – disappeared. Vance never loved another woman. He wants to know if there’s an heir or heiress out there somewhere. He offers Harry $10,000 just for one meeting. It’s detection and romance, how can Harry resist? Just how Harry solves both his mysteries requires a couple of coincidences and a tiny bit of contrivance at the end, but I wasn’t disappointed. This is a terrific Connelly book.

The Keys of My Prison

By Frances Shelley Wees

Véhicule Press, 188 pages, $14.95

Have you heard of the great Canadian author Margaret Millar? She was one of the hottest bestsellers in North America in the 1950s. Working right behind her in talent, but relatively unknown, we have Frances Shelley Wees, whose plots ran to Canadian pulp, and who, if this reissued classic is any indication, really knew her way around a psychological thriller. The setting is Toronto’s Rosedale. The story begins with a man in a coma and his devoted wife sitting next to him. Rafe Johnson is the perfect husband; attentive, charming, gracious, all any woman could want. He’s also the heir to a fortune and, at this moment, on the cusp of death. Rafe survives, but the man who comes out of the hospital is a complete stranger to his wife and family. Gone are the kind, pleasant ways. The new Rafe is coarse and vulgar, drinking away his days and ignoring his wife. Can a personality change? Or is something more sinister afoot? The plot leads to psychologist Dr. Merrill and his assistant, Henry Lake. Just what is the truth about Rafe Johnson? Thankfully, Véhicule is bringing out more of Wees’s novels. I love period pulp.

Rather Be the Devil

By Ian Rankin

Orion, 354 pages, $32

John Rebus returns in this superb mystery set in Edinburgh with a murder 40 years cold. To add to the psychological twist, Rebus has quit smoking and, as any former smoker knows, to go from a two-pack-a-day habit to nothing is no small matter. When his girlfriend, pathologist Deborah Quant, sends him a jar of diseased lung, she has no idea that there’s more than one reason Rebus has sworn off the devil weed. Rebus wants to celebrate a bit, so he arranges a dinner for himself and Deborah at a notorious hotel. In the 1970s, the Caledonian was the haunt of rock stars and prostitutes. It was also the scene of the never-solved murder of Maria Turquand. Rebus is interested in the cold case, but his ex-partner, DI Siobhan Clarke, has a more recent crime he can help with: A local crime leader has been beaten senseless on his own doorstep and the rumour is that Rebus’s old friend/nemesis, “Big Ger” Cafferty, is responsible. Clarke’s current case and Rebus’s cold one converge when Turquand’s husband turns out to be an employee of a very wealthy (and possibly criminally connected) banker. Rankin plays off the lavish lifestyles of past celebrities with the even more opulent surroundings of today’s ultrarich. When there’s no shortage of wealth, life is cheap.

Read more here.


Hamish MacBeth is eBook of the week

Knock, Knock, You're Dead!: A Hamish Macbeth Short Story (A Hamish Macbeth Mystery) by [Beaton, M. C.]

The National Post fun and interesting books section chooses an eBook every week. This week it is a 25-page story by M.C. Beaton — a Hamish MacBeth story.

From the review, “the dogged investigator learns that the antique business is more cutthroat than he could ever have imagined.”

Available at for just 99 cents.


Attention Downton Abbey fans!

Belgravia Julian Fellowes 2016 x 200

Author Julian Fellowes has a new book coming out. Belgravia will be released by the popular author of Downton Abbey on July 5th, but you can put a hold on the book now at the Ottawa Public Library.

Order online, and pick up conveniently at the North Gower Branch!



Here is a review from Good Reads.


Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At…more
A preview of the book is available by sample chapter here

Top 10 fiction and non-fiction reads from the Wall Street Journal

Top 10 NEW fiction

‘Rich and Pretty’

Rumaan Alam (June 7)

Best friends—one rich, the other pretty—navigate life in their 30s. Mr. Alam took bits and pieces from his friendships with women to craft well-heeled Sarah, beautiful Lauren and their complex relationship. Early reviews praise “Rich and Pretty,” Mr. Alam’s debut, for its believable female characters. “A lot of it was observed from the front lines,” the author said.

‘The Girls’

Emma Cline (June 14)

Ms. Cline’s debut made news two years ago amid reports that Random House snagged the manuscript for seven figures in a three-book deal. Set in sex-and-drug-fueled 1960s northern California, the novel follows narrator Evie Boyd and a group of otherworldly girls under the spell of a Charles Manson-like cult leader named Russell. To the girls, he is “The Wizard” who receives messages from animals and heals people with his hands. He mesmerizes Evie, who observes that “his voice seemed to slide all over me, to saturate the air, so that I felt pinned in place.” But he is not what he seems. Even his sideburns aren’t real.

See also a review of Annie Proulx’s first new book in 10 years…

Read the full article here.

Non-fiction summer 2016 preview

This season’s notable nonfiction books take readers from Elizabethan England to the jungles of Myanmar to the Paris of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein in the 1920s. Also on the way: a biography of the Roman poet Catullus and a work unraveling the truth about the murder of a young American woman during the final days of South African apartheid.

‘Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years’

John Guy (May 3)

Tudor scholar John Guy, author of “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” gives Queen Elizabeth I’s final years some extra attention. Crowned at 25, the ‘Virgin Queen’ ruled for more than four decades, yet most historians have tended to focus on her ascension and early adventures. Using primary documents, from state papers and unpublished letters to large parchment rolls, Mr. Guy makes the case that the queen truly came into her own after the age of 50.

Read the full article here.

Three new picture books for kids

From the Globe and Mail this week, reviews:

A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals

By Lucy Ruth Cummins

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $23

This book opens on a menagerie of animals, counting out a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle and a half-dozen other critters. As each page is turned, the smaller animals start to disappear, the lion appears increasingly menacing and the befuddled narrator has to restart the count. There are a lot of twists packed into such a brief story book, making it highly interactive; every child with whom I’ve read this book took great joy in shouting out their theories of where the animals were disappearing. Cummins’s scrappy illustrations (she colours within the line, more or less) add to both the innocence and darkness of the story, in the way that the presence of a children’s choir in a horror movie just causes everything to be that much more ominous. Kids who can’t get enough of Jon Klassen’s Hat books will eat this one right up.

The Stone Thrower

Written by Jael Ealey Richardson, illustrated by Matt James

Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $19

It’s the 1950s and Chuck Ealey is growing up in the segregated town of Portsmouth, Ohio. Poor and black, Chuck lives with his mother in the rundown North End neighbourhood. Chuck’s mother instills in him at a young age the drive to get out of the North End and pursue an education, but Chuck knows they can’t afford fancy schools. What follows is an original plan that will lead him to a football scholarship and later, the CFL. The problem with trying to distill the complexities of systemic inequality into a storybook include turning adversity into a feel-good narrative about the importance of working hard and having a good attitude, and with another author perhaps that’s what this book would be. But The Stone Thrower, based on a true story, was penned by Chuck Ealey’s daughter, whose focus lay more in preserving her father’s singular narrative, rather than moralizing.

Are We There Yet?

By Dan Santat

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $22

For a kid on a road trip, the line between exciting adventure and dull monotony is a thin one. This is what the boy at the centre of the latest book from Caldecott medalist Santat learns within the first two pages. The book takes a twist, literally, in an immersive gimmick that requires the pages to be rotated as its spiral into a journey through space and time, accompanied by a kid-friendly, Rod Serling-like narration. The car drives through the Wild West, medieval times, a pirate ship, ancient Egypt, onto which the parents look with wonder while the boy sits in the back seat, totally unenchanted and making comments as such (“I feel sick,” “My butt hurts”). It will take a lot more than jousting knights and cowboys to overcome the boredom of a long drive. Pack this for your kids to flip through on that summer road trip; Santat’s enchanting illustrations will hopefully engage them for a little while.

NOTE: All these books are available, or currently on order, at the Ottawa Public Library. Order now and pick up at the North Gower Branch!

Book review: Principles to Live By

Principles to Live By

David Adams Richards, 2016

Available at the Ottawa Public Library

Review in National Post, May 18, 2016

The man who lives without principles is a pitiable beast. The question is: what principles should we live by? Novelist David Adams Richards offers a simple solution, the quality known as “common decency.”

It may be simple but, like its sister notion, “common sense,” it may also be comparatively rare. Indeed part of the narrative thrust of Richards’s new novel, Principles To Live By, is its demonstration that living by the dictates of common decency – ordinary, garden variety, common decency – can result in high spiritual adventure.

The beginning of the novel certainly promises a sequence of events of no ordinary kind. It is March 1999, and the proprietor of a foster home in St. John, New Brunswick is chasing a scrawny 13-year-old boy, an inmate of his house. He almost succeeds in grabbing the boy by his coat but he wriggles free and the chase resumes until the boy, unfamiliar with the terrain and enveloped in darkness, accidentally runs off the edge of a ninety-two-foot cliff.

His pursuer, one Bunny McCrease, is panic-stricken and enlists the aid of his son-in-law to dispose of the boy’s coat, and pretends that the fall never happened. Furthermore, careless record-keeping has already more or less obliterated the boy’s brief stay at the foster home – no one looks for him, nobody claims him. Even his name is uncertain. His very existence has been erased.

It is a truly frightening thesis for a crime novel – not a quest to find out who killed somebody, but a quest on the part of people acting out of “common decency” to save the identity of an otherwise forgotten human being. …

Read the rest of the review here.