Monday, June 29, 2009

A Review: The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

Hardcover: 324 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Putnam Pub Group May 2007
ISBN-10: 0399153535
ISBN-13: 9780399153532

This story by British author, Mark Mills, follows Cambridge student Adam Strickland to the Tuscan hills of Italy in the summer of 1958. Adam is a rather lazy young man whose professor asks him to travel to Villa Docci to solve the mystery of its garden. The garden, created 400 hundred years before by the original owner of the villa, was dedicated to his wife, the lovely Flora. Relying heavily on the classic masterpiece, Dante's Inferno, Adam works diligently to solve the mystery of the garden. As he works he also discovers the truth about two murders, committed 400 years apart, and that the current resident of the villa, 70 year old Signora Docci, has a secret of her own.

Of course, in one of the most romantic countries on earth, there must be a love interest for Adam, who happens to be Signora Docci's beautiful granddaughter, Antonella.

The plot is well thought out and the characters have depth and believability. There is just the right amount of Italian history and culture to provide interest, while not weighing down the story in unnecessary minutia. The ending is satisfying, seeing justice served at last.

Synopsis (from the author's website)

A beautiful Tuscan villa, a mysterious garden, two hidden murders - one from the 16th century, one from the twentieth - and a family driven by dark secrets, combine in this evocative, intriguing mystery set in post-War Italy. In 1958, Adam Strickland, a young Cambridge scholar, travels to the Villa Docci in Tuscany to study a sixteenth-century garden. Designed and laid out by a grieving husband to the memory of his dead wife, it is a mysterious world of statues, grottoes, meandering rills and classical inscriptions. But tragedy has hit the Docci family more recently. The German occupation during World War 2 had a devastating impact on them, and the tensions between collaborators and partisans were played out within their own tight circle. Adam is fascinated by the Doccis and increasingly aware that there are dangerous secrets hidden within the family domain. The garden itself starts to exercise a powerful influence over his imagination, its iconography seeming to point to some deeper, darker truth than was first apparent. And what really lay behind a killing at the villa towards the end of the war? Past and present, love and intrigue, intertwine in an evocative mystery which vividly captures the experience of an innocent abroad in the uncertain world of post-War Italy.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Review: Shallow Graves by Jeffery Deaver

Paperback: 333 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Pocket Books Sep 2000
ISBN-10: 0671047485
ISBN-13: 9780671047481

I found some time to read while I was on vacation...Shallow Graves was one I read on the plane. Shallow Graves is the first in the John Pellam series.

Pellam is a location scout in the film business. In this first novel, he is in upstate New York. I enjoyed this because the location where he is scouting is only about a half hour from where I live. I wasn't really fond of Pellam...he seemed rather cynical and arrogant and he wasn't too particular about the marital status of the women he was interested in, or about being faithful to the girlfriend back in California. However, I warmed to him as the story progressed.

Pellam is scouting in a small town that, on first observation, appears to be a typical small town with typical small town people. It doesn't take long for Pellam to realize that there is a sinister side to the town and that he is not wanted there. The more certain townspeople try to get rid of him, the more determined he is to stay.

All in all, the book isn't Deaver's best, but it's not the worst book I every read. The characters were all rather shallow and very few of them were even likable. The plot was unoriginal, and although it won't bore you to distraction, it won't raise your blood pressure either.

Synopsis (from the author's website)

Location scouting is to the film business what Switzerland is to war. John Pellam had been in the trenches of film making, with a promising Hollywood career — until a tragedy sidetracked him. Now he's a location scout, who travels the country in search of shooting sites for films.

When he rides down Main Street, locals usually clamor for their chance at fifteen minutes of fame. But in a small town in upstate New York, Pellam experiences a very different reception — his illusionary world is shattered by a savage murder, and Pellam is suddenly center stage in an unfolding drama of violence, lust, and conspiracy, which have a stranglehold on this less-than-picture-perfect locale.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Long Awaited Vacation

Tomorrow I’m off to Colorado to visit my daughter. We have a few days planned in Glenwood Springs and intend to visit the hot springs and do some hiking. I just love the mountains there and the gorgeous and abundant wildlife. And on one day, I have a wonderful spa day that the dear girl got me for Mother’s Day.

Two of my grandchildren will be visiting too so we expect to have a good time.

Be back later……

A Review: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Hardcover: 376 pages
Language: English
Publisher: William Morrow & Co Feb 2007
ISBN-10: 0061147931
ISBN-13: 9780061147937

Joe Hill is the son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King and Heart-Shaped Box is his first novel.

Judas Coyne is a middle-aged rock star, the genius behind the heavy metal band, Jude's Hammer. He is a collector of the macabre, including a cannibal's cookbook and a snuff film. So when he received an email informing him of an auction that had a haunted suit for sale, how could he resist? What Jude didn't know is that the auction is rigged and the seller is the sister of an ex-girlfriend who blames him for her suicide.

The suit is haunted by the girl's stepfather, Craddock McDermott. Craddock leads Jude and his current girlfriend, Georgia, on a terror filled supernatural experience that includes hallucinations, induced suicides, phantom dogs and phone calls from the dead.

As Jude and Georgia travel from New York to Florida and eventually to Louisiana in an attempt to rid themselves of the ghost, Craddock pursues them in his old phantom pick-up truck. Along the way, they learn about Craddock, his daughter and the real reason for her suicide.

The characters are complex, although Hill's descriptions of them are a little trite (i.e. his assistant Danny has high, arched Jack Nicholson eyebrows). Still, I enjoyed the book and, if you like Stephen King, you will probably like his son too.

Synopsis (from the author's website)

Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals . . . a used hangman's noose . . . a snuff film. An aging death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can't help but reach for his wallet.

I will "sell" my stepfather's ghost to the highest bidder. . . .

For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man's suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn't afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts—of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What's one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It's the real thing.

And suddenly the suit's previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door . . . seated in Jude's restored vintage Mustang . . . standing outside his window . . . staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting—with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand. . . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thank you Susan from A Southern Daydreamer Reads, for the One Lovely Blog award! I really appreciate it.

Here are the rules:
  1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.
  2. Pass the award to other blogs….
  3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.
There are so many outstanding book and reading blogs out there, it's hard to pick only a few. So I'm passing this to everyone who visits here to let you know how much I appreciate you. Please grab the award to display on your site and pass it on to your favorites.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer Reading Challenge 2009

  • Challenge: Summer Reading Challenge 2009
  • Start date: June 21, 2009
  • Finish date: September 21, 2009
  • Hosted By: A Southern Daydreamer Reads

Here's the beginning of my list for the Summer Reading Challenge 2009. I'll be adding to it as I decide on new books.

To learn more about the challenge go HERE.
  • Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  • Phantom Prey by John Sandford
  • Hornet's Nest by Patricia Cornwell
  • Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center
  • The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
  • I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark
  • Halloween Party by Agatha Christie
  • A is For Alibi by Sue Grafton
  • B is For Burglar by Sue Grafton
  • C is For Corpse by Sue Grafton
  • Shallow Graves by Jeffery Deaver
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  • The Front by Patricia Cornwell
  • The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver
  • Dead Watch by John Sandford
  • Critical Judgment by Michael Palmer
  • Whispers by Dean Koontz
  • Act of Betrayal by Edna Buchanan
  • Sail by James Patterson
  • 7th Heaven by James Patterson
  • Relentless by Dean Koontz
  • Saving Faith by David Baldacci
  • New Moon by Stephanie Meyer

Spring Reading Challenge 2009: Books Read March 20 - June 20

Well, I've completed the Spring Reading Challenge 2009, so here is the listing of the books I read.

Now, I'm busy compiling my list for the Summer Reading Challenge that Susan at A Southern Daydreamer Reads will be posting on Friday, June 19. First on my list is Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.
  • Mortal Prey by John Sandford
  • Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz
  • The General's Daughter by Nelson DeMille
  • The Stone Monkey by Jeffery Deaver
  • Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell
  • Along Came a Spider by James Patterson
  • Speaking in Tongues by Jeffery Deaver
  • Against Medical Advice by James Patterson & Hal Friedman
  • The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver
  • Hidden Prey by John Sandford
  • 1st to Die by James Patterson
  • Broken Prey by John Sandford
  • The Summons by John Grisham
  • The King of Torts by John Grisham
  • Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell
  • Invisible Prey by John Sandford
  • Split Second by David Baldacci
  • At Risk by Patricia Cornwell

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Review: At Risk by Patricia Cornwell

Hardcover: 211 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Putnam Pub Group May 2006
ISBN-10: 0399153624
ISBN-13: 9780399153624

At Risk is the first novel in the Win Garano series. Win, short for Winston, is an investigator for the District Attorney in Boston. The DA, Monique Lamont, or Money Lamount as Win calls her, has her sights set on the Governor's office and is using Win to help get her there. And he isn't happy about it.

Win is not what you would expect. He's drop dead gorgeous and wears designer clothing he buys in thrift shops. He has a grandmother who gives readings with her tarot cards and sometimes warns him of dangers he may experience while working. He's highly intelligent but couldn't get into college because he freezes up when taking tests and tanked on his SAT's.

The writing in this novel doesn't live up to Cornwell's usual standard. The characters lack depth, the plot was disjointed and there seemed to be little research into the Boston and Cambridge areas.

I am still a huge Cornwell fan and will not let my disappointment in this novel keep me from enjoying her works. All in all, I give this one a "just OK".

Synopsis (from the author's website)

A Massachusetts state investigator is called home from Knoxville, Tennessee, where he is completing a course at the National Forensic Academy. His boss, the district attorney, attractive but hard-charging, is planning to run for governor, and as a showcase she's planning to use a new crime initiative called At Risk-its motto: "Any crime, any time." In particular, she's been looking for a way to employ cutting-edge DNA technology, and she thinks she's found the perfect subject in an unsolved twenty-year-old murder-in Tennessee. If her office solves the case, it ought to make them all look pretty good, right?

Her investigator is not so sure-not sure about anything to do with this woman, really-but before he can open his mouth, a shocking piece of violence intervenes, an act that shakes up not only both their lives but the lives of everyone around them. It's not a random event. Is it personal? Is it professional? Whatever it is, the implications are very, very bad indeed . . . and they're about to get much worse.


AN AUTUMN STORM has pounded Cambridge all day and is set to play a violent encore into the night. Lightning sears and thunder startles as Winston Garano ("Win" or "Geronimo" most people call him) strides through the dusk along the eastern border of Harvard Yard.

He has no umbrella. He has no jacket. His Hugo Boss suit and dark hair are dripping wet and pressed flat against him, his Prada shoes soaked and filthy from a false step out of the taxi into a puddle. Of course, the damn taxi driver let him out at the wrong damn address, not at 20 Quincy Street in front of the Harvard Faculty Club but at the Fogg Art Museum, and that was Win's miscalculation, really. When he got into the taxi at Logan International Airport, he happened to tell the driver, Harvard Faculty Club, it's near the Fogg, thought maybe if he referenced both he might sound like someone who went to Harvard or collects fine art instead of what he is, an investigator with the Massachusetts State Police who applied to Harvard seventeen years ago and didn't get in.

Big raindrops feel like irritable fingers tapping the top of his head and he is overcome by anxiety as he stands on the old red-brick walk in the midst of the old red-brick Yard, looking up and down Quincy Street, watching people spew past in cars and on bicycles, a few on foot and hunched under umbrellas. Privileged people move through the rain and mist, belonging here and knowing they do and where they are going.

"Excuse me," Win says to a guy in a black windbreaker and baggy, faded jeans. "Your Mensa question for the day."

"Huh " He scowls, having just crossed the wet one-way street, a soggy satchel dripping from his back.

"Where's the faculty club "

"Right there," he replies with unnecessary snottiness, probably because if Win were a faculty member or anyone important, obviously he would know where the faculty club is.

He heads toward a handsome Georgian Revival building with a gray slate roof, the brick patio blossoming with wet, white umbrellas. Lighted windows are warm in the gathering darkness, and the quiet splashing of a fountain blends with the sounds of the rain as he follows slick cobblestones to the front door, running his fingers through his wet hair. Inside, he looks around as if he's just entered a crime scene, taking in his surroundings, making judgments about what must have been a parlor for some wealthy aristocrat more than a century ago. He surveys mahogany paneling, Persian rugs, brass chandeliers, Victorian theater broadsheets, oil portraits and polished old stairs that lead somewhere he'll probably never go.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Review: Split Second by David Baldacci

Hardcover: 406 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Grand Central Pub Sep 2003
ISBN-10: 0446530891
ISBN-13: 9780446530897

With the reading of this book, I'm halfway through the 1st In a Series reading challenge.

This book didn't get very good reviews and I have to say, that surprises me. Although I wouldn't consider it a 5 star read, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery. It's entertainment, not a literary masterpiece.

Two disgraced Secret Service agents find each other and go on a quest to solve the crimes that lead to their downfall. A bit of a cliche, but one that works. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell were on a fast-track
with the Secret Service when, eight years apart, each lost their protectee. Both protectees were candidates for President of the United States; one assassinated, the other kidnapped.

As the body count rises, you realize that the villians seem to know an awful lot about where Sean and Michelle are and what they are doing. How do they stay so well-informed and are always in the right place at the right time? Is it Sean's ex-lover who is still interested in him, the Deputy Marshall involved in the investigation, or how about Michelle's supervisor at the Secret Service who wants her off the job? Maybe it's the daughter or old friend of the assassin from Sean's past.

Although there is some action in the story, much of the time spent by Sean and Michelle, along with a few law enforcement figures, is trying figuring out what happened and why. The plot is rather complicated but not so much as to make it difficult to follow. If I had to criticize anything, it would be the ending. It was overly dramatic and theatrical and does stretch the imagination quite a bit. Even so, there is enough excitement, mystery and sexual tension to make this a satisfying read.

Description (from the author's website)

Michelle Maxwell has just blown her future with the Secret Service. With heavy reluctance, she let a presidential candidate out of her sight to comfort a grieving widow. Then, behind closed doors, the politician whose safety was her responsibility vanished into thin air.

Living a new life on a quiet lake in Central Virginia, Sean King knows how the younger agent feels. He’s been there before. In an out-of-the-way hotel eight years earlier, the hard-charging Secret Service man allowed his attention to be diverted for a split second. And the presidential candidate Sean was protecting was gunned down before his eyes.

Now, Michelle and Sean are about to see their destinies converge. She has become obsessed with Sean’s case. And he needs a friend -- especially since a series of macabre killings have brought him under suspicion and prompted the reappearance of a seductive woman he’s tried hard to forget.

As the two discredited agents enter a maze of lies, secrets, and deadly coincidences, they uncover a shocking truth: that the separate acts of violence that shattered their lives were really a long time in the making -- and are a long way from over...

With an adrenaline rush on every page and a plot that springs one jaw-dropping surprise after another, David Baldacci’s new novel will plunge you into a dangerous realm of rage, desire, betrayal and revenge.


The motorcade streamed into the tree-shaded parking lot,where it disgorged numerous people who looked hot, tired and genuinely unhappy. The miniature army marched toward the ugly white brick building. The structure had been many things in its time and currently housed a decrepit funeral home that was thriving solely because there was no other such facility within thirty miles and the dead, of course, had to go somewhere. Appropriately somber gentlemen in black suits stood next to hearses of the same color. A few bereaved trickled out the door, sobbing quietly into handkerchiefs. An old man in a tattered suit that was too large for him and wearing a battered, oily Stetson sat on a bench outside the front entrance, whittling. It was just that sort of a place, rural to the hilt, stock car racing and bluegrass ballads forever.

The old fellow looked up curiously as the procession passed by with a tall, distinguished-looking man ceremoniously in the middle. The elderly gent just shook his head and grinned at this spectacle,showing the few tobacco-stained teeth he had left. Then he took a nip of refreshment from a flask pulled from his pocket and returned to his artful wood carving.

The woman, in her early thirties and dressed in a black pantsuit,was in step behind the tall man. In the past her heavy pistol in the belt holster had scraped uncomfortably against her side, causing a scab. As a solution she'd sewn an extra layer of cloth into her blouse sat that spot and learned to live with any lingering irritation. She'd overheard some of her men joke that all female agents should wear double shoulder holsters because it gave them a buxom look without expensive breast enhancement. Yes, testosterone was alive and well in her world.

Secret Service agent Michelle Maxwell was on the extreme fast track. She was not yet at the White House detail, guarding the president of the United States, but she was close. Barely nine years in the Service, and she was already a protection detail leader. Most agents spent a decade in the field doing investigative work before even graduating to protection detail as shift agents, yet Michelle Maxwell was used to getting to places before other folks.

This was her big preview before almost certain reassignment to the White House, and she was worried. This was an unscheduled stop, and that meant no advance team and limited backup. Yet because it was a last-minute change in plan, the plus side was no one could know they were going to be there.

They reached the entrance, and Michelle put a firm hand on the tall man's arm and told him to wait while they scoped things out.The place was quiet, smelled of death and despair in quiet pockets of misery centered on coffins in each of the viewing rooms. She posted agents at various key points along the man's path: "giving feet" as it was called in Service parlance. Properly done, the simple act of having a professional with a gun and communication capability standing in a doorway could work wonders.

She spoke into her walkie-talkie, and the tall man, John Bruno,was brought in. She led him down the hallway as gazes from the viewing rooms wandered to them. A politician and his entourage on the campaign trail were like a herd of elephants: they could travel nowhere lightly. They stomped the earth until it hurt with the weight of the guards, chiefs of staff, spokespersons, speechwriters,publicity folks, gofers and others. It was a spectacle that if it didn't make you laugh would at least cause you considerable worry about the future of the country.

John Bruno was running for the office of president of the United States, and he had absolutely no chance of winning. Looking far younger than his fifty-six years, he was an independent candidate who'd used the support of a small but strident percentage of the electorate fed up with just about everything mainstream to qualify for each state's national ballot. Thus, he'd been given Secret Service protection, though not at the staffing level of a bona fide contender. It was Michelle Maxwell's job to keep him alive until the election.She was counting the days.

Bruno was a former iron-balls prosecutor, and he'd made a great number of enemies, only some of whom were currently behind bars. His political planks were fairly simple. He'd tell you he wanted government off the backs of the people and free enterprise to rule. As for the poor and weak, those not up to the task of unfettered competition,well, in all other species the weak died and the strong prevailed,and why should it be any different for us? Largely because of that position, the man had no chance of winning. Although America loved its tough guys, they weren't ready to vote for leaders who exhibited no compassion for the downtrodden and miserable, for on any given day they might constitute a majority.

The trouble started when Bruno entered the room trailed by his chief of staff, two aides, Michelle and three of her men. The widow sitting in front of her husband's coffin looked up sharply. Michelle couldn't see her expression through the veil the woman was wearing but assumed her look was one of surprise at seeing this herd of interlopers invading hallowed ground. The old woman got up and retreated to a corner, visibly shaking.

The candidate whirled on Michelle. "He was a dear friend of mine," Bruno snapped, "and I am not going to parade in with an army. Get out," he added tersely.

"I'll stay," she fired back. "Just me."He shook his head. They'd had many such standoffs. He knew that his candidacy was a hopeless long shot, and that just made him try even harder. The pace had been brutal, the protection logistics a nightmare.

"No, this is private!" he growled. Bruno looked over at the quivering woman in the corner. "My God, you're scaring her to death.This is repugnant."

Michelle went back one more time to the well. He refused yet again, leading them all out of the room, berating them as he did.What the hell could happen to him in a funeral home? Was the eighty-year-old widow going to jump him? Was the dead man going to come back to life? Michelle sensed that her protectee was really upset because she was costing him valuable campaign time.Yet it wasn't her idea to come here. However, Bruno was in no mood to hear that.

No chance to win, and the man acted like he was king of the hill. Of course, on election day the voters, including Michelle, would kick his butt right out the door.

As a compromise Michelle asked for two minutes to sweep the room. This was granted, and her men moved quickly to do so while she silently fumed, telling herself that she had to save her ammo for the really important battles.

Her men came out 120 seconds later and reported everything okay. Only one door in and out. No windows. Old lady and dead guy the only occupants. It was cool. Not perfect, but okay. Michelle nodded at her candidate. Bruno could have his private face time, and then they could get out of here.

Inside the viewing room, Bruno closed the door behind him and walked over to the open coffin. There was another coffin against the far wall; it was also open, but empty. The deceased's coffin was resting on a raised platform with a white skirting that was surrounded waist-high with an assortment of beautiful flowers. Bruno paid his respects to the body lying there, murmuring, "So long, Bill," as he turned to the widow, who'd returned to her chair. He knelt in front of her, gently held one of her hands.

"I'm so sorry, Mildred, so very sorry. He was a good man."The bereaved looked up at him from behind the veil, smiled and then looked down again. Bruno's expression changed and he looked around, though the only other occupant of the room was in no condition to eavesdrop. "Now, you mentioned something else you wanted to talk about. In private."

"Yes," the widow said in a very low voice."I'm afraid I don't have much time, Mildred. What is it?" In answer she placed a hand on his cheek, and then her fingers touched his neck. Bruno grimaced as he felt the sharp prick against his skin, and then he slipped to the floor unconscious.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Review: Invisible Prey by John Sandford

Hardcover: 388 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Putnam Pub Group May 2007
ISBN-10: 0399154213
ISBN-13: 9780399154218

As always Lucas Davenport, a Special Agent for Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is called in when a situation is too tough for a local police department or too politically sensitive.

The story opens with two women, an elderly heiress and her maid, being brutally murdered in a home in one of St. Paul's elite neighborhoods. Lucas is conducting a very politically sensitive investigation of a local politician who is accused of being involved with a minor. These two very different investigations, a sex scandal and a double murder, ultimately become intertwined.

The 17th installment in the Prey series is more thriller than mystery since the killers are revealed early, with the plot being revealed through the killers' point of view. Davenport unravels their scheme as he immerses himself into the world of art and antiques.

As usual, Sandford has given us a novel that is intelligent and entertaining.

Description (from the author's website)

And it's all true once again about Invisible Prey. This is one of the best Lucas Davenports ever – and one of the most surprising.
In the richest neighbourhood of Minneapolis, two elderly women lie murdered in their home, killed with a pipe, the rooms ransacked, only small items stolen. It's clearly a random break-in by someone looking for money to buy drugs. But as he looks more closely, Davenport begins to wonder if the items are actually so small or the victims so random, if there might not be some invisible agenda at work here. Gradually, a pattern begins to emerge – and it will lead Davenport to somewhere he never expected. Which is too bad, because the killers – and yes, there is more than one of them – the killers are expecting him.


An anonymous van, some-kind-of-pale, cruised Summit Avenue, windows dark with the coming night. The killers inside watched three teenagers, two boys and a girl, hurrying along the sidewalk like wind-blown leaves. The kids were getting somewhere quick, finding shelter before the storm.
The killers trailed them, saw them off, then turned their faces toward Oak Walk.
The mansion was an architectural remnant of the nineteenth century, red brick with green trim, gloomy and looming in the dying light. Along the wrought-iron fence, well-tended beds of blue and yellow iris, and clumps of pink peonies, were going gray to the eye.
Oak Walk was perched on a bluff. The back of the house looked across the lights of St. Paul, down into the valley of the Mississippi, where the groove of the river had already gone dark. The front faced Summit Avenue; Oak Walk was the second-richest house on the richest street in town.
Six aging burr oaks covered the side yard. In sunlight, their canopies created a leafy glade, with sundials and flagstone walks, charming with moss and violets; but moon shadows gave the yard a menacing aura, now heightened by the lightning that flickered through the incoming clouds.
"Like the Munsters should live there," the bigger of the killers said.
"Like a graveyard," the little one agreed.
The Weather Channel had warned of tornadic events, and the killers could feel a twister in the oppressive heat, the smell of ozone thick in the air.
The summer was just getting started. The last snow slipped into town on May 2, and was gone a day later. The rest of the month had been sunny and warm, and by the end of it, even the ubiquitous paper-pale blondes were showing tan lines.
Now the first of the big summer winds. Refreshing, if it didn't knock your house down.

On the fourth pass, the van turned into the driveway, eased up under the portico, and the killers waited there for a porch light. No light came on. That was good.
They got out of the van, one Big, one Little, stood there for a moment, listening, obscure in the shadows, facing the huge front doors. They were wearing coveralls, of the kind worn by automotive mechanics, and hairnets, and nylon stockings over their faces. Behind them, the van's engine ticked as it cooled. A Wisconsin license plate, stolen from a similar vehicle in a 3M parking lot, was stuck on the back of the van.
Big said, "Let's do it."
Little led the way up the porch steps. After a last quick look around, Big nodded again, and Little pushed the doorbell.
They'd done this before. They were good at it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Review: Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Scribner; Book Club edition (January 9, 1990)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0684191415
ISBN-13: 978-0684191416

This book, the first in the Scarpetta series, introduces us to Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Dr. Scarpetta is a brilliant, dedicated woman, with degrees in law and medicine. She, along with Sgt. Pete Marino, attempt to solve the brutal rapes and murders of several women in the Richmond area. Of course, her attempts are hampered by sexism and prejudice from her male colleagues, including her boss and Sgt. Marino, with a conspiracy to blame her office for mistakes and leaks to the press. It is rather gratifying though, to see the subtle changes in Sgt. Marino as they work closely together on these crimes. It really is nothing he says, just a slight change in his attitude towards her.

The story is well-paced and well-written; a truly satisfying read.

Description (from the author's website)

Under cover of night in Richmond, Virginia, a human monster strikes, leaving a gruesome trail of stranglings that has paralyzed the city. Medical examiner Kay Scarpetta suspects the worst: a deliberate campaign by a brilliant serial killer whose signature offers precious few clues. With an unerring eye, she calls on the latest advances in forensic research to unmask the madman. But this investigation will test Kay like no other, because it's being sabotaged from within and someone wants her dead.

An excerpt:

It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6.

The relentless downpour, which began at dawn, beat the lilies to naked stalks, and blacktop and sidewalks were littered with leaves. There were small rivers in the streets, and newborn ponds on playing fields and lawns. I went to sleep to the sound of water drumming the slate roof, and was dreaming a terrible dream as night dissolved into the foggy first hours of Saturday morning.

I saw a white face beyond the rain-streaked glass, a face formless and inhuman like the faces of misshapen dolls made of nylon hose. My bedroom window was dark when suddenly the face was there, an evil intelligence looking in. I woke up and stared blindly into the dark. I did not know what had awakened me until the telephone rang again. I found the receiver without fumbling.

"Dr. Scarpetta?"

"Yes." I reached for the lamp and switched it on. It was 2:33 A.M. My heart was drilling through my ribs.

"Pete Marino here. We got us one at 5602 Berkley Avenue. Think you better come."

The victim's name, he went on to explain, was Lori Petersen, a white female, thirty years old. Her husband had found her body about half an hour earlier.

Details were unnecessary. The moment I picked up the receiver and recognized Sergeant Marino's voice, I knew. Maybe I knew the instant the telephone rang. People who believe in werewolves are afraid of a full moon. I'd begun to dread the hours between midnight and 3:00 A.M. when Friday becomes Saturday and the city is unconscious.

Ordinarily, the medical examiner on call is summoned to a death scene. But this wasn't ordinary. I had made it clear after the second case that no matter the hour, if there was another murder, I was to be called. Marino wasn't keen on the idea. Ever since I was appointed chief medical examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia less than two years ago he'd been difficult. I wasn't sure if he didn't like women, or if he just didn't like me.

"Berkley's in Berkley Downs, Southside," he said condescendingly. "You know the way?"

Confessing I didn't, I scribbled the directions on the notepad I always kept by the phone. I hung up and my feet were already on the floor as adrenaline hit my nerves like espresso. The house was quiet. I grabbed my black medical bag, scuffed and worn from years of use.

The night air was like a cool sauna, and there were no lights in the windows of my neighbors' houses. As I backed the navy station wagon out of the drive, I looked at the light burning over the porch, at the first-story window leading into the guest bedroom where my ten-year-old niece, Lucy, was asleep. This would be one more day in the child's life I would miss. I had picked her up at the airport Wednesday night. Our meals together, so far, had been few.

There was no traffic until I hit the Parkway. Minutes later I was speeding across the James River. Taillights far ahead were rubies, the downtown skyline ghostly in the rearview mirror. Fanning out on either side were plains of darkness with tiny necklaces of smudged light at the edges. Out there, somewhere, is a man, I thought. He could be anybody, walks upright, sleeps with a roof over his head, and has the usual number of fingers and toes. He is probably white and much younger than my forty years. He is ordinary by most standards, and probably doesn't drive a BMW or grace the bars in the Slip or the finer clothing stores along Main Street.

But, then again, he could. He could be anybody and he was nobody. Mr. Nobody. The kind of guy you don't remember after riding up twenty floors alone with him inside an elevator.

He had become the self-appointed dark ruler of the city, an obsession for thousands of people he had never seen, and an obsession of mine. Mr. Nobody.

Because the homicides began two months ago, he may have been recently released from prison or a mental hospital. This was the speculation last week, but the theories were constantly changing.

Mine had remained the same from the start. I strongly suspected he hadn't been in the city long, he'd done this before somewhere else, and he'd never spent a day behind the locked doors of a prison or a forensic unit. He wasn't disorganized, wasn't an amateur, and he most assuredly wasn't "crazy."

Wilshire was two lights down on the left, Berkley the first right after that.

I could see the blue and red lights flashing two blocks away. The street in front of 5602 Berkley was lit up like a disaster site. An ambulance, its engine rumbling loudly, was alongside two unmarked police units with grille lights flashing and three white cruisers with light bars going full tilt. The Channel 12 news crew had just pulled up. Lights had blinked on up and down the street, and several people in pajamas and housecoats had wandered out to their porches.

I parked behind the news van as a cameraman trotted across the street. Head bent, the collar of my khaki raincoat turned up around my ears, I briskly followed the brick wall to the front door. I have always had a special distaste for seeing myself on the evening news. Since the stranglings in Richmond began, my office had been inundated, the same reporters calling over and over again with the same insensitive questions.

"If it's a serial killer, Dr. Scarpetta, doesn't that indicate it's quite likely to happen again?"

As if they wanted it to happen again.