Slow Horses by Mick Herron

Where do spies who are washed up, get exposed, screw up an operation, or drink too much go?  According to Mick Herron they go to Slough House, an organization in the heart of London that takes in all the broken down and no longer useful spies from MI-5. There these so called “slow horses” wait their turn for redemption while doing seemingly meaningless and tedious work alongside others who share the same fate or are put out to pasture.

River Cartwright, who was blamed for a high profile training exercise going wrong, hopes that he can redeem himself quickly so he can move back to MI-5, but Jackson Lamb, the head of Slough House, quickly disabuses him of this idea and assures Cartwright that he will never leave. Instead Cartwright is tasked with transcribing cell phone conversations, the most tedious and mind numbing task imaginable. But when a young Muslim man is abducted, and the kidnappers threaten to live stream his decapitation if their demands are not met, Cartwright sees a way that he might redeem himself. He begins to investigate whether there is a connection between the kidnappers and Richard Hobden, a disgraced right wing journalist. Racing to avert the execution, Cartwright and the spies of Slough House, must set aside their own agendas and collaborate in order to survive.

Herron won the CWA Gold Dagger award for this espionage series, and it is well deserved.  Herron’s style is laconic, with a hint of bitterness. It is clear that the characters he has created are failures, with very little to redeem them and yet, there is something tender and almost loving in the way Herron teases out something from each one of them that makes you identify and root for them. Although there are no “heroes” at Slough House, there are strong protagonists who must come together regardless of their competing interests and share their skills and knowledge in order to work together as a team. It is a remarkable achievement that Herron makes this work, while keeping you on your toes throughout! I have the next book in the series queued up on my Kindle and am looking forward to reading the next installment of the ‘slow horses” of  Slough House!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out Of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Ken and Sharon

Book Study Worthy? Sure!

Read in ebook format.

 

 

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Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

Andrea’s mother Laura is a pillar of the community of Belle Island. As speech therapist she has helped many in the community find their words and be able to communicate fully. Andrea admires her mother and her quiet strength, her confidence and the way she helps and encourages Andrea to follow her dreams.  Andrea hasn’t quite manged that yet.  She has struggled to find her dream or to feel the confidence in herself that her mother seems to find so easy to embody.

So when they went to the mall that day they fell into their regular patterns, of Laura encouraging and Andrea wanting to find something easy, less challenging, something more comfortable so that she did not need to leave her own comfort zone. It was a conversation they had repeated over and over again, but this time they were interrupted by a man with a gun who came into the restaurant and started shooting.  Andrea froze, but her mother, calmly confronted the gunmen, stepping into the line of fire, protecting Andrea. What happened next was so unbelievable it defied belief and yet it was caught by the surveillance cameras and eventually shown on national TV over and over again. Laura stands next to the gunman and using a knife calmly cuts his throat.

Laura is wounded and rushed to the hospital. Andrea is in shock by the horror of what  happened. Was the gunmen targeting her mother or Andrea herself? Who is this woman in the video? Her mother, the mother Andrea knew should be incapable of such an act, even if it was in self defense.  But she had done it. The police are insistent on talking with Andrea, but her stepdad, a lawyer, tells her not to speak to them. Laura urges her to leave town, saying that Andrea is in danger and needs to protect herself. Suddenly Andrea is not sure she even knows this woman who is her mother. Who is she, what was she and what happened to her to create that woman in the video?  Who is and is not the mother she has always known?

Karin Slaughter is genius in her plotting. With every twist and turn more is revealed about the life that Lauren led before she became the woman Andrea knows. As each piece is revealed Andrea too begins to fine herself and changes before our eyes, gaining confidence and a sense of purpose. Although this is a suspense novel, it is at its core a mother/ daughter story and in that it shines with that unique bond of love that the best mother/ daughter relationships have.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

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Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

I share my Kindle account with my daughters and sometimes books that I never ordered appear mysteriously on my Kindle.  When Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs made a surprise appearance I was intrigued and as soon as I started it, I could not put it down!  A combination of Downton Abbey meets a young Miss Marple but with a bit of a twist, since Maisie Dobbs, although not an aristocrat can move with ease between “upstairs and downstairs” due to her interesting and unique background. Smart, curious and insightful, Maisie Dobbs is a fascinating character on her own, but Winspear also provides great supporting characters who add both glamour and integrity to the story. Luckily this is just the first in this sereis and there will be many more opportunities to get to know Maisie Dobbs.

Now that the war is over, Maisie Dobbs is finally able to do what she has wanted to do for as long as she can remember-open her own office of investigation.  As the daughter of a poor farmer it seemed impossible that this day could ever come, but her fortunes changed when she became a maid in the aristocratic Compton household. There her innate curiosity and intelligence were recognized by the indefatigable suffragette, Lady Rowena Compton and her good friend, Maurice Blanche. Blanche, who was often hired to discreetly investigate matters for the wealthy and well connected, took Maisie under his wing and taught her the skills she would need to become a detective.

When war broke out, however, those plans had to be put on hold, and Maisie became a nurse on the front lines. Now, ten years after the Armistice of 1918 was signed Maise is ready to embark on her new career. Her first case seems like a mundane case of infidelity, but as Maise investigates further she finds that the woman whose husband suspects of infidelity has a larger more complicated secret involving a soldier convalescing at The Retreat, a place for soldiers disfigured by the war. Just when Maisie thinks she has solved her first case, another case also involving The Retreat turns up and now Maisie must not only confront the horrors of the war, both past and present to find answers for her clients but must also tackle her own ghosts from the past.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian and Lauren.

Book Study Worthy? Sure

Read in ebook format.

 

 

 

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3 Seconds by Roslund & Hellstrom, translated by Kari Dickson

I have found that understanding how another country perceives crime and justice helps me understand their culture. One of the ways I do that is by reading crime novels set in other countries or cultures. In reading this book about a Swedish police detective, Ewert Grens and his investigation into a horrifying murder it was quite interesting to see both the similarities and differences in the way we think and feel about these issues.

Ewert Grens is a bit of an oddity in the Swedish police force. Persistent and ruthless in getting to the truth, he is not interested in the political machinations of getting ahead, he only wants to solve the crime and arrest those who are responsible. So when he is assigned a case involving a horrifying murder he begins investigating with his usual intensity and soon is on the trail of someone he thinks is a ruthless psychopath.

What Grens doesn’t know is that the man he thinks is responsible for this murder is one of the Swedish police’s best undercover agents. A former con, Piet Hoffman (code name Paula) has infiltrated the Polish mafia who are trying to take over the Swedish prison system’s drug trade. It is Hoffman’s responsibility to get himself arrested and then use his time in prison to eradicate any competition and establish connections in the prison system to distribute the Polish mafia’s drugs. Once that mission is completed the police have assured him that they will arrest the Polish mafia and he will finally be freed from this double life, but Hoffman is a private citizen who was recruited in exchange for his freedom and he knows that if he is not careful his handlers in the Swedish police could easily deny his existence especially if something goes wrong.

Well, something did go drastically wrong, and now Hoffman is being pursued by a detective notorious for his thoroughness and persistence and Hoffman must find a way to elude him, prevent the Polish mafia from gaining a foothold in Sweden, and prevent the Swedish Police from denying his existence, all while still staying alive for his wife and family who have no idea he has been leading a double life.

Named Swedish Crime Novel of the Year in 2009, this suspenseful, relentless, and also very human story of two antagonists who are actually playing for the same team is an exciting tour de force. This writing duo, Roslund, a former journalist, and Hellstrom, a former criminal, have created a novel you cannot put down and are worthy of being placed in the same category as two other great Swedish crime novelists who I have also enjoyed, Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell. Read the book now before the movie, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Informer_(2019_film) comes out in August!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Keith, Ken and Sharon

Book Study Worthy: Yes

Read in ebook format

 

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The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry

I love books that are unexpected. Books with strange characters, books that have narrators that are untrustworthy, books that have unexpected plot twists and books that structured differently. The Miernik Dossier has all of these and something more-a careful and deft writer who pulls it off quite gracefully!

The book is structured like you are reading through a file folder. There are reports, letters, telegrams, interviews, receipts, diary entries, transcripts of interrogations and many other things you might find in a dossier created by an intelligence gathering organization. Presented as a “typical operation” it reflects the US government’s efforts to determine whether a man named Miernik, from Poland, is a spy and whether they should help him defect.

Set in Geneva in 1959, Miernik finds out that rather than having his visa extended so he can continue to work at the World Research Organization he is being recalled to Poland. Visibly upset by this turn of affairs, he consults with several of his colleagues and friends about what to do. Coincidentally, the people he confides in are from British Intelligence and US Intelligence services. This sets off a scramble among many intelligence services, to determine whether Miernik is a Polish or Russian spy with any useful intelligence who is trying to defect and whether or not he is worth helping or useful to their long term strategies.

Instructed by their various services to get concrete information regarding Miernik,  American agent Paul Christopher and British agent Nigel Collins, soon find themselves agreeing to drive with Miernik and the Sudanese prince Kalash el Khatar  in a brand new Cadillac that he is delivering to his father, the king of Sudan. Both Christopher and Collins are hopeful that this extended time with Miernik will yield greater insights into Miernik’s status and intent, but as the journey progresses unforeseen obstacles threaten the easy resolution to their questions.

Although the structure of the novel limits the ability to delve to deeply into the characters inner thoughts and motivations, I found this structure also helpful because it made me feel as if I was another character with a role to play; a member of the investigating committee who after reading the dossier would have to make a decision. McCarry also uses the structure in other ways which enhance the story, like giving the reader more information than the actual characters have, or by revealing a character’s motivations by filling in their back story.

This was McCarry’s debut novel in 1973 but it is still relevant and entertaining today. Paul Christopher who appears in this novel became a recurring character in McCarry’s later books and I am looking forward to reading more by McCarry in the future.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format

 

 

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Tombland by C.J. Sansom

Matthew Shardlake is one of my favorite characters of all time. A hunchback lawyer during the Tudor era of England, Shardlake must overcome his own disability, negotiate some very nasty political traps, elude power hungry sycophants, maintain his integrity and reputation without a whisper of corruption or treason, while still giving necessary impartial legal advise to the crown. With all that just to begin with, you know that each book will be full of political intrigue, impossible choices, and a rich tapestry of historical characters and colorful details of the time period. Tombland, the seventh in this series, does not disappoint at all!

Matthew Shardlake was Henry VIII’s personal lawyer but after his death, Shardlake began working for Princess Elizabeth, as she began to manage her own estates and property. It is spring, 1549 and Edward VI is on the throne but since he is only eleven years old, his uncle, Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, runs the country as his regent and Protector. Lord Hertford, however, is not doing a very good job. The country over extended by a long war with Scotland is on the verge of economic collapse and and rebellion is erupting among the peasantry all over the country.

In the middle of this instability, Princess Elizabeth asks Shardlake to investigate the mysterious death of one of her distant relatives at her summer estate. No sooner have Matthew and his assistance Nicholas arrive than another murder takes place. As tensions rise among the peasantry around the summer estate, Shardlake must find out who has been murdered and why, as well as any connections these murders may have on the peasant uprising that soon engulfs them.

Sansom takes a little known part of history and breathes life into it. Rich in detail, with numerous characters that Sansom takes care to fully realize, he creates a window into the past that makes you feel as though you are watching it unfold in front of you. This of course comes at some cost, since at 844 pages this is not a light read, but it is more than worth it! Enjoy!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format

 

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The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

In 1793, in Stockholm, one early autumn morning, two children find Mickel Cardell, a man of the Watch, in a drunken stupor, and shake him awake.  At first he can’t figure out what they are saying, but slowly their words sink in. There is a body, they say, at the edge of the pond called the Larder. Although once pristine and clear, the Larder is now a stinking cesspool of refuse and sewage and bodies often show up there. But the children are obviously terrified and their terror finally motivates him to follow them. What he finds shakes him to the core. It is worse than anything he ever seen, even in the war where he lost his arm, even the vice, corruption and the depravity he has seen in Stockholm as part of the Watch, for the corpse was bizarrely mutilated with specific and terrifying intent.

As part of the Watch, once Cardell notifies the authorities his job is done, but he cannot shake the vision of the corpse and offers his services to Cecil Winge, the lawyer who is put in charge of the case. Winge is mortally ill but the case motivates him and gives him a strength he did not know he possessed to pursue the truth.

As they try to identify the mutilated body and who killed him, Cardell and Winge must reveal the worst parts of Stockholm: the thieving guttersnipes, the madams who traffic in the poor and destitute, and mercenaries who are looking for their next mark. They follow the trail of a farmer’s son who encounters betrayal and treachery when he comes to Stockholm to make his fortune, and uncover the grievous miscarriage of justice carried out when an orphan girl is consigned to a workhouse that starves and brutally beats the women who work there. Soon they discover the connections between these unfortunates and the rich and powerful who benefit from their misery. As Winge and Cardell get closer and closer to the answer they realize that the gruesome body from the lake pulls together disparate members of society; wealthy and beggar, pious and hedonist, powerful and desparate and in that collision they reveal their secrets.

This is the first novel by Natt och Dag, a member of one of the oldest noble families in Sweden. Reminiscent of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose in its portrayal of the gritty reality of life and its labyrinthine plot. this book is a deep dive into the culture, values and history of eighteenth century Sweden. Readers should know that this is not an easy read with many descriptions of casual and brutal depravity, which was probably very common at the time.  But in spite of that there is much to appreciate. In particular Natt och Dag’s character development of Cardell and Winge is quite deft. Initially it is difficult to identify with them, but as their own stories and characters are revealed they become more sympathetic and relatable. I look forward to more from this gifted new author!

Brenda’s Rating: **** (4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this Book to: Marian, Keith, Sharon and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

 

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