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sunday-salon-2So I didn’t write a post last week because I hadn’t really been reading very much and I had also been a bit unwell and travelling (though luckily not too much overlap between those two things). This week has been quite a bit better, in that I actually got some stuff finished, largely due to a long train journey from Edinburgh to London where I (mostly) managed to avoid staring out of the window at the passing countryside and finished a chunky novel.

But there have also been medical appointments (which will run into next week too) which are a feature of having a chronic condition and you would think would lend themselves to further reading opportunities but unfortunately I get too anxious and unsettled and find myself occupied by Twitter instead. So all I had to show for it all was a selection of snarky tweets and a bruised hand from an unfortunately difficult blood test. I do not give blood up easily (insert the obligatory Scottish joke here) and I’ve been trying to convince everyone I was actually in a fight. A surprising number of my friends seem willing to believe that of me which is a bit alarming 🙂

So last Sunday I took a run at and finished A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (magnificent), and followed it up with the new Sarah Lotz horror novel, a book of Nick Hornby columns from The Believer magazine, and the last two of the eight Byrne and Balzano detective novels by Richard Montanari which I have devoured over the past 5 weeks. This is unusual for me as I like to pace myself when reading a series, but these were just too enjoyable to put down and exactly what I needed when finding reading difficult.

Or at least I thought I was finding reading difficult but I have still managed to read 11 books in May, though to be fair 6 of those were the Montanaris. The downside of all the stuff I’ve mentioned above is that I now have a tidy stack of reviews to write next week.

I have lost count of the number of books bought this month (that’s the joy of the Kindle app, they are invisible to anyone else but also a little bit harder to keep track of myself) though clearly my interest in murder continues.

I’m currently reading a second volume of Hornby and I have dipped into White Apples by Jonathan Carroll; there are only 3 weeks left in the Once Upon a Time Challenge and I haven’t read anything for it yet.

Not sure what the coming week will be like; more medical appointments definitely but I’m mostly working at home, so will try to see what I can squeeze in around the day job.

Tony & SusanWhat’s it all about?

At its simplest Tony & Susan by the late American author Austin Wright is a book about the experience of reading. First published in 1993, it’s been out of print for a while (and think it might still be in the US), possibly because it isn’t a book that can be easily categorised, and is of interest for that reason alone. I was going to say that it “tells the story of” but it doesn’t really; we are with Susan as she reads the novel written and sent to her by her ex-husband Edward, while her current husband Adrian is away at a conference. We learn about Susan’s relationships as she ponders her past in between reading the novel, in which Tony is the central character.

Why did I want to read it?

I bought this as an ebook this time last year but can’t remember where I heard about it or who may have recommended it to me. It reappeared on my radar following a mention on Twitter by James Smythe (an author I really rate and have reviewed here more than once) as a book that really unsettled him, and as I had just been through a series of serial killer based police procedurals I was looking for something different and this was it.

What did I think about it?

This is a novel that has clearly resonated with a number of distinguished people who have loved it and praised it to the skies. You are probably expecting a “but” now, however I’m not going to disagree with them necessarily. It is an unsettling book in that I’m not sure exactly what it is, if I can put it that way. Much depends I think on your reaction to the book within the book, the story of Tony and the dreadful events that befall him (the internal novel is called Nocturnal Animals) and I suspect that’s where my problem lies because I really didn’t get on with NA at all; I’m not sure whether it was meant to be a thriller or a revenge tragedy but I got so cross with Tony that I didn’t really care what happened. I was much more invested in Susan, her fears and memories and hopes all triggered by the experience of reading NA. I liked her, I think I understood her and I was always impatient to get back to what she was thinking. I don’t know if that’s a gender thing (I’d like to think it’s not as simple as that given how much blood and guts revenge stuff I actually read) and in many ways Tony and Susan are equally passive, but I found her passivity easier to swallow, though of course I’ve never been through anything remotely as awful as Tony so have no idea about how I might act, and am therefore probably being totally unfair. I just wanted to shake him. A lot.

So a book that I admired rather than enjoyed, though Susan’s voice has stuck with me longer than I expected.

sunday-salon-2A very quiet week where I just haven’t been reading very much.

Having said that I’m actually in the middle of Tony & Susan by Austin Wright as recommended by @jpsmythe (excellent author via Twitter) and have just started Housekeeping vs the Dirt by Nick Hornby because when not sure about what to read the best thing (IMHO) is to read about stuff that others have been reading (albeit what they were reading 10 years ago).

I did finish one very short book though, The Art of Stillness by Pico Ayer, recommended by my friend Silvery Dude which I will read again I’m sure, much to think about in terms of disconnecting from modern life when you can. This is one of only (only!) two books that made it into the house this week (the other being Forensics by Val McDermid which looks great.)

Oh, and I joined a thing, The Horror Book Club which meets in central London. None of my friends read horror really, so I’m hoping this is both an excuse and an outlet. I will be throwing myself into The Hellbound Heart for my first meeting in June, I’ve never read much Barker so hoping this will be fun.

And finally, some of you will remember my struggles with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, famously abandoned after two separate attempts. Well, the TV adaptation starts on the BBC this evening, and I’m going to watch it. Lets see if that’s more successful than reading it 🙂

IMG_0263So what’s the set up?

The Killing Room is the sixth in Byrne and Balzano Philadelphia crime novels. It is all as you were before, but that’s not a problem because why would you tinker with a winning formal. After all, I’m still reading them, aren’t I?

What’s the killer’s thing?

Religious fanaticism. Unpleasant deaths, and I mean very unsettling. Deals with the Devil. Abandoned churches. High level of creepiness.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

He has become a mentor to a young boy in care whose brother was killed by drug dealers. He (Byrne, not the kid) gets a bit out of control with this dealer and ends up in mandated therapy. There may be a new woman in his life.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Has moved house and is settling down with her lovely family. She is thinking of starting to hit things professionally again. One of the victims has a particular effect on her which lingers throughout the book.

Is there anything new here?

The level of backstory for the murderer is higher than before I think, and the external influences are a bit more obvious.

What did I think of it?

I liked this entry in the series a great deal; I’ve always been one for a high level of mayhem inspired by religious mania and we have it all here; belief in the Devil, making people deliver on the deals they have made with that particular entity, murders carried out in a bizarre but well thought out way. It has to be said though that there are some similarities to the very first book, The Rosary Girls – Catholic Church in embarrassing scandal, inconvenient sleazy journalist and so on, and elements of the story echo back to Se7en (though not quite as bizarrely gruesome). It even includes a significantly nasty killer returning from an earlier entry in the series. But as always what makes these books so good is the characterisation of the two leads, the vitality of the setting, and the pace and plotting. I read it in a single sitting (again).

However, they have kind of started blurring together a bit so I am going to take a break before reading the final two entries in the series. Still very highly recommended though!

IMG_0262So what’s the set-up?

The Echo Man is the fifth in the Byrne & Balzano Philadelphia series of crime novels. We are still following our two main heroes, but there are other characters more regularly in the mix.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Our murderer’s focus is on recreating past unresolved Philly murders by killing those who were apparently guilty but never prosecuted or convicted and posing them (and their accomplices where appropriate) at the original crime scene and related sites. They are all posed the same way, their faces covered in paper.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Lots happening with the big guy. This case is tied in with his very first homicide investigation and his feelings for the woman convicted of that killing, a beautiful and talented cellist.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

At the beginning of the story Balzano takes down a nasty piece of work which you feel will inevitably come back to haunt her. She is also wanting to adopt a small boy she came across on a case, and she and her family are moving home, so lots going on here too.

Is there anything new here?

Bigger cast of characters, a return to more in-depth backstory for B&B, but honestly, how many women are there in Byrne’s life; they all seem to get involved in his work one way or another.

What did I think of it?

I liked this one a lot though I must admit there were times I just wanted  to give Byrne a shake, though it seems to be a trait prevalent in US law enforcement that the hero will go off the grid regardless of what the consequences might be if he thinks he is right (yes Ryan Hardy from The Following, I am looking directly at you). I also really thought I’d worked out who the killer was only to be totally blindsided by the reveal at the end. Some of it was a bit far-fetched but the characterisation of everyone involved is so strong and the writing so clear and pacy that you just tend to stick with it. I basically read this in one sitting and totally got swept along with it.

6391533So what’s the set up?

Play Dead is the fourth in Byrne and Balzano Philadelphia crime novels. The deal is very much as it was before.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Someone is targeting (mostly) young runaways and using them to recreate magic tricks/illusions in real life. It is not pretty. And there are clues being fed to the police in a standard race against time scenario..

What’s the situation with Byrne?

He’s still in love with his ex-wife (there may be developments in that area hinted at here)  and he may also have a connection with one of the victims.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Back with her husband properly now, not hitting things quite so much, settling down into being an experienced member of the team.

Is there anything new here?

Not really, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

What did I think of it?

I think I said in my review of the last volume in the series that it could have been the end of the trilogy and that it had hinted at potential changes for our two lead characters, but what was a little disconcerting (and a bit disappointing if I’m honest) is that those narrative threads are just dropped. Byrne’s lady friend has just fallen off the map entirely with no explanation, and Balzano’s thing is referenced very briefly nd only in passing. I wonder if the author was trying for something a little bit new because although the structure of the novels is still very similar (alternating between killer and the two main detectives POVs) we know exactly who the murderer is and what he’s up to and why right at the beginning, and a fourth perspective (that of a runaway who we assume is a potential victim) is introduced. Although the killer’s backstory adds real depth there are an awful lot of things and people stuffed into the book, and I wonder if that’s why the ongoing backstory for B&B is not so well-defined.

But still a high quality thriller, a bit more gothic than the others and for that reason alone hugely enjoyable.

sunday-salon-2Last week passed in a bit of a blur with Bank Holidays and conferences and General Elections and parties and days off. Don’t quite know where I am…

Challenges: I still haven’t started my reading for Once Upon a Time IX but I will get there soon. Honestly. And I really really mean it this week 🙂

In progress: I have been working my way steadily through the crime novels of Richard Montanari whom I mentioned last week, and much to my surprise (because I had fully intended to take a break halfway) I have now read six out of the eight published. Really enjoying them but planning to pick up something different for a change of pace. Probably Tony & Susan by Austin Wright which came recommended from a couple of people fairly recently.

New Books I’ve bought eleven book since the beginning of the month but to be fair five of those were the Monatanaris mentioned above, two were pre-orders and one is for a book club read in June. So in my twisted logic they somehow don’t count 😀

51QGeXcLmqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_So what’s the set-up?

Broken Angels is the third in the Byrne & Balzano Philadelphia series of crime novels, taking place some time after the events of  The Skin Gods and I won’t say more than that. The structure is the same as before, alternating narratives from the perspectives of the two detectives and the unidentified murderer(s). There may be a pattern here 🙂

What’s the killer’s thing?

Murder and mutilation of mostly (but not entirely) young women in the manner of classic fairy tales. But, to complicate matters, there seems to be another set of killings taking place. Of course they’re connected, but the question is exactly how.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Right at the very beginning of the book Byrne is involved in an incident at a local coffee shop which, to say the least, does not go well, and he has to cope with the fall-out from that throughout the novel.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Things are settling down in her personal life but she is getting broody, and is worried about her partner. She is still good at hitting things.

Is there anything new here?

Well, there is the introduction of a new detective to the team, Josh Bontrager, who looks like he might become a major fixture and has an interesting back-story, having been brought up in the Amish community. Cue lots of jokes.

What did I think of it?

Once again I enjoyed this novel but I think the formula is beginning to stretch a little bit, which is why I was glad that in some ways I didn’t have to work out who the murderer was (we know quite early on about one of the killers, and the other is identified to us through an alter ego). There is an interesting sub-plot about a retired detective and the case that continues to trouble him, and of course it’s all connected and of course they finally get to the bottom of it, but a lot of damage is done to everyone concerned. There is a fabulous set-piece near the end in the snowy countryside, and for that reason I thought this was probably the most cinematic of the books so far. The end of the novel seems to be setting up some potentially major changes for our heroes, and it felt a little bit like the conclusion of a trilogy and could have stopped there quite happily, but as we know there are another five in the series (so far).

51NXivWtcjL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_So what’s the set-up?

The Skin Gods is the second in the Byrne & Balzano Philadelphia series of crime novels, taking place some time after the events of The Rosary Girls because of Stuff I Can’t Get Into (without spilling the beans on the previous book’s ending). The structure is the same as before, alternating narratives from the perspectives of the two detectives and the unidentified murderer.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Murder and mutilation of a wide range of people in the manner of famous movie murders, scenes which are filmed and spliced into video tapes for innocent members of the public to find.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Suggestions of tainted evidence in an old case let a very nasty person out of jail while his conviction is reconsidered, and Byrne (who helped put him away) feels responsible for the woman said bad guy attacked and goes off the grid for parts of the novel to find out what’s going on and Put It Right.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Still dealing with whether her husband is cheating or not. Has the joy of going undercover into the seedy parts of the film industry. Is still very good at hitting things.

What did I think of it?

Another enjoyable and pacy serial killer thriller (surely that’s a thing?), with some incredibly gory set pieces and a high level of inter-connectedness in the victims which strains credibility a touch but only if you stop to think about it, so I didn’t. Once again I thought I had worked out who the killer was only to get it totally wrong. Oh, and the FBI get involved in this one, and as someone who loves shows like Criminal Minds it was nice to see what it’s like from the local PD point of view when the Feds turn up. There is potential for the books to become a bit formulaic if the pattern in the first two is followed too closely in future volumes, but at the moment it’s still cool, largely because the two main characters are still flawed but immensely likeable.

I’ve already finished the third in the series and have started the fourth so that should tell you something. I may have said that before *tut* repetition, repetition 😀

1182706So thanks first of all to Lynn because if she hadn’t written this review I would never have come across the work of Richard Montanari. I’ve read the first two of his (so far) eight book series about Philly detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano and am not quite halfway through the third. They are exactly what I needed to get me out of my recent mini-reading slump.

So what’s the set-up?

So in The Rosary Girls we are introduced to the recurring characters of Byrne (veteran) and Balzano (newbie), detectives in the Philadelphia PD Homicide division. And what do you know, the first case they work on together is an unpleasant serial killer targeting young girls. The structure of the books is based around alternating narratives from the perspectives of the two detectives and the unidentified murderer.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Murder and mutilation of Catholic schoolgirls for reasons that are unclear initially of course, but there is (as always) a logic of sorts, and other deaths as collateral damage.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Veteran detective finally (possibly) putting to bed an old case while getting used to a new partner. He drinks, he’s divorced, his daughter is deaf, he has a tendency to deal with matters in his own way, but I liked him. Oh, and there’s possibly a bit of a psychic thing going on. Irish background.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Daughter of a police officer, first case as a new homicide detective, smart, well organised, small daughter, unofficially separated from cheating husband who is also a police officer. Oh and she is a boxer. Italian background. I liked her too.

What did I think of it?

Must have enjoyed it because I’m on the third in the series as I said at the top of the post. I really like a good police procedural and although I think the subject matter would be pretty dark for many readers (I have a tendency towards the gruesome and unpleasant so this wasn’t a problem for me) it’s a well written and pacy novel which takes you through how the police handle a case like this through a mixture of their day to day work and (just as importantly), the effect it has on their lives when they are off duty. I really thought I’d worked out who the killer was and was close but no cigar. The most enjoyable thing for me was that the two main characters actually like and respect each other; the necessary drama in their private lives is with other people, but together they are a great team. And no romance on the horizon, at least not with each other, a good thing IMHO.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

The Sunday


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May 2015