Friday, May 28, 2010

The Apothecary's Demise by Ann Sloan

The Apothecary’s Demise is the follow-up novel to Ann Sloan’s Murder on the Boulevard set in pre-World War I Houston. The devastating hurricane that destroyed Galveston thirteen years prior is still fresh on everyone’s mind and Woodrow Wilson is in the White House. Flora Logan, young and head-strong, is heavily involved in the Suffragists’ Movement.

Five years after the events in Murder on the Boulevard, Flora is now running the marble business that she inherited from her father and is working to fulfill the contract to supply marble for the new Rice Hotel, which is set to be a landmark building for its time. She is surprised when a woman approaches her during a Suffragist luncheon and asks her to look into the death of her son, Dr. Henri Mozelle, a local pharmacist. The police have ruled his death as suicide but his mother suspects foul play, in the person of her brand new daughter-in-law.

Flora doesn’t want anything to do with the pharmacist’s suspicious demise but when her housekeeper’s son’s girlfriend, who worked for Dr. Mozelle, disappears, Flora feels she has no choice but to investigate. Besides, she can’t resist a good mystery.

Dr. Mozelle’s mother is convinced that her son’s wife is responsible for his death but soon after the daughter-in-law dies under strange circumstances.

Then much to her chagrin, Flora discovers that she’s not as independent and forward-thinking as she thought she was. Webb Walker, the handsome and dashing partner of the deceased apothecary sweeps her off of her feet, no matter how hard she tries to resist his charms. She realizes she isn’t any less susceptible to a man than the silly women she’s trying to help liberate. Her steady beau, Max Andrews left for New York on a business trip without getting an answer from her to his proposal. Flora finds herself torn between the mysterious, suave Walker and the proper gentleman Andrews.

But the solution to the murders comes from a source that Flora doesn’t expect. Nor does the reader. It’s not an out-of-the-blue answer to the puzzle, but very near to it.

Sloan has done an amazing amount of research on the history of Houston and the activities and events happening in 1913. She does a great job of incorporating those facts into the story as a backdrop to the murder. However, there are many places where the conversations sound encyclopedic and stilted rather than casual talk. It’s interesting to learn what issues the citizens of Houston were facing, debating and addressing, but not in such a ‘teachy’ manner.

Otherwise, Sloan gives the reader a nice cozy mystery with a likeable main character and supporting cast in The Apothecary’s Demise. It’s not just for Houstonians.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Just One Look by Harlan Coben

Wow! This is the first book I’ve read by Harlan Coben and it had more twists than a braiding booth at renaissance faire. People Magazine touts on the back cover that the “only plausible reason for setting this book down is to make sure your front door is locked and double-bolted”. Another valid reason is if you stay up so late reading it that you’re dozing off in your chair. Not that I ever did that. Certainly not twice.

But Just One Look has enough energy and action to keep your pulse racing no matter the time of day or night. I’ve never read a book that kept the twists coming up to the last page.

Grace Lawson is a happily married suburban housewife, with two kids, minivan, idyllic neighborhood. When she picks up a roll of picture developed at a Photomart, she finds an old photograph that looks as if it was taken at least fifteen years prior. The strange thing about the photo is that one of the people in it is her husband. One of the others, a girl, has her face crossed out.

After she shows it to her husband that evening, he drives off in their minivan and disappears with the photo.

As she delves into the mystery, she finds her own past becoming entwined with her present dilemma. Fifteen years ago, Grace was nearly killed in a stampede at a rock concert in Boston. The tragedy shook the nation and Grace became the face of the victims. The media followed her recovery and the trial and conviction of the man accused of firing the shots that instigated the panic. Those ghosts reappear as she investigates her husband’s vanishing.

Coben has an amazing knack to spin several seemingly unrelated stories and tie them all together to one event, the whole crux of the mystery.

I found this to be an exciting, fast-paced page turner of an action thriller. It moves at a breath-taking speed and has surprises on every page.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Memoirs of Catherine the Great

It’s hard to critique the memoirs of someone who was never purported to be an author or writer. And certainly not those of a person that probably didn’t expect those memoirs to be read more than three hundred years later.

The Memoirs of Catherine the Great, first of all, is a slight misnomer. She wrote three memoirs total during her life and this book is only the first, written during the time from her arrival at the Russian court in 1744 to 1759, which is prior to the death of Empress Elizabeth. The other two are most likely published under different titles.

Secondly, this is not for the casual reader. Although full of intrigue and subterfuge in the Russian court, the names of all the couriers, envoys and members of the royal family are difficult to keep track of. Catherine writes of them as though everyone is already familiar with who’s who at court. But it’s no wonder that Russian historians would find this fascinating. The nearly seventy page preface is a dissertation on Catherine’s memoirs (all three) by the translator/authors Mark Cruse and Hilde Hoogenboom.

The years in which Catherine was married to Peter Fedorovich and before the Empress’ death, her Imperial Majesty Elizabeth kept her distance from the Grand Duke and Duchess, to the point that their children were taken from Catherine to be raised by the Empress’ courtiers. As a result, there is very little of Russian politics in this first memoir. There are passing mentions of conflicts and wars but little details except for a particularly bloody battle that ended in a massacre for both Russia and Prussia.

Catherine writes of her mother, who turned cold and alienated her after first arriving in Russia to become betrothed to Peter. After the marriage, she describes the growing estrangement between her and the Grand Duke. There is continued animosity from the Empress towards Catherine throughout the first memoir until the very end when Catherine begs the Empress to let her return home and end her miserable stay in Russia. Only then does her Imperial Majesty soften in her tone towards the Grand Duchess.

Catherine claims that she never acted in any way that would cause these three people to behave in such a rude manner toward her. Of course, we only have Catherine’s word on that, which can be considered with a grain of salt. One would have to see all sides of the argument to understand what the real environment was like. She does, however, talk about how she treated certain members of the court, who mistreated or acted poorly toward her, with disdain, spreading gossip about them and snubbing them at every opportunity. She may have scoffed at the games the courtiers played but she wasn’t above playing them herself.

Although this book was a hard read, it still offers a great glimpse into the world of the Russian court. I’d be very interested in reading her memoirs where she stages her famous coup. That should make great reading.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Murder at the Green Lantern - Book Signing!

Come join me at the Green Lantern Bar in Washington, DC June 12, 2010 after the Pride Parade. I'll be signing my latest release "Murder at the Green Lantern" available now at