Book Review

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I love September – a time of new beginnings and the month when publishers’ lists grow fat with books they are positioning for holiday sales.

Ice Shear by M. P. Cooley came out last month. The author was born and raised in the Capital Region, although she now lives in California. Her first novel is set in Hopewell Falls, a thinly disguised Cohoes (apparently Cohoes was too hard to pronounce so her publisher made her change the town’s name) and full of local references – Price Chopper, Bob’s Diner, the Purple Pub and so on. June Lyons, a former FBI agent, now works as a police officer in her hometown, to which she returned with her husband and daughter when he became terminally ill. The story starts when June discovers a young woman impaled on a shard of ice in the frozen Mohawk River; she turns out to be the daughter of a local congresswoman. Ice Shear reminded me of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mysteries – small town, upstate New York, fully fleshed out characters and a deep understanding of the lives of those on the downside of the economic turn. I hope this will be a series.

Often, I receive copies of the most recent book in a mystery series from publishers, which is good, because I love mysteries, and bad, because I hate starting a series out of order. The Rest is Silence, by James R. Benn, is the ninth in his Billy Boyle World War II series; it looked so good that I went out and read almost all of the previous books so I could reliably review the latest one. And what a great series it is! Benn chooses episodes and situations from the war and builds his plots around them, often using real-life people as secondary characters to add verisimilitude to his tale. In the author’s note at the end, Benn explains the actual truth upon which each mystery is based. The Rest is Silence is set in April 1944, when Allied troops in England were rehearsing for the D-Day invasion. When a body washes ashore from the English Channel, Billy must investigate to find out who the corpse is and whether or not he may have betrayed knowledge of the invasion to the Germans. A treat for both mystery and World War II buffs.

Sarah Waters is a best-selling British novelist whose newest book, The Paying Guests, is set in 1922 London, a city that is still reeling from the effects of the first world war and struggling to regain its equilibrium. Frances Wray and her mother are forced to take in lodgers, unable to keep up their house after the wartime deaths of Frances’s father and brother. The Wrays’ genteel, if impoverished, existence is immediately threatened when Lilian and Len Barber, a young, working-class married couple, moves in to their home. The Barbers are somewhat vulgar and have their even less refined relatives over to visit. But when Lilian and Frances form a passionate attachment, propriety is thrown to the winds. Sarah Waters does an excellent job of invoking the claustrophobic atmosphere of the British class system between the wars and the tension between the defenders of tradition and the encroachments of the modern age. Beautifully written; if you enjoy literary novels, this is a wonderful choice.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.

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