DEAD POINT by Peter Temple

Peter Temple is arguably the best crime fiction writer in Australia, and if you would like to see what I have to say about some of his other work, just put his name in the search window on this blog.

In Dead Point, the third in the Jack Irish series, our boy gets involved in looking for answers as to who killed a part time barman, and in the process comes up with some knowledge about a few biggies in the world of not-so-nice people, meets up again with a couple of characters from the earlier books, and generally gets involved in fights, gun battles and smooching an on again, off again, flame.

The official plot is:  “Jack Irish’s mind is not fully on the job he’s being paid to do: find Robbie Colburne, occasional barman. But when he does get serious, he finds that the freelance drink dispenser is of great interest to some powerful people, people with very bad habits and a distinct lack of respect for the criminal justice system.”

We learn a bit about horse racing, about carpentry, and about Jack himself, told in the first person.

Love this guy’s books.


THE BONE GARDEN by Tess Gerreten

You know me, anything with ‘bones’ in the title and I’m there!   Well, this one was something of an historical whodunnit when a woman in present day suburb of Boston finds some old bones while digging up the yard in her new house to make a garden.

Present day: Julia Hamill has made a horrifying discovery on the grounds of her new home in rural Massachusetts: a skull buried in the rocky soil–human, female, and, according to the trained eye of Boston medical examiner Maura Isles, scarred with the unmistakable marks of murder. But whoever this nameless woman was, and whatever befell her, is knowledge lost to another time. . . . 

Boston, 1830: In order to pay for his education, Norris Marshall, a talented but penniless student at Boston Medical College, has joined the ranks of local “resurrectionists”–those who plunder graveyards and harvest the dead for sale on the black market. Yet even this ghoulish commerce pales beside the shocking murder of a nurse found mutilated on the university hospital grounds. And when a distinguished doctor meets the same grisly fate, Norris finds that trafficking in the illicit cadaver trade has made him a prime suspect. 

To prove his innocence, Norris must track down the only witness to have glimpsed the killer: Rose Connolly, a beautiful seamstress from the Boston slums who fears she may be the next victim. Joined by a sardonic, keenly intelligent young man named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Norris and Rose comb the city–from its grim cemeteries and autopsy suites to its glittering mansions and centers of Brahmin power–on the trail of a maniacal fiend who lurks where least expected . . . and who waits for his next lethal opportunity.

The actual mystery as to who was the bones, and how she got there was OK, with a nice twist at the end, well, a couple of twists,  really, one of which was worthy of rom-com coziness, but for me, the real interest was the descriptions of the historic time of the Transcendentalists, so that was … when? … oh, yeah, the early nineteen hundreds.   This was a time when doctors did not know to wash their hands between patients, and so passed on puerperal fever from woman to woman, and believed it to be an epidemic, not knowing they themselves caused it.  Germ theory had not yet been introduced in the United States, although it was gaining ground in Europe.

This historic era was also the time of body snatching and grave robbing, as medical schools and surgeons paid for corpses to those willing to bring them fresh ones, for studying the body and teaching anatomy to medical students.  Eventually, they were able to buy bodies legitimately from some states who had laws allowing the use of the bodies of indigent, criminals and unknown persons to be used for medical researched, and the market for the clandestine bodies snatched all but disappeared.

Very interesting stuff, made palatable by a light covering of a love story and a mystery.

OFFERING TO THE STORM by Dolores Redondo

The final book in Spanish writer Dolores Redondo’s atmospheric Baztan trilogy, featuring Inspector Amaia Salazar.

It begins with a murdered child. It ends in a valley where nightmares are born.
When Detective Inspector Amaia Salazar is called in to investigate the death of a baby girl, she finds a suspicious mark across the child’s face – an ominous sign that points to murder.

The baby’s father was caught trying to run away with the body, whether from guilt or grief nobody can be sure. And when the girl’s grandmother tells the police that the ‘Inguma’ was responsible – an evil demon of Basque mythology that kills people in their sleep – Amaia is forced to return to the Baztán valley for answers.

Back where it all began, in the depths of a blizzard, she comes face to face with a ghost from her past. And finally uncovers a devastating truth that has ravaged the valley for years.

This is the kind of book reviewers tend to call ‘atmospheric’, which is another word for creepy and paranormal-ish.  The mystery continues from the first two novels in the series, with creepy added upon creepy.  I found it an interesting intertwining of disturbing, folklore apologia, marital relationship issues,  and a strange insistence on how much she adored and was cemented to her child while at the same time never being home and leaving him, sometimes for days at a time, in the care of her husband and/or elderly aunt.   The story line is filled with demented people:  her mother, a psychologist, some whacked out spouses who all have babies who died crib deaths, and which storyline relies heavily on satanic rituals.

In the end, my conclusion is that the series cannot quite decide whether to be a psychological look at disfunctionality, or a detective mystery, and so decides to mush them together.  You will have to decide for yourself if you think it works.

THE LEGACY OF THE BONES by Dolores Redondo

The second in the Baztán trilogy of murders in the Basque country of Spain.  This one was translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia.

The plot:  “A year after arresting Jason Medina for the rape and murder of his step-daughter, Detective Inspector Amaia Salazar has one last duty to complete before starting her maternity leave – attending Medina’s trial.

When the trial is suddenly called off, Amaia is appalled. But the judge had no choice. Jason Medina has committed suicide in the bathroom of the courthouse, leaving behind a cryptic note addressed to Amaia: the single word ‘Tarttalo’.

What message was Medina trying to send with this obscure reference to Basque mythology? To unravel the truth, Amaia must return once again to the Baztan valley, her family home and the place where she feels most vulnerable. As the investigation becomes more complicated and more personal, those closest to Amaia will be placed in mortal danger.”

OK, well she finally got preggers at the end of the last book, and now has a baby, and there is just way too much agonizing about breast feeding, about leaving the kid with her husband or aunt while she goes swanning off on her detecting job, and lots more eye-rolling paranormal elements.

This book there is some ongoing desecration of a local church, which seems to be the work of a protester of the racist policies and attitudes toward the agotes, (more on the agotes later).   Small bones were left on the altar of the church.  Meanwhile, other violent murders of women were investigated, some from many years ago, in which one arm of the women were cut off.  These were later found in a cave of bones in the Baztán area.  In each case, the murderer, a husband or father or significant other, later killed himself, after writing the word Tarttalo, the name of a local demon legend.

More and more, the cases and the church desecration seem to come round to our lady detective, as we learn more of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her demented mother, and her insane acts, who has been for a number of years incarcerated in various psychiatric hospitals.

It all ties up in the end, that is, most of it is tied up neatly in the end except for one dangling thread, which we know in advance will be resolved in the third volume.  We know this because Redondo set this up as a trilogy, and the third is the last in the series.

This book cannot effectively be read as a stand alone — just too much you need to already know to fully appreciate it.

And yeah, Detective Salazar finally gives up on the breast feeding and gives in to bottle feeding because she is just not home enough to dependably breast feed and someone else is always having to feed the kid.  Yawn.


OK, I promised you more on the agotes.  The agotes are a small community  which have been discriminated against for at least eight centuries, from the twelfth to the twentieth. There are small groups in the French Basque Country, Navarra, Guipúzcoa, Huesca, and in France, Bearn and Aquitaine.

The non-agote population attributed to them various “perverse” origins, which at no time were intended to explain but rather justify discrimination by a supposed biblical curse or because they were descendants of pagan Celts or heretics.

One theory considers that they were followers of the Albigensian heresy. Pío Baroja considers that this theory could be valid, because he thinks that only religious fanaticism could be so violent.

They were prevented from contracting marriages with the rest of the population, which is at the origin of a great inbreeding. In order to avoid it, relations with the agotes of the nearby French regions were sought, resulting in greater social rejection.

o They were forced to live outside the inhabited centers.

o They had to wear clothes to be identified as agote and to wear a red sign similar to the footprint of goose or duck.

o In many places they were forced to ring a bell in their path, so that the non-agotes could get away in time.

o In the Navarrese churches, the agotes were placed in a hole under the choir, the bell tower or the staircase to hear mass. It was common to have an own door called Agoten Athea, located next to the main door, being lower and narrower than the main one.

o In the times of oyernat (Basque race) the Basques wore their hair long, the agotes were forced to cut it to be differentiated from the rest. They were forbidden to carry weapons and dress as a gentleman.

o A baptismal font differentiated from the rest was used to baptize the agotes.

o In general in the Navarrese churches there was a line in the ground, which prevented them from accessing a part of the church, that is, they were forbidden to approach the altar. In the church of Arizkun that separating line did not exist, but a fence was raised.

o The Eucharist was given to them with a cane or some such.

o In France a non-consecrated zone was reserved in cemeteries for excommunicated, sorcerers, suicides and agotes. The agotes were buried at dusk and without bells.

o Among many other prohibitions, they were not allowed to raise livestock, drink in public fountains or participate in dances and parties.

o When there were offerings, those donated by the agotes were collected and set aside from those of the rest of the faithful.

o In the Baztan valley, they could not sit at the same table as the natives of the valley.

o Priests could not be ordained.

The hatred towards the agotes was such that the parents transmitted to their children the barbarities with which they were despised, including their anatomical form. They were said to be lustful, like all lepers, because of the color of their blood; angry, proud, susceptible, arrogant, cunning, hiding many things between them. They were defined as cretins, homosexuals, sorcerers, who joined with the beasts, who smelled badly, who smelled their breath and as we have seen, it was said that where they put a bare foot the grass never grew again.

Discrimination:  the gift that keeps on giving.



Dolores Rodondo  is a Spanish writer whom I have just discovered.  Her stand alone novel, All This I Give To You, really hit my hot button, so I have embarked on her trilogy set in the Basque area, the Baztán, which is a municipality of the Chartered Community of Navarre, northern Spain. It is located 58 km from Pamplona, which is the capital of Navarre. It is the largest municipality in Navarre, with around 376.8 km² and just over 8,000 inhabitants.

This first in the series, The Invisible Guardian, is translated by Isabelle Kaufeler.  How can a reader of a translated work tell if it is a good translation?  IDK.  I guess if it feels authentic, not stilted, uses words in common usage, not odd ones obviously looked up in a dictionary, traditional sentence structure of the targeted language.    I went to Google to see if I could find out anything about what defines good translations, and the ultimate upshot seems to be “Ummm, I dunno.”  Well, that was helpful.

It is a police procedural starring (yea!) a female detective, married to a famous sculptor.   Official plot:  “The naked body of a teenage girl is found on the banks of the River Baztán. Less than 24 hours after this discovery, a link is made to the murder of another girl the month before. Is this the work of a ritualistic killer or of the Invisible Guardian, the Basajaun, a creature of Basque mythology?

30-year-old Inspector Amaia Salazar heads an investigation which will take her back to Elizondo, the village in the heart of Basque country where she was born, and to which she had hoped never to return. A place of mists, rain and forests. A place of unresolved conflicts, of a ark secret that scarred her childhood and which will come back to torment her.

Torn between the rational, procedural part of her job and local myths and superstitions, Amaia Salazar has to fight off the demons of her past in order to confront the reality of a serial killer at loose in a region steeped in the history of the Spanish Inquisition.”

There is more than a smidgen of the paranormal here, couched in the telling of local myths and legends.  There is also a lot of whining about trying to have a baby.  There are also lots of hints of an abusive childhood at the hands of her mother, so bad that she eventually had to go live with her aunt.

It is kind of soap opera meets  Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison of Prime Suspect.   Yeah, I liked it.  A lot.  On to the second in the series.



A mystery, the first in a series. Here is the official plot description, straight from the official plot description horse’s mouth:

The job of criminal investigator in a rural Florida county is never easy, but it’s even harder when your father is the sheriff.

When Larry Macklin investigates the murder of a mutilated stranger, the search for the victim’s identity intersects with an arson investigation. The common thread is a small group of people who were in high school together in the ’70s, including Larry’s own father. Before Larry can rule any of them out as the killer, one of them turns up dead.

Why is the murderer targeting this particular group? What past secrets could be worth killing for now? Larry is running out of time and suspects, and his search for the truth may make him the next victim.

It’s about a young guy who takes on the job of deputy sheriff to please his sheriff father, which father seems like a real sh*t to me.  a difficult person to be the son of.  He is single and finds an attraction with the vet tech.

Interesting mystery, nothing too noir or heavy, and has a easy going style to read.  What else can I say?  I don’t expect too much from mysteries/crime novels/detective stories, and sometimes I am surprised at how good they are, and sometimes I am merely satisfied with the competency of the story and writing.  Everything doesn’t have to be Infinite Jest.

UNGLUED by Zig Davidson

A murder mystery, but wait, no.  It’s a crime novel.  But yet sort of.  It is sci fi fantasy, but only partially.

OK, here’s the deal.  Martin Gonlea’s life takes a sudden wrong turn as he rounds a street corner in lower Manhattan to find his mistress dead on the sidewalk. He can’t account for the minutes leading up to her death, and the more he tries to fix things–with his wife, and with her hard-boiled NYPD detective sister–the more quickly they unravel. Clocks fly out of windows, watches run backward, and time becomes undependable in this fantasy-tinged story of guilt, lust, obsession, and redemption.

He finds he can reset the clock, but each time he tries to do that, to get back before the bad stuff, when he comes to in that new time, things go awry.  And he finds his ability unreliable, sometimes putting him in the future, sometimes in the past.  He sees the deaths of several people, and when he tries to move time to avoid it, it seems to happen anyway, in yet a different time setting.

In different time settings, different people are the murderer, different people are the dead victim, and nothing is certain.

I absolutely loved this, except for the very very end, which was a total cop-out, a taffy for the lady readers.