Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Posts Tagged ‘gypsies’

THE SLAUGHTER MAN by Tony Parsons: Book Review

New Year’s Eve, London.  A night of celebration, fireworks, and noise–lots of noise.  So much that the horrific murders of four family members in an upscale gated community go unnoticed by neighbors.  Brad and Mary Wood and their two teenage children are dead.

Detective Max Wolfe is a member of the team of investigators, and he is the one who notices that there are photos of three children, the two dead teenagers and a young child, in the house.  But the family’s four-year-old son Bradley is nowhere to be found despite a desperate search of the house, the grounds, and an abutting cemetery.

The killings are eerily reminiscent of murders committed more than twenty years earlier, the weapon being a stun gun that is used on cattle.  A young Gypsy man, Peter Nawkins, was convicted of murdering a father and his three adult sons because they had opposed his engagement to the daughter of the family; he was recently released from prison after twenty years.  Terrible as the crimes were for which he went to jail, they were personal in nature.  Would he have committed such a crime against the Wood family, people whom he tells police he didn’t even know?

Further investigation shows that Mary Wood was the former Mary Gatling, the “Ice Virgin” of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway.  Her two siblings, Charlotte and Nils Gatling, go to the media, begging for someone to come forward with information about their young nephew.  Max can’t decide if this is helpful or not.  Will it make people more observant, looking for Bradley Wood in every possible place, or will it overwhelm the police with a thousand calls, well-meaning or not, that will only serve to interfere with the hunt for the child?

In the photos in the house, the Woods look like the perfect family.  They were all good-looking and photogenic, even the dog.  There were pictures of the teenagers playing hockey and football, smiling on the family’s boat, vacationing in Norway.  But did that kind of life breed jealousy and anger in people looking at the Woods’ videos on You Tube?  The police think so.  As one of Max’s colleagues puts it, “Look at how much the world hates the beautiful people, the rich ones….Look how the world hates the happy ones.  Can’t you see it, Max?  Somebody killed the Wood family because they were happy.”

In addition to his search for Bradley, Max is dealing with his interest in Charlotte, Mary Wood’s sister.  He knows better than to get involved with a member of the deceased’s family, but Charlotte’s beauty and her intense devotion toward her missing nephew make her particularly appealing.

The Slaughter Man is a mystery that will hold your interest from the beginning to the end.  Its topics, ranging from child abuse to racial stereotypes, are all too familiar in today’s world.  Tony Parsons has written a taut, exciting novel with characters, both major and minor, that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

You can see Tony Parsons talking about The Slaughter Man on this You Tube video.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


A RED HERRING WITHOUT MUSTARD by Alan Bradley: Book Review

Wouldn’t we all like to know a girl like Flavia de Luce?

A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third novel in this series.  Flavia, a delightfully precocious eleven year old, lives in the  English countryside with her family in the 1950s, although given their lifestyle the book could have been set thirty years earlier.  Besides Flavia, the de Luce family consists of her father and her two older sisters, Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy).  Harriet, the mother of the girls, died in a climbing accident in Tibet when Flavia was a toddler.

The de Luces live at Buckshaw, a magnificent estate, with a cook and a gardener/butler as staff.  However, due to ruinous taxes and the death of Harriet who died without leaving a will, the family’s resources are severely strained and the father may have to sell his beloved stamp collection (horrors) to pay the bills.  It appears to me that the father does nothing but buy stamps and admire them, and the three girls don’t seem to go to school, but I may have missed something that explained this in an earlier novel.

Feely and Daffy are incredibly mean to Flavia, who thus spends much of her time either cleverly paying them back with even more outrageous tricks or else hiding away in her chemistry laboratory in the east wing of the mansion.

The novel opens with Flavia having her fortune told by a Gypsy woman, Fenella Faa, at the church’s annual fair. When the fortune teller tells Flavia that she “sees” a woman on a mountain who is trying to come home, Flavia is certain that the woman the Gypsy sees is Harriet.  Frightened, she upsets a candle on the table in the Gypsy’s tent, starting a fire that destroys the tent.  Feeling guilty, Flavia allows Fenella to bring her horse and caravan to the Buckshaw estate for one night, deep in the woods so that Favia’s father won’t see it.

The next morning Flavia stops by to see Fenella and is horrified to find the woman covered with blood and barely breathing.  She runs to town and brings a doctor back with her to the encampment, and Fenella is taken to the local hospital.  Who could have done such a terrible thing?  No one even knew the Gypsy and her caravan were there.

Although the local police are immediately brought into the case, Flavia is certain she can solve the mystery on her own. Hasn’t she already helped solve two previous crimes?  And, after all, it was she who invited the woman to stay in the woods of the estate.  Guilt, responsibility, and curiosity combine to make Flavia believe that it’s up to her to find the person who brutalized Fenella and left her for dead.

The curious title of the novel is taken from a 16th-century book entitled A Looking Glasse, for London and Englande:  “…a cup of ale without a wench, why, alas, ’tis like an egg without salt or a red herring without mustard.”  Flavia is definitely the spice in this series, with just enough sugar in her mix to make her someone each reader will want to follow in future novels.  She will capture your interest and your heart.

You can read more about Alan Bradley at his web site.

THE INVISIBLE ONES by Stef Penney: Book Review

I’ve always been fascinated by Gypsy culture. I’ve read a number of books about them over the years, including several by Martin Cruz Smith, and enjoyed them all.  But The Invisible Ones is really special.

Stef Penney tells the story in two voices:  that of Ray Lovell, a private investigator with a Gypsy father and a gorjio mother, and that of JJ, a fourteen-year-old Romany youth with a Gypsy mother and a gorjio father.

Ray is approached by the father of a Gypsy woman who has been missing for seven years. The last time her father saw Rose Janko was at her wedding.  Leon Wood insists there is nothing odd about the fact that his daughter hasn’t been in touch all these years, given the vagaries of Romany life.  He was told by her husband and her father-in-law that she ran off shortly after giving birth to a son who inherited the Janko family disease, as yet undiagnosed, which affects only boys and leads to an early death.  But now, after the death of his own wife, Leon wants to find his daughter, or at least to find out what happened to her.

JJ is the second narrator. He lives on a “site” in a trailer with his mother.  In the neighboring trailers are his grand-uncle, confined to a wheelchair; his grandmother and grandfather; and his cousin Ivo and Ivo’s son Christo, who is six years old and suffers from the hereditary disease.  He’s quite small for his age, weak, and can barely speak, but his sweet disposition has his family longing to help him.  And as the novel opens, they are on their way to Lourdes, looking for a miracle like the one that cured Ivo.

The Janko family is indeed living under a cloud.  One of Ivo’s brothers died of this disease, and his sister was killed in a car crash when the family was returning from the Lourdes trip that saved Ivo.  The Jankos are torn between believing that some good fortune is due to come their way and believing that they are doomed to continue living under this curse.  The precocious JJ tells his family’s story with both the intelligence of a bright teenager and the anger and moodiness of the same.

Finally persuaded by Rose’s father that only a Gypsy, even one not with “pure blood,” will be able to find Rose Janko, Ray takes the case.  But no one really wants to talk to him.  Rose’s two sisters haven’t seen her since the wedding, and Ivo and his father are adamant that she left the family because she couldn’t deal with her son’s illness; they couldn’t care less what has happened to her.  But where could she have gone?  In the Gypsy culture, a married woman belongs to her husband’s family, no matter the circumstances, so her own family would not have welcomed her back.  In addition, Rose was born with a port wine birthmark on her neck, making her, in the Romany culture, less than desirable.  Perhaps that is why her father agreed so readily to her marriage to a man she barely knew.

In addition to being an excellent mystery, there is the added attraction in The Invisible Ones of reading about a way of life that not many of us are familiar with. The reader learns about the family’s fear of living “in brick,” of JJ being the first of the clan to possibly graduate from high school and then go on to university, and the reason why Gypsies don’t have sinks in their kitchens.  (Sorry, but you’ll have to read the book to find out the answer to the sink question.)

You can read more about Stef Penney at her web site.

NEMESIS by Jo Nesbo: Book Review

Translators are some of my favorite people. Since reading Jo Nesbo’s books in the original Norwegian would be difficult (okay, impossible) for me, Don Bartlett has come to the rescue and translated Nemesis.

This is the third book I’ve read in Nesbo’s series featuring Harry Hole (I wish I knew how to pronounce his last name properly; I doubt it rhymes with mole).   He’s your typical Scandinavian detective–a slightly depressed, former alcoholic, renegade police officer who’s usually on the outs with his department chief but who manages to keep his job because he gets the crime solved. His reasoning and methods are unorthodox, but he refuses to accept pat answers and digs deeply into each mystery with the hope not only of solving it but finding out the criminal’s motive.

There are three distinct threads in this story, although they all tie together at the end.  In Nemesis Harry is waiting to hear from his girlfriend about whether she will be able to retain custody of her young son whose Russian father now wants the boy to live with him in Russia.  While the trial is going on in Moscow, Harry hears from an old girlfriend, a woman he hasn’t seen or been in contact with in some time, who insists they get together to say a proper goodbye.  And then there’s a series of bank robberies in Oslo, the robber’s M.I. looking like that of a famous bank robber who is believed to have died some time ago.  So what’s going on?

In addition, Hole has to contend with two adversaries on the force. One is Rune Ivarsson, the head of the Robbery Division that is heading the investigation into the bank robberies even though a murder occurred during the first one.  He’s an officious power-seeker who dislikes Harry and his nonconformist ways.  The other is Tom Waaler, a homicide detective and a much more dangerous enemy.  He’s the man who killed Harry’s partner in a previous novel, a man with neo-Nazi and drug-related ties, a very dangerous adversary indeed.  And he seems to have blindsided Harry’s new partner, a naive young detective who literally never forgets a face.

This novel is close to 500 pages, and there’s enough action in it for another hundred.  For a small capital city in a small, law-abiding country, Oslo seems to be filled with unsavory police officers and murderous criminals.  There’s also a lot of “doubling” going on–with brothers being mistaken for and taking the blame for crimes committed by their siblings.

Harry Hole is a protagonist who grows on you. At points in the novel I wanted to shake him and say, “What do you think you’re doing?”  But he’s real, sometimes painfully so, and the mistakes he makes come from his heart.  His feelings for his girlfriend and her son, both of whom are painfully aware that their future happiness resides with a judge in a foreign country, are strong and realistic, even as he sometimes acts in a way he wouldn’t like his girlfriend to see.  That’s human, and Harry certainly is that.

Jo Nesbo’s books are part of a strong series, and I look forward to the next one.  I’m hoping another translation of his novels is in the works and will appear on our shores very soon.

You can read more about Jo Nesbo at his web site.