Audiobook Review: City of Saints

 Many thanks to Audiobook Juke Box and AudioGo for providing a copy of this audiobook.

City of Saints is another name given to Salt Lake City, Utah, land of the Mormons. It is a cold, snowy, early morning, 1930, and a violent, merciless murder has occurred. (Only after did I discover that this is based on a true murder mystery, one that remains unsolved all these many years later!) Salt Lake County Deputy Art Oveson and his brash partner attend a reported crime scene and discover a woman left dead in the snow. The whole scene depicts the vengence and hatred that was acted towards this unknown woman. Run over as many as seven times, every bone in her body broken, one eye missing, it is truly a horrific and disturbing scene for the officers to come upon.

Over the course of Deputy Oveson’s attempt to solve the murder of Helen Kent Pfalzgraf, wife of highly-esteemed, and very wealthy Dr. Pfalzgraf, corruption, cover up and greed abound. Working to compound the situation is a Sheriff running for re-election all to willing to turn away any attention from Dr. Pfalzgraf following his sizeable donation to the Sheriff’s campaign.

But Art Oveson knows something stinks something rotten in Denmark, or, Salt Lake City in this case. Oveson actually comes from a long family line of cops – his grandfather, his father – a highly honoured officer killed in the line of duty, and every single one of his brothers. For Art, law enforcement isn’t a choice, it’s an expected line of work. Art is also “affectionately” known by his foul-mouthed, abrasive partner as “Saint Art, Choir Boy, Boy Scout, Officer Squeaky Clean, etc.” due to his immensely squeaky clean lifestyle. Art doesn’t swear, is a faithful and devout Mormon, doesn’t drink, won’t drink coffee and above all loves his ice cream, his wife and his family.

After a particularly quick and tidy supposed close to the case, with the suicide of one of Helen Pfalzgraf’s many beaus claiming guilt, Art continues to dig to get to the reality of the situation. Why is Dr. Pfalzgraf so heavily guarded? Why has there been a series of particularly brutal murders following the close of Helen’s case? Why was his partner targeted? Did Helen’s lover really commit suicide or was that a set-up?

Sifting through layer upon layer of the case, Art comes upon much corruption, cover-up and stall tactics, yet he remains determined to get to the bottom no matter how intense the fear for his own life. The whole story is a very smart and snappy little caper that comes to a very satisfying finish. I particularly enjoyed how Mr. Hunt wrapped up the very end of this story. Not only does he take the time to provide all the details to wrap up the story nicely, he also takes the time to bring us back to the beginning, to the person behind this entire case, and pays homage to Helen Pfalzgraf. Mr. Hunt hasn’t let the readers forget her, to let us remember that she was a bright, beautiful young woman that walked the earth and held her own dreams. Nice touch Mr. Hunt to bring us back to the reason for the mystery in the first place. Helen wasn’t callously cast aside to forgot the true reason for this murder mystery.

Now, this was provided as an audiobook, and I feel I have to be honest here, that although as the story went on I became more accustomed to the narration handled by Richard Waterhouse, in the beginning I wasn’t overly thrilled with it. In the beginning his narration sounded quite stilted, almost amateurish, I suppose? His narration of the female voices left me laughing out loud, and not in a good way. But like I mention, as the story went on, I was no longer put off by it. I’m not sure I would recommend listening to this, but I most certainly do recommend reading it! (and in any format you choose.) City of Saints was the winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize  for best first novel and was a very worthy win! I truly enjoyed this one.

Audiobook Review: The Scent of Rain and Lightning


(to listen to the thunderstorm while reading the review, click on the image)

I decided to enhance your listening experience by adding 10 minutes of listening pleasure while reading this review. I’m also being a bit of a smart ass (in my opinion) because listening to the thunderstorm is far, far more soothing than listening to the narrator reading the story. The narrator plays such a critical role to the audiobook experience and unfortunately for listeners of The Scent of Rain and Lightning the listening experience is the furthest from soothing you can get. I continued through the 9 CDs though, only because I was invested in the story, but it was definitely not because of the narrator. Her normal reading voice was perfectly fine, however, when she decided to bring to life the voices of Billy Crosby, a young Jody Linder and a variety of other male voices, the effort was aggravating, cringe-worthy, and more like nails screeching down a blackboard. In short, horrible. I definitely took stars off for this story, because as it is an audiobook review, points need to go to narration.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning gets its title from a part in the book where Jody’s uncle Chase tells her to come outside and enjoy the smells outside after the rain. Rain & Lightning also play a major role in the story, as Jody’s father is murdered and her mother goes missing late one night during a terrible, terrible thunderstorm, forever leaving Jody Linder terrified when these events occur.

Jody Linder also lives in the absence of her parents, to be raised by her paternal grandparents. The Linder’s are the wealthiest ranch owners in the sleepy-town of Rose and wield considerable power both in town and its collective conscience. So on the night when Hugh Jr. (Hugh J.) is found murdered in his home and his wife Laurie has disappeared, the easiest person to pin this crime on is the town’s only bad-ass and all-around-son-of-a-bitch, Billy Crosby.

However, after serving 23-years in jail, Billy is out and his temper hasn’t settled in those years serving in a maximum-security prison. Jody, who’s spent her entire life fearing and hating Billy Crosby, begins to make new realisations and asks a number of questions concerning the night of her parent’s murders. She considers the possibility that the evil man convicted perhaps isn’t guilty of this particular crime after all.

The story really started to pick up steam in the final 2 CDs (and the annoying attempts at different voices finally stopped torturing my ears) and up until this point, the only one person I truly enjoyed was the matriarch of the family ranch, Annabelle Linder. I did say that the story itself kept me invested in it, but it was a very, very difficult listen. I also thought I had the mystery somewhat figured out by CD 2, however the one person involved was off and in the end it ended with a great bang and not really how you would think it was going to wrap up, not so callously I suppose. Some of what I guessed was correct. 🙂

If you do choose to pick this story up, I encourage you to read in book form, not audio. 😦 3 stars overall because although the story itself was a very good one, the audio experience was not.

Review: A Duty to the Dead

A duty to the dead is a sacred matter.

The Bess Crawford series has been something that I’ve wished to read for quite some time now. Also, after reading the Maisie Dobbs series, finding another WWI nurse turned sleuth was an appealing thought. I first learned of the Maisie Dobbs series from following the Book Club Girl’s site where she did a read-along. Now, to stem our grief over the loss of weekly episodes of Downton Abbey, Book Club Girl decided to schedule another read-a-long, this time with Bess Crawford. Delightful!

In, A Duty to the Dead, Bess makes a promise to dying soldier Lieutenant Arthur Graham to deliver a cryptic message to his brother, Jonathon. Bess is wounded which delays the delivery and the longer it takes to deliver the message the more it starts to take on darker meanings. After meeting the Graham family she quickly discovers that fulfilling Arthur’s promise comes with much apprehension and danger and results in uncovering clues about a murder 14 years prior. Unable to leave without first solving this mystery, Bess’ will and her previous thoughts of the dashing Arthur will be greatly tested.

In the beginning I fear I compared too much to my beloved Maisie, trying to find flaws in Bess, if you would say. I didn’t think Bess had as much “pluck” as Maise, but as I continued to read, the the mystery & intrigue Bess becomes midst among intensifies and I was drawn right in. But still, Bess’ character is not as well developed, you don’t get a strong sense of her personality and background really, especially as this is our first introduction to Bess. I’m hoping that she grows as the series continues. But, don’t get me wrong, Bess wasn’t about to walk away from uncovering the deep family secrets the Grahams were keeping! The other personalities weren’t going to stand in the way of her perseverance.

For another take, here is what BookFan had to say about A Duty to the Dead here.

Here are the questions – and my answers – for the discussion taking place on Book Club Girl’s site. Some of the questions I’ve answered above…I did not know the questions that would be asked for the following discussion, but my answers below perhaps provide more detail.

Questions for Discussion:

1) Was this the first book that you read by Charles Todd, or, the first book set in this time period? I first encountered WWI-era-England with Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, and then, of course with the tv sensation Downton Abbey. If you have read more in this time period, what other books do you recommend?

Yes, this was my first Charles Todd. I did have it marked as to read for quite some time, but then held off when I heard there would be a read-a-long done like what was done for the Maisie Dobbs series. Book Club Girl was who introduced me to Maisie, and of course I was hooked on Downton Abbey! Lately there has been a whole slew of book lists to “cure your Downton withdrawl” and I have quite a few marked down. The House of Tyneford comes quickly to mind, and I heard that The Haunting of Maddy Clare is like Maisie Dobbs, ghosthunter. So I’m anxious to crack that one open! And I’m very anxious to get to Broken Music as well.

2) What was your first impression of Bess Crawford? Were you surprised by the independence she enjoyed as a woman in this time, and that her parents afforded her so much freedom? Did your opinion of Bess change throughout the novel?

As I mentioned above, I think I was trying to compare her to Maisie too much at first. I felt Maisie was a better developed character, her background seemed more fleshed out. But yes, she did seem to enjoy a great deal of independence for the time period. She was often unescorted and perhaps it is owing to her more privileged upbringing. But again, I didn’t think this was as fleshed out as much as it could have been. And yes, my opinion did definitely improve and change of Bess as I read further. Her determination to get to the bottom of the mystery was great.

3) Bess has an interesting back story, growing up as she did in India. How did the authors use that part of her life to help define her character, and that of her parents and their relationship?

I really didn’t think this was detailed enough to really get a firm grasp of her growing up in India. I felt it was really only noted in passing a few times, in my opinion. I didn’t think there was a lot of attention paid to the character development of her father and mother.

4) Did you know that large ocean liners, such as the Brittanic, which was a sister ship to both the Titanic and the Olympic, were called into service as hospital ships during the war? Brittanic was indeed sunk as well, just as the Todds write it in the book. Did you know that so many of the men who died on the hospital ships were buried at sea? Of course it makes sense, but I hadn’t realized the number and that those men’s families were left with no grave at home to visit, as Bess reflects, “In the sea there were no markers for the dead. No place in the deep to mourn, no place to leave flowers.”

No, I did not know that and it was very interesting to find that out. What an incredible experience it must have been working on those large ships tending to the men. I honestly had NO IDEA this occurred! I’ve only pictured or seen the hospitals on ground, when I envision the nurses and doctors tending to the wounded and dying men.  I honestly have never seen images of hospital ships. And how sad and very frustrating it would have been for those families not able to have a body to bury and mourn over properly. It would seem as though it wasn’t really real, they really weren’t dead. How very sad and heartbreaking for their families.

4) What did you think of Arthur’s message? Do you think it was fair of him to ask Bess to deliver it? Why do you think she was so committed to not only delivering it, but to making sure it was followed by the Graham family?

Arthur could have spilled a few more beans to Bess! If he honestly cared for her in the way it read that he did, or how their relationship was blossoming, you would think he would have divulged more information. However, it would seem that Bess fell in love with him, and he is characterized as a man that was very popular with the ladies, and I assumed that it was more one-sided on Bess’ part. However, when Bess examines their relationship, she really didn’t know much about Arthur and you see it as more of a one-sided relationship – Bess fell harder for him. I think her determination to ensuring its delivery is due in part to her love for him, but also because it just smacked of mystery and I think this is where Bess’ character comes to life. She simply needs to get to the bottom of this, but also I think to convince herself that she was a special part of Arthur’s life. This wasn’t something she would have done for anyone else and that is stated often in the book, she wrote plenty of letters home, but because she was in love with Arthur – she specifically went to meet his family.

5) What did you think of Mrs. Graham and her sons? I was struck by how much Bess was at their mercy and whim while staying in their house. Do you think they abused her kind nature in asking her to care for Peregrine?

Well Mrs. Graham was certainly a self-absorbed, selfish person! Although, she did what she did to protect her shameful secret from being exposed. However, her treatment of Peregrine was horrid, and well, what each of her boys had to continue to live with and hide all those years was terrible. Shameful to trade one boy’s life for another!Absolutely they did abuse Bess in asking her to care for Peregrine – by locking her in a room ensuring that no one else would be allowed to see Peregrine for fear that he would expose their secret was a terrible mistreatment! Overall, the whole treatment of Bess by the Graham’s was contemptible. From the moment Bess walked in the front door their treatment of her was bizarre. No wonder she wished to stay and uncover the dirty little secrets! Their behaviour just smacked of “we’re hiding things here!”

6) Did you guess who the real killer was before he was revealed? I confess I went back and forth a few times, wondering.

I do confess to going back and forth about it a few times as well. I did figure it was one of the brothers though, and then I thought hmmm, maybe the mother? But I believe I kept it narrowed down to the brothers?

Now it is on to the second book in the series, An Impartial Witness. Discussion of this book will take place on April 30th.

Review: The Child Who

This book was chosen for the Opinionless Online Book Club’s March read. We also have the incredible opportunity to speak personally with Simon Lelic on a Sunday afternoon coming up the last weekend of March. You still have time to read and join! The Child Who is a quick read, and yes, it is a page burner. I do have to say I did find myself wanting to keep reading it, that sleep could wait just a tiny bit longer…

We tried to pitch it for our Wink 3 Book Club choice for March as well, but as soon as they found out it was about a child that killed another child, they wouldn’t touch it. Not a topic they wanted to read about.  However, The Child Who doesn’t really dish out any gory details and the fact that young Daniel killed a younger Felicity is really background material and not the center of this story.

So, perhaps I`ve seen too many Cold Case, Missing, or Law & Order episodes, and I`ve read many thriller, suspense, murder mystery novels, but I kind of had this one figured out from the beginning. Okay, maybe not the very last part, but kind of, sort of. But I`m not saying I didn`t enjoy this, no, not at all, because as I mentioned above, I did find myself always wanting to go back to it, to see what would happen next.

Jackie explains the story of The Child Who wonderfully in her review here. So I don`t need to go in to any explanations as to the why, who and where here. All I will say is that I struggled quite a bit with Leo. I tossed and turned my opinion of him around a number of times. I thought him stupid and foolish for some part of it- of course this case is too close to you and is destroying your family – so drop it and focus on your family and your daughter who is suffering at school, at home, with friends because of the sheer intensity and coverage this case is bringing to your home life.

Ellie was lost. Daniel was too. In failing one, Leo had sacrificed them both.

Then I would flip because I realized that Leo was the only one to care about Daniel, not the murderer Daniel, but the small, young frightened 12-year-old boy. And the reasons leading up to why Daniel did what he did.

He had been failed and failed again. That he had killed had been not just the crime but his parents`, his schoolteachers`, his social workers`, his peers`.

Personally, my opinion on this subject is that if you really want to read a fascinating story that explores and delves in to the background and environment leading up to reasons why a young kid would murder another, you should read Elizabeth George`s book What Came Before He Shot Her. I felt this was an incredible examination of how behaviour, environment and circumstances lead up to a child committing murder.

Although I didn`t anticipate fully the ending, I was very pleased with it. I liked that it was how it came to a close. But overall, the story itself was somewhat familiar and that is why I have given it the 3.5 star rating.