What Paula's Reading



Deborah Crombie

Have you read Deborah Crombie? She’s a native Texan, author of a dozen or so novels, and creator of the mystery series featuring Scotland Yard detective duo Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. [See more at www.deborahcrombie.com:]

 Crombie lives in McKinney, a small town north of Dallas, but has resided in both England and Scotland. Like Elizabeth George, she’s an American who has mastered the art of the modern British mystery. She spends much time in the U.K. researching her novels, and her work is so culturally and geographically authentic you could liken it to that of P.D. James or Ruth Rendell.

 Her latest work, Necessary as Blood (Wm. Morrow, 2009), has an eerie beginning. A young mother leaves her toddler with a friend, a flower market vendor, and promptly, mysteriously vanishes. Shortly afterwards, the missing woman’s husband, a Pakistani lawyer, is murdered, leaving the couple’s toddler daughter abandoned and alone – a child who becomes a passionate focus for Gemma.

 Gradually, Gemma discovers the corrupt nature of the people the law is bound to entrust the child to – people in whose care she will surely languish and will possibly be brutalized. Secretly, Gemma becomes as involved in the case as her fiancé, Duncan, who’s in charge of the investigation. As the government’s social services machinery inexorably grinds toward an unsuitable outcome, Gemma and Duncan desperately seek not only a killer, but also a better resolution for the child they’ve come to love.

 Necessary as Blood is a successful addition to the James/Kincaid series. It’s a fully engaging, satisfying tale that examines a dark and utterly contemporary but age-old subject: child abuse and human trafficking. Yet it culminates in a hopeful conclusion that unites Gemma and Duncan and their personal and professional lives.




Bruce DeSilva 


Bruce DeSilva’s debut novel, Rogue Island, is a practically pitch-perfect noir mystery. There’s Mulligan, drawn in the hard-boiled tradition – in this case, a hard-drinking, street-savvy, investigative reporter-cum-sleuth who hides both his vulnerability and his sense of outrage behind a smart-ass veil of not-so-tough tough-guy behavior. 

There are the requisite real bad boys – polished pols, corrupt city leaders, crooked cops – characters so bad DeSilva’s sleazy mobsters come across like knights in tarnished armor by comparison.

There are the walk-ons by a bevy of bold females present mostly for a flash of T&A – and the more pivotal role of Mulligan’s gorgeous, exotic (but ambitious!) love interest.

And there’s the setting, Rogue – I mean Rhode – Island. DeSilva creates a sense of place so sharp that it deserves to be on the list of dramatis personae.

The book’s action moves along apace. Someone is burning down Mulligan’s boyhood neighborhood in Providence. It would feel personal even if it weren’t for the blackened corpses – men, women, and children Mulligan knew, or knew of. Is it a firebug or arson for profit? Mulligan thinks he knows. Then he knows he knows.

Question is, what’s he going to do about it?

You’ll enjoy Rogue Island. It’s a masterly literary debut by a seasoned newspaperman with decades of character- and community-watching under his belt. No wonder it’s so authoritative and sure-handed.  But it’s also at times laugh-aloud funny and – by its final pages – a book with a heart, touching and satisfying.

(Reviewed October 2010)


Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell’s latest Inspector Wexford novel is another polished performance by a practiced artist.  Monster in the Box, as is often the case with Rendell, is a tale about a character so repellent and unsympathetic that he never gains the reader’s understanding or tolerance. 

When Wexford was a young cop just starting out, he suspected – no, knew -- that Eric Targo was guilty of a handful of random murders.  But he had no evidence and kept his suspicions to himself.  Now, decades later, Targo returns to Kingsmarkham, and so do the murders.  And Targo – as though able to read Wexford’s mind – openly taunts the inspector as he did all those years ago.  This time, though, Wexford has grown in confidence and obsessively pursues his suspect right to a surprise ending.

This Wexford novel is a bit different from the others in that we learn more about the inspector than we’ve known before – particularly his romantic life as a young man and how he met and courted his wife, Dora.

It won’t spoil anything to explain the title.  Wexford’s daughter Sylvia describes a visualization technique for dealing with problems and anxieties: You put the worry into a little box, close it, and hide it away where you can’t get at it easily– a drawer, a cupboard. Then, if you find yourself fretting about that problem, you remind yourself that it’s locked away. You can’t get at it, and it can’t get at you.  The technique is interesting, but is it really new?  I’m thinking of the lyrics of a song popular during the First World War: “Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile.”

It also won’t hurt anything to share an amusing anecdote about how Rendell got involved in fiction.  She began her writing career in journalism and, while a cub reporter in Essex, wrote a story about a tennis club dinner without having attended the dinner.  Problem was, the guest speaker died mid-speech, a notable fact that was of course not included in Rendell’s story.  She resigned before her editor could fire her and turned her attention to writing fiction – a decision any mystery-lover would applaud.

(Reviewed June 2010)


9 Dragons
Michael Connelly

You can’t go wrong with Michael Connelly.  In his thriller 9 Dragons, the investigation of a liquor store owner’s murder takes Detective Harry Bosch first to Los Angeles’ gritty Chinese underworld, then to Hong Kong, where Harry’s daughter has been kidnapped to warn him off the investigation.  But the kidnappers have reckoned without Harry’s relentless fury – especially as a protective father – while Harry himself must face down one of the most powerful crime syndicates in the world.  9 Dragons is another Connolly page-turner: Its action is breathless and nonstop. 

(Reviewed June 2010)


Outliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s genius is for exploring questions most of us never think to ask – and for finding fascinating answers in unexpected connections and relationships.  His book Outliers asks why some people achieve enormous success while others of equal or even surpassing intelligence, talent, and skill fail – or at least fail to achieve. 

Gladwell, who also wrote the best-sellers The Tipping Point and Blink, makes an intriguing assertion:  Those who claim to be self-made are not but are rather the result of good luck, good timing, culture, circumstance and – most important – almost endless practice.  To support his thesis, Gladwell examines the histories of a handful of superstars as varied as Mozart and Bill Gates. 

Along the way, we’re treated to engaging questions – such as how many hours of practice it takes to become a master at a certain skill.  Or why so many pro hockey stars were born in January.  Or why Jewish immigrant workers in the garment industry gave birth to New York’s most celebrated and powerful lawyers.  All of Gladwell’s answers are not equally persuasive, but his questions and observations are so interesting that the answers are sometime almost beside the point.



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