Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Janus Stone: A Ruth Galloway Mystery, by Elly Griffiths--Review

336 pp., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 9780547237442, Publication Date January 2011

Forensic archeologist Ruth Galloway is settling back into normal after the unsettling events of a few months ago when she gets a call from the head of the university archeology department. Construction workers on the site of an old house in Norwich that previously served as a children's home have found the bones of a young child. The bones need to be identified, and it needs to be determined as quickly as possible if this is an archeological find or a crime scene. Knowing the police need to be involved, Ruth calls Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, whom she's worked with in the past.
     What she hasn't yet told Nelson, who is married and has two teenage daughters, is that she's pregnant as a result of their one night of  "We Didn't Get Killed" sex four months ago.
      As they piece together the evidence and determine that they have the body of a young girl, they also learn that two children disappeared from the children's home in the early 1970s--and that one of them was a girl about the age of the child whose bones they have. And in the mid-1950s, the young daughter of the family living there at the time, when it was still a private home, also died at the right age--supposedly of scarlet fever.
     Meanwhile, another archeologist, Max Gray, working on a site in Swaffham, is showing a friendly and possibly more than friendly interest in Ruth. Ruth is interested, but does she need the complications? Will he still be interested when he knows she's pregnant?
     While she's juggling all these problems and complications, alarming things start to happen around Ruth. Someone sacrifices a cockerel and writes her name in blood at the Swaffham site. She hears someone breathing nearby when she's out in the dark, and stumbles and passes out when she sees what appears to be a dead baby--and turns out to to be a model from a museum exhibit.
     The tension develops nicely, and the mystery is satisfyingly complex and interesting. This is the second of the series, and some things, such as Ruth's pregnancy and the relationships among some of the characters, are products of the events of the earlier book, The Crossing Places. However, since I have not read it, I can feel completely confident in saying that this book stands on its own sufficiently to be a satisfying, enjoyable read.
     Strongly recommended.

     Note:: I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Advent of a Mystery, by Marilyn Leach--Review

256 pp, Barbour Books, September 2010, ISBN 9781602605695

Berdie Elliott is a former investigative reporter, and the wife of the new vicar of Aiden Kirkwood. This is a new calling for Hugh, after a military career, and Berdie has retired from her own career to be the vicar's wife. But she hasn't given up her skills or her active mind, and when an elderly parishioner, Miriam Livingston, is murdered in her home after an evening of caroling and an Advent party at the vicarage, Berdie can't help looking into things. Especially when the village constable is willfully blind to anything but the most obvious evidence, and locks up the most immediately obvious suspect, Jamie Donovan, who quarreled with Miriam Livingston at the party, and whose engraved screwdriver was found near the victim's body and had clearly been used as the murder weapon.
     Hugh wants Berdie to stay out of it, to avoid risks both to her own safety and to their still-new status in the village. Both her professional instincts and her sense of justice draw her in, though, and Hugh also can't remain opposed. Too many things don't add up, and Berdie, with her friend Lillie in tow, keeps digging. When they discover that Miriam Livingston is someone other than whom the village has always believed her to be, things start to spiral out of control and the dangers to Berdie that had worried Hugh from the beginning begin to materialize.
     This is a really engaging "cozy" mystery, with likable and interesting characters. I hope we'll be seeing more of Berdie and her friends and neighbors.

Note:: I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley

Against the Wind (The Raines of Wind Canyon), by Kat Martin--Review

MIRA Books, January 2011, ISBN 9780778329190
Sarah Allen, finally freed from an abusive marriage by the unsolved murder of her husband, gathers up her young daughter and the few possessions left to her after everything is sold to pay her husband's debts, and returns to her childhood home of Wind Canyon, Wyoming. She's rented a small house on the property of one of the local ranches, and landed a job with the local newspaper,. She'll finally be putting her journalism degree to some use, and as a bonus she'll be living near enough to visit her last surviving relative, her grandmother.
       But Sarah's troubles aren't over yet. She's getting calls from a former business associate of her husbands, who is quite certain that Sarah knows where Andrew kept a disk or flash drive with some vital information. And the owner of the ranch she's moved onto is Jackson Raines, whom Sarah yearned for and spurned in high school. Sarah and Jackson resist their mutual attraction while the calls get more threatening--but when the calls progress to the trashing of Sarah's cottage and her grandmother's home, she has no one to turn to but Jackson.
     Trouble keeps closing in on them, as the FBI threatens Sarah with charges to force her to give information she doesn't have about Andrew's business activities, and his former associates get more violent in their pursuit of that flash drive. And there's still one secret Sarah is keeping from Jackson, something she knows will kill his growing love for her.
     This is a well-written romance with interesting, likable characters, and the added bonus that no one does anything stupid or creates a willfully stupid misunderstanding in order to create necessary plot complications. Sarah's secret reason for pulling back is real and serious, and Jackson reacts like an adult, not an over-reactive teenager. These are solid adult characters, well worth the time spent with them.

Note:: I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, November 4, 2010

God Soul Mind Brain: A Neuroscientist's Reflections on the Spirit World, by Michael S. Graziano

156 pp., Leapfrog Press, September 2010, ISBN 9781935248118

Michael Graziano is a professor of neuroscience at Princeton. He freely identifies himself as an atheist, and suggests that he may somewhere on the autism spectrum and that this may affect his view of the world and of people.

Graziano argues that a belief in God is not imaginary, a delusion, or even a "belief" in the usual sense, but rather a perception that grows directly out of the same neural circuitry that allows us to perceive consciousness not only in other people, but in ourselves. We (those of us who are religious) perceive God in the world for the same reasons we perceive consciousness and personality in other people--because evolution has created the machinery in the brain that allows social animals to predict and understand each other's behavior. This is an essential ability for animals in complex social relationships, and like other abilities, likely varies in degree between individuals. Graziano suggests that the ability is somewhat less intense than average in people with some degree of autism, and that it may be stronger than average religious visionaries, those who see ghosts, and others with a higher than average degree of engagement with the "spirit world."

The discussion of the "spirit world," however, is only a part of this book, and although it's the obvious interest, in fact I found the overall discussion of how the mind and consciousness originate in the brain, and key developments in neuroscience related to this, to be every bit as fascinating. This is a short book, and an easy read considering its subject matter. There's an ample bibliography for those interested in further reading, but you won't be tripping over footnotes while zipping through the main text.

Highly recommended if you're at all interested in the subject.

Note:: I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley