Dissolution by C. J. Sansom

Dissolution takes place during the period when Catholic monasteries in Henry VIII’s England were closed and often destroyed down to the last brick under the cruel supervision of Thomas Cromwell. The particular monastery of the novel comes under scrutiny because of a shocking murder. One of Cromwell’s commissioners who has been investigating the finances of the monastery at Scarnsea is found early in the morning in the kitchen with his head neatly severed.

Smaller monasteries have been taken over, but the larger monasteries still stand. Cromwell doesn’t want attention drawn to this larger monastery where the abbot was under pressure to “surrender” the monastery and all its lands and worth to the king.

Cromwell sends lawyer Matthew Shardlake, a dedicated Reformist, to solve the murder as quickly and quietly as possible. Accompanying Matthew is his ward Mark, an idealistic young man who has a way with women, and not so much respect for the Reformation.

They arrive at the monastery on horseback, just ahead of a snowstorm that soon isolates them in the monastery with a group of monks who find them to be frightening. It seems there are about five monks with access to the crime scene who also would physically be able to wield a sword and cut off a man’s head.

It turns out there are lights in the swamp at night behind the monastery’s crumbling wall, secret passages known to more than a few and two other murders that come to light as they investigate.

scarnsea-map

Matthew is a hunchback, but he does so much horseback riding, and physically challenging chases through the monastery, he lets nothing stop him. He’s so aware of his appearance, and has suffered a lifetime of ill looks and insults. Yet his intellect, hard work and reform fervor have made him a close confidant of Thomas Cromwell, and he has Cromwell’s power to wield as he goes everywhere in the monastery, examining everything, asking bold questions with no fear that he will not be answered.

It was fascinating to see how the religious beliefs and practices of the monks looked to someone who turned away from the church and had nothing but contempt for it. Matthew screamed at someone for worshiping “a piece of wood”. He’s certainly not a man of even temperament, as he yells at his assistant often also.

If it weren’t for his self awareness, basic humanity, and desire to do the right thing, he might almost be unlikeable. But I do want to read more of his stories set in the awful times he lived in. It will be interesting to see how he treads carefully though the upcoming years.

C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake Page: http://www.cjsansom.com/Shardlake

The Matthew Shardlake Series In Order:

Dissolution 2003

Dark Fire 2004

Sovereign 2006

Revelation 2008

Heartstone 2010

Lamentation 2014

Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Holden, with Miller’s ghostly direction managed to open the Ring Gate in Abbaddon’s Gate. Now thousands of worlds are within reach. The overcrowded solar system has an escape valve, and people can spread out among the stars, with plenty of air and water for all.

The nearest planet to the gates has been named Ilus by a colony of refugees from Ganymede. They commandeered their rescue ship and pointed it through the gates when there seemed no place else for them to go. Fiercely independent, determined to build a new life for themselves, they’ve been mining the planet which is rich in lithium and the ruins of a dead alien civilization.

mining colony

The infighting that always existed between Earth, Mars and the Belt still goes on. Earth’s UN is sending their own colony of scientists to this same planet to study it and claim it for their own. They call the planet New Terra. They don’t recognize the current colonists nor, thanks to some corporate string pulling at home, do they plan to let the colonists have mining rights.

As a shuttle carrying the new Governor and a first group of scientists land, the landing pad explodes, killing many on board, including the new governor. The Edward Israel, still in orbit, goes into high alert and sends a signal back to Earth that colonial terrorists have killed the first team sent to the planet.

Another ship, the Barbapiccola waits in orbit for the first shipments of lithium.

The trip from Ilus to home takes a year and a half, though communications take mere hours. The UN and OPA want James Holden to go to Ilus and try to reach a diplomatic conclusion. Miller’s ghostly self wants to go through the gate in the very worst way. Although Holden fears what Miller might do next, or cause to happen, he likes the idea of being a peacemaker, so they go.

While the Rocinante makes the journey, the head of Edward Israel’s security sends more scientists down to the planet and goes down himself to make sure their mission isn’t hampered and no one is killed. He runs a tight colony and never hides his suspicion of the “squatters” as the colonists are known to the scientists.

Just as the Rocinante arrives, a fight breaks out and security teams from the Edward Israel are killed. Murtry declares martial law. And planet itself seems to be waking up.

Holden’s efforts are wasted on the three warring groups, except for a scientist who develops an awkward crush on Holden.

As the planet wakes, it seems bent on destroying those on the surface. As they flee into space and the ships in orbit, the planet’s defenses begin to pull all the ships down towards the surface.

Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

In the third novel of the Expanse series, the bizarre activities of the protomolecule on Venus come to fruition: from within the clouds of the planet a ring was launched toward Uranus, assembling itself upon arrival. Nothing has emerged from the Ring. There have been no signs of activity or life. Science ships from Earth and Mars hover near it, doing nothing but observing.

Expanse Ring

Neo, a young man with no ambition other than impressing his friends, puts together a ship which will slingshot him right through the Ring. Just as he nears the ring he’s hailed by a Martian ship who says they’ll fire on him if he doesn’t stop. Too close and too sure of himself, he sails through the Ring at high speed and is immediately crushed within his little ship.

Panic arises within the fleets. The little ship went in but didn’t come out the other side. There was some kind of reaction from the ring, they just don’t know what it means.

The biggest effect is on Holden and his crew. Just as they’re happily celebrating their successes and a bright future aboard the Rocinante, bad things begin to happen. Mars orders the Rocinante locked down at Ceres Station. They want the ship back. A client pulls out of their contract suddenly.

Roci crew0.1

Miller appears to Holden when no one else is around. The fact that Miller is dead is annoying enough. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Holden didn’t like him during the short time he knew him in life. Something about the disturbance at the Ring has Miller appearing more frequently and urgently, trying to get Holden to go to the Ring. Miller is cryptic and disjointed, he uses stories from his detective days to represent what he’s trying to convey. Holden understands nothing.

A documentary crew wants to hire the Rocinante to fly to the Ring, suddenly the place everyone seems to be headed. They also want one on one interviews with the crew that survived Eros Station. Faced with the possible loss of the Rocinante, the crew agrees and the long journey out begins.

Expanse Roci 2

A crew sets out from the Outer Planet Alliance. The Behemoth is a mix of Belters with a very few Earthers mixed in. It is seen as important that a ship representing the Outer Planets Alliance be commanded by Belters. Tensions are high.

On the United Nations Navy vessel Thomas Prince, Clarissa Mao, the technologically augmented daughter of Jules-Pierre Mao waits for Holden to near the Ring. She has been transformed into a highly efficient killing machine and will stop at nothing to bring him down, ruin his name, and end his life.

Expanse C M

Representing Earth, a carefully selected group travels towards the Ring as witnesses and consultants. They’re represented by Anna, a pastor who hopes to help citizens of the solar system see how the presence of the Ring and what might lay beyond fits with what is known of God.

As all the ships converge on the Ring, a ship explodes, followed by an announcement that comes directly from the Rocinante and James Holden that he is responsible and claiming the Ring for OPA. In the chaos that follows, the Rocinante sends out a message that their signal has been hijacked and they did not set the bomb nor are they claiming the Ring.

expanse spaceship explosion

In desperation, the Rocinante goes through the Ring. In short order, small tactical Martian Marine ships give chase, then all of the ships which journeyed to the Ring enter. The Ring has defenses that include keeping ships and probes and objects moving at certain slow rates of speed. It also reacts to violence in surprising ways. With each ship now full of panicked and sometimes mutinous individuals, there seems to be little hope any will make it out alive.

Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey

In the second novel of The Expanse series, the action shifts from the Asteroid Belt to a colony on Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons. Ganymede is a planet of domes growing food that is transported to all sectors of the solar system. Botanical experiments and growing techniques have made it a rich source of sustenance for the increasingly crowded expanse of planets and space. It has been untouched by the politics and rivalries growing every day throughout the system.

Expanse Asteroid Belt

Expanse Jupiters Moons

Since the revelations of scientific mass murder on Eros by Julie Mao’s father and his Protogen company in Leviathan Wakes, the solar system now has three seats of political power. The Outer Planets Alliance led by Fred Johnson has gained some measure of legitimacy and Holden and crew have been working for him. Mars, continuing to work on terraforming their planet, spreads its naval fleet defensively into the Belt and out towards Jupiter and Saturn. Earth uses its United Nations forces to try to keep control everywhere. Directed by the amazing and plain spoken Chrisjen Avasarala, Earth’s still vast resources often seem to give them the upper hand.

On pastoral Ganymede, children with certain genetic defects are suddenly disappearing. Rapidly following this is an attack on UN and Martian ground forces by a deadly being that is able to jam their communications and swiftly kill the marines of both factions. Panic and paranoia reign. Everyone is convinced that the “protomolecule” now transforming the planet Venus has sent monstrosities to attack the rich food source that is Ganymede. Fear that the population of Ganymede will meet the same fate as the unfortunate souls on Eros triggers an emergency evacuation of the planet.

Expanse Greenhouse

Into this charged atmosphere go the crew of the Rocinante, ostensibly to help a scientist find his kidnapped child (which will be a huge publicity boost for the warring factions showing how humanely they can work together), more to the point, having had close proximity to the effects of the protomolecule, they can determine if it has been planted on Ganymede and how quickly it’s moving among the desperately escaping population.

The shifting viewpoints in Caliban’s War give us a closer look at Earth and how it functions in the Expanse, and the narrative of Praxidike Meng, father of the kidnapped child Mei, shows what everyday life could be like in a crowded and ever expanding space society. Holden’s crew has become a tight group who bring to any situation their combined wisdom, bravery and knowledge of the worlds that make up the Expanse.

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

James S. A. Corey is the pseudonym of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. They’ve published five novels in the Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes is the first.

As I’ve written here before, I heard lots of good things about the then upcoming Syfy Series “The Expanse”. After watching the first episode I wasn’t sure I liked it and would watch anymore. Yet I came back week after week, and am now enthralled.

As soon as the series ended I picked up Leviathan Wakes, loved it, and got the rest of the books. A sixth book, Babylon’s Ashes was supposed to come out in late August, then October, and now in December. Agh, how can they do that to the poor eager reader?

Leviathan Wakes switches viewpoints and stories all through the novel. Each book in the series is written this way, and I’m happiest when the story focuses on the crew of the Rocinante, a semi-stolen Martian Navy Ship. The many viewpoints really serve the making of the world of The Expanse well, though. You get a much broader look at an incredibly vibrant solar system that supports very different lifestyles and cultures. I can’t think of any space oriented stories I’ve ever read where everything fits together and makes sense, and you can imagine day to day life in a universe such as this.

Julie Mao

The daughter of a wealthy man she has deserted the life he offers his family and she has joined an organization in “The Belt” bent on righting wrongs and building an Outer Planets Alliance. When we meet her she’s the only one left alive on her small ship The Scopuli, the rest of the crew having been murdered by a boarding party they couldn’t fight off.

The Canterbury

The Canterbury is an ice hauler which brings ice from the rings of Saturn to Ceres Station and other places in the Asteroid Belt, to be used as water for the citizens of The Belt.

Canterbury Expanse

On their way home to Ceres Station, they respond to a distress call in a rather dead area of space. Sending a small crew to investigate the Scopuli, they find the craft that signaled them to be deserted. As they determine the distress signal was not sent by the ship itself, but was jury-rigged, they begin to back out of the troubling, something-went-very-wrong-here ship. Just then The Canterbury warns them to get back to the ship, they’re under attack by fast moving, unidentifiable craft. Before they can get clear of the Scopuli, The Canturbury is blown from space, completely destroyed, all hands lost. Somehow, they get behind an asteroid and avoid the deadly crafts. James Holden, commander of the little ship, sends out a message telling of the Canterbury’s end and imploring everyone to Remember The Canterbury.

Ceres Station/Detective Miller

Ceres Station is a crowded, half starved station with barely enough air and water to sustain its citizens.
Expanse Ceres Station 2

They remain fiercely independent, many of them hating Earth and Mars, planets rich in resources with enough air and water for everyone. Lifetimes in the low gravity have altered the Belters physically, they’re taller and their heads seem elongated. A special language is used by The Belters that outsiders can’t generally understand. Ceres station is in a constant state of unrest as enforced shortages of air and water make life a misery. It is here that OPA (The Outer Planets Alliance) takes a deep foothold, with many convinced independence would give them a better life.

Run down, beat up, noir-ish detective Miller is a Belter who has spent his life on the station. He was once very good at his job, but now he drinks too much, sleeps too much, and cares about nothing much.

Expanse Miller

He’s given a side job of finding out what happened to heiress Julie Mao, a spoiled little rich girl turned rebel. He had stayed clear of OPA agents on the station, but as he investigates Julie’s disappearance and involvement with OPA, he finds a deeper puzzle that she is just a piece of. When Holden’s message about the abandoned Scopuli and the destruction of the Canterbury, a harmless ice hauler, come to light, he finds he can’t stop digging to find out what happened, no matter who threatens him and warns him off.

The Crew of The Rocinante

Holden’s message inflames the Belt and a Martian ship called The Donnager tracks down the Knight, the little ship that escaped destruction. It seems Mars is being blamed in some quarters for the destruction of the Canterbury, and tensions are rising. The former Canterbury crew don’t trust each other or particularly like each other, but when they’re taken prisoner in the Martian ship they begin to think differently. Before the crew can settle in, the Donnager is attacked by the same ships that took out the Canterbury. The captain and crew are certain they can’t be touched by these ships. They fare not much better than the Canterbury. The mysterious fleet takes the Donnager on and is soon boarding the ship. James Holden, Naomi Nagata, Amos Burton, and Alex Kamal are led to a docking bay by one of the officers, where they take control of a ship called The Tachi . They’re expected to spread the word about the fate of the Donnager and prove Mars was not involved in the destruction of the Canterbury. Barely escaping, their guide dies upon takeoff but Alex, a former Martian Navy pilot gets the rest of them away safely.

Making another profoundly impossible escape, they rename the ship the Rocinante after Don Quixote’s amiable and faithful horse.

Don Quixote and Rocinante

With nowhere safe to go, the Rocinante crew accepts an invitation from Fred Johnson, head of OPA, still known to some as The Butcher of Anderson Station.

Leviathan Wakes tells a tale of simmering interplanetary war, scientific experimentation with alien technologies using humans as test subjects, and the smaller, more personal story of Miller working parallel to the crew of the Rocinante to track down Julie Mao, the lost heiress, who can end of humanity.

Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen

Recovering from a bullet wound, Captain Daniel Sullivan accepts a request from President Theodore Roosevelt and the Secret Service to assist with an investigation. He can’t tell his wife Molly anything at all about the assignment, including where he’ll be or how long he’ll be gone.

time of fog and fire

Though Molly isn’t running her detective agency anymore, a new acquaintance asks her to attend the cinema and look at a newsreel. It shows her businessman husband in a hotel lobby San Francisco, she says, and that is a place he has never been!

newsreel

Sure enough, the lights go down and there is the woman’s husband in the grand lobby of the Palace Hotel. To Molly’s greater astonishment, Daniel is also there. She can’t imagine what could have taken him across the country.

palace hotel

A letter arrives from Daniel addressed to “My Dear Little Wife.” Ha! Fierce, wild, unstoppable Molly a “dear little wife”? He regrets she was “too frail” to make the trip with him. He mentions he’ll be seeing the great opera singer Caruso, and “knows she will be sad” to miss an opera with him and the opportunity for their usual “earnest discussion” of the performance. He asks after her embroidery.

letter 1900s

Clearly something is very wrong. The letter must be in code! Daniel must want her to get on the next train to the coast. Her good friends Sid and Gus agree and she’s on a train to San Francisco, baby Liam her companion.

On arrival, she is shocked to learn Daniel is dead. He was seen near a cliff’s edge, and his body was found at the bottom, shattered on the rocks.
Naturally Molly is devastated. She’s also determined to find out what happened to Daniel and why he was in such a dangerous place.

Just as she puts together some of the clues to his death, the San Francisco earthquake occurs and the world falls apart. She loses Liam in the chaos, but finds Daniel.

sf earthquake

The sixteenth Molly Murphy Mystery is a great read. Bowen does such a good job of giving you a feel for society life at the time, and a look at the city before it turns to ash.

Daniel and Molly make a wonderful team, she always helps solve mysteries and even when Daniel wishes she wouldn’t, he’s grateful for her keen thinking and insights. Molly is barely slowed down by little Liam. She’s taken him to Paris and now San Francisco. What other adventures will the little guy have before he can even walk properly?

Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy Page:

http://rhysbowen.com/the-molly-murphy-series/

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

With a knock on the door and a trail of blood across the wood floors of Sherlock Holmes’ residence, beloved and brilliant Mary Russell disappears from the narrative, her fate unknown until well into the novel.

murder Mary

This book is about the life of Clarissa Hudson, daughter of Sally and James Hudson. Sally was a governess and James a sometime sailor, but more often a petty thief working for a local crime boss.

Caught in a crime, the couple try to start anew in another city, but James’ past catches him. He agrees to take a job on a ship though he hates the sea these days. The ship sinks with no survivors, yet Sally has a letter from James that he’s in Sydney and he thinks they could have a life there.

sinking ship

Disowned by her family, Sally decides she will commit a crime which will get her deported to Australia. It works and she rejoins him. Her desperate act doesn’t guarantee a new and happy life. James continues his criminal ways, and drinks and he is an increasingly violent man. They have two children, Clarissa and Alicia.

Clarissa is a smart, warm, nurturing girl who takes care of her father, sister and baby brother after their mother’s death in childbirth. All of her care goes to her little sister Alicia when the baby doesn’t make it. She gives Alicia everything, food, clothing, anything good that comes to them goes to awful, cold selfish Alicia. James only cares for Alicia, Clarissa has no value at all until it is revealed she inherited her mother’s unusual talent for mimicry.

James the petty thief is pleased with something Clarissa can contribute at last. She can assume accents. She’s a wonderful little actress and can keep a “mark” busy with a tale of woe while James picks their pocket. They learn ever more elaborate “cheats,” stories and traps for the unwary, becoming so successful they need to move to new places periodically where they aren’t known and start over with a new set of victims eventually returning to London in the hopes of greater fortune.

pickpockets

I had such a hard time with this entire section of the novel. Clarissa had the most unrelentingly awful childhood and things got no better for her as an adult. She deserved something, someone at some point, any point in her life to let her know she is just spectacular.

She meets a man, falls in love, is tricked into having an affair which leaves her with child. She’s broken off with her father at last. In London she stays in a hotel till she runs out of money and finds herself working for the crime syndicate her father had a falling out with years ago. She’s able to succeed at many cheats while pregnant and is assigned a young helper. Ever generous, she teaches him to read and hopes he can some day have a better life. Once her baby is born, she can do less, wandering the freezing streets in midwinter.

Enter Sherlock Holmes, a severe young man who seems to be searching for her father, while accusing Clarissa of being involved with blackmailing a friend of his. You might hope that Sherlock’s presence means good things for Clarissa. Instead there is murder and blackmail of another kind, with a harsh choice given Clarissa by Holmes himself. Which leads to Mary Russell opening the door to a murderer one day.

Young Sherlock

The Murder of Mary Russell is the fourteenth book in the series. These are wonderful, thoughtful mysteries featuring a young woman clever enough to have captured the heart of Sherlock Holmes. She has learned so many of his techniques and methods of deduction. Expert at disguise, she and Sherlock are the best possible match.

Laurie King’s Website:

http://laurierking.com/

Mary Russell Holmes on the web:

http://maryrussellholmes.com/

Mrs Hudson