Book Talk: Series welcome old friends

The release of a new book in a popular series is always welcome. It is like visiting with a dear friend you have not seen for some time.

The release of a new book in a popular series is always welcome. It is like visiting with a dear friend you have not seen for some time.

For the most part, authors deliver the goods and a new volume often expands the scope and appeal of a series.

Journals of Matthew Quinton by J.D. Davies is a delightful tale launched in 2010 with Gentleman Captain, a rousing first novel by a talented author and expert in 17th century British naval history – a setting that novelists have not explored to any great extent.

A chaotic state of affairs reigned in the British navy in the wake of Cromwell’s Commonwealth collapse and the restoration of the monarchy.

Commonwealth seaman, humble but accomplished sailors, adroitly commanded the seas in the decade past. But Charles II, the new king, viewed these commanders with suspicion and wanted and needed captains loyal to the throne – gentleman captains chosen by breeding rather than competence, such as our 21-year-old narrator Matthew Quinton, the younger brother of the current Earl of Ravensden.

In Gentleman Captain the young aristocrat is summoned by the king for a new assignment despite his disastrous previous commission as captain of the Happy Restoration, a ship that literally sank beneath his feet. The king orders Matthew to immediately board the Jupiter and sail with the Royal Martyr to intercept a massive arms shipment before it falls into the hands of the restive Scottish clans.

The author creates a remarkable sense of time and place in the series. The characters are rounded and three-dimensional and the tale is told with confidence and verve.

Two other volumes follow Gentleman Captain and the author is working on a fourth volume that readers of the series are already eagerly anticipating.

You don’t have to be a military action fiction fan to enjoy the Bob Lee Swagger series by Stephen Hunter. In the latest volume, Sniper’s Honor (2014), the indefatigable Swagger, former marine sniper now retired in the Cascades, ends up in the Carpathian Mountains after long-time friend and veteran reporter Kathy Reilly calls to question him about firearms.

Swagger learns she is investigating Ludmilla Petrova, a blonde beauty known as the White Witch, a Second World War Russian sniper famous for her heroics at Stalingrad, Kursk and elsewhere. He is further intrigued when Reilly discovers Petrova has disappeared from postwar records and offers to help, even if it means flying to Russia.

Hunter does a terrific job of connecting the multiple story lines and several characters throughout the tale are simply indelible, including the protagonist. This enduring character grows more complex with age and each new volume.

Sniper’s Honor is the ninth volume in the Bob Lee Swagger series, a work that continues to evolve and entertain at the highest level.

Light of the World (2013) is the latest volume in the celebrated Dave Robicheaux series by acclaimed author and master storyteller James Lee Burke. This is the 20th volume in the series and it is perhaps the author’s most sharply focused and harrowing study of the incessant battle between good and evil—the core theme of this terrific series.

Robicheaux is an introspective character unable to shake his grief for lost innocence in all its forms, the goodness of the past he remembers growing up in southern Louisiana. But even as he struggles to come to terms with the past he continues to battle against evil in the present. This time evil walks in the form of psychopathic serial killer Asa Surette, believed to be dead.

Surette resurfaces in Montana, determined to settle old scores, including one with Robicheaux’s daughter Alafair, at the same time as the Louisiana sheriff’s detective and his family are vacationing in the Big Sky state.

The plot unfolds in a manner familiar to Burke fans, except for a major difference – Robicheaux and his best friend, private eye Clete Purcell, are not sallying forth alone on another quest into the heart of darkness. This time Alafair and Clete’s daughter, Gretchen, a character who first surfaced in Creole Belle (2012), stand beside their fathers at the final confrontation.

Other series of note available at your Okanagan Regional Library (www.orl.bc.ca) include Craig Johnson’s Walter Longmire crime novels, Bernard Cornwell’s riveting Warlord Chronicles and Harry Sidebottom’s searing Warrior of Rome series.

Peter Critchley is a reference librarian at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.