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THE LYING ROOM by Nicci French: Book Review

Yes, Neve Connolly is feeling a little guilty as she rides her bicycle for another midday tryst with her lover, Saul.  After all, she is married and the mother of three, and she knows what she’s doing is wrong.  Still, it is wonderful to feel wanted, admired, desired desperately by someone.

So when the text I can see you arrives, she makes breakfast for her family, gives her husband an excuse he has no reason to doubt, and goes to the small apartment Saul keeps “for business reasons.”  And there, lying on the floor of the living room, is Saul in a pool of blood.

Neve’s first thought, naturally, is to call the police emergency number.  But then she wonders about the repercussions, not only for herself but for her teenage daughter Mabel.  Mabel, about to start university, has not handled the difficult teenage years well, exhibiting depression, drug use, anorexia, and behavioral issues.  She is coming out of all that, Neve thinks, or at least hopes, and she can imagine all too well what her arrest would do to her daughter and the rest of her family.

So Neve decides to obliterate all traces of herself in the flat.  She washes Saul’s  towels and sheets and puts them in the dryer, runs the dishwasher, takes a small sketch she had given him and throws it in the trash bag where she’s put other odds and ends.  Finally she’s finished, takes the bag out with her, and leaves it in front of a restaurant in a pile of identical bags.  And she heads for home.

And then comes the tricky part.  It’s not only that she and Saul were lovers, he was her boss.  So the next day, when she goes to work, she has to pretend that nothing is wrong, that she’s not waiting for someone to come in with the news of his death.  And one more thing–Neve realizes that she had taken off her bangle bracelet when she put on rubber gloves to clean, and it is still on the apartment’s kitchen counter.

Nicci French’s latest mystery is outstanding, as are her novels in the Frieda Klein series.  They, the name Nicci French being a combination of Nicci Gerard and Gerald French, an English wife-and-husband writing team, bring the same heart-pounding writing to this stand-alone as they have done to the Klein books.  Neve is a typical English housewife/mother/working woman, trying to balance the many aspects of her life when she is thrown into the center of a horrific situation.  Some of that situation is of her own making, obviously, but as she is innocent of murdering her lover, she engages the reader’s sympathy and understanding.

In addition to Neve, the authors have created a wonderful supporting (or not-so-supporting) cast of characters–Neve’s husband Fletcher, an unfulfilled artist; Mabel, her emotionally unstable daughter; Berenice, Saul’s widow; her colleagues  and her college friends.  But who could have wanted to kill Saul?  What possible reason could there be?

I was unhappy to see the end of the Klein series, but my hopes of reading more Nicci French books have been revived with this stand-alone.  Nicci French knows what she/they are doing.

You can read more about Nicci French at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

LAND OF WOLVES by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Sheriff Walt Longmire is back in Absaroka County, Wyoming, after a trip to Mexico that left him bruised in body and mind.  He is trying to regain his equilibrium so that he can continue to protect the people of his county, but he’s wondering if he’ll ever “pick up the step” he’s lost.

He and his deputy/lover Victoria Moretti have been summoned by the County Brand Inspector and an employee of the National Forest Service to view the carcass of a sheep which appears to have been killed by a wolf.  The issue is that the wolf is in a predator zone, i.e., an agricultural area where the animal is considered a predator or a nuisance and may be shot on sight by anyone.

Walt and Vic find out that the sheep is part of a herd belong to Extepare Abarrane, a landowner of Basque extraction, and that this particular section is under the care of Miguel Hernandez, a Chilean herder.  While Walt is searching for Hernandez, he comes across Keasik Cheecho, a nurse and self-described volunteer for the Wolf Conservancy out of Missoula, Montana.

She’s distraught at the idea that one of the wolves the conservancy is protecting may have killed a sheep and thus be a target itself, and she agrees to take Walt to the camp in which Hernandez lives to learn more.  The hut is empty, so the two of them walk deeper into the surrounding woods.  There Walt sees the bare feet of a man hanging from a tree; it’s Miguel Hernandez.

Large in area but small in population, everything in Absaroka Country is connected sooner or later.  At the same time that Walt and other officials are trying to quell fears that a dangerous wolf, or possibly more than one, is nearby and a threat to people and animals, the sheriff’s office gets a call that the grandson of the Basque landowner Abarrane is missing from his grandparents’ home.

There are custody issues involved, as well as the possibility of domestic abuse, and the sheriff’s investigation isn’t made easier by the fact that Abaranne himself isn’t at home, that his wife has dementia, and Keasik Cheecho keeps popping up where, at least in Walt’s opinion, she isn’t wanted.

This latest novel by Craig Johnson is, as is true of the others in the series, a combination of an excellent mystery and a probing look into an almost vanishing slice of American life.  Even Walt, who has withstood his office’s increasingly impatient demands that he enter at least the twentieth century, if not the twenty-first, and get a computer, finds himself weakening.  It is impossible to read one of the Longmire books and not wish to meet the author.

You can read more about Craig Johnson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

A DANGEROUS MAN by Robert Crais: Book Review

Isabel Roland seems to have a perfectly ordinary life.  She has a new job as a bank teller, although it can’t quite cover the bills for the house she inherited from her recently deceased mother.  The house is, to use a common expression, a “money pit,” but Isabel is happy at her job and is doing her best to keep her home in reasonable repair.

One of her repeat customers at the bank is Joe Pike, a man she’s attracted to; however, the attraction doesn’t seem to be returned.  After Pike completes his transaction in his usual matter-of-fact manner and leaves the bank, Isabel goes on her lunch hour.  As soon as she steps onto the sidewalk, a man stops her to ask for directions and then propels her into a waiting van.  Unfortunately for that man and for the driver inside the van, Joe Pike is parked across the street.

Isabel can’t understand what happened nor what the man who pushed her into the van means when he says, “We know your secret.”  Before he can say much more, the van’s front window explodes and the two men are thrown out.  And Pike appears.

Miles away, the body of a U. S. Marshall is found buried in a shallow grave.  What is the connection between that murder and the attempted abduction?

Early the next morning the police appear at Joe’s door, and he finds out that the two men who attempted to kidnap Isabel had made bail the night before and were found dead shortly afterward.  The police aren’t satisfied with Joe’s alibi, but they reluctantly take their leave after getting the names of neighbors who say they saw him at the time the murders had been committed.  Then, when Joe tries to return the call Isabel made to him the evening before, there’s no answer; when he drives to her address, she’s not there.

Across the street from Isabel’s home, Carly Knox, Isabel’s best friend, calls to him.  Isabel had texted Carly the night before, saying that she was certain the two men who had tried to kidnap her had returned and were outside her house.  She said she was heading to Carly’s house, but she never arrived, and Carly has not heard from her since.

Joe is not getting any satisfaction from his calls to the police involved in the case so he calls Elvis Cole, the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Detective.”  The two men have worked together many times, taking turns asking each other for help, each man having a different skill set.  As Pike explains to Carly, “He’s a detective.  I’m something else.”

As is true in every Robert Crais novel, the writing is taut, the plot moves at a fast pace, and the characters, both major and minor, are outstandingly portrayed.  But it is always Joe and Elvis who are at the center of the story, and their friendship is what makes the novels the terrific reads that they are.

You can read more about Robert Crais at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

 

SCRUBLANDS by Chris Hammer: Book Review

When Martin Scarsden enters the small town of Riversend, he is bent, if not broken.  He has been a journalist for his whole working life, reporting from hot spots all over the world.  He’s always been an outsider, a spectator to the death and destruction he’s seen around him, but his last assignment made him a victim rather than an observer.

When Martin was working on the Gaza Strip with a Palestinian driver/interpreter, the latter gets a call that there’s a roadblock ahead.  He and Martin decide it would be safer for Martin to hide in the car’s trunk, and that’s where he is when the car is stopped and the Palestinian is taken away.

Martin remained in the trunk for three days until the driver returned to the car.  He had no food but did have water, but naturally it was a terrifying experience.  His friend and editor at the newspaper, Max Fuller, has given him the Riversend assignment as a way to prove to his colleagues that he belongs back at work.  But the situation he finds himself in and the article he has come to write, a seemingly straightforward one about the effects of murder on a small town, will prove nearly as dangerous and bewildering as any he has covered.

Riversend might almost be called a ghost town, a place suffering from a devastating heat wave and drought, a diminishing population, and the closing of nearly every business in it.  Exactly a year earlier five horrific murders took place in the town, and it is that event that has brought Martin there.  The handsome and much-admired priest of St. James Church, Brian Swift, was greeting parishioners one Sunday morning when he went inside to answer a phone call.  When he came out, he had a rifle in his hands and started shooting.  Seconds later, five victims lay dead.

Martin is hearing these details from the town policeman, Robbie Haus-Jones, who was a close friend of the priest’s.  Robbie was on duty when he heard the first shot, which he took to be a firecracker or a car backfiring, “something like that,” he tells the reporter.  When he got to the church a couple of minutes later, the victims were already dead.  He called out to Brian to put down his rifle; instead the priest fired his gun and Robbie returned fire, fatally wounding Brian.

No one in Riversend has anything bad to say to Martin about the priest.  He was “a good man,” “he cared,” “he knew I was in pain and he helped me.”  How can that be reconciled with a man who shot five people in cold blood?

Martin is determined to uncover the truth, to get beyond the platitudes that the townspeople are giving him.  But the more he learns and writes about Riversend, the more he puts his own emotional recovery in danger.

Chris Hammer, himself a journalist for more than thirty years in Australia, has written a mystery that will keep you enthralled until the last page.  His characterizations of Martin and the various townspeople whose lives Brian touched are beautifully drawn, and the secrets they hide, from themselves and from others, make them believable as real figures.

You can read more about Chris Hammer at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE COLD WAY HOME by Julia Keller: Book Review

Julia Keller is absolutely one of my favorite authors.  The Cold Way Home is the eighth book in the Bell Elkins series and, like the others, it doesn’t disappoint.

There is a lot of backstory in each of the Elkins’ books, but Ms. Keller does an excellent job of bringing the new reader up-to-date without boring those who have read previous novels.  The most important thing to learn is that Bell was formerly the district attorney in the small rural town of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia; a felony she committed as a child and was unaware of has recently come to light and caused her disbarrment, the loss of her position, and a prison term.

Trying to put all that behind her but still use her legal and detecting skills, she has opened INVESTIGATIONS, a three-person firm that includes Nick Fogelman, the former sheriff, Jake Oakes, the former deputy sheriff, and herself.  The skill level of each one is high but so are the burdens each carries.  For Bell, it’s knowing that her older sister had protected her from the knowledge of Bell’s crime at a great cost to herself.  For Nick, it’s the end of his forty-year marriage.  For Jake, it’s the reality that he will be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life due to a shooting in the line of duty.

In this book, the third in the series dealing with legal and illegal drugs in West Virginia, the opening scene is a particularly harrowing one.  The sheriff’s department and the EMTs are called to the Burger Boss where a young couple is in the throes of drug addiction.  The young man is passed out, his head on the booth’s table, but the young woman has barricaded herself in the bathroom.

When Deputy Sheriff Steve Brinksneader pushes into the bathroom, one of the emergency technicians has already administered Narcan to counteract the effects of the heroin the woman had taken.  As Steve pulls the woman off the toilet, he glances inside it and sees the tiny body of a baby.

At the same time, Bell and her partners in INVESTIGATIONS have been hired to find Dixie Sue Folson, a teenager missing from home for three days; Maggie Folson thinks her daughter may have been abducted by her lowlife boyfriend.  Bell’s hunt for the girl leads her to the long-deserted grounds of Wellwood, a psychiatric hospital that burned to the ground decades earlier.  And there she finds a body, but it’s not that of Dixie Sue.

Julia Keller’s last three mysteries have focused on the opioid crisis that is rampant in West Virginia, her home state.  In 2017, West Virginia had the highest percentage of deaths due to drugs in the United States; the state held that title in 2016 as well.  So when Bell tells district attorney Rhonda Lovejoy, “Fate doesn’t need to be tempted….Expect the worst and you’re never disappointed,” it’s all too true.

Starting from the beginning of this series would be ideal, but starting is the operative word.  Each book is well worth reading, and together they form a picture, although a sad one, of the hardscrabble life all too prevalent in rural America today.

You can read more about Julia Keller at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

IF SHE WAKES by Michael Koryta: Book Review

It’s hard to imagine anything more terrifying than waking up and finding oneself unable to move or speak.  That is what happens to Tara Berkley, a college student who is asked to drive a distinguished scientist, Dr. Amandi Oltamu, to a venue where he will deliver a keynote speech.

Dr. Oltamu seems strangely reluctant for Tara to bring him to the school auditorium, and he insists on stopping along the way and taking photos with his phone.  After snapping several shots, he gives her the phone and asks her to lock it safely in her car.  Then he further puzzles her by saying that she should drive on alone, and he will walk the rest of the way by himself and meet her at the college.

Admitting to herself that she is unnerved by the man’s odd behavior, Tara is about to step into her car when she hears the sound of a van’s engine behind her.  The van’s  headlights are off, and it is heading directly toward her and Dr. Oltamu.  Tara throws herself away from her car and toward the river, but as she does she can see that the doctor is pinned against her car.  That’s all she knows before she hits her head on a stone pillar and is catapulted into the water.

Although the police believe that what happened to Dr. Oltamu and Tara was a tragic accident, with the van’s driver admitting that he was at fault, there is no one to point out the discrepancies in his story.  Dr. Oltamu is dead from the impact of the collision, and Tara is in the hospital in a deep coma that will eventually be diagnosed as locked-in syndrome, leaving her unable to communicate.

If She Wakes is told in multiple voices.  The reader is privy to Tara’s thoughts, which are jumbled and confused at first but gradually become clearer as she begins to remember what happened at “the accident” scene.

A second voice belongs to Dax, a teenage psychopath who hired the man who killed Dr. Oltamu.

A third voice is Abby Kaplan’s, a rookie insurance investigator and former race car driver.  She was hired to look into the crash and make certain that the college has no liability in the case.  Even though the driver has admitted negligence, Abby’s boss wants all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, so she goes to the river bank to reconstruct the scene, her history as a driver making her the perfect investigator.

Her take-away is that it was no accident, that the crash was deliberate.  But then why would the driver take the blame?  It’s not until the next day that his body is found in what appears to be a suicide; although the college and Abby’s boss are satisfied that that proves he was at fault, Abby knows there must be more to the story and continues to try to find out the truth.

If She Wakes is a nail-biting thriller.  There are more deaths, and the people who seem trustworthy are not.  The tension continues to the last page, and the familiar advice don’t start this before you go to bed has never been more valid.

You can read more about Michael Koryta at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE BITTERROOTS by C. J. Box: Book Review

The Bitterroots are a mountain range situated in western Montana and the panhandle of Idaho, part of the Rocky Mountain chain.  In spite of its harsh-sounding name, it’s filled with natural beauty, featuring outstanding hunting, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities.  But in C. J. Box’s latest novel, its beauty hides pockets of corruption, greed, and self-enclosed communities with secrets they want to remain hidden.

Cassie Dewell, once a deputy sheriff, is now the founder of Dewell Investigations, LLC.  As the novel opens she receives a phone call from Rachel Mitchell, a partner in a Missoula law firm, and a woman whom Cassie owes a favor.  Rachel wants her to investigate everything about the arrest of Blake Kleinsasser, who has been accused of raping his niece Franny; Cassie’s initial response is “No way.”

The Kleinsasser family is the dictionary definition of dysfunctional.  Blake, the eldest son of Horst and Margaret, is the only one who left the family ranch; in Kleinsasser terms, that’s treason and “the ultimate act of disloyalty.”  Blake has had a successful career in New York City; after a long absence he returns home with the intention of helping his siblings sell the ranch, which he tells them is in their best financial interest.  But his sister and two brothers don’t believe he came for unselfish reasons and say don’t want to sell the ranch at all.

Blake explains to Cassie and Rachel that many of his clan’s problems stem from the Kleinsasser Family Trust, a document drawn up by Blake’s grandfather.  According to that document, everything must be left to the oldest son in each generation, which is Blake in this case.  It is up to that son whether to keep the entire bequest or to share it with other family members.  The only way that heir would not receive the entire bequest, which currently consists of the ranch, is to denounce the family name or by committing “moral turpitude.”

Blake admits to having been drinking heavily for several days before the alleged rape took place.  He remembers picking up his niece from church that evening after she phoned him to do so, but he claims a total blackout about the rest of that night until the deputies came to arrest him the next morning.

The physical evidence against him appears overwhelming–his semen on Fanny’s underwear, his car’s tire tracks at the remote cabin where she told the deputies the attack took place, a whiskey glass at the cabin covered with Blake’s fingerprints–and then there’s Fanny’s testimony of what happened.  But Cassie does owe Rachel a favor, a big favor from a previous case, so despite her near certainty about the client’s guilt she agrees to investigate.

Luchsa County, home to the Kleinsassers, seems to be totally in their grasp.  It soon becomes apparent that the police and the courts are beholden to the family, thwarting Cassie’s efforts to discover the truth of what happened between Blake and his niece.  But she perseveres, and little by little a story different from the original one gets uncovered.

C. J. Box is the author of more than twenty novels, including the best-selling Joe Pickett series.  His mysteries have won the Edgar, Anthony, and Barry awards, among other prizes. 

You can read more about C. J. Box at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

CITY OF WINDOWS by Robert Pobi: Book Review

Although I know nothing more about Robert Pobi than what I read in the brief, somewhat off-the-wall bio on his web page, I am pretty sure we have at least one thing in common:  neither one of us owns a microwave.  I say this because since this same bio states that Mr. Pobi does not do Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat, nor does he own a cellphone, the lack of a microwave seems a pretty safe bet.

Another thing we have in common is our love of mystery novels.  He writes them and I read them, and I hope he enjoyed writing City of Windows as much as I enjoyed reading it.

The book’s protagonist, Dr. Lucas Page, has a unique background.  He is a university professor, astrophysicist, textbook author, former FBI agent, television and radio commentator, NASA consultant–did I leave anything out?  And he also is a man with only one eye, one arm, and one leg.

Severely injured in the line of duty several years earlier, Lucas now leads a more prosaic life.  That he does so is a combination of factors, including the seemingly obvious limitations due to his injuries and a promise he made to his wife not to get involved in any FBI investigations, even as a consultant.

But when Special Agent Brett Kehoe comes to his door with the news that Lucas’ former partner and an innocent bystander were shot and killed not far from Lucas’ home in Manhattan, Lucas feels he has no choice but to use his unique skills to find the killer.

The book’s title comes from a statement that Kehoe makes to another agent as they try to locate the spot from which the shot was fired.  The agents are looking at over 1,600 yards of rooftop and nearly 3,000 windows in the immediate area of the murders and can’t work out where the shooter had stood.  That’s when Kehoe goes to Lucas.

Before the attack that nearly claimed his life, Page had the amazing ability to translate blocks and buildings into numerical components and units of measure.  Now, standing in a blizzard on 42nd Street and Park Avenue, he wonders if he still has that skill, but he doesn’t wonder for long.  Within minutes, mental algorithms start putting things together for him, and he turns to an agent standing near him.  “…tell Kehoe I know where the shot came from….The roof of number 3 Park Avenue.”

Not surprisingly, Page is not universally popular with agents in the Bureau.  Agent Grover Graves, in particular, uses every opportunity to downplay Lucas’ ability and his refusal to accept the official FBI profile of the killer.  The agency received a report from French authorities that the man they want is a wealthy young Frenchman who has been radicalized, and even though Kehoe doesn’t agree with that, he has been ordered by FBI higher-ups, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security to find Philippe Froissant.

So Kehoe turns to Lucas to support his view.  But it takes three more deaths for the powers-that-be to agree with this.  And in the meantime Lucas is drawn ever deeper into his old role, bringing danger not only to himself but to his family.

Robert Pobi has written a hold-your-breath thriller, one you won’t put down until you’ve turned the last page.  You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Do you hear the school bell ringing?  That’s because it’s almost time for the fall semester at BOLLI–the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute–to begin.

This will be my fifth semester teaching a course at BOLLI on the appreciation of the mystery genre.  Each course begins with the word WHODUNIT? and then gives the specific title of that term’s subject.  The previous ones have been MURDER IN NEW ENGLAND, MURDER IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES, MURDER IN SCANDINAVIA, and MURDER MOST BRITISH.

This semester’s class is WHODUNIT?:  MURDER, SHE WROTE.  It features all women authors and all female protagonists.  We’ll read eight novels during the ten week course, with the first and last weeks an introduction to mysteries and an overall discussion of the books assigned, respectively.

As I’ve noted in previous About Marilyn’s columns, what I find most interesting is what brings people to the classes.  There have been class members who have been reading mystery novels their entire lives and are familiar not only with the most popular authors but also with many little-known writers; there have been others who “confess” that they have never read a mystery or, if they did, it was many years ago.

So those who are devoted fans of mystery novels are presumably eager to explain and share their love of such books, while those who are new to mysteries are eager to learn why others find them so fascinating and perhaps to find an author or two who greatly appeals to them.

After a brief introduction of mystery types, we’ll spend part of the first session talking about Nancy Drew and what explains her popularity ninety years (!) after The Secret of the Old Clock was published.  To date, eighty million books in the series have been sold, a truly astonishing number, especially given the fact that the presumptive author, Carolyn Keene, is as fictitious as Nancy herself.

Carolyn Keene was the brainchild of Edwin Stratemeyer, founder of the syndicate that bore his name, and several authors were used under the Keene name to write the books to the formula Mr. Stratemeyer outlined.

Starting with the second class, we’ll be examining the eight novels I’ve chosen in the order they were published.  Since the first was published in 1930 and the last in 2017, we’ll be discussing not only the books’ heroines, plots, and settings but also the changes that have taken place in the culture and in women’s status in the nearly ninety years from the first novel to the most recent one.

If you’d like to read along with us, here are the books for this semester:  The Murder at the Vicarage  (1930) by Dame Agatha Christie, Edwin of the Iron Shoes (1977) by Marcia Muller, “A” is for Alibi (1982) by Sue Grafton, Indemnity Only (1982) by Sara Paretsky, A Trouble of Fools (1987) by Linda Barnes, China Trade (1994) by S. J. Rozan, Baltimore Blues (2006) by Laura Lippman, and The Last Place You Look (2017) by Kristen Lepionka.

Our first class is on Monday, September 9th.  Happy reading!

Marilyn

P. S.  Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DEATH IN THE COVENANT by D. A. Bartley: Book Review

The history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a long one, but it is a complicated one.  Many of their beliefs follow mainstream Christian beliefs–purity before marriage, strong families and communities–but many do not.

Foremost among the differences are the two that are central to Death in the Covenant:  first, a belief in a pre-existence in Heaven before birth and second, a policy long renounced by the church but still practiced secretly by a very few, plural marriages.

Abbie Taylor is a descendant of several Mormon men high in the church’s hierarchy, but following the deaths of her husband and mother she lost her faith.  She has, however, returned to her Utah home and is a member of the Pleasant View police department, hoping to regain the sense of community she once experiencd there.

Death in the Covenant opens with a fatal car crash that claims the life of Heber Bentsen, first counselor to the prophet of the church.  A witness tells Abbie he saw another car forcing Bentsen off the road and down the cliff, but he didn’t see the license plate or get a close look at that driver.

There are a number of things that seem “off” to Abbie.  The department’s chief of police is very anxious that the fatal crash be an accident and is quick to disregard the statement of the eyewitness.  The 911 call that came into the police station was from a burner phone, and the male caller hung up before giving his name.  Eliza Bentsen tells Abbie that she’d been trying to call her husband several times during the evening, but there’s no record of her calls on Heber Bentsen’s phone.

When Abbie goes to see her father, perhaps Bentsen’s closest friend, he has already heard the news from the widow.  He tells her that he and Bentsen had a rather disturbing meeting a week earlier.

Some time ago the counselor had asked Professor Taylor to keep a list of unmarried female graduate students in the department of religious studies who dropped out before receiving their degrees.  It had become obvious that there were a higher number of these women that the Bentsen had expected, and his comment to Taylor the previous week, “I can’t believe he already started,” made no sense to the professor at the time or to him or Abbie now.

When the medical examiner determines that the counselor was murdered by a blow to his head, finding the man who called in the crash becomes even more important.  In her investigation, Abbie goes through old family files kept hidden in her attic and discovers a copy of The New and Everlasting Covenant, the church’s document from the 1840s sanctioning the practice of multiple marriages.

Although polygamy was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1879, a few polygamous communities are still to be found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and Abbie thinks that it’s possible that one of these communities holds the key to Bentsen’s homicide.

I find mysteries about religious communities fascinating, and Death in the Covenant is no exception.  Ms. Bartley’s style propels the reader along; her characters, both good and bad, are realistic, and the plot kept me engaged until the very end.  This novel is the second in the Abish “Abbie” Taylor series, and I hope the next one will not be long in arriving.

You can read more about Ms. Bartley at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman: Book Review

Lady in the Lake is an absolutely wonderful book.  For me, its timing could not be more serendipitous–one of the mysteries I’m teaching this fall at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) is the first novel in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series, Baltimore Blues, and Lady in the Lake may be read as a prequel to the earlier novel as well as a stand-alone.

The book’s protagonist is Maddie Schwartz, a thirty-something upper-middle-class Jewish housewife in Baltimore; the time is 1966.  Married to a successful attorney, mother of a teenage son, she seems to have everything needed to enjoy her life.  But, as the Bob Dylan song so aptly put it two years before the books opens, the times they are a -changin’.

Maddie is experiencing a sense of unfullfilment, a sense that she should be doing more with her life than being the pretty wife and good mother she has been for nearly twenty years.  She leaves her husband and their son, who decides to stay with his father, and takes a tiny apartment in a not-so-savory part of the city.  And then she has to decide what she wants to do, or is able to do, with the rest of her life.  Her mantra is, She had to matter, she wanted to matter.

The novel is told in many voices, all brilliantly presented.  The main one is Maddie’s, and we learn her many secrets during the course of the book.  The second most frequent voice is that of Cleo Sherwood, a young “Negro” woman whose body is found in a city fountain.  She hadn’t been seen for weeks by her parents or at the bar/restaurant where she worked, but no one reported her missing until nearly two months had elapsed.  As Cleo asks herself, “…are you really missing if nobody misses you?”

But before Cleo’s body is found there is another missing person, an eleven-year-old white girl named Tessie Fine.  A search is started for her, and Maddie and a friend almost literally trip over her corpse.  This starts a new train of thought for her and sends her on the road to the Star’s newsroom.

Thus she begins her career as a reporter, although Maddie being Maddie, in her later life she erases the Star from her C.V. and lists her journalism beginnings at the more prestigious Beacon.  She was always a bit cavalier with the facts.

There are many, many personalities in Lady in the Lake, some of whom play an important role in the story, some who come into it for a brief mention in a chapter or two.  Regardless of the length of her/his appearance, every character’s voice is distinct and true.  In addition, the city itself is a major character in the book, with its neighborhoods explained, its streets explored, its synagogues and churches delineated.

Not surprisingly, Laura Lippman began her own career as a reporter in Baltimore for The Sun, working at the newspaper for twenty years.  She was still working there when she began writing the Tess Monaghan novels.  Over the years her novels have received Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, Shamus, Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe, and Barry awards.

You can read more about Laura Lippman at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

AFTER SHE’S GONE by Camilla Grebe: Book Review

Just over two years ago I blogged about a Swedish mystery, The Ice Beneath Her, by Camilla Grebe.  It was a novel so well-written, so extraordinary in its plot, that I included it as one of the books in my Fall 2018 BOLLI course, WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN SCANDINAVIA.  I also chose it as one of my favorite mysteries of 2017.

After She’s Gone is the follow-up to that novel.  This time the locale is the small and not-very-exciting town of Ormberg, Sweden.  It’s 2009, and three teenagers, two boys and a girl, head for the town’s forest to do some underage drinking.  Malin needs to relieve herself, so she cautiously goes a bit deeper into the woods; she’s a bit uneasy because of its reputation as the place where the Ghost Child lives.

Squatting down, she touches what at first feels like some type of bowl, surrounded by moss.  But a closer touch reveals that the bowl is actually a skull and the moss is human hair.

Jumping ahead to the present day, we meet Jake.  He’s a lonely teenager, mourning the death of his mother, and tormented by what he calls The Secret:  he likes to dress in women’s clothing.  On this particular night, after his sister and father have gone out, he goes to his late mother’s closet and puts on one of her evening dresses and a pair of her high heels and goes for a walk where no one will sees him, in that same forest.

It’s dark and a cold rain is falling when Jake hears a noise and then sees a woman crawling on the forest floor.  She’s covered with scratches, her hair is dripping wet, and she’s barefoot.  “Help me,” she says, and despite his misgivings Jake approaches her.  “Who are you?” he asks, and she says, “Hanne.”

Just then he hears a car on the road outside the woods, and very slowly the woman makes her way toward it.  In his fear of being discovered, Jake hides in the trees while Hanne makes her way to the car and after a brief conversation with the driver gets in.  But she has left something behind, something that Jake picks up.  It’s a small brown leather notebook.

The following day we meet Malin again, now a police officer in Stockholm who has been sent to Ormberg, her home town, to join the police team interviewing Hanne.  This is not just another middle-aged woman who lost her way in the forest; she is, in fact, a legend:  Hanne Lagerlind-Schön, Sweden’s foremost criminal profiler.  She is apparently suffering from dementia and can’t tell the investigators why she was in the forest or how she got there.  And where is Peter Lindgren, her partner both personally and professionally, who never leaves her side?

After She’s Gone is a fascinating glimpse into life in a town that, much like Hanne, has lost its way.  Its major industries, the ironworks and the sawmill, have closed, its young people are moving away, and the town’s long-time residents are having difficulty dealing with the newly-arrived immigrants from Arab countries.  As Malin thinks, “They get plenty of help.  Help that the people of Ormberg never received…there was no help for us when we needed it…Why can’t they go to some other place?”  But she doesn’t say that aloud.

Camilla Grebe has written several novels with her sister; After She’s Gone is her second solo mystery.  You don’t have to read The Ice Beneath Her to enjoy this novel, but I highly recommend that you double your pleasure and read both of them.  They are outstanding.

You can read more about Camilla Grebe at this website. https://www.bookbrowse.com/biographies/index.cfm/author_number/3194/camilla-grebe.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

 

A BEAUTIFUL CORPSE by Christi Daugherty: Book Review

Harper McClain lives for violence.  It’s not that she’s cruel or uncaring, it’s that she’s the journalist on the Savannah Daily News’ crime beat.  So a day without a hit-and-run, a major robbery, or a murder leaves Harper nothing about which to write.

Still, she’s overcome when she arrives at River Street, the most photographed place in the city, in response to a phone call from the cameraman with whom she works.  The victim, who has been shot to death, is someone she knows; it’s Naomi Scott, a law student by day and a bartender at Harper’s favorite pub, The Library Bar, at night.  Naomi was beautiful but reserved, a quiet young woman who would not seem to be the type of person to be gunned down in the middle of the night.

Bonnie Larson, who was with Harper when she got the call at The Library and goes with her to River Street, tells the police that Naomi had a boyfriend, Wilson Shepherd, a fellow student at the law school.  Wilson is a likeable young man, very devoted to her, Bonnie insists, but she admits that the two were “taking a break” in their relationship.  That, given the young man’s juvenile record, makes him suspect number one.

Hours later, the Savannah police have Wilson surrounded on a city street.  He’s protesting his innocence, but he has a gun pointed at the officers.  The more they yell at him to surrender, the more agitated he becomes, until members of the department’s SWAT team leap onto his back, throw him into the gutter, and handcuff him.

The police are confident that they have the killer, but Jarrod Scott, Naomi’s father, doesn’t believe it.  Jarrod contacts Harper at work and tells her that he knows Naomi was frightened of another man, although he doesn’t know exactly why.  The name he gives Harper is another of Naomi’s classmates, Peyton Anderson, son of the county’s former district attorney and a member of one of the city’s most prestigious families.

Harper has never met Peyton, but everyone in Savannah knows his family.  They meet at the memorial service for Naomi, and he admits to Harper that they were more than friends before she met Wilson but denies he knows anything about her murder.

On the strictly personal side, Harper is struggling with her sense that an intruder has been in her home more than once.  The clues are slight–a glass where she is certain she hadn’t put it when she left that morning, a faint smell of smoke–but they are making her apprehensive.  Why would anyone enter her place?  Is it done to intimidate her, or is the whole thing just her over-active imagination?

A Beautiful Corpse is a powerful follow-up to Christi Daugherty’s first Harper McClain novel, The Echo Killings.  Harper is a terrific protagonist, smart and independent but with a vulnerability that dates back to her childhood when she returned home from school and found her mother murdered.  That crime was never solved, and it is never far from Harper’s mind.

You can read more about Christi Daugherty at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

GRAVE EXPECTATIONS by Heather Redmond: Book Review

We return to 19th-century London in Heather Redmond’s Grave Expectations, her second mystery featuring Charles Dickens.  Dickens is in a slightly better situation now, with his journalistic sketches selling well and his love for Kate Hogarth having culminated in their engagement.

Dickens and his younger brother, Fred, have taken rooms for the summer in Chelsea to be closer to Kate.  However, the downside to this is that he now has an additional expense which, added to the frequent bailing out of his parents due to his father’s inability to stay within a budget, means that his marriage has been postponed yet again.

Nevertheless, he and Kate have been spending more time together, always properly chaperoned by either Fred or Mary, Kate’s younger sister.  As the novel opens, Kate and Charles have been enjoying an afternoon together when, in an effort to prolong their time together, Charles suggests that they pay a visit to his elderly upstairs neighbor, Miss Haverstock.

But as they climb the stairs, an unmistakable odor becomes evident.  “Maybe she is ill?” Kate asks hopefully.  But Charles responds, “It’s death, Kate.  It can be nothing else.”

It turns out that Miss Haverstock kept a lot of things about herself hidden.  She had a past life no one seemed to know about, no one except perhaps the person who murdered her.  And when Charles’ neighbor, Mr. Jones, is arrested and jailed for the murder on the flimsiest evidence, Charles and Kate decide to do whatever it takes to find the truth.

Some of the characters in Grave Expectations appeared in Ms. Redmond’s previous novel, so again we meet William and Julie, newlyweds who seem to be having some marital difficulties; Fred Dickens, anxious to leave school and start earning money; the charming Hogarth family, proper and upright; the impecunious Dickens family, always seeming to be one step away from financial ruin.

And, of course, we meet new characters:  Breese Gadfly, Charles’ Jewish neighbor; the Jones family, about to be evicted from their shabby home for nonpayment of rent after the father is jailed; and the neighborhood’s nasty landlord, Mr. Ferrazi.  And everyone has a part to play in the investigation of Miss Haverstock’s brutal murder.

As in the first mystery in this series, A Tale of Two Murders, Heather Redmond expertly brings Dickens’ London to life.  The fashions, the food, the class distinctions, the societal norms are all present, and the reader will find him/herself taken back more than 150 years.  Those touches, in addition to the clever plot and the delight in learning more about Charles Dickens, make this novel a perfect sequel to the first one.

You can read more about Heather Redmond at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DECEPTION COVE by Owen Laukkanen: Book Review

Former U. S. Marine Jess Winslow has returned home after three tours in Afghanistan, but that country won’t let go of her.  Jess received a medical discharge due to PTSD, a condition caused by her blaming herself for failing to save the life of an Afghani woman who was aiding the Marines in their fight against the Taliban.

She has come back to Deception Cove, Washington, the town she was raised in, but there’s nothing left for her there.  Her brief marriage to her high school sweetheart Ty was basically over when she re-upped for her third and final tour; by the time she returned home she was a widow, Ty having been drowned while on his fishing boat.

Given Jess’ lack of family and the loneliness she feels in Deception Cove, the only positive in her life is Lucy, the “comfort dog” the Corps allowed her to take home.  Lucy has literally been a life-saver, sensitive to Jess’ despair and depression, perhaps the only reason Jess has not taken her own life during one of the many flashbacks she continues to endure.

More than a thousand miles to the east, Mason Burke has just been released from jail at the end of a fifteen-year sentence for murder, a crime committed when he was a juvenile.  The only positive thing in his life was that same dog, the one he trained under the auspices of Rover’s Redemption, a dog-training program that encourages rehabilitation of prisoners.

Mason’s first goal upon gaining his freedom is to find out that Lucy is alive and well with her new owner, and he is disbelieving when the woman he speaks to at Redemption tells him that Lucy attacked someone and is about to be destroyed.  From the background on an old photo of the dog that was sent to him while he was imprisoned, he manages to read the name of the town where Lucy was sent–Deception Cove, Washington.

In Mason’s heart he knows that Lucy would never have bitten anyone without strong provocation.  He borrows two thousand dollars from his sister, his only surviving relative, and begins the trek to find the dog, not to reclaim her but to get to the truth of why she attacked someone and hopefully to rescue her from death.

The man Lucy bit is Deception Cove’s sheriff, Kirby Harwood.  He had come to Jess’ cottage shortly before the novel opens, determined to find something he said Jess’ late husband had hidden.  Jess told him she knows nothing about this, but Kirby didn’t believe her and moved towards her as if to attack.  The dog then bit him, and the next morning the sheriff and his deputies came to take Lucy away to have her put down.

Now Mason has arrived in the Cove, going to Jess’ place and telling her why he’s made the trip west.  After hearing her story, he’s determined to rescue Lucy, and together he and Jess start out on an adventure that will become life-threatening for both of them.

Deception Cove is pure thriller, with the suspense escalating from page to page.  Owen Laukkanen, who writes both outstanding stand-alones and a wonderful series about Kirk Stevens of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Carla Windermere of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has written another mystery with an exciting plot and believable characters.

You can read more about Owen Laukkanen at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.