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TRACE by Archer Mayor: Book Review

Vermont isn’t a state with a high murder rate, but things are definitely heating up now for Joe Gunther and his detectives at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation.  Three different cases–one the murder of a young New York woman, one a cold case involving the deaths of a policeman and the man he stopped for a traffic violation, the third a mysterious finding at a railroad track–all converge simultaneously for the VBI.

Jayla Robinson has just arrived at the Brattleboro bus station, escaping an abusive relationship in New York.  A few minutes after getting off the bus, she’s absent-mindedly crossing an intersection when she’s grazed by an oncoming car.  Jayla says she’s fine, not hurt at all, but Rachel, the young woman driving, insists on taking her to her apartment for a cup of tea and to make certain she’s really okay.  The two hit it off almost immediately, and Rachel invites Jayla to stay with her until she finds a job and an apartment.  But when Jayla’s boyfriend/abuser locates her, he sends an enforcer either to retrieve an item that she took when she fled his home or to “dispose” of her, whichever is easier.  Unfortunately for Jayla, he chooses the latter.

The cold case was called into the VBI by a member of the state’s forensic team.  Tina Sackman was doing some research into fingerprints and thinks she has found something strange in the case involving state trooper Ryan Paine and the man he pulled over for a routine traffic stop, Kyle Kennedy.  Shots were exchanged and both men were killed.  Now, in going over what had seemed an open-and-shut case, Tina discovers something disquieting about the trooper’s fingerprints on the gun he supposedly used to shoot the driver–they appear to have been placed on his gun by artificial means.

The third case begins when a child discovers, and then brings to the local police station, three bloody, broken teeth that she found by the railroad tracks.

All this is happening while Joe Gunther, head of the Bureau, is handling a family emergency.  His younger brother Leo calls with the news that their elderly mother is in a “bad way.”  After finally having gotten their reluctant mother to visit her doctor, Leo tells Joe that the physician’s diagnosis is Lyme encephalitis, a tick-borne disease that affects the nervous system, bringing with it mood swings, cognitive problems, and personality change.  The doctor at the Darmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center tells Joe and Leo that the best place for Mrs. Gunther to receive rehabilitative care is in St. Louis, and Joe immediately decides that he will take her there and stay with her while she’s undergoing treatment and rehab.  So, while the three cases are being investigated, the head of the Bureau is out of state.

Trace is the twenth-eighth (!) book in the Joe Gunther series.  Not surprisingly, given the background of the author, the series presents a totally realistic picture of law enforcement in both a mid-size city department and a state investigatory agency.  Archer Mayor is currently a death investigator for the Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as well as a detective for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office.  Readers who have been following Joe and his squad–Lester Spinney, Willy Kunkle, and Samantha Martens–will be delighted to see them again in this novel that will hold their interest until the end.

You can read more about Archer Mayor 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 SCARRED WOMAN by Jussi Adler-Olsen: Book Review

It’s not coincidental that Copenhagen’s Department Q is located in the basement of the police department’s headquarters.  Q is in charge of clearing “cold cases,” crimes that have not been solved and are not at the top of the police agenda.  Although the Department’s record in solving such cases is extremely high, manipulated data are showing otherwise, and Q’s already slim budget may be further reduced.  This, of course, is anathema to its head, Detective Carl Mørck, and he’s fighting back with everything at his disposal to show the importance of his group.

The Scarred Woman could actually refer to several of the women in this novel.  One is the social worker Anneli.  When she receives a diagnosis of breast cancer, her world is turned upside down, and her anger builds as she thinks of the healthy young women who frequent her office determined to get benefits to which they are not entitled.

There’s Michelle, living with her boyfriend, illegally getting financial assistance while refusing to get a job; Denise, originally named Dorrit, currently working as a prostitute; and Jazmine, receiving maternity benefits because she deliberately becomes pregnant and upon the birth of each child gives it up for adoption.  So Anneli comes up with a plan to eliminate those three and possibly more.

This cast of characters is, of course, unknown thus far to Carl Mørck and his staff, but that will not last for long.  Since they don’t deal with current cases, they haven’t had anything to do with Cophenhagen’s latest murder, that of Rigmor Zimmermann in King’s Garden.  However, that killing has brought memories back to Marcus Jacobsen, a former police detective; it reminds him of an unsolved case that he investigated more than ten years earlier.  The current police powers-that-be don’t see any connection, but Marcus isn’t about to let that detail stop him from trying to fit together the pieces of the puzzle.

A fourth “scarred woman” is Rose, who is one quarter of the members of Department Q.  She’s had a difficult life, and recent events have nearly pushed her over the edge.  She’s disoriented, her coordination is off, and she’s having what would be “senior moments” if she weren’t much too young for them.  Usually so meticulous at work, she’s left dozens of reports unfinished, and a recently closed case has reopened her memories of her traumatic childhood.

Carl has a three-person staff working with him.  Rose is the only woman, and she has been with Q the longest.  Second in terms of longevity is Assad, a Middle-Eastern immigrant with a mysterious, slightly sinister, background.  The newest and youngest member is Gordon, still on the learning curve to becoming a detective and dealing with his not-quite-hidden feelings for Rose.

The Scarred Woman is the seventh novel in the Department Q series.  Jussi Adler-Olsen is Denmark’s best-selling crime writer and the recipient of the 2010 Glass Key Award, the honor given to the author of the best Nordic crime novel of the year.

You can read more about Jussi Adler-Olsen 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.

October 6, 2017

Back in February I wrote that I was invited to teach a course on mysteries at BOLLI, the Brandeis (University) Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  I agreed, partly flattered and partly nervous about what I had gotten myself into.

Well, here’s the update.  The ten-week course began on September 25th, and we’ve just had our second class.  The first week was devoted to a general overview of mysteries:  Do we read mainly for the plot, the characters, or the setting?  Do we prefer hard-boiled mysteries or cozies?   What makes an author stop writing a particular series or stop writing completely?  Why do characters age in some series while those in other series remain the same age as when the first book was written?

Given that there are so many choices for topics in this genre (e.g., novels that feature private eyes, police detectives, and clergy involved in mysteries, to name just three) and I had to choose just one, I decided to focus on mysteries that take place in New England.  The eight books I picked for the course feature a variety of investigators–a licensed private eye, a police detective, an amateur detective, and a member of the FBI, among others)–with two from Massachusetts, two from Vermont, and one each from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine.

We’re reading a novel a week, with a wrap-up in the last class.  There are 21 students in the class, and there’s been a lot of excellent discussion in the first two weeks.  Before the first session, I had assumed that everyone who signed up for the course had read a lot of mysteries, but that proved not to be the case.  In fact, several of the members said they had read very few mysteries but were eager to find out more about the genre and share thoughts about the books I’d chosen for the course, which actually has made our discussions very stimulating.

For those who are interested, here is the list of the books we’ll be reading:  God Save the Child by Robert B. Parker, Find Her by Lisa Gardner, A Scourge of Vipers by Bruce DeSilva, Fruits of the Poisonous Tree by Archer Mayor, Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman, Primary Storm by Brendan DuBois, Trespasser by Paul Doiron, and Hearts of Sand by Jane Haddam.

The second class, in which we discussed God Save the Child, was terrific, with comments that made me examine the Spenser series in a new light.  That’s the great part about any learning experience but particularly at BOLLI, where people are invited to share their opinions and give and get feedback.

Our next book, Find Her, is a dark novel told in two voices, that of a female police detective in Boston and that of a young woman abducted and held prisoner for a horrendous 472 days.  If you like, read the novels I’ve chosen, as BOLLI members explore what the mystery genre has to offer.

Marilyn

DARK SATURDAY by Nicci French: Book Review

Back in 2012 I reviewed Nicci French’s first thriller, Blue Monday, featuring Frieda Klein and raved about it.  Since then I’ve read all those that followed, except for one (can’t imagine how I missed it).  Now comes Dark Saturday, definitely among the top five mysteries I’ve read this year.

Frieda is a psychotherapist, which in England is apparently the term for what Americans call a psychiatrist, with more than her own share of demons.  In addition to a private practice, she has also consulted with the London police, although at the opening of this novel they have parted ways due to grave trust issues on both sides.  But now she’s approached by Walter Levin, a mysterious figure who is either a government official or not; in any event, he helped Frieda in the novel immediately preceding this one, and now he’s called on her to repay the favor.

Hannah Docherty was eighteen years old when she was convicted of murdering her mother, stepfather, and younger brother and sent to Chelsworth Hospital, a place for the criminally insane.  During the thirteen years since, she has remained virtually silent, not speaking to any of the staff, the other patients, or the therapists trying to help her.  The Docherty case was investigated by police detective Ben Sedge; after a brief investigation he arrested Hannah, who was duly convicted and sentenced to life at Chelsworth.

For nearly all of those years Hannah has been in solitary confinement, yet somehow, when Frieda visits her, she is a mass of bruises and scars and she appears to have been drugged.  The hospital staff doesn’t seem to care.  As far as Frieda can ascertain, no one has visited Hannah since her conviction.  As one of the nurses says, “Why would any relative want to see her?”

Something about Hannah resonates with Frieda, and almost against her will she agrees to look over the woman’s file and find out more about the case.  The issue has come up, the therapist is told, not because there’s any doubt about Hannah’s guilt–“it’s the most open-and-shut case I’ve ever seen” according to a police official–but because there’s a question of how the case was handled.  If there’s no issue concerning the perpetrator of the crimes, Frieda tells Levin, “then there’s no harm in me looking at the files.”  But, of course, when you open a box, you can never be sure what’s going to fly out.

The Frieda Klein series is outstanding.  The writing is sharp, the plots convincing, and the protagonist is full of strengths and weaknesses that will keep you reading one book after another.  For best results, as they say in commercials, start with Blue Monday and read the remaining novels in order.  Each book can be read on its own, of course, but the power of the series is in following the development of the various characters–Frieda, her somewhat wayward niece Chloe, her former therapist Reuben, the police detective Kerrigan, and several others whose voices are complements to Frieda’s.

Nicci French is the pen name of the wife-and-husband writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.  Information about them is available at various websites.

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.

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY by Sue Grafton: Book Review

Along with all the other readers of the Kinsey Millhone series, I approached Sue Grafton’s latest novel with both anticipation and despair.  The anticipation is obvious–I’ve been reading Ms. Grafton’s mysteries since A is for Alibi was published in 1982 and have enjoyed every one.  At that time it seemed inconceivable that the end of the alphabet would ever be reached; delusional thinking, I know.

Now comes the despair–Y is for Yesterday is, I imagine, the next-to-last book in the series.  I’m trying to think how Ms. Grafton can work around her self-imposed finale.  Could she start all over with A+ is for Adventure/Adultery/Absence?  It works for me; anything to read more about Kinsey Millhone.

When the book opens in 1989 (that’s present time in the series), Kinsey is approached by Lauren McCabe, whose son Fritz has just been released from prison.  Ten years earlier Fritz killed a teenage friend, Sloan Stevens.  The two were part of a group of high school students led by Austin Brown, who was both admired and feared by his classmates.  Austin had been the instigator of a “shunning” of Sloan for reasons that secretly benefited him.  Allegedly trying to patch things up, he invited her to a party at his family’s cabin.

She reluctantly agreed to go, although once she got there words were exchanged between the two of them.  Angry and upset, she started to walk away, but she was overtaken by Austin and three of his friends, driven to a remote area in the woods, and killed.  Although Austin’s gun was the murder weapon, it was Fritz who fired the shot.  Of the four boys implicated, one gave state’s evidence and avoided jail time, one was convicted of lesser charges and spent time in prison, Fritz spent ten years in jail and was automatically freed under California law at age twenty-five, and Austin Brown disappeared.

When Kinsey and Lauren meet, Lauren tells the detective about a package she received after Fritz’s return home.  It contained a tape of sexual acts committed by four boys, including Fritz, against Iris Lehmann, another member of the student group, who was obviously drunk and/or stoned at the time of the attack.  The tape was accompanied by a demand for $25,000 from the McCabes with the warning that unless it was paid, another copy would be sent to the police.  Even though Fritz had served time for Sloan’s murder, he still could be prosecuted for rape and sexual assault.

As always, Sue Grafton’s characters are wonderfully portrayed.  We meet Fritz, who was desperate to be a friend of Austin’s when they were in school together; Iris Lehmann, who now wants revenge on the boys who violated her and taped the assault for their own amusement; Troy, who spent years in prison for his involvement in Sloan’s death and since his release has been trying to atone for his part in the attack on Iris; and Lauren and Hollis McCabe, fearful that their son is headed down the wrong road again but with conflicting opinions on how to deal with it.

Y is for Yesterday shows the reader a more vulnerable, more cautious, Kinsey but still a woman determined to do her job.  Ms. Grafton’s other returning characters–Kinsey’s elderly landlord Henry; Rosie, the owner of the Hungarian restaurant down the block from Kinsey’s apartment; and Jonah Robb, a former lover of Kinsey’s who is still in an off-again-on-again marriage with a very jealous wife–are all present in Y is for Yesterday and the novel is richer for them.

Wait–here’s another thought.  The author could switch to another alphabet, since many other languages have more than 26 letters.  Tamil, for example has 247; if that seems too daunting, she could choose Hindi or Hungarian, each with 44!  If you know Ms. Grafton, please feel free to pass this post along to her.

You can read more about Sue Grafton at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

FAST FALLS THE NIGHT by Julia Keller: Book Review

West Virginia prosecutor Bell Elkins is back, and I am delighted.  I am totally devoted to Julia Keller’s series, and this is her most ambitious novel yet.

The novel begins with a painfully personal acknowledgement.  During the author’s recent visit to her hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, there was an epidemic of heroin overdoses, twenty-eight in a twenty-four period, with two fatalities.  The national scourge of drugs has severely impacted West Virginia; the state currently has the highest rate of overdoses in the country.

Ms. Keller has put her feelings into Fast Falls the Night, moving the drug crisis to Bell’s hometown.  Acker’s Gap is being particularly hard hit by heroin overdoses and deaths in the single day in which the novel takes place.  The first overdose takes place in The Marathon, a gas station/convenience store that’s manned during the evening hours by Danny Lukens.  He has given the key to the bathroom to a woman who, he’s sure, is going to use it to get high on heroin.  Not his business, he thinks to himself; he doesn’t want any trouble.  But after waiting for more than twenty minutes for the woman to come out, he goes to the restroom and calls through the closed door several times to see if she’s okay.

When there’s no answer, he calls the sheriff’s office and Deputy Jake Oakes arrives.  Having no better luck at getting the woman inside to respond or to open the bathroom door, Jake gets the key from Danny–the woman is lying in the middle of the dirty floor, her face blue, and a used syringe beside her.  That’s the first overdose and the first death.

Even worse than the simple fact of heroin is that carfentanil has been added to the drug that the town’s addicts are using.   It’s an ingredient a hundred times more potent than fentanyl and ten thousand times stronger than morphine and is used to stretch out heroin so that the original drug can be sold more profitably.

Given the incredible number of cases that are springing up all over town, and the underfunded police and district attorney’s offices, Bell is feeling overwhelmed.  There’s simply not enough money or personnel to deal with this problem, but what are the alternatives?  Just wait it out, Bell wonders, and allow the addicts to tempt death every time they inject themselves?  After all, if they don’t care about themselves, why should the police and the courts be concerned?  But, of course, Bell does care, and she’s trying to come up with a plan to get the contaminated drug off the streets.

The official reactions to this crisis are not the only moral points in Fast Falls the Night.  Deputy Jake Oakes is attracted to Molly Drucker, a local EMT, but either she’s not interested in him or something is stopping her from showing her interest.  Bell’s sister Shirley has two devastating pieces of news to give to Bell, her cancer diagnosis being the easier one to talk about.

And what can be done about Raylene Hughes, the negligent mother of an adorable daughter?  Is the child better off with her con-artist mother or with her father, a man whose war experiences and brain injury has made him unreliable and possibly violent?

Julia Keller’s latest mystery ends with as many questions as it answers, as is true of real life.  The characters in the novel, and the plot itself, are mesmerizing, and you will keep reading without letup until the last page.  And even then, you’ll be left wondering.

You can read more about Julia Keller at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

 

 

ORDEAL by Jorn Lier Horst: Book Review

Chief Inspector William Wisting of Stavern, Norway has his hands full.  He receives new information about a high-profile crime, his former lover asks for his help in dealing with a problem at her restaurant, and his pregnant daughter extracts a promise from him to be at the hospital with her when she delivers her first baby.

Jens Hummel was a taxi driver who disappeared in Stavern six months earlier, along with his cab.  Neither man nor vehicle has been seen since.  Norway’s media has been having a field day with this, stating that the police had not done all they could to break open the case, insinuating that poor work and a lack of interest in the fate of Jens were to blame.  Now a call from Suzanne, William’s former girlfriend, gives the inspector some news.

She tells him that a man has been to her restaurant for the past several evenings, and on one of those nights he was reading an article about Jens’ disappearance.  When Suzanne noticed, she made an innocuous comment to him, and his response was, “It’s sitting in the barn.”  Then he picked up the paper, left, and hasn’t returned.

Suzanne also has a problem of her own.  She suspects one of her waitresses is stealing from the till, but she doesn’t want to fire her without knowing for certain that she’s guilty.  So she asks William if he would do surveillance for a day or two, trying to see whether the young woman Suzanne suspects is actually pocketing the restaurant’s money.  William thinks of his overload of police work and his pregnant daughter, but he can’t say no, and thus he agrees to visit the restaurant the following evening.

William’s daughter Line has just moved back to Stavern from Oslo, awaiting the birth of her daughter.  On a shopping expedition to furnish her new home she bumps into an old school friend, Sofie Lund, and Sofie’s year-old daughter.  The two women, both single, renew their friendship over the coincidence of motherhood, being first-time homeowners, and returning to their home town.  But Sofie’s home has a strange story behind it that involves her late, unlamented grandfather, a murderous gangster known as the Smuggler King.

Ordeal is the tenth novel in this series, the fifth published in English.  There’s a fascinating introduction to the book that explains that the author was himself a Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department, just like the protagonist he created.  There is an amazing sense of realism in the book, a deep knowledge of how things work in small-town police departments; the real Stavern, Norway has a population of 3,000.  But, of course, there can be plenty of crime and violence in a small town, certainly enough to keep William Wisting busy.

Jorn Lier Horst is the winner of both the Glass Key and Martin Beck awards for his earlier novel The Hunting Dogs You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

 

 

 

 

THE WALLS by Hollie Overton: Book Review

Kristy Tucker doesn’t have an easy life.  She’s a single mother with a teenage son, the caretaker for her ailing father, and works for a boss she doesn’t respect.  But still, she thinks to herself, I’m managing all this and someday things will hopefully be different.  As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Kristy’s son Ryan, a bit of an outcast at school, has been secretly taking martial arts lessons.  When Kristy finds out she’s upset, both because he kept it from her and because she’s not a fan of physical force to solve problems.  She makes her feelings known at a meeting with the trainer, Lance Dobson, and thinks she has put an end to Ryan’s lessons.  But the next day Lance shows up at the house, apologizing and asking for another chance to keep giving Ryan lessons, stressing the benefits of the lessons to a boy who feels out of the mainstream in his town.  Swayed by Lance’s apparent sincerity, not to mention his good looks, and by her son’s fervent desire, Kristy agrees he can continue.

Lance works his charm on everyone, even Kristy’s dad, a former prison guard.  Not until after Kristy and Lance are married does the real Lance shows himself as a physical and emotional bully and abuser, a control freak who needs to dominate every aspect of Kristy’s life.   And when she tries to rebel, Lance has no compunction in threatening her father and her son.

Kristy is the public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a job requiring communication skills among inmates, the media, and the prison system.  She works in the Polunsky Unit of the prison system, where 279 men are on death row.   Kristy has always been able to keep her emotions in check while dealing with the men, but now one of them, soon to be executed, has touched her.

Clifton Harris was convicted of setting his house on fire, killing his two young children who were inside.  Like all the other prisoners awaiting execution in what has been called “the hardest place to do time in Texas,” Clifton is on lockdown twenty-two hours a day in a small solitary cell, with no access to phones or television or contact with any other prisoners.  But Kristy is moved by his declarations of innocence; she’s not certain she believes him, but she’s equally not certain he’s guilty.  And the date of his execution grows closer and closer.

Hollie Overton has written a taut, terrifying thriller.  I must confess that I started the book, read about one third, and had to put it away for several days because it was so scary!  But when I picked it up again and read to the end, I felt it was well worth it.  The characters and the plot are top-notch, and the abusive, frightening situation that Kristy finds herself in is unfortunately too familiar to anyone who reads the newspapers or watches television.

You can read more about Hollie Overton at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

GONE GULL by Donna Andrews: Book Review

Full disclosure–this is the first Meg Langslow mystery I’ve read.  It’s important to state that because there’s obviously a lot of backstory; this is the twenty-first book in the series, so I feel as if there’s a great deal that I’m missing.  That being said, Gone Gull is a delightful read.

Meg is a blacksmith by profession, rather unusual in itself, as well as an artist creating wrought-iron sculptures.  In her latest adventure, Meg, her husband, and their twin sons are spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center in Virginia, a new venture started by her grandmother Cordelia.  Meg is heading a blacksmithing workshop, Michael is in charge of the children’s drama class, and various other artists/craftspeople are teaching painting, photography, and jewelry-making, to name just a few of the offerings available.

The novel opens at the beginning of the Center’s second week of classes.  The first week’s classes could be considered a success except for the fact of middle-of-the-night vandalism in several of the rooms:  prints destroyed in the photography studio, the potter’s kiln tampered with, windows left open during a rainstorm that destroyed students’ artwork.  Cordelia is worried that if this continues and the students become aware of the extent of the damage, a number of them will leave and demand their money back.

Meg has taken to making certain that the artists’ studios are secured when no one is using them.  She’s checking all the doors and windows one morning before classes begin when she gets to the room of the Center’s most difficult artist–Edward Prine.  Prine, a man who fancied himself a ladies’ man and made himself a nuisance to several women students, is lying on the floor with a knife in his back.  Students and staff agree that Prine was certainly an annoying man, but was that sufficient motive for murder?

Meg’s family is large and eccentric, several of them spending the summer at the Center.  At the head of the Center is her independent-minded grandmother Cordelia, never married to Meg’s grandfather; her grandfather, Dr. Blake, a world-famous biologist and ornithologist with a chronically bad temper; her father, a physician who views murder as a chance to do some amateur detecting; and various cousins with the expertise necessary to help Meg find the killer of Edward Prine.

The book’s title refers to a seabird named after the eighteenth-century ornithologist and naturalist George Ord.  The day before his death, Prine had shown Meg’s grandfather photos of a painting he had done of a seabird, allegedly having seen the bird on the Center’s patio.  The photos were at first glance scathingly dismissed, the scientist saying that there was no gull with those markings and accusing Prine of using his imagination to combine two or more species in his painting.  However, that night, after looking more closely at the photos, Blake recognized the bird as an Ord Gull, a species that experts believed to be extinct.  Wanting to contact Prine immediately to find out more, he’s persuaded by Meg to wait until the following morning, but by that time Prine has been murdered.

And then there’s a second murder.

Gone Gull is written in a light, fast-moving style, with a strong plot and interesting characters.  Donna Andrews is the recipient of a slew of awards, including an Agatha and an Anthony for her first novel Murder with Peacocks in 1999.  In Gone Gull, it appears she hasn’t lost a step since.

You can read more about Donna Andrews at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

LET THE DEAD SPEAK by Jane Casey: Book Review

There’s good news and bad news about Jane Casey’s series featuring London detective Maeve Kerrigan.  The good news is that the novels are outstanding; the bad news is that it took me so long to learn about them.

Let the Dead Speak is Maeve’s first case since her promotion to detective sergeant.  She and her team are called to a particularly bloody scene at the West London home of Kate and Chloe Emery.  Teenage Chloe has returned home unexpectedly after a very unhappy visit with her father and his second family, and she finds her house is covered in blood and her mother is nowhere to be found.

Chloe has some developmental issues, and it’s hard for Maeve to be certain exactly what has happened, especially since Chloe isn’t speaking at all.  She’s staying with her neighbors Oliver and Eleanor Norris, whose daughter Bethany is Chloe’s best friend.  The Norrises have volunteered to have Chloe stay with them as long as necessary, although it’s obvious to Maeve that Eleanor Norris is less than enthusiastic about having this house guest.

According to Oliver Norris, there might have been something, perhaps inappropriate, going on at the Emery house when Chloe spent the occasional weekend at her father’s.  He tells the detective he’s seen men coming and going from the house.  He says he tried to talk to Kate about this, even going so far as to invite her to their church, but “it didn’t go over too well.”  The Norrises belong to a small Christian sect, the Church of the Modern Apostles, that apparently believes in husbandly superiority, wifely subservience, and a lack of worldly technology.

When Maeve and her colleague Detective Inspector Josh Derwent do a second, more thorough search of the Emery house, Maeve finds a bag containing stained, torn women’s clothing in Kate’s otherwise immaculate bedroom closet.  The two detectives find it hard to understand why Kate would have saved these particular items.  Also, given the overwhelming amount of blood found in the house, it’s almost impossible to believe she’s still alive.  Certainly it appears that she could not have left by her own volition, but no one has found a trace of her.

Let the Dead Speak is a novel filled with fascinating characters and a tightly woven, believable plot.  There’s Chloe, clearly traumatized by her mother’s disappearance; the strange Norris family; their church’s leader; and a young man with a history of violence living on the same street.

Maeve Kerrigan is a wonderful heroine, strong and sure of herself after a difficult start at the beginning of her career.  She’s slightly wary about her new promotion, though, coming to her as it did because of the death of another detective on the team.  But she’s determined to show that she’s capable of handling whatever cases come her way.

A little more than a year ago in this blog I raved about After The Fire, the first Maeve Kerrigan mystery I’d read.   Let The Dead Speak is equally deserving of such high praise.

You can read more about Jane Casey at various internet sites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

THE DRIVER by Hart Hanson: Book Review

The Driver is, in turn, comic, tragic, uplifting, profane, and suspenseful.  In short, it’s a wild and worthwhile ride, but it’s not your typical mystery novel.

The driver is Michael Skellig, who served in the Afghanistan war.  He’s returned to California, his home state, and opened a limo service, hiring three fellow veterans he met overseas.

The only woman at Oasis Limo Services is Tinkertoy, the company’s mechanic.  She suffers from post-traumatic stress paranoia, having been the victim of multiple rapes and unimaginable torture.  Ripple is the dispatcher, now using a wheelchair since he lost half of one leg to a sniper and all of his other leg to a vehicle that accidentally ran over him.  And Luqmann Qaid Yosufzai, nicknamed Lucky for obvious reasons, was the driver’s interpreter when Michael worked with the anti-Taliban forces.

Bismarck Avila is a world-famous skateboarder, winning the X Games at the age of fourteen.  The day that Avila hires Michael to drive him to a hotel for a meeting Michael foils an attempt on Avila’s life, and the impressed skateboarder employs Skellig to be his permanent driver.  Why would someone want to kill the young man, or at least threaten him so dramatically?  And, if Avila really doesn’t know why anyone would want to harm him, why is he so insistent on Michael becoming his new driver/bodyguard?

When Michael arrives at Avila’s mansion the following day, he’s met by a Los Angeles County Sheriff Department deputy, Detective Willeniec, who is brandishing a warrant to search the extensive grounds for barrels.  Willeniec doesn’t explain what he expects to find in the barrels, and, in fact, he discovers none on the huge property.

But he tells Skellig and Avila he’s not done with them, the warrant extending to several other properties the skateboarder owns, and Skellig, Avila, and Willeniec drive to one of Avila’s storage units.  The detective finds nothing there either, but he threateningly tells Avila he’s not finished with him yet.

The Driver is definitely a unique read.  The story is told in the first person, so we learn everything from Michael’s point of view.  He’s a kind, generous man who knows how to handle himself in tough situations, although he doesn’t go looking for them.  His love-life is torn between his involvement with his attorney, Connie Candide, and his desire for her best friend, Detective Delilah Groopman.  His life is complicated indeed.

Although this is his first novel, Hart Hanson’s literary output is impressive.  He’s the creator of Bones, which just finished its twelfth and final season on Fox television, as well as being the creator and script writer of several other shows.  It looks as if this book may be the first entry in a new direction for him, one that definitely will please the readers of The Driver.

You can read more Hart Hanson at various Internet websites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

ANOTHER MAN’S GROUND by Claire Booth: Book Review

Hank Worth has been sheriff of Branson, Missouri, for less than a year, but it’s re-election time in the county.  That’s because Hank was appointed to the job, not elected, when his predecessor gave up the position with less than a year to go in his term to become a state senator.  And if there’s anything that Hank dislikes more than criminals in his county it’s running for office.

He almost welcomes the phone call from Vern Miles, a landowner who calls Hank to ask him to view the trees on the Miles’ property that have been stripped of bark nearly to the top of their trunks.  Vern tells the sheriff that it has recently been discovered that there’s big money in the outermost layer of the slippery elm; it’s used to cure a variety of ailments.  (Seriously.  I looked it up on Google, and the bark of the Ulmus rubra is used as an herbal remedy for fevers, wounds, and sore throats.)  It’s bringing in much needed revenue, Vern informs Hank, but stripping the trees so high will likely result in the trees’ death, and he wants whoever did this caught.

So, Hank thinks, “This was excellent.  A nice little crime to investigate, but with no trauma, no violence.”  It turns out that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Miles’ property touches the land that belongs to the Kinney clan, and both families have been feuding for at least three generations.  The Kinneys are the most powerful family in the county, for reasons Hank is finding hard to understand.  His barber, Stan, finally comes the closest to putting it in words:  “They own people’s minds….It’s better just to move around with caution and respect when it comes to them.”  And when Hank makes a return visit to the woods and finds even more bare trees, this time on the Kinney property, he knows he’s going to have to face Jasper Kinney sooner rather than later.

At the same time, Hank is trying to keep his job as sheriff despite his distaste for the political machinations necessary to run a campaign.  His initial meeting with Darcy Blakely, his campaign manager, does not go well.  Added to that is the fact that his competition, Gerald Tucker, has been a long-time deputy in the sheriff’s department, while Hank is still an outsider by Missouri standards.  Plus, in Hank’s opinion, Gerald is much too involved with Henry Gallagher, the area’s most successful businessman.  Hank is pretty sure Henry is involved in arson, extortion, and insurance fraud, even though he’s been unable to prove it.  But Henry’s pockets are deep, and he definitely could sway voters toward Gerald.

Then a teenage undocumented worker is found hiding in the woods, and there’s an unidentified corpse there as well.  So Hank’s “nice little crime” is no longer nice or little.

Claire Booth’s second novel is an excellent follow-up to The Branson Beauty, which I blogged about in July 2016.  The characters, including Hank, his physician wife, and his African-American deputy, make the story real and compelling.  Another Man’s Ground is well worth another visit to Branson, Missouri.

You can read more about Claire Booth at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

 

THE OSLO CONSPIRACY by Asle Skredderberget: Book Review

Milo Cavelli, the son of a Norwegian father and an Italian mother, is a detective in the Oslo Police Department.  The only one on the force who is fluent in Italian, he’s asked by a superior officer to fly to Rome to bring home the body of a Norwegian woman who was killed there.

That’s straightforward enough, although it doesn’t seem as if the death of Ingrid Tollefsen is connected to Milo’s area of expertise, financial crimes.  But the truth of the adage follow the money is proved once again, for in fact the strangulation of the young scientist is more than the tragic local murder it seems at first; it is a crime with repercussions that will spread across the globe.

The Tollefsen family would seem to be under a devastating curse, with early deaths following three of its four members.  Ingrid’s mother died in childbirth, putting the thirteen-year-old girl in the position of being a mother to her newborn brother.  All went well until the night that her brother, then a high school student, was killed by a street gang; another victim of the gang was a popular high school teacher who was thought to have been trying to protect young Tormod.  The police knew the killers were the Downtown Gang but were unable to prove it, and its members went free.

Ingrid seems to have had no enemies, according to the executives at the pharmaceutical giant where she worked.  She was in Rome to attend a conference, Milo and his fellow officer Sørensen are told by her boss in Research and Development, Anders Wilhelmsen.  During the interview Anders tells them that  after the death of her brother two years earlier, she had received the customary two weeks’ leave of absence; however, after that, she had asked for an additional two months’ leave.  She didn’t explain why or what she was doing during that time, and Milo thinks that this may be an important part of the puzzle.

But there are many other parts of the puzzle that also need to be solved.  Was it Ingrid’s medical vial that is found on the street outside the hotel room where she died?  What does Verba on the vial’s torn label mean?  Is it simply a terrible coincidence that two members of the Tollefsen family were murdered, or is there a connection that has yet to be found?

There are other questions in the novel too, although they may not have a direct bearing on Ingrid’s death.  Who was the woman who bequeathed a Manhattan apartment to the Cavalli family?  Who is the person Milo’s semi-estranged father wants him to meet?  What is the connection between Milo’s family and a merchant ship that exploded in Italian waters in the 1970s?

Asle Skredderberget has written the third Milo Cavalli thriller, and it’s outstanding.  Milo is an original protagonist, brilliant in his field but conflicted in his personal life.  The other characters are totally realistic, with believable motives for their actions that move the plot along at a fast pace.  The Oslo Conspiracy will keep you spellbound until the end.

You can read more about Asle Skredderberget at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

 

CONVICTION by Julia Dahl: Book Review

Once again Julia Dahl brings readers to Jewish Brooklyn, but this time with a twist.  It’s the Crown Heights section of the borough, a neighborhood that years ago was totally Jewish and now is an uneasy mix of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Blacks, the neighborhood that was the scene of a riot in 1991 and still bears the violent scars of those three days.

Rebekah Roberts, a reporter at the sleazy tabloid the New York Trib, is looking for a news story to write, one that she’s hoping will get her a boost up the career ladder.  At a cocktail party she connects with Amanda Button, who writes the Homicide Blog, a newsletter that tracks every homicide occurring in New York City.  Rebekah and Amanda arrange to meet a couple of days after the event, and Amanda offers Rebekah the opportunity to go through letters she’s received from prisoners in the state’s penitentiaries who declare their innocence.  Perhaps there’s a real story in there, both women think.

Of course, she tells Rebekah, everyone who writes her tells her he’s been unjustly punished.  However, given that many of these men were convicted in the 80s and 90s, when DNA technology was in its infancy and the murder rate was soaring, it’s certainly possible, Amanda continues, that some of the cases weren’t investigated properly.  So Rebekah takes home several boxes of letters and is intrigued by one in particular.

DeShawn Perkins was a teenager when he was convicted of murdering his foster family–mother, father, and young sister.  At first he protested his innocence but couldn’t offer any alibi for the time the crime was committed; later, after brutal questioning that included the hint that if he didn’t confess his younger “brother” might be charged with the crime, DeShawn said he had committed the murders.  But in his letter to Amanda, he refutes his confession, tells her his alibi, and asks for her help.  He closes the letter by saying, “…somebody else killed my family and I’m paying for his crime.”

Conviction is the third in the Rebekah Roberts’ series, and it’s as strong a novel as the previous two.  Rebekah is a young woman with a past that will not let go, including the many questions she has for her mother, who abandoned her when she was a baby.  Even now that she has reunited with her mother, her mother still refuses to explain why she fled New York and left her husband and infant Rebekah behind.  So perhaps Rebekah’s choice of a career, asking questions and trying to find answers to things people would prefer to keep hidden, is a reaction to the secrets in her own life.

Julia Dahl’s characters are like people you know–people trying to do their best but with problems and emotions that get in the way.  They are all too human, and thus they make the reader respond not only to the excellent plot in this book but to the people in it, foibles and all.

Conviction is a moving story of the collision of people and cultures and the devastation that misunderstandings can bring.  It strongly resonated with me because I grew up in Crown Heights, although I left it years before this book takes place.  I know the neighborhood streets and lived only four or five blocks from where the riots began.  But you don’t need to have that personal involvement to become totally engrossed in this outstanding mystery.

You can read more about Julia Dahl at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

 

 

SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane: Book Review

Into the mix:  a manipulative mother, an unknown father, world-wide fame, world-wide fall, marriage, divorce, perfect second husband, suspicion of same–they all make for a thrilling ride in Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, Since We Fell.

Rachel Childs grows up desperate to know the identity of her father, a man whose presence in her life she barely remembers.  Her mother, noted author and professor Elizabeth Childs, steadfastly refuses to give her the information, taking his name to her grave.  After Elizabeth’s death, Rachel finds her mother’s journals containing notes on her father that could help in the search.  She goes to the office of Brian Delacroix, a private investigator, whom she had tried to hire several years earlier in her attempt to find her father.  At that time he had refused to take the case, saying that there was simply not enough information for him to even begin the search.  Now, with the journals giving possible clues, he agrees to look.

However, he has no luck now even with the journals to help him.  Rachel continues with her life, graduating from college and getting a job as a reporter with several small papers before landing at the Boston Globe.  But along with her professional success come more personal problems–intermittently-occurring panic attacks and agoraphobia.   Doing her best to ignore them, she leaves the Globe and becomes an internationally-known television reporter until she has a very public breakdown while reporting on the aftermath of the huge earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

Now Rachel is almost never seen in public.  She has become virtually housebound, partly because of her agoraphobia and partly because she is still recognized in public as the reporter who had had an emotional meltdown in front of millions of viewers.  Either way, inside is safer for her than outside.  Her career in shambles, her marriage over, Rachel’s runs into Brian at a bar where she has gone to “celebrate” her divorce. They had been in touch sporadically, once a chance meeting on a Boston street and then through an email or two.  But now she recognizes her attraction to Brian, and the two become a couple.

The first half of the book is deceptively straightforward, but the suspense quickly builds in the second half when you least expect it.  After Rachel finds out the truth of her father’s disappearance, the novel veers into new and unexpected territory.

Since We Fell has more twists and turns than a roller coaster, each one blindsiding the reader and making it compulsory to continue reading.  The plot is spellbinding, and if I tell you that I’ve described less than one-third of the novel, you can see how complicated the story is.  Rachel is a fascinating protagonist, capable and bright on one hand, struggling with terrifying insecurities and fears on the other.

Dennis Lehane has written another outstanding novel about people searching for the truth, for happiness, and all the other meaningful things in life.  We learn how crippling an unhappy childhood can be and the difficult steps Rachel tries to take to overcome her past.  Life isn’t easy for her, but, as the song says, she’s doing her best, movin’ on down the road.

You can read more about Dennis Lehane at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.