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SWISS VENDETTA by Tracee de Hahn: Book Review

There’s not much in the way of crime fiction coming from Switzerland compared to other European countries.  So Tracee de Hahn’s debut novel, Swiss Vendetta, is definitely a welcome addition to the international mystery genre.

Agnes Lüthi has just been transferred to the Violent Crimes division of the Lausanne Police Department from its Financial division.  She’s pleased yet anxious about her new position, and she’s still mourning the recent death of her husband.  On her first day at her new job, the worst blizzard in the city’s history is covering Lausanne and its environs with freezing temperatures, biting winds, and whiteout conditions.  But crime doesn’t respect the weather, and Agnes is called to investigate a murder.  It’s her first homicide case, and the conditions could not be worse.

The murder has taken place at the Chateau Vallatton, home to the region’s wealthiest and most prominent family.  The victim, a visitor named Felicity Cowell, was an appraiser for a London auction house, and she was in the process of valuing the hundreds of valuable items that the Vallatton family had amassed over the centuries.  But something made Felicity leave the mansion that morning, bizarrely dressed in an evening gown and a man’s coat, and go out into the blizzard.  What was it?

At first glance it’s hard to tell what happened to Felicity, given that her body is stuck to the ice.  But when she is finally moved, a knife wound is revealed; now there’s no doubt it was murder.

The small investigative presence at the murder site is not what should have been.  The chief of the station, Inspector Bardy, is stranded elsewhere because of the storm.  André Petit is the village policeman without much homicide experience, preoccupied because his wife is going into labor with their first child.  The other three men on the scene simply happened to be at the local hotel bar when the call came in reporting the murder, and so they went to the chateau to provide at least a semblance of officialdom:  Robert Carnet, Agnes’s former supervisor in Financial Crimes; Dr. Blanchard, a local physician; and Frédéric Estanguest, an elderly villager who leads the two others up the mountain under the terrible weather conditions.

Not one of these men, nor Agnes, is experienced in investigating a murder.  But they’ll have to do their best.

Matters aren’t helped by the people in the chateau.  The only permanent resident is the marquise, Antoinette Vallatton de Torney, who barely acknowledges knowing the deceased.  Her late brother’s two sons do not live in the mansion but both, along with the wife of the younger brother, are there at the moment.  Neither brother seems to have a reason for the murder, and the younger one is in a wheelchair, making it virtually impossible for him to have gone out in the snow and killed Felicity Cowell.

The blizzard is one more obstruction for Agnes Lüthi.  She is freezing cold, both physically and mentally, throughout the novel–first, obviously, by the raging storm; second, by her internal despair over her husband’s unexpected and unexplained suicide.  How can she ever hope to solve this case, she wonders, when she has been unable to decipher any clues about why her husband, to whom she was closer than anyone else in the world, willingly left her and their two young sons?

Tracee de Hahn has written a compelling first novel, with, I hope, many more to follow.  You can read more about her at this web site.

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

 

SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jónasson: Book Review

Iceland has come into its own in the past few years as the setting of excellent detective novels.  Arnaldur Indridason, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and Quentin Bates are among the half dozen Icelandic mystery writers who have introduced their detectives over the past decade and a half.  Now Ragnar Jónasson’s novel, Snowblind, has placed him in this respected company.

Ari Thór Arason is in Reykjavik, trying to find a path to a meaningful life.  He’s been a theology student, then a philosophy student, and now he’s finishing up studies at the country’s police academy.  He’s not certain where, or even if, he’ll be offered a job, given that there are more police officers and would-be officers than there are openings in Iceland.  But to his surprise, he receives a call offering him a two-year contract in Siglufjördur, a small town so far north that it’s practically touching the Arctic Circle.

Taken a bit by surprise, Ari Thór immediately accepts, then tells his live-in girlfriend the news.  To say Kristín is upset is to put it mildly, partly because it will mean a separation for the next two years while she continues her medical studies in the capital and partly because she hadn’t known that he had applied for this job.  So Ari Thór leaves for his posting with hurt feelings on both sides, his because Kristín isn’t excited and happy for him, hers because Ari Thór hadn’t thought to consult her before applying for the job or accepting it.

Siglufjördur’s most famous citizen is Hrólfur Kristjánsson, one of the country’s most famous writers.  His novel, North of the Hills, was written during World War II and is still required reading throughout Iceland.  Hrólfur has been renting his basement apartment to a series of young people over the past several years, and he has taken a particular shine to Ugla, a young woman new to town.

Hrólfur suggests that Ugla join the Dramatic Society in town, of which he is chairman.  She is content with her life and her involvement in the Society’s play, in which she has the female lead.  But all that comes to an end just a few days before the production’s opening when the body of Hrólfur Kristjánsson is found at the foot of the auditorium’s stairs.

Snowblind is a wonderful novel.  The sense of place is perfect, allowing the reader to share Ari Thór’s feeling of claustrophobia in this remote, snowbound village, far from the woman he loves.  He also has the feeling of being an outsider, one who will never be connected to the inhabitants of this town as most of them come from families who have lived here for generations.  After all, why would any young, ambitious person come to Siglufjördur anyway?  Well, we know why Ari Thór did, but what brought Ugla there?  And how are his feelings for Kristín holding up, given the distance between them and his proximity to Ugla?

Ragnar Jónasson is an attorney and writer, an Icelander by birth.  Interestingly, he has translated fourteen Agatha Christie books into Icelandic, although he did not translate Snowblind into English.  Snowblind was written in 2010 and is followed by several other novels in the Dark Iceland Series that feature Ari Thór.  These other mysteries are now absolutely on my must-read list.

You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson at this web site.

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

 

HER EVERY FEAR by Peter Swanson: Book Review

There’s good news and bad news about Peter Swanson’s latest thriller, Her Every Fear.  The good news is that this novel is as compelling as his two other mysteries, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart and The Kind Worth Killing, two outstanding mysteries that are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.  The bad news is that I’ve finished Her Every Fear and now have to wait a year for another of his incredible thrillers.

Kate Priddy is a twenty-something English woman who suffers from debilitating panic attacks.  She’s been anxious and fearful ever since she was a child, although then it seemed there was no rational explanation for these emotions.  Unfortunately, for the last five years she has had a good reason for these feelings.  At that time she was nearly killed by an ex-boyfriend and suffered a mental collapse.  But now Kate believes she’s nearly ready to move on with her life, although the operative word is nearly.

Her American cousin, Corbin Dell, is about to be transferred to London for a six month period, and he writes to Kate’s mother asking for help in finding a flat in the city.  Mrs. Priddy suggests an apartment exchange to Kate–Kate would live in Corbin’s Boston apartment while Corbin stays in Kate’s flat.  Much to her mother’s surprise, Kate agrees.  Although the two cousins have never met or even corresponded before, Kate realizes that to complete her recovery she needs to move away from her parents’ well-meaning but slightly smothering protection and launch her own life.  And for Corbin, well, who knows what motivations lie behind his temporary move to London?

As Kate enters her cousin’s building in Boston, another woman walks through the door at the same time.  By the time Kate and Carol, a helpful neighbor Kate meets in the building’s lobby, approach Corbin’s apartment, the stranger is knocking on the apartment door opposite.  Visibly distraught, the woman tells Kate and Carol that she’s a friend of Audrey Marshall, the woman who is renting that apartment, but that Audrey hasn’t been to work that day nor answered any of her friend’s increasingly anxious texts and calls.

Carol suggests that Audrey’s friend go downstairs to the doorman and ask him to open Audrey’s door.  All this is a bit too much for Kate, who decides to leave the two women and go into her cousin’s apartment.  Jet-lagged and exhausted, she falls asleep.  But later the next day, Kate’s ill fortune appears to have followed her across the Atlantic–the police are knocking on her door to tell her that Audrey Marshall has been murdered.

Peter Swanson is absolutely one of the most gifted mystery writers around.  His plot will have you turning the pages of his books faster and faster until you reluctantly reach the last page.  His characters are totally realistic, with their strengths and weaknesses the characteristics you see among people you know.  He is a master at keeping the tension at a high level, with twists and turns that will keep you spellbound until the end.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this web site.

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

 

THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBY by Michael Connelly: Book Review

Being a cop is in one’s DNA, according to veteran police detective Harry Bosch.  Harry was forced to retire from the Los Angeles Police Department and is now working as a private investigator.  Still missing police work, he’s taken a part-time job working on cold cases, with no pay and no benefits, at the very small San Fernando Police Department.

Now Harry’s working on two cases simultaneously, one private and one official.  The private one comes via his former supervisor at the LAPD, John Creighton, dismissively known to his former colleagues as The Cretin.  Creighton is now the head of Trident Security, a multi-national security firm, and he’s asked Harry to take a job for one of their clients.  Although at first determined not to accept the job due in great part to his dislike of Creighton, Harry reconsiders when he’s offered a $10,000 check simply to meet with the client, the billionaire Whitney Vance.

When he meets Vance the following morning, he’s intrigued by the story the client tells him and the reason he wants to hire the detective.  So Harry agrees to look into the problem, working under an agreement of total secrecy, warned to speak only to Vance himself if/when he discovers anything.

At the same time Harry is working on a series of five rapes that have happened over a period of four years in the city of San Fernando.  Dubbed by the press the Screen Cutter, the rapist slits through the screens of first floor windows or back doors and assaults and terrorizes the women.  Nothing connects the victims, but because the scenarios are identical Harry believes the assailant was the same each time, someone who had access in some way to the women’s homes.  Trying to tie these cases in with others outside the city hasn’t worked, but Harry and his colleague Bella Lourdes continue to follow every lead, hoping to succeed before the rapist finds another victim.

Readers of the Harry Bosch series will discover that age has not softened or slowed down the detective.  Still chaffing at what he regards as unnecessary rules, Harry refuses to sign in or out at the station house as required.  He’s also using the department’s computer to aid him in his search on the Vance matter, another ruler-breaker.  Harry has left a trail of angry supervisors in his wake from previous positions he’s held, in great part because of his disregard for regulations; the only thing that has saved his career over the long haul is his success in closing homicide cases, over one hundred of them.

The author of more than thirty books, both fiction and non-fiction, Michael Connelly is a master story-teller.  The characters in The Wrong Side of Goodbye are real, the plot compelling.  With his latest novel, he has written another winner.

You can read more about Michael Connelly at this web site.

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

AMONG THE SHADOWS by Bruce Robert Coffin: Book Review

Who better to write a mystery featuring a Portland, Maine police detective than a former Portland, Maine police detective? 

Bruce Robert Coffin’s debut, Among the Shadows, gives readers a look into the gritty, day-to-day work of policing a city against a clever, unseen enemy.  Dealing with difficulties in his personal life, John Byron faces enmity in his professional life as well.

John’s father worked as a Portland police lieutenant until the day he’s found at his kitchen table with a single bullet to his head, his revolver next to him.  John had idolized his father, even knowing his many faults, but he’s never been able to forgive him for his suicide.  Even twenty years later, he wonders how he could have been so wrong about the man.

Now two deaths have the Portland police department reeling.  A former detective, James O’Halloran, has been found dead in his bed.  O’Halloran was dying of cancer and cared for by two hospice nurses, and the immediate reaction to his death is that he died of natural causes.  However, the autopsy reveals three down feathers lodged in his throat, leading the medical examiner to conclude that O’Halloran was smothered, murdered as he slept.  He had been a friend of John’s father and, in fact, sat next to John in the church the day Reece Byron was buried.

Two days after O’Halloran’s murder, another former police detective, Cleo Riordan, is found dead in his home, this time from a bullet from his own gun.  Even though it appears to be a suicide, two deaths of former officers in less than a week is way too suspicious.  Coming across an old photo, John realizes that O’Halloran and Riordan were, along with his own late father, members of the Portland Special Reaction Team.  Are the remaining members of the team in danger?  And, if so, why?

John’s personal life is in a state of turmoil also.  After twenty years of marriage, his wife has served him with divorce papers.  This wasn’t a surprise, as John knew their marriage was troubled, but all his efforts to speak to Kay go directly to her voicemail.  At the same time, he’s developing feelings for his partner Diane Joyner, Portland’s first African-American detective.  It’s against all the rules for the two to become romantically involved, but sometimes rules are made to be broken.

Bruce Robert Coffin has created an interesting, conflicted protagonist in John Byron.  The author’s voice is authentic and powerful, and his insights into police work and his familiarity with the city of Portland make him a writer to watch.  I look forward to a second novel featuring John Byron and his city.

You can read more about Bruce Robert Coffin at this web site.

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

 

 

PRESUMPTION OF GUILT by Archer Mayor: Book Review

Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, is presented with a most unusual crime.  A body, encased in concrete with no identification on it save a wedding ring inscribed “HM and SM forever,” was found at the soon-to-be-dismantled Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, close to the VBI’s office in Brattleboro.  Vermont Yankee was controversial from its beginnings in 1970, and finding a corpse there more than forty years later will prove to be just as troubling.

With the workman’s discovery, all of the state’s investigative agencies are called in.  The autopsy, conducted by Vermont’s chief medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom, brings several facts to light, namely that the body is that of a man in his thirties, almost certainly a manual laborer, who had broken his upper right arm shortly before his death.  That last piece of information leads Joe to a nearby hospital where records show that a Hank Mitchell had been treated for such an injury decades earlier.  Hank Mitchell’s next-of-kin is listed as Mrs. Sharon Mitchell at a local address, so Joe and a colleague go to her home to find out if the man at the plant was her husband.

After examining the body in the morgue, Sharon confirms the man’s identity.  She tells Joe and his fellow officer Willie Kunkle that Hank left their house one day in 1970 and never returned, so she and the couple’s son and daughter were left in limbo until the present discovery.  “What you showed me today proves I was right all along.  I never believed he just walked away, like people said,” states his widow.

On a lighter note in the novel we meet the father-daughter team of Dan and Sally Kravitz.  Dan has been known for years in Brattleboro by various sobriquets–the man without a home, the man without a fixed job, the man who could do everything–and many more.  But for all those nicknames, none got to the true Dan Kravitz.  Only two people in the city know that he is “The Tag Man,” a man who enters people’s home while they’re sleeping or away, never taking anything but leaving a note saying “You’re it.”  Oh, and he always makes certain to eat some of the homeowners’ delicacies before leaving.  And now his daughter is working with him.

The two people who know about Dan’s secret identity are his daughter and the above-mentioned Willie Kunkle.  Why doesn’t Willie arrest Dan?  Well, because he’s proven himself useful in the past, albeit in an illegal way, and will do so again.

Presumption of Guilt is the twenty-seventh Joe Gunther mystery.  In such a long-running series, there is naturally a great deal of back story about Joe and the various paths he’s taken in his career.  Archer Mayor, too, has taken many different roads to lead him to being the successful author he is:  political advance-man, newspaper writer/editor, lab technician, and death investigator for the Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  He brings that wealth of experience to his protagonist, a strong, ethical professional who is in law enforcement for all the right reasons.  Presumption of Guilt will keep you guessing until the last page.

You can read more about Archer Mayor at this web site.

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

 

THE INHERITANCE by Charles Finch: Book Review

One would think that an inheritance, especially an unexpected one, would be a welcome thing.  But that is not always the case.

Charles Lenox is surprised and a bit concerned by the letter sent to him by an old school acquaintance, Gerald Leigh, wanting to meet him again.   Gerald was a friend, although not a close one, when both were students at Harrow, the famed English boarding school that was founded in 1572.  Nearly all of the boys attending the school came from noble or wealthy families with ties to the school that went back generations, but Gerald was not one of those boys.

Regardless, his father had been determined to send him to Harrow, but Mr. Leigh’s untimely death left no money for the tuition.  Gerald, however, was notified by the school’s administration that he was the recipient of a bequest that would pay his school costs.  The unknown philanthropist was called M. B., the Mysterious Benefactor, by Gerald and Charles.  The former cursed this nameless person vigorously, as his only desire was to leave school and return home to his mother and his all-consuming study of flora and fauna.  In time he achieved this goal by flunking out, almost deliberately.

Now, thirty years later, Charles receives Gerald’s letter, arranging for an appointment at Charles’ home.  But Gerald never arrives, and the next day, when Charles goes to the hotel mentioned in the letter, it is apparent that his friend, although still registered, has not been there since the day the meeting between the two was scheduled.

Charles is concerned with other problems at the same time that he looks into Gerald’s disappearance:  his wife’s unhappiness, the tension between his two partners, and a strange crisis in Parliament.  When he does find Gerald, things get even more bizarre, for now there is a second bequest from an unknown person.  Is it the same Mysterious Benefactor from Gerald’s school days, or is it someone else?

Having read several of the books in this series, one of the things I find most delightful is the author’s clever insertion of interesting facts that I’d never given much thought to before.  The expression “by hook or by crook”?  A laborer, by generations of tradition, was allowed to get firewood from his squire’s land.  He wasn’t permitted to cut it down, but he could get any branches that had fallen by using a hooked branch or the crook of his walking stick.  “Bunk?”  It means nonsense and comes from a speech given in Buncombe County, North Carolina; it had transmogrified into bunkum and then bunk.  There are several more examples like this in The Inheritance, but you’ll have to read the book to find them.

Charles Finch has created one of the most intelligent, interesting protagonists around.  The Inheritance is the tenth book in the series, and it is as well-written and satisfying as the earlier ones.  The setting, the second half of the nineteenth century in London, is beautifully drawn, the plot is engrossing, and the personalities of all the characters are vivid.  There’s not a misstep in the novel.

You can read more about Charles Finch at various sites on the web.

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

UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

Reading Under the Midnight Sun is like taking a twenty-year trip through Osaka and Tokyo, starting in 1971.  It’s an incredible novel, one that requires a lot of patience and concentration to read but is well worth the effort.

Right from the beginning, Osaka Police Detective Sasagaki finds the murder of Yosuke Kirihara, owner of a pawnshop bearing his name, distinctly odd.  His body, found in a desolate building, is punctured with several stab wounds to the abdomen.  It appears to Sasagaki that the victim was there for a sexual interlude, but why would any man bring a woman to such a dirty, unpleasant place?

Yosuke’s wife Yaeko, eleven-year-old son Ryo, and Isamu Matsuura, the shop’s lone employee, were all in the apartment behind the shop when the murder apparently took place; given that Yosuke was missing overnight, it’s hard for forensics to give an exact time of death.  Sasagaki follows the deceased’s trail and discovers that on the day of the murder Yosuke had cashed in a CD, leaving the bank with a very large amount of cash.  The money wasn’t found on his body, and his wife and the pawnshop employee say they know of no reason why Yosuke would have had so much money with him when he was killed.

About a year later, there’s another death in the neighborhood.  Fumiyo Nishimoto is found in the tiny apartment she shared with her young daughter, Yukiho.  She was overcome by gas coming from her stove, but whether it was an accident or a suicide is impossible to tell.

These two deaths are the seeds from which the rest of the novel grow.  One of the plot lines deals with computers and hacking, and it’s very interesting to go back over forty years and read about life at the beginning of the computer age.  Personal computers are just beginning to appear in homes, cell phones are unknown.  In terms of the subtext of the plot, 1971 is another world and a distant one at that.  It must be noted that the book was published in 1999, so technology, DNA testing, and forensics were much more primitive then than they are now.

To go back to the first paragraph of this post, it’s only fair to point out a few things that make Under the Midnight Sun a dense and difficult read.  First is the length of time the novel covers and the size of the book–twenty years and 554 pages.  Second is that it takes a while to realize how much time has gone by at different points in the novel–events aren’t separated by chapters or headings with dates, so suddenly someone who was eleven on one page is five years older on the next.  Third is that there are many characters and, of course, they all have Japanese names.  Many of the names were very similar, and I had to keep referring back through the book to remember who they were in the story.

That being said, Under the Midnight Sun is a wonderful novel.  The book is beautifully translated, with a style so smooth that readers will think English is the original language.  I reviewed Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X several years ago and found this novel equally enjoyable.

Keigo Higashino is the winner of multiple awards for crime fiction in Japan, and several of his books have been adapted for television and films in Japan, South Korea, and France.

You can read more about Keigo Higashino at various sites on the web.

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

 

 

THE DARKEST SECRET by Alex Marwood: Book Review

It’s 2004, and three-year-old Coco Jackson is missing.  Her family, including her identical twin sister Ruby, their parents Claire and Sean, two older half-sisters, three other couples, and several children are spending the weekend at the Jackson holiday home in Bournemouth, England, to celebrate Sean’s fiftieth birthday.

Before the weekend is over, Coco’s older step-siblings leave the party and return to their mother’s home; Claire drives back to London after discovering her husband in flagrante delicto with another woman; alcohol and drugs are used and abused in abundance; Coco is gone; and the lives of everyone present are changed irreparably.

The people at this party are wealthy, educated, and not very nice.  Sean Jackson is a handsome, successful, and charismatic businessman who is extremely self-involved and uncaring in his dealings with family and friends.  Claire, who was his mistress before she became his second wife, has come to realize that the charm with which he overwhelmed her before they were married is simply a cover for his narcissistic personality and his persistent womanizing; perhaps as a form of revenge, she shows no interest in maintaining any sort of positive relationship with her step-daughters.

The three other couples attending Sean’s fiftieth are similarly unpleasant.  Linda is the woman with whom Sean is having an affair, and her partner James is a Dr. Feelgood with a supply of prescription and non-prescription drugs for every occasion.  Charles is a rising Tory politician on the far right of his party; his wife Imogen has no other interest in life but furthering his career.  Maria and her husband Robert are a very successful couple, she the head of a public relations firm, he a lawyer, who seem on the surface to be the most likeable people in the group, but appearances can be deceiving.  And Robert’s fifteen-year-old daughter Simone, the child of his first marriage, is desperately trying to attract the wandering eye of the event’s host.

The Darkest Secret tells the story that starts at the beginning of this infamous weekend and continues to the present.  We first learn of Coco’s disappearance from witness statements at the beginning of the novel, and then we learn, bringing the story up to the present, that Sean has died.  Even though Milly, his younger daughter from his first marriage, hasn’t seen her father in years, her mother asks her to identify the body; she doesn’t feel able to and Sean’s third wife can’t because she’s home with their young daughter.

Alex Marwood’s novel will keep you in suspense throughout.  The tight group of adults has a lot of secrets to keep.  They’ve been successful at it for fifteen years, but now those secrets are in danger of being revealed.  And the people involved can’t let that happen.

You can read more about Alex Marwood at this web site.

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

 

SKIN AND BONE by Robin Blake: Book Review

If we think back through history and imagine that times were easier or more law-abiding then, all we have to do is read any of the excellent historical mysteries on bookstore or library shelves.  In his latest novel, Robin Blake proves that intrigue, adultery, and murder were, so to speak, alive and well even in the small towns of England.

Titus Cragg is the coroner in Preston in the year 1743.  There are surreptitious goings-on among several of the well-do-do merchants of the town.  In the name of “improvements,” they appear to be determined to shut down Preston’s tannery and skin-yard.  Foul-smelling the industry may be, but it provides income for the town’s remaining three families of tanners.  The entire place is dirty, with fire heating the materials necessary to make animal hides into useful goods, but there is no other way to cure leather.

As the novel opens, a baby’s body is found in one of the handler pits in the tannery.   This leads to two questions:  who was the mother of this infant, and was the baby stillborn or did the mother kill her own child?

Titus would prefer that the infant be examined by his friend Luke Fidelis, a young physician who studied both in London and abroad, bringing modern techniques and theories to Preston.  Unfortunately, Luke is away, but the town’s other doctor, Basilius Harrod, is available to determine the cause of death.

Although Basilius is a friend of Titus’ and the more popular physician in town, his methods are old-fashioned, as his diagnoses often involve humours and ephemeral qualities or textures as causes of illness or death.  That is the case as he examines the baby, stating unequivocally that she was stillborn.  When Titus suggests he might like to turn the baby over for a complete look at her body, he recoiles.  “Touch it?  Certainly not, Titus….That might be dangerous….Troubled spirits….”

Then, when Luke Fidelis returns to the village and examines the corpse, he comes to the opposite conclusion, namely that the child was murdered.  So who is to be believed?

The settings and characters in Skin and Bone are perfect, easily drawing the reader into the lives of people who lived more than two and a half centuries ago.  Greed and profiteering are rampant, as are officials’ desire to come to a hasty if uninformed conclusion about a troubling issue.

Titus Cragg is an honorable man who combines strict principles with compassion for his fellow citizens.  This does not always work well with the mayor and the Council of Preston, men who are more eager to put unpleasantness behind them quickly and get on with their primary objective, obtaining as much money and power as possible through their positions.

When I reviewed The Hidden Man last year, I was struck with the author’s ability to make the 18th century come alive.  Robin Blake has done this again in Skin and Bone, a mystery that will grab you from the beginning and not let go.

You can read more about Robin Blake at this web site.

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

 

THE HANGING CLUB by Tony Parsons: Book Review

Vigilante justice–what does it mean to you?  The dictionary definition is easy to understand:  a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the process of law is viewed as inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice.  We can’t allow people to take the law into their own hands, can we?  But what happens when the official justice system fails its victims?

The prologue of The Hanging Club opens with Mahmud Irani returning to his taxi after Friday prayers.  He’s hailed by a man who gets into the cab and uses his iPhone to direct Mahmud to his desired destination:  Newgate Street.  As they arrive there, the man leans forward from the back seat and presses an old-fashioned straight razor against the driver’s eye.  The car stops, the two men get out, and the passenger directs the driver into a building where three others are waiting.

Mahmud is forced onto a stool that is directly underneath a noose hanging from the ceiling.  Covering the walls of the room are dozens of photos of schoolgirls, all smiling.  Mahmud recognizes them as young girls who had been abducted and raped by himself and his friends.  As he tries to explain that these girls were whores, asking for what happened to them, the stool is kicked from beneath him, he experiences excruciating pain, and he dies.  But he’s only the first.

The opening sentence of the novel is perfect:  “We sat in Court One of the Old Bailey and we waited for justice.”  But they don’t get it.

Steve Goddard was a husband and father.  When he saw three teenage boys urinating on his wife’s car, he ran out of his house and attempted to stop them.  The three boys kicked him to the ground and kept kicking him until he was dead.  They urinated on him and laughed, and all the while one of the boys was filming this; it was almost immediately posted online.  There is no question as to who had committed the crime.

Although the jury is unanimous in its guilty verdict, the judge said the defendants’ attorney proved mitigating circumstances, which reduced the charge to manslaughter.  So for kicking a man to death, the three are sentenced to twelve months in prison.  The remaining Goddards, the mother and her two children, are left weeping and bewildered at the Crown’s version of justice.

Max Wolfe, the detective who arrested the three boys, knows there is nothing more to be done.  But that doesn’t mean he can forget about the case, the injustice of it.  Later that same day the video of the taxi driver being hanged goes viral, and the police in the Major Incident Room watch it.  After watching it multiple times, a new recruit says, “But who’d want to do that to him?”  And unconsciously, almost against his will, Max thinks, “Who the hell wouldn’t?”

Tony Parsons has written about a topic that resonates today.  What is our reaction when we think a truly heinous crime has been committed but not punished sufficiently, if at all? The Hanging Club is a remarkable thriller, not only because it’s so well written but because it brings up a subject that touches so many lives.  Does justice always prevail?  Can vengeance ever be right?  And what is motivating the vigilantes–vengeance, revenge, or bloodlust?

You can read more about Tony Parsons at various sites on the internet.

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

 

HELL FIRE by Karin Fossum: Book Review

Hell Fire is one of the five best mysteries I’ve read this year.  In fact, I would remove the genre qualifier and say it’s one of the five best novels I’ve read this year.

The protagonist, Police Inspector Konrad Sejer, works in a small community outside Oslo.  The crime has Sejer shaken as he has never been before.  Two corpses are found in a broken-down trailer on a farm.  The victims are a woman, Bonnie Hayden, and a child, possibly hers, although there’s no identification for the youngster.  Looking at the child’s body, clothed in a sweatsuit, bloodied and with multiple knife wounds, it’s impossible for the inspector to tell its sex.

The story goes back and forth between two sets of people.  We first meet Eddie Malthe and his mother Mass.  Eddie is twenty-one, an overweight young man with developmental delays who is unable to hold even a menial job.  His mother takes care of him with total devotion and patience, but since they’re alone in the world she worries what will happen to him when she dies.

Mass has told her son that his father left them when Eddie was a young boy.  Eddie doesn’t really remember the man, whom his mother has told him died years earlier after starting another family in Copenhagen, but he has a photo of him hanging in his bedroom that he looks at every night.  His obsession is to get enough information from his mother to allow him to find his father’s grave so that he may lay flowers on it, and he never tires of asking her to do this.

Bonnie Hayden and Simon, her young son, also live by themselves.  She works as a home health aide for a charity that services the elderly and disabled, always being given the most difficult cases because of her gentle and caring behavior.  Her life isn’t an easy one, but the love and strong bond between mother and child make things a bit easier.

As Sejer questions Bonnie’s best friend, the clients she visits on a weekly basis, the farmer on whose land the trailer was located, and her parents, he can find no one with any animosity toward her, no reason for the deaths of this mother and her child.  But someone must be hiding something.

Karin Fossum’s writing is flawless, and the characters she writes about are totally realistic.  There’s a wonderful interview with her in the online British magazine Independent, in which she talks about her outlook on life and her writing.  She tells the interviewer that she is no good with plots (something which with I definitely disagree), so she concentrates on “the yearnings of life’s also-rans, and how fragile minds fracture when seclusion or routine is disturbed.”

Hell Fire is a moving, tragic story of lives on parallel tracks that must inevitably collide.  It’s a must-read for its look into the hearts and minds of people who do things with the best of intentions, only to see them lead to death and destruction.

You can read more about Karin Fossum at many sites on the web; the interview mentioned above may be found at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/karin-fossum-i-knew-a-murderer-i-knew-the-victim-too-1739894.html.

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

 

 

 

HELL BAY by Will Thomas: Book Review

Someone is killing the people at a dinner party at Godolphin House, a manor located on a remote family-owned island off the southwest corner of England.  Deaths by rifle shot, knife, explosion–but why?

The owner of the island, Lord Hargrave, arrives at the office of Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn, private enquiry agents in London.  Hargrave and his wife will be hosting this party with a dual purpose; he wants to come to a diplomatic agreement with Henri Gascoigne, the French ambassador, concerning colonies in Africa; she is hoping to find suitable matches for their older son and their only daughter.  The nobleman wants the agents to guard Gascoigne, and Cyrus, the senior member of the firm, reluctantly agrees.

Everything appears to be going smoothly at the house until the first murder.  Lord Hargrave himself is the victim, shot after dinner while surrounded by several of his guests in the garden.  Of course everyone is horrified, and Ambassador Gascoigne insists he needs his own bodyguard, who has remained on board the boat that brought the ambassador to the island, to protect him.  When Cyrus and Thomas rush to the harbor to bring Delacroix back to the house, however, the boat is gone and his body is floating in the water.

Thus begins a terrifying ordeal for those left in Godolphin House.  In addition to the two investigators and the ambassador, Lady Hargrave and her three children, Colonel Fraser and his wife, Doctor Anstruther and his two daughters, a businessman and his valet from South America, and Philippa Ashleigh, Cyrus Barker’s particular friend, are present.  And, naturally, the servants—fifteen of them.

In fact, two killings occur even before Cyrus and Thomas arrive at the island.  The head of a boarding school on the mainland is shot as he calls out the window to one of his students; the woman who ran a foster home is found in her yard with a broken neck.  These two deaths, seemingly unrelated to each other or to the island, are actually just the beginning of the murderous spree that will follow.

Hell Bay is narrated by young Thomas, Cyrus’ assistant.  He is in awe of his employer and cannot shake the feeling that he will never have the insights that the latter has.  He’s anxious to appear more sophisticated and worldly than he actually is and desperate to absorb knowledge from his mentor.  But Cyrus refuses to coddle him, saying “If I spoon-feed you the answers, however shall you learn?”

Hell Bay is the eighth mystery in Will Thomas’ Barker and Llewelyn series, set at the end of the nineteenth century.  Each one of his novels sets a perfect scene that will draw you into a period well worth visiting.

You can read more about Will Thomas at this web site.

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

SUN, SAND, MURDER by John Keyse-Walker: Book Review

As Caribbean islands go, Anegada, British Virgin Islands, doesn’t stand out.  Overshadowed by its neighbors Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and the more than sixty other islands in the chain, it’s very low-key.  One of its two claims to fame is that it’s the only coral island in the group, with a rich assortment of wildlife, but that doesn’t bring in the tourists.  The other is that there never had been a crime committed on Anegada…until now.

Teddy Creque is the lone law enforcement figure on the island.  He’s not a policeman but a Special Constable, one who has never encountered a crime in his many years of patrol.  However, now he finds himself confronted with the crab-bitten corpse of a man who had been an annual visitor for several years, a man who quietly went about the study of herpetology without interacting very much with anyone.

Paul Kelliher, Ph.D., biologist and professor at Boston University, has been found dead by Anthony Wedderburn, a/k/a De White Rasta.  De White is, in fact, a British lord who has made his home on Anegada for some time.  He is always high on ganja, although no one has ever been able to figure out where he obtains his supply.  He talks in the patois of the island in public, but when he’s alone with Teddy he reverts to the Oxford English that is his mother tongue.

Never having been involved in an investigation, much less been in charge of one, Teddy is quickly removed from the inquiry into Kelliher’s death by Howard Tuttle Lane, deputy commissioner of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, who wants an experienced policeman in charge.  Furious at Teddy for moving the body, although obviously it was done to protect the corpse from further depredation by animals, Lane informs Teddy that as soon as the inquiry is completed and the murderer caught, he will be suspended without pay for two weeks.  The only reason the suspension does not begin immediately, he tells the special constable, is because he cannot spare anyone else to police the small island while they are searching for the killer.

Although Teddy’s professional life has been quiet up to this point, his personal life has not.  Several months prior to the opening of the novel, he met Cat Wells, the helicopter pilot who flies in the infrequent tourist from other British Virgin Islands.  It doesn’t take long for the two to start a passionate affair, making the married Teddy feel guilty and uncomfortable but not enough of either to stop seeing her.  Each time he promises himself that this time will be the last, but even as he’s saying it he knows it’s not true.  Cat is irresistible.

Sun, Sand, Murder is John Keyse-Walker’s first novel, and it’s a great debut.  The dialogue is sparkling, the setting glorious, and protagonist Teddy Creque is a wonderful addition to the genre.  He’s obviously in over his head trying to figure out what happened to Paul Kelliher, which he continues to do despite his superior’s order to leave the investigation to the professionals, but Teddy’s humanity and his knowledge of Anegada are working for him.  This novel won the Mystery Writers of America/Minatour Books First Crime Novel Award in 2015.  Sun, Sand, Murder is a wonderful read.

You can read more about John Keyse-Walker at this web site.

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

 

DAISY IN CHAINS by Sharon Bolton: Book Review

Maggie Rose is used to getting requests from convicted killers to help them in their fight for freedom.  Of course they’ve been wrongly imprisoned–isn’t everyone in jail innocent?

Hamish Wolfe is one of those men.  A strikingly handsome man, a successful physician, a gifted athlete, he nonetheless has been convicted of murdering three women and is suspected in the disappearance of a fourth.  Their crimes?  Being fat.

Hamish Wolfe’s mother and a number of his supporters have a website devoted to proclaiming his innocence.  His mother meets Maggie and implores her to look into the case and free Hamish, as she has been able to do with several other men.  In addition to being a defense attorney, or barrister as they are called in England, Maggie is the author of several books recounting the trials of the men she has been able to free.  It’s not that she necessarily thinks each man is innocent but simply that their trials weren’t properly conducted, the evidence was mishandled, or the defending barristers were incompetent.  It doesn’t appear to matter to her that these men are probably, in fact, killers; what’s important is that they were improperly convicted and thus should be freed.

Detective Sergeant Pete Weston has been closely monitoring the Wolfe case, even after its conclusion. He visits Maggie to reiterate his belief that Hamish is indeed guilty and to try to persuade her not to get involved.  Her response?  “…for what it’s worth, I agree with you.  I have no plans to take on his case….If I were to decide to do so, no amount of pressure on your part would put me off.”  It couldn’t be more clear than that, Pete thinks.

But Hamish’s mother and his “fan club” aren’t about to give up.  They become more intrusive in Maggie’s life, there’s a forced entry into her home, and continued mail from Hamish himself asking for her help.  So between her own curiosity and the pressure from those who believe that the prisoner is innocent, Maggie decides she must start her own investigation.  From there it’s a slippery slope, and she is propelled ever faster into the mystery that is Hamish Wolfe.

Daisy in Chains is a taut, suspenseful thriller.  Just like the previous book by Ms. Bolton that I reviewed, Little Black Lies, this mystery grabs you and won’t let go.  Is Hamish Wolfe innocent?  Who is the recipient of the letters he’s writing from jail, the letters that proclaim his undying love?  Does Maggie think he truly is innocent, or is the desire to write another best-selling true-crime book too irresistible to pass up?

Sharon Bolton has written an extraordinary novel, one that will keep you reading far into the night.  You can read more about her at this web site.

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