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STARGAZER by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

Frankly, I cannot get enough of Anne Hillerman’s mysteries.  Stargazer, the sixth in her Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series, once again takes readers to the sovereign Navajo Nation, enhancing the understanding of its culture and customs to those who are not familiar with them.

Steve Jones desperately wants a reconciliation with his wife Maya Kelsey, but she is not interested.  She tells him that their marriage is over, and to prove it she hands him a copy of the divorce papers she’s filed.  He becomes furious, threatening to make Maya’s life “a living hell.”  And the next morning a young boy finds Steve’s lifeless body slumped in the front seat of his Jaguar.

That same morning Officer Bernie Manuelito receives a phone call from Maya’s brother Leon.  He tells her that his sister was supposed to pick up her son at his house, but she never appeared.  Bernie and Maya were college roommates, so Bernie has a personal reason as well as a professional one for trying to locate her.  In attempting to track Maya down, Bernie receives a call from a detective in another department, Tara Williams, and learns that the dead body the boy found is Maya’s estranged husband Steve.

Upon returning to the station, Bernie’s husband/supervisor Jim Chee greets her with a stunning announcement.  Maya had walked into the station a short while earlier and confessed to the murder of her husband without giving any reason.  However, Bernie refuses to believe her.  “We have an unsolicited confession without any excuse, motivation, and justification for the murder,” Bernie tells Jim.  She can’t imagine why Maya would so calmly admit to killing her (almost) former husband, and she is determined to investigate.

However, there are other cases to pursue in the Navajo Nation.  In addition to the issue of Steve Jones’ death, Bernie has become involved in rescuing an abused woman, serving a warrant on a man who hasn’t obeyed a summons to appear in court, and dealing with her mother’s increasingly fragile memory.  Stress is piling up, and the differences between her opinion and that of her husband’s about Maya’s confession have made their usual loving bond more than a little frayed.

Although retired from his position as a detective in the Navajo Tribal Police Force, Joe Leaphorn still acts as a mentor for Bernie and Jim.  In Stargazer, Bernie phones Joe and asks if they could talk “face-to-face, not over the phone.”  When she gets to his house, she voices her concerns about whether she should apply to become a detective; she’s worried about all the “official BS” and about how her being called away on cases may affect her relationship with her husband.

In this time of non-travel, visiting the beautiful Navajo Nation, even in our imaginations, is a boon.  Many thanks to Anne Hillerman for bringing Bernie, Jim, and Joe back into our lives.  And as an added plus, the front cover art of Stargazer is absolutely breathtaking.

You can read more about Anne Hillerman 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 HIDING PLACE by Paula Munier: Book Review

Twenty years ago, the lives of three people in a small Vermont town were forever changed by an encounter in the Two Rivers Theater.  The first was Ruby Rucker, a former Las Vegas resident who was finding her husband George and her life in Lamoille County, Vermont, not much to her liking; the second was Thomas Kilgore, a general ne’er-do-well, drunkard, and wife-abuser; the third was Beth Kilgore, his beaten, frightened, and downtrodden wife.

In a very short time, all three would disappear.

In The Hiding Place, the third novel in the series, Mercy is called to the bedside of former deputy sheriff August Pitts.  Pitts was the partner of Mercy’s grandfather, Sheriff “Red,” and according to Mercy’s grandmother Patience, Pitts’ late arrival at a crime scene caused the sheriff’s death.  She’s never forgiven Pitts, even as he lies dying.

However, Mercy is curious about two things: what she might find in the boxes of materials labeled BETH KILGORE that Pitts gives her when she visits him and his request, which may have been his last, that she “find the girl.”  Patience tells Mercy the story of the unhappy Kilgore marriage and their disappearance from the town.  Thomas Kilgore’s family said the couple moved to California, but Beth’s father didn’t believe it.  However, he could never find any trace of Beth or Thomas, and he died without knowing what happened to his only child.

The past continues to push its way into Mercy’s life.  She’s told that George Rucker, the man who killed her grandfather, has escaped from prison and is believed to be heading to Vermont.  According to Rucker’s cellmate, he has been harboring a vendetta against Patience, Red’s widow,  and “she was going to pay for what she did.”

Patience is not cowed by this news, calling it “nonsense,” and she tells Mercy the story behind the death of her husband.  Then the two women hear a knock at the door.  Alerted by Elvis, the Belgian shepherd she has inherited from her late fiancé, Mercy tried to stop her grandmother from opening the door, but she’s too late.  A blinding flash and explosion follow.

The many threads in the novel seem separate at first, but they are, in fact, all related.  The missing Kilgores, the body of a biologist/ filmmaker found in the Green Mountain National Forest, the prison escapee, the strained relationship between Mercy and Game Warden Troy Warner, and even the unexpected appearance of a former soldier and friend of Mercy’s late fiancé who insists that Elvis was promised to him–all these strands come together and prove necessary to the solution of crimes both old and new.

Paula Munier’s latest entry in the Mercy Carr series is a worthy successor to the two previous ones.  The characters are real, the plot is suspenseful and moves at a rapid pace, and the connections between Mercy and the important people in her life are believable and convincing.  And the author’s love for the state of Vermont is palpable.

You can read more about Paula Munier 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.

EVERY WAKING HOUR by Joanna Schaffhausen: Book Review

It is, as my son Rich used to say when he was young, deja vu all over again for Ellery Hathaway.

Ellery is the survivor of a brutal kidnapping that occurred when she was a teenager, nearly two decades ago.  The multiple cuttings on her arms are the visible reminders of the physical torture Francis Coben subjected her to; the multiple rapes she suffered are not outwardly visible but are still ever-present in her mind.

As far as is known, Ellery is the only survivor out of the more than sixteen girls Coben kidnapped.   That’s because FBI Agent Reed Markham rescued her from a locked closet in Coben’s apartment, and the survivor and the agent have had an on again/off again relationship in recent years.  At the moment it is definitely in the on mode, as they are having a tentative romantic relationship that naturally brings up multiple issues for Ellery.

Now they are spending the afternoon together in Boston with Tula, Reed’s young daughter, when they hear a frightened woman’s scream.  “Help!  She’s gone!  Someone, please help me!”  Nothing could be more terrifying to both Ellery and Reed, bringing back as it does the horrific event that brought them together.

Twelve-year-old Chloe Lockhart was with her nanny Mimi when she asked for permission to walk a few yards away from the bench where both were sitting in order to buy a pretzel.  Mimi tells Ellery and Reed that she is never supposed to let Chloe out of her sight, but after the girl’s repeated requests the nanny relented.  But Chloe hasn’t returned and isn’t answering her cell phone.

Are Chloe’s parents simply unusually watchful or are they obsessively over-protective?  Why are there bars on the windows of their palatial home?  Why can’t their twelve-year-old daughter go anywhere without her nanny?

Now a rookie police detective with the Boston Police Department, Ellery tells Mimi to wait with Reed and his daughter while she scours the area for Chloe.  As she pauses at an intersection, she hears a strange sound coming from an adjacent trash can.  On the top of the garbage dumped inside the can there’s a cell phone, and its ringtone is Porky Pig’s famous line, “That’s all, folks.”  The caller ID bears the name “Mimi.”

In addition to the search for the missing girl, Ellery and Reed are dealing with personal issues.  His ex-wife is thinking of moving out of state with her lover, taking Tula with her.  She cites Reed’s lack of a predictable schedule in seeing his daughter and his dangerous job as her reasons, saying she is willing to fight him in court to change the custody agreement that gives them both equal physical custody.

Ellery, meantime, is having difficulty dealing with her undeniable attraction to Reed while at the same time dealing with memories of her abduction and its violent aftermath.

Every Waking Hour is the fourth novel in the Ellery Hathaway series.  In each book we get a deeper look into Ellery’s life and mind and see how she is coping, successfully or not, with the traumas of the past.  Joanna Schaffhausen has written another compelling mystery with a heroine you hope will at last find happiness and peace of mind.

You can read more about Joanna Schaffhausen 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.

AN EXTRAVAGANT DEATH by Charles Finch: Book Review

An Englishman born and bred, Charles Lenox is about to take a voyage, somewhat reluctantly, to the United States.

In a previous novel, Lenox’s investigation led to uncovering a major scandal at Scotland Yard.  Now the Prime Minister himself, on behalf of the Queen’s government, has asked Lenox to allow the barristers to use his written account at the trial rather than having him give his testimony in person.  Listening to his testimony read out by the dry voice of a barrister, Benjamin Disraeli says, would be given great weight by the jury without the “ravenous press” having an opportunity to interview and harass Lenox and, of course, further embarrass the government.

Disraeli assures Lenox that there was no way the three accused Scotland Yard inspectors could go free, and thus the detective is persuaded to make himself unavailable during the trial and visit America.

Lenox is reluctant to leave his wife and their two young daughters to go to America on a fact-finding visit, as the government wishes him to do.  However, he believes it’s his duty to follow his Queen’s wishes, and Lady Jane, his wife, gives her blessing to his trip.  So he leaves, first stopping in New York and then, according to his plan, Boston.

However, the best laid plans, as they say, often go awry.  At a luncheon in Manhattan the detective meets Teddy Blaine, son of an immensely wealthy family, who is a devotee of mysteries and murder cases.  Together they set out on the train to Boston the day after the luncheon to discuss all matters relating to deduction, but after the train pulls out of the Stamford, Connecticut station it suddenly stops.

A messenger boards bearing a telegram; it says that there has been a murder in Newport, and the writer of the telegram requests that Lenox investigate it.  The message is signed William Stuyvesant Schermerhorn IV, and Blaine assures Lenox that he is a man above reproach.  Hoping that it will be easy to find the murderer, the detective agrees to a short stay in the wealthy Rhode Island enclave, and Blaine asks to follow along and perhaps be of help.

Lily Allingham is the young woman who was murdered.  Her radiant beauty had turned Newport society upside down, with its wealthy inhabitants offering party invitations and boat trips to attract her.  Two wealthy young men, Willie Schermerhorn and Lawrence Vanderbilt, were courting her, but it seems that no one knows if she had decided which one would be her future husband.  Then, in the midst of one of the city’s many balls, she unceremoniously left by herself and was later found dead on the property belonging to one of the suitors.

An Extravagant Death is an apt title for a book set in one of the wealthiest locations in the United States.  Families with the names of Astor, Vanderbilt (the latter family is considered nouveau riche and therefore not in the top tier of Newport society), Morgans, Wideners, and Schermerhorns live in their “cottages” for six weeks every summer before moving on to one of their other homes, and it’s a delight to read about the mores and scandals of the 19th-century elite.

Charles Finch’s latest novel is a wonderful addition to the Charles Lenox mysteries.  You can read more about him on many sites on the internet.

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

EVERY LAST FEAR by Alex Finlay: Book Review

One could hardly imagine a more typical family than the Pines of Nebraska.  Father, mother, three sons, a daughter.  So what catastrophe could have left only two of them alive?

The event that precipitated the tragedies began several years before the novel opens.  Danny, the oldest of the Pine children, was a high school football star at a party with his girlfriend Charlotte.  Then everyone, including Danny, started drinking and everything got out of control.  There was a fight, Charlotte fled, and she was found dead along the river the next day.  Danny was arrested, confessed to her murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

The book opens with Matt, the second oldest son, being summoned to his dorm room at NYU by his dorm’s resident assistant.  There, FBI Agent Sarah Keller gives him the heartbreaking news that his parents, sister, and younger brother have died in an apparent accident in Mexico.  Details are scarce, she informs him, but it appears to have been a faulty gas leak in a cottage they were renting in the resort town of Tulun.

Matt is stunned, needless to say, by the deaths of his parents and siblings.  His last contact from them was a text from his sister a few days earlier, but nothing since.  And now Agent Keller wants him to visit his brother in prison and give him the horrendous news personally.  Matt protests that he hasn’t seen Danny in years because that’s the way his brother wants it, but he finally relents and the two brothers meet for the first time since Danny’s imprisonment.

Agent Keller tells Matt that the Mexican authorities are making a fuss about releasing the bodies to anyone but a family member, and obviously that means Matt.   So he flies to Tulun, but nothing goes as it should.

Every Last Fear is written in several voices–Matt’s, Agent Keller’s, Matt’s father Evan’s, and his sister Maggie’s.  Evan Pine is the family member most obsessed by his son’s imprisonment.  He is convinced that Danny was coerced by the local police force into confessing, and the case became a national cause celebre when it was made into a documentary.  Danny’s defense was first mounted by an inexperienced local lawyer, then by other attorneys, finally reaching the Supreme Court, but his conviction was not overturned.

So when Evan gets a text with a photo that appears to be of Charlotte in a bar in Tulun, he feels it’s his final opportunity to find out the truth and free his son.  That led to the family’s fatal trip to Mexico and opened a Pandora’s Box of questions about the truth of Charlotte’s death.

Every Last Fear is a breathtaking thriller, with a plot that will keep you reading to the last page.  Power, privilege, mistakes–they’re all there and all believably realistic and skillfully drawn.

Alex Finlay is the pseudonym of the author, and at this time not even his/her gender has been revealed.  You can read more about him/her in an excellent discussion of the novel 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.

 

GANGSTERLAND by Tod Goldberg: Book Review

What does it say about me that I was rooting all the way for Sal Cupertine to come out on top?

Of course, you have to know that Sal is a stone-cold killer, a man who has actually lost count of how many men he’s “offed.”  More than fifty, certainly, he thinks, possibly up to one hundred.  And yet, and yet….

I’m hoping that what it says about me is not that I’ve lost my values and morals but rather than Tod Goldberg has written an extraordinary novel with a protagonist who does the most vicious things but somehow keeps you (or at least me) on his side.

Sal is a member of the Chicago Mafia, not a big-time gangster but more of an errand boy who is called when someone needs to be killed.  The victim might be another Mafia member or just someone who knows or sees something that might be dangerous to the mob.

He’s always been careful, which explains his extraordinary success rate, but one night something goes terribly wrong and he kills three F.B.I. agents and a confidential informant in a hotel room.  He contacts his cousin Ronnie, who is much higher up on the command chain to tell him the bad news, and Ronnie comes up with a plan.  The next thing Sal knows he’s in Las Vegas with a new face and a new identity.

Meet David Cohen, youth rabbi at Temple Beth Israel.  This is Sal’s new identity, 1,747.5 miles from the Windy City.  He also has a new religion, which he has to learn about very quickly, but luckily for him he’s known in mob circles as the Rain Man because he never forgets anything he’s seen or heard.

That will certainly come in handy when he has to learn everything in the Torah, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the thousand other books of commentary and history of the Jewish peopl.  After all, on the Jewish calendar it’s now 5,781, so there’s a lot of backstory involved.

David’s Las Vegas minder is the son-in-law of Temple Beth Israel’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Kates.  Just what has the mob got on Kates, David wonders, to make him go along with this charade?  A lot, as it happens.

As all this is happening on the gangster front, Special Agent (soon to be ex-agent) Jeff Hopper is doing his best to find Sal; Jeff of course doesn’t know that Sal no longer exists and has become Rabbi Cohen.  The agent has become a pariah in the agency because it’s seen as his carelessness in putting the hotel room in his own name and thus causing the deaths of three of his fellow agents and one C. I.

Hopper has been demoted and forbidden to look for Sal, and when he disregards this order he’s fired.  But that doesn’t stop him, and he and a new recruit to the agency continue to search for the killer of their comrades.

Tod Goldberg has written a fascinating novel about killing as a way of life and a man who does it without apparently a shred of remorse.  It’s not even that Sal believe all the people he’s killed deserve it, it’s simply that killing them is his job and he does it efficiently.  But still there’s something human about him, as the reader sees in his desire to be reunited with his wife and young son after his forced move to Vegas.

You can read more about Tod Goldberg 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 GIRL IN THE BOSTON BOX by Chuck Latovich: Book Review

Have you ever heard of the Boston Box?  Neither had Caitlyn Gautry until she started doing research for her doctorate at Harvard.

While taking a tour of Boston’s historic Otis House, one of the other members of Carolyn’s group asks their guide about the Boston Box, which he says he had heard refers to a small secret chamber in homes built in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The benign version was that the Box was used to shelter runaway slaves; the malevolent version was that it was a room used for torture or illicit sexual activities.

The guide says that since a Box has never been found or otherwise authenticated, historians have come to believe it’s an urban legend, such as building a house over an ancient burial ground will bring death to the house’s inhabitants or a chain letter saying that if you don’t continue the chain that bad luck will befall you.  But the possibility of such Boxes fascinates Caitlyn and makes her wonder if she can incorporate the question of whether such rooms actually existed into her dissertation on Boston architecture.

Her advisor, Professor Bacht, is dismissive about her research, arrogant and insulting.  But his negative reaction has the opposite effect from what he intended, making Caitlyn more determined than ever to continue looking into the mysterious Boxes and to find out the reason they were incorporated into some of the city’s homes, if in fact they were.

At the same time as Caitlyn begins her investigation into the architectural mystery, another mystery is taking place in Boston.  Mark Chieswicz receives a call from the Boston Police telling him that his brother David is dead.  The news itself is shocking, but even more so is the information that David was found murdered, stabbed to death and left on the side of the expressway.

Mark informs the detective that he and his brother haven’t seen each other in more than two decades and that he had no idea his brother was in town.  And he’s even more surprised, actually stunned, when he’s given a file containing information about his brother, a ne’er-do-well with several prison stays behind him, who had a bank account with a balance of $633,215.38.

The Girl in the Boston Box is written in the voices of Caitlyn and Mark in alternating chapters.  At first the two characters seem to have nothing in common.  What could be the relationship between a Harvard graduate student from Pennsylvania and a forty-six-year-old man struggling to make ends meet on his part-time job as a Duck Boat tour driver?  What could possibly be the connection that draws them each into a near-death situation?

Chuck Latovich has written an intriguing mystery, one with fascinating characters, a very clever plot, and a wonderful sense of the city of Boston.  You can read more about him on various internet sites.

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.

WINTER COUNTS by David Hesla Wanbli Weiden: Book Review

Virgil Wounded Horse isn’t sure how to describe himself, and that’s understandable.  A member of the Lakota Nation in South Dakota, he’s lived a difficult life including multiple family deaths, job insecurity, and alcoholism.  But now he’s pretty much pulled himself together and is working at a hard-to-define job.  He’s not a private investigator, certainly not a member of the tribal police on the Rosebud Indian Reservation where he lives, so he’s become “an enforcer.”

The Lakota Way is to show mercy; it’s one of the seven Lakota values.  But for Virgil, who has had to deal with so much trauma and unhappiness, when he gets the chance for some payback he takes it.  Counting coup, or going up to an enemy and touching him with a stick and escaping unharmed, isn’t Virgil’s way.  He wants to make up for all the hurt he’s endured, and now tribe members are hiring him to get some justice when the authorities can’t or won’t get involved.

Under the law, the tribal police can’t prosecute a felony; that is up to the federal authorities.  But the feds usually ignore “lesser crimes” like child or domestic abuse, arson, rape, and theft, so the Lakotas have turned to Virgil to get revenge or justice, depending on the way one looks at it.

Virgil is approached by Ben Short Bear, a member of the tribe’s council who is planning to run for mayor of the reservation.  He tells Virgil that heroin is appearing on the rez, and he wants it stopped before it affects more kids.  He offers Virgil five thousand dollars to go to Denver to find Rick Crow, an old enemy of Virgil’s, who Ben says is responsible for bringing the drug up from Mexico.  Virgil is reluctant to take the job, but when he discovers his nephew Nathan unconscious from a drug overdose, he decides to accept the job offer.

Complicating Virgil’s relationship with Ben is the return of Virgil’s former lover, Marie.  The daughter of Ben and his wife, Marie grew up in relative luxury on the reservation, and her parents never accepted her relationship with Virgil.  She tells Virgil that she knows where Rick Crow lives in Denver and insists on going with him.

Winter Counts is a beautifully written story.  Besides the mystery, this novel is a history lesson into the shameful treatment of American Indians by state and federal governments.

David Heska Wanbli Weiden is an enrolled citizen of the Siscangu Lakota Nation, an attorney, and a professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.  Winter Crow is the first novel in what appears to be a series with Virgil Wounded Horse as its protagonist; I look forward with great anticipation to the second one.

You can read more about the author 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.

FOOL’S ERRAND by Jeffrey S. Stephens: Book Review

Fathers and sons.  They can have a warm and nurturing relationship…or not.  And since Fool’s Errand is a mystery novel, it’s probably the latter.

Blackie Rinaldi was a paradox, an enigma, a puzzle.  As the protagonist describes it shortly after the novel opens, his father disliked all ethnic groups (except Italians) equally, which in his mind meant he wasn’t racist.  He was a low-level gangster who read Shelly and Keats.  He loved his older brother Vincent and wanted his respect but pulled a knife out at Vincent’s daughter’s wedding when he felt he had been disrespected.

Six years after Blackie’s death, his widow gives their son a box of things that belonged to Blackie.  There were the usual letters and photos of a man’s life, but there’s also an envelope with “For My Son” in his father’s handwriting.  Reading the contents will change his son’s life.

The letter inside talks about Money with a capital M, his best friend Benny, and France, which is where Blackie and Benny were stationed toward the end of World War II.  Getting in touch with Benny seems to be the only way to find out more about what happened in France and why his father, who always talked about a big deal, had never told him about it.

A quick meeting with his cousin Frank helps him track Benny to his new home in Las Vegas.  Benny reluctantly admits that there had been something going on in France that involved Blackie, himself, and a Frenchman.  “You oughtta let this go….You don’t want to get yourself in a jam,” is his advice.  But since it’s obvious to Benny that he won’t let it go, Benny gives him the name of the Frenchman who was also involved in the mysterious affair and the last address he has for Gilles de la Houssay.

Flying back to New York the next day, he meets Donna, and as they disembark he invites her to dinner the following evening.  Then, on a whim, he invites her to go with him to France.  She agrees, and the two fly off to Paris to meet Gilles.

Over dinner in a Parisian restaurant Gilles recounts the story of Blackie’s time in France, how the two Americans were recruited by the army to find items stolen from families by the Nazis and their French collaborators.  And then Blackie’s son learns what it was that his father and Benny stole.

Now maybe you’re more aware reading this post than I was reading the book, and perhaps you’ve notice something “off,” something missing in the review.  If you haven’t, here it is–nowhere is the protagonist’s name. 

That’s right, he’s nameless throughout the book, something that was done so skillfully that I didn’t realize it until I went looking for his name in order to write this review.  He’s referred to as Blackie’s son throughout.  He introduces himself to other characters but not to us.  Neither his mother nor his sister names him, and neither do Benny, Donna, or the Frenchman.  So clever!  So I guess I’ll just call him The Son.

Fool’s Errand is a close look into family dynamics, the relationship between fathers and sons, and how that influences The Son’s life.  It’s filled with fascinating characters, an exciting plot, and, did I mention, a nameless protagonist?

You can read more about Jeffrey S. Stephens 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.

 

 

WATCH HER by Edwin Hill: Book Review

One might think that a Harvard University research librarian wouldn’t get involved in murders and other crimes.  But that’s because you haven’t met Hester Thursby.  Somehow crime always finds her.

Watch Her revolves around Prescott University, a for-profit art school in Boston.  It had humble beginnings a few decades ago, but through clever marketing and perhaps some other less savory means, it has become a major player in the city’s landscape.

Now the university is poised to open new classrooms and a state-of-the-art gallery, and it’s having a huge party to celebrate. Prescott is privately owned by the Matson family, with Tucker Matson the chairman of the school’s board and his daughter Vanessa its president.

The real work is done behind the scenes by Maxine Pawlinkowski, Prescott’s general manager who is in charge of everything from speech-writing to hiring contractors.  No one outside of the Matsons knows exactly what her position entails, but Maxine is fine with that; she has her own reasons for staying at her job.

Hester and her non-husband (that’s how she refers to him) Morgan Maguire are invited to the gala, and shortly after it begins Maxine’s cell phone rings with a text from Jennifer Matson, Tucker’s wife, about a problem at their home.  Maxine asks Angela White, a police detective who is another guest at the party, and Hester to go with her to the Matson mansion, and the three women leave and head for Pinebank.

Jennifer says she believes someone has broken into the house, although nothing appears to have been taken.  She doesn’t want this reported to the police and seems annoyed at Angela’s presence and a bit embarrassed as well.  The only thing out of place, Jennifer says, is the copy of George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede, which she found lying on a table after the alleged intruder left.

The Matsons have a strange family dynamic.  Jennifer is an alcoholic who rarely leaves the house, which explains why she wasn’t at the celebration.  Tucker is filled with self-importance, still believing he is running the school although he’s no longer its president.  And their son-in-law, Gavin Drew, is Prescott’s CFO and has a reputation that makes students wary of being alone with him.

Hester has made a name for herself as a researcher who is able to find missing persons, so it’s not a surprise when Maxine approaches her with an unusual request.  Maxine has been examining student records and finding that they are incomplete.  She had asked Gavin, who as CEO is in charge of this information, for all the records but has yet to receive it.  Her suspicions are aroused, and she decides to have Hester locate a number of current and former students, but Hester can find no traces for many of them.  Nothing on social media, no websites, no digital trail.  Something is definitely wrong.

Watch Her takes a long look into the secrets that occur between people — the Matsons, Hester and Morgan, Maxine and Tucker, Angela and her colleague Stan — that won’t stay buried.  Even people who profess to love each other have secrets that, when unearthed, have devastating consequences.

Edwin Hill has written a fascinating study into the behaviors of seemingly ordinary people, people you might know, who will stop at nothing to keep things from being revealed.  You can read more about him at this website.

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

In this About Marilyn column I am celebrating two events.

The first is that this month begins my eleventh year writing Marilyn’s Mystery Reads.  In that time I’ve blogged about hundreds of books plus my favorite authors and my thoughts about all things mysterious.

In addition to the fun of having a personal space to air my thoughts, I’ve discovered numerous new authors and have revisited old favorites.  My only problem is that there are so many books being published that I can’t read them all.  I’m really trying, though.

Second is my upcoming course at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Program).  I’ve been taking classes there for as long as I’ve been writing my blog, in a variety of subjects–literature, music, sociology, and art to name a few areas.

Then, nearly four years ago I was asked to teach a course on mystery novels because two BOLLI members had been reading this blog and thought I knew the subject well (“My blushes,” as Holmes said to Watson).  In March I’ll begin my eighth course, WHODUNIT?:  INTERNATIONAL MYSTERIES, PART I.

Given that there are enough mysteries set across the globe for me to teach PARTS II through X, I had a difficult time deciding which countries to showcase first.  I chose a mix of countries, a number of which many of the students in my class have probably visited as well as countries less familiar to us.  I also decided to showcase authors who are very well known as well as newcomers to the field.

So here is the list of books we’ll be reading beginning in March, with the countries given in alphabetical order:  THE DRY by Jane Harper (Australia), STILL LIFE by Louise Penny (Canada), AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie (England), BEHIND GOD’S BACK by Harri Nykänen (Finland), SMOKE AND ASHES by Abir Mukherjee (India), NEWCOMER (Japan) by Keigo Higashino, ROSTNIKOV’S VACATION by Stuart M. Kaminsky (Russia), and FINDING NOUF by Zoe Ferrais (Saudi Arabia).

Please join us on our round-the-world journey, won’t you?

Marilyn

DEEP INTO THE DARK by P. J. Tracy: Book Review

Back in Los Angeles after his tour in Afghanistan, Sam Easton is working at the Pearl Club bar, unable to utilize his engineering degree due to his emotional state.  He’s suffering from PTSD and is dependent on both his psychiatrist and his medications.  He doesn’t always listen to Dr. Frolich’s suggestions and is mixing the antipsychotic medication with way too much liquor.  But he’s doing his best.

Not helping Sam’s mental condition is the recent separation from his wife.  He’s not blaming Yuki, who had stood by him since he returned home, but she had finally reached the breaking point and suggested they put some distance between them.  He had to agree it was best for her, although he’s not sure it’s best for him.

Sam’s co-worker at the Club, Melody Traeger, is also having problems.  She’s been seeing Ryan, a music producer, whom she’s definitely attracted to in spite of his possessiveness and jealousy.  But the day he tells her he wants her to quit the Club because he doesn’t like the way men there hit on her, and she tells him she needs the job to pay her rent and college tuition fees, he punches her in the face and gives her a black eye.  Then she’s out of there, through with Ryan–but is he through with her? 

Melody has become aware of a black Jeep she thinks is following her.  She’s seen it several times, but she tries convincing herself there are hundreds of cars in L. A. that fit that description.  And then someone crawls through a bedroom window in her apartment while she’s away and leaves two dozen red roses in a vase on her dresser.  She texts Ryan about them, but he denies they’re from him.  Can she believe him?  Does she have a stalker?  Is the driver of the Jeep involved?

The following day, Ryan’s maid finds his body in his apartment, and Police Detective Margaret Nolan is put in charge of the case.  Nolan doesn’t suspect either Melody or Sam, but her partner Al Crawford isn’t so sure.  He sees Melody’s black eye as a triggering event for Sam due to his PTSD, and he thinks his colleague is overly forgiving of Sam’s emotional state because her brother died while serving overseas.

Then Sam and Melody become acquainted with a young man at the Club.  He’s Rolf Hesse, and he wants Sam and Melody to star in a film he’s writing.  At first they tell Rolf they’re not interested, but he’s so enthusiastic they finally agree to look at his script.  He’s calling it Deep into the Dark, and despite themselves they find themselves impressed.  It is dark, but so are the things in their own lives.

P. J. Tracy (Traci Lambrecht) is the daughter of the mother-daughter team who wrote the Monkeewrench series; she continued the series after her mother’s death in 2016.  In this, the first mystery featuring Margaret Nolan, she shows the skill in plotting and characterizations that were evident in her earlier books.  Deep into the Dark is an excellent introduction to what readers will hope is a long-running series.

You can read more about P. J. Tracy 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.

 

 

HIDDEN TREASURE by Jane K. Cleland: Book Review

Sadly, I don’t own any antiques and have almost no knowledge of them.  But a quick Google search under the general topic brought up dozens, if not more, of antique stores and galleries near me, featuring everything from silver to furniture, paintings to vintage doors.  Who knew?

Josie Prescott is the owner of Prescott’s Antiques and Auctions.  After leaving New York City a number of years earlier to move to the small town of Rocky Point, New Hampshire, she now also has a television show featuring her discoveries that is starting its fifth season.

Josie and her husband have just purchased Gingerbread House from Maudie Wilson, a widow in her seventies.  Shortly after the purchase of their new home but before Josie and Ty move in, Maudie’s niece Celia comes to the gallery with a request.  She tells Josie that she and her sister Stacy, her aunt’s only relatives, had urged their aunt to move into an assisted living facility in town because they believe her memory is slipping.

As partial proof of this, Celia says that when her aunt arrived at her new apartment, she realized that an antique trunk belonging to her late husband’s family hadn’t arrived with the rest of her belongings.  Maudie can’t remember seeing it loaded onto the truck when the movers took everything out of the Gingerbread House or even the last time she saw it.

Celia and Josie search the Gingerbread House, but the trunk is not found.  The following day Stacy, Celia’s younger sister, approaches Josie with a similar concern, but a bit more forcefully, and she is equally distraught about the missing trunk and two objects it apparently contained, a box and a ceramic cat.

It seems to Josie that both women are more concerned about the missing items, which may have a substantial value, than the well-being of Maudie.   Both Celia and Stacy are in need of money, Celia because her husband has just lost his job and they are behind on their mortgage payments, and Stacy because she is creating a new line of high-quality furniture and needs funding.

Then Josie meets Maudie, and the two discuss having an appraisal of some of the valuable items she owns.  Maudie appears excited and grateful, but when Josie returns to the apartment to continue the conversation Maudie is not there.  She’s disappeared, and no one, not her nieces nor her friends, knows where she is.

Jane K. Cleland’s latest novel combines the happenings of Prescott’s Antiques and Auctions with a very clever plot including murder, assault, and theft.  The characters are realistic, and the excitement and love of antiques permeate the book and make for really enjoyable reading.

You can read more about Jane K. Cleland 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 ART OF VIOLENCE by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

Sam Tabor, recently released from prison, has turned to his friend, private investigator Bill Smith, for help.  Sam was sentenced to fifteen years to life for killing Amy Evans, a young woman he met at a party.   There he unknowingly drank punch that had been laced with PCP, and after leaving the party with Amy, he killed her.  He was judged insane but able to participate in his own defense, which he did against the opinions of his brother, his attorney, and Smith.  Sam then proceeded to disregard their advice, pleaded guilty, and happily went to prison.

In prison he was permitted to paint and his art, which had always been Sam’s secret, was discovered by a therapist.  What followed was praise by New York art critics, and a Free Sam Tabor crusade was begun for his early release.  Now that he’s out, he’s overwhelmed by the media attention and is incredibly anxious about an exhibit of his paintings opening at the Whitney Museum in Manhattan.  So once again he wants Smith’s help, but for a very unusual reason.

Since Sam was released, there have been two murders in the city, and he thinks he may be the murderer.  He describes himself as a functioning alcoholic and tells Bill he can’t remember what he was doing on the nights the two young women were killed.  “I came here for help,” he tells Smith.  “Prove it’s me.”

Arrayed against Sam and his desire to return to prison are his brother Peter, Sam’s lawyer Susan Tulis, his artist friend Elissa Cromley, photographer Tony Oakhurst, and Sherron Konecki, the owner of the prestigious art gallery Lemuria.  They all have a vested interest in keeping Sam out of prison–either financial, professional, or personal.

Even Detective Angela Grimaldi of Manhattan’s 19th precinct doesn’t think Sam committed the latest murders.  When Sam went to the precinct to turn himself in, “She told me to get lost,” Sam recounts to Smith.  Grimaldi later tells Bill, “Your guy, Tabor, he doesn’t fit the profile.”  But Sam thinks, or perhaps hopes, that he did commit these two crimes, and it’s up to Bill and his partner Lydia Chin to find the truth.

The Art of Violence is the thirteenth novel in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series.  Ms. Rozan’s mode of operation is to alternate the protagonist in her novels.  Bill Smith is the lead in this one, but he cannot do it without the help of his partner Lydia.  And for readers of the previous books in this series, there’s an absolutely wonderful chapter toward the end of the novel in which Sam Tabor meets Mrs. Chin, Lydia’s intimidating mother.

It’s terrific to see Bill and Lydia in action again and at the top of their game.  S. J. Rozan is the recipient of many awards, including the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story.

You can read more about her 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.

PRODIGAL SON by Gregg Hurwitz

For want of sixty-five dollars, Andrew Duran became witness to a murder, a man fleeing for his life.  For sixty-five dollars.

All he wanted was to buy a present for his daughter to make up for the lousy father he’d been.  Then, a few weeks later after he’d given her the gift, a cop pulled him over because he was driving with a broken taillight.   He couldn’t pay the court costs, and the sixty-five dollars spiraled into jail time and a lost job.

Now Duran is working the overnight shift at a car impound lot when a man and a woman enter the lot, telling him they’re U. S. Marshals and need to be informed when a certain car is picked up.  That’s all he has to do, and they’ll give him a thousand dollars.  He’s desperate, so he agrees.

However, Duran senses that something is wrong, so he is not entirely surprised a few weeks later that as the car’s owner enters the lot, he is killed.  Not by a knife or gun, but by something invisible controlled by the man and woman, standing a few feet away from their victim.  And now the killers/fake Marshals are searching for him.

Enter Evan Smoak, a/k/a The Nowhere Man.  An orphan, or so he was led to believe, he was rescued at the age of twelve from the Pride House Group Home and trained by the federal government to be an assassin.  After years of doing exactly that, he left the program and has been using his skills to help those in desperate need who don’t have anywhere else to turn.  He called himself The Nowhere Man, asking those he helped for only one thing–to give his name and phone number to someone else who needs his assistance.

Now even that identity is over as a result of his killing a Very Important Person.  In order to receive a pardon for that act, Evan has promised no less a person than the President of the United States that The Nowhere Man will cease to exist.  But Evan is finding that it’s not that easy to construct a new identity, especially when he receives a phone call from a woman purporting to be his mother.

All the threads come together when Evan flies to Buenos Aires to meet her, a beautiful, enigmatic woman with a mysterious past.  She tells Evan about herself, all of which is new to him, then she reveals the reason she’s contacted him after all these years.  And although he’s promised himself, to say nothing of his promise to the president, that he’s done with being The Nowhere Man, he finds he cannot turn down his mother’s request.

The Prodigal Son shows the reader a different Evan Smoak from the one in previous novels.  He’s more introspective, more thoughtful, more compassionate.  After a lifetime of being Orphan X, these changes don’t come easily.  If he wasn’t happy as Orphan X or The Nowhere Man, at least he knew who he was and what was expected of him.  But now he’s feeling unsure, vulnerable, and he’s not certain how to handle it.

The protagonist in Prodigal Son is a fascinating character with nuances that weren’t apparent in earlier novels.  These make him more relatable, more human, and even more real to us.  Gregg Hurwitz has given his hero new dimensions.

You can read more about Gregg Hurwitz 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.