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Now I feel like a full-fledged “professor.”  I’ve just finished leading a second course at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  BOLLI is an adult-learning program featuring courses in varied subjects.  This semester, for example, there were classes in literature, history, creative writing, health care, and law, and those were just the ones offered on Monday!

My course was entitled WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES, and as you might surmise we read mysteries about groups who have a distinct religion or ethnicity:   Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Amish, Latino, African-American, Chinese-American, and Native American.  Some of these groups are largely self-contained, preferring a limited relationship with those outside their community:  e.g., Orthodox Jews and Amish.  Others interact much more with members outside their group:  e.g, Latino and African-American.  What all these communities have in common is something, or more than one thing, that differentiates them from the larger population nearby.

One of the commonalities in these books (for the list of our readings, check out my February 16th About Marilyn column) is their reluctance to seek outside help with their problems.  This may come from a distrust of the authorities, the belief that the police will not take their complaints seriously; it may come from a desire not to show the shortcomings of the group to a larger population, believing that the group’s problems will reinforce the unflattering stereotypes that outsiders hold; it may come from a desire to protect one of their own, regardless of the cost.

The class I led was well-informed, dynamic, and willing to share their thoughts about all these novels.  What I found so interesting in this course, as in my previous course (WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN NEW ENGLAND), was the diversity of opinions about the books–strong feelings about authors, plot lines, and characters.  This makes such a class a true learning experience for everyone involved, as it opens everyone’s eyes (definitely including mine) to other valid points of view.  More than once, what was mentioned as one member’s favorite was another’s least liked book.

I loved teaching MURDER IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES and am already looking forward to September and to leading my third BOLLI course, WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN SCANDINAVIA.  I’ll let you know the reading list then and hope you’ll read along with us.

Marilyn

 

 

THE LEGACY by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir: Book Review

In 1987, three young children are removed from their home in Iceland by the local child protection agency.  All three have the same mother, although possibly not the same father.  After much debate, it’s decided that the three will have to be sent to separate homes, as no placement can be found to take all of them together.  The two brothers are four and three, the sister is only one.

In 2015, the first in a series of murders take place.  Elísa Bjarnadóttir, the mother of three young children, is brutally murdered in her home while her husband is overseas.  Only her little girl, Margrét, has seen the murder take place, although she hasn’t seen the face of the killer.  To say she is traumatized is an understatement.  Interviews by psychologists aren’t able to gain much information from her, except for her statement that the man is black and has a big head.  Given the infinitesimally small number of black men in Iceland, this seems like something the child has imagined.

Nothing helpful comes of the police investigation, no reason or motive for the crime can be found.  The only unusual thing the police discovered is an envelope taped to the victim’s refrigerator; it reads “So tell me,” followed by a huge series of seemingly unrelated numbers.  It’s not a code that the authorities can decipher.

Then a second murder occurs, even more gruesome and bizarre than the first.  This time the victim is a widowed math teacher who apparently has no connection with Elísa.  Astrós Einarsdóttir has been a bit of a recluse since her retirement two years ago, so she’s surprised to receive a text reading “Not long till my visit,” along with another string of seemingly random numbers.  She readies herself for the uninvited guest, although there’s no time or date given in the text, and when her visitor does arrive he’s the last person she’ll ever see.

The two protagonists in the novel are psychologist Freyja and police detective Huldar (often only single names are used in Icelandic books).  Shortly before the first murder took place, Freyja and Huldar had a one-night stand, which ended with Huldar leaving before Freyja woke in the morning.  When they meet again during the interrogation of Margrét there is understandable tension between the two:  Huldar is embarrassed and ashamed of his behavior, Freyja is hostile and unforgiving.  But they must work together to try to protect the child from both the psychological repercussions of the crime and the possibility that the murderer views her as a possible witness to be eliminated.

Every one of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s books has been outstanding, and The Legacy is no exception.  The many threads in the story seem unrelated until the end, when everything is deftly and logically connected.  And the look into Icelandic culture, which has many of the same problems as we do in the United States, although on a much smaller scale, is a reminder of the universality of human emotions.  Parental neglect, anger, revenge, and loneliness all play out to the eventual tragic ending that such unhappiness must cause.

You can read more about Yrsa Sigurdardóttir at various sites on the web.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

WHISPERS OF THE DEAD by Spencer Kope: Book Review

Edmond Locard was a scientist known as the “French Sherlock Holmes.”  The Locard Exchange Principle states that one who commits a crime leaves something behind at the scene–hair or fabric or (now) DNA–that will connect him to the act.  In Whispers of The Dead, the second in the Magnus “Steps” Craig series, that principle is taken to supernatural ends, as Steps has the ability to find and follow trails that even fellow agents in the FBI’s Special Tracking Unit cannot.

The reason for this skill is known only to three people beside Steps:  his father, his partner Jimmy Donovan, and the head of the FBI.  Steps has a form of synesthesia, an unexplainable ability to see what we might call an “aura” that a person leaves behind.  In other words, if he has an object that was worn by a suspect he can see the person’s aura, or shine as he calls it.  He can follow that shine via footprints or handprints on any place the suspect has touched.

Of course, something so outré, so bizarre, can’t be explained very easily, and trying to would seriously compromise Steps’ place in the Special Tracking Unit.  But it is this ability that has allowed him success after success in finding criminals; the difficult part is to account for how he has found them after other agents or police have not.

Steps and Jimmy are called to investigate a particularly gruesome item left in the living room of a judge’s home in El Paso.  Jonathan Ehrlich’s reputation as a member of the bench is that he unfairly favors the defendant and either dismisses cases that shouldn’t be dismissed or hands down the lightest sentence he can.

So it’s definitely possible that someone is outraged at a decision that Ehrlich made and is showing his displeasure in an especially dramatic way with a Styrofoam box, like those available in every supermarket or big box store to keep items cold, containing a pair of feet, partially frozen and wearing white socks and gray sneakers.

The two agents fly back and forth across the country from Washington to El Paso to Tucson to Albuquerque, investigating two other deaths that involve boxes with similarly gruesome contents.  The killer, now being called The IBK or Ice Box Killer, is on the move and leaving no clue of his identity except for the shine he leaves behind.  And that’s a clue that only Steps can see.

When, if ever, is murder legitimate?  If the law doesn’t mete out what one considers justice, is a person permitted to take things into his own hands?

Spencer Kope now is a crime analyst in Washington State and was formerly an intelligence operations specialist with the office of Naval Intelligence; in the latter position he traveled throughout the world.  Whispers of the Dead is a thriller that will keep you in suspense, reading until the last page explains it all.

You can read more about Spencer Kope 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.

 

 

IT BEGINS IN BETRAYAL by Iona Whishaw: Book Review

Do wars ever really end?  That’s one of the questions to be answered in It Begins in Betrayal, the fourth book in the Lane Winslow series by Iona Whishaw.

As the novel opens, it’s 1947 and life has moved on in western Canada.  Lane Winslow, who is keeping her past life as part of the British Special Branch secret, and Frederick Darling, former British Royal Air Force pilot and current police inspector in King’s Cove, British Columbia, are about to become involved in two unrelated incidents that have long-buried tentacles in England.

The first is the apparently motiveless murder of Agatha Browning, an elderly woman originally from the British Isles.  Although she’s lived in King’s Cove for decades, no one seems to know much about her early life or what brought her to the far western part of Canada.  Her body is found in the woods near her remote cabin by the priest of the village’s Catholic Church.  Although it’s possible that the woman stumbled to her death on the rocky soil, neither the priest nor Constable Ames likes the look of the way the body has fallen.

At virtually the same moment that Inspector Darling receives the phone call from Father Lahey about his discovery of the corpse, Darling gets a visitor from the British government who has arrived to ask him questions about the crash of the plane he was piloting in 1943.  Darling had made a very complete report of this crash, which ended in tragedy with the death of one of his crew and the disappearance of another, presumably captured by Nazi soldiers.  In fact, he had received a medal for bringing the plane down safely and bringing the rest of his crew safely out of German-occupied France.  So why is this incident being investigated again, and why must he return to England to answer questions about it?

Darling (he’s always called by his last name) and Lane are romantically involved, but even he doesn’t know that she was an intelligence agent during the war.  But when he’s recalled to London for the re-opened investigation into the crash and what followed, Lane determines to follow him and find out the reason that the case has been reopened.  Certain events that took place during the war are still hidden under the Official Secrets Act, making it difficult for Darling and Lane to get to the truth of why he was asked, aka commanded, to return to England.  Meanwhile, the investigation into Agatha Browning’s death continues, with its own secrets and roots deep in the English countryside.

Iona Whishaw has written a mystery with a wonderful sense of time and place in It Begins in Betrayal.  The characters are alive and vibrant, the settings realistic, and the plot will pull you along until you find the reasons for the death of the Englishwoman in Canada and the forced return of the Canadian police inspector to England.

You can read more about Iona Whishaw 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.

SLEEP NO MORE by P. D. James: Book Review

Three and a half years after P. D. James’ death her estate has given her readers six short stories to delight us.  Sleep No More, these previously unpublished “murderous tales” as the jacket cover calls them, are quite different from the late author’s novels, but they are as engaging and engrossing as any of them.

Several of the stories are set in the Golden Age of mysteries, the decades starting in the 1920s and ending in the 1940s, when Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and G. K. Chesterton wrote their most famous books.  Baroness James of Holland Park, to give P. D. James the title bestowed on her in 1991, didn’t start writing until after the Golden Age had passed, but two of the stories have dates that put them in the decades when the so-called classic mysteries were being written, and the four others in this collection are non-specific enough to have been set in that era as well.

Baroness James’ wry sense of humor is evident in “The Murder of Santa Claus,” a story told in the first person by a “workmanlike” writer of detective stories.  Charles Mickeldore knows he’s not a first-class author like, in his words, “Dick Francis…not even a P. D. James.”  His amateur detective, the Honorable Martin Carstairs, is considered by some critics to be a “pallid copy” of Lord Peter Wimsey, but Mickeldore is successful enough to support himself as a writer.  “The Murder of Santa Claus” takes place in a 17th-century manor house in 1939, with the required assortment of eccentric guests.  There’s a housekeeper, the very strange uncle of the narrator, an air force pilot, a sexy actress, and the elderly couple who used to own the house.  It’s the perfect Golden Age setting.

“Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday” is a tale of two warring generations that pits an elderly man’s wishes against those of his son and daughter.  His children are certain they know what housing is best for him; the fact that the housing they choose is gloomy and not at all what he wants doesn’t bother them as it’s substantially less expensive than his choice.  Matters come to a head as the three celebrate his birthday with a picnic lunch, at which surprise after surprise is revealed.

All six narratives are written in the elegant style for which Ms. James was famous.  Whether told in the first person or in the third, the  storyline captures the reader immediately.  Sleep No More is an unexpected and totally welcome treat, as enjoyable as the author’s famous Adam Dalgliesh novels.

You can read more about the late P. D. James at my Past Masters and Mistresses section.

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 FIRST FAMILY by Daniel Palmer: Book Review

Imagine Susie Banks.  She’s a teenage violinist on the stage of the Kennedy Center, about to perform a solo with the National Symphony Orchestra.  She is halfway through her performance, playing perfectly as usual, when suddenly her body goes into spasms.  Her arms and legs are gesturing uncontrollably, and her instrument falls to the floor.  Several frightening moments pass, and through her tears she picks up the violin and makes her way to the wings.

In another part of Washington, Dr. Lee Blackwood is visiting a patient at MediCenter of D. C.  As he is making his rounds, a Secret Service agent comes into the room and tells Lee to follow him.  Lee’s former wife Karen is an agent, and she has asked the first lady, Ellen Hilliard, to bring Lee to the White House for a consult.

Ellen is concerned about her son Cam.  Cam has become withdrawn and moody, his complexion is ashen, he has huge circles under his eyes, and he is sweating inappropriately.  These emotional and physical symptoms are affecting his life to the point where his parents and the White House physician, Fred Gleason, fear he is depressed.  Most importantly, as far as Cam is concerned, his ability to play chess at the international level is being compromised, just in time for a major tournament he has hopes of winning.

Gleason thinks Cam should see a psychiatrist, but the teenager is insistent that his problem is physical, not mental.  Cam tells Lee that he’s not sleeping well, is tired all the time, and that his vision is sometimes blurred.  Lee agrees with Cam that the symptoms seem more physical than emotional, but the parents are conflicted about which physician to trust.

Polite battle lines are drawn between the two doctors, with nothing being decided.  Several days later, when Cam is playing a game of touch football with friends, he’s knocked out.  The White House doctor doesn’t think it’s anything more than bruising, but Karen is concerned enough to ask Lee for a diagnosis over the phone.  Hearing the concern in his ex-wife’s voice, Lee suggests bringing the boy to the MediCenter at once, which Karen does after consulting the first lady rather than Dr. Gleason.

In the meantime, Susie Banks has also been admitted to the MDC.  In what appears to the police to be a horrific accident, a faulty furnace allowed carbon monoxide into the Banks’ house, killing her parents and bringing Susie close to dying.  And now, the bizarre symptoms she had experienced at the Kennedy Center will have Lee trying to make a connection between her and Cam.

Right from the beginning Lee Blackwood’s skills are called into question by Fred Gleason.  Is it the simple jealousy of one doctor to another, or is his behavior in objecting to Lee’s every suggestion covering something more sinister?  And does the TPI, the True Potential Institute, an after-school program for the very best and the brightest that both Susie and Cam attend, have any part in this?

Daniel Palmer has written what truly is a page-turner.  You will be caught in the action from the beginning as Lee and Karen try to figure out what is bringing  these two formerly healthy teenagers to the point of death.

You can read more about Daniel Palmer 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.

 

 

 

 

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A WELL-TIMED MURDER by Tracee de Hahn: Book Review

People think of watches, and they think of Switzerland.   Artisans in Holland and France were the premier watchmakers in the sixteenth century, but then the Swiss overtook them and never looked back.

The watch industry comes into play in the cleverly titled A Well-Timed Murder, the second in a series featuring Swiss-American detective Agnes Lüthi.  Agnes is a member of the Financial Crimes department in the Lausanne police department, currently on leave as she recovers from the wound she received in the first novel.  As the book opens she is at Baselworld, the world’s premier watch and jewelry trade show, overlooking the arrest of a much-wanted thief, when she is asked to investigate a week-old suspicious death.

Guy Chavanon, one of the country’s master watchmakers, died several days before the show opened, and a police investigation concurred with what every eyewitness agreed had happened:  Guy, who had a well-known life-threatening allergy to peanuts, somehow had ingested peanut dust or spores and died within seconds.  A frantic attempt by his friend, Narendra Patel, to inject him with an Epi-Pen didn’t work, and Chavanon died in front of a horrified group of teachers and parents at a reception at his son’s boarding school.  It was simply a tragic accident according to everyone except his daughter Christine; she suspects murder.

Guy had been working on an invention that he said would change the watch-making world, much as quartz did in the 1970s.  Because he was inordinately secretive, no one knew exactly what this invention was or where its explanatory notes were located.

Further complicating matters after Guy’s death is the disagreement between Christine and his wife Marie, Christine’s stepmother.  Although Christine had left the family’s firm of Perrault et Chavanon Frères several years earlier over a disagreement with her father about the company’s direction, she now wants to find out what he was working on and is hoping to bring it to fruition.  However, Marie wants to sell the generations-old firm immediately, and the two of them cannot come to any agreement about the future.

In addition, at Baselworld Agnes sees Julien Vallotton, a man she met several months previously on a case that involved his family.  It’s obvious that Julian is interested in her, but Agnes is conflicted.  She likes him, but dealing with the recent death of her husband and the anticipated reactions of her two young sons and her mother-in-law to Julien make it difficult for her to act on any attraction.  But Julien’s close relationship with the Chavanon family, in his role as Guy’s son’s godfather, makes it nearly impossible to avoid him.

Tracee de Hahn is breaking new ground in placing her detective, and a woman detective at that, in Lausanne’s police department.  Judging from Agnes’ ability in solving the deaths in A Well-Timed Murder, she will be solving more crimes in that city in the future.

Tracee de Hahn studied architecture and European history and lived for several years in Switzerland.  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.

 

THE MAN IN THE CROOKED HAT by Harry Dolan: Book Review

Several years ago I reviewed When Bad Things Happen, Harry Dolan’s first novel, and I wrote that I was struck by the twists and turns of the plot.  Mr. Dolan hasn’t lost his touch in the intervening years, as is evidenced by his latest mystery.  You almost need a scorecard to keep track of what’s going on, but a bit of confusion is well worth it; The Man in the Crooked Hat is an outstanding novel.

Jack Pellum is deep in grief over the murder of his wife.  At the time of her death, nearly two years earlier, he was a Detroit police detective, but his obsession with finding Olivia’s killer led first to his suspension and then to his quitting the force.  He doesn’t care about that; in fact, he doesn’t care about anything at all except finding the killer.  He spends his days and nights looking for any thread that might lead him to a man in the crooked hat, a man he saw the day his wife died.  He has papered his neighborhood with flyers asking for information about him, but so far there have been no results.

Then a young man in a Detroit neighborhood commits suicide, leaving a bizarre note on his living room wall–There’s a killer, and he wears a crooked hat.  That’s all the incentive Jack needs to look into Dan Cavanaugh’s death, and with that he becomes immersed in investigating a series of deaths in the area that may or may not be connected to his wife’s.  There doesn’t seem to be anything similar about these deaths–two of which have been deemed accidents–but the fact that there are so many has Jack convinced, or almost convinced, that if he’s able to untangle the strands he will find Olivia’s murderer.

Finally Jack gets a response to the posters.  Paul Rook, a man whose mother was murdered nine years ago, contacts him.  Her killer was never found, and he is convinced that the man who murdered her wore a hat, a man he saw near his house only two days before his mother’s death.  He tells Jack to stop looking for a thread that connects all the murders because there is none.

“But if you look for him,” Paul says, “if you’re patient, you can find him.”  Paul has been doing his own research into murders in the greater Detroit area.  The earliest murder he can find that he’s sure this man committed goes back twenty years, and that victim was the older brother of Dan Cavanaugh, the man who just killed himself.

Jack is a man who has given up virtually everything in his search for his wife’s killer.  His job, his friends, his relationship with his parents have all faded away beside his need to find Olivia’s murderer and the reason for her death.  Is it justice he seeks, or is it vengeance?

The Man in the Crooked Hat is a brilliant look into the dangers of obsession and where they can lead.

You can read more about Harry Dolan 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.

 

BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD by Attica Locke: Book Review

It took 165 years for the Texas Rangers to admit the first black man to its law enforcement agency.  It’s nearly thirty years after that event, but Darren Matthews still gets unbelieving looks when people see the star pinned onto his uniform’s shirt.

Barely avoiding suspension from the Rangers for his part in a standoff between an old friend and a man who has been harassing and threatening the man’s granddaughter, Darren gets a call from another friend, Greg Hegland, a member of the F.B.I.

The town of Lark, Texas, has had two suspicious deaths in less than a week.  The first, a black man, died under suspicious circumstances; whether he was murdered or accidentally drowned is unclear.  The second, a young white woman, was definitely a homicide victim.

Lark is situated in Shelby County, a place where members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas have a strong presence.  It’s not a town where a black man would feel comfortable walking into an unfamiliar bar.  But that appears to have been what Michael Wright, a lawyer from Chicago, did.  What was this man, with no known ties to the tiny hamlet where he met his death, doing in Lark, much less in Jeff’s Juice House where he obviously wouldn’t have been welcome?  The white woman, Melissa Dale, was a waitress at that bar, and Darren is having a hard time putting together any script which connects the two victims.  No one in either of Lark’s gathering places, the white-owned Juice House or the black-owned Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, is talking.

Hoping to ride out his almost-suspension from the Rangers while looking into these deaths, Darren faces opposition from several quarters–the local sheriff, the Rangers, and the townspeople, both black and white, who are used to handling things by themselves and don’t want him investigating.  But Darren’s deep roots into the east Texas landscape and his feeling that this is indeed a racial incident compel him to look into the deaths regardless of the opposition and danger he’s facing.

Attica Locke has written a searing portrait of life in small-town Texas, showing the problems endemic in much of America–racial tensions, drugs, and mistrust of police authority.  Darren is a man trying to do his job despite his own issues–a failing marriage, a drinking problem, and a possible forced leave from a job he loves–and the author’s writing allows us to get inside his head as he tries to deal with them.

The novel crackles with tension, the writing is vibrant, and Darren will have you rooting for him even when he’s not exactly following the rules.  Bluebird, Bluebird is a nominee for the 2018 Edgar Best Novel.

You can read more about Attica Locke 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 ECHO KILLING by Christi Daugherty: Book Review

Harper McClain has the job she loves in the city she adores.  She’s the crime reporter on the Daily News in Savannah, her home town, and she relishes every crime that comes in over her scanner.  That may sound heartless, but multi-car accidents, abductions, and murders are what get her blood flowing, as she would be the first to admit.

A call from Miles Jackson, a photographer on the paper, brings Harper to a part of the city that usually doesn’t get much violence.  But today is different, as she sees at least half a dozen detectives surrounding a house when she arrives at the address Miles gives her.  Talking to the neighbors, she learns that the victim is Marie Whitney, a divorced woman with an eleven-year-old daughter.  And when Harper sees young Camille gently being led to a waiting police car, the crime becomes very personal.

For Harper, this is déjà vu.  When she was twelve years old, she came home from school to find the bloody, nude body of her mother on the kitchen floor.  Despite an intensive investigation, the killer was never found.  Now Harper is frantic to get a look inside the home to see if this murder scene is reminiscent of the one that destroyed her family.

Circumventing the police and other reporters, she makes her way through a neighbor’s yard to a spot where she’s able to look into the Whitneys’ kitchen window.  And, confirming her worst fears, the scene is identical to the one in her head.  Marie Whitney is nude, with three stab wounds visible on her back and arms; even her hair was almost the same color as Harper’s mother’s had been.  Can it be the same killer at work more than a decade later?

The kitchen has been wiped clean of any clues, Harper learns.  There are no clothing threads, no fingerprints, no footprints, no DNA on any of the surfaces.   According to one police source, the killer must have been a professional.  But the reporter wonders why a hired killer would have murdered Marie, a secretary at the local college, a woman who surely didn’t have ties to any criminal group.  And certainly Harper’s mother wasn’t involved in anything illegal.

What has Harper determined to look into the crime, regardless of prohibitions by the police and her close friend Lieutenant Smith, is the look on Marie’s daughter’s face as she is led into a detective’s car.  That’s the same look that Harper knows she had when she was taken away from her mother’s corpse.  She needs to find the killer, both for young Camille and for herself.

There’s a very clever twist at the end of The Echo Killing that I certainly didn’t see coming.  Christi Daugherty has written what I hope will be the first in a series featuring a young professional woman who’s ready to go after what she wants, even if it means heading into a dangerous situation, to learn the truth.

You can read more about Christi Daugherty at this website.

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

 

LET ME LIE by Clare Mackintosh: Book Review

Clare Mackintosh’s latest mystery, Let Me Lie, will hold you from the first page until the last.  It is as good as I Let You Go, her novel I reviewed in June, 2016, something I didn’t think was possible.

Let Me Lie opens with the voice of a dead person, but we don’t know who that person is.  That voice is interspersed between chapters told in two other voices–Anna Johnson’s and Murray Mackenzie’s.

Anna is a new mother.  She’s thrilled with her lovely daughter Ella and happy with her partner Mark, but she is grieving the loss of her parents.  Both committed suicide seven months apart at the infamous cliff at Beachy Head, and as the novel opens it’s the first anniversary of Anna’s mother’s death.  Neither body was recovered, but witnesses saw both husband and wife on top of the Head, loading their pockets with stones.  Her mother’s suicide was an exact replica of her father’s, something that is making Anna even more distraught.  Knowing how her mother had suffered after her husband’s death, Anna wonders how she could have done the same thing herself, leaving Anna bewildered and lost.

On this sad day, Anna is horrified to receive a Happy Anniversary card in the mail.  Who would do such a cruel thing, she wonders?  And the message inside is even worse.  Suicide?  Think again.

Both Mark and Anna’s Uncle Billy think the card is a despicable “joke” someone with a warped sense of humor is playing on her.  But Anna, who never felt that her parents were suicidal types, now thinks she has something concrete to go on.  She and Ella go to the local police station where they encounter Murray Mackenzie, a recently retired detective who is now a civilian volunteer on the force.

Bored with his retirement and moved by Anna’s sincerity in her belief that her parents were murdered, he agrees to look into the matter, although he does not plan to share his investigation with the active detectives.  Time enough to tell them when I find something significant, if in fact I do, he thinks.

Now for my confession:  at least four times while reading this novel I “knew” the next turn the story would take and how the book would end.  In each case I was totally wrong.  Just when I was certain someone was guilty and just when I could tell what the next wrinkle in the plot would be, I was wrong again.  Let Me Lie is like a roller coaster ride, but every twist and turn is believable.

Clare Mackintosh is a master in leading you astray so skillfully that you don’t even realize what’s happening.  Not until I had finished the book did I realize how much I had misread and how often I had jumped to conclusions.  I am delighted to have been so mislead so cunningly.

You can read more about Clare Mackintosh at this website.

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

A DANGEROUS CROSSING by Ausma Zehanat Khan: Book Review

The sky had fallen in Aleppo.  No corner of the city was spared.”  That is the thought of one of the Syrian men who has made it to Greece; it sums up the despair of the victims of the seven-year civil war that has torn his Middle Eastern nation apart and displaced, both externally and internally, over twelve million of his countrymen.

Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty of the Toronto Police Force are sent to Greece by the Canadian prime minister to help search for Audrey Clare.  Audrey is the younger sister of Esa’s closest friend, Nathan Clare, and she has gone to the Greek island of Lesvos (Lesbos) as part of her duties as chief operating officer for Woman to Woman, an NGO dedicated to helping women across the world.

Suddenly her emails and phone calls to her brother stop.  What Nate tells Esa and Rachel is that two murders were committed in the Woman to Woman tent in the refugee camp on Lesvos; Audrey disappeared that same night and hasn’t been seen since.  Since the Clare family is known throughout Canada, the disappearance of one of its members has national repercussions.  There were international repercussions to be considered as well, since one of the dead was a French Interpol agent.  The other was a young male Syrian refugee.

When Esa and Rachel arrive in Lesvos, they are appalled by the conditions.  Their previous case had taken them to Iran, and the conditions in that country had been terrible, especially in the state-run prison system.  But the refugee camp in Lesvos is worse.  No running water, no heat, no roads, no schools for the children or job training for the adults.  The Greek government is doing its best, Esa and Rachel are assured, but the sheer amount of people in the Cara Tepe and Moria camps has overwhelmed all facilities.

And there is no way of knowing whom to trust.  Are the Greek and Italian boatmen who go out nightly to rescue migrants what they seem?  What about the Interpol agent who appears not to be very interested at all in Audrey’s disappearance, only in the death of her own colleague?  And why did a volunteer worker come to help all the way from Australia when that country is having its own refugee crisis?

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s fourth novel brilliantly weaves all these strands together–the overwhelming migrant crisis, the murder of the French Interpol agent and the young Syrian boy, the disappearance of Audrey Clare–into a story that is much, much more than a typical mystery.  The plight of those fleeing Syria and other war-torn countries is painfully recounted, but the search for the missing Canadian woman is equally in the forefront of the book.  Reading A Dangerous Crossing brings the headlines we read every day into a clearer, more personal focus.

You can read more about Ausma Zehanat Kahn at this website.

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

 

 

 

 

A DIVIDED SPY by Charles Cumming: Book Review

It is difficult to be a spy, or at least a former spy, these days.  The enmity was clear between the West and the Soviet Union during the Cold War; although those days are long over, deep suspicion remains on both sides.

A Divided Spy is like a tree with a lot of branches.  The branches may appear separate, but in fact they all come together to form the tree.  It’s only when you see the complete picture that it all makes sense.

Thomas Kell is still tenuously connected to the SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service.  He has given his life to the service, but he is now in disgrace due to several assignments that resulted in death and failure, including the one that ended with the assassination of his lover, Rachel.  His ex-wife Claire has told him frequently that his job was more important to him than his marriage, and he concedes that she is right.

Even as he acknowledges that he’s no longer a valued member of the Service, he continues, almost unconsciously, to see enemy agents trying to shove him in front of a moving train or listening to his phone calls or reading his emails.  He knows that the surveillance is probably all in his mind, but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped looking for it.

Thomas gets a call from a former colleague who tells him he’s seen the man whom Kell holds responsible for Rachel’s murder, a man Thomas has long been searching for.  Alexander Minasian has been a top Russian espionage agent for years, and Thomas believes that Minasian knowingly sent Rachel to her death in retribution for an act that Thomas committed.  Now that Alexander has been located, Thomas has his chance to make him pay.

The novel follows the incredibly complex business of espionage.  For every plan Kell makes, there are four or five that are considered and discarded.  First there’s murder, followed by blackmail, followed by detailed preparations to make certain that all goes according to his scheme.  He’s getting virtually no help from the SIS, which considers that his desire for revenge has overwhelmed his rational thought process.  A former colleague, Harold Mowbray, is the man who set all this in motion with his identification of Miasian.  But Kell wonders why he did so and if he can be trusted.

A Divided Spy is more than just a thriller.  It’s a deep look into what a life of lying and spying does to the agent.  As Thomas looks back on his life and its activities, he wonders if perhaps there are compromises that are simply more than the end object is worth.

You can read more about Charles Cumming 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.

 

 

 

HELL BENT by Gregg Hurwitz: Book Review

Hell Bent is the third in Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X series, and it’s the most sensitive and exciting one so far.  Yes, those two adjectives can be in the same sentence, and it’s a mark of the author’s skill that this mystery is simultaneously both thrilling and poignant.

Evan Smoak is the name the novel’s protagonist know him by, but in his professional life he was called Orphan X.  Evan had been taken from a group home when he was twelve and groomed to be a professional assassin embedded down deep in the most secret layers of the Department of Defense.  But Evan went rogue after spending years in the Department, determined to use his unique skill set to help those without other resources to right the wrongs done to them.

He has a special phone number that he always answers, but the call he receives now is the most personal one he has ever received.  It’s from his mentor, Jack Johns the man  who rescued him from the group home, and his answer to Evan’s automatic response to the call–Do you need my help?–is Yes.   Then the line goes dead.  The call starts Evan on a journey to avenge the death of his friend, a journey that will bring him face to face with the man determined to kill him, Charles Van Sciver.

Bu deciphering an elaborate series of coded messages, Evan uncovers Jack’s last request.  It’s stark, with no explanation, just GET PACKAGE followed by an address in Oregon.  And when Evan arrives at the address, nothing is at all what he expected.  Rather, the package is a teenage girl who attacks him and knocks him to the floor.

The girl, Joey, is another of the Orphans trained to be an assassin by Van Sciver.  However, she “washed out,” to use her words, and now she is on his “kill” list.  Now both Evan and Joey are in his sights, and he is drawing ever closer to them.

Like Gregg Hurwitz’s previous two novels featuring Orphan X, Hell Bent is a riveting page turner.  The odds that Evan and Joey are facing are formidable, to understate the situation considerably, all the more so because the reader knows something they don’t.  Although Van Sciver is the head of the group desperately trying to find the two and kill them, he is actually taking orders from someone higher up.  And that person is even more ruthless than he is.

Terrifying and spellbinding are almost insufficient to describe the events in Hell BentThe author is taking his readers on a wild and dangerous ride through the underbelly of a United States government agency.  It’s not pretty, but it makes for terrific reading.

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.

Another year has passed, even more quickly than those before, and I’ve just celebrated my eighth anniversary writing Marilyn’s Mystery ReadsThis past year has been an especially exciting one for me, as I taught one mystery course in the fall and will begin leading another next month.

Last March I was asked to teach a course on crime novels to begin in September at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA.  I loved teaching WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN NEW ENGLAND last semester.  There were 20 students in the class, each with her/his point of view, and the discussions were always vibrant and interesting.  When I was asked to create another course for the spring term, I happily accepted the invitation.  My new course, which begins on March 5th, is called WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES.

This semester will take us farther afield, as we cross the United States and view crime in various locations.  If you’d like to be an armchair traveler and join the members of the class as we discuss these novels, here they are:  The Ritual Bath (Orthodox Judaism) by Faye Kellerman–California; Invisible City (Orthodox Judaism) by Julia Dahl–New York City; The Bishop’s Wife (Mormon) by Mette Ivie Harrison–Utah; No Witness but the Moon (Hispanic) by Susan Chazin–upstate New York; A Killing Gift (Chinese-American) by Leslie Glass–New York City; Among the Wicked (Amish) by Linda Castillo–Ohio; Blanche Among the Talented Tenth (African-American) by Barbara Neely–Maine; and Dance Hall of the Dead (Native American) by Tony Hillerman–New Mexico.

Our March 5th class will be an overview of the genre, so our first discussion of a specific novel, The Ritual Bath, will be on March 12th.  The books listed above will be read in order during the following weeks, with the exception of two Mondays when there are no classes–April 2nd and April 16th–and we’ll conclude the class on May 21st with our thoughts about what we’ve read.  You’re welcome to read along with us as we tour the United States in search of murder, mystery, and mayhem!

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.

Marilyn