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IN THE SHADOW OF VESUVIUS by Tasha Alexander: Book Review

By any standards, Lady Emily is an unusual woman, particularly for her time.  Widowed before the series opens, she is now married to Colin Hargreaves who works “discreetly” for the British monarchy.  The couple, along with Lady Emily’s dearest friend Ivy Brandon, are on an excursion to Pompeii.

In the Shadow of Vesuvius opens in 1902, when the ruins of the ancient Roman city are being excavated.  The unexpected eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, in 79 C.E., covered the city and its inhabitants with layer upon layer of ash and pumice.  Some 2,000 people in Pompeii died; overall, about 16,000 in the vicinity perished.  Abandoned for decades, the city was rediscovered in 1748, and archaeologists and explorers rushed to find out what had been hidden for nearly two millennia.

Lady Emily, Colin, and Ivy have just arrived and are touring the ruins when they come across three corpses–two who were obviously buried there at the time of the eruption and one who, according to Colin, “hasn’t been dead for more than a few weeks.”

The three travelers have become acquainted with a group of professionals and amateurs who are excavating several major sites.  The group includes Mr. Taylor, an archaeologist who is funding the exploration; Cassie and Benjamin Carter, an archaeologist and painter, respectively; and James Stirling, the director of the dig.

The third body is quickly identified as Clarence Walker, an American journalist who had visited the area some years before.  Lady Emily is told that Walker had been on assignment for The New York Times, and although he wrote an interesting piece about the excavation during his earlier visit, he was not as enthralled as those working there and didn’t mention anything about returning at some future date.  No one now working on the site admits to knowing that he had returned or the reason why.

In the midst of the investigation comes a young woman whom neither Lady Emily nor her husband knew existed.  She introduces herself to them as Katharina von Lange, the daughter of a liaison between her late mother and Colin, and announces she is here to meet him.  Her mother had not wanted to marry Colin, and he was unaware of the existence of his teenage daughter until her arrival in Pompeii.

Interspersed with the chapters taking place in the 20th century are the chapters written by Kassandra in 79 C.E., a slave girl of Greek ancestry.  She is the property of Lepida, a young Roman woman with whom she shares a birth date; the two are more like sisters than mistress and slave.  But when both see a visitor to Lepida’s father’s house, the handsome and cultured Silvanus, it is the beginning of an all-too-familiar story.

In the Shadow of Vesuvius is the latest novel in the long-running Lady Emily series.  Lady Emily is a strong-willed, smart, and delightful heroine, one who is years ahead of her time in terms of her outlook on a woman’s place in the world.  Her adventures have taken her to Paris, St. Petersburg, and Greece, and readers will want to follow her to her next adventure, regardless of its location.

You can read more about Tasha Alexander 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 COMPANION by Kim Taylor Blakemore: Book Review

Lucy Blunt is a convicted murderess, but she’s innocent.  At least that’s what she tells us.  In her own words, “Truth is a rather pliable object, isn’t it?  Something molded and recreated and told as an entertaining story.”

Lucy (is that even her real name?) is a prisoner in a New Hampshire jail when the novel opens.  She takes the reader through her life, detailing the events that led her to the Burton mansion and its eccentric, if not threatening, occupants.

Lucy’s voice is the only one we hear in the novel, but is it a reliable one?  She grew up in a loving home with her parents and brother, but all that changed when her mother and brother died from whooping cough.  The double tragedy drove her father to drink and Lucy to have an affair with a married man.  That affair ended in disaster when their infant son, unacknowledged by his father, died and Lucy’s father forced her out of the house.  It was the beginning of a downward spiral for her.

She’s had several menial jobs and is now desperate to find a better place for herself.  Mary Dawson, the young woman whose job with the Burtons she wants, had been found drowned in a nearby icy brook, and Lucy loses no time in forging references in order to join that household as a “washer-up,” what today we would call a kitchen maid.

Besides the staff, the mansion houses the three Burtons–Mr. Burton, owner of the town’s mill; his wife, Eugenie; and Mr. Burton’s cousin, Rebecca, companion to his wife.  Eugenie is a recluse who stays upstairs behind a locked door by choice and, as Lucy discovers a few days after she’s employed, is blind.

There’s a strange dynamic among the family, with the husband rarely home but overly solicitous of his wife when he is, the demanding yet secretive wife, and the companion who appears to have taken an unreasonable dislike to Lucy.

Then Rebecca contracts typhoid, and there’s no choice but to allow Lucy to become Mrs. Burton’s temporary companion.  And then she becomes more than that.

The Companion is spellbinding.  The reader empathizes with Lucy, is angered by her poor choices, and is hoping with her for a commutation of her death sentence–death by hanging in the New Hampshire State Prison at 10:15.  The winter weather, with its ice and snow, deepens the misery that surrounds everyone in the story.  It’s as if their hearts, including Lucy’s, are as frozen as the weather.

Kim Taylor Blakemore has written an outstanding mystery.  Her prose is perfectly suited to the mid-century time period of the novel, and our feelings for Lucy go back and forth between sympathy and its opposite, or at least mine did.  It’s a bravura performance.

You can read more about Kim Taylor Blakemore 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 BELLAMY TRIAL by Frances Noyes Hart: Book Review

Did you know that August 18th is Serendipitous Day?  Neither did I until I was Googling the best way to use serendipitous in a sentence to describe how I came across The Bellamy Trial on the mystery shelf of my local (Needham, MA) library.

Who knows why that date was chosen by Horace Walpole, an 18th-century English author and politician?  Perhaps something unexpected and pleasant (the definition of serendipitous) had happened to him on that day?  It really doesn’t matter, but Walpole gave the world an absolutely perfect word to describe my experience after I read Frances Noyes Hart’s novel.

The book is based on the true-life Hall-Mills 1926 murder trial, called the “trial of the century,” in which an Episcopal priest and one of his parishioners were murdered.   The defendants were the Reverend Hall’s wife and her three brothers, but I won’t disclose the outcome of that trial as it might spoil the ending of this novel.

In Mrs. Hart’s book, the site of the murder (there is one victim in the book, as opposed to two in the Hall-Mills case) was moved from New Jersey to New York; the people involved were members of a small upper-class community.  The fictional murder victim was Mimi Bellamy; the defendants were her husband, Stephen Bellamy, and Sue Ives, the wife of Mrs. Bellamy’s alleged lover.  The novel is considered one of the first fictional courtroom mysteries, a sub-genre that would grow to include all of the books in the Perry Mason series, Anatomy of a Murder, To Kill a Mockingbird, and many others.

The Bellamy Trial takes place in Redfield, New York in 1926.  As in the real-life trial, the fictional case became a media circus, with reporters from newspapers and radio stations across the country filling the courtroom to capacity; the actual trial took thirty days, the fictional one took eight.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, the recipient of multiple Agatha Awards for her mysteries, has written an outstanding introduction to the book.  She notes the anachronisms in the novel – an all-male jury, the same attorney for both defendants, hearsay evidence that is sometimes forbidden and sometimes allowed – but she happily disregards these issues, as will discerning readers, to better enjoy this excellent story.

Frances Noyes Hart was primarily a short story author and wrote only a handful of mysteries.  If the others are as well-written and riveting as The Bellamy Trial, she certainly deserves a special place in the pantheon of American mystery authors.

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.

 

YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR by Hallie Ephron: Book Review

I’d never thought of dolls as creepy, but then I read You’ll Never Know, Dear and I do now.

Lis Strenger is the daughter of Sorrel Woodham, a nationally-known dollmaker.  Miss Sorrel, as even Lis calls her, no longer creates dolls or collects them, but their home is filled with them–on the kitchen shelves, in the dining room’s glass cabinets, in the workroom at the back at the house.  Although Miss Sorrel is now retired she still has her projects–repairing dolls with thinning hair, broken limbs, or cloudy eyes for clients who love their childhood companions.

Lis, who came back to Bonsecours, South Carolina with her daughter Vanessa years ago after a particularly painful divorce, is in the kitchen making lunch for herself and her mother as the novel opens.  A woman drives up to the house and walks up to Miss Sorrel’s front porch with a bag in her hand.  Then the three women go inside and gather around the kitchen table, and Miss Sorrel opens the bag and brings out a baby doll.  And the next moment, the visitor, whom Miss Sorrel earlier referred to as Miss Richards, grabs the doll and rushes out of the house with Miss Sorrel following her as quickly as she can.

Miss Sorrel’s claim to fame is that many of her creations were portrait dolls, designed to look like the girls who owned them.  When she sees the face of the one that Miss Richards brought, she is traumatized.  It’s the one she made nearly forty years ago for Janie, her young daughter who later was kidnapped and has been presumed dead for decades.  And her portrait doll, which presumably was with Janie when she was abducted, hasn’t been seen since.

Miss Sorrel tries to stop the visitor, who is still holding the doll, begging her to say where she got it.  In a frenzy, the woman throws the doll against the house’s brick front steps, runs to her car, and drives away.  Getting a closer look, Lis thinks it’s possible that the doll was the one her mother made for Janie, but Miss Sorrel is convinced it is.  She brings the damaged doll into the kitchen, cleans its face, and holds it close to her.  “I always knew one day she’d come home,” she whispers.

Can she be right after all these years?  Her best friend and neighbor, Evelyn Dumont, doesn’t believe it, and Frank Ames, the town’s deputy police chief, is skeptical as well.  Then things take a distinctly ominous turn as a fire in Miss Sorrel’s kiln virtually destroys her workroom and sends her and her injured daughter to the hospital.

You’ll Never Know, Dear will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The many subplots in the novel make for fascinating reading, and the characters and their backstories are perfectly drawn.

You can read more about Hallie Ephron 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.

 

 

BLIND SEARCH by Paula Munier: Book Review

It’s a beautiful day in the Green Mountains of Vermont, and Henry Jenkins has sneaked out of the house to enjoy it.  It’s the beginning of hunting season so the boy is not alone in the woods, but he’s keeping as far from other people as possible.  When he sees Alice de Clare, a friend of his father’s and a guest at a nearby lodge, walking ahead of him he decides to follow her as silently as possible.

Henry comes to a log, which looks as if it would be great place to hide, but when he peers inside he sees a bundle of guns.  He’s retreating when Alice finds him, and when she sees the guns she tells him they need to return to the hunting lodge as quickly as possible.  But before she can move, an arrow flies through the air, killing her and causing Henry to run.

Mercy Carr, a former Army MP, has returned from her tour in Afghanistan, still recovering from the trauma of losing her fiancé there.  She has brought his dog, a Belgian shephard named Elvis, home with her, and the two of them are making a home for themselves in the mountains where she grew up.  Mercy and several members of her family are practicing bow and arrow shooting when Elvis bounds into the woods to retrieve an errant arrow and doesn’t return.

When Mercy follows him, she encounters Daniel Feinberg and his friends who are staying at his nearby lodge for the weekend.  Mercy continues to track Elvis and discovers him next to Alice’s body.

According to Katharine Montgomery, another of the guests, the impetus for the weekend hunting party was to give Daniel an opportunity to meet Alice and possibly hire her to renovate a nearby inn.  Katharine and her husband Blair were going to be partners with him and another couple who also are his guests.  Now, Katharine tells Mercy, “that will never happen.”  And Mercy wonders whether the two couples are more regretful over Alice’s death or the end of a possible partnership with Daniel.

Mercy and Troy Warner, a Vermont game warden, are dismissive of the attempts the local police make in their search of the nearby woods.  They decide to search the area with their dogs, Elvis and Susie Bear, and come upon Henry, hiding in a shed.  Mercy recognizes him at once as a friend’s son and knows that he is autistic.  Henry turns out to be the only witness to Alice’s death, but he is almost non-verbal, obviously frightened and cold, and is only persuaded to accompany Mercy and Troy back to the Feinberg residence because he has taken an immediate liking to their dogs.  And then it becomes obvious to all that Henry is the only one who can identify the killer.

Blind Search is the second mystery in the Mercy Carr series, and it’s inspired by the true story of an autistic boy lost in the wilderness of Vermont.  Paula Munier has crafted that into a thrilling story.

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.

 

 

It’s amazing how quickly the year flies by when you and I are reading wonderful mysteries.  And really, can there be a better time than winter to hunker down with a cozy/thrilling/chilling novel and a cup of hot cocoa or tea?

As was true last year, it’s simply been too hard to narrow my list of Best Books of the year to fewer than fourteen.  Truly, I could have added several more, but one has to stop somewhere.  So here are my choices, in no particular order.  I’ve blogged about each one, so by going to the Search For box on the left side of my home page, you can read my posts about each choice.

NEWCOMER by Keigo Higashiro, THE NOWHERE CHILD by Christian White, LIVES LAID AWAY by Stephen Mack Jones, DECEPTION COVE by Owen Laukkanen, THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper, FINDING KATARINA M. by Elisabeth Elo, A BEAUTIFUL CORPSE by Christi Daughtery, IF SHE WAKES by Michael Koryta, AFTER SHE’S GONE by Camilla Grebe, SCRUBLANDS by Chris Hammer, LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman, A DANGEROUS MAN by Robert Crais, THE COLD WAY HOME by Julia Keller, and GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL by Michael Robotham.

Eight novels take place in the United States, one in Japan, three in Australia, and two in Europe; eight were written by men, six by women.  The majority feature private investigators, but there are also a couple of police procedurals.  Most are either stand-alones or possibly the first in a series, although four are part of continuing series.  That is very different from my choices last year, when most of the books I chose were mysteries in a series.  You can see that there’s no formula, at least for me, in what type of mystery will make my “best of the best” column in any given year.  It all depends on the characters, plot, and style of the book.

I hope you’ll take a moment to read my blog posts for the books you’ve missed.  I promise they are all well worth reading.  You can also check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at my website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and additional About Marilyn columns that feature opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Wishing you a wonderful 2020, complete with family, friends, and dozens of excellent mysteries to keep you entertained.

Marilyn

THIN ICE by Paige Shelton: BookReview

The beauty of Alaska takes pride of place in this first in a series, but the fascinating protagonist is a close second.  Beth Rivers, known to the readers of her books as Elizabeth Fairchild, has fled to Benedict, Alaska from her home in Missouri.  It’s small and remote, just what she’s looking for, and thus a place where the man who kidnapped and held her prisoner for three days before she managed to escape could never find her.  Or so she fervently hopes.

Beth has booked a room via the Internet at Benedict House, which she assumed from her online search was a hotel housed in a former Russian Orthodox Church.  Actually, as she finds out when she arrives, it’s a halfway house for women on parole.  Since there are no realistic options for other housing, Beth decides to stay there in spite of its unusual inhabitants:  Viola, the no-nonsense owner and the parolees–Willa, Loretta, and Trinity, all shoplifters.  The three parolees take turns cooking, and although none has been convicted of a violent crime, Viola’s rule is that the woman whose turn it is to cook the meals on a particular day has to taste the food in front of the others before she serves it.  Take no chances would appear to be Viola’s motto.

Only three people know who Beth is or the reason she is in Benedict.  One is her mother; one is Detective Majors, who is still searching for Beth’s attacker; and the third is the town’s police chief, nicknamed Gril, who was told about the reason behind Beth’s arrival in Benedict by Detective Majors.  Beth uses burner phones to call the first two and calls them only when necessary.  She cannot imagine any way that her abductor could possibly find her in a town that’s only reachable via plane or ferry and where all passengers are logged in on arrival, but she still locks the door to her room at the Benedict House, both when she’s inside it and when she leaves.  Better safe than sorry, she thinks.

But even in a town of five hundred inhabitants, sudden death can strike.  Just before Beth’s arrival another transplant from the lower forty-eight, Linda Rafferty, was found dead in the cabin she shared with her husband George.  Gril tells Beth that although Linda’s death has been ruled a suicide, he thinks it looks like murder.  George Rafferty is nowhere to be found, and Gril wants to keep the investigation open.

Gril knows that Beth has a civilian’s background in police work, and he asks her if she’d be willing to do two things.  First, would she be willing to act as a consultant, if needed, to help his undermanned police force.  Second, would she consider taking over the Benedict Petition, the town’s weekly newspaper that stopped publication after the death of its editor a year earlier.  Much to her own surprise, Beth agrees to both, and almost immediately she’s consumed by the investigation into Linda’s death.

Paige Shelton has written an engaging mystery with a heroine to admire.  I’m hoping to see Beth Rivers again soon.

You can read more about Paige Shelton 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.

GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL by Michael Robotham: Book Review

Good Girl, Bad Girl is one of the most gripping mysteries of the year.  From the deliberately ambiguous title to the perfect ending, it’s a fantastic book.

Cyrus Haven is a clinical psychologist who is called in to evaluate the ultra-mysterious Evie Cormac, a teenager whose real name, birth date, and life history are completely unknown to the authorities.  Evie Cormac is the name she was given six years before the novel opens when she was found emaciated, bruised, and hiding in a secret room adjacent to where a man’s rotting corpse had been discovered months earlier.  A hunch by a volunteer searcher discovered the child, and she was taken away by the authorities and eventually put in a secure facility for disturbed adolescents.

Evie is now petitioning the court, demanding the right to be classified as an adult and thus be freed from supervision, although she still has provided no proof of her real name, age, any information about the man whose body was found near her, or how she ended up in that apartment.  That’s where psychologist Cyrus Haven enters the story; he has been asked to evaluate Evie and decide if she’s ready to be on her own.

There are several reasons Cyrus has been asked by his friend Guthrie, a counselor where Evie lives, to interview her.  The main one is that Cyrus wrote his thesis on people who are truth wizards, and Guthrie thinks that Evie is one.  Cyrus wrote that truth wizards, people who are adept at telling when others are lying, make up perhaps two percent of the population.  He believes they are usually older people who are in professions that have given them a lot of experience deciphering truth from lies–judges, lawyers, and mental health workers, for example.  Evie obviously doesn’t fit this parameter.

However, there’s another characteristic that truth wizards often show–they are people who exhibit a lack of emotions; here Evie is a perfect example.  After a less-than-positive first interaction, Cyrus finds himself volunteering to foster her.  There’s something about her, he thinks, that’s worth saving from another year or two in her current facility.  So because Evie thinks that living with Cyrus and being mentored by him is the lesser of two evils, she agrees to stay with Cyrus until she comes of age or until he is willing to tell the court that she is capable of living on her own.

Simultaneously, Cyrus is drawn into another case involving another teenage girl, although seemingly a very different one.  Jodie Sheehan is apparently the polar opposite at Evie–she’s a nationally ranked ice skater and the daughter in a close and loving family.  But she was murdered on a path between her own home and her cousins’ home, and there’s strong evidence of a sexual assault having taken place.

Why was she on this wooded stretch of woods in the middle of the night when she was supposed to be spending the night with her cousin Tamsin, who is also her closest friend?  As the layers are peeled back from the “perfect girl” persona that Jodie presented to the world, she seems to have had as many secrets as Evie.   

Good Girl, Bad Girl is an outstanding psychological thriller.  The dialog and plot are riveting, and the characters, both major and minor, are totally believable.  The author skillfully takes us into the minds of Evie, Cyrus, and the people who surround them.

You can read more about Michael Robotham 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.

 

 

There’s a wonderful song from “The King and I” that encapsulates the feelings I have about teaching at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.   It’s from “Getting To Know You,” and it’s sung by the Welsh teacher Anna Leonowens to the children of the king of Siam.

She has come to the country at the king’s invitation to teach his children about all things “scientific” so they can take their place in the modern world and show Queen Victoria that he and his people are not “barbarians.”   It’s the first verse of the song’s introduction that is so powerful for me:  “It’s a very ancient saying, But a true and honest thought, That if you become a teacher, By your pupils you’ll be taught.”

Oscar Hammerstein II got it exactly right, I think.  When I taught my first WHODUNIT? courses in 2017, I was nervous about the actual teaching but not about letting the class members know why I chose the books I did.  I was certain they would all agree with me about my choices, bowing to my expertise (!) in the field.  Well, perhaps I thought that there might be one or two outliers in each class who would come in with different opinions after reading that week’s novel, but soon they would be overwhelmed by my many reasons why each choice was a perfect one.

However, as we all learn sooner or later, pride goeth before a fall.  It didn’t take too long into that first course, Murder in New England, before people let me know that they didn’t always agree with me about the excellence of a book we were reading and discussing.  And,  I discovered, their opinions were as valid as mine.

Where I might have found the dialogue in a certain mystery clever, a class member found it forced and gave examples to prove it.  Where I explained the intricacies of a plot, others told me that they found it repetitious and slow-moving.  And, most amazing of all, some even had the temerity to say that Agatha Christie was not the be-all and end-all of mystery authors.

All of this led to a bit of soul-searching on my part and made me realize something that I really, truly had known but perhaps had been reluctant to admit.  Each reader brings some very personal feelings and thoughts to every book she/he reads; assuming that the reader has read the book with an open mind, all those different opinions are as reasonable as mine, humbling though it is to admit.

I’ve enjoyed all the WHODUNIT? courses I’ve taught at the BOLLI program, and I hope the members of my various classes have enjoyed taking them.  But there’s no doubt in my mind now, if there had been any before, that the teacher/student relationship works both ways, and each is taught by and learns from the other.

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

Marilyn

THE STORIES YOU TELL by Kristen Lepionka: Book Review

When Roxane Weary’s phone rings at 3 a.m., she has the feeling most of us have–it’s never good news when someone calls in the middle of the night.  And she’s right.

Roxane’s brother Andrew is the caller.  He tells her something weird is going on, then hangs up.  When Roxane gets to his apartment he gives her the rest of the story, brief as it is.  A woman he worked with some years earlier, whom he thinks is called Addison, rang his apartment buzzer about an hour earlier.  She was distraught and said she needed to use his phone, which she did, leaving a whispered message on the voicemail at the other end, and Andrew has no idea whom she called.

When Andrew tries to calm her down she bolts, saying she can’t call the police and he shouldn’t either.  But Andrew has no wish to call the authorities because he’s a low-level marijuana dealer and doesn’t want the cops in his apartment.  That explains his call to his sister, a private investigator, someone who will believe his unlikely story.

Using social media, Roxane manages to find out where Addison lives, but when she arrives at the house the woman’s roommate says that Addison isn’t there but had been earlier in the morning.  She mentions that Addison had been working as a deejay at a nearby nightclub under the name DJ Raddish.

She also tells Roxane that someone had been looking for Addison several days earlier, a policeman in fact.  But when Roxane calls the policeman’s number on the card he left behind, there’s no answer.  She digs more deeply into social media and discovers that the club where Addison works is across the street from Andrew’s apartment.

Roxane’s next step is to check out the nightclub, Nightshade, but when she does she gets an unpleasant surprise.  Bo, the bodyguard of gangster Vincent Pomp, is in front of the building.  Bo tells her that the owner of the club took a loan from Pomp, but now the owner has disappeared, the club is deserted, the door is locked.  Bo doesn’t have any answers to Roxane’s questions, so she decides to go to Pomp in the morning to learn what his interest is in Nightshade and if he knows where to find the missing owner.

The more deeply Roxane looks into the case, the more the characters and their strange stories come into focus.  There are the two sisters, Jordana and Carlie, who don’t seem overly concerned that Addison is missing from the apartment she shares with Carlie.  There is the policeman, Detective Dillman, who doesn’t answer his cell phone.  There is Catherine, with whom Roxane has an off-again, on-again relationship, in part due to the fact that Catherine is still married and living in her husband’s house.

Roxane Weary is a terrific heroine, and The Stories You Tell is a terrific mystery.  She is tough, smart, and yet vulnerable when it comes to her relationships with friends and family.  And those relationships are very, very complicated, as are the stories people tell her and themselves.

You can read more about Kristen Lepionka 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.

 

 

STRANGERS AT THE GATE by Catriona McPherson: Book Review

Newlyweds Finnie Doyle and Paddy Lamb consider themselves very fortunate.  Paddy has been offered a partnership in a small country law firm, and he was still “under forty” as he excitedly told his wife.  And Finnie, who had been a bit more reluctant to move and begin searching for a job as a member of the Church of Scotland clergy, is pleased to discover that the church in the town next to their new home is looking for a deacon.  It seems a perfect match for both of them.

To add to what seems incredible good luck, Paddy has found someone who wants to sublet their flat for a year at a rate enough to cover the mortgage, and the senior partner in his new firm is allowing them to live in a small cottage on the grounds of his home.  What could be more perfect?

There is a downside, however, at least for Finnie.  She dislikes the gatehouse/cottage at first sight; it’s small, dark, and surrounded by hills and forest, not at all the charming home with latticed windows and crooked chimneys that Paddy has described.  But she’s here and will make the best of it, she tells herself.

A day after their arrival, they’re invited (Paddy’s word) or summoned (Finnie’s) to dinner at the lodge, home of Tuft and Lovatt Dudgeon.  Prepared to dislike both of them, Finnie finds herself admiring Tuft, a woman with a sly sense of humor.  Tuft sits on the fund-raising committee and board of St. Angela’s, the church where Finnie will have her first full-time job as a deacon.  So with that connection and the fact of Lovatt being the senior partner in Paddy’s law firm, it all could be seen as either fortuitous or incestuous, depending on one’s point of view.

However, the dinner goes well and Finnie is more relaxed on the way back to their gatehouse until, halfway there, she realizes that she left her handbag at the Dudeons’.  They have to go back and get it, she tells Paddy, because the key to their house is in it.  When they return to the lodge the front door is open and the lights are on, but no one answers the bell.  Finnie’s handbag is on the stand where she had left it, as they can see from a window, so they enter and call out for their hosts.  There’s no answer, so they venture into the kitchen, still calling for Tuft and Lovatt, and see the couples’ bloody bodies on the kitchen floor.

Finnie’s immediate reaction is to call the police, but Paddy is vehement.  “No police….I can explain everything….But we need to get out of here now.”  And with each explanation/secret, the fissures between them widen.  Their marriage isn’t quite the perfect one the reader had been led to expect from the beginning of the novel.  The story is so skillfully told that you will be drawn in, step by step, until the very end.

You can read more about Catriona McPherson 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.

 

 

 

 

 

LETHAL PURSUIT by Will Thomas: Book Review

In the last decade of the 19th century, enquiry agents were relatively unknown.  That was the English name for private detectives, and even today it sounds more genteel than “private eyes.”  But whether they were called enquiry agents or private investigators, their jobs were the same:  finding missing persons, acting as bodyguards, thwarting blackmailers.  But whenever the team of Barker and Llewelyn takes a case, it always becomes more dangerous or more obscure than the usual ones.

The novel opens with a man who believes he has been followed from Germany to London because of the precious package he has been given.  Skillful as he is, ultimately he cannot evade his pursuers, and he is stabbed in the middle of a busy London street mere steps away from his destination.  Moments from death, he enjoys the expressions on his attackers’ faces when they open the suitcase he’s been carrying and discovers that it’s filled, not with the priceless item they thought was inside, but with socks, socks, socks.

A small package is delivered to the office of enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Lllewelyn, and when Barker opens it he finds a small key with the letter Q stamped on it.  Although Llewelyn is in the dark as to what it is or what it means, Barker appears to understand; the two of them leave their office, walk a few blocks, and enter a building that also has a Q on it.

They are led to the office of the Prime Minister who reluctantly informs them of the death of an agent in His Majesty’s Foreign Office, a man who had been trusted with something of incredible value.  To mislead the killers and the government that hired them, Cyrus and Thomas are asked to bring a satchel to France that will then be delivered by others to The Vatican. 

When Cyrus professes to be incredulous as to why they were picked for this job when the Prime Minister could have chosen envoys from any branch of the royal government, he is told “you would not be an agency our government would naturally choose….Your methods are considered unorthodox, haphazard, and impulsive.  Most of your cases end in bloodshed.”

Despite this statement, or perhaps because of it, Barker agrees to take the parcel and its unknown contents across the channel.  The two men leave the Prime Minister’s office and bring the parcel directly to Barker’s bank.  But, of course, that is only the beginning of the adventure.

This the eleventh novel in the Barker and Llewelyn series and has moved from the 1880s to the early 1890s.  The characters have moved with the times, Thomas having started out as an apprentice to Barker but is now is his partner.  However, Thomas is still a “junior” partner, as the vastly more experienced Barker continues to make most of the decisions.  But change is definitely in the wind.

And while Cyrus Barker remains a bachelor, the younger Thomas Llewelyn is a newlywed whose wife is a beautiful widow; she has been pushed out of the tight Orthodox Jewish community in Londaon for her marriage to Thomas, a gentile.

You can read more about Will Thomas 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.

VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT by Max Tomlinson: Book Review

After spending ten years in prison for killing her husband when she discovered that he was sexually abusing their daughter, Colleen Hayes is trying to put her life back in order.  But she’s not having an easy time of time of it.

She is currently living in an empty office belonging to the H & M Paint company.  It’s located in a derelict warehouse whose owners are giving Colleen a meager salary and a roof, the latter somewhat leaky, over her head in exchange for providing security for the rundown site.  She’s on parole and broke, so when she is approached to find out what happened eleven years earlier to the daughter of wealthy businessman Edward Copeland she takes the job.

Copeland’s daughter Margaret was brutally murdered during the so-called Summer of Love, when approximately 100,000 young people converged on San Francisco in search of drugs, free love, and an alternative lifestyle.  Margaret was one of those teenagers, rebelling against the lives of her parents, but her rebellion led to death.  Her father, who now has only months to live, wants to find out what really happened to her, as he never believed the official conclusion of the city’s police department.

The more Colleen investigates, the more a coverup seems possible, even probable.  Her every request for information is blocked, and her best source, a retired detective, is obviously hesitant to talk to her.  When he finally and reluctantly agrees, after Colleen offers him five hundred dollars for the report he wrote on the case, they plan to meet again later that day so she can get the money and he can give her the report he’s kept at home all these years.  But he’s a no-show, and his wife absolutely refuses to tell Colleen anything she knows.

And then there’s the man with the glasses and the tightly knit hat who is stalking a teenage girl, looking for his opportunity.  He has all his supplies ready–chloroform, handkerchief, plastic dry-cleaning bag.  Who is he?

Colleen’s personal life is messy too.  Because she’s on parole after her years in prison, she needs a permanent, approved address, and the room she’s been using in the deserted warehouse doesn’t meet the criterion.  Her daughter, now a member of a cult, won’t see her, and Colleen is sexually intrigued by the daughter of her client.

Things are getting out of control, but the events in Colleen’s history have taught her to persevere.  So in spite of the roadblocks put in her way by the San Francisco police force, the antagonism of the former detective’s wife, and the difficulty of finding the solution to Edward Copeland’s daughter’s murder before his imminent death, she continues her investigation.

The tension of the plot and the strong characters make Vanishing in the Haight a perfect thriller.  According to the book’s jacket, this is the first novel in the Colleen Hayes series.  I can’t wait for the next one.

You can read more about Max Tomlinson 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 LYING ROOM by Nicci French: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

LAND OF WOLVES by Craig Johnson: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Craig Johnson at this website.

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