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THE GIRL IN THE BOSTON BOX by Chuck Latovich: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINTER COUNTS by David Hesla Wanbli Weiden: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about the author at this website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Jeffrey S. Stephens at this website.

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

 

 

WATCH HER by Edwin Hill: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this About Marilyn column I am celebrating two events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marilyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about P. J. Tracy at this website.

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

 

 

HIDDEN TREASURE by Jane K. Cleland: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Jane K. Cleland at this website.

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

THE ART OF VIOLENCE by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about her at this website.

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

PRODIGAL SON by Gregg Hurwitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Gregg Hurwitz at this website.

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

 

 

 

TROUBLED BLOOD by Robert Galbraith: Book Review

Troubled Blood, the fifth novel featuring Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, is, to put it simply, a masterpiece of mystery fiction.  It’s a long masterpiece, weighing in (and I don’t use that expression carelessly) at 927 pages, but it’s worth every page.

Strike’s private investigations agency is doing very well after a rocky start.  Robin is now his partner, they have hired two additional investigators and a secretary, and there is a waiting list for their services.  But although professionally things are going well for Strike and Robin, their personal lives are not so smooth.

Strike’s aunt Joan, who basically brought up Strike and his sister following the many times their unstable mother disappeared from their lives, is dying of cancer, and Strike is teetering between wanting to spend time with her and his inability to know how to behave with her at this difficult time.

He is also being bombarded by requests from his half-brother Al to join the family in celebrating their famous father’s 80th birthday and the release of his latest rock album.  Strike has absolutely no desire to see his father again; the two have met only twice in Strike’s life, and he tells Al not to call him again about this get-together.  But Al is persistent.

Robin, meantime, has her own issues.  She is separated from her husband, but Matthew seems determined to make their divorce as difficult as possible.  Even her attorney agrees.  “I’ve never known a childless divorce to be so contentious,” she tells Robin, as Matthew cancels mediation meeting after mediation meeting.  But Robin is determined to see the procedure through to the end.

While visiting his aunt in St. Mawes, Cornwall, Strike is approached by a woman with an unusual request.  She introduces herself as Anna and tells the detective that she’d like to talk with him about her mother, Margot Bamborough, who disappeared more than forty years earlier.  Although reluctant to get involved, Strike’s curiosity overtakes him and he agrees to visit Anna and her wife the following day to hear the entire story.

The search for Margot is at the center of Troubled Blood, but there are many, many subplots to the novel in addition to the story of Strike’s estrangement from his father and his step-siblings, his aunt’s imminent death, and Robin’s attempts to put her marriage behind her.  What is the true story of Margot’s medical practice?  Her marriage?  Her husband’s remarriage to their nanny?  Strike’s ex-girlfriend’s barrage of texts to him, each one more desperate than the one before?  Robin’s ill-at-ease feeling with one of the firm’s employees?

Troubled Blood is a fascinating novel in its own right that is made even better by being the fifth in the series.  If you start at the beginning with The Cuckoo’s Calling and read all the books, you can see the characters develop and grow.  Robert Galbraith/aka J. K. Rowling, is a master in describing the dozens of characters in this story, as well as writing a plot with an amazing ending.  This is a book worth spending time with, perhaps starting at Christmas and going straight through to New Year’s Day.

You can read about Robert Galbraith 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.

 

 

 

 

MOONFLOWER MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz: Book Review

Moonflower Murders is a mystery novel with another mystery novel tucked inside it, a tour de force.  The talented and extremely prolific Anthony Horowitz has done it again.

Susan Ryeland was first introduced in Magpie Murders, a novel I greatly enjoyed but strangely didn’t review in this blog.  Well, I’m not about to make that same mistake with Susan’s second appearance.

In Magpie Murders, Susan was working in a publishing house and editing Alan Conway’s most recent novel.  Several years have gone by since then, and Conway has died.  Difficult as he was in life, he remains equally so in death.  One of Conway’s novels is what brings Susan to Branlow Hall at the request of the hotel’s owners, Lawrence and Pauline Treherne, to investigate the disappearance of their older daughter Cecily.

Eight years before Moonflower Murders opens, Cecily Treherne marries Aiden MacNeil at the family’s hotel.  Immediately after the ceremony the body of a guest, Frank Parris, is discovered in his room, and the wedding dissolves into chaos.  After a brief investigation, one of the hotel’s employees, a Romanian immigrant named Stefan Codrescu, confesses to the murder.  Stefan has been imprisoned ever since, but Cecily has continued to insist that he is innocent of the crime.

Just before she went missing, as the British say, Cecily calls her parents to tell them that she has proof that Stefan is innocent, proof that she found at the beginning of Alan Conway’s murder mystery Atticus Pünd Takes the Case.  The Trehernes tell Susan that several weeks after Parris was murdered, Conway came to Branlow Hall and stayed for a few weeks, interviewing family members and staff; he later published Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, obviously basing his book on the murder that took place at the hotel.

Now the Trehernes want to hire Susan to look into their daughter’s disappearance because she was the editor of Conway’s book.  They offer Susan ten thousand pounds to return to England from Greece, where she and her almost-fiancé own a small and less luxurious hotel than Branlow Hall, and find their daughter.  They don’t agree with Cecily’s belief that Stefan is innocent and don’t want her to investigate Parris’ death; their only wish is for Susan to locate the missing woman.

In true Golden Age style, there is a small group of people with a motive for murder, or, in this case, possibly a motive for murders This includes, but is not limited to Lisa, Cecily’s sister; Aiden, Cecily’s husband; Joanne and Martin Williams, sister and brother-in-law of Frank Parris; Eloise Radmoni, Cecily and Aiden’s daughter’s nanny; and Derek Endicott, an employee of Treherne’s hotel.  And the motives are the usual ones–jealousy, greed, and fear.

The most fascinating part of Moonflower Murders is that there is another complete book inside it–the aforementioned Atticus Pünd novel.  It’s a really clever conceit, so you’re actually reading two novels in one.  If you enjoy Golden Age mysteries that conclude with the protagonist confronting all the suspects in the library, or in this case the hotel’s lounge, you will love Moonflower Murders.

Anthony Horowitz, in addition to being the author of several adult mysteries, also writes the Alex Rider series for young adults and created both “Midsomer Murders” and “Foyle’s War” for PBS.  You can read more about him at this site.

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 MICROWAVE OVEN by Susan Cox: Book Review

It’s been exactly five years since Susan Cox’s debut mystery, The Man on the Washing Machine, was published, but now, happily, Theo Bogart has returned in The Man in the Microwave Oven.

Theo, an English ex-pat, moved to San Francisco to escape the publicity surrounding two deaths.  Her upper-class family was the subject of intense tabloid coverage after her father killed her mother and then hanged himself while awaiting trial.  Theo fled to San Francisco, changed her hair color and her name, bought a run-down building that now houses her apartment and her shop Aromas, and is trying to keep a low profile and stay out of the news.  But somehow she keeps stumbling into murders.

Theo’s neighborhood, around Polk Street, is a mixture of two- and three-story apartment buildings, but now the threat of a fifteen-story condo coming to their community has started bitter disputes within the formerly friendly neighborhood association.  Katrina Dermody, one of the neighbors, is the lawyer representing Amos Noble, the man who wants to put the condo in Fabian Gardens, and Katrina has a scorched-earth policy to stop everyone opposing her.  She’s even been keeping files on her neighbors, Theo discovers, making notes on their vulnerabilities.  For blackmail purposes, Theo wonders?

Trying hard to live by her grandfather’s advice, “Courtesy costs nothing,” Theo sees Katrina’s car and decides to say hello.  She bends down at the driver’s side window and sees it’s covered with blood, and a closer look shows Katrina staring straight ahead, obviously dead.

There are many people with whom Katrina feuded, so there is no shortage of people who disliked her.  But enough to murder her, Theo wonders?

At the memorial service, Theo discovers a side to the attorney she had never known.  A distant cousin of Katrina’s who had been living with her tells the people attending the service that the deceased had been funding a small orphanage in her home town of Kiev for years.  “Katrina didn’t want her philanthropy to be widely known,” Gavin says, “but I feel she wouldn’t mind me telling you about it now.”  It’s almost enough to make Theo sorry for her dislike of the late lawyer…almost, but not quite.

Then a stranger comes into Aromas, a man with a thick Russian accent, who tells Theo that he’s an old friend of a man he thinks she knows.  He shows her a newspaper photo of her grandfather, but she is reluctant to tell the man of their relationship.  She promises to ask around but instead calls her grandfather directly, and she finds out that there are even more family secrets than she had suspected.

Theo Bogart is a delightful heroine, a woman trying to reinvent herself in a new country.  But she’s finding out that, like the story of her grandfather and her mother, once you pull on a thread in a story everything begins to unravel.  The novel’s plot and the many interesting and unusual characters make The Man in the Microwave Oven a terrific read.

You can read more about Susan Cox 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.

 

GERMANIA by Harald Gilbers: Book Review

Germania.  That was what Adolph Hitler was planning as the new name for Berlin after Nazi Germany won World War II.  Apparently he thought it sounded more grandiose, more befitting his image of the capital of his country .  In an 1848 painting credited to Phillip Veit, Gemania is portrayed as an imposing figure holding a tri-colored flag in her left hand, a sword in her right, wearing a red, blue, and gold robe with the design of an eagle between her breasts.

But, of course, the German victory never happened, although in Harald Gilbers’ debut novel, it is May of 1944 and the war is still ongoing, so the outcome is unknown.  Richard Oppenheimer is awakened in the middle of the night by a member of the Security Protection Service to view a corpse.

As a Jew, Oppenheimer had been removed from his post as a homicide detective and forbidden to take part in any investigations.  So he doesn’t understand why he is being asked to examine a woman’s body which has been terribly mutilated.  He’s given no explanation, just returned to the room he and his wife Lisa share in the Jewish House after he views the corpse.

The next morning Oppenheimer is taken to SS headquarters where he again meets Detective Vogler, the man who was standing over the body the night before.  Vogler tells Oppenheimer that because of his past experience he has been chosen to take part in the murder investigation; in reality, he has no choice but to accept the assignment.

Germania brings the reader into Berlin at the beginning of the end of the war.  Bombs are falling, food and coffee are are almost unobtainable except by the Nazi elite, and the realization is dawning on the populace that the Allies may be winning after all.  But, of course, no one will voice these thoughts on penalty of imprisonment or worse.

The more Oppenheimer looks into the case, the more he becomes convinced that a serial killer is at work.  And not simply a serial killer but one who is copying the crimes of Karl Großmann, a convicted rapist and killer who committed suicide in jail.  But this killer appears to be more careful, more fastidious, and harder to catch.  And then, as Oppenheimer thought would happen, the killer strikes again.

Harald Gilbers has written a spellbinding thriller, not only because of the frightening crimes that the killer commits but also because of his recreation of Berlin in 1944.  Oppenheimer’s fears of the whole investigation being a trap and of being captured by the SS, his love for his Christian wife, the almost daily bombings by the Allies–all of this brings the horrors of war and persecution home to the reader.  Oppenheimer, his wife Lisa, his friend Hilde, Vogler, all come alive as they each play their part as their world is torn apart.

You can read more about Harold Gilbers 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.

THE EIGHTH DETECTIVE by Alex Pavesi: Book Review

The Eighth Detective is definitely one of the most unusual mysteries I’ve read this year.  I can’t recall another book quite like it.

Grant McAllister is a reclusive man, formerly a professor of mathematics, and the author of seven perfectly constructed short story mysteries.  He has hidden himself away on an island in the Mediterranean, perfectly content to be out of touch with the world, living an almost hermit-like existence.

Into his life comes Julia Hart bearing a letter from Blood Type, an English publishing company that wishes to reissue his stories.  She persuades McAllister to allow her to read each story and then discuss it with him.  And as she talks to him about each one, she points out discrepancies in the stories and questions him about them.

As they discuss the first one in the collection, McAllister admits that he purposely added some incorrect details to see if the readers were alert or astute enough to catch them.  He explains how mathematics is related to his literary work.  His aim, he tells Julia, “was to give a mathematical definition of a murder mystery,” which he did in a research paper that was published in Mathematical Recreations.  And so he wrote these stories that each described a different permutation of the mystery genre.

As Julia and Grant review each story, she becomes dismayed at how many incorrect things there are in each and how he doesn’t seem to recall, or won’t tell her, whether he wrote them that way deliberately or accidentally.  He also refuses to answer her most innocent questions about himself, things that she tells him she would like to include in the published volume as background information.  He won’t discuss his reasons for moving to the island, his marriage, his war record, why he no longer writes, or anything else that is personal.

The tales get longer and more involved, and Julia gets more and more intrigued by Grant’s refusal to share anything about himself.  She decides to try one more bluff to force him to tell her what she wants to know.

The Eighth Detective is a very intriguing mystery.  There are really only two characters, Grant McAllister and Julia Hart, and they meet several times on the remote island where he lives.  No one intrudes on their conversations–all the other characters mentioned exist only in the stories they discuss.   I can’t decide what part of the genre it fits into–it’s not a police procedural, not hard-boiled, not a cozy–so perhaps the author has invented a new type of mystery, one for which I don’t have a name.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The two characters completely held my interest, as did the seven stories under discussion by Julia and Grant.  They are clever, intricate, and each one has a connection to a mathematical formula or way of thinking.  Not surprisingly, Alex Pavesi has a doctorate in mathematics and is into recreational lockpicking!

You can read more about Alex Pavesi 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.

 

 

HIP SET by Michael Fertik: Book Review

Oscar Orleans is not your typical Israeli name, but then Oscar Orleans is not your typical Israeli.  Born in the Congo, he arrived in Israel after escaping from his war-torn native country, converted to Judaism, and is now in the process of becoming a citizen.  He’s not the only Black Israeli, but he is the only one on the Tel Aviv police force, and he acts as a liaison to the city’s African community.

Early on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Oscar is called by Inspector Kobi Sabinsky to the Dolphinarium, a building with a tragic past.  In 2001, the vibrant discotheque was blown up by a Hamas terrorist, killing 22 people, including the terrorist himself.  The innocent victims, mostly Jewish teenagers recently arrived from the Soviet Union, were torn apart by explosives and ball-bearings.   Since then the Dolphinarium has remained virtually empty, its horrific past dissuading any group from rebuilding.  But now an African corpse is lying there, continuing the venue’s history as a place of violent death.

Oscar immediately identifies the corpse as a member of the Toposas, a tribe from South Sudan.  His body had been scarified in the traditional manner of the Toposa people, with rows of wounds, now healed, on his belly and chest, a tradition for boys around the age of twelve or thirteen.

What, Oscar wonders aloud, is this young man’s story?  He explains to Sabinsky that the Toposas are a rural people, raising cattle, fighting other tribes, honoring their animistic traditions and refusing conversion to either Christianity or Islam.  They don’t have a formal education or jobs outside of the tribe.   So how did he get from South Sudan and why is he here?

Seeking answers, Oscar and Kobi visit Michael Alou Kuur Kuur, a member of South Sudan’s Dinka tribe, who has been living in Tel Aviv for fifteen years.  He had proclaimed himself a pastor and was the leader of the Sudanese population in the city, helping his people find jobs and keeping the peace among them.

Michael tells Oscar and Kobi that he had met the young man shortly after his arrival in the city.  The youth had  called himself Kinga, a respected name in his home country; perhaps he has been related to the famous Sudanese chief Kinga Longokowo, but, the pastor says, perhaps not.  His scarring, which according to tradition would have extended past his shoulders down his arms, did not extend that far, making the pastor think that he came from an aristocratic family who possibly foresaw a future for him outside of his tribe and even outside his country.

Oscar and Kobi then go the city’s morgue where an autopsy has been conducted.  The chief pathologist informs them that the dead man’s mouth showed amateur surgery on one of his teeth, and when she probed the tooth she found a gold nugget inside.  Sabinsky thinks this shows that the man had been a smuggler, but Oscar is not so sure.  Perhaps, he thinks, the gold was there for another reason.

Hip Set gives readers a look into the city through the eyes of an outsider, and that is what Oscar remains, even after two decades in Israel.  The fascinating hero and the exciting plot will carry you along until the last page.

You can read more about Michael Fertik 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.