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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.


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.

THEY NEVER LEARN by Layne Fargo: Book Review

Scarlett Clark, professor by day, killer by night.  And guess which job she enjoys more?

Scarlett has been at Gorman University for seven years, and each year she has killed a male member of the university.  Student, staff member, or professor–it doesn’t matter to her.  Her only goal is the permanent removal of a predator, a man who uses the power of his position to assault or rape.

They Never Learn is written in two voices in alternate chapters.  When we meet Scarlett in the first chapter she’s in Tyler Elkins’ garage, waiting for the university’s star quarterback to return from his morning run.  She knows very well what he’ll do when he returns; she’s been following him for weeks.

As always, he grabs a bottle of his energy drink from the garage’s mini fridge and begins to gulp it down.  This time, thanks to the special ingredient Scarlett has added, Tyler’s body begins to spasm and cramp.  While he’s writhing on the garage floor, Samantha stands over him, snaps a photo of him, adds an apologetic suicide note, and sends it to his Instagram account.

Last semester Tyler had stood watching while a number of his drunken frat brothers raped the girl they drugged; then, cold sober, he took his turn with her.  That’s what made him Scarlett’s latest victim.

Carly is beginning her freshman year at Gorman, free at last from her controlling and emotionally abusive father and her cowed and tyrannized mother.  But although she is ready for college academically, she’s not at all ready socially.

Her roommate is the beautiful and popular Allison, who for some reason is willing to take Carly under her wing and help her fit into the college girl mold.  But is that really a lucky break?

Scarlett’s revenge killings go even further back than the ones she’s committed since joining the Gorman faculty.  She’s been clever about all of them, using various methods and never choosing a man to whom she can be connected, but now she’s choosing victims closer to home.  Not surprisingly, it’s becoming more dangerous.

Halfway through the book there’s a surprise that literally made me gasp.  And They’ll Never Learn continues with one surprise after another.  The author’s ability to make the reader agree that the crimes the men have committed justify her actions is outstanding, even if this reader felt a bit guilty for that belief.

Underlying the plot is the disheartening message about how easy it is for the predators to continue their abuse, time after time, and how those in authority to whom the victims turn don’t intervene for various reasons.  Sadly, we know this is all too real, and the victims are left to feel even more betrayed by those they should be able to trust.

All the characters in the novel, both good and bad, are totally believable, and the plot pulls you along until the very end.  Layne Fargo has written an outstanding, and all too realistic, mystery.

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.

THE HALF SISTER by Sandie Jones

Picture opening your front door one day and being confronted by a stranger who tells you an incredible story.  She says her name is Jess, she’s arrived to talk to your father, not knowing that he has died, and that she’s his daughter, your sister.  Can you imagine your response?  That’s the premise of Sandi Jones’ mystery, The Half Sister.

Lauren and Kate are sisters, but they have grown apart over the years.  Lauren is married, with three children, and now she is home on maternity leave from her job as a nurse.  Kate, also married, is a journalist who has made her name interviewing celebrities around the world.

What neither woman will outwardly acknowledge is that she is jealous of the other–Lauren, for what she views as Kate’s glamorous lifestyle; Kate, for Lauren’s ability to become pregnant three times while Kate has been unsuccessfully trying for several years.

Even before Jess arrives on the scene, there is tension in the family.  Harry, the father, was the glue that held the family together, and since his death there is no one to smooth things over.  Kate, the younger daughter, feels it most keenly as she and her father had a special bond, and she is furious at the thought that Lauren believes that Jess is their half-sister.  But then Lauren tells Kate and their mother the whole story, that in an effort to bring the family closer together, she went on an ancestry website and submitted her DNA.  It turns out that Jess did the same, and their DNAs are a match.

Of course, having a half-sister is not the only secret that Jess’ arrival has uncovered.  We learn the reason why Lauren’s bond with their late father is not as strong as Kate’s and why she is much more willing to accept Jess as part of their family.  A life-changing event in Lauren’s past led to the rupture, but now when she views what happened to her as a teenager through an adult lens, she emerges with a different perspective.  And Rose, Kate and Lauren’s mother, is distraught that this unknown young woman has seen fit to come into their lives and destroy the memory of her late husband.

An interesting point about the book’s title is that the half part of it can also be seen as referring to the life of this family–that only half of their lives was true, the other half being a tangle of lies and misrepresentations.  Of course, as all mystery readers know, once a lie or secret starts to unravel there’s no stopping it.

Sandie Jones has written a mystery with truly believable characters and a plot that will have you breathless until, literally, the book’s last page.

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.

NEXT TO LAST STAND by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Every time I read another Walt Longmire mystery I feel as if I’m meeting an old friend.  There is something so real, so down-to-earth, about the Wyoming sheriff that I am always delighted to be in his company again.

In Next to Last Stand, Walt is still recovering from the injuries he received when he traveled south of the border in search of his abducted daughter more than a year ago.  He’s back in Absaroka County, but physically and emotionally he is still carrying the scars from his trip to the northern Mexican desert.

Years earlier, just back from Vietnam, Walt struck up a friendship with several men at the Veterans’ Home of Wyoming, in particular with Charlie Lee Stillwater, an Army vet who fought in the Korean War.  Now Walt gets a call from Carol Williams, the administrator of the Home, to tell him that his friend died during the night and that she would like him to stop by as soon as possible.  When Walt arrives and he and Carol  go to Charlie’s room, she shows him a shoe box she had found that morning, filled with hundred dollar bills adding up to one million dollars.

There’s also a fragment of a painting, an artist’s proof, slipped into the folds of the blanket on Charlie’s bed.  It’s old, still showing vibrant colors, and portrays an Indian and a cavalry officer locked in a struggle to the death.  Neither Carol nor Walt has any idea how the dead man came to have it in his possession, Walt decides to take it to a museum a few towns away to see if anyone there knows where it came from or how Charlie could possibly have gotten it.

One of America’s most famous battles was fought in what was then the Montana Territory.  It has various names–The Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer’s Last Stand, the Battle of the Greasy Grass (the latter the name given by the Indians who fought there),–and it took place in June, 1876.  It became immortalized in a painting by Cassilly Adams.  Walt is beginning to believe that somehow Charlie Lee had the original Adams painting and sold it, thus explaining the money found in his room.

There are two particularly wonderful scenes in Next to Last Stand that help explain my admiration for Walt Longmire and his creator.  In one, he’s placed a man accused of domestic abuse and kidnapping in a holding cell, and in defiance the prisoner has covered himself with Vaseline so the sheriff can’t grab him and take him out to the transport van that will take him to California to face charges there.  In the following scene, Walt discovers that the van’s drivers have been on the road for seventeen hours straight and not attending to the medical and physical needs of their passengers.  Walt’s handling of both these issues is so clever, so ingenious, that they alone make the novel worth reading.

But, of course, there’s much more–a closer look into Charlie Lee’s death, the possibility of uncovering the missing painting that for years has been presumed burned, the search for the veteran’s heirs, Walt’s unhappy mental state–all these things, plus Walt’s usual sidekicks–his deputy sheriff and romantic interest Victoria, his closest friend Henry Standing Bear, his long-suffering dispatcher Ruby–all combine to make Craig Johnson’s latest mystery one of the year’s best.

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.


MONEY CREEK by Anne Laughlin: Book Review

The lure of drugs as well as what one will do to get them is at the heart of Anne Laughlin’s MONEY CREEK.  It’s painful reading, but unfortunately it’s a story that is all too familiar to many, either through personal experience or through general knowledge.  Either way, Clare Lehane’s story is one that will resonate with the readers of the author’s latest mystery.

The novel’s prologue sets the scene for what follows.  Clare is at a remote cabin in the woods, where she has gone with Henry, her new drug supplier.  He has insisted she accompany him there and meet the people in his circle.  Almost as soon as they arrive Henry leaves, and Clare is left with three people she doesn’t know.  Angry, yet needing to stay until she gets the drugs she came for, Clare leaves the living room to use the bathroom, and while she’s there gunshots erupt.

Walking back to the living room, she sees three bloody bodies lying on the floor.  After checking that the gunman is gone, she quickly leaves the cabin and calls the police from a pay phone.  Although the last thing she wants is to get involved and to have to explain what she was doing there, her guilt adds to her already distraught state of mind and increases her desire for drugs and, when they are not readily available, alcohol.

The backstory explains how Clare finds herself in this horrific place.  She is a young lawyer, working for a “white shoe” law firm in Chicago.  The term, according to Google, refers to the most prestigious employers in elite professions, and the Windy City law firm where she is a first-year associate is definitely that.  Clare is realizing that the only way she can keep up with the 70-80 hours of work demanded of her each week is to continue what she started while a law school student–taking Adderall to give her more energy and a longer attention span during the day, then taking Valium to relax her at night.  And she discovers she can’t function without either or both.

In a desperate effort to start a new life, she quits her job and moves to a small law firm in southern Illinois.  She actually goes so far as to flush her entire drug supply down the toilet after she arrives there, but she almost immediately realizes that this hasn’t solved her addiction problem.  In fact, she is so desperate that her only recourse is to go to the college in the small town of Money Creek in hopes of finding a student/dealer to resupply her.

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes before she meets Henry, a student who is the go-to man on campus when one is looking for drugs.  Despite her intention of quitting, after just one day she’s so desperate for speed that she agrees to have sex with him if he will provide her with what she needs.

Money Creek is a thought-provoking book with a flawed protagonist, one whom you want to succeed.  Reading Clare’s story evokes both despair and hope.  Despair because I felt she was losing her promising life and career to her addiction, hope because she so desperately wants to conquer her need for drugs that I was rooting for her to do so.

You can read more about Anne Laughlin 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 ORPHAN’S GUILT by Archer Mayor: Book Review

Old sins cast long shadows is a proverb that’s never been truer than in Archer Mayor’s latest Joe Gunther novel.

The Orphan’s Guilt opens with the inebriated John Rust being pulled over by a Vermont state trooper.  John doesn’t fight going to the police barracks, even though he knows that because it’s his fourth DUI–Driving Under the Influence–an arrest and conviction will likely cost him his license and possibly a jail term.

The event that triggered John’s drinking was the death of his younger brother Peter earlier that day.  After he’s released from the barracks he contacts attorney Scott Jezek to discuss his legal options, and Scott hires Sally Kravitz, who works for him as an independent investigator, to determine if there are mitigating circumstances that might lead to a lesser sentence or even no penalty at all for his client.

It was always believed by John’s neighbors that Peter had a severe birth defect that resulted in his inability to speak, walk, or take care of himself in any way.  The few people who knew the brothers were uniformly impressed by John’s care of and devotion for Peter.  Their mother had died when John was twelve and Peter eight, and the day that John turned eighteen their father, Daryl Hicks, walked out of the house, leaving the older brother to care for the younger one.

In the aftermath of John’s arrest for drunk driving, things long hidden start coming to the surface.  Sally talks to Marcia Ethier, the midwife who delivered Peter, and is stunned to hear that, as opposed to everyone’s understanding of Peter’s condition, the boy was not born brain damaged.

“I know, by all that is holy, that Peter Rust was damaged by another,” Marcia tells Sally.  She has kept this knowledge to herself, feeling guilty for more than two decades, because she was frightened by the boys’ father.  “I felt like my life was in danger.”

This statement opens up an inquiry by the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, headed by Joe Gunther and his staff.  A very circuitous path, starting with the disappearance of Scott’s client John, takes them into an examination of the Russ/Hicks home life, the death by overdose of the boys’ mother, the criminal record of their father, and a long-forgotten financial crime.

It is always a delight to have an opportunity to spend time with Joe Gunther and his staff.  There’s smart and organized Sammie Martens, cranky but street-smart Willy Kunkle, and friendly and easy-going Lester Spinney.  Working together they solve a case that began with a boy’s birth and ended years later in multiple murders.

A man of many talents and interests, Archer Mayor works as a death investigator for the Vermont State Medical Examiner’s office, a deputy for the Windham County Sheriff’s Department, and a volunteer for his local fire department and EMT squad.  Archer Mayor is a master craftsman, and The Orphan’s Guilt shows him at the top of his game.

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.

THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides: Book Review

When clinical psychotherapist Theo Faber leaves his position at Broadmoor, a highly regarded psychiatric hospital in London, to accept a similar position at the Grove, a less prestigious and less respected institution, his colleagues are surprised.  His supervisor tells that him that he’s heard rumors that the Grove is in financial trouble and may be closed shortly.  “You could find yourself out of a job in six months,” he tells Theo.  But Theo won’t change his mind.

What Theo doesn’t say is that he has a very personal, somewhat unprofessional, reason for wanting to join the staff of the Grove.  The hospital’s most celebrated patient is Alicia Berenson, a well-known artist who killed her husband six years earlier by shooting him in the face five times.  Since that day her silence has been total; she has not spoken another word.

Theo himself has had years of psychotherapy, something he believes has saved his life.  His childhood was traumatic, with an emotionally and physically abusive father and a mother unable to intervene or help him.  Now, with his successful career of helping severely mentally disturbed patients and having obtained a better understanding of his own dysfunctional history, he believes he is uniquely able to help Alicia break through her silence, explain the murder, and re-enter the world.  Theo says to himself, “I wanted to fix her.”

However, that doesn’t prove easy.  Alicia is resistant to all the therapy the Grove has offered over the years, and Theo finds himself beginning to blur the boundaries between therapist and patient in an effort to get her to respond to him, to speak again.  He reads her file, but he really doesn’t have any interest in what any other therapist has said or done in working with Alicia.  He believes that his approach will prove to be the successful one.

He determines first to speak to her attorney, Max Berersen, who was the brother of Alicia’s ex-husband.  He feels certain that he would not receive approval for his unorthodox approach to Max, so “better not ask” his supervisor, he decides.  And this becomes the first step on the slippery slope of ignoring not only the hospital rules but those of good therapeutic practice.  But even at this early juncture, Theo realizes “it was too late to stop.  In many ways my fate was already decided….”

Theo’s marriage has been the one bright spot in his personal life.  Kathy is warm, spontaneous, outgoing, all the traits that he himself is missing, and he loves her for them.  Then one day he passes her open laptop and reads several emails that make it obvious that she is having an affair.  And now he must deal with his private problem as well as his professional one.

Alex Michaelides has written a spellbinding novel, one in which we see, or think we see, how one man’s overweening pride does not lead to the result he anticipated.  And you know what they say follows pride….

You can read more about Alex Michaelides 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.

AS THE CROW DIES by Kenneth Butcher: Book Review

In scenic Asheville, North Carolina, police detectives Dinah Rudisill and Ira Segal are called to the French Broad River, where a corpse has been found.  Expecting to see a drowning victim, they are instead confronted by a man whose body shows a large exit wound between his shoulder blades.

The man who discovered the victim tells them that his attention had been drawn to the water by the loud cawing of a group of crows.  “Calling to each other like they were upset or excited or something,” he tells the police.

The corpse’s body contains, among other things, a wallet with a business card showing that his name was Charles Atley and his job title was manager, Behavior Augmentation, at a local business called Creatures 2.0.  At the company headquarters, Dinah and Ira learn that the company is involved with the selection, breeding, and training of animals, with special emphasis on crows.  They learn there is a pecking order among the crows (pun intended), with the company’s special project, Richard, the most important and apparently the most intelligent bird.

Richard belongs to Creatures 2.0’s owner and president, Francis Elah.  Francis is currently out of town on a secret, perhaps government, job and has been out of touch for five weeks.  Neither his employees nor his wife knows where he is or how to reach him.

The detectives learn that the Office of Naval Intelligence, in the person of Jerome Guilford, will be joining the Asheville investigation.  “So now I guess what part of the government” is involved in the secret project, Ira tells another police officer.  Guilford wants to be kept abreast of all the information Ira and Dinah gather, but he isn’t willing to share what he knows.  “Reasons of national security” and “classified” are his favorite expressions.

The research that Francis Elah’s company is doing is what he calls “reordering.”  He has taught a monkey to do magic tricks, a mule deer recite the first three letters of the alphabet, and was working on having a raccoon assist in surgical procedures, taking advantage of the animal’s tiny fingers.  At first this all seems unbelievable to Ira, but after seeing videos of the animals in action he is beginning to change his mind.

Kenneth Butcher has created an intriguing plot and a strong detective team in this mystery.  The plot involves homicides, the disappearance of Francis Elah, and the mysterious intervention of the federal government, while the police twosome shows the personal sides of Ira, who carries paperback books as self-soothing devices to help him recover from PTSD brought on by a previous case, and Dinah, who is a roller derby star and local sports legend.  Together they make a perfect professional pair.

You can read more about Kenneth Butcher 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.


Click “collections” on your browser and see what comes up.  There are collections of military memorabilia, comic books, netsuke figurines, musical instruments, baseball cards–the list is apparently endless.  It’s a harmless hobby for some (full disclosure–I collect miniature houses) and an obsession for others.  It can even lead to death.

That is the case for Barnaby Mayne, a wealthy 18th-century English collector of nearly everything.  His beautiful London home is filled with items from around the world; in fact, his residence consists of two adjacent houses because one could not contain all the items he owns.  Lady Cecily Kay has asked to use his extensive library to help her identify some items in her much smaller collection of plants and he agrees, but the day she arrives Sir Barnaby is murdered.

There was a scheduled tour of the Mayne mansion that day, with friends and fellow enthusiasts invited.  Lady Cecily is joined by Humphrey Warbulton, a collector trying to reach the upper echelon of Sir Barnaby’s world; Otto Helm, a visitor from Sweden who is an expert on serpents; Walter Dinley, Sir Barnaby’s much-abused assistant and curator; Giles Inwood, Sir Barnaby’s physician and close friend; and Martin Carlyle, another enthusiast.  The tour begins, and in the middle of it the nobleman is called away to respond to a letter.  The tour continues without him; later, when the group goes to the dining room for dinner, their host is not there.

Lady Cecily, Dr. Inwood, and Martin Carlyle then go to the study where they assume he is.  When they open the door they see Walter Dinley holding a knife in his bloody hand and the body of Sir Barnaby Mayne on the room’s floor.  “I-I killed him!” the curator says in a trembling voice.  “I will no longer…be…so disrespected.”

The next day Sir Barnaby’s widow, Lady Mayne, arrives.  The couple had lived apart for nearly all their marriage, and she has no interest in any part of his hobby.  Her late husband had left his entire collection to Dr. Inwood with the stipulation that it be kept intact, and Lady Mayne’s only wish is to clear both of her late husband’s houses of everything as soon as possible.

Before that can be done, however, a complete inventory needs to be taken.  That is where Cecily Kay and her old friend, Meacan Barlow, who was illustrating some of Sir Barnaby’s purchases, join forces.  But various mysterious incidents, as well as the disappearance of the confessed murderer, is hindering that.

The two women find themselves in the collectors’ world of bribery, lies, and religious mania, where gaining a rare specimen is more important than a man’s, or a woman’s, life.

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne is an insightful look into 18th-century London and the mania that collectors bring to their “hobbies.”  Lady Cecily Kay and Meacan Barlow are smart and talented women, making their way into a world that is not quite ready to recognize their achievements.  I hope to read more about them and their adventures in future novels.

Elsa Hart has traveled and lived in Rome, Moscow, and Prague, among other places.  Her earlier mysteries take place in 18th-century China, two of which are reviewed on this blog.  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.

SINS OF THE MOTHER by August Norman: Book Review

Although she won’t admit it, Caitlin Bergman’s world is shaken when she gets a call from small-town sheriff Boswell Martin to identify a corpse.  She flies to Coquille, Oregon to view the body of the woman the sheriff believes is her mother, but Caitlin isn’t able to help him.  She hasn’t seen her mother, whom she derisively calls Mama Maya, in over thirty years.

As she has always explained to anyone who asks, both her parents are dead.  Caitlin’s mother had abandoned her and her father; except for sending Caitlin a book on her thirteenth birthday, the two have had no contact. 

During the autopsy, a key is discovered hidden in the woman’s body; it belongs to a safe deposit box in a local bank.  Caitlin is listed on the bank’s records, and that is how sheriff Martin located her.  Unable to prove the identity of the disfigured body, which has been rendered virtually unrecognizable by animals and by the killer who removed its fingerprints and teeth, officials cannot obtain a warrant to open the box.  But since Caitlin is named as the beneficiary, she has that power.

Still reluctant to become involved, Caitlin asks in whose name the account was opened, still hoping it hadn’t belonged to her mother and that it wasn’t her mother whose body was found.  However, when she hears “Sharon Sugar,” she’s convinced.  “That was her stage name,” she tells Martin.  When Maya abandoned the infant Caitlin, she became a star in the adult entertainment business, i.e., a porn star and stripper.

For a small city, there’s a lot going on both on the surface and beneath it in Coquille.  There’s overt anti-semitism; a splinter quasi-political group that wants to create a new state, the State of Jefferson, that would combine northern California and southern Oregon; and a religious cult, the Daughters of God, of which Maya was a member.

The anti-semitism shows up in the form of locals calling Caitlin a “Jew bitch”; the State of Jefferson is the brainchild of a group of white right-wingers; and the Daughters of God is a cult of women led by its charismatic leader Desmond.

The Daughters of God was founded years earlier in Los Angeles but has relocated to southern Oregon.  Its members make reference to God’s Hill, the Knowing, the Climb, the Morning Song, the Eternal Flame of Ceremony Peak, and other esoteric names, the meanings of which are known only to the women involved.

Inside the safe deposit box Caitlin finds a journal that her mother kept during her years in the cult.  Maya had became Magda, and Caitlin begins to understand her mother’s desire to gain forgiveness and understanding for the life she had led prior to joining the group and the almost hypnotic spell that the Daughters of God and Desmond had over her.

Sins of the Mother is a deep look into how cults work on those who are most vulnerable and their impact not only on its members but on those who remain on the outside, helpless to reach their loved ones and bring them back to their families.

August Norman has written a powerful, insightful mystery about love and redemption.  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.