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THE SHADOW DISTRICT by Arnaldur Indridason: Book Review

Iceland during World War II was changing, and the changes weren’t to everyone’s liking.  Before the war the country was a small farming community, remote from the rest of the world, ruled by Denmark.  But in 1944 Iceland became an independent republic while at the same time undergoing major social changes due to the influx of American and British troops who were stationed there before being sent to fight in Europe.

As in other countries where foreign armies were present, this created problems; in Iceland that became known as the Situation.  British and American soldiers were dating Icelandic women who were impressed by the foreigners’ sophistication, politeness, and wealth, a welcome change from the rural and unworldly Icelandic men, at least as they were perceived by the young women.

In wartime Reykjavik, Ingiborg is facing this problem.  Deciding to disregard her father’s stern prohibition about dating an American, she and her lover Frank have sneaked off to the abandoned National Theater, a favorite place for illicit romance.  Scarcely have they arrived when Ingiborg trips over some cardboard, and when she and Frank look down they see the body of a young woman.  Ingiborg wants to call the police, but Frank prevails and they flee the scene.

Fast forward to present day Reykjavik, where the body of an elderly man is found in his apartment after his neighbor calls police to say she hasn’t seen him in several days.  He’s lying peacefully on his bed, fully clothed, but obviously quite dead.  At first, given his advanced age, the police conclude that he died in his sleep, but the autopsy required by law shows that Stéfan Thórdarson was suffocated.

Konrád, a retired Reykjavik detective, has an interest in the case.  He has vague childhood memories about the murder in the Theater; it happened in his neighborhood, the Shadow District.  He seems to recall that his father had some connection to it, but he can’t remember exactly what it was.  He gets permission to search the apartment of the dead man, which is almost completely free of any personal items except for a photo of a handsome young man and three newspaper clippings about the death at the Theater.

The Shadow District goes back and forth in time between 1944 and now.  No one has ever been arrested in the young woman’s murder, even though it bore a resemblance to the disappearance and presumed death of another woman in northern Iceland a few years earlier.  The only seeming connection between the two deaths was the mention of Huldufólk in both cases. 

Huldufólk are elves or hidden people in Icelandic folklore, sometimes amusing and sometimes evil.  Shortly before the disappearance of the northern woman and the death of the woman in Reykjavik, each had spoken about being attacked by these elves.  The belief in these mythic beings runs deep in the country, even today.  And although many people say they don’t really believe in the hidden people, no one wants to totally dismiss them.

Arnaldur Indridason is one of Scandinavia’s most popular writers, winner of the Glass Key, the award for the best Nordic mystery novel, in 2002 and 2003.  The Shadow District is his first in a new series, and it’s a terrific beginning.  As always the author’s characters and plot are believable and engrossing, and the glimpses into Icelandic history are an added plus.

You can read more about Arnaldur Indridason on many websites.

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.



UNHOLY CITY by Carrie Smith: Book Review

After a year-long battle with cancer, New York City police detective Claire Codella is anxious to return to her job.  She’s feeling completely recovered and eager to put her skills to use.

But although her fight with lymphoma has been won, her fight with her boss, Lieutenant Dennis McGowan, continues.  He’s made no secret of the fact that he hadn’t wanted her as a member of “his” Manhattan North force, and he’s made her return to duty as unpleasant as he could, giving her cold cases and trivial ones, disregarding the fact that she has the highest case clearance rate in the precinct.

So when the phone rings in the middle of the night in the apartment she shares with her lover and colleague, Brian Haggerty, it’s his cell phone’s ringtone, not hers.  Brian has been called out to investigate a murder at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  Claire is disappointed, but there’s nothing she can do about it.  Then, a short while later it’s her phone that rings–Brian has called for backup, knowing that Claire is on duty and that she will be called in to assist him on the case.  She’s out the door in under ten minutes.

St. Paul’s Church is a small oasis in the concrete city.  It has a two-hundred-year-old history, with a surprisingly diverse group of parishioners:  Caucasian, African-American, wealthy, and lower-middle-class, and it’s proud of that.  But behind the scenes, members of the Vestry (a committee dealing with issues regarding the church’s members) are locked in a battle that has been going on for months.  The church’s finances are in poor shape, and there’s no agreement on how to raise the necessary funds.  One vestry member, Philip Graves, wants to sell the air rights above the church to a corporation to build a luxury high-rise; another wants to improve the church’s cemetery and update its crematorium so funeral homes and other churches will pay to use it.

Feelings in the committee are running very high when the meeting ends.  Rose, one its newest members, is pleased that she finally can go home and relieve her daughter’s babysitter, but she decides to make a brief stop in the garden to see how the plants she’s nurtured are going.  But in the darkness she trips, and as she tries to right herself she realizes that what is on the path in front of her is the body of Philip Graves.

Within the small group of staff and congregants who are in the church that night, there are a lot of reasons to want Philip dead.  One person is hiding an unrequited crush on him, two others have secret lives that he has discovered, and another is having an illicit affair.  Each person is determined to keep her/his secret, but Claire Cordella is equally determined to unravel the case.

Carrie Smith has written an exciting, fast-paced mystery with realistic characters and great dialog.  Claire is a dynamic protagonist, driven by her need to excel at work and bury the demons from her past.  But that’s not so easy.

You can read more about Carrie Smith 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.

DON’T LET GO by Harlan Coben: Book Review

Napoleon Dumas has been haunted by two things for over fifteen years.  First are the deaths of his twin brother Leo and Leo’s girlfriend Diana, second is the disappearance of Nap’s girlfriend Maura.  To some of his friends, Nap seems to have been frozen by these two terrible events; he abandoned his college plans, which included a possible hockey scholarship, lives alone in the house in which he grew up, and never has had another important romantic relationship since the traumatic events at the end of his high school senior year.

Don’t Let Go opens in a Pennsylvania bar.  Daisy, a strikingly attractive woman, comes into the bar alone and seats herself next to a man, asking if he minds if she sits there because someone is bothering her.  The man, whose name and backstory she already knows, seemingly doesn’t care one way or another, but Daisy pushes and keeps the conversation going through the several drinks that the man consumes.  After the fourth drink, Daisy’s plan is set.

She asks the man if he can drive her home, and he agrees.  It’s all part of an intricate scam designed by a divorce attorney and carried out by Daisy’s friend, Rex Canton, a policeman in the town.  Daisy and the “mark” will get into his car, drive a couple of blocks, and Rex will pull them over and do a sobriety test.  It’s a setup so that the man gets a DUI conviction on his record, which will work against him in the divorce case that his wife has initiated.  But this time, when Rex stops the car, the driver pulls a gun, kills the cop, and drives off with Daisy.

That’s the prologue to Don’t Let Go, and I defy anyone who reads it to put down the book at this point.

Nap is a detective on a suburban police force in New Jersey.  He’s good, very good, at his job, but he’s consumed by the death of his twin.  Everything he does, every action he takes, he “tells” Leo about it, as if looking for approval.  And when two police officers from Pennsylvania ring Nap’s doorbell to tell him about Rex’s murder and the fingerprints found on the scene, Nap knows that this is what he’s been waiting for.  The fingerprints belong to Maura, missing for eighteen years but now coming back into Nap’s life.  Several years earlier Nap put Maura’s prints into a national registry, asking to be notified if newer prints were found; now it’s proof that Maura is alive and not far away.

Nap and Leo were incredibly close in high school, and Nap would have said he knew everything there was to know about his twin.  But, as he gets drawn more deeply into Rex’s murder and the appearance/non-appearance of Maura, Nap is finding out there was much more in Leo’s life, and in Maura’s as well, of which he was totally unaware.  And it appears that every event–the double deaths, Rex’s murder, Maura’s return, and a secret high school club that Nap never knew about–are all connected.

Harlan Coben has written another taut, suspenseful thriller.  Don’t Let Go is a completely satisfying novel that will keep you guessing until the very end.

You can read more about Harlan Coben 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.


TRACE by Archer Mayor: Book Review

Vermont isn’t a state with a high murder rate, but things are definitely heating up now for Joe Gunther and his detectives at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation.  Three different cases–one the murder of a young New York woman, one a cold case involving the deaths of a policeman and the man he stopped for a traffic violation, the third a mysterious finding at a railroad track–all converge simultaneously for the VBI.

Jayla Robinson has just arrived at the Brattleboro bus station, escaping an abusive relationship in New York.  A few minutes after getting off the bus, she’s absent-mindedly crossing an intersection when she’s grazed by an oncoming car.  Jayla says she’s fine, not hurt at all, but Rachel, the young woman driving, insists on taking her to her apartment for a cup of tea and to make certain she’s really okay.  The two hit it off almost immediately, and Rachel invites Jayla to stay with her until she finds a job and an apartment.  But when Jayla’s boyfriend/abuser locates her, he sends an enforcer either to retrieve an item that she took when she fled his home or to “dispose” of her, whichever is easier.  Unfortunately for Jayla, he chooses the latter.

The cold case was called into the VBI by a member of the state’s forensic team.  Tina Sackman was doing some research into fingerprints and thinks she has found something strange in the case involving state trooper Ryan Paine and the man he pulled over for a routine traffic stop, Kyle Kennedy.  Shots were exchanged and both men were killed.  Now, in going over what had seemed an open-and-shut case, Tina discovers something disquieting about the trooper’s fingerprints on the gun he supposedly used to shoot the driver–they appear to have been placed on his gun by artificial means.

The third case begins when a child discovers, and then brings to the local police station, three bloody, broken teeth that she found by the railroad tracks.

All this is happening while Joe Gunther, head of the Bureau, is handling a family emergency.  His younger brother Leo calls with the news that their elderly mother is in a “bad way.”  After finally having gotten their reluctant mother to visit her doctor, Leo tells Joe that the physician’s diagnosis is Lyme encephalitis, a tick-borne disease that affects the nervous system, bringing with it mood swings, cognitive problems, and personality change.  The doctor at the Darmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center tells Joe and Leo that the best place for Mrs. Gunther to receive rehabilitative care is in St. Louis, and Joe immediately decides that he will take her there and stay with her while she’s undergoing treatment and rehab.  So, while the three cases are being investigated, the head of the Bureau is out of state.

Trace is the twenth-eighth (!) book in the Joe Gunther series.  Not surprisingly, given the background of the author, the series presents a totally realistic picture of law enforcement in both a mid-size city department and a state investigatory agency.  Archer Mayor is currently a death investigator for the Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as well as a detective for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office.  Readers who have been following Joe and his squad–Lester Spinney, Willy Kunkle, and Samantha Martens–will be delighted to see them again in this novel that will hold their interest until the end.

You can read more about Archer Mayor 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 SCARRED WOMAN by Jussi Adler-Olsen: Book Review

It’s not coincidental that Copenhagen’s Department Q is located in the basement of the police department’s headquarters.  Q is in charge of clearing “cold cases,” crimes that have not been solved and are not at the top of the police agenda.  Although the Department’s record in solving such cases is extremely high, manipulated data are showing otherwise, and Q’s already slim budget may be further reduced.  This, of course, is anathema to its head, Detective Carl Mørck, and he’s fighting back with everything at his disposal to show the importance of his group.

The Scarred Woman could actually refer to several of the women in this novel.  One is the social worker Anneli.  When she receives a diagnosis of breast cancer, her world is turned upside down, and her anger builds as she thinks of the healthy young women who frequent her office determined to get benefits to which they are not entitled.

There’s Michelle, living with her boyfriend, illegally getting financial assistance while refusing to get a job; Denise, originally named Dorrit, currently working as a prostitute; and Jazmine, receiving maternity benefits because she deliberately becomes pregnant and upon the birth of each child gives it up for adoption.  So Anneli comes up with a plan to eliminate those three and possibly more.

This cast of characters is, of course, unknown thus far to Carl Mørck and his staff, but that will not last for long.  Since they don’t deal with current cases, they haven’t had anything to do with Cophenhagen’s latest murder, that of Rigmor Zimmermann in King’s Garden.  However, that killing has brought memories back to Marcus Jacobsen, a former police detective; it reminds him of an unsolved case that he investigated more than ten years earlier.  The current police powers-that-be don’t see any connection, but Marcus isn’t about to let that detail stop him from trying to fit together the pieces of the puzzle.

A fourth “scarred woman” is Rose, who is one quarter of the members of Department Q.  She’s had a difficult life, and recent events have nearly pushed her over the edge.  She’s disoriented, her coordination is off, and she’s having what would be “senior moments” if she weren’t much too young for them.  Usually so meticulous at work, she’s left dozens of reports unfinished, and a recently closed case has reopened her memories of her traumatic childhood.

Carl has a three-person staff working with him.  Rose is the only woman, and she has been with Q the longest.  Second in terms of longevity is Assad, a Middle-Eastern immigrant with a mysterious, slightly sinister, background.  The newest and youngest member is Gordon, still on the learning curve to becoming a detective and dealing with his not-quite-hidden feelings for Rose.

The Scarred Woman is the seventh novel in the Department Q series.  Jussi Adler-Olsen is Denmark’s best-selling crime writer and the recipient of the 2010 Glass Key Award, the honor given to the author of the best Nordic crime novel of the year.

You can read more about Jussi Adler-Olsen 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.

DARK SATURDAY by Nicci French: Book Review

Back in 2012 I reviewed Nicci French’s first thriller, Blue Monday, featuring Frieda Klein and raved about it.  Since then I’ve read all those that followed, except for one (can’t imagine how I missed it).  Now comes Dark Saturday, definitely among the top five mysteries I’ve read this year.

Frieda is a psychotherapist, which in England is apparently the term for what Americans call a psychiatrist, with more than her own share of demons.  In addition to a private practice, she has also consulted with the London police, although at the opening of this novel they have parted ways due to grave trust issues on both sides.  But now she’s approached by Walter Levin, a mysterious figure who is either a government official or not; in any event, he helped Frieda in the novel immediately preceding this one, and now he’s called on her to repay the favor.

Hannah Docherty was eighteen years old when she was convicted of murdering her mother, stepfather, and younger brother and sent to Chelsworth Hospital, a place for the criminally insane.  During the thirteen years since, she has remained virtually silent, not speaking to any of the staff, the other patients, or the therapists trying to help her.  The Docherty case was investigated by police detective Ben Sedge; after a brief investigation he arrested Hannah, who was duly convicted and sentenced to life at Chelsworth.

For nearly all of those years Hannah has been in solitary confinement, yet somehow, when Frieda visits her, she is a mass of bruises and scars and she appears to have been drugged.  The hospital staff doesn’t seem to care.  As far as Frieda can ascertain, no one has visited Hannah since her conviction.  As one of the nurses says, “Why would any relative want to see her?”

Something about Hannah resonates with Frieda, and almost against her will she agrees to look over the woman’s file and find out more about the case.  The issue has come up, the therapist is told, not because there’s any doubt about Hannah’s guilt–“it’s the most open-and-shut case I’ve ever seen” according to a police official–but because there’s a question of how the case was handled.  If there’s no issue concerning the perpetrator of the crimes, Frieda tells Levin, “then there’s no harm in me looking at the files.”  But, of course, when you open a box, you can never be sure what’s going to fly out.

The Frieda Klein series is outstanding.  The writing is sharp, the plots convincing, and the protagonist is full of strengths and weaknesses that will keep you reading one book after another.  For best results, as they say in commercials, start with Blue Monday and read the remaining novels in order.  Each book can be read on its own, of course, but the power of the series is in following the development of the various characters–Frieda, her somewhat wayward niece Chloe, her former therapist Reuben, the police detective Kerrigan, and several others whose voices are complements to Frieda’s.

Nicci French is the pen name of the wife-and-husband writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.  Information about them is available at various websites.

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.

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY by Sue Grafton: Book Review

Along with all the other readers of the Kinsey Millhone series, I approached Sue Grafton’s latest novel with both anticipation and despair.  The anticipation is obvious–I’ve been reading Ms. Grafton’s mysteries since A is for Alibi was published in 1982 and have enjoyed every one.  At that time it seemed inconceivable that the end of the alphabet would ever be reached; delusional thinking, I know.

Now comes the despair–Y is for Yesterday is, I imagine, the next-to-last book in the series.  I’m trying to think how Ms. Grafton can work around her self-imposed finale.  Could she start all over with A+ is for Adventure/Adultery/Absence?  It works for me; anything to read more about Kinsey Millhone.

When the book opens in 1989 (that’s present time in the series), Kinsey is approached by Lauren McCabe, whose son Fritz has just been released from prison.  Ten years earlier Fritz killed a teenage friend, Sloan Stevens.  The two were part of a group of high school students led by Austin Brown, who was both admired and feared by his classmates.  Austin had been the instigator of a “shunning” of Sloan for reasons that secretly benefited him.  Allegedly trying to patch things up, he invited her to a party at his family’s cabin.

She reluctantly agreed to go, although once she got there words were exchanged between the two of them.  Angry and upset, she started to walk away, but she was overtaken by Austin and three of his friends, driven to a remote area in the woods, and killed.  Although Austin’s gun was the murder weapon, it was Fritz who fired the shot.  Of the four boys implicated, one gave state’s evidence and avoided jail time, one was convicted of lesser charges and spent time in prison, Fritz spent ten years in jail and was automatically freed under California law at age twenty-five, and Austin Brown disappeared.

When Kinsey and Lauren meet, Lauren tells the detective about a package she received after Fritz’s return home.  It contained a tape of sexual acts committed by four boys, including Fritz, against Iris Lehmann, another member of the student group, who was obviously drunk and/or stoned at the time of the attack.  The tape was accompanied by a demand for $25,000 from the McCabes with the warning that unless it was paid, another copy would be sent to the police.  Even though Fritz had served time for Sloan’s murder, he still could be prosecuted for rape and sexual assault.

As always, Sue Grafton’s characters are wonderfully portrayed.  We meet Fritz, who was desperate to be a friend of Austin’s when they were in school together; Iris Lehmann, who now wants revenge on the boys who violated her and taped the assault for their own amusement; Troy, who spent years in prison for his involvement in Sloan’s death and since his release has been trying to atone for his part in the attack on Iris; and Lauren and Hollis McCabe, fearful that their son is headed down the wrong road again but with conflicting opinions on how to deal with it.

Y is for Yesterday shows the reader a more vulnerable, more cautious, Kinsey but still a woman determined to do her job.  Ms. Grafton’s other returning characters–Kinsey’s elderly landlord Henry; Rosie, the owner of the Hungarian restaurant down the block from Kinsey’s apartment; and Jonah Robb, a former lover of Kinsey’s who is still in an off-again-on-again marriage with a very jealous wife–are all present in Y is for Yesterday and the novel is richer for them.

Wait–here’s another thought.  The author could switch to another alphabet, since many other languages have more than 26 letters.  Tamil, for example has 247; if that seems too daunting, she could choose Hindi or Hungarian, each with 44!  If you know Ms. Grafton, please feel free to pass this post along to her.

You can read more about Sue Grafton at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

FAST FALLS THE NIGHT by Julia Keller: Book Review

West Virginia prosecutor Bell Elkins is back, and I am delighted.  I am totally devoted to Julia Keller’s series, and this is her most ambitious novel yet.

The novel begins with a painfully personal acknowledgement.  During the author’s recent visit to her hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, there was an epidemic of heroin overdoses, twenty-eight in a twenty-four period, with two fatalities.  The national scourge of drugs has severely impacted West Virginia; the state currently has the highest rate of overdoses in the country.

Ms. Keller has put her feelings into Fast Falls the Night, moving the drug crisis to Bell’s hometown.  Acker’s Gap is being particularly hard hit by heroin overdoses and deaths in the single day in which the novel takes place.  The first overdose takes place in The Marathon, a gas station/convenience store that’s manned during the evening hours by Danny Lukens.  He has given the key to the bathroom to a woman who, he’s sure, is going to use it to get high on heroin.  Not his business, he thinks to himself; he doesn’t want any trouble.  But after waiting for more than twenty minutes for the woman to come out, he goes to the restroom and calls through the closed door several times to see if she’s okay.

When there’s no answer, he calls the sheriff’s office and Deputy Jake Oakes arrives.  Having no better luck at getting the woman inside to respond or to open the bathroom door, Jake gets the key from Danny–the woman is lying in the middle of the dirty floor, her face blue, and a used syringe beside her.  That’s the first overdose and the first death.

Even worse than the simple fact of heroin is that carfentanil has been added to the drug that the town’s addicts are using.   It’s an ingredient a hundred times more potent than fentanyl and ten thousand times stronger than morphine and is used to stretch out heroin so that the original drug can be sold more profitably.

Given the incredible number of cases that are springing up all over town, and the underfunded police and district attorney’s offices, Bell is feeling overwhelmed.  There’s simply not enough money or personnel to deal with this problem, but what are the alternatives?  Just wait it out, Bell wonders, and allow the addicts to tempt death every time they inject themselves?  After all, if they don’t care about themselves, why should the police and the courts be concerned?  But, of course, Bell does care, and she’s trying to come up with a plan to get the contaminated drug off the streets.

The official reactions to this crisis are not the only moral points in Fast Falls the Night.  Deputy Jake Oakes is attracted to Molly Drucker, a local EMT, but either she’s not interested in him or something is stopping her from showing her interest.  Bell’s sister Shirley has two devastating pieces of news to give to Bell, her cancer diagnosis being the easier one to talk about.

And what can be done about Raylene Hughes, the negligent mother of an adorable daughter?  Is the child better off with her con-artist mother or with her father, a man whose war experiences and brain injury has made him unreliable and possibly violent?

Julia Keller’s latest mystery ends with as many questions as it answers, as is true of real life.  The characters in the novel, and the plot itself, are mesmerizing, and you will keep reading without letup until the last page.  And even then, you’ll be left wondering.

You can read more about Julia Keller at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.




ORDEAL by Jorn Lier Horst: Book Review

Chief Inspector William Wisting of Stavern, Norway has his hands full.  He receives new information about a high-profile crime, his former lover asks for his help in dealing with a problem at her restaurant, and his pregnant daughter extracts a promise from him to be at the hospital with her when she delivers her first baby.

Jens Hummel was a taxi driver who disappeared in Stavern six months earlier, along with his cab.  Neither man nor vehicle has been seen since.  Norway’s media has been having a field day with this, stating that the police had not done all they could to break open the case, insinuating that poor work and a lack of interest in the fate of Jens were to blame.  Now a call from Suzanne, William’s former girlfriend, gives the inspector some news.

She tells him that a man has been to her restaurant for the past several evenings, and on one of those nights he was reading an article about Jens’ disappearance.  When Suzanne noticed, she made an innocuous comment to him, and his response was, “It’s sitting in the barn.”  Then he picked up the paper, left, and hasn’t returned.

Suzanne also has a problem of her own.  She suspects one of her waitresses is stealing from the till, but she doesn’t want to fire her without knowing for certain that she’s guilty.  So she asks William if he would do surveillance for a day or two, trying to see whether the young woman Suzanne suspects is actually pocketing the restaurant’s money.  William thinks of his overload of police work and his pregnant daughter, but he can’t say no, and thus he agrees to visit the restaurant the following evening.

William’s daughter Line has just moved back to Stavern from Oslo, awaiting the birth of her daughter.  On a shopping expedition to furnish her new home she bumps into an old school friend, Sofie Lund, and Sofie’s year-old daughter.  The two women, both single, renew their friendship over the coincidence of motherhood, being first-time homeowners, and returning to their home town.  But Sofie’s home has a strange story behind it that involves her late, unlamented grandfather, a murderous gangster known as the Smuggler King.

Ordeal is the tenth novel in this series, the fifth published in English.  There’s a fascinating introduction to the book that explains that the author was himself a Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department, just like the protagonist he created.  There is an amazing sense of realism in the book, a deep knowledge of how things work in small-town police departments; the real Stavern, Norway has a population of 3,000.  But, of course, there can be plenty of crime and violence in a small town, certainly enough to keep William Wisting busy.

Jorn Lier Horst is the winner of both the Glass Key and Martin Beck awards for his earlier novel The Hunting Dogs You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.






THE WALLS by Hollie Overton: Book Review

Kristy Tucker doesn’t have an easy life.  She’s a single mother with a teenage son, the caretaker for her ailing father, and works for a boss she doesn’t respect.  But still, she thinks to herself, I’m managing all this and someday things will hopefully be different.  As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Kristy’s son Ryan, a bit of an outcast at school, has been secretly taking martial arts lessons.  When Kristy finds out she’s upset, both because he kept it from her and because she’s not a fan of physical force to solve problems.  She makes her feelings known at a meeting with the trainer, Lance Dobson, and thinks she has put an end to Ryan’s lessons.  But the next day Lance shows up at the house, apologizing and asking for another chance to keep giving Ryan lessons, stressing the benefits of the lessons to a boy who feels out of the mainstream in his town.  Swayed by Lance’s apparent sincerity, not to mention his good looks, and by her son’s fervent desire, Kristy agrees he can continue.

Lance works his charm on everyone, even Kristy’s dad, a former prison guard.  Not until after Kristy and Lance are married does the real Lance shows himself as a physical and emotional bully and abuser, a control freak who needs to dominate every aspect of Kristy’s life.   And when she tries to rebel, Lance has no compunction in threatening her father and her son.

Kristy is the public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a job requiring communication skills among inmates, the media, and the prison system.  She works in the Polunsky Unit of the prison system, where 279 men are on death row.   Kristy has always been able to keep her emotions in check while dealing with the men, but now one of them, soon to be executed, has touched her.

Clifton Harris was convicted of setting his house on fire, killing his two young children who were inside.  Like all the other prisoners awaiting execution in what has been called “the hardest place to do time in Texas,” Clifton is on lockdown twenty-two hours a day in a small solitary cell, with no access to phones or television or contact with any other prisoners.  But Kristy is moved by his declarations of innocence; she’s not certain she believes him, but she’s equally not certain he’s guilty.  And the date of his execution grows closer and closer.

Hollie Overton has written a taut, terrifying thriller.  I must confess that I started the book, read about one third, and had to put it away for several days because it was so scary!  But when I picked it up again and read to the end, I felt it was well worth it.  The characters and the plot are top-notch, and the abusive, frightening situation that Kristy finds herself in is unfortunately too familiar to anyone who reads the newspapers or watches television.

You can read more about Hollie Overton at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.


GONE GULL by Donna Andrews: Book Review

Full disclosure–this is the first Meg Langslow mystery I’ve read.  It’s important to state that because there’s obviously a lot of backstory; this is the twenty-first book in the series, so I feel as if there’s a great deal that I’m missing.  That being said, Gone Gull is a delightful read.

Meg is a blacksmith by profession, rather unusual in itself, as well as an artist creating wrought-iron sculptures.  In her latest adventure, Meg, her husband, and their twin sons are spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center in Virginia, a new venture started by her grandmother Cordelia.  Meg is heading a blacksmithing workshop, Michael is in charge of the children’s drama class, and various other artists/craftspeople are teaching painting, photography, and jewelry-making, to name just a few of the offerings available.

The novel opens at the beginning of the Center’s second week of classes.  The first week’s classes could be considered a success except for the fact of middle-of-the-night vandalism in several of the rooms:  prints destroyed in the photography studio, the potter’s kiln tampered with, windows left open during a rainstorm that destroyed students’ artwork.  Cordelia is worried that if this continues and the students become aware of the extent of the damage, a number of them will leave and demand their money back.

Meg has taken to making certain that the artists’ studios are secured when no one is using them.  She’s checking all the doors and windows one morning before classes begin when she gets to the room of the Center’s most difficult artist–Edward Prine.  Prine, a man who fancied himself a ladies’ man and made himself a nuisance to several women students, is lying on the floor with a knife in his back.  Students and staff agree that Prine was certainly an annoying man, but was that sufficient motive for murder?

Meg’s family is large and eccentric, several of them spending the summer at the Center.  At the head of the Center is her independent-minded grandmother Cordelia, never married to Meg’s grandfather; her grandfather, Dr. Blake, a world-famous biologist and ornithologist with a chronically bad temper; her father, a physician who views murder as a chance to do some amateur detecting; and various cousins with the expertise necessary to help Meg find the killer of Edward Prine.

The book’s title refers to a seabird named after the eighteenth-century ornithologist and naturalist George Ord.  The day before his death, Prine had shown Meg’s grandfather photos of a painting he had done of a seabird, allegedly having seen the bird on the Center’s patio.  The photos were at first glance scathingly dismissed, the scientist saying that there was no gull with those markings and accusing Prine of using his imagination to combine two or more species in his painting.  However, that night, after looking more closely at the photos, Blake recognized the bird as an Ord Gull, a species that experts believed to be extinct.  Wanting to contact Prine immediately to find out more, he’s persuaded by Meg to wait until the following morning, but by that time Prine has been murdered.

And then there’s a second murder.

Gone Gull is written in a light, fast-moving style, with a strong plot and interesting characters.  Donna Andrews is the recipient of a slew of awards, including an Agatha and an Anthony for her first novel Murder with Peacocks in 1999.  In Gone Gull, it appears she hasn’t lost a step since.

You can read more about Donna Andrews at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.


LET THE DEAD SPEAK by Jane Casey: Book Review

There’s good news and bad news about Jane Casey’s series featuring London detective Maeve Kerrigan.  The good news is that the novels are outstanding; the bad news is that it took me so long to learn about them.

Let the Dead Speak is Maeve’s first case since her promotion to detective sergeant.  She and her team are called to a particularly bloody scene at the West London home of Kate and Chloe Emery.  Teenage Chloe has returned home unexpectedly after a very unhappy visit with her father and his second family, and she finds her house is covered in blood and her mother is nowhere to be found.

Chloe has some developmental issues, and it’s hard for Maeve to be certain exactly what has happened, especially since Chloe isn’t speaking at all.  She’s staying with her neighbors Oliver and Eleanor Norris, whose daughter Bethany is Chloe’s best friend.  The Norrises have volunteered to have Chloe stay with them as long as necessary, although it’s obvious to Maeve that Eleanor Norris is less than enthusiastic about having this house guest.

According to Oliver Norris, there might have been something, perhaps inappropriate, going on at the Emery house when Chloe spent the occasional weekend at her father’s.  He tells the detective he’s seen men coming and going from the house.  He says he tried to talk to Kate about this, even going so far as to invite her to their church, but “it didn’t go over too well.”  The Norrises belong to a small Christian sect, the Church of the Modern Apostles, that apparently believes in husbandly superiority, wifely subservience, and a lack of worldly technology.

When Maeve and her colleague Detective Inspector Josh Derwent do a second, more thorough search of the Emery house, Maeve finds a bag containing stained, torn women’s clothing in Kate’s otherwise immaculate bedroom closet.  The two detectives find it hard to understand why Kate would have saved these particular items.  Also, given the overwhelming amount of blood found in the house, it’s almost impossible to believe she’s still alive.  Certainly it appears that she could not have left by her own volition, but no one has found a trace of her.

Let the Dead Speak is a novel filled with fascinating characters and a tightly woven, believable plot.  There’s Chloe, clearly traumatized by her mother’s disappearance; the strange Norris family; their church’s leader; and a young man with a history of violence living on the same street.

Maeve Kerrigan is a wonderful heroine, strong and sure of herself after a difficult start at the beginning of her career.  She’s slightly wary about her new promotion, though, coming to her as it did because of the death of another detective on the team.  But she’s determined to show that she’s capable of handling whatever cases come her way.

A little more than a year ago in this blog I raved about After The Fire, the first Maeve Kerrigan mystery I’d read.   Let The Dead Speak is equally deserving of such high praise.

You can read more about Jane Casey at various internet sites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.




THE DRIVER by Hart Hanson: Book Review

The Driver is, in turn, comic, tragic, uplifting, profane, and suspenseful.  In short, it’s a wild and worthwhile ride, but it’s not your typical mystery novel.

The driver is Michael Skellig, who served in the Afghanistan war.  He’s returned to California, his home state, and opened a limo service, hiring three fellow veterans he met overseas.

The only woman at Oasis Limo Services is Tinkertoy, the company’s mechanic.  She suffers from post-traumatic stress paranoia, having been the victim of multiple rapes and unimaginable torture.  Ripple is the dispatcher, now using a wheelchair since he lost half of one leg to a sniper and all of his other leg to a vehicle that accidentally ran over him.  And Luqmann Qaid Yosufzai, nicknamed Lucky for obvious reasons, was the driver’s interpreter when Michael worked with the anti-Taliban forces.

Bismarck Avila is a world-famous skateboarder, winning the X Games at the age of fourteen.  The day that Avila hires Michael to drive him to a hotel for a meeting Michael foils an attempt on Avila’s life, and the impressed skateboarder employs Skellig to be his permanent driver.  Why would someone want to kill the young man, or at least threaten him so dramatically?  And, if Avila really doesn’t know why anyone would want to harm him, why is he so insistent on Michael becoming his new driver/bodyguard?

When Michael arrives at Avila’s mansion the following day, he’s met by a Los Angeles County Sheriff Department deputy, Detective Willeniec, who is brandishing a warrant to search the extensive grounds for barrels.  Willeniec doesn’t explain what he expects to find in the barrels, and, in fact, he discovers none on the huge property.

But he tells Skellig and Avila he’s not done with them, the warrant extending to several other properties the skateboarder owns, and Skellig, Avila, and Willeniec drive to one of Avila’s storage units.  The detective finds nothing there either, but he threateningly tells Avila he’s not finished with him yet.

The Driver is definitely a unique read.  The story is told in the first person, so we learn everything from Michael’s point of view.  He’s a kind, generous man who knows how to handle himself in tough situations, although he doesn’t go looking for them.  His love-life is torn between his involvement with his attorney, Connie Candide, and his desire for her best friend, Detective Delilah Groopman.  His life is complicated indeed.

Although this is his first novel, Hart Hanson’s literary output is impressive.  He’s the creator of Bones, which just finished its twelfth and final season on Fox television, as well as being the creator and script writer of several other shows.  It looks as if this book may be the first entry in a new direction for him, one that definitely will please the readers of The Driver.

You can read more Hart Hanson at various Internet websites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.


ANOTHER MAN’S GROUND by Claire Booth: Book Review

Hank Worth has been sheriff of Branson, Missouri, for less than a year, but it’s re-election time in the county.  That’s because Hank was appointed to the job, not elected, when his predecessor gave up the position with less than a year to go in his term to become a state senator.  And if there’s anything that Hank dislikes more than criminals in his county it’s running for office.

He almost welcomes the phone call from Vern Miles, a landowner who calls Hank to ask him to view the trees on the Miles’ property that have been stripped of bark nearly to the top of their trunks.  Vern tells the sheriff that it has recently been discovered that there’s big money in the outermost layer of the slippery elm; it’s used to cure a variety of ailments.  (Seriously.  I looked it up on Google, and the bark of the Ulmus rubra is used as an herbal remedy for fevers, wounds, and sore throats.)  It’s bringing in much needed revenue, Vern informs Hank, but stripping the trees so high will likely result in the trees’ death, and he wants whoever did this caught.

So, Hank thinks, “This was excellent.  A nice little crime to investigate, but with no trauma, no violence.”  It turns out that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Miles’ property touches the land that belongs to the Kinney clan, and both families have been feuding for at least three generations.  The Kinneys are the most powerful family in the county, for reasons Hank is finding hard to understand.  His barber, Stan, finally comes the closest to putting it in words:  “They own people’s minds….It’s better just to move around with caution and respect when it comes to them.”  And when Hank makes a return visit to the woods and finds even more bare trees, this time on the Kinney property, he knows he’s going to have to face Jasper Kinney sooner rather than later.

At the same time, Hank is trying to keep his job as sheriff despite his distaste for the political machinations necessary to run a campaign.  His initial meeting with Darcy Blakely, his campaign manager, does not go well.  Added to that is the fact that his competition, Gerald Tucker, has been a long-time deputy in the sheriff’s department, while Hank is still an outsider by Missouri standards.  Plus, in Hank’s opinion, Gerald is much too involved with Henry Gallagher, the area’s most successful businessman.  Hank is pretty sure Henry is involved in arson, extortion, and insurance fraud, even though he’s been unable to prove it.  But Henry’s pockets are deep, and he definitely could sway voters toward Gerald.

Then a teenage undocumented worker is found hiding in the woods, and there’s an unidentified corpse there as well.  So Hank’s “nice little crime” is no longer nice or little.

Claire Booth’s second novel is an excellent follow-up to The Branson Beauty, which I blogged about in July 2016.  The characters, including Hank, his physician wife, and his African-American deputy, make the story real and compelling.  Another Man’s Ground is well worth another visit to Branson, Missouri.

You can read more about Claire Booth at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.



THE OSLO CONSPIRACY by Asle Skredderberget: Book Review

Milo Cavelli, the son of a Norwegian father and an Italian mother, is a detective in the Oslo Police Department.  The only one on the force who is fluent in Italian, he’s asked by a superior officer to fly to Rome to bring home the body of a Norwegian woman who was killed there.

That’s straightforward enough, although it doesn’t seem as if the death of Ingrid Tollefsen is connected to Milo’s area of expertise, financial crimes.  But the truth of the adage follow the money is proved once again, for in fact the strangulation of the young scientist is more than the tragic local murder it seems at first; it is a crime with repercussions that will spread across the globe.

The Tollefsen family would seem to be under a devastating curse, with early deaths following three of its four members.  Ingrid’s mother died in childbirth, putting the thirteen-year-old girl in the position of being a mother to her newborn brother.  All went well until the night that her brother, then a high school student, was killed by a street gang; another victim of the gang was a popular high school teacher who was thought to have been trying to protect young Tormod.  The police knew the killers were the Downtown Gang but were unable to prove it, and its members went free.

Ingrid seems to have had no enemies, according to the executives at the pharmaceutical giant where she worked.  She was in Rome to attend a conference, Milo and his fellow officer Sørensen are told by her boss in Research and Development, Anders Wilhelmsen.  During the interview Anders tells them that  after the death of her brother two years earlier, she had received the customary two weeks’ leave of absence; however, after that, she had asked for an additional two months’ leave.  She didn’t explain why or what she was doing during that time, and Milo thinks that this may be an important part of the puzzle.

But there are many other parts of the puzzle that also need to be solved.  Was it Ingrid’s medical vial that is found on the street outside the hotel room where she died?  What does Verba on the vial’s torn label mean?  Is it simply a terrible coincidence that two members of the Tollefsen family were murdered, or is there a connection that has yet to be found?

There are other questions in the novel too, although they may not have a direct bearing on Ingrid’s death.  Who was the woman who bequeathed a Manhattan apartment to the Cavalli family?  Who is the person Milo’s semi-estranged father wants him to meet?  What is the connection between Milo’s family and a merchant ship that exploded in Italian waters in the 1970s?

Asle Skredderberget has written the third Milo Cavalli thriller, and it’s outstanding.  Milo is an original protagonist, brilliant in his field but conflicted in his personal life.  The other characters are totally realistic, with believable motives for their actions that move the plot along at a fast pace.  The Oslo Conspiracy will keep you spellbound until the end.

You can read more about Asle Skredderberget at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.