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Mystery Reviews

BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA by Nicolás Obregón: Book Review

Hideo Akashi was the most successful homicide detective in Tokyo, well-known for his ability to solve crimes that had other policemen stymied.  So what would have made him jump off the Rainbow Bridge to his death?

Inspector Kosuke Iwata, the protagonist of Blue Light Yokohama, is called in to the busy Tokyo police station to replace Hideo.  At first Senior Inspector Shindo appears reluctant to add Kosuke to his force, wondering aloud if his previous experience in a small district far from the capital, plus his leave of absence from the police for unspecified reasons for more than a year, make him the right choice to fill the famed detective’s shoes.  But manpower is low, Kosuke has the necessary qualifications, at least on paper, so his transfer to the Tokyo Homicide Squad is approved.

Kosuke is partnered with a young woman just transferred from the Missing Persons Bureau, Noriko Sakai, and the two are immediately assigned a case of multiple murder.  The four members of the Kaneshiro family were murdered in their home, their throats slit; even more disturbing, the father’s heart is cut from his body and taken away.  And a strange symbol appears on the master bedroom’s ceiling, that of a black sun.

There’s an immediate lead to a man with several arrests for sexual harassment, a man who was a coworker of Mrs. Kaneshiro.  Masaharu Ezawa takes one look at the two policemen who have come to question him and takes off, throwing a rock behind him that hits Kosuke in the face.  Kosuke runs after Masaharu, stops him with a body tackle, and the two detectives and the suspect head to the precinct.

Masaharu admits to a sexual obsession with Mrs. Kaneshiro, but Kosuke doubts he’s the murderer for whom the police are searching.  However, his superiors seem satisfied that the criminal has been caught, not believing, as Kosuke does, that this is a ritual killing, something that would require a different kind of man from Masaharu Ezawa.  After all, Kosuke reasons, this killer murdered four people without leaving a single fingerprint or clue, something he’s certain would have been impossible for Ezawa.

The police are more concerned with the murder of Mina Fong, a famous screen star, and are looking to complete the investigation of the Kaneshiro murders as quickly as possible.  Kosuke, however, is convinced that the family’s murders have a deeper, more obscure motive than simply the brutal crime it appears to be.  He underscores to Shindo the things that don’t fit:  a black sun sketched on a bedroom ceiling, turkey blood smeared on one of the bodies, incense in each body’s lungs discovered during the autopsy.  Reluctantly, Shindo agrees to give Kosuke one more day to investigate.

Blue Light Yokohama is a novel covering decades.  It opens with with a knife attack on a cable car, delves into Kosuke’s abandonment by his mother and his childhood in a Catholic orphanage, and follows him to his visit with his wife, a patient in a mental hospital.

Nicolás Obregón’s debut mystery is a strongly compelling story about the many layers of life in Tokyo, a deep look into the Japanese psyche.  Whenever the seamy top layer is exposed, another, equally dirty, lies beneath it.

You can read more about Nicolás Obregón at this web site.

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

A CAST OF VULTURES by Judith Flanders: Book Review

If I may start this post by lifting part of a quote from the Daily Mail (UK) on the book’s back cover–“You want Samantha Clair to be your new best friend.”  That’s how I felt when I read A Cast of Vultures, the third mystery in Judith Flanders’ series featuring her engaging protagonist, a London book editor.

Samantha has become a go-between for her reclusive upstairs neighbor, the mysterious Mr. Rudiger, and Viv, her friend who lives a few blocks away.  The two exchange seeds and cuttings, with Samantha dropping Mr. Rudiger’s offerings at Viv’s and returning to Mr. Rudiger with Viv’s offerings.  The elderly Viv is a tiny force of nature, never hesitant or shy, always sure of the right thing to do, but this time when Sam stops in to see her she finds her friend distraught and uneasy.

Viv’s upstairs neighbor, Dennis Harefield, hasn’t been home in several days.  A man of regular habits, he and Viv had made plans to have dinner together at Viv’s a few days earlier but he never turned up.  Viv had been keeping alert for sounds from the flat upstairs, but she’s heard nothing for three days.  Now she insists that she and Samantha go there to check on whether Dennis might have fallen or become ill, unable to call for help.

The next thing Samantha knows, she’s climbing over another neighbor’s balcony and illegally entering the missing man’s flat.  Dennis isn’t there; it’s hard to tell whether he left willingly or not, and Samantha leaves an unhappy Viv to continue her vigil.  Then, a few days later, there’s a middle-of-the-night fire a few houses away from Samantha’s, not the first in the area.  It’s an old, decrepit building that several people have been squatting in for years.  At first it appears that all got out safely, but then a body is discovered.  It turns out to be Viv’s missing neighbor, Dennis Harefield.

In addition to her worries about the series of fires in her neighborhood, Sam’s anxious about an organizational change at work, concerned about a book scheduled to be published by her firm that may be an exercise in fiction rather than the non-fiction memoir it purports to be, and upset that her effort to help one of the men who lived in the burned-down building is meeting with resistance from her significant other, Jake, a London police detective.

Judith Flanders has written another delightfully witty mystery, one that will keep you smiling while you are turning the pages faster and faster to learn the truth of what has been happening around Samantha.  Samantha, her lover Jake, the agoraphobic Mr. Rudiger, Sam’s newly promoted assistant Miranda, and Harriet, Sam’s brilliant mother, all combine to make A Cast of Vultures a novel that will leave you anxiously awaiting Ms. Clair’s next adventure.

You can read more about Judith Flanders at this web site.

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

 

AMONG THE RUINS by Ausma Zehanat Khan: Book Review

Esa Khattak, a detective in the Canadian Community Policing Department, is away from his job in Toronto.  He’s making his first visit to Iran, partly as a pilgrimage to his Muslim roots and partly to escape for a while from his recent past.

His previous case led him to kill a man and although the shooting was justified, he was placed on administrative leave.  So here he is in Iran, visiting its many beautiful gardens and mosques, but feeling all the while as if someone is monitoring him, watching his every step.

Then, after three weeks in the country, his feeling is confirmed.  At the guesthouse where he is staying in Esfahan, a package is left for him, a book on the Alborz Mountains with his name inscribed in it.  The owner of the inn tells Esa that he has no idea who left the book on the doorstep, and when Esa opens the book a one-page letter falls out.  “We are bound together, chained,” it reads.

Told by the owner of the guesthouse that he needs a change of scene, Esa takes a bus trip to tour the historic city of Varzaneh, known for its dovecotes and the white chadors that women wear while praying in the city’s mosque.  Sipping a glass of tea in the chaikhaneh (tea house) across from the mosque, Esa becomes aware of a middle-aged woman who obviously has been searching for him.  His feeling was right, someone has been following him.

His “watcher” is Helen Swan, called Touka.  She presents herself as someone who purchases souvenirs for resale but admits she also runs errands for the Canadian government.  She explains that she is speaking on behalf of Zahra Sobhani, a world-renown Iranian/Canadian journalist and filmmaker who returned to her native country after the release of the documentary she filmed about the stolen Iranian election of June 2009.

During her visit, Zahra went to the infamous Evin prison with two objectives:  to obtain the release of her stepdaughter, Roxanne Najafi, an anti-government agitator, and to get photographs and videos of the conditions in the prison.  Days after Zahra was seen at the prison’s entrance, her mutilated corpse was left at her family’s Tehran home.

Touka insists that Esa help in getting proof that Barsam Radam, a senior official at the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, was involved in the murder.  When Esa is resistant, Touka puts on the pressure.  Help us, she says, and we can make some of the problems you’ve had in Toronto following the shooting vanish; don’t help us and we can make things worse for you.

Among the Ruins is the third in the Esa Khattak series, and it is as well written as the two previous ones.  What makes it outstanding is the Iranian setting, with its sense of the many beauties and cultural history of the country as well as its many political upheavals.  You will feel as if you are traveling with Esa as he’s torn between his admiration of the young people who are trying to reform the government and his fears for their lives.

Ausma Zehanat Kahn is an international human rights lawyer and former law professor.  You can read more about her at this web site.

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

 

WHAT YOU BREAK by Reed Farrel Coleman: Book Review

Gus Murphy is a man trying to regain his equilibrium.  He was a policeman in Suffolk County, New York, on the tip of Long Island.  He had a wife whom he loved and two teenage children who made his life complete; everything was going well until his son John died suddenly while playing basketball.  In What You Break, the second in the series, this happened in the recent past–some three years ago.  Gus’ world was turned upside down by his son’s death, and it hasn’t gotten any easier with time.

Now Gus drives a van for the Paragon Hotel as well as working as security for the hotel and its on-site club.  Although Paragon may sound upscale, the hotel is anything but; it’s simply a place for a weary traveler to stay for a night while waiting for the next morning’s flight or for a businessman/woman to stay while visiting clients in the area.  In other words the hotel is hardly a destination, more of an enforced stop.

Although he is no longer a cop, Gus still has a cop’s instincts, and when he picks up two passengers at Suffolk County’s MacArthur airport in Islip, his attention is drawn not to the annoyingly chatty man he’s transporting but to the man in the rear of the van who says nothing at all.  “…he was a runner, that I knew.  A street cop…knows a runner when he sees one.”  Not surprisingly, he is right.  This feeling of something “off” about the stranger is confirmed when the man enters the Paragon.  When Slava, the night bellman, and the man exchange glances, Gus can see there’s a history between them and it’s not a happy one.

The next morning Gus is still thinking about the new guest when he gets a call from Bill Kilkenny, an ex-priest.  Father Bill, as Gus still thinks of him, is probably Gus’ closest friend, a man who has kept the compassion of his former vocation but not the faith.  He asks Gus to come to his apartment but gives no reason.  Shortly after Gus’ arrival, another man comes in.  He’s introduced as Micah Spears, and the ex-cop takes an immediate dislike to him.  He knows it’s irrational, but there’s something about the man that rubs Gus the wrong way.

Micah explains that his young granddaughter, a recent college graduate, was killed, stabbed twenty-three times.  He doesn’t want Gus to find the murderer; the guilty man is in prison for life.  No, what Micah wants is to find the reason Linh was killed because he can’t think of any motive for her death.  Gus refuses the job, but Micah has an inducement that’s hard to turn down:  a fifty thousand dollar check to establish a foundation in the name of Gus’s late son plus a two hundred thousand dollar donation to a local hospital for research in the area of Gus’ choice.

So, reluctantly, because he can understand the pain of a man who has lost someone he loves without a reason, Gus accepts the case, little realizing it’s a first step into a maelstrom of violence and revenge.

Reed Farrel Coleman continues his winning streak with What You Break.  It’s a hard-boiled novel featuring a protagonist with a broken heart.  The characters are realistic, the setting is vivid, and the plot will keep you on edge until the end.

You can read more about Reed Farrel Coleman at this web site.

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

 

LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint: Book Review

If a woman drinks too much, has multiple affairs with married men while she herself is married, and leaves her children alone at night while she’s at work, she’s definitely not a candidate for Mother of the Year.  But does that make her a murderer?

Ruth Malone is simply too attractive, too sensual for her own good.  She married young in order to leave the unpleasant home she shared with her mother, had two children in quick succession, and now realizes she wants more out of life.  Her part-time job as a cocktail waitress makes it easy for her to attract men, and she has no scruples about wearing provocative clothing and lots of makeup to enhance her already sultry looks.  She does love her young children, Frankie and Cindy, but their neediness is often more than she can handle.  Sometimes she has to take long walks at midnight or sit on the front step smoking, just to breathe and get some time alone.

As Little Deaths opens, Ruth is in prison, trying to deal with the overcrowding, dirt, and smells that overwhelm her every day.  So right from the beginning we know that she’s been convicted of a crime, although we’re not certain what it is.  But that knowledge comes along quickly, as Ruth wakes one morning and the children’s bedroom is empty, the screen pushed out of their first-floor window.  She calls her husband Frank, from whom she is separated, the police, and then her mother, and a search is begun.

It’s not difficult to see that Ruth is desperately unhappy with her life.  She dislikes her mother, has little respect for her estranged husband, can barely make ends meet, and feels overwhelmed by the demands that her children place on her.  She also has no sense of how she appears to others, at least to others she is not trying to seduce.  She ignores her neighbors, dresses very differently from the lower-middle-class women around her, and smokes and drinks way more than is good for her.  Her only outlet is the men she meets while working, men who tip big, buy her drinks, and are happy to take her to a motel for a couple of hours.  But then the same problems start all over the next day.

Little Deaths is Emma Flint’s first novel, hard to believe given the compelling voices of the narrative.  The reader can hardly understand Ruth’s total unawareness of how others, particularly her neighbors and the police, perceive her, but Ms. Flint makes the case convincingly for a woman whose only assets are her looks.  Her heavy makeup and the clothing choices that she makes even after the bodies of Frankie and Cindy are found seem reasonable to her; her goal is to show that she’s strong and in control.

To the police, however, all this is evidence that she’s the one responsible for her children’s deaths.  The detectives see the messy apartment, the trash filled with liquor bottles, and, most damning of all, the suitcase under the bed filled with love notes sent by various men.  They’re convinced that Ruth has killed her children and don’t seriously look any further.  But are they right?

Little Deaths is a debut not to be missed.

You can read more about Emma Flint at this web site.

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

 

SWISS VENDETTA by Tracee de Hahn: Book Review

There’s not much in the way of crime fiction coming from Switzerland compared to other European countries.  So Tracee de Hahn’s debut novel, Swiss Vendetta, is definitely a welcome addition to the international mystery genre.

Agnes Lüthi has just been transferred to the Violent Crimes division of the Lausanne Police Department from its Financial division.  She’s pleased yet anxious about her new position, and she’s still mourning the recent death of her husband.  On her first day at her new job, the worst blizzard in the city’s history is covering Lausanne and its environs with freezing temperatures, biting winds, and whiteout conditions.  But crime doesn’t respect the weather, and Agnes is called to investigate a murder.  It’s her first homicide case, and the conditions could not be worse.

The murder has taken place at the Chateau Vallatton, home to the region’s wealthiest and most prominent family.  The victim, a visitor named Felicity Cowell, was an appraiser for a London auction house, and she was in the process of valuing the hundreds of valuable items that the Vallatton family had amassed over the centuries.  But something made Felicity leave the mansion that morning, bizarrely dressed in an evening gown and a man’s coat, and go out into the blizzard.  What was it?

At first glance it’s hard to tell what happened to Felicity, given that her body is stuck to the ice.  But when she is finally moved, a knife wound is revealed; now there’s no doubt it was murder.

The small investigative presence at the murder site is not what should have been.  The chief of the station, Inspector Bardy, is stranded elsewhere because of the storm.  André Petit is the village policeman without much homicide experience, preoccupied because his wife is going into labor with their first child.  The other three men on the scene simply happened to be at the local hotel bar when the call came in reporting the murder, and so they went to the chateau to provide at least a semblance of officialdom:  Robert Carnet, Agnes’s former supervisor in Financial Crimes; Dr. Blanchard, a local physician; and Frédéric Estanguest, an elderly villager who leads the two others up the mountain under the terrible weather conditions.

Not one of these men, nor Agnes, is experienced in investigating a murder.  But they’ll have to do their best.

Matters aren’t helped by the people in the chateau.  The only permanent resident is the marquise, Antoinette Vallatton de Torney, who barely acknowledges knowing the deceased.  Her late brother’s two sons do not live in the mansion but both, along with the wife of the younger brother, are there at the moment.  Neither brother seems to have a reason for the murder, and the younger one is in a wheelchair, making it virtually impossible for him to have gone out in the snow and killed Felicity Cowell.

The blizzard is one more obstruction for Agnes Lüthi.  She is freezing cold, both physically and mentally, throughout the novel–first, obviously, by the raging storm; second, by her internal despair over her husband’s unexpected and unexplained suicide.  How can she ever hope to solve this case, she wonders, when she has been unable to decipher any clues about why her husband, to whom she was closer than anyone else in the world, willingly left her and their two young sons?

Tracee de Hahn has written a compelling first novel, with, I hope, many more to follow.  You can read more about her at this web site.

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

 

SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jónasson: Book Review

Iceland has come into its own in the past few years as the setting of excellent detective novels.  Arnaldur Indridason, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and Quentin Bates are among the half dozen Icelandic mystery writers who have introduced their detectives over the past decade and a half.  Now Ragnar Jónasson’s novel, Snowblind, has placed him in this respected company.

Ari Thór Arason is in Reykjavik, trying to find a path to a meaningful life.  He’s been a theology student, then a philosophy student, and now he’s finishing up studies at the country’s police academy.  He’s not certain where, or even if, he’ll be offered a job, given that there are more police officers and would-be officers than there are openings in Iceland.  But to his surprise, he receives a call offering him a two-year contract in Siglufjördur, a small town so far north that it’s practically touching the Arctic Circle.

Taken a bit by surprise, Ari Thór immediately accepts, then tells his live-in girlfriend the news.  To say Kristín is upset is to put it mildly, partly because it will mean a separation for the next two years while she continues her medical studies in the capital and partly because she hadn’t known that he had applied for this job.  So Ari Thór leaves for his posting with hurt feelings on both sides, his because Kristín isn’t excited and happy for him, hers because Ari Thór hadn’t thought to consult her before applying for the job or accepting it.

Siglufjördur’s most famous citizen is Hrólfur Kristjánsson, one of the country’s most famous writers.  His novel, North of the Hills, was written during World War II and is still required reading throughout Iceland.  Hrólfur has been renting his basement apartment to a series of young people over the past several years, and he has taken a particular shine to Ugla, a young woman new to town.

Hrólfur suggests that Ugla join the Dramatic Society in town, of which he is chairman.  She is content with her life and her involvement in the Society’s play, in which she has the female lead.  But all that comes to an end just a few days before the production’s opening when the body of Hrólfur Kristjánsson is found at the foot of the auditorium’s stairs.

Snowblind is a wonderful novel.  The sense of place is perfect, allowing the reader to share Ari Thór’s feeling of claustrophobia in this remote, snowbound village, far from the woman he loves.  He also has the feeling of being an outsider, one who will never be connected to the inhabitants of this town as most of them come from families who have lived here for generations.  After all, why would any young, ambitious person come to Siglufjördur anyway?  Well, we know why Ari Thór did, but what brought Ugla there?  And how are his feelings for Kristín holding up, given the distance between them and his proximity to Ugla?

Ragnar Jónasson is an attorney and writer, an Icelander by birth.  Interestingly, he has translated fourteen Agatha Christie books into Icelandic, although he did not translate Snowblind into English.  Snowblind was written in 2010 and is followed by several other novels in the Dark Iceland Series that feature Ari Thór.  These other mysteries are now absolutely on my must-read list.

You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson at this web site.

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

 

HER EVERY FEAR by Peter Swanson: Book Review

There’s good news and bad news about Peter Swanson’s latest thriller, Her Every Fear.  The good news is that this novel is as compelling as his two other mysteries, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart and The Kind Worth Killing, two outstanding mysteries that are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.  The bad news is that I’ve finished Her Every Fear and now have to wait a year for another of his incredible thrillers.

Kate Priddy is a twenty-something English woman who suffers from debilitating panic attacks.  She’s been anxious and fearful ever since she was a child, although then it seemed there was no rational explanation for these emotions.  Unfortunately, for the last five years she has had a good reason for these feelings.  At that time she was nearly killed by an ex-boyfriend and suffered a mental collapse.  But now Kate believes she’s nearly ready to move on with her life, although the operative word is nearly.

Her American cousin, Corbin Dell, is about to be transferred to London for a six month period, and he writes to Kate’s mother asking for help in finding a flat in the city.  Mrs. Priddy suggests an apartment exchange to Kate–Kate would live in Corbin’s Boston apartment while Corbin stays in Kate’s flat.  Much to her mother’s surprise, Kate agrees.  Although the two cousins have never met or even corresponded before, Kate realizes that to complete her recovery she needs to move away from her parents’ well-meaning but slightly smothering protection and launch her own life.  And for Corbin, well, who knows what motivations lie behind his temporary move to London?

As Kate enters her cousin’s building in Boston, another woman walks through the door at the same time.  By the time Kate and Carol, a helpful neighbor Kate meets in the building’s lobby, approach Corbin’s apartment, the stranger is knocking on the apartment door opposite.  Visibly distraught, the woman tells Kate and Carol that she’s a friend of Audrey Marshall, the woman who is renting that apartment, but that Audrey hasn’t been to work that day nor answered any of her friend’s increasingly anxious texts and calls.

Carol suggests that Audrey’s friend go downstairs to the doorman and ask him to open Audrey’s door.  All this is a bit too much for Kate, who decides to leave the two women and go into her cousin’s apartment.  Jet-lagged and exhausted, she falls asleep.  But later the next day, Kate’s ill fortune appears to have followed her across the Atlantic–the police are knocking on her door to tell her that Audrey Marshall has been murdered.

Peter Swanson is absolutely one of the most gifted mystery writers around.  His plot will have you turning the pages of his books faster and faster until you reluctantly reach the last page.  His characters are totally realistic, with their strengths and weaknesses the characteristics you see among people you know.  He is a master at keeping the tension at a high level, with twists and turns that will keep you spellbound until the end.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this web site.

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

 

THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBY by Michael Connelly: Book Review

Being a cop is in one’s DNA, according to veteran police detective Harry Bosch.  Harry was forced to retire from the Los Angeles Police Department and is now working as a private investigator.  Still missing police work, he’s taken a part-time job working on cold cases, with no pay and no benefits, at the very small San Fernando Police Department.

Now Harry’s working on two cases simultaneously, one private and one official.  The private one comes via his former supervisor at the LAPD, John Creighton, dismissively known to his former colleagues as The Cretin.  Creighton is now the head of Trident Security, a multi-national security firm, and he’s asked Harry to take a job for one of their clients.  Although at first determined not to accept the job due in great part to his dislike of Creighton, Harry reconsiders when he’s offered a $10,000 check simply to meet with the client, the billionaire Whitney Vance.

When he meets Vance the following morning, he’s intrigued by the story the client tells him and the reason he wants to hire the detective.  So Harry agrees to look into the problem, working under an agreement of total secrecy, warned to speak only to Vance himself if/when he discovers anything.

At the same time Harry is working on a series of five rapes that have happened over a period of four years in the city of San Fernando.  Dubbed by the press the Screen Cutter, the rapist slits through the screens of first floor windows or back doors and assaults and terrorizes the women.  Nothing connects the victims, but because the scenarios are identical Harry believes the assailant was the same each time, someone who had access in some way to the women’s homes.  Trying to tie these cases in with others outside the city hasn’t worked, but Harry and his colleague Bella Lourdes continue to follow every lead, hoping to succeed before the rapist finds another victim.

Readers of the Harry Bosch series will discover that age has not softened or slowed down the detective.  Still chaffing at what he regards as unnecessary rules, Harry refuses to sign in or out at the station house as required.  He’s also using the department’s computer to aid him in his search on the Vance matter, another ruler-breaker.  Harry has left a trail of angry supervisors in his wake from previous positions he’s held, in great part because of his disregard for regulations; the only thing that has saved his career over the long haul is his success in closing homicide cases, over one hundred of them.

The author of more than thirty books, both fiction and non-fiction, Michael Connelly is a master story-teller.  The characters in The Wrong Side of Goodbye are real, the plot compelling.  With his latest novel, he has written another winner.

You can read more about Michael Connelly at this web site.

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

AMONG THE SHADOWS by Bruce Robert Coffin: Book Review

Who better to write a mystery featuring a Portland, Maine police detective than a former Portland, Maine police detective? 

Bruce Robert Coffin’s debut, Among the Shadows, gives readers a look into the gritty, day-to-day work of policing a city against a clever, unseen enemy.  Dealing with difficulties in his personal life, John Byron faces enmity in his professional life as well.

John’s father worked as a Portland police lieutenant until the day he’s found at his kitchen table with a single bullet to his head, his revolver next to him.  John had idolized his father, even knowing his many faults, but he’s never been able to forgive him for his suicide.  Even twenty years later, he wonders how he could have been so wrong about the man.

Now two deaths have the Portland police department reeling.  A former detective, James O’Halloran, has been found dead in his bed.  O’Halloran was dying of cancer and cared for by two hospice nurses, and the immediate reaction to his death is that he died of natural causes.  However, the autopsy reveals three down feathers lodged in his throat, leading the medical examiner to conclude that O’Halloran was smothered, murdered as he slept.  He had been a friend of John’s father and, in fact, sat next to John in the church the day Reece Byron was buried.

Two days after O’Halloran’s murder, another former police detective, Cleo Riordan, is found dead in his home, this time from a bullet from his own gun.  Even though it appears to be a suicide, two deaths of former officers in less than a week is way too suspicious.  Coming across an old photo, John realizes that O’Halloran and Riordan were, along with his own late father, members of the Portland Special Reaction Team.  Are the remaining members of the team in danger?  And, if so, why?

John’s personal life is in a state of turmoil also.  After twenty years of marriage, his wife has served him with divorce papers.  This wasn’t a surprise, as John knew their marriage was troubled, but all his efforts to speak to Kay go directly to her voicemail.  At the same time, he’s developing feelings for his partner Diane Joyner, Portland’s first African-American detective.  It’s against all the rules for the two to become romantically involved, but sometimes rules are made to be broken.

Bruce Robert Coffin has created an interesting, conflicted protagonist in John Byron.  The author’s voice is authentic and powerful, and his insights into police work and his familiarity with the city of Portland make him a writer to watch.  I look forward to a second novel featuring John Byron and his city.

You can read more about Bruce Robert Coffin at this web site.

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

 

 

PRESUMPTION OF GUILT by Archer Mayor: Book Review

Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, is presented with a most unusual crime.  A body, encased in concrete with no identification on it save a wedding ring inscribed “HM and SM forever,” was found at the soon-to-be-dismantled Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, close to the VBI’s office in Brattleboro.  Vermont Yankee was controversial from its beginnings in 1970, and finding a corpse there more than forty years later will prove to be just as troubling.

With the workman’s discovery, all of the state’s investigative agencies are called in.  The autopsy, conducted by Vermont’s chief medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom, brings several facts to light, namely that the body is that of a man in his thirties, almost certainly a manual laborer, who had broken his upper right arm shortly before his death.  That last piece of information leads Joe to a nearby hospital where records show that a Hank Mitchell had been treated for such an injury decades earlier.  Hank Mitchell’s next-of-kin is listed as Mrs. Sharon Mitchell at a local address, so Joe and a colleague go to her home to find out if the man at the plant was her husband.

After examining the body in the morgue, Sharon confirms the man’s identity.  She tells Joe and his fellow officer Willie Kunkle that Hank left their house one day in 1970 and never returned, so she and the couple’s son and daughter were left in limbo until the present discovery.  “What you showed me today proves I was right all along.  I never believed he just walked away, like people said,” states his widow.

On a lighter note in the novel we meet the father-daughter team of Dan and Sally Kravitz.  Dan has been known for years in Brattleboro by various sobriquets–the man without a home, the man without a fixed job, the man who could do everything–and many more.  But for all those nicknames, none got to the true Dan Kravitz.  Only two people in the city know that he is “The Tag Man,” a man who enters people’s home while they’re sleeping or away, never taking anything but leaving a note saying “You’re it.”  Oh, and he always makes certain to eat some of the homeowners’ delicacies before leaving.  And now his daughter is working with him.

The two people who know about Dan’s secret identity are his daughter and the above-mentioned Willie Kunkle.  Why doesn’t Willie arrest Dan?  Well, because he’s proven himself useful in the past, albeit in an illegal way, and will do so again.

Presumption of Guilt is the twenty-seventh Joe Gunther mystery.  In such a long-running series, there is naturally a great deal of back story about Joe and the various paths he’s taken in his career.  Archer Mayor, too, has taken many different roads to lead him to being the successful author he is:  political advance-man, newspaper writer/editor, lab technician, and death investigator for the Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  He brings that wealth of experience to his protagonist, a strong, ethical professional who is in law enforcement for all the right reasons.  Presumption of Guilt will keep you guessing until the last page.

You can read more about Archer Mayor at this web site.

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

 

THE INHERITANCE by Charles Finch: Book Review

One would think that an inheritance, especially an unexpected one, would be a welcome thing.  But that is not always the case.

Charles Lenox is surprised and a bit concerned by the letter sent to him by an old school acquaintance, Gerald Leigh, wanting to meet him again.   Gerald was a friend, although not a close one, when both were students at Harrow, the famed English boarding school that was founded in 1572.  Nearly all of the boys attending the school came from noble or wealthy families with ties to the school that went back generations, but Gerald was not one of those boys.

Regardless, his father had been determined to send him to Harrow, but Mr. Leigh’s untimely death left no money for the tuition.  Gerald, however, was notified by the school’s administration that he was the recipient of a bequest that would pay his school costs.  The unknown philanthropist was called M. B., the Mysterious Benefactor, by Gerald and Charles.  The former cursed this nameless person vigorously, as his only desire was to leave school and return home to his mother and his all-consuming study of flora and fauna.  In time he achieved this goal by flunking out, almost deliberately.

Now, thirty years later, Charles receives Gerald’s letter, arranging for an appointment at Charles’ home.  But Gerald never arrives, and the next day, when Charles goes to the hotel mentioned in the letter, it is apparent that his friend, although still registered, has not been there since the day the meeting between the two was scheduled.

Charles is concerned with other problems at the same time that he looks into Gerald’s disappearance:  his wife’s unhappiness, the tension between his two partners, and a strange crisis in Parliament.  When he does find Gerald, things get even more bizarre, for now there is a second bequest from an unknown person.  Is it the same Mysterious Benefactor from Gerald’s school days, or is it someone else?

Having read several of the books in this series, one of the things I find most delightful is the author’s clever insertion of interesting facts that I’d never given much thought to before.  The expression “by hook or by crook”?  A laborer, by generations of tradition, was allowed to get firewood from his squire’s land.  He wasn’t permitted to cut it down, but he could get any branches that had fallen by using a hooked branch or the crook of his walking stick.  “Bunk?”  It means nonsense and comes from a speech given in Buncombe County, North Carolina; it had transmogrified into bunkum and then bunk.  There are several more examples like this in The Inheritance, but you’ll have to read the book to find them.

Charles Finch has created one of the most intelligent, interesting protagonists around.  The Inheritance is the tenth book in the series, and it is as well-written and satisfying as the earlier ones.  The setting, the second half of the nineteenth century in London, is beautifully drawn, the plot is engrossing, and the personalities of all the characters are vivid.  There’s not a misstep in the novel.

You can read more about Charles Finch at various sites on the web.

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

UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

Reading Under the Midnight Sun is like taking a twenty-year trip through Osaka and Tokyo, starting in 1971.  It’s an incredible novel, one that requires a lot of patience and concentration to read but is well worth the effort.

Right from the beginning, Osaka Police Detective Sasagaki finds the murder of Yosuke Kirihara, owner of a pawnshop bearing his name, distinctly odd.  His body, found in a desolate building, is punctured with several stab wounds to the abdomen.  It appears to Sasagaki that the victim was there for a sexual interlude, but why would any man bring a woman to such a dirty, unpleasant place?

Yosuke’s wife Yaeko, eleven-year-old son Ryo, and Isamu Matsuura, the shop’s lone employee, were all in the apartment behind the shop when the murder apparently took place; given that Yosuke was missing overnight, it’s hard for forensics to give an exact time of death.  Sasagaki follows the deceased’s trail and discovers that on the day of the murder Yosuke had cashed in a CD, leaving the bank with a very large amount of cash.  The money wasn’t found on his body, and his wife and the pawnshop employee say they know of no reason why Yosuke would have had so much money with him when he was killed.

About a year later, there’s another death in the neighborhood.  Fumiyo Nishimoto is found in the tiny apartment she shared with her young daughter, Yukiho.  She was overcome by gas coming from her stove, but whether it was an accident or a suicide is impossible to tell.

These two deaths are the seeds from which the rest of the novel grow.  One of the plot lines deals with computers and hacking, and it’s very interesting to go back over forty years and read about life at the beginning of the computer age.  Personal computers are just beginning to appear in homes, cell phones are unknown.  In terms of the subtext of the plot, 1971 is another world and a distant one at that.  It must be noted that the book was published in 1999, so technology, DNA testing, and forensics were much more primitive then than they are now.

To go back to the first paragraph of this post, it’s only fair to point out a few things that make Under the Midnight Sun a dense and difficult read.  First is the length of time the novel covers and the size of the book–twenty years and 554 pages.  Second is that it takes a while to realize how much time has gone by at different points in the novel–events aren’t separated by chapters or headings with dates, so suddenly someone who was eleven on one page is five years older on the next.  Third is that there are many characters and, of course, they all have Japanese names.  Many of the names were very similar, and I had to keep referring back through the book to remember who they were in the story.

That being said, Under the Midnight Sun is a wonderful novel.  The book is beautifully translated, with a style so smooth that readers will think English is the original language.  I reviewed Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X several years ago and found this novel equally enjoyable.

Keigo Higashino is the winner of multiple awards for crime fiction in Japan, and several of his books have been adapted for television and films in Japan, South Korea, and France.

You can read more about Keigo Higashino at various sites on the web.

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

 

 

THE DARKEST SECRET by Alex Marwood: Book Review

It’s 2004, and three-year-old Coco Jackson is missing.  Her family, including her identical twin sister Ruby, their parents Claire and Sean, two older half-sisters, three other couples, and several children are spending the weekend at the Jackson holiday home in Bournemouth, England, to celebrate Sean’s fiftieth birthday.

Before the weekend is over, Coco’s older step-siblings leave the party and return to their mother’s home; Claire drives back to London after discovering her husband in flagrante delicto with another woman; alcohol and drugs are used and abused in abundance; Coco is gone; and the lives of everyone present are changed irreparably.

The people at this party are wealthy, educated, and not very nice.  Sean Jackson is a handsome, successful, and charismatic businessman who is extremely self-involved and uncaring in his dealings with family and friends.  Claire, who was his mistress before she became his second wife, has come to realize that the charm with which he overwhelmed her before they were married is simply a cover for his narcissistic personality and his persistent womanizing; perhaps as a form of revenge, she shows no interest in maintaining any sort of positive relationship with her step-daughters.

The three other couples attending Sean’s fiftieth are similarly unpleasant.  Linda is the woman with whom Sean is having an affair, and her partner James is a Dr. Feelgood with a supply of prescription and non-prescription drugs for every occasion.  Charles is a rising Tory politician on the far right of his party; his wife Imogen has no other interest in life but furthering his career.  Maria and her husband Robert are a very successful couple, she the head of a public relations firm, he a lawyer, who seem on the surface to be the most likeable people in the group, but appearances can be deceiving.  And Robert’s fifteen-year-old daughter Simone, the child of his first marriage, is desperately trying to attract the wandering eye of the event’s host.

The Darkest Secret tells the story that starts at the beginning of this infamous weekend and continues to the present.  We first learn of Coco’s disappearance from witness statements at the beginning of the novel, and then we learn, bringing the story up to the present, that Sean has died.  Even though Milly, his younger daughter from his first marriage, hasn’t seen her father in years, her mother asks her to identify the body; she doesn’t feel able to and Sean’s third wife can’t because she’s home with their young daughter.

Alex Marwood’s novel will keep you in suspense throughout.  The tight group of adults has a lot of secrets to keep.  They’ve been successful at it for fifteen years, but now those secrets are in danger of being revealed.  And the people involved can’t let that happen.

You can read more about Alex Marwood at this web site.

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

 

SKIN AND BONE by Robin Blake: Book Review

If we think back through history and imagine that times were easier or more law-abiding then, all we have to do is read any of the excellent historical mysteries on bookstore or library shelves.  In his latest novel, Robin Blake proves that intrigue, adultery, and murder were, so to speak, alive and well even in the small towns of England.

Titus Cragg is the coroner in Preston in the year 1743.  There are surreptitious goings-on among several of the well-do-do merchants of the town.  In the name of “improvements,” they appear to be determined to shut down Preston’s tannery and skin-yard.  Foul-smelling the industry may be, but it provides income for the town’s remaining three families of tanners.  The entire place is dirty, with fire heating the materials necessary to make animal hides into useful goods, but there is no other way to cure leather.

As the novel opens, a baby’s body is found in one of the handler pits in the tannery.   This leads to two questions:  who was the mother of this infant, and was the baby stillborn or did the mother kill her own child?

Titus would prefer that the infant be examined by his friend Luke Fidelis, a young physician who studied both in London and abroad, bringing modern techniques and theories to Preston.  Unfortunately, Luke is away, but the town’s other doctor, Basilius Harrod, is available to determine the cause of death.

Although Basilius is a friend of Titus’ and the more popular physician in town, his methods are old-fashioned, as his diagnoses often involve humours and ephemeral qualities or textures as causes of illness or death.  That is the case as he examines the baby, stating unequivocally that she was stillborn.  When Titus suggests he might like to turn the baby over for a complete look at her body, he recoiles.  “Touch it?  Certainly not, Titus….That might be dangerous….Troubled spirits….”

Then, when Luke Fidelis returns to the village and examines the corpse, he comes to the opposite conclusion, namely that the child was murdered.  So who is to be believed?

The settings and characters in Skin and Bone are perfect, easily drawing the reader into the lives of people who lived more than two and a half centuries ago.  Greed and profiteering are rampant, as are officials’ desire to come to a hasty if uninformed conclusion about a troubling issue.

Titus Cragg is an honorable man who combines strict principles with compassion for his fellow citizens.  This does not always work well with the mayor and the Council of Preston, men who are more eager to put unpleasantness behind them quickly and get on with their primary objective, obtaining as much money and power as possible through their positions.

When I reviewed The Hidden Man last year, I was struck with the author’s ability to make the 18th century come alive.  Robin Blake has done this again in Skin and Bone, a mystery that will grab you from the beginning and not let go.

You can read more about Robin Blake at this web site.

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