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THE WANTED by Robert Crais: Book Review

It’s not often, in fact it’s almost never, that I finish a mystery and think, that was beautiful Exciting, thrilling, suspenseful–those are my go-to adjectives for outstanding mysteries.  And The Wanted is all of those.  But beautiful is what I thought when I turned the last page of Robert Crais’ latest novel.  Robert Crais has always been one of my favorite authors, and this book proves once again that he’s absolutely one of the best writers in the mystery genre.

Elvis Cole is called to the home of Devon Connor over concerns she has about her teenage son Tyson.  He’s often had problems in school, difficulties making friends and handling the work, but on the whole he has been a good son.  Now, however, Devon knows Tyson has things he shouldn’t–expensive clothing, a Rolex watch, and several thousand dollars in cash in his room–and he has become extremely secretive as well.  There’s absolutely no way he can afford the clothing and watch, and there can’t be any explanation for him to have this much money, Devon tells Cole.

Devon thinks the problem started at his new school.  He met a girl there, whom he won’t introduce to his mother, and she introduced him to a slightly older man; the three of them are apparently spending a lot of time together.  Elvis agrees to look into where the Rolex came from, which seems the simplest way to start investigating; it turns out that it was stolen, along with a lot of other valuables, from a household in Beverly Hills.

Robert Crais’ writing, as always, keeps the reader engrossed throughout.  Over the years readers have gotten to know Cole and his sometimes partner Joe Pike, and in The Wanted the two work as smoothly as ever to find Tyson after he leaves home, before he can make an irreversible mistake that will land him in jail or worse.

The true skill in Crais’ writing is evident in his ability to make his one-time characters come alive, people you won’t meet again in other books but will remember for a long time.  Devon, Tyson’s mother, is shown as a woman concerned about her son’s lying and apparent thievery, and as the story progresses her reactions to the danger Tyson is in are portrayed expertly and realistically.

Equally well done are Crais’ portrayals of Harvey and Stemms, the two gangsters who are also looking for Tyson.  We know from the beginning that they are stone killers, intent on their job and letting nothing stand in their way of getting what they want or what the person who hired them wants.  But there are two vignettes–one when Stemms becomes extremely upset at Harvey’s use of the word “retarded” and another that takes place in Mexico and shows the incredible musical ability that Stemms possesses–that show another side of each man, and so the reader is reluctantly made aware that in spite of their brutality they are human.  You wonder what made these two men, who are sensitive and talented in some ways, go so wrong.

And the last, short chapter of The Wanted is simply outstanding.  I know the year is just beginning, but there’s no question that this novel will be on my Best of 2018 list.

You can read more about Robert Crais 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 GLASS HOUSE by Louise Penny: Book Review

We return to Three Pines, a Quebéc village so remote that it appears on no map but not so remote that it doesn’t have its share, or more, of murder.  Once again, the quiet place where Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté of Quebéc, and his wife Reine-Marie live has become not a refuge from crime but a location filled with it.

The Glass House begins with Gamache seated on the witness stand in a murder trial.  It’s becoming obvious to the court reporters and especially to the judge that there’s something distinctly odd going on between Gamache and the crown prosecutor.  There’s a strong animosity in the questions that the prosecutor is putting to the chief inspector, and although the two men should be on the same side, it’s almost as if the attorney wants to catch his witness in some untruth or misrepresentation.

The novel goes back and forth between the courtroom and the events that precede the trial.  When the Gamaches and their friends gather for a Halloween party at the bistro in Three Pine, a figure dressed in a long black robe and a black hat appears on the town common.  Although several villagers try to speak to the person wearing the costume, they get no response.  The party continues and then breaks up, but the next morning the figure is still standing on the common.

It’s an eerie situation, but when the townspeople come to Armand for help he tells them there’s nothing he can do.  The figure, no one knows whether it’s a man or a woman, isn’t disturbing the peace in a way for which the chief inspector can arrest him/her or order him/her to leave.  No one is happy with Gamache’s answer, but the figure continues to stand on the common, visible to all.

At the same time, the Sûreté of Quebéc is dealing with its own problems, trying to overcome its history of malfeasance and corruption.  Gamache, who was brought back from retirement to command the province’s police force, is under intense scrutiny, and a media campaign is beginning throughout the province that is meant to underscore his department’s ineffectiveness in fighting crime, most particularly the drug issue.  In fact, Gamache has a plan to combat these problems and restore respect to the Sûreté, but his idea is so outrageous and dangerous that he feels compelled to keep it under wraps, with only a handful of his most trusted colleagues privy to it.

Louise Penny has written a masterful novel in The Glass House For much of the book we aren’t sure who was murdered, and we don’t know until almost the end the identity of the defendant.  We do see, however, the toll this trial and its undercurrents are taking on Gamache and his subordinates as they try to control the drugs inundating Quebéc, taking the lives of thousands in Canada and across the border in the United States.

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.

A RISING MAN by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

Back when there really was a British Empire, India was “the jewel in the crown.”  Its incredible mineral riches, its variety of desirable goods such as cotton and spices, and its huge population of workers all made the subcontinent the most valuable part of Great Britain’s holdings.  But times change, and in 1919 things were changing in India more quickly than could be dealt with by the ruling class.

A Rising Man opens with the arrival in Calcutta, capital of the state of Bengal, of Captain Sam Wyndham.  He’s fresh from the Great War and from London’s Metropolitan Police Force.  Devastated by death and trauma–the death of his bride just three weeks after their wedding, the deaths of his half-brother and their father during the war, as well as the injury he suffered in France–Sam jumps at the opportunity he’s offered to join the police in Calcutta, about as far from England as he can get.

Barely has he arrived than he has his first murder case.  The body of an Englishman, dressed in evening clothes but with his throat slashed, is found in the city’s native section called Black Town, a place where no respectable British citizen would go.  Even worse, the corpse is in front of a brothel, making it clear that the case will have to be handled with the utmost care and sensitivity.

The body is that of Alexander MacAuley, a man of great importance in the Bengali government.  In fact, so important was MacAuley that there is a dispute over which department should take over the investigation–the Imperial Police Force or Military Intelligence–with Military Intelligence having more power.  So Sam and his two assistants, Digby and Banerjee, have only a very short time to solve the case before it’s taken from them.

In addition to the murder, Sam is dealing with another crime that may be related, although his superiors aren’t certain of that.  A mail train was stopped by a group of robbers, dacoits; a railway guard was killed but the safes on the train, usually filled with cash, were empty.  The whole set-up is strange, the train’s driver tells Sam:  it’s unusual for a train to be robbed this close to Calcutta, the guard’s murder seems pointless, and why didn’t the dacoits rob the first-class passengers if they were thwarted by the empty safes?

This novel is as rich as India itself was at the time it takes place.  There’s so much going on–the murder, the robbery, the daily buildup of tensions between the ruling British and the Indian natives, and the fight for power among the various government departments.  Added to this are Sam’s personal problems–his understandable depression about his wife’s untimely death, his increasing dependence on drugs to help control his physical and mental pain, and his newness to a culture so different from his own.

Abir Mukherjee’s debut novel is stunning in its complexity.  The plot and characters shine, and I was delighted to discover that the second book in the series, A Necessary Evil, was published earlier this year.  It’s a must read for me.

You can read more about Abir Mukherjee 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 DRY by Jane Harper: Book Review

It’s a never-ending drought, sucking the life out of the land and the people of Australia, that is described in Jane Harper’s debut novel.  Farmers are on edge, looking at their once-profitable ranches that now are barren of crops and animal feed.  Tempers are at the breaking point, waiting for the smallest event to set them off.  And when that event comes, it’s catastrophic–the murder of three family members in the town of Kiewarra.

A delivery man finds the mother first, shot dead at the entrance of her farmhouse, and calls the police.  When Sergeant Raco arrives, he hears a cry.  Following the sound to a small bedroom, he sees a toddler in her crib, and he’s thankful that she’s unhurt.  But then he looks across the hall to another bedroom and sees the dead body of a young boy, apparently the older brother in the family.

A search is started for Luke Hadler, the husband and father of the victims.  The police don’t know whether he’s the killer or another victim, but in short order they find Luke in the back of his truck, his head nearly completely destroyed by a shotgun.  At first glance it looks open-and-shut:  a father goes crazy, kills his family.  But, says Raco, there are a couple of things that don’t seem to fit.  First, Luke didn’t kill his entire family and then himself; he let his baby daughter live, which apparently is unusual when a family member goes on a killing spree.  Second, although the shotgun used in the two murders and the suicide belonged to Luke, they were filled with Remington bullets, and the only cartridges on the Hadlers’ property were Winchesters.

It’s been over twenty years since Aaron Falk, now a federal police officer, left Kiewarra, hoping and planning never to return.  But a cryptic note from Luke’s father, “Luke lied.  You lied,” brings him back to relive the events of the past.  Is the death that occurred when Aaron and Luke were teenagers the reason for the current murders?  If so, why would someone wait all this time?  If not, what is the motive for these deaths?

Aaron’s field is investigating financial fraud, not murders.  He tells this to Luke’s father, but the man doesn’t care.  Gerry Hadler doesn’t think the police are looking deeply enough into the murders, and his hold on Aaron is strong enough that Aaron promises to stay for a week to investigate.  And that decision brings the townspeople’s never-forgotten hatred of their former neighbor out in full force, pulling to the surface the suspicions about the death of Aaron’s girlfriend two decades earlier.

The Dry is the tense, suspenseful story of a small town that has never recovered from the death of one of its teenagers more than two decades ago.  Ellie Deacon was Aaron’s off-again, on-again girlfriend, and her death by drowning could never be proved as either an accident or a suicide.  Even though Aaron was never charged with any crime, the hostility of the other townspeople forced him and his father to move to Melbourne.  And there Aaron would have gladly stayed for the remainder of his life had he not received that note from Luke’s father.

You can read more about Jane Harper 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 MIDNIGHT LINE by Lee Child: Book Review

It’s pretty safe to say that wherever Jack Reacher goes, trouble will find him.  Even as he follows his usual random method of travel, going to a bus station and taking the first bus that leaves regardless of its direction, somehow Reacher will find himself in the middle of a situation that needs his special skills.  And a quick stop in a small town in Wisconsin proves no different.

Having just come to the end of a very brief romantic interlude–too brief to call it a relationship in any sense of the word–Reacher hops on the first bus out of Milwaukee.  It’s heading northwest, but as he has no particular destination in mind, that direction will work as well as any other.

And he would have continued on that route until the bus reached its destination except that when the bus halts for a rest stop, Reacher goes out to stretch his legs.  Passing a pawnshop, he glances in the window and sees the items one usually finds in such a store–musical instruments, small electronics, and class rings.  But a closer look at the rings shows that one of them is from West Point, Jack’s alma mater, and its size shows it belonged to a female alum.  Knowing how difficult it is to graduate from the military academy, Jack wonders what the circumstances could be that would explain the necessity of pawning an item of such personal value.

After getting the name of the person who pawned the ring, Jack finds the man, nicknamed Jimmy Rat, where the shop owner said he would be–at a nearby bar where a number of Harley-Davidsons are parked.  Jimmy is a small guy, but he’s surrounded by a group of seven men.  Jimmy refuses to tell Reacher where he got the ring, and a fight becomes imminent.  The nine men leave the bar to fight outside, and in less than five minutes only Jimmy and Jack are still standing.  Jimmy finally gives Jack the name and location where the ring came from, but that information comes with a warning.  “This is not a guy you want to meet.”  “Neither were you,” Reacher says, “but here I am anyway.”

In The Midnight Line, Reacher is not alone.  He’s joined by Terry Bramall, a former F.B.I. agent who is working for Jane Mackenzie, an Illinois woman searching for her missing sister.  In addition, there’s Gloria Nakamura, a detective in the small Rapid City, South Dakota police department that has long been aware of a criminal enterprise led by local businessman Arthur Scorpio but has been unable to prove his guilt.  Now, the search for the missing sister, the owner of the West Point ring, and the illegal activities of Scorpio will meet, and it will take the combined efforts of Reacher, Mackenzie, Bramall, and Nakamura  to bring the case to its conclusion.

As is true of all of Lee Child’s thrillers, The Midnight Line is a compulsive read.  You know that Jack Reacher will prevail in the end, that there will be violence and murders, but that Jack and the person/people he’s protecting will be saved.  But that won’t stop you from holding your breath and reading until the very last word.

You can read more about Lee Child 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.

NIGHTBLIND by Ragnar Jonasson: Book Review

I don’t know whether it’s the long snowy winters, the soothing hot springs, or something completely unknown, but the mysteries coming out of Iceland recently are uniformly excellent.

Ari Thór Arason is settling into his life in the small village of Siglufjördur in the northern part of the country.  Small as Siglufjördur is, it’s not as remote as it once was due to the recent construction of a tunnel bringing it closer to the capital Reykjavik.  But with that convenience come crimes that never had been part of village life before.

Ari Thór is one of the town’s two-man police force, consisting of a detective (Ari Thór) and a supervising inspector.  The previous inspector moved to Reykjavik and has been replaced by Herjølfur (many people in Iceland don’t have last names), although Ari Thór himself had hoped to be chosen for that job.  So there’s a bit of tension between the two men, although they are trying hard to work things out.

As Nightblind opens, Herjølfur is approaching an old, seemingly vacant house several miles from the center of Siglufjördur.  There’s something about the abandoned home that’s making him very uneasy, and he wonders if it is wise to investigate it by himself.  But he has no choice after receiving a call stating drug deals were going down there, as Ari Thór has been home ill with the flu for several days.

Herjølfur tries to dispel his fear by walking up to the house and shouting that he is from the police.  Even as he does so he’s aware he’s ignoring his feeling of something really wrong, but he continues onward toward the building.  And then there’s a fatal shot.

Meanwhile, Ari Thór is at home, still very much under the weather.  When the phone rings he expects it to be Herjølfur, asking whether he’ll be at work tomorrow.  Instead, it’s the inspector’s wife, telling Ari Thór that she’s been unable to reach her husband on his cell or the station and that he hadn’t slept at home the previous night.  Ari Thór drags himself into town, looking everywhere for his colleague, and when he’s unable to find him he is sure something really bad has happened.  And, of course, he’s right.

Nightblind is the second of five books in the author’s Dark Iceland series, all featuring Ari Thór.  In the prequel to the series, he is a young theology student.  But in the first book of the series, Snowblind, he has given up his studies and moved to Siglufjördur to think things out.  He has also moved away from his girlfriend Kristín and gotten involved with a village woman.  You can read my review of Snowblind here– http://www.marilynsmysteryreads.com/book-author/ragnar-jonasson.  By the time Nightblind opens, five years after the events in Snowblind, he and Kristín have cautiously reconciled and are the parents of a ten-month old son.

Ari Thór wants to continue to live in Siglufjördur and become the police department’s head, but Kristín is having second thoughts about her move there.  She’s a physician at the local hospital, obviously a much smaller facility than the one she was working at in the capital, and she’s finding herself attracted to another doctor.

Ragar Jónasson has written a spellbinding novel, with deep insights into the many conflicted characters in the book.  You can read about him at this website.

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

 

 

THE CHILD by Fiona Barton: Book Review

Who is the mother of the child whose corpse is found years after its burial?  There are four women in The Child, and each one has a story to tell.

The novel begins with Emma, a forty-something woman with a history of mental illness.  Married to a wonderful man and employed as an editor for celebrity memoirs, she constantly relives a past that threatens to overwhelm her.

Kate is a journalist at the Daily Post, a London newspaper, always looking for the next story.  A small piece from a competing paper catches her eye with its headline “Baby’s Body Found.”  She believes she has found the big scoop she is looking for in the piece about a baby’s skeleton unearthed while contractors were demolishing old houses.

Angela is getting ready for March 20th, the anniversary of the day her newborn daughter was taken from her room at the hospital, never to be seen again.  It’s been decades since the abduction, and she’s married with two other children, but of course she’s never forgotten the infant she’d had for less than twenty-four hours.

Jude is Emma’s mother, a single mother with her own emotional problems.  She and her daughter once had a close relationship, but that ended when Jude met Will and determined that he was more important to her than her own daughter.  After years of separation, the mother and daughter have reconciled, but their tenuous, tense relationship always leaves one or both unhappy or angry.

The book follows the paths of these four women over a period of a week.  The story of the Building Site Baby has grabbed Kate, and she gets permission from her reluctant editor to go to the run-down neighborhood where the corpse was found and try to interview any people still living there who had been residents at the time the baby was believed to have been buried.

The Child is Fiona Barton’s second mystery, and two of the characters appeared in The Widow as well, both in the same jobs they held in the earlier novel.  At a farewell function for a fellow journalist, Kate sees Bob Sparkes, a police detective she met while covering another story.  She tells him about her interest in the baby, and Bob is quickly drawn into the story because of his own interest in missing children.  Now, hoping for some assistance from the police, Kate is even more eager to find out the truth about the infant who has been buried for years.

Fiona Barton was a journalist in London for many years, and on her website she says that the ideas for both The Widow and The Child came from news stories she’d read.  In both novels she has taken the painful subjects of domestic abuse and child kidnapping and turned them into beautifully written, suspenseful thrillers with believable characters whose painful secrets and emotional problems will grip the reader from the first page.

You can read more about Fiona Barton at her 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.

 

PULSE by Felix Francis: Book Review

In May I wrote an About Marilyn column regarding families with more than one mystery author.  Naturally I included the late Dick Francis and his son Felix.  Dick Francis wrote more than thirty mysteries, he and Felix collaborated on four, and after his father’s death Felix has written seven more, including the latest, Pulse.

Felix Francis’ main character, Chris Rankin, is an emergency room physician suffering from, and denying, her own medical and emotional issues.  Married with a loving husband, twin teenage sons, and a challenging but rewarding professional life, she nevertheless is dealing with depression and anorexia.

A man is wheeled into the emergency room, unconscious and with a weak but rapid heartbeat, where she is on duty.  He was found in a stall in the men’s room of the nearby Cheltenham Racecourse, hours after the last race.  After running various tests that prove inconclusive, Chris orders an injection of adenosine, hoping to restart the man’s heart back into a normal rate; while she is called away to another emergency, the man dies, and an autopsy shows he had ingested a huge amount of cocaine immediately before his death.

His death feeds into all of Chris’ vulnerabilities and causes another of her all-too-frequent panic attacks.  She’s been seeing a psychiatrist, but so far nothing has been able to relieve her feeling of professional inadequacy that has led, in turn, to feelings of personal worthlessness and body dysmorphic disorder.  She knows she should eat, but her mind is telling her that bad things–her husband leaving her, their sons having an accident, their house burning down–will happen if she eats even a bite, so she doesn’t.

In the midst of these overpowering emotional problems, Chris becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of the man who died under her care.  She talks to the local police, who believe that “death by misadventure” is the right call; their consensus is that he either committed suicide or else accidentally overdosed.  Chris believes neither answer is right, but her stubborn insistence on looking into the case overwhelms her already shaky mental state, and she is sent to a mental hospital to recover, with the possibility of losing her medical license after her release.

In addition to being a first-rate mystery, Pulse is a close look into Chris’ denial of her deteriorating physical and mental condition.  Her desire to get better and return to her life in the emergency room and to normal family life is overwhelmed by the voice in her head demanding that she not eat.  It’s a terrifying portrait of how the forces of mental illness can destroy a person from within.

Felix Francis continues his string of outstanding novels with Pulse The plot is first-rate, and all the characters, including Chris, her husband, their sons, and the various men who run or race at Cheltenham will keep you engrossed until the last page.

You can read more about Felix Francis 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.

 

 

SULFUR SPRINGS by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

A stranger in a strange land is how Cork O’Connor feels when he finds himself far from his beloved Minnesota woods, thrust into the desert of southern Arizona.

Cork and his bride, Rainy, have known each other for several years but married only a few months ago.  The first time Cork met his wife’s son and daughter was at their wedding, and Cork admits to himself that he doesn’t have strong feelings toward them.

But when Rainy gets a garbled message left on her cell phone from her son, saying that he’s killed a man, Cork and Rainy are thrust into a search for Peter that leads them into a deadly web of international crime.

The couple leave for Arizona the following morning, and on the trip Rainy tells Cork that there are many important things he doesn’t know about her, one being that if her son did kill someone in Arizona, he’s not the only one in his family who has done that.  Obviously that’s a major secret, and it turns out to be not the only one that she has kept from Cork.

Peter had gone to Arizona to recover from an addiction to pain medication, the result of a sports injury.  After he was clean, the Goodman Center, an alcohol and drug treatment facility, hired him, and as far as his mother and stepfather knew, he was still on their staff.  But after they arrive in Tucson and drive to the Center, they discover that Peter hasn’t worked there in over a year.

The Center’s director tells them that she believes he has been working at a vineyard owned by Jayne and Frank Harris, so Cork and Rainy head to the vineyard’s location in Sulfur Springs.  The Harrises acknowledge that Peter is employed there but tell Cork and Rainy that although he’s been an extremely reliable worker, he hasn’t been at work that day.  And visits to the Sulfur Springs post office and police station turn up no further information on the missing man.

The issue of immigrants trying to enter the United States from Mexico ties into the racism faced by Rainy, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, when a sheriff stops Rainy and Cork while they’re driving and examines her closely to make certain she actually is the Native American she says she is and not someone trying to get into the country from Mexico.  As Rainy says to her husband after they continue on their way, “If I was white, he wouldn’t have taken a second look at me.”

Cork is a former sheriff and a quarter Native American, and he brings to the search for his stepson his law background, his feelings about racism, and his love for his new wife.   This is a masterful novel, with issues that resonate all-too-clearly in today’s world.  There’s a lot going on–drug addiction, illegal aliens, Mexican drug cartels, blended families, and racism–with each part adding to the whole.

I’ve reviewed two of William Kent Kruger’s earlier books, Trickster’s Point and Ordinary Grace, the latter the winner of the 2014 Edgar for Best Novel.  You can read more about the author at this website.

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

THE 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.