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Book Reviews

PANDORA’S BOY by Lindsey Davis: Book Review

The ever-delightful Flavia Albia is back, informer par excellence.  Following in the footsteps of her adoptive father, Marcus Didio Falco, she is now a well-established informer (in ancient Rome, the term informer was used as we would use private investigator or detective today).  In addition, she is newly married to Tiberius Manlius Faustus, an aedile, or official, of the Roman Republic.

Both were married before.  Flavia was a young widow, Tiberius was divorced by Laia Gratiana.  But now Laia comes asking for help from Flavia for a family friend who has just experienced the death of her teenage daughter.

Clodia Volumnia had been found dead in her bed, and the aftermath of this tragedy is that her mother and father have separated and their mothers, Clodia’s grandmothers, actually have come to blows.  Reluctantly, because she hates to appear beholden to her husband’s ex-wife, Flavia agrees to meet with Clodia’s father to discuss the case.  Using the soft approach, Flavia tells him how sorry she is about the unexpected death of his only daughter and offers her professional assistance; he agrees to hire her.

The father, Volumnius Firmus, tells Flavia that Clodia simply went to bed one night while both her parents were out and didn’t wake up the next morning.  Firmus stresses what a good daughter Clodia was, but he admits that he was unhappy with her choice of friends.  They were several years older than she and possibly had not been a good influence on her.  In addition, she had seemingly developed a crush on one of the young men, and he belonged to a family not up to the Volumnius family standards, at least according to Firmus.

The streets of ancient Rome were filled with gossip, sexual behaviors, and violence that make it seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Certainly the behavior of Clodia’s family–the “perfect” daughter who turns out to be not quite so perfect after all, the mothers-in-law who cannot abide each other, the preoccupation of various people with substance over style–are not unfamiliar to modern readers.  Apparently human nature hasn’t change that much since 89 C. E.

As readers know from other books in the series, Flavia was found begging on the streets of Londonium when she was young and brought to Rome by Marcus and Helena.  Originally she was a nanny to their children, but they eventually adopted her and she became a free citizen of the Republic.  Also, Marcus and Helena were probably impressed by Flavia’s sense of self and her confidence.  “They soon saw I would not accept being treated like a slave….No one could impose on me.”  You admire and respect her throughout the novel.

When Flavia thinks about how she has become involved with sorcery and magic to find out the truth about Clodia’s death she comes to the conclusion that “There was no need of a blood relationship to inherit crazy behavior.”   As her adoptive father was always coming up with wild ideas that led him into trouble, “now so was I.”

Pandora’s Boy is the sixth novel featuring Flavia Albia; more than a dozen earlier novels featured her father as the protagonist.  Readers will enjoy both informers, but my heart belongs to Flavia.

You can read more about Lindsey Davis 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 FAIRFAX INCIDENT by Terrence McCauley: Book Review

When a corrupt cop loses his job for not being corrupt enough, that’s a great idea for a novel.  And Terrence McCauley takes that concept and runs with it, very successfully, in what hopefully will be a new series.

Charlie Doherty was a New York City policeman, a bag man and enforcer for the even more corrupt Chief of Police Andrew Carmichael.  Shortly before he was kicked off the force, Charlie had gone against the chief’s express order and successfully investigated the murder of Jessica Van Dorn and the abduction of her brother Jack.  Mr. Van Dorn, to show his appreciation, hired Charlie as sort of a “private detective to the rich,” asking him to look into matters for various wealthy friends in trouble.

Now the detective has been asked to meet with Eleanor Fairfax, whose wealthy husband has allegedly committed suicide in his Empire State Building office.  Despite the fact that Walter Fairfax was found alone in his office with his fingerprints the only ones on the gun that killed him, his widow absolutely refuses to believe that her late husband died by his own hand.

Charlie reminds Mrs. Fairfax that the the official verdict was death by accidental shooting.  But she, wise to the ways of the world, knows that the police chief, who had overseen the case personally, will one day “darken my door…seeking to be repaid for a favor I neither requested not wanted.”   What she does want, she tells Charlie, is proof that her husband was murdered, improbable as that seems to the detective and to everyone else involved in the Fairfax death.

The Fairfax Incident is a noir novel that fits completely in its 1930s time frame.  Charlie Doherty is no angel, even by his own reckoning, but he does have a personal definition of morality.  He is perfectly willing to take on the investigation even though he believes Walter Fairfax did indeed commit suicide.  And having agreed to look into it, he will do his best to find the truth, even if, as it happens, no one besides the widow wants him to.

Terrence McCauley’s prose will capture readers from the first chapter.  As I noted, Charlie is not a poster boy for a morally upright detective, official or private, but both because he feels he owes it to Mr. Van Dorn to do his best and because he has his own standards, he will not let Walter Fairfax’s indifferent son or the vengeful Chief Carmichael stand in his way.

I’m looking forward to reading more about Charlie Doherty and his relationships with the residents of the neighborhood that goes, in his words, “from Park to The Park.”

You can read more about Terrence McCauley 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.


ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIES by Peter Swanson: Book Review

There are the lies we tell to others (to impress, perhaps, or to make ourselves more important), and there are lies we tell to ourselves (to protect ourselves from acknowledging the truth of what we are doing or what our motivations are).  In Peter Swanson’s latest mystery, All The Beautiful Lies, there are both kinds of lies; it’s up to the reader to decide which is the more dangerous.

Harry Ackerson is a few days from his college graduation when he receives a call from his stepmother to say that his father is dead.  The night before, while walking on his favorite cliff path overlooking the ocean, Bill Ackerson apparently slipped and fell into the water below.

The initial police investigation quickly changes gears, however, when the autopsy reveals a bruise on Bill’s head; now it’s considered “a suspicious death.”  But who would want to kill this quiet man, owner of two rare book stores, married for several years to his second wife, and father to an only child?  Bill would seem to have had no enemies…but apparently he had at least one.

Nearly everyone in All The Beautiful Lies has a secret.  Alice, Bill’s widow, is the product of a very dysfunctional mother and an unknown father, two things she never told her late husband.  Her stepfather, Jake, was attracted to her before he married her mother, a woman he knew to be an alcoholic and sometimes drug abuser; after her mother’s death, Jake and Alice lived their lives closed to family and friends lest the true nature of their relationship be exposed.  Harry seems to be fearful of his sexuality, something he’s not ready to admit even to himself.  And who is the mysterious young woman Harry notices outside the used bookstore his father owned in their hometown, and why was she at the funeral, only to leave without speaking to anyone?

Peter Swanson is one of today’s best writers, regardless of the genre being discussed.  His characters are totally realistic in what they say, do, and think.  Their lies are what they have constructed to get through life–whether to hide what they dislike about themselves or to help them get what they want.  Either way, it’s a question as to whether they control the lies or whether those lies control them.

This is Peter Swanson’s fourth mystery and the fourth one I’ve reviewed.  He’s definitely one of the authors whose novels can never come quickly enough for me.

You can read more about Peter Swanson 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.

A STUDY IN TREASON by Leonard Goldberg: Book Review

As readers discovered in The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, a one-night stand between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler led to the birth of their daughter Joanna.  Irene died immediately after the child was born, and Holmes placed the baby with a family who adopted her.  All this was unknown to Joanna until she became an adult; even now that she knows her history, she keeps it a secret from all except her family and Scotland Yard.

When the first novel opened in 1914, Joanna was a widow with a young son.  In the few months that have passed since then, she has married John Watson, Jr., the son of Holmes’ colleague, and has been making her name as a private investigator.

Into their London flat comes Sir Harold Whitlock, First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, to ask for help with a most serious problem.  A document has been stolen from the home of the well-connected Halifax family, despite the extraordinary security precautions taken to protect it.  Given the strained relations between Britain and Germany, the former country has entered into an alliance with France, and the missing paper states in great detail the steps that Britain will take to counter Germany’s navy in the event of war.  In the  the current state of affairs between Britain and Germany, this outcome seems only too likely.

Although Sir Harold came to the flat to seek only the senior Dr. Watson’s assistance, he is soon persuaded, albeit reluctantly, to bring Joanna and John Jr. into his confidence, first making certain that Joanna and both father and son sign the Official Secrecy Act.  Although Sir Harold has heard from Inspector Lestrade (the son of Holmes’ rival) that Joanna can solve anything, he is still wary of involving her and wonders aloud if she is as adept at finding clues as he has been told.  Joanna’s response is, “I see what everyone else sees.  But I think what no one else has thought.”

After receiving a more complete description of the papers, Joanna, her husband, and her father-in-law set out to Hampshire and the ancestral home of the Halifaxes.  The estate is the home of the seventh Duke of Winchester, a man considered above reproach.

Only four people were allowed to enter the room where the document was housed:  the duke, his son, his daughter-in-law, and the family’s butler.  A guard was stationed outside the room, other guards patrolled the grounds, and the treaty was kept in a locked safe unless the duke’s son, himself a member of the government, was copying it so that it could be sent to the various agencies involved.  Nevertheless, during a five minute interval when he left the room, it disappeared.

As he did in his previous novel, Leonard Goldberg brings the England of the previous century to life.  Joanna is exactly the daughter we would expect Holmes and Adler to have had.  She is extremely bright, confident of her abilities, and certain that her approach is the best for getting the document back from whomever stole it.  There is no false modesty in her, only a sense that she will be able to do what is required for success.

Sir Arthur would be proud of this continuation of the Sherlock Holmes legacy.

You can read more about Leonard Goldberg 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 KILLER by Arnaldur Indridasôn

In the 1940s, Iceland was undergoing dramatic changes.  It was a sovereign nation connected to Denmark, with that country’s King Christian X as its ruler, but with its own set of laws.  Although Denmark was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940 and there was a Nazi presence in Iceland, the latter remained neutral throughout World War II.  Due to the island’s strategic location, however, Great Britain illegally invaded it in 1940; a year later the United States, while still neutral, took over Iceland’s defense and quartered thousands of troops there, making it the largest Allied base in the North Atlantic.

This small country, formerly politically unimportant, now was playing a major role in the Allies’ defense, and of course that brought issues to Iceland that it had never faced before.  The Reykjavík police department had only one detective, as there were very few homicides in the city.  That was about to change, however, and Flóvent is called out to investigate a murder that will involve not only his own department but the military forces of the United States and Britain.

The victim is at first identified as Felix Lunden, an Icelander of German decent, primarily because the corpse is found in the apartment he is renting.  However, it is shortly discovered that this is not the correct identification, and Flóvent and Thorson, the latter a member of the British/Canadian military, must try to find out the dead man’s identity as well as locate the missing Lunden.

Lunden’s father, Rudolph Lunden, is a German-born physician and one of the few Germans who has been allowed to remain in Iceland after the outbreak of the war.  But getting information from him about his son is nearly impossible, as the two have been estranged for years.  And when the two investigators begin looking into the murder and disappearance, they uncover Nazi ties involving not only the father and son but the father’s brother and the former German consul in Iceland.  Tying the four men, at least superficially, to the Axis cause is a cyanide pill found hidden inside a suitcase in Felix’s apartment.

When the corpse is finally identified as Evvindur, a traveling salesman, Flóvent and Thorson begin looking for the woman who had shared Evvindur’s flat.  Vera had last been seen leaving the flat in the middle of the night by a neighbor who voices her suspicions that the woman is a prostitute, consorting with the British and American soldiers while Eyvindur was away.  So now there are two people involved in the murder who are missing.

The Shadow Killer is the second in Arnaldur Indridasôn’s Shadow series that takes place in pre-war Iceland.  It’s a wonderful look back into a nation and its population that are undergoing major changes.  As always, the author’s characters and plot are first-rate and will keep you reading until the last page.

You can read more about Arnaldur Indridasôn at various sites on the web.

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

A NECESSARY EVIL by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

In 1920 India, everything is political.  The British, still rulers of “the jewel in the crown,” were desperate to keep this country, incredibly rich in spices, cotton, and cheap labor, to say nothing of its geographical location, valuable for trading.  In order to do so, they were willing to pretend that the over five hundred princes in the country were still in charge of their mini-kingdoms; the Indian princes joined in this deceit so that they could maintain nominal control of the vast areas that had been in their families for uncounted years.

Twenty of these princes are meeting with the Viceroy, and Captain Sam Wyndham and his assistant, Sergeant “Surrender-not” Banerjee, are there as well.  Crown Prince Adhir Singh Sai had gone to school in England with Surrender-not, and when the prince sees his former schoolmate in the crowd, he invites the detectives back to his hotel to discuss a troubling matter.

His Highness is opposed to what the British are calling the Chamber of Princes.  Adhir tells Sam and Banerjee that most of his fellow rulers are in favor of the British idea, being content with “a few fine words, fancy titles, and scraps from your table.”  Despite the fact that his father, the Maharaja of Sambalpore, wants to join the group, the prince has made his opposition to the plan well known.

Adhir is probably only months away from ascending the throne, given that the Maharaja is very ill, so his stubbornness and recalcitrance in resisting the Chamber have earned him enemies in the government and in his own family as well.  Is there a connection between his opposition and the two anonymous notes that he found in his private chambers?

The prince wants to discuss this issue, so he, Sam, and Surrender-not get into His Highness’s silver-topped Rolls Royce to drive to Adhir’s hotel suite to talk about it.  But as they approach the hotel, a man in the robes of a Hindu priest steps out in front of the Rolls, so suddenly that the chauffeur is barely able to stop.  The car lurches to a halt, the driver opening the door to see if the priest has been injured.  Suddenly the priest pulls a gun from inside his robes, shoots through the car’s windscreen, and the prince dies instantly, two bullets lodged in his chest.

Sam Wyndham had left London a year earlier, after a series of traumatic events, and is working hard to adjust to his new home in Calcutta.  But his life here is proving just as difficult as the one he left behind.  He is only really comfortable in his relationship with his sergeant which, given the inherent inequality of the races in India, may have reached an unbreakable barrier.  Added to the mix is his interest in Annie Grant, an Anglo-Indian woman who, for the second time, has become involved in one of Sam’s cases.

Like its predecessor, A Necessary Evil is a rich description of India nearly a century ago, showcasing the enormous disparity between the royalty and the underclass, the racial and the political issues, and the politics that are never far from its surface.  This novel is an outstanding follow-up to Abir Mukherjee’s equally brilliant A Rising Man, which I reviewed earlier this year.

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 PLEA by Steve Cavanagh: Book Review

If, hopefully not when, I am arrested for murder, I will hire Eddie Flynn as my attorney.  This former con man turned defense lawyer has more tricks up his sleeve than Houdini ever did, and I would definitely want him sitting next to me at the defense table.

The Plea, the third in the series by Steve Cavanagh, opens as Eddie sees a flashlight moving around what should be his empty law office.  Inside he finds three members of the FBI, including Special Agent Bill Kennedy, searching through his file cabinet.  Then another man enters the office.  He introduces himself as Lester Dell, admitting, after Eddie has guessed it, that he works for the CIA.

Dell tells Eddie that he’s been tracking a group of individuals who are involved in the largest money-laundering scheme in the country.  These men are almost untouchable because of who they are–top attorneys in one of the oldest and most respected law firms in New York City.  And the threat that the agencies are using to convince Eddie to work with them is that Christine Flynn, Eddie’s estranged wife, is an attorney with that firm, and she has unwittingly signed a document that implicates her in the fraud.

The only way out for Christine, Flynn is informed, is for him to take a murder case, get the defendant to fire his current counsel, get himself hired as the new counsel, and have the defendant plead guilty.  Then the FBI and the CIA will make certain the document she signed disappears.  So who is the client and who are his current attorneys?  The client is David Child, a twenty-two-year-old social media wunderkind and one of the richest men in the world, and his lawyers are from Harland and Sinton, the firm where Christine is employed.

To say this puts Flynn in a tough place is to understate his situation.  But things get even worse when David refuses to plead guilty and insists, despite seemingly overwhelming evidence, that he’s innocent of the crime he’s accused of, the murder of his girlfriend.  Therein lies Eddie’s dilemma, having to choose between saving his wife from a jail term and disbarment and forcing his client, whom he comes to believe is innocent, to plead guilty.

The Plea is filled with more twists and turns than a roller coaster and is just as exciting.  Because Eddie was a con man, as was his late father, he always has a plan that can be changed at a moment’s notice when the situation changes.  As Eddie explains it, there are three types of cons:  the short con (which usually takes between five minutes and five seconds to complete), the long con (which requires weeks or months to come to fruition), and the bullet con.  This last one has two explanations.  “I heard old-timers call it a bullet con because it’s launched so quickly–like pulling the trigger,” Eddie thinks.  But it’s also because “if the con fails, the hustler can expect to eat a bullet.”

Steve Cavanagh’s characters are perfect, as is the novel’s plot.  I thought I had caught on after a few false guesses, but I was wrong.  I didn’t see the entire picture/con until the last page.  The Plea is a terrific, suspenseful, and completely satisfying read.

You can read more about Steve Cavanagh 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.


CAVE OF BONES by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

The Navajo Way.  It’s a culture whose people recognize the importance of nature, are respectful of their elders, think carefully before talking, and hold the belief that the Holy People are the ones who created the earth and its population.  This set of beliefs permeates every part of the lives of the three protagonists in Anne Hillerman’s series about the Navajo Tribal Police–Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and Joe Leaphorn–and the people they serve on the reservation.

Bernie’s latest case begins with an invitation to speak at a Wings and Roots program.  Wings and Roots is an agency devoted to helping young people who are in trouble, perhaps with the legal system or in a domestic abuse situation or as truants.  However, when she arrives at the campsite where a group of girls and the staff are camped for a night in the lava fields, there’s a search going on for one of the girls, Annie Rainsong, and for Dom Cruz, a staff member of the program.

Annie returns to base camp almost immediately after Bernie’s arrival, but Cruz remains missing.  As he is an experienced hiker who is very familiar with the area, the two other staff members can’t understand how he could have gotten lost.  Bernie gets Annie to tell her of the night she spent lost, and the girl reveals that she disobeyed the program’s instructions to remain in the spot she was assigned and instead went wandering.  Cold and frightened, she entered a small cave where she spent the night, and when she awoke in the morning she saw a small bundle of old bones on the cave’s floor.

Naturally, Annie is horrified by her discovery, especially given the Navajo beliefs regarding death.  These hold that evil spirits, the chindi, will return to the earth if a corpse is not properly buried and the appropriate traditions are not carried out.  Thus, these unburied bones constitute a sacrilege and could possibly prove a threat to the person finding them.

Caves of Bones is a wonderfully crafted mystery that follows Bernie and Jim as their investigations verge from the search for Cruz to the search for another Navajo man, to possible drug trafficking, the illegal sale of the tribe’s pottery, and alleged mismanagement at Wings and Roots.  It’s all connected, but unraveling the threads is not easy.  This fourth novel will make its readers eagerly awaiting its sequel.

Bernie Manuelito and Jim Chee are beautifully brought to life in Cave of Bones, as is retired detective Joe Leaphorn who plays a smaller part in this mystery.  The reader understands, especially in Bernie’s case, where she came from and how and why she became the dedicated police officer she is.  Her personal life is a very important part of these books:  her marriage to Chee, her sometimes strained relationship with her younger sister, and the beginning of her fear that all is not well with her mother.

You can read more about Anne Hillerman 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 LEGACY by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir: Book Review

In 1987, three young children are removed from their home in Iceland by the local child protection agency.  All three have the same mother, although possibly not the same father.  After much debate, it’s decided that the three will have to be sent to separate homes, as no placement can be found to take all of them together.  The two brothers are four and three, the sister is only one.

In 2015, the first in a series of murders take place.  Elísa Bjarnadóttir, the mother of three young children, is brutally murdered in her home while her husband is overseas.  Only her little girl, Margrét, has seen the murder take place, although she hasn’t seen the face of the killer.  To say she is traumatized is an understatement.  Interviews by psychologists aren’t able to gain much information from her, except for her statement that the man is black and has a big head.  Given the infinitesimally small number of black men in Iceland, this seems like something the child has imagined.

Nothing helpful comes of the police investigation, no reason or motive for the crime can be found.  The only unusual thing the police discovered is an envelope taped to the victim’s refrigerator; it reads “So tell me,” followed by a huge series of seemingly unrelated numbers.  It’s not a code that the authorities can decipher.

Then a second murder occurs, even more gruesome and bizarre than the first.  This time the victim is a widowed math teacher who apparently has no connection with Elísa.  Astrós Einarsdóttir has been a bit of a recluse since her retirement two years ago, so she’s surprised to receive a text reading “Not long till my visit,” along with another string of seemingly random numbers.  She readies herself for the uninvited guest, although there’s no time or date given in the text, and when her visitor does arrive he’s the last person she’ll ever see.

The two protagonists in the novel are psychologist Freyja and police detective Huldar (often only single names are used in Icelandic books).  Shortly before the first murder took place, Freyja and Huldar had a one-night stand, which ended with Huldar leaving before Freyja woke in the morning.  When they meet again during the interrogation of Margrét there is understandable tension between the two:  Huldar is embarrassed and ashamed of his behavior, Freyja is hostile and unforgiving.  But they must work together to try to protect the child from both the psychological repercussions of the crime and the possibility that the murderer views her as a possible witness to be eliminated.

Every one of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s books has been outstanding, and The Legacy is no exception.  The many threads in the story seem unrelated until the end, when everything is deftly and logically connected.  And the look into Icelandic culture, which has many of the same problems as we do in the United States, although on a much smaller scale, is a reminder of the universality of human emotions.  Parental neglect, anger, revenge, and loneliness all play out to the eventual tragic ending that such unhappiness must cause.

You can read more about Yrsa Sigurdardóttir at various sites on the web.

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






WHISPERS OF THE DEAD by Spencer Kope: Book Review

Edmond Locard was a scientist known as the “French Sherlock Holmes.”  The Locard Exchange Principle states that one who commits a crime leaves something behind at the scene–hair or fabric or (now) DNA–that will connect him to the act.  In Whispers of The Dead, the second in the Magnus “Steps” Craig series, that principle is taken to supernatural ends, as Steps has the ability to find and follow trails that even fellow agents in the FBI’s Special Tracking Unit cannot.

The reason for this skill is known only to three people beside Steps:  his father, his partner Jimmy Donovan, and the head of the FBI.  Steps has a form of synesthesia, an unexplainable ability to see what we might call an “aura” that a person leaves behind.  In other words, if he has an object that was worn by a suspect he can see the person’s aura, or shine as he calls it.  He can follow that shine via footprints or handprints on any place the suspect has touched.

Of course, something so outré, so bizarre, can’t be explained very easily, and trying to would seriously compromise Steps’ place in the Special Tracking Unit.  But it is this ability that has allowed him success after success in finding criminals; the difficult part is to account for how he has found them after other agents or police have not.

Steps and Jimmy are called to investigate a particularly gruesome item left in the living room of a judge’s home in El Paso.  Jonathan Ehrlich’s reputation as a member of the bench is that he unfairly favors the defendant and either dismisses cases that shouldn’t be dismissed or hands down the lightest sentence he can.

So it’s definitely possible that someone is outraged at a decision that Ehrlich made and is showing his displeasure in an especially dramatic way with a Styrofoam box, like those available in every supermarket or big box store to keep items cold, containing a pair of feet, partially frozen and wearing white socks and gray sneakers.

The two agents fly back and forth across the country from Washington to El Paso to Tucson to Albuquerque, investigating two other deaths that involve boxes with similarly gruesome contents.  The killer, now being called The IBK or Ice Box Killer, is on the move and leaving no clue of his identity except for the shine he leaves behind.  And that’s a clue that only Steps can see.

When, if ever, is murder legitimate?  If the law doesn’t mete out what one considers justice, is a person permitted to take things into his own hands?

Spencer Kope now is a crime analyst in Washington State and was formerly an intelligence operations specialist with the office of Naval Intelligence; in the latter position he traveled throughout the world.  Whispers of the Dead is a thriller that will keep you in suspense, reading until the last page explains it all.

You can read more about Spencer Kope 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.



IT BEGINS IN BETRAYAL by Iona Whishaw: Book Review

Do wars ever really end?  That’s one of the questions to be answered in It Begins in Betrayal, the fourth book in the Lane Winslow series by Iona Whishaw.

As the novel opens, it’s 1947 and life has moved on in western Canada.  Lane Winslow, who is keeping her past life as part of the British Special Branch secret, and Frederick Darling, former British Royal Air Force pilot and current police inspector in King’s Cove, British Columbia, are about to become involved in two unrelated incidents that have long-buried tentacles in England.

The first is the apparently motiveless murder of Agatha Browning, an elderly woman originally from the British Isles.  Although she’s lived in King’s Cove for decades, no one seems to know much about her early life or what brought her to the far western part of Canada.  Her body is found in the woods near her remote cabin by the priest of the village’s Catholic Church.  Although it’s possible that the woman stumbled to her death on the rocky soil, neither the priest nor Constable Ames likes the look of the way the body has fallen.

At virtually the same moment that Inspector Darling receives the phone call from Father Lahey about his discovery of the corpse, Darling gets a visitor from the British government who has arrived to ask him questions about the crash of the plane he was piloting in 1943.  Darling had made a very complete report of this crash, which ended in tragedy with the death of one of his crew and the disappearance of another, presumably captured by Nazi soldiers.  In fact, he had received a medal for bringing the plane down safely and bringing the rest of his crew safely out of German-occupied France.  So why is this incident being investigated again, and why must he return to England to answer questions about it?

Darling (he’s always called by his last name) and Lane are romantically involved, but even he doesn’t know that she was an intelligence agent during the war.  But when he’s recalled to London for the re-opened investigation into the crash and what followed, Lane determines to follow him and find out the reason that the case has been reopened.  Certain events that took place during the war are still hidden under the Official Secrets Act, making it difficult for Darling and Lane to get to the truth of why he was asked, aka commanded, to return to England.  Meanwhile, the investigation into Agatha Browning’s death continues, with its own secrets and roots deep in the English countryside.

Iona Whishaw has written a mystery with a wonderful sense of time and place in It Begins in Betrayal.  The characters are alive and vibrant, the settings realistic, and the plot will pull you along until you find the reasons for the death of the Englishwoman in Canada and the forced return of the Canadian police inspector to England.

You can read more about Iona Whishaw 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.

SLEEP NO MORE by P. D. James: Book Review

Three and a half years after P. D. James’ death her estate has given her readers six short stories to delight us.  Sleep No More, these previously unpublished “murderous tales” as the jacket cover calls them, are quite different from the late author’s novels, but they are as engaging and engrossing as any of them.

Several of the stories are set in the Golden Age of mysteries, the decades starting in the 1920s and ending in the 1940s, when Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and G. K. Chesterton wrote their most famous books.  Baroness James of Holland Park, to give P. D. James the title bestowed on her in 1991, didn’t start writing until after the Golden Age had passed, but two of the stories have dates that put them in the decades when the so-called classic mysteries were being written, and the four others in this collection are non-specific enough to have been set in that era as well.

Baroness James’ wry sense of humor is evident in “The Murder of Santa Claus,” a story told in the first person by a “workmanlike” writer of detective stories.  Charles Mickeldore knows he’s not a first-class author like, in his words, “Dick Francis…not even a P. D. James.”  His amateur detective, the Honorable Martin Carstairs, is considered by some critics to be a “pallid copy” of Lord Peter Wimsey, but Mickeldore is successful enough to support himself as a writer.  “The Murder of Santa Claus” takes place in a 17th-century manor house in 1939, with the required assortment of eccentric guests.  There’s a housekeeper, the very strange uncle of the narrator, an air force pilot, a sexy actress, and the elderly couple who used to own the house.  It’s the perfect Golden Age setting.

“Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday” is a tale of two warring generations that pits an elderly man’s wishes against those of his son and daughter.  His children are certain they know what housing is best for him; the fact that the housing they choose is gloomy and not at all what he wants doesn’t bother them as it’s substantially less expensive than his choice.  Matters come to a head as the three celebrate his birthday with a picnic lunch, at which surprise after surprise is revealed.

All six narratives are written in the elegant style for which Ms. James was famous.  Whether told in the first person or in the third, the  storyline captures the reader immediately.  Sleep No More is an unexpected and totally welcome treat, as enjoyable as the author’s famous Adam Dalgliesh novels.

You can read more about the late P. D. James at my Past Masters and Mistresses section.

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 FIRST FAMILY by Daniel Palmer: Book Review

Imagine Susie Banks.  She’s a teenage violinist on the stage of the Kennedy Center, about to perform a solo with the National Symphony Orchestra.  She is halfway through her performance, playing perfectly as usual, when suddenly her body goes into spasms.  Her arms and legs are gesturing uncontrollably, and her instrument falls to the floor.  Several frightening moments pass, and through her tears she picks up the violin and makes her way to the wings.

In another part of Washington, Dr. Lee Blackwood is visiting a patient at MediCenter of D. C.  As he is making his rounds, a Secret Service agent comes into the room and tells Lee to follow him.  Lee’s former wife Karen is an agent, and she has asked the first lady, Ellen Hilliard, to bring Lee to the White House for a consult.

Ellen is concerned about her son Cam.  Cam has become withdrawn and moody, his complexion is ashen, he has huge circles under his eyes, and he is sweating inappropriately.  These emotional and physical symptoms are affecting his life to the point where his parents and the White House physician, Fred Gleason, fear he is depressed.  Most importantly, as far as Cam is concerned, his ability to play chess at the international level is being compromised, just in time for a major tournament he has hopes of winning.

Gleason thinks Cam should see a psychiatrist, but the teenager is insistent that his problem is physical, not mental.  Cam tells Lee that he’s not sleeping well, is tired all the time, and that his vision is sometimes blurred.  Lee agrees with Cam that the symptoms seem more physical than emotional, but the parents are conflicted about which physician to trust.

Polite battle lines are drawn between the two doctors, with nothing being decided.  Several days later, when Cam is playing a game of touch football with friends, he’s knocked out.  The White House doctor doesn’t think it’s anything more than bruising, but Karen is concerned enough to ask Lee for a diagnosis over the phone.  Hearing the concern in his ex-wife’s voice, Lee suggests bringing the boy to the MediCenter at once, which Karen does after consulting the first lady rather than Dr. Gleason.

In the meantime, Susie Banks has also been admitted to the MDC.  In what appears to the police to be a horrific accident, a faulty furnace allowed carbon monoxide into the Banks’ house, killing her parents and bringing Susie close to dying.  And now, the bizarre symptoms she had experienced at the Kennedy Center will have Lee trying to make a connection between her and Cam.

Right from the beginning Lee Blackwood’s skills are called into question by Fred Gleason.  Is it the simple jealousy of one doctor to another, or is his behavior in objecting to Lee’s every suggestion covering something more sinister?  And does the TPI, the True Potential Institute, an after-school program for the very best and the brightest that both Susie and Cam attend, have any part in this?

Daniel Palmer has written what truly is a page-turner.  You will be caught in the action from the beginning as Lee and Karen try to figure out what is bringing  these two formerly healthy teenagers to the point of death.

You can read more about Daniel Palmer 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.






A WELL-TIMED MURDER by Tracee de Hahn: Book Review

People think of watches, and they think of Switzerland.   Artisans in Holland and France were the premier watchmakers in the sixteenth century, but then the Swiss overtook them and never looked back.

The watch industry comes into play in the cleverly titled A Well-Timed Murder, the second in a series featuring Swiss-American detective Agnes Lüthi.  Agnes is a member of the Financial Crimes department in the Lausanne police department, currently on leave as she recovers from the wound she received in the first novel.  As the book opens she is at Baselworld, the world’s premier watch and jewelry trade show, overlooking the arrest of a much-wanted thief, when she is asked to investigate a week-old suspicious death.

Guy Chavanon, one of the country’s master watchmakers, died several days before the show opened, and a police investigation concurred with what every eyewitness agreed had happened:  Guy, who had a well-known life-threatening allergy to peanuts, somehow had ingested peanut dust or spores and died within seconds.  A frantic attempt by his friend, Narendra Patel, to inject him with an Epi-Pen didn’t work, and Chavanon died in front of a horrified group of teachers and parents at a reception at his son’s boarding school.  It was simply a tragic accident according to everyone except his daughter Christine; she suspects murder.

Guy had been working on an invention that he said would change the watch-making world, much as quartz did in the 1970s.  Because he was inordinately secretive, no one knew exactly what this invention was or where its explanatory notes were located.

Further complicating matters after Guy’s death is the disagreement between Christine and his wife Marie, Christine’s stepmother.  Although Christine had left the family’s firm of Perrault et Chavanon Frères several years earlier over a disagreement with her father about the company’s direction, she now wants to find out what he was working on and is hoping to bring it to fruition.  However, Marie wants to sell the generations-old firm immediately, and the two of them cannot come to any agreement about the future.

In addition, at Baselworld Agnes sees Julien Vallotton, a man she met several months previously on a case that involved his family.  It’s obvious that Julian is interested in her, but Agnes is conflicted.  She likes him, but dealing with the recent death of her husband and the anticipated reactions of her two young sons and her mother-in-law to Julien make it difficult for her to act on any attraction.  But Julien’s close relationship with the Chavanon family, in his role as Guy’s son’s godfather, makes it nearly impossible to avoid him.

Tracee de Hahn is breaking new ground in placing her detective, and a woman detective at that, in Lausanne’s police department.  Judging from Agnes’ ability in solving the deaths in A Well-Timed Murder, she will be solving more crimes in that city in the future.

Tracee de Hahn studied architecture and European history and lived for several years in Switzerland.  You can read more about her at this website.

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


THE MAN IN THE CROOKED HAT by Harry Dolan: Book Review

Several years ago I reviewed When Bad Things Happen, Harry Dolan’s first novel, and I wrote that I was struck by the twists and turns of the plot.  Mr. Dolan hasn’t lost his touch in the intervening years, as is evidenced by his latest mystery.  You almost need a scorecard to keep track of what’s going on, but a bit of confusion is well worth it; The Man in the Crooked Hat is an outstanding novel.

Jack Pellum is deep in grief over the murder of his wife.  At the time of her death, nearly two years earlier, he was a Detroit police detective, but his obsession with finding Olivia’s killer led first to his suspension and then to his quitting the force.  He doesn’t care about that; in fact, he doesn’t care about anything at all except finding the killer.  He spends his days and nights looking for any thread that might lead him to a man in the crooked hat, a man he saw the day his wife died.  He has papered his neighborhood with flyers asking for information about him, but so far there have been no results.

Then a young man in a Detroit neighborhood commits suicide, leaving a bizarre note on his living room wall–There’s a killer, and he wears a crooked hat.  That’s all the incentive Jack needs to look into Dan Cavanaugh’s death, and with that he becomes immersed in investigating a series of deaths in the area that may or may not be connected to his wife’s.  There doesn’t seem to be anything similar about these deaths–two of which have been deemed accidents–but the fact that there are so many has Jack convinced, or almost convinced, that if he’s able to untangle the strands he will find Olivia’s murderer.

Finally Jack gets a response to the posters.  Paul Rook, a man whose mother was murdered nine years ago, contacts him.  Her killer was never found, and he is convinced that the man who murdered her wore a hat, a man he saw near his house only two days before his mother’s death.  He tells Jack to stop looking for a thread that connects all the murders because there is none.

“But if you look for him,” Paul says, “if you’re patient, you can find him.”  Paul has been doing his own research into murders in the greater Detroit area.  The earliest murder he can find that he’s sure this man committed goes back twenty years, and that victim was the older brother of Dan Cavanaugh, the man who just killed himself.

Jack is a man who has given up virtually everything in his search for his wife’s killer.  His job, his friends, his relationship with his parents have all faded away beside his need to find Olivia’s murderer and the reason for her death.  Is it justice he seeks, or is it vengeance?

The Man in the Crooked Hat is a brilliant look into the dangers of obsession and where they can lead.

You can read more about Harry Dolan 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.