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Book Reviews

THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson: Book Review

Ragnar Jónasson has started a new series, and like his previous “Dark Iceland” series it’s a winner.  While the first series features a male protagonist who is a detective in a small town in a remote part of the country, The Darkness introduces a female detective inspector in the capital.

Hulda Hermannsdóttir is a few months away from her much-dreaded mandatory retirement.  Being a police detective has been her entire life, and she can’t imagine what she will do when she’s no longer working.  Then she’s called into her boss’ office and given the worst possible news–her replacement has arrived and she must clear out her desk immediately.

Hulda is able to bargain for two more weeks, which is reluctantly granted, but since all her cases have already been allocated to other officers, she can only look into “cold cases,” those that were never solved at the time the crime was committed.

Determined to stay until the last possible day, Hulda begins looking into one from a year earlier, a case that she believes was never properly investigated.  Maybe, she thinks, that’s because Elena was a young asylum-seeking woman, with no command of either Icelandic or English, who apparently had no one interested enough to make a fuss over the lack of police diligence.

In Hulda’s opinion, the investigating officer had gone out of his way to portray the death as accidental.  Given the low number of murders annually in Iceland, one or two on average, and the much higher incidence of accidents, it was easy for the police to conclude that the death had been simply an unfortunate event.

When Hulda starts investigating, she meets with Elena’s solicitor and discovers that the woman was almost certainly going to be granted political asylum.  The detective gets the name of the translator whom the solicitor employed to get the facts for the asylum application; since the lawyer spoke no Russian, Elena’s only language, the lawyer needed a Russian speaker.

The translator, Bjartur, tells Hulda that he never spoke to any other member of the police and only met with Elena once or twice.  However, he tells her that Elena had confided to him that she was a prostitute, and he thinks she may have been brought to Iceland specifically for that reason.  When Hulda asks him why he never mentioned this before, he says, apologetically, “Nobody asked.”

Now certain that the initial investigation was poorly handled, Hulda is more determined than ever to find out the truth behind Elena’s untimely death.

Ragnar Jónasson is one of a group of Icelandic writers who have made that small country an important part of the current international mystery scene.  In addition to his writing, he is also the co-founder of Iceland Noir, an annual conference held in Reykjavik featuring authors in the mystery genre.

You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson 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.

FOGLAND POINT by Doug Burgess: Book Review

David Hazard is one of only a handful of transgender protagonists in the mystery genre, at least to my knowledge.  A native of Little Compton, Rhode Island, he has just been fired as an assistant professor at Xavier College because the school’s authorities have discovered his sexual identity.

Born as Rosalie Hazard, even as a child David felt he was in the wrong body, and when he was able to do so he began the surgeries and medical procedures to change his female body into a male’s.  He’s happy about that, but he doesn’t fool himself into believing that he will be able to obtain another teaching position easily.  Thus, without a salary, his only option is to return to his childhood home and to the problems that await him there.

The main problem is that his grandmother, Maggie, is slipping away from the world due to dementia.  From moment to moment her mind wanders from past to present, not recognizing her grandson one minute and knowing who he is the next.

It’s not surprising, then, that when David receives a phone call from Maggie to say that she’s found a dead body with blood all around it, he assumes it’s a symptom of her disordered mind.  When he drives to her house and finds nothing out of place, that seems to confirm it.  But when he goes next door to see his “Aunt” Emma, who has taken on a major role in caring for Maggie, there is Emma’s body on the kitchen floor, just as his grandmother had said.

At first it appears that her death is due to a tragic accident that might well happen to an elderly woman while she was in her kitchen–a heavy pot falls from a shelf, lands on her head, and cracks her skull.  But Billy Dyer, the small town’s chief of police, doesn’t buy that.  He thinks someone stood over Emma and deliberately brought the pot down on her.  Then whoever it was pulled the rest of the pots from the shelf to make it appear an accident.

Little by little old secrets are revealed.  There’s the matter of the three million dollar legacy that Emma left to an Arabella Johnson, who turns out to be the daughter no one knew Emma had.  There’s the story of Teddy Johnson, Emma’s fiancé, who was drafted and went off to Korea and never returned.  There’s the mysterious couple who arrived in Little Compton shortly before Emma’s death and stood, according to the town’s mourners, much too close to the casket than was proper for outsiders.  Little Compton is a bastion of Yankeeness (a word I just coined).

Doug Burgess has written an outstanding first novel.  His characters are realistic, his plot tight, and his dialogue rings true.  And, in David Hazard, he has created an appealing protagonist who, I hope, will be featured in other mysteries.

You can read more about Doug Burgess at this site.

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

PAPER GODS by Goldie Taylor: Book Review

When I came across this quotation on Google, it seemed the perfect description of the politicians in Paper Goods, Goldie Taylor’s debut mystery novel.  “Politics have no relations to morals,” said Niccolò Machiavelli, often called the father of modern political science.  His cynical view is seen on every page of Ms. Taylor’s excellent book.

Victoria Dobbs is the mayor of Atlanta and a protégée of Ezra Hawkins, a United States representative for the district that covers Georgia’s capital.  The two go way back, both in city hall politics and in their membership in the fabled Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached.  Their politics have mostly been in accord over the years, but now it appears that a major division has taken place over a bill that is due for a vote in Congress, and neither one will give way to the other.

Mayor Dobbs is seated in the church’s sanctuary, listening to remarks by Hawkins, when a rifle shot shatters the building’s ceiling and kills Hawkins and three other parishioners, with more critically injured.  The F.B.I. and the Atlanta Police Department are immediately on the scene, but it is the mayor who becomes the spokesperson for the massacre.  “There will be justice,” she promises.

Victoria rules the city with an iron hand and doesn’t take orders from anyone on any topic.  When she is called several hours after the shooting and informed by her police chief that his officers have surrounded the house with the suspected shooter inside and are trying to take him into custody, she gives the command to “Put him down….I said shoot him.”

On the mayor’s trail is Hampton Bridges, an investigative journalist who is definitely a persona non grata at City Hall or anywhere else under Victoria’s control.  He is writing a series of articles about corruption in her office, including questions about her brother’s conflicts of interest while controlling billions in public spending.  That finally prompted Victoria to remove her brother from her mayoral campaign but did nothing to improve the already tense relationship between the reporter and the mayor.  And Victoria’s not-so-secret desire to take Ezra’s place in a special election for Congress is pushing Hampton to work ever more feverishly to lay bare her secrets and make certain she loses.

Hampton is not the only one eager to make sure that Victoria doesn’t get to D. C.  Virgil Loudermilk, the white power broker in Atlanta, had been behind Victoria in previous elections, but since she’s stymied a bill he wanted passed that would have earned him millions, he has become her enemy.  And he is a powerful one.

Goldie Taylor, editor at The Daily Beast, former political consultant and filmmaker, obviously knows whereof she writes.  Paper Goods is a close look into the not-very-pretty state of politics in America today, rife with corruption and back-room deals.  No one in this novel is totally innocent, and the reader’s sympathies will go from one character to another with each discovery of dirty dealing.  The plot is tight and the characters totally believable.  Ms. Taylor will keep you reading until the last page.

You can read more about Goldie Taylor 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 ONE-EYED JUDGE by Michael Ponsor: Book Review

The title of Michael Ponsor’s second novel, The One-Eyed Judge, is a perfectly designed tease to pique the interest of any mystery reader.  And the book does not let you down, for it’s a fascinating look into our legal system with all its benefits and flaws.  The book’s title comes from a serious eye injury that Judge David Norcross suffered in the first book of the series, The Hanging Judge.

As this novel opens, Amherst College English professor Sidney Cranmer receives a UPS package and signs for it.  He has only managed to slit open the outside envelope when a tremendous pounding is heard at his front door.  He puts the package in his desk drawer and answers the door; in come several FBI agents who are part of a sting operation.  When an agent opens that drawer in the professor’s desk, he sees the recently arrived package and opens it completely.  Inside is a DVD of child pornography, the possession of which carries a minimum five-year sentence in a federal prison.

Cranmer’s specialty is nineteenth-century English literature with an emphasis on the works of Charles L. Dodgson, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.  Dodgson has long been reputed to have been a pedophile, something that Cranmer believes is “preposterous,” and he and his intern have been doing research into the subject.  Cranmer admits to viewing pornography but tells his lawyer he has no memory of ordering this DVD, although he admits that since the recent death of his mother he hasn’t been totally aware of everything going on around him.

The case comes before David Norcross, the federal judge for the five western counties in Massachusetts; it is a federal one because interstate mail was used to deliver the package.  In the midst of the initial hearing David gets a note saying he has an urgent phone call from his brother’s office.  Norcross’s brother was on a fact-finding mission to Croatia with his wife when their plane went down.  Mrs. Norcross died on impact, Norcross’ brother is in critical condition and unable to travel home.  That leaves the judge with the responsibility for his nieces in Washington, two girls with whom he has has spent very little time.

David has been dating Claire Lindemann, a colleague of Cranmer’s in the college’s English Department.  He and Claire have become serious over the last few months, and he has proposed without getting an answer.  A major issue is that she wants to have children and he, given the ugliness he sees on a daily basis in his courtroom, does not.  And now Claire’s belief in Cranmer’s innocence and her determination to help him has added additional stress to their relationship.

Michael Ponsor, a sitting federal judge, has created an excellent new series with a terrific protagonist.  David Norcross is an intelligent, sensitive man who recognizes that he is sitting in judgment over the future of a person’s life, a responsibility that he does not take lightly.  The novel’s plot is believable, the characters are realistic, and the seriousness of the subject of child pornography makes The One-Eyed Judge a fascinating read.

Full disclosure–I had the pleasure of hearing Judge Ponsor a few weeks ago at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) and speaking with him briefly after his presentation.  He is an outstanding speaker with a wonderful sense of humor, and it was obvious to me that the audience was very impressed by his discussion of his two careers–a federal judge and a two-time mystery novelist.

You can read more about Michael Ponsor 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 DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE by Mariah Fredericks: Book Review

It’s a perfect match.  The Benchleys are nouveau riche and in need of a lady’s maid, and Jane Prescott is a lady’s maid in need of a position.  The family is trying to break into New York City high society but is seen as “from Scarsdale,” an unimportant suburb outside the city, while Jane, due to her previous jobs, knows everything that such people need to learn about living among the “Four Hundred” in 1910 Manhattan.

The two Benchley sisters, Louise and Charlotte, couldn’t be more different.  Louise is the older sister, anxious, plain, and extremely shy; the younger Charlotte is outgoing, very pretty, and determined to find what she considers her rightful place in society.  This she does with lightening speed, thanks in part to her father’s wealth as well as her own determination:  she steals Norrie Newsome, the handsome but dissolute scion of another New York family, from Bea Tyler, the young woman it was always assumed he would marry.

Charlotte tells her family about her secret engagement to Norrie, which she says will be announced publicly at the grand Christmas Eve ball that the Newsomes are giving.  The Newsome family consists of the father, Robert, multi-millionaire owner of the Shickshinny mine; his second wife, Rose, who is younger than his son; the above-mentioned Norrie; and Lucinda, the daughter who had been a schoolmate of Rose’s at the posh private school they’d attended in Pennsylvania.

Things at the ball do not go according to plan, however.   After hearing about a fight between Charlotte and Bea, Jane goes in search of Charlotte but instead nearly falls over the dead and brutalized body of Norrie Newsome in the mansion’s library.  Everyone at the house is presumed to be innocent due to their high social position, and the police begin looking at the local anarchists who allegedly have been sending threatening notes to Robert Newsome, owner of the above-mentioned mine where a cave-in disaster had recently killed eight boys under the age of ten.

A Death of No Importance is an insightful view into a time, more than a century ago, that shows the huge divide between the haves and the have-nots, a scene that is all too familiar today.  The members of the “Four Hundred” live in incredible luxury, with housekeepers, maids, and chauffeurs, and New York City policemen patrol their streets to keep out the riff raff; the poverty-stricken live on the Lower East Side, half dozen to a room in cold-water flats, with outdoor lavatories, inadequate and rotten food, and thieves and pickpockets on every corner.  This dichotomy is what has led to the anarchists’ violent actions across the country and the fear that the wealthy have of them. 

You can read more about Mariah Fredericks 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.

SUNRISE HIGHWAY by Peter Blauner: Book Review

The saying “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em” is a famous line from Twelfth Night.  Can it also be that some are born evil and some have evil thrust upon them?

Hauppauge, New York is the kind of small town people move to in order to escape violence and crime in the big city.  On the surface all is well in this town with its good public schools and its strong police force and judiciary.  But under the surface things are rotten.

In 1977, a young white girl is killed in a wooded area of town, with a bunch of twigs and leaves stuffed down her throat.  Suspicion immediately falls on Delaney Patterson, one of the few young black men in town.  The police theorize that Delaney, who had recently moved to Hauppauge and was touted to be a star on the high school football team, got in with the wrong crowd when an injury forced him off the gridiron.

Detective “Billy the Kid” Rattigan tells the new, naive, and eager-to-please assistant district attorney, Kenny Makris, that he believes the young man and the girl had a fight, possibly over drugs, and that Delaney killed her.  Rattigan even has someone who witnessed, or nearly witnessed, what happened–that both young people went into the woods but only Delaney came out.  And the witness is Joey T., then the teenage son of a police officer in town.

Now, thirty years later, Joey T. has become the town’s police chief.  He is in control of every aspect of the law, and those who oppose him do so at their peril.  It’s Joey T. who seems to have been born evil and Kenny Makris who has evil thrust upon him.  But evil is insidious, and once Kenny has taken that first step over to the “dark side,” it’s too late to reconsider.

Into this situation comes Lourdes Robles, a New York City police detective.  She is called to Far Rockaway in that city’s borough of Queens when a large green bag is washed up on the shore.  Upon opening the bag it’s discovered that inside is the corpse of a pregnant woman, her throat stuffed with rocks.  Given that Far Rockaway is almost swimming distance to Nassau County, Lourdes and her team reach out to the police there and are surprised at their colleagues’ immediate determination to take over the case.  It’s too quick, Lourdes thinks, and she determines not to give up the case until she’s forced to do so.

Joey T. runs his town with an iron fist, and those who try to oppose him are dealt with summarily.  He is adept at finding the chinks in one’s armor, and if they doesn’t exist he’ll use force to get his way.  The combination of threats and bribery has made him untouchable.  That is, until Lourdes comes to town.  She is a heroine fighting her own family-related demons, but they will not get in the way of her solving the case. 

Sunrise Highway will have you hooked from its first chapter.  Peter Blauner has written a chilling novel, with a strong, believable plot and realistic characters.   You can read more about him at this website.

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

AN ACT OF VILLAINY by Ashley Weaver: Book Review

Once again I am green with envy reading about Amory Ames and her life in 1930s London.  Amory is the beautiful, smart, wealthy heroine of several mysteries by Ashley Weaver, and her life sounds almost perfect to me.  The caveat almost has to be used because her marriage to Milo has always been somewhat “iffy” due to his less-than-monogamous behavior.  But that seems to be in the past, and in An Act of Villainy the Ameses seem to be a happy, loving couple.

While leaving a West End theater one night, Amory and Milo are greeted by Gerard Holloway, a friend of Milo’s.  Gerard is a wealthy man who has just written his first play, The Price of Victory, and it is about to open.  In addition to being the play’s author, he is also producing (read financing) and directing it, so obviously he has a lot at stake in its success.

During their very brief conversation outside the theater, Amory innocently asks Gerard about his wife, a woman whom Amory greatly admires.  After Gerard rather tepidly says that “she’s quite well,” he moves off and Milo looks quizzically at his wife.  Didn’t you know, he asks her, that his new play’s leading lady is his mistress?

The next day Milo meets Gerard at the latter’s club for a drink, and Gerard confides that Flora Bell, his paramour, has been receiving threatening anonymous letters at the theater.  Knowing of the Ameses’ past successes in solving mysteries, the playwright asks them to attend his play’s dress rehearsal to see if they notice anyone behaving in a guilty manner, and Milo now puts the matter before his wife.

Amory agrees to go to the rehearsal, although she is upset with Gerard’s philandering.  As she says to her husband, “this seems a minor matter” because if someone really wanted to harm the actress they would hardly warn her beforehand.  In this, however, Amory couldn’t be more wrong.

Ms. Weaver has written another beguiling novel that bring today’s reader back nearly one hundred years to a social set and time quite different from our own, or at least from mine.  Amory has a lady’s maid, Milo has a chauffeur, afternoon tea is a ritual, and they have three homes.  It’s a charming fantasy life to read about, but there’s an excellent mystery here as well.

I often wonder how authors can write a novel about a time and place in which they never lived.  Ms. Weaver, as far as I can tell from brief biographical notes I’ve read, has never lived in England; in fact, she is a librarian in Louisiana.  But her fertile imagination and creativity will make you believe that, in a former life, she was a member of London high society.

You can read more about Ashley Weaver 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.






Long a tourist mecca, Venice conjures up beautiful visions of stunning architecture and elegant bridges crossing calm canals.  But there’s an ugly underside to the “Queen of the Adriatic,” a city rife with corruption and a populace who seems to be either uncaring or else committed to the belief that nothing they do will change the situation.

Guido Brunetti, commissario at the city’s Questura di Venezia, knows every canal and street in his beloved city.  Sadly, nothing about Venice shocks him any longer, and he is beginning to feel that the police have become almost totally ineffective.  So when Professoressa Crosera comes to him with a problem she can barely articulate, he finds himself not as sympathetic as he thinks he should be.

The professor is a member of the university’s architecture department, the same college where Guido’s wife Paola teaches literature.  The two women are colleagues rather than friends, but Guido has met the professor before.  After a great deal of hesitation, she finally asks Brunetti if it is a crime to purchase drugs.  He tells her it is not, that the crime is selling them, and she seems slightly reassured.  She is fearful that her teenage son is using drugs, but she has no definite proof and appears not to want to find any.

Probing more deeply, Brunetti asks her why she has come to the Questura, what she would like the police to do, and he is surprised by the simplicity of her response.  “Find out whose selling him these drugs.  And arrest them.”  And Guido thinks to himself, if only it were that easy.

Several days later Professoressa Crosera’s husband is brutally attacked on the Ponte del Forner.  Did it have something to do with the drugs that he and his wife believe their son is using, or is it a different matter entirely?  Street crime is so rare in Venice that the former seems much more likely, but Brunetti and his colleagues are getting nowhere by focusing on that aspect of the  investigation.

The Temptation of Forgiveness is Donna Leon’s twenty-seventh book featuring Commissario Guide Brunetti, his family, and his fellow officers at the Questura.  The incredible sense of place that is in all the novels is understandable when the reader knows that Ms. Leon lived in Venice for thirty years.  Brunetti’s humanity shines through in all the books, but it is obvious that he has reached a point in his life where his optimism is greatly tempered with reality and his knowledge that many of the problems that confront the citizens of the city are beyond his ability, or that of anyone’s, to remedy.

The final two pages of The Temptation of Forgiveness are among the most moving I have ever read.

You can read more about Donna Leon 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.


CITY OF INK by Elsa Hart: Book Review

Reading City of Ink, Elsa Hart’s third entry into the Li Du series set in 18th-century China, is like reading a long poem.  Her writing is so beautiful, so evocative of its time and place, that the reader must pause to take a moment to relish it.

Li Du is a government official who has returned to Beijing after a three year exile.  Although his results in the official examination for government officials were outstanding and had earned him a high position as a librarian and an esteemed place in society previous to his expulsion, Li Du makes no effort to reestablish himself when he comes back.

Instead, he accepts a much lower position as a secretary to the chief inspector of the capital city’s North Borough.  He offers no explanation for this decision, nor for his unexpected return from banishment, and after a few half-hearted inquiries his colleagues leave him alone.

But, of course, Li Du has his reasons.  His closest friend and mentor, Shu, had been convicted of being a member of a group trying to assassinate the emperor.  Shu was executed and Li Du, as his friend, was exiled.  His reason for returning to the capital and accepting a lowly job is to have the freedom and opportunity to examine the secret files about the coup and to prove Shu’s innocence.

Tile manufacture is a major industry at this time in China, and the Black Tile Factory is one of the most important ones.  Its owner is Hong Wenbin, a nice man when sober with a vicious streak when drunk.  And so when the bodies of his wife and a man are discovered in the factory’s seldom-used office, it appears obvious to the authorities that Hong had found the two having an intimate relationship and murdered them.

Hong protests that he was so drunk the evening before that he has no memory of what he did but swears that he would have remembered, even in his inebriated state, something as drastic as a double murder.   Li Du’s superiors’ desire for a quick and easy solution to the murders is upsetting to him, and he determines to look into the crimes without their knowledge or permission.

Elsa Hart’s portrayal of life in the Chinese capital is captivating.  She recounts scene after scene in such detail that the reader is transported there.  She describes, for example, the specific hats that must be worn by government officials to show their rank, the books that are read by members of the intelligentsia, and the fourteen gates to the city that are closed at night.  Such descriptions make the setting of City of Ink come alive.

And the depiction of the students taking the examinations that will mark them for success or failure in their lives –their frantic studying, their fear of failure, and the possibility that they are victims of a corrupt system–is outstanding.

Li Du is an admirable protagonist.  He is smart, caring, open-minded, and loyal, traits that are not necessarily admired in his society.  He is willing to consider new, Western ideas, as is evidenced by his friendship with Father Calmette of the Roman Catholic Church, but clever enough to keep secret his illegal search for documents that will clear Shu’s name.

The author’s third mystery featuring Li Du is a brilliant follow-up to the two previous ones.  You can read more about Elsa Hart 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.


RIVER OF SECRETS by Roger Johns: Book Review

Racial relations between blacks and whites are at the heart of Roger Johns’ second mystery, River of Secrets.

Detective Wallace Hartman of the Baton Rouge police department is the head of the squad investigating the murder of Herbert Marioneaux, a state senator with a varied career and political history.  In his younger days Herbert was a member of a mainline Protestant church, but he left it to become a pastor in an evangelical fundamental one.

An avowed segregationist early in his life, Marioneaux changed direction here as well and became a man apparently committed to equality between the races and the sexes.  Some people applauded this change as sincere, while others claimed it was a political ploy and would soon be abandoned.  Only Marioneaux knew the truth, and it died with him.

The day before his death, there was a confrontation between two men–Father Milton, a white priest at a local Catholic church and Eddie Pitkin, a black lawyer and social activist.  Eddie has come to the church to make the case for reparations for the decades of slavery that his ancestors had endured under families that were the forebears of the priest.

The scene is being videotaped by Eddie’s assistant.  Eddie makes his case that the priest’s family, as well as other families whose ancestors were slaveholders, should make monetary amends to the blacks who can prove that they are descended from Louisiana slaves.  A crowd gathers to watch the interchange, which is thus far cordial, when Wallace appears and leads Eddie away in handcuffs, thus avoiding what she believes could turn into violence.

While Eddie is in custody for disturbing the peace, the results from the police lab investigation of Martineaux’s murder come in.  Hairs and DNA were recovered from the senator’s shirt, and they match the DNA belonging to Eddie.  Eddie is the half-brother of Wallace’s very close friend, Craig, who tells the detective that his brother is innocent and that he was at the family’s fishing camp at the time of the senator’s death.

Soon Wallace is caught in the middle of rising emotions on both sides of the arrest.  There are those who are demanding Eddie’s release and claiming that his being taken into custody was too hasty and that the police are no longer investigating to find the actual murderer; others declare Eddie’s guilt is open-and-shut and he should be tried and convicted immediately.  And racial incidents are rearing their ugly heads in parts of the city.

River of Secrets tells what has become an an all-too-familar story in our country today, to which there is no easy answer.  Wallace is torn between the seemingly damning evidence against the man she arrested and his half-brother’s conviction that Eddie is not guilty of murder.  Whatever she does while looking more deeply into the case is sure to have repercussions for her, in both her career and her personal life.

Roger Johns has written an excellent mystery, with characters we have all either read about or know ourselves.  His picture of today’s racial climate, with its links to the past, will resonate with every reader.

You can read more about Roger Johns 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.


BONE ON BONE by Julia Keller: Book Review

My friends and family know that I’m a fast reader and can read a book of 300 pages in a day if I’m not interrupted by unimportant things like cooking and cleaning.  But reading Bone on Bone so quickly is nearly a crime in itself, so beautifully written and poignant is the story.

Bone on Bone reads as a sequel to Ms. Keller’s previous mystery, Fast Falls the Night, in which she wrote about the opioid crisis that is creating devastation across the country.  Particularly hard-hit is West Virginia, the state where the novel takes place; it had the highest number of opioid deaths in the nation in 2016.

Acker’s Gap is certainly not immune to this epidemic.  Still reeling from the loss of mining jobs and the 2008 recession, the community’s young people have decided that their only escape from the despair of their town is via drugs.  Drugs and their devastating effects have reached into many families, including the well-to-do Toppings.

Tyler Topping, the couple’s teenage son, has been in and out of rehab almost more times than his parents can count.  As the story opens he’s again living at home per his counselor’s advice; however, he is back on heroin or whatever drugs he can get if “smack” is not available.  Of course, he has to sell drugs to feed his own habit, and if he can’t make enough by selling he steals from his parents, taking virtually everything in their home that isn’t nailed down.

At her wits’ end after trying to help her son and distraught at seeing her beloved husband frantic at being unable to keep their son away from drugs, Ellie Topping has decided she has no choice but to do the unthinkable–kill her son to prevent him from killing them through his actions.

As all this unfolds, Bell Elkins, the protagonist of Julia Keller’s series, has returned to Acker’s Gap after a three-year prison sentence.  In the preceding book, Bell’s sister Shirley, her only relative, made a startling confession.  Shirley had spent years in prison following her conviction for killing their physically and emotionally abusive father, but now that she is dying she tells Bell the truth.  It was the ten-year-old Bell who was the murderer; Shirley confessed to the crime rather than have her young sister jailed or sent to a detention center.

Although she could have avoided incarceration due to her age at the time of the murder and the confession of her sister, Bell insists on taking her punishment now.  Because she admitted committing a felony, in addition to her prison sentence she loses her position as county attorney and is disbarred.  Despite questions and pleas from her ex-husband, daughter, and former colleagues, she refuses to discuss the reasons she made Shirley’s dying confession public and insisted on going to jail.

Bone on Bone resonates as a cry from the heart by the author.  Every day in our country communities and families are going through unimaginable sadness due to the scourge of drugs.  She recognizes that there’s no easy solution but many share the blame–physicians who don’t monitor their patients’ drug use; drug companies that push drugs for every imaginable symptom; patients popping pills instead of doing the hard work of physical therapy and/or exercise to relieve their problems; teenagers looking for a thrill; parents denying their children’s addiction.

This is a moving novel and an outstanding mystery.  It is a worthy addition to the Bell Elkins novels; I’ve reviewed several of the previous books elsewhere on this blog.

You can read more about Julia Keller 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 EXES’ REVENGE by Jo Jakeman: Book Review

Which would you prefer if you had a choice?  Justice?  Understanding?  Revenge?  Each of the three women in Phillip Rochester’s life has a point of view on how to deal with the man who impacted their lives in unimaginable ways.

The Exes’ Revenge opens with Phillip’s funeral.  His widow is Imogen; she is the book’s narrator and the mother of their only child, Alistair.

Also at the funeral are the two other women Phillip controlled–his first wife, Ruby, and his fianceé, Naomi.  Yes, although he was still technically married to Imogen, Phillip was living with the very young Naomi at the time of his death.

Phillip was a policeman with all the power of his force behind him.  Although Imogen had reported domestic abuse a few times early in their marriage, no notice was taken by the investigating officers.  After all, Phillip was one of them.

But now that Imogen has finally decided on a divorce, her almost-ex has upped the ante.  Instead of Imogen divorcing him, he’s decided to divorce her.  She tells him that’s not a problem, she’ll be happy to let him say she’s at fault, but them he delivers the coup de grâce.

If Imogen and Alistair aren’t out of the house by the end of the month, he won’t divorce her; even more frightening, he will ask for sole custody of their son, citing Imogen’s depression as the reason she is not competent to mother the child.  And when she asks where on earth they would go, he informs her it’s not his problem.

As Imogen says at the end of Chapter 1, “There are only three of us here–Naomi, Ruby, and I–who know how satisfying it feels to know that Phillip Rochester got the death he deserved.”

The novel is narrated in Imogen’s voice, and she tries to explain to herself and the reader why she stayed with Phillip long after his violent outbursts became the norm.  Several years before the novel opens, Imogen, pregnant, was hit by a car and miscarried.  Although Phillip appeared sensitive at first, he soon became annoyed by his wife’s subsequent depression, and his violence and his extramarital affairs escalated.  Even the birth of their son did nothing to stop this behavior.  But by this time Phillip has convinced his wife that the fault is hers, that she has driven him to this behavior by her actions, and she is now convinced that she deserves nothing better.

Then, when Imogen meets Naomi at the hospital one night and sees that the young woman too is a victim of Phillip’s violence, Imogen realizes that her husband must be stopped, and her divorce is not what will stop Phillip’s abusive behavior.  She has the beginning of a plan that becomes the women’s revenge, and Naomi and eventually even Ruby, Phillip’s saintly first wife, join her.

The Exes’ Revenge is a spellbinding mystery, with characters who are understandable and realistic.   Even if you would have made different choices under the same circumstances, the author’s skill makes you understand how Imogen’s self-doubt and low self-esteem allowed her husband’s abuse to continue.

Imogen is a terrific protagonist, and you will be rooting for her to get her life together and protect her son in the only way she deems possible.

You can read more about Jo Jakeman 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 GATHERING OF SECRETS by Linda Castillo: Book Review

We all know that secrets have a way of being discovered despite everything that’s done to cover them up.  But what happens when a teenage girl confides her secret to her mother and is disbelieved and shamed?  There can be no happy ending to that story.

A Gathering of Secrets opens with a harrowing episode.  A seventeen-year-old Amish girl feigns illness to avoid going to Sunday worship with her family.  Believing that God has spoken to her, she waits until her parents and siblings have left their farm, then goes into the family’s barn and hangs herself.

Six months later Painters Mill Chief of Police Kate Burkholder receives a phone call about a fire raging out of control.  The firefighters are already at the farm belonging to the Gingerichs, an Amish family, and when Kate arrives she is told that the family cannot locate their teenage son Danny.  Later that day, after the fire has been controlled, firemen find a body in the barn, but it is so badly burned that at first no one can be certain who it is.   However, several hours later it is identified as Danny.

As is true of many ethnic/religious groups, the Amish in Painters Mill would prefer to handle matters without outside interference.  But after the arson inspector tells Kate that there’s no way Danny could have locked and barricaded himself in the barn’s tack room either before or after the fire started, what initially seemed like a horrific accident becomes a murder investigation, and Kate must try to get answers to her questions from the reluctant members of this religious community.  And what she discovers is that Danny was not the ideal Amish teenager that his parents believed him to be.

This is the tenth novel in the Kate Burkholder series, and in each one the reader learns more about her.  Born into an Amish family, Kate is now “English,” as the Amish call anyone who doesn’t follow the Ordnung, the oral tradition of rules and expectations that govern their lives.  Still, it is Kate’s familiarity with the religion and her knowledge of the families who live in her community that help her solve crimes.

This crime, in particular, hits very close to home, as its investigation makes Kate relive the most painful episode in her life.  Is she too close to the crimes leading back to Danny to do her job with the objectivity she needs?  Or does her own history make her even more determined to find out the reason for the young man’s death?

Linda Castillo has written another engrossing mystery that brings her readers into the community of Painters Mills.  Kate and her significant other, John Tomasetti of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, are moving steadily toward a wedding date despite the past events in their lives that continue to haunt them.  And Kate’s staff, most particularly the ever-eager Mona Kurtz, are wonderfully depicted.  A Gathering of Secrets is a thrilling addition to this series.

You can read more about Linda Castillo 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 DARK LAKE by Sarah Bailey: Book Review

A few weeks ago Jane Harper, the author of The Dry, gave an interview to The Boston Globe in which she listed books by several of her favorite fellow Aussie authors.  One writer she mentioned was Sarah Bailey, whose debut mystery Ms. Harper praised highly.  Since I enjoyed The Dry so much and blogged about it last December, I decided to read her recommendation.

The Dark Lake is an absolutely spellbinding story about how the past never lets go.  Gemma Woodstock is a detective sergeant in Smithson, the small town where she grew up.  As the novel opens she receives a phone call from her supervisor, telling her to go immediately to Sonny Lake; a body has been found there.  The victim is Rosalind Ryan, one of the teachers at the town’s high school.  Gemma is assigned to lead the investigation, and thus she must keep secret the story of her past relationship with Rosalind and its consequences.

Gemma’s past and present are fraught with tragedy and secrets.  Her mother died when Gemma was a teenager, her high school boyfriend died shortly after that, and she is having an affair with her colleague, Felix McKinnon, a married father of three.

Gemma is living with Scott, who wants to marry her, but although Scott is the father of their toddler son Ben, Gemma can’t get past her love (or lust) for Felix.

For reasons the reader isn’t aware of until nearly the end of the book, Gemma won’t reveal her past relationship with Rosalind, who was the most beautiful girl in Smithson.  But strange stories have followed Rosalind’s career:  there was an issue at the university she attended, then at the high school where she taught before coming home to teach, and innuendoes at Smithson High as well.  There are rumors, not facts, swirling around her professional life and, as Gemma is finding out, in her family life as well.

The novel is told in two time periods, Gemma’s high school years and the present.  We learn how unhappy she was as a teenager, certainly explained by the tragic deaths of her mother and her boyfriend.  But somewhere in there as well is her relationship with Rosalind and her fear of its becoming public, something she wants to avoid at all costs.

Sarah Bailey has written a spellbinding mystery, one that delves into the emotions not only of Gemma but of Scott, the father of her baby; Donna Mason, the mother of Gemma’s high school love; John Nicholson, the high school principal with a secret he’s held for more than twenty years; and Rosalind’s family, the Ryans, with issues of their own.

The Dark Lake is a fabulous debut for Sarah Bailey; the second Gemma Woodstock mystery will be published in December.  You can read more about Sarah Bailey 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 TALE OF TWO MURDERS by Heather Redmond: Book Review

Before Charles Dickens was a world-renowned novelist, he was a young journalist working in London.  Determined not to live the life his father led, with two terms of confinement in debtors’ prisons, Charles was working hard and determined to make his mark in society.

As A Tale of Two Murders opens, it is 1835 and Charles has been invited for dinner at the home of his employer, the Evening Chronicle‘s co-editor.  This marks the first time he meets Catherine (Kate) Hogarth, the oldest daughter in the family, and he is immediately smitten by her looks and personality.

Their dinner is interrupted by several screams that seem to come from the neighboring house, which belongs to the family of the late Lord Lugoson.  Dickens, Kate, and Mr. Hogarth walk over to investigate and come upon a strange scene–about a dozen people, including several servants, are standing aimlessly in a room while in front of the fireplace lies a young girl apparently coming out of a fainting episode.

Lady Lugoson’s guests seem unable to cope with the situation, so Charles, Kate, and Mr. Hogarth assist the hostess in getting the young woman, who is her daughter Christiana, to her bedroom.  Various physicians are called in throughout the night, but in the early hours of the next morning she dies a painful death.

When Charles go the Chronicle’s office later that morning and tells fellow reporter William Aga about the tragedy, he hears a strange story.  William tells Charles that he knows of an almost identical episode that took place on the same date, January 6th, a year earlier.  A young woman, the same age as Miss Lugoson, was also stricken and died the following day.  The symptoms that the two girls experienced sound identical to both men.

Intrigued and upset by William’s story and the suffering that he witnessed, Charles begins an investigation into the deaths of the two girls.  In addition to his curiosity, he has an added inducement to follow the story–Kate has been given permission by her father to join Dickens in his quest, and she is more than eager to break out of her routine and help.

In A Tale of Two Murders, it appears that in his early twenties Dickens had no inclination or desire to become a novelist.  Instead, he saw himself as a reporter and possible playwright.  We know that the successes of The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities lie ahead of him, and it’s delightful to read about his life prior to that.

Heather Redmond (a pseudonym) has succeeded in bringing not only Dickens to life but the times he lived in as well.  Her descriptions of society’s manners, dining habits, clothing, and mores make A Tale of Two Murders a fascinating story.

You can read more about Heather Redmond’s new historical mystery at various internet sites.  Since Dickens wrote 15 novels, readers of A Tale of Two Murders perhaps may look forward to more novels in this series.  A Christmas Carnage or Murderous Expectations?

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.