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RAGGEDYLAND by Paul J. Heald: Book Review

Auction Hunters and Storage Wars are two very popular shows that have been on television in recent years.  In such programs people bid, sight unseen, for the contents of storage lockers or units, hoping to find valuables that were left behind when the renters no longer paid the fee to keep their items safe and private.

James Murphy is a Georgia-based journalist and a bit of a gambler, so it’s quite logical that he puts in a bid on the show Shocker Locker, hoping to make his investment pay off.  However, what James finds when he opens the locker is definitely more of a shock than he expected.

Inside, along with a profusion of other items, is a magazine titled Spartacus, featuring disturbing photos of men and small boys in compromising sexual positions.  James calls his former lover, Melanie Wilkerson, a federal prosecutor with whom he worked on a previous case, and she agrees to contact the FBI, as the sexual exploitation of children is a federal crime.

James and Melanie contact Stanley Hopkins, a friend and college professor of sociology whose area of specialty is the sex industry, its victims, and its perpetrators.  Stanley lends his expertise to the search to find the former owner of the locker, but in the meantime he meets Amy, a teenage girl who has flown cross-country from North Carolina to California to rekindle a brief romance with a fellow student she met at a Duke University summer school class.

When she discovers that the interest was definitely more on her side than his, Amy knows no one else in California to turn to other than Stanley.  And through a series of complicated events, the two of them begin a trip from Stanley’s home to Georgia to work with James and Melanie on locating the man whose locker began the story.

The story has its roots in Georgia, moves to California, returns to Georgia, moves to England, and goes back to Georgia for its finale.  A high school principal, the preacher of a fundamentalist church, his son, and the man who had rented the storage locker all come under the scrutiny of James, Melanie, and Stanley, as they discover that the photos are but the tip of the iceberg in an even more disturbing story.

Paul J. Heald has written a terrific mystery, a strong story laced with humor and humanity.  Raggedyland is the third novel in the Clarkeston Chronicle series, and I have downloaded the first two–Courting Death and Cotton:  A Novel, and can’t wait to begin reading.

In addition to writing novels, Mr. Heald is a professor at the University of Illinois School of Law, specializing in copyright law and intellectual property.  You can read more about the author 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.


WHAT’S LEFT OF ME IS YOURS by Stephanie Scott: Book Review

And now for something completely new and different.  Did you know that there’s an industry in Japan called wakaresaseya?  Its literal translation is “breaker-upper,” and it refers to a person who is hired by someone, usually a spouse, to lure the spouse’s partner into an affair and thus allow for the breakup of a marriage.

In Stephanie Scott’s debut novel, What’s Left of Me Is Yours, the reader is a witness both to the original act by a wakaresaseya and its aftermath twenty years later.  The novel has three narrators–Rina Sato, the woman who was killed; Kaitaro Nakamura, the wakaresaseya who murdered her; and Sarashima Sato, Rina’s daughter, who was a child at the time of her mother’s death.

Kaitaro is hired by Osamu Sato to seduce Rina and thus provide Osamu with evidence to divorce his wife.  The problem is that Kaitaro falls in love with Rina and she with him, and he can’t figure out how to stop Osamu from finding out about their relationship and how to keep his job while being with Rina.

The novel opens with a newspaper clipping from 1994.  The trial of Kaitaro is beginning, and he admits to the court that he and Rina fell in love and were planning to be together.  Rina’s father, a respected attorney, is vehement in his hatred for Kaitaro and urges the court to give him the death penalty, a rare punishment in the country.

Because Sarashima, or Sumiko as she was known then, was only seven years old when her mother was murdered, all she knows about the death is the version her grandfather has told her.  He raised her after her mother died, and she has followed in his footsteps to become a lawyer.

But when Sumiko answers a phone call from the prison service meant for her grandfather, she starts to unravel another story, the true one.  Her mother had not died in a car crash on her way to get Sumiko and take her to their new apartment as her grandfather had told her; instead, she had been brutally strangled by the man hired by her father to break up his marriage.  We know from the beginning of the novel that Kaitaro, who loved Rina deeply, was the murderer, but it’s not until near the end of the story that we learn the truth of what happened between them.

The laws in Japan are very different from those in the United States and most Western countries.  A suspect can be taken into custody and held for up to 23 days without being charged.  There is no jury in the court; a panel of three judges questions witnesses, decides guilt, and passes sentence.  Rather than “innocent until proven guilty,” in the Japanese system the arrest itself presumes guilt.  Even the accused’s title changes upon arrest.  Instead of the polite san, which is added to one’s surname, the word higisha is used.  So now the accused is Higisha Nakamura–Criminal suspect Nakamura.

What’s Left of Me is Yours is a stunning novel, working both as an intriguing mystery and a look into the Japanese culture of the late 90s and today.  Ms. Scott, who is a Singaporean and British writer raised in Southeast Asia, has done incredible research for this book, as evidenced by her receipt of a British Association of Japanese Studies Studentship and her membership in the British Japanese Law Association.

You can read more about the author at this website.

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

The summer has come and almost gone, but I have not (gone, that is).  Like many/most/all of you, my summer plans vanished in a puff of Covid-19.  The two foreign trips my husband and I had anticipated were not taken, and even shorter, closer-to-home visits to family and friends were non-happenings.

However, even the darkest clouds have a silver living.  First, and most important, my family and friends have not contracted the virus and have remained healthy during this pandemic; I hope the same is true for you and yours.  Second, with all the unexpected free time I had, I was able to do much of the preparation for my fall BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) course, WHODUNIT?:  DETECTIVES WITH DISABILITIES, which begins on September 14th.

I had been thinking about this course for some time, having become increasingly interested in the various challenges people with disabilities/handicaps/impairments face.  How do we view people with handicaps?  Do we automatically think they will not be able to do everything the non-disabled among us can do?  Do you think some types of impairments are harder to deal with than others?  Physical, because they’re easy for others to see and perhaps judge?  Mental or emotional, because they’re often hidden, making it more difficult for others to understand the problem facing the detective?  Or perhaps you don’t see “disabilities” as problems at all, but rather as “differences.”

We will be reading and discussing disabilities both visible and invisible, some obvious and some not.  Here is the list we’ll be reading for the fall semester, along with the issues faced by the protagonists of the novels:  The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (amputation); After She’s Gone by Camilla Grebe (memory loss);  Love Story, with Murder by Harry Bingham (Cotard’s Syndrome), Odds Against by Dick Francis (deformed hand); A Cold Treachery by Charles Todd (PTSD); Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (Tourette’s Syndrome); The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Asperger’s Syndrome); and Little Black Lies by Sandra Block (ADHD).

Although this class and the mysteries we will be reading may sound overwhelming and depressing, I will tell you now, without giving too much away, that this is not the case.  Class members will join me in discussing the strength of the human spirit, as the detectives learn to overcome their physical or emotional problems and lead successful lives.

One more thought.  Two weeks ago a reader of this blog emailed to say that he wished I reviewed more American mysteries.  I wrote back, noting that half of the recent books I’d reviewed took place in the United States, but that made me think about the books I’ve chosen for this term’s course.  In fact, five of the eight take place in England (!) and the sixth is set in Sweden.  Only two take place in the States.  I’m wondering if that says something about how America views disabilities as opposed to how they are seen in other countries.

Please read along with us as we meet (via Zoom) to talk about WHODUNIT?:  DETECTIVES WITH DISABILITIES.  I promise you that these novels are truly something special.

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.

My best wishes for good health for everyone.


THE JANES by Louisa Luna: Book Review

Janes.  At first it appears to be simply the plural of a common first name, not suggesting anything sinister.  But a number of pages into the book, I realized that each Jane is in fact a Jane Doe.  That’s the name used by law enforcement when the true name of a person is unknown or is being intentionally concealed.

In Louisa Luna’s second mystery in the Alice Vega series, these unnamed, unknown girls are totally disposable.  I use the term girls instead of women because these are teenagers, taken from their homes in Mexico, either forcibly or lured by the false promise of a better life north of the border.

Alice’s background is not given, but she appears to be a combination of a bounty hunter/private investigator.  She receives a call that brings her to the San Diego morgue and is taken to view two bodies.  The first is a teenage girl, probably Latina, looking no older than fourteen, her corpse showing bruises, cigarette burns, and multiple stab wounds.  The second is another presumably Latina teenager, similarly beaten and stabbed.

The pathologist tells Alice that the two girls were killed separately, on different days and in different locations.  Sadly, she has seen similar corpses before, but these two have one important difference.  Each had an IUD implanted in her uterus.  The medical devices have the name of the manufacturer imprinted on them, along with a serial number.  One number is 79433530, the second 79433525.  Almost sequential, Alice thinks.  “Somewhere there’s four more just like you, or not like you at all.”

It appears to the police and the FBI that there’s a sex-trafficking ring operating on both sides of the U. S.-Mexican border, and they call on Alice for assistance.  Their reason is that clutched in the palm of the second murdered girl is a scrap of paper with Alice’s name printed on it.

The local police and two federal officers offer Alice a substantial sum of money to lead the investigation, with her keeping her part undercover.   At first she tells them she isn’t interested, wondering why these agencies are offering her so much money under the table, and the answer to that question doesn’t appear until the end of the novel.  But she is persuaded, provided she can look into the case along with her partner, Max Caplan.

Alice tracks the IUDs to a local health clinic and then to the apartment of a recently fired employee.  When she goes to the man’s home, she speaks to his girlfriend and notices an anomaly in the otherwise bare, undecorated apartment.  It’s a very large painting, and something about it bothers her.  She breaks the glass with the butt of her gun, takes the painting from the wall, and removes the paper from its back.  Inside are packs of currency, perhaps twenty or twenty-five, and Alice estimates that there are several thousand dollars in all.

Alice Vega and Max Caplan are two fascinating characters.  She brings a sense of absolute fearlessness to her work, while he brings his expertise as a former police detective.  Together they are formidable, the perfect team to look into a case involving kidnappings, underage sex workers, and drugs.

The author has written a spellbinding mystery, with strong characters, a riveting plot, and an impending sense of doom that will keep readers engrossed until the very last page.

You can read more about Louisa Luna 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 DOCTOR OF ALEPPO by Dan Mayland: Book Review

As is well known, Syria is engaged in a brutal civil war.  It began as unrest during the Arab Spring in 2011 and since 2015 has been a multi-sided conflict fought by the Syrian Armed Forces, Sunni opposition rebel groups, Salafi jihadist groups, the mixed Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, with a number of countries in the region and beyond also involved.

In Dan Mayland’s novel, The Doctor of Aleppo, many of these groups converge on that city, leaving death and destruction in their wake.  A metropolis with a history dating from the sixth century B. C. E., Aleppo had rich architectural, religious, and cultural traditions.  But now, following years of war, it has become a war zone.

The novel follows three people whose lives are intertwined with the city and each other.  Samir Hasan is a dedicated doctor whose best efforts are hampered by a number of factors, including a lack of medical supplies, the near-constant bombs that go off frighteningly close to the clinic where he works, and his fears for the safety of his family.  Hannah Johnson, the daughter of an American mother and a Syrian father, is a volunteer with a small non-profit health organization.  Rahim Suleiman is a dedicated believer in the reign of Bashar al-Assad.

When Hannah’s Swedish lover Oskar is badly wounded he is taken to Hasan’s clinic and operated on by the doctor, one of only two orthopedists left in the city.  As chance would have it, Oskar is put in the same room as Adel, Suleiman’s injured son.  Hasan operates on Adel as well, and the boy is recovering when he unexpectedly dies.  Suleiman becomes convinced that his son’s death is the surgeon’s fault, and he determines to take his revenge.

The Doctor of Aleppo is so well-written and powerful that the reader will feel she/he is in the city.  At times I had to put the novel down because it was too painful to read, made especially so because the reader knows in reality this is Aleppo’s plight.  On each page there is sorrow and heartbreak for the lives that are lost in the battle for this country and this city in particular.  But there is also a sense of decency and courage as portrayed by Samir Hasan, the physician working in a clinic with minimal staff and nearly no supplies, and by Hannah, a volunteer who somehow cannot bring herself to leave this war-torn place and return to America and safety.  Even Suleiman’s desire for revenge becomes understandable when seen as the act of a grieving, bereft father.

Dan Mayland is a geopolitical forecaster with a specialty in Middle Eastern issues.  He is also the author of four books in the Mark Sava spy series.  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.

SHADOWS OF THE DEAD by Spencer Kope: Book Review

Magnus Craig, known by his nickname “Steps,” has a unique ability, one that sets him apart from other FBI agents who specialize in tracking people.  When Steps was eight years old, he got lost in a blizzard and nearly froze to death.  In fact he was clinically dead, but somehow he was revived; and afterward he was the recipient of either a blessing or a curse, he still hasn’t decided which one.

Steps can see what he calls “shine,” a type of residue that people leave anywhere they walk and on anything they touch.  Like fingerprints or DNA, no two shines are alike, and the only thing that saves him from constant, total overload is that lead-crystal glass blocks almost all shines.  So unless Steps is on a tracking case, he always wears a pair of glasses with the special lenses.

Only three people know about the shine–Steps’ father, his FBI partner Jimmy Donovan, and the director of the Bureau.  His fellow agents simply think he has an uncanny ability to track missing people and criminals regardless of the terrain.  And Steps wants to keep it that way.

In Shadows of the Dead, the third case in the Special Tracking Unit series, a car crash sends the local police into the Washington Olympic Peninsula woods.  When they investigate the crash and open the car’s trunk, they find a gagged and bound woman inside and a man running from the car into a nearby cabin.  That’s when the FBI is called.

The kidnapper is forced out of the cabin after a tear gas canister is flung inside.  When he is handcuffed and led through the woods to a police cruiser, he keeps talking in phrases that the police and federal agents can’t understand.  He calls himself Faceman, says he is a fixer, wonders where “Eight” is, and that “he” is going to be so mad.

When the man is brought to the closest hospital, he makes a reference to Onion King, the person he fears.   The officers realize that the “Eight” that Faceman is referring to is the woman who was in his truck.  That’s when the police and the FBI agents understand  that there must have been seven women previously kidnapped and that the “he” is the Onion King, a serial killer on the loose.

One of the features of Shadows of the Dead that I really enjoyed was the depiction of the close working relationship between the sheriff’s department, local police, and the FBI.  All too often in mystery novels there’s a great deal of jockeying for position and bad feeling among these groups, and it was refreshing to read that the capture of the criminal was paramount in everyone’s mind. 

In addition to writing mysteries, Spencer Kope is a crime analyst in Washington State.  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.


EAST OF HOUNSLOW by Khurrum Rahman: Book Review

He’s a Muslim who sells drugs.  He’s a thirty-year-old man who lives with his mother.  He doesn’t work and drives a BMW.  His name is Javid Quasim.

East of Hounslow is one of the most unusual and amazing books I’ve read this year.  Javid, but please call him Jay, is proud to tell you all about himself.  He’s British born, has never been racially profiled, and is content to be a low-level drug salesman.  He doesn’t see “Paki” as an insult but rather “as a badge of honor,” as Pak means pure and clean.  And although he’s not actually either one, he is living the life he wants.

Jay isn’t unaware of what’s going on in the world, but in his words, “It’s not my war.  Call it religion or call it politics or call it greed.  It all amounts to the same thing:  bloodshed, devastation and broken homes.”  He’s found his place in his world and he’s happy with it.  Until things change.

While Jay was involved in a confrontation at a local restaurant, his new Mercedes, parked in front, disappears.  That is bad enough, but inside the car is seven thousand dollars that he owes to the local drug lord, Silas Drakos.  And when Jay tells Silas what happened, he’s given a week to pay it back.

Then Jay is approached by Kingsley Parker, part of an MI5 task force, with a way out.  If Jay agrees to tell the force everything they need to put Silas away, Jay’s own drug dealing and his assault on a man during the fight at the restaurant will be forgotten.  But, of course, there’s more…there always is.

The borough of Hounslow is a racially and religiously mixed area, with whites, Asians, and Blacks living in close quarters, and churches, mosques, and Sikh temples providing worship sites.  Not surprisingly, although Jay believes he is immune, there are plenty of racial/religious problems in the area.   After he agrees to go undercover for M15 in repayment for their dropping the drug and assult charges, he is told to increase the frequency of his visits to his local mosque and to hopefully get involved with whatever is suspected to be going on behind the scenes there.

Jay’s neighbor Parves, the local gang leader Khan, and Idris, a police friend, are three of the many characters that make the novel come alive.  The book is partially narrated in the first person, and it is so well written and immediate that readers will feel they are next to Jay as he’s telling the story.  Looking for additional background on the author, I discovered that East of Hounslow is the first in a proposed trilogy; I’ve already purchased the second book, Homegrown Hero.

In these days of social unrest, racial profiling, and terrorism, Khurrum Rahman’s mystery is a must read.

You can read more about Khurrum Rahman 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.


ONE LAST LIE by Paul Doiron: Book Review

Charley Stevens is Mike Bowditch’s mentor/father figure/best friend all rolled into one.  So when Charley goes missing without explanation, Mike is determined to find him and discover the reason for his disappearance before it’s too late.

The two men have known each other for years, and Mike has always thought they could count on each other if either one was in a tight spot and needed help.  So it’s particularly upsetting when he receives a phone call from Ora, Charley’s wife, and she tells him that Charley has gone off without telling her where or why.  The only unusual thing that happened, she tells Mike, is that her husband seemed to have been upset after they had stopped at a flea market in Machias a few days earlier, not too far from their lakeside Maine home.

On his drive north from Portland to see Ora, Mike stops at the market to talk to a vendor he knows.  Carol Boyce had noticed Charley talking to an odd-looking man at a nearby table; the former English professor describes the stranger, in the words of  Edith Wharton, as “but a ruin of a man.”  The two had an angry exchange of words, and she thinks Charley walked away from the table with something small in his hand.  Perhaps, she says, it was the badge she had noticed him examining earlier among the items for sale.

Mike has two other concerns as well as his worry about his friend.  The first is the possibility that the Maine Warden Service, where Mike is a Warden Investigator and Charley had been one before his retirement, is going to hire someone who appears to be too good to be true.  Tom Wheelwright, a former Maine native and decorated combat pilot, is applying for the Service’s position of chief pilot.  Everything about him looks perfect on paper, but Bowditch nevertheless has the feeling that something isn’t right.

He persuades his superior officer to let him fly to Miami, where Wheelwright currently lives, to talk to Joe Fixico, Tom’s former electronic warfare officer and a man whose name was conspicuous by its absence among the many references in Wheelwright’s job application.  And going to Miami brings up the second concern for Mike–a possible meeting with his former lover Stacey, Charley and Ora’s daughter, now living in Florida.  Mike is now in a serious relationship with Dani, a member of the Maine State Police, but seeing his former “soul mate” creates a question in his mind about where his heart truly lies.

As in all the other books in this series, Paul Doiron’s love of nature, even when nature is not at its most appealing, shows his appreciation of the outdoors and the environment.  Whether he’s in the Everglades with Stacey looking for a loose Burmese python or back in his beloved Maine woods fighting clouds of mosquitoes and taking photos of a herd of moose, Mike is in his element, even if that element is uncomfortable or possibly dangerous.

One Last Lie is a welcome addition to the Mike Bowditch series.

Paul Doiron is chair of the Maine Humanities Council, former editor of Down East, and a Registered Maine Guide.  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.



CRUEL ACTS by Jane Casey: Book Review

Leo Stone, aka The White Knight, is poised to be released from prison.  He was sentenced thirteen months earlier when he was found guilty of murdering two young women.  Now evidence has come to light that a juror disregarded the judge’s instructions and looked up Stone’s past on the internet.  He discovered Stone’s previous convictions for assault, told other jurors, and posted the results on the net.  Based on that information, a mistrial is declared and Stone is released.

Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan and her supervisor Detective Inspector Josh Dewent are assigned to review the case and find sufficient evidence to put The White Knight back in prison.  Both murdered women shared some characteristics–they were young, attractive, walking to their flats alone late at night.  Maeve is convinced that another woman, Rachel Healy, was also Stone’s victim, but because her body hasn’t been found there wasn’t any forensic evidence to include her in the case against Leo Stone.  But that isn’t going to stop Maeve from investigating on her own time.

Stone was convicted of the murders of Willa Howard and Sara Grey.  Interestingly, the responses of the victims’ parents are totally different, and they can barely stand to be in the same room together.

The Howards are convinced that Stone is the man who murdered their daughter Willa, and they are beyond angry that he has been released, even though there are plans to retry him.  The Greys, on the other hand, are angry that Stone, whom they believe is innocent in their child Sara’s death, has been imprisoned while the real murderer is free.  They have no intention or desire to help Maeve and Josh in any way.

Leo’s son, Kelly, has been in touch with the Greys ever since Stone was sent to prison, and he has convinced them that his father is innocent.  Kelly is earnest and charming, but although he has convinced Sara’s parents of his father’s innocence, he has been unable to influence Willa’s.

Maeve’s investigation into the missing Rachel Healy uncovers a very different type of woman.  Unlike Willa and Sara, Rachel was not shy and unsure of herself, rather the opposite.  Maeve first talks to Rachel’s sister, and Zoe tells her that they didn’t have a close relationship.  “She said I wouldn’t approve of what she’d been doing.”  This picture of Rachel was confirmed when Maeve interviews her former boyfriend, who describes Rachel as someone who liked to live on the edge, someone who liked danger.  He unwillingly tells her, “She wanted to be hurt….That was what she enjoyed.”

Cruel Acts is a look into secret lives and deadly secrets.  Maeve and Derwent disagree on almost everything except for the most important thing–learning the truth and putting the evildoer behind bars.  Jane Casey’s eighth novel featuring Maeve Kerrigan is outstanding.

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

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 DISAPPEARANCE OF ADELE BEDEAU by Graeme Macrae Burnet: Book Review

Every day I receive a list of books from Amazon’s Kindle site that are offered at an enticingly low price.  Sometimes I purchase a book, sometimes I don’t.  A few weeks ago I paid $1.99 for The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, never having heard of the novel or its author Graeme Macrae Burnet, and it turned out to be an incredible find.

The novel revolves around two people, Manfred Baumann, a socially and physically awkward figure, and Georges Gorski, an inspector in the Saint Louis, France police department.  Baumann is the manager of the town’s bank, a man who has for many years led a life of almost incredible regularity.  He wakes up at the same time every morning, goes to the Restaurant de la Cloche for dinner every evening, plays bridge with the same three men every Thursday night, and chooses to do his laundry in his building’s basement every Saturday, a time he’s extremely unlikely to meet any of his neighbors.

One evening he pays a bit more attention than usual to his regular waitress, Adèle Bedeau, even taking, for him, the incredibly bold step of leaving the restaurant moments after she does simply to see what she’s doing after work.  Baumann does this the following night as well, when he again sees her meeting a young man and the two of them riding away on the youth’s scooter.  And that appears to be the last time anyone has seen Adèle.

Several days later, when Baumann, along with the other habitues of the Restaurant de la Cloche, is questioned by Inspector Gorski, he denies having seen Adéle or the young man.  He’s not quite certain why he hasn’t told the inspector the truth, but once he’s given his statement he can’t figure out a way to get past his falsehood without bringing unwanted attention to himself.

Georges Gorski doesn’t have a life that is much happier than Manfred’s.  Although he’s not a loner, having a wife and teenage daughter, his marriage is not a happy one, and he and his wife have little in common.  Georges is haunted by a long-ago murder and the man who was tried and convicted for the crime; Georges, a very young policeman at the time, never believed that man to be guilty.  And his preoccupation with finding out the truth of the case is one of the reasons for the distance between the detective and his wife.

At first, Gorski has no reason to think there’s anything suspicious about Baumann’s statement or any reason to suspect him in the waitress’ disappearance.  But as the case drags on, Gorski delves more deeply into Manfred’s past and discovers some surprises and a connection between Baumann and himself that brings up memories of the unsolved murder.

The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is an incredible tour de force.  I had to re-read the last chapter and the notes that follow it to be certain I understood what was going on, and when I did I was delighted and amazed.  The novel is so clever and well written that it’s a wonderful read from its beginning to its surprising end.

You can read more about Graeme Macrae Burnet 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 MIST by Ragnar Jónasson: Book Review

Three seemingly unrelated mysteries come together in Ragnar Jónasson’s latest thriller, The MistReading this novel is like watching a master weaver at work; at first there’s no pattern that the reader can detect, but at the end the pattern is evident and perfect.

The novel opens with Hulda Hermannsdóttir, a Reykjavik police detective, sitting depairingly in her office on a February morning.  We won’t find out the reason for her emotions until the end of the book, but it’s obvious that something terrible has happened to her.  She has just returned from compassionate leave, and her greatest fear is being ordered to take another one, so she’s eager to investigate the “horrific” discovery her supervisor tells her about.  Two bodies were found in a rural farmhouse in eastern Iceland, and it appears that they have been there since Christmas.

The Mist flashes back several weeks to the home of Einar and Erla Einarsson.  A blizzard is bringing an incredible amount of snow to their remote homestead, leaving the two even more isolated than usual, and Erla is busy preparing the typical Icelandic Christmas dinner to celebrate the holiday.

There are no neighbors for miles around, the roads are impassible, yet suddenly there’s a knock on their door.  The visitor, who tells them that his name is Leó, says he was on a hunting trip with two friends when they got separated and that he wandered around the desolate landscape before finding their house, the only one that appeared inhabited.

Erla is more suspicious of the stranger than is her husband.  It’s a story that is just possible, she thinks, but the idea of three people hunting during a blizzard is strange to say the least.  However, there’s nothing to do but to allow Leó to come in to rest and join them for lunch, and as the snow is worsening Einar feels compelled to invite him to stay overnight.

The third mystery is the disappearance of a young woman taking a gap year between high school and university.  Unnur was backpacking around Iceland, beginning work on a novel, when she sees a brochure for volunteers to work on a farm in exchange for room and board.  It sounds like the perfect place to earn a bit of extra money and start her book, so she travels to the farmhouse to find out if help is still needed.

The author’s writing and plotting are masterful, as always.  The Mist is the fifth mystery of Ragnar Jónasson’s that I’ve reviewed, and it is as satisfying as the previous ones.  The characters and their motivations are totally realistic, and the beauty as well as the remoteness of Iceland are well portrayed.   The novel is narrated at different points by Hulda, Erla, Leó, and Unnur, and each voice is authentic and believable.

Ragnar Jónasson writes the Dark Iceland series featuring Ari Thor as well as the Hulda series.  In addition to writing, he has a law degree, is an investment banker in Reykjavik, and is the co-founder of the international crime writing festival Iceland Noir.  His books have been translated into numerous languages including French, German, Italian, and Japanese.  In addition, starting at age 17, he began translating Agatha Christie’s novels into Icelandic.

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.

DEATH IN THE EAST by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

Death in the East is another “jewel in the crown” in the English/Indian series featuring Sam Wyndham.  That phrase referred to India’s place in the former British Empire; it also means a jewel among many, and that’s how I mean it–it’s Abir Mukherjee’s fourth book featuring an English detective in 1920s India, and the third I’ve reviewed.

Sam left England immediately after the end of World War I, reeling from the deaths of his young wife, his half-brother, and his father.  Believing there was nothing left for him in his native country he emigrated to Calcutta, hoping for a new start.   His career as a police detective in India has been successful, but his personal life has not, and now his addiction to opium has come close to ruining him.

In desperation Sam goes to the northern Indian state of Assam, to a Hindu ashram that has been successful in treating drug and alcohol dependence.  It goes almost without saying that the cure appears to Sam to be worse than the addiction–shortly after his arrival he suffers from hallucinations, vomiting, unrelenting shivering, and an overwhelming desire for the drug–but he’s told by his fellow residents that the first day is the hardest.

He’s determined to stay the course come what may, and what comes is the death of another resident, someone with a strong superficial resemblance to Sam.  Was Le Corbeau’s death an accident or a murder?  If it was the latter, was Sam supposed to be the intended victim?

Death in the East flashes back to 1905, when Sam was a young constable and befriended a young woman who lived in London’s East End.  Bessie was murdered, and although a man was hanged for the crime, Sam always had doubts that the Jewish immigrant convicted of the murder was guilty.  Although he suspected the murderer was in fact the woman’s landlord, Jeremiah Caine, who had connections to London’s underworld, he had no proof, and the anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant emotions of the time made Israel Vogel a perfect target.

Now, half a world away from England, Wyndham sees the man he always suspected in Bessie’s death.  Caine had fled London while Sam was trying to persuade Scotland Yard to investigate him and was never seen again.  He has turned up in Assam using the name Ronald Carter and is the wealthiest and most important man in the area.

Death in the East is a fascinating read on several accounts.  Sam Wyndham is a wonderful protagonist, a man doing his best while beset with tragic memories.  The plot of the novel is intricate and intriguing, and it will have the reader trying to figure out the possible connection between a 1905 murder in London and a death in an Indian hill town more than twenty years later.  And last but not least is the compelling writing of Abir Mukherjee, himself an Englishman of Indian heritage, who makes both worlds come alive.

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.



BETRAYAL AT RAVENSWICK by Kelly Oliver: Book Review

There’s a terrific internet site, American Book Review, that lists the best 100 opening lines (or paragraphs) of novels.  Number one, not surprisingly, is “Call Me Ismael.”  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is another that would appear on most rolls.

In Betrayal at Ravenswick, the first in a new series by Kelly Oliver, these are the first two sentences:  “I should have poisoned him.  If only I’d had the chance.”  Perhaps #101?

Fiona Figg is in a happy marriage, or so she thinks, until she decides to surprise her husband by taking him to lunch at an elegant London hotel.  Warning to readers:  such surprises are usually not a good idea, at least in mystery novels.  She catches said husband and his secretary in an extremely compromising position in his office, and Fiona tells him, “It’s her or me.  Take your pick.”  Second warning:  giving errant husband this ultimatum makes a bad situation worse.

Fiona is the head filing clerk at the War Office.  Set in 1916, in the midst of World War I and before the United States enters the war, Fiona has already made one or two suggestions that the men in the cryptography group found useful; in fact, before the book opens she had cracked a code that had stumped the men.  So when she suggests a way to explain how the War Office got encrypted information from the Americans without letting the Americans know that their code has been broken, something they are definitely loath to do, she is invited to join them as an “honorary consultant.”

Five months after her marriage dissolves, Fiona gets the opportunity for a new start.  The men in the group are suspicious of a man purported to be a big game hunter and journalist who is on his way to visit a wealthy and titled Englishwoman and her family.  They can’t seem to find out very much about the background of the oddly-named Frederick Fredericks, and the agent who was supposed to tail him has broken his leg and is thus out of the picture.  Much to her own surprise, Fiona volunteers for the assignment, disguising herself as a male physician and entering the countess’ household.  In her younger days she had wanted to go on the stage, but she was told by her teacher that she would “never be an actress.”  Well, Fiona thinks, here’s her opportunity to prove Mrs. Benson wrong.

Betrayal at Ravenswick follows Fiona as she splits her time, first as “Dr. Vogel,” a specialist in poisons and female maladies, and also as a volunteer aide at Charing Cross Hospital, an arrival point for thousands of soldiers returning from the front.  The scenes of the wounded men are heartbreaking but beautifully written, and readers will feel as if they are on the wards, watching the doctors and nurses tending to the wounded.  Sulfur drugs and penicillin were years in the future, and the suffering of both the soldiers and those caring for them shows the pain and futility of war.

Kelly Oliver has introduced a smart and delightful heroine, one with enough self-confidence to take on a difficult and dangerous assignment but whose issues of low self-esteem, especially in light of her recent divorce, makes her totally human.  Fiona is a protagonist I would enjoy meeting again.

You can read more about Kelly Oliver 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 TRUANTS by Kate Weinberg: Book Review

Kate Weinberg’s debut novel, The Truants, is outstanding.  There is no other word for this remarkable novel, which combines the author’s admiration and knowledge of Agatha Christie, her understanding of the havoc dysfunctional families can wreak, and her knowledge that a charismatic person may have on the lives of everyone he or she touches, for good or for bad.

Jess Walker is in her first year at university.  She’s the middle child in a family of five children and has always felt the odd one out, anxious to leave what she viewed as her rather cold, uncaring home.  She has been set to go to Oxford, but when she receives a Christmas present given by her uncle she changes her mind.  The book, The Truants by Lorna Clay, alters Jess’ path, and she enrolls at Norfolk instead, the school where Clay is a professor of English literature.

Shy and unsure of herself, Jess immediately falls under the sway of another undergraduate, Georgie, a girl who mesmerizes everyone she meets.  The “everyone” includes not only Jess but Professor Clay and Alec, an older student from South Africa.

Lorna Clay’s class is called “Murdered by the Campus.”  The “Murdered” course consists of female authors the professor feels have been unjustly shunned or pigeon-holed by the male establishment, and Agatha Christie is held up as the prime example of this.

Both Jess and Georgie are in this class, and along with two male classmates they form what appears to be a perfect foursome.   Alec is a journalist from South Africa, and he and Georgie immediately become a couple, while Jess becomes involved with Nick.  Jess cannot get Alec out of her thoughts, however, despite her friendship with Georgie and cautions about him from Lorna.  Disregarding the latter and her own feelings about her disloyalty toward Georgie, Jess and Alec embark on a clandestine affair, and the emotional ramifications reach far beyond the two of them.

The Truants is a mystery with deep underlying issues.  What might seem a superficial question related to Dame Christie’s Curtain becomes something that burrows into Jess’s being.  Lorna asks, “Who should we call the criminal?  The person who commits a crime, or the one who tricks another into doing so?”  Is there actually a correct answer to that?

Kate Weinberg has written an incredible first novel, integrating her love of mysteries with philosophical issues that have no easy answers.  How does one balance one’s first close friendship with one’s first love?  Which is more important?  How much weight should we give to a character’s family background/situation in terms of understanding the character’s behavior?  And when does influence become control?  These questions and issues are what make The Truants expand the mystery genre to another level.

You can read more about Kate Weinberg at various sites on the internet.

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.



Is it possible to have a mystery novel in which the protagonist is not investigating a murder?

That’s a question that is frequently asked in the mystery courses I teach at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  And my answer always is yes.

It’s true that the majority of mysteries involve murders because that crime is one from which there is no return, at least for the victim.  Once dead, always dead to be blunt about it.  In the hands of a skillful, creative author, however, any crime may be the basis for an outstanding mystery.

In this time of COVID-19 and social distancing, I have been scanning the shelves in our family room and re-reading many of my favorite mysteries.  In particular, I have been re-reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone alphabet series, and I just finished “L” IS FOR LAWLESS. 

A little background for those not familiar with Sue Grafton’s work:  the series started in 1982, when Kinsey is a private investigator in Santa Teresa, California.  Through the series, which ran until the author’s death in 2017, Kinsey barely ages, remaining in her thirties even in “Y” IS FOR YESTERDAY, the last mystery Ms. Grafton wrote.   As her daughter Jamie Clark wrote, “As far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

LAWLESS starts when Kinsey is asked by her landlord and close friend, Henry Pitts, to do a favor for a friend.  Johnny Lee, an elderly man who lived around the corner from Kinsey and Henry, had died several months earlier, and his son and grandson have been attempting to get the government to pay the funeral expenses, to which they believe Lee was entitled as a World War II veteran.

Lee’s survivors can find no papers with information about his time in the Air Force, and they have been told by various federal agencies they’ve contacted that there’s no record of his service.  Checking with Johnny’s son Chester, Kinsey is told of his belief that the government is hiding his father’s record.  When she asks why the government would refuse to admit that the deceased was ever a member of the armed forces, Chester tells her that it’s his belief that “he was a double agent…for the Japanese.”

Farfetched as this seems to Kinsey, she agrees to look into the situation, and thereby hangs a tale of break-ins, assaults, ex-cons, domestic abuse, and much more.  The book is humorous at times, always suspenseful, and filled with characters whose commonality is their inability to tell the truth.  Masterful writer that Sue Grafton was, the reader may not notice until the book’s end that there’s no murder for Kinsey to investigate.

Readers can go back as far as Sherlock Holmes to see that there are many books and stories in which murder does not play a part.  As an aside, I find that I am often bothered by the gratuitous number of murders in recent novels.  Some authors seem to feel that when in doubt, throw in another body.  It’s an easy way to hike up the tension, but it’s not a good story-telling technique.  Rather a cheap trick, in my opinion.

I still have thirteen Sue Grafton mysteries left to re-read, and I am certain that whether they feature murders or not, each one will be well worth a second go-round.  And in reading the novels for a second time, perhaps I can discover Kinsey’s secret formula for not getting older…it’s worth a try.

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.