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Posts Tagged ‘murder’

NEWCOMER by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

Detective Kyochiro Kaga is viewed as something of a renegade in the Tokyo Police Department.  Perhaps for that reason, in spite of his history of solving murders he has been sent from the prestigious Homicide Squad to a small police precinct in that city.

The body of Mineko Mitsui has been found in her apartment, and Kaga is one of the detectives sent to investigate the crime.  She is a newcomer to the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo and seemingly led a quiet, almost reclusive, life.  She is divorced, with a young adult son she has not seen in nearly two years.

Mineko had been a housewife for nearly twenty years when she decided she wanted a “new life” and asked her husband for a divorce.  Before their marriage she had majored in English literature in college and wanted to become a translator, even planning to travel to England after graduation.

However, Mineko became pregnant with Naohiro’s child, and after they were married she became a traditional Japanese housewife, leaving aside her dreams of travel and career.   But after her divorce, she went for advice to a college friend, Machiko Fujiwara, and joined Machiko in her translation business.

Koki, Mineko and Naohiro’s son, didn’t seem to care one way or the other about his parents’ divorce.  Before it had occurred, he had already cut himself off from them because he did not get the emotional support he wanted when he told them of his desire to become an actor.  Angry at their response, he packed up his belongings and left home.

However, when Koki learns of his mother’s death, he experiences regret and tries to learn why she had moved from their previous neighborhood into one very close to his.  How strange, he thinks, that she never attempted to contact him if, in fact, he was the reason for her move.

Detective Kaga is assured by everyone who knew the victim that she was without enemies.  He has, of course, heard this in many earlier murder investigations, but in this case it appears to be true.  No angry ex-husband, no jealous boyfriends, no inheritance for her son.  So what was the motive for her murder?

Newcomer is an absolute gem of a mystery.  Its protagonist, Detective Kaga, is so low-key that other characters in the novel, as well as the reader, wonder about his involvement in the investigation.  Can the questions he asks the witnesses–about men wearing jackets vs. short-sleeved shirts or why the victim purchased a second set of scissors–really be important in helping him solve the crime?

The answer, of course, is yes, although the reader doesn’t understand until Kaga explains.  Then it all makes perfect sense.  There is something so charming, so attractive about him, that the combination of his personality and a really puzzling mystery will keep you reading until the novel’s end.

Keigo Higashino is a best-selling author throughout Asia and the recipient of many prizes and awards.  One of his earlier mysteries, The Devotion of Suspect X, has been made into a film and is available on Amazon Prime; my review of it is available on this blog.

You can read more about Mr. Higashino 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.

DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLY by P.D. James: Book Review

It is not often that I read a mystery with a sense of joy.  Interest, enthusiasm, excitement–all those things are to be expected.  But when I finished reading Death Comes to Pemberly, I was filled with the joy that comes from reading a totally enchanting book. 

The novel opens six years after Elizabeth Bennet’s marriage to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. They reside at Darcy’s family estate, Pemberly, with their two young sons, surrounded by servants whose parents and grandparents were part of the Darcy family’s retinue.  They live close to Elizabeth’s older sister and best friend, Jane, and her husband, Mr. Bingley, Darcy’s closest friend.

The Darcys are preparing for the annual Lady Anne Ball when, amidst the pouring rain and howling wind, a chaise is heard outside the front door.  When the group of Darcys, Bingleys, and others go to see who could be arriving in this storm, they are surprised and bewildered to see Elizabeth’s and Jane’s younger sister, Lydia, nearly falling out of the chaise.  She cries, “Wickham’s dead.  Denny has shot him….”  But Lydia has it wrong.  It is Captain Dennis who is dead, and George Wickham will be accused of his murder.

Lydia’s elopement with Wickham several years earlier, scandalous in nature, has created a major rift between the sisters.  Lydia is reluctantly welcome at Pemberly, but her husband George Wickham is not.  Although he was a close childhood friend of Darcy’s, his lies and inappropriate behaviors have ended the friendship between the men, and neither Elizabeth nor Darcy has spoken to him in years.

Darcy and two guests hear from the chaise driver that Wickham and a friend, Captain Dennis, had been in the chaise with Lydia, in the process of dropping her off at Pemberly.  There apparently had been a quarrel between the men and Dennis had run out into the woods, closely followed by Wickham, and two or three shots were subsequently heard.  Darcy and his two friends quickly leave the house and go into the estate’s woods, where they find Wickham, covered with blood, leaning over the body of his friend, saying, “He’s dead…and I’ve killed him.”

P. D. James’ prose perfectly captures the writing of Jane Austen. So skillful is her style that I believe it would fool the most dedicated Austen scholar.  She has captured perfectly the various personalities that appear in Pride and Prejudice–the kind and compassionate Jane, the more volatile Elizabeth, the foolish and vulgar Lydia, the self-contained Darcy, and various other characters, major and minor, who were in Austen’s novel.  Even Darcy’s disagreeable maternal aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is perfectly captured in her letter to Elizabeth:  “I have never approved of protracted dying.  It is an affectation in the aristocracy; in the lower classes it is merely an excuse for avoiding work….People should make up their minds whether to live or to die and do one or the other with the least inconvenience to others.”

The Baroness James of Holland Park will be 92 this August, and her writing is as clever and skillful as it was when I read her book An Unsuitable Job for a Woman more than thirty years ago. How fortunate we are that she continues to write and bring delight to her readers.

You can read more about P.D. James at this web site.