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IF SOMETHING HAPPENS TO ME by Alex Finlay: Book Review

A familiar scene–high school seniors Ryan and Ali are sitting in a car in a secluded spot.  Then, out of nowhere, one of the doors opens, Ryan is knocked out with a blow to his head.  When he regains consciousness, Ali and the car are gone.

Five years later, Ryan has completed his first year of law school at Georgetown.  He’s on an alumni-funded trip to Italy, a perk for the editorial board of the school’s law review, and when he returns to his room after a few hours at a local bar, there’s an envelope under his door.  “I need to see you.  Tomorrow, 10 a.m. at the palazzo.  I know who you are.”

After the terrifying episode with Ali, Ryan was the suspect in her disappearance.  The police found it hard to believe that he had been attacked so severely that he didn’t regain consciousness until the next morning, that he hadn’t put up any fight, that he didn’t know what happened to his girlfriend.  The official police questions and the comments from internet trolls eventually quieted down, but Ryan couldn’t put it all behind him.

Trying to start college with a clean slate he legally changed his last name, so that the name that his college and law school friends know him by is not his birth name.  But now apparently there’s someone out there who knows.

Back in Ryan’s home town of Lawrence, Kansas, Poppy McGee is the new deputy sheriff.  She’s hoping that her military experience will help her in her new job, but she’s not sure of herself and her skills.  Then, on her first day on the job, a car is found submerged in a local lake, and when it’s pulled out it’s discovered that it’s Ali’s car.

If Something Happens to Me is told in several voices, all of them compelling.  The first is Ryan’s, who has never forgotten his first love and now, despite the possible danger, is determined to follow the clues left in the unsigned letter.

The second voice is Poppy’s, and she’s discovering some upsetting things about how the investigation into Ali’s disappearance was handled five years earlier, the first that the lake hadn’t been searched when the young woman disappeared.  Poppy has liked and trusted the sheriff since her childhood, especially since her father was in Iraq with him, but now she’s beginning to have some uncomfortable questions.

Shane O’Leary’s voice is the third.  He’s the father of Anthony, a teenaged boy who doesn’t fit in anywhere.  Then, surprisingly, Anthony is invited to a school party where the “cool kids” are; it turns into a violent, humiliating evening with him as the victim.  But those other teenagers don’t know who Anthony’s father is and what he will do to even the score.

Alex Finlay brings all these threads together into a spellbinding mystery that skillfully combines murder, revenge, and love.  The plot is brilliant, the characters totally believable, and the suspense just keeps building and building.

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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE FINAL CURTAIN by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

The Final Curtain is the last mystery featuring Tokyo police detective Kyoichiro Kaga.  Thus, it’s totally appropriate that this novel gives the reader the definitive look into Kaga’s somewhat mysterious past and how it intersects with the present-day investigations of a series of seemingly unconnected deaths.

Yasuyo Miyamoto is the owner of Seven, a restaurant and bar in the city of Sendai.  She’s approached by a woman in need of a job who has left her husband and child and now has to support herself.  Yasuyo offers this woman, Yuriko Tajima, a position, and it proves to be an excellent decision, as Yuriko is definitely an asset to Seven.

There is something mysterious about the new hire, but Yasuyo believes that whatever it is, it’s up to Yuriko to share it when she’s ready.  That time, however, never comes, although Yuriko does confide to Yasuyo that she is in a relationship with one of the bar’s patrons, Shunichi Watabe.

The years go by, and eventually Yuriko becomes ill and quits working at the bar.  Concerned about her, Yasuyo decides to visit her apartment but gets no response from calling her on the building’s intercom.  Yasuyo prevails upon the landlord to open the apartment door and finds her friend’s body on the floor; it’s obvious that Yuriko has been dead for some time.

Watabe refuses to either pick up Yuriko’s ashes or arrange for a funeral service, and the sad tasks fall on Yasuyo.  However, Watabe does reveal one vital piece of information.  Yuriko was the mother of Kyoichiro Kaga.  When Yasuyo tracks down Kaga and informs him of his mother’s death, he agrees to take his mother’s ashes and tells Yasuyo the story of his mother’s abandonment of himself and his father.  She left when Kaga was a teenager and never contacted them again.

Ten years pass before we meet Kaga again.  He is now a detective in the Tokyo Police Department, and through his cousin, also a detective, he becomes involved in one murder case and then a second, with only the fact that both victims were strangled tying the two cases together.  When Kaga begins his investigation he finds that strands of the case appear to go back to his childhood and involve another disappearance, this time a father and his daughter.

Kyoichiro Kaga is an insightful detective, and he is able to weave the strands together and solve three mysteries that have their beginnings in the past but their solutions in the present.  Following his career path through the previous novels gives the reader an excellent look into Japan’s culture and people, and The Final Curtain is a fitting finale to this outstanding series.

You can read more about Keigo Higashino 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE SPY COAST by Tess Gerritsen: Book Review

Purity, Maine, is the small town that former CIA agent Maggie Bird has moved to, consciously because she has several friends there, and perhaps unconsciously because of its name.  Above all Maggie desires peace and safety, and for two years she’s relished having both in her new home.  Then comes a figure out of her past that changes everything.

Maggie finds out from her neighbor’s granddaughter that a woman had been in town the day before, asking for the owner of Blackberry Farm.  Although the woman hadn’t mentioned Maggie by name, she’s given directions to the farm, and the following day Maggie, returning from her errands, gets an alert on her phone that her home’s security has been breached.

When Maggie enters her kitchen, she sees a young woman who is calmly pulling out a chair and making herself  comfortable, not at all frightened by the gun pointing at her.  She calls herself Bianca, although Maggie doubts that’s her real name, and she tells Maggie that she needs her help in find another former CIA agent, Diana Ward.  Diana has “dropped off the radar,” last seen a few days earlier in Thailand.

Diana and Maggie were two of the people involved in Operation Cyrano sixteen years earlier, an episode that did not end well for a number of people, including Maggie.  When Bianca persists in her efforts to get her to join the search for the missing woman, that she may be in trouble, Maggie is unmoved.  Thinking of the history she and Diana shared during Cyrano, Maggie tells her visitor, “I don’t give a ____ what happens to her,” and closes the door in Bianca’s face.

When Maggie goes to a meeting of her bookclub/Martini Club that night with her friends who were also agents or otherwise involved with the Agency, she learns that they all know about her visitor.  Ben Diamond and Declan Rose are unapologetic about sharing the news with Ingrid and Lloyd Slocum, with Ben saying to Maggie, “I felt they needed to know. When an outsider shows up in our little town, it causes ripples.”

The five have just finished drinks and dinner but haven’t begun to discuss the book chosen for that month when Maggie’s cell phone rings.  It’s her neighbor, who tells her something is going on at her house.  When she arrives home, she sees Purity’s two patrol cars, three police officers, and Bianca’s dead body in her driveway.

To acting police chief Jo Thibodeau, Maggie is taking the discovery of a tortured and shot woman outside her home much too calmly.  Maggie’s excellent security system and the fact that four Purity residents can vouch for her presence during the time the murder was committed doesn’t give Jo any reason to suspect Maggie of the crime.  Still, she wonders, how can this middle-aged woman take this horrendous event without any apparent alarm?

Then it’s up to Maggie, with a little help from her friends, to go back sixteen years to discover why Bianca was sent to Purity and what that means for the owner of Blackberry Farm.

Master storyteller Tess Gerritsen has written an excellent thriller, with a captivating protagonist and cast of characters.  You can read more about her 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


It’s a joy to read this book.  Usually I don’t think mysteries need to be over 400 pages, and this one tips the scale at 530…but every page is necessary, with a tight plot and a beautifully portrayed cast of characters.

The novel opens with Alec Salter’s 50th birthday party.  He’s Charlotte’s husband, the father of their four children, and a mean-spirited philanderer.  He’s dismissive of his wife and their three sons, acting as a caring father should only to his teenage daughter.

Although the party begins at seven, Charlie (to use Charlotte’s nickname) hasn’t arrived, although it’s after that hour.  Etty, their fifteen-year-old daughter, gets more and more concerned as first the minutes tick by and then the hours.  Finally Etty goes home, hoping that her mother decided not to attend the celebration for some reason.  But she isn’t there, and in fact she’s never seen again.

There’s a town-wide search for Charlie, of course, diligently conducted by her friends and neighbors and less so by the local police who seem to believe that she left of her own free will.  To call their investigation lackadaisical or unprofessional would be polite; they apparently made up their minds early on that the missing woman would turn up in her own good time and didn’t want to spend any additional police time on it.

Then, two days after Charlie’s disappearance, Etty and Greg Ackerley, a neighbor, are continuing the search along the river that runs through the town.  Walking along the track, Etty sees something in the water.  It’s a body, but it’s not Charlie; it’s Greg’s father, Duncan Ackerley.

Again there is no in-depth investigation by the police.  Were Charlie and Duncan romantically involved?  Did she want to break it off and because of that he killed her?  Did he commit suicide because she was gone?  The local police keep changing their theories as to what happened, but there are no real answers.

When we meet the families again after 30 years, we learn how the disappearance of Charlotte Salter affected each of her children and her husband.  As you might imagine, things have not gone well for them emotionally, although each one is trying his/her best to lead a meaningful life.  But the weight of not knowing what happened to their mother, and their secret belief that perhaps she is not dead after all, has left an indelible scar on each one.  And as for Alec, Charlie’s husband, perhaps the reader might be forgiven for thinking that his current situation is just punishment for his past behavior.

This husband and wife writing team consists of Sean French and Nicci Gerard, and after eight outstanding mysteries featuring Frieda Klein, a London-based psychotherapist, they have written more than a dozen stand-alone novels.  I read and enjoyed the Klein novels but wasn’t familiar with their stand-alones until this one.  Not surprisingly, their brilliant plotting and characterizations are evident in Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter?

You can read more about the authors 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

NOTHING BUT THE BONES by Brian Panowich: Book Review

You might think that describing a crime novel with words like “beautiful” and “compassionate” is a bit of a stretch.  But after you read NOTHING BUT THE BONES, you will understand.

McFalls County, Georgia is a place you’d want to drive through and put in your rear view mirror as quickly as possible.  It’s run by Gareth Burroughs and two of his sons, and they control almost everything in the county.

When the novel opens, a group of teenagers is standing by the town’s pond, with Nelson “Nails” McKenna being bullied by two other boys.  In a moment the scene turns from the boys tormenting Nails, who is developmentally disabled, to one boy holding a girl in the group and threatening to cut her for defending Nails.

Suddenly all seven-foot-plus Nails is hurtling through the air, punching the other boy and breaking his nose.  He continues the assault, pummeling the boy until he’s no longer moving.  Finally his friends are able to pull him off, but that’s just the beginning of Nails’ troubles.

Gareth Burrough’s son Clayton was one of the group of friends who tried to stop Nails’ attack.  In order to clean up the mess that Nails’ fists inflicted, Clayton feels he must call his father to deal with the situation.  After Burroughs takes charge, forcing the town’s sheriff who arrives on the scene to ignore the boy lying bloodied on the ground, Burroughs recruits Nails to be one of his enforcers and has his henchmen remove the corpse.

That’s where the matter stands for nearly ten years until a fateful night in the Chute, the town’s toughest bar, when Nails is drinking his usual, a glass of apple juice.  Along with everyone else in the county, The Chute’s owner pays tribute to Burroughs, and although he has an enforcer on hand to be alert for problems, that man is no match for the men who have come into the bar looking for trouble or action, depending on whom you ask.

So when three men take the girl who had been trying to talk to Nails at the bar into the men’s  room, Nails is pretty certain they mean trouble.  He pushes his way into the bathroom, deals with two of the men, and hears the girl pleading with the third man, the one who forced her into the stall, saying “I don’t want to do it.”  A red rage comes over Nails, and then the man he attacks is dead on the barroom floor.

Nails’ uncontrollable temper has gotten him into trouble again.  This time the word comes from Gareth that Nails has to leave McFalls County and never return.  Nails given eight thousand dollars, the name of a man and a phone number in Jacksonville, Florida and told to get out of town, that this is beyond Gareth’s ability to cover up.

Confused by the way his life has been upended in just a few minutes, Nails goes to his car to begin the drive south.  As he opens the driver’s side door, however, he hears a sound from the back seat.  It’s the girl he rescued from the sexual attack in the bar’s rest room, and now she’s begging him to let her go with him.  He thinks to himself that he’ll give her a ride to the nearest town and that whatever happens to her afterward is her problem.  How wrong he is.

Nothing But The Bones is an absolutely spellbinding crime novel, brilliantly told.  The characters are wonderfully drawn, the plot is truly suspenseful, and Nails is a masterful creation.  Brian Panowich has written another winner.

You can read more about the author 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


THE MURDER OF MR. MA by John Shen Yen Nee and S. J. Rozan: Book Review

The Murder of Mr. Ma is an enchanting, magical trip (in more ways than one) that takes readers to London in 1924, as seen through the eyes of a young Chinese professor, Lao She.

As the novel opens, Lao is summoned to the home of the Honorable Bertrand Russell and through him meets the famous Judge Dee Ren Jie.  During the Great War, Dee was brought to France to settle the differences between the British army and the Chinese Labour Corps, men who had been brought from China to work as non-military personnel, thus freeing British soldiers for battle.

Although the Chinese men were not allowed to live in England after the war, four of them somehow were brought to the country under the auspices of Inspector William Bard, now a member of the Metropolitan Police and formerly a captain with the British forces in France.

Then all the other Chinese laborers were returned home, even though some wished to remain in England.  Some did stay, secretly, and the murder of one of these men is what has brought Dee to England and into the path, once again, of Inspector Bard, a man who harbors a grudge against the judge for his work in France.

When Dee and Lao start their inquiry into the fatal stabbing of Ma Ze Ren, one of the men in the Labour Corps, they hear some things that don’t quite add up.  His widow, a Caucasian woman, tells them that the shop Ma owned wasn’t doing as well as he had hoped even though he spent all day there, and thus she decided to sell all the merchandise and return to her home in Norfolk.

However, when Dee and Lao talk to the shop’s assistant, they learn that the shop had been making a profit, that Ma spent very little time in the store and, in his opinion, the widow could have gotten a better offer for the goods if she hadn’t accepted the first one she received.

That offer was made by Colonel Livingstone Moore, so Lao and Dee go to the colonel’s home to see his purchase.  Although Moore fancies himself as a man knowledgeable about Chinese art and antiques, it’s obvious to the two men that he’s not knowledgeable at all.  Moore says that he bought the contents of the shop from Ma’s widow as a kindness, but the two Chinese men are disbelieving.

Then a second Chinese man, also from the Labour Corps, is killed by the same Chinese sword as Ma.  Then a third.

Readers may be familiar with the fictional character of Judge Dee, a 7th-century jurist.   He, in turn, was based on the real-life Di Renje, a diplomat and detective, in a brilliant series by Robert Van Gulik, a Dutch diplomat and Orientalist.  Lao She, a name unfamiliar to me, was a 20th-century Chinese novelist and dramatist.

The collaboration of John Shen Yen Nee and S. J. Rozan is a brilliant one.  The Murder of Mr. Ma is Mr. Nee’s first foray into detective fiction, although he was a senior vice president of  D. C. and publisher of Marvel Comics.  Ms. Rozan is the author of 16 novels featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith in New York City, and she is the recipient of two Edgar Awards and two Anthony awards, among many other honors.

You can read more about them 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


RESURRECTION WALK by Michael Connelly: Book Review

When you are in the hands of a master, you know it immediately.  From the opening pages of Resurrection Walk, the reader is drawn into the world of defense attorney Mickey Haller and retired Los Angeles Police Detective Harry Bosch, now a private investigator.

The life sentence of Jorge Ochoa has been vacated after a court finding that he was innocent of the crime of murder for which he was imprisoned fourteen years earlier.  Following the publicity that followed his release due to the efforts of Haller, the lawyer finds himself inundated with letters from prisoners asking for his help.

Most of them don’t convince him of their innocence, but Haller decides to take a closer look at one with the assistance of his friend and half-brother Bosch.  Lucinda Sanz has been incarcerated at Chino Prison for five years for a crime she says she didn’t commit.  She was accused of killing her ex-husband, shooting him twice in the back as he left her home after a brief argument.

Her original attorney, Frank Silver, had persuaded her, given the wealth of evidence that the prosecution had, to plead nolo contendere, guilty to manslaughter, accepting the conviction as though a guilty plea had been submitted to the court but not in fact admitting her guilt.  She did as Silver advised, not being sophisticated in the way the justice system worked, but she has always maintained her innocence and is now reaching out to Haller for his help.

When Haller confronts Silver, the latter is unapologetic, saying he himself had been threatened and was given no choice but to advise his client to plead the way she did.  He tells Haller, “I just told her (Sanz) to take the deal.  That it was the only way.”

Lucinda’s former husband had been a deputy sheriff in a notoriously corrupt sheriff’s department, so Haller and Bosch begin their search there to prove their client’s innocence.  In the process they uncover not only what actually happened the night of the shooting but the reason that the federal government is trying to stop their investigation.

Many of the characters Michael Connelly has created reappear, even if briefly, in a number of his novels including this one, and thus readers get the sense of an actual community of both friends and foes of the protagonist(s).  His skill at making these characters come alive, as well as his brilliant plots, are the reasons he has received nearly every award in the crime fiction genre, including the Edgar, the Anthony, the Maltese Falcon Award (Japan), the Premio Cancarella Award (Italy), and the Cartier Diamond Award.

You can read more about Michael Connelly 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.



A FONDNESS FOR TRUTH by Kim Hays: Book Review

When Andi Eberhart is killed, at first it seems like a tragic accident.  She was heading home late at night on her bicycle, without a helmet, on a dark road.  Then her bike left the path, and she flew off.

Did Andi simply lose control of her bicycle, or did someone hit her and force her off the road?  The more the police investigate, the more reasons appear to show that the death might have been deliberate.

First, she was a member of a biracial lesbian couple, and her marriage had caused the estrangement of her Tamil partner from her family.

Second, she had been receiving hate mail, letters that warned Andi that “God will punish you” for her marriage and that their child was “an abomination.”

Third, one of the members of the curling team that she captained openly held hostile feelings toward her, believing that she, not Andi, should have been chosen as the head of the team.

Bern, Switzerland homicide Detective Giuliana Linder is heading the investigation along with Investigator Renzo Donatelli.  Andi’s partner, Nisha, tells Giuliana that she can’t think of any reason anyone would have wanted to cause Andi’s death, even though she admits that their relationship caused rifts within their families and the larger immigrant community.

Simultaneously, Giuliana is investigating another case.  A truly horrific murder has taken place, and although the killer is in custody, there are still many questions that remain unanswered.

Manfred and Iris Kissling were the parents of two young daughters, Mia and Lea, and the couple was recently divorced.  Although Manfred had asked the court for full custody, he was granted only two weekends a month.  Then, several months after the divorce, Manfred took the girls out for the afternoon and threw them off a high cliff.  When he didn’t return them to Iris at the appointed time, she called the police; they came to Manfred’s apartment and arrested him.  Since then he’s been in prison awaiting trial, refusing to give the police any reasons for or details about his crime.

When Giuliana meets Iris Kissling, she’s puzzled by the woman.  Rather than wearing the subdued clothes the detective expected to see on a grieving mother, Iris is wearing bright colors and jewelry.  Her demeanor is odd too, the detective thinks, and she explains to her supervisor after the interview, “It’s as if she’s playing a part….she’s just…blank.”  Giuliana says she’d like Iris to have a psychiatric evaluation, and the prosecutor says he’ll look at the video of the interview and then make a decision.

In addition to their police cases, both Giuliana and Renzo are having troubles at home.  Giuliana’s mother-in-law has been diagnosed with cancer, and her behavior is bringing up various family issues; Renzo’s marriage is an unhappy one, and it’s becoming obvious to all concerned.

A Fondness for Truth is the third book in the Polizei Bern series, and each one gives the reader more details about life in Switzerland.  Giuliana and Renzo are beautifully drawn, believable in their personal and professional lives, and learning about Swiss customs and traditions is fascinating.  The author, an American who has lived in Switzerland for thirty-five years with her husband, makes her adopted home come to life.

You can read more about Kim Hays 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles: Book Review

In 1908 when In Sunshine or In Shadow takes place, the Catskill Mountains aren’t the entertainment mecca that they were to become two or three decades later, nor was it yet the “Yiddish Alps,” a summer haven for Jews who were not welcome in other resorts around the state.

Instead, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Catskills are home to small farms and boarding houses that welcomed guests who took trains and electric trolleys and ferries to arrive at the fresh air vacationland a few hours north of New York City.  That summer, to escape the typhoid epidemic that is spreading in Manhattan, Molly Murphy is persuaded by her husband to spend some time at his mother’s summer home in White Plains, then a small town on the outskirts of the mountains.

It’s very relaxing, and her young son Liam is having a wonderful time, but Molly, owner of a small private detective agency, is bored.  Then she receives a letter from her close friends, Sid and Gus, inviting her to join them for a few days at the nearby all-women artists’ retreat where the couple is spending the summer.  Leaving Liam with his doting grandmother, Molly heads for the mountains to spend time with her friends.

First they must visit Sid’s relatives, who live nearby.  The Friedmans own some property, and they have plans to build a small hotel and to host visitors from the city.  Sid is happiest keeping a polite distance from her parents and grandparents, who are only too eager to see her married and become the mother of a large family.  In fact, they have already chosen her bridegroom, a professor from Manhattan.  Her family is seemingly unaware or else unwilling to acknowledge that Sid is already in a relationship with Gus, or Augusta, to give her partner her full name.

An arrangement has also been made for Sid’s niece Mira to wed another New Yorker, a Mr. Levin, even though Mira is only seventeen years old.   Neither Sid nor Mira would be forced into marriage against their will, but the pressure to do what the family wants them to do is strong.  Molly knows that Sid is mature enough to withstand this, but what about Mira?

At the same time, the women in the artists’ colony, Amicitia, are embroiled in a dispute with the owner of the nearby bluestone mine, whose stones are used to pave city streets.  The road from the mine to the train station has been illegally cut through a portion of the state forest, and passions are high between the women over what they see as a desecration of pristine land and the mine owner’s desire to run a profitable business.

Adding to the tension is a three-way dispute between the mine owner, the local forest ranger whose job it is to protect state land, and Mr. Levin.  Levin has an interest in the surrounding property and claims that he has a deed showing that he’s the rightful owner of land adjoining the mine, although no one has seen it.  He’s concerned that the mine’s blasting will keep vacationers away from his proposed resort.

All these angry feelings are motives for the unexpected death that occurs.

The mother-daughter team of Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles has written another engaging volume about private detective Molly Murphy, a smart, confident woman at a time when women are beginning to assert themselves and take a more assertive role in the world.

You can read more about the authors at various websites.

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



THE MAYORS OF NEW YORK by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

When the only son of the mayor of New York City goes missing, one would expect there would be a major search for him, using radio, television, and newspaper coverage in addition to the police.  That’s not the case, however, when teenager Mark McCann is the one that private investigators Bill Smith and Lydia Chin are hired to find.

The mayor is in the midst of crucial negotiations with the city’s Detective Endowment Association, and she is concerned that calling the city’s police to find her son will make her look as if she’s a negligent single mother and thus weaken her position at the bargaining table and lessen her chances of being re-elected next year.

This is not the first time Mark has run away, Bill and Lydia learn, but it’s the first time he’s been gone overnight.  He wouldn’t go to his father’s condo, the mayor’s assistant tells Bill, because they don’t get along, and he wouldn’t confide in his twin sister Madison because they don’t get along either.  So with no one outside his home to turn to, where did he go?  And why?

Lydia Chin has just finished talking to the parents of another teenager, Amber Shun, who was found hanging in a Manhattan park.  The coroner ruled it was a suicide, but Mr. and Mrs. Shun don’t believe that their daughter, an A student and serious musician, would have killed herself.  Lydia tells the parents she doesn’t think there is anything she could do to prove their daughter’s death was murder, so she declines to take the case.  But it’s worrying her.

Neither Mark’s twin sister nor his father seem at all concerned about the disappearance.  It’s obvious that Madison is her father’s favorite child, and the two share a philosophy of winner take all and they’re the winners; all the others, including Mark, are losers and not too many tears need to be shed over them.  The more closely Bill and Lydia look into the case, the more they begin to fear that Mark’s disappearance may not be an instance of an unhappy teenager needing some time to himself but may be a case of someone running away from danger.

Bill and Lydia are determined to follow the scant clues there are, and those clues take them to neighborhoods in Chinatown, Times Square, and Staten Island.  Mark, however, always seems to be a step ahead of them, and his ability to evade capture would be viewed as clever if it were not so frustrating to the detectives.

As with every one of her previous mysteries, S. J. Rozan has written a compelling story that features two of the most engaging private investigators working today.  Bringing together their separate strengths and abilities, Smith and Chin are a formidable team.

S. J. Rozan’s work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story.  She’s also the recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon Award and recently received the Life Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America.

You can read more about her at this website.

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

LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED by Jeff Hoffmann: Book Review

I’ve written frequently about secrets, how they can be dangerous and deadly for one to keep.  Now multiply one by four, and you have the plot of Like It Never Happened.

The four high school friends had once been close, so close that they called each other “brother.”  It was always Tommy, Kevin, Malcolm, and Henry.  As the saying goes, it was “one for all and all for one,” as it appeared in The Three Musketeers.  But in the local edition of the paper he’s reading, Tommy sees Kevin’s obituary, and now there are only three.  And the remaining men are no longer close at all.

Although it’s awkward to do, given all the time the three have been out of touch with each other, Tommy decides he has to let the others know of Kevin’s death.  Googling them, he finds that Malcolm is an uber-successful attorney in Chicago and Henry is a businessman in Denver.  After hearing Tommy’s news, the men and Henry’s wife Alice, who also knew Kevin, decide to attend the wake in Milwaukee later in the week.

Although all the men are successful professionally, their family lives have suffered.  Tommy, who on the surface seems to have the happiest home life, has a nineteen-year-old daughter who is estranged from her mother and who barely talks to Tommy.  Malcolm’s wife is ready to move out of the multi-million dollar mansion she never wanted and start a new life for herself and their young daughter.  Alice is also ready to leave her husband now that she has discovered not only his sexual affair but the lifelong residue it has left behind.

Feeling extremely uncomfortable at the funeral home, the men and Henry’s wife are confronted by Kevin’s widow Naomi, who stuns them by saying that Kevin’s will is going to be read the following day and that “he left something for the three of you.”

Many of us have something in our past that we prefer to think of “as if it never happened.”  But it did happen, and the longer one holds onto a secret, the more damaging it becomes.  It’s like a pebble in your shoe; you can pretend it’s not there and you can walk with it, but you are hobbled by the pebble and can’t ignore it.  That’s what has happened in the lives of Tommy, Malcolm, and Henry.  On the surface the three men seem happy in their marriages and careers, but the surface is very thin, and the pebble/secret can’t be dismissed.

Jeff Hoffman has written an absorbing and tense crime novel.  He gives us tantalizing glimpses throughout the book about the incident that has haunted the men since their high school days, but we have to keep turning the pages to find out the whole story.  His portraits of Tommy, Henry, and Malcolm are brilliantly drawn, each becoming a fully realized character as the book progresses, and the plot and its conclusion are masterful.

You can read more about Jeff Hoffman 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

LEAVE NO TRACE by A. J. Landau: Book Review

Nothing could have been more ordinary in the minutes before the explosion.  A fifteen-year-old boy is trying to get his father’s attention away from his phone and pay attention to him.  Danny is pointing toward the water beyond Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty.  He tells his father that there’s something wrong with the Park Police boat in the harbor, that they no longer use that model.

His father really isn’t interested or sure that Danny knows what he’s talking about.  As his father and mother and younger sister head toward the line that will be going up to Lady Liberty’s crown, Danny walks a few feet away and starts filming the men in what he is certain isn’t a police boat.  He sees one of the men on that boat filming him instead of paying attention to the crowd.  That’s when the blast blows the teenager off his feet and kills at least a thousand people waiting to get to the top of the statue, including Danny’s family.

The seeds of the explosion that shook Liberty Island were sown in 1988.  That’s when the U. S. Government took, by eminent domain, ten acres that had been part of the small town of Ashford, Washington, and incorporated them into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  Eleven of the property owners who had lived there left, albeit unwillingly, but one family remained, holed up in the farmhouse that had been in their family for generations.

In a scenario eerily similar to the one that occurred in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, federal troops eventually massed in front of the family’s home, shutting down their electricity and water in an attempt to force them to leave.  The mother, brother, and sister of the family were finally persuaded/forced to leave, and then a sniper’s bullet shattered a window and killed the head of the Hobbs family.  Now, years later, Ferris Hobbs, who goes by his new name of Jeremiah, is leading a force to avenge his father’s death and wreak havoc on the institution that caused it.

A number of federal agencies are working together in the aftermath of the Liberty Island explosion, and the two main protagonists in Leave No Trace come from different ones.  Michael Walker is a member of the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch, and he has recently returned to active duty after a shootout three and half years ago that killed his wife, another Park Service ranger, and cost him his left foot.

Gina Delgado, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, is an explosive experts.  Even as a young child she was fascinated by “things that go bang,” and her military duty has made her an expert.  Along with the help of others in their respective bureaus, they must work together to prevent what they are certain will be another attack on a park or monument under the care and protection of the National Park Service.

A. J. Landau is the pen name of Jon Land, best-selling author of more than fifty books, and Jeff Ayers, reviewer and author.  Together they have crafted a frightening scenario that is all too familiar in our country.  You can read about the writers 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DEATH UNDER A LITTLE SKY by Stig Abell: Book Review

Jake Jackson, a London police detective, is about to experience a life change.  Just at the time his marriage is dissolving, he receives news of the death of his Uncle Arthur and the bequest his uncle left him.  Now he has the opportunity to retire and start over.

Arthur was a wealthy, eccentric man, a bachelor with no family other than Jake, so Jake is not surprised to be the recipient of his uncle’s generosity, but he is stunned when he realizes the extent of it.  In addition to a mansion called Little Sky, named after the lake on Arthur’s property in a remote corner of the English countryside, there is a very generous bank account in his name as well.

At the end of his first week in his new home, Jake meets Livia, the local veterinarian, and she fills him in on what to expect in the town.  In Caelum Parvum (Latin for Little Sky) there is “no school, no supermarket, no village green, no offices,” or pretty much anything else.  A general store/pub appears to be all there is in terms of entertainment or community, but Jake is fine with that–more than fine, actually, as it seems as if this will be a welcome respite from his former life.

There is a tradition in Caelum Parvum that is really an excuse for a community holiday each year.  St. Aethelmere lived in the area centuries ago, and his bones are allegedly buried somewhere along the river.  The story is that those who find his bones, or actually a bag of random bones that are placed in the area for the hunt, are granted a year of good fortune, and Livia invites Jake to join herself and her young daughter in the search.  As luck would have it, they do indeed find a bag of bones, but it brings them bad luck rather than good.

For a small community, there are many secrets and unsavory aspects in Caelum Parvum.  There is the mysterious death several years earlier of a beautiful young foreigner named Sabine, the behavior of two brutish brothers and their mother at the farm where Sabine worked, the sleazy Rose (whether it’s his first name or last, no one seems to know), and the strange fascination the deceased woman held over two elderly men, Jake’s uncle Arthur and the somewhat odd Dr. Peters and his bizarre obsession with hedgerows.

Jake really wants nothing more than to keep life private in his new home, and perhaps to pursue a friendship/possible romance with Livia, but the question of Sabine’s untimely death keeps surfacing.  Was it suicide, an accident, or murder?  The coroner and the local police had decided it was an accident, but Jake senses strange undercurrents in his interactions with the townspeople.  Then a couple of incidents make him decide to look more closely as to how Sabine ended up at the bottom of a flight of stairs she had climbed many times.

Death Under A Little Sky is Stig Abell’s first novel, although he is a well-known journalist in England, and it is a masterful one.  His characters are well drawn, his plot moves compellingly along, and his descriptions of the countryside are lyrical.

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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE PRICE YOU PAY by Nick Petrie: Book Review

Peter Ash and and his friend Lewis go back a long way, and they have the kind of bond that is unbreakable.  Each man would do anything for the other, so it’s something Peter doesn’t even have to think about when Lewis enters his house in the middle of the night and asks for assistance.

The two head north from Milwaukee in below zero weather to the home of Teddy “Upstate” Wilson.  Upstate had worked with Lewis and two others to do jobs that needed doing and no one else would or could handle.  Eight hours before he picked up Peter, Lewis received a text from Upstate–Bad men here.  Need help.  

While driving, Lewis fills Peter in on his friendship with Upstate.  Lewis and Upstate, along with two other men, “took care of things” when they tangled with a biker group in California.  There was gunfire on both sides, and Teddy got shot in the head as he stepped in front of Lewis to protect him.  Teddy suffered a substantial brain injury and basically retired to his land in northern Wisconsin with only his dogs for company.

When the men arrive at Upstate’s, they are met by two horrific sights.  The first is the house and an outbuilding, both with smashed windows and on fire.  The second is Upstate’s dogs, dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

Teddy had been left for dead by the men who killed his dogs, but although he’s seriously wounded he’s still alive.  At first he can’t think of any reason for the attack, but after a few minutes he realizes what the gunmen took.  Since his memory is so impaired because of his traumatic brain injury, he has been keeping notebooks on all the jobs he and Lewis did together.  He’s been doing this on the advice of his speech therapist Leanne, with whom he’s sleeping.

Now Peter and Lewis understand the reason for the brutal attack.  Obviously Leanne has shared the information that Upstate is keeping in his notebooks with someone who is mentioned in them and who now wants not only the journals but revenge for the killings inflicted on his gang by Lewis and Teddy.  Since the journals list names and places, it won’t be difficult for whomever has them to find Lewis.

The men go to Leanne’s office and explain, in a way that leaves her with no choice, that they need to retrieve Teddy’s books.  She admits that she told Mitka, another man she’s sleeping with, about them, so the four go to the motel where he’s staying to get them, and that’s where the killings begin.

The Price You Pay is fraught with murder and mayhem from almost the first page.  Although Lewis, Upstate, and the two other men who had been in their gang years ago are definitely hardened criminals, the author has made them human, understandable, and even sympathetic.  Peter is the only non-criminal in the mix, but even he has things in his past that he’d rather not have become public.

Nick Petrie has written a compelling novel, with believable characters and a tense plot that keeps going until the last page.  Readers may think that they shouldn’t root for Lewis and his former gang members, but they won’t be able to stop caring about them.

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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

The spring semester at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) begins in just over two weeks, and I’m preparing to teach WHODUNIT?:  Murder Most British.

As most mystery fans are aware, there has always been a competition between the admirers of the American author Edgar Allan Poe and his French creation and those of the British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his English detective as to which author should be credited for introducing the world’s first consulting detective.  Since this will be a course on British authors, you can probably guess into which camp I belong.

Although Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin arrived on the literary scene first, today he is a figure mostly forgotten, a footnote in detective fiction.  Not so with Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who is as well known today as he was more than a century and a quarter ago when he made his first appearance.

In this semester’s class, we will begin our reading adventure with two quintessential British mystery writers.  We will first read Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and four of his short stories–A Scandal in Bohemia, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Final Problem, and The Empty House.  Next will be two Agatha Christie classics–The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a novel that broke all the rules of traditional mystery writing when it was published, followed by And Then There Were None, its plot featuring characters stranded in a remote location and being killed one by one.

From there we will move into more contemporary times.  In Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey we will read about a developmentally delayed teenager in England; Garnethill by Denise Mina features poverty and a dysfunctional family in Scotland; Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham takes readers to Wales to explore a detective with an almost unknown and often fatal illness; and The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville and Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty, both dealing with The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

WHODUNIT?:  Murder Most British begins on February 26th.  If this course sounds like your “cup of tea,” you are most welcome to read along with us.