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OVERBOARD by Sara Paretsky: Book Review

“It was Mitch who found the girl.”  A blog I wrote last month featured great first lines in mystery novels; had I read Overboard before I wrote that post, I definitely would have included it.

V. I. Warshawski stops her car to let her dogs stretch their legs, but Mitch bounds across the highway and goes down a slippery slope to the lake.  When Vic and Peppy follow, Mitch is already in a crevice between some rocks and is very reluctant to be pulled out.  Peering inside the opening, Vic sees an obviously badly injured young girl.

The girl has no identification with her and speaks only one word.  Nagyi is what she says, but Vic doesn’t know whether it’s someone’s name, a word in a foreign language, or a meaningless sound.   Even after the girl is taken to the hospital and her face is shown on television, no one comes forward to identify her.

The following day, a Chicago police department detective interviews Vic at her office, obviously not believing her story that she came upon the girl by accident.  It’s obvious that the police think that Vic knows more than she’s telling, and she’s left with a warning to be certain to contact them if she finds out anything more.

More bad news follows.  Vic is contacted by Ilona Pariente, an old friend and Holocaust survivor.  Her husband is a member of an Orthodox synagogue that was vandalized overnight, with graffiti on the outside of the building and windows smashed.  Vic offers to put security cameras in various spots around the building, but she emphasizes that she’s not able to watch 24/7 in an effort to catch the criminals.  However, given her close friendship with Ilona and her husband, as well as with her two closest friends who are also Holocaust survivors, Vic is left feeling that she hasn’t done enough to watch over the people she cares about.

At the hospital, the young girl is confronted in her room by a man identifying himself as a Chicago police detective.  Since she doesn’t respond to the questions he asks in English and it is thought that she might be or understand Hungarian, a custodian who speaks that language is sent to the room to translate.  But she doesn’t respond to that language either, and the visitor leaves.  A few minutes later, the girl disappears.

Vic is feeling uncharacteristically helpless in both cases.  There’s no way she can keep a constant vigil at the Jewish temple, and she’s fearful that the vandals might do more serious damage next time.  And another member of the Chicago police comes to her apartment determined to discover what she knows about the missing teenager.  He refuses to believe she knows nothing helpful, and his belligerent remarks escalate to physical assault.

Overboard is the 21st novel featuring V. I. Warshawski.  Although she’s aged and thinks she has slowed down a bit, readers won’t agree.  She’s still confident and strong, both physically and emotionally, and her sense of morality never wavers.  As the New York Times states, “She is a proper hero for our times.”

You can read more about Sara Paretsky 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 GATEKEEPER by James Byrne: Book Review

Desmond Aloysius Limerick–a cross between Jack Reacher and Orphan X.  

Six months before the main story opens, Dez is in Algeria, keeping lookout over fourteen people who have invaded the compound of Djamel M’Bolhi, criminal extraordinaire.  As the small groups under Dez’s control exit the compound with the materials they went in for, each wants to leave the area as soon as possible.

But Dez is counting, and he’s not leaving until all fourteen are safely outside.  Not until the last one, the only woman in the group, comes out does he give the order for everyone to withdraw; that’s why he’s the gatekeeper.  And then it’s on to California for his next adventure.

Six months later, Dez is going to his Los Angeles hotel room after playing bass guitar in a small combo.  In the elevator with him is a woman he recognizes from the club’s audience, along with two men whom he instantly pegs as bodyguards.  She presses the button for the floor one higher than his and compliments his playing.

Dez asks her out for a drink, although he thinks she is twenty thousand leagues out of my league, so he’s not surprised and only a little disappointed when she turns him down politely with a smile.

A few minutes later he’s standing at his window when he glimpses a man on an adjoining roof holding a shotgun.  Then a black van pulls up in front of the hotel, and four men get out of it and move into the lobby.  Dez thinks that there probably is a connection between a man with a gun, the four tough-looking men, and the woman in the elevator and her bodyguards.  When he tries to reach the hotel’s front desk and gets no signal on the landline and then no signal on his cell, he knows the woman is in trouble.

Leaving his room, he sees an old-fashioned fire alarm glass box in the corridor with a fire ax inside.  Weaponless, he breaks the glass with an elbow. but the break doesn’t trigger an alarm.  The five men are obviously professionals and have disrupted all the communications within the building, Dez thinks, as he grabs the ax and heads up the staircase.

Readers never learn exactly who Dez is and how he acquired the skills he has.  He’s very knowledgeable about computers and weapons and apparently has lived in many countries, but other than that his background is hazy.  But it’s obvious he has amazing skills in many areas.

James Byrne’s debut mystery is outstanding.  His own identity is somewhat of a mystery, as James Byrne is the pseudonym of a west coast journalist.  He has created both a remarkable protagonist and an edge-of-your-seat plot.

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 was a dark and stormy night” is one of literature’s most famous opening lines.  So when I decided to write an About Marilyn column featuring great first lines in crime fiction, I naturally turned to Google to find the author of this sentence.

That proved to be a mystery in itself.  The name Edward Bulwer-Lytton came up most often; it was the opening line of his 1841 novel Paul Clifford, a mystery that takes place during the French Revolution.

Two other authors whose names and books came up in the Google search are Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time (1973) and Washington Irving’s satirical piece A History Of New York (1809).  I’m pretty certain that Ms. L’Engle wasn’t trying to take credit for a line that was written more than a hundred years before her book was published, but it’s difficult to know whether Bulwer-Lytton was aware of Irving’s sketch, as copyright laws and the ability of written works to travel across the ocean were definitely different in the 19th century than they are now.

As both Bulwer-Lytton and Irving are no longer around to argue their respective cases, I’m going to say that the line’s authorship is one of those puzzles that may never be solved.  However, below are some outstanding first lines of crime novels whose authorship is not in doubt.  All credit to Greg Levin at his blog http://greglevin.com/scrawl-space-blog.

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. — A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell

The last camel died at noon. The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett

We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge. — Darker Than Amber by John D. MacDonald

It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby. In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

I feel compelled to report that at the moment of death, my entire life did not pass before my eyes in a flash. — I is for Innocent by Sue Grafton

Gordon Michaels stood in the fountain with all of his clothes on. — Banker by Dick Francis

Granted, a great opening line or hook does not necessarily make a great story.  But it certainly can whet the reader’s appetite and make her/him continue reading.  To (somewhat) prove my point, I’ve read and enjoyed five of the six novels listed above; The Key to Rebecca is the only one I haven’t read.  And I’m pretty sure that if I’d picked that book up at a bookstore or at my local library and turned to the first page, I would have continued reading.

Wishing you a wonderful summer, filled with mysteries to enjoy.

Marilyn

 

HATCHET ISLAND by Paul Doiron: Book Review

A young man is driving to a small island in Maine.  The previous evening he finally had slept without the night terrors that had been plaguing him for months, and he’s feeling free.  He stops at a bridge, steps out of his car, and disregarding the cries of people in the cars behind him, leaps over the low railing into the frigid river below.

Mike Bowditch, a Maine game warden, and his significant other, Stacey Stevens, are also heading up the coast, unaware of the tragedy that has taken place.  Stacey has received an email from a college friend and fellow biologist, Kendra Ballard, who is working as the project manager for the restoration efforts of Maine seabirds on Baker Island.

Dr. Maeve McLeary, the project’s director, left the island without informing Kendra or the two other researchers on the island.  Now Maeve has been gone for two days without checking in, and the three people on Baker Island are worried.

Kendra asks Stacey to come to the island the following day with Mike.  “Make sure he brings his badge and gun,” a directive that strikes fear into Stacey.  Stacey tells Mike that Maeve never left the island during the puffins’ breeding season, so the question is why she would do so now without informing Kendra or the others where she was going and why.

The seabird project is facing opposition from various quarters.  Someone has been shooting at the observation blinds (shelters to observe birds) and buildings on the island, there was a man-created infestation of weasels, and harassing boats are in the nearby waters.  Mike and Stacey stop at the island, and although there’s definitely tension in the air, there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it, especially given Maeve’s absence.

Finally Maeve contacts Kendra and says she is returning home.  Somewhat reassured by this, Mike and Stacey leave the island, deciding to continue their kayaking vacation.  But in the middle of the night Mike is awakened by gunshots that sound as if they’re coming from Baker, so the two get up at dawn and return there to find a horrifying sight.

The situation continues to explode, featuring a double murder, a missing intern, a second suicide, and a visit to neighboring Hatchet Island, a place under the control of the ultra-wealthy Markhams, Alyce and Clay.  There Mike and Stacey learn that the young man who jumped off the bridge a few days earlier had been an intern on Baker and also had lived on Hatchet.  The secrets surrounding both islands keep spreading in ever-widening circles, like a pebble tossed into the surrounding harbor.

Hatchet Island is another outstanding novel featuring Mike Bowditch, one of the most likable and human protagonists in detective fiction.  It is the thirteenth mystery in the canon, and it is an exceptional entry in the series.

You can read more about Paul Doiron 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 KEY TO DECEIT by Ashley Weaver: Book Review

It’s 1940 London, and the city is on edge waiting for the much-feared German bombing to begin.  The war has been going on for a year, but thus far England’s capital has been pretty much spared.  That is going to change quickly, however, and Electra McDonnell is about to play a part in the fight against the enemy.

Ellie is a member of the safecracking McDonnell family.  Before the war they were famous, or infamous, for their ability to break into safes that were previously thought to be burglar-proof, but now they are (mostly) taking legal jobs as part of the war effort.  They were recruited a short time earlier by Major Gabriel Ramsey for their undeniable abilities, and their first job for him had been very successful.  So successful, in fact, that he’s returned to ask for their help.

Ramsey tells Ellie that the body of a young woman was found floating in the Thames.  She had no identification on her but was wearing an unusual bracelet.  It’s locked, and thus far the military’s efforts to unlock it have been unsuccessful.  The major came to ask for Ellie’s uncle Mick’s help, but he is away and out of touch, so Ramsey reluctantly takes Ellie to the morgue to try her luck.

She opens the bracelet and the tiny locket that’s attached to it, although the major takes care to see she doesn’t get a glimpse of what’s inside and sends her home.  After two days, Ramsey calls Ellie to his office and tells her that there’s no doubt the woman was murdered; a puncture behind one of her ears led to the discovery that she’d been injected with a poisonous toxin. 

In addition, when the bracelet was examined it became evident that the piece of jewelry was actually a miniature camera of German manufacture.  Ramsey believes that the woman was an Englishwoman recruited by the Nazis, that she was taking photos of the London docks and manufacturing plants around the waterfront to help them make certain that their bombs hit the most important targets.

At the same time, Ellie is given an opportunity to find out more about her late mother who was convicted of the crime of killing Ellie’s father.  She steadfastly proclaimed her innocence but refused to give any leads to the real killer.  Sentenced to hang, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the authorities realized she was pregnant; she gave birth to her daughter in Holloway Prison and died two years later during the Spanish Influenza epidemic.  The McDonnell family has always refused to talk about the crime, and now Ellie is torn between wanting to know the truth and fearing it.

Ashley Weaver has written a vivid portrait of life in England’s capital at the beginning of World War II — its food shortages, its worries about the men and women in the military service, its fear of upcoming German bombs.  Ellie is a vivid heroine whose abilities, both legal and illegal, bring her to life for the reader, and the supporting characters–uncle Mick McDonnell, Major Ramsay, and her childhood friend Felix Lacey among them–are outstanding as well.

You can read more about Ashley Weaver at this website.

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

THE DARK FLOOD by Deon Meyer: Book Review

The corruption in South Africa has spread from the president down, and it nearly ends up costing Detectives Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido their jobs. 

As punishment for a botched raid that was not their fault, they are removed from the prestigious Hawks section of the police and demoted, about to be sent (or sentenced) to Lainsburgh, where the major crimes are drunken brawls and petty thefts.  It’s a far cry from the homicides the two have made their reputations solving in Cape Town.

However, at the last moment they are given a reprieve and, without explanation, they are sent instead to Stellenbosch, an upscale university town facetiously referred to as Volvoville.  Although it’s not Cape Town, neither is it Lainsburgh, so Griessel and Vaughn are greatly relieved that they can put their investigative talents to use.

Shortly after they arrive in the city they meet Annemarie de Bruin, the mother of a college student who is missing.  Callie always returns her calls, she tells Benny and Vaughn, but she’s been unable to reach him for three days.  He’s an outstanding computer student on a scholarship, and he’s extremely conscientious about his work, well aware that his future is dependent on his success in college.  But now he’s not answering his phone, and she’s desperate.

In Stellenbosch, real estate agent Sandra Steenberg is on the verge of financial ruin.  Her twins’ day care center warns her that their tuition payment is four months overdue, and their house is on the brink of being taken over by the bank.

The South African economy has tanked, no one is buying or selling houses, and Sandra is desperately trying to keep all this bad news from her husband Josef so he can continue working on the book that he hopes will bring him tenure at the university.  Unless the market picks up, the only way to salvage things would be to ask for financial help from Josef’s wealthy parents, something Sandra is determined not to do.

Then, almost miraculously, her situation takes a 180 degree turn.  Sandra receives a call from Jasper Boonstra, South Africa’s most infamous billionaire.  He wants to sell Donderdrif, one of his wine-producing estates, and he will allow only Sandra to have the listing.  It’s common knowledge throughout the country that he is the biggest corporate swindler in South Africa, as clever as he is crooked.  He hasn’t been charged yet, but it appears that the net around him may be tightening.

However, Boonstra still has property to sell, and he offers Sandra this exclusive listing if she signs a confidentiality agreement.  The property appears to be owned by a German company but apparently Boonstra controls it, and he’s aware of just how badly Sandra needs this commission.  Appalled by his lecherous behavior toward her and his financial misdealings, she would dearly like to tell him to find another agency.  But she can’t afford to do that.  “She simply could not walk away from this.”

Deon Meyer takes the reader from one high-tension situation in Stellenbosch to another.  Government corruption, a missing student, and an unsavory businessman all combine to make Benny and Vaughn’s introduction to the city more complicated and dangerous than they ever had imagined.

The detectives are dealing not only with their official cases but issues in their private lives as well.  Deon Meyer’s outstanding writing makes Benny and Vaughn two of the most believable and human characters around.  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.

 

WILD PREY by Brian Klingborg: Book Review

What can Inspector Lu do when he’s confronted by a teenage girl who wants the police to look for her older sister and will not accept anything less than an all-out investigation?  Tan Meirong (in Chinese, the family name always comes first) tells the inspector that Meixiang left their town a year ago to work in Harbin and send money home to their small family.  The girls’ mother is dead, their father is disabled, so Meixiang’s salary is the only income they have.

Meirong tells Lu that it has been four days since she received a text from her sister; the sisters always have texted every day.  Meixiang’s last message said she was going on vacation, something the younger girl insists she would never do–“she would come home.”  Lu calls the Harbin police department, a constable there says they will look into the matter, and the inspector reluctantly puts the matter from his mind.  But the next morning Meirong is waiting for him on a bench outside the police station, insisting that she has to help with the investigation.

Worn down by Meirong’s insistance, Lu and the girl travel to Harbin to check with the police there, but Lu realizes that looking for the missing teenager is very low on their list.  Lu then visits the restaurant where Meixiang worked until a few days earlier, leaving Meirong unhappily waiting in his car.  The inspector discovers that the restaurant’s clients consist almost exclusively of obviously wealthy men, and the items on the menu feature “medicinal (aphrodisiacal) qualities,” another way of saying they increase virility.

The owner of the restaurant Shu Qi Da Qi, “Hoist the Big Banner,” is Wilson Fang.  He is polite to Lu and says he had given Meixiang a week’s leave when she requested it, but he has no idea why she wanted the time off or where she went.  He tells Lu he’ll contact him if he hears anything about Meixiang, but as soon as Lu leaves the restaurant Fang calls a number on a prepaid cell phone.  After a brief conversation he removes the SIM card from the phone, breaks it in half, and throws the pieces away.  He thinks to himself that he hopes the detective will be smart enough to stop asking questions because “dead bodies do have a way of creating a stink.”

Then Lu gets a phone call saying that a Mr. Jia wants to meet him and talk about Wilson Fang.  When Lu arrives at the designated hotel, he’s greeted not by Jia but by a face on a computer screen.  Jia says he’s a government administrator in the National Forestry and Grassland Administration and wants to work with Lu to bring charges against Fang, whom he suspects of illegal animal trade.  Jia thinks there may be a connection between that trade and the missing waitress in Fang’s restaurant, so Lu agrees to the collaboration.

Wild Prey is the second mystery in the Inspector Lu Fei series, and it is as well-written and exciting as Thief of Souls Brian Klingborg is an East Asia scholar who lived and worked in Asia for years.  His knowledge and understanding of Communist China clearly shows in the novel, and his understanding of its culture and people is evident.  Inspector Lu again proves to be one of the most compelling protagonists in detective fiction today.

You can read more about Brian Klingborg 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.

A RIP THROUGH TIME by Kelley Armstrong: Book Review

Mallory Atkinson has flown from Vancouver to Scotland to visit her beloved grandmother on her deathbed.  Mallory is so stressed one afternoon that she leaves the hospital room to have a few minutes for herself and walks to a nearby coffee shop to place an order for herself and her grandmother’s nurses.  Picking up the tray of drinks, she bumps into a man standing nearby and spatters his shirt with drops of coffee.  Mallory apologizes profusely and sincerely, but the man brushes her off.

That night, while her grandmother is sleeping, Mallory leaves the hospital.  She’s jogging across Edinburgh’s famous Grassmarket, a series of shops and stalls now closed for the night, when she suddenly feels a rope around her neck.  She manages to turn around and sees the man from the coffee shop, and farther down the alley she glimpses two figures.  “A young woman with honey-blond hair, in a cornflower-blue dress…a shadowy figure has his hands around her throat.”  And then darkness.

When she wakes, she’s in a dark, unfamiliar room, wearing a voluminous nightgown, a corset, and a wig.  She can’t make any sense of it.  Outside in the hall she hears three voices–a young girl’s, a woman’s, and a man’s.  She hears herself referred to as “Catriona,” and the door opens.

Trying to orient herself, Mallory decides to pretend she will be whomever the trio thinks she is.  That turns out to be Catriona Mitchell, the housemaid to Dr. Duncan Gray, the man who pushes open the door.  Trying to come to terms with her surroundings and the people who enter the room, she asks where she is.  Gray informs her she’s in Edinburgh, and it’s May 22, 1869.  That’s when she realizes that the blond woman she glimpsed in the alley was Catriona, and she had been strangled 150 years ago in the same spot where Mallory was attacked.

Back home in Canada, Mallory is a police detective, so she resolves to use her skills to discover how she traveled through time and is inhabiting Catriona’s body.  The only way she can find her attacker and return to her “real life,” she decides, is to continue to impersonate the housemaid, blaming everything she doesn’t know or does incorrectly on the concussion she suffered in the attack.

Duncan Gray is both an undertaker and a surgeon, not an unusual combination in the nineteenth century.  As Mallory proves herself not to be squeamish, Gray enlists her help with the most recent corpse brought to him, a young journalist who reported on crime for a local newspaper.

In some ways working with Gray makes Mallory’s life in the house more interesting, but it also makes it more difficult.  She’s constantly catching herself using words, wishing for modern conveniences, or making observations that are far removed from the Edinburgh medical scene of the 1860s–no fingerprints, no knowledge of DNA, no cellphones.  But still, her police background helps her navigate the world she’s landed in, and she tries as unobtrusively as possible to help the doctor with the murder investigation.

Kelley Armstrong has written a fascinating mystery, succeeding in making the reader accept the possibility of time travel and all that it entails.  Mallory Atkinson is a strong, believable heroine, one who is using her abilities to cope with her new life as well as trying to return to her old one.

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.

 

PESTICIDE by Kim Hays: Book Review

There are several words that don’t immediately spring to mind when talking about Switzerland–riots, murder, and organic farming.  However, in Kim Hays’ debut novel Pesticide, readers will realize that these three can combine and prove deadly even in the most apparently tranquil places.

Ten thousand teenagers are attending the Dance-In, a celebration in downtown Bern that has turned violent.  The opportunity to sell drugs to the rioting participants is too good to pass up, and one onlooker sells all he has with him.  Then he celebrates with a few drinks, or maybe more than a few.  Now he and a friend find themselves in the midst of a rampage after leaving a tavern, surrounded by looters.

As a lone policeman runs to catch up with his colleagues during the upheaval, it seems like a good joke to the drug dealer to step into the cop’s path and stick out his foot.  The cop flies into a nearby car, helmet first, which makes his assailant laugh hysterically.  But his mood quickly changes when the policeman turns around and runs back to the man; then everything goes black for the dealer.

Early the next morning Detective Giuliana Linder gets a call from police headquarters, saying that a young patrolman is being held for murder.  When Giuliana arrives at the station, Jonas Pauli tells her his story.  He admits hitting the deceased dealer on the head but says, “I never thought one blow could kill someone.”  However, during the autopsy it’s discovered that there were two blows to the man’s head, although Jonas swears that he hit him only once.

Equally concerning for the Bern police, another murder has taken place.  In a village twenty miles from the city, a group of farmers holds a meeting, but its most important member isn’t there.  Frank Schwab has been farming organically longer than almost anyone else in the country, and his views on anything not organic are even stricter than the government’s.

Knowing how crucial Frank’s input is to their discussion, his best friend Matthias Ruch is uneasy at his absence.  Several hours later, still not having heard from Frank, Matthias bikes over to his friend’s farm, and after a search of the house he starts on the yard, the gardens, and the outbuildings.  When he enters the potting shed he sees Frank’s bloodied corpse and smells the distinct odor of a pesticide, something his friend never would have permitted on his land. 

Renzo Donatelli is assigned to investigate Frank’s death, but he can’t find anyone with a grudge against the farmer.  Matthias tells Renzo that in addition to Frank’s fervor about organic farming, his late friend believed that marijuana should be legal.  “Frank smoked dope for as long as I knew him, and he grew some too, but only for himself,” Matthias says.  As Renzo continues to question Matthias, his phone rings.  It’s another policeman who has been searching Frank’s fields, and he has unexpected news.  He has found a hidden field of weed, with an estimated street value of at least a hundred thousand francs.  “Enough to murder for, I guess.”

Kim Hays’ novel gives readers a wonderful sense of place and Swiss culture.  Giuliana and Renzo are dedicated police officers and terrific characters, and in this novel we get a sense of their public and private lives and the difficulties in both.

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.

FIERCE POISON by Will Thomas: Book Review

When a man enters the Barker and Llewelyn Agency early one morning, it’s the beginning of the most bizarre case that the private inquiry agents have handled.  Also the most dangerous.

The man stumbles as he entered the office, asking for some water in a rough voice and then trying unsuccessfully to continue speaking.  “Help me…please” is all he is able to say before he falls to the floor and dies.

The man’s calling card, which he had handed to the butler, gives his name and position as Roland Fitzhugh, Liberal Member of Parliament.  Despite his being unknown to either Cyrus Barker or Thomas Llewelyn, Barker insists they are obligated to investigate the death because he asked for their assistance in his last moments.

When Inspector Poole of Scotland Yard arrives at the Agency, he tells Barker and Llewelyn that Fitzhugh had come to the Yard earlier that morning, saying he believed he had been poisoned, and Poole told him he would look into it.  Now both the police and the private investigators are searching for the culprit.

An autopsy reveals that Fitzhugh had been poisoned by a raspberry tart he apparently had eaten just before entering Poole’s office.  Llewelyn then remembers that a young boy had been offering free samples of tarts that morning in front of their building, and the police begin a search for him.

Then, in the middle of the night, Thomas and Cyrus are awakened by a constable from the Yard and ordered to an East End address.  When they arrive Poole is there, overseeing a tragic scene.  An entire family, except for an infant, has been poisoned.  Mother, father, and two sons are dead, and one of the boys is the young peddler who had been giving out the tarts in front of the Agency.

As the private investigators delve more deeply into Fitzhugh’s past, they discover some disquieting things.  He was a widower, so why did he keep a photo of his late wife hidden in another object on his mantle?  He was engaged, but did he steal the affections of his fiancée away from his partner, Edward Lindsay?  And why did he seemingly have no friends or close colleagues in Parliament?

This novel, the thirteenth mystery in the Barker and Llewelyn series, takes readers back to Victorian England with its strict moral codes and their consequences.  Women of all classes were dominated by their fathers until they married and by their husbands afterwards.  In the eyes of the law (prior to 1882), once a woman married she basically ceased to exist.  On her wedding day she became one person with her husband, and thereafter everything she did was under his control.  Wives had no protection under the law; they lost ownership of their wages, their physical property (excluding land property), and their money.  We can see the devastating results of these practices in Fierce Poison.

Will Thomas has written another outstanding historical mystery.   You can read more about him 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 DYING Day by Vaseem Khan: Book Review

Why would someone steal a priceless manuscript?  And how did they do it, housed as it was in the Special Collections room of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a monumental stone building constructed in 1804, with a guard on duty in the room that had no windows and only one door?

Persis Wadia, the first and so far the only female police inspector in Bombay in 1950, is sent to the Society after the Malabar House police station receives a call about a stolen book.  When she meets Neve Forrester, the Society’s president, she learns that the book in question is a copy of Dante Aligherieri’s La Divina Commedia, one of the two oldest copies in the world.  Priceless doesn’t even begin to explain its worth, Persis is told.  And not only is the manuscript missing, but so is the man who was examining it.

John Healy is a well-known English palaeographer, one who studies ancient writing systems and deciphers and dates historical manuscripts.  Neve tells Persis that John enlisted to fight in World War II, was captured by the Italians in North Africa, and spent a year in a prisoner of war camp.  After his return to England in 1947, three years before the book opens, he contacted the Society for permission to come to Bombay to examine Dante’s masterpiece for a new translation he was preparing.

The Society was delighted to accede to his request and named Healy their Curator of Manuscripts, a position he had held ever since he came to India.  Described as a workaholic, he arrived at the society at seven every morning, six days a week.  But when two days went by without a word from him, one of the Society’s librarians went into the strongroom to check on Dante’s book.  That’s when the Commedia was discovered to be missing, along with the palaeographer.

Persis is told that the book was kept in a special locked box that was returned to the librarian of the Special Collections when Healy left each night.  When Persis opens the box, inside it is a large volume wrapped in red silk.  But it’s a copy of the King James’ Bible rather than Dante’s magnum opus.  The librarian had not checked the closed box when Healy returned it.

Persis opens the Bible and reads an inscription on the flyleaf:  What’s in a name?  Akoloutheo Alethia.  The Society’s president translates the ancient Greek words as follow the truth, and Persis wonders what the first sentence has to do with the second and what Healy was trying to communicate with this brief message.

The Dying Day covers a lot of ground–feminism, World War II, Nazism, and man’s search for forgiveness, among other topics.  Although the novel takes place more than seventy years ago, these topics still resonate today.  Vaseem Khan has written an outstanding mystery, with a fascinating protagonist and a sense of place that brings mid-century India vividly to life.

You can read more about Vaseem Khan 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.

GONE BY MORNING by Michele Weinstat Miller: Book Review

A subway bombing in New York City brings back, with frightening clarity, what the city went through on 9/11.  Just after seating herself on a train at the Times Square station, Kathleen Harris, and all the other passengers, receive a text from the city’s emergency line that states there are reports of an explosion in the underground system.

The train’s doors open, everyone rushes out, police break through the crowds, and suddenly there’s a second explosion.  Black metallic smoke follows the group up the steps as they flee to escape the danger below.  That is just the beginning of one story that will bring together three generations of women, only one of whom is aware of the relationship between them.

The second story is that of the police search for the person who set the bomb.  Although they do discover who detonated the explosion and killed himself while doing so, they are unaware of the motives behind the crime and the connection between that crime and another that is about to be committed.

Kathleen is a sixty-eight-year-old woman, the owner of an apartment building in Manhattan.  Before she bought the building, though, she had had another life:  she was the drug-addicted wife of a drug-addicted husband,  a convicted felon, and a very successful madam.  Now she has put all that behind her and plans to keep it a secret from Emily Silverman, a young woman she has befriended.

In fact, Emily is totally unaware that both her job as a deputy press secretary to the mayor of New York and her apartment came from Kathleen.  Emily certainly doesn’t know the reason that Kathleen is helping her, and she’s simply happy that she lives in Kathleen’s building and that the two of them have become friends.

Several hours after the subway blast, Kathleen receives a call from Sharon, who had worked for Kathleen when she was a young woman.  Unlike Kathleen, Sharon had never stopped being a sex worker, but nevertheless the two women had kept in touch and seen each other from time to time.  Sharon asks if she can come over immediately; she has something to tell her former boss, and of course Kathleen agrees.  But several hours go by, and Sharon doesn’t appear.  Two days later her body is found.

The police discover that Kathleen was Sharon’s madam many years ago, and they also learn that she served five years in prison in connection with her husband’s death.  In their eyes, once a felon, always a felon, and they’re determined to find the connection between the two women.

Then, in one more thing going wrong, a fire is set in Kathleen’s building, and the police believe she set it.  It appears that her entire world is collapsing, and there’s still more to come. 

In a terrible coincidence, on April 12th, two days before I wrote this column, a man entered a subway station in Brooklyn, New York, setting off two gas canisters and shooting at least 10 riders.  Other passengers were injured, many from choking on smoke.   The suspect was apprehended after a 30-hour search.  Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction; in this case, it is more heartbreaking.

Michele Weinstat Miller is an attorney who lives in Manhattan.  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.

 

CITIZEN K-9 by David Rosenfelt: Book Review

The K-9 Team is definitely an interesting group of investigators.  There’s Corey Douglas, a former sergeant with the Paterson, New Jersey police force; Laurie Collins, also a former cop; and Marcus, an enforcer with no last name given or needed.  And, of course, there’s Simon, Corey’s canine partner when they were both on the force, last name Garfunkel.

The Paterson Police Department, like most others in the country, has an overload of current cases to deal with, but because detectives never want to ignore a case that wasn’t solved no matter how long ago the crime was committed, it has recently established a cold case division.

Pete Stanton, the captain in charge of the department’s homicide division, explains to Corey, Laurie, and Marcus that although money is tight, there is money available from a different part of the budget to hire the K-9 group.  Pete offers them a choice of four cases to investigate, and they decide to investigate the seven-year-old disappearance of two people attending the fifteen-year reunion of the city’s high school.

From all accounts, Chris Vogel and Kim Baskin barely knew each other in high school.  The two left the reunion together, which their friends thought was strange looking back at it, but at the time no one commented on it.  Chris’ car was found on a highway near the school, Kim’s was still parked at the school, and neither of them was seen again nor were their bodies ever found.  The only clue, if that’s what it is, is a playing card, the king of clubs, found in Chris’ abandoned automobile.  However, that led nowhere in the original investigation.

Nevertheless, the team decides to begin their focus with Chris.  His two closest, and perhaps only, friends still live in the area.  Corey first visits Bruce Sharperson, now a professor of psychology at Rutgers University.  His field is predictive theory, which he explains to Corey as an attempt to forecast what will happen in a particular case based on past events.

Sharperson tells Corey that he and a third teenager, Harold Collison, were friends with Chris in high school but afterwards parted ways.  Sharperson says that Chris was developing some habits, including using drugs and possibly gambling, that made him uncomfortable, and Collison, in a later interview with Corey, agrees.  They both stress that although all three of them were academic “nerds,” Chris was absolutely the brightest one.

As the investigation uncovers additional information about Chris’ gambling and drug use, the K-9 team becomes even more certain that he is the reason for the disappearances.  They discover that he owed approximately twenty thousand dollars to a local bookie and had been selling drugs as well as using them.  But then, why involve Kim?  It would seem to have been easier to abduct Chris, either at his home or his place of work, and deal with him in whatever manner the kidnappers wanted.

The team’s human members are likeable and believable, and the plot moves along swiftly.  They are putting their hearts and souls into discovering the truth about this cold case, doing their best to solve a crime that has stymied the Paterson police for years.

David Rosenfelt has written thirty-three novels and three television movies.  In addition, he and his wife started The Tara Foundation, which saves dogs from euthanasia.  In the fourteen years since its founding, The Foundation has saved over 4,000 dogs.

You can read more about David Rosenfelt 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.

NINE LIVES by Peter Swanson: Book Review

An homage to And Then There Were None, with a bit of The List of Adrian Messenger added, describes Peter Swanson’s latest thriller, Nine Lives.

Nine people, seemingly unknown to each other, receive an envelope with a single sheet of paper inside.  On the paper is a list of their names in alphabetical order:  Matthew Beaumont, Jay Coates, Ethan Dart, Caroline Geddes, Frank Hopkins, Alison Horne, Arthur Kruse, Jack Radebaugh, and Jessica Winslow.  There is no return address, only a Forever stamp on eight of the envelopes; it appears that one of the envelopes was hand-delivered.

The recipients of the letter, if one can call a single sheet of paper with no salutation or signature a letter, have different reactions.  The majority choose to ignore it, treating it as if it was possibly meant for another person with the same name, while the others throw it away.  What no recipient does, at least at first, is to pay attention to it and regard it as a threat.  A mistake.

Those named are a disparate group in age, ethnicity, profession, and geographic location.  Beaumont is a married father of three in Massachusetts, Coates is a wanna-be actor in Los Angeles, Dart is a singer/songwriter in Texas, Geddes is an English professor in Ann Arbor, Hopkins owns a hotel in Maine, Horne is the mistress of a wealthy older man in New York City, Kruse is an oncology nurse in Massachusetts, Radebaugh is a businessman in Connecticut, and Winslow is an FBI agent in upstate New York.  They range in age from their thirties to their seventies, two are mixed-race, the other seven are white.  So what is the connection?

The first victim is Frank Hopkins, the owner of the Windward Resort in Kennewick, Maine.  Although it was a resort hotel decades ago, it’s now more of a run-down bar/motel and a place for him to drink without anyone looking over his shoulder.  Frank is taking his morning walk along the beach when he sees a white envelope on top of a rock, with a smaller stone on top of the envelope to hold it down.  As he gets closer, he sees his name on the envelope, and when he opens it he’s looking at a list of nine names, with his name one of them.

As Frank turns around to see if there’s anyone near him, he’s pushed into the sand and then the water.  As his head is being held under water, the murderer asks, “Do you know why you’re going to die?”  Although he answers in the negative, part of him thinks he does.  “It had to do with the jetty, didn’t it?” is his last thought before he stops breathing.  Thus Frank Hopkins becomes the first of the nine to die.

Peter Swanson has written another novel that is almost impossible to put down.  Nine Lives is a clever twist on a familiar trope, one that is both horrifying and, and in a macabre way, understandable.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this website.

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

WILD IRISH ROSE by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles: Book Review

As many as four and a half million Irish arrived in the United States between 1820 and 1930, and, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Molly Murphy was one of them.  Fleeing a false murder charge, she landed in Manhattan and, like many others, fought her way out of poverty and into a better life through a variety of jobs.

At the time of Wild Irish Rose, which takes place in 1907, Molly is happily married to New York City Police Detective Daniel Sullivan, and they are the devoted parents of young Liam and guardians of teenage Bridie.  Not that Molly resents being a housewife, but it simply isn’t as exciting as running a private investigation agency, which is what she did in her single life.  But being a private detective isn’t possible for a young mother.  Or is it?

When Molly finds out that her two best friends, Gus and Sid, are collecting warm clothing for recent arrivals to New York City via Ellis Island, she’s eager to join them.  That’s where she landed several years earlier, and she’s anxious to revisit it, so she and Bridie join Gus and Sid in a car filled with clothing for the immigrants and head toward the Island.

In the crush of people Bridie gets separated from the others for a few minutes, and when she gets back to them she explains that she had been following a woman she’d mistakenly thought was Molly.  She was Molly’s height, Bridie says, and had “bright red hair, pale skin, and freckles.”  Then, when the woman turns around, Bridie realizes her mistake and makes her way back to Molly.

When Daniel comes home, he tells his wife about his day.  He was on Ellis Island, and “there was a man found murdered on the island today.  And the woman who is the prime suspect looks exactly like you.”

That is just the impetus that Molly needs to begin investigating, convinced, even without knowing her, that her look-alike could not be guilty of murder.  The next day she locates the woman, who is named Rose McSweeny, an immigrant from Galway.  Daniel can hardly believe that Molly managed to find the woman the police had been looking for without success, and at first he doesn’t believe her explanation.  When she tells him about the logical progression along the Lower East Side of Manhattan that led her to Rose, Daniel is less proud than angry.

“What am I going to do with you, Molly?  If you weren’t a woman, you would have been a great detective,” he tells her.  Naturally, that makes Molly even more determined to help Rose prove her innocence, and she works out a compromise with the promise that she will not put herself in danger.  “Unless it is absolutely necessary,” she adds silently.

As Molly explains to her husband, “Could one of your men have done what I did today?  Being a woman was an advantage.”  Recognizing the truth of his wife’s statement, Daniel reluctantly agrees that Molly can continue her investigation.  And thus her search to prove Rose innocent goes on.

This is the eighteenth novel in the Molly Murphy series and the first co-written by Rhys Bowen and her daughter Clare Broyles.  They are an excellent team, making New York City shortly after the turn of the 20th century come alive.

You can read more about this mother and daughter pair at https://rhysbowen.com/ and https://crimereads.com/author/rhysbowenandclarebroyles/

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.