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A DEATH IN TOKYO by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

As a young policeman watches, a man staggers onto the famed Nihongashi Bridge in Tokyo.  The officer assumes the man is drunk, although he thinks it’s a bit early in the evening for such total inebriation.  The policeman looks away for a minute, and when he looks back the man is leaning below the kirin, the pair of statues representing mythical Chinese beasts.  Disgusted, the officer approaches the man to get him to move along when he realizes that the man isn’t drunk but dead, with a knife protruding from his shirtfront.

When additional police arrive they realize that the victim had actually been knifed a few streets away and had somehow made his way to the Nihongashi before dying.  And because of the crowds surrounding the bridge, they believe the attacker could have easily blended with them and made his escape.  Nevertheless, a short time later a suspect is apprehended with the victim’s wallet in his possession.

The murdered man, Takeaki Aoyagi, was the manager of production at a factory that made building components, and the suspect, Fuyuki Yashima, had worked there before being let go several months earlier.  Since then he’d been unemployed and growing increasingly despondent at his situation.  Could that have been the reason for his attack on his former employer?

A Death in Tokyo centers on the families of the victim and his alleged assailant.  The Aoyagis, consisting of Takeaki’s widow and two teenage children, know almost nothing about what Takeaki does at work and why he would have been in the area of the bridge at that time of night.

Fuyuki Yashima’s partner, Kaori Nakahara, is equally bewildered by the thought that her lover could have killed the man who had been his manager at Kaneseki Metals, and she insists over and over again that Fuyuki “would never do anything like that to anybody.”

Kyoichiro Kaga is one of the detectives assigned to the case.  Although it seems obvious to others on the force that the young man followed his former employer and knifed him in a fit of rage or hopelessness over losing his job, Kaga isn’t so sure.  His style of investigation is very different from that of the others on the force, and he returns again and again to the area in which Aoyagi was found.

He revisits the bridge, a Japanese stationery store that specializes in origami paper, and a small cafe, gathering clues at each site.  In this way he becomes more and more convinced that there’s more to this murder than appears on the surface.

“It’s no use to anybody to close a case in such a half-assed way,” he tells his colleagues.   “I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to the truth.”  And he discovers that the truth can be found in a tragic episode that happened some years before, one that involved neither Takeaki Aoyagi or Fuyuki Yashima directly but nevertheless led directly to the tragedy on Nihongashi Bridge.

Keigo Higashino is Japan’s best-selling novelist.  You can read about him at various sites on the internet.

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

THE LAST ORPHAN by Gregg Hurwitz: Book Review

Orphan X is facing his most difficult dilemma yet.  Evan Smoak, aka Orphan X, was an assassin working for a secret intelligence agency within the U.S. Government.  When he fled that department, upset and angered by its direction, he named himself the Nowhere Man and became the last resort for those with urgent problems who had nowhere else to turn.

However, several years ago he was forced to promise, under extreme pressure, that his career as the Nowhere Man was over.  He would no longer be allowed to answer his RoamZone phone with “Do you need my help?” or take on any new cases.  But that promise is proving difficult to keep.

Evan is abducted by federal agent Naomi Templeton and a troop of agents and brought before President Victoria Donahue-Carr, the person who made him agree never to use his abilities to help those who called the special phone.  She tells him, much to his amazement, “We need your help.”

He’s informed by agent Templeton that the reclusive billionaire Luke Devine “represents a clear and present danger to national security.”  Evan asks Naomi what the government thinks Devine wants, and she answers “leverage.”  Evan’s task is to make certain he has no opportunity to carry out his plans.

Donahue-Carr tells him that she and her cabinet believe Devine wants to have his own nation-state, and he is applying his nearly unlimited power and influence to stop an environmental bill that, according to her, is essential to her re-election.

Smoak lays down his conditions, which Templeton is unwilling to meet.  She in turn outlines the government’s position, which is quite different from Evan’s, and tells him, “You’re not gonna do better than that.”  To himself, Evan thinks, “You’d be surprised.”

Templeton then has Smoak put into what would seem to be complete captivity in a hotel; he’s under 24/7 surveillance, shackled with his wrists zip-tied behind his back, and wearing a “tamper-proof” ankle bracelet.  However, one of the agents guarding Evan has a secret agenda.

He takes a DNA sample from Evan’s cheek, without Templeton’s knowledge, with plans to sell it and make a small fortune because the agent believes there’s something in Evan’s DNA that makes him nearly invincible.  But Evan has a plan of his own, and with a little help from a friend, he’s free and out of the hotel.  Then the fun begins.

Now Evan is able to investigate Luke Devine and find out what’s behind the president’s urgent need for his abilities.  He’ll have to uncover layer upon layer of Devine’s life and his plan for world domination, and what he finds ultimately surprises him.

Gregg Hurwitz has written another fascinating chapter in the incredible life of Orphan X.  Readers familiar with the series will be delighted at Evan Smoak’s return, and those for whom it is new will have no trouble learning all they need to know about Evan’s background and the reasons he does what he does.

You can read more about Gregg Hurwitz 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.

RACING THE LIGHT by Robert Crais: Book Review

When two official-looking people walk into Elvis Cole’s office, at first he takes them for federal agents.  They do a quick but thorough search of his office and the adjacent one, then usher in a nondescript older woman, rather plain with her lack of makeup and her vaguely outdated dress.  But looks can be very deceiving.

She introduces herself as Adele Schumacher, and she wants to hire Elvis to find her son.  Joshua Schumacher considers himself an investigative reporter, hosts a podcast called In Your Face with Josh Shoe, and his show consists of uncovering what he views as government secrets and conspiracies.

Adele had contacted the police, but they dismissed her concerns.  She tells Elvis that the two people who first entered the office, who are vaguely described as bodyguards/agents, tried to locate Josh with no results.  Elvis reluctantly agrees to look for Josh, although he, like the police, doesn’t find it especially concerning that a twenty-six-year-old man missed a lunch date with his mother and hasn’t responded to her phone calls or texts for several days.  Perhaps he would have felt differently if Adele had been more open about her past.

Elvis has gotten the name of her son’s closest friends from Adele, so he first visits Ryan Seborg, Josh’s partner in the podcast.  Ryan reluctantly admits that Josh hadn’t shared information with him about his latest investigation, which was very unusual, and he gives Elvis the name of another friend to contact, Skylar Lawless.

Skylar was formerly a porn star who now works as an “escort” and also as an artist.  Ryan tells Elvis that he knew that Skylar and Josh had had several conversations recently, the subject of which Josh refused to share with him.  But Elvis’ search for Skylar is no more successful than his search for Josh.

On the personal side, Elvis receives a phone call from Lucy Chenier, his former lover.  She tells him that she and her son Ben are coming to Los Angeles the following day and would like to stay with him.  He instantly agrees, but he’s certain something is wrong; Lucy is a wonderful woman but definitely not a spontaneous one.  There’s a reason she and Ben are coming to California from New Orleans, and Elvis thinks it’s not just for the pleasure of his company, although he fervently wishes it was only that.

Elvis’ investigation into Josh’s disappearance becomes ever more involved, and he enlists the help of his closest friend and partner, Joe Pike.  As the duo begins to realize there is government involvement in the case, and a need for more secret information than they are able to obtain, they bring in Jon Stone.  Stone is a soldier of fortune with specialized skills that Elvis and Joe will need to find Josh.

Robert Crais’ latest novel is a welcome addition to the Elvis Cole series.   Its plot will keep you guessing with its many twists along the way, and the rapport between Elvis, Joe, Lucy, and Ben is believable and heartwarming.  You can read more about Robert Crais 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 BULLET THAT MISSED by Richard Osman: Book Review

Is it a “cozy”?  Is it a traditional mystery with unusual/eccentric protagonists?  Does it really matter?

As those who have taken my WHODUNIT? courses at BOLLI (the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) are aware, I am not a fan of cozies, although I recognize that they have become the most popular sub-genre of mysteries.  The “official” definition of a cozy is a mystery with little or no violence or sex, the detective is an amateur sleuth, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.

But I think that begs the question.  My definition of a cozy is that the crime takes second or even third place to some other feature of the book–cooking, for example, or knitting, or coffee shops–and the murder(s) is secondary.  That’s why I cringe when people describe Agatha Christie’s books as cozies because they don’t feature sex or torture prominently.  It’s true they don’t, but what they do feature is MURDER!  And that why I read mysteries–for the crimes, not the recipes.

So I don’t think that The Bullet That Missed is a cozy, although that’s how it’s publicized.  The cold-case murders that interest the Thursday Murder Club in the quiet retirement community of Coopers Chase don’t involve much sex or on-the-page violence and the detectives are amateurs (for the most part).  But, and here’s my rationale, they are investigating murders, and that is the point of the novel.

The four members of the Club are Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim, each bringing a different set of skills to their investigations.  Elizabeth was a member of Britain’s Intelligence Service, Ron a socialist labor leader, Ibrahim a psychiatrist, and Joyce a nurse.

In this book, the third investigation by the team, they decide to investigate the murder of television personality Bethany Waites, definitely a cold case.  Bethany’s car went off a cliff nearly ten years before the book starts.  Joyce is the impetus behind choosing this case as she wants to meet Mike Waghorn, the man who was Bethany’s co-anchor (or news reader, as the Brits say) on South East Tonight at the time of the woman’s death.

Although Bethany’s body was never found, there was enough ambiguity about the incident for the police to investigate and decide it was murder.  But they were not able to close the case, and that’s where the Thursday Murder Club comes in.  They will bring their individual skills and personalities to their attempt to find the truth.  Along the way there are murders, prison corruption, fraud investigations, and violent gangsters.  That doesn’t sound too cozy, does it?

The characters in The Bullet that Missed are wonderful.  Beside their individual skills, each brings a distinct voice to the novel, and there’s no mistaking which member of the Club is speaking.  And in a small aside, kudos to the author for the portrayal of the marriage of Elizabeth and Stephen in which readers see Elizabeth’s determination to keep her husband’s dementia hidden as much as possible in order to allow him to remain at home with her and not in a memory facility.

Richard Osman has worked as a producer, podcaster, comedian, and television presenter (or anchor, as it’s called in the United States).  You can read about him at many sites on the internet.

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

PICTURE IN THE SAND by Peter Blauner: Book Review

Picture in the Sand is a family history, a lesson in politics, and a crime novel all in one fascinating package.  It takes the reader from Brooklyn to Egypt to Hollywood, and it encompasses both popular culture via the making of “The Ten Commandments” and the political turmoil that has engulfed the Middle East for over seven decades.

The novel opens with an email from a son to his mother.  Alex Hassan (asking henceforth to be called by his new name, Abu Suror,”father of joy”) is leaving home, rejecting his acceptance from Cornell University in order to fight with his “brothers” in Syria.  His parents, of course, are devastated and try everything they can think of to locate him and bring him home, but their search is in vain.

His aging grandfather then begins an email correspondence, telling Alex his own life story, how he came from Egypt to the United States, and his realization that Alex’s ignorance of this story may nevertheless have impacted on his life.  His hope is that by telling his story, it will bring his grandson back.

In a scenario familiar in many immigrant families, there is often a desire to shield descendants from unpleasant, even traumatic, family history.  This has been the case for the Hassans.  Basically all that Alex knows about his grandfather is that Ali was born in Egypt, made his way to the United States, and eventually opened a successful business in Brooklyn.  But there is more, much more, to Ali’s story, and most improbably Cecil B. DeMille played a major part in it.

As Ali begins to tell his story to his grandson, he recalls his desire to be a part of the motion picture industry.  He went to his local movie theater in Cairo as frequently as possible, mesmerized by the stories the films told.  In 1954 Ali sent a letter and an “enhanced” resume to the production company that had come to Egypt to film DeMille’s last film, “The Ten Commandments.”

At first he was assigned a lowly job in the company’s motor pool, but after a few days he was promoted to an assistant to DeMille himself.  That presented an opportunity for Ali’s cousin and closest friend Sherif to begin a plan for sabotaging the director’s movie, and for that he needs Ali’s help.

Complicating the story even more, DeMille arrives in Egypt in 1954, just when Gamal Abdel Nasser wrested the premiership of the country from Muhammad Nagui, two years after the monarchy was overthrown.  There was turmoil everywhere, and Sherif and his cohorts are planning to take advantage of the political chaos to overthrow Nasser.  As part of that plan, they want to ruin the movie, and that’s where a very reluctant Ali enters the picture.

All of this was unknown to Alex, and in the emails that go back and forth between him and his grandfather there’s a lot of history he has to learn and then accept, much of it contrasting with what he’s being told by the group he joined to fight in Syria.  In the process we learn how Alex’s “boring grandfather…spent many years in prison for being a violent criminal, and lost his left eye in the process.”

The author has brought mid-century Egypt to life with his vivid descriptions of Cairo and the countryside where “The Ten Commandments” was filmed.  Peter Blauner has written eight previous novels, including his Edgar-award-winning first novel, Slow Motion Riot.  You can read more about him at this website.

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

Best movies, best television shows, best podcasts.  Now it’s time for my list of best mysteries of 2022.

As always, my choices for the best of the best are a mix of domestic and foreign mysteries, police procedurals and private detectives and amateur sleuths.  Interestingly though, and for the first time, more than half of the fourteen books take place either partly or totally outside the United States.

That statistic definitely speaks not only to the increasingly important role that mysteries/thrillers/crime novels play in today’s publishing business but also to how widely the genre has reached across the globe.  Certainly, even ten or fifteen years ago a grouping such as this would have consisted almost exclusively of American mysteries, with perhaps a British one or two completing the list.  But notice the various countries that have a place on my list now.

THE GATEKEEPER by James Byrne (Algeria/United States), GIRLS WHO LIE by Eva Björg Egisdóttir (England/Iceland), LOOK CLOSER by David Ellis (England), SILENT PARADE by Keigo Higashino (Japan), PORTRAIT OF A THIEF by Grace Li (United States/China), THE DYING DAY by Vaseem Khan (India), GONE BY MORNING by Michele Weinstat Miller (United States), THE SHADOWS OF MEN by Abir Mukherjee (India), DO NO HARM by Robert Pobi (United States), DIE AROUND SUNDOWN by Mark Pryor (Germany), THE LEFT-HANDED TWIN by Thomas Perry (United States), KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE by Deanna Raybourn (England/Europe/Caribbean), COLD AS HELL by Lilja Sigurdadóttir (Iceland), NINE LIVES by Peter Swanson (United States).

All of these novels, not surprisingly, are reviewed on this blog.  I invite you to take a peek at my reviews; hopefully, you’ll be intrigued enough to read one, several, or even all of them.  I promise that regardless of the book(s) you choose, you are in for a treat.

Wishing you a happy holiday season and a wonderful 2023.

Marilyn

KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE by Deanna Raybourn: Book Review

I will be totally upfront about this book–I loved it!  As a woman who is also “of a certain age,” I think it’s about time the mature woman received her due, even women who were, and are forced to become again, killers.

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie were young women in 1979.  That’s when they were recruited to join The Museum, as the secret organization was known.  The original members were from various resistance movements operating during World War II, and their mandate was hunting and killing Nazis.  At this they were very, very successful.

After the war ended The Museum turned their attention to other criminals–drug dealers, dictators, arms smugglers and the like–and began recruiting women; that’s when our four protagonists joined the movement and became skilled assassins.

As the book opens, it’s 2018 and Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Nat have been “retired,” not totally willingly.  In order to sweeten their termination, The Museum has given them a generous gift, an all-expenses-paid cruise to the Caribbean, a delightful escape from wintery London.

On their second day on the ship, Billie, the novel’s narrator, spots another operative of The Museum, dressed as a crew member.  She can think of a hundred reasons why he hasn’t made contact with them, none of them good.  Billie and Helen break into the cabin that belongs to “Kevin,” and discover the bomb that he has secreted in his cabin.

Then the door opens and the false steward enters.  A fight ensues, and Billie takes a string of amber beads, strung with piano wire, from her pocket and strangles “Kevin” with them.  However, it’s obvious to the women that when his death is discovered, a more skilled operative will be sent to take his place.

Billie remembers a saying from a former mentor at The Museum, “This is the only job where overkill is a good thing.”  It’s not precisely the way he meant it, presumably, but the four women are now convinced that “Kevin” was not working alone and that The Museum is behind a plot to kill them because they know too many secrets.  “Either we were meant to be blown up by the same people who cut our paychecks for forty years, or they knew it was going to happen to us and did nothing to stop it…,” says Billie.

And so Billie, Nat, Helen, and Mary Alice go on high alert to stop The Museum’s operatives from killing them.  After all, they reason, they were only doing their jobs when they assassinated the evildoers, so why should they be punished now?  They need to stop their former colleagues before those colleagues stop them.

The reader will be struck by the ingenuity shown by the four friends as they work to dispatch Museum members who are determined to eliminate them.  Thus it becomes a question of which group of assassins is stronger and smarter than the other.  The author has written a clever, up-to-date mystery in which the women are as tough and skilled as their adversaries.  I know which side I was rooting for.

Deanna Raybourn is the author of the Veronica Speedwell series and the Lady Julia Grey series, among her other works.  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.

 

THE FURIES by John Connolly: Book Review

It’s no small thing for an author to create a sense of unrelenting doom and violence simply by the use of language and mood.  This is what John Connolly does in his latest novel, The Sisters Strange, the first of two books in the volume titled The Furies.

Charlie Parker is a private investigator in Portland, Maine, but the story opens in the small Pennsylvania town of Athens.  Edwin Ellerkamp has spent his entire life there, a life that is soon to end, not because he is eighty but because of the coin collection he has accrued over the years.  When Ellerkamp is found by his part-time housekeeper in the living room of the house he lived in by himself, coins are spilling out of his mouth and onto his chest.

The story switches to Portland.  Parker and a friend are drinking in the Great Lost Bear, bemoaning the trendy city that is the new Portland.  No more decrepit wharfs on Commercial Street or empty lots on Congress Street, he thinks to himself.  But still, some things never change is his next thought, as Raum Buker walks into the bar.

Charlie has known Raum for years, and he has never found anything good to say or think about him.  He describes him as a “toxic, inverted deity” who has never forgotten or forgiven a slight, real or imagined.

Now a friend of Charlie’s, Will Quinn, comes to the private eye for help.  Will has been dating a woman named Dolors Strange, perhaps the first woman with whom he has ever been romantically involved.  That would be fine except that she is also romantically linked to Raum; to make the situation even more bizarre, so is her sister Ambar.

To add to the strangeness of the situation, Dolors tells Will that although she likes him, she doesn’t want to see him any longer, and Will believes it’s because she’s afraid that word will get back to Raum.

Back in Athens, Pennsylvania, Reuben Hapgood is about to open his small store.  It’s a shop with a bit of everything of value to collectors, but his specialty is coins.  Waiting for him one morning is a man who doesn’t look in the best of health, but his physical appearance is made intimidating by the small pistol he holds in his hand.  The man introduces himself as Kepler and tells Hapgood, “I think you may have something that belongs to me.”

It takes a while for readers to make the connection between Charlie Parker, Raum Buker, and Kepler, but John Connolly connects the dots so masterfully that one doesn’t mind waiting.  There’s an incredible menacing cloud hanging over all the characters in this novel, and while you may not be certain of just what will happen, you sense it will be really bad.

John Connolly has written an outstanding crime novel with a remarkable protagonist and cast of characters.  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.

FOX CREEK by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

At first it appears to be a routine case, and Cork O’Connor is reluctant to accept it.  He is a private investigator and former sheriff but now would rather be working in his family’s restaurant than chasing criminals.

At the diner, a man introduces himself as Lou Morriseau, and he tells the investigator that his wife has left him for another man, a Native American.  Morriseau shows Cork a photo of his wife Dolores, but when Morriseau tells Cork the name of the man she’s having an affair with, the latter is stunned.  It’s Henry Meloux, a respected healer and tribal leader, who is 100 years old.  That’s when Cork realizes something is “off” about the story he has just heard.

Understanding that there’s more to his prospective client than meets the eye, O’Connor agrees to look for Dolores and goes to Henry’s cabin on the reservation of the Iron Lake Ojibwe in the Superior National Forest.  Henry, being Henry, is not surprised to see Cork and knows that he is looking for Dolores.

Dolores has come there to consult with Henry, who tells her she needs to undergo a sweat, a purification ceremony for the body, mind, and spirit, and he has asked Rainy, Cork’s wife, to guide her through it.  When Dolores approaches the cabin after the sweat and Cork tells her that her husband has hired him to find her, she seems pleased but surprised.  Then Cork shows her the photo of his client he took on his cell phone, and Dolores says, “I’ve never seen this man before in my life.”

Cork returns home and tells Marsha Doss, the town’s current sheriff, about the strange case.  He then goes back to the woods to talk to Meloux and Dolores again, trying to shake the sense of unease he feels, but when he enters the cabin there’s no one there.  And the ancient Winchester rifle that should be leaning against a wall is gone, along with the cartridges that Henry keeps in a tin can.

Apparently Cork is not the only person looking for Dolores.  Henry leads Dolores and Rainy deeper into the forest and cautions them to be silent and wait.  Several hours later four men, armed with rifles, approach Henry’s cabin.  Meloux and the two women continue their walk in the woods, Rainy and Dolores being careful to follow the healer’s instructions to step only on stones and thus leave no footprints that their pursuers can follow.

The three spend the night in a bear’s cave, and stepping just outside they can see the campfire of the men pursuing them.  Henry tells Rainy, “They are not afraid to let us know they are coming….But they should be.”

Fox Creek is the 19th book in the Cork O’Connor series.  The novels begin when he was a sheriff and follow his career and his private life over the years.  The recurring characters, including Henry Meloux and Cork’s daughter Jenny and her family, bring warmth and depth to the stories and help balance the violence that always finds Cork.

William Kent Krueger, in addition to this series, has written several stand-alone novels.  He has won two Anthony Awards and an Edgar award.  You can read more about him at this website.

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

THE LOCKED ROOM by Elly Griffiths: Book Review

The Locked Room begins at a time that seems far, far away, before the world as we know it changed.  It’s the end of February 2020, and we’re hearing the very first rumblings about a deadly virus with origins in China.  But that’s still a couple of weeks away and not at all in the mind of Ruth Galloway.

In her childhood home, Ruth is going through a box of photos and souvenirs that belonged to her late mother.  Ruth’s father has remarried, and the home will soon be updated and redecorated by his new wife.  This bothers Ruth not at all, and she’s glad to have the opportunity to be alone in the house and look through the things that were important to her mother.

The two women were not especially close.  They had disagreed on many things, ranging from Ruth’s professional life as an anthropologist to her private life as a single mother, but Ruth is now missing her mother more than she would have thought possible.

As she riffles through the shoebox, she comes across a photo of her cottage, the one she lives in now, one of three cottages in a row.  She looks at it for a few moments noting that something is “off” about it, but at first she can’t think what it is.  Then it comes to her–these small houses are painted a dull pink rather than white, there’s no picket fence around each one, and the car in front of one has a very strange shape.  Ruth turns the photo over, and she sees written in her mother’s distinctive handwriting:  Dawn 1963.

Why on each would her mother have taken a picture of these houses, more specifically her present house, five years before Ruth was born and decades before Ruth had bought it?  Her mother had always professed to dislike the cottage, asking Ruth, “Why can’t you live somewhere more civilised?”  Her beloved home, miles from anywhere else, surrounded by marshland, had always been one of the bones of contention between the two women.  How could her mother even have known about the cottage then?

And who is the woman in The Locked Room‘s prologue, the one who is locked in a small, dark space?  We will meet her several times in the course of the novel, first alone and then when someone comes to give her water.  But ask as the captive will, she gets no answer about who that individual is or why she’s being held prisoner.  And then her captor begins taunting her, “It’s nearly time.  You know what to do.”

There are a number of other subplots in The Locked Room, as well as a lot of backstory in this, the fourteenth mystery in the series.  Elly Griffiths does a wonderful job in bringing all the different subplots together, as well as letting new readers have the information they need to understand and enjoy the protagonist and the recurring individuals in her life.  The characters, the plot, and the description of Ruth’s home and its surroundings are outstanding.

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 Marily

THE DOUBLE AGENT by William Christie: Book Review

His name, or at least the one he currently uses, is Alexsi Smirnoff, and he just rescued the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, from an assassination attempt.  Russian born, sent into Nazi Germany to infiltrate their military, after seven years Alexsi makes his escape from Germany and arrives in Iran, a neutral country.  Now he hopes that saving Churchill will have him sent to relative safety in England.

But that is not to be.  Instead he is told that the prime minister is very impressed with his ability and has “high hopes for someone of your talents.”  The British plan is to return him to Germany in exchange for a British intelligence officer held there in captivity.  But that exchange is not going to happen if Alexsi can prevent it.

Even though he is closely guarded, Alexsi breaks out of the British barracks where he’s being held.  Through a series of clever strategies he almost manages to escape but is foiled by a group of Iranians armed with machines guns.  They attack the vehicle in which he’d been riding, but he and the others on the truck are saved by a troop of British soldiers.  He is brought, severely wounded, to a British Army hospital, and again he determines to try to get sent to England.

While in the hospital Alexsi thwarts another attempt on his life and reflects on something he was told in Russia.  “The Russians said there were two types of men.  When their lives were in danger the first became frightened, then thought.  They were the ones who died.  The second thought, then became frightened afterward.  They were the ones who lived.”  And he definitely believes he belongs in the second group.

In the course of following Alexsi’s adventures, the reader is given a tour of the Middle East and Europe toward the end of the Second World War.  After a very long journey–Tehran, Baghdad, Cairo, Tripoli, Gibraltar, Lisbon–he finally arrives in London.  But, of course, the attempts on his life continue.

Alexsi Smirnoff is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read about recently.  His exploits are amazing, just short of incredible, but William Christie makes them believable with his powerful first-person narrative.  We understand Alexsi’s motivations, his strategies, his schemes, and his ability to evaluate his enemies and always to be one step ahead of them.  We root for him in every situation.

William Christie has written a crime novel with a charismatic protagonist, one who is not without flaws but still manages to gain our approval.  The Double Agent is a terrific read.

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 LOST MAN OF BOMBAY by Vaseem Khan: Book Review

In 1950 Bombay, Persis Wadia is the only female police inspector on the city’s police force.  She’s learned to ignore the insults and unflattering remarks made by her colleagues, the most annoying being Hermant Oberoi.  He misses no opportunity to belittle her, both privately and in front of her fellow officers, and now, much to Persis’ dismay, she has been assigned to one of his cases.

High in the Himalayas, two men on an expedition come across a body in a cave.  He’s nicknamed The Ice Man because no identification is found on him, so it’s up to the small Bombay division to which Persis is assigned to discover who the man was and why he was in the cave, wearing almost no clothes and with his face brutally battered, possibly to make identifying him impossible.  All that can be seen is that he is a white man, a European.

The only item found on him is a small notebook with BOMBAY PRESS 1943 stamped on the flyleaf.  Aside from maps of India and a few scribbled notes, Persis sees nothing unusual about the notebook until she reaches the end of it.  Three pages have been torn out and a fourth page asking that in the event of The Ice Man’s death the journal be sent to his wife.  But without the man’s name or address or even his nationality, that request is a dead end.

Then Persis is assigned to an even more problematic case.  The lead investigator is the afore-mentioned Hermant Oberoi, a man who is not silent about his belief that the force is no place for a woman.  Nevertheless, the two of them must work together on a double murder case, that of Stephen and Leela Renzi.  The Renzis were apparently asleep in the bedroom of their Bombay mansion when they were attacked; he was bludgeoned to death and her throat was slit.

The brutal murder of Stephen Renzi strikes Persis as similar to that of The Ice Man, with both men sustaining injuries that made their faces virtually unrecognizable.  But what could possibly be the connection between the deaths of these two men seven years apart?

Then comes a third murder, this time a Catholic priest beaten and placed on the altar of his church.  Again, the only common thread between the deaths is that Peter Gruenwald had had his face beaten almost to a pulp.  What brought about the deaths of these three white men, seemingly unknown to each other?  And why were the last two beaten so severely about their faces, since in these cases the beatings did nothing to hinder their identification?

The Lost Man of Bombay is a wonderful addition to the story of Persis Wadia.  Getting to know the all-too-human inspector, we see her difficulties in facing her father’s remarriage, her problematic relationship with the Englishman Archie Blackfinch, and the stresses she encounters at work.  Vaseem Khan has created characters and a plot that are very realistic, the Bombay setting is fascinating, and Persis is an engaging heroine, faults and all.

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.

 

DEATH ON A WINTER STROLL by Francine Mathews: Book Review

The Christmas Stroll on Nantucket Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, is deservedly famous.  It’s a nearly fifty-year-old tradition that brings visitors from surrounding communities, states, and even foreign countries to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season.  Santa arrives by Coast Guard cutter and leads the parade that winds through town to the Christmas tree.

Although this is Meredith Folger’s second year as the island’s chief of police, it’s the first time she’s responsible for public safety during the Stroll; it was canceled the previous year due to Covid.  The virus is still present, of course, as evidenced by the number of people wearing masks and greeting each other with fist bumps instead of handshakes and hugs.  But it has been decided by the town authorities that it was time to hold the event again, so the police force is readying itself.

This year there’s an added wrinkle or two, those wrinkles being the arrivals of both a film crew from Hollywood and the Secretary of State and her family.  The Hollywood group is here to film The Hopeless, a television production starring super-star Chris Candler and his co-star Marni McGuin.  The Secretary, Janet Brimhold McKay, is on island with her husband and stepson to promote the president’s idea of Family Time.  Both groups have brought significant problems and secrets with them, and violence will occur as a result.

The Hollywood group includes Vic Sonnenfeld, founder of the extremely successful Creative Management International; his wife Carly, producer of the television series who is dependent on her husband’s wealth to bankroll the program; the above-mentioned Chris Cander, world-famous action star trying to remake himself as a serious actor; his daughter Winter, a teenager attempting to recover from an eating disorder; and a variety of crew members.

The people surrounding Janet Brimhold McKay consist of her husband, Rob McKay, a political consultant; his son Ansel, a young man recently out of a drug rehab program; and Micheline, Janet’s personal assistant.

The stars and their entourages are living on the twelve-acre compound called Ingrid’s Gift, owned by Mike Struna, Carly’s friend from their college days in New York.  Mike, who made his fortune in IT, has loaned the mega-mansion to the Hollywood people during their stay on Nantucket, while the Washingtonians are settled in Stronghold, the home for generations of Brimholds.

And there’s one more person with a major role in the novel, Mary Alice Fillmore.  Mary Alice was the former wife of Rob McKay and the mother of Ansel, and she’s long been presumed dead.  In fact, she’s been living on Nantucket for several years, and there is a visitor to the island who is aware of that.

Merry Folger has big boots to fill, as both her father and grandfather were chiefs of police on Nantucket.  Now, in the midst of the tourist invasion, Merry is faced with two murders.

In addition to the seven books in the Merry Folger series and six stand-alone mysteries, Francine Mathews writes the Jane Austen Mystery Series under the pseudonym Stephanie Barron, a combination of her middle name and her maiden name.  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.

MARPLE: TWELVE NEW MYSTERIES: Book Review

Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead, England, was introduced to the reading public by Agatha Christie 95 years ago.  She made her first public appearance in the December 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine in “The Tuesday Night Club.” 

The Club came about when a group of people, including Miss Marple, decided to meet each Tuesday.  The members took turns introducing a mystery of which they had personal knowledge, and to which, of course, they knew the answer.  The other members each tried to solve the crime, using their professional expertise or life experiences to arrive at the correct answer.  That was the beginning of it all.

The members consisted of Raymond West, Miss Marple’s nephew and an author; Joyce Lemprière, an artist; Dr. Pender, a clergyman; Sir Henry Clithering, formerly of Scotland Yard; Mr. Petherick, a solicitor; and of course Jane Marple.

Even in 1927, Miss Marple is considered “an old lady,” so it’s hard to imagine just how old she is now.  But some people/characters are ageless, and Jane Marple is one of them.

In Marple: Twelve New Mysteries, the age issue is circumvented by placing all the stories in the past, mostly without dates.  One or two take place in the 1960s as referenced by mini skirts and The Beatles, while others could have taken place at any time after 1927.  But Jane Marple’s age isn’t really important; her intellect and her intuition are still first rate even into her “second century.”

The stories in this collection were written by twelve female authors.  I particularly enjoyed “The Second Murder at the Vicarage” by Val McDermid, which brought back some favorite characters from Agatha Christie’s original novel, “The Murder at the Vicarage”–the clergyman Mr. Clement, his wife Griselda, his nephew Dennis, and Inspector Slack.

Another extremely clever take-off is “Murder at the Villa Rosa” by Elly Griffiths, in which the protagonist of the story is plotting on the best way to kill Ripley.  I can’t say any more without spoiling the story, but those familiar with Ms. Christie’s love-hate relationship with one of her creations will be delighted with this entry.

Marple:  Twelve New Mysteries is a delightful homage to Jane Marple’s creator.  The lady from St. Mary Mead may be considered one of the first amateur investigators, leading the way for many other women to follow.  

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 YARDS by A. F. Carter: Book Review

Two women, roughly the same age, living in Baxter, a depressed Rust Belt town.  But they couldn’t be more different.

Git (short for Brigit) is the one we meet first.  She’s a single mother, living with her almost-teenage daughter and her recovering alcoholic mother, working two jobs as an LPN to keep body and soul together.  She’s doing her best to be responsible, but every few weeks she feels the need to go wild, and tonight’s the night.

She’s in full siren mode, a sequined dress so revealing it’s barely legal, a lot of makeup.  She’s ready to find a man for the evening.  She does, but the evening doesn’t end quite the way she’d hoped.

Git goes to Randy’s (a totally appropriate name, she thinks to herself) and attracts the attention of Bradley.  When he leaves the bar she follows him out the door, makes her plan for the evening obvious, and they drive separately to the Skyview Motor Court.  The inevitable occurs, then Bradley snorts some coke and falls asleep, and Git leaves the room.

Next we meet Delia, the chief of detectives in Baxter.  She, too, is a single mother, a one-time slip in a lesbian life.  She’s devoted to her son, likes her job, and is doing her best to supervise a not-very-professional staff.  The morning after Git’s tryst, Delia gets a call from the city’s police chief.  The owners of the motor court have called 911 to tell them there’s a body in one of the rooms.  Of course, it’s Bradley.

The third narrator in The Yards is Connor Schmidt, son of the town’s leading gangster, Carl Schmidt.  Because he and Bradley had a long history as friends, Connor trusted him with a drug deal.  Bradley was supposed to bring seven hundred pills to an upstate buyer, get eighteen thousand dollars in exchange, and bring the cash back to Connor.

However, when Connor goes to pick up the cash, the Skyview is surrounded by police.  And when the report of the murder is made public the following day, there’s no mention of the money.  Carl, Connor’s father, wants the eighteen thousand dollars found, and found now.  “I want that money, Connor, or I want my pound of flesh….Somebody, somewhere has to pay,” he tells his son.

I found The Yards an absolutely engrossing crime novel.  It’s not surprising that we’re sympathetic toward Git and Delia, two women who are doing their best under difficult circumstances.  What’s surprising to me was that I felt sympathy for Connor, a low-life if ever there was one.  But, I found myself thinking, how else could he have turned out, given the man who was his father?  Carl Schmidt is not only a criminal but a man who belittles his son at every opportunity and has created a life for Connor in which there seems no other way to live but a criminal one.

There’s nothing online about the author, so I’m assuming A. F. Carter is a pseudonym.  However, lists of her/his previous novels may be found on the internet.

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