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NOT THE ONES DEAD by Dana Stabenow: Book Review

Reading a Kate Shugak mystery is like taking a tour of Alaska.  The gorgeous descriptions of the state and the love its inhabitants have for it will make you want to hop on the next flight to The Last Frontier.  But even in Alaska there is racism, greed, and murder.

The novel opens when Bobby Clark, a double-amputee military veteran, is returning home from a shopping trip to Ahtna, the nearest place to his home where one can buy the necessities of life.  He knows what he needs to do to keep his life running smoothly–bringing fillets of fish, jars of chutney, or slabs of raspberry cake to various people who would speak up for him if things went sideways.  It was &*%#@ exhausting to be black in America, he thinks.

He stops by Kate Shugak’s house to tell her about what happened on his ride home when his truck was almost pushed off the road by a red pickup traveling in the opposite direction.  He says they didn’t try to take over the road “until they saw who was behind the wheel.”  He heard men laughing, but they stopped soon enough when Bobby got out of the truck and pointed his HK (Heckler and Koch) gun at them.  The four men, all wearing desert camo, left in a hurry.

Kate promises to keep an eye out for the men in her role as a private investigator.  Jim Chopin, her significant other and a former Alaska state trooper, agrees to do the same, but both privately believe the incident was a one-off.  Unfortunately, they are wrong; when they are shopping the next day, they see several men dressed in the camo that Bobby mentioned, as well as the red truck that he’d described.

There are two more disturbing appearances by men in these outfits, one barring admittance to a trail to a hiking couple and one at the Roadhouse bar.  It appears that whatever this group is, they have decided to make themselves and their unwelcoming attitude known to all.  Then two events occur almost simultaneously–a fire that destroys the bar and a midair collision that kills all the passengers on both planes.

Since one of the pilots was a man in his 80s, there’s some talk that he was too old to be flying and that the crash was his fault, although everyone knew he was a very experienced pilot.  Kate wonders if there’s more to the crash than meets the eye, especially when the manifests of the planes show there were ten passengers, but eleven bodies are found on the ground.

To say Dana Stabenow is a prolific author is to understate it considerably.  There are more than 20 mysteries in the Kate Shugak series as well as several other novels, both mysteries and science fiction, that she has written.

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 FAVOR by Nicci French: Book Review

A teenage romance that ended with a car crash has its reverberations more than a decade later in Nicci French’s The Favor

Jude’s nose was broken, the couple in the backseat was injured, but Jude’s boyfriend Liam was unhurt.  Liam wasn’t bothered when he was tested for his alcohol level and whisked away by the police, even lifting his hand to Jude in what looked like a gesture of farewell.  Aside from a glance, a glance that left her in tears when she noticed him a few days later with another girl, that was the last time Jude saw him for years.

Now Jude is a geriatrician at a London hospital, engaged to Nat, and busy planning their upcoming wedding.  She’s on her way to meet her fiancé for breakfast when a nurse tells her someone is waiting for her in the lobby, and when she reaches the reception desk she sees it’s Liam.

Jude and Liam catch up on each other’s lives, with Liam telling her that he’s doing alright, has a carpentry business, and is the father of a young son.  He already knows about Jude’s engagement through an old friend, he says, and he’s contacted her to ask a favor.

Liam wants to arrange a meeting with her for the following day.  His plan is then to bring her small bag of his clothing, for her to drive to a cottage several hours from London the day after they meet, pick him up at the area’s train station that evening, and stay with him at the place overnight, emphasizing that the cottage has two bedrooms.

When she asks him to explain he won’t, but he assures her there’s no one else he can ask and that it’s not illegal.  “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything wrong.  Though you mustn’t tell anyone….Nobody at all.”  Thus begins the story of a favor, which blends into a lie, and segues into a murder.

When Liam doesn’t turn up at the train station, Jude realizes she has no way to reach him–no phone number, no email address, and his cell phone is in the bag he’s given her.  She’s furious at herself for not finding out more information about him, about this favor, but she decides she’ll return to London the next day and wait for him to contact her.

Then, in the early hours of the next morning, Liam’s phone rings.  A woman’s introduces herself as Leila Fox, a London police detective, and she tells Jude to stay where she is, that the police will be arriving there shortly.  The local police arrive, followed by Detective Fox, and Jude is told that Liam was found stabbed to death the previous evening.

The police don’t suspect Jude of the murder, but she is still thrust into their investigation.  Their teenage romance was a semi-secret, so the only member of Liam’s family she ever met was his younger brother Dermot, and even that was a very brief chat at the door of the family’s home.

Now she’s meeting the people who have been part of his recent life–Danny, the mother of their son; Vin, Liam’s business partner; two other members of Liam’s commune-type household–Irina and Erika; and of course Liam’s grieving parents.  And they’re all strange, angry, secretive people, or some combination of the three.  Every time Jude attempts to leave them and the police investigation behind, something or someone pulls her back into it.

Written by the masterful husband and wife team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, The Favor continues the line of incredible thrillers they’ve written.  You can read more about Nicci French 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.

MURDER BOOK by Thomas Perry: Book Review

Once again, Thomas Perry proves that he is a master of his craft.  Murder Book is an outstanding thriller that is almost impossible to put down.

Harry Duncan, a former police detective who worked in various big cities throughout the country, now is using his talents as a private investigator.  Just finishing a case, he gets a call from Ellen Leicester, his ex-wife, a United States Attorney, asking him to meet her.  She tells him that she’d like to hire him to look into a spate of violent crimes–extortions, robberies, even murders–that have occurred in districts where such crimes usually do not happen.

She says that the Justice Department doesn’t think this is significant enough to warrant using their forces to investigate, but, as she has the power to hire an independent consultant, she asks Harry to look into the problem.  Although Harry is less than enthusiastic, he agrees to look into it.

Harry heads toward rural Indiana and finds himself in the town of Parkman’s Elbow on the Ash-Grey River.  He stops at a bar/restaurant and is just finishing his lunch when Renee, the owner, informs him that two men are checking out his car in the parking lot.  When Harry goes outside, he’s told by one of them that his car appears to have a fake inspection sticker, but for an on-the-spot payment of one thousand dollars the problem can be solved.

A second man walks up behind Harry, and before either of the two men can react Harry has them on the ground and handcuffed.  They don’t respond to his questions, so he drives them to the State Police and returns to the cafe where he had lunch and where the two men had attempted their extortion.  Renee confirms his former wife’s statement that there has been a rash of violence in the area, but she doesn’t seem overly concerned.

Then, later in the evening, he goes back to the Elbow Cafe for a third time, and that’s when the situation escalates.  In the midst of the dinner hour, three men enter the Cafe and demand protection money from Renee.  When she refuses, later that evening they attempt to burn down her house.  When Harry stymies that plan and has them arrested, the three men, the Clark brothers, are put in the local jail but are released on bail the following day.  Sadly for them, that proves to be a mistake; within minutes of their release, all three are murdered.

Murder Book is a hard-boiled thriller, with a body count that mounts page by page.   I was in awe of the many inventive ways Duncan manages to thwart the potential killers, with each event confirming his former wife’s contention that there’s a major crime operation going on, although the final motive of the gangsters is not clear until the end of the novel.

Thomas Perry’s first novel, The Butcher’s Boy, won the 1983 Edgar for Best First Novel.  Perry also received the 2003 Gumshoe Award for Pursuit for Best Novel, the 2012 Barry award for Informant and and the 2021 Barry award for Eddie’s Boy, the last two in the Best Thriller category.  He is also the author of the Jane Whitefield series featuring an Indigenous woman who helps people disappear.

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.

FUNERAL TRAIN by Laurie Loewenstein: Book Review

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl simultaneously hit the small town of Vermillion, Oklahoma, and the townspeople are clinging to their former lives by a thread.  Stores that had served the town for generations closed, crops were severely damaged by the weather, and the emotions of its citizens were frayed almost to the breaking point.

Then came a horrendous crash when a passenger train was only a few miles from Vermillion.  Sirens sounded, shrieks and moans filled the air, plumes of steam were everywhere.  Train cars overturned and the ground strewn with dead bodies and severed limbs.

Sheriff Temple Jennings rushes to the scene of the derailment, caught between containing the chaos and searching for his wife Etha, a passenger on the train.  She is badly hurt and rushed to the local hospital, which is overwhelmed by the number of casualties that are brought in.

The following morning reveals that the signaling device directing the train to the proper track had been tampered with, and Temple, his young deputy Ed McCance, and the railroad’s detective Claude Steele return to the scene of the wreck.  The section foreman tells the trio that every precaution is taken against vandalism and that the switch is protected by a padlocked chain.

However, that chain is missing, either because someone cut it off with a bolt cutter or else used the universal railroad key that is available only to the train crew and maintenance workers on the track.  Was the wreck caused by vandalism or revenge?

The novel features two outstanding subplots.  Etha Jennings is anticipating a visit from her niece and her husband Everett and their two sons for Christmas.  Etha loves her niece and nephews but doesn’t have much use for Everett, an out-of-work alcoholic who puts drinking ahead of the needs of his family.  Temple suggests that when Everett and his family return home he try to get back his former job, but Everett refuses belligerently. “I’m college-educated” is his mantra; apparently he would rather be unemployed than take a job he feels is beneath him.

There is also the mysterious Ruthie-Jo, a member of the community who is a virtual recluse.   Walking her dog the night of the accident, she sees a man running from the tracks, tossing an object into the underbrush.  Looking through the area, she finds a length of chain and a key that upon close examination proves to the be the property of the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe railroad.  But rather than return the key to the railroad or give it to the sheriff, she pockets it.  “You never knew when something might be of use,” she thinks.

Laurie Loewenstein is a masterful storyteller.  She interweaves the above plot lines, as well as two others, one involving the railroad detective Steele and the other a self-sufficient blind theater owner who unwillingly inherits Ruthie-Jo’s dog.  Her characters are realistic and well-drawn, and even the most unsympathetic are all-too-human.

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.

CITY UNDER ONE ROOF by Iris Yamashita: Book Review

The city of Point Mettier, Alaska is definitely unusual.  Located within commuting distance from Anchorage, when the ferry service is shut down during the winter there’s only one way in and one way out–through the tunnel.

Point Mettier began its life as a military installation and remained that until the earthquake of 1964; that’s when the army decamped.  Now it’s a shell of its former self, as seventeen-year-old Amy Lin says, and it’s gotten even worse since she and two friends find a severed hand half buried in the sand.

At first the local two-man police force and a detective sent from Anchorage think it belonged to a suicide jumper from one of the many ships that arrive in the harbor during the summer.  But that changes after the arrival of Detective Cara Kennedy, who has her own agenda for reviewing the case that the Anchorage Police Department has declared closed.

Cara had planned to make only a one-day visit to the city, but a storm closes the tunnel and she is unable to leave that day.  She checks into the sole residence in Port Mettier, known as the Davidson Condos, which has a number of rooms set aside for visitors.  Then she learns that the storm has caused an avalanche, so she’s here for an indefinite period of time.

Although it’s true, as she tells the police, that she’s a detective with the Anchorage Police Department, she neglects to say that that she’s on an emotional disability leave and is investigating the incident of the severed hand on her own, without any official sanction.

Many of the residents came to Port Mettier to leave a difficult past behind them.  It could be an involuntary stay in a psychiatric hospital, hiding from a violent spouse, or recovering from a devastating love affair.  In the case of Lonnie, a woman who has a pet moose she rescued from the hunter who killed its mother, she hears voices in her head, angry, abusive voices that are out of her control.

When Lonnie tells Cara that she won’t tell anyone her secret and that she “won’t tell you where he’s buried,” it’s not difficult for the detective to figure out that there’s something hidden in the barn where the pet moose is stabled.  And Cara finds something, a head that turns out to belong to the same person whose hand was buried in the sand.

Quite apart from the unique setting, what makes City Under One Roof a wonderful read are the characters.  Cara Kennedy is smart, determined, and trying to move ahead with her life after the devastating loss of her husband and son.  Officer Joe Barkowski, or J. B. as everyone calls him, is attempting to leave the painful memories of a love affair gone wrong.  And Chief Sipley has a secret that he’s been keeping for decades.

Iris Yamashita is a Hollywood screenwriter and has taught screenwriting at UCLA and the American Film Institute.  City Under One Roof is her first novel.  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.

This month begins the thirteenth year of Marilyn’s Mystery Reads.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging about mysteries for such a long time.  But the books just keep on being written and published, and I just keep on reading them, and by now blogging about my favorites seems to be something I need to do.  Plus the positive feedback I’ve received over the years inspires me to keep writing.

Speaking of continuing to do something I love, I’ll be teaching my twelfth course at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) starting later this month.  My topic for the spring semester is WHODUNIT?:  DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS, taken from Raymond Chandler’s essay about the type of man (remember, this was written in 1944) who is a private investigator.

But times have changed, and women as well as men are walking these streets, aware of danger but determined to bring justice to those who have been wronged.  The women protagonists are as tough and skilled as the men, and the cases that clients bring to them are as difficult and dangerous as those faced by Philip Marlowe (Chandler), Sam Spade (Dashiell Hammett), or Lew Archer (Ross Macdonald).

During the ten week course, we’ll be reading the following eight books, which feature both male and female protagonists and were written by male and female authors: Hard Time by Sara Paretsky, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P. D. James, The Bitterroots by C. J. Box, Butchers Hill by Laura Lippman, The Galton Case by Ross Macdonald, The Last Place You Look by Kristin Lepionka, Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais, and Come to Grief by Dick Francis.

Some of these authors will be familiar to class members, and others will be unfamiliar; one of the best parts of teaching these courses is introducing mystery readers to authors they haven’t read before.

As always, I invite you to read along with us beginning with Hard Time on March 6th.  Perhaps you too will be introduced to a writer who is new to you; if that’s the case, just think of all the wonderful mysteries by that particular author yet to be read.


LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ by Kwei Quartey: Book Review

The underbelly of life in Ghana and Nigeria is portrayed with both understanding and dread in the latest Emma Djan mystery by Kwei Quartey.

Emma is part of a small team of private detectives in Ghana’s capital Accra, led by Yemo Sowab, the agency’s owner.  Emma joined the firm after an episode of sexual harassment when she was with the capital’s police force.  She likes and respects her current colleagues and her boss but wishes for a major case to investigate.  And then one comes along.

Nnamdi Ojukwu, a college friend of Sowab’s when both attended the University of Ghana, comes to the agency for help in locating his missing daughter.  Ojukwu is a highly successful man in neighboring Nigeria, formerly the country’s high commissioner and currently a consultant for a think tank.  The story he tells Sowab is a disquieting one–his only child, Ngozi, has run away from home.

A few months earlier, Ngozi met and became romantically involved with a Ghanian-Nigerian man, Femi Adebanjo, much to her parents’ dismay.   A smooth-talking high school dropout and a former convict, the Ojukwus believed that Femi was not an appropriate match for their educated daughter, and they made their dislike clear.  When it was time for the family to return to Nigeria from Ghana, Ngozi told them she didn’t want to go, that she no longer wanted to go to the university.  Then, one morning, she was gone.

Ojukwu has come to the Sowab Agency because a friend told him that he had seen Ngozi in a supermarket in Ghana.  Now he’s hoping that the private detectives can locate his missing daughter.

At the same time, Emma’s lover Courage begins an investigation with the city Criminal Investigations Division.  Two weeks earlier a Nigerian man was the victim of a homicide, and when Courage hears that the victim was a man called Femi Adebanjo, he connects the name to a conversation he had had with Emma regarding the missing Ngozi.

Further investigation by Emma and her colleague Jojo makes them suspect that Femi had been involved in the sex trade, managing an upscale hotel that appears to cater to male customers and sex workers.  When Emma and a CID inspector arrive at the White House hotel, they learn some disquieting information.

Femi and Ngozi had been staying at the hotel, where Femi was the manager, and all went well at the beginning,  However, shortly before he was killed, Femi stopped sharing a suite with Ngozi and began a sexual relationship with one of the prostitutes who worked at the hotel.  Thus Emma learns of the vast network of sexual workers in the city, as well as Femi’s involvement in an underground network, illegally sending Nigerians to Europe with false papers and promises of nonexistent jobs.

Kwei Quartey has written a mystery that will take readers to a location that is unfamiliar to most but with characters and motives we all can easily recognize.  Ambition, greed, and corruption are all too familiar, no matter where one lives.

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.

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.


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.