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THE COMFORT OF GHOSTS by Jacqueline Winspear: Book Review

If you would like to read a mystery series that goes beyond entertainment, one that takes you into one hundred plus years of English history, brings you to the battlefields of The Great War and the Second World World, and into the lives of both the British aristocracy and their servants, the Maisie Dobbs series is the one you’re looking for.

When readers first met Maisie, she was a thirteen-year-old housemaid in the home of Lord Julian Compton and his family.  She was discovered by Lady Rowan surreptitiously reading in the family’s library, her intelligence was noted, and her life changed.  The series continues from there, chronicling her life over a period of more than fifty years as well as those of the society in which she lives and works.

Now, in the eighteenth and last entry in the series, it’s 1945.  World War II is over, but the devastation it wreaked may be seen everywhere.  The Nazis’ heavy bombing of England left thousands dead or injured, and entire neighborhoods have buildings that are either entirely demolished or in such disrepair as to be almost uninhabitable.  Because of the desperate housing situation, abandoned homes are being taken over by squatters; they are living without heat or electricity.

When Maisie stops by the Belgravia mansion belonging to the Comptons to check on its condition, a young girl talks to her through the mail slot.  The girl, who gives her name as Mary, tells Maisie that there were four of them but now a fifth person is living there, a man who is very, very ill.  “Every day I wonder if he’ll be dead when we go in there,” the girl continues, and it’s obvious that she’s frightened, not because she fears for herself or her friends but because she doesn’t know what they’ll do if the stranger dies.

Maisie thinks she knows who the man is.  When she arrives at the Comptons’ home the next day with bags of food, Mary reluctantly allows her in and then takes her upstairs to see the mysterious man.  When Maisie sees him, she knows her suspicion was correct–he’s Will Beale, the son of her partner Billy, and he’s just returned from the war.  He had been in the mansion many times as a child and now has returned to it as a kind of sanctuary, reluctant to face his parents and let them see the state he’s in.

Using her skills as an investigator and a psychologist, Maisie is determined to deal with both Will’s situation and that of the four adolescents.  She realizes she cannot to it alone, so she calls on her best friend Lady Priscilla Partridge, who is feeling at loose ends now that her three sons are adults.  She is more than willing to help Maisie, as is Maisie’s husband Mark, an American with contacts that neither woman has.  Together, along with several others, they are able to help the children and Will and to solve a decades-old mystery in the Compton family.

An award-winning novelist, the author has used her own background as the granddaughter of a World War I veteran who returned to England severely wounded and shell-shocked to show the far-reaching effects on whose who served and those who loved them.  You can read more about Jacqueline Winspear at this site.

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

THE NATURE OF DISAPPEARING by Kimi Cunningham Grant

Emlyn’s father abandoned her and her mother when Emlyn was a child, and the trauma has colored her entire life.  Shy and fearful of the world, her life changes when she goes to college and meets Janessa.  But are all the changes for the best?

Janessa is everything Emlyn isn’t–beautiful, popular, at ease in all situations, and wealthy.  And for a reason Emlyn can’t figure out, Janessa is eager to be her friend.  Janessa describes their closeness like that of Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in the Anne of Green Gables novels, that they are “bosom friends” and always will be.

And so they remain until Emlyn meets Tyler, Janessa’s neighbor and friend from childhood.  There’s an immediate attraction between Emlyn and Tyler, but he starts slowly, taking her for ice cream and lunches and picnics.

After several dates Emlyn tells her friend that she and Tyler are seeing each other, and Janessa is appalled.  “Tyler is the ultimate Regrettable,” she warns Emlyn, but she won’t say more than that.  So when Tyler comes calling again and Emlyn chooses him over Janessa, she and her “bosom friend” have a major falling-out.

The Nature of Disappearing goes back and forth in time–when we first meet the child Emlyn, when she sets off for college and meets Janessa, when she and Tyler begin their relationship, and the current time when Emlyn has become a hunting and fishing guide in Idaho.  She and Janessa have stilted, infrequent phone conversations a few times a year, but she hasn’t seen or heard from Tyler in the several years since his behavior left her close to death at the side of a road.

Then Tyler re-enters her life.  She’s at work when he enters her workplace.  He starts the conversation apologetically, saying he knows his visit is unexpected, but it’s about Janessa.  “…I think she’s in trouble, and I need your help.”

Janessa and her partner/lover Bush have become social media stars, traveling around the country, working for Tyler’s company.  Now it’s been a couple of weeks since they’ve been in touch with Tyler–no posts, no phone calls, no texts.  “Something’s wrong.  I can feel it.  And I have to find her.”

Despite her unresolved feelings about Tyler and her fear that being with him again may endanger her hard-fought satisfaction with her new life, Emlyn agrees to go with him to locate the missing pair.  After all, in spite of everything that happened between them, no one has come close to replacing Janessa in Emlyn’s life.

In The Nature of Disappearing, Kimi Cunningham Grant has written an extraordinary thriller.  Emlyn, Janessa, and Tyler are portrayed so realistically, warts and all, that the reader is able to empathize with them about their behavior and at the same time become angry at what they are doing to themselves and each other.  This is a crime novel that asks questions about life, love, and relationships that are not easy to answer.

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.

TROUBLE IN QUEENSTOWN by Delia Pitts: Book Review

When the first line of a mystery is “I was horny,” the reader may be certain that the book isn’t a cozy.  This is how Black private investigator Evander Myrick introduces herself in Delia Pitts’ debut novel; she’s one strong lady.

Born and bred in Queenstown, New Jersey, Evander has had a tough life.  Her hometown has always been a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activities, and although there’s now a Black police chief, it’s white mayor Jo Hannah whose hand is at the controls.  In case the sentiment of the town isn’t clear, two of Queentown’s businesses make it obvious:  Kate’s Kountry Kitchen and Kozy Klean Kafé, with the latter bragging that it has fish on its menu every day but Friday.

When Evander returns to Queenstown after some time away, she’s surprised to learn that Leo Hannah, nephew of the mayor, wants to set up an appointment with her.  They meet, and he tells her that he wants to hire her to protect his wife who is being stalked.  Evander says she’ll need to interview Ivy, and he responds,”No, I won’t permit that.”

Evander realizers there’s more going on than Leo is telling her, and her persistence forces him into admitting the truth.  “It’s me in danger.  Not Ivy.”  He thinks she’s having an affair; if she is, he wants a divorce and total custody of their young son.

After several days following Ivy, Evander can’t find any sign of an illicit relationship.  Ivy does the usual suburban wife/mother thing:  taking their son to preschool, buying groceries, shopping at Target.  Evander finishes her report to Leo, who is supposed to stop by her office to pick it up, but then her phone rings.  He says he’s not feeling well and asks her to drop off the report at his home instead.

As she drives up to the Hannah home, Evander sees a patrol car in the driveway and two uniformed policemen coming toward her, guns drawn.  Evander is permitted inside, and there she sees a horrific scene.  A dead man is lying on the floor, blood pooling over his face.  Next to him is Ivy,  barely breathing, with Leo crouching next to her, sobbing.  An ambulance takes Ivy to the hospital, and shortly after that Mayor Josephine Hannah enters the house, telling the police officers to extend every courtesy to Evander, that she’s working for Leo.  Then she informs the group, “Ivy died on the operating table ten minutes ago.  This is a murder investigation now.”

Delia Pitts’ first mystery is an excellent one.  There is a palpable uneasiness in Queenstown, perhaps a remnant of its racist past or perhaps an acknowledgement of its racist present.  There’s a major disconnect between its Black and white citizens, something Evander definitely knows.  But she’s tenacious and determined to do her best for Leo and discover Ivy’s killer.

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.

 

 

 

HUNTED by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

I’ve been a fan of Abir Mukherjee since he wrote the first in his outstanding series of five mysteries that take place in India during the British Raj.  The books originally featured British Police Detective Sam Wyndham who is later joined by his Indian colleague Surendranath “Surrender-not” Bannerjee.

Now the author has written a very different novel, a present-day thriller that travels from England to Oregon to Los Angeles to Florida and is told in several voices.  The protagonists are Bangladeshi, British, and American, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu.  It makes for a fascinating story seen through the eyes and minds of people of different backgrounds, ethnic groups, and religions.

As the novel begins, Yasmin and Jack are in Los Angeles, inconspicuously entering a mall in Los Angeles, pulling their luggage behind them.  They find seats at a Starbucks, Jack brings coffee to their table, and their undertaking begins.  Jack leaves the coffeeshop first, followed as planned by Yasmin exactly three minutes later.  They are to rendezvous outside the shopping center’s radio station and leave their suitcases there.  But when Yasmin arrives, Jack is nowhere in sight.

Yasmin starts running through the mall, searching for him and pulling her bag behind her.  When her phone rings, she pulls it from her pocket and hears another phone ringing from inside her luggage.  She knows then that something is wrong, even if she’s not certain what it is.  She begins to say the Muslim declaration of faith, “There is no God…,” but before she can finish, the bomb in the luggage explodes, killing Yasmin and several others.

The book’s characters are varied and outstanding.  Beside Yasmin and Jack, readers will meet several others with their own stories to tell.  Shreya Mistry is the FBI agent originally assigned to the bombing, dealing with her strong “hunches” that often are diametrically opposed to the orders she receives from her superiors; Greg Flynn is a former soldier with PSTD, trying to find his way back into civilian life; Sajid Khan is a father who has already seen more tragedy in his life than any man should; Carrie Flynn is Greg’s mother, who has traveled 3,000 miles because of a connection she fears she sees between her son and the bombing; and Miriam, the mysterious and charismatic leader of the small group of people who want to change the world.

This is a novel that pulls in two directions.  First, one will want to read it as quickly as possible because the tension is so great.  Second, that same reader will want to read it as slowly as possible because they don’t want the book to end.  Talk about a difficult decision.

The ending of Hunted is as perfect as the rest of the story.  Readers will find themselves torn between wanting to punish certain characters who did horrendous things and yet wanting to forgive them.  It takes a master writer to bring an ending to such a satisfactory conclusion.

Abir Mukherjee’s writing career began at the age of 39, when he was inspired to learn that Lee Child didn’t become an author until age 40.  He is the recipient of the Crime Writers Association’s Historical Dagger for his first novel, A Rising Man.  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.

 

PITCH DARK by Paul Doiron: Book Review

When Game Warden Services Inspector Mike Bowditch receives a call from a rookie member of the Maine Warden Service, telling him there may be a man missing in the northern woods, he starts out on what will become the most dangerous search of his career.

Hammond Pratt has checked in at a lodge compound called Seboomook Farm and asked its owner about a father and daughter who were living somewhere nearby, offering a reward to anyone who could point him toward them.  A member of the lodge’s staff told him about a pair living in a very remote locality; they are there because the father, Mark Redmond, is building a cabin for Josie Jonson, Mike’s wife’s godmother, a helicopter pilot.  Now Pratt has been missing for two nights, and the situation seems unusual and possibly dangerous enough to investigate.

Mike and Charley Stevens, his father-in-law and mentor, drive north to Josie’s home in Jackson to ask her if she’ll fly them to Prentiss Pond to meet the reclusive carpenter, his daughter, and hopefully to find Hammond Pratt there as well.  Josie is brusque to the point of rudeness to Mike, but she agrees to take them there and put his half-formed fears to rest.

Josie acknowledges it’s odd that Redmond leaves his young teenage daughter in the cabin when he goes into town and doesn’t want any photos of the cabin posted on the web, but she says she’s met the girl and is convinced she’s fine and well taken care of by her father.  Before meeting the man, Mike’s initial feeling is that there’s something “off” about him, but in view of Josie’s opinion he begins to second-guess himself.  He’s wondering if he’s got the situation backwards, if Pratt is the problem and Redmond the caring father Josie has described.

Instead of his fears being allayed, however, when he meets Redmond and his daughter Cady they’re intensified by the man’s demeanor and almost obsessive need for privacy, going so far as to confiscate the phones Mike, Charley, and Josie are carrying to make certain they can’t take photos of himself, his daughter, or the cabin.  He asks his daughter to make coffee for their guests, and the next thing Mike knows he’s sitting on the forest floor with his arms tied to a tree, as are Charlie and Josie.  And in the few minutes Mike is trying to loosen his bonds, Josie convulses and dies and Redmond and Cady have disappeared.

Mike and Charley manage to free themselves, and Mike sets off to find the father and daughter.  Although he’s ill-equipped, as Redmond has taken his cell phone and gun, Mike scrounges enough tools to believe he will capture them, given his expertise and knowledge of the woods.  Charlie, however, warns him against overconfidence.  “This man is better than you are in the woods, and if you forget that for a minute, he’s going to kill you.”

“I couldn’t remember Charley Stevens ever looking so afraid,” Mike thinks.

Pitch Dark is a thriller with twists and turns the reader won’t anticipate.  It’s always a pleasure to read about Mike Bowditch, and this book gives readers a deeper insight into what has made him the man he has become.  This novel is an outstanding addition to the series.

Paul Doiron is a Registered Maine Guide and the recipient of the Barry Award for best first novel.  You can read more about him at this site.

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

I have come, most regretfully, to the realization that I cannot read every mystery novel ever published.

This insight came to me a few days ago as I looked at the shelves in my study.  I counted seventeen books that were sent by publicists in hopes that I would review them.  I looked at another shelf that held three library books that I chose after I had read reviews of them by other bloggers.

Then I looked up my library account and saw that I had eighteen books “frozen,” waiting for me to be picked up on my next trip to the Needham Library.  The Minuteman Library System allows you to choose books you want to read, reserve, and then freeze them until you are ready to unfreeze and read them.  It’s a wonderful system except that I can’t stop myself from adding just one more mystery to my list of requests.

So I took a deep breath and did the unthinkable, at least for me.  I chose the six novels that had been on my frozen list the longest, pressed cancel, and voilà–the books were gone.  I felt terrible for a few minutes, longer if I’m being honest.  What if the best book of the year was one I had deleted?  How would I ever know what I’d missed?

As many of my readers know, I’ve been teaching courses on mysteries and crime novels for a number of years at Brandeis University’s adult education program.  Each semester several program members tell me they’d like to take my course but can’t imagine reading the number of books, that number being eight, I assign during the ten week course.

My flippant answer is that of course they can, they only need to eliminate the unnecessary things in their lives to free up more reading time–cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.  We laugh, but there is a grain of truth in what I tell them.  Although in our busy schedules it can be challenging to put aside a certain amount of time each day for reading, it can also be very rewarding.  Sometimes we get so busy with the mundane things in our lives that we forget to leave time for the things we most enjoy.

Starting in September I’ll be teaching WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES, and the books I’ve chosen take place in Orthodox Jewish, Native American, Black, Hispanic, Mormon, Chinese-American, and Amish communities.  As the time for my class draws closer, I’ll let you know what the specific books are.  Perhaps you’ll put aside time every day to read along with us.

Marilyn

MURDER BY DEGREES by Ritu Mukerji: Book Review

It’s 1875, 25 years after the founding of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, but there is still a great deal of opposition to the idea of women physicians.  Too radical, not a fit job for a woman, a woman should be home taking care of her husband and children–these are the remarks that could be heard whenever the College is discussed.

Dr. Lydia Weston, professor and anatomist, has learned to ignore such comments and go about healing the women who arrive at the hospital.  As much as she wants to carry on with her work in a professional manner to everyone she encounters, she cannot help relating to some of the young women more than others who attend her free lectures at the Spruce Street Clinic.

One of her favorites is a young housemaid, Anna Ward, who listens eagerly to Lydia’s talks on the importance of nutrition and hygiene and is also quite interested in literature, even borrowing some of Lydia’s books.  Now it’s been two weeks since Anna has come to a lecture, and Lydia is beginning to get worried.  Then the corpse of a young woman is found on a path next to the river, and Anna’s sister identifies it as her sibling.  

It looks like a case of suicide, but Lydia is troubled by the thought that Anna would have taken her own life, thinking it would have been so unlike the young woman she knew and liked and who was the sole support of her sister and her young disabled nephew.  She joins with Sergeant Charles Davies and Inspector Thomas Volcker of the Philadelphia police force, trying to make sense of Anna’s death.

The policemen and Lydia have gone to the Curtis home where Anna was employed, and although Mr. Curtis and Mrs. Burt, the mansion’s housekeeper, voice the appropriate sympathy, they appear rather unmoved by Anna’s death.  Then, talking to the servant who was closest to the deceased, Lydia learns that Anna had been seeing someone who had been giving her expensive gifts, gifts that she could never have afforded on her own.  “I can tell you,” Sally tells Lydia, “he was not like us…(he was) a gentleman.”

Murder By Degrees is a fascinating look into a society 150 years in the past but with secrets that are similar to our own.  The strength of Lydia Watson regarding the prejudices she faces, her determination to have women physicians recognized for their achievements, and her wish to better the lives of young working women is inspiring and not that different from situations that many working women face today.  Ritu Mukerji has written what I hope is the first in a series of mysteries featuring a strong, intrepid, and intelligent woman.

You can read more about the author at various sites on the web.

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

 

 

 

 

 

BODIES TO DIE FOR by Lori Brand: Book Review

Influencers are everywhere, promoting everything.  Gemma Jorgenson is the face and body behind @GymmaGemma, with almost half a million followers hanging on her every word about how she shed one hundred pounds and became a fitness model, personal trainer, and bodybuilder.  Now she’s at the Olympia, the world’s most prestigious bodybuilding competition.  She placed second in the Bikini contest two years in a row, got blown out of the water last year, and decided against competing this year.  However, she hasn’t yet told Rick, her coach, or Chuck, the owner of REIGN, the exercise clothing brand Gemma represents, about her decision.

Then her close friend and fellow competitor, Bianca, is murdered, and Gemma discovers that her husband has a major part of his life that he’s not sharing with her.  Dealing with depression over her friend’s death and anger over her husband’s secrets, she changes her mind and decides to compete in the Olympia, Bikini category, after all.  In addition she’ll try to cope with what she calls Fat Gemma, the part of her that is left over from when she was heavy and had no control over her eating.

Ashley is where Gemma was a year earlier.  She’s always been overweight, a fact she’s frequently reminded of by her mother, a slim woman who watches everything she eats and everything Ashley eats as well.  Ashley’s tried various diets over the years, only to fall off the wagon and regain the weight she lost or even more.  And then she has an “accidental” meeting with Lydia, who is promoting her own agenda, one which is totally opposed to the perfect (i.e., skinny) body.  Before she knows it, Ashley is volunteering for Lydia’s group that is against the Diet Culture.

Ashley’s day job is a software engineer, and she’s very good at it.  Lydia hires her, stressing the need for them to fight against society’s idealization of the ultra-thin body, and Ashley installs ransomware on a clothing network, shuts down a pro-anorexia site, and puts malware on a fat-shaming account.  Now she’s being asked to hack into the patient records of the medical center A New You and steal its patient files.  She’s having second thoughts about this, but Lydia is very persuasive and Ashley is desperate for her approval.

As with all good mysteries, there is more to Bodies to Die For than simply the plot.  The novel raises interesting points about how we view people and make assumptions based on their appearance–their race, their attire, and most definitely their bodies.  We all know that being overweight is a major health problem, leading to many physical illnesses and possibly an early death, but when does society’s attempts to deal with obesity with extreme diets and weight loss pills become an obsession that may become just as detrimental to one’s health as being overweight?

With recognizable characters and a fast-moving story, Bodies to Die For is a book that readers will keep thinking about long after they’ve finished it.  Lori Brand has written a compelling mystery that resonates all too well in today’s world.

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 HUNTER by Tana French: Book Review

Johnny Reddy has been gone for four years, and not many people have missed him.  A good-looking charmer from childhood, he was always looking for something that his hometown of Ardnakelty couldn’t provide, always working on some plan or con to make himself rich.  Now he’s come back, bringing trouble with him.

Trey is the oldest Reddy daughter living at home.  At fifteen, she’s the one who remembers what it was like before her father went away and how much more peaceful the last four years have been.  For the past two years she’s been working after school with Cal Hooper, a Chicago police detective who took early retirement and found the town pretty much by looking at a map of Ireland, then deciding to move there.

Returning home alone, Johnny tells the town the reason he’s there and who will be following him.  He had met an Englishman in a London pub who was looking for someone from Ardnakelty, which is where he says his own family is from.  This man, Cillian Rushborough, heard from his grandmother that there was gold buried in the mountains surrounding the town.

Johnny tells his daughter and the men of the town that he has a plan to make certain Rushborough finds gold, or at least enough of it to assure him that there’s more to be found.  His plan is to “salt” the river with gold; the next step is to convince Rushborough that there’s gold in the fields and that he needs to buy digging rights from the men who own them.  As he says to the townsmen, “If Mr. Rushborough wants gold, then we’ll have to make sure he finds gold.”

As the plan goes, the Englishman will end up buying the rights to a portion of each man’s fields for a couple of thousand pounds, of which Johnny will get a percentage.  If there’s gold to be found, that will be great; if not, the men will have gotten money they didn’t have before, and Rushborough, although disappointed, will go home with stories about his Irish heritage to tell his friends.

After meeting Rushborough, the men of the town seem won over.  He appears unassuming but polished, fascinated by the stories he’s told of generations gone by.  Slowly but surely they appear to be drawn into the plan.

But then things slowly begin to go awry.  The townspeople are more savvy than it appears at first, Trey has her own ideas for working on this con, and Cal, an outsider, has to decide between keeping his own counsel or trying to protect Trey from the fallout when the Englishman discovers that there’s no gold to be had except for that deliberately placed in the river to persuade him to part with his money.

The Hunter is an engrossing story of a small town trying to get the better of a stranger in their midst, egged on by someone they know isn’t trustworthy but whom they still want to believe.  There’s greed, betrayal, kindness, and caring enough for readers to wish they could be hiding in the mountains surrounding the town to find out what is really going on in Ardnakelty.  The characters are believable, and the plot will keep you turning page after page.

Tana French is an American-Irish author living in Dublin.  Her novels have won the Edgar and Anthony awards, among others.  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.

IF SOMETHING HAPPENS TO ME by Alex Finlay: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about the author at this website.

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

THE FINAL CURTAIN by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Keigo Higashino at various sites on the web.

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

THE SPY COAST by Tess Gerritsen: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Master storyteller Tess Gerritsen has written an excellent thriller, with a captivating protagonist and cast of characters.  You can read more about her at this site.

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

HAS ANYONE SEEN CHARLOTTE SALTER? by Nicci French: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about the authors at various sites on the web.

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

NOTHING BUT THE BONES by Brian Panowich: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about the author at this site.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about them at this site.

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