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METROPOLIS by B. A. Shapiro: Book Review

There’s something a bit unsettling about a building full of storage units.  It’s almost like a hotel containing objects but no people.  The items inside are no longer needed or wanted, but yet they haven’t been given away, donated, or discarded.  They have some sort of hold on their owners, and often not in a healthy way.

The Metropolis Storage Unit in Cambridge, Massachusetts, isn’t your typical facility.  Rather than box-like storage buildings, which are commonly seen on the side of a highway, this is a high-rise in appearance, with two elevators serving its six floors.  It almost looks like a castle, with its round windows and towers.

Rose, the receptionist, sits at a desk in a space that comprises three units, collecting the monthly rents plus a bit on the side from some of the tenants.  It’s not like she’s stealing from the owner, she rationalizes, it’s more like “thank yous” from those who need a little something extra that the building doesn’t usually provide.

There are two people living illegally in the building.  One is Marta, a student from Venezuela trying to complete her doctorate.  She’s grateful to Rose, but she’s not willing to explain why she needs to live there rather than in an apartment or graduate housing.

The other is Serge, a photographer who barely speaks to Rose, even when he hands her his monthly check plus that little bit extra.  The reason Rose knows he’s a photographer is because she’s let herself into his unit when she’s sure he’s not inside.  That’s strictly forbidden, but Rose isn’t doing anything wrong she tells herself, she’s just curious.

Liddy is renting one unit and wants to rent a second one.  Her current space is filled with toys and games and souvenirs belonging to her twin son and daughter who are currently enrolled in a Swiss boarding school.  Not because Liddy wants her children abroad, but because her husband, the fabulously wealthy and successful W. Garrett Haines III, has decreed it.  He also told her to get rid of all the “childish things,” but she can’t bring herself to do that.  Thus storage, obviously unknown to her husband.

Jason, a once up-and-coming attorney, has his office in the Metropolis.  He had been a partner at a large Boston law firm until he did something illegal but morally defensible.  Embarrassed to tell his family that he was let go, he’s pretending he’s still at the firm while working out of the storage building.

Then there’s an accident in one of the elevators, an accident that will turn the lives of these people upside down.  What will Rose, Serge, Marta, Liddy, and Jason do when their secrets are revealed?

Metropolis will have readers turning page after page, unwilling to wait to find out the end of the story.  B. A. Shapiro has written an enthralling mystery with characters that are only too real 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.

APPLES NEVER FALL by Liane Moriarty: Book Review

The Delaney family has a very good life.  The parents, Joy and Stan, had been and continue to be outstanding tennis players, and when their competitive careers were over they started a tennis camp, nurturing their own children and other youngsters who went on to win tournaments.

Although Joy loves her children, she’s unhappy that none of them has given her a grandchild, something she desires with all her heart.  Now that she and Stan are no longer running the camp, her life doesn’t seem as fulfilled or busy as it was, and she’s sure a grandchild or two would fill that void.  She knows better than to mention it to either Brooke or Logan, the former married and the latter engaged, but she thinks about it all the time.

Then, into their lives one night comes a young woman who might fulfill the longing Joy has for someone to care for now that their own children are grown and living away from home.  The doorbell rings and when Stan answers it, a young woman, a stranger, stands on the other side of the threshold.

She wears a shirt with old grease stains on it and ripped jeans, but not in the stylish way.  No shoes or socks, her feet are purple with cold, and on her face is a fresh cut that is bleeding.  She doesn’t introduce herself but tells them she had a fight with her boyfriend, ran out of their apartment, and got into a taxi.  When she saw the lights on in the Delaneys’ house, she told the driver to stop because she thought the house appeared friendly, and she jumped out and onto their doorstep.

She looks scared and apologetic, and there’s no way Joy is letting her go out into the street again at this time of night, so Samantha, as she finally identifies herself, is their overnight guest.  Then she doesn’t leave.

Apples Never Fall is told in varying voices and time frames.  Joy is the main voice, but the children, Amy, Brooke, Trevor, and Logan, all have a part in the narrative.  And the first thing the reader learns is that now, several months after Samantha moved into Amy’s old room, Joy Delaney is missing.

Stan doesn’t seem to be very upset about his absent wife.  The Delaney children are concerned about their mother but not in agreement about what to do.  Joy hasn’t been in contact with any of them for over a week, an unheard of period of time, but at least two of the siblings are fearful that their father may become a suspect if they go to the police.  But how long can they, should they, wait while their mother remains missing?

There are brilliant clues in this novel, clues that the reader (at least this one) doesn’t understand until the end.  The Delaneys’ dog and the neighbor’s cat each have their own part in the mystery, as does an unwanted magnet and an ugly rug, but their importance isn’t obvious until the book’s end.  The skill with which the author buries the hints is truly Christie-esque.

Liane Moriarty has written an outstanding mystery, with an ending I doubt many readers will see coming; I certainly didn’t.  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 HIDDEN ONE by Linda Castillo: Book Review

A number of years ago I taught a course I called “Murder in Ethnic Communities” at BOLLI (the Brandeis University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).  One of the books we read was Among the Wicked by Linda Castillo, the eighth book in the series featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder of Painters Mill, Ohio.  My students were fascinated by the small town setting, by the lifestyle of the Amish residents, and by Kate’s backstory.

In The Hidden One Kate is visited by three members of the Amish clergy from the Kish Valley in Pennsylvania.  A member of their community, Jonas Bowman, has been arrested for the murder of a man who disappeared eighteen years earlier, and they believe he is innocent.  Now the remains of Bishop Ananias Stoltzfus have been found, along with the murder weapon that belongs to Bowman.  The men have come to ask Kate to investigate the case because Jonas lived in Painters Mill until he was eighteen.

Kate is not certain that the Amish elders are aware of the history that she and Jonas share.  She’s reluctant to go to Pennsylvania, a bit afraid of what she might find.  Although she’s certain that the Jonas Bowman she knew could not be guilty of murder, she hasn’t seen him in more than twenty years, and she knows how much a person can change in that time.  Still, she feels committed to finding out what happened since it’s because of her that Jonas’ family moved to Pennsylvania.

When Kate visits Jonas in jail, he tells her that God has a plan and that the “one thing that I know for certain is that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.”  She understands that he believes this Amish teaching, but as someone who left the Amish community two decades earlier, this is not something that resonates with her.  After their conversation, Kate is convinced of Jonas’ innocence, and she is determined to investigate.

Jonas gives Kate the background information regarding his relationship with Stoltzfus.  Although the bishop was thought by most members of the community to be strict but fair, Jonas saw another side of him, a mean, more vengeful side.  Stoltzfus had put Jonas’ father, a minister in the church, under a bann, which meant that no one in the community could do business with him, speak to him, or share a meal with him.  Shortly after the bann went  into effect, Jonas’ father died, whether from a heart attack or stress no one knew.

Jonas admits that after his father’s death he lost his temper in church with the bishop one day, shouted at him, and wrecked his buggy.  Two weeks after that Stoltzfus disappeared.

In Kate Burkholder, Linda Castillo has created a wonderful character.  Kate’s integrity and bravery are evident, and her strong relationship with her lover John Tomaselli, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Investigation, continues to deepen with every book.  In The Hidden One she is without Tomaselli or the support of the Painters Mill police department, but she remains determined to discover the truth about Stoltzfus’ death.

You can read more about Linda Castillo 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 RISING TIDE by Ann Cleeves: Book Review

Holy Island.  With a name like that, you wouldn’t think anything evil could happen there, would you?  But you’d be wrong, very wrong.

It’s been fifty years since a group of teenagers were taken to the Island’s Pilgrims’ House as part of a school project called Only Connect.  Their small group, led by their teacher Judith Marshall, consisted of Philip, Annie, Charlotte, Dan, Ken, Rick, and Isobel.  Isobel was the glamorous one who never made it off the island alive.

The remaining group is back on Holy Island; they have held their reunions there every five years since that first gathering.  A lot has happened since then, including two marriages and one divorce.

Lou joined the group later when she and Ken married; Lou is not only his wife but now his caretaker, as Ken is suffering from dementia.  Annie and Dan were married but have been divorced for many years.  Rick was a successful television personality until a number of women made his inappropriate sexual behavior public and he lost his program.  Philip is a priest in the Church of England, never married and lonely.  Charlotte, formerly a model and divorced from Rick, now runs a yoga and lifestyle center on the Island but never attends the reunions.

There is a ritual to the stay on the Island.  As always, the first night the six gather on Holy Island’s Pilgrims’ House chapel for twenty minutes of silent meditation, then have their meal, which was always brought by Annie, the co-owner of the well-regarded local deli Bread and Olives.  They reminisce, dance, and drink, and the next morning Annie finds Rick hanging from a beam in his room.

The call goes out to Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope.  Although it’s first thought by the other group members and the pathologist who arrives to pronounce Rick officially dead that he committed suicide, Vera has a different opinion.  From what she knows about the deceased, she tells Dr. Keating that “I can buy him killing himself.  But not like this.  Not in a shabby dressing gown, showing an ageing body to the world.”  And, of course, the autopsy proves Vera right.

Now, five decades after the first death, the murders continue.  As Vera confronts the killer and listens to the justification of the murders, she gets a glimpse into the murderer’s soul and the ruthlessness behind the deaths.  And then she almost becomes the next victim.

Reading Vera Stanhope novels always takes the reader to Scotland, this time to a piece of land that becomes an island twice a day due to the rising tide.  It’s the perfect setting for the sinister murders that take place, all in the name of self-protection.

Ann Cleeves is the author of more than thirty novels, including the Jimmy Perez, Vera Stanhope, and Matthew Venn series, as well as more than thirty short stories.  The three series have been adapted for television by the BBC.  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.

PORTRAIT OF A THIEF by Grace D. Li: Book Review

Five gifted twenty-somethings and a plan for a series of international heists of priceless Chinese art.  It’s a winning concept for Grace D. Li’s debut mystery, Portrait of a Thief.

Four of the protagonists are undergraduates at top-rated universities; the fifth was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but left when she was offered a job opportunity in Silicon Valley that she felt she couldn’t refuse.  Three are women, two are men, four are ABCs (American Born Chinese), the fifth was born in Beijing and came to the United States as a child with his father.

Their ethnicity and various backgrounds are important to understand how these young people became involved in a scheme to rob five museums of ancient sculptures, although perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say that several of the five saw it as an opportunity to “repatriate” stolen art works taken from China over the centuries by various Western powers.

It began with a robbery at the Sackler, one of Harvard University’s museums.  Will Chen, a senior at the college, is an art history major and works part-time at the Sackler.

Alex Huang was a student at MIT when she received a job offer from Google that offered her a higher annual salary than her parents, owners of a New York City restaurant, made in a year.

Lily Wu is a junior at Duke, living away from her Galveston home for the first time.  She’s majoring in engineering, but her true passion is racing cars.

Lily’s roommate is Irene Chen, Will’s sister.  Irene seems to be living a charmed life with her future mapped out–graduating from Duke summa cum laude, working for a year or two in politics, then going to law school.

Daniel is the only non-native American in the group.  After his mother died, he and his father left China and moved to the Santa Clara Valley in California.  Now he’s a senior at UCLA and getting ready for medical school interviews.  Most interesting, his father is a specialist in Chinese art for the FBI.

It would seem that Will, Alex, Lily, Daniel, and Irene have lives most college students could only dream about.  But then an invitation to go to Beijing upends everything they had thought about themselves.

Will was in the Sackler when the robbery took place.  As he stood against a museum wall, trying to become invisible, he felt a business card being pressed into his pocket.  There’s a phone number on it and the name China Poly.

Wang Yuling, China’s youngest billionaire, is the head of China Poly, one of the country’s most secretive organizations.  She has invited William, Alex, Lily, Daniel and Irene to Beijing to discuss several priceless pieces of art that were stolen from the Old Summer Palace when British and French forces burned it to the ground in 1860.

There were twelve zodiac heads surrounding the fountain in the Palace’s gardens then, but only seven remain in China.  Wang tells the five young people she’s invited to China’s capital city, “I want you to take back what the West stole.”

Portrait of a Thief is a masterful first novel.  Ms. Li characters are compelling, and the plot is suspenseful and riveting.  You can read more about Grace D. Li 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.

SUSIE STEINER: An Appreciation

I had never heard of the English mystery author Susie Steiner until her untimely death last month.  Then I read about her in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, and many online sites.  The writers of the various obituaries wrote so glowingly about her talent and her fortitude in the face of devastating illnesses that I decided I had to read her first mystery, Missing, Presumed.

In the opening chapter, we meet Ms. Steiner’s heroine Manon Bradshaw, a detective sergeant (DS) on the Cambridgeshire police force.  She’s thirty-nine years of age and is rapidly losing hope of finding Mr. Right, or even Mr. Almost-Right.  She’s on a date with a man whose name she can’t quite recall–it “might be Brian but could equally be Keith”–as the waiter brings the bill to the table.  Brian/Keith/? decides they should split the bill, although “to be fair” he didn’t have any wine, so he pays for only what he ate and she pays for her wine and food.

But even more upsetting than that, at least to me, is that she invites him back to her flat!  I just wanted to shake her, but instead I devoured the rest of the novel.  And I loved it!  I can’t wait to read the next (and sadly the last) two books in the series.

In childhood Ms. Steiner was diagnosed with a hereditary and degenerative sight condition, retinitis pigmentosa, and she lost her eyesight completely in 2013.  Then in 2016 it was discovered she had grade 4 glioblastoma, a brain tumor.  Incredibly, the three Manon Bradshaw mysteries were written after that.

The literary world is definitely poorer following the death of Susie Steiner, who died at the age of 51.  Her talent was amazing, her resilience even more so.

 

DIE AROUND SUNDOWN by Mark Pryor: Book Review

Paris in 1940 is on edge.  German troops have moved into the city, and Nazi soldiers and Nazi banners are everywhere.  Henri Lefort, a police detective, is sent to the home of Princess Marie Bonaparte to investigate a robbery; when he arrives he’s told it’s a triple murder, that in the course of the robbery three Bonaparte servants were killed.

Henri impresses the Princess, she insists that he investigate the murders, and through her influence he is transferred to the murder squad from the robbery division.  However, the next day Henri is given a different assignment.  The case that he’s assigned to is not investigating the murders in the Bonaparte mansion but rather the murder of a German officer in the Louvre.  And, because Hitler will be visiting Paris in a week, the German army officers who give him the assignment insist that Henri find the murderer before then, or else.

In addition to the quick solution to the crime that the Nazis insist on, there are other strange happenings.  Although the killing took place in the Louvre, Henri is not allowed into the museum to look at the scene of the crime.  Also, the victim’s body has been moved to a jail cell in police headquarters rather than left where he died.  Henri has his suspicions about the entire investigation, but he has no power to proceed the way he’d like.  And the clock is ticking.

When Henri returns home to the apartment that he and Nicola, a secretary at the police station, share, he finds her deep in conversation with the Princess.  Marie Bonaparte’s home is about to be requisitioned by the invaders, and Nicola impulsively tells her about a vacant apartment in their building.  The Princess, who asks to be called Mimi, proposes a trade.

She will take the apartment and bring wine and food to Henri and Nicola if Henri will agree to talk with her for an hour every evening.  During their brief interview at her home, she realized that he suffers from misophonia, or extreme sensitivity to pattern based sounds, such as someone chewing gum, repeatedly tapping a pencil, snapping their fingers, etc.  Mimi was a patient and then a colleague of Sigmund Freud, and she believes there’s a deeper issue than simple sensitivity to these noises.  Henri reluctantly agrees, partly because of curiosity and partly at Nicola’s urging.

Much of the novel deals with Henri’s service during the first world war and the issues that followed from that.  In addition to dealing with the murder inquiry and Mimi’s probing questions, Henri is being followed by a persistent reporter who knows some disturbing facts about his life, facts that Henri is determined to keep secret.

Die Around Sundown is an outstanding debut from the author of the Hugo Marston series.  The beauty of the Parisian setting and the fear of its citizens of the Nazis are in stark contrast to each other and make the novel taut and suspenseful.  And Henri Lefort is a fascinating protagonist, a man with a history he’s determined to keep private.

You can read more about Mark Pryor 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.

DO NO HARM by Robert Pobi: Book Review

The title of this novel is a quotation loosely translated from the Hippocratic oath that physicians take.  But what happens when someone is harming the physicians?

Lucas Page, astrophysicist, professor, and former FBI agent, is himself a testament to the skills of doctors.  Gravely wounded on more than one occasion, he has an artificial arm, an artificial leg, and only one eye.  But that does not hinder his incredible mathematical facility, his almost instantaneous ability with statistics to create a pattern that makes sense of seemingly random events.

His wife Erin is a doctor, and on this night the couple is going to a charity dinner in support of some of the city’s underfunded hospitals.  Knowing what is to come after the dinner is served, there is a sadness in the room because of the news that one of the city’s most respected orthopedic surgeons committed suicide the night before.

The dinner’s final presentation is a montage of New York City’s medical personnel who died since the previous year.  The list is long, incredibly long, with doctors dying from accidents, suicides, cancer, heart disease, and other causes.  As Lucas and Erin are walking home, they talk about the large number of people whose photos had been shown at the event.  Erin asks her husband about the chances of her knowing so many people who died during a such a brief period of time.  Lucas doesn’t answer, but he thinks that the chances are zero.

The next morning one of his graduate assistants gives him the data that Lucas requested after he returned home from the fundraiser.  It consists of thirty pages, one for each death.  As he reviews the information, it confirms his conclusions–each was a homicide.

Lucas goes to his former FBI colleague, Brett Kehoe, with the data and his belief that every death, whether its cause was determined to be illness, accident, or self-inflicted, was in fact a murder.  Brett is disbelieving, even as Lucas explains,”A lack of pattern is a dead giveaway that you’re looking at a pattern.”

Continuing his explanation to a still-unconvinced Kehoe, Lucas points out that each of these deaths took place on a Tuesday and during an activity that was a regular one for the victim–jogging, riding a motorcycle, fishing, and so on.  Lucas states that the doctors were going through routines that were easy for the killer to learn about, and that made it easy to commit the crimes.  The agent asks how is it possible that these deaths were missed by the New York City police and fire departments, the coroner’s office, the families of the dead, and other agencies?  How can they all be wrong and Lucas be right?

The bodies keep piling up, and Lucas is determined to investigate despite the initial skepticism of the FBI.  Do No Harm is an incredible thriller, and Lucas Page is definitely a unique protagonist.

You can read more about Robert Pobi 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 UNKEPT WOMAN by Allison Montclair

For Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge, partners in The Right Sort Marriage Bureau in London, life is turning out to be uncomfortably close to William Faulkner’s quotation, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” 

Interestingly, Iris’ and Gwen’s pasts are completely different.  During the Second World War, which ended just a year before the novel begins, Iris was a member of the British Secret Service.  No longer a member of MI6, she is still bound by the agency’s confidentiality rules; there are certain things she cannot discuss, even with Gwen.

Gwen, on the other hand, has led a protected life, or at least she had led such a life until her husband, a naval officer, was killed in the war.  Heartbroken by his death, she became mentally unstable and was institutionalized at her in-laws’ insistence.  That, in turn, gave them control of her young son Robbie and her finances, which has led to her living, most unhappily, with them.

Although Iris is now a civilian, she hasn’t lost any of her investigative talents or her intuition, and she’s aware that a woman is following her.  Giving her the slip, Iris arrives at her flat only to find, much to her dismay, that her former lover is there.

A brief argument between Iris and Andrew ends in Iris leaving the flat to spend a few days with Gwen and her aristocratic family.  Then a strange incident occurs–a woman is found murdered in her flat, and not surprisingly the police at first believe it’s Iris.

Neither Iris nor Gwen is able to leave the past behind.  In Iris’ case it’s because Andrew has re-entered her life and brought with him the mysterious woman who was following her.  In Gwen’s case, she’s getting ready for an appearance in the Court of Lunacy (now known as the Court of Protection) to petition the Master of Lunacy for her parental rights and control over her finances.

Gwen and Iris are definitely sisters under the skin; despite superficial differences they have similar thoughts and feelings.  They are physically different and come from very different backgrounds, yet their outlook on life and the things they believe in explain their close relationship.

In addition to Gwen and Iris, there’s a cast of characters that weave in and out of the protagonists’ lives, some supportive, some not.  On the difficult side for Gwen are her formidable in-laws, Lord and Lady Bainbridge; for Iris, it’s the return of Andrew and all the unwanted baggage he brings with him.  Balancing that for Gwen is her son Ronnie, for whom she’s attempting to regain control of her life; for Iris there’s her somewhat tenuous relationship with Archie, her underworld protector.

The Unkept Woman is the fourth novel in the Iris Sparks/Gwen Bainbridge series.  As the books progress, readers can see the growth of both women due to two factors–their own strengths and personalities and the changing times and mores following World War II.

Allison Montclair is the pen name of the prolific author of historical mysteries and works of fantasy, horror, theater, and science fiction.  You can follow her 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.

COLD AS HELL by Lilja Sigurdardóttir: Book Review

Áróra and Ísafold are sisters, but they aren’t very much alike.  Their mother is English, their late father was an Icelander, the two women grew up in both countries and are fluent in English and Icelandic.  That’s about all they have in common, and their different personalities and lifestyles have led to an estrangement.

Áróra is the steady, dependable one.  She has been asked by their mother to get Ísafold out of various scrapes over the years, and now she has been contacted again.  In their mother’s words, Ísafold has disappeared; she hasn’t answered her mother’s phone calls in two weeks nor posted on Facebook for three.  Áróra reluctantly agrees to return to Iceland, talk to her sister’s abusive fiancé, and find out, once more, how Ísafold has gotten into trouble.

When she arrives at the apartment her sister and Bjorn share, she’s taken aback by the man’s reaction to her questions.  “We don’t live together anymore…Ísafold walked out,” he tells her.  “And if you were a decent sister to her, you’d have known that.”  Despite the many times that Áróra has come to her sister’s rescue, she still feels guilty.

The neighbors who live in the apartment building aren’t much help.  One is Grímur, an almost mute, solitary man, a voyeur, who has a pathological obsession with removing all the hair on his body–head, arms, legs, and genitals–involving shaving multiple times a day.  Another resident is Olga, a lonely middle-aged woman who is harboring an illegal immigrant and is fearful of his being discovered and sent back to his homeland.

Áróra has made a profession for herself by searching for money.  To simplify things, she tells people that she’s an accountant, but in reality she looks for and generally finds money that people have hidden away, usually from the tax authorities or from a spouse when a divorce is imminent.  She takes a percentage of what she recovers, and she is very successful.

While she’s searching for her sister, Áróra meets Hákon, and the two start a relationship.  However, a little research shows her that he’s been convicted of business fraud and was recently released from prison.  Despite his bankruptcy, however, he’s managed to become the owner of the upscale hotel where she’s staying, and this makes her curious.  Thus, at the same time she is sexually involved with Hákon, she’s investigating his finances to discover if he has a stash of money hidden somewhere.  If so, and if she’s successful, “wallowing in krónur would be a new experience” for her.

Lilja Sigurdardóttir has written a mystery that takes the reader deep into Iceland, its culture, and its people.  The novel delves into the serious issues of dysfunctional family life, domestic abuse, and financial transgressions.  Áróra is a fascinating protagonist, torn between her feeling of familial duty toward her mother and sister and her feeling of resentment toward them.

You can read more about Lilja Sigurdardóttir 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.

 

 

UNDER A BROKEN SKY by Kris Calvin: Book Review

Emma Lawson isn’t a detective, but she has many of the characteristics of one.  She’s tough, determined, smart, and very, very good at putting puzzle pieces together.  She’s the youngest ethics investigator in California state history, and she’s enjoying every minute of her job.

As the novel opens she’s promised her closest friend, Kate, to pick up two tables for Kate’s engagement party, so now she’s with Kate’s son Luke as they approach the Ideal Storage facility to pick up those items.

The two load Kate’s tables into the car’s trunk, and Luke gets on his bike and wheels away.  Just as Emma is about to start the Mustang, an explosion rips the air and fire pours from the building’s broken windows.  When they were in the facility, the manager said he was going to the basement, so Emma runs back inside to find him and sees him lying in a pool of blood.  She loads him into a nearby cart and the two are able to exit the building; when she’s a safe distance away she calls 911.

The following day several seemingly unrelated events occur.  The first is that there appears some question about a death the previous month that was determined to be an accidental drowning.  The body of Johnny Hill, son of a high level Sacramento government official, had been found in a nearby lake shortly after his return from The Netherlands.  Now a witness has come forward that reopens the case with the possibility that it was murder.

In addition, the head of the city’s major crimes unit, Alibi Morning Sun, is told that there had been a fatality at Ideal Storage.  Alibi says that he thought the employee, the man whom Emma had rescued, had been expected to recover.  No, his aide tells him, it’s another man, one who had no identification on his body.  So if the fire department believes that the fire was deliberately set, Alibi says, “Then that would make our arsonist a killer.”

At the same time Emma is interviewed about the Ethics Commission by a young Dutch woman who is in Sacramento as an exchange student from the University of Amsterdam.  All is proceeding as Emma expects until Daphne VerStrate starts asking questions about Johnny Hill and his mother Fran, questions that have nothing to do with the Commission or Emma’s position.  Emma deflects the questions, but they leave her with an uneasy feeling that perhaps the interview was simply a pretext for getting more information about the young man’s death.

Under A Broken Sky is the second excellent mystery in this series, following All That Fall.  The plot moves briskly, Emma is a fresh and appealing character, and the supporting characters, both major and minor, help make this novel compelling.  I look forward to many more adventures with Emma Lawson.

You can read more about Kris Calvin 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.

LOOK CLOSER by David Ellis: Book Review

Look Closer is one of the most original mysteries I’ve read in some time.  The book’s jacket says it all:  “…absolutely nothing is what it seems.”

Simon is a respected law professor in Chicago.  When the novel opens he’s standing in the foyer of his lover’s house, looking at her body dangling from the second floor landing.  It’s Halloween, and she’s wearing a cat costume that’s all black, right down to the polish on her nails.  Simon, perhaps prophetically, is dressed as the Grim Reaper.

Five months before Halloween, on May 13 to be exact, Simon spots Lauren on a Chicago street corner.  She’s the girl he had a one-night stand with nineteen years earlier.  He hasn’t seen her since, but not a day has gone by since then without thinking of her.  But he’s determined to put that memory behind him and forget that he’s seen her again.

However, by July, the temptation has become too much to resist.  After following her obsessively on Facebook, he “accidentally” runs into her at the Grace Country Club where they are both members.  Simon never ever goes there–his exercise activity is jogging–but Lauren’s Facebook posts show her at the club playing tennis and golf and having lunch with friends.  So there he is, trying to play it cool when they meet but actually thrilled by Lauren’s suggestion of another meeting.  And then another.

Then we meet Vicky, Simon’s wife, who has her own secrets.  Simon is a very wealthy man, or he will be in a matter of months.  That’s when the trust ends that his late father made to ensure that the woman Simon married was not marrying him for the twenty million dollars he would inherit upon his father’s death.

The important clause in the trust states that the money is held solely in Simon’s name for ten years, during which time he could only spend it on himself, not on or for Vicky.  After the ten years, the money may be spent by either one on anything at all.  And the tenth anniversary, the all-important date, is just weeks away.

To make certain that everything goes the way she wants it, Vicky hires Christian Newsome, a financial adviser new to the Chicago area.  To double-check she has the facts correct, she asks him if after the trust ends on November 3rd she can spend the money any way she wants and without Simon’s approval or knowledge, and he tells her she’s correct.

Look Closer is written in four voices–Simon’s, Vicky’s, Christian’s, and Jane’s, a detective in the town’s police department.  The story goes back and forth between May and November 3rd, with the various speakers presenting the story from his or her point of view and knowledge.  Truly, just when you’re certain something will happen, it doesn’t, and when you’re certain something won’t happen, it does.

David Ellis has written a fascinating mystery, not only because of its unique plot but because of its characters.  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.

OVERBOARD by Sara Paretsky: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Sara Paretsky at this website.

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

THE GATEKEEPER by James Byrne: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marilyn