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WHEN A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN edited by Michael Koryta: Book Review

I’m not much of a short story person; I much prefer reading novels, especially mystery novels, because I enjoy thinking about characters and plots and settings for a longer time than a short story allows.  That being said, when my local library re-opened in June (hooray!), one of the featured books on the New Arrivals shelf was this collection of stories edited by Michael Koryta, part of the library of the Mystery Writers of America.

There are stories by nineteen authors, and I was familiar with less than half of them.  I found that really interesting, since their brief bios at the end of the book indicate that only three of them write short stories exclusively.  What that means is that I’ll have to up my reading time to be able to focus on writers whose works I haven’t read.

Of course, I was immediately grabbed by the authors I had previously read–Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, Lisa Unger, Lori Roy, Michael Koryta, and Steve Hamilton.  But I decided to approach When A Stranger Comes to Town the way I would read a novel–start at the beginning of the collection and read to the end.

With only two exceptions, I found the stories in this collection ranging from really good to outstanding.  Three of them caught my eye because of their location–“Perfect Strangers” by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs since it takes place just a few miles from my home in Massachusetts, “Assignment:  Sheepshead Bay” by Paul A. Barra which takes places in my hometown of Brooklyn, and “P.F.A.” by Michael Koryta because it takes places in Maine, where my older son and his family live.  I’d also like to note “A Six-Letter Word for Neighbor” by Lisa Unger; its ending caught me totally by surprise and yet seemed so perfect.

Michael Koryta, the book’s editor, did a masterful job in choosing these stories.  When A Stranger Comes To Town is an absolutely outstanding addition to the Mystery Writers of America’s library.

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 HERON’S CRY by Ann Cleeves: Book Review


Can one more glass of wine hurt, Detective Jen Rafferty asks herself?
  After all, it’s a party.  Everything is a bit hazy, something she will regret the next day, but in the meantime she helps herself to another glass of red.

A serious-looking man joins her and introduces himself as Nigel Yeo, a surname that means he’s local to South Devon.  He describes himself as in the health field but no longer a medic, and he tells Jen he’s in “the same line of business as you.  Sort of.”  She’s intrigued, but Nigel backs off, saying he will get her number from their hostess and asking if he can call her in the morning.

But when morning comes, it’s a different phone call that Jen gets.  Her boss, Matthew Venn, tells her to come to Westacombe, a group of buildings that have evolved into a small artists’ colony.  When she arrives he tells her there’s been a murder, and when Jen sees the body she recognizes Nigel Yeo.

He was found by his daughter, Eve, in her small studio in Westacombe, with a long shard of glass protruding from his neck.  Now, more than ever, Jen wishes her recall of the night before was sharper as she tries to remember the discussion she had with Nigel and whether there were any clues to his death.

Eve is a glassblower, and the glass is from one of her pieces.  The other artist who lives in the colony is Wesley Curnow, a painter and a musician.  Along with Sarah and John Grieve and their young twin daughters, Eve and Wesley make up the tenants, and Frank Ley, a celebrated investor and philanthropist, is the owner of the land and its buildings.

Everyone agrees that Nigel was a “lovely man” who hadn’t an enemy in the world.  He had worked as a physician but had given up his practice two years earlier to care for his wife, who suffered from dementia.  After her death he changed his focus and became the head of North Devon Patients Together, an advocacy group belonging to the National Health Service.  Certainly not a dangerous position, it would seem, and yet there doesn’t seem to be anything else in Nigel’s life that would lead to murder.

Matthew Venn, Jen’s boss, is not your typical detective.  Born into the Brethren, a strict Protestant sect, he has left that sect and is now married to his husband, Jonathan.  The two men are as different as possible, with Matthew painstaking and stolid, while Jonathan is artistic and sociable.  But their marriage is a good one, and they complement each other.  Venn is highly respected by his team, and his investigative style has solved many cases in the past.  But this one has him and his colleagues stymied.

The police interview Eve, Sarah and John, Wesley, and Frank, but all either have a strong alibi or no discernible reason for Nigel’s murder.  And then there’s a second killing.

Ann Cleeves is the author of many other mysteries, including the Vera Stanhope and the Jimmy Perez/Shetland Island series, as well as many stand-alones.  Both those series have been adapted for television, and the first of the Matthew Venn series, The Long Call, has been adapted as well.  Ms. Cleeves is a talented and prolific mystery author, and The Heron’s Call is an outstanding addition to her catalog of novels.

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.

AN AMBUSH OF WIDOWS by Jeff Abbott: Book Reiew

Two women–one in New Orleans, married to an almost-broke security consultant; one in Austin, married to a multi-millionaire entrepreneur.  They might seem to have nothing in common except for the fact that their husbands are found together in an empty Austin warehouse, shot to death.

When Kirsten North receives a phone call in New Orleans, saying that her husband has been shot to death in that Texas city, her immediate reaction is that it’s a sick, cruel joke.  Henry’s not even in Texas, she tells herself, he’s in New York on business.  But when she calls the hotel where he’s always stayed during his visits to the Big Apple, she’s told there’s no one by that name who has checked in.  Now she’s worried.

Still unbelieving, Kirsten buys a plane ticket to Austin, not aware that she’s being followed.  And she’s totally unaware of the man who followed her to the airport and purchased his last-minute ticket as soon as he saw her purchase hers.  In fact, he’s sitting right next to her on the plane, trying to hide behind sunglasses and and a baseball cap.  He goes by the name of Mender, and he’s following her from New Orleans to Austin to kill her.

In Austin, Flora Zang is trying to get her toddler son to stop crying while attempting to deal with the fact that her husband has been murdered.  It’s been two days since the police gave her the news, and it’s finally sinking in.

She thought she and Adam had a good marriage, not perfect but good.  Now she’s thinking about who could have had a motive to kill him.  She wonders if the police suspect her, since she stands to inherit Adam’s share of his successful businesses.  And she’s also questioning why her husband’s business partner is so eager to buy her out.  It’s all happening too fast.

Kirsten and Flora are at first suspicious of each other, each thinking that the other must know more than she’s telling.  Finally, however, they’re forced to work together in order to solve the mystery of what brought the two men together and who killed them.  

The title of Jeff Abbott’s novel had me wondering.  There’s a website that I discovered, countrylife.uk,  that delves into “collective nouns for people and professions.”  A babble of barbers, a tabernacle of bakers, a hastiness of cooks…where did these group names come from?  Since ambush means a surprise attack, perhaps the title is meant to explain what happens when Kirsten and Flora meet and try to discover who murdered their husbands without “showing their hands” and putting themselves in danger.

Of course I have no idea if that’s what Jeff Abbott was thinking when he gave his latest thriller such an intriguing name.  But perhaps that’s part of the mystery of this excellent book.  The plot will keep you reading until the end, and Kirsten and Flora are believably human in their desire to find out who the murderer of their husbands is and the reasons for their deaths.

You can read more about Jeff Abbott 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 NIGHT WE BURNED by S. F. Kosa: Book Review

Have you ever given serious consideration to cults and to those who join them?  Perhaps you’ve believed that people who join cults are weak, easily persuaded, or simply can’t deal with today’s world.  It can be easy to think less of those people, telling ourselves that we could never be taken in by a leader who preaches or teaches things alien to our core belief system; we are smarter, or better, than that.

But we are all vulnerable in some way, and Christy is certainly no exception.  Down to her last two quarters, she’s panhandling on the streets of Portland, Oregon when she’s approached by a young woman about her own age, offering her a delicious smelling cinnamon muffin.  The woman is Eszter, and after a few minutes of conversation the two go to the house where Eszter lives with a group of people she refers to as her family.

Fast forward twenty-one years, and we meet Dora Rodriguez.  She’s working as an investigative reporter for an online newspaper, and at a morning meeting a colleague pitches what he’s convinced will be a major story.  Two decades earlier, Miles tells the group, there was a massive fire at a commune in Bend, Oregon.  The group living there was a cult called the Oracles of Innocence, and some thirty members died, including children, when the blaze destroyed a building on the grounds.

Three adults were charged in the aftermath of these deaths and went to jail.  Now, Miles says, it’s the twentieth anniversary of the tragedy, and he expects that this will “bring out all the crazies.”  He tells the group that the body of a man was just found in Bend in a bathtub, covered with flame retardant.  And there’s one more odd thing–the man had a rock in his mouth, similar to the painted rocks that the police found on the cult’s grounds after the fire.  He’s sure there’s more to be discovered, and he wants to cover the story.

Dora has never told anyone at the paper that she was one of the group’s members.  She’s changed her name, moved out of Oregon to Seattle, invented a fictitious family background, and made a new life for herself.  If Miles finds out what happened in Bend, and to the people involved in the Oracles of Innocence, she can see her life tumbling down around her.  The only thing she can do to prevent this is to accompany him and deflect him from what actually happened and her role in it.

The Night We Burned is a thrilling ride into what draws people into cults and keeps them there.  The characters in the book are exceptionally well drawn and fascinating, and the plot will keep you guessing until the end.

S. F. Kosa is a clinical psychologist by training and the author of more than twenty novels.  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.

FOR YOUR OWN GOOD by Samantha Downing: Book Review

“I’m doing this for your own good.”  How many times have we heard that expression, especially when we were children, but never believed it?

That’s how Teddy Crutcher, Teacher of the Year at Belmont Academy, rationalizes all the cruel, vindictive, and simply nasty things he does to the students in his English classes and to his colleagues.

Being a teacher at Belmont isn’t easy for Teddy.  It’s a college prep academy for entitled students and their entitled parents, in his private opinion.  Of course, that means giving the students the benefit of every doubt about the level of their work and being polite and understanding when the parents complain about their child’s grades or college recommendations.  Teddy doesn’t find it easy to do either one.

Thus Teddy has devised methods of dealing with his students and his colleagues, “for their own good” of course.  For the students, he’ll give the ones he dislikes a grade lower on their book reports or final grades than they deserve or an unfavorable letter of recommendation for college.

For his colleagues, he’s devised a different punishment.  He’s taken note of the type of coffee they drink every morning in the break room.  Luckily for him, if not for his colleagues, each one likes a different flavor.  Frank drinks Ethiopian Roast, Mindy likes Gold Roast, and Sonia prefers Slim Roast.  That makes it so easy for Teddy.

He simply takes a few of the coffee pods each prefers and injects something into them.  Thank goodness for the internet, from which he’s learned these skills.  For those teachers he deems hyper, a shot of Valium helps calm them down, at least for the day.  For another who’s always sad or melancholy, Adderall works wonders.

Sonia Benjamin is another teacher at Belmont, one who is the total opposite of Teddy.   She is kind, caring, and works with her students to help them be the best they can be.  But she’s not confident and is a worrier, and she’s an easy target for Teddy’s vindictiveness.

Now Sonia has become the target of Teddy’s spleen.  Simply because she came into his classroom to ask for a favor for a student, she is now a persona non grata, and he’s figured out a way to throw her off her stride.  Every once in a while he injects something in her morning coffee, not enough to make her really ill, just enough to ensure she has a really uncomfortable day.

On Sonia’s special day, the tenth anniversary of her joining the faculty as well as being named this year’s Teacher of the Year, everyone is in the Stafford Room awaiting the celebration.  Teddy, of course, is there too, waiting for Sonia’s reaction to the drug he slipped into the pod of Slim Roast.  But something goes wrong, and it’s not Sonia who drinks the coffee, collapses, and is rushed to the hospital.

Samantha Downing has written an intriguing mystery, one in which the protagonist sees himself as the center, and ruler, of his domain and has convinced himself that everything he does is for someone else’s good.  It’s an insightful look into a man with a narcissistic personality disorder and the havoc he wreaks with it.

You can read more about Samantha Downing 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.

DREAM GIRL by Laura Lippman: Book Review

When novelist Gerry Andersen has a freak accident in his condo, his life changes dramatically.  And, this being a mystery novel, not in a good way.

Gerry achieved fame at an early age, perhaps earlier than he was ready for it.  All the good things that have happened to him, he believes, are due to his hard work and his talent.  All the not-so-good things, he believes with equal fervor, are due to other people–their demands, their unwillingness to accede to his demands or needs, their jealousy.

One positive thing about Gerry is his devotion to his mother.  The only child of an unhappy marriage, he was born and brought up in Baltimore but moved to New York City after achieving literary success.  His father left the family when he was a child; when his mother falls ill and is told she has only months to live, Gerry returns to Baltimore to be near her.  Not to his old house but to a new luxury building where he has a two-story penthouse.  And then, after her death, he remains there.

Actually, he is forced to remain in his condo because one evening he slid across the slippery living room floor, went directly into his (unused) rowing machine, and onto the condo’s floating staircase.  And now he’s immobilized for eight to twelve weeks, his leg in a “trapeze” over his bed.

He has hired two women to help him through his recovery–Aileen, a nurse’s aide who is in his condo from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., going through his exercises with him, giving him dinner and his meds, and Victoria, the personal assistant who is helping him with his writing, more exercises, and non-medical needs during the day.

Gerry’s most successful novel was called Dream Girl, and it catapulted him to the top of the best-seller list.  He has spent years denying that Aubrey, the girl in that book, is based on an actual person, but now someone claiming to be Aubrey is contacting him.

It starts with a mysterious letter which he has seen once and cannot find again, nor can Aileen or Victoria.  It’s followed by a phone call in the middle of the night.   When he asks Aileen to check the caller ID and tell him who just called, she shows him the phone.  No one has called in hours.

Dream Girl is a look into one man’s psyche, his defense mechanisms, his insecurities, and his growing fear that, like his late mother, he may be hallucinating.  In his isolation, he’s forced to depend on Aileen and Victoria, and that becomes less and less comforting as the days go by.

Laura Lippman is an outstanding author, and the characters, plot, and setting in her latest novel prove once again that she is at the top of her game.  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.

September has arrived, and that means the beginning of a new school year.  At BOLLI, the Brandeis University adult learning program where I teach classes on mystery novels, we begin the fall term on September 20th.  Classes will be virtual, but nevertheless it will be an opportunity to meet on Zoom with friends and classmates and share opinions on the novels we are reading.

Once again I invite you to read along with my class, which this semester will be discussing International Mysteries, Part II.  We will be visiting various countries vicariously, as most of us were unable to travel in person over the past year and a half (and counting).  Here is the list of the books we’ll be reading and the countries we’ll be touring:

DEATH IN A STRANGE COUNTRY (Italy) by Donna Leon; THE MIST (Iceland) by Ragnar Jónasson; AMONG THE RUINS (Iran and Canada) by Ausma Zehanat Khan; SMOKESCREEN (South Africa) by Dick Francis; BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE (France) by Martin Walker; LITTLE BLACK LIES (Falkland Islands) by Sharon Bolton; THE SATURDAY MORNING MURDER (Israel) by Batya Gur; THE KIND WORTH KILLING (the United States) by Peter Swanson.  The last book brings us home, and I chose it because I imagine we’ll probably be tired after all our international journeys and will welcome a return to a more familiar landscape.

—–

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” people ate inside restaurants, went to movies, plays, and concerts sitting next to strangers, and attended classes and lectures in person.  Oh wait, that was only a year and a half ago.  My wish for us all is that soon we may be able to visit countries that now we can only read about, and upon returning we will be filled with the wonders of international travel but happy to be home again.  Until then, join us for International Murders, Part II.

Marilyn

 

 

 

THE MADNESS OF CROWDS by Louise Penny: Book Review

The COVID pandemic is over, at least in Louise Penny’s The Madness of Crowds, but the frenzy it has provoked in many places is clearly still around.

Virtually everyone in Québec has been vaccinated against the virus, and things are almost back to normal.  So much so that when Abigail Robinson, a professor of statistics, wants to give a lecture at a small local university, there appears to be no reason to deny her.  Except that her talk has the potential to cause a riot.

Citing freedom of speech, the university’s chancellor, Collette Roberge, refuses to stop the presentation.  Instead, she asks Inspector Armand Gamache, chief of homicide of the Sûreté du Québec, to provide the security for the event.  Having viewed videos of Dr. Robinson’s previous lectures, they both know their incendiary nature, but the chancellor is steadfast in her rejection of Armand’s plea to rescind the invitation, despite the possibility of violence.

Since Gamache doesn’t have the authority to cancel the talk, all he and his officers can do is provide as much security as possible.  In truth neither Armand nor Collette expects many people to attend, given that it’s the Christmas holiday and Professor Robinson’s talk will be in English in the French-speaking province.  But the overflow crowd pushing its way into the university’s gymnasium proves the two of them wrong, and it becomes obvious that people on both sides of the question have come prepared to make their voices heard.

Abigail Robinson’s trademark phrase, Ça va bien aller (All will be well), is a promise that the future holds better times, that the economy will recover, that there will never again be a shortage of either health care facilities or the financial ability to help all.  Well, almost all.

If, and this is the big if, the elderly, the incurably ill, and the severely handicapped are helped to their deaths by involuntary euthanasia, a.k.a mercy killing, then all will be well for everyone else.  “If the pandemic has taught us anything,” she tells the crowd, “it’s that not everyone can be saved.  Sacrifices must be made.”

Professor Robinson begins her speech, and as she says the pivotal line, “It’s called—” three explosions rip through the air.  In the first few seconds after the bangs are heard, the crowd starts to stampede toward the exits, pausing only after Gamache repeatedly says in English and French that the noises were firecrackers.  Isabelle Lacoste, a member of Gamache’s staff, holds up the string of firecrackers and people start to relax and return to their seats.  Until another loud bang is heard, and this time it’s a gunshot.

Louise Penny has written an incredibly timely and fascinating novel.  She obviously began writing during the pandemic, and when the novel was completed, COVID appeared to be under control.  But, as we all know, that was before the Delta variant became widespread, leading to more illness and death, as well as more false information about the efficacy of and need for vaccines, social distancing, and masking.

As of this writing, every newspaper is filled with information/mis-information about vaccines and masks and people’s fear of what could be next.  The Madness of Crowds is a work of fiction, but it is scarily close to what could happen/is happening around the world.

You can read more about Louise Penny 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 ARMISTICE KILLER by David Palin: Book Review

Remembrance Day, November 11th, is a very special day in Great Britain, a day to remember those who fought and died in the country’s wars.  Tom Wright, a retired Regimental Sergeant Major, has fought in the Falkland Islands, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and each conflict has left its mark.  Wright cynically thinks about World War I–the war to end all wars, as it was known when it was over–and that he “would have been nothing if not a soldier.”  He’s getting ready to be picked up to participate in the events at the town’s cathedral, but many unwelcome thoughts are in his mind.  Plus he can’t shake the feeling that he’s being watched.

His landlord, Jaroslaw Wolniek, is having an uncomfortable feeling about his tenant.  He wonders why the sergeant’s car is still parked in front of the house late on this special morning when he knows that Wright was supposed to be carrying the regimental standard of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry at the cathedral; he should have left some time ago.  Finally, unable to get past his worry, he goes upstairs, knocks on Wright’s door, and when there’s no answer he unlocks the door with his key.  And there he sees a horrifying sight.

The sergeant’s body is on his bed, tied to the headboard with cable ties and choked to death with a swagger stick, the short riding crop usually carried by a military officer as a sign of authority.

Inspector Ben Logan is called to the scene.  Unknown to nearly everyone except his closest friend, psychologist Freddy Dessler, Logan has prosopagnosia, or facial blindness.  A neurological condition usually present from birth, it is definitely a handicap for a detective; Logan can barely see the features of those he works with or interviews.  But he is determined to control this and chooses not to reveal his condition to his colleagues or superiors.

In spite of the many medals and commendations Tom Wright accumulated in his army career, he had no shortage of enemies.  His ex-wife, Gill Scott, shows little sadness at the news of her husband’s death, telling Logan and his assistant Andy Pascoe that their marriage had been over years before their recent divorce.  When Logan asks whether their daughter Lara has been notified of her father’s death, Gill says she wouldn’t know.  “We haven’t talked in some time….Ten years.”  Truly a dysfunctional family, the detective thinks.

At the same time Ben is interviewing the widow, three men are watching the news about Wright’s death on their pub’s television.  In contrast to the respect and admiration that the reporter is showing for Wright, the men are almost gleeful.  “‘Ere’s to whoever did it,” one of them says, and the others raise their glasses.  A second man continues, “I’ll shed no tears over him.”

The more deeply Logan looks into Wright’s past, the more people he discovers who have reason to dislike, even hate, the former officer.  But enough to murder him in such a sadistic manner?

David Palin has written a book that looks below the surface of those with a publicly heroic life but who have a private life filled with horrific events.  Ben Logan, in his second outing, is a man fighting with his own private demons but trying not to let them interfere with his investigation.  He is the true hero of The Armistice Killer.

You can read more about David Palin 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 LAW OF INNOCENCE by Michael Connelly: Book Review

It takes a really talented author to write a mystery in which the protagonist is accused of a crime where all the evidence against him is damning, yet the reader knows that he will be proven innocent.  Such is the case in Michael Connelly’s latest novel, The Law of Innocence.

Of course, mystery readers know that Connelly is a creative writer, one who can start a plot with a missing license plate and end it with the defendant on trial for murder.  And in this case the defendant is Mickey Haller, aka The Lincoln Lawyer.  In the first book of the series, Mickey was without an office, working out of his car; that’s how he got his nickname.

Now he’s a well-known attorney, famous for his defense of criminals both major and minor, and not exactly beloved by the Los Angeles police department and the sheriff’s office.  But even Mickey is surprised by the turn his life takes after his staff and friends put together an impromptu celebration following a not guilty verdict for his client.

Following the party, Mickey gets in his car and drives only a couple of blocks when he’s pulled over by a policeman.  He’s told that his rear license plate is missing, which mystifies him, and when he and the officer walk to the rear of the car, they both see something dripping from the trunk.  “Is that blood?” the cop asks.

The officer puts Mickey in his patrol car, then opens the car’s trunk.  Although Mickey can’t see its interior, he can tell from the cop’s expression that there’s a body inside.  And the next thing Mickey knows, he’s in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles.  He realizes he’s been set up, but he can’t figure out who set him up or why.

Mickey’s team consists of his investigator “Cisco” Wojciechowski, his law partner Jennifer Aronson, and his case manager and second ex-wife Lorna Taylor; the three immediately begin working on his behalf.  As the case progresses, Mickey’s half-brother Harry Bosch, a former detective in the Los Angele police department, and Maggie McPherson, Mickey’s first wife and the mother of his daughter, join the group, convinced of Mickey’s innocence.  Even with this team, things are not looking good for the Lincoln Lawyer, but he’s sticking to the mantra he learned from his late father’s law partner:  Act like a winner and you’ll become a winner.

Mickey Haller is an engaging character, always edging close to the edge of the law but never quite crossing over it.  The Law of Innocence is filled with well-drawn characters and a plot that is clever and engrossing.  As I noted at the beginning of this post, you’re never in doubt of the outcome of Mickey’s trial, but it’s the getting there that makes this novel so enjoyable.

You can read more about Michael Connelly 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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

A GOOD KILL by John McMahon: Book Review

In May, 2020 I reviewed John McMahon’s second novel about P. T. Marsh, closing with the statement that I was eagerly awaiting the next book in which I hoped to learn the truth about the death of his wife and his son, a traumatic event that has haunted Marsh in the two years since their deaths.  In A Good Kill, the third mystery in the series, we learn that what appeared to be a tragic accident was in fact a deliberate murder of two innocents and how a long and twisted path led to the events of that night.

A Good Kill opens with the all-too-familiar scenario of a man holding hostages inside an elementary school.  Detective Marsh and his partner Remy Morgan have been called to the site, along with other members of the Mason Falls, Georgia, police department.  From Marsh’s vantage point he sees into the school’s art room, where a man is holding a gun, another man is lying dead on the floor, and three students and a teacher are watching in horror.

At that moment Marsh gets a call on his cell from Georgia Governor Toby Monroe.  Without putting it into words, Monroe reminds Marsh of a past favor he had done for the detective and tells him how grateful he and all the state’s citizens would be if Marsh could “take him (the gunman) out now.”  And a few seconds later, as the shooter turns his gun toward the three young girls in the classroom, P. T. takes aim and shoots him dead.

The gunman is identified as Jed Harrington, and when the police arrive at his home, they find a case with several other guns inside.  Marsh becomes a hero, if only temporarily, but he’s bothered by the situation.  Something doesn’t fit the picture of a school shooter.  Why had Harrington gone to the school with only one pistol?  Why hadn’t he armed himself better?

And because of the favor Marsh owes Monroe, the detective is now agonizing about whether his shooting the gunman was a “good kill” or a favor returned.  He can’t get this question out of his mind.

In addition, Marsh has just found out that attorney Lauten Hartley has been appointed to the city’s police oversight board.  Hartley is a bitter enemy of Marsh’s, while the detective’s take on the lawyer is that he’s corrupt.  The feeling of antagonism escalates between the two of them, especially after Hartley’s warning, “I run the board now.  So who knows what could happen to you.”

John McMahon’s third novel in the P. T. Marsh series is as good as the first two, and that’s very good indeed.  The plot crackles with tension, and Marsh and his partner Remy are characters readers will root for.

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.

 

FATAL FAMILY TIES by S. C. Perkins: Book Review

With millions searching sites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe, Fatal Family Ties is a mystery that will resonate with many people. 

Lucy Lancaster is a Texas genealogist, formerly employed at Howland University and now head of her own three-woman firm.  She has mostly unpleasant memories of her sixteen-month tenure at the University, thanks to her less-than-friendly colleagues, Roxie, Patrice, and Camilla.

So Lucy is stunned when Camilla interrupts her at her favorite lunch place, Big Flaco’s Tacos, and insists that Lucy read an article in Chronology, a highly-respected magazine published by a nationally known museum.  Camilla says that the article’s information, detailing the life of her ancestor Charles Braithwaite, is false, and she wants Lucy to find the truth.

Charles Braithwaite was a Confederate soldier. and the article contends that he deserted his regiment, presented himself as a corporal after the war ended although he actually had been a private, and spent his remaining years burnishing his reputation and becoming rich from lecturing about his imaginary exploits.

Readers’ backlash to the piece is immediate and strong, with a petition being circulated to have the city’s park and elementary school, currently named after Braithwaite, renamed.  At the same time, the Braithwaite family is steadfast in the belief that their ancestor was, in fact, a corporal and the presentations he gave about his service in the war were accurate.

After his service in the Civil War (aka The Late Unpleasantness or the War Between the States–take your pick), Charles painted a triptych.  One-third was given to each of his children, and the painting has never been seen in its entirety since his death.  Now Camilla has one section, her Uncle Charles (every generation in the Braithwaite family had a son named Charles) has one section, and the third section is held by another relative.

When Camilla brings Lucy to see Charles’ section of the painting, Lucy is stunned at how dreadful it is.  When she makes a gallant attempt to say something positive, Charles smilingly gives her more information about it.  Recognizing the poor workmanship of the piece, he had nevertheless hung it in his office because of its “family history…and thus it is precious to us.”

He tells Lucy that some time earlier, a visiting child knocked into the panel and loosened a bit of canvas so that a small piece of another painting could be seen underneath.  Charles invites Lucy to look at the small section that was formerly invisible, and she is very impressed by its artistry.  For some reason the triptych had been painted over, and that’s part of the mystery that Lucy, Camilla, and Charles want to uncover.

This seemingly innocent request, as well as finding out the truth about the original Charles Braithwaite, leads Lucy to fraud, murder, and a very fractured and dysfunctional family.  Fatal Family Ties bursts with an amazing sense of the Lone Star State, and it is as well a crash course in genealogy and the good news/bad news it can bring to families determined to find the truth about their ancestors.

S. C. Perkins is a fifth-generation Texan with a strong interest in her own family’s background.  Her debut mystery novel, Murder Once Removed, was the winner of the 2017 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition.  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.

AN EMPTY GRAVE by Andrew Welsh-Huggins: Book Review

Andy Hayes, a Columbus, Ohio private eye, is a man who has a hard time saying no when someone comes to him needing help.  He’s in a restaurant with his sons, already running late to get them to a movie theater in time to see the previews, when a stranger walks up to their table and says in a loud voice, “What about murder?”

Without waiting for an invitation, Preston Campbell sits down and tells Andy the story of his father, a Columbus police officer who was shot in the line of duty forty years earlier while investigating a burglary.  Howie Campbell survived; the shooter, John J. Ebersole, was wounded, arrested, and brought to a hospital, but he disappeared from there and was never found.

Preston has been trying to track down the burglar for years via the Google alerts he’s set up, and he tells Andy that the criminal did the same thing in Rochester, New York, thirty years after Howie Campbell was wounded–committed a crime, got himself arrested, and promptly vanished.  Preston shows Andy what he feels is definite proof of the man’s whereabouts, a two-week old newspaper listing a John J. Ebersole as a relation of the man named in an obituary notice.

Then Preston’s sister Monica approaches Andy’s table, a resigned yet angry look on her face.  She hands Andy another piece of paper, this one from a Rochester newspaper dated ten years earlier.  Notorious Burglar Dies in Fire, it reads, and it gives the deceased’s name as John J. Ebersole.  Is it possible there are two men with the same rather unusual name?  Or was the man who died in the fire actually the criminal who had escaped justice for decades?

The morning following their restaurant encounter, Andy meets Preston and Monica at the former’s home.  Trying to bolster his case, Preston gives the investigator additional information, including the painful fact that Howie Campbell had died a month earlier, a suicide.  Preston can’t understand why the police and the district attorney’s offices never followed up on either of Ebersole’s disappearances from custody.  He remains firm in his belief that Ebersole is still alive and holds him responsible for his father’s death.

Then Andy meets Hillary Quinne, another private investigator, who is working on a different case.  The chairman of the board of McCulloh College, Grant Fulkerson, is running for a U. S. Senate seat and is concerned about the college’s involvement in an incident that reaches back years and may have a connection to the Campbell/Ebersole case and to one of the professors on the college’s staff at that time.  Andy meets Fulkerson, and the two men and Hillary agree to keep the others informed regarding what they discover.  But are Grant and Hillary telling him the whole truth, and can Andy really trust either of them?

An Empty Grave is an excellent mystery featuring a recognizably human investigator.  Readers will identify with Andy and admire his strengths and the dedication he brings to his clients.

The author of seven novels in this series, Andrew Welsh-Huggins is also a journalist based in Columbus and the editor of the Columbus Noir anthology.  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.

 

FALLEN by Linda Castillo: Book Review

In the stereotyped version of the Amish world, all is peaceful and harmonious.  After all, its members live their lives mostly with other members of their faith, eschewing things that might bring danger or temptation to them–alcohol, drugs, cars–and believe in a doctrine of humility, community, fairness, and separation from the world and its unseemly urges.

But in Painters Mill, Ohio, a town with a considerable Amish presence, there are always problems under the smooth surface.  In Fallen, Linda Castillo’s latest novel, things thought long buried are brought to the surface when Rachel  Schwartz returns there after a decade-long absence.

It came as no surprise that Rachel had left her hometown without a word to her parents or friends.  She was too lively, too daring, too dismissive of the strict rules that were meant to keep young Amish girls in their “proper place.”   She rode horses, smoked and drank alcohol, wore dresses that were inappropriately short, questioned the authority of the church, and finally was placed under a bann by the bishop in hopes that it would control her behavior.  But it didn’t.

As Fallen opens, Rachel returns to Painters Mill to “rectify the one wrong that still kept her up nights.”  She checks into the Willowdell Motel and is awakened in the middle of the night by a knock on the door.  She’s glad to see her visitor, moves to turn on the light by the bedside, and is struck down by the first of a number of blows that render her helpless.  And then dead.

Kate Burkholder, the town’s chief of police, visits Rachel’s parents to tell them the heart-breaking news.  The Schwartzes didn’t know that their daughter was in town and know virtually nothing about her life since she’s left their home.

They think that Rachel’s only contact with Painters Mill, aside from her yearly visit to them, is her best friend Loretta Bontrager, although the two girls could not have been more different.  Loretta was shy while Rachel was outgoing, obedient while Rachel was reckless, and happy with her life in their hometown while Rachel left for the city and never returned except for brief Christmas visits.  But the bond between them remained strong.

One of the many ways Rachel had alienated her hometown was by publishing “AMISH NIGHTMARE:  How I Escaped the Clutches of Righteousness.”  It’s not difficult to imagine that the Painters Mills community wasn’t happy to read the author’s scathing memoir of her life there, although the publisher had Rachel note at the book’s beginning that the names of the people mentioned had been changed to protect their identities.  Nevertheless, it was easy to figure out who the characters really were, many of whom were described with malice and animosity and with enough description to make their identities obvious.

Kate has to decide whether the seeds for the murder lay in Rachel’s life in Painters Mills or in her recent life in Cleveland, where she continued her rather contentious life with her business partner and a former lover.  And then Kate’s realization of the motive for the murder and its perpetrator puts her in the path of the killer who will do anything, including a second murder, to protect a secret.

Linda Castillo’s Kate Buckholder series is one that never disappoints, with its sharply drawn characters and sense of place.  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 Mystery Writers of America just published its annual anniversary issue.  In it are listed this year’s award recipients in various categories, three of which have a special interest for me.  Those are Best Novel, Best First Novel by an American Author, and Best Paperback Original, which pretty much comprise the types of books I blog about on a weekly basis.

This year’s winners in the above mentioned categories (in the order mentioned above) are Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara, Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen, and When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole.  My congratulations to these authors and to all the authors who were nominated.

What I found amazing and unsettling, given the number of mysteries I read year, is how many past winners I was unfamiliar with.   Not only had I not read these writers, but I hadn’t even heard of them.  Jeffery Hudson (A Case of Need, 1959), Warren Kiefer (The Lingala Code, 1973), and Mary Willis Walker (The Red Scream, 1995) won the Edgar for Best Novel, and now I wonder if the winning book was the only mystery each one wrote, if they went on to other endeavors, or if they passed away shortly after receiving the award.  (My husband suggests doing a Google search, but where is the mystery in that?)

I have the same questions about the winners of the Best First Novel award by an American Author:  Deidre S. Laiken (Death Among Strangers, 1988), Jess Walter (Citizen Vince, 2006), Jason Matthews (Red Sparrow, 2014), and Best Paperback Original:  Mike Jahn (The Quark Maneuver, 1978), Thomas Adcock (Dark Maze, 1992), Naomi Hirahara (Snakeskin Shamisen, 2007).

I am delighted to say that the majority of the above mysteries are available in the Minuteman Library System in Massachusetts, so given that libraries regularly cull their collections of “unwanted” books, this indicates that people are still reading these novels.  I’m left wondering why if other mystery fans knew about these authors/books, why didn’t I?

So it’s a case of bad news/good news:  Despite my “living” at the library, there are still many, many books I haven’t read–so there are still a lot of books left for me to read!

Marilyn