Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


About Marilyn

The spring semester at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) begins in just over two weeks, and I’m preparing to teach WHODUNIT?:  Murder Most British.

As most mystery fans are aware, there has always been a competition between the admirers of the American author Edgar Allan Poe and his French creation and those of the British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his English detective as to which author should be credited for introducing the world’s first consulting detective.  Since this will be a course on British authors, you can probably guess into which camp I belong.

Although Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin arrived on the literary scene first, today he is a figure mostly forgotten, a footnote in detective fiction.  Not so with Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who is as well known today as he was more than a century and a quarter ago when he made his first appearance.

In this semester’s class, we will begin our reading adventure with two quintessential British mystery writers.  We will first read Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and four of his short stories–A Scandal in Bohemia, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Final Problem, and The Empty House.  Next will be two Agatha Christie classics–The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a novel that broke all the rules of traditional mystery writing when it was published, followed by And Then There Were None, its plot featuring characters stranded in a remote location and being killed one by one.

From there we will move into more contemporary times.  In Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey we will read about a developmentally delayed teenager in England; Garnethill by Denise Mina features poverty and a dysfunctional family in Scotland; Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham takes readers to Wales to explore a detective with an almost unknown and often fatal illness; and The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville and Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty, both dealing with The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

WHODUNIT?:  Murder Most British begins on February 26th.  If this course sounds like your “cup of tea,” you are most welcome to read along with us.


Now it’s time for my “best of” list for 2023.  There were so many mysteries/thrillers published this year that perhaps you are thinking that you’ve missed a couple you would have enjoyed reading.  In selecting what to read next, you may wish to consider my choices for the best crime novels of the year.

My selections are split almost down the middle, with eight novels taking place in the United States and six abroad.  As I wrote in my 2022 list of the best of that year, mysteries are no longer limited, and actually haven’t been in quite a while, to the United States and England.  It’s a world-wide phenomenon.

Crime fiction readers know that there’s more to such novels than simply the story, important as that is.  There are the characters (protagonist and villains both), the setting, and the writing that make an for  outstanding book.  But especially in recent years, the issues of the “real world” have joined these other aspects of crime writing as the significance of racial inequity, domestic violence, and acts of war make these books not merely excellent reads but encourage us look more deeply into the society in which we live.

These topics and others as well are evident in all of the novels I’ve chosen, some highlighting more than one of these concerns.  And rather than limit mysteries/thrillers to the escapist category that some critics assign them to, to my mind they show the relevance of such books in our world today.

THE FAVOR by Nicci French (England), THE MURDER BOOK by Thomas Perry (U. S.), A DEATH IN TOKYO by Keigo Higashino (Japan), THE DARK EDGE OF NIGHT by Mark Pryor (France), SMALL MERCIES by Dennis Lehane (U. S.), DEADLOCK by James Byrne (U. S.), THE BITTER PAST by Bruce Borgos (U. S.), THE LONGMIRE DEFENSE by Craig Johnson (U. S.), EVERYONE HERE IS LYING by Shari Lapena (U. S.), ASHES IN THE SNOW by Oriana Ramunno (Poland), RED QUEEN by Juan Gómes-Jurado (Spain), REYKJAVÍK by Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir (Iceland), AN HONEST MAN by Michael Koryta (U. S.), ALL THE SINNERS BLEED by S. A. Cosby (U. S.).

All these novels were reviewed on this blog, so I hope you’ll go back and check out the authors/countries that pique your interest.  Every one listed is a winner and well worth your time.

All my best wishes for a wonderful 2024.




Although it’s still mid-August, September isn’t far off, and that means the beginning of the school year at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).

The coming semester will be the thirteenth time I am teaching a WHODUNIT? course on mystery novels.  It’s also a longed-for return to in-person teaching, as during the past several semesters at BOLLI, classes have been on Zoom.  Although I’m grateful for the technology that allowed my classes to continue during the pandemic, I’m looking forward to seeing students in “real life” rather than in two-inch squares on my computer.

This term I’ll be teaching MURDER IN SCANDINAVIA, a course that combines four mysteries I taught in 2018 and four new ones.  (The books I taught previously have an asterisk next to the titles in the list below.)  Using the term Scandinavia broadly, including two countries that once belonged to the countries of present-day Scandinavia but now have achieved independence, my students will be reading novels that take place in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

The list is:  THE HANGING GIRL* by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark), SNOW ANGELS* by James Thompson (Finland), HOLY CEREMONY by Harri Nykänen (Finland), THE UNDESIRED* by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir (Iceland), THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson (Iceland), NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT by Dennis B. Miller (Norway), WHO WATCHETH by Helene Tursten (Sweden), and THE ICE BENEATH HER* by Camilla Grebe (Sweden).

As is not unusual in Scandinavian mysteries, these books are dark.  Many, although not all, of the protagonists are brooding and depressed, a combination perhaps of the cold weather and the horrific crimes they are called upon to solve.  But even in the darkest novels there is hope and resilience, both for the detectives as well as those impacted by the murders.

Some of these authors will be familiar to class members and to readers of this blog, and others will be unfamiliar; one of the best parts of teaching and writing is introducing readers to authors they haven’t read before.  And perhaps you will be introduced to a writer who is new to you.  If that’s the case, just think of all the wonderful mysteries by that particular author yet to be read.

As always, I invite you to read along with us, beginning with THE HANGING GIRL on September 18th.  My best wishes for the rest of the summer.




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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a happy holiday season and a wonderful 2023.


“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

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.



I wanted to open this About Marilyn column with a heartwarming quote about winter.  That’s difficult for me, as winter is my least favorite season, but I thought I’d try.  I’ve chosen two quotes that actually do resonate with me.

The first is from Murray Pura, a writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba.  That’s a province where the average January high is 14 degrees, the average low is 4, and as I write this column it’s -4!  Mr. Pura must have a warm heart because here is his quote:  “If winter helps you curl up and more, that makes it one of the best of the seasons.”  I am assuming he means curl up with a good book, a sentiment made clear by the English writer Ben Aaronvich:  “In the winter she curls up around a good book and dreams away the cold.”

And as I write this, Massachusetts is getting ready for a major snowstorm, with up to 24 inches of snow possible!

So whether you like the winter or are dreaming of spring, here is the list of the books I’ve chosen for my tenth WHODUNIT? course at BOLLI, the Brandeis University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

The topic is “An Historical Mystery Tour,” and we’ll be starting in the fifth century B. C. E. and continuing to the 20th century.  An historical novel is one considered historical from the author’s point of view–in other words, before she/he was born, her/his personal pre-history.

As always, we’ll read eight books during the ten week course.  These are the novels in the order we’ll read them:  The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby (Greece in 480 B. C. E.), Roman Blood by Stephen Saylor (Rome in 80 B. C. E.), The Rose Rent by Ellis Peters (12th-century England), Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart (18th-century China/Tibet), A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns (18th-century United States), The Inheritance by Charles Finch (19th-century England), March Violets by Philip Kerr (1930s Germany), and The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indriason (1940s/present Iceland).

In the class (via Zoom) we’ll be thinking about life as it was decades, even centuries, ago.  In this world-wide tour we’ll explore similarities and differences between the countries and time periods we are visiting and our own.  We’ll look at how people in a variety of historical periods have been influenced by their history, culture, political structure, technology, and social behaviors.  So I hope you’ll read along with us.

One more thing:  I’m about to start my twelfth year writing Marilyn’s Mystery Reads.  I love writing the reviews, and I hope you enjoy reading them.


It’s time for my annual Best Mystery List, and 2021 produced a number of outstanding mysteries from authors I have been reading for years and a few whose names were new to me.

I don’t know who impresses me more, a writer who can keep a series alive and vibrant over decades or a writer who creates a new protagonist or a plot with a twist that hasn’t been seen before.  Both, I think, are amazing feats of creativity, and it’s a delight to share my favorite reads of this year.  In alphabetical order by the author’s last name, here they are:

FIND YOU FIRST by Linwood Barclay, FALLEN by Linda Castillo, FOR YOUR OWN GOOD by Samantha Downing, GANGSTERLAND by Tod Goldberg, THESE SILENT WOODS by Kimi Cunningham Grant; THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS by Elly Griffiths, A LINE TO KILL by Anthony Horowitz, DAUGHTER OF THE MORNING STAR by Craig Johnson, THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg, DREAM GIRL by Laura Lippman, FAMILY BUSINESS by S. J. Rozan, EVERY WAKING HOUR by Joanna Schafflausen, and WINTER COUNTS by David Heska Wanbli Weiden.

For those of you who are counting, there are thirteen books I’ve chosen, not the ten that are the usual number on a “best of” whatever list.  But since I think ten is a rather arbitrary number, and in my opinion these are the best mysteries I’ve read in 2021, I’m going with thirteen.  As always, the choices are a mix of amateur sleuths, policemen and policewomen, and private investigators, and the locales of the books include the Amish community in Ohio, the glitz of Las Vegas, a Channel Island, and a Native American reservation.  Obviously crime can occur anywhere.

The only mystery review that hasn’t appeared on my blog is FAMILY BUSINESS, and that’s because I received it only last week.  All the others, however, are on this blog, and you can read my post on each one by simply clicking on the “Book Review List” at the top of the home page.  And keep an eye out for the FAMILY BUSINESS review, which will appear next Saturday.

I wish you a wonderful 2022, complete with family, friends, and dozens of excellent mysteries to keep you entertained.




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.





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!


I never thought the day would come when I would view the postal carrier/FedEx/UPS delivery person with alarm.  So let this be a warning to all–be careful what you wish for!

The thought of having thirteen mysteries waiting to be read once would have seemed like heaven.  Now there are that number of novels staring at me balefully in my study.  In truth, they probably aren’t staring balefully; that’s just my overwrought imagination, I suppose.  They include books from publishers, books I’ve purchased, books from the Minuteman Library system.  Regarding the latter, I have fifteen books on hold, including three that are “in transit,” according to my account.

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’m a fast reader.  I can read a 300-page book in a day if there are no annoying interruptions such as laundry or cleaning.  But even I have a breaking point, and I may have reached it.  The problem is that no matter how many books I read more are published every day, and many of them I am sure are worth reading.

I’ve thought about writing to various publishers and asking them for a short moratorium on new mysteries, just for a couple of months until I can catch up.  But I’m afraid that my request will backfire, and I’ll run out of books before the moratorium is lifted.

So now I’m between a self-made rock and a hard place.  I guess I’ll just keep turning the pages faster and faster, hoping to catch up.


In this About Marilyn column I am celebrating two events.

The first is that this month begins my eleventh year writing Marilyn’s Mystery Reads.  In that time I’ve blogged about hundreds of books plus my favorite authors and my thoughts about all things mysterious.

In addition to the fun of having a personal space to air my thoughts, I’ve discovered numerous new authors and have revisited old favorites.  My only problem is that there are so many books being published that I can’t read them all.  I’m really trying, though.

Second is my upcoming course at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Program).  I’ve been taking classes there for as long as I’ve been writing my blog, in a variety of subjects–literature, music, sociology, and art to name a few areas.

Then, nearly four years ago I was asked to teach a course on mystery novels because two BOLLI members had been reading this blog and thought I knew the subject well (“My blushes,” as Holmes said to Watson).  In March I’ll begin my eighth course, WHODUNIT?:  INTERNATIONAL MYSTERIES, PART I.

Given that there are enough mysteries set across the globe for me to teach PARTS II through X, I had a difficult time deciding which countries to showcase first.  I chose a mix of countries, a number of which many of the students in my class have probably visited as well as countries less familiar to us.  I also decided to showcase authors who are very well known as well as newcomers to the field.

So here is the list of books we’ll be reading beginning in March, with the countries given in alphabetical order:  THE DRY by Jane Harper (Australia), STILL LIFE by Louise Penny (Canada), AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie (England), BEHIND GOD’S BACK by Harri Nykänen (Finland), SMOKE AND ASHES by Abir Mukherjee (India), NEWCOMER (Japan) by Keigo Higashino, ROSTNIKOV’S VACATION by Stuart M. Kaminsky (Russia), and FINDING NOUF by Zoe Ferrais (Saudi Arabia).

Please join us on our round-the-world journey, won’t you?


The summer has come and almost gone, but I have not (gone, that is).  Like many/most/all of you, my summer plans vanished in a puff of Covid-19.  The two foreign trips my husband and I had anticipated were not taken, and even shorter, closer-to-home visits to family and friends were non-happenings.

However, even the darkest clouds have a silver living.  First, and most important, my family and friends have not contracted the virus and have remained healthy during this pandemic; I hope the same is true for you and yours.  Second, with all the unexpected free time I had, I was able to do much of the preparation for my fall BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) course, WHODUNIT?:  DETECTIVES WITH DISABILITIES, which begins on September 14th.

I had been thinking about this course for some time, having become increasingly interested in the various challenges people with disabilities/handicaps/impairments face.  How do we view people with handicaps?  Do we automatically think they will not be able to do everything the non-disabled among us can do?  Do you think some types of impairments are harder to deal with than others?  Physical, because they’re easy for others to see and perhaps judge?  Mental or emotional, because they’re often hidden, making it more difficult for others to understand the problem facing the detective?  Or perhaps you don’t see “disabilities” as problems at all, but rather as “differences.”

We will be reading and discussing disabilities both visible and invisible, some obvious and some not.  Here is the list we’ll be reading for the fall semester, along with the issues faced by the protagonists of the novels:  The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (amputation); After She’s Gone by Camilla Grebe (memory loss);  Love Story, with Murder by Harry Bingham (Cotard’s Syndrome), Odds Against by Dick Francis (deformed hand); A Cold Treachery by Charles Todd (PTSD); Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (Tourette’s Syndrome); The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Asperger’s Syndrome); and Little Black Lies by Sandra Block (ADHD).

Although this class and the mysteries we will be reading may sound overwhelming and depressing, I will tell you now, without giving too much away, that this is not the case.  Class members will join me in discussing the strength of the human spirit, as the detectives learn to overcome their physical or emotional problems and lead successful lives.

One more thought.  Two weeks ago a reader of this blog emailed to say that he wished I reviewed more American mysteries.  I wrote back, noting that half of the recent books I’d reviewed took place in the United States, but that made me think about the books I’ve chosen for this term’s course.  In fact, five of the eight take place in England (!) and the sixth is set in Sweden.  Only two take place in the States.  I’m wondering if that says something about how America views disabilities as opposed to how they are seen in other countries.

Please read along with us as we meet (via Zoom) to talk about WHODUNIT?:  DETECTIVES WITH DISABILITIES.  I promise you that these novels are truly something special.

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.

My best wishes for good health for everyone.


Is it possible to have a mystery novel in which the protagonist is not investigating a murder?

That’s a question that is frequently asked in the mystery courses I teach at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  And my answer always is yes.

It’s true that the majority of mysteries involve murders because that crime is one from which there is no return, at least for the victim.  Once dead, always dead to be blunt about it.  In the hands of a skillful, creative author, however, any crime may be the basis for an outstanding mystery.

In this time of COVID-19 and social distancing, I have been scanning the shelves in our family room and re-reading many of my favorite mysteries.  In particular, I have been re-reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone alphabet series, and I just finished “L” IS FOR LAWLESS. 

A little background for those not familiar with Sue Grafton’s work:  the series started in 1982, when Kinsey is a private investigator in Santa Teresa, California.  Through the series, which ran until the author’s death in 2017, Kinsey barely ages, remaining in her thirties even in “Y” IS FOR YESTERDAY, the last mystery Ms. Grafton wrote.   As her daughter Jamie Clark wrote, “As far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

LAWLESS starts when Kinsey is asked by her landlord and close friend, Henry Pitts, to do a favor for a friend.  Johnny Lee, an elderly man who lived around the corner from Kinsey and Henry, had died several months earlier, and his son and grandson have been attempting to get the government to pay the funeral expenses, to which they believe Lee was entitled as a World War II veteran.

Lee’s survivors can find no papers with information about his time in the Air Force, and they have been told by various federal agencies they’ve contacted that there’s no record of his service.  Checking with Johnny’s son Chester, Kinsey is told of his belief that the government is hiding his father’s record.  When she asks why the government would refuse to admit that the deceased was ever a member of the armed forces, Chester tells her that it’s his belief that “he was a double agent…for the Japanese.”

Farfetched as this seems to Kinsey, she agrees to look into the situation, and thereby hangs a tale of break-ins, assaults, ex-cons, domestic abuse, and much more.  The book is humorous at times, always suspenseful, and filled with characters whose commonality is their inability to tell the truth.  Masterful writer that Sue Grafton was, the reader may not notice until the book’s end that there’s no murder for Kinsey to investigate.

Readers can go back as far as Sherlock Holmes to see that there are many books and stories in which murder does not play a part.  As an aside, I find that I am often bothered by the gratuitous number of murders in recent novels.  Some authors seem to feel that when in doubt, throw in another body.  It’s an easy way to hike up the tension, but it’s not a good story-telling technique.  Rather a cheap trick, in my opinion.

I still have thirteen Sue Grafton mysteries left to re-read, and I am certain that whether they feature murders or not, each one will be well worth a second go-round.  And in reading the novels for a second time, perhaps I can discover Kinsey’s secret formula for not getting older…it’s worth a try.

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.


Blame it on the coronavirus!

When I walked upstairs after using the treadmill this morning, my husband asked me why I had sent out a blog post today instead of on Saturday.  But I didn’t, I protested.  Well, he said, I got one this morning.

I rushed to my computer and there it was–my review of Harry Dolan’s THE GOOD KILLER.  When I finished writing it last night, I obviously pressed publish instead of saveSeriously, my mind is a jumble nowadays, dealing with how best to get groceries, missing visits with family and friends, and teaching my mystery class online.  Those are my excuses—I mean reasons–for the midweek blog.

In any event, I tell myself it could have been worse.  I usually write about half a review and leave it to percolate for a couple of days before completing it and sending it out.  What if I had sent out only half a review?  I guess I could have covered it up by saying that after all this is a mystery blog; readers would have to be in suspense until Saturday for the second half of the post.  I did notice one typo, and there may be more since I had not proofread the blog carefully before accidentally pressing the publish button.  I hope not.

At any rate, I hope the post’s early arrival didn’t shake you up too much (if you even noticed); a friend had already emailed me by the time I saw the post to say it threw her entire week off schedule.  I definitely don’t want to create more uncertainty during an uncertain time.  In these difficult days, I plead for a little understanding.

Stay well.