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Book Reviews

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.

HATCHET ISLAND by Paul Doiron: Book Review

A young man is driving to a small island in Maine.  The previous evening he finally had slept without the night terrors that had been plaguing him for months, and he’s feeling free.  He stops at a bridge, steps out of his car, and disregarding the cries of people in the cars behind him, leaps over the low railing into the frigid river below.

Mike Bowditch, a Maine game warden, and his significant other, Stacey Stevens, are also heading up the coast, unaware of the tragedy that has taken place.  Stacey has received an email from a college friend and fellow biologist, Kendra Ballard, who is working as the project manager for the restoration efforts of Maine seabirds on Baker Island.

Dr. Maeve McLeary, the project’s director, left the island without informing Kendra or the two other researchers on the island.  Now Maeve has been gone for two days without checking in, and the three people on Baker Island are worried.

Kendra asks Stacey to come to the island the following day with Mike.  “Make sure he brings his badge and gun,” a directive that strikes fear into Stacey.  Stacey tells Mike that Maeve never left the island during the puffins’ breeding season, so the question is why she would do so now without informing Kendra or the others where she was going and why.

The seabird project is facing opposition from various quarters.  Someone has been shooting at the observation blinds (shelters to observe birds) and buildings on the island, there was a man-created infestation of weasels, and harassing boats are in the nearby waters.  Mike and Stacey stop at the island, and although there’s definitely tension in the air, there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it, especially given Maeve’s absence.

Finally Maeve contacts Kendra and says she is returning home.  Somewhat reassured by this, Mike and Stacey leave the island, deciding to continue their kayaking vacation.  But in the middle of the night Mike is awakened by gunshots that sound as if they’re coming from Baker, so the two get up at dawn and return there to find a horrifying sight.

The situation continues to explode, featuring a double murder, a missing intern, a second suicide, and a visit to neighboring Hatchet Island, a place under the control of the ultra-wealthy Markhams, Alyce and Clay.  There Mike and Stacey learn that the young man who jumped off the bridge a few days earlier had been an intern on Baker and also had lived on Hatchet.  The secrets surrounding both islands keep spreading in ever-widening circles, like a pebble tossed into the surrounding harbor.

Hatchet Island is another outstanding novel featuring Mike Bowditch, one of the most likable and human protagonists in detective fiction.  It is the thirteenth mystery in the canon, and it is an exceptional entry in the series.

You can read more about Paul Doiron 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 KEY TO DECEIT by Ashley Weaver: Book Review

It’s 1940 London, and the city is on edge waiting for the much-feared German bombing to begin.  The war has been going on for a year, but thus far England’s capital has been pretty much spared.  That is going to change quickly, however, and Electra McDonnell is about to play a part in the fight against the enemy.

Ellie is a member of the safecracking McDonnell family.  Before the war they were famous, or infamous, for their ability to break into safes that were previously thought to be burglar-proof, but now they are (mostly) taking legal jobs as part of the war effort.  They were recruited a short time earlier by Major Gabriel Ramsey for their undeniable abilities, and their first job for him had been very successful.  So successful, in fact, that he’s returned to ask for their help.

Ramsey tells Ellie that the body of a young woman was found floating in the Thames.  She had no identification on her but was wearing an unusual bracelet.  It’s locked, and thus far the military’s efforts to unlock it have been unsuccessful.  The major came to ask for Ellie’s uncle Mick’s help, but he is away and out of touch, so Ramsey reluctantly takes Ellie to the morgue to try her luck.

She opens the bracelet and the tiny locket that’s attached to it, although the major takes care to see she doesn’t get a glimpse of what’s inside and sends her home.  After two days, Ramsey calls Ellie to his office and tells her that there’s no doubt the woman was murdered; a puncture behind one of her ears led to the discovery that she’d been injected with a poisonous toxin. 

In addition, when the bracelet was examined it became evident that the piece of jewelry was actually a miniature camera of German manufacture.  Ramsey believes that the woman was an Englishwoman recruited by the Nazis, that she was taking photos of the London docks and manufacturing plants around the waterfront to help them make certain that their bombs hit the most important targets.

At the same time, Ellie is given an opportunity to find out more about her late mother who was convicted of the crime of killing Ellie’s father.  She steadfastly proclaimed her innocence but refused to give any leads to the real killer.  Sentenced to hang, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the authorities realized she was pregnant; she gave birth to her daughter in Holloway Prison and died two years later during the Spanish Influenza epidemic.  The McDonnell family has always refused to talk about the crime, and now Ellie is torn between wanting to know the truth and fearing it.

Ashley Weaver has written a vivid portrait of life in England’s capital at the beginning of World War II — its food shortages, its worries about the men and women in the military service, its fear of upcoming German bombs.  Ellie is a vivid heroine whose abilities, both legal and illegal, bring her to life for the reader, and the supporting characters–uncle Mick McDonnell, Major Ramsay, and her childhood friend Felix Lacey among them–are outstanding as well.

You can read more about Ashley Weaver 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 DARK FLOOD by Deon Meyer: Book Review

The corruption in South Africa has spread from the president down, and it nearly ends up costing Detectives Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido their jobs. 

As punishment for a botched raid that was not their fault, they are removed from the prestigious Hawks section of the police and demoted, about to be sent (or sentenced) to Lainsburgh, where the major crimes are drunken brawls and petty thefts.  It’s a far cry from the homicides the two have made their reputations solving in Cape Town.

However, at the last moment they are given a reprieve and, without explanation, they are sent instead to Stellenbosch, an upscale university town facetiously referred to as Volvoville.  Although it’s not Cape Town, neither is it Lainsburgh, so Griessel and Vaughn are greatly relieved that they can put their investigative talents to use.

Shortly after they arrive in the city they meet Annemarie de Bruin, the mother of a college student who is missing.  Callie always returns her calls, she tells Benny and Vaughn, but she’s been unable to reach him for three days.  He’s an outstanding computer student on a scholarship, and he’s extremely conscientious about his work, well aware that his future is dependent on his success in college.  But now he’s not answering his phone, and she’s desperate.

In Stellenbosch, real estate agent Sandra Steenberg is on the verge of financial ruin.  Her twins’ day care center warns her that their tuition payment is four months overdue, and their house is on the brink of being taken over by the bank.

The South African economy has tanked, no one is buying or selling houses, and Sandra is desperately trying to keep all this bad news from her husband Josef so he can continue working on the book that he hopes will bring him tenure at the university.  Unless the market picks up, the only way to salvage things would be to ask for financial help from Josef’s wealthy parents, something Sandra is determined not to do.

Then, almost miraculously, her situation takes a 180 degree turn.  Sandra receives a call from Jasper Boonstra, South Africa’s most infamous billionaire.  He wants to sell Donderdrif, one of his wine-producing estates, and he will allow only Sandra to have the listing.  It’s common knowledge throughout the country that he is the biggest corporate swindler in South Africa, as clever as he is crooked.  He hasn’t been charged yet, but it appears that the net around him may be tightening.

However, Boonstra still has property to sell, and he offers Sandra this exclusive listing if she signs a confidentiality agreement.  The property appears to be owned by a German company but apparently Boonstra controls it, and he’s aware of just how badly Sandra needs this commission.  Appalled by his lecherous behavior toward her and his financial misdealings, she would dearly like to tell him to find another agency.  But she can’t afford to do that.  “She simply could not walk away from this.”

Deon Meyer takes the reader from one high-tension situation in Stellenbosch to another.  Government corruption, a missing student, and an unsavory businessman all combine to make Benny and Vaughn’s introduction to the city more complicated and dangerous than they ever had imagined.

The detectives are dealing not only with their official cases but issues in their private lives as well.  Deon Meyer’s outstanding writing makes Benny and Vaughn two of the most believable and human characters around.  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.


WILD PREY by Brian Klingborg: Book Review

What can Inspector Lu do when he’s confronted by a teenage girl who wants the police to look for her older sister and will not accept anything less than an all-out investigation?  Tan Meirong (in Chinese, the family name always comes first) tells the inspector that Meixiang left their town a year ago to work in Harbin and send money home to their small family.  The girls’ mother is dead, their father is disabled, so Meixiang’s salary is the only income they have.

Meirong tells Lu that it has been four days since she received a text from her sister; the sisters always have texted every day.  Meixiang’s last message said she was going on vacation, something the younger girl insists she would never do–“she would come home.”  Lu calls the Harbin police department, a constable there says they will look into the matter, and the inspector reluctantly puts the matter from his mind.  But the next morning Meirong is waiting for him on a bench outside the police station, insisting that she has to help with the investigation.

Worn down by Meirong’s insistance, Lu and the girl travel to Harbin to check with the police there, but Lu realizes that looking for the missing teenager is very low on their list.  Lu then visits the restaurant where Meixiang worked until a few days earlier, leaving Meirong unhappily waiting in his car.  The inspector discovers that the restaurant’s clients consist almost exclusively of obviously wealthy men, and the items on the menu feature “medicinal (aphrodisiacal) qualities,” another way of saying they increase virility.

The owner of the restaurant Shu Qi Da Qi, “Hoist the Big Banner,” is Wilson Fang.  He is polite to Lu and says he had given Meixiang a week’s leave when she requested it, but he has no idea why she wanted the time off or where she went.  He tells Lu he’ll contact him if he hears anything about Meixiang, but as soon as Lu leaves the restaurant Fang calls a number on a prepaid cell phone.  After a brief conversation he removes the SIM card from the phone, breaks it in half, and throws the pieces away.  He thinks to himself that he hopes the detective will be smart enough to stop asking questions because “dead bodies do have a way of creating a stink.”

Then Lu gets a phone call saying that a Mr. Jia wants to meet him and talk about Wilson Fang.  When Lu arrives at the designated hotel, he’s greeted not by Jia but by a face on a computer screen.  Jia says he’s a government administrator in the National Forestry and Grassland Administration and wants to work with Lu to bring charges against Fang, whom he suspects of illegal animal trade.  Jia thinks there may be a connection between that trade and the missing waitress in Fang’s restaurant, so Lu agrees to the collaboration.

Wild Prey is the second mystery in the Inspector Lu Fei series, and it is as well-written and exciting as Thief of Souls Brian Klingborg is an East Asia scholar who lived and worked in Asia for years.  His knowledge and understanding of Communist China clearly shows in the novel, and his understanding of its culture and people is evident.  Inspector Lu again proves to be one of the most compelling protagonists in detective fiction today.

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

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

A RIP THROUGH TIME by Kelley Armstrong: Book Review

Mallory Atkinson has flown from Vancouver to Scotland to visit her beloved grandmother on her deathbed.  Mallory is so stressed one afternoon that she leaves the hospital room to have a few minutes for herself and walks to a nearby coffee shop to place an order for herself and her grandmother’s nurses.  Picking up the tray of drinks, she bumps into a man standing nearby and spatters his shirt with drops of coffee.  Mallory apologizes profusely and sincerely, but the man brushes her off.

That night, while her grandmother is sleeping, Mallory leaves the hospital.  She’s jogging across Edinburgh’s famous Grassmarket, a series of shops and stalls now closed for the night, when she suddenly feels a rope around her neck.  She manages to turn around and sees the man from the coffee shop, and farther down the alley she glimpses two figures.  “A young woman with honey-blond hair, in a cornflower-blue dress…a shadowy figure has his hands around her throat.”  And then darkness.

When she wakes, she’s in a dark, unfamiliar room, wearing a voluminous nightgown, a corset, and a wig.  She can’t make any sense of it.  Outside in the hall she hears three voices–a young girl’s, a woman’s, and a man’s.  She hears herself referred to as “Catriona,” and the door opens.

Trying to orient herself, Mallory decides to pretend she will be whomever the trio thinks she is.  That turns out to be Catriona Mitchell, the housemaid to Dr. Duncan Gray, the man who pushes open the door.  Trying to come to terms with her surroundings and the people who enter the room, she asks where she is.  Gray informs her she’s in Edinburgh, and it’s May 22, 1869.  That’s when she realizes that the blond woman she glimpsed in the alley was Catriona, and she had been strangled 150 years ago in the same spot where Mallory was attacked.

Back home in Canada, Mallory is a police detective, so she resolves to use her skills to discover how she traveled through time and is inhabiting Catriona’s body.  The only way she can find her attacker and return to her “real life,” she decides, is to continue to impersonate the housemaid, blaming everything she doesn’t know or does incorrectly on the concussion she suffered in the attack.

Duncan Gray is both an undertaker and a surgeon, not an unusual combination in the nineteenth century.  As Mallory proves herself not to be squeamish, Gray enlists her help with the most recent corpse brought to him, a young journalist who reported on crime for a local newspaper.

In some ways working with Gray makes Mallory’s life in the house more interesting, but it also makes it more difficult.  She’s constantly catching herself using words, wishing for modern conveniences, or making observations that are far removed from the Edinburgh medical scene of the 1860s–no fingerprints, no knowledge of DNA, no cellphones.  But still, her police background helps her navigate the world she’s landed in, and she tries as unobtrusively as possible to help the doctor with the murder investigation.

Kelley Armstrong has written a fascinating mystery, succeeding in making the reader accept the possibility of time travel and all that it entails.  Mallory Atkinson is a strong, believable heroine, one who is using her abilities to cope with her new life as well as trying to return to her old one.

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.


PESTICIDE by Kim Hays: Book Review

There are several words that don’t immediately spring to mind when talking about Switzerland–riots, murder, and organic farming.  However, in Kim Hays’ debut novel Pesticide, readers will realize that these three can combine and prove deadly even in the most apparently tranquil places.

Ten thousand teenagers are attending the Dance-In, a celebration in downtown Bern that has turned violent.  The opportunity to sell drugs to the rioting participants is too good to pass up, and one onlooker sells all he has with him.  Then he celebrates with a few drinks, or maybe more than a few.  Now he and a friend find themselves in the midst of a rampage after leaving a tavern, surrounded by looters.

As a lone policeman runs to catch up with his colleagues during the upheaval, it seems like a good joke to the drug dealer to step into the cop’s path and stick out his foot.  The cop flies into a nearby car, helmet first, which makes his assailant laugh hysterically.  But his mood quickly changes when the policeman turns around and runs back to the man; then everything goes black for the dealer.

Early the next morning Detective Giuliana Linder gets a call from police headquarters, saying that a young patrolman is being held for murder.  When Giuliana arrives at the station, Jonas Pauli tells her his story.  He admits hitting the deceased dealer on the head but says, “I never thought one blow could kill someone.”  However, during the autopsy it’s discovered that there were two blows to the man’s head, although Jonas swears that he hit him only once.

Equally concerning for the Bern police, another murder has taken place.  In a village twenty miles from the city, a group of farmers holds a meeting, but its most important member isn’t there.  Frank Schwab has been farming organically longer than almost anyone else in the country, and his views on anything not organic are even stricter than the government’s.

Knowing how crucial Frank’s input is to their discussion, his best friend Matthias Ruch is uneasy at his absence.  Several hours later, still not having heard from Frank, Matthias bikes over to his friend’s farm, and after a search of the house he starts on the yard, the gardens, and the outbuildings.  When he enters the potting shed he sees Frank’s bloodied corpse and smells the distinct odor of a pesticide, something his friend never would have permitted on his land. 

Renzo Donatelli is assigned to investigate Frank’s death, but he can’t find anyone with a grudge against the farmer.  Matthias tells Renzo that in addition to Frank’s fervor about organic farming, his late friend believed that marijuana should be legal.  “Frank smoked dope for as long as I knew him, and he grew some too, but only for himself,” Matthias says.  As Renzo continues to question Matthias, his phone rings.  It’s another policeman who has been searching Frank’s fields, and he has unexpected news.  He has found a hidden field of weed, with an estimated street value of at least a hundred thousand francs.  “Enough to murder for, I guess.”

Kim Hays’ novel gives readers a wonderful sense of place and Swiss culture.  Giuliana and Renzo are dedicated police officers and terrific characters, and in this novel we get a sense of their public and private lives and the difficulties in both.

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.

FIERCE POISON by Will Thomas: Book Review

When a man enters the Barker and Llewelyn Agency early one morning, it’s the beginning of the most bizarre case that the private inquiry agents have handled.  Also the most dangerous.

The man stumbles as he entered the office, asking for some water in a rough voice and then trying unsuccessfully to continue speaking.  “Help me…please” is all he is able to say before he falls to the floor and dies.

The man’s calling card, which he had handed to the butler, gives his name and position as Roland Fitzhugh, Liberal Member of Parliament.  Despite his being unknown to either Cyrus Barker or Thomas Llewelyn, Barker insists they are obligated to investigate the death because he asked for their assistance in his last moments.

When Inspector Poole of Scotland Yard arrives at the Agency, he tells Barker and Llewelyn that Fitzhugh had come to the Yard earlier that morning, saying he believed he had been poisoned, and Poole told him he would look into it.  Now both the police and the private investigators are searching for the culprit.

An autopsy reveals that Fitzhugh had been poisoned by a raspberry tart he apparently had eaten just before entering Poole’s office.  Llewelyn then remembers that a young boy had been offering free samples of tarts that morning in front of their building, and the police begin a search for him.

Then, in the middle of the night, Thomas and Cyrus are awakened by a constable from the Yard and ordered to an East End address.  When they arrive Poole is there, overseeing a tragic scene.  An entire family, except for an infant, has been poisoned.  Mother, father, and two sons are dead, and one of the boys is the young peddler who had been giving out the tarts in front of the Agency.

As the private investigators delve more deeply into Fitzhugh’s past, they discover some disquieting things.  He was a widower, so why did he keep a photo of his late wife hidden in another object on his mantle?  He was engaged, but did he steal the affections of his fiancée away from his partner, Edward Lindsay?  And why did he seemingly have no friends or close colleagues in Parliament?

This novel, the thirteenth mystery in the Barker and Llewelyn series, takes readers back to Victorian England with its strict moral codes and their consequences.  Women of all classes were dominated by their fathers until they married and by their husbands afterwards.  In the eyes of the law (prior to 1882), once a woman married she basically ceased to exist.  On her wedding day she became one person with her husband, and thereafter everything she did was under his control.  Wives had no protection under the law; they lost ownership of their wages, their physical property (excluding land property), and their money.  We can see the devastating results of these practices in Fierce Poison.

Will Thomas has written another outstanding historical mystery.   You can read more about him at various sites on the web.

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

THE DYING Day by Vaseem Khan: Book Review

Why would someone steal a priceless manuscript?  And how did they do it, housed as it was in the Special Collections room of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a monumental stone building constructed in 1804, with a guard on duty in the room that had no windows and only one door?

Persis Wadia, the first and so far the only female police inspector in Bombay in 1950, is sent to the Society after the Malabar House police station receives a call about a stolen book.  When she meets Neve Forrester, the Society’s president, she learns that the book in question is a copy of Dante Aligherieri’s La Divina Commedia, one of the two oldest copies in the world.  Priceless doesn’t even begin to explain its worth, Persis is told.  And not only is the manuscript missing, but so is the man who was examining it.

John Healy is a well-known English palaeographer, one who studies ancient writing systems and deciphers and dates historical manuscripts.  Neve tells Persis that John enlisted to fight in World War II, was captured by the Italians in North Africa, and spent a year in a prisoner of war camp.  After his return to England in 1947, three years before the book opens, he contacted the Society for permission to come to Bombay to examine Dante’s masterpiece for a new translation he was preparing.

The Society was delighted to accede to his request and named Healy their Curator of Manuscripts, a position he had held ever since he came to India.  Described as a workaholic, he arrived at the society at seven every morning, six days a week.  But when two days went by without a word from him, one of the Society’s librarians went into the strongroom to check on Dante’s book.  That’s when the Commedia was discovered to be missing, along with the palaeographer.

Persis is told that the book was kept in a special locked box that was returned to the librarian of the Special Collections when Healy left each night.  When Persis opens the box, inside it is a large volume wrapped in red silk.  But it’s a copy of the King James’ Bible rather than Dante’s magnum opus.  The librarian had not checked the closed box when Healy returned it.

Persis opens the Bible and reads an inscription on the flyleaf:  What’s in a name?  Akoloutheo Alethia.  The Society’s president translates the ancient Greek words as follow the truth, and Persis wonders what the first sentence has to do with the second and what Healy was trying to communicate with this brief message.

The Dying Day covers a lot of ground–feminism, World War II, Nazism, and man’s search for forgiveness, among other topics.  Although the novel takes place more than seventy years ago, these topics still resonate today.  Vaseem Khan has written an outstanding mystery, with a fascinating protagonist and a sense of place that brings mid-century India vividly to life.

You can read more about Vaseem Khan 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.