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THE LOCKED ROOM by Elly Griffiths: Book Review

The Locked Room begins at a time that seems far, far away, before the world as we know it changed.  It’s the end of February 2020, and we’re hearing the very first rumblings about a deadly virus with origins in China.  But that’s still a couple of weeks away and not at all in the mind of Ruth Galloway.

In her childhood home, Ruth is going through a box of photos and souvenirs that belonged to her late mother.  Ruth’s father has remarried, and the home will soon be updated and redecorated by his new wife.  This bothers Ruth not at all, and she’s glad to have the opportunity to be alone in the house and look through the things that were important to her mother.

The two women were not especially close.  They had disagreed on many things, ranging from Ruth’s professional life as an anthropologist to her private life as a single mother, but Ruth is now missing her mother more than she would have thought possible.

As she riffles through the shoebox, she comes across a photo of her cottage, the one she lives in now, one of three cottages in a row.  She looks at it for a few moments noting that something is “off” about it, but at first she can’t think what it is.  Then it comes to her–these small houses are painted a dull pink rather than white, there’s no picket fence around each one, and the car in front of one has a very strange shape.  Ruth turns the photo over, and she sees written in her mother’s distinctive handwriting:  Dawn 1963.

Why on each would her mother have taken a picture of these houses, more specifically her present house, five years before Ruth was born and decades before Ruth had bought it?  Her mother had always professed to dislike the cottage, asking Ruth, “Why can’t you live somewhere more civilised?”  Her beloved home, miles from anywhere else, surrounded by marshland, had always been one of the bones of contention between the two women.  How could her mother even have known about the cottage then?

And who is the woman in The Locked Room‘s prologue, the one who is locked in a small, dark space?  We will meet her several times in the course of the novel, first alone and then when someone comes to give her water.  But ask as the captive will, she gets no answer about who that individual is or why she’s being held prisoner.  And then her captor begins taunting her, “It’s nearly time.  You know what to do.”

There are a number of other subplots in The Locked Room, as well as a lot of backstory in this, the fourteenth mystery in the series.  Elly Griffiths does a wonderful job in bringing all the different subplots together, as well as letting new readers have the information they need to understand and enjoy the protagonist and the recurring individuals in her life.  The characters, the plot, and the description of Ruth’s home and its surroundings are outstanding.

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 Marily

THE DOUBLE AGENT by William Christie: Book Review

His name, or at least the one he currently uses, is Alexsi Smirnoff, and he just rescued the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, from an assassination attempt.  Russian born, sent into Nazi Germany to infiltrate their military, after seven years Alexsi makes his escape from Germany and arrives in Iran, a neutral country.  Now he hopes that saving Churchill will have him sent to relative safety in England.

But that is not to be.  Instead he is told that the prime minister is very impressed with his ability and has “high hopes for someone of your talents.”  The British plan is to return him to Germany in exchange for a British intelligence officer held there in captivity.  But that exchange is not going to happen if Alexsi can prevent it.

Even though he is closely guarded, Alexsi breaks out of the British barracks where he’s being held.  Through a series of clever strategies he almost manages to escape but is foiled by a group of Iranians armed with machines guns.  They attack the vehicle in which he’d been riding, but he and the others on the truck are saved by a troop of British soldiers.  He is brought, severely wounded, to a British Army hospital, and again he determines to try to get sent to England.

While in the hospital Alexsi thwarts another attempt on his life and reflects on something he was told in Russia.  “The Russians said there were two types of men.  When their lives were in danger the first became frightened, then thought.  They were the ones who died.  The second thought, then became frightened afterward.  They were the ones who lived.”  And he definitely believes he belongs in the second group.

In the course of following Alexsi’s adventures, the reader is given a tour of the Middle East and Europe toward the end of the Second World War.  After a very long journey–Tehran, Baghdad, Cairo, Tripoli, Gibraltar, Lisbon–he finally arrives in London.  But, of course, the attempts on his life continue.

Alexsi Smirnoff is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read about recently.  His exploits are amazing, just short of incredible, but William Christie makes them believable with his powerful first-person narrative.  We understand Alexsi’s motivations, his strategies, his schemes, and his ability to evaluate his enemies and always to be one step ahead of them.  We root for him in every situation.

William Christie has written a crime novel with a charismatic protagonist, one who is not without flaws but still manages to gain our approval.  The Double Agent is a terrific read.

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 LOST MAN OF BOMBAY by Vaseem Khan: Book Review

In 1950 Bombay, Persis Wadia is the only female police inspector on the city’s police force.  She’s learned to ignore the insults and unflattering remarks made by her colleagues, the most annoying being Hermant Oberoi.  He misses no opportunity to belittle her, both privately and in front of her fellow officers, and now, much to Persis’ dismay, she has been assigned to one of his cases.

High in the Himalayas, two men on an expedition come across a body in a cave.  He’s nicknamed The Ice Man because no identification is found on him, so it’s up to the small Bombay division to which Persis is assigned to discover who the man was and why he was in the cave, wearing almost no clothes and with his face brutally battered, possibly to make identifying him impossible.  All that can be seen is that he is a white man, a European.

The only item found on him is a small notebook with BOMBAY PRESS 1943 stamped on the flyleaf.  Aside from maps of India and a few scribbled notes, Persis sees nothing unusual about the notebook until she reaches the end of it.  Three pages have been torn out and a fourth page asking that in the event of The Ice Man’s death the journal be sent to his wife.  But without the man’s name or address or even his nationality, that request is a dead end.

Then Persis is assigned to an even more problematic case.  The lead investigator is the afore-mentioned Hermant Oberoi, a man who is not silent about his belief that the force is no place for a woman.  Nevertheless, the two of them must work together on a double murder case, that of Stephen and Leela Renzi.  The Renzis were apparently asleep in the bedroom of their Bombay mansion when they were attacked; he was bludgeoned to death and her throat was slit.

The brutal murder of Stephen Renzi strikes Persis as similar to that of The Ice Man, with both men sustaining injuries that made their faces virtually unrecognizable.  But what could possibly be the connection between the deaths of these two men seven years apart?

Then comes a third murder, this time a Catholic priest beaten and placed on the altar of his church.  Again, the only common thread between the deaths is that Peter Gruenwald had had his face beaten almost to a pulp.  What brought about the deaths of these three white men, seemingly unknown to each other?  And why were the last two beaten so severely about their faces, since in these cases the beatings did nothing to hinder their identification?

The Lost Man of Bombay is a wonderful addition to the story of Persis Wadia.  Getting to know the all-too-human inspector, we see her difficulties in facing her father’s remarriage, her problematic relationship with the Englishman Archie Blackfinch, and the stresses she encounters at work.  Vaseem Khan has created characters and a plot that are very realistic, the Bombay setting is fascinating, and Persis is an engaging heroine, faults and all.

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.

 

DEATH ON A WINTER STROLL by Francine Mathews: Book Review

The Christmas Stroll on Nantucket Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, is deservedly famous.  It’s a nearly fifty-year-old tradition that brings visitors from surrounding communities, states, and even foreign countries to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season.  Santa arrives by Coast Guard cutter and leads the parade that winds through town to the Christmas tree.

Although this is Meredith Folger’s second year as the island’s chief of police, it’s the first time she’s responsible for public safety during the Stroll; it was canceled the previous year due to Covid.  The virus is still present, of course, as evidenced by the number of people wearing masks and greeting each other with fist bumps instead of handshakes and hugs.  But it has been decided by the town authorities that it was time to hold the event again, so the police force is readying itself.

This year there’s an added wrinkle or two, those wrinkles being the arrivals of both a film crew from Hollywood and the Secretary of State and her family.  The Hollywood group is here to film The Hopeless, a television production starring super-star Chris Candler and his co-star Marni McGuin.  The Secretary, Janet Brimhold McKay, is on island with her husband and stepson to promote the president’s idea of Family Time.  Both groups have brought significant problems and secrets with them, and violence will occur as a result.

The Hollywood group includes Vic Sonnenfeld, founder of the extremely successful Creative Management International; his wife Carly, producer of the television series who is dependent on her husband’s wealth to bankroll the program; the above-mentioned Chris Cander, world-famous action star trying to remake himself as a serious actor; his daughter Winter, a teenager attempting to recover from an eating disorder; and a variety of crew members.

The people surrounding Janet Brimhold McKay consist of her husband, Rob McKay, a political consultant; his son Ansel, a young man recently out of a drug rehab program; and Micheline, Janet’s personal assistant.

The stars and their entourages are living on the twelve-acre compound called Ingrid’s Gift, owned by Mike Struna, Carly’s friend from their college days in New York.  Mike, who made his fortune in IT, has loaned the mega-mansion to the Hollywood people during their stay on Nantucket, while the Washingtonians are settled in Stronghold, the home for generations of Brimholds.

And there’s one more person with a major role in the novel, Mary Alice Fillmore.  Mary Alice was the former wife of Rob McKay and the mother of Ansel, and she’s long been presumed dead.  In fact, she’s been living on Nantucket for several years, and there is a visitor to the island who is aware of that.

Merry Folger has big boots to fill, as both her father and grandfather were chiefs of police on Nantucket.  Now, in the midst of the tourist invasion, Merry is faced with two murders.

In addition to the seven books in the Merry Folger series and six stand-alone mysteries, Francine Mathews writes the Jane Austen Mystery Series under the pseudonym Stephanie Barron, a combination of her middle name and her maiden name.  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.

MARPLE: TWELVE NEW MYSTERIES: Book Review

Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead, England, was introduced to the reading public by Agatha Christie 95 years ago.  She made her first public appearance in the December 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine in “The Tuesday Night Club.” 

The Club came about when a group of people, including Miss Marple, decided to meet each Tuesday.  The members took turns introducing a mystery of which they had personal knowledge, and to which, of course, they knew the answer.  The other members each tried to solve the crime, using their professional expertise or life experiences to arrive at the correct answer.  That was the beginning of it all.

The members consisted of Raymond West, Miss Marple’s nephew and an author; Joyce Lemprière, an artist; Dr. Pender, a clergyman; Sir Henry Clithering, formerly of Scotland Yard; Mr. Petherick, a solicitor; and of course Jane Marple.

Even in 1927, Miss Marple is considered “an old lady,” so it’s hard to imagine just how old she is now.  But some people/characters are ageless, and Jane Marple is one of them.

In Marple: Twelve New Mysteries, the age issue is circumvented by placing all the stories in the past, mostly without dates.  One or two take place in the 1960s as referenced by mini skirts and The Beatles, while others could have taken place at any time after 1927.  But Jane Marple’s age isn’t really important; her intellect and her intuition are still first rate even into her “second century.”

The stories in this collection were written by twelve female authors.  I particularly enjoyed “The Second Murder at the Vicarage” by Val McDermid, which brought back some favorite characters from Agatha Christie’s original novel, “The Murder at the Vicarage”–the clergyman Mr. Clement, his wife Griselda, his nephew Dennis, and Inspector Slack.

Another extremely clever take-off is “Murder at the Villa Rosa” by Elly Griffiths, in which the protagonist of the story is plotting on the best way to kill Ripley.  I can’t say any more without spoiling the story, but those familiar with Ms. Christie’s love-hate relationship with one of her creations will be delighted with this entry.

Marple:  Twelve New Mysteries is a delightful homage to Jane Marple’s creator.  The lady from St. Mary Mead may be considered one of the first amateur investigators, leading the way for many other women to follow.  

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 YARDS by A. F. Carter: Book Review

Two women, roughly the same age, living in Baxter, a depressed Rust Belt town.  But they couldn’t be more different.

Git (short for Brigit) is the one we meet first.  She’s a single mother, living with her almost-teenage daughter and her recovering alcoholic mother, working two jobs as an LPN to keep body and soul together.  She’s doing her best to be responsible, but every few weeks she feels the need to go wild, and tonight’s the night.

She’s in full siren mode, a sequined dress so revealing it’s barely legal, a lot of makeup.  She’s ready to find a man for the evening.  She does, but the evening doesn’t end quite the way she’d hoped.

Git goes to Randy’s (a totally appropriate name, she thinks to herself) and attracts the attention of Bradley.  When he leaves the bar she follows him out the door, makes her plan for the evening obvious, and they drive separately to the Skyview Motor Court.  The inevitable occurs, then Bradley snorts some coke and falls asleep, and Git leaves the room.

Next we meet Delia, the chief of detectives in Baxter.  She, too, is a single mother, a one-time slip in a lesbian life.  She’s devoted to her son, likes her job, and is doing her best to supervise a not-very-professional staff.  The morning after Git’s tryst, Delia gets a call from the city’s police chief.  The owners of the motor court have called 911 to tell them there’s a body in one of the rooms.  Of course, it’s Bradley.

The third narrator in The Yards is Connor Schmidt, son of the town’s leading gangster, Carl Schmidt.  Because he and Bradley had a long history as friends, Connor trusted him with a drug deal.  Bradley was supposed to bring seven hundred pills to an upstate buyer, get eighteen thousand dollars in exchange, and bring the cash back to Connor.

However, when Connor goes to pick up the cash, the Skyview is surrounded by police.  And when the report of the murder is made public the following day, there’s no mention of the money.  Carl, Connor’s father, wants the eighteen thousand dollars found, and found now.  “I want that money, Connor, or I want my pound of flesh….Somebody, somewhere has to pay,” he tells his son.

I found The Yards an absolutely engrossing crime novel.  It’s not surprising that we’re sympathetic toward Git and Delia, two women who are doing their best under difficult circumstances.  What’s surprising to me was that I felt sympathy for Connor, a low-life if ever there was one.  But, I found myself thinking, how else could he have turned out, given the man who was his father?  Carl Schmidt is not only a criminal but a man who belittles his son at every opportunity and has created a life for Connor in which there seems no other way to live but a criminal one.

There’s nothing online about the author, so I’m assuming A. F. Carter is a pseudonym.  However, lists of her/his previous novels may be found 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.

THE IT GIRL by Ruth Ware: Book Review

In any setting, there’s always one person who stands out, a person who has star qualities.  At Pelham College, Oxford University, it’s April Clarke-Cliveden.

April and Hannah Jones are suite mates, as they’ve been assigned a two-bedroom unit with a sitting room in between.  A welcoming gift is from April’s father–a bottle of Dom Pérignon.  They hold their glasses high and toast.  “To Oxford…to Pelham…and to us.”

A group quickly forms with April as its leader.  There’s Will de Chastaigne, Hugh Bland, Ryan Coates, and Emily Lippman, and April and Hannah’s suite becomes the de facto gathering space for the six freshers, as first year university students are called in England.

The It Girl is told in Before and After chapters, the former taking place before April’s murder and the latter taking place ten years later.  Hannah is the novel’s narrator, but she’s no longer Hannah Jones; she’s now Hannah de Chastaigne, wife of Will, pregnant with their first child.

Hannah is working at the Tall Tales bookstore when she receives a call from her mother.  John Neville, a porter at Pelham and the man convicted of April’s murder, has died in prison from a heart attack.  Neville always declared his innocence, but the evidence against him was so overwhelming that there was little doubt that his sentence was just.  After all, Hannah and Hugh had caught him practically red-handed.

Even though Hannah testified at the trial to what she witnessed, she always has had a nagging doubt about Neville’s guilt, possibly because he so strongly protested his innocence.  Now, when she should be able to put that behind her at last, the doubt has come back stronger than ever, partly due to a phone call from Emily.

Since April’s death Hannah has been hounded by print, radio, television, and internet media, desperate for her thoughts about the murder.  She has ignored them all, but now comes another one.  Emily tells her that a journalist friend of Ryan, Geraint Williams, has been in touch with her.  It’s not the usual questions, she says, but “He thinks Neville was innocent.  He thinks…he thinks they made a mistake.”

When Hannah tells Will about the reporter and his desire for an interview with her, he is upset.  “Don’t start second-guessing yourself,” he tells his wife….  “It doesn’t change the evidence–it doesn’t change what you saw….This is not your fault.”  Hannah knows what she and Hugh saw, but yet, but yet.

The It Girl is a masterful novel.  Hannah is a wonderful character, and her continuing fears about Neville’s guilt have dominated her life ever since April’s death.  Now, despite her husband’s pleas, she’s determined to find the truth once and for all.

Ruth Ware is the author of several best-selling psychological mystery novels.  You can read more about her 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.

TREASURE STATE by C. J. BOX: Book Review

Cassie Dewell is accustomed to doing a variety of searches in her job as a private investigator.  Insurance fraud, verifying people’s backgrounds, domestic abuse, and computer crimes are her usual bread and butter.  Then two very unusual cases arrive at once.

The first is definitely a one-of-a-kind.  Cassie receives a phone call from a man who refuses to give his name.  He says “I’d like to hire you in the hope that you don’t solve the case.  In fact, I want you to fail.”  He asks if she’s heard of Sir Scott’s Treasure, and of course she has.

Someone, presumably the man who called, had written a poem with clues pointing to a hidden treasure, a chest filled with gold coins.  Hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people had actually quit their jobs and gone in search of the site “where the rivers marry,” which treasure seekers presumed would be in the western part of the United States.

The unknown caller sends Cassie two thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills when she agrees to try to find him.  Also in the envelope are instructions on how to contact the mystery client using an email name he gives her and a website.  She’s definitely intrigued.

The second case also comes via phone.  A woman identifies herself as Candyce Fly and then sends Cassie a link so they can see each other via Zoom.  The case involves a two-pronged inquiry concerning a con artist and a missing private eye.

Candyce tells Cassie that several months earlier she met a man who called himself Marc Daly, how they began a relationship, and how she gave him, actually pushed upon him, seven million dollars to invest in a product, an electric battery for cars.  He had identified himself as a hedge fund director, but after she wired the money to the Cayman Islands account he gave her he disappeared, and further investigation on her part couldn’t find any mention on the internet of either Marc Daly or his Empire Capitol fund.

Candyce had hired an investigator, J. D. Spengler, to find Daly.  Spengler criss-crossed the country, from Florida, Boston, and New York City among other places, and ended up in Anaconda, Montana.  He sent her a text saying “I’m closing in.  I think I’ll locate him tomorrow,” and that was the last she heard from him.  She’s not too interested in finding the investigator, but she “wants revenge” against Daly.

Cassie is the single mother of a teenage boy, the daughter of a difficult mother, and a female private investigator in a male-dominated field.  Nothing daunts her, however, and she perseveres in every aspect of her life, both personal and professional.

C. J. Box has created a fascinating character in Cassie, a woman who left her job as a sheriff’s investigator to be her own boss and answer to no one.  You can read more about C. J. Box 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.

FALL GUY by Archer Mayor: Book Review

When the body of a small-time thief is discovered in the truck of a luxury Mercedes, the police see an immediate disconnect.  A search of the car by the Vermont Bureau of Investigation reveals not only a plethora of liquor, silverware, and small pieces of jewelry but, more disturbingly, a cell phone showing child pornography.

The VBI is headed by Joe Gunther, a veteran of many years of policing.  His small staff consists of Willy Kunkle, Samantha Martens, and Lester Spinney, and the four work seamlessly together.

Reading the mysteries in the Joe Gunther series, one has the sense of how an efficient, honorable, and dedicated police force goes about solving crimes.  And although the book covers always say A Joe Gunther Novel, the novels always show more of a collaborative effort, with each of the VBI’s members contributing his or her expertise to arrive at the solution.

Thanks to a new device that reads fingerprints electronically, the corpse is immediately discovered to be Don Kalfus, a Vermonter with a long history of car thefts and burglaries.  Not surprisingly, Kalfus is not listed as the owner of the Mercedes; the car belonged to Lemuel Shaw, a mega-millionaire with a home in nearby New Hampshire.

When Sammie and Lester interview Shaw about the theft of his car, at first he spins a story about how it was taken from in front of his home.  But thanks to the car’s GPS, Sammie tells Shaw they know he’s lying.  The car actually was stolen when it was parked in front of a strip club in Keene, as Shaw reluctantly admits to the two detectives.

After more technological investigation, the New Hampshire police, in cooperation with federal authorities, have located the address of the woman who apparently is the owner of a cell phone found in the Mercedes.  Joe and a New Hampshire police detective knock on the door of the appropriate apartment and are relieved to see the young girl in the cell phone photo answer the door.

When the men enter, they do a quick search and then go to the bedroom where the child tells them her mother is sleeping.  Actually, her mother is awake, as is the man next to her.  In his rush to escape, the man opens the bathroom window and slides down the roof into the arms of waiting officers below.

But what is the connection between Don Kalfus, Lemuel Shaw, the young girl in the photo, and Kalfus’ foster mother?  All have a part to play in this excellent addition to the Joe Gunther series.

Archer Mayor is currently a death investigator for Vermont’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  Over the past thirty years, he has also been a detective for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office, a volunteer firefighter/EMT, the publisher of his own backlist, and a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers.  You can read more about Archer Mayor at this web site.

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

METROPOLIS by B. A. Shapiro: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about the author at this website.

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

APPLES NEVER FALL by Liane Moriarty: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liane Moriarty has written an outstanding mystery, with an ending I doubt many readers will see coming; I certainly didn’t.  You can read more about her at this website.

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

 

 

 

THE HIDDEN ONE by Linda Castillo: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Linda Castillo at this website.

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

THE RISING TIDE by Ann Cleeves: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIE AROUND SUNDOWN by Mark Pryor: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Mark Pryor at this website.

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