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A ROGUE’S COMPANY by Allison Montclair: Book Review

The joint owners of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau are as different, as the British expression goes, as chalk and cheese.

Iris Sparks, dark and petite, is single, worked for an unnamed government agency during the Second World War, had several love affairs, and is currently single but sexually involved with a mid-level gangster.

Gwendolyn Bainbridge, tall and blonde, is the widow of an army officer and mother of six-year-old Ronnie, who is the heir to the Bainbridge family fortune.  Heartbroken by the death of her young husband, Gwen spent a year in a sanatorium, held there against her will due to the influence of her father-in-law Lord Bainbridge, who has been given custody of her young son.

Lord Bainbridge’s return from Africa has put the entire household in a turmoil as he makes everyone from the lowliest housemaid to his wife unhappy and on edge.  And something is taking him out of the house and to his club every night, even on his first night home after six months away, something he refuses to explain.

Although it was Gwen’s late husband’s express wish that their son not be sent to St. Frideswide’s, the boarding school all the male Bainbridges attended, Lord Bainbridge is insistent that the boy be sent there.  Unfortunately for both Gwen and Ronnie, the boy’s grandfather has complete control over Ronnie’s care and eduction until Gwen’s psychiatrist certifies that she is completely recovered from the breakdown over her husband’s death, something the doctor is not willing to do, at least not yet.

There is a lot going on in the lives of Gwen and Iris, both in their private lives and their professional lives.  While Gwen is trying to deal with her antagonistic father-in-law, Iris is trying to come to terms with her past career in espionage and the rather unsavory affairs she had at that time.

Both women are attempting to make their business venture a success.   Working together at their nascent match-making bureau, the women meet a new client, Mr. Daile.  He has arrived in England after serving in the Royal British Navy during the war, and he tells Iris and Gwen he wishes to meet a good Christian woman with proper values who is willing to live in a rural community in England or elsewhere.  Perhaps even in Nyasaland, his home country, for Mr. Daile is the agency’s first African client, as well as its first non-white one.

Gwen is bothered by her feeling that Mr. Daile seems to be everywhere she is.  Once could be a coincidence, she thinks, but the second or third time she is seriously unnerved by the man and his motorcycle.  When she confides her feelings to her partner, Iris secretly contacts her boyfriend to see what he can find out about their new client.

Although the book takes place more than seventy years ago, there is a timelessness about Iris and Gwen.  Both are living through a period of unprecedented change that has come about after World War II.  It includes new opportunities for women but still encumbers them with the stereotypes they hoped had been left behind.

Allison Montclair is the pseudonym of an author who has written fantasy, horror, and science fiction.  You can read more about her 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.

THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg: Book Review

Wuxi, a small town in China where the crime rate is extremely low, is the new home of Inspector Lu Fei.  Exiled there because of disagreements with his former boss, Lu frequents the Red Lotus bar several times a week, mainly for lack of anything better to do, but also because its owner, Yanyan, is easy to look at and a pleasure to talk to.

It’s Lu’s night off, so he’s surprised when his cell phone rings.  It’s a call from the paichusuo, the local Public Security Bureau station.  The paichusuo has the same functions as a Western police station, being in charge of crime prevention, public safety, and traffic control, plus a few other duties that are essential in China–including keeping watch on foreigners and visitors in Wuxi.

Lu is informed that there’s been a murder in town, so he and several officers go to the scene.  The house belonged to the murder victim,Yang Fenfang, a young woman from Wuxi whose mother recently died.   So recently, in fact, that a funeral portrait of Yang Hong, Fenfang’s mother, is still on a shelf, near an altar with her ancestral tablet and offerings of food and drink to follow Mother Yang into the afterlife.

A neighbor informs Lu about Zang Zhaoxing, an admirer of Fenfang’s, and Lu goes to interview him.  Zang tells the police that he works at the local pork processing plant, so it’s not too surprising when they find a set of coveralls in the yard with stains that could be blood.  After Zang makes an unwise attempt to flee, Lu and the other officers capture him and bring him to the paichusuo for more interrogation.

But before the questioning can occur, Lu calls the Criminal Investigation Bureau and is told by Superintendent Song that he and his staff will arrive in Wuxi in the morning and take over the case.  When Song arrives, he’s accompanied by Ma Xiulan, a forensic physician.   When Dr. Ma begins her examination of Fenfang, she and the police discover that an autopsy has already been performed on the corpse.  Or, at least someone has cut open the body and stitched it closed again.

Brian Klingborg has written a fascinating novel of life in today’s China.  In Lu Fei he has created a character with intelligence, personality, and morality who must live within the authoritarian political system while maintaining his integrity in the face of those who more readily accept an easy solution to a crime.  I hope that Lu Fei will appear in many more novels that provide readers insight into modern-day China.

Brian Klingborg has a master’s in East Asian Studies and lived and traveled in Asia for years.   You can read more about him 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.

 

WHAT DOESN’T KILL US by David Housewright: Book Review

It started off innocently enough, with a favor for a close friend.  Rushmore McKenzie is approached by his long-time buddy David Deese, who has a problem that is becoming increasingly common in this internet age.  Deese’s sister T (never Terry or Rese or any other logical nickname for her given name of Teresa) had sent a sample of her DNA to an ancestry-testing website and had been pestering her brother to do the same.  He ignored her request for a while but then suddenly, and secretly, sent his DNA sample to the same company.

And, like many unexpected things, this one proves to have unexpected consequences.  Instead of the result Deese expects, his DNA shows that he and T are only half-siblings, and that the man whom he believed was his biological father was, in fact, no relation to him at all.  Severely shaken by this news, Deese tells neither his wife nor his sister, but instead confides in McKenzie and asks him to find out more about his new family.  So McKenzie, who can never turn down a request for a favor, starts out to do just that.

What Doesn’t Kill Us has a storyline I haven’t come across before.  In the book’s foreward called Just So You Know, the reader learns that in the course of his investigation McKenzie was shot in the back by a .32 caliber handgun “yet did not die, at least not permanently.”  Because his heart stopped twice, the second time for four minutes and ten seconds, he was placed in a medically-induced coma, and much of the narrative consists of things that happened while he was unconscious and were told to him after the fact.  It’s a very clever device.

Because McKenzie has done so many favors for so many people, his friends rush to find the person who attempted to kill him.  Those friends are a disparate group–his closest friend Bobby Dunston, a police commander in St. Paul; “Chopper” Coleman, a former drug pusher, now a ticket scalper who is one step ahead of the law; Chopper’s assistant Herzog, who has been in and out of prison multiple times for burglary, manslaughter, and weapons charges; Riley Brodin-Mulally, a wealthy corporate executive; Dave Deese, of course; and several others who feel that they owe McKenzie big-time and will do anything to help him.

The only person who is less than enthusiastic about McKenzie is Jean Shipman, a detective on the St. Paul police force.  She’d rather be investigating anything, even jaywalking, than looking into the shooting, but Bobby Dunston is adamant.  You are my best investigator, he tells her, and I want you on the case to the exclusion of everything else.  Put that way, she can hardly refuse.

The Rushmore McKenzie series is a long one, but What Doesn’t Kill Us, number eighteen, gives the reader enough information to understand McKenzie’s background, how he came to resign from the police force, become an unlicensed private investigator, and meet and marry his wife Nina.  David Housewright is a skilled author whose plots are riveting and whose characters are alive and realistic.  He never disappoints.

David Housewright is an Edgar-winning author and past President of the Private Eye Writers of America.  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.

A PECULIAR COMBINATION by Ashley Weaver: Book Review

Is it nature or nurture that has made Electra McDonnell an expert safecracker?  Her ability to bypass the most sophisticated locks may be a product of nature since she is the niece of master cracksman Mick McDonnell.  Or it may be a product of nurture, growing up in his household and being taken on jobs with him for years.

Either way, Ellie as she is known, has a talent that, strangely enough, brings her to the attention of the authorities during the dark days of the Second World War.

Ellie and Mick are consistently cautious when they decide to do a job, but this time, despite their care, Ellie has an uncomfortable feeling that she can’t shake.  As always, she’s in awe of her uncle’s ability to master any safe’s combination, and she feels that “watching Uncle Mick open a safe was like watching an artist paint a picture or a violinist play a complicated piece of music.”

Mick naturally has no trouble opening the safe at the site of their latest job, and reaching inside he takes out various pieces of jewelry.  As the two leave the house as stealthily as they entered, Ellie feels a change in the air.  Almost before she knows what’s happened, her hands are pulled behind her back and she and her uncle are in handcuffs.

To Ellie’s surprise, she and Mick aren’t brought to a police station but rather to what appears to be a private residence.  Ellie’s interrogator tells her he has a proposition for her, an exchange of favors, and if they accept she and Mick will be freed.  “He needed a safecracker,” she realizes.  It’s agreeing to the proposal or going to prison, so Ellie and Mick feel there’s really very little choice.  And so begins their work for the British Secret Service and the war effort.

The interrogator is Major Gabriel Ramsay, and he tells Ellie he needs her to recover some papers from a man who may or may not be a German spy.  They make their plans, and two days later Ellie and Ramsay enter the house of the suspect and go up to the room where the safe is hidden.  But as she flashes her torch around the room, she sees that the large painting that would have hidden the safe is askew and the safe is open.  And on the floor lies a man in a pool of blood.

As she has shown in her Amory Ames series, Ashley Weaver has an amazing knack for bringing English history to life.  A Peculiar Combination takes readers to the darkened streets of London as the city deals with the fear of a German invasion and possible espionage.  In addition to the main story there’s a mystery about Ellie’s past, and it’s clear that it’s an issue that will continue in the next novel of this intriguing new series.

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.

DENIED by Mary Keliikoa: Book Review

Like father, like daughter?  Kelly Pruett’s father had been a private investigator, and since his death she has continued to run his one-person agency.  Her previous case left her with a gunshot wound to her arm, but she’s determined to keep R & K Investigations going.

In Denied, Kelly is approached by an old friend, Stephanie Burnotas.  Actually, the two were best friends all through school, in and out of each other’s houses, but then time and circumstances drove them apart.  Now Stephanie wants to hire Kelly to find her missing father.

She explains to Kelly that there had been a rift with her father and that she hadn’t spoken to him since Thanksgiving, six months earlier.  But now she’s pregnant with her first child, and she says she wants to make things right between them.

“I hated him sometimes but loved him.  Know what I mean?” she asks Kelly.  And Kelly knows only too well, having learned some very surprising things about her own father.   It’s too late to do anything about her situation now, so she’s eager to help clear up things for her friend.

That, of course, proves easier to say than to do.  Vince Burnotas was a man with a quick temper who had held a variety of semi-skilled jobs, none for long.  He apparently didn’t have any close friends, and his neighbors rarely saw him.  So although Kelly reassures her friend that he probably came into some money and is “sipping a margarita in Mexico” right now, she’s not sure she believes her own words.

Having obtained the key to Vince’s house, Kelly begins going through his scant belongings when she’s assailed by a foul odor.  Looking around the kitchen, she locates the garbage pail; in it is a single bloody finger.

As if that were not bad enough, the door to the house suddenly swings open and a furious woman enters.  She tells Kelly that she’s Vince’s girlfriend Marilyn, that Vince had left her stranded at a bar several weeks earlier and she’s been looking for him ever since.  When Kelly asks her about Vince’s gambling, as evidenced by the numerous gaming tickets strewn around the living room, Marilyn responds that he gambled “more than any person should.”  And judging by the many times he’d asked Marilyn for rent and gambling money, he wasn’t often a winner.

In the midst of the investigation, Vince’s car and his body are found, and Kelly identifies the corpse.  Although the police think that the car falling over a cliff was suspicious, Kelly feels they may not be putting enough time or manpower into the case.  She can’t leave Stephanie without a definite answer, so her search continues.

Kelly Pruett is an exciting new heroine, a young woman who may be a bit over her head working as a private investigator but is giving it all she has.  If hard work and perseverance can solve this crime, Kelly will solve it.  This is the second book in the series, and I hope for many more.

You can read more about Mary Keliikoa at this website.

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

THE GIRL WHO DIED by Ragnar Jónasson: Book Review

Imagine yourself as a thirty-year-old woman:   you leave your teaching position in Reykjavik, travel 700 kilometers (435 miles) to a village at the most western point in Iceland where you know no one, become a teacher to two young girls, live in an attic that by tradition is haunted, and discover that there is only one person in the town who wants you there.  That is the story of Una in The Girl Who Died.

In a departure from his other stand-alone mysteries and his two police procedurals, Ragnar Jónasson brings us to Skalár, a remote village on the Langanes Peninsula. This is where Una (most Icelandic people are known by their first names only) is hoping for a better, happier life.  Scraping by on her salary as a teacher in the country’s capital, having no romantic attachments, few friends, and a loving but remote relationship with her mother, she decides to take the position advertised for a “teacher at the end of the world.”

The harrowing car trip to Skalár should have been a sufficient warning to Una that her time there would not be an easy one.  Indeed, when she arrives she finds that the only person in the village who welcomes her arrival is Salka, the woman who pushed for Una to be hired and who has offered Una a room in her home.  Salka is a single mother whose seven-year-old daughter Edda is one of the two pupils in the town; nine-year-old Kolbrún is the other.  Skalár’s other residents, with one exception, are either indifferent to her arrival or clearly unfriendly, and Una can’t understand why.

The exception is Thór, a single man living with Hjördís, the woman who owns the farm where he’s staying.  Although he’s friendly, he doesn’t tell Una what brought him to the village or where he came from, and her brief encounters with Hjördís seem to Una to verge on the hostile.  She doesn’t think the two are in a relationship, but what are they to each other?

Enforcing her loneliness is the dismal weather, the lack of pleasant company, and such amenities as a restaurant, television reception, or a library.  And Una is plagued by nightmares.  She keeps hearing a lullaby and seeing a young girl in a white dress, appearing first in her small room in the attic and then in different rooms of the house.  She finally approaches Salka with her concerns and hears the story of a young girl who lived in the house and died there in 1927, a story that does nothing to put her mind at ease.

As in all Jónasson’s novels, The Girl Who Died features a cast of fascinating characters, a riveting plot, and a sense of a country that is unique for its language and culture.  This is another outstanding Icelandic mystery.

Ragnar Jónasson is a best-selling author in Iceland and the winner of several international awards.  He is the co-founder of Iceland Noir, the Reykjavik international crime writing festival.  Beginning at the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic.  In addition to the English editions, his own books have been translated into French, Italian, Polish, and German.  Ragnar has a law degree, works as an investment banker in Reykjavik, and teaches law at Reykjavik University.

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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS by Elly Griffiths: Book Review

When ninety-year-old Margaret Smith, known as Peggy, is found dead by her caregiver Natalka, at first glance it appears that she died of natural causes.   Among several other things on the table next to Peggy are her binoculars (which she used for watching birds, she told Natalka, but the caregiver thinks she also used it for watching people), a mystery novel, and a business card saying Mrs. M. Smith, Murder Consultant.

When Natalka starts clearing out the flat at Peggy’s son’s request, she’s so struck by what she finds in many of the books that she goes to the local police station to speak to someone in authority.  She tells Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaus that many of the mystery novels on Peggy’s shelves are dedicated to her or that she’s listed in the acknowledgements.  Why would so many authors give thanks to this elderly English woman for her help?

“It’s suspicious, isn’t it?” Natalka asks Harbinder, showing her the business card she found.  “A woman dies and then it turns out that she’s a murder consultant.”

In addition to Natalka and Harbinder, two other people quickly learn of Peggy’s death.  Benedict Cole, a former monk in the Catholic Church and now the owner of the seaside Coffee Shack, and Edwin Fitzgerald, another resident of Peggy’s building who worked at the BBC before retiring, were friends of hers.  Natalka voices her thoughts about the death to the men and tells them they must go to the funeral.   “…the murderer always attends the funeral,” she tells them.  “…don’t you know anything?”

After the funeral, Natalka is more certain than ever that the death is suspicious, and she inveigles Benedict into going to the deceased’s apartment with her to look through Peggy’s belongings.  Having gone through her books, they’re beginning on her papers when the door opens and a masked man enters holding a gun.  He keeps it pointed at the two while he bends down, picks up a book from the floor, and leaves.

Natalka, Benedict, Edwin, and Harbinder form a loose quartet trying to discover the truth behind Peggy’s death.  No one but Natalka is totally convinced that she was actually murdered, but then there’s a second death, that of the mystery author Dex Challoner, and it’s clear that he was killed.  It was Challoner’s book that was next to Peggy when she died, and at that point her two friends, her caregiver, and the policewoman move into high gear to discover if there’s a connection between the two deaths and the reason for them.

Elly Griffith’s latest mystery is a terrific follow-up to her Edgar Award-winning The Stranger Diaries The clever plot and believable characters will keep you turning page after page.

You can read more about Elly Griffith at this website.

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

 

THE BIRDS THAT STAY by Ann Lambert: Book Review

What could be more peaceful than the small village of Ste. Lucie, set in Canada’s Laurentian Mountains?  That is, it was peaceful until handyman Louis Lachance went to do a small repair job for a neighbor, Madame Anna Newman, and found her body lying in her garden.

Chief Homicide Inspector Roméo Leduc is called to the scene.  Madame Newman’s house is almost pathologically neat and clean, devoid of any knickknacks or artwork with the exception of several beautiful needlepoint landscapes on the walls.  The only unusual thing was a necklace one of the policemen found in her garden, a gold chain with a charm hanging from one of the chain’s broken pieces.

The charm is the Hebrew letter chai, a word that means life in English, Leduc tells the young officer.  Leduc is more familiar with Hebrew letters and Jewish symbols than most non-Jews because he worked as a shabbos goy for Orthodox Jews in Montreal, doing work (lighting stoves, turning lights on and off) that they were forbidden to do on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.  But there were no other signs of Judaism in the house–no sabbath candles, no mezzuah on her front door.

Marie Russell, another resident of Ste. Lucie, is writing a book on science for children while she’s on sabbatical from her college teaching position.  She’s wondering how explicit she should be about the mating habits of insects–do the youngsters need to know that earthworms are hermaphroditic and can mate twice at the same time, for example, or that male honeybees explode after impregnating the female and then die?

Marie returns to her former neighborhood in Montreal, to the street where she grew up, to visit her mother who is now in the throes of dementia.  The families who lived on the block when she was a child are almost all gone now, but it is the block itself that is really the center of the story, the place where Marie’s childhood memories begin to unlock the mystery of Madame Newman’s murder.

When Marie finally makes the painful decision to place her mother in a memory care facility, she sees another visitor whom she believes she recognizes from her childhood neighborhood, and the disparate strains of the story start to come together.  And so do Roméo and Marie.

Even though the secrets of this murder go back decades and started in a country far from Canada, once the secrets are unearthed they touch the lives of Marie, Roméo, and many others in the community.  The novel’s characters are totally believable, their personal problems compelling.  And the author makes the city of Montreal and the town of Ste. Lucie come alive; they almost become characters in their own right.

Ann Lambert is a playwright whose works have been performed in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia.  She has taught English literature for thirty years at Dawson College in Montreal and is the former head of The Playwriting Program at the National Theatre School of Canada.  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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DANCE WITH DEATH by Will Thomas: Book Review

Will Thomas takes readers back to the days when British royalty, in the name of Queen Victoria, rules twenty-five percent of the world.  Not only was her word law in Canada, Australia, India, and Ireland among other countries, but her word apparently was law within her extended family as well.

Her desire to have her favorite granddaughter, Princess Alix of Hesse, married to the future tsar of Russia, Nicolas, is the story behind the story in Dance With Death.

The private enquiry agents, Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn, are approached by Jim Hercules, an American Negro (the preferred term for African-Americans more than a hundred years ago) to protect his employer, the tsarevich Nicolas.  The young heir is on a visit to England to attend the wedding of his cousin George, and Jim believes that his life is in danger from several sources.

Jim tells Cyrus and Thomas that many members of Nicolas’ own family are concerned about his ascending to the throne, which may be sooner rather than later given the ill health of his father, and they may be willing to take steps to make certain that this doesn’t happen.

Also opposing Nicolas are members of various anti-royalty groups including Socialists, Communists, and anarchists, all of whom are protesting the lavish wedding of Prince George as well as the state visit of the tsarevich.  Leading the protests is Eleanor Marx, daughter of the famous or infamous Karl Marx, depending on your political point of  view.

In addition, Nicolas tells the detectives about his mistress, the young ballet dancer Mathilde Kschessinka. When Llewelyn presents himself to her, pretending to be an emissary from the tsarevich, Mathilde informs him that she has determined that Nicolas will marry her, not Princess Alix, despite the fact that she is a commoner.  “I shall shoot us both if I cannot have him….He is my Nicky, or he is no one else’s,” Mathilde tells Thomas.

Throughout all this, Nicolas remains oblivious to these threats against him.  It’s Cyrus and Thomas’ job to protect him without letting him know of the dangers he faces.

Will Thomas has a gift for combining the characters of his imagination with the historic characters of the end of the nineteenth century.  Cyrus Barker, Thomas Llewelyn, and Jim Hercules are as “real” to a reader as Queen Victoria, Nicolas, and Mathilde Kschessinka.

The author makes all the emotions and actions understandable, even though they may seem strange to us.  The queen’s insistence that her granddaughter marry Nicolas, even though that would mean Princess Alix would have to convert to Russian Orthodoxy against her will; Nicolas’ unwillingness to face the opposition to his becoming tsar; Mathilde’s obsession to be the tsarina, even though she is a commoner–all these true-life events played a part in the history of the nineteenth century as well as in the book.

Will Thomas has written another fascinating chapter in the lives of Barker and Llewelyn.  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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

STARGAZER by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

Frankly, I cannot get enough of Anne Hillerman’s mysteries.  Stargazer, the sixth in her Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series, once again takes readers to the sovereign Navajo Nation, enhancing the understanding of its culture and customs to those who are not familiar with them.

Steve Jones desperately wants a reconciliation with his wife Maya Kelsey, but she is not interested.  She tells him that their marriage is over, and to prove it she hands him a copy of the divorce papers she’s filed.  He becomes furious, threatening to make Maya’s life “a living hell.”  And the next morning a young boy finds Steve’s lifeless body slumped in the front seat of his Jaguar.

That same morning Officer Bernie Manuelito receives a phone call from Maya’s brother Leon.  He tells her that his sister was supposed to pick up her son at his house, but she never appeared.  Bernie and Maya were college roommates, so Bernie has a personal reason as well as a professional one for trying to locate her.  In attempting to track Maya down, Bernie receives a call from a detective in another department, Tara Williams, and learns that the dead body the boy found is Maya’s estranged husband Steve.

Upon returning to the station, Bernie’s husband/supervisor Jim Chee greets her with a stunning announcement.  Maya had walked into the station a short while earlier and confessed to the murder of her husband without giving any reason.  However, Bernie refuses to believe her.  “We have an unsolicited confession without any excuse, motivation, and justification for the murder,” Bernie tells Jim.  She can’t imagine why Maya would so calmly admit to killing her (almost) former husband, and she is determined to investigate.

However, there are other cases to pursue in the Navajo Nation.  In addition to the issue of Steve Jones’ death, Bernie has become involved in rescuing an abused woman, serving a warrant on a man who hasn’t obeyed a summons to appear in court, and dealing with her mother’s increasingly fragile memory.  Stress is piling up, and the differences between her opinion and that of her husband’s about Maya’s confession have made their usual loving bond more than a little frayed.

Although retired from his position as a detective in the Navajo Tribal Police Force, Joe Leaphorn still acts as a mentor for Bernie and Jim.  In Stargazer, Bernie phones Joe and asks if they could talk “face-to-face, not over the phone.”  When she gets to his house, she voices her concerns about whether she should apply to become a detective; she’s worried about all the “official BS” and about how her being called away on cases may affect her relationship with her husband.

In this time of non-travel, visiting the beautiful Navajo Nation, even in our imaginations, is a boon.  Many thanks to Anne Hillerman for bringing Bernie, Jim, and Joe back into our lives.  And as an added plus, the front cover art of Stargazer is absolutely breathtaking.

You can read more about Anne Hillerman at this website.

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

 

THE HIDING PLACE by Paula Munier: Book Review

Twenty years ago, the lives of three people in a small Vermont town were forever changed by an encounter in the Two Rivers Theater.  The first was Ruby Rucker, a former Las Vegas resident who was finding her husband George and her life in Lamoille County, Vermont, not much to her liking; the second was Thomas Kilgore, a general ne’er-do-well, drunkard, and wife-abuser; the third was Beth Kilgore, his beaten, frightened, and downtrodden wife.

In a very short time, all three would disappear.

In The Hiding Place, the third novel in the series, Mercy is called to the bedside of former deputy sheriff August Pitts.  Pitts was the partner of Mercy’s grandfather, Sheriff “Red,” and according to Mercy’s grandmother Patience, Pitts’ late arrival at a crime scene caused the sheriff’s death.  She’s never forgiven Pitts, even as he lies dying.

However, Mercy is curious about two things: what she might find in the boxes of materials labeled BETH KILGORE that Pitts gives her when she visits him and his request, which may have been his last, that she “find the girl.”  Patience tells Mercy the story of the unhappy Kilgore marriage and their disappearance from the town.  Thomas Kilgore’s family said the couple moved to California, but Beth’s father didn’t believe it.  However, he could never find any trace of Beth or Thomas, and he died without knowing what happened to his only child.

The past continues to push its way into Mercy’s life.  She’s told that George Rucker, the man who killed her grandfather, has escaped from prison and is believed to be heading to Vermont.  According to Rucker’s cellmate, he has been harboring a vendetta against Patience, Red’s widow,  and “she was going to pay for what she did.”

Patience is not cowed by this news, calling it “nonsense,” and she tells Mercy the story behind the death of her husband.  Then the two women hear a knock at the door.  Alerted by Elvis, the Belgian shepherd she has inherited from her late fiancé, Mercy tried to stop her grandmother from opening the door, but she’s too late.  A blinding flash and explosion follow.

The many threads in the novel seem separate at first, but they are, in fact, all related.  The missing Kilgores, the body of a biologist/ filmmaker found in the Green Mountain National Forest, the prison escapee, the strained relationship between Mercy and Game Warden Troy Warner, and even the unexpected appearance of a former soldier and friend of Mercy’s late fiancé who insists that Elvis was promised to him–all these strands come together and prove necessary to the solution of crimes both old and new.

Paula Munier’s latest entry in the Mercy Carr series is a worthy successor to the two previous ones.  The characters are real, the plot is suspenseful and moves at a rapid pace, and the connections between Mercy and the important people in her life are believable and convincing.  And the author’s love for the state of Vermont is palpable.

You can read more about Paula Munier at this website.

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

EVERY WAKING HOUR by Joanna Schaffhausen: Book Review

It is, as my son Rich used to say when he was young, deja vu all over again for Ellery Hathaway.

Ellery is the survivor of a brutal kidnapping that occurred when she was a teenager, nearly two decades ago.  The multiple cuttings on her arms are the visible reminders of the physical torture Francis Coben subjected her to; the multiple rapes she suffered are not outwardly visible but are still ever-present in her mind.

As far as is known, Ellery is the only survivor out of the more than sixteen girls Coben kidnapped.   That’s because FBI Agent Reed Markham rescued her from a locked closet in Coben’s apartment, and the survivor and the agent have had an on again/off again relationship in recent years.  At the moment it is definitely in the on mode, as they are having a tentative romantic relationship that naturally brings up multiple issues for Ellery.

Now they are spending the afternoon together in Boston with Tula, Reed’s young daughter, when they hear a frightened woman’s scream.  “Help!  She’s gone!  Someone, please help me!”  Nothing could be more terrifying to both Ellery and Reed, bringing back as it does the horrific event that brought them together.

Twelve-year-old Chloe Lockhart was with her nanny Mimi when she asked for permission to walk a few yards away from the bench where both were sitting in order to buy a pretzel.  Mimi tells Ellery and Reed that she is never supposed to let Chloe out of her sight, but after the girl’s repeated requests the nanny relented.  But Chloe hasn’t returned and isn’t answering her cell phone.

Are Chloe’s parents simply unusually watchful or are they obsessively over-protective?  Why are there bars on the windows of their palatial home?  Why can’t their twelve-year-old daughter go anywhere without her nanny?

Now a rookie police detective with the Boston Police Department, Ellery tells Mimi to wait with Reed and his daughter while she scours the area for Chloe.  As she pauses at an intersection, she hears a strange sound coming from an adjacent trash can.  On the top of the garbage dumped inside the can there’s a cell phone, and its ringtone is Porky Pig’s famous line, “That’s all, folks.”  The caller ID bears the name “Mimi.”

In addition to the search for the missing girl, Ellery and Reed are dealing with personal issues.  His ex-wife is thinking of moving out of state with her lover, taking Tula with her.  She cites Reed’s lack of a predictable schedule in seeing his daughter and his dangerous job as her reasons, saying she is willing to fight him in court to change the custody agreement that gives them both equal physical custody.

Ellery, meantime, is having difficulty dealing with her undeniable attraction to Reed while at the same time dealing with memories of her abduction and its violent aftermath.

Every Waking Hour is the fourth novel in the Ellery Hathaway series.  In each book we get a deeper look into Ellery’s life and mind and see how she is coping, successfully or not, with the traumas of the past.  Joanna Schaffhausen has written another compelling mystery with a heroine you hope will at last find happiness and peace of mind.

You can read more about Joanna Schaffhausen at this website.

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

AN EXTRAVAGANT DEATH by Charles Finch: Book Review

An Englishman born and bred, Charles Lenox is about to take a voyage, somewhat reluctantly, to the United States.

In a previous novel, Lenox’s investigation led to uncovering a major scandal at Scotland Yard.  Now the Prime Minister himself, on behalf of the Queen’s government, has asked Lenox to allow the barristers to use his written account at the trial rather than having him give his testimony in person.  Listening to his testimony read out by the dry voice of a barrister, Benjamin Disraeli says, would be given great weight by the jury without the “ravenous press” having an opportunity to interview and harass Lenox and, of course, further embarrass the government.

Disraeli assures Lenox that there was no way the three accused Scotland Yard inspectors could go free, and thus the detective is persuaded to make himself unavailable during the trial and visit America.

Lenox is reluctant to leave his wife and their two young daughters to go to America on a fact-finding visit, as the government wishes him to do.  However, he believes it’s his duty to follow his Queen’s wishes, and Lady Jane, his wife, gives her blessing to his trip.  So he leaves, first stopping in New York and then, according to his plan, Boston.

However, the best laid plans, as they say, often go awry.  At a luncheon in Manhattan the detective meets Teddy Blaine, son of an immensely wealthy family, who is a devotee of mysteries and murder cases.  Together they set out on the train to Boston the day after the luncheon to discuss all matters relating to deduction, but after the train pulls out of the Stamford, Connecticut station it suddenly stops.

A messenger boards bearing a telegram; it says that there has been a murder in Newport, and the writer of the telegram requests that Lenox investigate it.  The message is signed William Stuyvesant Schermerhorn IV, and Blaine assures Lenox that he is a man above reproach.  Hoping that it will be easy to find the murderer, the detective agrees to a short stay in the wealthy Rhode Island enclave, and Blaine asks to follow along and perhaps be of help.

Lily Allingham is the young woman who was murdered.  Her radiant beauty had turned Newport society upside down, with its wealthy inhabitants offering party invitations and boat trips to attract her.  Two wealthy young men, Willie Schermerhorn and Lawrence Vanderbilt, were courting her, but it seems that no one knows if she had decided which one would be her future husband.  Then, in the midst of one of the city’s many balls, she unceremoniously left by herself and was later found dead on the property belonging to one of the suitors.

An Extravagant Death is an apt title for a book set in one of the wealthiest locations in the United States.  Families with the names of Astor, Vanderbilt (the latter family is considered nouveau riche and therefore not in the top tier of Newport society), Morgans, Wideners, and Schermerhorns live in their “cottages” for six weeks every summer before moving on to one of their other homes, and it’s a delight to read about the mores and scandals of the 19th-century elite.

Charles Finch’s latest novel is a wonderful addition to the Charles Lenox mysteries.  You can read more about him on many 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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

EVERY LAST FEAR by Alex Finlay: Book Review

One could hardly imagine a more typical family than the Pines of Nebraska.  Father, mother, three sons, a daughter.  So what catastrophe could have left only two of them alive?

The event that precipitated the tragedies began several years before the novel opens.  Danny, the oldest of the Pine children, was a high school football star at a party with his girlfriend Charlotte.  Then everyone, including Danny, started drinking and everything got out of control.  There was a fight, Charlotte fled, and she was found dead along the river the next day.  Danny was arrested, confessed to her murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

The book opens with Matt, the second oldest son, being summoned to his dorm room at NYU by his dorm’s resident assistant.  There, FBI Agent Sarah Keller gives him the heartbreaking news that his parents, sister, and younger brother have died in an apparent accident in Mexico.  Details are scarce, she informs him, but it appears to have been a faulty gas leak in a cottage they were renting in the resort town of Tulun.

Matt is stunned, needless to say, by the deaths of his parents and siblings.  His last contact from them was a text from his sister a few days earlier, but nothing since.  And now Agent Keller wants him to visit his brother in prison and give him the horrendous news personally.  Matt protests that he hasn’t seen Danny in years because that’s the way his brother wants it, but he finally relents and the two brothers meet for the first time since Danny’s imprisonment.

Agent Keller tells Matt that the Mexican authorities are making a fuss about releasing the bodies to anyone but a family member, and obviously that means Matt.   So he flies to Tulun, but nothing goes as it should.

Every Last Fear is written in several voices–Matt’s, Agent Keller’s, Matt’s father Evan’s, and his sister Maggie’s.  Evan Pine is the family member most obsessed by his son’s imprisonment.  He is convinced that Danny was coerced by the local police force into confessing, and the case became a national cause celebre when it was made into a documentary.  Danny’s defense was first mounted by an inexperienced local lawyer, then by other attorneys, finally reaching the Supreme Court, but his conviction was not overturned.

So when Evan gets a text with a photo that appears to be of Charlotte in a bar in Tulun, he feels it’s his final opportunity to find out the truth and free his son.  That led to the family’s fatal trip to Mexico and opened a Pandora’s Box of questions about the truth of Charlotte’s death.

Every Last Fear is a breathtaking thriller, with a plot that will keep you reading to the last page.  Power, privilege, mistakes–they’re all there and all believably realistic and skillfully drawn.

Alex Finlay is the pseudonym of the author, and at this time not even his/her gender has been revealed.  You can read more about him/her in an excellent discussion of the novel at this website.

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

 

THE GIRL IN THE BOSTON BOX by Chuck Latovich: Book Review

Have you ever heard of the Boston Box?  Neither had Caitlyn Gautry until she started doing research for her doctorate at Harvard.

While taking a tour of Boston’s historic Otis House, one of the other members of Carolyn’s group asks their guide about the Boston Box, which he says he had heard refers to a small secret chamber in homes built in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The benign version was that the Box was used to shelter runaway slaves; the malevolent version was that it was a room used for torture or illicit sexual activities.

The guide says that since a Box has never been found or otherwise authenticated, historians have come to believe it’s an urban legend, such as building a house over an ancient burial ground will bring death to the house’s inhabitants or a chain letter saying that if you don’t continue the chain that bad luck will befall you.  But the possibility of such Boxes fascinates Caitlyn and makes her wonder if she can incorporate the question of whether such rooms actually existed into her dissertation on Boston architecture.

Her advisor, Professor Bacht, is dismissive about her research, arrogant and insulting.  But his negative reaction has the opposite effect from what he intended, making Caitlyn more determined than ever to continue looking into the mysterious Boxes and to find out the reason they were incorporated into some of the city’s homes, if in fact they were.

At the same time as Caitlyn begins her investigation into the architectural mystery, another mystery is taking place in Boston.  Mark Chieswicz receives a call from the Boston Police telling him that his brother David is dead.  The news itself is shocking, but even more so is the information that David was found murdered, stabbed to death and left on the side of the expressway.

Mark informs the detective that he and his brother haven’t seen each other in more than two decades and that he had no idea his brother was in town.  And he’s even more surprised, actually stunned, when he’s given a file containing information about his brother, a ne’er-do-well with several prison stays behind him, who had a bank account with a balance of $633,215.38.

The Girl in the Boston Box is written in the voices of Caitlyn and Mark in alternating chapters.  At first the two characters seem to have nothing in common.  What could be the relationship between a Harvard graduate student from Pennsylvania and a forty-six-year-old man struggling to make ends meet on his part-time job as a Duck Boat tour driver?  What could possibly be the connection that draws them each into a near-death situation?

Chuck Latovich has written an intriguing mystery, one with fascinating characters, a very clever plot, and a wonderful sense of the city of Boston.  You can read more about him on various internet sites.

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