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Book Reviews

THE GIRL BY THE BRIDGE by Arnaldur Indridason: Book Review

Detective Konrád, formerly of the Rekyjavik police department, is retired, but people keep reaching out to him for help.

An elderly couple, friends of his late wife, call on him about their missing granddaughter.  She is the only child of their daughter who died years earlier in a car accident and left her daughter in her parents’ care.  Danní had a typical Icelandic childhood, her grandmother says, but over the past few years she’s pulled away from her grandparents.  They tell Konrád that they’ve just learned that Danní has been smuggling drugs into the country, and they’ve come to him for assistance in locating her.

Apparently Danní was seeing a young man named Lassi, although the grandparents never met him. Konrád  finds Lassi’s address, and at his apartment he finds the body of Danní with a needle and syringe hanging from one of her arms.  When they hear the news, her grandparents tell Konrád to keep investigating and discover the reason for her death.

At the same time, the detective is drawn into a closer examination of his own past.  His late father had pretended to have psychic abilities, and during the Second World War he and a partner arranged phony séances, partly to fleece participants eager to hear from loved ones who had passed away and partly to make fun of their beliefs.

Konrád’s father had been stabbed to death many years ago, and his partner, Engilbert, drowned several months after that.  Konrád hasn’t heard from Engilbert’s daughter Eygló in some time, but now she contacts Konrád about two strange but related occurrences.  Eygló has always been interested in the afterlife and has conducted séances over the years for bereaved clients, hoping to alleviate their suffering.

Eygló tells the detective about an experience she had when she was a child and its reoccurrence.  She was at a birthday party and had “seen” a young girl who was looking for her lost doll.  Now, years later, she tells the detective that she’s “seen” the girl again and knows the girl is long dead.  Konrád tells her about the discovery years ago of a woman and her doll found in the Pond, both floating in the water, but he still doesn’t believe in Eygló’s psychic abilities.

Even years after the deaths of Konrád’s father and the girl who drowned in the Pond, the police don’t have all the answers.  The murderer of Konrád’s father was never found, and the official police report calls the girl’s death a tragic accident.  But there are many, many unresolved strands left to untangle–the death of Eygló’s father so soon after his partner’s death, the secret that the man who found the girl and her doll in the Pond is keeping, and Konrád’s belief that there’s more to the grandparents’ story than they are telling.

The Girl by the Bridge proves once again that Arnaldur Indridason is a master storyteller.  In addition to the two mysteries featuring Konrád, he is the author of more than eleven novels about Detective Erlendur, the Rekyjavik Wartime Mystery Series, and is the only author to win the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel two years in a row.  You can read 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.

THE MAGISTRATE by Brian Klingborg: Book Review

Harbin, a city in China’s northernmost province, has a population of nearly six million.  That number can easily support all kinds of illegal activities–prostitution, gambling, sex trafficking, and drugs, for example.  The Nangkang Benevolent Association, a misnomer if ever there was one, is ready and willing to ensure that all the citizens have easy access to these vices.

The Association consists of eleven high-level men, including the district’s major, the president of the court, and the chief of the homicide division of the police department.  Together these men and eight others control every aspect of the Nangkang district, including public safety, construction, housing, and investments.  Their power is unrivaled, and they have been untouchable, until now, when someone begins targeting its members.

First, Mr. Chen is abducted and brutally beaten; second, Mr. Liu is branded with the Chinese character for “thief” on his face; third, Mr. Zhao has his left hand amputated.  After each assault the men are told it was ordered by The Magistrate.  Then, following these attacks, three additional members of the Association are murdered.

At this point it’s reluctantly decided to call in the Criminal Investigation Bureau, which means bringing in Inspector Lu Fei, formerly a member of the Nangkang police department and a bitter enemy of the chief of the homicide division, Mr. Xu.

Lu and Constable Sun arrive in Harbin and join their colleagues Dr. Ma and Jin; these four make up a team far removed from the corruption of the Nangkang.  However, there is a great deal of history and bad feelings between Lu and the members of the homicide squad.  Its chief is hoping that Lu’s group fails to find those behind the attacks and killings, but at the same time he can’t realistically pretend that someone isn’t trying to decimate the Association.

Of course, there is crime in other districts that the Criminal Investigation Bureau oversees as well.  Lu’s official title is deputy chief of the Raven Valley Township Public Security Bureau, and he returns home to investigate a particularly brutal crime in which the victim had his teeth removed, his fingers cut off, and was then burned alive.  When the medical examiner and Lu examine the corpse, they discover a tattoo that indicates that the man was a member of a Korean gang.

Lu knows that one of the areas in which the Koreans operate is sex trafficking, bringing young Korean women over the border with promises of jobs and opportunities for a better life.  These are false assurances, not surprisingly, as the gangs force the women to serve as prostitutes and keep them virtual prisoners.  There’s no way they can escape, at least not on their own, but then a mysterious benefactor arrives to help.

The Magistrate is a tense mystery, one which delves deeply into the brutality and corruption that is part of today’s China.  The characters, both good and evil, are perfectly drawn, and the plot will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the book’s end.

Brian Klingborg has written another gripping novel in the Lu Fei series.  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.

HEART OF THE NILE by Will Thomas: Book Review

The story of Cleopatra never grows stale.  As Shakespeare put it, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”  More than two millennia later, her lure is evident in Will Thomas’ latest mystery, Heart of the Nile.

Phillip Addison, a young schoolteacher working evenings at the British Museum in the hope of being offered a staff position, is cataloguing recent additions to the museum’s extensive mummy collection.  One of the mummies seems unusually heavy, and he realizes there is something hidden in the skeleton.

After much effort Addison is able to dislodge the object, which is a glowing red stone in the shape of a human heart.  Unsure of what to do with it and fearful of leaving it unguarded in the museum, he takes it with him and goes to the house of his supervisor, the head of the Egyptology Department, Dr. Hennings, to tell him of his discovery.

The following morning Elizabeth Addison, Phillip’s wife, comes to the office of Barker & Llewelyn, private enquiry agents in London.  She tells Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn that her husband left for work the previous evening but never returned home.  The couple is virtually alone in the world, and she is desperate to find him.

Barker and Llewelyn agree to look for Addison, and they begin their inquiries with Dr. Hennings.  He tells them that Addison had arrived at his house at 1:00 a.m., saying “he’d made a great discovery….It concerned a mummy that had been in collection for years.”  Hennings said he’d investigate the discovery in the morning and sent Addison away and that that was the last time he’d seen him.

Reluctantly, Hennings leads the two agents to the mummy in question, and upon close examination Llewelyn recognizes the cartouche, or pendant, as having the name Cleopatra written on it.  The Egyptologist downplays the importance of the cartouche but admits that there is a possibility that the young schoolteacher had found the mummy of the great queen.

Barker and Llewelyn next visit Liam Grant, a friend of both Llewelyn’s and Addison’s.  Grant tells them of the jewel that Addison had pressed upon him the previous night, shortly before Addison went to Hennings’ house, and Grant gladly gives it to Barker, delighted to be relieved of it.

Shortly after that Cyrus and Thomas receive a note that instructs them to go to the waterfront; there they sees the body of Phillip Addison, but he was stabbed, not drowned.  Sadly, Thomas informs Mrs. Addison of her husband’s death, and although they are no longer searching for Addison, they vow to continue investigating until they discover who murdered him.

Reading a novel by Will Thomas is stepping back into the 19th century.  The brusque Cyrus Barker and the more sensitive Thomas Llewelyn make a formidable pair, determined to find the murderer and try to bring some comfort to Phillip’s widow.  As always, a Will Thomas mystery is a delight.

You can read more about the author 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.


BLIND SPOTS by Thomas Mullen: Book Review

Having just lived through the worse pandemic in one hundred years, readers may believe they’ve been through it all.  But in Blind Spots, another type of virus, even more frightening, has taken over, not killing people but blinding the entire population of the world.

Several years after the inception of the virus, technology has made it possible for people to “see” again with a device that downloads visual data to the brain, and people have adjusted.  However, now comes the possibility that the vidders can be manipulated, blocking out visions of things and people, and in effect blinding everyone once again.

Even after The Blinding, as the new world order is called, scientists are still working to improve the technology that allows people to see as realistically as possible.  Dr. Ray Jensen is working on a project in that area, but his colleagues don’t believe in what he’s doing.  Fellow scientist Dr. Madeleine Leila is trying to be supportive as they walk to the subway together, but he knows she doesn’t think his work has merit.  Suddenly a form approaches them, and despite trying to manipulate their vidders to get a clearer picture of the figure, both of them can only see darkness walking toward them.  And then Jensen’s head explodes.

When Leila talks to homicide detective Mark Owens the following morning, he is totally unbelieving.  Is she using the idea of a vidder glitch to take suspicion away from herself, he wonders?  Although Owens and his partner Jimmy Peterson don’t believe her story about the black form killing Jensen, neither do they seriously think she killed him.  But if not her, then who?

Still unsure of what really happened, Owens decides to keep watch on her apartment.  He’s sitting in his car when he hears a shot and rushes into the building.  He finds the scientist dead on the floor, with a bullet hole in the center of her forehead, and he sees a leg disappearing through the apartment window.  There’s no face to go along with it, just a black blur exactly as Dr. Leila had described to him that morning.  Is it a man, a woman, someone with long hair, someone bald?  The detective can see nothing but that black blur.

Mark’s personal life is adding to his distress.  His sister Sarah has joined a group called INNER SIGHT COMMUNE in which its members refuse to wear vidders and thus live without vision.  Mark keeps trying to convince her to leave the commune, especially when she tells him she’s expecting a child, and Sarah reacts angrily.  “I choose to live an honest life.  If you came here to talk me out of that, then I’d like you to leave.”

In addition, Mark is still mourning the death of his wife years earlier.  His significant other, Amira, wants to move in with him, looking for a commitment, but he can’t bring himself to have another woman living in the space that Jeanie had shared with him.  He loves Amira, but the past simply won’t let go.

Thomas Mullen has written a fascinating novel that delves into our all-too-real fears of disease and epidemics and what that means to us.  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.


MURDER AT HAVEN’S ROCK by Kelley Armstrong: Book Review

A number of years ago, Casey Duncan flees an abusive husband and makes her way to Rockton, a town deep in the Yukon wilderness.  She has heard it was established as a sanctuary for those forced by circumstances to leave their pasts behind, and she is determined to make a new life for herself.  She is successful in achieving that goal, and in addition meets her future husband, Eric Dalton, there.

However, things take a turn for the worse in Rockton, and Casey and Eric decide to form a new community in the Territory, one in which they will have control over who its residents will be.  They can do this because the majority of the funding comes from Casey’s family’s trust; the remaining amount comes from the family of the new community’s builder, Yolanda.

Now, even before its opening, Casey and Eric have been called to Haven’s Rock to investigate two missing members of Yolanda’s crew.  Although the first rule of the community is “stay out of the forest,” apparently Bruno, the town’s engineer, and Penny, the town’s architect, disregarded it.  Thus, immediately after their plane lands, Casey and Eric, along with their dog Storm, enter the woods and begin looking for the two missing members of the crew.

After a few minutes of following the trail that Yolanda reluctantly had constructed to keep the crew members from exploring the forest on their own and getting lost, Casey and Eric become aware that they’re not alone.  Eric leaves Casey and Storm to follow the unknown person, and Casey continues her search for Bruno and Penny.

Suddenly she realizes that Storm is no longer by her side.  She follows the sound of the dog’s whine and discovers her looking at a pile of branches and dead leaves.  As Casey walks closer to get a better look, she slips and falls into a deep pit.  Helped by the small amount of sun that is able to get through the debris, she’s able to see the back of a hand and the ring and wristwatch on it.  She thinks, “I’ve found Penny.”  In fact, the body is that of another woman, one Casey and Dalton weren’t aware was missing.  And Penny and Bruno remain missing.

Kelley Armstrong has written a fascinating follow-up to her Rockton books.  Murder at Haven’s Rock has an outstanding plot and completely believable characters that will make you (almost) want to visit the rugged Yukon and see the community for yourself.

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.

HARD RAIN by Samantha Jayne Allen: Book Review

Religious hypocrisy, alcoholism, infidelity, and murder–in the small town of Garrett, Texas, there’s certainly a lot going on.  And newly minted private investigator Annie McIntyre is in the midst of it.

Annie has recently returned to her hometown after four years at college, and she’s joined McIntyre Investigations, a firm run by her grandfather Leroy and his partner Mary-Pat Zimmerman.  The first case she investigated had a successful conclusion, and now her childhood friend Bethany Richter has come to her for help.

Two weeks earlier, Bethany had nearly been swept away by the incredible flood that ravaged Garrett.  The river waters rose to their highest level in history, destroying pastures, damaging roads, overturning gravestones, and leaving at least six people dead.  Bethany and her husband John David, an evangelical preacher, had been staying with another minister and his wife at an old cabin to celebrate Bethany’s birthday.

When the storm broke John David was visiting an elderly parishioner in the hospital, but the other couple was in the cabin.  Pulled outside by the strength of the water, Michael and his wife Kendall were swept away and drowned, but Bethany was saved by a man’s voice telling her to swim to a nearby tree.  As she does so, she sees the man being carried out of her sight by the swirling waters.

Now, still recovering from the flood and the deaths of Michael and Kendall, she hires Annie to find the person who saved her life.  She’s been to the sheriff’s office and the fire department, both having searched the river by air and boats, but they found no trace of the man and appear somewhat disbelieving of her story.

Even Bethany’s husband is telling her to put this behind her and move on with her life, but she says she can’t.  “If I can’t thank him ’cause he’s gone, I need to speak to his family.  I need to tell them how sorry I am.”

Annie takes the case somewhat reluctantly, because she’s not certain that Bethany isn’t mistaken.  Bethany describes the man as “white…long brown hair…looked like the paintings you see of Jesus.”  That description, Annie thinks, probably didn’t help her case when she was telling it to the authorities, but instead it made them believe she was still suffering emotionally and wasn’t fully rational.  However, their friendship goes back a long way, so she promises to do her best to find the rescuer.

Samantha Jayne Allen’s first mystery, Pay Dirt Road, won the Tony Hillerman Prize for Best First Mystery Set in the Southwest.  She brings the area to life in her second novel as well.  Hard Rain again features Annie McIntyre as she tries to prove herself personally and professionally in both McIntyre Investigations and Garrett.  She’s smart, determined, and a heroine to root for.

You can read more about the author at this website.

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


THE WAY OF THE BEAR by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

It was supposed to be a relaxing trip to Bears Ears National Monument for Bernadette Manuelito and Jim Chee.  Although the official reason for Jim’s visit is to look into a possible donation to the Navajo Nation’s Fallen Officers Memorial Fund, it is also an opportunity for him to partake in a sweat lodge ceremony led by Desmond Grayhair, the hatááłi and leader from the Navajo Mountain community.

In addition, Chee sees it as an opportunity for Bernadette to recharge and overcome the sadness recently surrounding her.  He knows his wife is disappointed at having been passed over for a promotion to detective, but he feels it is more than that, something that his wife isn’t able or willing to share.

While Jim is at the sweat lodge ceremony, Bernie walks amidst the sandstone buttes in the Valley of the Gods, recalling the history of her Diné ancestors.  Suddenly a dark pickup heads toward her, getting closer and closer as its headlights shine directly on her.   An arm extends from the truck’s passenger side, and a there’s a rifle shot.  It misses her, but she’s too far from her car to give chase.

When Manuelito and Chee are back in their room at the motel where they’re staying, the woman occupying the adjoining unit knocks on their door.  Chee met her briefly earlier in the day, and she introduced herself then as Jessica Johnson, an archaeologist working in the area with her husband Kyle, a paleontologist.  Now, several hours after that meeting, Jessica tells Jim and Bernie that her husband is overdue on his return from Bear Ears and that she hasn’t heard from him.

Bernie and Jim return to the spot where Bernie was nearly run over and shot at, and they meet Ranger Cassidy Kingsley of the Bureau of Land Management.  She seems oddly reluctant to believe Bernie’s story about the truck and its shooter, although she promises to pass the information on to the sheriff.

Then another strange thing happens.  Dr. Chapman Dulles, the man Chee was supposed to see about the donation to the Navajo Fund, disappears.  Could it have something to do with the groundbreaking work he is doing regarding fossils?  He has discovered a fossilized jawbone and the attached skull of a dinosaur ancestor, what he calls a “once-in-a-millennium find.”  Or is it more personal, considering that his truck’s tires were slashed and he had begun receiving threatening phone calls?

The million-plus acres of Bears Ears National Monument is rich with archaeological and paleontological artifacts, and in addition it is a holy place for the Navajo Nation.  However, it’s obvious there is something definitely unholy happening there now.

The Way of the Bear is the eighth mystery featuring Bernadette Manuelito and Jim Chee (with a brief mention of Joe Leaphorn), and Bernie and Jim complement each other in every way.  Theirs is a true partnership both personally and professionally.

As always, Anne Hillerman has written an exciting, captivating novel with characters who are believable and a plot that will keep you turning pages to the end of the book.  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.

YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN by Rebecca A. Keller: Book Review

When a grieving grandmother spots the person she believes is complicit in the aftermath of her granddaughter’s death, thoughts of revenge become all-consuming.  

Frannie Greene has taken a number of falls, and she reluctantly allows her daughter and son to convince her to move into the Ridgewood Assisted Living Complex, at least on a trial basis.  She can still keep her condo, they reassure her, but in the meantime she’ll have the security of knowing that help is available day and night if she needs it.  And think of all the amenities you’ll be able to use, they tell her–the library, the crafts room, the  chapel, the glorious outdoor space.

However, after a few weeks Frannie hasn’t taken advantage of any of them.  She’s feeling vaguely guilty but still keeping herself aloof from these gathering places.  Then, walking down a corridor one day, she meets Katherine, and the two women strike up a conversation about books.  Katherine invites Frannie to join her at the next day’s book group discussion in the complex’s library.

The two women soon start meeting frequently, always for lunch in the dining room but never for the evening meal.  Then, one night Frannie sees Katherine and her husband, Nathaniel, at dinner, seated a few tables away from her, and Katherine invites her over to meet Nathaniel.  Although she had spoken to him briefly in the music room the day she met Katherine, suddenly something he says now strikes Frannie like a blow.

It’s when he uses the word adequate that she realizes who Nathaniel is and when and where she’d seen him before.  He is the judge who presided over the trial of the man who was driving the car that killed Bethany, her only granddaughter. 

Nathaniel had decided that it would be adequate for the driver to enroll in a twelve-step program and pay a fine rather than face jail time.  Hearing him speak now and hearing him use that same word that he used when he imposed the so-called punishment, Frannie realizes how distinctive his southern accent is.  It is as “unmistakeable as linguistic DNA.”

Now all Frannie can think of is revenge for Bethany’s death and for Bethany’s mother’s emotional breakdown afterward.  Following the trial, evidence emerged that proved that the prosecutor, the accused’s attorney, and some of the police had accepted bribes to get the driver a reduced sentence, and that this was not the only time it had happened.  Nathaniel had not been implicated, but in Frannie’s mind he is as guilty as the others.  Now she has the opportunity, and certainly the motive, to make him pay for his crime.

Rebecca A. Keller will make readers think about whether revenge can ever be justified.  Frannie, Katherine, and Nathaniel are fully formed characters with strengths and faults that make them realistic and understandable.  With each chapter we gain a deeper understanding of Frannie and her wish to do what she thinks will help her daughter get back on the road to emotional recovery.

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.

SONS AND BROTHERS by Kim Hays: Book Review

Verdingkinder is a word that was unknown to me, as I suspect it is to most readers.  It’s Swiss-German, meaning “contract children” or “indentured child laborers,” and it refers to a practice in Switzerland in which children were removed from their homes and basically sold to people needing an extra pair of hands, either on farms or in factories or doing domestic chores.   

Sometimes the children were orphans, but at other times they were sold because their families could no longer care for them, either emotionally or monetarily.

A study estimated that in 1930 there were some 35,000 verdingkinder in the country, although some estimates were as high as twice that number.  There were auctions at which farmers bid for the children’s services, scarily similar to the slave auctions in the United States before the Civil War.  Many of these children suffered brutal working conditions, injuries, and beatings, all of it ignored by the authorities.

In Sons and Brothers, Kim Hays brings the stories of some of these children to life, with the repercussions that are still occurring nearly a century after the practice was outlawed.

Detective Giuliana Linder and Investigator Renzo Donatelli are on the Bern police force, and they are called to investigate a call about a corpse found floating in the Aare River.  The man is identified almost immediately as Johann Karl Gurtner, a retired cardiologist.  More than a simple drowning, it’s obvious that the victim had been in a vicious fight.  Strangely, his wallet was found with a great deal of money inside, but his watch was missing.

Gurtner had two adult sons from his first marriage and a teenage son from his second and current one.  He was a strict father, demanding perfection and obedience from them, but no one can come up with a reason that he was murdered.  His middle son Markus has never lived up to his father’s high expectations for him, but now, after some missteps, including a prison term, Markus has found a career as a successful photographer.

When Giuliana goes to Markus’ apartment to interview him, she’s stunned to see a photograph she recognizes as part of a city-sponsored exhibit on verdingkinder.  She realizes that he is the artist who created the mesmerizing photos of the now-elderly people who had been contract laborers as children.  Although she still views Markus as a suspect in his father’s death, she’s compelled to tell him that in her opinion the photographs are “brilliant.”

Can there be a connection between the verdingkinder and Gurtner’s death?  Markus tells Giuliana that his father spoke very little about his childhood and advises her to contact Charlotte, Johann’s older sister, and she discovers that Johann’s relationship with his own father was a difficult one as was his with Markus.  The past repeating itself, Giuliana thinks, but just how this connects to the verdingkinder and Johann’s death is still to be discovered.

Sons and Brothers is a compelling novel about a crime that goes back decades, giving readers a look into an unsavory part of Switzerland’s past.  Linder and Donatelli are totally believable characters, and the story, unfortunately, is an all-too-true one.

You can read more about Kim Hays at this 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.




LYING BESIDE YOU by Michael Robotham: Book Review

One of the reasons that Cyrus Haven is such a skilled, empathic therapist is the almost unbelievable trauma he suffered in his own life.  When he was a young teenager, his older brother Elias killed their father, mother, and young twin sisters.  By the time Cyrus arrived home that afternoon, the deed was done, leaving Cyrus with trust and abandonment issues that have followed him through the years.

Elias was assessed to be a paranoid schizophrenic and has spent the last two decades at a secure psychiatric hospital near London.  Now, after undergoing a review by a panel of mental health professionals, he is being allowed off the hospital grounds, at first with two bodyguards, then progressing to unescorted overnight visits to Cyrus’ house, finally with the ultimate goal of living there permanently.

This naturally brings up various issues, especially for Evie Cormac, a young woman who lives in that house.  She too survived a devastating childhood and was put into foster care placements until Cyrus offered her a room in his home.  Not surprisingly, Evie has many problems, and living with Elias will definitely lead to more.

Cyrus is now working with the police as a criminal profiler, an expert on human behavior, and as such often encounters criminals and their victims.  He’s called to the scene of a murder of an elderly man and what may be the abduction of the man’s daughter Maya.  Is she too a victim of the person who murdered her father, or is she guilty of patricide?

Then Cyrus takes another person into his house.  Mitch is on parole after completing six years of an eight year sentence for sexual assault, and his parole officer has sent him to Cyrus for a consultation.  He insists he did not assault the young woman who lived in the flat above his, although his DNA was found in her bed.

By the end of the consult Cyrus offers Mitch a maintenance job at his house, and shortly after that he invites Mitch to move into one of his unused bedrooms.  Then Elias returns home to live.  With Cyrus, Evie, Elias, and now Mitch, it’s a house filled with troubled people.

Maya’s body is found, and it becomes obvious that she was killed by the same individual who killed her father.  When another young woman is reported missing, Cyrus is convinced that there’s a link between the two crimes.

The characters and the interwoven plots of Lying Beside You are skillfully and realistically drawn.  Readers will empathize with Cyrus’ desire to heal  everyone in his household, even though that may be at the cost of his own emotional health.  Even the least likable personalities in the novel have some redeeming, human quality that make them understandable, thanks to author’s writing.

Michael Robotham’s books have been translated into 25 languages.  He won the Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger for his 2020 mystery Good Girl, Bad Girl (reviewed on this blog) and twice won the Australian Ned Kelly Award for his novels  Lost and Shattered.  You can read more about him at this site.

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 CLOISTERS by Katy Hays: Book Review

Anyone who has visited The Cloisters in New York City has surely found it to be a magical place.  It is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, although in a separate location, and it is the only museum in the United States that specializes in European medieval art and architecture.

Ann Stilwell has come to Manhattan, expecting to spend the summer as an intern at the Met.  However, circumstances have changed since she was offered that opportunity, so she’s given the choice of doing her internship at The Cloisters or returning to an unhappy home situation in Walla Walla, Washington, a small city she couldn’t wait to leave.  No choice at all, in her opinion.

Ann will be working alongside Rachel Mondray at The Cloisters.  Rachel is also a summer intern but one with a much more impressive background than Ann has.  Both young women will be on the staff of Patrick Roland, the curator, the man who saved Ann from an ignominious return to Walla Walla.

Rachel tells Ann that they will be working with Patrick on an upcoming exhibit on divination, “on the techniques and artworks that were used to tell the future.”  Although neither woman is an expert in this field, both are fascinated by the question of fate.  Was one’s life predestined?  Could one change the course of the future?

Thus begins their study of the history of tarot, or cartomancy; both are similar methods of telling the future with the special tarot cards.  As the summer progresses, Ann learns that Patrick is a true believer in the future as foretold by the tarot cards.  He tells her that he’d like her to be open-minded during her time at The Cloisters, about what people believed in the medieval period.  He continues, “You don’t have to believe in divination for it to have been true for an aristocrat in the fourteenth century.  Even, for it to be true again.”

Ann is captivated by Rachel, by her clothes and her effortless sophistication, but she realizes there are also some less appealing aspects of her new friend.  Rachel enjoys making life just a bit more difficult for Moira, the administrator of The Cloisters, telling small lies, stealing items of foods that she could easily afford to pay for, taking an unauthorized ride on a sailboat that doesn’t belong to her.

Still, when Rachel invites Ann to stay at her luxurious condo after a few days of their meeting, Ann is delighted to vacate her own tiny and stuffy studio.  Their friendship and confidences deepen, although Ann soon realizes it’s she who is doing the confiding, never Rachel.

There’s a definite sense of menace in this novel, although the murder doesn’t happen until halfway into it.  Perhaps it’s the sense that The Cloisters is a secret world, separated from the much larger and more famous Met and one with hidden storage rooms and gardens featuring poisonous plants.

Katy Hays has written a mystery that will keep readers enthralled until its shocking conclusion.  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.


NOT THE ONES DEAD by Dana Stabenow: Book Review

Reading a Kate Shugak mystery is like taking a tour of Alaska.  The gorgeous descriptions of the state and the love its inhabitants have for it will make you want to hop on the next flight to The Last Frontier.  But even in Alaska there is racism, greed, and murder.

The novel opens when Bobby Clark, a double-amputee military veteran, is returning home from a shopping trip to Ahtna, the nearest place to his home where one can buy the necessities of life.  He knows what he needs to do to keep his life running smoothly–bringing fillets of fish, jars of chutney, or slabs of raspberry cake to various people who would speak up for him if things went sideways.  It was &*%#@ exhausting to be black in America, he thinks.

He stops by Kate Shugak’s house to tell her about what happened on his ride home when his truck was almost pushed off the road by a red pickup traveling in the opposite direction.  He says they didn’t try to take over the road “until they saw who was behind the wheel.”  He heard men laughing, but they stopped soon enough when Bobby got out of the truck and pointed his HK (Heckler and Koch) gun at them.  The four men, all wearing desert camo, left in a hurry.

Kate promises to keep an eye out for the men in her role as a private investigator.  Jim Chopin, her significant other and a former Alaska state trooper, agrees to do the same, but both privately believe the incident was a one-off.  Unfortunately, they are wrong; when they are shopping the next day, they see several men dressed in the camo that Bobby mentioned, as well as the red truck that he’d described.

There are two more disturbing appearances by men in these outfits, one barring admittance to a trail to a hiking couple and one at the Roadhouse bar.  It appears that whatever this group is, they have decided to make themselves and their unwelcoming attitude known to all.  Then two events occur almost simultaneously–a fire that destroys the bar and a midair collision that kills all the passengers on both planes.

Since one of the pilots was a man in his 80s, there’s some talk that he was too old to be flying and that the crash was his fault, although everyone knew he was a very experienced pilot.  Kate wonders if there’s more to the crash than meets the eye, especially when the manifests of the planes show there were ten passengers, but eleven bodies are found on the ground.

To say Dana Stabenow is a prolific author is to understate it considerably.  There are more than 20 mysteries in the Kate Shugak series as well as several other novels, both mysteries and science fiction, that she has written.

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 FAVOR by Nicci French: Book Review

A teenage romance that ended with a car crash has its reverberations more than a decade later in Nicci French’s The Favor

Jude’s nose was broken, the couple in the backseat was injured, but Jude’s boyfriend Liam was unhurt.  Liam wasn’t bothered when he was tested for his alcohol level and whisked away by the police, even lifting his hand to Jude in what looked like a gesture of farewell.  Aside from a glance, a glance that left her in tears when she noticed him a few days later with another girl, that was the last time Jude saw him for years.

Now Jude is a geriatrician at a London hospital, engaged to Nat, and busy planning their upcoming wedding.  She’s on her way to meet her fiancé for breakfast when a nurse tells her someone is waiting for her in the lobby, and when she reaches the reception desk she sees it’s Liam.

Jude and Liam catch up on each other’s lives, with Liam telling her that he’s doing alright, has a carpentry business, and is the father of a young son.  He already knows about Jude’s engagement through an old friend, he says, and he’s contacted her to ask a favor.

Liam wants to arrange a meeting with her for the following day.  His plan is then to bring her small bag of his clothing, for her to drive to a cottage several hours from London the day after they meet, pick him up at the area’s train station that evening, and stay with him at the place overnight, emphasizing that the cottage has two bedrooms.

When she asks him to explain he won’t, but he assures her there’s no one else he can ask and that it’s not illegal.  “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything wrong.  Though you mustn’t tell anyone….Nobody at all.”  Thus begins the story of a favor, which blends into a lie, and segues into a murder.

When Liam doesn’t turn up at the train station, Jude realizes she has no way to reach him–no phone number, no email address, and his cell phone is in the bag he’s given her.  She’s furious at herself for not finding out more information about him, about this favor, but she decides she’ll return to London the next day and wait for him to contact her.

Then, in the early hours of the next morning, Liam’s phone rings.  A woman’s introduces herself as Leila Fox, a London police detective, and she tells Jude to stay where she is, that the police will be arriving there shortly.  The local police arrive, followed by Detective Fox, and Jude is told that Liam was found stabbed to death the previous evening.

The police don’t suspect Jude of the murder, but she is still thrust into their investigation.  Their teenage romance was a semi-secret, so the only member of Liam’s family she ever met was his younger brother Dermot, and even that was a very brief chat at the door of the family’s home.

Now she’s meeting the people who have been part of his recent life–Danny, the mother of their son; Vin, Liam’s business partner; two other members of Liam’s commune-type household–Irina and Erika; and of course Liam’s grieving parents.  And they’re all strange, angry, secretive people, or some combination of the three.  Every time Jude attempts to leave them and the police investigation behind, something or someone pulls her back into it.

Written by the masterful husband and wife team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, The Favor continues the line of incredible thrillers they’ve written.  You can read more about Nicci French 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.

MURDER BOOK by Thomas Perry: Book Review

Once again, Thomas Perry proves that he is a master of his craft.  Murder Book is an outstanding thriller that is almost impossible to put down.

Harry Duncan, a former police detective who worked in various big cities throughout the country, now is using his talents as a private investigator.  Just finishing a case, he gets a call from Ellen Leicester, his ex-wife, a United States Attorney, asking him to meet her.  She tells him that she’d like to hire him to look into a spate of violent crimes–extortions, robberies, even murders–that have occurred in districts where such crimes usually do not happen.

She says that the Justice Department doesn’t think this is significant enough to warrant using their forces to investigate, but, as she has the power to hire an independent consultant, she asks Harry to look into the problem.  Although Harry is less than enthusiastic, he agrees to look into it.

Harry heads toward rural Indiana and finds himself in the town of Parkman’s Elbow on the Ash-Grey River.  He stops at a bar/restaurant and is just finishing his lunch when Renee, the owner, informs him that two men are checking out his car in the parking lot.  When Harry goes outside, he’s told by one of them that his car appears to have a fake inspection sticker, but for an on-the-spot payment of one thousand dollars the problem can be solved.

A second man walks up behind Harry, and before either of the two men can react Harry has them on the ground and handcuffed.  They don’t respond to his questions, so he drives them to the State Police and returns to the cafe where he had lunch and where the two men had attempted their extortion.  Renee confirms his former wife’s statement that there has been a rash of violence in the area, but she doesn’t seem overly concerned.

Then, later in the evening, he goes back to the Elbow Cafe for a third time, and that’s when the situation escalates.  In the midst of the dinner hour, three men enter the Cafe and demand protection money from Renee.  When she refuses, later that evening they attempt to burn down her house.  When Harry stymies that plan and has them arrested, the three men, the Clark brothers, are put in the local jail but are released on bail the following day.  Sadly for them, that proves to be a mistake; within minutes of their release, all three are murdered.

Murder Book is a hard-boiled thriller, with a body count that mounts page by page.   I was in awe of the many inventive ways Duncan manages to thwart the potential killers, with each event confirming his former wife’s contention that there’s a major crime operation going on, although the final motive of the gangsters is not clear until the end of the novel.

Thomas Perry’s first novel, The Butcher’s Boy, won the 1983 Edgar for Best First Novel.  Perry also received the 2003 Gumshoe Award for Pursuit for Best Novel, the 2012 Barry award for Informant and and the 2021 Barry award for Eddie’s Boy, the last two in the Best Thriller category.  He is also the author of the Jane Whitefield series featuring an Indigenous woman who helps people disappear.

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.

FUNERAL TRAIN by Laurie Loewenstein: Book Review

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl simultaneously hit the small town of Vermillion, Oklahoma, and the townspeople are clinging to their former lives by a thread.  Stores that had served the town for generations closed, crops were severely damaged by the weather, and the emotions of its citizens were frayed almost to the breaking point.

Then came a horrendous crash when a passenger train was only a few miles from Vermillion.  Sirens sounded, shrieks and moans filled the air, plumes of steam were everywhere.  Train cars overturned and the ground strewn with dead bodies and severed limbs.

Sheriff Temple Jennings rushes to the scene of the derailment, caught between containing the chaos and searching for his wife Etha, a passenger on the train.  She is badly hurt and rushed to the local hospital, which is overwhelmed by the number of casualties that are brought in.

The following morning reveals that the signaling device directing the train to the proper track had been tampered with, and Temple, his young deputy Ed McCance, and the railroad’s detective Claude Steele return to the scene of the wreck.  The section foreman tells the trio that every precaution is taken against vandalism and that the switch is protected by a padlocked chain.

However, that chain is missing, either because someone cut it off with a bolt cutter or else used the universal railroad key that is available only to the train crew and maintenance workers on the track.  Was the wreck caused by vandalism or revenge?

The novel features two outstanding subplots.  Etha Jennings is anticipating a visit from her niece and her husband Everett and their two sons for Christmas.  Etha loves her niece and nephews but doesn’t have much use for Everett, an out-of-work alcoholic who puts drinking ahead of the needs of his family.  Temple suggests that when Everett and his family return home he try to get back his former job, but Everett refuses belligerently. “I’m college-educated” is his mantra; apparently he would rather be unemployed than take a job he feels is beneath him.

There is also the mysterious Ruthie-Jo, a member of the community who is a virtual recluse.   Walking her dog the night of the accident, she sees a man running from the tracks, tossing an object into the underbrush.  Looking through the area, she finds a length of chain and a key that upon close examination proves to the be the property of the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe railroad.  But rather than return the key to the railroad or give it to the sheriff, she pockets it.  “You never knew when something might be of use,” she thinks.

Laurie Loewenstein is a masterful storyteller.  She interweaves the above plot lines, as well as two others, one involving the railroad detective Steele and the other a self-sufficient blind theater owner who unwillingly inherits Ruthie-Jo’s dog.  Her characters are realistic and well-drawn, and even the most unsympathetic are all-too-human.

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.