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HOME AT NIGHT by Paula Munier: Book Review

Newlyweds Mercy Carr and Troy Warner are looking for their first home together, one that is large enough to be comfortable for the two of them and the three others who make up their family–teenager Amy, her toddler daughter Helena, and Amy’s boyfriend Brodie.  Oh, and the couples’ two very large dogs–Elvis, Mercy’s Belgian Malenois, and Sugar Bear, Troy’s Newfoundland.

Mercy gets a call to view a home that has just come on the market.  Grackle Tree Farm had been owned by the famous Vermont poet Euphemia Whitley-Jones, and it consists of thirty acres and a magnificent, if very rundown, Victorian mansion.  Even knowing the enormous amount of work it will take to put the house in livable condition, Mercy and Troy immediately fall in love with it and its surrounding area.

However, a walk-thru with the realtor shows them something they weren’t expecting–a bedroom that was used as a beautiful library–with a dead body on the floor.

The following morning Mercy is awakened by a visit from her great-uncle Hugo Fleury and her sometime employer Daniel Feinberg.  Both men have interesting backgrounds–Hugo, a retired army colonel who now owns and runs a security agency, and Daniel, a billionaire who has hired Mercy to lead investigations on various occasions.

Fleury tells his great-niece that decades earlier he had been stationed in Europe and attended a party at the French estate of Whitley-Jones.  Fleury confirms what Mercy has heard, that everyone who knew the poet loved and admired her.  He tells her that he and Daniel have heard that a letter, a literary treasure in his words, is hidden somewhere inside the house or on the grounds of the Farm.

The two men believe the missive was a love letter, and Mercy tells them she has just learned of the rivalry between Euphemia and her sister Maude over an airman whose body was never recovered.  She has seen a memorial to Captain Michael Emil Robillard on the estate, and Hugo completes the story by telling Mercy that Robillard and Euphemia had been engaged when Robillard and Maude eloped, leaving Euphemia heartbroken.

To make the situation even more complicated, after her husband’s death Maude received his duffle bag with a letter Euphemia had written to him.  Thus the sister who had been the betrayer was now the betrayed.  The sisters never reconciled and left no immediate survivors.

Now that Euphemia and Maude have died, the sale is possible, and there are a number of prospective purchasers for the property, including developers and non-profit organizations as well as protestors who don’t want the property sold at all.  And where does the man who was killed in the house fit into all this?  And what about a possible heir in California, not a direct descent of either sister but a relation of Michael Emil Robillard?

Mercy and Troy are working together to solve the murder and thus purchase the Farm.  Given her military background and his current position as a detective in the Northshire police department, the two definitely have the skills to find the murderer and move into their dream home.  As in her previous books, Paula Munier has written a mystery with engaging characters, a fascinating plot, and a clever twist at the end of the novel.

Paula Munier, in addition to her writing, is a literary agent and a volunteer Natural Resources Steward in New Hampshire.  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.

EVERYONE HERE IS LYING by Shari Lapena: Book Review

Rarely has a book’s title been more apt.  Everyone, or nearly everyone, on the Connaught cul-de-sac in the small community of Stanhope has a secret, and some secrets are more deadly than others.

When Nora Blanchard tells William Wooler that she’s breaking off their affair, he’s crushed.  He can’t talk her out of it, and he goes home devastated.  His anger erupts when he sees his nine-year-old daughter Avery in the kitchen, since he knows she’s supposed to be at choir practice.  She tells him she was sent home because of her behavior, which is no surprise to him–Avery’s behavior has always been a major problem at school as well as at home.

Still upset about the end of his relationship with Nora, and enraged at his daughter’s casual dismissal of her uncontrollable behavior, William moves quickly across the kitchen and slaps Avery with such force that she falls to the floor.  Horrified at what he has done, he picks her up, puts her on a chair, and leaves the house.

When Avery’s older brother Michael comes home from his basketball practice, he’s upset to realize that his sister isn’t home.  She’s supposed to wait for him at school so they can walk home together, but he was a few minutes late leaving practice, so when he learned from the choir director that Avery had been dismissed earlier than usual because of her “disruptive” behavior, he expects her to be at their house.  He searches every room, but she’s not there, and finally he calls his mother to tell her that Avery is missing.

That’s when we learn how many people on Connaught Street are lying.  Of course, at first there are William and Nora, neither one anxious to tell their spouses or the police, who arrive quickly at the Wooler home, about how they spent the afternoon.  When one of the detectives asks if anyone saw Avery after she left school, “William can’t find his voice; it’s as if he’s paralyzed.”  And many of the neighbors interviewed are keeping their own secrets for reasons that seem necessary to them.  But nothing is helping to find the missing child.

Then Detective Gully finds the first clue that there’s something strange about Avery’s disappearance.  Erin, Avery’s mother, tells the detective what her daughter was wearing when she left for school that morning, and it includes a dark blue jeans jacket.  But as Gully passes the hall near the front door, she sees a jean jacket hanging on a high hook, much higher than the nine-year-old could possibly have reached to put it there, and she questions the parents about that.  Now, William thinks, they’ll all realize that Avery must have been home after school today.  Still, he says nothing.

Shari Lapena has written a mystery that will strike fear into every parent’s heart.  The agony of Avery’s parents, the guilt that William is experiencing, and the fears of the neighbors, both for and about their own children, are vividly drawn.  The ending, a total surprise and yet perfectly realistic, is outstanding.

Shari Lapena, formerly a lawyer and an English teacher, is the Canadian author of more than twenty books.  You can read more about her at this website.

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

THE SPANISH DIPLOMAT’S SECRET by Nev March: Book Review

It should have been a wonderful, relaxing trip for Captain Jim Agnihotri and his wife, Lady Diana Framji.  After all, they were traveling on HMS Etruria, a luxurious ship in the Cunard line.  Sadly, however, the former cavalry officer, while very much at home on horseback, is not dealing well with the movements of the liner, and he is so seasick on the first night out that he’s perilously close to fall over the railing into the Atlantic Ocean.

Then assistance appears in the person of an elderly man.  He leads Jim to a nearby deck chair, and the two men have a brief conversation.  Although Jim introduces himself, the other man doesn’t reciprocate.  Instead he asks Jim, “Do they return…here?”  Interestingly, Jim knows exactly what his rescuer means–“Do you see the soldiers you lost?”  Agnihotri admits that he does, adding that he also sees the others, men whom he killed in battle.  The unknown man says,”I did my duty.  It was my duty,” and then he walks away.

When Diana comes on deck a few minutes later, Jim relates the encounter, and she tells him she thinks the man must have been the Spanish grandee who came on board with his wife and secretary.  She reminds him of the strange occurrence that took place as the passengers were boarding earlier that day.  A woman was pushing a wheelchair up the gangplank when suddenly she stopped, frozen, while other passengers tried to maneuver around her.  She appeared to be looking at someone she recognized in the line ahead of her and her charge.  She stayed immobilized, until finally she continued on her way onto the liner.

Jim and Diana wonder whom the attendant was looking at.  Could it have been Jim’s mysterious benefactor?

The next afternoon a steward hands him a note, requesting his immediate attendance on Don Juan Nepomuceno, the Spanish grandee, at the nobleman’s cabin.  For some reason the request had not been passed to Jim immediately, so it isn’t until after lunch that he receives it.  As he heads to the promenade level and the Don’s stateroom, a crew member rushes past him, calling for the ship’s doctor.  Jim never gets as far as the stateroom, however, because as he and the physician pass the music room, they see a group of people, including the ship’s captain, in the doorway.  Don Juan Nepomuceno is slumped in a chair, obviously dead.

Captain Hawley is aware that Jim is a detective with the Dupree detective agency in Boston and asks for his assistance in finding the murderer.  He says that otherwise the Etruria will be held at Liverpool while an inquest is conducted, and with nearly a thousand people on board that would be a disaster for the steamship line publicity-wise as well as a major inconvenience for all the passengers and crew members.  So Jim reluctantly agrees to help.

The author’s notes at the end of the mystery fill readers in on the fascinating history behind The Spanish Diplomat’s Secret.  The novel’s characters and plot are extremely believable, and it’s a delight to meet Captain Jim and Lady Diana again.

You can read more about Nev March 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.

ASHES IN THE SNOW by Oriana Ramunno: Book Review

The horrors of the Holocaust and in particular the inhumane experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele make for difficult reading.  But the humanity of those caught in those situations can give us hope, as so eloquently expressed in the words of Anne Frank: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart.”

Hugo Fischer, a detective on the Berlin Kriminalpolizei, is sent to Auschwitz in 1943 to investigate the death of Sisimund Braun, a colleague of Dr. Mengele at the camp.  Tristan Voigt, a camp officer, explains that a prisoner has already been arrested for Braun’s murder, but rumors have started about the death and the possibility that the accused is not guilty.  Now the Kommandant wants Fischer to make certain that the man, a nurse working under Braun, confesses.

One of the young prisoners in the camp, Gioele Errera, is an adventurous child.  He and his brother Gabriele, along with other twins, were separated by Mengele when they arrived at Auschwitz and given preferential treatment; they didn’t know or understand the doctor’s plans that would end in the death of all the twins at the camp.  Gabriele has been transferred to the infirmary, the boys’ parents are in Birkenau, the section of Auschwitz with the gas chambers, and Gioele is alone.

Gioele, very talented artistically, was quietly wandering the halls of the medical building when he comes across the corpse of Dr. Braun.  He draws several pictures of the dead doctor and his office, and when he meets Fischer he offers him the pictures provided that the detective search Birkenau for his parents.

There are certainly a number of people with motives to kill Braun.  Among them are the women at the camp he raped, his wife, her lover, and several of his colleagues.  Although the unofficial cause of the doctor’s death is that he choked to death on an apple, Fischer isn’t convinced that that was truly the cause, and Braun’s wife doesn’t want an autopsy done.

Hugo has heard rumors about the camp, but the reality of it is beyond his worst imaginings.  Immediately upon his arrival he witnesses the casual shooting of a young mother and the stomping to death of her infant, while around him the Jews arriving in the trains are herded to the “showers.”  He is told by Obersturmführer Tristan Voigt that “Every now and then these accidents do happen,” and although Hugo witnessed thousands of Jews board trains, with yellow stars pinned to their clothing, he hadn’t seen where the trains stopped.  Until now.

In addition to the stress of the investigation, Fischer is also dealing with severe post-polio syndrome symptoms.  He has to pretend that his pain and his limp are caused by war injuries, because any kind of physical or mental illnesses is viewed as a burden on the state and often results in the sterilization or execution of the disabled person.  He is forced to take his medication in private, but his symptoms are getting worse.

Oriana Ramunno tells readers in the Author’s Note that her great-uncle had been in the Flossenbürg concentration camp and that it was hearing his story that compelled her to write Ashes in the Snow many years later.  Her articulate and beautifully expressive, novel, I am certain, would have made him proud.

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.

RED QUEEN by Juan Gómez-Jurado: Book Review

Red Queen, the first mystery in the trilogy by Spanish author Juan Gómez-Jurado, is an outstanding combination of thriller and police procedural.  Its two protagonists, polymath Antonia Scott and Inspector Jon Gutiérrez of the Bilbao police could not be more different, but it is their very differences that make them a most formidable team.

Antonia Scott has hidden herself from the world following a tragic event that left her beloved husband in a coma three years ago.  As the novel progresses, readers will learn that what happened to Marcos was in no way her fault, but nevertheless she blames herself. 

Jon Gutiérrez is dealing with his own trauma, but this one is on him.  Attempting to rescue a teenage prostitute from her abusive pimp, he decides to put heroin in the pimp’s car and have him arrested.  However, as no good deed goes unpunished, he foolishly tells the young woman what he plans to do, not realizing that Desi is still in love with the man.  Desi and her procurer arrange for Gutiérrez to be filmed on her cell phone while he plants the drugs; now Jon has been suspended and is facing criminal charges.

A man calling himself Mentor offers Jon a prid pro quo option, Jon takes him up on it, and the video is removed from television stations and video sites.  The next step, which if successful would allow Jon to return to the police force, is up to him.  He must get Antonia, whom he’s never met, to go with him to Mentor.

When Jon first visits Antonia, she wants nothing to do with whatever it is that Mentor wants her to do.  She’s dealt with him before and is done with him.  Then she has a change of heart, and she and the inspector go to the mansion where Mentor is.  There a horrific scene awaits them.  The body of a teenager is arranged on the living room couch, dressed in a white shirt and pants, but his body is nearly transparent.  He has bled to death.

The combination of Antonia’s gifts in language, technology, and mathematics and Jon’s investigative ability are the reasons that Mentor has chosen them to solve this crime.  The young boy was the son of the head of a major Spanish bank, and his family is cooperating, almost completely, with the police.

At the same time, Carla Ortiz, the daughter of the world’s wealthiest man, is on her way to an equestrian meet with her beloved mare Maggie.  Her automobile, an enormous Porsche Cayenne, is stopped on a back road, her driver is killed, and she’s abducted and imprisoned.

How are these two crimes, one the murder of a teenager from a millionaire’s family, the other the kidnapping of the daughter of a billionaire’s family, related?  And why is neither family willing to be completely open to the police about the ransoms demanded, which they are not willing to pay?

Red Queen is a fascinating mystery that brings the reader into the Basque part of Spain.  Learning why Antonia has removed herself from the world and how Jon has armored himself against the homosexual slurs and prejudices of his colleagues is a major part of the appeal of this outstanding novel.

You can read about Juan Gómez-Jurado 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.

 

 

CLARK AND DIVISION by Naomi Hirahara: Book Review

One of the most shameful episodes in American history is brought to life in the mystery Clark and Division Naomi Hirahara has taken the stories of the internment of thousands of Japanese-born and native-born Americans of Japanese ancestry following the Pearl Harbor attack and brilliantly woven it into a novel that will touch readers’ hearts as well as keep them guessing until the last page.

The Ito family has just been released from Manzanar, a “War Relocation Center” established by the United States government to house Japanese living in the States who are not eligible for citizenship.  Rose and Aki are teenagers born in the United States (Nisei) and are eligible for citizenship, but their parents, born in Japan (Issei), aren’t, so the entire family is sent to the center in 1942.

As the novel opens, Aki and her parents are set to join Rose in Chicago, where the War Relocation Authority has sent her, along with other Nisei, to help convince the public that Japanese born in America are loyal to the United States and not to the Empire of Japan.

When the three Itos arrive at Union Station, they’re surprised that Rose is not among the people waiting to greet them.  In the midst of the crowd is a young man they know from Manzanar.  He tells them, “There was an accident at the subway station last night,” and Aki immediately realizes that her beloved sister is dead.

At the coroner’s office the following morning, Aki is dealt a further blow.  She is told that Rose’s death was not an accident but suicide and that she recently had had an abortion.  Aki is devastated by the fact that her sister had had to go through the abortion alone, and she doesn’t believe she would have killed herself the day before her family was arriving in Chicago.  She determines to find out what really happened to Rose.

The book’s title refers to the subway station where Rose’s body was found, and it’s also Aki’s launching point in her investigation into her sister’s death.  Aki is fearless, traveling alone around the metropolitan area, talking to the police, fellow members of the established Japanese community, and recent Japanese arrivals from other internment camps to discover the truth.  She hears pieces of Rose’s story from members of each group, but it’s up to her to put them together to solve the mystery of her sister’s death.

Clark and Division is a fascinating and disturbing look into what was happening in the United States during World War II, the prejudices its government and its citizens held against the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, and the retaliation against immigrant and native-born Japanese alike.

Naomi Hirahara is the author of many novels, short stories, and biographies, and was formerly the editor of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper.  She also is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Edgar for the third mystery in her Mas Arai series, Snakeskin Shamishen.  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.

 

REYKJAVÍK by Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir: Book Review

The disappearance of fifteen-year-old Lára Marteinsdóttir is a crime that remained unsolved for thirty years.  Fiercely independent, Lára persuaded her parents to let her take a summer job on the island of Videy, off the coast of Reykjavík.  Her cousin had worked there the previous summer at a cottage owned by Ólöf Blödal and her husband, Óttar Óskarsson, and she had had a good time.

At the time the novel opens in 1956, there are very few violent crimes and almost no murders in Iceland.  Thus when Lára didn’t call her parents at the usual time, they were at first only slightly concerned, but as the days went by they became worried, then frantic.  A young policeman, Kristján Kristjánsson, is sent to Videy to look around, but it’s obvious that the teenager isn’t there.

Óttar tells Kristján that Lára had told them, not long after she arrived, that she wanted to go home.  Although he and his wife were annoyed at her abrupt departure, he tells the police officer, they didn’t try to stop her, and so she took her luggage and headed for the harbor.

A phone call from Kristján’s supervisor while he’s at the cottage is a not-so-discreet reminder of the couple’s high status in Iceland.  Kristjánsson is told that they are not to be bothered any further, and the policeman leaves the island without any more information about Lára’s whereabouts.  He’s uneasy, but it’s been taken out of his hands.

And that’s the situation three decades later, in 1986.  As sometimes happens, however, various seemingly unrelated things come into play to bring about the solution to Iceland’s longest-running mystery.

Valur Róbertsson is a young journalist on the staff of the tabloid Vikubladid.  He has persuaded its editor, Dagbjartur Steinsson, to write a series of articles about Lára, her life and her disappearance.  Dagbjartur is reluctant at first but is won over when the first issue featuring a front page story about the missing teenager is the best-selling issue in the paper’s history, and the two subsequent issues sell out even more quickly.  Now Valur needs to finish the series with a big splash, the editor informs him.

Then Valur gets a phone call at work from a woman who won’t leave her name, and he can tell she’s calling from a phone booth to make certain she remains anonymous.  “It’s been a long time and the girl deserves better.”  She says she knows that Lára is dead, not missing, and it doesn’t matter how she knows.  “I just know she was killed.”  She says she’ll contact him again, then hangs up.

What brings about the beginning of the solution to Lára’s disappearance is the death of a man whose name was never even mentioned in connection with the missing girl.  When Finnur Stephensen, a wealthy businessman, lays dying in a Reykjávik hospital, his last words to his wife Thórdís are “Videy.  You have to go to Videy.”  Then he dies.

In their first collaboration, Ragnar Jónasson, the author of more than one dozen novels, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the prime minister of Iceland, have created a spellbinding mystery.  Their characters are alive, the plot keeps moving at a rapid pace, and the descriptions of Reykjavík and Icelandic society from 1956 to 1986 are wonderfully drawn.  Even though the novel begins nearly three-quarters of a century ago, the disappearance of a teenage girl is, unfortunately, as timely now as it was then.

You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson at this website and Katrín Jacobsdóttir 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.

 

 

 

AN EVIL HEART by Linda Castillo: Book Review

Returning to Ohio’s Amish Country is always a pleasure because it means spending time with Kate Burkholder, the Painters Mills Chief of Police.   Just days away from her wedding to John Thomasetti, himself a police detective for the state, Kate is called to investigate a particularly brutal death.

Aden Karn, a young Amish man, is riding his bicycle on his way to work, admiring the beauty of the countryside, when he’s struck by a bolt from a crossbow.  It has gone completely through him, sticking out of his back.  Then the killer stands over him, a second bolt is placed in his mouth, and his life is over.

When Kate goes to Karn’s parents and his girlfriend Emily to give them the sad news, they are unbelieving.  According to them and to Emily’s mother as well, Aden was funny, charming, never argued with anyone.  So why was he killed, and in such a barbaric way?

As the investigation progresses, however, certain things seem to point to another side of Aden.  He and his housemate, Wayne Graber, sold a reconditioned truck to one of the local toughs.  When the truck stopped working, Vernon Fisher demanded his down payment back, but Aden refused to return it.  Vernon, in turn, refused to pay the remainder of the price for the non-working truck, so Aden and Wayne went to Vernon’s house in the middle of the night and repossessed it.  Not unexpectedly, feelings ran high between the two men, but Vernon denies owning a crossbow or having any involvement in the death.

In addition, Kate is hearing disquieting stories about Aden and young women in the area. The Amish lead a restricted life until their mid or late teens, at which point many take advantage of rumspringa, literally “running around.”  During rumspringa they can drink, smoke, drive cars, use electricity, even have sexual relations, all of which are forbidden to the adults in the community.  It is hoped that after being a part of the non-Amish world for a period of time, the young people will realize the importance of the Amish way of life and return to it, and approximately ninety percent do.  But, of course, that leaves another ten percent who decide they prefer the alternative way.

Is this what caused Aden Karn’s death?  Did he become too fond of all the “English” things that are normally banned by the Amish?  The more deeply Kate looks into his life during his period of rumspringa, the more possible motives she discovers.

Linda Castillo has written another excellent novel in the Kate Burkholder series.  The novel’s plot is believable, Kate and John are wonderful characters, and the Amish and “English” communities both come alive in An Evil Heart.  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 RAGING STORM by Ann Cleeves: Book Review

For Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, going home is always difficult.  Greystone is close enough to where he grew up to bring back unhappy memories.  It’s where his parents belonged to the ultra-conservative Barum Brethren, an evangelical Christian group in Scotland he left when he was eighteen.

But, of course, Matt must go where his job leads him, and now it’s to the small village where the naked body of famous adventurer Jem Rosco was found.  Rosco had grown up in Greystone, but since he became a world-wide celebrity, known for sailing around the world solo, trekking to the North and South Poles, and walking up the Amazon, he hadn’t returned.

Then, suddenly, a few weeks before his death, he walked into the local pub, the Maiden’s Prayer, had two pints and left.  But he returned every night after that, saying in response to questions, “I’m here to meet someone….I’m expecting them any day.”

It’s a strange case, Matt thinks.  The lack of blood in the small dinghy in which he was found shows he wasn’t murdered there, so why did the murderer send out a Mayday call to make certain the body was discovered?

Those living in Greystone rarely leave and move to other places, so there are still many people who knew Rosco when he was a small child and then a schoolboy.  They all have a story or an opinion to share with Venn and his team:  Mary Ford, who wrote numerous fan letters to him when she was a teenager and he was already famous; Mary’s father Alan, desperate for funding to send his grandson to the United States for medical treatment that he believes will save the boy’s life; Sammy Barton, who says Jem had a reputation as a “bit of a cocky bastard” even as a teenager; Davy Gregory, part-time taxi driver who picked Jem up at the railway station and brought him to Greystone and whose father was forced to sell the cottage where Jem had been staying; Barty Lawson, commodore of the town’s sailing club who describes the deceased as an “irritating oik” who never quite fit in; Eleanor Lawson, the woman Rosco named his first boat after; and his former wife Selina, who describes him as “a charmer” who believed all his own fantasies.

There is a strong sense of claustrophobia in The Raging Storm.  Some of that is due to the smallness and isolation of the village, and some is due to the hurricane-like storm that is cutting Greystone off from nearby towns.  There is also a sense of an almost inbred community, where families have lived for generations, doing the same work their parents and grandparents did, as well as the overwhelming influence and moral values of the Brethren.  It’s a mix that doesn’t bode well for Matt and his fellow investigators.

Ann Cleeves is a truly gifted storyteller, whether she is writing about Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, or Detective Inspector Matthew Venn.  All three series featuring these protagonists have been adapted for television.  Her characters are true-to-life, her plots are believable, and her settings take readers right to the place where the action is.

You can read more about her about her at this website.

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

THE DARK EDGE OF NIGHT by Mark Pryor: Book Review

It’s December 2, 1940, six months almost to the day that Paris fell to the Nazis, and Police Inspector Henri Lefort is called into his superior’s office to probe the disappearance of a missing German physician. 

Dr. Viktor Brandt had arrived in Paris a week earlier but hasn’t been seen at the Blériot Hospital for several days. However, before Henri can begin looking into this case he’s handed another, one that at first glance appears to be a burglary gone wrong.  However, when he turns the corpse over, he looks “at what once was the face of a man, … a visage beaten flat, bloody, and utterly unrecognizable.”

That night Henri’s neighbor Mimi comes to him with a request.  Mimi’s full name and title is Princess Marie Bonaparte, and she is Napoleon’s great-grand niece.  She tells him about the disappearance of two physically disabled teenaged boys at the children’s home where she volunteers.

Three people had come to the home a few days earlier and taken the boys away.  They had shown the home’s director some papers that seemed official, but Mimi is disturbed by the occurrence.  Lefort promises to investigate but tells her that it has to take second place to the investigation of the doctor’s disappearance.  Or maybe even third place, given the investigation of the man found in the apartment.

Returning to his first case, arguably the most important one given that it was assigned to him by the Gestapo, Lefort sees Denis Berger, a colleague of the missing physician.  The detective follows Berger to an address all too well-known to the police, One-Two-Two rue de Provence.

After a brief conversation with the owner, Henri opens the door to the room where Berger is visiting one of the brothel’s dominatrixes and finds the doctor strapped to a cross, awaiting the attention of the woman wielding a thin horsewhip.  Eager to continue the whipping he paid for, Berger is adamant that he knows nothing about Brandt’s whereabouts.  Henri believes him.

Then Henri is called to the scene of another death, this one a man whose body was found on the railroad tracks.  Is the corpse is that of the missing German doctor?  Did this man lie down on the tracks, waiting for a train to end his life?  Did he fall, unable to get up?  Or did someone place him there, unconscious, knowing that a train would soon pass over him?

One of the pleasures of reading Mark Pryor’s mysteries is coming across historical figures who were in Paris in the 1940s.  In The Dark Edge of Night we meet, in addition to the princess, CBS News reporter Eric Sevareid and journalist/spy Virginia Hall, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945 for services to the Allies during the War.

Not surprisingly, all four cases–the man murdered in his apartment, the missing German doctor, the corpse on the train tracks, and the boys removed from the Children’s Home–are connected.  Mark Pryor has done a masterful job in bringing occupied Paris to life, and all his characters are believable–the emotions of the French dealing with the invaders in their city as well as the Germans who believe they are on the way to world conquest.

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.

DEAD MAN’S WAKE by Paul Doiron: Book Review

Trouble follows Mike Bowditch everywhere.  Even on what should be a joyous occasion, a small engagement party for Mike and his fiancée Stacey given by his stepfather and his new wife, the get-together isn’t over when the sound of a terrifying crash is heard.

Mike is a warden investigator with the Wildlife Crimes Investigation Division of the Maine Warden Service.  Given the large size of Maine, much of it either wilderness or water, the wardens are responsible for law enforcement, search and rescue missions, and hunting related shooting incidents, as well as other types of administration.  They carry weapons, issue citations, and make arrests, much like any other police officer.

Mike and several other members of the party rush out of the house to see what happened, and in just a few minutes he, his stepfather Neil, his fiancée Stacey, and her father Charley are aboard Neil’s new Leisure Kraft pontoon, looking for the site of the crash and hoping for survivors.  As they approach nearby Mouse Island, named for the similarity of its shape to the rodent, Stacey thinks she sees something floating in the water.  It turns out to be a human arm.

The owner of Mouse Island is Dianne Fenton-Whitcomb, and it’s a property that has been in her family for generations.  Now, confined to a wheelchair by MS, she hasn’t been on the island for years, but according to the lake constable Galen Webb, her husband is a frequent visitor.  And he never comes alone.

One of the pleasures of reading any mystery series from the beginning is observing the growth of the protagonist.  When readers first meet Mike Bowditch in The Poacher’s Son, he’s just beginning his career in the Maine Warden Service.  Although smart and hard-working, he was overly eager and often overstepped boundaries in his attempts to prove himself worthy of his new job and the respect of his colleagues.

Now he’s ten years older, with a great deal more experience, and it’s amusing to read his reactions to Webb, who suffers from the same need for immediate gratification and recognition that Bowditch did a decade earlier.

Another pleasure of reading a series is that many characters return from previous Bowditch novels, as they do in this one.   Stacey is, of course, present at the celebration, as are her parents Charley and Ora, as well as Neil Turner, his wife Jubilee, and game warden Kathy Frost and her cadaver dog Maple.

Paul Doiron is the former editor of Down East, The Magazine of Maine, as well as a Registered Maine Guide specializing in fly fishing.  The Mike Bowditch mysteries have been translated into 11 languages.  He is the recipient of the Barry Award and the Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel as well as twice receiving the Maine Literary Award.  As with his previous mysteries, in Dead Man’s Wake the author combines fascinating characters, an outstanding plot, and his love for the state of Maine.

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.

 

SMALL MERCIES by Dennis Lehane: Book Review

The summer of 1974 was one of the worst in Boston’s history.  After years of legal challenges, U. S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity rules that the Boston public schools must desegregate.  As part of that plan, Black students from Roxbury High School would be bused to Boston South High School and white students from Boston South would be bused to Roxbury High School.

Protests and riots followed, with students and police being assaulted and gravely injured.  Small Mercies opens two months before the desegregation order is to take effect, and the hot, steamy Boston summer does nothing to cool tempers.

Southie, an almost exclusively white Catholic enclave in the city, is home to Mary Pat Fennessey and her teenage daughter Jules.  Widowed once and deserted/divorced once, Mary Pat is barely holding it together by adding a second shift at her second job at a shoe warehouse.  She’s working as hard as she can, but she can’t seem to get ahead–her gas has been shut off–“But she still has three more shifts and a trip to the billing office before we can boil water or roast a chicken again….”  In the midst of all this, there are two major upheavals in her life.

The first is the busing issue itself, and Mary Pat is creating signs for a protest in front of City Hall Plaza to demonstrate the white community’s opposition to the judge’s ruling.  The second, more personal, is the disappearance of her seventeen-year-old daughter Jules, who goes out with three friends one afternoon and doesn’t return home that evening.

At first Mary Pat is not overly worried because her daughter has spent the night away from home before.  However, when Jules isn’t home by breakfast time the next morning, Mary Pat starts getting concerned.  She makes a couple of phone calls to the parents of one of the friends that her daughter went out with the day before and is assured that Jules isn’t there.  Don’t worry, says the girl’s mother, “….they alway turn up.”  But, Mary Pat thinks, sometimes they don’t.

When she arrives at work, Mary Pat gets her first look at the day’s paper which features a story about a Black man found dead on the tracks of the Columbia Station.  The consensus of the other white women at the Meadow Lane Manor is that he was a drug dealer, otherwise why would he be in the subway station heading toward Southie, which is in the opposite direction of Roxbury where, as a Black man, he surely must have lived?  But as Mary Pat takes a closer look at the article, she realizes that the young man was the son of one of their co-workers, the only Black hospital aide at the nursing home.

So now there are two grieving mothers, one with a missing daughter and one with a dead son.  What is the connection?

As always, Dennis Lehane has written a compelling novel filled with suspense, humor, and humanity.  You can read more about him at http://dennislehane.com and view him discussing Small Mercies on the CBS program https://www.cbsnews.com/video/dennis-lehane-on-new-novel-small-mercies/#x.

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.

 

SYMPHONY OF SECRETS by Brendan Slocumb: Book Review

The life of a university professor is turned upside down when he’s offered an exceptional opportunity–to authenticate a long-lost classical masterpiece written by his idol, Frederic Delaney. 

Bern Hendricks is a young assistant professor at the University of Virginia who believes he owes his career to the opportunities the Foundation, started after the composer’s death,  gave him.

Bern receives a call from Mallory Delaney Roberts, the Delaney Foundation’s executive director and Delany’s niece.  Mallory is very discreet, even secretive, and she tells Bern that a piece of music has been found that she believes belonged to her uncle, and she would like Bern to  authenticate it.

Before the day is over he’s in a private office in the Foundation’s building, working on something so hush-hush he’s not really certain what it is.  But whatever it is, as long as it has a connection to Frederic Delaney, Bern is thrilled to be a part of it.

Symphony of Secrets is told in two voices in two time periods.  The first is Bern’s in the present, the second is Fredric Delaney’s in the 1920s.

In 1920, Delaney began composing his most famous opus, Five Rings of Olympia, an homage to the first Olympics held after World War I.  Each opera was named after a color of one of the Olympic rings.  Praise was heaped on the works BLUE, YELLOW, BLACK, and GREEN, and the world eagerly awaited the debut of RED, the ending to the mythical tale.  However, a decade went by, and there was no RED, until finally, in 1935, Delaney announced the opera was ready to be performed.

Triumph of the Americas:  The Red Rings of Olympia opened for five consecutive nights at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.  Delaney was prepared to enjoy every minute of his triumph after the insults and snide remarks he had received from critics wondering about the long hiatus between GREEN and RED.  However, what the audience at the premiere of RED heard was boring repetition and hackneyed melodies, and the critics were merciless.  The following morning, Delaney’s valet found him dead of a mixture of pills and alcohol.  His reputation never recovered.

Now Hendricks has the chance to bring the final, revised part of the Rings to the public and critics, based on the newly-discovered document.  However, as he works on RED, he notices some strange things about the document and the secrecy surrounding his employment.  His cell phone is taken away the moment he enters the Foundation’s building, he’s given a windowless basement office, he has to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and he’s not allowed to see the original document that was found, only the scanned version.

Bern is so thrilled to be working on RED, however, that he doesn’t linger on these unusual aspects of his job.  But when he calls on an old friend, tech-savvy Eboni Washington, to help him  with some aspects of the opera, she is much more aware than he of the strangeness of the situation and what could be behind it

Symphony of Secrets is a beautifully written mystery with a compelling plot and memorable characters.  The author is a musician with a degree in music education who has performed with orchestras throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D. C.   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.

DEADLOCK by James Byrne: Book Review

Barely a year after his debut mystery featuring Desmond Aloysius Limerick, James Byrne has written a second novel as outstanding as his first.  I had nothing but praise for The Gatekeeper, a novel that introduced Dez to the world last June, and I was more than ready for the follow-up to his first adventure.  Deadlock does not disappoint.

Dez’s resume is a bit mysterious, but it does include a degree in engineering, an incredible ability to hack into nearly every secure facility in the world, and the talent to play electric guitar in both jazz and blues bands.  His skill in entering buildings (breaking into may be the more accurate description) is one that he employs numerous times in Deadlock.

Thinking he would like a brief holiday in the United States, Dez leaves England and has just spent his first day in Los Angeles when he receives a phone call from Raziah Swann, a young musician/songwriter he has worked with.  When she tells him that her sister Laleh is in danger and is in a hospital, he’s on the next flight to Portland, Oregon.

Raziah tells Dez that her sister’s apartment was ransacked and a day after that she was mugged and almost killed.  The two go to the hospital, and Dez immediately spots two men who are waiting for Raziah.  He dispatches them without any trouble as well as two others who are inside Laleh’s room, apparently ready to abduct her.

When he puts the last thug out of commission with a Thai boxing move, he looks over the man and thinks, he has “heard the expression you should never hit a man when he’s down.  Stupid advice, that.  There’s no better time to hit a man than when he’s down.”  (Italics mine.)

Laleh insists that she doesn’t know why anyone would attack her.  She’s a business reporter, she tells the police and Dez, not an investigative journalist, and the only story she’s working on at the moment is a profile of a forensic accountant who was murdered a couple of days before she was attacked.  She’s sure there’s no connection, but Dez has his own opinion.

The accountant who was killed was doing an audit on Oregon’s largest and most influential employer, Clockjack Solutions.  The company was started three decades earlier by four Portland State University professors, but two have died.  To Dez it seems unlikely, to say the least, that two of the four entrepreneurs died at such young ages.  And now there have been two recent attacks related, if peripherally, to the company–the accountant and Laleh.

I must confess I was eagerly awaiting every “spot of trouble,” as the Brits put it, that Dez got into so that I could marvel at the way he got out of each one.  James Byrne has created a skilled, funny, personable character with whom I loved spending the afternoon.  Dez is surrounded by a wonderful cast of characters–good, bad, and truly evil–but there’s no doubt that he is the star.

James Byrne is the pen name of a man who has worked as a journalist and in politics for more than two decades.  You can read about him at various sites on the web.

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

 

 

 

 

THE BITTER PAST by Bruce Borgos: Book Review

Depending on how one views it, the High Desert is either an area of great beauty or a desolate landscape. Its very small population is spread over a very large area, and it definitely takes a certain type of mindset to live there.

Porter Beck is the sheriff of Lincoln County, Nevada, which is part of the High Desert, as was his father before him.  Murders there are rare, but now he is faced with a particularly heinous one.  The murdered man was Ralph Atterbury, a retired FBI agent, and he was brutally tortured, apparently for hours, before his death.

Beck, as everyone calls him, served in an Intelligence unit in the Army.  Now he thinks, “It’s a level of torture I’ve never witnessed, and that includes what I’ve seen the Taliban do.”  He has one of his deputies call the FBI office in Las Vegas to inform them of the crime and continues his search of Atterbury’s home, one thing standing out from all the blood and butchery.  It’s a small box containing Thallium salts, which Beck recognizes from a past experience.  Very, very poisonous, odorless, and tasteless.

The next day FBI Agent Sana Locke enters Beck’s office.  Together they return to the scene of the crime and afterward to the Las Vegas field office to view Atterbury’s corpse.

Then The Bitter Past goes back to 1955, when Las Vegas was a newly emerging vacation spot and fears of the Cold War were everywhere.   A young man called Freddie Meyer gets an interim job as a dealer in one of the city’s casinos, and there he meets Katherine Ellison.  The two click immediately, and after a few dates she takes him home to meet her father, a physicist working on a secret weapon who has ultra-high security clearance.

The two men hit it off, partly due to Freddie’s interest in and knowledge of physics, and Dr. Ellison is able to get Freddie a job as a security guard at the newly named Nevada Testing Site.  Although he passed the security clearance for this position, the reader knows there’s something “off” about Freddie.

Why is he so determined to learn all he can about his fellow guards?  Why does he downplay his ability with firearms?  And, given his relatively low status as a security guard, why is he aiming to obtain as much information as he can about the science of atomic testing?

Four weeks into his new job Freddie has a few days off and leaves the testing site, returning to his Las Vegas apartment.  Picking up his mail, he sees a small package from his Aunt Sally.  When he opens it, inside is the camera he is expecting.  It will permit Freddie, also known as Lieutenant Georgiy Dudko of the Committee for State Security (KGB), to take photos without being observed, inside the United States’ most secret facility.

Bruce Borgos has written a mystery with multiple layers.  Its protagonist, Porter Beck, is charming, funny, and a lawman with incredible credentials, and the book’s other characters bring their own strengths and personalities to the novel.  The Bitter Past is an outstanding debut, and I hope to see much more of Beck and his colleagues in the future.

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.