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A FONDNESS FOR TRUTH by Kim Hays: Book Review

When Andi Eberhart is killed, at first it seems like a tragic accident.  She was heading home late at night on her bicycle, without a helmet, on a dark road.  Then her bike left the path, and she flew off.

Did Andi simply lose control of her bicycle, or did someone hit her and force her off the road?  The more the police investigate, the more reasons appear to show that the death might have been deliberate.

First, she was a member of a biracial lesbian couple, and her marriage had caused the estrangement of her Tamil partner from her family.

Second, she had been receiving hate mail, letters that warned Andi that “God will punish you” for her marriage and that their child was “an abomination.”

Third, one of the members of the curling team that she captained openly held hostile feelings toward her, believing that she, not Andi, should have been chosen as the head of the team.

Bern, Switzerland homicide Detective Giuliana Linder is heading the investigation along with Investigator Renzo Donatelli.  Andi’s partner, Nisha, tells Giuliana that she can’t think of any reason anyone would have wanted to cause Andi’s death, even though she admits that their relationship caused rifts within their families and the larger immigrant community.

Simultaneously, Giuliana is investigating another case.  A truly horrific murder has taken place, and although the killer is in custody, there are still many questions that remain unanswered.

Manfred and Iris Kissling were the parents of two young daughters, Mia and Lea, and the couple was recently divorced.  Although Manfred had asked the court for full custody, he was granted only two weekends a month.  Then, several months after the divorce, Manfred took the girls out for the afternoon and threw them off a high cliff.  When he didn’t return them to Iris at the appointed time, she called the police; they came to Manfred’s apartment and arrested him.  Since then he’s been in prison awaiting trial, refusing to give the police any reasons for or details about his crime.

When Giuliana meets Iris Kissling, she’s puzzled by the woman.  Rather than wearing the subdued clothes the detective expected to see on a grieving mother, Iris is wearing bright colors and jewelry.  Her demeanor is odd too, the detective thinks, and she explains to her supervisor after the interview, “It’s as if she’s playing a part….she’s just…blank.”  Giuliana says she’d like Iris to have a psychiatric evaluation, and the prosecutor says he’ll look at the video of the interview and then make a decision.

In addition to their police cases, both Giuliana and Renzo are having troubles at home.  Giuliana’s mother-in-law has been diagnosed with cancer, and her behavior is bringing up various family issues; Renzo’s marriage is an unhappy one, and it’s becoming obvious to all concerned.

A Fondness for Truth is the third book in the Polizei Bern series, and each one gives the reader more details about life in Switzerland.  Giuliana and Renzo are beautifully drawn, believable in their personal and professional lives, and learning about Swiss customs and traditions is fascinating.  The author, an American who has lived in Switzerland for thirty-five years with her husband, makes her adopted home come to life.

You can read more about Kim Hays 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.

 

IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles: Book Review

In 1908 when In Sunshine or In Shadow takes place, the Catskill Mountains aren’t the entertainment mecca that they were to become two or three decades later, nor was it yet the “Yiddish Alps,” a summer haven for Jews who were not welcome in other resorts around the state.

Instead, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Catskills are home to small farms and boarding houses that welcomed guests who took trains and electric trolleys and ferries to arrive at the fresh air vacationland a few hours north of New York City.  That summer, to escape the typhoid epidemic that is spreading in Manhattan, Molly Murphy is persuaded by her husband to spend some time at his mother’s summer home in White Plains, then a small town on the outskirts of the mountains.

It’s very relaxing, and her young son Liam is having a wonderful time, but Molly, owner of a small private detective agency, is bored.  Then she receives a letter from her close friends, Sid and Gus, inviting her to join them for a few days at the nearby all-women artists’ retreat where the couple is spending the summer.  Leaving Liam with his doting grandmother, Molly heads for the mountains to spend time with her friends.

First they must visit Sid’s relatives, who live nearby.  The Friedmans own some property, and they have plans to build a small hotel and to host visitors from the city.  Sid is happiest keeping a polite distance from her parents and grandparents, who are only too eager to see her married and become the mother of a large family.  In fact, they have already chosen her bridegroom, a professor from Manhattan.  Her family is seemingly unaware or else unwilling to acknowledge that Sid is already in a relationship with Gus, or Augusta, to give her partner her full name.

An arrangement has also been made for Sid’s niece Mira to wed another New Yorker, a Mr. Levin, even though Mira is only seventeen years old.   Neither Sid nor Mira would be forced into marriage against their will, but the pressure to do what the family wants them to do is strong.  Molly knows that Sid is mature enough to withstand this, but what about Mira?

At the same time, the women in the artists’ colony, Amicitia, are embroiled in a dispute with the owner of the nearby bluestone mine, whose stones are used to pave city streets.  The road from the mine to the train station has been illegally cut through a portion of the state forest, and passions are high between the women over what they see as a desecration of pristine land and the mine owner’s desire to run a profitable business.

Adding to the tension is a three-way dispute between the mine owner, the local forest ranger whose job it is to protect state land, and Mr. Levin.  Levin has an interest in the surrounding property and claims that he has a deed showing that he’s the rightful owner of land adjoining the mine, although no one has seen it.  He’s concerned that the mine’s blasting will keep vacationers away from his proposed resort.

All these angry feelings are motives for the unexpected death that occurs.

The mother-daughter team of Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles has written another engaging volume about private detective Molly Murphy, a smart, confident woman at a time when women are beginning to assert themselves and take a more assertive role in the world.

You can read more about the authors at various websites.

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 MAYORS OF NEW YORK by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

When the only son of the mayor of New York City goes missing, one would expect there would be a major search for him, using radio, television, and newspaper coverage in addition to the police.  That’s not the case, however, when teenager Mark McCann is the one that private investigators Bill Smith and Lydia Chin are hired to find.

The mayor is in the midst of crucial negotiations with the city’s Detective Endowment Association, and she is concerned that calling the city’s police to find her son will make her look as if she’s a negligent single mother and thus weaken her position at the bargaining table and lessen her chances of being re-elected next year.

This is not the first time Mark has run away, Bill and Lydia learn, but it’s the first time he’s been gone overnight.  He wouldn’t go to his father’s condo, the mayor’s assistant tells Bill, because they don’t get along, and he wouldn’t confide in his twin sister Madison because they don’t get along either.  So with no one outside his home to turn to, where did he go?  And why?

Lydia Chin has just finished talking to the parents of another teenager, Amber Shun, who was found hanging in a Manhattan park.  The coroner ruled it was a suicide, but Mr. and Mrs. Shun don’t believe that their daughter, an A student and serious musician, would have killed herself.  Lydia tells the parents she doesn’t think there is anything she could do to prove their daughter’s death was murder, so she declines to take the case.  But it’s worrying her.

Neither Mark’s twin sister nor his father seem at all concerned about the disappearance.  It’s obvious that Madison is her father’s favorite child, and the two share a philosophy of winner take all and they’re the winners; all the others, including Mark, are losers and not too many tears need to be shed over them.  The more closely Bill and Lydia look into the case, the more they begin to fear that Mark’s disappearance may not be an instance of an unhappy teenager needing some time to himself but may be a case of someone running away from danger.

Bill and Lydia are determined to follow the scant clues there are, and those clues take them to neighborhoods in Chinatown, Times Square, and Staten Island.  Mark, however, always seems to be a step ahead of them, and his ability to evade capture would be viewed as clever if it were not so frustrating to the detectives.

As with every one of her previous mysteries, S. J. Rozan has written a compelling story that features two of the most engaging private investigators working today.  Bringing together their separate strengths and abilities, Smith and Chin are a formidable team.

S. J. Rozan’s work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story.  She’s also the recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon Award and recently received the Life Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America.

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.

LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED by Jeff Hoffmann: Book Review

I’ve written frequently about secrets, how they can be dangerous and deadly for one to keep.  Now multiply one by four, and you have the plot of Like It Never Happened.

The four high school friends had once been close, so close that they called each other “brother.”  It was always Tommy, Kevin, Malcolm, and Henry.  As the saying goes, it was “one for all and all for one,” as it appeared in The Three Musketeers.  But in the local edition of the paper he’s reading, Tommy sees Kevin’s obituary, and now there are only three.  And the remaining men are no longer close at all.

Although it’s awkward to do, given all the time the three have been out of touch with each other, Tommy decides he has to let the others know of Kevin’s death.  Googling them, he finds that Malcolm is an uber-successful attorney in Chicago and Henry is a businessman in Denver.  After hearing Tommy’s news, the men and Henry’s wife Alice, who also knew Kevin, decide to attend the wake in Milwaukee later in the week.

Although all the men are successful professionally, their family lives have suffered.  Tommy, who on the surface seems to have the happiest home life, has a nineteen-year-old daughter who is estranged from her mother and who barely talks to Tommy.  Malcolm’s wife is ready to move out of the multi-million dollar mansion she never wanted and start a new life for herself and their young daughter.  Alice is also ready to leave her husband now that she has discovered not only his sexual affair but the lifelong residue it has left behind.

Feeling extremely uncomfortable at the funeral home, the men and Henry’s wife are confronted by Kevin’s widow Naomi, who stuns them by saying that Kevin’s will is going to be read the following day and that “he left something for the three of you.”

Many of us have something in our past that we prefer to think of “as if it never happened.”  But it did happen, and the longer one holds onto a secret, the more damaging it becomes.  It’s like a pebble in your shoe; you can pretend it’s not there and you can walk with it, but you are hobbled by the pebble and can’t ignore it.  That’s what has happened in the lives of Tommy, Malcolm, and Henry.  On the surface the three men seem happy in their marriages and careers, but the surface is very thin, and the pebble/secret can’t be dismissed.

Jeff Hoffman has written an absorbing and tense crime novel.  He gives us tantalizing glimpses throughout the book about the incident that has haunted the men since their high school days, but we have to keep turning the pages to find out the whole story.  His portraits of Tommy, Henry, and Malcolm are brilliantly drawn, each becoming a fully realized character as the book progresses, and the plot and its conclusion are masterful.

You can read more about Jeff Hoffman 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.

LEAVE NO TRACE by A. J. Landau: Book Review

Nothing could have been more ordinary in the minutes before the explosion.  A fifteen-year-old boy is trying to get his father’s attention away from his phone and pay attention to him.  Danny is pointing toward the water beyond Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty.  He tells his father that there’s something wrong with the Park Police boat in the harbor, that they no longer use that model.

His father really isn’t interested or sure that Danny knows what he’s talking about.  As his father and mother and younger sister head toward the line that will be going up to Lady Liberty’s crown, Danny walks a few feet away and starts filming the men in what he is certain isn’t a police boat.  He sees one of the men on that boat filming him instead of paying attention to the crowd.  That’s when the blast blows the teenager off his feet and kills at least a thousand people waiting to get to the top of the statue, including Danny’s family.

The seeds of the explosion that shook Liberty Island were sown in 1988.  That’s when the U. S. Government took, by eminent domain, ten acres that had been part of the small town of Ashford, Washington, and incorporated them into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  Eleven of the property owners who had lived there left, albeit unwillingly, but one family remained, holed up in the farmhouse that had been in their family for generations.

In a scenario eerily similar to the one that occurred in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, federal troops eventually massed in front of the family’s home, shutting down their electricity and water in an attempt to force them to leave.  The mother, brother, and sister of the family were finally persuaded/forced to leave, and then a sniper’s bullet shattered a window and killed the head of the Hobbs family.  Now, years later, Ferris Hobbs, who goes by his new name of Jeremiah, is leading a force to avenge his father’s death and wreak havoc on the institution that caused it.

A number of federal agencies are working together in the aftermath of the Liberty Island explosion, and the two main protagonists in Leave No Trace come from different ones.  Michael Walker is a member of the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch, and he has recently returned to active duty after a shootout three and half years ago that killed his wife, another Park Service ranger, and cost him his left foot.

Gina Delgado, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, is an explosive experts.  Even as a young child she was fascinated by “things that go bang,” and her military duty has made her an expert.  Along with the help of others in their respective bureaus, they must work together to prevent what they are certain will be another attack on a park or monument under the care and protection of the National Park Service.

A. J. Landau is the pen name of Jon Land, best-selling author of more than fifty books, and Jeff Ayers, reviewer and author.  Together they have crafted a frightening scenario that is all too familiar in our country.  You can read about the writers 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.

DEATH UNDER A LITTLE SKY by Stig Abell: Book Review

Jake Jackson, a London police detective, is about to experience a life change.  Just at the time his marriage is dissolving, he receives news of the death of his Uncle Arthur and the bequest his uncle left him.  Now he has the opportunity to retire and start over.

Arthur was a wealthy, eccentric man, a bachelor with no family other than Jake, so Jake is not surprised to be the recipient of his uncle’s generosity, but he is stunned when he realizes the extent of it.  In addition to a mansion called Little Sky, named after the lake on Arthur’s property in a remote corner of the English countryside, there is a very generous bank account in his name as well.

At the end of his first week in his new home, Jake meets Livia, the local veterinarian, and she fills him in on what to expect in the town.  In Caelum Parvum (Latin for Little Sky) there is “no school, no supermarket, no village green, no offices,” or pretty much anything else.  A general store/pub appears to be all there is in terms of entertainment or community, but Jake is fine with that–more than fine, actually, as it seems as if this will be a welcome respite from his former life.

There is a tradition in Caelum Parvum that is really an excuse for a community holiday each year.  St. Aethelmere lived in the area centuries ago, and his bones are allegedly buried somewhere along the river.  The story is that those who find his bones, or actually a bag of random bones that are placed in the area for the hunt, are granted a year of good fortune, and Livia invites Jake to join herself and her young daughter in the search.  As luck would have it, they do indeed find a bag of bones, but it brings them bad luck rather than good.

For a small community, there are many secrets and unsavory aspects in Caelum Parvum.  There is the mysterious death several years earlier of a beautiful young foreigner named Sabine, the behavior of two brutish brothers and their mother at the farm where Sabine worked, the sleazy Rose (whether it’s his first name or last, no one seems to know), and the strange fascination the deceased woman held over two elderly men, Jake’s uncle Arthur and the somewhat odd Dr. Peters and his bizarre obsession with hedgerows.

Jake really wants nothing more than to keep life private in his new home, and perhaps to pursue a friendship/possible romance with Livia, but the question of Sabine’s untimely death keeps surfacing.  Was it suicide, an accident, or murder?  The coroner and the local police had decided it was an accident, but Jake senses strange undercurrents in his interactions with the townspeople.  Then a couple of incidents make him decide to look more closely as to how Sabine ended up at the bottom of a flight of stairs she had climbed many times.

Death Under A Little Sky is Stig Abell’s first novel, although he is a well-known journalist in England, and it is a masterful one.  His characters are well drawn, his plot moves compellingly along, and his descriptions of the countryside are lyrical.

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.

THE PRICE YOU PAY by Nick Petrie: Book Review

Peter Ash and and his friend Lewis go back a long way, and they have the kind of bond that is unbreakable.  Each man would do anything for the other, so it’s something Peter doesn’t even have to think about when Lewis enters his house in the middle of the night and asks for assistance.

The two head north from Milwaukee in below zero weather to the home of Teddy “Upstate” Wilson.  Upstate had worked with Lewis and two others to do jobs that needed doing and no one else would or could handle.  Eight hours before he picked up Peter, Lewis received a text from Upstate–Bad men here.  Need help.  

While driving, Lewis fills Peter in on his friendship with Upstate.  Lewis and Upstate, along with two other men, “took care of things” when they tangled with a biker group in California.  There was gunfire on both sides, and Teddy got shot in the head as he stepped in front of Lewis to protect him.  Teddy suffered a substantial brain injury and basically retired to his land in northern Wisconsin with only his dogs for company.

When the men arrive at Upstate’s, they are met by two horrific sights.  The first is the house and an outbuilding, both with smashed windows and on fire.  The second is Upstate’s dogs, dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

Teddy had been left for dead by the men who killed his dogs, but although he’s seriously wounded he’s still alive.  At first he can’t think of any reason for the attack, but after a few minutes he realizes what the gunmen took.  Since his memory is so impaired because of his traumatic brain injury, he has been keeping notebooks on all the jobs he and Lewis did together.  He’s been doing this on the advice of his speech therapist Leanne, with whom he’s sleeping.

Now Peter and Lewis understand the reason for the brutal attack.  Obviously Leanne has shared the information that Upstate is keeping in his notebooks with someone who is mentioned in them and who now wants not only the journals but revenge for the killings inflicted on his gang by Lewis and Teddy.  Since the journals list names and places, it won’t be difficult for whomever has them to find Lewis.

The men go to Leanne’s office and explain, in a way that leaves her with no choice, that they need to retrieve Teddy’s books.  She admits that she told Mitka, another man she’s sleeping with, about them, so the four go to the motel where he’s staying to get them, and that’s where the killings begin.

The Price You Pay is fraught with murder and mayhem from almost the first page.  Although Lewis, Upstate, and the two other men who had been in their gang years ago are definitely hardened criminals, the author has made them human, understandable, and even sympathetic.  Peter is the only non-criminal in the mix, but even he has things in his past that he’d rather not have become public.

Nick Petrie has written a compelling novel, with believable characters and a tense plot that keeps going until the last page.  Readers may think that they shouldn’t root for Lewis and his former gang members, but they won’t be able to stop caring about them.

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 spring semester at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) begins in just over two weeks, and I’m preparing to teach WHODUNIT?:  Murder Most British.

As most mystery fans are aware, there has always been a competition between the admirers of the American author Edgar Allan Poe and his French creation and those of the British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his English detective as to which author should be credited for introducing the world’s first consulting detective.  Since this will be a course on British authors, you can probably guess into which camp I belong.

Although Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin arrived on the literary scene first, today he is a figure mostly forgotten, a footnote in detective fiction.  Not so with Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who is as well known today as he was more than a century and a quarter ago when he made his first appearance.

In this semester’s class, we will begin our reading adventure with two quintessential British mystery writers.  We will first read Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and four of his short stories–A Scandal in Bohemia, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Final Problem, and The Empty House.  Next will be two Agatha Christie classics–The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a novel that broke all the rules of traditional mystery writing when it was published, followed by And Then There Were None, its plot featuring characters stranded in a remote location and being killed one by one.

From there we will move into more contemporary times.  In Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey we will read about a developmentally delayed teenager in England; Garnethill by Denise Mina features poverty and a dysfunctional family in Scotland; Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham takes readers to Wales to explore a detective with an almost unknown and often fatal illness; and The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville and Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty, both dealing with The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

WHODUNIT?:  Murder Most British begins on February 26th.  If this course sounds like your “cup of tea,” you are most welcome to read along with us.

Marilyn

THE BELL IN THE FOG by Lev AC Rosen: Book Review

San Francisco in 1952 is perhaps the safest place in the country to live if you are gay, but that’s not saying much.  There continues to be harassment from employers, the police, and the U. S. Navy, the latter still having a major presence in the city even though the war is over.

Nevertheless, it’s where Evander “Andy” Mills has settled following his tour of duty.  He’s now a private investigator, living above the Ruby, a gay nightclub, trying to carve out a new career.  His previous one, as a police officer on the city’s force, imploded when his fellow officers realized he was homosexual.

Andy has only one successful case behind him, and he’s looking for business.  A case has found him, however, brought to him in the person he loved while in the Navy and maybe still does.  And maybe the feeling is mutual.

James has remained in the Navy and is up for a major promotion.  Now someone has sent him extremely compromising photos of himself and is demanding ten thousand dollars for them, money that James doesn’t have.  He’ll be court-martialed and possibly imprisoned if the photos are sent to the Navy brass.  He tells Andy he has only five days to get the money or his career is over, and Andy agrees to take the job.

The only person James can think of who might be behind the blackmail is Danny Geller, a man he met several weeks ago; the two spent the night at a local hotel.  As it’s the only lead Andy has, he goes to the home address James gives him, and there he meets Danny’s twin sister Donna.  She tells him Danny has been out of touch for several days and that she doesn’t know where he would have gone.

Andy begins cruising the bar scene around the area, and he discovers that Danny and his sister have been auditioning a singing act at various places.  They received some negative feedback/constructive criticism about their performance that apparently they didn’t appreciate, obviously believing that it was perfect the way it was.

At the first two bars Andy visits, he’s told rather disturbing stories.  In the first instance, the day after the bar’s owner suggested some changes to the Gellers’ act, obscene graffiti was spray-painted on the outside of the club.  In the second, where Danny was working as a waiter, the bar’s safe was cleaned out the same night the proprietor said the duo’s performance wasn’t right for his venue.

Hearing about these incidents, Andy has no trouble believing Danny could be behind the scheme to blackmail James.  His continued investigation, not surprisingly, leads him into ever more dangerous waters in the shadowy gay underworld that is the city’s not-too-well hidden secret.

Lev AC Rosen has written a fascinating study of a time more than three-quarters of a century ago, with the disturbing knowledge that anti-homosexual hatred and bigotry are still very much with us today.  Andy Mills is a brilliant character, unsure of his current feelings for James and how they impact his moving on with his life.

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.

LAST SEEN IN HAVANA by Teresa Dovalpage: Book Review

Visiting one’s childhood home often proves to be a challenging experience, especially if you have been living in the United States for years and are now returning to Cuba.  So much has changed, either in reality or in one’s imagination, that it’s not surprising that Mercedes Spivey is not quite certain how she should feel about her return.

Mercedes spent her childhood with her paternal grandmother, her mamina, living in a huge ramshackle mansion in Havana.  Their home had always needed major repairs, but now it, as well as mamina, has fallen on hard times, and it is primarily Mercedes’ concern for her grandmother’s mental and physical wellbeing that has prompted her return to Havana.

Mercedes’s mother was American.  She managed to travel to Cuba in the 1980s despite the prohibition in effect at the time, and once there she fell in love with a Cuban military officer. Her birth name was Sarah, but over time she changed it to Tania Rojas to fit into Cuban life more easily.  Mercedes was born, her parents got married, and life went on more or less smoothly until she was two years old.  Then, suddenly, her mother vanished, never to return; her father’s army unit was sent to Angola and he died there.

She was raised by her grandmother, who answered all her granddaughter’s questions except the one she most wanted answered:  what happened to my mother?  The unsatisfactory conversations have dominated Mercedes’ life and fueled her lifelong desire to find her mother.

Now the widowed owner of a successful bakery in Miami, La Bakería Cubana, Mercedes decides it’s time to return to Havana.  She’s been upset by recent phone calls, in which mamina was confused and disoriented.  A phone call from her grandmother’s neighbor convinces her that she needs to visit as soon as possible, and a follow-up call makes the point even more clearly.  Her mamina thinks Mercedes is a schoolchild in Havana and doesn’t remember her granddaughter’s age or her move to Florida.

Two days later Mercedes and her friend Candela fly to Cuba’s capital city. Both mamina and the house are in worse shape than Mercedes had anticipated, and she’s determined to take care of both.  Making repairs on Santa Villa Marta is the easier of the two; taking care of her grandmother is much more difficult.  Although it’s clear that mamina’s physical and mental health are failing, she downplays her difficulties and at first refuses to accept any help.  Plus, Mercedes’ desire to find out more about her mother is still a forbidden topic.

As well as being a novel with a terrific protagonist and a gripping story, Last Seen in Havana offers readers a close look into Havana and its nearby countryside, both in the 1980s and the present.  We can understand the fascination Cuba held for Sarah/Tania, a young woman with “leftist” ideals, but after living in a country with coupons needed for food and clothing, assuming either was available, is it possible that she simply returned to the United States without informing anyone, leaving her toddler daughter behind?

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Cuba and is a novelist, short story writer, translator, and playwright, and her knowledge of the country of her birth comes through on every page.  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 RIVER WE REMEMBER by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

It’s 1958, and memories are long in Black Earth County, Minnesota.  It is barely a generation since World War II, and the town of Jewel is holding the annual parade celebrating its freedom and honoring its veterans on Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day.  But discrimination against Native American Noah Bluestone and his Japanese wife Kyoko is ever-present.

Sheriff Brody Dern is in his office when a man enters with staggering news.  “They ate him, Brody.  They ate him right down to the bone.”

The “him” is James Patrick Quinn, the largest land owner in the county and probably its most unpopular citizen.  The “they” are catfish.

Despite the dislike that most people in Black Earth had for Quinn, many in the town are not unhappy to learn that Noah Bluestone, a member of the Dakota tribe, is suspected of the crime.  There is a long, difficult history between the whites and the Native Americans in Jewel, and for many the murder confirms their belief that an Indian is not to be trusted.

When Noah retired from the Marines, he went to work for Quinn although the two already had a strained relationship.  Bluestone admits to the sheriff that he and the deceased had an argument that resulted in his firing on the day of Quinn’s death.

Dern is working hard to convince himself that the death was an accident.  He doesn’t believe that Noah is the guilty party, and he knows if he calls the death a suicide, Quinn won’t be able to be buried alongside his family members in the cemetery belonging to the Catholic Church.  But the town’s sentiment against Bluestone is building, and there’s not much that the sheriff can do to counteract it.

In addition to the riveting plot, the author draws his characters so carefully that we understand what motivates them and explains their behaviors.  The secrets in Jewel are many.  Dern and his sister-in-law Garnet are carrying on a clandestine love affair, something that torments them both but are seemingly unable to stop.  Marta Quinn, the deceased’s widow, is trapped both by a terminal illness and her role in a loveless marriage.  Angie Madison, a war widow with a young son, writes in a journal that she keeps locked, with the key around her neck.  Her son Scott’s best friend Del is dealing with his stepfather’s frequent beatings, and that leads the two boys into danger.

Then there’s the most baffling secret of all–what is the reason Noah Bluestone refuses to enter any plea on his own behalf after his arrest?

William Kent Krueger has written another brilliant novel in The River We Remember, featuring a story and characters that are moving and real.  Among his many awards are two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award, the most coveted prizes in the genre.  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.

PAST LYING by Val McDermid: Book Review

It’s April, 2020 in Edinburgh, and the COVID era is just beginning.  So little is known about it–how long the lockdown will last, how to protect one’s self from getting the virus, exactly how it’s transmitted–that it’s a really strange time.

For Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie, life in lockdown is particularly challenging.  It’s obviously difficult, if not impossible, to conduct investigations when she can’t move around the city freely and interview people as is necessary in her job in the Historic Cases Unit (what in the United States are called cold cases).

Trying to deal with a difficult situation, she’s in a “bubble” with a sergeant from her team, Daisy Mortimer.  They’re living in the flat belonging to Hamish Mackenzie, the man Karen’s been dating for several months, which is definitely better than Karen living alone in her much smaller and less luxurious flat a few miles away.  But in addition to the worry about the virus, Karen is frustrated by the lack of work and a concern about Hamish that she’s unwilling to examine too closely.

A phone call from Jason Murray, another member of the HCU, may be the beginning of a new case.  Jason receives a call from a woman he knows at the National Library of Scotland.  She’s an archivist and has been going through boxes of material that belonged to Jake Stein, a crime writer who recently died.  He was very well known and respected until a sexual scandal derailed his career; although he continued to write, he never regained his former popularity.

The librarian tells Jason that in one of the many boxes that were donated to the library by Stein’s widow, she’s reading what appears to be a novel about the murder of Lara Hardie, a young woman who actually disappeared a year earlier and whose body was never found.  The book is “full of echoes of Lara Hardie’s story,” Jason is told.  “It’s really creepy.”

When Karen and Daisy receive a copy of the manuscript, they assume that it’s written by Stein, since it was in one of the boxes given to the library by Ros Stein, Jake Stein’s widow.  Strangely though, Karen thinks, it mentions his slumping book sales and the fact that his long-time publisher had dropped him, something she has trouble imagining the author would admit and want published.  But then, she continues musing to herself, the HCU team is at a disadvantage since the manuscript is incomplete.  Who knows how Stein would have ended the story?

At the same time, Karen and Jason are dealing with personal issues.  Karen is rethinking her relationship with Hamish, bothered by his casual disregard of the government mandated degrees of separation rules, while Jason is dealing with his mother’s hospitalization due to the illness.

Val McDermid brings back all the stresses and fears of the virus’ early days, when so much about it was unknown and the possibility of a vaccine lay in a possibly distant future.  Each character behaves according to their personality, and, as always, Ms. McDermid brings each one perfectly to life, along with the picture of a major city brought almost to its knees by a deadly illness.

You can read more about the author at this website.https://www.valmcdermid.com/.

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.

DARK RIDE by Lou Berney: Book Review

Calling Dark Ride a thriller is an understatement.  It’s a novel that’s so tense, so taut, that I was finding it difficult to turn the pages, fearful of what would happen next.

The book starts out calmly enough.  The protagonist is Hardy Reed, although he’s always called by his childhood nickname “Hardly.”  That’s because he’s often hardly anywhere–at college, where he dropped out after three semesters; at his dead end job at a rundown amusement park; in his life, which he’s going through “high” most of the time.

In his semi-stoned state, Hardly goes to the Driver Improvement Verification department to get a thirty day extension on paying his parking ticket.  After accomplishing that, he turns around and is leaving the building when he sees two children sitting on a bench.

Hardly thinks they’re too young to be left alone waiting for an adult to finish whatever business has brought them here, when he notices three perfectly round marks on the girl’s ankle.  For a moment he’s confused, thinking they might be moles or tattoos, but then he realizes they’re too perfectly circular to be either–they’re cigarette burns.  And a second look at the boy shows that he has three identical marks just above the collar of his shirt.

At that moment a woman, whom Hardly thinks must be their mother, walks over to the bench, and then the three of them are out the door.  It all happens so fast that Hardly doesn’t have time to react or talk to the woman.  By the time he gets to the parking lot the car is leaving, and it’s too far away for him to read the license plate.  He returns to the DIV desk and manages to get a look at the sign in sheet, and he sees the name Tracy Shaw a line or two above his name.  That must be the children’s mother, he thinks.

Slacker though he is, Hardly wants to help the children.  He first goes to Child Protective Services, but it’s obvious that the case workers there are overwhelmed and not too interested in finding these anonymous children.  Next he talks to his two friends,  but they are so high on weed and whatever else they can lay their hands on that they’re no help.

After much investigating on his own, he’s able to find out the girl’s name and the school she attends.  He visits her teacher to ask whether he has any concerns about her safety or noticed any signs of abuse.  The teacher admits he had some concerns, but a conference with both parents and the girl allayed his fears.  But wait, Hardly thinks.  The teacher “asked Pearl if she was being abused by her parents while her parents were in the room.  How could he be that clueless?  Even I’m not that clueless.”  So he decides he has to go this alone.

Lou Berney has written a spellbinding thriller, as he had with two of his previous novels I’ve reviewed on this blog, November Road and The Long and Faraway Gone His characters are wonderfully drawn, from the major ones to those who appear in a brief scene.  The plot, as I mentioned, is breathtaking, and you will be swept away as you read.  And the conclusion is one I never expected.

You can read more about the author 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.

 

Now it’s time for my “best of” list for 2023.  There were so many mysteries/thrillers published this year that perhaps you are thinking that you’ve missed a couple you would have enjoyed reading.  In selecting what to read next, you may wish to consider my choices for the best crime novels of the year.

My selections are split almost down the middle, with eight novels taking place in the United States and six abroad.  As I wrote in my 2022 list of the best of that year, mysteries are no longer limited, and actually haven’t been in quite a while, to the United States and England.  It’s a world-wide phenomenon.

Crime fiction readers know that there’s more to such novels than simply the story, important as that is.  There are the characters (protagonist and villains both), the setting, and the writing that make an for  outstanding book.  But especially in recent years, the issues of the “real world” have joined these other aspects of crime writing as the significance of racial inequity, domestic violence, and acts of war make these books not merely excellent reads but encourage us look more deeply into the society in which we live.

These topics and others as well are evident in all of the novels I’ve chosen, some highlighting more than one of these concerns.  And rather than limit mysteries/thrillers to the escapist category that some critics assign them to, to my mind they show the relevance of such books in our world today.

THE FAVOR by Nicci French (England), THE MURDER BOOK by Thomas Perry (U. S.), A DEATH IN TOKYO by Keigo Higashino (Japan), THE DARK EDGE OF NIGHT by Mark Pryor (France), SMALL MERCIES by Dennis Lehane (U. S.), DEADLOCK by James Byrne (U. S.), THE BITTER PAST by Bruce Borgos (U. S.), THE LONGMIRE DEFENSE by Craig Johnson (U. S.), EVERYONE HERE IS LYING by Shari Lapena (U. S.), ASHES IN THE SNOW by Oriana Ramunno (Poland), RED QUEEN by Juan Gómes-Jurado (Spain), REYKJAVÍK by Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir (Iceland), AN HONEST MAN by Michael Koryta (U. S.), ALL THE SINNERS BLEED by S. A. Cosby (U. S.).

All these novels were reviewed on this blog, so I hope you’ll go back and check out the authors/countries that pique your interest.  Every one listed is a winner and well worth your time.

All my best wishes for a wonderful 2024.

Marilyn

 

 

THE SWEET GOODBYE by Ron Corbett: Book Review

I came across Ron Corbett’s name a few weeks ago; until then, I had not heard of this Canadian novelist.  I first read Ragged Lake, one of the novels in his Frank Yakabuski series, and I was hooked.  Then I read The Sweet Goodbye, and I knew I had to write about this talented author.

Danny Barrett is an FBI agent working undercover, very successfully so.  He begins the book with a prologue, telling the reader that when he was a beat cop, “The first time I worked undercover, I arrested my brother.”  That’s all we learn about the arrest, other than that his younger brother “had crossed a line,” but it tells us everything about Danny’s abilities and his outlook on life.

Barrett worked for his uncle in lumber camps on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which explains why he was chosen by the Bureau to investigate the town of Birmingham, Maine.  Maine was once filled with lumber mills, but along with other companies that were impacted by recessions and the changing newspaper business, the number of sawmills steadily declined until Lee Forestry is virtually the only such business left in the state.

The unanswered question that brings the FBI and Danny into the picture is how this family business, now owned and run by Tucker and Travis Lee, has over two hundred million dollars on its books.  The sales of their lumber can’t account for it, so it appears that something else, something illegal, is going on.  Danny is called in and gets a job as a tree marker for the company, someone who goes into a forest and marks which trees should be harvested.

He deliberately strikes up a friendship with Travis Lee after rescuing him from an attack by three thugs, and the two men go out for drinks a couple of times.  Even though Danny knows that Travis is involved in whatever is going on concerning the illegal funds in Lee Forestry’s accounts, he can’t help liking the man.

The Bureau wants to know how it is possible that no one at the North Maine Savings and Loan bank thought that the account holding a quarter-billion dollars was questionable.  Could the answer be in the person of the bank’s manager, Robert Powell, a friend of Tucker Lee from high school?

When questioned by the FBI before Danny is brought to Birmingham, Powell breaks down under duress and confesses to his part in the scheme.  Powell then tells the Lees that they have to move the money out of his bank immediately, and he puts so much pressure on the brothers they reluctantly agree to withdraw the funds.  The bank manager insists they do so in front of him to make certain it’s actually done, which they do.  And the following day Powell is killed.

The Sweet Goodbye gives readers a close look into what can happen when a city goes bankrupt and those in power use that power to create their own fiefdom.  It’s an old story but becomes current and all-too-real in Ron Corbett’s outstanding novel.

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.