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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.

Although it’s still mid-August, September isn’t far off, and that means the beginning of the school year at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).

The coming semester will be the thirteenth time I am teaching a WHODUNIT? course on mystery novels.  It’s also a longed-for return to in-person teaching, as during the past several semesters at BOLLI, classes have been on Zoom.  Although I’m grateful for the technology that allowed my classes to continue during the pandemic, I’m looking forward to seeing students in “real life” rather than in two-inch squares on my computer.

This term I’ll be teaching MURDER IN SCANDINAVIA, a course that combines four mysteries I taught in 2018 and four new ones.  (The books I taught previously have an asterisk next to the titles in the list below.)  Using the term Scandinavia broadly, including two countries that once belonged to the countries of present-day Scandinavia but now have achieved independence, my students will be reading novels that take place in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

The list is:  THE HANGING GIRL* by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark), SNOW ANGELS* by James Thompson (Finland), HOLY CEREMONY by Harri Nykänen (Finland), THE UNDESIRED* by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir (Iceland), THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson (Iceland), NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT by Dennis B. Miller (Norway), WHO WATCHETH by Helene Tursten (Sweden), and THE ICE BENEATH HER* by Camilla Grebe (Sweden).

As is not unusual in Scandinavian mysteries, these books are dark.  Many, although not all, of the protagonists are brooding and depressed, a combination perhaps of the cold weather and the horrific crimes they are called upon to solve.  But even in the darkest novels there is hope and resilience, both for the detectives as well as those impacted by the murders.

Some of these authors will be familiar to class members and to readers of this blog, and others will be unfamiliar; one of the best parts of teaching and writing is introducing readers to authors they haven’t read before.  And perhaps you will be introduced to a writer who is new to you.  If that’s the case, just think of all the wonderful mysteries by that particular author yet to be read.

As always, I invite you to read along with us, beginning with THE HANGING GIRL on September 18th.  My best wishes for the rest of the summer.




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 and view him discussing Small Mercies on the CBS program

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.

MOTHERS’ INSTINCT by Barbara Abel: Book Review

The Brunelles and the Geniots are next-door neighbors and have been best friends for years.  Each couple has a son, and the boys are the same age.  It’s a perfect relationship until a tragic accident tears everything apart.

Milo Brunelle was the first child to arrive, followed by Maxime Geniot three months later.  The night of Maxime’s birth, David Brunelle and Sylvain Geniot went out drinking to celebrate.  Each had always been open about his past, David thought, but this night brings an unsetting confession from Sylvain.  Years earlier he tried to help a close friend who had written a prescription for a woman without asking her if she were pregnant.  She was, and the dosage of the medication caused her to have a miscarriage.

If only he could retrieve his hand-written prescription from the pharmacy and substitute one listing the correct dosage, the doctor told Sylvain, he would be in the clear.  Otherwise he would lose his medical license and perhaps even go to jail.  So Sylvain visited the pharmacy, and with a sleight-of-hand he took the original form and left the corrected one in the shop’s files.  Thus Sylvain’s friend kept his license.

But the fly in the ointment was that Sylvain was attracted to the pharmacist, dated her, and now he and Tiphaine are married and the parents of newborn Maxime.  Until now, Sylvain tells David, he has kept this secret from everyone, including his wife.  Helping his friend meant that Tiphaine lost her license, paid a heavy fine, and was forbidden to work as a pharmacist again.  Sylvain feels she would never forgive him if she knew he was responsible for ending her career.

Six years later Maxime dies in a fall from his upstairs bedroom window, with Laetitia Brunelle a horrified witness, unable to reach the boy in time to prevent his death.  The Brunelles want to comfort their neighbors in any way they can, but the Geniots are not receptive for a long time.  Finally, however, the friendships resume, although they are not as strong as before.  The Brunells and the Geniots seem on edge, both sides often responding to the other couple with hurt looks and cutting remarks.

Then a series of “accidents” occur, but are they truly accidents?

Mothers’ Instinct is located in an unnamed city in Belgium, but it could take place anywhere.  The horror of a child’s death, the unravelling of a friendship, the blaming, the guilt, are all sadly universal.  What makes this novel unique is the quiet pace that leads to its shocking conclusion.

Barbara Abel is the author of fourteen novels.  You can read about her at various sites on the internet.

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



THE LIE MAKER by Linwood Barclay: Book Review

We all know that people are complicated, that there may be many, many aspects to an individual.  In The Lie Maker, Linwood Barclay’s latest novel, we learn that the relationship between a criminal father and his son leads to an outcome no one could have predicted.

When the book opens, a man is taken away from his wife and young son and put into the Witness Protection Program.  His wife refuses to go with him, and the child remains with her.  As the father is about to enter the government car that will take him to his new life, his son runs after him, pleading for his father to say he’s sorry so that he can remain home with his family.  “Sorry isn’t good enough sometimes….I killed people.  Sorry just doesn’t cut it.”

The son grows up to be an author, although not a financially successful one.  He’s written two novels under a pen name, and even his “real name” isn’t the name he was born with.  After his father left, his mother remarried; he took his stepfather’s name, so his name is now Jack Givens.

Jack is definitely down on his luck, and he’s even more disheartened when his agent tells him that his editor isn’t interested in the book he just completed.  However, the agent says he’s been contacted by someone who may have a job for Jack, one that could turn out to be more remunerative than his book would have been.  It all seems a bit strange to Jack, having to contact an unknown person on a burner phone, but he’s desperate enough to listen to almost any opportunity.

When he arrives at the Boston office of Pandora Importing, he discovers that it’s a cover for the U. S. Marshals Service, the government agency that put his father in the Witness Protection Program.  The marshal, Gwen Kaminsky, appears ignorant of that fact, and Jack doesn’t inform her of it.

She tells him that members of the Service who have read his two published novels are impressed “by the characters, how developed they were…I’m told the characters were very authentic, very three dimensional.”  The Service, Gwen informs him, is looking for people who can create realistic backstories for those who enter the Program, and Jack’s name was given to her.  The money is more than Jack had received for his previous novels, so he agrees to start creating a story for a man in the Program.

What Jack doesn’t tell Gwen is that a major reason he’s agreeing to take the job is the possibility that it will help him locate his father.  Although it was forbidden, Jack’s father had made contact with him several times over the years, although it had been some time since their last meeting.

Gwen impresses upon Jack that everything he does is totally confidential, not to be shared with anyone.  Jack agrees, but the woman he’s dating, an investigative reporter, naturally wants to find out about his new job, and the more he says he can’t tell her anything about it, the more she is determined to get the information on her own.

“I should warn you,” she says.  “You’ve presented a challenge to me.”

As were all of Linwood Barclay’s previous novels, this one is outstanding.  The characters are believable, the plot is clever, and the twists and turns will keep you guessing throughout the book.  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 LAST DROP OF HEMLOCK by Katharine Schellman: Book Review

The Roaring Twenties–jazz, Prohibition, gangsters, speakeasies–it’s all there in Katharine Schellman’s second novel in the Nightingale series, The Last Drop of Hemlock.

Vivian Kelly is working as a waitress/dance partner at the Nightingale, a New York City nightclub featuring hot jazz, cold (alcoholic) drinks, and young people looking for a fun evening.  Her best friend at the club is Bea Henry, the sultry singer who makes the club the hot spot that it is.  Bea enters late one night, an hour and a half after she was due to begin singing with the band, and tells Vivian in a whisper that her Uncle Pearlie, recently employed as a bouncer at the club, is dead.

Pearlie had moved to Manhattan from Baltimore a short time earlier, and Bea’s entire family immediately bonded with him.  He had stayed with the Henrys for a while, then moved into his own apartment, telling them that he would soon be coming into money and would use it to make their lives easier.  Thus his death has come as a huge shock.

The neighborhood’s local physician, Dr. Harris, has called Pearlie’s death a suicide, but Bea doesn’t believe that, and neither does Vivian.  Bea says the doctor’s visit after the death was superficial, merely saying that sometimes a man gets so despondent about his life and prospects that he simply can’t deal with it any longer and kills himself, as Pearlie apparently did by putting arsenic in his bottle of liquor.  However, Bea tells Vivian that her uncle felt he was on the way up, and that appears to be true when they visit his apartment, along with Vivian’s friend Leo Green.

It’s small but cozy, Vivian thinks, and she wonders how he was able to afford the well-made suit hanging on a wall hook as well as the silk handkerchiefs she finds in the small nightstand next to his bed.  Bea admits that Pearlie had told her he was working for a mob boss, that he had just “one more job to finish…He wasn’t despairing…He was downright jaunty.”

With Leo, who has his own connection to a New York City mob, Vivian begins her investigation into Pearlie’s death.  Vivian and Leo visit the morgue, and the medical examiner tells them that the death is suspicious, although looking into it more closely isn’t something he can do.  Leo had taken the liquor they found in Pearlie’s apartment and brought it to the medical examiner, and the doctor says that it was full of arsenic.  “If someone drank it, I can’t imagine they lived through the night,” the examiner says.

The Last Drop of Hemlock features an outstanding plot as well as a fascinating cast of characters.  In addition to Vivian, Bea, and Leo, readers will meet Alba, another waitress at the Nightingale and Pearlie’s girlfriend; Honor Huxley, the club’s owner with her own ties to the underworld; Florence, Vivian’s much less worldly sister; and Danny Chin, the bartender who just might urge Florence out of her shell.  The novel is a wonderful look into The Jazz Age in 1920’s Manhattan.

Katherine Schellman is a former actor, one-time political consultant, and current writer.  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.

A DISAPPEARANCE IN FIJI by Nilima Rao: Book Review

Fiji is, to me, one of those magical places almost outside reality.  A republic in the South Pacific, it consists of more than 300 islands, of which slightly over 100 are inhabited by native Fijians, Indians, Australians, and members of other island nations.  Its history encompasses native rule and English rule, and it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary as an independent nation in 2020.  Its history, however, has not always been a happy one.

A country rich in alcoholic spirits, minerals, wood, sugar, and cotton, it was ripe for exploitation by colonial powers.  In 1914, the time A Disappearance in Fiji takes place, Fiji is a Crown Colony.  It is subject to the British practice of bringing indentured servants, working for miniscule pay, to the islands as workers on the numerous and profitable sugar and cotton plantations.  This practice lasted from 1833 until 1920.

Sergeant Akal Singh was a star in the Hong Kong police force, but a major professional mistake resulted in his being sent to Suva, the capital of Fiji, where he is definitely unwanted by most of his colleagues and the head of the colony’s police force.

Since he is the highest ranking Indian in the colony, police inspector-general Jonathon Thurstrom reluctantly assigns Akal his first major case, that of a young Indian woman, an indentured servant on a sugar planation, who has either run away or been abducted, depending on whom one believes.

Only because the Catholic priest in Suva has written a letter to the local press expressing outrage at Kunti’s disappearance and the lack of follow-up, as well as the upcoming visit of an Indian dignitary, is Thurstrom willing to send Singh to investigate.

The plantation where Kunti worked is owned by Susan and Henry Parkins, a wealthy English couple highly placed in Fiji’s society.  Mrs. Parkins denies any knowledge of what goes on with “the coolies,” a derogatory term for the workers used by the British.  She doesn’t know, she tells Akal, and she doesn’t care.

The plantation is everything Akal fears.  The workers live in windowless huts without sanitary facilities.  Their wages are paid by the day, and if they don’t work for a day due to illness they don’t get paid and a day is added to their contract.  They come to Fiji in search of a better life than they had or could have in India, but the reality is far short of their hopes.  And once there, there is no way to return home.

Mr. Parkins tells Singh that Kunti hasn’t been abducted and that he believes that she ran away with the plantation’s overseer.  However, the other workers don’t believe that, telling the sergeant that Kunti would never have left her young daughter behind.  Thus the investigation begins.

Nilima Rao is a Fijian Indian Australian, having been born in Fiji of Indian heritage and raised in Australia, a combination not too unusual in Oceania, as she writes in the Author’s Note at the end of her debut novel.  A Disappearance in Fiji is a fascinating mystery, with well-written characters and a plot that will keep you reading until the last page.  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 GIRL BY THE BRIDGE by Arnaldur Indridason: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAGISTRATE by Brian Klingborg: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Klingborg has written another gripping novel in the Lu Fei series.  You can read more about the author at this website.

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

HEART OF THE NILE by Will Thomas: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about the author at various sites on the web.

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