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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.

 

 

AN HONEST MAN by Michael Koryta: Book Review

Salvation Point Island is a misnomer if ever there was.  A small rocky island off the coast of Maine, it once was home to a community of fishermen who made their living off the bountiful waters between Maine and Canada that are now called the Lost Zone.  When the federal government banned lobster fishing in the Zone, the community was devastated and most of its residents left.

Not Israel Pike, though, and not his uncle Sterling Pike.  Israel has just returned to the island after serving 15 years for the murder of his father.  The island is policed by his uncle, the only law enforcement agent on Salvation Point, a man with complete control and a strong antipathy toward Israel.

A few weeks after Israel’s return to his father’s house, he spots a vessel in trouble.  The boat is moving, to Israel’s knowledgeable eye, without anyone at the helm, and Israel rows out to see if he can help.

Boarding the yacht, he comes across an incredibly gruesome scene.  After he finds the first body, he’s certain that no one else on the Mereo is alive and he’s right.  There are six more.

The investigation into the murders is being run jointly by Israel’s uncle Stirling Pike and Jenn Salazar of the Maine State Police.  Although there is nothing connecting Israel to the murder, Stirling is determined to make his nephew’s life as miserable as possible, to the point of inciting several townspeople to brutally assault Israel.

The young Lyman Ranklin is also a victim of aggression, only in his case it’s his alcoholic father who beats him on a regular, almost daily, basis.  The twelve-year-old’s only refuge is a nearby house, nearly a ruin, believed by all to be uninhabited since the death of its owner.  On this day, running from yet another beating, Lyman takes refuge in the house but realizes almost at once that he is not alone.

Even before he sees the woman, Lyman can smell her, a smell of salt water and copper, although almost at once he realizes that the latter smell is from blood.  She is dripping blood from the many cuts on her feet and holding a hatchet, and she’s only five feet in front of him.

A Honest Man thus has two protagonists, each one wounded and vulnerable, each one very much alone in the only home he’s ever known.  The only person on Salvation Point Island who believes in them and shows them kindness is Dar, the owner of the island’s convenience store.  She does her best to help Israel and Lyman, but in her attempt to assist Lyman she unknowingly puts his life in danger.

Michael Koryta is an outstanding crime writer.  His writing is taut and to the point, his characters are credible, and the Maine setting is brought beautifully to life.  And he answers, with complete believability, the question of why people remain on Salvation Point, when poverty and violence surround them.  As one of the characters tells Israel, “I don’t intend to let anyone run me off my own island.”

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.

 

 

 

ALL THE SINNERS BLEED by S. A. Cosby: Book Review

All The Sinners Bleed is one of this year’s best mysteries, hands down.  The plot is believable, the characters are realistic, and the writing is lyrical.

Charon County, Virginia has a new sheriff.  After serving with the FBI for several years, Titus Crown has returned home.  Appalled by the strong segregationist feelings in the county as well as the policies of the racist sheriff who has controlled the country for years, Titus runs for the office and wins.  He’s now the first Black sheriff in Charon’s history.

Titus is still dealing with a number of issues beyond those connected to his office, one that took place years ago and two that are current.  The first is the death of his mother, who died a painful death when Titus was still a child.  More recently he’s been dealing with a traumatic incident that took place when he and other federal agents were called to a compound in Northern Indiana, and in addition he’s in a relationship with a local woman whom he feels he should love but just can’t quite make that happen.

Then he gets the call that every police officer dreads, “There’s an active shooter at the high school.”  As the students rush out of the building, one of the girls tells Titus that a teacher has been shot.  Latrell Macdonald, the son of one of Titus’ friends, comes out of the building, holding a .30-30 rifle.  Ignoring Titus’ command to put his rifle down, Macdonald continues to come closer to the sheriff and his men until a riot gun and a Smith and Wesson end the standoff.

The murder of Jeffrey Spearman, everyone’s favorite teacher, seems inexplicable at first.  He had taught at the high school for decades, was coach of the debate team, sponsor of the drama club, and the Rotary Club’s Teacher of the Year award the previous year.  But when Crown looks into the teacher’s phone, everything changes.   It’s full of child pornography and, even worse, scenes of child murders.  There are photos of Spearman, Latrell, and a masked third man killing Black children.  Now that Spearman and Latrell are dead, Titus must find the third man and also locate the bodies of the dead children.

Since Spearman was white and Latrell was Black, the murder brings angry feelings between the town’s Black and white citizens to a boiling point.  If the two deaths weren’t enough, Charon County is readying for its biggest event, the Fall Fest, this year including a march by the Sons of the Confederacy and a protest by members of a local Black church.

S. A. Cosby’s novel touches on issues that our country faces today–racial and child endangerment among them.  It’s a frightening look into problems that sadly are just as relevant today as they’ve been throughout our history.  Cosby’s writing illuminates these concerns in language that will touch the reader’s heart.

You can learn more about the author at various sites on the web, and many interviews featuring him are available on YouTube.

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.

 

FALL by Tracy Clark: Book Review

Work, more specifically her work as a detective in the Chicago Police Department, is now the only thing that is giving Harriet Foster’s life any meaning. 

Four years after the senseless murder of her teenaged son, she’s back in court to attend the re-sentencing of Reg’s killer.  At the time of the trial, Willem had been sentenced to ninety-nine years and a day without the possibility of parole, and now his court-appointed attorney wants it reduced to seventy-five years with the possibility of parole.

Harriet starts to speak from her prepared statement, but then she puts it aside and begins to speak from her heart.  She concludes by saying, “Given the same chance, he’d do the same again, and we all know it.”  The reduction in Willem’s sentence is denied, and Harriet’s life, such as it is, continues.

Then the novel switches its focus from Harriet to Marin Shaw on the day of the latter’s release from prison.  Formerly a member of the Chicago city aldermen council, Marin was convicted of corruption and sentenced to three years of imprisonment, her career thrown away for “$5,000, a two-martini lunch, and a lie.”

Her biggest regret is how she left things with her teenaged daughter Zoe.  Her husband Will is making every effort he can to thwart Marin’s attempt to spend time with Zoe and heal their relationship, but Marin is determined to persist.

Her best friend and lawyer, Charlotte Moore, is suggesting that she wait a week before contacting Zoe and that she stay at their downtown condo rather than return to the suburban house she and Will own. Marin reluctantly agrees, saying she will use the time to “settle some things.”  But when Charlotte asks, “What things?,” Marin doesn’t answer.

At the same time, several members of the Chicago aldermen council are reassessing their positions now that Marin has completed her sentence.  Two of them are feeling guilty, knowing they were as involved in the corruption as she was, but John Meehan, the man with the most power, has no feeling of remorse at all.  He simply wants to make certain Marin isn’t planning any kind of tell-all scenario that will implicate him and the others.

“No one walks away.  I know where the bodies are buried…,” he tells his colleagues in his attempt to control them, but regardless of his threat, two of the aldermen do walk out of the meeting.  Then one of those aldermen is killed, and the investigation moves Harriet into the lead on what becomes a media frenzy.

Harriet has an additional concern.  She and Vera Li have been partners for just about a year, ever since the suicide of her former partner and friend Glynnis Thompson.  Needless to say, Harriet was devastated, as was the entire homicide department.  Now Mike, Glynnis’ husband, has come to the police station to show Harriet what was placed in his mailbox two days earlier–a photo of his late wife who appears to be receiving a payoff from an unknown man.

Tracy Clark has written a spellbinding mystery that features a thrilling plot, believable characters, and a protagonist who is smart, tenacious, and above all human.  Foster has faults as well as strengths, and she is working hard to move ahead with her life, shattered as it has become.  Readers will root for her every step of the way.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEUS X by Stephen Mack Jones: Book Review

What’s the best way to describe August Snow?  Is he a vigilante, righting what he sees as wrongs outside the law?  Is he a savior, a protector, when the authorities can’t or won’t step in?  You might say he’s both.

While visiting Norway to spend time with his sweetheart Tatiana, August gets a frantic call from one of his neighbors, Lucy.  Sylvia, another neighbor, has had a heart attack, and in minutes August is on his way home.

He and his godfather Tómas drive directly from the Detroit airport to the hospital where Sylvia is a patient, and as they approach her room a priest exits it.  He nods to August, although the latter doesn’t believe he knows the cleric.

After assuring himself that Sylvia is receiving the best possible care, August visits another close friend, Father Grabowski.  The priest has recently retired, a move that surprises August; he’d always assumed that he would remain a Franciscan until the end of his life.

The two men have a brief conversation, and Snow mentions the man he’d seen outside Sylvia’s hospital room.  He tells  Father Grabowski that he’s learned that the man’s name is Father Petra, and when Grabowski hears the name, his face undergoes a startling change.  He ends the conversation almost immediately, saying he’s tired, but when August leaves and looks up at the priest’s window, he sees that the priest is watching him.

August visits Grabowski again the following day, and the cleric tells Snow the story of his early years in the priesthood when he was sent to Mexico.  It’s an unsavory story of cartel chiefs, drugs, and pedophile priests and young Grabowski’s efforts to handle the situation as best he is able.  Now it appears that the past has returned, and the priest is haunted by it.

August learns from another priest of a recent suicide in his church.  It looks as if Father O’Shannon hanged himself, but it’s possible he was helped, according to August’s friend, medical examiner Bobby Falconi.  There were a couple of anomalies around the body, including a white linen business card left on the church’s altar with an embossed X on it.  What makes it interesting to Snow is that, like Father Grabowski, O’Shannon spent some time in Mexico.  “Dumping grounds,” Snow says quietly.

August’s background as a police officer and the multi-million dollar settlement he won in his lawsuit over his unjust firing has left him with both the ability and the means to live the life he wants, helping people and sometimes dealing out punishments to those he believes are guilty of crimes.  He’s fearless and confident in his ability to do the right thing, especially where his friends are concerned.  Now he wants to learn what led to Father Grabowski leaving his order and his evident fear of Father Petra.

In this, the fourth novel in the August Snow series, Stephen Mack Jones brings the protagonist, his friends, and his community into sharper focus than ever.  Snow’s relationships with his girlfriend Tatiana; his neighbors Sylvia, Carmela, and Lucy; and his godfather Tomás all play pivotal roles in Deus X, and it’s a delight to meet them once again.

Stephen Mack Jones has written another thrilling mystery featuring a tightly-woven plot, a strong and determined protagonist, and a writing style that will make readers shiver with fear and laugh out loud in turn.

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.

BETRAYAL by Phillip Margolin: Book Review

I’m fairly certain that Robin Lockwood, the heroine of Phillip Margolin’s latest novel, is the mystery world’s only former MMA contender.  

Now a well-respected criminal defense attorney in Portland, Oregon, Robin put herself through college as a mixed martial arts fighter with a future plan to become an attorney.  She is successful until she fights Mandy Kerrigan, a higher ranked fighter, and was soundly defeated.  At that point she put all her efforts into getting into law school.  Now Mandy has come back into Robin’s life, this time as the suspect in a murder case. 

The Finch family, consisting of a mother, father, and two teenaged children, are shot to death.  They are found by the daughter’s English teacher, Arthur Proctor, who tells the police he came to talk to the family about a potential scholarship for their daughter and ran outside when he saw the carnage and called 911.

Several minutes before Proctor enters the Finch home, a neighbor sees a woman yelling and pounding on their front door.  When no one responds the woman walks away, and now the neighbor identifies her from a photo the police show her as Kerrigan.  The neighbor says she then saw Proctor, the teacher whom she knows from her son’s school, approach the Finches’ front door.  He enters the house, only to run out a few minutes later with his cell phone pressed to his ear.

Despite the typical suburban image that the Finches project, there are serious cracks below the surface.  Margaret Finch is a criminal defense attorney known to represent members of a Russian mob, the father is a chemist with a serious gambling problem, the son Ryan pushes drugs, and the teenaged daughter is carrying a harrowing secret.

To take part in a MMA match that she hopes will revitalize her career, Mandy buys a performance-enhancing drug from Ryan that he swears cannot be detected under testing.  But he is wrong, it is detected, and as a result her purse money is being held up and she’s in danger of being suspended from the league.  The connection between Mandy Kerrigan and Ryan is what makes the police believe she is the killer.

Although Kerrigan denies that she was ever inside the Finch house and there are no physical traces there to implicate her, the police feel they have sufficient circumstantial evidence to bring her to trial.

Mandy calls Robin from jail and asks her to represent her.  She swears she’s innocent, and Robin agrees to take the case.  To make this even more interesting, the prosecutor will be Tom McGee, the first man Robin has dated seriously since the death of her fiancé several years earlier.

Phillip Margolin is a New York Times best-selling author of more than two dozen books, seven featuring Robin Lockwood.  The author has created a protagonist who is believable, a skilled professional, and a warm and caring individual.

You can read more about Phillip Margolin 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 MURDER OF ANDREW JOHNSON by Burt Solomon: Book Review

My first thought when I saw the title of Burt Solomon’s mystery was wait, did I know that Andrew Johnson was murdered?  I knew that he became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, that he was not a believer in civil rights for formerly enslaved people, and that he was the first president (and for more than a century, the only president) to be impeached.  But had The Great Commoner been murdered?

The novel is told through the eyes of John Hay, a historical figure who begins his career as a private secretary and assistant to Lincoln.  He’s a journalist at the New-York Tribune who receives a telegram from his editor telling him that former president Johnson, “the most hated man in America,” has died unexpectedly.  Can Hay get to East Tennessee, the home of the Johnson family, and find out what happened?  Of course he can.

Johnson suffered a stroke that paralyzed him and died a day later, surrounded by his family and two physicians.  Seen through John Hay’s eyes, Johnson was perhaps the most unworthy successor possible to Lincoln.  Although he had his good points, including being the only Southern senator who supported the Union, Hay believes those were outweighed by his bad ones.  He was vindictive, never compromised, and remembered every slight against him.  He pardoned the Confederates and restored them to power.  He did everything possible to make certain Reconstruction was a failure, and now he was was dead at age 67.

On the way to the Johnson home, John is picked up by a Black employee of the family.  Although Bill was enslaved by the Johnsons before he was born through his mother, he apparently admired the president.  “Like a member of the family, they treat me,” he tells Hay, and he was with Johnson the night before the latter’s sudden collapse and death.

The former president’s family is a strange one, with at least two of his three adult children financially dependent on him–his daughter Mary Johnson Stover and her husband Daniel, and the Johnsons’ son Frank, who likes a hard drink as much as his father did.  Johnson’s wife, Eliza, is a recluse who has scarcely left her bedroom in years.  There is a great deal of animosity among the grown children, not helped by the fact that the ex-president died without a will.

Then there are two physicians, Dr. Cameron and Dr. Jobe, who cite professional confidentiality regarding the death of their late patient, and Captain McElwee, a former Confederate Army officer who spent time with Johnson shortly before he was taken ill.  And Hay hasn’t even gotten meet to with Johnson’s political enemies, of whom there are many.

Burt Solomon has written an intriguing mystery about a man who is mostly remembered for his impeachment, although, like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, Johnson remained in office after his trial.  Filled with historical figures including President Ulysses S. Grant, newspaperman and failed presidential candidate Horace Greeley, and Hay’s millionaire father-in-law Amasa Stone, the late 19th-century is vividly brought to life.

In his Afterword, the author states that “my goal is for readers to feel like they’re there.”  He most definitely succeeds.  You can read more about him at this website.

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

A TRAITOR IN WHITEHALL by Julia Kelly: Book Review

Evelyne Redfern, through no fault of her own, is known in both France and England as “The Parisian Orphan.”  The only child of an ill-fated marriage between a French woman and an English man, she is sent to boarding school in England at the insistence of her father after the death of her beloved mother.

Now she is in London, just as the blitz is beginning.  She is working at an ordnance factory and living in a boardinghouse with her best friend Moira when she’s approached by an old friend of her parents who invites her to a job interview the following morning.

Mr. Fletcher obviously is working for some type of secret government agency, but exactly what its nature is, is never told to Evelyne.  He tells her that he is looking for someone to work in the typing pool at what will become the War Offices, a 1,100 room building that houses Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his extended staff.  But it is not a typing or secretarial job that Fletcher is hiring her for.

Everything she learns and does there is top secret, which is why he has her sign the Official Secrets Act.  He wants her to “monitor” what is going on in the building, and again Fletcher stresses that she must tell no one about her new position or what is expected of her.

Right from the start, Evelyne realizes there is a problem at the War Offices.  Somehow, in spite of all the precautions that are taken, information, some important and some not, is leaking.  The fear is that it’s just a matter of time before something vital falls into the hands of the Nazis.

There is a fascinating cast of characters at the WO.  The head of the typing pool is Miss Wilkes, who runs the pool with an iron hand.  The secretary/typist who gets most of the interesting assignments is Jean Plinkton, who seems to know more about the other workers than she should.  And then there are the various men who help make the policies–Mr. Faylen, who before the war was a neat and punctual man but who has become fussy and disorganized, blaming others for his problems; Mr. Pearson, who is a bit too friendly with all the typists; and Mr. Poole, a rather handsome man with an unknown background.

On Evelyne’s fourth day on the job, Miss Wilkes sends her for her first sun lamp treatment, a requirement because of the amount of time the typists live and work underground.  As Evelyne enters the room where the lamps have been set up, she sees a woman who appears to be asleep, her head resting on one of her arms.  As Evelyne gets closer, she realizes that what she thought to be a red design on the woman’s white sweater is, in fact, blood.  Then she hears the sound of a metal bolt swiping across the room’s door.  She’s locked in with a corpse.

Julia Kelly has written an absorbing mystery about 1940 London, a time when the blitz is beginning, neighborhoods are being destroyed, and the fear of a Nazi invasion is spreading through the population.  In Evelyne Redfern the author has created an engaging, clever, and fearless heroine, one who is perfect for the time she lives in.

You can read more about Julia Kelly 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 LONGMIRE DEFENSE by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Every Walt Longmire novel is a joy to read, and Craig Johnson’s latest, the 19th in the series, is simply perfect.

The long-time sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, is still continuing to think about retirement.  Readers don’t know how old Walt is, but since he served as a marine in the Vietnam conflict, he has to be seventy at the very least, doesn’t he?

In The Longmire Defense, it’s Walt’s incredible determination to find the truth about a long-ago event that brings him closer to death than ever before when he’s faced with the possibility that his deceased grandfather might have been a murderer.

The story begins three-quarters of a century ago when a group of Wyoming investors buy a bank after its failure.  The members of the bank’s board of directors, including Lloyd Longmire, are on a hunting trip when one of its members, Big Bill Sutherland, is accidentally shot to death.  Or so it’s believed at the time.

However, days later another member of the hunting party dies, and a year after that a third member disappears while on a fishing trip, never to be seen again.  Now Walt discovers that these three men plus his grandfather were involved in the handling of a Wyoming monetary fund that is the precursor of the Mineral Trust Fund; its value today is over eight billion dollars.

But it appears that various interested parties don’t want Walt’s inquiry to proceed, even so many decades later.  Lucian Connally, Absaroka County’s former sheriff, is hinting, not so subtly, to leave the case alone, and a man named Mike Regis has been sent from Cheyenne to help Walt “put the fire out,” as he refers to the sheriff’s investigation into the financial dealings of the state.

Then, while he’s out aiding a woman on a mountain road, Walt discovers an abandoned rifle, a .300 H & H Magnum, identical to the one that killed Sutherland years earlier.  It matches the gun in a photo that appears to have been taken the day Big Bill Sutherland was killed, and the weapon is being held by Luke Longmire.

Other things start happening.  A man Walt has asked to do some investigating about Sutherland is critically shot; a very high tech drone, military-style, is flying over the county; a man on a motorcycle is wandering around Walt’s daughter’s house in the middle of the night; and the rear window of Walt’s car is shot out.

Some personal things are going awry as well.  Walt is facing a possible challenge in the next election by one of his deputies, Santiago Saizarbitoria, a hero of the local Basque community.  And Victoria Morelli, another deputy and Walt’s long-time love interest, is missing.

As always, Craig Johnson has written a mystery that brings the reader directly into the heart of Absaroka County and the lives of those who live there.  Once again, meeting the members of the sheriff’s department as well as Walt’s daughter Cady is like catching up with people you’ve known for years, and the author’s gift for dialogue makes you feel that you are listening to actual conversations.

You can read more about Craig Johnson 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.

 

 

 

 

 

HOME AT NIGHT by Paula Munier: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paula Munier, in addition to her writing, is a literary agent and a volunteer Natural Resources Steward in New Hampshire.  You can read more about her at this website.

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

EVERYONE HERE IS LYING by Shari Lapena: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Nev March at this website.

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

ASHES IN THE SNOW by Oriana Ramunno: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about the author at this website.

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

RED QUEEN by Juan Gómez-Jurado: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read about Juan Gómez-Jurado at various sites on the web.

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