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Posts Tagged ‘multiple deaths’

THE RECKONING by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir: Book Review

A little girl is waiting for her father to pick her up after her first day of school.  He’s late, the school doors are locked behind her, and she has no money to make a phone call to him.  Then she sees a classmate, a girl whom she knows lives in one of the houses directly behind the school.

“Maybe I could use the phone at your house?” Vaka bravely asks the other child.  She receives a very reluctant yes, and the two children enter the slovenly-looking house together.

That’s the prologue to The Reckoning, the second book featuring Reykjavik detective Huldar and child psychologist Freya.  (Note – many Icelanders use only first names).  Now it is twelve years after the girl’s disappearance.  Huldar has suffered an ignominious demotion in the city’s Criminal Investigation Division and is reduced to investigating minor crimes that no one else is interested in.

At the moment he is looking into letters written by schoolchildren, placed in a time capsule in 2006, and scheduled to be opened in 2016, the year the novel is set.  Most were typical predictions–everyone will travel in solar-powered helicopters, people will live to the age of 130–but one was disturbing enough for the teacher who opened the capsule to send all the notes to the police.  That letter had a list of people who would be murdered in 2016, giving no names but only initials.  It was unsigned, and now Huldar’s task, which he is not taking very seriously, is to find the author of the note.

Before he can do more than make a cursory beginning in the case, Huldar is sent to investigate an anonymous call that suggests the police might find something interesting if they go to a certain long-abandoned garden.  After searching fruitlessly, Huldar walks up to the garden’s hot tub to warm himself with the escaping steam.  But as he leans against the tub, he recognizes an all-too-familiar smell, and when he opens the lid he sees the horrific sight of two bloody hands floating in the water.

Returning to the cold case he’s investigating, Huldar goes to the Children’s House, a psychological center for abused and neglected children.  He’s there to consult with Freya about that unsigned note.  In fact, both Freya and Huldar were demoted due to the same incident, the one in which Freya shot a man.  Even though her action was ruled self-defense, it was thought inappropriate for her to retain her position.  Now, like Huldar, she is dealing with her feelings; unlike Huldar, who blames only himself for his lowered status, Freya blames Huldar.

The Reckoning is a difficult read, telling the story of child abuse and neglect and the unending ramifications they have.  It is the author’s gift to make the murders understandable in response to a childhood that should never have been allowed to occur.  And, naturally, all this ties together with the missing girl, Vaka.

Whether she is writing characters in a series or stand-alones, Yrsa Sidurdardóttir brings every person in her novels to life. 

You can read more about Yrsa Sidurdardóttir 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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

UNHOLY CITY by Carrie Smith: Book Review

After a year-long battle with cancer, New York City police detective Claire Codella is anxious to return to her job.  She’s feeling completely recovered and eager to put her skills to use.

But although her fight with lymphoma has been won, her fight with her boss, Lieutenant Dennis McGowan, continues.  He’s made no secret of the fact that he hadn’t wanted her as a member of “his” Manhattan North force, and he’s made her return to duty as unpleasant as he could, giving her cold cases and trivial ones, disregarding the fact that she has the highest case clearance rate in the precinct.

So when the phone rings in the middle of the night in the apartment she shares with her lover and colleague, Brian Haggerty, it’s his cell phone’s ringtone, not hers.  Brian has been called out to investigate a murder at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  Claire is disappointed, but there’s nothing she can do about it.  Then, a short while later it’s her phone that rings–Brian has called for backup, knowing that Claire is on duty and that she will be called in to assist him on the case.  She’s out the door in under ten minutes.

St. Paul’s Church is a small oasis in the concrete city.  It has a two-hundred-year-old history, with a surprisingly diverse group of parishioners:  Caucasian, African-American, wealthy, and lower-middle-class, and it’s proud of that.  But behind the scenes, members of the Vestry (a committee dealing with issues regarding the church’s members) are locked in a battle that has been going on for months.  The church’s finances are in poor shape, and there’s no agreement on how to raise the necessary funds.  One vestry member, Philip Graves, wants to sell the air rights above the church to a corporation to build a luxury high-rise; another wants to improve the church’s cemetery and update its crematorium so funeral homes and other churches will pay to use it.

Feelings in the committee are running very high when the meeting ends.  Rose, one its newest members, is pleased that she finally can go home and relieve her daughter’s babysitter, but she decides to make a brief stop in the garden to see how the plants she’s nurtured are going.  But in the darkness she trips, and as she tries to right herself she realizes that what is on the path in front of her is the body of Philip Graves.

Within the small group of staff and congregants who are in the church that night, there are a lot of reasons to want Philip dead.  One person is hiding an unrequited crush on him, two others have secret lives that he has discovered, and another is having an illicit affair.  Each person is determined to keep her/his secret, but Claire Cordella is equally determined to unravel the case.

Carrie Smith has written an exciting, fast-paced mystery with realistic characters and great dialog.  Claire is a dynamic protagonist, driven by her need to excel at work and bury the demons from her past.  But that’s not so easy.

You can read more about Carrie Smith 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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

Reading Under the Midnight Sun is like taking a twenty-year trip through Osaka and Tokyo, starting in 1971.  It’s an incredible novel, one that requires a lot of patience and concentration to read but is well worth the effort.

Right from the beginning, Osaka Police Detective Sasagaki finds the murder of Yosuke Kirihara, owner of a pawnshop bearing his name, distinctly odd.  His body, found in a desolate building, is punctured with several stab wounds to the abdomen.  It appears to Sasagaki that the victim was there for a sexual interlude, but why would any man bring a woman to such a dirty, unpleasant place?

Yosuke’s wife Yaeko, eleven-year-old son Ryo, and Isamu Matsuura, the shop’s lone employee, were all in the apartment behind the shop when the murder apparently took place; given that Yosuke was missing overnight, it’s hard for forensics to give an exact time of death.  Sasagaki follows the deceased’s trail and discovers that on the day of the murder Yosuke had cashed in a CD, leaving the bank with a very large amount of cash.  The money wasn’t found on his body, and his wife and the pawnshop employee say they know of no reason why Yosuke would have had so much money with him when he was killed.

About a year later, there’s another death in the neighborhood.  Fumiyo Nishimoto is found in the tiny apartment she shared with her young daughter, Yukiho.  She was overcome by gas coming from her stove, but whether it was an accident or a suicide is impossible to tell.

These two deaths are the seeds from which the rest of the novel grow.  One of the plot lines deals with computers and hacking, and it’s very interesting to go back over forty years and read about life at the beginning of the computer age.  Personal computers are just beginning to appear in homes, cell phones are unknown.  In terms of the subtext of the plot, 1971 is another world and a distant one at that.  It must be noted that the book was published in 1999, so technology, DNA testing, and forensics were much more primitive then than they are now.

To go back to the first paragraph of this post, it’s only fair to point out a few things that make Under the Midnight Sun a dense and difficult read.  First is the length of time the novel covers and the size of the book–twenty years and 554 pages.  Second is that it takes a while to realize how much time has gone by at different points in the novel–events aren’t separated by chapters or headings with dates, so suddenly someone who was eleven on one page is five years older on the next.  Third is that there are many characters and, of course, they all have Japanese names.  Many of the names were very similar, and I had to keep referring back through the book to remember who they were in the story.

That being said, Under the Midnight Sun is a wonderful novel.  The book is beautifully translated, with a style so smooth that readers will think English is the original language.  I reviewed Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X several years ago and found this novel equally enjoyable.

Keigo Higashino is the winner of multiple awards for crime fiction in Japan, and several of his books have been adapted for television and films in Japan, South Korea, and France.

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

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.



HELL BAY by Will Thomas: Book Review

Someone is killing the people at a dinner party at Godolphin House, a manor located on a remote family-owned island off the southwest corner of England.  Deaths by rifle shot, knife, explosion–but why?

The owner of the island, Lord Hargrave, arrives at the office of Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn, private enquiry agents in London.  Hargrave and his wife will be hosting this party with a dual purpose; he wants to come to a diplomatic agreement with Henri Gascoigne, the French ambassador, concerning colonies in Africa; she is hoping to find suitable matches for their older son and their only daughter.  The nobleman wants the agents to guard Gascoigne, and Cyrus, the senior member of the firm, reluctantly agrees.

Everything appears to be going smoothly at the house until the first murder.  Lord Hargrave himself is the victim, shot after dinner while surrounded by several of his guests in the garden.  Of course everyone is horrified, and Ambassador Gascoigne insists he needs his own bodyguard, who has remained on board the boat that brought the ambassador to the island, to protect him.  When Cyrus and Thomas rush to the harbor to bring Delacroix back to the house, however, the boat is gone and his body is floating in the water.

Thus begins a terrifying ordeal for those left in Godolphin House.  In addition to the two investigators and the ambassador, Lady Hargrave and her three children, Colonel Fraser and his wife, Doctor Anstruther and his two daughters, a businessman and his valet from South America, and Philippa Ashleigh, Cyrus Barker’s particular friend, are present.  And, naturally, the servants—fifteen of them.

In fact, two killings occur even before Cyrus and Thomas arrive at the island.  The head of a boarding school on the mainland is shot as he calls out the window to one of his students; the woman who ran a foster home is found in her yard with a broken neck.  These two deaths, seemingly unrelated to each other or to the island, are actually just the beginning of the murderous spree that will follow.

Hell Bay is narrated by young Thomas, Cyrus’ assistant.  He is in awe of his employer and cannot shake the feeling that he will never have the insights that the latter has.  He’s anxious to appear more sophisticated and worldly than he actually is and desperate to absorb knowledge from his mentor.  But Cyrus refuses to coddle him, saying “If I spoon-feed you the answers, however shall you learn?”

Hell Bay is the eighth mystery in Will Thomas’ Barker and Llewelyn series, set at the end of the nineteenth century.  Each one of his novels sets a perfect scene that will draw you into a period well worth visiting.

You can read more about Will Thomas at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

PHANTOM INSTINCT by Meg Gardiner: Book Review

Bartender Harper Flynn was in the midst of a busy night at Xenon, a very “in” club in Los Angeles.  Suddenly shots are fired, but the hired security is so hemmed in by the crowd that they can’t get to the shooters.  In the melee Harper’s boyfriend Drew Westerman is shot, and despite her efforts to pull him to safety, he dies.

Questioned by the police afterward, Harper maintains she saw three gunmen in hoodies shooting into the crowd, but nearly all the other witnesses say there were only two.  The sole person agreeing with Harper is Aiden Garrison, a sheriff’s deputy who was there with his partner.  But Aiden suffered a traumatic brain injury that night, and he now has Frégoli Syndrome. 

Named after the French quick-change artist Leopoldo Frégoli, sufferers from this disorder believe that the people around them are actually other people in disguise, capable of changing their gender or dress in a moment.  Aiden is on medical leave from the sheriff’s office because, as he says, “I can become convinced that a random person–a neighbor, or somebody crossing the street, is the shooter.” 

He is still convinced that he and Harper are right, that there was a third shooter, but his mind is now too compromised for the authorities to believe his account.  With Harper, then, being the sole credible survivor who insists on a third man, the police have closed the case.

At the one year anniversary of Drew’s death, Harper attends a memorial service for him.  Harper thinks she sees a man, partially hidden in a grove of trees a few hundred yards away,  who reminds her of the hooded figure at the nightclub.  She tries to follow him but is unsuccessful. 

Frustrated, Harper tracks Aiden down and tells him what she saw at the memorial.  Aiden says that he too has seen the mysterious figure since the shooting, several times in fact, but with his current medical condition no one believes him.  But when Aiden tells Harper that he glimpsed a tattoo with the letters ERO on the shooter’s spine as he raised his arm to shoot that night, she reveals her history to him. 

There was one letter you didn’t see, Harper says.  The letter Z; the word is ZERO.  It’s the nickname of  Eddie Azerov, the person who had forced her, as a teenager in a dysfunctional family, into a life of crime.  And so Harper and Aiden, the only two people who believe in the third man, begin a hesitant collaboration to find him.

Phantom Instinct is a roller coaster ride.  The plot beautifully explores the dilemma of two people who know what they saw but are unable to convince anyone else and are forced to work together to find Zero with no official assistance.  In doing so, Harper is led straight back into her troubled past, and Aiden must confront his fear of another Frégoli episode that would endanger them both.

Meg Gardiner has written a mystery with intriguing characters and a totally suspenseful plot.  Harper and Aiden are flawed, but they are determined to bring Zero and his cohorts to justice.  But each step they take brings them deeper into danger.

You can read more about Meg Gardiner, recipient of the Edgar for China Lake, at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.






ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

Ordinary Grace is a wonderful, brilliant novel.  I’ve written about William Kent Krueger’s earlier book, Trickster’s Point, and Ordinary Grace surpasses even that excellent one with its beauty and understanding of family and human dynamics.

The book’s narrator, Frank Drum, is thirteen during the summer of 1961.   Frank’s father is a Methodist minister in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota, a man of God in the best sense.  Frank’s mother conducts the choir in New Bremen and in two other small churches where her husband is the clergyman.  Although she has a beautiful voice and had hoped for a professional career, she is now resigned, but not happily, to living the life of a minister’s wife.

Frank’s eighteen-year-old sister Ariel is a talented pianist and composer who has been accepted to the Julliard School of Music, her lifelong dream.  But now, for some unstated reason, she tells her family she doesn’t want to go, that she would rather stay home and go to the local college and study music.

Frank’s younger brother is Jake, eleven years old.  Jake has a terrible stutter, making him the object of teasing and bullying to the point where he almost never speaks in public or in school.  At home his stutter disappears, but outside that safe environment he becomes almost mute.

Ordinary Grace opens with two deaths in a matter of hours.  The first is that of Bobby Cole, a young developmentally challenged boy who was killed on the town’s railroad trestle.  Did he simply not hear the train coming, or did something more sinister happen?  The next day Frank and Jake find the body of an itinerant man in nearly the same place.  That’s a lot of death for such a small town, but there are more deaths to come.

There’s a great deal of tension in New Bremen.  The relationship between Ruth and Nathan Drum is not an easy one, and she is unable or unwilling to understand the importance of God in her husband’s life, how he can keep his faith no matter what tragedies befall the town or the family.

There is an uneasy relationship between Ruth and her daughter’s piano teacher, Emil Brandt.  Ruth and Emil had been engaged very briefly years earlier, but he abandoned her and fled to New York City to pursue his career.  Now he’s returned home, badly scarred and blinded in a fire, his house kept by his sister Lise.  Lise is autistic, and her devotion to her brother is extreme.

But ordinary grace is seen throughout the book, especially in the person of Nathan Drum.  As a clergyman he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers when bad things happen to good people, but his faith in God remains secure. And through his goodness his family and his town manage to survive.

William Kent Krueger has written another outstanding novel, a coming-of-age story that will resonate with the reader long after the last page is read.  His characters are beautifully drawn, and life in a small town in the mid-twentieth century is detailed and accurate.

You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.