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Posts Tagged ‘multiple murders’

AMONG THE SHADOWS by Bruce Robert Coffin: Book Review

Who better to write a mystery featuring a Portland, Maine police detective than a former Portland, Maine police detective? 

Bruce Robert Coffin’s debut, Among the Shadows, gives readers a look into the gritty, day-to-day work of policing a city against a clever, unseen enemy.  Dealing with difficulties in his personal life, John Byron faces enmity in his professional life as well.

John’s father worked as a Portland police lieutenant until the day he’s found at his kitchen table with a single bullet to his head, his revolver next to him.  John had idolized his father, even knowing his many faults, but he’s never been able to forgive him for his suicide.  Even twenty years later, he wonders how he could have been so wrong about the man.

Now two deaths have the Portland police department reeling.  A former detective, James O’Halloran, has been found dead in his bed.  O’Halloran was dying of cancer and cared for by two hospice nurses, and the immediate reaction to his death is that he died of natural causes.  However, the autopsy reveals three down feathers lodged in his throat, leading the medical examiner to conclude that O’Halloran was smothered, murdered as he slept.  He had been a friend of John’s father and, in fact, sat next to John in the church the day Reece Byron was buried.

Two days after O’Halloran’s murder, another former police detective, Cleo Riordan, is found dead in his home, this time from a bullet from his own gun.  Even though it appears to be a suicide, two deaths of former officers in less than a week is way too suspicious.  Coming across an old photo, John realizes that O’Halloran and Riordan were, along with his own late father, members of the Portland Special Reaction Team.  Are the remaining members of the team in danger?  And, if so, why?

John’s personal life is in a state of turmoil also.  After twenty years of marriage, his wife has served him with divorce papers.  This wasn’t a surprise, as John knew their marriage was troubled, but all his efforts to speak to Kay go directly to her voicemail.  At the same time, he’s developing feelings for his partner Diane Joyner, Portland’s first African-American detective.  It’s against all the rules for the two to become romantically involved, but sometimes rules are made to be broken.

Bruce Robert Coffin has created an interesting, conflicted protagonist in John Byron.  The author’s voice is authentic and powerful, and his insights into police work and his familiarity with the city of Portland make him a writer to watch.  I look forward to a second novel featuring John Byron and his city.

You can read more about Bruce Robert Coffin at this web site.

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



SENT TO THE DEVIL by Laura Lebow: Book Review

Poet and opera librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte is busy in Vienna, writing the words to accompany the operas of Mozart and Salieri.  Da Ponte has achieved some fame in the operatic genre at this point in his life, but his hope is to be able to write poetry full time.  However, for the moment his main income is from the production of the operas, so he continues that work.

It’s 1788, and the Austrian empire, led by Emperor Joseph II, is at war with the Turks.  Students are protesting on street corners, and citizens are watching what they say in public lest they attract the attention of the emperor’s soldiers or police.

Having been exiled for fifteen years from his native Venice for immoral conduct, Lorenzo has assembled a small group of friends to replace his family.  Chief among them is Father Alois Bayer, who has become almost a father to the younger man; their mutual love of books is what brought them together.  But the day after the two men meet for lunch, the priest is murdered in front of the Capistran Chancel.

Father Alois’ murder was the second in Vienna in three days.  The first was General Peter Albrecht, an elderly military man known throughout the city.  He, thought Lorenzo, was someone who might have had enemies, given his absurdly high self-regard and the current feeling in the city about the military.  But why would Father Alois be a victim as well, Lorenzo asks himself?  There doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two men.  However, when he goes to the police to get more information, he’s informed that they both were killed in the same way, with a single knife thrust across the neck.

Into this mix comes Giacomo Casanova, best known today for having made his last name synonymous with seducer of women In addition to his romantic escapades, he was known during his lifetime as a writer, adventurer, and spy.  In Sent to the Devil, Casanova is a close friend of Da Ponte’s and aids him, although not as much as he himself would like to believe, in capturing the man responsible for the series of murders that have rocked Vienna.

Laura Lebow seamlessly blends historical facts with fiction.  Da Ponte was, as the novel tells, the lyricist for two of Mozart’s most famous operas, Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro.  In creating a series in which Da Ponte is the hero, Ms. Lebow has an incredible amount of information to work with:  he was born a Jew, converted as a child to Catholicism in order to gain an education, fathered illegitimate children while a priest in Vienna, moved to London, went bankrupt, fled to the United States, and became the first professor of Italian literature at Colombia University.  Honestly, you couldn’t make this up.

Da Ponte is, at least in the first two books of what I hope will be a long series, a more honorable and likeable man than he probably actually was.  But no matter, it’s the author’s prerogative to fashion her protagonist any way she chooses, and in The Figaro Murders (reviewed on this blog) and Sent to the Devil Lorenzo Da Ponte is a man worthy of respect.  Ms. Lebow has brought him and eighteenth-century Vienna vividly to life.

You can read more about Laura Lebow at this web site.

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




WHEN FALCONS FALL by C. S. Harris: Book Review

It’s 1813 in England.  In the seemingly quiet countryside of Ayleswick-on-Teme, Shropshire, villagers are talking about the death of a young woman who had arrived there only a week earlier.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has traveled to the village for two reasons.  The first is to honor a request by a young friend, Jamie Knox.  Shortly before he died Jamie asked Sebastian to return a family heirloom to his grandmother, Heddie, and so the viscount goes to Ayleswick-on-Teme to do so.

Before Sebastian can visit the grandmother he’s approached by young Archie Rawlins, who has become the town’s justice of the peace upon the recent death of his father.  After viewing the body of the young woman, known to the townspeople as Emma Chance,  Archie asks Sebastian for help.  Archie isn’t certain that her death is the suicide it appears to be.  It was a criminal offense to kill one’s self in nineteenth-century England; the body of a suicide was buried at a crossroads, without church rites and with a stake through its heart.  And the justice of the peace, although having known the woman for only a few days, would like to avoid that ending for her.

Emma Chance had arrived in the village with only a female servant and the equipment that an artist would carry.  She was allegedly traveling through the countryside to sketch, although that was considered a strange and rather inappropriate thing for a young widow, as she presented herself, to do.  She didn’t appear to have any friends or family in the town but had been asking everyone she met about their family histories.

All of this resonates strongly with Sebastian, as this is the second reason for his visit to the village.  He too is on a quest.  Brought up to believe that he was the third son of Alistair St. Cyr, Earl of Hendon, two years earlier he had discovered that he was the son of his mother and one of her lovers.  His father had known this, but when Sebastian’s two older, legitimate, brothers died, the earl named his illegitimate son his heir.

When Sebastian met young Jamie Knox some time before this book opens, he was struck by their uncanny resemblance to each other; it was remarkable enough so that they might have been brothers.  Thus, upon Jamie’s death Sebastian eagerly seized the opportunity to pay his respects to Heddie Knox, to ask her questions and possibly find out more about his paternal family.

When Falcons Fall begins with one death but soon encompasses many more.  There’s a history in this town of young women meeting unusual ends, usually seen as suicides, that strikes Sebastian and his wife Hero as too frequent to be normal.  And then there are the strange deaths of the two most powerful men in Ayleswick-on-Teme, one having died when his manor home was engulfed in fire, the other in a riding accident.  And no one in the village seems to be particularly upset about either death.

Although When Falcons Fall is the eleventh book in the series, there is enough background given to make the plot easily understandable.  All the characters are vibrant and realistic, and the double searches of Emma Chance and Sebastian St. Cyr make for a gripping plot.

You can read more about C. S. Harris at this web site.

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



THE SLAUGHTER MAN by Tony Parsons: Book Review

New Year’s Eve, London.  A night of celebration, fireworks, and noise–lots of noise.  So much that the horrific murders of four family members in an upscale gated community go unnoticed by neighbors.  Brad and Mary Wood and their two teenage children are dead.

Detective Max Wolfe is a member of the team of investigators, and he is the one who notices that there are photos of three children, the two dead teenagers and a young child, in the house.  But the family’s four-year-old son Bradley is nowhere to be found despite a desperate search of the house, the grounds, and an abutting cemetery.

The killings are eerily reminiscent of murders committed more than twenty years earlier, the weapon being a stun gun that is used on cattle.  A young Gypsy man, Peter Nawkins, was convicted of murdering a father and his three adult sons because they had opposed his engagement to the daughter of the family; he was recently released from prison after twenty years.  Terrible as the crimes were for which he went to jail, they were personal in nature.  Would he have committed such a crime against the Wood family, people whom he tells police he didn’t even know?

Further investigation shows that Mary Wood was the former Mary Gatling, the “Ice Virgin” of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway.  Her two siblings, Charlotte and Nils Gatling, go to the media, begging for someone to come forward with information about their young nephew.  Max can’t decide if this is helpful or not.  Will it make people more observant, looking for Bradley Wood in every possible place, or will it overwhelm the police with a thousand calls, well-meaning or not, that will only serve to interfere with the hunt for the child?

In the photos in the house, the Woods look like the perfect family.  They were all good-looking and photogenic, even the dog.  There were pictures of the teenagers playing hockey and football, smiling on the family’s boat, vacationing in Norway.  But did that kind of life breed jealousy and anger in people looking at the Woods’ videos on You Tube?  The police think so.  As one of Max’s colleagues puts it, “Look at how much the world hates the beautiful people, the rich ones….Look how the world hates the happy ones.  Can’t you see it, Max?  Somebody killed the Wood family because they were happy.”

In addition to his search for Bradley, Max is dealing with his interest in Charlotte, Mary Wood’s sister.  He knows better than to get involved with a member of the deceased’s family, but Charlotte’s beauty and her intense devotion toward her missing nephew make her particularly appealing.

The Slaughter Man is a mystery that will hold your interest from the beginning to the end.  Its topics, ranging from child abuse to racial stereotypes, are all too familiar in today’s world.  Tony Parsons has written a taut, exciting novel with characters, both major and minor, that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

You can see Tony Parsons talking about The Slaughter Man on this You Tube video.

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


THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson: Book Review

Two strangers meet in a bar, talk while having a couple of drinks, and get on the same plane from England to Massachusetts.  It happens all the time.  Rarely does it end in murder. 

There is something, however, called Airport Rules.  That’s a variation of What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas, so what you say or do on an airplane doesn’t go any further than the plane.  Unless….

Ted Severson is a very successful businessman, a man with so much money that even the crash of 2008-09 didn’t touch him.  Lily Kinter is an archivist at a small college outside Boston, just striking up a conversation with a stranger to while away time before their flight takes off.  Perhaps it’s the result of the two martinis Ted has already drunk, and the third one he’s about to consume, but he tells Lily the story of his marriage to Miranda.  They met, they married, they live in Boston, and they’re in the process of building a second home in Maine.  Miranda has been overseeing every decision regarding the house, staying in Kennewick for days at a time to work with Brad Daggett, the contractor who is building the seven-bedroom house overlooking the Atlantic.

Planning to surprise his wife, Ted drives up to Kennewick, but it turns out that he is the one surprised.  Looking in one of the windows as he approaches the house, he sees Miranda and Brad sharing a moment that appears so intimate that it immediately makes him suspicious.  Then, pretending he has driven up merely for the afternoon, he leaves the construction site only to return later and, from a hiding place across the beach and aided by binoculars, witnesses the two having sex.

Lily has listened without comment to Ted’s story, the two of them now on the plane heading for Boston.  She asks him what he plans to do about the adultery he has seen.  “What I really want to do is to kill her,” Ted replies.  Without a pause, Lily responds, “I think you should.”

The Kind Worth Killing is told from several points of view–Ted’s, Lily’s, Miranda’s, and Henry Kimball’s, the Boston police detective who gets involved after the first murder.  In alternating sections, each narrator tells his/her story in the first person.  The characters are totally believable, their motives clear, and the very complex plot doesn’t have a single wrong note.  There are surprises on top of surprises, but not one feels false.

The final resolution comes on the book’s last page, and it’s perfection.  There’s not a moment’s letdown in this novel.

Peter Swanson has written a worthy successor to his debut novel, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, which I reviewed in May 2014.  Mr. Swanson displays his talent by making us aware of his characters’ many flaws, yet somehow a bit of sympathy for them sneaks in almost against our will.  The three main characters, Ted, Lily, and Miranda, are all deviant in some way, but the author’s skill allows us to understand the reasons why.  The Kind Worth Killing is an outstanding novel in every way.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this web site.

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

THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE by Lou Berney: Book Review

The Long and Faraway Gone is definitely one of the top five mysteries I’ve read this year.  But to call this outstanding book a mystery is to limit it unfairly to that genre; although it follows two crimes and the resulting consequences for more than two decades, it is more a story of how violence and unanswered questions can define the lives of those left behind.

In August 1986 six teenage employees were shot to death in an Oklahoma City movie house after closing hours.  A seventh employee was found on the floor with the others, but he was not shot.  The police investigated for weeks but found no trace of the killers.  Now calling himself Wyatt Rivers, the man who was then the teenage Mike Oliver has spent twenty-six years wondering why he survived when the others didn’t.

Wyatt is now a private investigator in Las Vegas, and one of his clients asks him to go to Oklahoma City to check on a relative of his wife’s.  Candace Kilkenny, a young single mother, has recently moved to Oklahoma City to manage a live-music club left to her by a friend.  Candace doesn’t know anything about running a club, never had been to O.C. before, but she and her five-year-old daughter left Vegas and moved there.  Now she tells her cousin that someone is harassing her, and she needs help in figuring out what to do about it.

Wyatt doesn’t want to take the case, doesn’t want to go to O.C., but he also doesn’t want to share his reasons.  So, after a twenty-something year absence, he returns to the city of his youth and his nightmares.

In September 1986 there was another crime in that city, but this one was barely investigated.  Two sisters were spending the evening at the Oklahoma State Fair when the older one, Genevieve, left her twelve-year-old sister Juliana alone, sitting on a sidewalk on the fairgrounds.  Telling her younger sibling that she was going to check out a party she’d heard about and would be back in fifteen minutes, she walked away.  And in the first of many twists in this excellent thriller, it’s Genevieve who disappears and is never heard from again.

The police were convinced that Genevieve was a runaway, so little time was given to the case.  Juliana has spent the past two decades following every possible lead in an effort to locate her only sibling.  Her parents are dead, and she has made finding Genevieve, or at least finding out what happened to her, her life’s mission.  Her obsession, some would call it.  But for Juliana there is no choice; she must know what happened.

Lou Berney has written an extraordinary novel.  What happens when someone cannot let go of the past and go on with his/her life?  It’s understandable when those events are as traumatic as being the sole survivor of a massacre or having a loved one leave without a final word, not to return.  Yet shouldn’t life continue for the survivors of such tragedies, even if those lives can never be the same?

The Long and Faraway Gone is a book that will keep you engrossed until the end, pondering the above question well past the time you put the book down.

You can read more about Lou Berney at this web site.

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



EENY MEENY by M. J. Arlidge: Book Review

Two young musicians are hitchhiking home from a gig in London.  It’s pouring, but cars keep passing them by until a white van stops in front of them.  The woman at the wheel beckons them to come inside, then offers the couple a thermos of coffee to ward off the chill.  The next thing Amy and Sam know, they’re in a drained swimming pool, fifteen feet below its rim, with no way of climbing out.

Then the cell phone that’s been left on the pool’s floor rings.  A woman’s voice calls Amy by name, telling her there is one way, and only one way, out of their prison.  One of them has to pick up the gun, also lying on the pool’s bottom, and use it to kill the other one.  Then the survivor will live.

Eeny Meeny is a thriller in every sense of the word.  For no apparent reason, twosomes are being picked up by a woman, drugged, and abandoned without food or water at totally inaccessible locations.  Hours after they’re left there, a call comes in on a cell phone left at the site, telling whichever one of them answers what the conditions are–one must kill the other, the survivor will be rescued.  No killing, no rescue–they’ll both die.

It’s obvious that these crimes are not spur-of-the-moment ones.  Careful planning has gone into them, from knowing the schedules of the people chosen, picking the remote and secure places to hide them, and being able to rescue the survivors from their prisons.  Why would someone go to so much trouble to target these unlikely victims?

Helen Grace is a Detective Inspector of the Southampton Police, the officer in charge of what will become the hunt for a serial predator.  The  unknown suspect is not doing the killing herself, she is arranging for someone to do the killing for her.  As the abductions continue and the death toll rises, there seems to be no reason, no motive.  Until D. I. Grace discovers one.

Although Eeny Meeny is the first in a series, a lot of background is given to acquaint the reader with Helen Grace.  We learn early on that her job is her life.  She is “…six feet of driving ambition.  Never late, never hungover, never sick.  She lived and breathed her job….”  That seems admirable, until one asks why is her life so empty otherwise?  And there’s a good, if unnerving, reason for that.

Helen’s colleagues form an interesting group.  There’s Detective Sergeant Mark Fuller, formerly her most trusted assistant, now reeling from a nasty divorce which has separated him not only from his former wife but also from his young daughter.  Detective Charlene “Charlie” Brooks is the newcomer on the team, determined to prove her worth as an officer but holding onto her own personality by wearing her not-according-to-regulation outfits on the job.  And there’s Detective Superintendent Whittaker, annoyed at Helen’s outstanding record of arrests and convictions, just waiting for a reason to take her off the case.

Warning:  don’t start Eeny Meeny before bedtime if you want a good night’s sleep.  But definitely do start it; you won’t be able to put it down.

You can read more about M. J. Arlidge at this web site.

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


DOUBLE VISION by Colby Marshall: Book Review

Dr. Jenna Ramey is a forensic psychiatrist with the FBI.  She brings years of experience to her job, but she also brings something that no other agent/profiler can match–she has synesthesia, a neurological condition causing her to visualize various colors that she has learned correspond to what people are saying or how they are behaving.

A shooting is taking place in a grocery store filled with senior citizens.  But the caller to the 911 emergency line is a six-year-old girl who came to the store with her grandmother.  Young Molly Keegan is almost unbelievably calm when talking to the emergency dispatcher Yancy Vogul, but everything she tells him can be verified.  She has counted the seven shots and, sure enough, there are seven victims dead when the police and FBI agents arrive on the scene.

Yancy, Jenna’s significant other, is still recovering from the accident that left him with a prosthetic leg.  Unable to work as a field agent for the Bureau, he now is behind the desk of the local police station, grateful that he still has some connection to law enforcement but despondent about not having the career he wanted.  So, although he knows better, he’s become emotionally invested in CiCi Winthrop, a woman who has called 911 several times about her abusive husband but has refused to press charges.  So now Yancy is just going a little out of his way, he tells himself, “just to check.”  What harm could it do?

After a second interview with Molly, Jenna and her colleagues become fearful that the man they are looking for is the serial murderer they are calling the Triple Shooter.  As Jenna tells the other agents, “This isn’t a random shooter.  We’ve seen him before.”  There are differences between this shooting and the previous ones, but Jenna still believes the UNSUB (unknown subject) has committed the previous murders.  He has killed women only before, and this mass shooting included both sexes.  But there’s something about all the crimes that connect them in Jenna’s mind, although she’s not sure what that is.

There are significant pieces in Jenna’s backstory.  Her mother, Claudia, is a serial killer who has escaped from a mental hospital, and no one knows her whereabouts now.  And Jenna’s daughter’s father, Hank, was murdered a year ago, and some members are contesting the will in which he named Ayana in both his insurance policies; Hank’s mother, in particular, is demanding proof that Ayana is actually her granddaughter.

Is Jenna’s condition a neurological aberration or a gift, an additional hidden sense?  Sometimes it seems to Jenna that it’s both, helping her when she’s working a crime scene or interviewing witnesses, interfering with her work when the colors she visualizes don’t seem to make sense.  But overall she confident that synesthesia works well for her, a “sixth sense” that can help her tell truth from fiction.

Color Blind is the second novel in the series featuring Dr. Jenna Ramey.  I’m looking forward to the third one.

You can read more about Colby Marshall at this web site.

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








THE RECKONING by Rennie Airth: Book Review

I’m delighted to let you know that there’s a fourth John Madden mystery that has just been published.  Originally billed as a trilogy extending from World War I to World War II, Rennie Airth’s new novel takes place two years after World War II ends.

What becomes a series of seemingly unrelated murders begins, for John, with the death of Oswald Gibson, a meek and unassuming man who is shot while fishing near his home.  Oswald is a man who has spent his life trying not to upset or confront people, according to all those who knew him, including his brother.  He took “turn the other cheek” to the extreme, so why would someone kill him?

The second inexplicable thing about the death is the unfinished letter found in his desk.  It was written to the commissioner of Scotland Yard, saying that Oswald was trying to get in touch with someone who had worked at the Yard a long time ago, someone named John Madden.  Why did Oswald start writing the letter, only to leave it unfinished and unsent?

As John recounts the story of Oswald’s murder to his wife Helen, she says, “It’s obvious there’s been a mistake.  I don’t believe you two ever met.”  John agrees, but he responds, “But if I can’t remember his name, how is it that he knows mine?”

John Madden is certain he never heard of or met Oswald.  Nor did he know the man who turned out to have been the first victim, a Scottish doctor shot in his office several weeks before Oswald’s death.

When we first met John Madden in River of Darkness, it was just after the end of the Great War, in which he had served.  He suffered both physically and emotionally during the war, the latter because of the deaths of his wife and child.  But it is also in that novel that he meets and falls in love with Dr. Helen Blackwell, and together they begin a new chapter in their lives.

There is no war that does not leave its scars on both soldiers and civilians.  What John and the detectives at Scotland Yard are finding is that those scars can be so deep that the passing of years, even decades, doesn’t heal them.  And that’s when murder steps in.

Rennie Airth has created a wonderful protagonist in John Madden, a man of integrity and courage.  His ability is legendary at the Yard and has not diminished with his retirement, and it is with a sense of relief that his former colleagues welcome him into the investigation of these two murders.  John now has reached middle age, but his skills are still as apparent as they were when we first met him nearly three decades earlier.

You can read more about Rennie Airth at this web site.

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





THE DEAD WILL TELL by Linda Castillo: Book Review

The chief of police in Painters Mills, Ohio holds what seems to be dual citizenship.  Kate Burkholder was born into the town’s Amish community but left it to become, as they say in Pennsylvania Dutch, an Englischer.  That term, used both for men and women, simply denotes anyone who doesn’t follow the Amish way.  But Kate, having grown up as Amish, both speaks their language and understands their way of life better than most Englischers can.

Thirty-five years ago, there was a horrific murder in the town.  Kate was just a child then, but she knows the tragic story of the Hochstetlers.  Four masked people broke into the family’s farmhouse looking for money from the family’s business; it was believed that the family kept their cash in the house because of the Amish distrust of banks.  The intruders killed the family’s father and abducted the mother, and a lighted lantern left on the basement steps burned the four younger children to death.  Only the teenage son Billy, who was running after the getaway car carrying his mother, escaped with his life.

Now, all these years later, four respected members of Painters Mills have been receiving threatening notes.  Dale Michaels is the first to die, having received these messages:  I know what you did; I know what all of you did; Meet me or I go to the police; Hochstetler farm. 1 a.m.  Come alone.  When Dale arrives at the farm at the appointed hour, he sees the figure of Wanetta Hochstetler, the family’s mother who was abducted and assumed dead for thirty-five years.  And then Dale is shot to death.

Kate Burkholder didn’t know Dale Michaels, nor did she expect three people to be murdered within a week in her town.  What could tie these victims together?  And why had each victim received notes similar to Dale’s?

Kate is undergoing her own personal trial with her live-in partner, John Tomasetti.  His wife and two daughters were killed three years earlier as retribution for arrests he made as an FBI agent, and now one of the convicted men has been released on a technicality.  John can’t put this tragedy behind him, and his desire for revenge is threatening the relationship he has with Kate.

Linda Castillo continues the exciting Kate Burkholder series with this latest entry.  Reading about the Amish community in  Painters Mills is, for most of us, like taking a trip to a foreign country.  There are many things that set the members of the group apart from the majority–living without electricity, modest dress, traveling in buggies, ending education at the close of the eighth grade.  But readers can easily relate to their emotions and love of family.  As the late author Maya Angelou put it, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”  Ms. Castillo proves this once again in the outstanding The Dead Will Tell.

You can read more about Linda Costello at this web site.

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








LOVE STORY, WITH MURDERS by Harry Bingham: Book Review

Friends and subscribers to my blog know that I read a lot of mysteries, three or four a week.  Not every book I read gets reviewed, as I write only about the ones I would recommend.

So when I write that Love Story, with Murders is an absolutely outstanding mystery, please believe me.

Love Story, with Murders follows Fiona Griffiths, a young Welsh detective, as she and her colleagues try to solve two gruesome, similar, but difficult-to-connect murders in Cardiff.  On a slow winter day, called to investigate an insignificant incident involving illegal trash, Fiona is examining  rubbish in a garage when she opens the freezer chest there and finds a human leg, complete with high-heeled shoe.  Judging from its appearance, it’s been there a long time.

The day following this grisly discovery another body part is found, an arm.  But this is a man’s arm, and the person to whom it belonged is only very recently dead.  When Fiona canvasses the area where she discovered the female leg, she enters a neighboring shed and finds a woman’s head in a bucket of oil.  The police discover that the head and leg belonged to Mary Langton, a young woman who disappeared five years earlier.

I know this sounds incredibly bizarre, but keep reading.  The key ingredient that makes this book so special is the heroine, Fiona.  As in the first mystery in the series, Talking to the Dead, she tells the story and is the center that holds everything together.

(Spoiler Alert:  What we didn’t know until the end of Talking to the Dead is that Fiona has Cotard’s Syndrome/aka Cotard’s Delusion or the Walking Corpse Syndrome).  Those suffering from this mental illness believe they are not alive, are missing body parts, don’t recognize themselves in the mirror, and/or have great difficulty experiencing both emotions and purely physical effects such as heat, cold, or pain.  So severe was Fiona’s case that she spent two of her teenage years in a mental hospital.

Because Fiona is telling the story, the reader is privy to all her thoughts.  We can understand her emotional issues and the questions she has about her past.  Fiona was found abandoned in a car that belonged to a Cardiff “businessman” and his wife.  She was nicely dressed, seemed to be about two or two and half years old, and had a camera around her neck; there was no other information with her.  The couple adopted her, and they and her two younger sisters are Fiona’s family.

The reason for the quotes around the word businessman is that Fiona’s father is involved in many illegal activities.  He’s been brought before the police on several occasions and was even brought to trial twice, but he was not convicted in either case.  Fiona is devoted to him, and the devotion is mutual, but she feels that he knows more about her background than he is willing to share.  So she’s determined to start investigating her past on her own.

Harry Bingham has written a mystery that succeeds on every level–its characters and plot are compelling.  Love Story, With Murders is a wonderfully written novel, and you will be cheering for Fiona every step of the way.

You can read more about Harry Bingham and how he developed his heroine at this web site.

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




DEATH ON TELEGRAPH HILL by Shirley Tallman: Book Review

Sarah Woolson is the third woman licensed as an attorney in California.  Everywhere she goes, men and women are astonished to find out there is such a being–a woman and a lawyer, an impossible combination to many in San Francisco in the year 1882.  But Sarah is intelligent, ambitious, and not about to give in to those who believe it’s impossible for a woman to be a lawyer.  And once she takes a case, she will not give up.

Sarah lives with her parents, her single younger brother, and her married older brother and his family in the elegant Woolson family home.  Much as she loves her family, Sarah is anxious for her practice to be successful enough for her to rent her own rooms, away from the over-anxious eyes of her parents.  But that day isn’t here yet.

As Sarah and her brother Samuel are returning with a group from a literary function featuring the Irish poet Oscar Wilde at the home of newspaper publisher Mortimer Remy, Samuel is shot and wounded.  The police and several others in the party believe it to be an accident, a resident of Telegraph Hill shooting at a small animal in the dark, not an unusual occurrence.  Sarah’s not convinced and is even less willing to believe in the accident theory when, several days later, the body of a Telegraph Hill resident who also attended Mortimer’s party is found hanging from a tree.

The police lieutenant in charge of the case calls the death a suicide, but Sarah’s friend Sergeant George Lewis of the city’s police department agrees with Sarah. However, there’s little to go on until another body turns up.

Death on Telegraph Hill paints a detailed picture of San Francisco more than a century and a quarter ago.  Sarah is definitely a woman ahead of her time, a woman who has coolly decided on a career rather than marriage and children.  But then there’s Robert Campbell, another attorney, who is trying to change her mind about the marriage part of her decision.  There’s a large cast of characters including younger brother Samuel; Sarah’s friend, the woman she rents office space from, Fanny Goodman; the young Eddie Cooper, a teenaged carriage driver who is always anxious to help Sarah; and the several people who were at the reception the night that Samuel was shot.  Each one has a distinct personality and helps bring the novel to life.

And the picture of Oscar Wilde is hilarious.  Although well-known in literary circles, he’s definitely not what people are used to in San Francisco; the locals don’t know what to make of him.  “Attired in a maroon velvet smoking jacket edged with braid, a lavender silk shirt, flowing green cravat, knee breeches, and black shoes with silver buckets….”  Well, you get the idea.  Apparently his sexual preferences have made their way across the ocean, and some rude comments about that were also voiced by his audience.  However, Oscar remains impervious; he probably has heard similar jeers and insults before.

This is the fifth mystery in the Sarah Woolson series but only the first I’ve read.  So the good news is that I have four more novels in this excellent series waiting for me.

You can read more about Shirley Tallman at this web site.

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

THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE by Barbara Cleverly: Book Review

The Last Kashmiri Rose is a terrific mix of multiple murders, sexual tension, and exotic atmosphere.   It’s a cozy read that holds your interest to the end.

It’s 1922, four years after the end of the Great War, and Commander Joseph Sandilands of Scotland Yard is on his way home from India.  He’d been assigned to Calcutta for six months to help the Bengal Police and is more than anxious to return to London.  But on the day before he is to leave, a formal request comes to him from the acting governor of Bengal to come to his office at once.

The governor’s niece, Nancy Drummond, is there waiting for Joe.  She brings photographs of the bloody corpse of her close friend, Peggy Somersham, who was found a week earlier in her bath with her wrists cut.  Nancy insists that Peggy was happy in India, happy in her new marriage, and would have had no reason to kill herself.  Nancy, who had been a nurse during the War, thinks it would have been nearly impossible for Peggy to have cut her own wrists the way they were cut.

Even stranger, according to Nancy, is that in addition to Peggy, four other officers’ wives in the Greys regiment have died in various types of accidents over a period of years, each during the month of March.  One was killed in a fire, one thrown from a horse, one bitten by a snake, one drowned while crossing a river in a boat, and now Peggy has been found dead.  Those are too many bodies for Nancy to believe that they all were accidents, and she wants Joe Sandilands to investigate before he returns home.

The area’s police superintendent clearly believes Peggy’s death was a suicide, and he’s obviously annoyed that Joe has been called in.  He’s not eager to offer much help, but he does assign an Indian officer, Naurung Singh, to assist.  That’s as far as he’ll go because he believes that simply telling the other officers’ wives “not to worry their pretty little heads” about this case is all the attention it deserves.

But Naurung agrees with Nancy that the deaths of these five women are not accidents, and Joe starts looking into the case.  And it doesn’t hurt that his interest in the charming, vivacious Nancy Drummond, wife of the Collector of Panikhat (a title that meant administrator and revenue officer in the former British Civil Service) is returned.

Pre-independent India is a fascinating place.  The Last Kashmiri Rose takes us to a place that no longer exists and will never exist again.  The British were the rulers, the natives the servants.  The army officers and civil servants and their families lived an almost fairy tale life.  The men paraded daily in their uniforms, the women visited each other and did small charitable deeds for the villagers while their food was prepared and served, their clothing washed and ironed, their children looked after, and their household details taken care of without their noticing.  Whether you think this was good or bad might depend on whether you envision yourself as a British civil servant or an Indian house servant.

Regardless of one’s opinion, the novel makes this life alive again.  The Last Kashmiri Rose is the first in the Joe Sandilands series; there are nine others.  But the first novel is a great place to start.

You can read more about Barbara Cleverly at this web site.

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

COLD CRUEL WINTER by Chris Nickson: Book Review

1732 was a terrible winter in Leeds, England. Ice and snow covered the streets, and people died every day due to the extreme weather, lack of food, and lack of heat.  It was indeed cold and cruel, especially for the poor.

In Chris Nickson’s second novel in the Richard Nottingham series, the constable is grieving for his beloved older daughter who died of a fever a few weeks before the book opens.  And now the constable must face more deaths, these not due to weather or illness but murder.

Leeds in the 1700s is a city made wealthy by the wool trade, and the mayor and the Corporation that run the city want its citizens, or at least its wealthy and worthy ones, to feel safe and protected.  But when John Sedgwick, the constable’s deputy, finds a corpse in the road, the period of relative tranquility is over.  Upon closer examination, the body of successful wool merchant Sam Graves has not only been stabbed but skinned, his back unprotected by its natural covering.

Shortly afterwards, constable Nottingham receives a package.  In it is a book entitled Journal of a Wronged Man in Four Volumes, and as Nottingham reads it he comes to realize that its binding is the skin of the murdered man. The journal’s author tells of being badly treated years ago by Graves, who was his employer; he was transported to the West Indies for seven years for the crime of stealing from Graves, his attempt at revenge for what he viewed as low wages for a man of his skills.  Since this volume states that it is the first of four, it is up to Nottingham to figure out who the other three potential victims are and to protect them.

In addition to the desperate hunt for Sam Graves’ killer, Nottingham has another murder on his hands.  This is the murder of Issac the Jew, the only one of his religion in the city.  Nottingham quickly learns that two brothers are the guilty ones, but their father is a powerful man in the city’s Corporation who has managed to get many previous charges against his sons dismissed.

The characters in Cold Cruel Winter are strongly drawn. The constable and his deputy, the teenage boy who works for them, the two arrogant Henderson brothers, the city’s pimp whose offered help makes Nottingham nervous, all these come across to the reader as real people.  And reading the twisted words in the journal gives one an insight into what has warped its author into the killer that he is.

The city of Leeds, too, comes alive in Cold Cruel Winter.  One is taken back to a time when, for the poor, illumination meant a single candle, heat was perhaps some coal dust, and clothing was little more than rags.  It was a cruel time indeed.

The Library Journal chose this novel as one of 2011’s best. It’s easy to see why.

You can read more about Chris Nickson at his web site.

THE LAST KIND WORDS by Tom Piccirilli: Book Review

Talk about your dysfunctional families. The Rand family could be the “poster children” for this term.  The grifting, stealing men in the family go back four generations, but the novel focuses on the last three.  There’s the grandfather, Old Shep, living in the family home and suffering from dementia; the father, Pinsch, trying to hold the family together; his two brothers, Mal and Grey, both fearful that they too are losing their memories and skills; Pinsch’s older son, Collie, who is a week away from being executed for killing eight people; and the book’s protagonist, Terry, the younger son, who ran from the family five years ago and has just returned.

Note anything about the names that the men have?  They are all shortened versions of dogs’ names; it’s a family tradition.  There’s Shepherd, Pinscher, Malamute, Greyhound, Collie, and Terrier.  Says something about the family’s mindset, doesn’t it?

Oh, yes, there are two women in the story–the mother and the younger sister in the family.  The sister’s name is Dale, short for Airedale, I assume.  And the Rands have a dog–his name is John F. Kennedy.

The reason Terry has come home after five years out west is due to a phone call from his sister, saying that their brother Collie has asked for him.  Although Terry and Collie have always had a difficult relationship, bonds are very strong in the family, so Terry goes to the prison to see what Collie wants.  Collie, who admitted his guilt in seven of the murders, has always denied that he killed the eighth victim, a young woman who was killed on the same night he went on his murder spree.

Terry wants to know what difference it makes if his brother is given the needle for eight murders instead of the seven he admitted to, and Collie says that several similar murders have taken place while he’s been in prison. Other young, pretty, brunette women have been murdered, and he thinks he should do something to stop the killings.  He’s told the police, but they don’t believe his denial of the eighth murder and don’t accept that these other murders are anything but coincidences.  After all, murders of young, pretty women aren’t rare.

Dale is fifteen and on the verge of falling into a life of crime.  As if it’s not bad enough that larceny runs in her veins, she’s involved with a young hoodlum who works for the head of the town’s criminal enterprise.  He’s planning to rob a jewelry store and has been foolish enough to ask Terry to join his gang, a move that alerted Terry to the path his sister may be on.

The only character in the Rand family who seems to be “straight” is the mother; exactly why she married into the family, knowing what she knew about them, is difficult to fathom.  She appears loving and kind, and it’s hard to understand how she’s been able to stay that way after some thirty years of living in the same house with her husband, his two brothers, and their father, criminals all.  But then there’s no accounting for love, is there?

The Last Kind Words is a wonderful novel, with fascinating characters and a plot that will keep you reading until the last page.  I know there is another Rand family book in the works; I hope Tom Piccirilli writes quickly.

You can read more about Tom Piccirilli at his web site.