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Posts Tagged ‘Simon Brett’

At 656 pages, the hardcover version of Lethal White could well be a lethal weapon. Happily, I bought the e-book of the fourth Cormoran Strike tale by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling, so it only robbed me of a weekend’s worth of reading. And I found it time well spent, similar to binge-watching the Cinemax mini-series of the first three books. Strike is still large, grouchy and damaged, but he has rehired his assistant, Robin Ellacott, and elevated her to partner in the London detective agency. The two pursue a complicated case of blackmail, murder and past secrets involving the dysfunctional family of government minister Jasper Chiswell (pronounced “Chizzle”), the pervy husband of another minister, and socialist rabble-rouser Jimmy Knight and his mentally ill brother Billy. The cast is Dickensian, the plot smartly tangled and digressive, the writing detailed and atmospheric. Throughout, Robin contends with panic attacks left over from her serial killer encounter, as well as her selfish jerk of a husband. Meanwhile Strike deals with girlfriends past and present, all the while mulling over his attraction to Robin. Just when you think they’re about to get sorted, something or someone intervenes, and there goes another hundred pages. Still, I hope it’s not another three years before the next book. Cormoran Strike is as addictive as Harry Potter.

There’s good news and sad news about Wild Fire (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), Ann Cleeves’ eighth entry in her stellar Shetland Island series. The sad news is that Cleeves says this is the last Shetland book, the good news being that police detective Jimmy Perez finishes strong. When the body of a nanny is found hanging in the Fleming family’s barn, suspicion falls on the Flemings, outsiders with an autistic son. But then designer Helena Fleming reveals that she has found disturbing sketches of a gallows, and the dead girl turns out to have a complicated past and local romantic entanglements. Speaking of which, Perez’s boss and occasional lover, Willow Reeves, arrives from Inverness to head the investigation. When another murder occurs, Cleeves crafts the village equivalent of an atmospheric locked-room mystery — the closed-community puzzle. The few suspects all have means and motives, and your guess is as good as mine. Oh, I’m going to miss Shetland.

 

A Forgotten Place (HarperCollins, digital galley) is a truly memorable installment of Charles Todd’s series about spirited British nursing sister Bess Crawford. World War I may be over, but many soldiers are still reliving the horrors of the trenches, including the Welsh vets Bess first meets at a hospital in France. Once hardworking miners, the amputees face such a bleak peacetime future that they prefer death. Hoping to help avert more suicides, Bess uses leave to check up on Capt. Hugh Williams, who is staying with his widowed sister-in-law in a back-of-beyond village in South Wales. She ends up stranded among hostile villagers when her driver takes off in his car in the middle of the night. The Gothic atmosphere is thick with suspicion and rumors, and Bess observes several mysterious events, including the secret burial of an unidentified body washed up on the beach. There’s a dark secret at the village’s heart, one that goes back decades, a secret some are willing to kill to keep.

 

Other recent crime novels worthy of recommendation vary widely in subject and style. In Karin Slaughter’s riveting stand-alone, Pieces of Her (HarperCollins, digital galley), Andrea Cooper discovers her mother Laura has been hiding her real identity for 30 years. Her desperate road trip to find the truth of her heritage alternates with flashbacks to Laura’s harrowing past that endangers them both. In Caz Frear’s assured first novel Sweet Little Lies (HarperCollins, digital galley), the spotlight’s on a father-daughter relationship. London DC Cat Kinsella is investigating the murder of a unidentified woman when DNA provides the link to the 1998 disappearance of an Irish teen. Cat has always known her charming, philandering father lied about his connection to the teen back then, but she now fears he may be lying about murder. She sifts through both family history and present-day evidence for the answers. Stephen Giles goes Gothic with his twisty psychological chiller The Boy at the Keyhole (Hanover Square Press, digital galley) set in 1961 Britain. In an old country house, 9-year-old Samuel worries that his widowed mother, who left on a business trip while he was asleep, has been gone too long and isn’t coming home. Despite assurances from housekeeper Ruth, imaginative Samuel begins to suspect that Ruth has murdered his mother and hidden her body. Creepy.  Agatha Christie fans should be pleased by Sophie Hannah’s third Hercule Poirot novel, The Mystery of Three Quarters (HarperCollins, digital galley). The clever puzzle begins with someone pretending to be Hercule Poirot sending letters to four people accusing them of murder. But elderly Barnabas Pandy accidentally drowned in his bathtub, didn’t he? Or was it murder? Poirot’s little gray cells get quite the workout, as does his appetite for cake. On the even lighter side, actor Charles Paris plays sleuth again in The Deadly Habit (Severn House, digital galley). Alcoholic and middle-aged, Paris is surprised to get a part in a new West End production starring Justin Grover, an actor with whom he worked long ago but who has since become rich and famous. Although he’s trying not to drink so as to get back with his estranged wife Frances, Charles falls off the wagon at an inopportune moment, stumbling over a dead body backstage, then making a quick exit. Now he’s got to find a murderer before he becomes prime suspect or the next corpse.

 

 

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zigzagSo many mysteries the last month or so. A popular author kicks off a new series, while another chooses to end a longtime favorite. Star turns by trusted detectives, past crimes leading to present-day puzzles, procedurals, capers, a serial killer — or two.

Elly Griffiths, whose Ruth Galloway series is known for its engaging characters, introduces another memorable cast in The Zig Zag Girl (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), set in 1950 Brighton. Police detective Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto both served in a special ops/disinformation group known as the Magic Men during World War II and reteam as sleuths when someone starts killing people by restaging famous magic tricks. Atmospheric, clever and appropriately tricky. Encore, please.

longlandWith the evocative Long Upon the Land (Grand Central, library hardcover), Margaret Maron brings her long-running Deborah Knott series to a close by circling back to Deborah’s complicated family history as bootlegger Kezzie Knott’s daughter. She marries a contemporary mystery about a dead man found on Kezzie’s North Carolina farm to one with roots in World War II, when Deborah’s mother Susan befriended both a young soldier and widower Kezzie. In both cases, Deborah needs answers from her many older brothers, her aunt and her father, as well as others with long memories. Sweet and bittersweet.

raggedLand is also at the heart of Last Ragged Breath (St. Martin’s Minotaur, advance reading copy), Julia Keller’s fourth entry in her excellent series featuring prosecutor Bell Elkins. A native of the hardscrabble West Virginia mountain town of Acker’s Gap, Elkins is familiar with the area’s history, even if the disastrous 1972 Buffalo Creek flood was before her time. Royce Dillard was only two when he survived the rushing waters that claimed the lives of his parents and more than a hundred other souls, but now the solitary dog-lover’s life is imperiled once again. He is on trial for the murder of an outside developer on his land. The circumstantial evidence points to Dillard, but Elkins has her doubts, well aware of the passions aroused by the dead man and his plans that could forever change Acker’s Gap. Like her protagonist, Keller knows the landscape and its residents. Unlike Elkins, though, she also knows dogs. I fell hard for Goldie.

natureofA boy cries wolf once too often in Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), a stunning addition to her Inspector Gamache series. I was disappointed by the last one (choppy writing, digressive plot), but this one took my breath away as the isolated Quebec village of Three Pines is invaded by suspicion and betrayal with far-reaching moral consequences. All the familiar characters are on hand, including Henri the dog and Rosa the duck, as Gamache resists peaceful retirement in his search for answers. What little Laurent finds in the woods is real and fearsome.

xgraftonThe only problem with Sue Grafton’s X (Penguin Putnam, digital galley) is that it means we’re nearing the end of her alphabetically titled series starring PI Kinsey Millhone. As always, it’s a treat to watch Kinsey using the old-fashioned tools of the trade circa 1989 to catch criminals. Here, knocking on doors, using library reference books and looking at public records in person has Kinsey figuring out frauds large and small, even as the private files of a late colleague lead to a trail of missing women and a serial killer. Yikes! The colorful characters include a wily divorcee, a slick sociopath and annoying new neighbors for Kinsey and her elderly landlord Henry.

susansThe plot of Julia Heaberlin’s thrilling Black-Eyed Susans (Random House/Ballantine, digital galley) reminds me of an episode of Criminal Minds but minus most of the gory details. In 1995, 16-year-old Tessa was found buried alive under a blanket of black-eyed Susans in a Texas wheat field that served as a grave for three other girls. Tessa, who only has flashes of memory of her traumatic experience, nevertheless testified at the trial of the presumed killer, who was sent to Death Row. Now, with his execution only days away, Tessa reluctantly agrees to help a defense attorney and a forensics expert trying to free the condemned man by finally identifying the other victims. Heaberlin alternates between past and present, piling on the red herrings, and Tessa struggles to recover her memory. The ending’s a bit muddled and unevenly paced, but Heaberlin’s third book will keep you up all night.

marrykissWith its snappy dialogue and cinematic scenes, Marry Kiss Kill (Prospect Park Books, digital galley) reads like a rom-com caper TV movie — no surprise since author Anne Flett-Giordano’s writing and producing credits include Frasier and Hot in Cleveland. With the glitzy Santa Barbara film festival as backdrop, police detective Nola MacIntire and her partner, Tony Angellotti, try to solve the case of a murdered street artist while also looking into the suspicious death of a wealthy businessman. Nothing especially original here, but appealing characters and a spritz of name-dropping make for fast-paced fun.

pargeterKeeping up with so many series means I hardly ever run out of new mysteries to read. A shout-out to the Witness Impulse imprint that introduced me to several excellent writers from across the pond, including Brian McGilloway, whose Lucy Black series is set in Northern Ireland; Mari Hannah, whose Kate Daniels series takes place in Northumbria; and Alison Bruce, whose Gary Goodhew procedurals are set in Cambridge. I also count on British publisher Severn House for witty new tales from Simon Brett, who writes the Charles Paris series and the Mrs. Pargeter books. Severn also publishes new mysteries from American writers (and Facebook friends) Clea Simon and Sarah Shaber.  Recommended all.

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leonDonna Leon set her first book in the stellar Guido Brunetti series, Death at La Fenice, at Venice’s famed opera house, and she returns there in her 24th, Falling in Love (Grove Atlantic, digital galley). Returning, too, is soprano Flavia Petrelli, whose performance in Tosca leads to wild applause and a rain of roses. But it’s the extravagant bouquets of yellow roses left in her dressing room and at the doorway to her apartment that frighten her and concern Brunetti, who ties the mysterious stalker to two knife attacks in the city. Leon deftly explores the psychology and escalating obsession of the stalker, then ups the suspense at the penultimate performance of Tosca, with the violent emotions of the opera mirroring the climactic events backstage. One of Leon’s best, inseparable from the magic of the real Venice. Brava!

foundlingsThe Silence of the Lambs meets an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent in Kate Rhodes’ suspenseful The Winter Foundlings (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley). After a missing girl’s body is left on the steps of London’s Foundling Museum, psychologist Alice Quentin, liaising with the police, meets with convicted child killer Louis Kinsella at Northwoods prison hospital. Three other girls are missing, and the kidnapper appears to be following in Kinsella’s footsteps — or following his orders. Is it a former pupil, or perhaps a member of the hospital staff? As the cunning Kinsella toys with Alice, time is running out to find the missing girls. Chapters told from one abducted girl’s perspective are interspersed with the main narrative, adding to the chilling atmosphere.

liarAn eccentric woman cries wolf in M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Liar (Grand Central, digital galley), the latest in her long-running and highly entertaining series featuring Scottish police sergeant Hamish Macbeth. After falsely claiming she was attacked, chronic liar Liz Bentley turns up dead in her Cromish vegetable patch, and Hamish suspects her murder is tied to the torture killings of a couple new to Lochdubh. But Chief Inspector Blair wants the Lochdubh murders for his own, so Hamish circumvents the official investigation, all the while dealing with his complicated love life. (He can’t believe a beautiful baker prefers the company of his rotund sidekick to his own). Still, the criminals command most of his attention  — and almost prove his undoing when he winds up in a coffin destined for burial at sea.

tombinturkeyFree-spirited Jude and worrywart Carole are longtime friends and amateur sleuths in the English village of Fetherings, but they’re on holiday in Simon Brett’s cheery The Tomb in Turkey (Severn House, digital galley). Intrigued by the offer of a free villa from Jude’s property developer pal and ex-lover Barney, the mismatched travel buddies find intrigue of a more menacing kind upon their arrival. Travel guide Nita glosses over the unwelcoming graffiti on the villa walls that suggests that Barney’s first wife died in suspicious circumstances. But then on a visit to the nearby Lycian tombs, Carole discovers Nita’s strangled corpse, which promptly disappears when she goes to get Jude. Still, Carole knows what she saw, and even Jude agrees that there’s something’s fishy in Turkey.

magpiesA book to die for. Or in this case, a manuscript. In Judith Flanders’  snappy A Murder of Magpies (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair is looking forward to reading author Kit Lovell’s new expose. But others are also after the manuscript about a recent fashion house scandal. There are several break-ins, a courier is killed and Lovell goes missing. Sam teams with her solicitor mother and a police detective to investigate, even while she ponders how to tell her best-selling novelist her new book’s a bomb and deal with back-stabbing colleagues. Flanders takes a page from Lovell, and dishes the dirt on the insular world of publishing. First in a series, we hope.

kings“The past is a different country.” No kidding. William Shaw calls up the exotic land of the Swinging Sixties in The Kings of London (Little, Brown, digital galley), the second in a trilogy that began with the very good She’s Leaving Home. DS Paddy Breen and his younger colleague Helen Tozer encounter the counterculture of drug dealers and art dealers, hippies and squatters while investigating several nasty fires. One charred corpse is eventually identified as a politician’s wayward son. Heroin is the real villain here, along with the gangs controlling its trade and the dirty cops looking the other way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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rosegoldIn 1967 Los Angeles, the times keep on a-changing, and Walter Mosley’s detective Easy Rawlins keeps on finding work — or rather it finds him. Not long after the events chronicled in last year’s stellar Little Green, Rose Gold (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley) opens with Rawlins moving house and getting some unexpected help from the police unloading the boxes. That’s because the LAPD wants Rawlins’ help in finding a black activist boxer, who may be involved in the apparent kidnapping of Rosemary Goldsmith, the rebellious college student daughter of a weapons manufacturer. The investigation is all hush-hush — the police don’t want Rawlins talking to Rose’s family, and the FBI and State Department don’t want him on the case at all. He’s not deterred, even when shots are fired at his car, and exchanges favors with some old friends, including a veteran cop who has fallen for a missing grifter. Rawlins looks for her, as well as an abducted child, all the while trailing Rose, her faux-hippie friends and the violent black nationalist group known as Scorched Earth. Mosley mixes pointed social commentary with heart-in-your-throat action sequences, and makes it all look, well, easy. Sweet.

longwayIn Louise Penny’s Long Way Home (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), Inspector Armand Gamache has retired as Quebec’s chief of homicide and retreated to the peace of the village of Three Pines. But then neighbor and friend Clara Morrow asks for his help in finding her husband, Peter Morrow, an artist who has been overshadowed by his wife’s success. The two separated for a year, but Peter failed to turn up on the designated reunion date. Finding clues in odd paintings Peter left with a young relative, Gamache and his former colleague Jean-Guy Beauvoir trace Peter from Montreal to France to Scotland and back to Canada. Along with Clara and bookstore owner Myrna Landers, he and Beauvoir journey through the wilds of Quebec to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, a desolate spot referred to as the “land God gave to Cain.” Readers of Penny’s previous books will appreciate the intertwining of spiritual and artistic themes and the rich description of both natural and emotional landscapes. But the narrative is unevenly paced, and a profusion of sentence fragments chop it up. And slow it down. Too bad. Really.

dwellWhen a white phosphorous grenade goes off in London’s busy St. Pancras station, killing one man and injuring bystanders, the police first suspect terrorism. This makes Deborah Crombie’s To Dwell in Darkness (Morrow/HarperCollins, digital galley) terribly timely, and tensions remain high even when the explosion is connected to a small group of protesters arguing for architectural preservation. Duncan Kincaid, recently transferred from Scotland Yard to the Camden borough homicide squad, still has a murder to solve, and the key may be a mysterious ex-soldier who was on the scene at St. Pancras. Also on the station platform that day was Melody Talbot,  a friend and colleague of Kincaid’s wife and fellow copper Gemma St. James. Soon, drama on the domestic front involving kids and pets vies with the bomb investigation for the detectives’ attention. It’s to Crombie’s credit that readers are equally invested in the competing storylines. After 16 books, we’ve been through thick and thin with Kincaid and St. James, whose lives are never dull.

distanceHelen  Giltrow delivers a gritty page-turner with her first novel, The Distance (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), about a high-tech information agent known as Karla who hides behind the identity of London socialite Charlotte Alton. Or is it the other way around? Karla’s an expert at erasing a person’s past and giving them a new identity, something she did for expert sniper Simon Johanssen after a mob hit went wrong eight years ago. Now Simon needs Karla’s help to get inside an experimental prison that’s home to his next target, a woman for whom Karla can find no record, as well as the sadistic mob boss he eluded once upon a time. It’s a  mission fraught with  obstacles and with little chance for success, and pretty much everything that can go wrong does. Be prepared for blood, torture and a high body count.

cinderellaIn Simon Brett’s entertaining The Cinderella Killer (Severn House, digital galley), veteran actor Charles Paris has to explain to American sitcom star Kenny Polizzi  that pantomime is not mime. Rather, the traditional holiday pantos are more akin to vaudeville with numerous stock characters and bits of stage business that the audience expects. Kenny, an amiable if somewhat clueless soul, has a leading role in Eastbourne’s Christmas production of Cinderella, while Charles’ part is much smaller, at least until Kenny falls off the wagon, a dancer disappears and murder makes an entrance. Then Charles plays sleuth, dealing with the inflated egos and eccentric antics of cast, crew and hangers-on. The plot’s on the slight side, but it’s always a pleasure to keep company with Charles, and the details on pantomime’s theatrical traditions are fascinating. A front-row seat on back-stage shenanigans.

 

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wickedgirlsMerry-go-rounds aside, I’m not generally amused by amusement parks. Something about vertigo and motion sickneness. Still, they can provide great settings for crime stories, from Chris Grabenstein’s fast-paced Jersey Shore/John Ceepak tales to Stephen King’s recent Joyland, a nostalgia-laced ghost story. In Alex Marwood’s provocative The Wicked Girls (Penguin, digital galley), “the Seaside Strangler” finds his latest victim at Funnland, a shabby British amusement park where journalist Kirsty interviews cleaning supervisor Amber about the incident. Both are shocked to recognize the other. Twenty-five years ago, they were Bel and Jade, two 11-year-olds arrested for the murder of a younger girl. After their parole from separate juvenile prisons, they were given new identities and ordered never to see one another.
Marwood deftly splices the present-day hunt for the killer with events of the long-ago day when the two girls — one poor, one privileged — partnered in crime. What really happened then? And how will it affect the now of married-mom Kirsty and everybody’s-friend Amber, both fiercely protective of their loved ones. Although The Wicked Girls reminds me of Laura Lippman’s Every Secret Thing and works by Mo Hayder and Sophie Hannah, that’s a good thing. Plus the story reaches its own twisty climax in the shadows of Funnland.
liestillThe past also comes calling in Julia Heaberlin’s pretzel-plotted Lie Still (Bantam, digital galley), her second psychological suspense novel after the very good Playing Dead. For years, Emily Page has kept the secret that she was date-raped in college. But when pregnant Emily and her police chief husband Mike move from Manhattan to small-town Texas, a stalker apparently follows her to the gossip-mongering community. Then social queen bee Caroline Warwick, who has the goods on everyone, goes missing, and the secrets she’s been keeping come spilling out, threatening Emily, her new friend Misty, and obnoxious mayoral wife Letty Lee Dunn.
I love the way Heaberlin teases readers with cascading revelations about narrator Emily past and present. She’s also an expert with Texas-sized red herrings. I sure didn’t see that killer coming.
roganAlas, I spotted the villain way too soon in Barbara Rogan’s A Dangerous Fiction (Viking, digital galley) an otherwise well-written mystery that’s also a good inside-baseball story of the publishing world.
Literary agent Jo Donovan, the young widow of literary lion Hugh Donovan, is being stalked by “Sam Spade,” a desperate author who’s determined that she read his manuscript and become his muse. Jo brushes him off, but then pranks aimed at ruining her reputation and her business accelerate, and her most prominent client is murdered. At the same time, her mentor Molly is dying, a celebrity biographer is pestering her for Hugh’s papers, and ugly rumors about her lovely marriage are circulating. But Jo’s the Queen of Denial when it comes to her past, both with Hugh and with Tom, the handsome detective she once dated. Even a terrific guard dog like Mingus and an array of faithful friends can’t protect her until she loses the blinkers.
brettA round of applause, please, for the welcome return of actor/sleuth Charles Paris in Simon Brett’s clever A Decent Interval (Severn House, digital galley). It’s been 15 years since the last entry in the smart, witty series, but the character actor is quite his old self once he captures the roles of Ghost/gravedigger in a road production of Hamlet.
Producer Tony Copeland, eying London’s West End, has cast a reality TV star as Hamlet and a pop music princess as Ophelia, much to the dismay of his veteran troupers. Director Ned English envisions the play as taking place in Hamlet’s head, so the set is the interior of a huge skull. But it’s an accident to one lead and the murder of another that trip up rehearsals and give Charles a chance to play detective among cast and crew. Fabulous fun. Encore, please.
oncueAnd speaking of encores, Jane Dentinger’s theatrical mystery series starring Jocelyn O’Roarke is coming back via e-books. The first entry, Murder on Cue (Open Road Integrated Media, digital galley) introduces the ’80s Broadway actress as she’s cast as understudy to Harriet Weldon in old pal Austin Frost’s new play. When Harriet, also the wife of the producer, has a fatal fall in her dressing room, talented Josh is ready to step in. But she’s also been cast as prime suspect. Happily, a police detective thinks she’s being framed and lets her play sleuth as well.
“What amazed her most was that, in a profession where everybody knew everybody’s business, there should still be so much going on beneath the surface; a seemingly endless myriad of intrigues and involvements that never saw the light of day.”

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