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Posts Tagged ‘Sue Grafton’

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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So 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.

Attention: The above was prematurely published when a cat took over the laptop. I apologize on his behalf. The complete version appears in the next post.

 

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wastedIn Sue Grafton’s latest entry in her alphabet series, W is for Wasted (Putnam, purchased e-book), California P.I. Kinsey Millhone is still happily ensconced in the ’80s with nary an iPhone or iPad in sight. Still the story feels up-to-date, involving homelessness, substance abuse and medical trials, as well as murder and money. Kinsey begins in her usual forthright fashion: “Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.”

The unknown man was found on the beach with Kinsey’s business card in his pocket. First charged with tracking down his identity, Kinsey befriends three of his wary homeless companions, then has to find his estranged kids in nearby Bakersfield to explain the terms of his will — which surprisingly benefits Kinsey. And, oh yes, the kids are her kin, too, another surprise. Meanwhile,  a parallel plot focuses on the last days of fellow gumshoe Pete Wolinksky, whose ethics — or lack of them — see him sliding down the slippery slope. His last case, a matter of blackmail and murder, eventually intersects with Kinsey’s investigation.

Happily for readers, there are three more letters before Kinsey’s last case. Happily, too, Grafton’s still adding to the cast of irregulars. Welcome Ed the cat.

parisbonesHemingway and company may have spoken metaphorically of Paris’s Lost Generation, but a missing young woman propels the plot of Laurie R. King’s evocative The Bones of Paris ( Random House, digital galley). In the fall of 1929, Harris Stuyvesant, the American detective from King’s 2008 Touchstone, is prowling the alleys and cafes of Jazz Age Paris, hunting for pretty Phillipa Crosby, a young American who seems to have disappeared. Her roommate Nancy’s just returned from summer vacation and helps Harris look for Pip, who played at acting and modeling within the free-wheeling milieu of expat artistes and entourages.  Surrealist photographer Man Ray is on hand, as is Cole Porter, but the pied piper  of the new “death pornography” movement  is a powerful and aristocratic art collector, the Comte, also associated with the Theatre du Grand-Guignol and its macabre plays.

The convoluted plot has its own Grand-Guignol touches — an artist who works with human bones,  a terrifying journey through the underground caverns carved from cemeteries. Bennett Grey, the tortured human lie detector, makes a late entrance as Harris works with a Paris detective searching for a serial killer. Intrigue competes with atmosphere. Fans of historical fiction win.

bitterriverCounty prosecutor Bell Elkins and her West Virginia hometown of Acker’s Gap return in Bitter River (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), Julia Keller’s finely wrought follow-up to A Killing in the Hills. When the body of a pregnant high school student is discovered in the river, Bell and her friend, Sheriff Nick Foglesong, hope it’s an accidental death or even a suicide. But it’s not, and even as they look for a stranger, they fear the killer is one of their own. Not that the hardscrabble mountain town is immune from outside crime. Bell has been railing against the organized meth trade for some time, but terrorism is something new. A determined assassin is apparently aiming for Bell and those she loves.

As in her first book, Keller skillfully weaves Bell’s backstory of childhood abuse and failed marriage into the page-turning plot, expanding on her love-hate relationship with Acker’s Gap, the pull and push of family and friends.

kindcruelThe key to solving multiple murders in Kind of Cruel (Viking, digital galley), Sophie Hannah’s new psychological thriller/police procedural, apparently lies in the words Amber Hewerdine repeats under hypnosis: “kind, cruel, kind of cruel.”  Insomniac Amber doesn’t remember where she first heard the words, or what they mean, but for married police detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, the phrase is their first break in the death of primary schoolteacher Katharine Allen. Amber goes from being questioned in the case to investigating the murder, prompted by curiosity and the recent death of her best friend Sharon. Amber and her husband are now caring for Sharon’s young daughters, who escaped the housefire that killed their mother.

If you think where there is fire, there must be smoke obscuring Amber’s connection to the first murder, you’d be right. A fog also hangs over a peculiar Christmas Day incident involving Amber’s extended family. Hang in there. Hannah eventually reveals all in her characteristically creepy fashion.

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When the going gets tough, I read crime fiction. Noir, cozy, thriller, procedural, caper, PI, amatuer sleuth. I like them all. They are my literary potato chips of choice, and I never stop with just one. So when things went south this fall on the homefront, I sought diversion in the pages of books, riding a crime wave that started around Labor Day and is still going strong.

The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Penguin; read digital galley via NetGalley): A celebrated Danish novelist introduces homicide detective Carl Morck, who, after being wounded in a disastrous shooting,  is exiled to Department Q as a special investigator of cold cases. Popular politician Merete Lynngaard vanished five years ago and is presumed dead. (Readers know better). Morck’s quick-step investigation, with the help of his assistant Assad, exposes long-held secrets, but he’s racing against a literal deadline. More of Morck will be welcome.

The Drop, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown; purchased digital edition): LAPD detective Harry Bosch returns in another socially realistic procedural that tests his puzzle-solving abilities and his belief that “everyone counts, or no one counts.” His investigation into a cold case linking a young boy to a long-ago murder is interrupted when a high-ranking city council member demands that Harry look into the death of his grown son, who fell from the famed Chateau Marmont. Suicide, accident, murder? Both cases follow twisting mean streets, validating Harry’s dislike of “high jingo,”  aka police politics. Meanwhile, he’s looking at forced retirement in three years, worrying over his 15-year-old daughter, dealing with partners old and new, and trying to connect with a troubled woman. Both Bosch and Connelly are such pros. Long may they continue their partnership.

‘V’ is for Vengeance, by Sue Grafton (Putnam; purchased hardcover): Harry Bosch thinks of himself as a dinosaur in a digital age, but PI Kinsey Millhone is really retro. In her 23rd outing, Kinsey is turning 38 in 1988 and sporting raccoon eyes, having once again stuck her newly-broken nose in someone’s else’s business.  But who knew a lingerie sale at Nordstrom’s would lead to a Mob-run shoplifting ring, or a suicide that may be murder, or an errant husband, or a spoiled young gambler willing to bet his life? And then’s the really ruthless guy. Says Kinsey, “I know there are people who believe you should forgive and forget. For the record, let me say I’m a big fan of forgiveness as long as I’m given the opportunity to get even first.” You go, Kinsey.

Wicked Autumn, by G.M. Maillet (St. Martin’s Press; purchased digital edition): On the surface, this English village mystery appears quite cozy. But the handsome vicar is a retired MI5 agent, the head of the Women’s Institute is a poisonous know-it-all, and idyllic Nether Monkslip’s harvest “fayre” ends in murder.  Max Tudor calls on his past to help the authorites ferret out a killer among his parishners and finds his paradise harboring some nasty serpents. This is the beginning of a new series that promises to be crisper than a crumpet and clever as all get out. Mind how you go, dearie.

Three-Day Town by Margaret Maron (Grand Central Publishing; read digital galley via NetGalley): Maron’s two series heroines, North Carolina judge Deborah Knott and NYPD detective Sigrid Harald, meet for the first time, and it turns out they’re sort of kin, dontcha know?! Deborah and her new sheriff’s deputy husband Dwight are on a belated honeymoon in wintry Manhattan when someone is murdered in their borrowed apartment. Missing is the mysterious maquette that Deborah’s delivering to Sigrid’s family per an elderly relative’s dying wish. It may have been the reason for the murder, or the murder weapon. Maron seamlessly shifts perspectives among her characters and ups the suspense in the subterranean depths of the apartment building. South meets North, and readers win in this holiday treat.

A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny (St. Martin’s Press; read hardcover library copy): Penny’s astute detective Armand Gamache is involved in another intriguing mystery in the charming Canadian village of Three Pines. Several familiar series characters are on hand when the body of an art critic is found in a garden after an exhibition-night party. Several are suspects with mixed motives to spare. Penny artfully tells a tricky-indeed tale with characteristic warmth and wit. I was laughing aloud at some of the funny bits, and then was moved by the poignant passages on love and loss.

The Vault, by Ruth Rendell (Scribner; read digital galley from publisher): I’ve always thought Rendell’s 1999 novel A Sight for Sore Eyes to be one of her creepier psychological outings. The ending, with three bodies entombed in a basement vault of a London house, is a nightmarish stunner worthy of Poe. It doesn’t need a sequel, but Rendell has crafted a grimly entertaining one starring Inspector Wexford, restless in retirement. Picturesque Orcadia Place, made famous in a painting of a rock star and his girlfriend, is undergoing renovations by new owners when the tomb in the garden is discovered. There are four bodies — three dating back at least a decade, and another one about two years. Wexford’s roundabout involvement in identifying the remains and solving the crimes is confusing and a tad tedious at times; I remembered just enough of the first book to keep tripping over details, making me wish I had reread it before beginning the sequel. A Sight for Sore Eyes remains a stand-out stand-alone. The Vault is icing on the cake.

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