Tag: Contemporary Mystery

MINI-REVIEW: Elly Griffiths’s THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS (Harbinder Kaur #2)

Postscript_MurdersElly Griffiths’s second Harbinder Kaur mystery tells us more about her love of Golden Age mystery writers, Murder She Wrote, and Georgette Heyer than it stands as exemplary crime fiction. I did not give an owl’s hoot about this, but to the tightly-plotted-is-best mystery reader, Postscript Murders is a sprawling mess, an octopus of great characters going nowhere in a plot meandering towards the improbable. Still, I liked it. I’m a fan of character-driven mystery, especially when the characters, amateur and professional, work together to solve the crime.

The blurb will lead us by setting things up:

The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should not be suspicious. Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing out of the ordinary when Peggy’s caretaker, Natalka, begins to recount Peggy Smith’s passing. But Natalka had a reason to be at the police station: while clearing out Peggy’s flat, she noticed an unusual number of crime novels, all dedicated to Peggy. And each psychological thriller included a mysterious postscript: PS: for PS. When a gunman breaks into the flat to steal a book and its author is found dead shortly thereafter—Detective Kaur begins to think that perhaps there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all. And then things escalate: from an Aberdeen literary festival to the streets of Edinburgh, writers are being targeted. DS Kaur embarks on a road trip across Europe and reckons with how exactly authors can think up such realistic crimes . . .

Um, there’s actually no road trip “across Europe”, unless you count the characters’ miles-long foray from Shoreham-by-Sea to Aberdeen? Truth be told, Griffiths’s plethora of characters, plenty of them “found dead” like Peggy Smith, and convoluted plotting left me confused and indifferent to the goings-on. What did I enjoy? Her detecting crew, made up of adorable eccentrics. (more…)

Mini-Review: Elly Griffiths’s THE NIGHT HAWKS (Ruth Galloway #13)

The_Night_HawksI avoided coming to the point where I must wait for the next Ruth Galloway (next June, folks), but here I am after tapping the last Kindle page of The Night Hawks. What I concluded was: with every Ruth Galloway, I care less about the mystery and more about the characters. (If you love the series, the review might be fun to read; if not, it’ll definitely have an insiders feel to it.) It’s great to have Ruth and twelve-year-old daughter Kate back in their Saltmarsh cottage: Ruth, now head of archaeology at the University of North Norfolk, the usual gang circling them, especially the complicated relationship with “the love of her life,” DCI Harry Nelson of King’s Lynn police and Kate’s father. DC Judy Johnson, still married to Ruth’s friend, Cathbad, is back; Harry’s family: wife Michelle; baby George, now three; adult daughters, Laura and Rebecca; and my favourite still makes an appearance, DCI David Clough, “Cloughie”. The murder is complicated and atmospheric and involves amateur archaeologists, illegal medical experimentation, and the eponymous “night hawks” discovering a washed-up body at Blakeney Point. Nelson calls Ruth and she is once again part of a police investigation as forensic expert. Their personal lives’ dangerous currents are the narrative’s focus as much as the investigation. The blurb provides further details:

Ruth is back as head of archaeology at the University of North Norfolk when a group of local metal detectorists—the so-called Night Hawks—uncovers Bronze Age artifacts on the beach, alongside a recently deceased body, just washed ashore. Not long after, the same detectorists uncover a murder-suicide—a scientist and his wife found at their farmhouse, long thought to be haunted by the Black Shuck, a humongous black dog, a harbinger of death. The further DCI Nelson probes into both cases, the more intertwined they become, and the closer they circle to David Brown, the new lecturer Ruth has recently hired, who seems always to turn up wherever Ruth goes.

David Brown is irritating and arrogant, though an interesting addition to the cast of characters Griffiths is constantly shifting and developping. Equally compelling is Griffths’s homage to Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles as the farmhouse murder-suicide has Ruth and Nelson sight the Black Shuck on several ominous occasions!    (more…)

Susie Steiner’s MISSING, PRESUMED

Missing_PresumedSusie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed (DS Manon Bradshaw #1) was recommended by Twitter friends whose word is auto-click/buy. An “old-fashioned” mass market came in the mail and made for spine-cracking pleasure. After the romance novel disaster (see my review of Kristen Ashley’s Dream Maker), I wanted away from caricatured alpha-heroes and self-sacrificing heroines to something cleanly realistic, devoid of HEA, a police procedural where the pursuit of the truth came in neat, defined lines and the female detective heroine made her way with smarts and chutzpah. What I got was something more complex, compelling, and messy. I loved it, so you know, if you don’t want to read on … get yourself this book. At the centre of Steiner’s mystery is Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire Police. The novel opens with Manon on her nth Internet date, bored, restless, and barely tolerating the company of her desultory, cheapskate date … (when they divvy up the bill, it’s outtathere for me, but Manon stays, even sleeps with Mr. Forgettable.) After he leaves, she turns to the soothing sounds of her police radio to settle into sleep and Steiner’s lines give you a good sense of her fine writing and Manon’s character: ” … it is the sound of vigilance, this rapid response to hurt and misdeed. It is human kindness in action, protecting the good against the bad.” Idealized? Yes. Nevertheless, Manon is the very thing: curmudgeonly, sarcastic, but doggedly kind, relentless in her gruff decency and commitment to solving crime, bringing justice, righting wrong. She’s chaotic and mistaken and not warm, cuddly, or fuzzy, but she is acerbic, least likeable when strident, and I loved her. (more…)

Miss Bates’s 2020 Year-End “Review”

Sky_Dec_31_2020Dear readers and friends, if there’s one quotation that ran through my mind this annus horribilis, it’s Fitzgerald’s, “It occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence, or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well” (The Great Gatsby). And we have lived it every single day since March, when the subtle rumbling of the covid avalanche came to our attention. Then, lockdown … and a strange, united elation of singing from balconies and applauding health care workers and a kind of strange peace for those of us staying home that took the form of bread-baking and staring out windows. And, what I thought would be “reading time”, despite WFH. It wasn’t. Not the reading time part: instead a length of days, lost, in dream and lethargy. Of the books I did read, few stood out. Here they are. (more…)

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s HID FROM OUR EYES

Hid_From_Our_EyesI have come to the most recent “end” of Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series with a sigh of satisfaction and anticipation for the next book, underway but by no means on the pubbed radar. One reason I love this series is Spencer-Fleming’s ability to deliver the familiar with something fresh, new, and surprising. In Hid From Our Eyes, she continues Clare and Russ’s great love and now adorable parenthood, offers ample glimpses into the ensemble cast who surround them, but also introduces new characters, fleshes out beloved, well-known ones, advances, but barely, to my great chagrin, a secondary romance, and depicts three murders occurring in different time periods, 1952, 1972, and present-day. She links them by the murders’ similarity: a dead young woman is found on a Millers Kill roadway, the autopsy failing to establish cause of death, and three police chiefs, Harry Neil (1952), Jack Liddle (1972), and Russ Van Alstyne (present-day), committed, intelligent, ethical, try to find the murderers. (Spencer-Fleming lobs a gasp-worthy revelation when one of Jack’s 1972 suspects is a newly returned military vet, angry, wild, and oh-so-sad, barely out-of-his-teens Russ!)  (more…)

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS

Through_the_Evil_DaysIn January of 1998, I made my way to work amidst broken power lines, felled trees, and the ping-ping of ice pellets on the roof of my trusty Corolla. By the next day, Quebec, Ontario, and sundry US north eastern states, with whom we share a winter-affinity, were encased in ice, road crews, police, firefighters, and hydro crews working day and night to bring safety and light to 1000s, eventually millions. It was the first mass disruption to my daily work routine (the pandemic, the second) and reading Spencer-Fleming’s Through the Evil Days brought it back. Only someone who lives their winter like Canadians do, in this case Spencer-Fleming lives in Maine, close enough!, can render an ice storm as vividly as she did in this Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery, her eighth. It is one element among many that Spencer-Fleming does well in a novel I consumed in a 24-hour period, following fast upon my too-leisurely read of One Was A Soldier. If you’re new to the series, be warned, spoilers ahead. If you’re a fan and all caught up, read on. (more…)

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s ONE WAS A SOLDIER

One_Was_A_SoldierThere are books I hoard until I know another one is imminent. But the wait for another Russ Van Alstyne/Clare Fergusson mystery was seven years in the offing. I kept One Was A Soldier and Through the Evil Days piled on the night-table, winking and beckoning and giving me the come-hither-reader. But I resisted. Now, with, finally, after a seven-year wait, a new Russ/Clare novel, Hid From Our Eyes, I decided to go whole hog and catch up on all of them. With covid-work and sundry tasks, reading-time has been at a premium, usually consisting of three sleepy-eyed pages and then oblivion until the alarm chirps. Nevertheless, I was glad, even piecemeal, to sink into One Was A Soldier, though it was as unlike the previous books in the series as I’d ever expected. Oh, I liked it, loved it for Russ and Clare, but it did come as a surprise. For one thing, Spencer-Fleming played with her narrative timeline and frankly, for another thing, I barely recognized Clare and Russ, their personalities usually running along the lines of serene wisdom to street-smart a-whole-lot-o’-mess respectively, suddenly turned on their head. Reverend Clare was a hot mess and Russ, an island of calm and reasonableness … until I started reading Through the Evil Days, but that’s for another post. (Be warned, what follows contains spoilers, so continue if you’re already a series fan and have read up to the present volume.)
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REVIEW: Josh Lanyon’s MURDER AT PIRATE’S COVE (Secrets and Scrabble #1)

Murder_At_Pirate's_CoveLanyan writes in her author’s note to Murder At Pirate’s Cove: “While there may be (and there is) a romantic subplot, these stories are first and foremost mysteries. This may not be your cup of tea, but in these trying times, I find myself turning more and more often to the reassuring comfort of frequent murder in a world where justice always prevails and good will triumph” (Loc 2635). Like Lanyon, I do too. While we can find, in any mystery, “the reassuring comfort of frequent murder in a world where justice prevails, etc.,” and, in a romance, incipient, subtle, subplotty as it may be, the hope of the HEA, there’s something about the combination of the two, in a cozy setting, that makes it especially comforting. I devoured and delighted in Murder At Pirate’s Cove over a couple of days, with necessary breaks to cook, clean, bake, and joyfully actually see a friend in the flesh. Murder In Pirate’s Cove has all the elements of the cozy we know and love, cute small-town-setting, adorably intrepid hero, amusing place-names, a world that is as fantastical as Narnia yet familiar enough to make it an ideal living-place to the reader (despite the murder!), and, in Lanyon, a sly, droll homage to past cozy mysteries and a wonderfully witty writing style. (more…)

REVIEW: Elly Griffiths’s THE WOMAN IN BLUE

Woman_In_BlueI wasn’t enamoured of the last Ruth Galloway mystery I read, The Ghost Fields, though the previous one, The Outcast Dead, was one of my favourites. My moue of disappointment with The Ghost Fields didn’t deter me from plunging into another Ruth Galloway, The Woman In Blue. Griffiths’s Norfolk-set mystery series is one of my great comfort reads and I’ll never miss a one. I read many series (my favourite being, as you may well know by now, C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyrs), but the Ruth Galloways, though not cozies by far, offer a true comfort escape. Maybe it’s because Ruth reminds me of yours truly: living on her own for years, with a gourmandesque penchant for overeating, content with her books, work, and cat, Flint. Now somewhere along the way, Ruth manages (be warned, spoilers ahead, if you’re not up-to-date on the series) to have a tender, not-icky, one-night-stand with my second favourite series character, DCI Harry Nelson, fall in love but retain her proud independence (Nelson is married to the ethereally beautiful Michelle) and the result: the know-her-own-mind, mulish Kate, Ruth’s daughter, five in The Woman In Blue. Ruth teaches at North Norfolk University, has a vain peacock of a dislikeable boss, and is, in each book, embroiled, in her capacity as a forensic archaeologist, in a police murder investigation and once more, is close to her unrequited love, DCI Harry Nelson. (more…)

REVIEW: Ann Cleeves’s THE LONG CALL

Since my last review, life has changed, everyone’s life has changed, a hundredfold. My work moved online, but I still have it and am able to pay my bills. My family is well and the pantry, well-stocked. As an introvert, staying at home is the easiest thing our Canadian government could ask of me. Nevertheless, the changes to our society are cataclysmic and it is surreal and difficult to process what we’re living, especially as families lose loved ones. As someone who has readily lost herself in a book daily since I learned to read, I have, at best, read sporadically and listlessly, punctuated stabs at the Kindle with endlessly watching the news and scrolling through Twitter. I grappled with the idea of continuing with this review blog. Am I, like Nero, fiddling as Rome burns? In the end, I decided to forego the Nero metaphor and go with the Titanic musicians who continued to play as the ship went down until they went with it. I continue to teach poetry online and respond to my students’ writing. I check in with them for questions and discussion and I read and write reviews. I am neither a “front-line worker” nor possess any skills beyond the ones exercised here. I continue to do as my government asks of me (wash my hands, stay home, and social-distance) to ensure my family’s, friends’, colleagues’, and fellow citizens’ well-being and I offer these humble opinions to readers. I don’t know where the ship is headed, but we’re all on it and will go down with it … and we need to keep making whatever music we have in us.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading Ann Cleeves’s The Long Call, first in a new series, “Two Rivers.” It wasn’t lurid, or tense, or anxious; it was well-written, methodical in its movement towards revelations of truth and justice and, for the most part, with a few quibbles, I loved reading it … when I could immerse myself in it.  
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