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Archive for the ‘Jinker’s Picks’ Category

feteworseAnother post-WWI mystery series! This is the first entry featuring Jack Haldean, late of the Royal Flying Corps and a successful writer of mysteries. It’s pretty lighthearted compared to, say, Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge mysteries or even Elizabeth Speller’s Lawrence Bartram series; in fact it’s almost a cozy and certainly of the English “country-house” style, in which there is a relatively small domestic circle of suspects. They all do share the need for the hero to look back to the darker days of WWI in order to solve a crime, however.

In terms of optimistic tone and relatively angst-free protagonist outlook, this is more like Charles Finch’s Charles Lenox series. Jack Haldean has the war injury but also quite a sunny outlook on life—he’s glad the war is over and is basking in the normalcy and relative peace of a 1922 Sussex country village fete on a glorious summer day. His mood is jarred somewhat when he bumps into an inebriated and much disliked former military comrade, who is writing a book about his war service, in particular a specific incident during the Battle of the Somme which destroyed careers and created heroes. He vaguely intimates to Haldean that the event was not what it seemed—and soon after is shot dead in one of the fete tents in something of a “locked-room” conundrum.

Suspects abound as it turns out that the dead man was possibly a blackmailer. Even Jack’s family members with whom he is staying in the country are not completely immune from suspicion. It becomes apparent to Jack, however, that something in the victim’s WWI service is the key, and he uses his military connections to get the bottom of it.

Jack enjoys an amicable relationship with the police; the very competent Superintendent Ashley welcomes his amateur assistance gladly, especially as it pertains to the military angle. It’s a bit refreshing to be spared the friction among bumbling police and smarty-pants amateurs which is frequently encountered in mystery stories.

Gordon-Smith is effective at conveying the atmosphere of rural post-war England and class and social conventions of the period. This book has something of the feel of Golden Age mysteries written by Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham; the reader can almost be convinced that the mystery was written during the 1920s rather than just taking place in them!

I enjoyed this atmospheric and lighthearted “manor house” mystery, and I’m looking forward to savoring the next entries in the series (7 more at this writing).

Check the WRL catalog for the book or the ebook!

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longmireThere have been a couple of posts about Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire mystery series on this blog. A recent post referred to the A&E Show based on the series, Longmire, so I’m following up with a review of the TV show.

I’ve only read two or three books in Johnson’s Longmire series so far, but I really enjoyed them and was intrigued at what a TV show based on it would be like.

The role of the titular Absaroka County, Wyoming, sheriff is taken on by Australian actor Robert Taylor. He looks and speaks exactly how I imagine Longmire from the books would, and this is what drew me into the show: aging, a bit cranky, set in his ways, gruff manner covering a rather soft heart. However, his character is a bit darker and more angst-ridden than in the books. His past is also murkier, with some dark secrets driving a major plotline which is absent from the books. This plotline necessitates more of a sense of inner torment and greater recklessness in the TV show Walt. His relationship with his daughter, Cady (portrayed by Cassidy Freeman), is explored in both formats, though the TV show cannot resist infusing it with far more Sturm und Drang than in the books.

Longmire’s deputy, Victoria “Vic” Moretti, played by Katie Sackhoff, is in my mind quite similar to the character in the books. I haven’t gotten through all of the books, nor the rest of the TV show, but I’ll be interested to see how the relationship between Walt and Vic plays out and how it is treated in the show versus the books.

Craig Johnson’s character of Henry Standing Bear, Walt’s best friend and oft-times liaison to the Cheyenne Indian reservation’s law enforcement and citizens, is happily present and accounted for here. His speech, mannerisms and stoic nature from the books are intact in the show, for which I’m grateful. He plays an important part in every episode. He is portrayed by Lou Diamond Phillips who I think does an outstanding job.

Lucian Connally is the former sheriff who preceded Walt, and he plays a bigger part in the books than he does on the show. I’ve gotten through Season 1 and only seen him in one episode, but he was relatively true to life in his reckless cantankery. His nephew, Branch Connally, is Walt’s competitive deputy on the show, but this character does not appear in the books. His presence provides several storylines which were not possible in the books, but certainly add to the show’s dramatic and sexual appeal.

Fortunately for the book lovers, major themes of the books are revisited honestly and regularly by the TV series: the ever-present tension between the Cheyenne on the reservation and the local Absaroke County residents; a sense of social justice attained or denied; man versus nature.

Some of the plotlines are recognizable from the books, but much liberty is taken with them. I actually don’t mind this – for me this show can co-exist quite happily independent of the book series. One “character” I do miss from the books is the sense of mysticism surrounding Cheyenne legends and beliefs. Although each television episode has had a small element of it, the books dwell much more on Walt’s spirituality as a part of his character; in the TV shows it’s more of a simple plot device, although perhaps this will be explored further in future episodes.

On the whole, I’d say if you enjoy the books you will enjoy the series, if you don’t mind major plot deviations. Enough of the essential elements of appeal are present: characters, atmosphere, and setting. Craig Johnson seems to have nothing but good things to say about the show, and the TV series has boosted circulation of Johnson’s books. On his blog Johnson reports that the same folks who are “binge-watching” the series on A&E are going on to buy and “binge-read” the books in his series, and this must be very gratifying.

Give Longmire a shot! And check out Johnsons’ newest entry in the Walt Longmire series, Any Other Name.

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YardLondon, 1889. The city’s residents are frightened and demoralized by the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and Scotland Yard’s reputation has suffered as a result of its inability to capture the killer. The story opens on the scene of newly recruited Detective Inspector Walter Day and forensic pathologist Bernard Kingsley examining a corpse on a train station platform.   The corpse turns out to be a fellow policeman, shockingly mutilated.

Day soon finds himself heading up the investigation, supervising Scotland Yard’s recently formed “Murder Squad.”  The reader is taken into the world of policing in class-conscious Victorian London and its overworked detectives, disrespected constables, and the nascent science of forensic pathology.  The thoughtful and perceptive Day, and the detectives on his murder squad, examine the cases of the murdered Detective Little, trying to find some thread of a lead to grasp.

As the murder squad pursues leads in the murder of their colleague, an ambitious and dedicated constable pursues the seeming accidental suffocation of a young boy in a chimney. The tragedy is a predictable outcome of the boy’s work as a chimney sweeper’s boy, yet Constable Hammersmith finds himself moved by pity and anger to pursue the facilitator of the child’s fate– against the orders of his superiors. He finds himself opening a very dangerous can of worms, which may or may not be related to Day’s homicide investigation. Jack the Ripper himself figures into this story, but not in the way you might think!

You should check out this series if you enjoy the Victorian-era mysteries of Anne Perry. Grecian’s protagonists share their sense of justice with those of Perry’s detectives Thomas Pitt and William Monk.

I was intrigued by the characters and their relationships. The character Bernard Kingsley is based on real-life forensic pathology pioneer Bernard Spilsbury (most famous perhaps for his work on the Crippen poisoning case).  The forensics are one of the most intriguing aspects of the story. It is fascinating, for example, to see the general incredulity which greets Kingsley’s introduction of fingerprint technology into the case, something which today is taken for granted in criminal investigations. I was surprised to find out that the powerful character of Commissioner of Police Colonel Sir Edward Bradford is a real historical figure and portrayed very true to life.

The relationship between Inspector Day, Constable Hammersmith, and Dr. Kingsley are developed in the second book in the series, Black Country, which I think I enjoyed even more than the first one. I’m greatly looking forward to the next entry in this series.

Check the WRL catalog for The Yard as a book.

Listen to The Yard  on audio CD.

We also have The Yard as an eaudiobook.

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ImageI love Anne Perry’s books, so I was curious and at the same time hesitant to pick this up. Frankly, I didn’t want to be reminded that someone who created such likeable and morally upright characters as Thomas Pitt and William Monk was capable of a heinous crime, even if it did happen when she was practically a child. However, I also love true crime, so my curiosity won out.

Some may be familiar with the story from the 1994 move Heavenly Creatures, starring Kate Winslet, which was based on the events of the crime (the movie’s release was what led to the revelation of Anne Perry’s identity).

On a summer day in 1954 , when Anne Perry (then named Juliet Hulme) was 15, she and her best friend Pauline Parker brutally bludgeoned to death Pauline’s mother, Honorah, in a peaceful New Zealand park. The two friends had an intense relationship based on love of writing and the belief that they were geniuses who inhabited a special world in which only a select few were entitled to dwell. A lesbian relationship was speculated upon at the time, but Graham is noncommittal on this as a significant factor in the case, and Perry herself denied such a relationship. The motive for the crime appears to have been that the pair were about to be separated against their will by their parents.

Peter Graham takes us through events leading up to the event and its aftermath in detail, giving users a fair perspective on the background of both girls and how it influenced their relationship and ultimately their crime. The girls were barely teenagers and obviously immature and detached from the reality of what they were doing—yet the brutality of the crime, and its level of premeditation, is chilling.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the author’s look into the lives of the perpetrators years after the crime, after Anne Perry had become a household name. How does Anne Perry see those long ago events now? Her level of remorse and acknowledgement of responsibility do not seem to square with the facts as presented by the author, and although he does not pretend to have easy answers, he raises interesting questions which I thought about for a long time after reading the book.

If you’ve ever read one of Anne Perry’s Thomas Pitt or William Monk mystery novels, you’ll know that although the revelation of the truth and pursuit of justice are paramount, it is often the case that the revealed killer and his or her motivations are portrayed with sympathy. It will be difficult for me to read one of Perry’s novels now without thinking about this dichotomy and how it relates to her own life.

Check the WRL catalog for Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century

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CoffinTrailThis is the first in a satisfying cozy/police procedural mystery series set in England’s Lake District. It’s my favorite kind of case—a cold case!

Daniel Kind, an Oxford history professor, returns to his childhood vacation spot of Brackdale after many years’ absence. Enchanted by the peace and quiet of country living, he decides to relocate there with his girlfriend, Miranda. He becomes intrigued by an unsolved mystery from years before, in large part because his now-deceased father had been the investigating office on that case. Also, the prime suspect had been a friend of Daniel’s in his childhood— an autistic boy who had conveniently died soon after the crime, the ritualistic murder of a young woman.

Meanwhile, DCI Hannah Scarlett of the Cold Case Squad, who had worked under Daniel’s father years before, gets an anonymous tip about the very same case and begins digging. Things get complicated when her longtime boyfriend emerges as a suspect and Hannah’s official investigation collides with the amateur sleuthing of Daniel, with whom she feels an instant connection.

Daniel’s amateur sleuthing also complicates his relationship with his girlfriend Miranda, and he too senses the chemistry between himself and DCI Scarlett. These issues are left unresolved, with the promise of further romantic complications to come in future installments.

The mystery at least is resolved, with a nice twist at the end. I appreciated the juxtaposition of Hannah’s official “police procedural” investigation with Daniel’s personal interactions with suspects.

This series will appeal to readers of Elizabeth George’s Thomas Lynley/Barbara Havers series and Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks series.

If you like this series, try also Peter Lovesey’s Peter Diamond series, Susan Hill’s Simon Serallier series, and Stephen Booth’s Ben Cooper series.

WRL owns the book and the ebook of this title.

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jacketAcademcDeathThis title comes about halfway through Gregson’s series featuring Superintendent Lambert and Detective Sergeant Hook of the Gloucestershire CID. I liked it so much I’ve started from the beginning, and I’m enjoying the series. An Academic Death is a straightforward cozy-type British police procedural with a minimum of personal drama. The strength of the series is the team-up of the perceptive, introspective Lambert with the reliable, comfortably stolid Hook. Where this series really shines is when Lambert and Hook interview a suspect. The action here is almost purely mental and the tension almost palpable. Lambert scrutinizes the faces and body language of the suspects closely, allowing them to guide his questioning. Hook, blank-faced, turns a page in his notebook. Suspects squirm. It’s actually high drama disguised as a plodding police interview!

In this installment, a brassy wife reports her wayward husband missing to the Gloucestershire police. She makes it clear that if they find him she doesn’t want the ol’ no-goodnik back. No one is terribly concerned until the university professor turns up dead; then Lambert and Hook focus on the campus where he worked, turning up several suspects—including, of course, the disgruntled missus.

I’ve noticed that there are rarely any surprise twists or complications in this series—Gregson epitomizes the concept of fair play in mystery fiction. The murderer generally turns out to be one of the “usual suspects;” the reader just has to figure out which one of them is lying. Where the sheer amount of jiggery-pokery in many mysteries often makes me feel disinclined to actually try solving the puzzle, the Lambert and Hook series has been stripped down to a straight, strong “whodunit” whose challenge is a bit more accessible, with just enough humor to make it entertaining along the way.

The Lambert and Hook mysteries often have a golfing theme. Although golf is not the main venue in this particular title, longtime golf enthusiast Lambert and newly initiated golfer Hook do have a few very funny scenes on the links.

I am glad I discovered these solid British police procedurals. They’re just my cup of tea!

Check the WRL catalog for An Academic Death

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spellerThis is the first in a series of historical mysteries featuring World War I veteran Laurence Bartram as amateur sleuth. Haunted by war wounds and memories, Bartram is finding it difficult to focus on the book he is writing, which is why he finds himself investigating the apparent suicide of a fellow veteran he knew from his school days. This series will appeal to fans of Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge series, having in common a protagonist haunted by the Great War and its depiction of post-war England. Bartram is not quite as tortured a soul as Rutledge, and the outlook and atmosphere of Speller’s writing is brighter and more hopeful.

Bartram is approached by Captain John Emmett’s sister after his suicide. Her brother was an enigma to her in life, and she is desperate for some clues to his life as well as his death. Out of attraction to Mary Emmett, and a desire for a distraction from the disturbing thoughts of his past and future, Bartram agrees to look into Emmett’s last weeks. All clues lead to events in Emmett’s past, but Bartram finds Emmett’s fellow soldiers suspiciously close-mouthed about his wartime service and begins to wonder if Emmett really committed suicide after all.

This is  a strong start to a new series, and I’m already absorbed in Speller’s next entry, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton.

Check the WRL catalog for The Return of Captain John Emmett.

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