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Archive for the ‘Mysteries’ Category

Junkyard DogsJunkyard Dogs is the sixth book in the Walt Longmire series of mysteries by Craig Johnson. I started here, listening to the mystery on audiobook on compact disc (The library has earlier entries in the series in print or as downloadable audiobooks). Ideally one would start at the beginning with The Cold Dish but there’s enough continuity between characters that I had no trouble following the action or enjoying the characters jumping into the series in the middle.

Sheriff Walt Longmire of little Durant, Wyoming is a great character, perhaps the kind of man that it’s more fun to read about than to try to get along with in real life. He’s got a stubborn streak a mile wide, a sarcastic sense of humor, and he likes doing things his way. Fortunately, his way works most of the time, at least when it comes to solving crimes. He’s surrounded by a great supporting cast too: his lifelong friend Henry Standing-Bear; his dog (named Dog); and most important in this book, a squeamish deputy named Santiago Saizarbitoria; and his on-again, off-again love interest Victoria (also a deputy).

Junkyard Dogs begins with a run-in with the Stuart family, an odd collection of country bumpkins who run the local junkyard. Grandfather Geo is the seemingly indestructible family patriarch. His grandson Duane and granddaughter-in-law Gina are screw-ups always on the verge of trouble with the law. And then there are the two huge wolf-like dogs they own–the more obvious referents of the book’s title. The Stuarts have an ongoing feud with developer Ozzie Dobbs, who’s in money trouble over the failure of a huge development. Ozzie would love to get rid of the eyesore junkyard next door (and develop the land while he’s at it). The feud would get even worse if Ozzie discovered that Geo and his mother have a bit of a romantic liaison going on.

I won’t give away too much of the plot. A thumb, no longer connected to its owner, becomes an important plot point, as do Walt’s status with Victoria and Santiago’s continuing ability to function in his job. Over the course of the book, Sheriff Longmire takes about as much physical damage as a body can but Johnson has a unique ability to transform pain, ornery behavior, and the terse speech patterns of westerners into high comedy. The mystery puzzle is solid, if not brilliant, but that’s not really the point here. The reason to read this series is for the characters, the atmosphere, and the humor, and on all of those accounts, Johnson is masterful.

If you listen to audiobooks, by all means experience this book that way. I’m not usually a fan of George Guidall, but his voice and characterizations are perfect for this series. I haven’t seen it, but I hear that the television series based on Johnson’s books, Longmire, is also a pleasure.

Check the WRL catalog for Junkyard Dogs

Or try Junkyard Dogs as an audiobook on compact disc.

 

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coloradokidTime for a confession. I’ve been binge-watching the SyFy series Haven on Netflix.  Haven is a fictional small town in Maine where people are cursed with unusual gifts–like being able to conjure storms when they are stressed or make monsters attack when they are frightened. It’s not spells or demon powers–it’s what residents call “the troubles.” The series has an interesting (and attractive) cast, and I like the supernatural twist on the solve-the-mystery-in-an-hour format.

In the opening credits of every episode there’s a note that the series is based on The Colorado Kid by Stephen King.  So I read the book.

Newspaper intern Stephanie spends an afternoon with veteran newspaper men Vince and Dave discussing a cold case mystery. It’s a case the older men say isn’t really appropriate for a big newspaper like the Boston Globe because unlike many of the often repeated local stories–like the ghost lights or the mysterious shipwrecked boat–this one doesn’t have a clean “musta-been” explanation. For example, the ghost lights appearing above the baseball field “musta-been” a reflection off the clouds, or maybe it “musta-been” aliens. As Vince explains, the story of the Colorado Kid has too many unknown factors.

He and Dave proceed to tell Steff what little they know about how a man from Colorado went to work one morning and ended up dead on a little island off the coast of Maine only hours later. He was unidentified for months. But even when the police followed an initially  missed clue and identified him, they were no closer to understanding why he was found so far from home or why he had a Russian coin in his pocket.

Nothing fits together, and that can be frustrating for some readers, but I liked the interaction between Stephanie and the old timers. It was nice to see that she was beginning to fit in with the small town community. And I liked that Vince and Dave laid out all they knew about the Colorado Kid and accepted there are just too many things still unknown to be able to give a guess, a “musta-been” explanation, as to what happened. The newspaper can’t print the story because there’s nothing but questions left at the end.

So what’s all this have to do with Haven the TV series? Some character and place names are the same, and some facts about the mystery of the “Colorado Kid” are mentioned in earlier episodes, but you really get to the meat of it in the author notes at the end of the book. King explains that not all mysteries are solvable, and “it’s the beauty of the mystery that allows us to stay sane.” Nicely put, Mr. King. And I think the reminder that everything doesn’t always have an answer is the inspiration for the television show.

Check the WRL catalog for The Colorado Kid

Just for fun, check the WRL catalog for season 1 of Haven

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Orphan BlackA young grifter unwittingly stumbles upon a dangerous conspiracy in the first season of BBC America’s edgy and mind-bending sci-fi series Orphan Black.

Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) is trying to escape an abusive boyfriend and a criminal past. Following a train ride home, she finds herself alone on the platform with a distraught woman who sets her purse down before taking off a pair of stylish high heels. The woman turns and stares at Sarah, who is struck by the uncanny resemblance between her and the stranger. The woman then walks off the edge of the platform and into the path of an oncoming train. In the aftermath of the stranger’s suicide, Sarah makes a split-second decision that puts her in the center of a mystery. With emergency personnel focused on the stranger, Sarah sees an opportunity for a quick score, and she walks away with the woman’s purse. Sarah learns her doppelgänger’s name is Elizabeth (Beth) Childs. Beth shares an expensive house with her boyfriend. She also has a large sum of money in the bank. Sarah decides to use her resemblance to Beth to her advantage and assume Beth’s identity. Once she has emptied Beth’s bank account, she’ll use the money to start a new life with her daughter, Kira, and foster brother, Felix.

Sarah believes she will be able to pull off the scam and quietly slip out of town; however, Beth’s life is far more complicated than she originally thought. First, there are calls from a man named Art and texts from an unknown number. There is also the matter of a safety deposit box containing copies of the birth certificates and photographs of other women who bear a striking resemblance to both Sarah and Beth. As additional secrets from Beth’s life surface, Sarah learns that the women—Beth, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, and Katja Obinger (also Tatiana Maslany)—are all clones and she is a clone as well. This discovery is the gateway to a mystery involving a scientific movement called Neolution, led by the charismatic Dr. Aldous Leekie. Will the women unlock the secret of their connection to this group before they become the next victims of a killer who’s on a mission to eliminate the clones?

Orphan Black is a thoughtful and complex show that deftly balances questions of personal freedom and what it means to be an individual with a delightful streak of dark humor. The acting is first-rate. Tatiana Maslany succeeds at giving each clone her own distinct personality and unique set of characteristics. My favorite clone is Alison Hendrix, a conservative wife and mother whose sense of self is completely upended by the discovery she is a clone. The fine supporting cast includes Kevin Hanchard as Beth’s partner Detective Art Bell; Maria Doyle Kennedy as Sarah’s foster mother Mrs. S; Dylan Bruce as Beth’s boyfriend Paul Dierden; and Jordan Gavaris as Sarah’s foster brother Felix Dawkins. In a clever bit of casting, Dr. Aldous Leekie is played by Matt Frewer, who became famous in the mid-‘80s playing a character named Max Headroom.

Fast-paced and well-plotted, Orphan Black quickly builds momentum and maintains it throughout the season. Now is a good time to catch up with the show—or discover it—before the second season starts in April.

Check the WRL catalog for Orphan Black.

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glauserThe 1930s crime fiction of Friedrich Glauser seems to me to be the dark bedrock from which the immensely popular body of Scandinavian crime fiction springs. In four years, Glauser, a depressive, morphine-addicted writer, who was once committed to an insane asylum, and who died at the age of forty two, published five detective novels featuring the Swiss Sergeant Studer.

Now being published for the first time in English by Bitter Lemon Press, Glauser’s novels will appeal to a wide range of crime fiction readers. Glauser is often referred to as the “Swiss Simenon,” and like Simenon, his novels focus more on the psychology of both the detective and the criminal than on fast-paced action. There is a lot of talking here, and the Austrian-born Swiss Glauser seems to share an interest in psychology with his compatriots, Freud and Jung. It is through conversation that Sgt. Studer most frequently comes to the solution of the crime. Glauser’s novels explore the dark side of human nature as it is played out in families, schools, and in one case, an asylum.

Glauser also shares with Simenon an interest in food, and there is a lot of eating and drinking going on in these stories. Sgt. Studer is a fascinating character. Once a promising detective, Studer was somehow compromised in a bank investigation, and his career was derailed. He now finds himself a pariah to most of his colleagues and supervisors, and he is the man who is sent out on hopeless cases. While Studer is not always quick to see connections, his relentlessness and his commitment to the truth eventually lead him to the solution.

Fans of Simenon should find these novels interesting, but they will also appeal to readers who enjoy more contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction. Thumbprint is a good starting point for exploring this forgotten master of police fiction.

Check the WRL catalog for Thumbprint.

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perfectghostLOVED this book by Linda Barnes!  It’s the first I’ve read by this author who has 16 previous novels, including the Carlotta Carlyle mysteries.  You can be sure I’m checking to see what else the library has by her.

Em Moore is the silent, timid-but-talented writing half of a biography team.  Her partner, Ted, is the charismatic, outgoing personality who handles the interviews and book publicity.

When Teddy dies in a car accident, Em needs to suck up her courage and convince her agent that she can handle finishing their current project, a biography of film director Garrett Malcolm.  We are led to believe that Em needs the money, and she’ll face her fears of being in public and talking to strangers in order to keep the advance on the book.

Barnes does a fantastic job in having me feel sorry for “poor Em” all the way through the book.  She has to travel to Cape Cod on her own, and the only way she makes it out of her apartment is to pretend there is a bubble protecting her from the outside world.  Her first meeting with Malcolm had me cringing — his assistant is patronizing and keeps her waiting long after her appointed meeting time.  Malcolm himself is self-important and  intimidating.  And then there’s the police detective investigating Teddy’s death.  Em avoids his phone calls because she just can’t deal with one more thing on her plate.

Em has small successes facing her fears, that include surviving a confrontation with Teddy’s wife and recovering interview tapes that Teddy hadn’t sent her.  And as unlikely as it seems, she and Malcolm hit it off.  They begin an affair, and she is able to start writing the book in the comfort of his large Cape Cod mansion.  And that’s when the story of this famous director and the tragedies in his life start to come together.  All is not as it seems on the surface, however, and Em keeps digging to figure out what happened all those years ago to Malcolm and his family — and what exactly Teddy was working on before his death.

Engaging writing, clever plot twists — a recipe for a book I just couldn’t put down!

Check the WRL catalog for  The Perfect Ghost

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GameboardRichelle Mead’s latest is a post-apocalyptic mystery with an interesting take on religion.

After “the Decline,” religions are licensed and monitored; there is an entire unit of government that is responsible for investigating supernatural claims and making sure that no faith-based movement gets a powerful following.

Justin March was a successful government investigator who saw something he couldn’t explain, except through unwelcome words that hinted of a higher power.  He included his experiences in a formal report, then was exiled from The Republic of United North America (RUNA) to technology-starved Panama.  He desperately wants to return home, but has no clue as to how to get back in the government’s good graces.

Mae Koskinen is a praetorian, an elite, enhanced soldier of RUNA who is reassigned from her usual security duty following an unfortunate incident at the funeral of her lover.  Her new assignment is to help bring an exile back to RUNA for a special case.  Of course, that exile is Justin March.

Justin and Mae are given a limited amount of time to investigate a series of five ritualistic murders.  Despite the efforts of the best technicians to explain the situation with science, it looks like someone materialized out of smoke and killed unrelated victims.  Justin’s skill and his willingness to explore the supernatural possibilities make him the perfect person to lead the investigation.  In the course of the investigation, Justin and Mae develop a grudging respect for one another.

There are a lot of elements to keep your attention in this book: the hints of what happened to cause this anti-religion environment, the supernatural involvement of gods in the mortal world, the back-story of the main characters, and the developing relationship between Mae and Justin.  I must say it took me a little while to get hooked, but when I did I couldn’t put the book down.

If you want everything tied neatly together at the end, don’t start this book yet.  The mystery of the serial murders is solved, but there are many issues left hanging – you’ll just need to keep reading the “Age of X” series to understand it all.  Next in the series is The Immortal Crown due out in May, 2014.

Check the WRL catalog for Gameboard of the Gods

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x_filesIt may be difficult to believe, but September 10 marked 20 years since the television premiere of The X-Files. For nine seasons, FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) traveled the country investigating cases involving UFOs, the paranormal, and government conspiracies.

Over the course of the series’ run, audiences were introduced to a memorable supporting cast of characters including Mulder and Scully’s supervisor, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), and the main villain, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis). Although agents John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) were added in the final seasons of the show, The X-Files never strayed too far from the central pairing of Mulder, a firm believer in the unknown and supernatural, and Scully, a rational skeptic.

Instead of reviewing the series as a whole, I thought I’d try a different approach and celebrate the 20th anniversary of The X-Files by reviewing my favorite episode: Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space.’

Originally broadcast during the third season, this episode revolves around author Jose Chung (played to eccentric perfection by Charles Nelson Reilly) who is writing a book about a case investigated by Mulder and Scully involving the possible abduction by aliens of a teenage couple out on a first date. As part of his research, Chung sets out to interview: Mulder and Scully; the couple, Harold and Chrissy; and several local witnesses to the abduction and its aftermath. Mulder is reluctant to participate, but Chung is able to interview Scully, the couple, and the witnesses. Each interviewee gives Chung an entirely different and contradictory account of what happened that night. With each account, the events of that fateful evening become more and more outlandish, culminating in the filming of a video purportedly showing an alien autopsy. A baffled Chung ultimately concludes that, “Truth is as subjective as reality. That will help explain why when people talk about their ‘UFO experiences,’ they always start off with ‘Well, now, I know how crazy this is going to sound… but…’ ”

This episode can best be described as a clever homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon mixed with a hilarious satire of the 1995 alien autopsy video hoax. Unlike most episodes of The X-Files, the tone is definitely more tongue-in-cheek, but the humor serves to underscore Chung’s growing sense of bewilderment as the stories become increasingly unbelievable. By the end of the episode, like Jose Chung, I wasn’t quite sure what really happened that night, but I enjoyed seeing the different accounts of the incident unfold.

Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ is a well-acted episode with a strong narrative structure and great, quotable dialogue. It is a highlight of the third season and worth revisiting by fans looking to commemorate the anniversary of the show.

Fans may also want to check out the two X-Files movies: The X-Files: Fight the Future and The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

Check the WRL catalog for first season of The X-Files TV series.

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City of SaintsFirst-hand knowledge of a novel’s setting can be a double-edged sword. If the author portrays the location ineptly, the reader that knows the place may find it impossible to enjoy other aspects of the book. On the other hand, if the author brings that setting to life, the local reader may be willing to forgive other flaws.

Such is the case for me with City of Saints, a mystery novel based on a once famous but now forgotten historical murder in 1930s Salt Lake City. I lived in Salt Lake for almost ten years myself, and although Hunt depicts a period long before my birth, I could picture my grandparents rubbing shoulders with Sheriff Art Oveson as he tried to solve the killing of an adulterous socialite.

At first, this Salt Lake City may surprise you. It’s grittier than one might expect, especially for the 1930s, but I always found the Utah capital to contain more cultural diversity and more big city problems than its squeaky clean Mormon image might imply. With mines and railroads in full flourish by 1930, and with the glitz and controversy of Southern California a day away, it makes sense that Salt Lake City has contained that diversity for a long time. That’s the tension that underlies Hunt’s story: Oveson is a practicing Mormon, but he comes from a law enforcement family. He knows there’s a darker side to his town. His partner is about as rough as men come and may have different allegiances than Oveson. Departmental politics and powerful men trying to protect clean public personae taint his case from the beginning.

As a mystery, Hunt’s tale is average, but because it captures an unusual place in a complicated time so well, I think you’ll enjoy it, even if Salt Lake City is new and exotic to you.

Check the WRL catalog for City of Saints

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I was instantly absorbed in this fast-paced, detective-style investigation of the mysterious manuscript, the “Crown of Aleppo.” Parchment fragments of the ancient codex are still unaccounted for today, so those who want the book to end with a nice neat conclusion or happy ending should not even get started. However, those who love a good unsolved mystery and a series of unreliable accounts from multiple viewpoints, perhaps reminiscent of Iain Pears’s novel,  An Instance of the Fingerpost, are likely to love this story. One after the other, we read contradictory accounts of the same event in Aleppo, Syria. In 1947, anti-Jewish violence protesting the creation of the state of Israel endangered the sacred texts, which were housed in the Jewish synagogue in the city; consequentially, most of Syria’s Jewish community fled. Amid the chaos, parts of the document disappeared. Various individuals closely associated with the synagogue claimed credit for protecting the codex.

Investigative reporter Matti Friedman bravely followed an obfuscated trail, having to carefully negotiate his way into archives, museums, and libraries, and into the trust of those who may harbor what truths still exist in living memory regarding the codex. Along the way, he discovered a number of cover-ups, suppressed documentation, and red herrings, yet he relentlessly and obsessively pursued the previously untold story.

The tenth century “Crown” is the oldest Hebrew Bible manuscript, considered the authoritative text from which all copies of the Torah were meant to be hand copied in the old days. All sorts of legends and pesky rules, not very well suited to the preservation of disintegrating, aging old manuscripts, surround the “Crown,” including the stipulation that it was never to be moved from its location in Syria (riot, fire, and political unwelcome brought an end to its residency of over a thousand years), and that no one would be allowed to photograph or scan it (a rule certainly not instated before its most recent centuries). Therefore, when leaves of the folios went missing, no photographic images existed to at least preserve their memory, such as those we have to remember many stolen artifacts and fine art these days.

I just loved reading about this great mystery, and it kindled in me a new interest in other investigations of manuscripts with storied pasts.

Check the WRL catalog for The Aleppo Codex

Check the catalog for the ebook version

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All this week, Mindy reviews books about art theft, starting with two titles about some of the more sensational cases:

Museum of the Missing (2006) and Stolen (2008) are very similar booksboth have introductory material written by Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register, a tool used worldwide to authenticate artworks and aid in the recovery of stolen art. Some of the true crimes described in the earlier work are also in Stolen. Both include pages filled with color illustrations of lost art and the fascinating stories detailing what is known about their thefts. (Those who are tracking the fluctuating state of art theft cases may also want to follow current events. One way that I have been doing that is with a Google alert that sends newly published articles and blog posts to my email inbox daily.)

These art crime stories range from sad, disturbing, and shocking losses of our cultural heritage to hilarious and often audacious stupid-crook capers. The good news is that a number of stolen works of art have been recovered by art crime investigators, often working in undercover sting operations designed to thwart criminal schemes. It’s delicate work, often prioritized in favor of recovering works of art unharmed rather than on locking up the culprits who stole them. Appeals to the public are often made, with rewards offered, without fear of prosecution if involved.

The reality is that the high-priced art world often makes the headlines with record-breaking art sales. This attracts thieves who can’t seem to resist. What thieves unfortunately fail to calculate is the market for fencing their loot. Thus, they’re sometimes stuck with stolen art, and without backgrounds in art history or an acquired taste for fine art they seldom show any concern for its preservation. Thieves who couldn’t find a buyer have sometimes destroyed the stolen art in order to eliminate the evidence of their crime. Sculptures are stolen for their metal content and melted down for scrap.

Houpt and Webb each do an excellent job of storytelling about these intriguing art thefts. They also provide a great deal of insight into the history of art and what has made stealing it such an irresistible crime. A nice shelf to browse for more titles like these is located in the true crime area of 364.162.

Check the WRL catalog for Museum of the Missing

Check the catalog for Stolen

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cuckooLula Landry, a beautiful mixed-race supermodel, has fallen to her death from her third-floor flat onto the snow-covered walk in a posh section of London. The paparazzi and press go wild; everyone in the world is shocked. A woman who lives in the same building swears she heard a male voice arguing with Lula right before the fall, but the police investigate and determine Lula’s death a suicide. The witness, they conclude after lengthy investigation, is either a delusional coke-head or is in it for the publicity; she could not have heard anything through the triple-glazed windows of the high-end flats.

Three months later, young Robin Ellacott, newly engaged and newly arrived in London, is working for a temp agency as a secretary and is thrilled to find that her new assignment is for a private investigator, as she has always secretly wanted to be a private eye. Her first encounter with her new boss, the large, hairy, one-legged veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike, however, is not a pleasant one, and she learns on the first day of her week-long assignment that Strike is in a great deal of debt, is getting death threats from a former client, has only one current client, and is apparently living in his office.

It is fortunate, then, that a new client shows up at Strike’s meager office. The brother of Lula Landry, John Bristow, is convinced that Lula’s fall was not suicide, and has come to hire Strike to investigate. Strike at first says no; his conscience tells him he cannot take the money to investigate something that he is confident has been so thoroughly looked into that any investigation on his part will change the outcome. Bristow, fuming, says he had been willing to pay double Strike’s fee. Strike relents, his debts and living conditions weighing into the decision.

J.K. Rowling can create wonderful characters, and many populate this mystery novel. Almost anyone Strike and Robin look into in the course of their investigation could be a suspect: Lula’s rock star ex-boyfriend Evan Duffield; film-producer and neighbor Freddy Bestigui; Rochelle, a down-and-out friend Lula met in rehab; Guy Somé, a designer for whom Lula modeled; American rapper Deeby Macc who was supposed to stay in the flat below Lula’s the night she died; relatives, drivers, doormen, fellow models, and even strangers could have had a motive. As I listened to this audiobook, I was constantly changing who I believed the killer was, or even if there was a killer.

The reader for the audiobook, British actor Robert Glenister, is excellent. Though I am no expert on British accents, from my point of view, he nailed the various accents. I could easily tell who was speaking, and his inflections added so much to the story that I would recommend listening to the audiobook over reading the book for the immersive pleasure of Glenister’s outstanding storytelling.

According to news reports, a sequel is planned for publication in 2014. I am hoping Rowling, either using her own name or that of her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, will continue what promises to be an excellent mystery series where the complex, very likable, and extraordinarily adept Cormoran Strike and his proficient and enthusiastic assistant Robin Ellacott investigate many more cases.

Check the WRL catalog for the print version of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Check the WRL catalog for the compact disc audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Check the OneClickDigital catalog for the downloadable audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling

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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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spencerSometimes, you just need a good book. Not a great one or one that will move your soul, but just a well-plotted, interestingly written story with characters who will keep your attention. I found myself in that state the other night, and rather than browsing my shelves for something to re-read, I got out my iPad and took a look at the mysteries in the library’s ebook collection. There were lots of titles there to choose from, and I decided to take a chance on Sally Spencer. I had never heard of her books before, but a British police procedural set in the post-WWII period sounded interesting. I was delighted with the choice.

Spencer’s main character, Inspector “Cloggin’ It” Charlie Woodend, is a great addition to the fictional police forces. Like some of my favorite other police inspectors, Adamsberg, Colbeck, and Dalziel, Woodend is often a thorn in the side of his superiors, and his sometimes unorthodox investigating style does not always endear him to his colleagues.

These are slow-paced stories, with more thinking, walking, and talking than cinematic thrills and chases. Like Simenon’s Maigret, Charlie Woodend lets the “why” lead to the “how” of the crime rather than vice versa. This first story in the series also introduces Sergeant Bob Rutter, who is assigned to Woodend to investigate a series of killings in a small town in Cheshire. Woodend has a reputation for running through sergeants pretty quickly, but Rutter turns out to be a match, and the interplay between the two builds as the series progresses.

Spencer does an excellent job of bringing in details of the personal lives of the policemen as well as cultural events of the period in which the books are set (moving forward from the 1950s). In particular, Spencer captures the disruption caused by the war and its aftermath to small town life. In the later stories, Spencer explores the difficult entry of women on to the force, and eventually develops a new series around one of her female detectives.

So while these books may not be the be all and end all of crime writing, they are solid examples of some of the best crime fiction I have read lately, and a welcome addition to my growing list of police procedurals.

Check the WRL catalog for The Salton Killings.

Also available as an ebook.

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NowYouSeeMeAnn Marie of the library’s Outreach Services Division provides today’s review:

Not being a “Ripperologist” (someone obsessed with all things related to Jack the Ripper), I have to admit that I almost didn’t check out this book due to the words “Jack the Ripper” included in the description. Mysteries, though, that have interesting protagonists with an intriguing continuing story-line, are the types of mysteries that I enjoy reading the most. Detective Constable Lacey Flint of Now You See Me fits very ably into this category. She is a character that I don’t think you will soon forget.

Now You See Me begins with Lacey covered in blood—fortunately it’s someone else’s blood. When she returns to her car after interviewing a witness, she finds a woman leaning against her car. When Lacey approaches the stranger, she finds the woman’s throat has been slashed only minutes before. Lacey rushes to the woman to try to help her and watches as the woman dies on the street. Even though Lacey is a witness to the crime and a junior officer, she finds herself re-assigned to the murder investigation. Then the case takes an ominous turn when an anonymous letter is sent to a reporter. The letter mentions Lacey by name and also makes references to London’s most famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Does the Metropolitan Police have a modern Jack the Ripper on the loose? Will this murder be the first in a series of Ripper-like crimes?

As the investigating officers grapple with the seemingly random killings, they struggle to uncover anything that might link the victims as well as try to figure out where in modern London the new Ripper will strike next. Lacey also finds herself under scrutiny by fellow officer Mark Joesbury. Detective Inspector Joesbury is suspicious of Lacey’s involvement with the murders and wonders why the killer is fixated on Lacey. Lacey finds that her tightly-controlled and carefully ordered world is starting to unravel as the killer taunts her with secrets from Lacey’s past. As Lacey and the rest of the investigating team try to solve the increasingly horrific murders, the plot takes a few twists and there are a couple of surprises which I don’t want to give away.

Now You See Me is a faced-paced read that I couldn’t put down. For me, the Jack the Ripper plot-line isn’t as compelling as Lacey’s own story. The mystery does contain a lot of information on Jack the Ripper’s murders as well as the various theories of who committed the murders in 1888. A warning, though, the book has graphic descriptions of both the historical and modern murder scenes. While S.J. Bolton has written two more books featuring Lacey Flint, Dead Scared and Lost, I would start with Now You See Me so you’ll have a better understanding of Lacey Flint’s story.

Check the WRL catalog for Now You See Me

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badmonkeyToday’s post is written by Tova from Circulation Services.

Since reading 11/22/63, I have become a Stephen King fan, devouring many of his books back to back.  King’s ability to weave in-depth character development into his genre-busting tales of horror and mayhem is not only a sweet treat for the reader, but a source of inspiration for aspiring writers like me.  One of the more understated aspects of King’s writing is his sense of humor.  Sometimes offbeat and quirky, a certain plot point or snatch of character dialogue will have me laughing out loud – and I do like to laugh.

While in between reading King’s books, I decided to search out other authors who infuse humor into their tales of suspense. Using WRL’s NoveList, I happened upon Carl Hiaasen, an author whose books are often requested by library users.  Although I had never read any of Hiaasen’s works, his newest book is Bad Monkey; and, as someone with a soft spot for monkeys, I was compelled to give it a read.

Okay, so the titular monkey, whose image graces the cover of the book, is not a cute Curious George-type.  Mischievous, cynical, and impulsive, Hiaasen’s monkey commits acts that shall go unmentioned in this blog entry.  However, Hiaasen’s monkey is one of the most memorable, and surprisingly sympathetic, characters in the book.  Hiaasen successfully uses him to help tie the novel’s multiple plot threads together.

Set primarily in southern Florida, Hiaasen’s tale revolves around Andrew Yancy, a disgraced Monroe County detective who has been demoted to Health Inspector (aka “roach patrol”) due to a heinous act he committed against his mistress’ husband. In spite of his reassignment, Yancy just cannot help but launch his own investigation when a fisherman reels in a human arm from the ocean; and Yancy inadvertently ends up in possession of it.  How did the arm become detached from its original owner?  Official investigators want to neatly declare that the detached arm is the result of an unfortunate boating accident and be done with it.  However, Yancy, after uncovering some inconsistencies and shady details, thinks otherwise.  His investigation leads him back and forth between Key West, Miami, and the Bahamas.  Along the way, Yancy consorts with a colorful array of characters, including a sexually adventurous coroner, a disconcerting voodoo queen, his fugitive ex-mistress, a creepy land developer, the mysterious widow of the arm’s original owner, and, of course, the aforementioned monkey.

I found the humor I was looking for as the book is often laugh-out-loud funny.  The whereabouts of the detached arm, which Yancy first stores in his freezer, is a running gag throughout the story.  The snappy dialogue is also a source of humor.  Yancy’s antics made me laugh and groan simultaneously as he transgresses multiple boundaries and finds himself in sticky predicaments of his own making.  The fun is in imagining Yancy as he tries to get out of his self-made predicaments.  That Yancy was morally and ethically corrupt pleased me greatly.  I prefer my protagonists to be like most people in life – a mix of good, bad, and everything in between.

Hiaasen cannot compare to Stephen King when it comes to character development; however, his work stands on its own as he succeeds in creating a memorable cast of characters.  By the end of the book, we certainly have a more rounded view of Yancy and we can sympathize with his desire to get his old detective job back, even if he employs questionable means to that end.

I would recommend Bad Monkey if you are looking for a light, fun, suspenseful story with a wicked sense of humor, and if you do not mind some coarse language and raunchy adult themes.  I will certainly check out more of Hiaasen’s work – while in between Stephen King books, of course.

Check the WRL catalog for Bad Monkey

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nightfilm Night Film is a complex and engrossing mystery that’s perfect for crisp fall evenings.

Fictional Academy Award-winning director Stanislas Cordova’s oeuvre consists of 15 films released from 1964 to 1996.  As controversial as he is revered, his last five films were released independently and are collectively known as the “black tapes.”  His fans, known as Cordovites, regularly stage secret showings of these films called red-band screenings. Enigmatic and reclusive, Cordova hasn’t been seen in public or granted an interview in years, but stories about Cordova’s family and lifestyle at his private estate, “The Peak,” are the stuff of urban legend.  Stanislas Cordova is also the elusive focus of journalist Scott McGrath’s personal journey into the heart of darkness in Marisha Pessl’s second novel, Night Film.

 Night Film opens with the apparent suicide of Cordova’s beautiful and talented 24-year-old daughter, Ashley.  Her death piques the curiosity of Scott McGrath, an investigative journalist whose remarks about Cordova on a national television program resulted in a libel suit.  Despite paying a substantial settlement to Cordova, McGrath still believes he is a dangerous man and he starts an investigation into Ashley’s suicide, intent on proving Cordova was somehow responsible for what happened to his daughter.

Joining McGrath in his quest are two strangers who have a connection to Ashley: Nora Halliday, a coat check girl who encountered Ashley shortly before her death, and Hopper Cole, who met Ashley when they were teenagers.  As McGrath, Cole, and Halliday trace Ashley’s movements in her final weeks and unpack the mysterious nature of Cordova and his films, they learn the unsettling truth about a genius filmmaker and his family.

 As a movie fan, I was interested in reading Night Film because the book’s plot and the character of Stanislas Cordova sounded intriguing.  Pessl did not disappoint.  Her characterization of Cordova and the descriptions of his films are so vibrant and detailed that I finished the book regretting that Cordova’s films do not exist in real life.

I’ll admit I had a rather mixed reaction to Night Film’s protagonist, Scott McGrath.  On the surface the character seems awfully similar to Mikael Blomkvist from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (both are divorced investigative journalists whose reputations are tarnished by high-profile libel suits).  Scott’s investigation is compelling and the friendships he forms with Hopper and Nora are sincere and poignant.  Ashley Cordova may be dead at the beginning of the book, but Pessl does a nice job bringing the character to life, so to speak, through newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with film actors and acquaintances, and, especially, through her relationship with Hopper.

 Another effective aspect of Night Film is Pessl’s use of multimedia elements. These elements are extensive and include copies of internet slideshows, news articles, and web pages from the Blackboards, a secret web site dedicated to all things Cordova. The narrative is fast-paced and engaging, but these multimedia elements truly immersed me in Cordova’s life and work.  This experience doesn’t end once the last page is turned.  There’s even a free app for smartphones called the Night Film Decoder that readers can use to scan select pages of the book and access videos, audio clips, and slideshow presentations. The additional content is a lot of fun and complements Pessl’s vision of Cordova, his family, and his films.

“Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are.”

-          Stanislas Cordova (Rolling Stone, December 1977)

Check the WRL catalog for Night Film

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amsterdamIt’s a wonder anyone lives in England, given the high murder rate and what must be a tough housing market for both amateur and professional detectives.  And with all those historical figures taking on investigations in the US and UK, it’s a wonder they had time to write, make movies, or run their political careers.  So when I was looking for a good mystery, I decided I’d steer clear of the usual place and time settings and give another location a shot. Outsider in Amsterdam happened to come to the fore.  And what a unique tone and feel the city brings to this mystery.

Amsterdam in 1975 is a unique mix. The Dutch are still fully aware of the cost of the breakup of their empire, but not tolerant of the still-loyal castoffs of their former colonies. They are almost uniformly conformist to the laws that keep the city orderly, but don’t hesitate to cheat on their taxes or hire illegal immigrants. Hard drugs are anathema, but heroin addicts get treatment, including small doses of the real thing.  Cops like Henk Grijpstra and Rinus DeGier spend most of their time handling petty crimes while waiting for more serious crimes to come up.

When Piet Verboom, master of a hybrid Eastern religious movement, is reported dangling from a noose in his office, Grijpstra and DeGier are assigned to investigate. The case appears open-and-shut, but of course small inconsistencies catch their interest–where is the money from the members-only restaurant and bar? Why did Verboom’s wife leave him? Why are all his employees happy to see him gone?  And why is a former high-ranking constable in the Dutch colonial police, a Papuan, living practically rent-free in the building?

The investigation is driven more by their intuition and unwillingness to let even small details go than by strict procedure. When that intuition pays off, they must chase a dangerously clever criminal through Amsterdam’s narrow streets and over canals, and out onto Holland’s Inland Lake, but they net more than they initially bargained for.

As solid as the mystery portion of the story is, van de Wetering introduces solid characters for this first entry in a series. Grijpstra is a rumpled middle-aged family man willing to do almost anything to get away from his wife and (hinted at) children. DeGier is well-dressed, handsome, and a bachelor content with his surly cat, a houseplant on the balcony, and occasional female companionship. In many ways they are fairly innocent–they don’t have the innate wariness that marks most urban cops, and they don’t have so many difficult crimes to investigate that they are jaded.

There’s also some humor in the story, especially surrounding the running of the police budget. What do they do when the last VW is checked out of the police lot? Is it easier to walk to the crime scene or to catch a streetcar and submit for reimbursement? Can DeGier get expenses for a date with a potential witness if he sleeps with her?

Although WRL only has seven of the fourteen books, I’m looking forward to venturing through Amsterdam with van de Wetering as my guide.

Check the WRL catalog for Outsider in Amsterdam

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maddyclareSarah Piper is alone in the world.  She’s working for a temp agency in post World War I England.  One rainy afternoon she gets a call to meet a potential client at a coffee shop.  While this is a bit unorthodox, she needs the rent money, and so goes to the meeting.

There she meets handsome Alistair Gellis, a ghost-hunter.  He needs her to make contact with a potential ghost that apparently does not like men.  While scared of the prospect of seeing a ghost, Sarah agrees.  It’s the most excitement she’s had in her life, and she’s more frightened to disappoint her employer than she is of the ghost.

The ghost story turns into an investigation of another crime – and Sarah, Alistair, and his other assistant Matthew are in danger as they try to solve the mystery of Maddy Clare.

I enjoyed the setting of England between the World Wars.  I thought the author brought in enough detail to give a taste of the period. The author did a good job explaining why the war had such a profound effect on her main characters without having them go on and on about their hellish experiences.

I like being a little bit scared  – and the description of Maddy haunting the barn where she hung herself was creepy, not keep-the-lights-on scary.

I liked Sarah.  She’s smart and practical yet she isn’t afraid to run screaming from a particularly difficult encounter with an angry Maddy.  And who wouldn’t be freaked out by the arrival of hordes of ravens? Those human reactions helped me balance the other-worldliness of the ghost story.

And then there was the love story…  The novel could have survived well without it, but I enjoyed Sarah’s budding romance with Matthew.  In my opinion, it never hurts to have the promise of a happy ending!

The Haunting of Maddy Clare recently won two Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards: Best First Novel and Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.

Check the WRL catalog for The Haunting of Maddy Clare

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