Archive for the ‘Jinker’s Picks’ Category


This is the first entry in a series featuring Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and his Detective Sergeant Bob Valentine in Norfolk, England. It’s a police procedural with a “locked-room” element to the main plot: A line of cars is stranded in a snowstorm on a desolate coastal road. When help arrives, the driver of the first vehicle in the convoy is discovered dead at his steering wheel, murdered seemingly under the noses of the other drivers stranded behind him. With no footprints in the snow, Shaw and his team are stumped as to means and opportunity. As to motive, however, the police begin to uncover some very convoluted relationships between the other drivers–supposedly all strangers to each other–in the convoy. Complicating matters are two other murders in the immediate vicinity, one corpse floating to shore on a toy raft and another found buried in the sand. Could all these deaths be related? You’d be surprised!

The plot was satisfyingly byzantine, and the atmosphere deliciously chilling and bleak. But what piqued my interest was the back story of DI Shaw and his relationship with Valentine. Valentine is an older man who fell from grace and was demoted as a result of implied corruption in the fall-out of a failed investigation years before. His partner had been DI Shaw’s father, since deceased. Shaw Jr. wants to know the truth about this unsolved case, which involved a murdered child, and his father’s true role in the investigation. Valentine would like his name cleared and his position back, but suffers from resentment of serving under the younger man. A mutual lack of trust complicates matters even further, but over the course of the story each man begins to develop a grudging respect for the other’s detective abilities. One can tell that this back story will continue to develop in future series entries, which will keep me reading.

Check the WRL catalog for Death Wore White

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AirthThis is a mystery which will appeal to fans of Charles Todd’s detective Ian Rutledge. Like Rutledge, the main character, John Madden, is a Scotland Yard detective struggling with shell shock in the aftermath of World War I. He is called to a small village in Surrey where an entire family has been murdered.

As he works with local police, he is bothered by the meticulous planning that appears to have gone into the massacre and starts to suspect that this is not the killer’s first murder. With help from the local police constable, the comely female village doctor, and an Austrian psychologist, Madden slowly develops a portrait of the suspect: a former soldier and psychopath who is escalating at an alarming rate. He has his next victim picked out, and Madden’s challenge is to find out who and where before it’s too late.

Although comparisons to Rutledge will probably draw Charles Todd’s readers to this title, there are major differences. Madden’s demons are a little more straightforward than Rutledge’s, and the overall atmosphere is more optimistic. Airth allows healing and happiness to dangle within his protagonist’s reach, whereas Rutledge’s fans often wonder when his creator is going to give him a break already.

The psychological aspects will also appeal to fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series.

Check the WRL catalog for River of Darkness

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MangleStThis is a completely serendipitous discovery which I feel fortunate to have stumbled across. This is a new Victorian-era murder mystery series, set in London, featuring a brilliant, eccentric detective with few social skills and his feisty young ward who gives him a run for his money. The most obvious comparison is with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, especially Laurie King’s version with Mary Russell. The author does not shy away from this but rather seems to take great pleasure in inserting sly references here and there—such as a suggestion that Grice is Conan Doyle’s inspiration for Holmes!

With all of the obvious similarities, I found this a refreshing, funny read and a good mystery to boot. It has more of a modern feel to it than King’s, or Conan Doyle’s, narratives. The great detective, Sidney Grice, is not nearly as likeable a character as Sherlock Holmes. He is rude, unkind, contemptuous and heartless. Loathsome as he is, the reader becomes quite attached to him (and his glass eye, which becomes a surprisingly successful running gag). His new ward, March Middleton, gives it right back to him without flinching, making their interactions entertaining and very often humorous.

When the unfeeling Sidney Grice refuses to take the case of a penurious woman whose son-in-law stands accused of murdering his wife, March takes pity on her and offers up shares in a portfolio inherited from her father to pay the fee, provided she is allowed to co-investigate the case. Thus an uneasy and contentious alliance begins. March finds herself at odds with the conclusions drawn by Grice, and a battle of feminine logic and intuition versus cold reason and science marks most of the narrative. In the end both are right and wrong; it’s an auspicious beginning for this formidable team.

Kasasian illustrates the poverty, desperation and griminess of London in this era with a brilliant blend of mordant humor and poignancy. He also hints at a tragic secret in March’s past, of which the reader hopes more will be revealed in further series entries. More loose ends remain to be addressed as well, such as how Grice came to be March’s guardian after the death of her father, and—last but not least—

“I have not seen him this way since…” Molly said, but could not finish her sentence. “Oh, I do hope he is not indulging in his secret vice.”

The idea of my guardian having a vice was rather appealing.

“But what is this vice?” I asked.

“I can’t say I know, miss.” Molly screwed up her pinafore. “For it is a secret.” Her eyes filled and she scurried off.

Check the WRL catalog for The Mangle Street Murders.

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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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This is the third in Anderson’s series featuring Inspector Wilkins and the residents of Alderley, an English country estate. This is also the third baffling murder to take place at Alderley amidst a large gathering of suspects. It may seem a little far-fetched that Anderson has not moved his scene of crime in three books, but I can assure you that it works, largely in part because the Wilkins books are delightful send-ups of the country house murder. The rest of the appeal lies in the characters: Alderley’s residents, aristrocratic yet down-to-earth Earl and Countess of Burford and their feisty daughter Geraldine; and, of course, the lugubrious Inspector Wilkins himself.

An elderly aunt passes away, and family members are gathering at Alderley for the wake and will-reading. Among them are an MP, a barrister, a distant cousin just arrived from the States, and an evil stepmother. The stepmother, Clara Saunders, is a most loathsome character who supports herself by selling peoples’ shameful secrets to the press. Snubbed at the will-reading, Clara makes a scene, claims to know dirty secrets about the family members present, and threatens to expose them in revenge. She then storms out, leaving the reader in no doubt who the murder victim is going to be.

What happens next is quite predictable: Clara is murdered, Inspector Wilkins arrives, the suspect interviews begin, and so do the lies. As usual, Wilkins seems rather absent-minded and incompetent, uttering his mournful catchphrase, “I’m not sanguine, not sanguine at all.” He gradually exposes the lies, however, and produces explanations for all of the red herrings (why 39 cufflinks were left scattered around the body, for example). And of course Lady Geraldine launches enthusiastically into amateur detecting.

Anderson is obviously enjoying himself, and the reader reaps the benefits. As familiar and comfortable as a Christie novel, The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks is nevertheless full of fun twists and red herrings, and is quite a jolly smashing mystery to boot.

It’s not necessary to have read the first two titles in this series to enjoy this one, but knowing about the two previous murders at Alderley helps to put things in context. Try The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy, then The Affair of the Mutilated Mink.

Check the WRL Catalog for The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks in book or ebook format.

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I am probably the biggest knot ignoramus in Virginia.  Until recently, the only knot I knew was the granny knot (“so called in contempt,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary; also referred to as a “lubber’s knot” or “booby knot”).  Not long ago I learned a square knot, which made me quite proud of myself.  I knew that there were far superior, more sophisticated knots out there, however; and as we had a camping trip coming up I decided it might behoove me to learn some.

I checked out this nifty li’l Falcon Guide, Knots for the Outdoors. I found the instructions easy to follow and soon I  was practicing several different knots.

The day before our camping trip, with several piles of laundry waiting to be done, the power at our house went out.  Our generator was able to run the wash machine but not the clothes dryer, so my newly learned knots came in handy in stringing a makeshift clothesline out on the deck which did not slip or sag.

As we prepared for our camping trip, my backpack was overfull and I was able to tie several items onto the outside of it with the appropriate knots.  When we got to our cabin, my newly acquired knot skills came in handy again.  One of the cabin’s windows would not stay open, so I rigged up a little harness for it.  I was also able to securely tie up our hammock and swing serenely in the knowledge that it would not come loose and dump me onto the ground.

So, this is really the most useful book I have read in quite awhile.  As well as being a useful instructional manual on knot-making, it is a handy reference to types of rope: common uses for each kind; strength; resistance to moisture and chemicals; tendency to “stretch” under load, etc.  There is a section on storing, maintaining and preparing rope for use.

Then, the knots! Instructions are accompanied by clear, colorful illustrations. Left-handed instructions are usually included as well.  A couple of the more complicated knots may require a bit of studying but you’ll get it.  I’m proud to say that I have learned 5 of the book’s “Ten Most Important Knots and Hitches!”  The book also addresses splices and lashings, though I have not studied them yet.

The most interesting part of the book in my opinion was the section on knot strengths. Each knot’s “breaking strength” is listed as a percent.  For example, “two half hitches” have a breaking strength of 70%, which means that this type of knot retains 70% of the rope’s strength and weakens it by 30%. This is pretty good compared to the square knot, which has a breaking strength of only 45%.

Some knot highlights (for me, anyway):

  • The “sheet bend,” useful for tying two ropes together even when the ropes are different sizes and materials (I fancifully decided that they called it a sheet bend because it would be useful for escaping from a prison cell by tying bedsheets together, but my husband informed me that it is probably because boat and ship sails are often referred to as “sheets.”  Sigh….)
  • The bowline, useful for creating a secure loop at the end of a rope (this is the knot that uses the analogy of the rabbit coming out of the hole, around the tree, and back down the hole).
  • The quick-release, or “slippery” loop: basically, end your knot of choice by running the working end of the knot back through the completed knot.  Instead of having to pick apart the knot to undo it, you can undo your knots with a single pull on the end.  Useful for quickly taking down your hammock when the thunderstorm hits!

I feel quite empowered by having learned over half-a-dozen of the knots in this book.  This is a book I will be purchasing as a reference.

Check the WRL catalog for Knots for the Outdoors


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In the preface to A Cast of Killers, Kirkpatrick describes how he set out to write a biography of Hollywood director King Vidor in the mid 1980s. As much material as he had to work with, given that Vidor had seemingly saved every scrap of paper he had ever amassed, Kirkpatrick found a significant dearth of information for the year 1967. Searching one of Vidor’s homes, Kirkpatrick unearthed a hidden strongbox which ultimately turned his account of Vidor’s life into a cold case murder investigation. For the box contained the results of King Vidor’s personal investigation, conducted in 1967, of one of the most sensational crimes of the century – the 1922 murder of his friend and colleague, Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor. Why had Vidor felt compelled to hide away the documents pertaining to his investigation?

This preface sets the tone for an absolutely fascinating and compelling narrative in which Kirkpatrick reconstructs the murder and King Vidor’s investigation of it many years after the fact.

On February 2, 1922, William Desmond Taylor was found shot dead in his bungalow. Witnesses and suspects abounded, yet information was not forthcoming from the police. Information flowed freely from the media, however, and because of the sensational and sometimes downright false coverage of the crime, the truth soon became cloudy, remaining so until 1967.

Actress and comedienne Mabel Normand, a friend of the notorious Fatty Arbuckle, was present at the scene and was reported to have been heavily involved in drugs and possibly an affair with Taylor. Young starlet and apparent naïf Mary Miles Minter, along with her controlling mother Charlotte Shelby, also figured prominently in the events surrounding the crime. William Desmond Taylor’s mysterious secretary, Edward Sands, who may or may not also have been Taylor’s brother, was a significant personality in the drama. And to complicate matters, William Desmond Taylor may not have been William Desmond Taylor at all.

All of these twists and turns make for fascinating reading, and Vidor’s interviews of aging actors, actresses, and others in Taylor’s circle at the time of the murder are enthralling. There is an element of juicy gossip to these interviews, but Vidor made copious notes and documented conversations with witnesses in detail. All events in the book are based on Vidor’s extensive documentation. Kirkpatrick writes the account in the third person from Vidor’s point of view, giving the work a fictional narrative flow and feel and bringing the reader into King Vidor’s world.

Though not ultimately a biography of King Vidor, A Cast of Killers nevertheless reveals an intriguing facet of his personality – the Private Investigator. The result is a most satisfactory treatment of a cold case investigation and a fascinating look into the world of 1920s Hollywood.

Check the WRL catalog for A Cast of Killers.


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I’ve happily plowed through the first fifteen titles in M.C. Beaton’s Hamish MacBeth series, and this Christmas special is the 16th. So far I’ve listened to all of them in audio format with the excellent Davina Porter narrating. A Highland Christmas does not appear to be available in audio format, however, so I took the opportunity to download it from WRL’s new OverDrive ebook collection.

After 15 episodes I have become quite fond of Police Constable Hamish MacBeth, the Scottish village of Lochdubh’s only representative of law and order. Although unambitious and often quite lazy, Hamish has the Highlander’s insatiable curiosity and loathes unanswered questions. Therefore he always becomes more involved in local crimes than his superior – the boorish and unimaginative Chief Inspector Blair of Strathbane – would like. What’s more, Hamish always solves the crime, stealing the ambitious Blair’s undeserved thunder and making him look bad. He is sharply attuned to underlying emotions and motives in people, a talent he often uses to get at the truth Miss Marple style.

The Northern Scotland locale is a character in itself, with its ever-changing landscape, howling winds, and fickle climate. Regular characters emerge, eccentric, exasperating, and lovable. It’s great fun to watch Hamish interact with them all.

In this installment in the series, Christmas is approaching and the village of Lochdubh, most of whose old-fashioned residents frown upon Christmas as a “heathen” holiday, is most decidedly not in a festive mood. This has P.C. MacBeth somewhat down in the mouth, and it doesn’t help that he is called out to the neighboring village of Cnothan to see about a crotchety old lady’s lost cat and the town’s missing Christmas tree.

The Hamish MacBeth series are cozy mysteries, but A Highland Christmas is the coziest of the bunch in that there is less murder and more “warm and fuzzy.” It’s a pleasant interlude for readers already invested in the series. For readers who have not read any of the books in the series, it’s a nice introduction to Hamish MacBeth’s world or a feel-good standalone Christmas story.

Check the WRL catalog for the book, or check out the ebook, which you can download to a computer, e-reader, or mobile device. A large print book is also available.


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I’ve been reading Faye’s husband, Jonathan Kellerman, for years, and I’ve just gotten around to picking up one of Faye Kellerman’s Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus series. I love the idea of a mystery-writing couple!

Burnt House is a relatively recent entry in the series (2007; #16), so characters and relationships are quite established by this point. LAPD Lieutenant Peter Decker presides over a baffling case: after a commuter plane crashes into an apartment building in L.A., questions arise about a flight attendant who was listed among the victims. Her parents are certain their daughter was not on the plane, but they’re equally certain that she is dead nonetheless– at the hands of her greedy, philandering husband. Though it sounds like a crackpot theory, Decker has a feeling about it, and when Roseanne Dresden’s body fails to turn up in the wreckage he becomes more convinced that her parents are right and sets his team of detectives to work. The case becomes even more convoluted when an extra body shows up at the crash site. Roseanne is the only person unaccounted for, but the body is not hers. Now Decker has two corpses and two unsolved cases.

Faye’s writing style is quite different from her husband’s– not quite as dark or nuanced; less introspection and character development; but very strong on police procedural. Kellerman takes the reader into the inner workings of a police case– examining forensic evidence, sifting through phone records and bank statements, interviewing witnesses, following up leads. Characters’ inner lives and personal issues take a back seat to the details of the police investigation. This, plus fast-paced suspense, are the main appeal factors.

Peter and his wife Rina are Jewish with a blended family, and Jewish culture and family anecdotes are woven throughout the story, though the plot always takes center stage. Since this is the 16th entry in the series, I suspect that earlier books in the series will provide quite a bit of back story here in terms of their faith and family relationships. I’m looking forward to going back to #1 in the series, The Ritual Bath (1987), in which Peter and Rina meet and Peter rediscovers his faith.

Check the WRL Catalog for The Burnt House


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You’ll remember Dublanica as the author of the bitingly funny “Waiter Rant” blog and the follow-up 2008 book of the same title. After discovering that his treatise on the trials and tribulations of waiting tables had turned him into a de facto “gratuity guru,” he set out to earn the title in earnest.

The result is an entertaining and informative guide to tipping, loosely organized by profession. Though humorous, the book does address a universally shared anxiety: when and what to tip who? Dublanica intends to help the reader navigate the winding, treacherous byways of tipping and arrive at a more enjoyable experience, whether it is dining out, traveling, getting your dog groomed, or receiving a lap dance. Dublanica interviewed and worked alongside people in these professions, resulting in entertaining horror stories and useful advice on tipping straight from the professionals.

Take his chapter on hotel staff, for example. Although the doorman does not have to be tipped simply for opening the door for you, pretty much every other service a doorman may provide warrants a single or two: directions, recommendations, and taxi-hailing, for example. Maids should be tipped $2-3 a day in medium-range hotels; and since a different housekeeper may clean your room each day, it is better to leave a tip every day instead of leaving one bigger one when you check out.

Dublanica also exposes the practice of “buying the door:” in big cities, hotel doormen often receive monetary rewards or perks from companies in return for recommending their services. This usually applies to cab companies and limo services but could also apply to flower shops, spa services, and many other services. He discovers the same practice in his chapter on cab drivers. Drivers are often asked for recommendations on nightlife and get kickbacks for taking fares to certain establishments.

If knowledge of the trials of service workers and appreciation of the work they do are not enough to make you reform your cheapskate ways, perhaps threats will do the trick. Service workers can be quite imaginative when it comes to getting revenge on bad tippers. My favorite is the parking valet’s so-called “Dirt-Butt Scoot.” You’ll have to read the book to find out what this is, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s not very nice. The many anecdotes along these lines are eye-opening, to say the least.

Despite these scary scenarios, the overarching theme of this book, and the sense that you will carry away with you after reading it, is that most of these professionals depend on tips to survive and tipping them adequately is not only a sign of respect for what they do, but will ultimately come back around in the form of improved service. Despite getting a lot of mileage out of the horror stories related to him by service workers, and being quite entertaining to boot, Dublanica shows appreciation and respect for the jobs these people do and conveys that to the reader in a constructive manner.

Check the WRL Catalog for Keep the Change


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This London-based mystery series opens in the winter of 1865. Lady Jane Grey approaches her childhood friend and next door neighbor Charles Lenox with a problem. A former housemaid, who has moved to another household, has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. As a private investigator and dear friend, Lenox readily agrees to help.

With the police force still in its infancy, amateur investigation is even more unwelcome to the authorities now than it will be for Sherlock Holmes some decades hence. Like Sherlock Holmes, Lenox is of independent means and only too happy to let the bumbling bobbies take the credit for his brilliance in return for the opportunity to exercise his mind and experience the thrill of the chase. Lenox’s LeStrade is Inspector Exeter of Scotland Yard. Ambitious, unimaginative and clueless, he nevertheless recognizes when he needs his bacon saved– which, fortunately for Finch’s readers, looks like it will be fairly often. He calls on Lenox for help, albeit secretly, when he realizes he is stymied.

Prudence Smith has been found dead of an apparent overdose in the household of prominent politician George Barnard, where she has recently become employed to be closer to her fiancé, who is also employed in the household. Lenox, with the help of a close doctor friend Thomas McConnell, soon discovers that the maid’s death was murder, done with a rather uncommon and expensive poison which could not have been accessible to anyone with a servant’s income. His investigatory efforts become focused on Barnard’s family and guests at the time of the murder.

Some characters are introduced who look like they will be regulars, and the readers can see some future plot potential here. There is Charles’ friend Lady Jane (romance alert!), Charles’ brother Edmund (country squire and member of Parliament), his friend McConnell (alcoholic), and McConnell’s wife (precarious marriage), and his true and loyal valet Graham (Lenox’s Bunter).

With its London historical setting and focus on contemporary class distinctions, the reader will be reminded of Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries. The tone, however, is much breezier and perhaps more reminiscent of Marion Chesney’s Edwardian mystery series. Though there is plenty of conflict around him, Lenox himself seems untouched by it all. He has no character-building war injury. He suffers from no post-traumatic-stress-disorder. He has no unhealthy addictions to drugs or alcohol. He mourns no past tragedies. He’s cheerfully free of guilty secrets. He seems to be completely without neuroses. He seems, in fact, utterly content with life, eternally optimistic and unruffled. His biggest problem in life is his inadequate pair of wet boots.

If it sounds like I’m making fun of poor Charles, really I’m not. I’ve just become so accustomed to pensive detectives riddled with character flaws and steeped in misery that I’m simply flabbergasted to encounter such a well-adjusted protagonist. Once you get over the shock to the system it’s quite comforting, actually. The reader is invited along to share the lovingly described meals, glasses of claret by the fire, good books savored, lazy afternoon naps – all interspersed with periods of detecting activity and heady excitement. This is what I would call a truly “cozy” mystery. Many readers do not want a sleuth’s personal drama intruding on a perfectly good detective story. Why shouldn’t the main character be happy and get on with solving the crime, by Jove?

Give it a whirl. There are more in the series after this one, and personally I plan to turn to Charles Lenox periodically when Ian Rutledge has got me down!

Check the WRL Catalog for A Beautiful Blue Death


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This is probably the most practical self-help book ever written. After all, each and every human being will need this book at some point. It’s not something that anyone wants to dwell upon, but sooner or later you’ve got to face the issue.

It is difficult enough to lose a loved one, and the time immediately following a death is just about the worst time to try to make decisions about a loved one’s remains, not to mention dealing with the expense of it all. The purpose of this book is to get people to make these decisions, make plans, and communicate them to loved ones before they die. It mitigates the stress and indecision of survivors and ensures that your wishes are carried out.

Jones discusses the two main means of disposal, burial and cremation. Within each of these are infinite possibilities. For example, for most people the concept of burial means a casket in a cemetery; however, few are aware that most states do allow for home burial (yes, in your back yard) provided certain conditions are met; and there is no state or federal law requiring a casket for burial. Many people are also unaware that funeral homes cannot require you to purchase expensive bundled packages. They must make individual services and costs available to you à la carte, so to speak. Jones encourages readers to familiarize themselves with the laws and requirements in their states, as well as their rights.

Possibilities with cremation are seemingly endless, from a simple scattering, to being shot into space, to having the ashes made into a piece of jewelry or a walking stick. My personal favorite is the “eco-eternity forest,” in which your cremated ashes are interred under a selected tree in a nature preservation area. Your ashes act as fertilizer for the tree, nourishing it and, over time, becoming a part of it. Not cheap, but not nearly as expensive as a traditional funeral and cemetery burial.

Jones covers all of these options with humor, but thoroughly. She discusses the practicalities, advantages, disadvantages, and costs of each option. She provides links to resources for more information. She also devotes two chapters to communication: notification of friends and family; and obituaries, wills, and record-keeping.

The point she makes throughout the book is that, when you plan ahead and communicate your wishes to your loved ones, you ultimately have control over what happens to you after you die; therefore you can get as creative as you want. Have you ever thought about what your obituary will say about you when you die? Who will be writing it? Why not you?

How do you want to be memorialized? Do you want a traditional church service? Or would you prefer a quiet, private family gathering? Or a raucous party? Who do you want to be there? Who will be in charge of organizing it? If you have to lose a loved one, I can’t think of anything more comforting than having the kind of life celebration that you know he or she truly would have wanted.

Jones provides over forty pages of worksheets to help readers plan the hows and wheres of their final resting places. Once they are complete, she encourages readers to make copies for potential surviving family members and discuss their wishes with them.

Jones takes a lighthearted approach to the issue in order to make it as entertaining and readable as possible under the circumstances, yet she never loses sight of the respect and dignity owed to the dead.

A good companion book to this one is Caring For the Dead: Your Final Act of Love by Lisa Carlson. It delves more deeply into your legal rights, and your survivors’ rights, concerning your final disposition.

Check the WRL catalog for Death for Beginners


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