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Archive for the ‘Mysteries’ Category

Eye of the Red TsarThe assassination of the Romanovs is re-worked into an exciting period thriller in this series opener by Sam Eastland. The Eye of the Red Tsar is both the title of the book and the nickname for the lead character, a Finn named Pekkala. The novel opens in 1929, eleven years after the death of the Tsar. Pekkala, once Nicholas II’s right-hand man in matters of secrecy and security, has been held in a work camp, kept available to Stalin should the right opportunity present itself. As the book opens, it has: New evidence about that night has come up, and only Pekkala has the inside information to confirm or deny it.

To complicate matters, the man sent to fetch Pekkala from imprisonment is his own estranged brother, a ne’er-do-well now risen in the Soviet bureaucracy. With great reluctance Pekkala is lured to the case, partly by curiosity, partly through the possibility that one of the Romanovs may have survived. But is he just being used to lead Stalin to the Tsar’s never recovered treasure?

It’s a fascinating premise, and Eastland re-creates the atmosphere of the early Stalinist period believably. He alternates between a journey across a strange Russian landscape (one of my favorite bits involved a show town, built to show off the successes of socialism to visitors) and flashbacks to the story of how Pekkala fell out with his brother, came to Tsar Nicholas II’s attention, and then followed him until the fateful night.

Eastland has continued his series through five books to date, following Pekkala’s charmed but difficult life up to WWII times so far. It’s a consistently enjoyable exploration of a time and place in history where one didn’t have to look far for suspenseful twists of fate.

Check the WRL catalog for Eye of the Red Tsar

Or try it as an audiobook on CD

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cemeteryCharlaine Harris is the author of several popular adult fiction series (Sookie Stackhouse, Aurora Teagarden, and the recent Midnight, Texas series).  In this adult graphic novel, Cemetery Girl, she teams up with author Christopher Golden, who has written both adult and teen fiction (Secret Journeys of Jack London), and illustrator Don Kramer, who is known for numerous projects at Marvel and DC Comics.  The team has created an engaging and dark story about a girl who calls herself Calexa Rose Dunhill.

The story opens with the girl being dumped in the cemetery — presumed dead.  When she wakes up a few panels later, she only has fragmented memories of her previous life. It is enough for her to realize someone wanted her dead. She is scared to call the police or even leave the cemetery because she doesn’t know who was after her or why.

While she’s working out how to find food and stay safe, she witnesses a group of young people performing a black magic ritual in the cemetery. In their efforts to bring a friend back from the dead, they kill the friend’s sister as a blood offering. Calexa has to figure out how to tell the girl’s family what happened without putting herself in danger.

The plot moves quickly and is well-illustrated to add a sense of danger to the story. I particularly enjoyed the disjointed images from Calexa’s memories. There is a frustration in not having everything clearly seen that made me feel connected to what Calexa must be feeling.

This is the first in a trilogy.  Looks like Book 2 will be available in October 2015.  I can’t wait!

Check the WRL catalog for Cemetery Girl

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body-finderViolet Ambrose has been hearing sounds, or seeing colors, or smelling smells that others can’t for as long as she can remember.  She calls them “echoes,” and they come from dead things.  Vi’s cat, Carl, helped her figure out that the echo is a unique signature of the thing that died.  That same echo clings to the one that did the killing. Poor Carl got kicked out of the house many times because Vi couldn’t stand the smell attached to the cat after it killed a mouse or a bird.

Violet, for the most part, has become used to the extra sensory information. There was only one time, when she was younger, that the echoes compelled her seek out the source and she found the remains of a young girl.  That changes when a serial killer appears to be hunting in her hometown and Violet finds the hidden remains of another teenager.  She decides to test her abilities to identify the killer — which puts her in danger.

If that’s not enough to complicate a teen’s life, Vi has suddenly noticed her best friend, Jay, in a new way. The awareness speeds up her heart rate and makes her stomach do flips. She’s not sure what changed over the summer, but it’s hard now to just be casual best friends. It’s also tough because other girls have noticed him, too.

The “real life” aspect of school, friendships, first love, and family provide an appealing contrast to Violet’s special abilities. She’s a normal teen with normal problems, who also senses echoes of dead people.  Part of the story is told through the point of view of the killer, which is appropriately creepy, particularly as Violet gets closer to uncovering his identity.

I would recommend this book if you enjoyed teens solving crimes like in The Naturals, by Jennifer Barnes or Virals, by Kathy Reichs.

This is the first in the Body Finders series.

Check the WRL catalog for The Body Finder

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Murder of MagpiesOur week of posts from the Outreach Division continues with this entry, from Ann Marie:

Well, I had the book I was going to write about all picked out but then I read A Murder of Magpies and knew that I had to change my book. A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders is a page-turning, fun and funny mystery set in the publishing world of present-day London.

The heroine of the story is Samantha “Sam” Clair, a single, “middle-aged, middling-ly successful” book editor at the publishing house of Timmins & Ross. The story begins when Sam arrives for work and several strange things happen during her day. The first strange event is when police Inspector Jake Field shows up to speak with her to see if she was expecting a delivery of a package. A bike courier was killed in a hit-and-run accident and his deliveries were missing. Sam’s name was on the courier’s delivery list. Unfortunately Sam has no idea what the missing package could have contained. After a busy day at work, which included playing phone tag with Kit Lovell, one of her authors, the second strange event happens when she arrives home to find out from her neighbors that some workmen tried to access her apartment—workmen Sam didn’t order.

Sam finally gets in contact with Kit Lovell that night. Kit is a gossipy fashion writer whose newest book is an exposé on the death of Spanish fashion designer Rodrigo Alemán and his relationship with the fashion house Vernet. Sam finds out that Kit’s typist might have sent a copy of his manuscript to Sam via the courier who was killed that morning. Kit also discloses that his apartment had been broken into and searched. Kit feels that he is being targeted by someone who wants to stop publication of his book.

The next day, Sam becomes worried when Kit doesn’t show up for a lunch meeting and she grows increasingly frustrated and worried by not being able to get hold of him through the rest of the afternoon. When she still can’t get in touch with him the next day, Sam calls Inspector Field and fills him in on the book, the break-in, and her missing author.  When Inspector Field doesn’t seem very interested in finding her author, Sam decides to do some looking on her own.

It’s all in a day’s work as Sam discovers money laundering schemes, gets pushed down the stairs by someone who broke into her apartment, goes to Paris for a fashion show, and deals with her most successful author’s new book, which seems to need some work in order for it to be another bestseller. Sam gets help in her search for Kit from her glamorous mother, a London tax attorney, Sam’s Goth assistant, Miranda, and even Sam’s reclusive upstairs neighbor, Mr. Rudiger. Also as the investigation goes on, Sam and the Inspector discover that there is definitely romantic chemistry between them. The investigation, though, takes a serious and urgent turn when an unidentified body is pulled from the Thames and until the DNA analysis comes in, the assumption is that the body might be Kit’s.

Sam is comfortable with herself, her job and her life. She’s protective of her friends and while she might be new to the detection business, she’s determined and smart. Fortunately she seems to keep her sense of humor throughout the story and I enjoyed her wise-cracks which she keeps to herself–mostly. I don’t know if there will be more Sam Clair mysteries, but I hope so!

Check the WRL catalog for A Murder of Magpies

Also available in Large Print format

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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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unfortunateMeet Barb Colby and Lily Stanton, longtime friends and heroines of Amanda Filipacchi’s sharp and witty fourth novel, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty. Barb is a costume designer and Lily is an acclaimed pianist. Despite their talents, their lives are defined more by their physical appearance than their accomplishments. In response, Barb and Lily set out to subvert society’s perceptions and expectations of their looks.

Barb Colby is in her late 20s, but she looks like an unattractive 40-year-old with bad teeth and unkempt hair and clothing. Strangers typically regard her with a mix of pity and contempt; however, Barb’s appearance is actually a skillful disguise. In reality, Barb is a stunning beauty, but instead of flaunting her appearance, she hides it because she believes it was responsible for the death of a close friend. Gabriel, a successful chef, killed himself after falling in love with her. In his suicide note he wrote that her beauty had “grown so painful for me to behold.”

Wanting to be loved for who she is and not her beauty, Barb uses her design talents to create a fat suit and a wardrobe of dowdy clothing. Whenever she goes to bars or restaurants with her friends, she makes a point of engaging men in conversation then exposing their shallow views on beauty before removing the costume to reveal her true appearance. Her resolve is tested when she meets a man who may be in love with more than her physical beauty.

Lily Stanton is also in her 20s, but her appearance is very different from Barb’s. Her friend very bluntly describes her as being “extremely ugly—the kind of ugliness that is inoperable.” Lily is deeply in love with a former co-worker named Strad, a fellow musician who’s only interested in dating beautiful women. One afternoon, Strad and Lily attend a recital and he’s so moved by the music he tells her that he could “fall in love with—and marry—any woman who could create music like that.”

Realizing that her talent may be the only way she can attract Strad, Lily resolves to compose music that’s so alluring he has no choice but to fall in love with her. She starts by composing music that will make people desire objects, such as office supplies or books, and soon develops a lucrative career composing music for companies seeking to increase sales through the suggestive power of music. The piece she composes for Strad brings success; however, complications cause her to reconsider her plan.

Barb and Lily are supported in their artistic and personal endeavors by their close friends: Georgia, a successful novelist; Penelope, an aspiring potter who survived a horrific kidnapping; and Jack, a former police officer who rescued Penelope. Collectively, the group is known as the Knights of Creation, and they meet regularly to work on various artistic and literary projects. Gabriel was also a member, and before his suicide he arranged for the group to receive a series of letters. These letters reference Lily’s hopeless crush on Strad and an unsolved murder that was allegedly committed by a member of the group. His final letters warn the group that the killer has planned to murder Strad if Lily doesn’t get over him. The group’s attempt to protect Strad leads to a strange dinner party that serves as his introduction to the Knights of Creation.

Filipacchi’s breezy narrative is pitch perfect and never gets too heavy-handed. Barb and Lily’s attempts to transcend their physical appearances result in provocative and often hilarious situations as they struggle to find love and acceptance for who they are, not how they appear. Several intriguing subplots, including one concerning a missing laptop, help flesh out the secondary characters.

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty succeeds as both a quirky mystery and a meditation on beauty itself.

Check the WRL catalog for The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty.

 

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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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