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Archive for the ‘Mysteries’ Category

DeathWoreWhite

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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maronReaders who enjoy police procedurals and are looking for stories of justice in the New South will find a lot to enjoy in Margaret Maron’s Judge Deborah Knott series. Maron sets her books in contemporary North Carolina (like fellow writer Michael Malone). Over the course of the series, Judge Knott has to address the same problems and concerns—racial and social divides, economic inequality, etc.—that face Malone’s Police Chief Cuddy Mangum. Maron does not shy away from addressing challenging issues in contemporary society.

The problems that Judge Knott faces are often rooted in the evils of the past. Family and community play important roles in both the life of Judge Knott and in the stories. Maron’s novels are straight ahead mysteries, with engaging characters and interesting plots. This is an excellent series for readers interested in contemporary crime writing, issues in the New South, or police procedurals. Start with Bootlegger’s Daughter.

Check the WRL catalog for Bootlegger’s Daughter.

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bridesmaidA man discovers there’s more to his girlfriend than meets the eye in The Bridesmaid, Claude Chabrol’s adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s 1989 psychological thriller.

Philippe Tardieu (Benoît Magimel) lives in a small French city with his mother, Christine (Aurore Clément), and younger sisters, Sophie (Solène Bouton) and Patricia (Anna Mihalcea). He’s begun a promising career as a contractor and frequently offers support and advice to his family.

As the film opens, the family is in a period of transition: Sophie is engaged and Christine is dating Gérard Courtois (Bernard Le Coq), a recently divorced businessman. Eager to make a good impression, Christine invites her children to dinner at Gérard’s home and gives him an unusual present from the family’s garden – a bust of the Roman goddess Flora. The dinner goes well, but Gérard abruptly moves away, leaving behind the statue and a heartbroken Christine. Shortly after Gérard’s departure, Philippe, who never wanted to part with the statue, returns to his house to retrieve Flora.

At Sophie’s wedding, Philippe meets bridesmaid Stéphanie “Senta” Bellange (Laura Smet). Although they exchange little more than pleasantries during the ceremony, Senta follows Philippe home, where she declares her love for him and tells him that he’s her destiny. Beguiled by her intensity and her uncanny resemblance to Flora, Philippe begins an intense and passionate affair with the mysterious Senta.

In the days that follow, Philippe gets an intriguing, and occasionally unsettling, glimpse into his new girlfriend’s eccentric world. She claims to be a theatrically trained actress who’s worked in film, but Philippe is unable find a single play on her bookshelf. Her family owns an elegant mansion yet she prefers to live in the basement. She lavishes him with love and attention but she’s possessive and has a quick temper.

Senta also has a macabre fascination with death; as their relationship deepens, she suggests that they prove their love by killing a stranger. Philippe is initially horrified at the request and believes she would never actually kill someone to prove her love for him. Nevertheless, he brings her a newspaper article about an unsolved murder and tells her he’s the killer, hoping this will satisfy her. When Senta follows with a detailed account of a murder she’s committed, Philippe begins to wonder if his girlfriend is simply acting out a morbid fantasy or if she’s really a killer.

In The Bridesmaid, Phillipe and Senta’s desires and the compulsions that drive them are key elements of the plot and Chabrol teases them out slowly and methodically. The film moves at a deliberately unhurried pace, with much of the action taking place off-screen. This is a clever way of highlighting the ambiguous nature of Senta and her possible crimes; she’s eccentric and tells Philippe a number of outrageous stories, but is she a cold-blooded killer? The leads are well-cast. Benoît Magimel brings charm and sincerity to the role of Philippe while Laura Smet’s cool intensity hints at the darkness that lies underneath Senta’s declarations of love for Philippe.

The Bridesmaid was Chabrol’s second film version of a Rendell novel. In 1995, he released La Cérémonie, a chilling adaptation of her mystery A Judgment in Stone (1977). Although The Bridesmaid is a bit more understated than La Cérémonie, it is an equally effective adaptation of Rendell’s work.

The Bridesmaid is in French with English subtitles.

Check the WRL catalog for The Bridesmaid

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vanishingVanishing Girls is an engaging, fast-paced new Young Adult fiction by Lauren Oliver, author of Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy.

Dara and Nick seem like pretty typical sisters. They love each other; they hate each other. They are jealous of each other; they protect each other.  Anyone who has a sister (or three, like me!) could relate to a lot of the family dynamics. Toss in the extra pressure from high school–the gossips, the parties, the hookups–and Nick finds the relationship with her sister to be especially challenging.

The story is told in terms of “before” and “after.”  Before is anything that happened with Dara and Nick prior to a major car accident. Dara was popular, a little wild, a little out of control. Nick was the good girl, studious, quiet, and competent in picking up the pieces after Dara drank too much or got hurt in a relationship.

After, of course, is what happened after the accident.

Oliver weaves the Before and After parts together to reveal some surprising truths about their relationship with each other and with their best friend, Parker. I don’t want to reveal too much because one of the things I loved about the book was the unexpected plot twist.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who liked Gone Girl or Before I Go to Sleep.

Check the WRL catalog for Vanishing Girls

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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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