Tag Archives: mystery

November’s reading…

The only thing I read in full was a re-read of Jilly Cooper’s Players.   I first read the book years ago, and found a used copy a couple of years ago at a library sale.  It’s one of those books that has not aged well IMO.  It’s very much a product of its time (late 80s/early 90s), with a very specific setting and characters (English monied set and wannabes).  It felt extremely dated in the way that episodes of Dallas, Dynasty, and the like (80s soap operas about wealthy people) would be.  One of the romance storylines was actually kind of squick-inducing.  Eh, into the bin as part of The Great Book Purge of 2013.

Also in November, I read more of Garry Disher’s Whispering Death, which I liked.  But I didn’t finish it until yesterday, so it goes into December’s book count.

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Latest victims of The Great Book Purge

T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton.  This book had a $1 sticker on it, and I’m pretty sure I picked it up from a B&N remainder bin.  I used to read Grafton regularly and she was an autobuy through K but then she sort of fell off my radar for a variety of reasons related to the publishing industry rather than the books themselves.  This installment included the POV (3d person) of the Bad Guy, which was notable for the series.  The pace felt extremely slow to the point that I set the book aside a couple of times and probably wouldn’t have bothered to finish it in other circumstances.

Sacred by Dennis Lehane.  Why haven’t I read more by him?  Really liked this early installment of the Kenzie-Gennaro series.  And it’s a UBS find based on the handwritten price on the inside flap.


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Chelsea Cain & Laura Lippman

Possibly of interest to mystery fans: last week’s podcast at Bitch Media includes interviews or other participation with Chelsea Cain and Laura Lippman. 😀

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What I think I know

A mystery author I’ve enjoyed in the past has a new book out, but I’m wibbling about buying a copy.  While I like the author’s voice and style, the set up of the novel seems unlikely and inconsistent with the character as previously established.

The narrator and main character is not a nice person.  She’s a violent woman who has seen and done some brave, daring, crazy things.  As established in earlier books, she has little or no respect for formal law enforcement and is prone to taking “justice” into her own hands in the form of execution.  I have no problem with these things in the context of those books.  But I’m supposed to believe that she is now an FBI agent?  And that a lot of rules were bent to let her become one because she was such a desirable candidate?

That’s just…stretching the bounds of credulity a little far for me.  I’m having a hard time imagining her passing the psych evaluations at minimum.  Beyond that…the FBI agents I’ve known (not many and not well but through work) may be utter badasses beneath their buttoned-down exteriors but they aren’t violent drunks with enough daddy and anger issues to fill a steamer trunk to the brim.

Eh, too many other books out there to read.  Maybe later.  Or maybe not.

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Adding ages up

Just started a Victorian-set mystery by a new-to-me author. The main character, readers are told, is “perhaps forty”. His best friend and childhood companion is a lady “just past thirty”.

That seems a little odd. Would a young boy be best friends with a girl nearly ten years younger? Later in life perhaps but as a boy?

Then readers are told that the MC’s older brother had been in love with her as a young man, after the MC left Harrow but before Oxford.

If the MC is nearly 10 years older, his older brother would be more. Would an older-than-18 year old ever be in love with an 8 year old?

Or is the narrator being tactful about a lady of a certain age?

Color me confused.

Add to that the premise of the investigation (the lady – a countess by marriage – being close with a housemaid who had left her service) and I’m at the tipping point for DNF’ing this book.

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Added to the TBR

The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Ericksson.  Swedish thriller.  I wasn’t planning on buying this but the trade paperback was on sale for $9.99 (plus 10% off).

The Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch.  Victorian mystery.  Same as above.

Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George.  Paranormal YA mystery, first of a series.


Realized that the thing I loved best about Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series is the very distinct voice of the narrator and its very specific sense of place:  the books are jammed full of the history and geography of London, and Peter is a Londoner born and bred.  It’s urban fantasy and one review calls it a cross between Harry Potter and CSI, which is kind of true but also not, because it’s really unlike anything else I’ve read. (Not that I’ve read that widely.)  Magic exists next to mundane, as in Harry Potter, but it’s a different type of magic-work; and to call what Peter and his governor, Nightingale, do forensics is really not right — they are detectives, the same as other detectives, just using slightly different means.  Still, I love the series.



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Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel

Translation (c) 2011 by Erik J. Macki, Tara F. Chase

Published in the US by Pegasus, a Simon & Schuster imprint

Wandering around Barnes & Noble over the weekend, I gathered up several books to check out and possibly buy.  Most of the books I picked up were on my “check out” list, but the cover and title of this one caught my eye.  Even before I read the summary, the quote from Camilla Lackberg sold me on the book.  (It just happens that this is the only book I bought — the others are going to be library books.)

An online flirtation can have horrific consequences, as Detective Inspector Louise Rick discovers when she is called to an idyllic Copenhagen neighborhood where a young woman has been left bound and gagged after a profoundly brutal rape attack.  Susanne Hansson met her rapist on a popular dating website; reading the assailant is trolling the site for his next target, Louise is determined to cut hi off at the pass.  But then a new victim is found — dead this time — and the case becomes even more complex when Susanne attempts suicide.  From scanning seemingly innocent singles’ profiles to exploring a digital window on the city’s dark and dangerous nightlife, to understanding a troubled mother-daughter relationship, Louise races to uncover the shocking truth behind the crimes.

Call Me Princess is an enjoyable, quickly-paced procedural novel.  It’s a thriller, in the sense that rapist-killer is being hunted, but it didn’t feel oppressive in the way that thrillers often can.  The material — violent rape and the ramifications, along with the difficulty of investigating and prosecuting the crime — is heavy and dark, yet the books doesn’t ever bog down.  Blaedel balances Rick’s personal observations and involvement in the case with the procedural aspects, along with what’s going on in her personal life.

I thought the subject matter was very timely and current.  Most people I know, single, divorced, widowed, everyone who has been uncoupled for any period time in the last decade or so, has eventually tried online dating; among the women, security/risk of it is something they are extremely conscious of, especially after reading horror stories in the news (because of course the Very Bad Dates get press but the average or good dates do not).  Blaedel uses Rick’s personal life as a reflection point for the dating scene generally — she feels safe, but is she? — and also the online dating experience of another character as a foil to the victims’ suffering and the online trolling Rick does in a professional capacity.  It works very well, I thought, the triangulation of the failed online date, the apparently successful online date, and the apparently successful not-online relationship.

Blaedel’s website (in Danish) includes a booklist that places Call Me Princess as second in the Rick series, so I’m curious about the degree of involvement/development of other characters in the first and subsequent books.  The other book available in English, Only One Life, is actually the third book of the series.  I hope all the books get translated eventually, particularly the first one. (Why do publishers translate and publish series out of order?  It’s frustrating for mildly OCDish people like me who really need to read series in order.)

I’ll definitely be reading more from this author, as quickly as it’s translated and published in English.


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SBD: two mysteries read

On the reading front, I finished not one but two mysteries in the last couple of days.

The first book was Laurie R. King’s The Language of Bees, a Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery.  This is not a series I’d read before and I had no idea what to expect of it.   My takeaway:  the series is not for me.  I was vaguely squicked when the narrator revealed her age (24) and Holmes’ (mid 60s), after noting that she first met him and was an apprentice of sorts from the time she was 14 or 15.  Okay, I’m sure the earlier books walked through the development of their relationship in a way that assuages any concern, yet I felt disturb by the pairing given the age gap.  Beyond that, the book was grindingly dull.  The pacing was extremely slow, and the narrative full of telling rather than showing.  The ending (cliffhanger + series bait) was disappointing as well.  Are readers supposed to find Mary Russell to be an intrepid adventurer?  Maybe, but she seemed somewhat Mary Sue-ish to me.

Followed by Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter.  This is a Sweden-set mystery first published in 2005, translated to English and published in the UK in 2010. (Coming to the US in 2012.)   A child is found drowned in the small community of Fjallbacka, and detective Patrik Hedstrom is assigned to find the killer.  The narration is all third person, with different POV threads, including a thread from the 1920s following the titular stonecutter, which for some time does not seem to have relevance to the plot.  (It does, of course.)  I liked this book, and guessed whodunnit fairly early on despite not really understanding the relevance of the historical snippets threaded through the book.  Maybe not as much as I like Jo Nesbo’s work, but I would definitely read more from Lackberg.



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Recently read

Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen

Meet Sarah and David.

Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they’re on the verge of divorce and going to couples’ counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things — the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that there counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client’s throat.

Meet the zombies.

Now Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.  But just because there are zombies doesn’t mean your other problems go away.  If the zombies don’t eat their brains, they might just kill each other.

This book has been in my TBR for a year.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I bought the book at Browseabout Books last time I was in town, looking for a fun read for the beach, but then didn’t read it.  I keep moving it from the coffee table in the living room to the short stack of books that I mean to read in the near future, which I brought along with good intentions.  MwZ is a quick, fluffy read, for all that the blurb is pretty dour, what with the looming divorce and zombie problems.  It works as UF, as long as  you don’t ask for in depth characterization or world building.  Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer might like the series.  Despite the violence of the book, which seemed cartoonish rather than realistic, it works as a light read. But I don’t feel any particular urge to pick up the next book of the series, Flip This Zombie.  Zombies really aren’t my thing — too young exposure to Night of the Living Dead via a teenaged babysitter who had no grasp of what’s appropriate for an 8 year old.


New York to Dallas by JD Robb

It was one of Eve Dallas’s earliest takedowns back in her uniform days. A monster named Isaac McQueen had been abducting young victims and leaving them scarred in both mind and body.  Thanks to Eve, he wound up where he belonged, removed from civilized society in Rikers. But he’s not behind bars anymore.

After his escape, McQueen has two things in mind. One is to take up where he left off, preying on the young and innocent — when necessary, with the help of a female partner all too willing to be manipulated and to aid and abet his crimes.  His other goal: to get revenge on teh woman who stopped him all those years ago, now a high-profile lieutenant in the NYPSD and married to one of the city’s richest men.

Commanding Eve’s attention with a chilling and brazen crime, McQueen sets off the chase — forcing Even down a road marked with blood and tears, a road that eventually leads southwest to Dallas, Texas, the home Eve fled long ago.  And each new twist brings her closer to the harrowing memory of when she wasn’t a hardened detective but a vulnerable girl just like McQueen’s innocent prey.  As her husband, Roarke, tries to rescue her from the nightmares that claw at her mind, and her partner, Peabody, doggedly works to support her, Eve must confront — and call upon — the darkest parts of her own soul in order to survive.

I’ve been reading JD Robb’s books since they were issued in paperback, long before it was widely known that JD Robb was a pseudonym.  I think I’ve read all of the books, although I may have missed some of the novellas that are published in anthologies with other authors.  I no longer autobuy Roberts’ single titles or series, but I do still autobuy the Eve Dallas “In Death” books. (Can they still be called “In Death” books if the titling convention has changed?)  The last book worked as a procedural for me, but a great deal of the personal bits felt stale; the book before felt entirely recycled to me.  Of course, the series is now at 32 books plus novellas, so re-using some plot points is perhaps to be expected?

NYtD was NOT recycled, although it did have Dallas confronting someone she’d caught, like in one of the early novella (“Midnight in Death” is the novella taking place over Boxing Day through New Years with nemesis David Palmer).  But it was still pretty predictable (IMO) to anyone who’d read the series, especially with the return to Dallas and revisiting Eve’s personal issues.  I guessed very early about the big shocking thing that occurred about half or two thirds of the way through the book; I’m not sure if it was just a function of familiarity with the series or Robb telegraphing what was coming.  While the relocation to Dallas was necessary, the lack of interaction with Mavis, Feeney, Peabody, etc., really made the book lack for me.  While other readers read for Eve/Roarke, I read despite Roarke; while I appreciate the reversal of gender roles between them, I find Roarke’s omnipresence to be oppressive.

Wow, that sounds pretty negative, and New York to Dallas wasn’t a bad book.  I think, though, that it may be time for me to take a hiatus from reading the series so I can return to it with a less jaundiced eye.


Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter, and he’s a master of his profession.  But one career simply can’t support his luxurious lifestyle and his wife’s fledgling art gallery.  At an art opening one night he meets Clas Greve, who is not only the perfect candidate for a major CEO job, but also, perhaps, the answer to his financial woes: Greve just so happens to mention that he owns a priceless Peter Paul Rubens painting that’s been lost since World War II — and Roger Brown just so happens to dabble in art theft. But when he breaks into Greve’s apartment, he finds more than just he painting.  And Clas Greve may turn out to be with worst thing that’s ever happened to Roger Brown.

I didn’t realize that Nesbo had a stand-alone book coming out until AvidMysteryReader blogged about it.  I’ve only read a couple of his Harry Hole books so far.  This one…is different.  It’s suspense but not a procedural.  Its narration is extremely different from the Hole books — all from a single POV, told in first person by Roger Brown.  Which colors all the action in the book, of course.  Roger is full of hubris, yet desperate and somewhat pathetic, dancing on the edge of disaster in so many ways.  On one hand, he’s such an asshat (IMO) that it’s hard to want him to survive the challenges he’s presented with.  On the other hand, it’s fascinating to watch him lurch from disaster to safety back to near disaster and again to relative safety.


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Death Trick

Death Trick by Richard Stevenson

I picked up a copy of this e-book after reading Sunita’s post on historical authenticity and reader resistance.  Death Trick is a mystery set within the gay subculture of Albany in 1979; it’s the first of a series of mysteries with Donald Strachey, a private investigator, as protagonist.  The books were written in the late 70s and early 80s, and have recently begun to be re-issued through MLR Press.

Observations about the book as object:

Has MLR offended the cover gods?  Because their covers are bad as a rule and this one is particularly heinous with the coloring and the bad photoshopping.

The formatting was pretty wonky as I read on the Kindle app for iPhone:  changing font sizes, misplaced syllable breaks, etc.  I can only hope it’s better when read via other apps or readers or in other electronic formats.

Summary of the plot:

Billy Blount is wanted for murder – his trick of the night was found dead in bed, and Billy is the most likely suspect.  Except he’s disappeared.  Donald Strachey is contacted by the Blounts, a monied family, to find their son.  Why contact him when the police are looking for their son already?  Strachey has an entrée into places the police don’t:  he’s gay, and thus is more likely to get responses from Billy’s circle of friends than the police.

Using the names listed in Billy’s little black book, first names all of them, Strachey pieces together what happened the night of the murder, and also how the murder connects to other attacks on gay men and Billy’s history as a confused boy and then vehemently out and politically active young man.

What did I think?

Death Trick, in addition to being a good procedural novel, is a fascinating observation of the manifestations of homophobia of that time period:  violence to be feared from people outside the community, even (especially?) the police; the common belief that homosexuality was an illness that could or should be cured; and the sheer volume of insults, both intentional, accidental, and institutional, that gay men and women lived with at the time.  It also sketches in the detail of a certain lifestyle of young(ish) gay men of that time.  As Sunita noted, the period in which this book was set was post-Stonewall but pre-AIDS, a narrow slice of time of the swinging 70s when anything went.

Don is an interesting character.  He’s a trained investigator by profession, relatively recently divorced, and in a fairly stable relationship.  He’s being pressed by practicality (needing the job and the paycheck from the Blounts) but still manages to be a Robin Hood for his community in some ways – squeezing money out of them for gay causes, carefully circumventing the “treatment” they have arranged for their son in lieu of imprisonment.

Enjoyed the book very much and thought the mystery was very well done.  All the clues were there from the beginning, but I didn’t put them together until it was almost too late.

Re: historical authenticity, in some ways this setting is as alien to me as a book set in 1812, in terms of the pervading modes of behavior.  Having come of age in the AIDS era, the easy, open approach to unprotected sex with random strangers without any concern for disease or health risk, is utterly foreign to me. As I read, I had to remind myself that functionally, Strachey had no reason to concerned about long-term health effects of random encounters.

FYI, several Donald Strachey mysteries have been made into movies or TV movies.  I’m not sure which books the DVDs correspond to, but I’ve got a couple of them in the Netflix queue.


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