Tag Archives: A Mystery

Heaven Help Us All

the heavens may fall

The Heavens May Fall: A Novel by Allen Eskins (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 270 pages)

Relative newcomer Allen Eskins has come into his own with The Heavens Must Fall.  It is the third in a series of books that take place in Minnesota, following his highly acclaimed debut, The Life We Bury, and the follow up, The Guise of Another.  In Heavens, detective Max Rupert takes a more prominent role.

Eskins writes lines for Rupert with complete ease.  The other main characters, partner Niki Vang and defense attorney Broady Sanden, are well defined and the pacing of the story is perfect.  The dialogue between and among the characters is natural and feels real.  Nothing is forced and the reader is eager to find out what will happen next.

Jennavieve Pruitt is murdered, presumably by her husband, Ben, a former law partner of Sanden.  But is he guilty or is the District Attorney rushing for a conviction to further his pursuit of a judgeship?  Rupert and Vang are meticulous in their investigation; however, Sanden is steadfast in his defense of Pruitt, his former partner.

In the meantime, the mystery of Rupert’s wife’s death/murder, which haunts the detective from the outset, teases and unexpectedly comes closer to being solved.  Max’s moral center drives this book, and – with a twist or two, the ending satisfies.  All of this fairly screams for a fourth book.  Based on the positive quality of Heavens, this series is far from being tired or retired.

A future romance is not out of the question as Max avenges his wife’s death.  It would not be a stretch to assume that Sanden and the current D.A./future judge, Frank Dovey, will play a role somehow as Rupert’s adventures continue.  Eskens is worth paying attention to, and Rupert is prominent as a fictional, favorite crime fighting hero.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is the superintendent of a public school district north of Chicago. He is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

 

 

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A Six Pack of Mystery Novels

a-death-at-the-yoga-cafe

A Death at the Yoga Cafe: A Mystery by Michelle Kelly (Minotaur Books, $27.99, 261 pages)

What could be more wholesome than a yoga studio/vegetarian cafe in a small English village?  Everyone knows everyone else; Keeley Carpenter, the proprietor of said studio/cafe, is dating Ben Taylor, the local detective.  The bucolic atmosphere in town abruptly shifts when a prominent citizen is found murdered.  Of course Keeley, who is a curious and bold young woman, jumps right in and does some detecting of her own.  It’s a recipe for danger!  This book has a bonus feature.  Scattered among the chapters are instructions on yoga poses.  The most appropriate entry is corpse pose, which is located at the end of the chapter in which the murder is discovered.  Death at the Yoga Cafe is the second book in a series featuring Keeley Carpenter.

Well recommended.

teetotaled

Teetotaled: A Mystery by Maia Chance (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 291 pages) 

The era is the 1920s and the action takes place in and around New York City.  Widowed socialite Lola Woodby and her former cook Berta Lundgren have teamed up to form a business, the Discrete Retrieval Agency.  Lola’s husband died leaving her penniless after years of enjoying the high life.  Their cases have mostly focused on finding lost pets for well-to-do clients.  A high stakes case finds its way to their office/apartment.  A diary belonging to the daughter of Lola’s mother’s best friend must be purloined.  The revelation of corruption, war crimes, envy, greed and determination uncovered by the lady detectives are timeless, yet author Chance makes them fun to read about when mixed with her wry, droll humor.

Highly recommended.

The Champagne Conspiracy: A Wine Country Mystery by Ellen Crosby (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 360 pages)

champagne-conspiracy

This book, the seventh in the Wine Country Mystery series, is heavy on detail regarding grape growing, wine production and family dynasties in present day Virginia and California as well as both locales during American Prohibition.  The lives of many of the characters are interwoven both in the past and the present.  Lucie Montgomery inherited the family estate vineyard in Virginia and she is determined to produce a high quality product.  Her comrade in wine making is Quinn Santori, a fellow with a closely guarded past.  Together they face some rather harrowing scrapes with death while planning the bottling of a sparkling wine, a new addition to their carefully crafted line.  Readers new to Crosby would doubtless appreciate a bit more character introduction.

Recommended.

Buried in the Country: A Cornish Mystery by Carola Dunn (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 324 pages)

buried-in-the-country

The charming fourth installment of the Cornish Mystery series set in the 1970s is an escape to a bucolic area of the United Kingdom where the pursuit of criminals requires the navigational skills of local fixture, Eleanor Trewynn.  Ms. Trewynn is a retired executive of an international nonprofit agency who now gathers donations for a local thrift shop.  Her skills at cross-border negotiation are what lead to involvement in a secret conference regarding apartheid held by a friend in the Commonwealth Relations Department.  Ms. Trewynn’s niece, Detective Sargent Megan Pencarrow, is to provide security at a hotel on the coast.  There are evil spies who want to derail the event.  One crime leads to another and the reader is brought along for a wild ride through the Cornish countryside while the bad guys bumble along back lanes and impassible roads just ahead of the police.

Highly recommended.

The Reek of Red Herrings: A Dandy Gilver Mystery by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books, $26.99, 295 pages)

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This 1930s British murder mystery from Catriona McPherson featuing Dandy Gilver and her partner in detecting Alec Osborne will delight readers.  Dandy and Alec have been working together for eight years; however, the outlandish predicaments these two willingly take on here are by far the best of the series.  Christmas time or not, the two accept a job from Mr. H. Birchfield, an importer and distributor of fish, herring to be precise.  The partial remains of a human have sullied a barrel of his product.  Birchfield wants Dandy and Alec to travel to Banffshire coast and solve the “who” and “why” of this creepy occurrence.  Never mind that Christmas is but a few days away and Dandy will miss celebrating with her husband and sons.  The treacherous cliffs along the seacoast, rain, wind and seriously inbred inhabitants make for ideal subjects of this the fifth in author McPherson’s series.  Be prepared for laughs and groans as she fills the pages with puns and outlandish characters!

Highly recommended.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library: A Mystery by Con Lehane (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 320 pages)

murder-at-the-42nd-street-library

Con Lehane presents the first mystery of his new series featuring Raymond Ambler, a mild mannered librarian at the world famous 42nd Street research library located at 476 Fifth Avenue in New York City.  Ray, as his coworkers refer to him, is the curator of the crime fiction collection.  While the collection is a figment of Author Lehane’s imagination as is Ray’s boss’s office, the rest of the library is accurately depicted in stunning detail.  Who knew that a cold blooded murder could take place within the hallowed halls of the glorious Beau Arts building that is guarded by two fierce lion statues?  The lives of several famous and infamous mystery writers are tangled into a confounding web of murders and past evil deeds.  This is no breezy read because the details matter and not all the clues lead to a convenient solution.

Well recommended.  

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

 

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The First Album, The First Book & more

meetthebeatlesalbumjacket1964full

Let’s suppose you’ve spent a few years in a rock band, The Runners. You haven’t starved, but you’ve just managed to get by in terms of life’s necessities. Finally, the band releases a first album, It’s the Runners! It may not be as big as Meet the Beatles!, but it’s brought you enough income to pay the rent for a year and buy a reliable car. Do you produce Son of It’s the Runners! or something completely different? (Either way the critics are standing by to slam your decision.) Most likely you’ll record something that’s as close as possible to the first album, and wait a while before electing to modify your style, your sound.

This is a roundabout way of explaining why I’m fond of debut novels. The first novel by an author, like a first album, is generally the result of years of preparation and effort. And it’s usually quite obvious in the pages of an initial effort. There’s an earnestness, a feel, a serious energy that’s often lacking in subsequent works. After all, the first book is a “go for broke” product. If it gets published and sells well, the writer has a new career.

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Yet, it seems like what follows for a successful debut novelist is parallel to what happens with the band recording a follow-up record. The author may think, “Why rock the boat if I’ve discovered a winning formula?” Thus, what results is a second novel that’s quite similar to the first, but without the same punch. (“Let’s Twist Again” to “The Twist.”) And it appears that publishers strongly encourage the successful debut novelist to turn out the second book pretty quickly; before the book one buzz wears off. This may be why second novels often start off well in pages 1 to 150 or 200, but conclude with what seems like a rushed and unsatisfying group of pages marked 151 to 350 or 400.

But let’s suppose, for a moment, that the second book is just successful enough. It may not approach the sales of book 1, but it may hit the 80 or 85% level. What happens then? Well, the author may decide to write the same type of book, the same style of story, over and over again for a reading audience willing to accept and purchase what can amount to a type of self-plagiarism. This is not terribly, horribly rare when it comes to authors who achieve mid-range or greater success. In fact, I remember a case not so long ago…

There’s a popular fiction writer whose books sell quite well. And reading one of her books is extremely enjoyable. But if you read any of the other novels she’s manufactured – a term I’m using deliberately – you realize that they are all basically the same story. Only the names have been changed to protect the original characters. So it was not quite shocking to receive an information sheet from her publicist a short while back about an upcoming release: “It’s completely different!” Whew, I thought, it’s about time.

And this is, of course, what happens next with both authors and bands. Eventually, they get tired and worn out with making money by repeating the same old thing. So then they record or write something that’s… “Completely different!” And it’s either viewed as a work of genius (think Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper’s) or as turning their back on their fans, their original audience.

beatles-sgt-peppers-lonely-hearts-club-band

This is when the reviewer-critics attack or praise with their pens, but in my view this is secondary. What truly counts is the judgment of book and record fans/purchasers. They may decide that the more unique a work is, the better it is. Or they may hate something that reads or sounds too “different.” Either way, the “new thing” shouts out that the artist is willing to take a risk because this is what art, what life, is about.

I may be wrong, but I think that if the “new thing” came from the heart (rather than the head) of the artist – and was not simply contrived for commercial purposes, the audience will come to accept and/or love it. And in a very roundabout way, this article is an attempt to explain why I may love a writer’s first book, but not her second, third, or fourth. And it’s an attempt to explain why I might find that she’s regained her voice – her true, instinctive and once-again original form, with her fifth book.

But maybe it’s just me.

Joseph Arellano

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A Confusing Work

shattered-tree

The Shattered Tree: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 304 pages)

The time is 1918 and the place is France. Bess Crawford, AKA Sister Crawford, is working as a British nurse at a casualty center patching up British, Australian and French soldiers who have been wounded while bravely holding back the German army. Paris must not fall to the Germans! The war is nearly over but negotiations are taking way too long to suit most everyone.

The Shattered Tree is the eighth in the remarkable mystery series that gives modern readers a glimpse at the horrors of trench warfare. Bess provides the narrative as she moves quickly from patient to patient while staunching the bleeding from bullet wounds and caring for the dying. Always present is the fear of infection as this war was fought a good decade before the discovery of penicillin.

The first hint of mystery comes when a soldier wearing a tattered uniform is brought for treatment. As he writhes in pain, his cries come out in perfect German. Most of those present are too busy to note. Of course Bess, whose curiosity has landed her in many difficult situations in the past realizes the anomaly and files this information away. Soon thereafter Bess is caught in the fire of a sniper’s rifle and becomes a patient herself.

What ensues is a somewhat confusing series of efforts by Bess and several officers to identify an attacker who makes short work of several people using a knife. An 18-year-old unsolved quintuple homicide that took place outside Paris where Bess is convalescing is also interwoven with her sleuthing to find the German-speaking mystery patient’s identity.

This reviewer read an advance review copy of the book. Perhaps some editing was done to smooth out the segues between events for the final version. (It appears that this was not the case. Ed.) The discussions among the characters that are either helping or misleading Bess as she struggles to recuperate from her bullet and knife wounds can be as baffling as the jumbled plot!

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on August 30, 2016.

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A Puzzle Worth Pondering

Baker Street Jurors

The Baker Street Jurors: A Baker Street Mystery by Michael Robertson (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 260 pages)

A tall, fiftyish man, clean-shaven, with a thin, aquiline nose stepped into line behind Nigel. “Bloody Hell,” he said, “Is this really the jurors’ queue?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Nigel. “It’s enough to make you want to commit a crime of your own, just to get inside and be warm.”

Author Michael Robertson picks up right where we left off with his fifth installment in the Baker Street Mystery Series. Robertson maintains his crisp sense of humor while delivering a puzzle worth pondering. The books are ideal to take along for a weekend in the country or at the shore. [Or to jury duty!] No need to muddle through the travesty that is the 2016 U.S. election campaign season or the seeming endless reports of man’s inhumanity to man broadcast on CNN. A quick trip to London will be a refreshing change even though it, too, deals with murder, although on a small scale.

Reggie Heath, Queen’s Counsel, and his bride, Laura Rankin, are on an extended honeymoon. Brother Nigel Health has decamped from the U.S. and now makes his home in one of the offices at 221B Baker Street, in Marylebone. An official jury summons is in the morning’s mail; however, the person being summoned is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Nigel makes quick work of fashioning the summons into an airplane and sends it out the open office window toward the street below. His own jury summons is within the stack of mail awaiting him and thus begins another engaging look at the British court system, albeit from the perspective of the jury rather than Reggie’s Queen’s Counsel view.

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The jury panel members and alternates, of which Nigel is one, endure unusual circumstances and even great peril as they work their way through the evidence presented by the prosecution in the case against Liam McSweeney, a celebrated cricket player accused of murdering his wife. The book is definitely an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. That’s enough of the plot. No need to spoil the fun. Great fun.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on July 19, 2016.

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(Not Quite) By The Numbers

Crooked Numbers Amazon

Crooked Numbers: A Raymond Donne Mystery (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 320 pages)

Tim O’Mara’s Crooked Numbers, the second in the Raymond Donne mystery series, follows a very familiar – perhaps too familiar – path for those who read his debut novel Sacrifice Fly.

Donne is a former police officer turned public school teacher in Brooklyn. He had to leave the force when injured in the line of duty but just can’t get the cop out of him.

In Crooked Numbers, a young kid with a promising future, Doug Lee, is killed. Lee’s mother approaches Donne for help, and soon thereafter another teenager turns up dead and yet another end up in the hospital. Donne can’t fight his instincts and springs into action. Similar to the storyline in Sacrifice Fly, he becomes more valuable than the actual police in solving the mystery and catching the bad guys.

Well known characters permeate the scene – Uncle Ray, also a former cop; Allison, the love-interest newspaper reporter; and Muscles, the physical therapist who pushes Donne to return to normal functioning all reappear.

Crooked Numbers back Amazon

O’Mara’s writing is solid, and Donne is generally an interesting fellow. But there isn’t a lot of intrigue in this story that would move it into the page turner category. It is good, but perhaps a bit of a sophomore slump. Odds are that the third installment will bounce back with a little more needed oomph.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Oddly, none of Tim O’Mara’s books are available in trade paperback form.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Pop Fly

Sacrifice Fly A Mystery

Sacrifice Fly: A Mystery by Tim O’Mara (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 320 pages)

“Noontime, and I’m still pushin’ myself along the road, the darkest part
Into the narrow lanes, I can’t stumble or stay put…” Bob Dylan, “I and I”

O’Mara Connects with Sacrifice Fly

Tim O’Mara’s debut novel Sacrifice Fly is one of the better mystery novels this reviewer has read in recent years.

Raymond Donne is a Brooklyn school teacher and former cop who becomes entangled in the disappearance of one of this students, Frankie Rivas, and his sister when their father is murdered. Donne, whose police career ended due to a freak injury, can’t resist his innate urges to play detective when he is disappointed with the actions of the men in blue. Donne gets in over his head, making for enough drama that his uncle, the chief of detectives, has to get involved to help bail him out.

The best aspect of the novel is the consistency of storytelling and voice from start to finish, which is not easy to pull off. The only blip here is the incident when Donne is on a date at a police gathering and lets some of his blue machismo surface unnecessarily. This is out of character for him and does not seem to fit.

Frankie is billed as a baseball phenom whose “way out” of the neighborhood is a scholarship to a local private high school baseball power that Donne helped him secure. However, this does not actually have much to do with the story, so any reader expecting a story focusing on baseball will likely be let down.

Sacrifice Fly back cover

The story is told without pretense and it works. The reader gets a happy ending, though Donne himself is left dangling with the loose ends of his relationships and physical rehabilitation still in limbo, which screams for a sequel.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Tim O’Mara’s novels have only been released in hardback and Kindle and Nook Book editions, not in trade paperback versions.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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