Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Arsenic and Old Lace

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Arsenic with Austen: A Crime with the Classics Mystery by Katherine Bolger Hyde (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 312 pages)

Professor Emily Cavanaugh is a 21st Century woman who finds herself caught up in the dealings of a sleepy village on the Oregon coast. She’s been widowed for two years, is childless and growing restless with her duties in the Language and Literature Department of Reed College in Portland.

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As would be anticipated in a traditional British mystery by Agatha Christie, Emily receives a piece of formal correspondence from an attorney in Stony Beach, Oregon. It seems her dear Great Aunt Beatrice has died and left her a legacy. What follows is one of the most heart-warming murder mysteries this reviewer has read.

Emily Cavanaugh is summoned to Aunt Beatrice’s funeral and the reading of the will. It seems Emily was fantasizing a modest inheritance when she hoped that the extensive library filled with leather bound books would be hers. Emily spent many summers sitting in that same library reading with the encouragement of her aunt. Clearly, the Victorian mansion, half of the town of Stony Beach and millions of dollars was way beyond her hopeful anticipation.

Yes, there are villains scattered among the townsfolk. How else would there be a mystery for Emily to solve? She also reconnects with her former boyfriend who seemingly dumped her at the end of a summer romance. As with Dame Agatha’s stories, Ms. Hyde leads the reader around leaving a trail of tantalizing clues and misdirection.

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Author Hyde has hit all the right notes in this her debut mystery novel. She weaves in enough credible references to classic literature written by women such as Jane Austen and Emily Bronte to prove her in depth understanding of the genre. While Ms. Hyde is a resident of Santa Cruz County in California, she credits a writer’s retreat on the Oregon coast with inspiring the location of her tale. And, by the way, she is an alumna of Reed College. Let’s hope there will be more enjoyable mysteries from Ms. Hyde in the future.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Arsenic with Austen was released on July 12, 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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The Living is Easy

One for the Money, Two for the Show, Three to Get Ready, and Four to Go!

Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, Edited by Martin Edwards (Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, 288 pages)

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude (Poisoned Pen Press, $12.95, 232 pages)

After the Funeral: A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie (William Morrow, $12.99, 286 pages)

The Monagram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow, $25.99, 302 pages)

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It’s summer and the living is easy; however, dying, not so much. Three classics that have been revived and a new Hercule Poirot tale are easy choices to bring along on vacation. All are British and they provide wonderful examples of the genre. Each has the charm and wit that fans expect.

Poisoned Pen Press of Scottsdale, Arizona, a publishing house dedicated to the mystery genre, has begun a series of rereleases of British crime novels from the golden age of crime writing. The British Library Crime Classics in this review are Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards, and The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude.

Resorting to Murder

The title Resorting to Murder is a play on words as each of the 14 engaging short stories takes place in a vacation/resort setting. The variety of murders is impressive given the theme restriction. The book is easily read several stories at a sitting or parceled out one per evening – depending on the length of the reader’s vacation.

Highly recommended.

Sussex Downs (kindle edition)

The Sussex Downs Murder comes complete with a map of the locations where the action takes place. Superintendent Meredith is called in to investigate when John Rother disappears leaving behind an abandoned car smeared with blood. The tale is full of twists and turns but the criminal responsible for John’s disappearance is no match for Meredith’s smart detecting.

Well recommended.

After the Funeral

In 2013 writer Sophie Hannah was commissioned by Agatha Christie’s family, estate and publishers to write a new Hercule Poirot novel. As a prelude to the release of said novel, Hannah was asked to name her favorite novel featuring Poirot. Her choice was After the Funeral. The rerelease of this book in trade paper includes a foreward by Ms. Hannah and a comprehensive listing of the titles in The Agatha Christie Collection.

As with all Poirot mysteries, the solution isn’t really plausible, rather, it’s the mental acrobatics the reader goes through while following Poirot’s investigation that makes for an enjoyable read. In this tale Cora Lansquentet, a widow, is savagely murdered the day after her brother’s funeral. Her announcement at the funeral that he was murdered sets the stage for the subsequent investigation of her murder. Each of the surviving attendees is a suspect. Never fear, Poirot is on the case, and, of course, he identifies the suspect – albeit after some laborious use of his little gray cells.

Well recommended.

Monogram Murders 3

The physical book is a nod to Agatha Christie’s long history of Poirot novels. The pages inside the front and back covers are vellum and the text pages are deckle edge. Thus, the reader is primed for a classic British mystery.

Poirot dines regularly at a coffee house in his neighborhood. A young woman who is fearful for her life approaches him. Subsequently, Poirot learns of the deaths of three guests at a London hotel.

Hannah employs the locked door, mysterious clue and anxious stranger seeking Poirot’s assistance to launch her take on Christie’s legacy. Readers will not be disappointed as she is clearly up to the task. Poirot’s voice is true and the details of his investigation are highly reminiscent of the classics written by the original author.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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If You’re Feeling Sinister

Dandy Gilver bothersome

Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses: A Mystery by Catronia McPherson (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 304 pages)

‘Alec?’ I said, sitting down in the chair at the desk. It was an oak and leather affair, one leg and four little castored feet, and it was set very low to the floor for Miss Shank’s short stature. I twirled it around and around a few times to make myself comfortable and by the time I had undone the ensuing tangle with the telephone cord, Alec had roused himself and was talking.

The narrator is Dandy Gilver, a fortyish lady detective who lives on a “farm” in Scotland, is happily married and has two sons. Dandy and her partner Alec Osborne are hot on the trail of an English teacher at St. Columba’s School for Girls who has gone incommunicado. The instructor, Fleur Lipscott, happens to be a girlhood friend of Dandy’s. Fleur’s sisters are frantically looking for her, as they have not been in contact for too long a time. This disappearance is not a first. Some deep dark family secrets are being withheld from the detectives making their job difficult.

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The era is post-World War I and the school is located in Portpatrick, Scotland. The author, Catronia McPherson, assures her reader that Portpatrick is indeed a real place as are the other cities and towns in this charming and well-paced mystery. The school is fictional; as well it should be given the remarkable activities and events that take place there.

While seeking assurances that Fleur is well, Dandy and Alec are drawn into the workings of St. Columba’s. Their first bothersome corpse has washed up on shore and the local police aren’t able to identify her. The fishes have made quick work of her face and fingers.

What begins as a picturesque period piece, morphs into a murder mystery that might well take place today. The language, clothing, prejudices and references to the great war keep it grounded in the past but the use of telephones makes it modern.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Agatha Christie lives!” John Lescroart

You can read a review of Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder: A Mystery here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/hammer-to-fall/

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Lost At Sea

A Burial at Sea: A Mystery (Charles Lenox Series) by Charles Finch (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 336 pages)

British mysteries are often set in post-Word War I London or quaint villages (think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series). Here’s a nice change of time and place to the open seas in 1873 aboard Her Majesty’s Ship the Lucy. Former detective and current junior Member of Parliament Charles Lenox has accepted an assignment to travel to Egypt in the hope of uncovering a traitor in the British Intelligence community. Relations between England and France are strained and war seems inevitable. During Lenox’s weeks-long voyage a murder takes place and he is the default person to identify the killer.

Just near the gun room was a small closet with a caged metal door and a large, impressive lock. It held the ship’s spirits, wine and brandy for the captain and the officers, rum for the men’s grog, as well as a bottle or two of harder alcoholic drinks. When ships were foundering or there was a mutiny afoot, sailors were occasionally known to break into it, an offense punishable by hanging.

A Burial at Sea (sharp)

While the story line is important, the portrait painted in words is the star of the book. Charles Finch has done a masterful job of bringing the reader into an era of strict class distinctions. The accuracy of the language of the late 19th Century Victorian Era adds to the immersion of the reader. Nautical expressions and sailing references firmly establish the scenes on the Lucy.

This experience is so far removed from the present day navy that it seems somewhat cozy. Finch’s narrator has a distinct masculine tone; however, there is ample kindness and appreciation expressed throughout the book which makes it appealing for all readers.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Agatha Christie meets Patrick O’Brien… the best in the series to date.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on A Burial at Sea.

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The Case of the Wrong Place

The Magician’s Accomplice: A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation by Michael Genelin (Soho Crime, 336 pages, $25.00)

It’s a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or is it?   Michael Genelin’s third Commander Jana Matinova mystery novel begins by introducing the reader to a charming, if somewhat opportunistic, starving student.   No sooner does the reader take a liking to the young chap, than poof, he’s gone.   Not in the magical, disappearing sense, more like a bang, you’re dead departure.  

The sinister undercurrent starts with the student’s death at breakfast in the dining room of an elegant Slovakian hotel and gains momentum as another murder takes place within hours, this time at the city prosecutor’s office.   The second  murder is by far the most traumatic for the Commander, as her lover (actually, her would-have-been fiance) is the victim of a telephone bomb.

The story is smoothly depicted in flawless English, somewhat reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s style in her Tuppence and Tommy mysteries.   Genelin draws the reader into his scenes with highly cinematic descriptions of the Eastern Europe locales where the action takes place.   The mystery might well be moonlighting as a sophisticated travelogue.   The cafes and their menus reflect the foods and traditions that make each city unique.   The Magician’s Accomplice is also reminiscent of the 1963 film Charade, starring Audrey Hepburn; however, Commander Matinova is no Audrey Hepburn.   Her character aligns better with Cary Grant’s character, for she’s truly a capable spy/law enforcement officer.

There are no gimmicks, or sleight-of-hand tricks, just dogged pursuit, plenty of worn shoe leather, and characters that are generally not what they appear to be.   The author obviously has first-hand knowledge of bureaucracy and law enforcement.   Each agency depicted in the story contains a full complement of the personalities one would expect to encounter, along with their gossip and tight cliques.

Although the settings are a bit exotic, the calm resolve of the main character is welcome and familiar.   This is not because the book is the third in a series; rather, Commander Matinova is the embodiment of today’s serious professional woman.   Society has come to expect her to suppress her raw emotions in the aftermath of disaster and soldier on.   She is able to carry on admirably as she embarks on an odyssey to placate her boss and secretly search for her lover’s killer.   The commander’s unlikely companion is an elderly magician who insinuates himself into her travels and ultimately aids the hunt for the murderer.

The Magician’s Accomplice is a classic police drama and mystery complete with a fine dedication to principles.   It is a joy to read because author Genelin knows how to write, in the very best sense of the word.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.

 

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