Tag Archives: red herrings

Murder in the Library

murder manuscript roomMurder in the Manuscript Room: A 42nd Street Library Mystery by Con Lehane (Minotaur Books, 320 pages, $25.99)

I tend to avoid mysteries for a number of reasons.  Let me go over them here:

  1. Most mysteries tend to feature too many characters.  One needs a flow chart to keep track of them.
  2. Most mysteries have too many quirky characters.  Why are these characters stranger than the ones in most novels?
  3. Most mysteries have too many red herrings.
  4. Most mysteries go on too long before the mystery in question is solved.  And then it happens far too quickly (e.g., 305 pages detailing the story, which is wrapped up at warp speed in the last 10 to 15 pages).
  5. Most mysteries have too much dialogue and not enough narrative exposition (scene setting and action).

Despite all of this, I found Murder in the Manuscript Room to be quite engaging.  Con Lehane offers a unique premise – someone is not only killing in the New York City Public Library, but in the rare manuscripts room.  Why?  Why there?  Why in that room?

I often find myself not caring about the solution to the crime at the center of a mystery novel.  However, this time I wanted to know the outcome.  What made the read more enjoyable than most mysteries for me is that author Lehane has a bit of a clipped style.  He does not overload the reader with facts and details; instead, I found that sometimes he leaves things out.  Every now and then, in fact, I wondered if I had skipped a page or two because of his conciseness.  (He sometimes, to use a legal phrase, assumes facts that are not in evidence.)

Lehane also throws in a bit of a romance and a variation on the hard-boiled New York City cop.  Well done!

Lehane basically has a unique tone as a writer.  I like it.

Now I look forward to reading the earlier book in the series, Murder at the 42nd Street Library, and I hope I’m sent a copy of Lehane’s next work.

Me, looking forward to reading a mystery…  Imagine that.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.  This book was released on November 21, 2017.

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Four on the Floor

Four British Mysteries featuring Inspector Banks by Peter Robinson.

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Peter Robinson is an author who has been busy creating an engaging series of mystery novels since 1987. He’s wildly popular and yet, somehow this reviewer has missed out on the entertaining Inspector Alan Banks series. Enter a selection sent by the publisher containing the most recent work, When the Music’s Over (#23), and two trade paper versions of previously released books, In a Dry Season (#10) and In the Dark Places (#22).

What followed was a marathon session of immersion into this series. The bonus was finding a dated advance reader’s copy of Bad Boy (#19) that had been shelved in our library since 2010! Author Robinson is a master at bringing the reader into the atmosphere of his tale. City or country, each is thoroughly believable. Music also performs a role in setting the pace of the action as well as giving the reader a sense of his characters’ tastes and temperaments.

Robinson often develops two strong plot lines that converge in the solution to the mystery/murder case being investigated. These plot lines can be set in the past and the present, or simultaneously occurring the present. Of the four books I’ve read, all have been primarily located in London and rural areas of England with some travel to other countries.

The characters one comes to know and appreciate are: Inspector Alan Banks – later in the series he’s Detective Superintendent Banks; Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot – Banks’ sidekick and onetime love interest; Banks’ daughter, Annie, who ages as the series progresses; and various members of the police squads wherever Banks is assigned.

The main crime topic is always murder, usually with a side dish of criminal enterprises including kidnapping, drug sales, and general mayhem. As one would expect, there are ample red herrings to keep the reader working along with Banks, Cabbot, et al.

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In a Dry Season: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $14.99, 442 pages)

In a Dry Season opens with a prologue dated 1967. A woman who has been recently widowed has a secret past. She travels to the town where she grew up, Hobbs End, which is now at the bottom of a reservoir. Next, the story shifts to present day (1999) where a young boy is exploring the ruins of Hobbs End that have been recently exposed due to a drought. The boy, much to his horror, unearths a skeleton.

What follows is a British police procedural complete with the attitudes toward female detectives prevalent in that era. Three well-developed plot lines provide the reader with a most engaging read.

Highly recommended.

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Bad Boy: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $25.99, 352 pages)

Bad Boy features Tracy Banks, at this time a young adult, who is distancing herself from her father. Tracy is working at a dead end job after doing poorly on her college exams. Roommate Erin Doyle is not much better off in her waitressing job; although she does have an attractive boyfriend who gives her gifts and shows Erin a good time. Jaff, the boyfriend, has no visible means of support – hence he’s most likely the bad boy of the book’s title.

The young women and their respective families have been friends for many years. All the normal life that went before is horribly derailed by misguided acts that result in consequences that neither girl could have possibly anticipated. The tale brings the reader with Annie Cabbot and Alan Banks as they traverse the English countryside hunting for Tracy and Jaff.

Highly recommended.

In the Dark Places: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $14.99, 336 pages)

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In the Dark Places has the most convoluted and intricate plot lines of the four books I read. Inspector Banks and his team are challenged by several peculiar disappearances and subsequent murder discoveries. Their best detecting skills are needed when a young man goes missing and a truck driven by a seasoned driver tumbles off a slick and twisting road during a hailstorm killing the driver and tossing his cargo onto the steep hillside below the road.

DNA, cell phone records and GPS tracking are heavily relied upon in order to crack the multiple crimes committed by a devious and thoroughly ruthless mastermind whose obsession with money powers his actions. Author Robinson’s smooth writing allows the reader to be engaged while navigating the plot developments that are clever and even subtly misleading.

Well recommended.

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When the Music’s Over: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $25.99, 421 pages)

When the Music’s Over is a slowly developing police procedural that follows two cases. The first is a cold case involving the rape of vulnerable underage teens perpetuated by a highly successful man in show business who is now in his mid-eighties. The second is the discovery of a brutally murdered white teen whose life was ended on a country road after being brutally attacked by men in a van.

The two cases are simultaneously investigated; the cold case is assigned to DS Alan Banks and the teen murder is assigned to DI Anne Cabbot. Although the exploitation of teen girls is the common theme of the cases, that’s where the similarity ends. A rich white man and a group of scheming Pakistani men could not be more dissimilar in their social standing. Regardless, the end justifies the means for both.

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This, the most recent of the series, tends to develop at a painstaking pace for nearly half the book. Once the groundwork has been completed, the action picks up and the reader is rewarded with some serious detective work involving bravery and solid instincts. Caution, this tale is not for the faint of heart.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

When the Music’s Over was released on August 9, 2016.

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Hammer to Fall

Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder: A Mystery by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur, $24.99, 304 pages)

Dandy Gilver is a proper lady living in Scotland during the 1930s.   She is also a detective married to a respectable nobleman and the mother of two sons.   Dandy is the narrator for this series of remarkably detailed and charming period pieces.   Unsuitable Day is the latest in the series written by Catriona McPherson, who was born in Scotland and now resides in Davis, California.

Readers who delight in location details, period pieces and wicked humor are the audience for this book.   There are red herrings, plot twists, gruesome murders and a bit of class warfare that make each page an experience in itself.   Author McPherson’s writing is dedicated to immersing the reader in all things Scottish and particularly those of a small nature.

Perfect escapism is rarely presented in a murder mystery.   There are usually jumps in the story line that create ambiguities to throw the reader off the trail of the killer.   Being thrown off in that way has a tendency to break the spell.   Unsuitable Day goes in the other direction.   There are so many specifics and events that the reader is transported straightaway to the other side of the ocean and into the past.   This reviewer lost track of time during the reading of the book.   Perhaps that’s due to the lack of technology in the story, or maybe it’s the fascinating details related to running a department store in post-World War I.   Regardless, the escape happens and not only will future episodes be welcome, maybe a bit of catching up with Dandy’s past escapades is in order.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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I’m Sorry

The Confession: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 344 pages)

His voice was hoarse, but still recognizable.   “Damn it, Morrison, there’s nothing to confess.   I just need to talk to someone.”

In The Confession, the mother and son writing team known as Charles Todd delivers the 14th episode in the evolution of Inspector Ian Rutledge, the well-respected Scotland Yard detective.   Rutledge is continuing to transition from a World War I shell-shocked soldier back into his civilian life.   Understandably, such a process is open-ended.   To make matters more complicated, Rutledge has the ghost of a fallen comrade lodged in his subconscious.   From time to time this fellow enters his current thought process with unsolicited advice and observations.

The presenting case involves an unsolicited confession to a murder; however, proving the confessor’s guilt or innocence proves to be a challenge that even Rutledge finds a bit overwhelming.   The plot becomes a bit crowded with confusing names and relationships.   Adding to the confusion are the many trips Rutledge makes between London and a small seaside village in Essex.   The characters are not who you think they are – a reasonable device considering this is a mystery.

Regardless of the red herrings, multitudes of characters and the era when the tale takes place, the basic theme ties to the presence of evil which knows no time limit.   Evil is contrasted sharply with the values Rutledge holds sacred and dear.   Along the way the reader experiences the overwhelming impact of group mentality and shared secrets.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Todd serves up plenty of period detail and plot twists, but the real attraction here is Rutledge, a shrewd, dedicated detective grappling with the demons of his past.”   Booklist

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Puppy Love

New Tricks: A Novel by David Rosenfelt (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 320 pages; also available as a Mass Market Paperback for $7.99)

You are in for a doggy treat – not to be confused with Milk Bone biscuits.   Author David Rosenfelt is a master of timing, understatement and spoofing.   This Andy Carpenter novel, New Tricks, is an all-around good read; a mystery complete with an attorney who has a reputation for defending dogs (of the canine variety), a temperamental and outspoken judge nicknamed Hatchet and a lady police chief from Wisconsin who just happens to be the attorney’s long-distance girlfriend.   The cast of characters is enhanced by a friend who communicates with the attorney by singing the lyrics of popular songs.   The center of attention is Waggy, an eager and energetic Bernese puppy whose ownership is in dispute.

An exploding mansion with collateral damage that murders the owner is the attention-grabbing action that marks the beginning of the mystery story.   The plot twists, turns and then doubles back on itself.   There are plenty of red herrings, hidden motives, puns and double entendres that give an appreciative reader cause to laugh out loud.  

The plot twists and turns are worthy of The Rockford Files and 77 Sunset Strip.   For readers under the age of 50, author Ellen Raskin (The Westing Game) comes to mind.

Highly recommended.   A charming tail wagger!

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Packed with shootings, explosions, murder, and gritty courtroom drama…  a treat.” USA Today

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Lies, Lies, Lies

Requiem for a Gypsy: A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation by Michael Genelin (Soho Crime; $25.00; 356 pages)

“The nearsightedness created by self-importance would always get in the way of finding evidence, particularly in a case like this.”

Commander Jana Matinova of the Bratislava police force is faced with lies, trickery, gunfire and a manipulative, but adorable, teenage girl named Em in her most recent appearance in Michael Genelin’s mystery series set in Eastern Europe, Requiem for a Gypsy.   Commander Matinova, Em and Prosecutor Truchanova are seriously outnumbered by the male characters in this somewhat dark tale of hubris and greed.   They may be outnumbered, but they are not timid or shy.

The first death of the book, a hit and run in Paris, sets up the mystery and the second person to die begins what turns out to be a killing spree.   The shooting victim, Klara Bogan, and her husband Oto are the hosts of a name day celebration in Bratislava that is quite lavish by Slovakian standards.   The party is broken up by deadly gunfire followed quickly by the mass exodus of the guests.   To make matters more stressful, Matinova’s superior, Colonel Trokan becomes collateral damage because he has shielded Oto Brogan from the gunfire.

Commander Matinova is thwarted repeatedly as she seeks to determine the name of the intended victim at the party.  She believes that Mrs. Brogan is an unlikely target.   Colonel Trokan is willing to back his commander; however, State secrets and protocols prevent him from giving her the official lead in the investigation.   Enter the arrogant and off-putting sister agencies that are drawn into the story as the killing and deceptions take Matinova on trips around the neighboring countries and even to Paris, France.   As expected, the characters display their power in various ways – wearing uniforms, behaving arrogantly, ignoring Matinova or just shooting each other.   In the latter case powerful gangsters and law enforcement officers are equally involved.

Author Genelin provides a rich mix of regional history and politics as he presents the reader with one red herring after another.   His portrayal of the nasty xenophobia present in Eastern European culture is portrayed well by  his character Georg Repka, who Matinova initially idolizes and later despises when she sees his true nature.

The heaviness of the story is enlivened by Em, who wrangles her way into Matinova’s care and protection by knocking at Matinova’s door in the middle of a snowstorm.   Who can resist a waif-like girl selling earings door-to-door in the cold?   Surely not Matinova who is lonely and misses her granddaughter who lives thousands of miles away in the USA.   Em steals the scene whenever she appears in the story.   Genelin has the ability to set up Em with plausible truths and convenient lies that the reader is hard pressed to differentiate.   His experience as a prosecutor in an earlier time of his life shines through on numerous occasions.   Moreover, his love of the subtle quirks in dining habits and quaint places around Europe are put to good use as mini characters in the story.

The starkness and lack of colorful descriptions, aside from food and beverage, prevalent until nearly the end of the book, keep the reader focused on the interactions of the characters and the aggression that some of them display as an integral part of life in their world.   When Genelin does go into detail about room decor, clothing or symbols of opulence, he reinforces the distance between his heroine’s life and the lives of those she must bring to justice.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Rich in compelling plot twists and sobering history lessons.”   Amazon

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This Diamond Ring

Death of a Chimney Sweep, A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M.C. Beaton (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 256 pages)

Surprise!   A wicked sense of humor runs throughout this 26th mystery novel written by M.C. Beaton.   There are plenty of red herrings and portents of things to come as the plot wends its way through the Scottish moors and into the big city of Glasgow.   Country Police Constable Hamish Macbeth lumbers along at his own pace trying to solve the murders of a retired military officer who was out for a walk on the moors and a local fellow, the sweep who was cleaning the chimney at the officer’s home.

The trail to the solution is littered with corpses, most of which belonged to people who deserved what happened to them.   No spoiler alert is needed here as Beaton’s book titles are indicative of mayhem and murder.   This meandering plot is, in the end, tied up neater than an Elfa storage solution from The Container Store.   The pieces interlock and hold together well.

The military man left behind a timid mouse of a wife.   Milly, his widow, appears to be quite shy and yet she manages to win the hearts and engagement rings of a couple of fellows not long after her husband’s demise.   Her husband, Captain Henry Davenport, had engaged in a bit of fraud that brought in scads of money from unwitting investors eager to make a killing.   The search for the whereabouts of the money fuels the killing spree.

Constable Macbeth is a clever redhead who cherishes his freedom and the quiet solitude of a secret fishing spot.   He has little time for fishing as he, a past fiance, a former girlfriend and his pets spend much time and energy trying to cut short the killing spree that results from Davenport’s fraud.   Beaton goes in for a bit of exotica as Macbeth’s cat is no ordinary kitty.   No sir!   Sonsie is a wildcat!

If you’re not familiar with this author, as is the case with this reviewer, be comforted in the knowledge that there’s more – lots more – where this came from.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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