Tag Archives: Mystery

High Chicago by Howard Schrier

High Chicago by Howard Shrier

Vintage Canada, Toronto, ON 2009

From my mystery book shelf.

Last year I read the first book in this series and enjoyed it, High Chicago is even better.

Investigator Jonah Gelle, along with his friend Jen Raudseppr, has opened an agency called World Repairs.  They are working hard to find cases and make ends meet, so when Jonah’s Mom asks him to help out a friend who has lost her daughter to suicide he accepts the case.  What at first seems like a sadly simple story soon draws them into the fast-paced and highly monied world of development and construction that eventually reaches across the border to the Windy City.

Shrier writes noir with several modern twists.  This series has great characters, odd friendships, humor and focuses on current issues.  Great fun.  I can’t wait for the next one, Boston Cream.  Don’t tell Mr G, but it will be in his pile of birthday gifts next week.

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Filed under Books, Canadian, Mystery, Thoughts, Travel

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli

Bantam Books, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my local library.  A book from my RIP VII reading pool.  I am really glad to have discovered this author.

Wow, talk about dysfunctional families.  The Rand’s are a family of thieves and have been thieves for generations.  They are bound by honor, love and closely held secrets.   When Terrier Rand is called home by his brother, Collie, some of those secrets are exposed to the light, with devastating consequences.

Let me explain.  Collie ( yes, the Rand’s are all named after dog breeds) is on death row, about to be executed.  He was charged with the murders of eight people, openly admits his crime, and has never explained what happened on that awful night.  Five years after the murder his family is still in shock.  Terry, having run from home after the murders, abandoning his girlfriend and his family, comes running back at his brother’s request.  He doesn’t even understanding why.  He returns to the house where he grew up, to his Mother and Father, Sister, Grandfather and Uncles, and all the buried feelings held within.

Surprisingly, considering the horrible violence,  I loved this book.  The Rand family is not exactly likable, but I found myself caring about each one of them, even Collie, unrepentant, sitting in prison and waiting to die.  Pirrilli’s writing kept me up at night, his ability to build relationships and grab onto the defining, disturbing aspects of this family, had me in awe at times.  I really appreciate emotional depth in a thriller.  I also appreciate humor, which Pirrilli uses to bring light to the dark.   I suggest you read this one, even if you are not a fan of the genre.

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Filed under Books, Mystery, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts, Thriller

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Harper Collins, New York, 2012

Sent to me by the publisher.   It is not often that I accept books for review as I am always afraid they will get shifted to the bottom of a TBR pile and I will forget to read them, or that I will forget to write and post my thoughts.  When a women from Harper Collins sent an email asking if I would like a copy of Attica Locke’s new book I jumped at the chance.  I read Black Water Rising last year and loved it.

Caren Gray has come back to manage the plantation where members of her family have served, either as slaves or as free people, since before the Civil War.  Belle Vie has been restored to its former beauty,  the tour includes the slave quarters and a rather historically inaccurate re-enactment.  The mansion serves as a location for weddings and parties and provides jobs for local people who have been shut out of working in the local corporate-owned cane fields.  When a murdered woman’s body is discovered on the grounds, it falls to Caren, her ex-husband and a stringer from a New Orleans paper to solve the mystery.

From the beginning the reader knows Caren has come to Belle Vie as a way to escape her past, which is psychologically intriguing because she is returning to the place of her youth.  The job offers stability for her and her daughter, Morgan,  but that stability comes at a cost.  As the murder investigation deepens truths about Caren’s family history and the history of the plantation come to light, and the murderer intends to keep that truth bury, whatever the cost.

The Cutting Season is tightly plotted, the history of this part of the south wrapped in a well constructed mystery.  Locke writes beautifully, somehow folding in painful generational memories, the tension of post civil war plantation life and present day class and racial struggles into a story that never feels like it is carrying deep political and cultural messages.  I found this to be true in Dark Water Rising, Locke has a way of visiting the past, bringing it gently into the present and making it relevant.  I hope this second novel finds a wide audience and look forward to reading her third.

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Filed under Books, LiteraryFiction, Mystery, R.I.P. VII

The Calling and The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe

The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe

Harcourt, New York, 2008

Borrowed from my local library.

A well-written mystery/thriller whose main character is a sixty-one year old female Detective Inspector who suffers with a bad back, a dependence on pain-killers and a mother who keeps her on a strict diet.  Her small town office, threatened by budget cuts, is suddenly over-whelmed by the murder of a local elderly women, a murder that turns out to be connected to a string of murders that take place all across Canada.

D.I. Hazel Micallef is a winner.   Short-tempered, with a caustic tongue, she is smart as a whip and facing the same troubles at work as many woman run into, politics and an old boy network that won’t quit.

     Her head was swimming with details.  Everything they knew now had a relationship with everything they did not know.  What they’d learned stood like a range of trees on a lakeshore, reflected in reverse on the water below.  Hazel dreaded the journey it would take to get to those dark shapes.  A dead woman, a dead man.  A pact of some kind.  What was being kept? Were these deaths, at least, part of something longed for.  As she got older and acclimatized herself to her own failures, she had begun to understand death’s draw. From pages 100/101.

The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2010

Borrowed from my library.  This is the second Hazel Micallef mystery.

Following on the heels of her last case, D.I. Hazel Micallef has had back surgery and must recuperate in the home of her ex-husband and his second wife.  Detective Constable James Wingate , who is running things while Hazel is on leave, calls for her help after someone fishes a body from one of the local lakes.  Things start to get really strange when Hazel discovers a mystery story running in the local paper.  The story sounds surprising like their drowning case.

I think these are great mysteries, smart and beautifully written.  I love Hazel, and her colleagues.  This is a great series and I hope my library orders the newest book, A Door in the River, as soon as possible!

“I’m reading between your lines”

“Yes, yes, you are,” said the voice.  “I’ve been very pleased, I think we are doing very well together.  Maybe the story will have a different ending than the one I’ve been planning.”

Wingate spoke.  “What ending have you planned?”

“Now, now, Detective Constable.  Do you read the end of a book before its beginning?”  She began to write again.  “I knew someone who used to do that.  Couldn’t stand the suspense of not-knowing.  Let’s just say the trajectory of the story has a natural end-point.  We’re wired for it, did you know that?  The shape of our lives imposes itself on the way we tell stories: a welter of possibilities at the beginning narrows and narrows and instabilities appear that obligate us to take certain turns.  And then the end is a forgone conclusion.  However, twists are possible in such stories as the one we’re telling.  Unexpected outcomes.  In my experience, it happens only  rarely.  But we can see.”  from page 235.

Inger Ash Wolfe is a pseudonym.  People have been  wondering (and guessing at)  who the mysterious author is since The Calling was first published.  At the end of last month the mystery was solved when The Globe and Mail published this essay.  Turns out my library has several books by the culprit and I have added them to my TBR list.

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Filed under Canadian, Fiction, Mystery, Thoughts, Thriller

The Dark Side….

I’ve been reading a bit on the dark side lately.  One book was a true crime book, one a mystery by a favorite French author and the last is being called a “breakthrough” novel by an American author known for dark, twisted tales.

People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry.  From my TBR pile.

I read about this one in the British press a while back and was so intrigued I ordered it from the Book Depository.    The story of the disappearance and murder of of Lucie Blackman, a twenty-one year old British citizen and  former flight attendant, was front page news in Japan and around the world.  The solving of that crime is a tale built of a combination of incompetence, willful ignorance and cultural crossed wires.

Richard Parry is a bureau chief for the Times of London, based in Tokyo.  He has written a masterful book.

An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas, translated from the French by Sian Reynolds.  Borrowed from my local library.

I’ve been enamored of Northern European mystery authors for a while.  Henning Mankell, Sjöwall and Wahlöö, Karen Fossem, Arnaldur Indridason.  I could go on.  When I discovered Fred Vargas several years ago I was  delighted by her novels and didn’t understand why she hadn’t become an international phenomenon.

Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his team of quirky detectives get handed all kinds of bizarre cases. The newest one involves a grotesquely mutilated murder victim.  If this series intrigues you I’d suggest starting with the first book, The Chalk Circle Man, which was translated into English after several of the others.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Borrowed from my local library.

I read Flynn’s earlier works and was surprised at myself for enjoying them so.  Sharp Objects and Dark Places are both deal with dark themes, violence, dysfunctional families, serial killers.  Gone Girl is the story of a marriage gone wrong, and then some.  Flynn’s portrayal of her protagonists, and the lengths they go to creating and compartmentalizing their different personas, is nothing short of amazing.

All Flynn’s books take serious jabs at the media, celebrity and American pop culture, which is fascinating because she work  as a reporter for Entertainment Weekly for 10 years.

Have you read any books on the dark side lately?

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Filed under Murder, Mystery, Short Reviews, Thoughts

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

Simon & Schuster, London, 2008

From my TBR pile.

Vincent, an awkward, bird-watching teenager treated badly by his father, lives in a town a few miles from the place where he was born.  That place, Blackmoor,  no longer exists.  As Vincent grows curious about his family history he discovers deeply buried secrets, about himself, his Mother, and the village of  Blackmoor.  The story,  told by an unnamed omniscient narrator,  moves back and forth in time and slowly reveals the truth.

This is a book I devoured.  The sense of mystery and menace grew to a point where  I just couldn’t put it down.  At its heart is the fate of British coal mining during the Thatcher years, the devastation wrought on a place and its people.  And Hogan writes beautifully.

Vincent sits in the rain-speckled ocher dirt and Leila joins him among the broken teeth of the bridge. The indigo rain clouds have tinted the sun and improved visibility.  With the enduring drift of rain, the light has taken on a sourceless clarity, and from this height Vincent can see the brown whorls on the underside of Piano’s light wings.  Her colours make it seem like she has been peeled from the rock of the quarry.  She does not move those long straight wings, or the elegant `fingers’ at their ends.  Instead, she tips dips and tilts as her two charges swoop clumsily down on her like pieces of tumbling flint.  From page 50.

In 2009 Blackmoor was awarded the Desmond Elliott Prize for new fiction.  As far as I can tell this novel has not been published in the United States.  I hope that is remedied soon.  I am now waiting for Hogan’s second novel, The Hunger Trace, to be published in paperback in the UK.  It is on my wishlist.

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Filed under British, ContemporaryFiction, TBR Double Dare, Thoughts

Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Awikwei Parkes

Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Awikwei Parkes

Vintage, London, 2010

I own this book and want to thank Stu of Winstonsdad’s Blog for introducing me to it and to Nii Ayikwei Parkes.

This mystery takes place in Ghana.  It is a wonderful mix of  traditional tale and modern police procedural, with a decidedly political edge.

In a hut in the village on Sonokrom the girlfriend of a political minister discovers some gristly remains. A  police inspector sees a chance for advancement.  Kayo, a young forensic pathologist, is commandeered from his job and, along with Garba, a police constable, is ordered to solve the case.

So there I was (thinking about my palm wine) when Kwadwo finished and took photos with his camera, asked Mansah to take the box that looked like the tea bottle back to Accra for further analysis and sent the other policeman, Garba, to ask Oduro how to dispose of the thing.  This action that Kwadwo took made me see that the boy really has respect.  As I said when I started telling this tale, what was in Kofi Atta’s hut was not meant to be seen without the right powers, and Oduro is the one who knows about these things…From page 69.

Kayo leaned forward now, closing the distance between himself and the hunter.  His mind was racing.  `So, the story you just told us.  Is it true?  Is that the story of Kofi Atta?’

Th hunter sighed. `That may be your story.  I am not the one to tell you what is true.  I am telling you a story.  On this earth, we have to choose the story we tell, because it affects us – it affects how we live.’  From page 151.

Beautifully written, this mystery mixes traditional story-telling, “folk” medicine and spiritual beliefs with modern “C.S.I.” forensics.   Tail of the Blue Bird also acknowledges  the difficult choices asked of people living in a country ruled by graft and corruption.  I loved it and hope that Parkes, a poet and commentator,  decides to write a sequel.

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Filed under Mystery, Review

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

William Morrow, New York, 2010

I borrowed this one from the library.  This is the second book to knock me off the TBR Dare,  it was worth it.

This is a  novel I could not stop reading.  It is a mystery, but so much more than that.

Silas “32” Jones has returned to the tiny town of  Chabot, Mississippi and is the town constable.  Larry Ott, an auto mechanic has been ostracized by the community ever since he was suspected in the disappearance of a high school acquaintance.  Now another girl has disappeared and Larry is the prime suspect.

It is a great story, a fine mystery, and the issue of friendship tinged by racism make it even stronger.  But it is Franklin’s writing that held me and has me wanting to read more of his work.  The narration moves back and forth in time and the depth of feeling Franklin shows between Larry and Silas as boys, and the distance that has come between them as men, is the main theme of this story, even as the mystery is built up around them.

They rolled the push mower out of the barn and into the sunlight and Larry showed him how to check the oil and the gas and how to prime the pump, how to pull the cord to crank it.  Then, yelling over the noise, Larry showed him how to adjust the motor speed and push the mower in rows, narrowing towards a center.  Silas snatched the handle and said okay, his turn.  He loved it, the buzz of the motor, hot fresh cut grass in the air, between his bare toes, wild onion sizzling on the frame, the bar vibrating in his fists and the occasional mangled stick flung from the vent.  When he was a kid one time, Larry yelled, walking alongside Silas, Larry’s daddy was cutting grass and Larry watching and his daddy ran over a rock that shot like a bullet and bounced off Larry’s bare stomach and left a red imprint of itself.  Larry’s daddy had laughed real hard.  Even took a Polaroid and laughed every time he looked at it.  You had to be careful of where you let the vent aim, was Larry’s point.  You didn’t want to spray any rocks out towards any cars or towards people, see?   Silas turned and left Larry standing and mowed rows and rows and kept mowing, loving the design he was making.  It felt good, like combing his hair..From page 151.

There is innocence here, mixed with the struggles of growing up, and the pressure from adults to copy beliefs and prejudices.  It is a beautifully drawn story and will be one of my favorites of the year.

Have you read and reviewed this novel?  Leave a comment and I will add your link.

Other reviews:

Caribousmom Fizzy Thoughts,   Mysteries in Paradise The Book Lady’s Blog, The Literate Housewife,

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Filed under ContemporaryFiction, Mystery, Review

Buffalo Jump by Howard Shrier

Buffalo Jump by Howard Shrier

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2008

I own this one, well actually Mr G owns this one, but it was definitely on my TBR list.

I forget where I first heard about this one, maybe it was on the CBC website, or on an awards list.

Investigator Jonah Geller has returned to work after a case that went to hell.  Recuperating from a wound, feeling like an idiot, he really isn’t sure he should continue in this line of work.  Then he is approached by Dante Ryan, a contact hit man working for the mob in Toronto, who wants Jonah to find out who ordered his next hit.  Jonah finds he really doesn’t have a choice, that he must help Ryan find the answer to his question.

One of the best “private eye” mysteries I’ve read in a while, Buffalo Jump is an interesting mix of noir, politics and humor.  Jonah, the youngest of two brothers and the odd one out in his family, is traumatized by being shot during the blown case, as well as suffering recurring  nightmares brought on by the time he spent in the Israeli army.  Dante, one of the nicest hit men you’ll ever come across, is trying to figure a way out of the business.  The story is tightly written and tied to our present economic climate,  but the best part is the relationship that grows between Jonah and Dante.  One minute they are best buddies and the next minute they want to tear each other apart.  Fast moving and funny, this novel is a great read.

Buffalo Jump won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel in 2009 and the second book in the series, High Chicago, won the 2010 Ellis Award  for best Novel.  I plan on reading that one next.

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Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Mystery, Review

The Skull Mantra and Water Touching Stone

I read mysteries for sheer enjoyment and don’t normally write about them because there are some wonderful blogs out there that cover this genre, but I have to make an exception for this two books from my TBR stack.

The Skull Mantra and  Water Touching Stone by Eliot Pattison are great mysteries.  They are also two of the most political books I have read in a long time.

Inspector Shan Tao Yun was a police inspector in Beijing before he crossed the wrong people and got himself thrown in prison.  Not into a prison in China but into a gulag on the high plains of Tibet, a country that China invaded in 1959.  Both of these novels are complex, telling stories that include mystery and mayhem and also telling about the people of Tibet and their struggles under Chinese occupation.

In The Skull Mantra, Shan is pressed into solving a murder by a Chinese bureaucrat.  Some of the local people believe the murder was committed by a demon, the Chinese believe that a Buddhist monk is the killer.  Interwoven throughout this novel are the stories of Buddhists imprisoned by the Chinese, of temples destroyed by the government and of the Tibetan people’s struggle to practice their religion and maintain their traditional culture.

Water Touching Stone finds Shan and an interesting group of Tibetans tracking down the killer of a teacher and several children.  They journey to the northern reaches of the Tibetan plateau and cross the Kunlan Mountains to the Taklamakan Desert.  There they find that several group of people are involved in this mystery.  Disgruntled officials, soldiers, smuggles and nomadic clans all have a part in this story.  I found Pattison’s description of the desert, its history and the people who live there completely intriguing.  Part of the ancient Silk Road, this is an area of the world that I know little about and I want to learn more.

All of this in two fine mystery.  I plan to read the rest of the Inspector Shan series.  Be warned, Pattison puts his feelings about the situation in Tibet into these books and some readers may find the politics out-of-place.  I didn’t and I find the authors explanation for writing these novels honest and direct.  These mysteries only make my support of the Tibetan people and  other people suffering the destruction of their traditions stronger.

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Filed under Mystery, Review, TBR