Review 1524: Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Mrs. Dusczejko lives in a tiny Polish village near the Czech Republic, so remote that they get Polish or Czech police depending upon where in town they call from. In the early morning, her neighbor, whom she calls Oddball, comes to get her, telling her he has found their other neighbor’s body. Although she hates this other neighbor, whom she calls Big Foot, because he’s a hunter and she believes it’s a crime to kill animals, she helps him make the body decent before the police arrive. Later, it’s determined that he died from choking on a deer bone.

Mrs. Duszejko is an eccentric old lady who spends her time doing astrological charts, helping an ex-student translate William Blake’s writings into Polish, and writing letters to the police complaining about poaching. After a few months, though, her life is disturbed when men in the area begin dying in a series of bizarre killings.

This is an unusual crime story that’s not so concerned about the criminal case as it is about the activities of its characters. It is sometimes funny and always atmospheric. I really enjoyed it.

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Review 1508: The Gallows Pole

In a remote Yorkshire valley in 1767, David Hartley and his brothers call together all the clippers in the area. Clippers have for centuries been debasing the coin of the realm by clipping edges off to make counterfeit coin. Hartley is already known as King David in the region for his control of the valley that his home lies above on the moor, but now he declares that they will all become rich by becoming systematic. All the people in the area will send him coins, and in return they will all get a portion of the proceeds. To make more money, he brings in a man called the Alchemist, who will make more convincing coins. Any man who refuses to participate is brought into line.

Within two years, this gang has caused enough disturbance in the local economy that an exciseman, William Deighton, is brought in to try to bring the Hartleys and their gang to law. James Broadbent, a member of the gang who thinks he hasn’t been rewarded enough, decides to turn informant.

On the one hand, this novel is at times lyrical, especially in evoking the landscape, and it is based on true events. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the subject or the brutality. There is a lot of fascination in our society with people who are essentially gangsters that I don’t share. Although Myers tells most of the story in a fair-handed way, he does seem to come down a bit on the side of the thieves, even as he recounts some crimes against innocent men. This book won the Walter Scott Historical Fiction Prize for 2018, but I’m not sure it’s the one I would have picked.

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Review 1505: Cold Earth

Jimmy Perez is attending the funeral of Magnus, an old man who was a recluse for years, when the hillside above the cemetery collapses in a landslide, taking out a cottage further down the hill. Jimmy thinks the cottage is unoccupied, but he goes to check. There he finds the body of a woman, apparently killed in the slide.

While Jimmy’s team struggles to identify the woman, the coroner lets them know that the woman was already dead inside the cottage. She was strangled. Jimmy must call in his boss, Willow Reeves, from the mainland. He finds he’s thinking of her more and more.

When the team thinks they’ve identified the woman as the American owner of the cottage, they have another setback. She is at work in New York and has no idea who might be using her cottage. In any case, the dead woman was using her name when she crossed over to the island.

As usual with Cleeves, this was an interesting but difficult puzzle. I have to say that there was so little apparent connection between the victim and the murderer that it was almost cheating. Also, the novel seemed to conclude a little too quickly after the build-up at the end. Still, I enjoyed reading it.

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Review 1483: Sun Storm

Stockholm attorney Rebecka Martinsson is called home to Kirina by her ex-housemate and girlfriend, Sanna Strandgård. Sanna’s brother, Viktor, was found viciously slaughtered in the Source of All Strength church, which he helped build. Sanna discovered the body, and she wants Rebecka with her when she is questioned by the police.

The atmosphere of Kirina, the freezing northernmost town in Sweden, is strong in this book. Rebecka is not eager to return to Kirina, because years ago she was a member of the church, and she was ousted under shameful conditions. Now, as she looks into the church, finding the members are all stonewalling the investigators instead of helping them, she begins to believe the truth lies within the church itself.

Meanwhile, Inspector Anna-Maria Mella, supposedly on desk duty while she is hugely pregnant, has been helping her colleague Sven-Erik Stålnacke. They not only are getting nowhere with the church members but are being hindered in their work by Prosecutor Carl Von Post, who is throwing his weight around.

I found this mystery interesting as it examines the psyches of religious zealots and corrupt leaders. The killer is revealed before the end of the book, but that adds to the suspense.

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Review 1469: The Long Call

The Long Call is the first book in Ann Cleeves’s new mystery series set in North Devon. It features Matthew Venn, a detective who differs from Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez in that he is gay, married, and immaculately dressed, also unsure of himself.

The body of a man is discovered out on Crow Point near Matthew’s house. He has been stabbed, and he has no identification, so it takes a while for Matthew’s team to figure out who he is.

He turns out to be Simon Walden, a recently homeless man with alcohol abuse issues who volunteered at the Woodyard, a warehouse that was converted to a center offering studios for local artists, classes to the community, and a day center for mentally disabled adults. Matthew’s husband is the director of that center, so he wonders if he should take himself off the job.

link to NetgalleyIn investigating Simon, the police find more connections to the Woodyard. One of his roommates was Gaby, an artist who teaches there and disliked him. Also, a Downs Syndrome woman named Lucy who uses the center reports that he was her friend, he rode the bus with her out to Lovacott every day in the past few weeks. The police can’t figure out what he was doing there. Soon, the connections become even stronger when a Downs Syndrome woman named Chrissie goes missing from the Woodyard. Something tells Matthew that the events are related.

As usual, Cleeves presents us with a difficult mystery. I found Matthew somewhat unknowable with less of a persona than her other detectives, Vera and Jimmy, but that may be because I discovered both of those series through the television programs. I am more than willing to read another Matthew Venn book.

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Review 1415: The Poison Bed

In 1615 London, a glittering couple was imprisoned in the Tower for murder. They were Robert Carr, long a favorite of King James, and his wife Frances of the powerful Howard family. The victim was Thomas Overbury, a friend of Robert’s who was poisoned while imprisoned in the Tower.

The narration of this novel is split between Frances in the third person and Robert in the first person. It tells the story of their meeting, when Frances was married to the Earl of Essex, and their subsequent struggles to be married, which resulted, almost as collateral damage, in Overbury’s death. One of these narrators is undoubtedly unreliable, however.

This novel was based on a scandal in Jacobean England, and Freemantle proposes a theory of its solution, although the truth is still not understood. A few reviewers have criticized it as being historically inaccurate. Based on my very little research, I can’t speak to that, but I can say that, considering the subject was interesting to me, the novel dragged curiously at times. Perhaps this was a result of the he said, she said format. It got a little more interesting when the truth about one narrator came out, but then it dragged again.

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Review 1337: Silent Voices

Cover of Silent VoicesVera Stanhope has taken her doctor’s advice and is swimming regularly at a health club. One morning, she finds the body of a middle-aged woman in the steam room. She has been strangled.

The victim is Jenny Lister, a social worker. She seems not to have any enemies, although she was the supervisor of Connie Masters, a social worker who was recently vilified when a boy under her care was murdered by his mother. Jenny’s daughter, Hannah, is devastated, and Hannah’s boyfriend, Simon Eliot, is very protective of her.

At the health club there has been a series of petty thefts, and Jenny’s handbag is missing. The thefts started when Danny Shaw became a cleaner, but are the thefts connected to the murder? Jenny might have been writing a book that she kept in the handbag.

As the investigation goes in several directions, Vera’s team soon feels as if it has too much to handle. Then Danny Shaw’s body is discovered.

This is another of Ann Cleeves’s complex but engrossing mysteries, set in Northern England. I think that Cleeves really has a talent for characterization and complex plots. I am enjoying this series.

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Review 1324: All Done by Kindness

Cover for All Done by KindnessMy friend Deb recommended that I read All Done by Kindness based on a post she read by Furrowed Middlebrow. Such is the power of the web, though, that by the time I looked for it, the few copies available were expensive. I had to borrow hers.

Caper books and movies were popular in the 1950’s and 60’s, and All Done by Kindness fits the description, telling the story of a crime committed with worthy motives, a light-hearted caper with a dash of romance. It begins with a visit by Dr. Sandilands to an elderly patient, Mrs. Hovenden. Mrs. Hovenden’s family has been wealthy, but since the war, Mrs. Hovenden has fallen into hard times. She tells the doctor she is badly in debt for the first time in her life.

Dr. Sandilands offers to lend her the money, even though he can hardly afford it, but Mrs. Hovenden is too proud to take it. Instead, she offers to sell him some boxes of clothes and linen from her attic, including a box of pictures. When the Sandilands family opens the boxes, the results provide Beatrix Sandilands, the doctor’s sharp-tongued daughter, with a great deal to say, for everything is either worthless to begin with or is mouldering away. About the pictures, however, daughter Linda suggests that they consult her knowledgeable fellow librarian, Stephanie du Plessis.

Stephanie thinks that the paintings might be quite valuable, even Old Masters. She does some research that indicates they may have been removed from an Italian villa. Beatrix thinks they are worthless and wants them out of her house. Finally, the family agrees to consult Sir Harry Maximer, an art expert who has the reputation for integrity.

Here, the plot thickens, for Sir Harry recognizes the paintings as Old Masters, but he tells Dr. Sandilands they are only good copies. Why? Because he intends to have them in his own collection.

This is a charming little novel, a delightful book for when you want to read something light.

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Day 1277: Fool’s Gold

Women Crime Writers coverHere is another book  for the R.I.P. Challenge.

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Fool’s Gold by Dolores Hitchens is the last novel of my Women Crime Writers collection and my least favorite. Although several of the novels were noirish, this one is definitely in the noir style.

Skip and Eddie are two young men who have already served time in prison. Both are attending night school but have little hope of finding a job. In fact, Skip is already planning a robbery based on information he has received from Karen, a girl in his class. She has told him about a stack of money hidden in the room that Mr. Stolz, a frequent visitor to her aunt’s house, keeps in his room.

This crime is poorly planned, but things begin to go wrong before its execution, when Skip’s uncle turns it over to some professionals in exchange for a cut in the proceeds. Skip is determined that no one will deprive him of his big haul.

We are supposed to feel some sympathy for Eddie, who would like to go straight. Skip is the one with the big ideas, who moreover is inclined to abuse Karen. But Eddie is too easily led to feel much sympathy for, and Karen is an outright idiot.

Most of the rest of the characters are despicable, and we watch as everything goes badly wrong.

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Day 1272: Beast in View

Cover for Beast in ViewHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge!

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Beast in View is quite the creepy tale. One of the novels in my 1950’s Women Crime Writers collection, it makes a departure from the others.

Miss Clarvoe has been leading an isolated life since her father died. She fled her home after inheriting most of his money, but she has been too reserved to do much with it except sit in her apartment. That situation is about to change.

Women Crime Writers coverMiss Clarvoe receives a phone call from Evelyn Merrick. She cannot remember Evelyn, but Evelyn begins to abuse her on the phone and threaten her if she doesn’t give her money. Miss Clarvoe is too embarrassed to go to the police, so she turns to Mr. Blackshear, her investment counselor, and asks him to find Evelyn Merrick.

While Mr. Blackshear investigates, we follow Evelyn as she commits a series of malicious acts. We soon realize that Evelyn is mad. Eventually, a murder is committed.

This novel builds up a terrific amount of suspense. It also has a mind-boggling conclusion. I have not been disappointed in this collection. All of the novels included in it have been excellent.

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