Review 1528: The Janus Stone

In the second Ruth Galloway mystery, Ruth is called to a dig at a site of a mansion being converted to luxury flats, because bones are discovered under a doorway. The bones are a child’s, and Ruth is inclined to believe that the grave is more recent than otherwise.

DCI Harry Nelson begins looking at the building’s past as a children’s home. During that time, a teenage boy and his five-year-old sister disappeared. But the teeth put the death a little earlier, when the original family resided there.

This case hits Ruth a little more personally because she is pregnant. The child is Harry’s, the result of an emotional night during the last case, but Harry is married. Then someone begins leaving unpleasant surprises for Ruth.

Like with the first book, I easily guessed who the culprit was, in fact, almost as soon as the character appeared. It is hard for me to tell whether this would be obvious to most readers. I am interested in the characters, though, so I enjoyed the novel and look forward to reading more of the series.

I do want to say something about my Quercus paperback edition, which was not impressive. About halfway through the book, I came across a sticker that was printed over by the text of the book. Later, a half page cut zigzag fell out of the book. When I turned to that page, I found that half of the text was on the zigzag page and half was on the page fastened into the book, which was whole, leaving a zigzagged half-blank page. If the loose half page had fallen out of the book before I got it, I would not have been able to read that page.

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Review 1515: Conviction

Denise Mina’s novels are usually fairly gritty murder mysteries. Conviction, although harrowing in spots, reminded me much more of Catriona McPherson’s cozy thrillers.

When Anna’s husband Hamish dumps her for another woman and takes her children, she realizes there is nothing she can do, because she has been living a secret life. Nine years earlier, a series of horrendous events caused her to run away and assume a new identity. If she were to try to get custody of her girls, she could be found out, and she would be in danger.

While all this is going on, she views a podcast about the death of Leon Parker, who had been her friend years ago. He and his family were killed aboard his yacht. His cook was found guilty of the murders even though she was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Anna becomes determined to find out the truth about Leon, because he was married to Gretchen Teigler, who Anna believes sent killers after her years ago.

This is a fast-paced, well-written chase across Europe to find evidence. Anna is accompanied by Fin Cohen, a rock star and the husband of the woman who ran off with Hamish. Even though there are some tough situations in the novel, it reads more lightly than Mina’s previous work. I liked it a lot.

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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 1493: Harbour Street

Sergeant Joe Ashworth and his young daughter Jessie are traveling on the Metro, returning from a Christmas concert, when the train is halted and everyone is made to get off. Jessie notices that one person doesn’t get off—an older woman who is too nicely dressed to be going to Mardle. She is dead, stabbed by someone on the train.

The woman turns out to be Margaret Krukowski, a 70-year-old resident of a Mardle B&B who helps run it. The B&B on Harbour Street is owned by Kate Dewar, who inherited the house from a relative. When Joe and Vera Stanhope go to interview Kate and look at Margaret’s room, Joe feels that something is familiar but puts the feeling down to his recognition of Kate as Kate Guthrie, who had been a famous singer.

Margaret seems to have led a blameless life. She was very private, but aside from her work at the house, she volunteered with several charities. One of them was The Haven, providing temporary housing for women in need of a place to stay.

It takes a while for Vera and her team to find out Margaret’s secrets, but they can’t get past the fact that no one seems to think badly of her. Then another woman is killed.

Harbour Streeet is another mystery by Cleeves that really kept me guessing. She is good at creating believable characters, and her plots are complex but not beyond belief. This is one series I’m not tired of yet.

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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 1475: Dark Saturday

When I went looking in the library for something suitable for the end of October, I found one of Nicci French’s dark and disturbing mysteries featuring psychotherapist Frieda Klein. I have read all but the book before this one in this series. I missed the last book but did not feel that it threw me off in reading this one.

The Frieda Klein series began with a dangerous psychopath escaping justice by killing his twin brother. Only Frieda believes he is alive, and she knows this because he has been both harassing and protecting her. So, this ongoing plot is always mixed with one that is solved in each book.

Frieda is hired by a mysterious man named Levin, whose role I don’t quite understand, to look into the case of Hannah Docherty. Fifteen years ago, she was permanently hospitalized after being found guilty of the murders of her entire family.

In Frieda’s initial examination of the case files, she finds some discrepancies that are not explained by the theory of the case. After she goes to visit Hannah in the mental hospital, she begins to entertain the possibility that Hannah did not commit the crime.

During the course of the investigation, she finds an eccentric crime blogger who stole all of the Docherty’s possessions after they were thrown out. Frieda takes these possessions from her and shortly thereafter the woman is killed in a fire that burns down her house. Now, Frieda is sure that Hannah is not the murderer.

Frieda is an enigmatic character whom I find fascinating, and the other characters in the book are convincing. Although some of the books in this series are not really thrillers (some are), they never fail to send a chill down my spine.

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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 1467: The Billiard-Room Mystery

The Considines are holding a cricket week at their manor in Sussex in Brian Flynn’s first Anthony Bathurst mystery, published in 1927. Several young men are staying there, including old family friend William Cunningham, who is the narrator. Anthony Bathurst, his friend from Oxford, turns up unexpectedly, replacing another player.

In the most recent match, Gerry Prescott has played well, and later that night, he wins a great deal of money at cards from Lieutenant Barker. He has also been pursing Mary Considine, the pretty and athletic daughter of the house. The next morning, he is found dead in the billiard room, having been stabbed in the back with a dagger and strangled with a shoelace. There are lots of clues, but some of them seem to contradict each other. Then, after Inspector Baddely and his nearly mute subordinate, Roper, begin to investigate, it is discovered that Lady Considine’s pearls are missing.

Like many early mysteries, this one focuses on the puzzle rather than characterization. For some reason, though, despite the plethora of confusing clues, I zoomed right in on the murderer and knew the motive even though Flynn used a clever ruse to hide the perpetrator’s identity. This might have made me enjoy the novel less, but I liked its jaunty style and was eager to see if I was right.

This novel was sent to me by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

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Review 1451: Big Sky

I always buy anything by Kate Atkinson as soon as it comes out, but I was especially pleased to learn there was another Jackson Brodie novel. I think her last three books have put her in another category altogether, but it’s fun to see Jackson again after an absence of nine years.

Jackson is out with his son Nathan when he spots a young girl being picked up by a man in a car. She is young enough to sport a backpack with rainbows and unicorns, which he finds the next day in a bay near his home in Bridlington. The police don’t seem to be interested.

Later, he is hired by Crystal Holroyd to find out who is following her in a silver BMW. When Crystal’s kids are threatened, this case becomes more serious.

Jackson also stops a man from jumping off a cliff. This man is Vince Ives, who has lost his job and was being divorced by his wife until his wife is found murdered. Now, of course, the police suspect him of murder.

More is going on than that, though, as a series of coincidences leads Jackson to discover a human trafficking operation.

Atkinson’s mysteries are more quirky than otherwise, following lots of threads that end up being connected (some of them) at least by the presence of Jackson himself. In the meantime, we’re entertained by the musings of Jackson and some of his more likable fellow characters. Another entertaining read for us by Atkinson.

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Transcription

A God in Ruins

Review 1450: The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories

For a Christmas season treat, I read this latest British Library Crime Classic short story collection, published in October. Most of its stories are set in winter and several around Christmas. This collection includes crime stories published between 1909 and 1965.

I was surprised to find the first story was written by Baroness Orczy, whom I associate with the Scarlet Pimpernel. It turns out that she started by writing crime fiction. In “A Christmas Tragedy,” her detective is Lady Molly, who is convinced that the accused Mr. Smethick did not murder Major Ceely. The police theorize that the motive was the major’s refusal to allow his daughter’s engagement to Mr. Smethick. Lady Molly discovers a more obscure motive for the crime.

In “By the Sword” by Selwyn Jepson, Alfred Caithness plots and kills his cousin Herbert after Herbert refuses to lend him more money. Alfred’s guilt is explored in an unusual way.

“The Christmas Card Crime” by Donald Stuart is more of a crime adventure, as a criminal tries to steal an heiress’s proof of her identity.

Although some of the stories were more clever than others, the only story I couldn’t finish was “Twixt the Cup and the Lip” by Julian Symons, a caper story that seemed to go on and on.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

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