Review 1315: Dead Water

Cover for Dead WaterI was trying to read Ann Cleeves’s Shetland series in order, but somehow I made a mistake and skipped the one before Dead Water. That unfortunately makes me privy to a key plot point for the previous book but did not spoil this one.

Jimmy Perez is on compassionate leave for reasons that readers of the previous novel will know, so he does not immediately become involved when the Fiscal, Rhona Laing, finds a body aboard the yoal that she shares with a group of rowers. The body is that of Jerry Markham, a reporter who left the island years ago to work in London. He has returned to Shetland to see his parents, the owners of a hotel, and for some other reason. He seemed to be working on a story, but if that is true, his editor knows nothing about it.

The mainland office sends Willow Reeves to be in charge of the investigation, and she immediately thinks the Fiscal isn’t telling everything she knows. The crux of the matter seems to be Markham’s reasons for returning to Shetland.

Jimmy slowly gets drawn into the investigation, which soon finds that years ago Markham made an innocent young girl, Evie Watt, pregnant and refused to accept responsibility for it. Evie lost the child, and now she is on the verge of marriage to John Henderson, a pilot. Evie acknowledges that Markham tried to contact her but says she refused to speak to him.

The team follows several leads, including a dispute over green energy, until another body surfaces and brings their attention back to Evie. This time the victim is her fiancé. Do the murders have something to do with Evie, or is it a coincidence that the victims were her ex and current lovers?

Again, Cleeves creates a twisty and suspenseful mystery for Jimmy Perez to figure out. Her characters are convincing, and we are truly interested in their fates.

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Review 1309: The Punishment She Deserves

Cover for The Punishment She DeservesWho is meant by the “she” in the title of The Punishment She Deserves is ambiguous at first. The word may refer to Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, whose superiors, because of her behavior during her previous case, send her on the present case hoping she will mess up so they can transfer her. It may refer to her boss, Isabelle Ardery, whose drinking problem is seriously affecting her life and work. Perhaps it refers to one of the two controlling mothers Barbara and Isabelle encounter in their investigation. Or perhaps someone else.

Isabelle and Barbara are dispatched to look into an investigation of death in custody to see if it was performed correctly. The death in question is the apparent suicide of Ian Druitt, a clergyman who had been arrested after charges of paedophilia. Ludlow’s PCSO Gary Ruddock was dispatched to bring Druitt in to an unmanned station to wait for officers to pick him up for questioning. While Ruddock was making some phone calls, Druitt apparently hanged himself using his stole and a doorknob.

Barbara’s reaction is to investigate whether the death was indeed a suicide, but Ardery tells her their remit is only to determine whether the subsequent investigation was handled correctly. Nevertheless, Barbara uncovers a disturbing fact beyond the one that the allegation against Druitt was made by anonymous phone call. There was a gap of 19 days between the allegation and the order for the arrest, which was said to be urgent.

Barbara includes this fact in the report she writes about the investigation, but Ardery orders her to remove the information because of political reasons. Troubled, Barbara asks Inspector Lynley’s advice. He tells her to leave out the information if she wants to keep her job, but he takes the unedited report and sends it above their boss’s head. The resulting explosion ends with Ardery called on the carpet and Lynley and Havers on their way to Ludlow to investigate thoroughly.

Soon, Lynley and Havers have reason to believe that Druitt’s death was not a suicide. But believing that and proving it or finding the murderer are different things.

This novel finally shows Elizabeth George going back to form, concentrating more on the mystery than on the characters’ private lives and having her protagonists behave more like cops than they have in several of the previous novels. Although the private lives of Lynley and Havers were initially what made this series so interesting, I’ve felt that George has gotten too melodramatic with these plots in the last few books. So, it’s a relief having Barbara worry about tap-dancing class and Lynley concerned about how his relationship with his not very interesting girlfriend is going, but nothing more dramatic.

This mystery is complicated, interesting, and difficult to guess. It involves characters you come to care about. I really enjoyed it. I’m glad about this, because I’ve wondered whether I wanted to continue reading this series, and now I’m looking forward to the next one.

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Day 1298: Hidden Depths

Cover for Hidden DepthsAfter a rare night out, Julie Armstrong returns home in the wee hours to find her son, Luke, dead in the bath. Her 14-year-old daughter, Laura, is sound asleep in her room.

Luke has been despondent since the death of his friend, Thomas Sharp, from drowning. Julie assumes he killed himself, but Vera Stanhope’s team assures her it was not a suicide. Luke was strangled, his bath filled with scented oil and flowers.

Felicity Calvert is surprised when she meets her son at the bus to find that her teacher has traveled out there to view their cottage with the idea of renting it. Felicity isn’t sure she wants to rent it again but is surprised when the young woman, Lily Marsh, leaves without asking the rate.

Vera’s attentions turn to the Sharps, a local criminal family, wondering if Davy Sharp blamed Luke for his son’s death. But Davy says it was a accident. Soon, another body is discovered in a tide pool by Felicity Calvert’s son. It is Lily Marsh, submerged in a pool surrounded by flowers. The Calverts are at the shore as part of Pete Calvert’s birthday celebration, accompanied by his three best friends, all bird watchers.

This is another clever mystery by Ann Cleeves. Her characters are convincing, and her plots complex without being overly complicated. I am enjoying both the Ann Cleeves series I’m reading.

And by the way, I wish everyone a safe New Year’s Eve and a happy  new year!

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Day 1295: Scot Free

Cover for Scot FreeI’ve read almost all Catriona McPherson’s books, which up to now have fallen into two categories—her historical mystery series set in post-World War I Scotland and England featuring Dandy Gilver and her stand-alone present-day cozy thrillers, set mostly in Scotland. Scot Free is the first in a new series, the Last Ditch mysteries, featuring Lexy Campbell and set in California.

Lexy is waiting to have her last meeting with clients before she returns to Scotland. Her marriage to an American dentist has turned out to be a big mistake. She is waiting at her office for the Bombaros, who hired her as a marriage counselor to help them keep their divorce amicable. After she helps them with divorce papers, she’ll be off.

But the police arrive to question her. Mr. Bombaro is dead, having been murdered with fireworks. Elderly Vi Bombaro is the chief suspect, and Lexie is suspected of being her accomplice.

Lexie can’t believe Vi is guilty, and she is even more sure of that when Vi’s niece Sparky shows up with her new husband and a couple of thuggish business associates, and they begin taking over Mr. Bombaro’s fireworks manufacturing business. So, she decides to investigate.

Lexie has her own problems, however. She is currently homeless, and her clothes are locked in her office, the pass for which has expired. So, she checks into the Last Ditch motel and into the realm of a collection of colorful characters.

Scot Free is a funny, enjoyable novel even though McPherson signaled a little too obviously the identity of the murderer. I am a little worried, though, about the change of locale. If McPherson decided to move to the United States to appeal more to American audiences, I have to say that much more appealing to me are her Scottish settings, especially the atmospheric ones of her thrillers. The Scottish fish out of water theme can be funny, but I can imagine it getting old quickly, along with the cast of eccentric characters at the Last Ditch. For one thing, Lexie makes a lot of generalizations about Americans based on the Californians she meets, and we all know that Californians aren’t that representative of average Americans. Also, she gets at least one thing wrong. The American cop catches her in a lie because she claims that someone says “I’ve got . . . ” instead of “I have . . .” I believe that most people I know are just as likely to say it one way as the other. I noticed a few other small problems as well.

These are not very big criticisms. I just hope that McPherson doesn’t drop her moody present-day stand-alones for this series, because they are my favorite.

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Day 1288: Seven Keys to Baldpate

Cover for Seven Keys to BaldpateJust as a side note, the Classics Club Spin number is #1, which means I will be reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse for the end of January. That’s quite a coincidence, because I just checked it out of the library to read last week. I haven’t started it yet, though, and will be interested to see what I think of it more than 40 years after I read it the first time.

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I heard about Seven Keys to Baldpate during a news story about its namesake, Baldpate Inn in Colorado. Written in 1913, the novel was made into a successful stage play and three movies. It is not exactly a mystery as we think of it, since no detection occurs. Simply, the main character is trying to understand what is going on.

Billy Magee is a successful writer of pot boilers, but he feels he is capable of writing something more serious. To get away from interruptions, he travels to upstate New York to stay in his friend’s summer hotel, Baldpate Inn, which is closed during that season, winter.

In the train station at Upper Asquewan Falls, he falls in love on sight with a young woman. He attempts to help her find a place to stay, but after he puts her in a cab, he never expects to see her again.

He has no sooner gotten settled in his room at the abandoned hotel when people begin to arrive. Finding him there, they each tell him a story that is patently untrue to explain their presences at the hotel. Among them is the girl from the railway station. It is especially disturbing because Billy has been told he has the only key to the inn, but each successive arrival lets himself or herself in with a key.

Soon the hotel has almost a dozen people staying there, all of whom seem to understand what is going on except Magee. The mystery seems to involve an envelope of money in the hotel safe, however.

This novel is ridiculous but entertaining, written in a breezy style that is occasionally overly florid. It is meant to be ridiculous, however, sort of a satire against the potboilers that Billy writes, which is probably why it was so popular in its time. Although it is sometimes a little long-winded, it is a quick, fun read.

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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 1271: Mistress of the Art of Death

Cover of Mistress of the Art of DeathHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge with a very appropriate cover!

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I recently realized that of Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar series, the only book I had not kept was Mistress of the Art of Death, the first one. This realization made me immediately buy another copy, which made a good excuse to reread it.

In 1171 Cambridge, someone is brutally murdering children. The locals have decided to pin these murders on the Jews, despite their having been locked up in the castle for safe keeping after the first death.

King Henry II has asked the King of Naples for help. An investigator is requested, as well as a Master in the Art of Death, a medical doctor who investigates the causes of death, trained by the University of Salerno. To everyone’s surprise and some dismay, along with Master Simon, the fixer, comes a woman, Adelia Aguilar, a doctor trained in Salerno.

Adelia finds herself in a relatively barbaric country where her identity as a doctor must be concealed for fear she will be accused of witchcraft. To be able to treat people, she passes off her Moorish manservant, Mansur, as a doctor, while she pretends to be his assistant and translator.

Her party enters Cambridge in the company of some pilgrims returning from Canterbury. Soon discoveries lead Adelia to fear that the murderer may be among the pilgrims she traveled with.

I think I enjoyed this novel even more this time through. The first time, I was skeptical that there were woman doctors in the 12th century. Now that I know Ariana Franklin better, I’m more confident that she did her research.

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