Review 1789: The Postscript Murders

This second Harbinder Kaur novel begins with the apparently natural death of 90-year-old Peggy Smith. Peggy was a sprightly old lady with an interest in crime fiction who used to record everyone who passed her apartment.

Her carer, Natalka, thinks there might be something wrong about Peggy’s death. When she and a neighbor, Benedict, are packing up some of Peggy’s things, they notice that several mystery writers have thanked Peggy for her help. Then someone holds them up with a gun and takes a copy of an old murder mystery.

Dex Challoner is one of the writers who thanked Peggy. Natalka, Benedict, and Peggy’s friend Edwin talk Harbinder into attending a book event for Dex, and he admits that Peggy used to help him come up with interesting murders. He makes an appointment to meet with them later, but the next day he is found dead, shot in the head in his home.

This novel was certainly a page turner, so much so that I read most of it in one day. It has a light cozy feel to it, and clues galore. I found it an enjoyable read.

The Stranger Diaries

The Stone Circle

The Dark Angel

Review 1784: Death in Oslo

I began reading this Norwegian series after watching the Swedish TV show Modus that is based on it. I mentioned that connection before, but while reading this novel, I thought about it a lot.

Helen Bentley, the American president, disappears from her hotel room during a state visit to Norway. Adam Stubo isn’t involved in the case at first, but then FBI agent Warren Seifford requests Adam as a liaison. When Adam’s wife, Johanne Vik, hears this, she demands that he refuse to work with Warren even though she won’t explain why. Then she leaves home with her baby when Adam reports to work.

Perhaps it’s because I watched the Modus version of this book first, which made significant changes, but I found it much less plausible than I have Holt’s other books in the series. I have already noticed, though, that her character Johanne Vik tends to be a little hysterical at times, unlike the calm counterpart in the TV series.

First, I felt that Holt had little grasp of the way politics between the Norwegians and the Americans would play out. Most of the time, she just shows them spinning their wheels in power plays. She, or perhaps the translator, also gets things wrong about American speech. The mistake I can think of offhand has an American on the news call gas “petrol.” Americans don’t use that word. I would think the book was simply translated for a British audience except the word was used in a supposedly verbatim news report from the States. I also noticed a similar error when Warren’s thoughts are revealed.

The TV program has the President stashed in the closet of an abandoned building, but in the novel she is in an apartment basement and just happens to be found by the servant of the woman Johanne Vik goes to stay with. That coincidence is bad enough, but that they don’t immediately call the police is wholly unbelievable.

Finally, there’s the big climax. I don’t want to give too much away, but I have to say that since the person the president thinks is guilty isn’t, what happened to the danger that she was supposedly in? They handled this much better in Modus by having there be actual danger.

So, a bit disappointed here. I’m ahead of the series on the next book, so we’ll see if that makes a difference.

Punishment

The Final Murder

The Water’s Edge

Review 1770: The Stone Circle

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called back out to the wooden circles on the Norfolk coast because bones have been discovered there, along with a hagstone. Ruth thinks they are quite likely those of Margaret Lacey, who went missing at the age of 12 in 1981. And so they prove to be. Ruth is also sure the bones have been moved recently from a more loamy soil.

Ruth has received a letter similar to the ones that arrived during her first case set near the stone circle. So has DCI Nelson, Ruth’s occasional lover and the father of her daughter Kate. Nelson had decided to leave his wife Michelle for Ruth when Michelle announced that she was pregnant. Nelson’s son Charlie has just been born.

One of the suspects in Margaret’s disappearance had been John Mostyn, but his crippled mother gave him an alibi. Now John lives by himself, a hoarder and a collector of stones, but Margaret’s family think he is harmless. Soon, though, he is found murdered.

The Stone Circle is another excellent mystery by Elly Griffiths. I am even more interested in Ruth’s private life, and the mystery itself is a good one.

The Dark Angel

The Chalk Pit

The Woman in Blue

Review 1760: The Turning Tide

I’ve started to feel as though Catriona McPherson’s approach to a mystery is to throw clues at you until you’re impossibly confused. That’s probably why I prefer her cozy thrillers. Still, I like her characters Dandy Gilver and Alec Osborne, so I keep reading.

Dandy’s daughter-in-law has given birth to twins when Dandy and Alec finally decide to respond to a third letter asking for help. One reason they decide to come is they have just heard of the death of a family friend, Peter Haslett, that seems to be connected with the case. The Reverend Hogg has asked them to find out what is wrong with Vesper, the Cramond Ferry girl, who appears to have gone mad and now blames herself for Peter’s drowning.

When they arrive in Cramond, they are confused by a meeting with three people who seem to have different agendas, Reverend Hogg, Miss Speir, who runs an uncomfortable inn, and Miss Lumley, who owns a local pub. They also hear different versions of Peter’s death. Most say he fell off the ferry and drowned, but one person says he came off the path and had his head crushed in the mill race.

He supposedly was visiting some friends, agricultural students doing an experiment with potatoes, but when Dandy and Alex meet them, the students make nothing of the fact that they have planted the potatoes upside down. When Dandy and Alec meet Vesper, she certainly seems mad, half naked and babbling about Mercury and snakes. But soon, Vesper too is dead.

I think I defy anyone to figure out McPherson’s crime novels. Still, they’re fun to read.

Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

Dandy Gilver and the Unpleasantness in the Ballroom

The Reek of Red Herrings

Review 1758: Too Good To Be True

In looking for more to read by Ann Cleeves, I wasn’t aware that I had ordered something between a short story and a novella, packaged under the name of Quick Reads. This little volume cost almost as much as a regular paperback and took about a half hour to read.

At the request of his ex-wife Sarah, Jimmy Perez travels to the border town of Stonebridge. Here a young teacher, Anna Blackwell, has been found dead, an apparent suicide. Sarah is concerned because the village rumor mill is alleging that her husband Tom was having an affair with Anna. Sarah hasn’t helped the situation by heading a drive to remove her from her position.

When Jimmy investigates the crime scene, he finds some evidence to indicate that Anna may have been murdered. Also, a mysterious stranger seems to be following him.

I am not really a fan of mystery short stories, because I enjoy all the things that the short story in that genre has little time for, character development, atmosphere, and so on. As it turns out, the motive for this murder seems unbelievably flimsy. I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any more of these Quick Reads.

White Nights

Wild Fire

Thin Air

Review 1750: The Final Murder

Anne Holt’s Stubo and Vik series books are so far suspenseful, and her characters are convincing. I enjoyed The Final Murder but found it a bit far-fetched.

Johanne Vik and Adam Stubo are a couple five years after the events of the last book, and Johanne has just given birth to their daughter. She hasn’t been sleeping, and she is worried that the new baby may exhibit symptoms of the undiagnosed condition of Kristiane, her first child.

A TV personality is found dead in a bizarre murder with her tongue cut out, split, and placed in an elaborate origami bowl. Despite the efforts of Adam’s team, they cannot find anyone who bore her a grudge. Then a rising young politician is found crucified. The team begins to be afraid they have a serial murderer of celebrities.

Something about the murders seems familiar to Johanne. After the third one, she realizes that it is not just about celebrities—someone is re-creating five unrelated murders that Johanne’s FBI mentor regularly talks about in his lectures. We readers periodically check in on the murderer and know that she is a woman.

To explain my problems with this mystery, I have to reveal a spoiler, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know more. The murderer is actually targeting Johanne with these murders, trying to see if she can catch her. I found the re-creation idea a little iffy, but this plot point seems more like the old-fashioned diabolical mastermind challenging the detective—sort of Holmes/Moriarty—the kind of thing that has always seemed ridiculous and unlikely to me. I also felt frustrated by the ending, which I will not reveal.

Don’t misunderstand me, though. I still enjoyed reading the book and look forward to the next one, although I find Johanne a bit neurotic.

Punishment

The Mist

The Water’s Edge

Review 1748: Black Tide

I understand Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series is classified as hard-boiled crime, which is usually too much for me, but Temple’s writing is so effortless and funny and his characters so interesting that reading these books is a pleasure.

In this second book of the series, Jack is trying to help Des Connors, an old friend of his father. Des’s son Gary has borrowed all of Des’s savings and disappeared. Further, he has mortgaged Des’s house and not paid the bills. If Jack can’t find Gary, Des will be homeless and penniless.

Jack is also involved with his friends Harry and Cam in finding and betting on unlikely racehorses. While involved in this pursuit, they uncover serious cheating at the track.

One of the pleasures of this series besides its carefully constructed plots and punchy dialogue is the full life Temple has constructed for Jack. There is his bunch of elderly pals at the bar, who are obsessed with his dad’s old footie team, his woodworking apprenticeship under his severe teacher, Charlie, his disreputable clients, and his love life. This isn’t going so well as Linda Hillier has taken a job in Sydney.

As Jack looks for Gary, the plot becomes more and more tangled, and he keeps encountering dead bodies. These are really fun, exciting thrillers.

Bad Debts

Laura

In a Lonely Place

Review 1735: #1976 Club! Sleeping Murder

With the 1976 Club looming, I picked out some books to read for October that were published in 1976. Sleeping Murder also qualifies for RIP XVI! As usual, on this first post I’m also listing anything else I’ve reviewed published in 1976. As far as I know, there are only two:

Newlywed Gwenda Reed is house hunting along the south coast of England for herself and her husband Giles, both newly arrived from New Zealand. When she comes across a house in Dillmouth, she immediately feels at home there, although she experiences a fleeting panic on the stairs. Nevertheless, she buys the home.

Gwenda is residing in it to oversee updates to the house when she begins to experience something odd. She expects the stairs down from the terrace to be in one place but they are in another. When workmen remove some bushes where she thinks the steps should be, they find the stairs used to be there. Similarly, she keeps trying to walk through the wall in the dining room where she thinks there should be a doorway. When the workmen examine the wall, they say it had a door there. She imagines a particular wallpaper in what used to be the nursery, and when a blocked cupboard in that room is opened, she sees that wallpaper inside.

Gwenda is most upset because she’s had a vision of a woman dead at the bottom of the stairs and realized it was Helen. But she has no idea who Helen is. Feeling confused, she decides to consult friends in London. Accompanying the group out for the evening is her friends’ aunt, Miss Jane Marple. After she explains what’s been happening, Miss Marple says she should find out if she ever lived in England as a child.

Inquiries find that Gwenda lived in the house when she was three. At the time, her father had a second wife named Helen. But Helen supposedly ran off with another man. Gwenda and Giles find that Helen’s half brother, Dr. Kennedy, still lives in the area. He has some letters that she sent right after she left but hasn’t heard from her since.

Gwenda and Giles begin to believe that Helen was murdered. Did Gwenda’s father kill his wife, or did someone else?

It was hard for me to judge whether this was a difficult mystery, because I vividly remembered a TV production of it. However, knowing the identity of the killer made me appreciate how skillfully Christie salts in the clues without giving too much away. The characters are clearly defined, and Miss Marple is at her cleverest.

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Review 1732: A Day in the Death of Dorothea Cassidy

Here’s another book for RIP XVI, although a cozy one.

People in the town of Otterbridge are shocked when the body of Dorothea Cassidy, the vicar’s wife, is found murdered in the park. Most of the people in town loved her, she was so vibrant and enthusiastic.

Inspector Ramsey and Sergeant Hunter are having difficulty retracing her movements on the day before. Almost everyone who saw her is lying in some way. Old Walter Tanner found her car in his driveway that morning, and only he admits to disliking her, saying she was constantly after him to approve of changes she wanted to make to the church.

The Inspector Ramsey books are one of Cleeves’s earlier series. I have read all of her Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez books and a couple of stand-alones. Although this one has a clever premise, it feels less polished than the others. Cleeves often lets readers know some of what her suspects are thinking, but information about them is introduced naturally in the other books, for example, in conversations between characters. Here, we no sooner meet a character than we are told several facts about the person, a device which seemed clumsy to me. Also, character development seems quite a bit sketchier.

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Review 1729: The Witch Hunter

Here’s another one for RIP XVI!

Best-selling author Roger Koponen is appearing on the other side of the country when his wife Maria is murdered and posed in a black evening gown with a gruesome smile. When Jessica Niemi’s department has him driven home by a police officer, the car is later found burnt out with two dead bodies inside. While the team is beginning to believe that the murders are connected to Koponen’s books, two more women in black evening dresses are found, one under the ice in the lake behind Koponen’s house and one popping up from the hole, alive but barely. All of the women look a lot like Jessica.

I am not sure what attracted me to this book, possibly its setting in Finland, but it is just terrible. Let me count the ways:

  1. The main character (Jessica) is a millionaire who hides her wealth by pretending to live in a barely furnished studio apartment while actually living in a large apartment next door. How ridiculous is that?
  2. The characters, including Jessica, are completely flat. They have traits, not personalities. Some of them don’t even have those.
  3. The reason behind the string of crimes seems to have nothing to do with the bizarre crimes themselves. A manifesto is mentioned but never explained.
  4. The interactions between the teams are stunningly unprofessional, and often conversational exchanges don’t make much sense. What a person replies doesn’t always seem to have anything to do with what was said to him or her.
  5. The actual investigation seems haphazard and is unconvincing.
  6. Much space is devoted to a summer in Murano when Jessica is 19. It has nothing to do with anything.
  7. The writing or translation (or both) is mediocre and full of clich├ęs. Some turns of phrase are odd and not idiomatic.
  8. The whole plot is overcomplicated and just plain silly.
  9. The blurb on the back of the book both misinterprets and overly reveals the plot.
  10. Jessica hardly does anything.
  11. The big thriller climax is resolved by Jessica waking up in a hospital. The end.

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