Review 1879: The Good Turn

Garda Peter Fisher doesn’t make the report of a kidnapped girl a priority because the information is conveyed in a garbled form, but when he questions the witness, he begins to take it seriously. When he gets a lead on a possible escape vehicle and Sergeant Cormac Reilly is busy with the family, he goes out alone to intercept the suspect. The suspect drives his vehicle directly at Peter, so he shoots him. Then the girl is found unharmed.

Cormac’s boss, Brian Murphy, refused him extra resources when the girl was reported kidnapped, and now he suspends Cormac, labeling the case a complete fiasco. But Cormac believes Peter reacted correctly and the suspect was guilty. In the meantime, Peter is sent to work under his own father in his small home town.

Peter thinks a murder case has been closed prematurely, so he begins investigating it properly. Soon he begins to suspect someone has murdered two old men and is killing his own grandmother.

Cormac gets on the track of corruption in his station and begins working with Interpol. In the meantime, his relationship with his girlfriend seems to be going south.

This is another interesting crime novel by McTiernan with a complex plot.

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Review 1877: Gallows Rock

When I purchased Gallows Rock, for some reason I thought I was getting the second book in Sigurdardóttir’s Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series, but it was actually the fourth book in the Freyja and Huldar series. Oh well.

The body of a man is found hanging at a rock that was historically used for executions. Assuming it’s a suicide, the authorities just want the body removed as quickly as possible, because the Chinese delegation that is soon to arrive will be able to see it across the bay. No one can get up to release the knot, so the body is brought down rather haphazardly. Then they realize the death is not a suicide—the deceased has had a piece of paper stapled to his chest, although only a scrap of paper is still there.

It takes a while to identify the body as Helgi, a wealthy man who works in securities. While the police are struggling with that, Freyja, apparently some sort of social worker, is called to an apartment because a four-year-old boy is reported to have been left there alone. This apartment turns out to belong to Helgi, but the police can’t figure out who the child is. Once they finally identify him, they can’t figure out the connection between the boy and Helgi. In addition, his parents are missing.

Although this mystery is fairly complex, it’s the type that doesn’t provide enough clues for readers to figure it out. It focuses more on the police procedural aspect, even though it gives us enough glimpses into the doings of Helgi’s friends for us to know that something else is going on.

I felt that this novel seemed much less polished than the other Sigurdardóttir novel I read. It takes quite a while for the police to make any progress in their investigation. The characters aren’t very fully developed, perhaps because this has been done in previous books. But my main criticism has to do with the number of explanations of things that are probably self-explanatory, and the sheer number of details that have to be explained at the end, including things that haven’t been discussed before so no one really cares about. There was something clumsy in this.

The novel does have a final surprise, but even that is explained to death instead of being punched in to greater effect.

Finally, this is very picky and it’s not clear to me if it is a writing or a translation problem, but there is a lot of outdated slang, and one case where the word “verdict” is used incorrectly by the police, which I can’t imagine them doing.

Freyja’s link to the story is very weak. She’s essentially babysitting for most of the novel. As for Huldar, he’s such an appeaser at work that his behavior verges on the unprofessional.

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Review 1875: Death of a Bookseller

Published in 1956, Death of a Bookseller has long been unavailable except for costly used editions. I was surprised by the publication date, because in many ways the book reads like a much older novel. It employs a rather formal, factual narrative style, and although it is more of a police procedural, it espouses notions about policing that seem naïve and decidedly rosy compared to the probable reality. Also, it refers to phrenology as if it were a considered a science when it was largely debunked by the 1840’s.

Sergeant Wigan decides to take up a hobby, and the one that appeals to him is collecting books. In learning about them, he develops a friendship with Michael Fisk, a buyer and seller of rare books. He has a collection of very rare ones at home, quite a few about the occult.

When Fisk is found murdered in his home, Wigan is assigned to help the Detective Inspector because of his interest in books. He notices that someone has stolen a rare edition of Keats from his collection, but later learns that someone may have also stolen one of Fisk’s books on the occult, substituting in its place a book of little value.

Very quickly, a runner named Fred Hampton is arrested for the crime with serious evidence against him. Hampton claims he is being framed, and Sergeant Wigan tends to believe him, but the D. I. thinks he has his man. However, he gives Wigan permission to continue investigating on his own time. Wigan does so with the help of Charlie North, another runner.

This novel is interesting in its information about the bookselling trade and has a complex plot, although the clues didn’t seem to me more likely to point at one one suspect over another until the very end. One extremely unlikely plot point was the seriousness with which some characters treated the supernatural angle, as Fisk was apparently trying to raise the devil when he was killed. This feature was another thing that made the book seem more like a 19th century mystery.

I received this novel from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1873: Juggernaut

Esther Rowe is a Canadian nurse who has just finished delivering a patient in Cannes and finds herself having to make a decision. Will she return to snowy New York or try to find a job in beautiful, warm Cannes? She decides on Cannes and soon accepts a post with Dr. Sartorius even though he seems intimidating.

Celebrating her new job by getting a drink at an expensive café, she overhears a conversation between a young man and a beautiful woman. He is telling her he has a job in Argentina, and she doesn’t want him to go. Later, the woman comes to Dr. Sartorius’s office for an injection. She is Lady Clifford, the much younger wife of Sir Charles Clifford, a wealthy manufacturer.

Not long after Esther starts working for Dr. Sartorius, he informs her that he is closing his practice to care for Sir Clifford, who is suffering from typhoid along with other ailments. However, he invites her to come along as the day nurse.

She hasn’t worked there long when she beings noticing odd things. Lady Clifford doesn’t pay much attention to her husband but insists on giving him his milk every day. The house is frequented by Arthur Holliday, the young man Esther saw with Lady Clifford at the café. Roger Clifford, Lord Clifford’s son, arrives unexpectedly after Lord Clifford suffers a downturn. He never received the cable sent to summon him home.

Although it isn’t very hard to figure out what’s going on in the Clifford house, Esther is a strong, feisty heroine and the novel depends more on psychology than the complex plots more usual in 1928, when Juggernaut was written. Also, there is an understated romance, and the last 50 or so pages are extremely suspenseful. Juggernaut is Campbell’s first book, and I am looking forward to more.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1869: The Widows of Malabar Hill

In 1920’s Bombay, Perveen Mistry is the only female lawyer in the city. She is working with her father at the Mistry law office when a question comes up about the trust for the three widows of Omar Farid. First, the family’s agent Mr. Mukri says the widows want to change the purpose of the trust from support of veterans to the establishment of a madrassa. Further, the wives are giving up their mahr (sort of a dowry) to the trust. That may not be allowed by law. But Perveen also notices that the signatures of two of the women appear to be the same. Since the women are living in purdah, Purveen talks her father into allowing her to interview the wives.

When Perveen visits the wives, she finds Mr. Mukri rude and uncooperative and only Sakina, the second wife, understands and agrees with the requested changes. Sakina is shocked to find out that Razia, the first wife, is the administrator of the trust. Razia is unaware that Mr. Mukri has filed for a change in the purpose of the trust, but she is clearly afraid of him. Perveen also finds out that the agent has not been paying the household’s bills and that the third wife, Mumtaz, is trying to hide a pregnancy from the rest of the household. Perveen believes Mukri is mishandling the estate’s funds.

This novel is being marketed as a mystery, but it is about 80 pages before Perveen goes to see the women and 120 before a murder is committed. That is mostly because Massey devotes about half the novel to Perveen’s personal life, particularly her brief marriage. It seems to me that she could have accomplished what she needed to do in a few paragraphs or a chapter, because we don’t invest much in this relationship. Perveen is afraid of her ex-husband at the beginning of the novel, but the reasons could be explained in a lot less space.

Massey does a good job of giving the feel of the indoor spaces and food and costume, but I didn’t get a good sense of what Bombay was like at this time, something that I look for in a novel set in an exotic location or other time. And, in fact, Perveen’s visit to Calcutta for the first time is an excellent opportunity to describe that city, but there is no description.

At first, too, I thought I was going to object to Perveen being too much out of her time, for I really dislike historical novels where the heroines behave more like they live in the present. This particularly bothered me in the section about Perveen’s romance, but as the novel continued, it stopped being an issue.

This is not a mystery, however. Perveen pokes around a bit, but the solution just depends on her being in the right place at the right time. It is her father who actually finds the most important clues. So, overall I was disappointed in this novel.

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Review 1865: Truth

Of the Peter Temple novels I’ve read, Truth strikes me as the most hard-boiled. It has witty dialogue but not the lightness of some of the others. The ending is lighter but also cynical.

Stephen Villani has just been made the head of the Victoria Homicide Squad, and he’s already exhausted. At a brand new, very expensive condo, the body of a young girl is discovered, in her teens, maybe, and clearly having suffered abuse before her death. Villani is even more affected because she looks like his 15-year-old daughter, Lizzie, who has run away from home.

When his team begins trying to collect data from the building’s security people, they are told there was a big system outage that night because of an opening at the attached casino, so they have no camera footage and cannot tell whose key card was used to enter the condo. Also, the management is reluctant to divulge the names of the owners.

A bit later, they are called to a scene of torture and murder of two thugs in a local gang. The pressure comes down to Villani to concentrate on this crime and drop the investigation of the girl’s murder, but Villani is not willing to do that.

Besides pressures at work, Villani has other troubles. A huge forest fire is threatening his father’s place as well as the forest he and his father planted, and he knows his father won’t evacuate. His daughter Lizzie was returned home but already ran away again. His relationship with his wife Laurie is on the skids. And he is tormented by his relationship with his father, who left him alone at a young age to take care of his younger brothers but has never shown him any affection. Finally, he has kept silent about a major crime committed by a coworker.

Temple never seems to use an unnecessary word, and here the effect is heightened by the tough, affectless cops who only seem to speak in incomplete sentences. The dialogue is witty, although I didn’t understand all of the slang. This is a complex, cynical thriller about family and politics in law enforcement.

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Review 1858: The Night Hawks

D. I. Harry Nelson calls forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway to a site on the coast where a body was discovered nearby by some metal detectorists. The same detectorists, a club called the Night Hawks, have also found a trove containing a skeleton.

Ruth, as the new department head, has hired her replacement, David Brown, who is already irritating her. She finds him coming along to excavate the skeleton despite herself.

Although the young man found along the coast turns out not to have drowned, and in fact, is a local ex-con, the cause of his death is not immediately apparent. Shortly thereafter, two of the Night Hawks report hearing shots at a remote farm. A young policeman is the first onto the scene, where he discovers what appears to be the murder/suicide of a scientist and his wife, Douglas and Linda Noakes. A few days later, the young policeman is dead from an apparent virus, the same as, it turns out, killed the young man found by the sea.

This novel mixes in local folklore with an intriguing mystery. Further, it seems to be moving along Ruth’s relationship with Nelson, the married father of her child, even though they don’t actually spend much time together in this one. I’m still finding this series enjoyable.

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Review 1855: The Scholar

The Scholar is the second novel in Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series. Cormac, who left an elite Dublin squad for Galway because of his girlfriend Emma’s opportunity at a local pharmaceutical lab, is still being given cold cases, despite his success with his last case. But of the three sergeants in the squad, Carrie O’Halloran is handling many more cases, so she asks to offload some of them. Reilly gets the Henderson case. He is barely started on it when he receives an alarming call from Emma. On the way to work at the lab, she has found the body of a hit-and-run victim.

Reilly realizes that he should probably not take the case, but it is quickly established that Emma’s car could not have run over the victim. Also, he feels protective of Emma and thinks he can help her if he is in charge of the case. The victim seems to be Carline Darcy, the granddaughter of a giant in pharmaceuticals, or at least Carline’s ID for the lab is in her pocket. However, when the police go to interview her roommates, they find Carline alive, and she denies any knowledge of the girl. Reilly thinks she’s lying.

The girl turns out to be Della Lambert, a dropout of the university. Although she comes from a poor family, she seems to have lots of money. The lab denies any knowledge of her, but Emma is sure she’s seen her there with Carline.

This was another complex mystery with interesting characters, although I found Emma to be enigmatic. She had very little presence in the first novel, but there were hints of something in her past. In this novel, those events are explained.

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Review 1853: The Broken Shore

Recovering from severe injuries inflicted in an encounter with a dangerous killer, Detective Joe Cashin has left a big-city homicide squad for his home town in a small Australian port. He is living in the wreck of his grandfather’s house.

His superior officer orders him to take charge in the assault on Charles Bourgoyne. An old man but still powerful and respected, Bourgoyne was brutally attacked in his own home and is in critical condition. The initial hypothesis is that the attack was a robbery gone wrong, as his expensive wrist watch is missing.

Cashin’s role is resented by Detective Hopgood, because the crime happened in Cromarty, in Hopgood’s jurisdiction. When they get a tip that three Aboriginal teenagers from the area tried to hock a watch of the same brand as Bourgoyne’s, Hopgood manages to botch their apprehension so that two of the boys are killed. Cashin is told to take leave, but he continues to pursue the case.

This is a dark and moody mystery written in Temple’s usual fluid and witty prose. It’s quite gripping.

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Review 1848: The Mayor’s Wife

A friend told me about Anna Katharine Green, who is supposed to be one of the first women mystery writers, and since then I’ve seen several reviews of her books. So, I found a copy of The Mayor’s Wife, written in 1907.

Miss Saunders is hired as a companion for his wife by Mayor Packard, who is also running for governor. He is to be away a lot on the campaign trail, and he has become concerned for his wife, Olympia, because lately she has been behaving oddly. He wants Miss Saunders to try to ascertain what is wrong with Mrs. Packard.

It’s not too long before Miss Saunders discovers that the house has had several tenants because it is supposedly haunted. The neighbors, two old ladies who used to own the house, also spend their time staring into the room given to Miss Saunders.

Although the household staff is generally friendly, Mrs. Packard’s moods vary wildly, and two of the household are unfriendly. The butler is hostile and suspicious, while Mr. Steele, Mr. Packard’s secretary, is cold.

It turns out there is a lot to discover in the house, and Miss Saunders finds hidden treasures, deciphers codes, busts the ghost, and finds out what is wrong with Mrs. Packard. Most of these secrets are easy to guess, including one involving a secret identity. Like many older mysteries, this one is more concerned with puzzles than characters, including spending several pages on cyphers.

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