Review 2036: A Slow Fire Burning

Laura Kilbride often has poor judgment, such as when she spent the night with Daniel Sutherland. That night turned ugly, and she was seen by the writer Theo Myerson leaving the area with blood on her face. She says she didn’t kill Daniel, but an accident in her youth has left her with a condition that causes her to react inappropriately, and the detectives think her behavior is odd.

Another odd witness is the woman who discovered the body, Miriam Lewis, whose narrowboat is next to Daniel’s. She hasn’t told the police that she bears a grudge against Theo Myerson, who stole significant portions of her memoir for his best-selling thriller. And Theo happens to be Daniel’s uncle.

Carla and Theo’s marriage did not survive the death of their young son when he was in the care of Angela Sutherland, Daniel’s mother. This accident happened many years ago, but Carla and Theo were never able to forgive Angela, and Angela has recently died.

There are more secrets to come out before the murder is solved. Hawkins does a good job of keeping the pace moving while keeping the readers on the edges of their seats.

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Review 2035: The Appeal

Janice Hallett, and others obviously, thought she was being original when she decided to write a murder mystery entirely in texts, emails, and documents. Maybe she was, but it seems she couldn’t have chosen a more cumbersome way to convey her story. At almost 450 pages, the novel has about 200 pages of plot, and no one is killed until 100 pages from the end.

Further, Hallett cheats by leaving out some of the correspondence until the end. But my biggest problem with the novel is the complete lack of plausibility of the situation. A professor gives two students the task of analyzing the case, but he is hiding information from them and asking them questions he already knows the answer to, not asking them to find evidence of who really is the murderer. I wonder what kind of class the author could have been envisioning.

The plot is this: an amateur theater company is putting on a play. However, the usual director, Martin Hayward, asks his son James to take over because his granddaughter Poppy has cancer, and he is involved in fund raising to pay for an experimental treatment.

Two newcomers to town, Kal and Sam Greenwood, try out for parts in the play at the urging of Isabel Beck, a clingy girl who is Sam’s coworker and new bestie. But there is something unexplained about the Greenwoods, who have just returned from working as aid workers in Africa. Sam also seems hostile to Tish Bhatoa, the doctor who is arranging Poppy’s treatment.

One side-effect of its approach is that the novel also contains about 100 pages of exposition of the murder, which bogs things down so much that, unbelievably, I finally gave up on it less then 50 pages from the end because I couldn’t take it anymore.

What is most unlikely, though, is the role of the police. There isn’t one! There are two minor events involving the police, but their reports are so amateurish as to be unbelievable. What kind of police report takes down testimony without bothering to take the name of the witness?

Then, finally, the victim is killed. Hallett withholds the victim’s name, and in fact one of the puzzles set by the professor is to figure out who is killed! What nonsense! After the murder, there is no evidence of a police investigation except the documents, and lots of questions are unanswered that the police would have to investigate.

A great deal is made of the status of the characters in terms of class. I didn’t understand things this way at all. For example, one student states that no one listens to Isabel because she is low status. No one listens to her because she’s silly!

Finally, the theory of murder is presented, as far as I could tell, with absolutely no proof. I say “as far as I could tell” because I finally stopped reading. What balderdash! I can’t believe this book was so popular.

This year I forgot about Readers Imbibing Peril for September, but I have some nice chilling books coming up!

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Review 2032: The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime

The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime is the latest British Library collection of crime short stories, edited by Martin Edwards. These stories are either set in Scotland or written by Scottish writers, like the first, “Markheim,” by Robert Louis Stevenson. They are arranged in chronological order by publication date, ranging from 1885 to 1974.

Some of the stories, like “The Field Bazaar” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are simple puzzles. In this one, Sherlock Holmes explains to Watson how he knows what is in the letter he just received. Others, like “The Running of the Deer” by P. M. Hubbard, are about the supposition of crime. “Madame Ville d’Aubier” by Josephine Tey tells the story of the heavy atmosphere emanating from a woman at a bakery and how later this woman murdered her sons and husband. In “Footsteps” by Anthony Wynne, a man figures out the connection between apparently ghostly footsteps and an attempted murder.

I liked some of the stories more than others, but they altogether make an enjoyable collection for an escapist evening.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 2028: Seven Graves One Winter

Before winter in the small Greenland village of Inussuk, the gravediggers dig seven graves and hope that will be enough. One is about to be filled when a man throws a young woman overboard a boat and then runs over her.

Constable David Maratse is nearly ready to be released from the hospital, where he has been recuperating from torture. He has been given early retirement because of his injuries and plans to retire in Inussuk. Once there, though, he and his friend Karl pull up the body of a young woman while fishing.

It’s pretty obvious who she is. First Minister Nivi Winthur’s daughter Tinka has gone missing. It soon seems clear that the murder was political. Although Nivi’s opponent in the coming election, Malik Uutaaq, is running on a platform of Greenland for Greenlanders, not Danes, he prefers his sex partners to be half Danish and very young. Tinka was the most recent. But would Malik actually murder her?

When Nivi meets Maratse, she asks him to help find her daughter’s killer.

Although after two revealing conversations, I didn’t find it hard to guess the murderer, I liked this novel for other reasons, mostly its exotic setting and descriptions of life in Greenland. (How many mysteries have sled dogs in them?) It is described as Arctic Noir on the cover, but except for the crime and the suspenseful ending, it was more of a cozy mystery.

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Review 2026: Checkmate to Murder

In a bare studio on a foggy night during the Blitz, five people are occupied. An artist, Bruce Manaton, is sketching an actor, AndrĂ© Dalaunier, dressed as a cardinal. On the other end of the big room, two men, Robert Cavendish and Ian Mackellon, are playing chess. Rosanne Manaton, the artist’s sister, looks in occasionally from the kitchen and once steps outside to check the blackout.

A Special constable arrives at the door with a Canadian service man in tow. He claims that the old man in the house next door, Mr. Folliner, has been murdered and he caught the service man fleeing the scene. The soldier, Neil Folliner, says he went to visit his uncle and found him shot dead. The Special wants the people in the studio to guard Neil while he goes to call the police.

When Inspector Macdonald’s team begins investigating, they learn there is a rumor that the old man was a miser, although Mrs. Tubbs, his charwoman, had been bringing him food for fear he would starve. The house itself is absolutely bare, but there is an empty strongbox in the bedroom where the murder was committed.

Questioning a soldier who stood at the corner for a long time waiting for his girlfriend reveals that the only people who passed him on the street at the relevant time were Mrs. Tubbs, Neil Folliner, and the Special. It would seem that the people in the studio, all but Rosanne, alibi each other. But Inspector Macdonald doesn’t take anything for granted, and he is also interested in the studio’s previous tenants, who spread the rumor about the old man being a miser.

This mystery presents an interesting puzzle, although one not as complex as is sometimes found in Golden Age crime novels, for which I was thankful. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I think the solution isn’t a bit far-fetched. Also, it didn’t seem as if Lorac paid as much attention to characterization as she usually does, perhaps because there are quite a few characters. Still, I think her novels are some of the better ones in this series in general.

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Review 2014: Something to Hide

Tani Bankole, a teenage boy of NIgerian descent, believes that his father, Abeola, has arranged a marriage for Simi, his eight-year-old sister. He begins making preparations to flee with her, because his mother, Monifa, seems totally subservient. Soon, though, he is horrified to realize that Simi is being prepared for female circumcision to “cleanse” her in preparation for marriage.

DS Teo Bontempi is found unconscious on the floor of her apartment after being bashed on the head and dies later in the hospital. When DCI Lynley and his team begin investigating, they find that her boss, DCI Mark Phinney, had her transferred shortly before, out of a project she loved, trying to shut down female genital mutilation in London. Phinney reports that she tended to do too much on her own instead of working with the team. But it soon comes out that he was having an affair with her. Phinney’s wife Pete is wholly subsumed with caring for their severely disabled daughter and is so afraid of having another child that she refuses sex, encouraging Phinney to look elsewhere. Only Phinney had fallen in love with Teo.

Teo also had a husband, although they were separated, who wanted to get back with her. He, Ross Carver, discovered her injured but acceded to her request to help her to bed instead of calling an ambulance. Teo’s sister Rose has her eye on Ross and has become pregnant by him during the separation.

These are the immediate suspects in the murder, but suspense is added when Tani flees with his sister from their abusive father.

Although as usual Linley is having romantic problems, this series continues to be really good. George takes her time getting to the crime, but the preceding background is necessary and interesting. Although the series went astray for several books after Linley’s wife Helen’s death, it has improved again with the last few books and is getting even better. We find out more about DS Winston Nkata’s home life in this one, too.

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Review 2011: Green for Danger

The details of an operating military hospital during World War II are meticulously recounted in Green for Danger. The novel begins with the postman, Higgins, delivering six letters about the writers’ postings to the hospital. The readers then learn that one of the six people will become a murderer.

The military hospital in the Kent countryside is busy one night, because an air raid in the nearby town has caused the hospital in town to send some civilians there. Among them is Higgins, the postman, who is also a member of the local rescue, most of whom have just been killed or injured.

Higgins’s femur is due to be set in surgery the next morning. It’s a relatively straightforward procedure that shouldn’t be dangerous, but as soon as he starts to go under the anesthetic, he dies. The operating team is shocked.

What seems to be an unusual but unsuspicious death from the anesthetic has Inspector Cockrill wondering. However, there seems to be no way that the canisters containing oxygen, which are black and white, could have been switched for the green carbon dioxide canisters, and no poisonous substances could be forced into a canister. If the death was murder, only the six people in the operating room could have done it.

That evening, Sister Bates, who is jealous of womanizing surgeon Gervase Eden, has a little snit during which she announces that she knows the death was a murder and she has evidence. Later, she is found dead in the surgery, stabbed and wearing a surgical gown and a mask.

This mystery is purposefully claustrophobic and quite suspenseful at times, although the explanations at the end are a bit long. I thought I knew the motive and the murderer all along, but I was fooled! I am happy to be seeing more and more women writers represented in this crime series.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 2010: Punishment of a Hunter

When Zaitsev and his homicide team in 1930 Leningrad investigate the death of Faina Baranova, he knows there is something odd about it. Although all her clothing is practical, she is dressed in velvet and posed before red curtains the neighbors in her communal apartment say are not hers. There is something theatrical in the scene. However, after months, the team finds no clues.

In a meeting at work of the OGPU, Zaitsev is accused of hiding bourgeois origins. He claims he knows nothing about his father, having grown up in an orphanage. Pasha, his building janitor, shows up in support and claims to have known his mother; nevertheless, some days later he is arrested.

After a few months, he is released without explanation. Zaitsev soon figures out he is to solve another murder, this time of a group of people on the site of a new park planned by Kirov, head of the party in Leningrad. The unspoken message is solve the case or go back to jail. However, because he’s been released, his colleagues no longer trust him and won’t speak to him about work.

Aside from presenting an intriguing mystery, Punishment of a Hunter evokes 1930 Leningrad, beautiful but gray and tired, the atmosphere paranoid, citizens poorly clad and fed. I was convinced by this post-revolutionary world as I was not by the popular A Gentleman in Moscow. I hope Pushkin Press will be publishing more books by Yakovlevna.

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Review 2007: The Book of Mirrors

I searched for Romanian authors on Google because I was interested in reading more books from other countries and came up with the name E. O. Chirovici. What was my surprise then to find that The Book of Mirrors is set in Princeton, New Jersey. I don’t know why this should have been a surprise, it just was.

Literary agent Peter Katz receives as a submission the fragment of a manuscript purporting to tell the true story of the murder years ago of a renowned Princeton professor, Joseph Wieder. When he attempts to contact the author, Richard Flynn, who at the time had been a student suspected of the murder, he finds Flynn is in the hospital, and he soon dies. Searches by Flynn’s partner for the complete manuscript turn up nothing, so Katz hires a journalist friend to try to find the truth.

The friend, John Keller, finds that all the witnesses seem to have their own ideas of what happened. Although Flynn, for example, kept his housemate Laura’s name out of the investigation, Keller comes to believe that she was manipulating him. Laura claims that Flynn murdered Wieder out of a mistaken jealousy. Wieder’s caretaker claims that Laura was at the scene of the crime.

Keller isn’t able to either find the manuscript or get to the truth, so the task falls from one person’s hand to another until it is finally solved.

It’s hard to describe this book. Because of its basis in the past, it doesn’t have much action—it’s just a series of interviews. Chirovici has a broader sort of philosophical point to make here, but it’s nothing very profound. I found the novel somewhat clever and interesting, but my attention flagged at times.

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Review 2002: Water Weed

American Virginia Carew has been living and traveling in Europe when she meets an old friend, Glenn Hillier, who has been in England studying architecture. Glenn makes a date to meet her and her father for lunch but then cancels. He seems to be in the party of a wealthy and beautiful but much older widow, Mrs. Fenmore, whose friends call her Cuckoo.

Glenn keeps missing appointments, and then Mrs. Fenmore’s daughter Pam invites Ginny to stay. Ginny observes that Glenn is madly in love with Cuckoo and being kept in line by her ill health.

But shortly after Ginny goes to stay with her English cousins, Cuckoo is found strangled. Glenn is missing and presumed to be the murderer. Only Ginny is certain he is innocent.

I’m really enjoying these Alice Campbell mysteries. I liked this mystery even better than Juggernaut. It has a persistent, feisty heroine and a clever plot. I was only disappointed by Ginny’s ultimate romantic choice. She should have stuck to the reporter!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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