Review 1602: Friday on My Mind

Because I read the Frieda Klein mystery that comes after this one first, I was aware of a plot point in Friday on My Mind, but writing about it is not really a spoiler, because it happens in the first few pages. That point is that Sandy, Frieda’s ex-lover, is found dead in the Thames with his throat cut and Frieda’s hospital bracelet on his wrist.

Frieda had broken up with him several months ago, but recently he had been trying to contact her. Friends said he was in a state of agitation. He had come to her office with her belongings and shouted at her when he wasn’t allowed in. Frieda is the police’s suspect, and when they find Sandy’s wallet in her home, they plan to arrest her.

Frieda thinks her nemesis, Dean Reeve, has killed Sandy, as he’s killed other of her enemies, and is framing her. She feels that the police will not investigate further, so she flees, determined to find the murderer herself.

As usual, this is a complex mystery with interesting characters. It also has a gripping ending, and I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I liked Sandy, and I was bothered by how unlike himself he was behaving after the breakup, as well as by his murder.

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Review 1597: A Dying Fall

One day after forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway hears of the death in a fire of an old school friend, Dan Golding, she receives a letter from him asking her to come look at some bones he’s found. He also expresses fear but does not say what he’s afraid of.

Ruth asks DCI Harry Nelson if he would find out whether there was anything suspicious about Dan’s death. He finds that Dan was murdered, flammable material stuffed through his letterbox and his front door locked on the outside.

Ruth then receives a call from Dan’s department head, Clayton Henry, asking her to look at the bones. The university is near Blackpool, and Ruth is embarrassed to learn that Harry is going there for a vacation with his family, but she decides to go anyway. She immediately begins receiving threatening texts.

When Ruth arrives at the university with her daughter Kate and friend Cathbad, she soon learns that Dan thought he found the bones of King Arthur in the ruins of a Roman town. The tomb is certainly convincing, but when Ruth sees the bones, she realizes they’ve been switched. So, where are the original bones and what’s going on?

This jaunt out of Norfolk is atmospheric, and the idea for the mystery is clever and original. I guessed the identity of the murderer but only because the person seemed the least likely suspect. It looks like there will be some shifting around of recurring characters, too, which happens in real life but seldom in mystery series and should be refreshing. As usual, I enjoyed this mystery.

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Review 1585: Eight Perfect Murders

I had a hard time rating this high-concept mystery on Goodreads, because there were things I liked about it and things I didn’t like. Overall, however, I felt it was a fast-paced novel with a love for books, especially old-fashioned crime novels.

Malcolm Kershaw has a visit from the FBI at the beginning of the novel. He is part owner of a mystery and crime bookstore in Boston. Years ago, when he first went to work there, he wrote a blog post named “Eight Perfect Murders” in which he listed eight mystery novels with near-perfect murders. Agent Mulvey has figured out that someone is using the list to re-create not the murders but the spirit of the murders. Moreover, one of the victims is someone Malcolm knew, an annoying woman who used to frequent his bookstore before she moved away. Agent Mulvey wants Malcolm to help figure out if any other deaths are related to his list.

Right away, I knew Malcolm wasn’t a trustworthy narrator, and almost immediately I guessed there would be some connection to the death of his wife, Claire. The novel takes lots of twists and turns, but I expected some of them. Still, it clipped right along, was well written, and was full of references to fiction I loved.

Why did I have trouble rating it? First, it got bogged down in the explanations at the end. The murderer explains things, and then Malcolm explains what he’s been holding back, and it’s a lot. Finally, I don’t know that I like so much these high-concept twisty-turny novels that are so popular lately, possibly because they have too many twists to be believable. They remind me of the old mysteries that are only concerned about the difficult puzzle, only with better characterization.

Then again, the book is strongly atmospheric, set in a frozen, stormy Boston, and I liked most of it. There are almost no clues about the identity of the murderer but lots of clues about Malcolm’s own secrets.

I see that Goodreads has this novel labeled Malcolm Kershaw #1. I hope that’s a mistake. I’m just saying that because of the ending. Now I bet you’re mystified. (Note: I am posting this review from my notes about six months after I read the book, and I can remember almost nothing about it. That doesn’t happen very often, so I doubt that this book is going to become a classic mystery.)

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Review 1579: A Room Full of Bones

Dr. Ruth Galloway is asked to attend the opening of a coffin that was found in the remains of a medieval church. It is marked as if it is the coffin of St. Augustine Smith, but the saint was supposedly buried in the cathedral. However, that coffin was found to be empty.

When Ruth shows up for the ceremony at the little museum belonging to Lord Smith, she at first thinks no one is there. Then she finds the body of the curator, Neil Topham, lying next to the coffin.

There are several plots in this novel, but Ruth isn’t as directly involved in them as in previous books. There is the mystery of who killed the curator. Then, an Australian indigenous man named Bob Woonunga rents the house next to Ruth’s while he attempts to get Lord Danford Smith to return some aboriginal skulls. Later, Lord Smith mysteriously dies after a short fever and hallucinations. While the police investigate these deaths, they are also trying to find the source of some high-quality drugs in the area.

Ruth herself has been keeping away from DCI Harry Nelson, the father of her daughter, since his wife Michelle figured out the situation. She runs into Max, an archaeologist who was interested in her when she was pregnant, and begins a tentative relationship.

This mystery was much more difficult to guess because of its many plot threads. Actually, it wasn’t so much a mystery as a thriller, with the police in danger instead of Ruth. Still, I remain interested in these characters and happy to read another in the series.

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Review 1571: The Stranger Diaries

Here’s a final book for RIPXV!

I have been following Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway mysteries, which I enjoy, but Galloway’s homage to the gothic novel, The Stranger Diaries, is something else again. I thought it was a stand-alone, but Goodreads has it marked as Harbinder Kaur #1, so perhaps there will be more.

Clare Cassidy is a schoolteacher who is writing a book about R. M. Holland, a Victorian gothic writer whose home is now occupied by Clare’s school. He was also the author of a horror story called “The Stranger.”

When she arrives at school, Clare is horrified to discover that her friend Ella was murdered in her home. Later, when Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur comes to interview her, Clare learns that a piece of paper with “Hell is empty” was found with the body. Although Clare tells the police that the quote is from The Tempest, she does not say that it is also used in “The Stranger.” Another thing that Clare doesn’t tell police is that Ella had a one-night stand with Rick Lewis, their married department head.

Later, when Clare goes to check her diary to see what she wrote about Ella and Rick, she finds that someone has written a message in her diary. When the handwriting is compared to that of the note by the body, it is the same.

This tribute to gothic literature is atmospheric and truly scary at times. I thought it was terrific.

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Review 1569: The Seagull

Here’s another book for RIPXV!

Disgraced former superintendent John Brace is dying in prison, so he asks Vera Stanhope to visit him. He tells her he has information about the disappearance years ago of Robbie Marshall. He will tell her where Robbie’s body is if she will check in on his daughter, Patty Keane, a single mother with mental health problems.

Vera does, so Brace tells her he discovered Robbie dead one night and buried him in a culvert on St. Mary’s Island. When the police investigate the scene, they find two bodies in the culvert, a man and a woman.

The team’s investigations seem to indicate that the female may be Mary-Frances Lascuola, the mother of John Brace’s daughter, a junkie who vanished a few years before Robbie did. Then, Gary Keane, Patty’s ex-husband, is found dead. A common denominator that seems to link all of the people the team is investigating is the Seagull, once an upscale nightclub that burned down years ago. Another common link seems to be the Gang of Four, a group of wildlife buffs whose members were John Brace, Vera’s father Hector, Robbie Marshall, and a shadowy character known as the Prof.

This is another complex and interesting mystery by Cleeves. Her novels are always atmospheric with believable characters and difficult mysteries.

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Review 1546: Murder in the Crooked House

I made several attempts to read Murder in the Crooked House, but it irritated me so much that I stopped even before the famed detective came on the scene. It was published in 1982, but it reminded me more of the super-complicated mysteries of 40 or 50 years earlier that concentrate mostly on the puzzle.

First, Shimada introduces the maze-like house built by the eccentric millionaire Kozaburo Hamamota, a house so absurdly unlikely that it is laughable. Then, he introduces us to a plethora of characters, barely bothering to differentiate them. By 100 pages in, I could only tell apart a handful of them.

Without further ado, including any explanation of the relationships between the characters, he has a strange phantom appear at an upper-floor window followed by the murder of the chauffeur. Two bumbling detectives arrive.

Even the way the characters are introduced, with one character giving an elaborate introduction of everyone else, seems totally contrived. I give up.

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Review 1542: Wild Fire

After a strange incident on the beach when kids taunted an autistic boy, that boy, Christopher, finds the nanny of another family hanged in an outbuilding on his family’s property. His parents, Daniel and Helena Fleming, have not found a welcome in the small village of Deltaness, especially since the previous owner hanged himself in the same outbuilding after they built their new house.

Jimmy Perez comes out to the scene and realizes immediately that the girl, Emma Shearer, was murdered, because there is nothing in the building she could have stood on to hang herself. She was the nanny for the Moncrieff children and had been with them since she was 17.

Jimmy summons the CSI team and his boss, Willow Reeves, to the scene. But when Willow arrives, she has news for him. She is pregnant, and he is the father. Jimmy, still confused by the death of his fianceé, Fran, has an unpredictable reaction.

Working on the case, the team has difficulty getting any sense of Emma. It is early established that she had a relationship with Daniel Fleming, but although he admits to having been obsessed with her, he claims they did not have an affair.

This was one of Cleeves’s difficult mysteries, especially as, although there are hints, the perpetrator is not very present in the book. Sadly, this is the last book in the Shetland series, but it’s possible that we’ll see more of Jimmy and Willow.

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Review 1541: The Sun Down Motel

Best of Ten!
In 1982, 20-year-old Viv has run away from her home in Illinois to go to New York City. Out of money, she stops in Fell, New York, and takes a job on the night shift of the Sun Down Motel. Very soon, two things become certain—the motel is haunted, and a lot of girls get murdered in Fell.

In 2017, Carly finds out after her mother’s death that her mother had a sister who disappeared in 1982. Carly decides to travel to Fell, New York, to try to find out what happened to her. When she makes a trip to the Sun Down Motel to ask about Viv, she ends up taking a job on the night shift. Soon, she is investigating a series of women’s deaths beginning in 1979 and ending in 1982.

I don’t very often give five-star ratings in Goodreads and especially not for genre fiction, but this one is terrific. It’s wildly atmospheric, with its haunted old motel, and it has an ending that puts it a step higher than most of the genre. It has a compelling mystery and two exciting endings, one in each time period. A touch of romance doesn’t hurt it, either. I had great fun reading this book.

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Review 1540: The Uninhabited House

Miss Blake is an eccentric figure whose arrival is looked forward to by the clerks in Mr. Craven’s office, including Harry Patterson, the narrator. She only arrives when the tenants have unexpectedly left her niece’s house, which is all too often. For the house has a reputation.

Miss Blake and her ward Helena have been a charge on poor, kind-hearted Mr. Craven since the death of Robert Elmsdale, Helena’s father. Thought to be wealthy, he was found to be in considerable debt when he died. Now, the house in which he died is supposedly haunted. Mr. Craven doesn’t believe in ghosts and supposes someone is trying to keep the house from being occupied.

After a disastrous lawsuit resulting from the early vacancy of the house by a tenant, Miss Blake declares she will pay ¬£50 to anyone who can solve the mystery of the house. Although Miss Blake has never paid any of Mr. Craven’s bills, Mr. Craven is so desperate to relinquish Miss Blake’s account that he vows to pay the money to anyone who can solve the mystery.

Patterson finds himself in need of money, because he has fallen in love with Helena Elmsdale. So, he volunteers to stay in the house and try to discover its secrets.

This is a joyful little novel despite its theme. Patterson tells the story with plenty of gentle, good-natured humor, and his affection for Mr. Craven is very clear. The mystery is perhaps not too confounding, but the book itself is a pleasure to read, with eccentric characters and lots of atmosphere. Is it a ghost story as well as a mystery? I’ll never tell.

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