Review 1451: Big Sky

I always buy anything by Kate Atkinson as soon as it comes out, but I was especially pleased to learn there was another Jackson Brodie novel. I think her last three books have put her in another category altogether, but it’s fun to see Jackson again after an absence of nine years.

Jackson is out with his son Nathan when he spots a young girl being picked up by a man in a car. She is young enough to sport a backpack with rainbows and unicorns, which he finds the next day in a bay near his home in Bridlington. The police don’t seem to be interested.

Later, he is hired by Crystal Holroyd to find out who is following her in a silver BMW. When Crystal’s kids are threatened, this case becomes more serious.

Jackson also stops a man from jumping off a cliff. This man is Vince Ives, who has lost his job and was being divorced by his wife until his wife is found murdered. Now, of course, the police suspect him of murder.

More is going on than that, though, as a series of coincidences leads Jackson to discover a human trafficking operation.

Atkinson’s mysteries are more quirky than otherwise, following lots of threads that end up being connected (some of them) at least by the presence of Jackson himself. In the meantime, we’re entertained by the musings of Jackson and some of his more likable fellow characters. Another entertaining read for us by Atkinson.

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Transcription

A God in Ruins

Review 1450: The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories

For a Christmas season treat, I read this latest British Library Crime Classic short story collection, published in October. Most of its stories are set in winter and several around Christmas. This collection includes crime stories published between 1909 and 1965.

I was surprised to find the first story was written by Baroness Orczy, whom I associate with the Scarlet Pimpernel. It turns out that she started by writing crime fiction. In “A Christmas Tragedy,” her detective is Lady Molly, who is convinced that the accused Mr. Smethick did not murder Major Ceely. The police theorize that the motive was the major’s refusal to allow his daughter’s engagement to Mr. Smethick. Lady Molly discovers a more obscure motive for the crime.

In “By the Sword” by Selwyn Jepson, Alfred Caithness plots and kills his cousin Herbert after Herbert refuses to lend him more money. Alfred’s guilt is explored in an unusual way.

“The Christmas Card Crime” by Donald Stuart is more of a crime adventure, as a criminal tries to steal an heiress’s proof of her identity.

Although some of the stories were more clever than others, the only story I couldn’t finish was “Twixt the Cup and the Lip” by Julian Symons, a caper story that seemed to go on and on.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

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Review 1421: Death Has Deep Roots

I usually give older crime novels more leeway than modern ones, because the genre has evolved. Some of the older novels concentrate on the puzzle to the detriment of character, for example, or even plausibility. Not so with Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert, published in 1951.

Gilbert, rather than having an all-knowing detective, has recurring characters in his novels, apparently. Although Goodreads lists this novel as Inspector Hazlerigg #5, he is only a minor character. Instead, the novel rests on the combined efforts of the Rumbolds, father and son solicitors; Macrae, the barrister; and Major McCann, a former soldier and pub owner.

Victoria Lamertine is charged with murdering Major Eric Thoseby, once her British contact when she was in the French Resistance, in his hotel room. The police case is built around the fact that she had been trying to contact him and that no one else could have committed the crime based on who was in the reception area of the hotel. The police think that Thoseby was the father of her child, who died just after the war, that being deserted by her lover was her motive.

Victoria claims that in fact Lieutenant Wells was the father and that Thoseby had been helping her search for him, as he was last seen when the Gestapo raided the farm near Angers where he was hiding. Victoria herself was taken in that raid.

Nap Rumbold thinks the links to the crime lie in France and the war, so he goes off to investigate. McCann investigates Lieutenant Wells in England, hoping to verify Vicky’s story about the parentage of her child. They only have a few days to find the facts while Macrae mounts his defense.

This novel is an unusual combination of legal and action thriller, Rumbold’s part providing the action. It has compelling characters, an interesting plot, and zips along nicely. I think it’s the best of the British Library Crime Classics I’ve read so far. I’ll be looking for more Michael Gilbert, whom I wasn’t familiar with before.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

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Review 1416: Thin Air

Four Londoners are visiting Unst for a hamefarin’, a party for a newly married couple. Late the night of the party, Eleanor disappears. She had recently been depressed after a stillbirth, but her friends report she has seemed much better recently.

After Jimmy Perez and his team arrive, Eleanor’s body is found stretched out next to a small lake. She seems to be in an unnatural position, and the team thinks she was struck in the head.

Eleanor was making a film about rational people who claim to have had a supernatural experience. The area where they are staying is supposed to be haunted by a young drowned girl named Peerie Lizzy. Eleanor claims to have seen a girl on the beach in an old-fashioned white dress. Later, Polly sees her, too.

Of course, the main suspects are the friends and Eleanor’s husband, Ian. Eleanor and Ian seem somewhat of a mismatch, and Ian had Eleanor committed during her depression over the stillbirth.

Polly is a dreamy, shy librarian. She and her outgoing, assured boyfriend, Marcus, seem to be an unusual couple. The groom, Lowry, dated Eleanor in college and was said to be devastated when she broke up with him. Caroline, his new wife, seems much more concerned with the couple’s plans to move to Unst than by Eleanor’s death.

This is another complex, clever mystery by Cleeves. I had no clue of the solution, although I did guess a major plot point. A small caveat, though. The motive for the murder, once it was revealed, seemed far-fetched.

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Review 1411: The Crossing Places

Even though I often tire of series fiction, I still enjoy finding a promising series, and Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series is off to a good start. I selected this mystery to have a suitable review near Halloween and also for Readers Imbibing Peril.

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist who lives by the Saltmarsh near Norfolk and teaches at the nearby university. Detective Inspector Harry Nelson asks her to help him with some bones that were found on a beach near where she participated in a dig five years ago. Harry Nelson was involved in the case of the disappearance of five-year-old Lucy Downey several years ago and fears they are her bones, but Ruth finds they are from the Iron Age.

A few months later, another little girl disappears from the area. Nelson begins consulting Ruth about the case, showing her the letters he received during the first case. Now, new letters are arriving.

Around this time, friends from the dig five years ago begin to resurface. Ruth’s professor Erik travels in from Norway, and her old boyfriend, Peter, reappears.

This novel is very atmospheric, using the bleak Saltmarsh effectively as a setting. The characters also are colorful yet believable. Although I guessed the identity of the criminal fairly early, Griffiths threw in some interesting red herrings. I’ll gladly read another Ruth Galloway book.

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Review 1410: The Catherine Wheel

Jacob Taverner, a rich eccentric, invites some of the cousins of his extensive family to the family inn, The Catherine Wheel, for a reunion. He seems to have an ulterior motive, though, because he questions several about the stories of a hidden tunnel.

The inn has a past as a smugglers’ nest, and Detective Abbott thinks it is still so used, for drugs and stolen jewelry He asks Miss Silver to take a room at the inn to observe activities.

Jane Heron and Jeremy Taverner are among the cousins invited to the inn. It is cheaply furnished, ill kept, and creepy, and Jane’s misgivings are furthered when she recognizes Miss Silver as a detective she met before. She makes sure Miss Silver gets a room. That night, Luke White is found dead. Luke is a cousin on the wrong side of the blanket who worked as a waiter at the inn. Earlier, he was overheard telling Eily, the maid, that he was going to have her whether she wanted him or not, and if she tried to marry her sweetheart, John Higgins, one of the cousins who chose not to attend the reunion, he would murder him. Eily was discovered near the body, but so was another cousin, Florence Duke.

The dull-witted Inspector Crisp is ready to arrest John Higgins, but Miss Silver is quite certain something else is going on.

Wentworth is good at creating eccentric or likable characters, but she also telegraphs the bad guys fairly obviously, so that you know who was likely to be involved, just not why. The problem of repetition that irritated me inĀ The Arlington Inheritance isn’t quite so pronounced in this one. Overall, the book is entertaining enough but not a great mystery.

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Review 1407: Murder at the Vicarage – #1930Club

I decided to reread Murder at the Vicarage for the 1930 Club, but it also applies to Readers Imbibing Peril. It is the first Miss Marple book, and for much of it she seems like a minor character.

The novel is narrated by Len Clement, the vicar of St. Mary Meade. He is called away one evening by what proves to be a false call for help. He arrives home late for a meeting with Mr. Protheroe, a wealthy man who is disliked by many. In his study he finds Protheroe dead, shot in the head.

Of course, there are lots of suspects and red herrings. Mr. Hawes, the curate, is behaving oddly. Mrs. Protheroe had just decided to part from Lawrence Redding, who is in love with her. Lettice Protheroe has inconsistencies in her alibi. Rumor reports that a local poacher has a grudge. A team exploring the local barrow seems to be up to something besides archaeology.

No sooner does Inspector Slack appear on the scene when first Lawrence Redding then Anne Protheroe make confessions of guilt. Miss Marple lives next to the vicarage so has some testimony to offer about its comings and goings. And she also has some interesting ideas about who may be guilty.

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