Review 2178: Triptych

I have to admit, I looked for this first Will Trent novel after getting hooked on the TV series. Just a little warning: if you have already watched the series, the TV folks have made one major change from the book that may surprise you.

In Atlanta, young teenage girls have been found after being raped, beaten, and having their tongues either partially or completely bitten off. Detective Michael Ormewood is called out to a similar case, only this time the woman is dead, and she’s not a teenage girl but a middle-aged prostitute.

The next day, Ormewood meets Will Trent, a Special Agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He will be working the case with Ormewood. Will is unusual because he is dyslexic, although he tries to keep this problem a secret.

In the meantime, John Shelley has been recently released from prison, where he served 25 years for a similar crime, committed when he was 16. John has always maintained his innocence, right up to his last parole hearing when he wanted to get out before his mother died of cancer. John has been out for only a short time when he learns that someone has stolen his identity, but curiously, used it to apply for credit cards and buy things while keeping a good credit score.

Angie Polaski, a detective on the vice squad, has gotten peripherally involved in the investigation. She has ties to both Ormewood and Trent that she’s keeping secret.

This is a well-written, fast-paced novel that is part mystery, part thriller. It has interesting characters, and I enjoyed it very much.

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Review 2174: The Black Spectacles

Detective Inspector Andrew Elliot is vacationing in Italy when he overhears an English party discussing some poisonings in a town back home. He is struck at first sight by Marjorie Wills. This proves to be unfortunate, because when he returns home, he is assigned the poisoning case and Marjorie is a suspect.

The poisoning case involves someone substituting poisoned chocolates for harmless ones in a local shop. One boy has died. However, this case is soon overshadowed by the murder of Marcus Chesney, Marjorie’s uncle, under bizarre circumstances. Chesney has a hobby horse that people aren’t observant, so he designs a demonstration of his point. During the demonstration, a bizarrely dressed man comes in to the room where Chesney is manipulating objects at a desk and forces a capsule down his throat. Although this is part of the demonstration, it is not part of it for the capsule to be poisoned. Chesney dies and his assistant is found outside bashed over the head. Later, the unconscious assistant is also poisoned.

Present are Chesney’s friend Dr. Ingram, the assistant, Marjorie, and Marjorie’s fianceé, George Harding, whom she met on the trip. Not present is Dr. Joe Chesney, Marcus’s brother, out on a house call.

As Elliot investigates, things keep pointing to Marjorie, but he can’t prove anything. Finally, he asks Gideon Fell for help.

The Black Spectacles is supposedly Carr’s most popular book, even though it doesn’t feature a locked door mystery, his specialty. I enjoyed it a lot, more than the other books I’ve read by Carr, although I immediately picked out the killer and never wavered. Still, I never figured out exactly what was going on during the demonstration.

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

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Review 2166: In Place of Fear

It’s 1948 Edinburgh, and it’s Helen Downie’s first day in her job as almoner for the brand new National Health Service. Her bosses are young Dr. Strasser and Dr. Deuchar—previously the partner of Dr. Strasser’s father—who share a house and a practice. Although Dr. Deuchar is friendly and humorous, Dr. Strasser is abrupt and sometimes rude. However, Dr. Strasser unexpectedly gives Helen and her husband Sandy a place to live—a flat in a house that was used as a fever hospital during the war. That’s good, because just that morning Helen’s quarrelsome mother threw them out.

Helen completes her first busy day and is delighted with the upstairs flat, which is clean, bright, and has an inside bathroom. When she and Sandy are trying to pull together a few odds and ends to make the flat minimally habitable, Helen finds the body of a young woman out back in the Anderson shelter. She thinks the woman is Fiona Sinclair, the daughter of her benefactor, Mrs. Sinclair.

After she alerts the police, Dr. Deuchar says the woman died from poisoning herself. He and Helen go to notify Mrs. Sinclair, but Fiona is okay. Then Helen thinks the body might be her other daughter, Caroline. She and Dr. Deuchar try to find the misidentified body but are told it was sent to Glasgow because it was the body of a notorious Glasgow criminal. However, on a second visit to the morgue, Helen learns that the girl was hanged, not poisoned, and a famous criminal by the name she was given is unknown in Glasgow.

Persistent Helen begins to uncover widespread corruption involving leading citizens in the city. Something is going on very close to home.

It wasn’t clear to me whether this book marks the start to another series by McPherson, but it has hallmarks of it. Helen is a feisty and likable heroine, and although I thought she was blind to the identity of the killer, what was actually going on in the city was harder to figure out. If this is a series, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Helen.

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Review 2154: #1940 Club! Sad Cypress

Elinor Carlisle is on trial for murdering Mary Gerrard at the beginning of this Christie novel. A doctor who knows her hires Hercule Poirot to find some evidence that will save her.

It all begins when Elinor receives an anonymous letter telling her that her inheritance from her Aunt Laura may be in jeopardy. Elinor isn’t really worried about that, since she and her cousin Roddy have long understood from her aunt that they will inherit. However, she realizes she should go down for a visit because her aunt is not well, and Roddy goes with her. They have always planned to marry, no matter who gets the money, and they decide to become formally engaged.

The note warned against Mary Gerrard, a lodge keeper’s daughter, whom Aunt Laura has had educated. Mary has been visiting Aunt Laura frequently since she returned from school. No sooner does Roddy see Mary than he falls in love with her. Elinor, who has always hidden how much she loves Roddy, sees this and breaks the engagement.

When Elinor is there on another visit, summoned because her aunt has had another stroke, the county nurse misses a vial of morphine. Aunt Laura asks Elinor to summon her lawyer, but she dies that night.

Elinor is surprised to learn that Aunt Laura died intestate and that as her closest relative, she gets everything. However, she gives £2000 to Mary and tries to give money to Roddy, but he won’t take it. When she is there to go through her aunt’s things, Mary is poisoned while eating sandwiches with Elinor and the county nurse, and dies.

Things look bad for Elinor, and at first everything Poirot can discover seems to point to her guilt. But the answer may lie in the past.

I began to have an inkling of the truth but not until the very end of the novel. However, I was sympathetic to Elinor and wanted her to be innocent. This was a Christie I hadn’t come across before and may not have read had it not been for the 1940 Club.

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Review 2148: The Wintringham Mystery

Stephen Munro has been living on a small legacy since he left the army, but the money has run out. Stephen has been looking for a job, but all he can find is a position as a footman in Wintringham. He finds he has nothing to offer the girl he’s in love with, Pauline Mainwaring.

When Stephen begins his position working for Lady Susan Carey, he finds his work is made more difficult because he knows some of the guests at a house party. They keep treating him as a guest rather than a servant. He is especially discomposed when Pauline appears, accompanied by Sir Julius Hammerstein, a financier who turns out to be Pauline’s fiancé.

Lady Susan lives with her niece, Millicent, and is often visited by Cicely Vernon, a favored daughter of a friend. Other guests include Freddie Venables, Lady Susan’s nephew and Stephen’s friend; Colonel Uffculme, a friend of Lady Susan’s; and other friends of Millicent. Later that evening, Cicely vanishes from the drawing room after playing a game where the lights are put out.

At first, it seems that Cicely is playing a prank, but when time passes and she doesn’t reappear, Stephen decides to figure out what happened. Odd events are going on in the house.

I found this novel to be clever and amusing. Lots of things are going on, and the mystery of what happened to Cicely is just one of them. Pauline makes an able fellow detective, and the characters are interesting and believable. This book was one of my favorites of the Golden Age novels I’ve been reading.

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Review 2147: Confidence

Confidence revisits Anna and Fin, the two protagonists of Conviction, now working together on a crime podcast. Anna, who lived under an assumed name for years after her accusations of gang rape against members of a popular football team were met with disbelief and threats of violence, has had her new identity revealed and faces questions from her daughter about it. Fin, an ex-rock star with eating issues, is dating Sofia, a bitchy Italian woman who came out with the story in front of the girls during a horrible vacation together.

Anna and Fin get interested in a podcast by Lisa Lee, a Scottish girl who explores abandoned places. She breaks into a chateau in France that is decrepit and falling apart but full of dusty, beautiful things. In a secret room that she accidentally discovers, she finds a silver box, Roman, with an inscription that indicates that Pontius Pilate converted to Christianity. It is sealed shut.

Lisa belongs to a group whose motto is “Take nothing and leave nothing,” but it gets about that the box is missing from the room. Soon, Lisa goes missing too, having gone to the door when a pizza arrived and then vanished. Fin decides their next project will be to find Lisa.

When they look into the history of the box, they find it was discovered in a plot in Cold War Hungary that a girl was clearing to plant a garden. After she and her mother consulted with their priest, Eugene Lamberg, she apparently sold it but then was murdered, presumably by the Hungarian secret police. Since then, every person who had the box was murdered until the box disappeared.

Anna and Fin’s search for Lisa is co-opted when they meet Bram VanWyk, a South African antiques dealer and confidence man. He needs to find the box to trade it for a small Monet painting that he stole, apparently from someone he is scared of. He is traveling around with his eleven-year-old son Marcos, whom he just met.

This novel is like a fast-paced confidence shuffle where you never quite know what’s going on. Fin and Anna are likable protagonists and their investigation leads them in quite a dance.

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Review 2145: The Locked Room

Just before the Covid lockdown in 2020, the attention of Harry Nelson’s team turns to an apparent suicide. Although they can’t find anything about it that points to murder, another “suicide” that is similar involves the bedroom door being locked from the outside. Harry tells his team to look at all recent suicides.

At the isolated three cottages where Ruth Galloway and her daughter Kate live, they have a new neighbor, a nurse named Zoe who seems disposed to be friendly. And speaking of the cottage, Ruth finds a photo of it in her mother’s things, which she is sorting. Ruth is surprised to find the photo, as her mother disliked the cottage. Then she realizes it is painted the wrong color and marked “Dawn 1963,” years before Ruth was born.

While Ruth is investigating the cottage’s past and Nelson’s team is looking for links between the apparent suicides of several middle-aged or older women, Covid hits and a lockdown begins.

Although several characters flagrantly break Covid restructions, this is another exciting entry in the series, featuring a new member on Harry’s team, several disappearing characters, a woman imprisoned in a locked room, a discovery about Ruth’s family, the possibility of Nelson leaving Michell, a threat to an important characters, and a true reflection of the difficulties of the lockdown.

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Review 2134: Back to the Garden

I know that Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series is very popular, but I didn’t go past the first one because it’s clear to me that Sherlock Holmes, in his original form, was meant to be a misogynist. However, I have very much enjoyed some of King’s standalone novels, which tend to be atmospheric and creepy. Back to the Garden appears to be a standalone, unless it is the first in a series.

Raquel Laing is an inspector for the San Francisco Police Department on medical leave and possibly in disgrace after her use of a shortcut resulted in her injuries. However, her old boss has asked her to work on an informal Cold Case team, which recently realized that some bodies might be related and that a fabled serial killer from the 1970’s might really exist. So far, the team has found the killer by his son’s discovery of a storage locker holding his trophies. He’s a dying old man named Michael Johnstone who claims a whopping 19 murders. And Raquel has made a deal with him. For every body they find, he’ll tell them where another is.

Over on the Gardener estate, a statue made by a now famous artist when the estate was a commune in the 1970s is falling over. When Jen Bachus, the estate manager, has a contractor in, he says the base must be replaced. In the base, they find old bones and blonde hair.

Blonde women buried in concrete are hallmarks of Michael Johnstone, so Raquel arrives at the Gardener estate to begin an investigation. San Matteo County’s lab is running behind because of a triple homicide, so they don’t know yet whether the bones are male or female, but Raquel begins going through the estate archive and questioning people to look for any link to Michael Johnstone.

The investigation is made more difficult by the estate’s vexed history. The two brothers who were originally heir to the estate grew up hating their grandfather and both left—Fort to an ashram in India and Rob to a commune in Oregon. Fort was written out of the will, but Rob inherited the estate. He tried to turn it down but was eventually persuaded to take it for the commune, which was being kicked off the Oregon farm. The Gardener commune survived for about four years before failing. Just before it failed, the statue was erected. Now Rob lives on the estate like a recluse while others run it.

The novel swings back and forth between the 1970s and the present time, slowly revealing its secrets. Although this one isn’t as atmospheric as King’s other standalone novels, it’s a puzzling and satisfying mystery.

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Review 2132: Death of Mr. Dodsley

On his rounds, a young police constable encounters a drunken young man late one night. The man tells him he saw a door opened and closed by a cat, so after the man leaves, the constable goes ahead checking doors and finds the door to a bookstore open. When he looks into the store, he finds a man shot to death in the office. It’s Richard Dodsley, the owner.

Inspector Mallet’s team finds that someone, possibly two people, waited in the store while Dodsley was out and shot him when he returned late to work on a sale catalog. They also learn that a mystery was recently published by Margery Grafton, the daughter of a prominent politician, the circumstances of which closely match those of the murder. It seems more than a coincidence that Margery Grafton is keeping company with Dick Dodsley, the dead man’s nephew, who worked in the shop.

The police find that Dodsley hired a private investigator, MacNab, to find out who has been stealing rare books from his store. MacNab has not been successful, but he gets more closely involved when Margery Grafton hires him to find the murderer because she thinks the police suspect Dick.

Death of Mr. Dodsley does not present us with a super-complicated puzzle , which is a point in its favor. On the other hand, characterization isn’t super important and there are a few important characters that we see almost nothing of, such as Dick Dodsley, the prime suspect. MacNab himself is a fairly laid-back character, and at times the plot seems to be moving very slowly.

Although it’s possible to guess the murderer, there is a surprise at the end that I didn’t see coming. It’s also fun that British Library has been lately publishing these “bibliomysteries.”

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

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Review 2120: The Rising Tide

Fifty years ago, a group of students attended a retreat at the urging of their teacher. They were so struck by it that they continued meeting every five years on Lindisfarne. This year, Rick Kelsall, a media star, finds himself in disgrace after one of his staff accused him of inappropriate behavior. He likes attention and the first night of the retreat, tells them all he’s writing a novel based on true events. During the night, he is murdered and left to look like a suicide.

Vera figures the most obvious suspects are the others there for the retreat—Philip, a wild boy turned Anglican vicar; Annie, a divorcee who works at a deli; Lou, who spends most of her time caring for her husband, Ken, stricken with Alzheimers; and Ken. In years past, there were three more participants: Charlotte, Rick’s ex-wife, who was bored by the retreat; Dan, Annie’s ex-husband; and Isobel, who was killed after she had a fight with Rick and drove off onto the causeway when the tide was coming in. Their teacher, Judith, was also at the first retreat.

Vera’s team turns up lots of intriguing information about the retreat participants and their connections. Charlotte, who had been a celebrity, now runs a failing spa. Dan, from a lower social class than the others, is now a wealthy resort owner. Vera is shocked to find out that his partner is Katherine Willmore, the Police and Crime Commissioner. Further, it was her daughter who made the allegation against Rick, which she has not revealed to Vera.

On the team, Holly and Joe are still feeling competitive, but they have started getting along better. And Joe has shown some independence from Vera.

Vera has a notion that the crime has some connection to Isobel’s death years ago. Then another person connected with the group is killed.

As usual, Cleeves has written another tightly plotted, clever mystery. However, for this one, I found the ending incredibly touching.

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