Review 2136: The Secret Guests

A while back, I tried reading a mystery by Benjamin Black, a pen name for the writer John Banville. It made me interested enough to try another book by him.

During the Blitz, the British government decides to send the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, away for safe-keeping. Ireland is selected, presumably because it is neutral. Garda Detective Strafford, who is assigned to security, thinks the choice of Ireland is crazy, because there are still many people in the newly independent Ireland who hate the British, but the British involved don’t seem to know that. Celia Nashe, the MI5 agent assigned, just wants to break through the old boys club and get a decent mission.

So, Celia and the princesses are sent, otherwise unaccompanied, to join the household of the Duke of Edenmore with only Strafford for company, surrounded by a hidden detachment of incompetent Irish army men. Clonmillis Hall proves to be a castle—ramshackle, comfortless, cold, and poorly run.

No, this isn’t Cold Comfort Farm but a pretty good thriller, as the local IRA agent finds out who the girls are and notifies his contacts in Belfast. But first we see the discomfort of Nashe and Strafford, the homesickness and boredom of the girls.

Nothing much about this semi-literary thriller is predictable. The girls are lightly characterized—Elizabeth as reserved and priggish, Margaret as sly and mischievous, but still with sympathy. Although the novel changes point of view, it sticks mostly with Strafford. An interesting, engrossing read.

Related Posts

Christine Falls

Last September

The Fall of Light

Review 2123: The Murder Rule

Hannah has left her alcoholic, dependent mother in Maine for the University of Virginia. There she uses deceit and some dirty tricks to get onto the Innocence Project. In particular, she gets herself onto the case of Michael Dandridge.

Dandridge has been in jail for 11 years, found guilty of rape and murder. However, his sentence has recently been vacated. The original prosecutor is determined to retry him.

Hannah’s goal is to interfere with the project’s defense of Dandridge. We learn why slowly as passages from her mother’s diary are revealed, dated 25 years before.

I wasn’t sure what I thought about McTiernan’s change of locale, her other novels being set in Ireland, but her storytelling took over, and I found myself reading another page-turner. Although I was not sure that things could turn out the way they did, I found the novel thrilling.

Related Posts

The Ruin

The Scholar

The Good Turn

Review 2113: The Clockwork Girl

I liked Mazzola’s The Story Keeper well enough to try another book by her. This one looked interesting.

In 18th century Paris, Madeleine was forced into prostitution at a young age by her mother and so badly scarred by a customer that she now works in the brothel as a maid. She is determined to escape with her nephew, which is one reason she reluctantly agrees to spy for the police on the household of Dr. Reinhart. She is supposed to find out what he is working on, but once installed there, she finds it difficult to learn anything. Something about Reinhart seems off, but he locks up his secrets. However, his interest is in anatomy and he makes elaborate wind-up animals.

A second narrator, Véronique, is Reinhart’s daughter, newly returned from being raised in a convent. Her father has promised to train her in his work, but time passes and he works only with Doctor LeFevre on some project for the King.

Madeleine hears rumors that children are disappearing off the streets and worries about her nephew.

A third narrator is Madame de Pompadour, who is afraid she is losing the King’s affection and worried about what he is up to.

This novel is fast-paced and eventually gets very creepy, but there are some unlikely aspects about it, especially how neatly everything is resolved. Still, it certainly kept my attention.

Related Posts

The Story Keeper



Review 2108: The Paris Apartment

Jess needs to leave London quickly, so she calls her brother Ben in Paris and announces she is coming for a visit. He tells her it’s not a good time but ends up giving her instructions to his apartment.

All doesn’t go well for her travel plans, and she ends up arriving late. However, she can’t get Ben to buzz her in or raise him on her phone. She ends up following someone in and picking the lock to his apartment.

When Ben doesn’t appear the next morning, Jess begins asking about him. The neighbors, though, are hostile and unhelpful. The building itself is old and unusual, surrounding a courtyard with each apartment occupying a single floor. It seems much more expensive than Ben, a journalist, can afford. Moreover, in the apartment Jess has found a spot smelling strongly of bleach and a cat with blood on its fur.

I think I’ve read enough Lucy Foley. Her plots are puzzling enough, but her style gets old. All the books I’ve read by her are narrated the same way—in short chapters moving back and forth in time and changing narrators. Her style seemed unusual at first but it doesn’t change from book to book.

Related Posts

The Guest List

The Hunting Party

In a Dark, Dark Wood

Review 2094: The Book of Cold Cases

I had to read The Book of Cold Cases as soon as I received it, because there’s no one better than Simone St. James when it comes to a combination of mystery and the supernatural. It did not disappoint.

Twenty years ago, nine-year-old Shea got into a serial killer’s car. She survived, but the experience left her with several phobias and a great deal of fear. It also left her with a fascination for true crime, which she feeds by keeping a true-crime blog called The Book of Cold Cases.

At work one morning, She recognizes Beth Greer, a wealthy woman who was tried but not convicted of the murders of two men in 1973. Most people in their small Oregon town think she’s the first woman serial killer. She has never agreed to an interview, but after she catches Shea following her, she agrees to one.

Shea meets her in Greer’s parents’ home, an ugly mansion above the town with the ocean a sheer drop beneath a small lawn. Oddly, it is still decorated as her parents left it. Before the murders, her father was found dead in the kitchen, having been shot in the face by an apparent burglar. The manner of death was the same as that of two men shot several years later with the same caliber bullet, which was some of the evidence used against Beth.

Beth begins to tell Shea part of what she knows about the case, and Shea decides that although she doesn’t think Beth murdered the men, she knows more than she is telling. Then during a break, a weird thing happens. Shea goes to the kitchen and bathroom. First, all the taps turn back on after she turns them off, then all the kitchen cupboard doors open when she has her back turned to them.

When Shea tells Michael, her private investigator, what happened, he thinks Beth could have rigged up some kind of mechanism. But Shea isn’t so sure. Then when she is playing back her recording of the interview, she hears in the background the faint voice of a woman repeating, “I’m still here.” After she’s heard the voice, her phone dies and the recording disappears.

As Shea investigates the case, the novel moves back in time to events of 1973 and further back to Beth’s childhood to show what happened.

This is a great combination—mystery, thriller, and ghost story. St. James has always been good at what she does, but this book and her last were excellent.

Related Posts

The Sun Down Motel

The Broken Girls

Lost Among the Living

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.

Related Posts

The Girl on the Train

Into the Water

The Hunting Party

Review 1881: Death in Kashmir

A quote on the cover of Death in Kashmir compares M. M. Kaye to Agatha Christie. A more accurate comparison in terms of the type of novel it is—romantic suspense rather than mystery—is to Mary Stewart, although there is just something about a Mary Stewart book that this novel doesn’t quite have. Still, Death in Kashmir is entertaining enough.

The novel is set in 1947, the year before the British left India, and it provides an interesting look at the life of British upper-class people living there at the time, although the natives are mostly only in the book as servants.

Sarah Parrish goes to Kashmir to attend the last meeting of the India Ski Club at Gulmarg in a primitive hotel that is usually only open in the summer. The outing has already been shadowed by the death that day of Mrs. Matthews in an apparent skiing accident. In the middle of the night, Sarah awakens to a scraping noise and realizes someone is trying to break into the room next door, that of another young woman, Janet Rushton. Sarah quietly hurries to Janet’s door to warn her and is shocked to be greeted by a drawn gun. However, when Janet sees someone has tried to enter by the bathroom window, she confides in Sarah that she is an agent for the government. She and Mrs. Matthews discovered an important secret and were waiting for help from their superiors when Mrs. Matthews was murdered.

A few nights later, Sarah and Janet have joined an expedition farther up the mountain to ski and spend the night in a ski hut. Sarah catches Janet ready to ski off in the middle of the night because she has finally been contacted by her people. The next day, she too is found dead.

Returning to Peshawar after the trip, Sarah tries to forget what she has learned, but she receives a letter from Janet’s attorney enclosing the receipt for her houseboat in Srinagar and telling her the secret can be found there. So, she finds herself returning to Kashmir with her friends Hugo and Fudge Creed. There she encounters all of the people who were on the ski trip, with a few extras, like the attractive Captain Charles Mallory.

The Cold War plot seems a little silly when compared to those of some of the masters, like Le Carré (and may more fairly earn the comparison to Christie, who also has some silly Cold War plots), but it leads to plenty of suspense and an unguessable villain. A small criticism is that both sides seem to have so many helpers that it’s no wonder there was a leak. A bigger caveat is that the explanations at the end go on for quite a while longer than seemed necessary.

Related Posts

This Rough Magic

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Code to Zero

Review 1876: The Moon-Spinners

When I make up a Classics Club list, I always take the opportunity to add a few old favorites for a re-read. This time, I picked Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners.

Nicola Ferris has gotten a head start on her holiday by accepting a lift to her destination, the village of Agios Georgios on the island of Crete. Since she is arriving a day early, she decides to take a walk up into the White Mountains instead of going into the village. She is enjoying her day when she feels someone spying on her and then she is attacked.

She finds herself in the company of a wounded English tourist, Mark Langley, and his guide Lambis. Mark came across an argument resulting in murder and was wounded by the murderer, who took away Mark’s teenage brother, Colin. Mark does not know who the people were and whether it would be safe to go to the authorities or whether that would jeopardize his brother.

Nicola helps them by taking care of Mark for one night while Lambis fetches supplies from his caique. However, once she reaches her hotel, she realizes that she has chanced into the middle of the wrongdoers—Stratos, the owner of the hotel; Sophia, his sister; and Tony, the English hotel manager. The murderer seems to be Sophia’s Turkish husband, Josef.

As Nicola and her older cousin Frances innocently pursue their holiday, Nicola keeps finding clues about the murder and begins to hope she can find Colin.

You can’t beat Stewart for descriptions of exotic locales, suspenseful plots, and a bit of romance. She’s a great storyteller and a fine writer.

Related Posts

This Rough Magic

Wildfire at Midnight

Nine Coaches Waiting

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.

Related Posts

White Dog

Black Tide

Bad Debts

Review 1851: The House of Whispers

Hester Why travels to the Cornish coast to take up a position as a lady’s maid. Right away, we know something is wrong, because Hester is traveling under an assumed name and is drinking. When she arrives at Morvoren House, it seems a strange household. The mistress, Louise Pinecroft, is a frail woman who hardly speaks and refuses to leave a drawing room full of china, even though the room is freezing. Aside from an adopted daughter who, although adult, is treated like a child, there are only servants, including Creeda, a disturbing woman who is obsessed with fairies.

Forty years earlier, Louise Pinecroft and her father arrive at Morvoren House. Dr. Pinecroft has purchased the house because it sits above some caves on a beach. He has a theory that clean, damp sea air could cure consumptives, so he has arranged for some consumptive convicts to live in huts built in the caves below the house. Neither Louise nor her father is thinking very clearly, because their entire family recently died of consumption, after which Dr. Pinecroft lost all his patients because he couldn’t save his family.

This gothic novel is set in two unnamed periods, most likely in the 19th century. It is about two women whose need to be needed basically shipwrecks their lives. It is fairly creepy, although I thought the ending was kind of all over the place. Still, Purcell knows how to write a page-turner.

Related Posts

The Poison Thread

The Silent Companions

The Shape of Darkness