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Posts Tagged ‘mystery fiction’

Did she fall or was she pushed? Did he fall or was he pushed? The first mystery concerns the death of the housekeeper of the manor house Pye Hall. The second refers to the author of the novel in which the housekeeper dies. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.  Readers get to don their sleuthing caps in Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (HarperCollins, digital galley), a clever tale within a tale that pays homage to the cozy Golden Age detective story and the cutthroat world of contemporary publishing.

When London editor Susan Ryeland sits downs with best-selling author Alan Conway’s latest manuscript, she’s expecting another 1950s English village mystery a la Agatha Christie starring series detective Atticus Pund. But as she reads of the death of the Pye Hall housekeeper followed soon after by the decapitation of her employer Sir Magnus Pye, then Pund’s arrival to question the widow, the gardener, the vicar, the estranged sister and all the usual suspects, Susan begins to read between the lines. Then, suddenly and maddeningly, there are no more lines — the manuscript is incomplete. Even worse, the troublesome author is not around to answer questions, having fallen from the rooftop terrace of his country house, a presumed suicide. How very strange. Soon Susan’s search for the last chapters turns into a hunt for a killer. How entertaining!

Horowitz is an accomplished  literary ventriloquist, whose many credits include teleplays for Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, the Alex Ryder thrillers for young readers, the Holmes homages The House of Silk and Moriarty, and the James Bond pastiche Trigger Mortis. With Magpie Murders, he out-Christies Christie, constructing a classic puzzle of red herrings and dead-ends inside a witty modern mystery of misdirection. Keep up, people! The game’s afoot and tea is served. One lump or two?

Given it’s kind of cozy title, Matthew Sullivan’s first novel Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (Scribner, digital galley) is darker than you might think. Denver bookstore clerk Lydia Smith is shocked when one of her favorite customers, troubled young ex-con Joey Molina, kills himself on the bookstore’s third floor. And she’s puzzled why Joey would leave her his few belongings, including a box of books from the store’s shelves, their pages defaced with tiny holes, and an old photograph. The latter is especially mystifying as it’s a picture of Lydia’s 10th birthday party, which occurred not long before the notorious Hammerman murders. The 20-year-old cold case cost a little girl and her parents their lives, but Lydia, spending the night at their house, survived by hiding under the kitchen sink.

Seeking connections between Joey’s past and her own, Lydia realizes Joey has left her coded messages among his books. She consults another homeless man, Lyle; her childhood friend Raj, who just happens to turn up again; and also the retired detective who worked the Hammerman case and always suspected Lydia’s eccentric dad of the crime.  So many questions. So many coincidences. But Sullivan, a former bookseller, knows the world he writes about, and his obvious love of books and his affection for his quirky characters shine off pages that practically turn themselves.

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is digging up old bones again in Elly Griffith’s The Chalk Pit (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), the ninth in this fascinating series. This time, the bones are found in one of the old chalk mining tunnels that wind underneath the city of Norwich, and the architect excavating the site hopes the remains won’t stop his next trendy restaurant. Ruth gets to deliver the bad news — the bones aren’t that old and, moreover, exhibit signs of cannibalism. Ick.

Meanwhile, DCI Nelson, the father of Ruth’s young daughter Kate, has been looking for a missing homeless woman at the behest of one of her homeless friends, later found stabbed on the steps of a church. The separate investigations are complicated when a local housewife also goes missing amid rumors of an underground community of homeless in the claustrophobic tunnels. Complicated, too, is the relationship between Ruth and Nelson, whose wife knows about Kate but has not told their teen-age daughters. Griffiths is a pro at weaving the various strands into a tightly plotted tale that foreshadows a change in Ruth’s life. Next book, please.

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zigzagSo many mysteries the last month or so. A popular author kicks off a new series, while another chooses to end a longtime favorite. Star turns by trusted detectives, past crimes leading to present-day puzzles, procedurals, capers, a serial killer — or two.

Elly Griffiths, whose Ruth Galloway series is known for its engaging characters, introduces another memorable cast in The Zig Zag Girl (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), set in 1950 Brighton. Police detective Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto both served in a special ops/disinformation group known as the Magic Men during World War II and reteam as sleuths when someone starts killing people by restaging famous magic tricks. Atmospheric, clever and appropriately tricky. Encore, please.

longlandWith the evocative Long Upon the Land (Grand Central, library hardcover), Margaret Maron brings her long-running Deborah Knott series to a close by circling back to Deborah’s complicated family history as bootlegger Kezzie Knott’s daughter. She marries a contemporary mystery about a dead man found on Kezzie’s North Carolina farm to one with roots in World War II, when Deborah’s mother Susan befriended both a young soldier and widower Kezzie. In both cases, Deborah needs answers from her many older brothers, her aunt and her father, as well as others with long memories. Sweet and bittersweet.

raggedLand is also at the heart of Last Ragged Breath (St. Martin’s Minotaur, advance reading copy), Julia Keller’s fourth entry in her excellent series featuring prosecutor Bell Elkins. A native of the hardscrabble West Virginia mountain town of Acker’s Gap, Elkins is familiar with the area’s history, even if the disastrous 1972 Buffalo Creek flood was before her time. Royce Dillard was only two when he survived the rushing waters that claimed the lives of his parents and more than a hundred other souls, but now the solitary dog-lover’s life is imperiled once again. He is on trial for the murder of an outside developer on his land. The circumstantial evidence points to Dillard, but Elkins has her doubts, well aware of the passions aroused by the dead man and his plans that could forever change Acker’s Gap. Like her protagonist, Keller knows the landscape and its residents. Unlike Elkins, though, she also knows dogs. I fell hard for Goldie.

natureofA boy cries wolf once too often in Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), a stunning addition to her Inspector Gamache series. I was disappointed by the last one (choppy writing, digressive plot), but this one took my breath away as the isolated Quebec village of Three Pines is invaded by suspicion and betrayal with far-reaching moral consequences. All the familiar characters are on hand, including Henri the dog and Rosa the duck, as Gamache resists peaceful retirement in his search for answers. What little Laurent finds in the woods is real and fearsome.

xgraftonThe only problem with Sue Grafton’s X (Penguin Putnam, digital galley) is that it means we’re nearing the end of her alphabetically titled series starring PI Kinsey Millhone. As always, it’s a treat to watch Kinsey using the old-fashioned tools of the trade circa 1989 to catch criminals. Here, knocking on doors, using library reference books and looking at public records in person has Kinsey figuring out frauds large and small, even as the private files of a late colleague lead to a trail of missing women and a serial killer. Yikes! The colorful characters include a wily divorcee, a slick sociopath and annoying new neighbors for Kinsey and her elderly landlord Henry.

susansThe plot of Julia Heaberlin’s thrilling Black-Eyed Susans (Random House/Ballantine, digital galley) reminds me of an episode of Criminal Minds but minus most of the gory details. In 1995, 16-year-old Tessa was found buried alive under a blanket of black-eyed Susans in a Texas wheat field that served as a grave for three other girls. Tessa, who only has flashes of memory of her traumatic experience, nevertheless testified at the trial of the presumed killer, who was sent to Death Row. Now, with his execution only days away, Tessa reluctantly agrees to help a defense attorney and a forensics expert trying to free the condemned man by finally identifying the other victims. Heaberlin alternates between past and present, piling on the red herrings, and Tessa struggles to recover her memory. The ending’s a bit muddled and unevenly paced, but Heaberlin’s third book will keep you up all night.

marrykissWith its snappy dialogue and cinematic scenes, Marry Kiss Kill (Prospect Park Books, digital galley) reads like a rom-com caper TV movie — no surprise since author Anne Flett-Giordano’s writing and producing credits include Frasier and Hot in Cleveland. With the glitzy Santa Barbara film festival as backdrop, police detective Nola MacIntire and her partner, Tony Angellotti, try to solve the case of a murdered street artist while also looking into the suspicious death of a wealthy businessman. Nothing especially original here, but appealing characters and a spritz of name-dropping make for fast-paced fun.

pargeterKeeping up with so many series means I hardly ever run out of new mysteries to read. A shout-out to the Witness Impulse imprint that introduced me to several excellent writers from across the pond, including Brian McGilloway, whose Lucy Black series is set in Northern Ireland; Mari Hannah, whose Kate Daniels series takes place in Northumbria; and Alison Bruce, whose Gary Goodhew procedurals are set in Cambridge. I also count on British publisher Severn House for witty new tales from Simon Brett, who writes the Charles Paris series and the Mrs. Pargeter books. Severn also publishes new mysteries from American writers (and Facebook friends) Clea Simon and Sarah Shaber.  Recommended all.

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So many mysteries the last month or so. A popular author kicks off a new series, while another chooses to end a longtime favorite. Star turns by trusted detectives, past crimes leading to present-day puzzles, procedurals, capers, a serial killer — or two.

Attention: The above was prematurely published when a cat took over the laptop. I apologize on his behalf. The complete version appears in the next post.

 

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fishCandy and Karl.  Karl and Candy. The names are familiar. Are they that couple down the street? Or are those their dogs?

No, wait. I remember. Candy and Karl are the professional hit men who insist on getting to know their targets before taking them out. First met them in Martha Grimes’ goofy send-up of the book industry, 1983’s Foul Matter, where they gave new meaning to the term “publishing contract.”

Now, Candy and Karl return in a  satirical sequel, The Way of All Fish (Scribner, purchased e-book), this time going after unscrupulous literary agent L. Bass Hess. They find much to dislike about oily L. Bass, who sues former clients for commissions on books he did not sell. Fortunately for L. Bass, Manhattan publishing pooh-bah Bobby Mackenzie and best-selling author Paul Giverney (also from Foul Matter) don’t want the agent dead. No, they decide to drive him crazy, which is where Candy and Karl come in, as well as literary novelist Cindy Sella, a sleek Malaysian grifter, several kind-hearted Brooklyn slackers, a pig farmer/button man, L. Bass’s wealthy aunt (formerly uncle) who lives in South Florida, and numerous tropical fish. Choice set pieces involve an alligator, a junkyard ghost, a seance in a Pittsburgh museum, and, at book’s beginning, a shoot-out at the Clownfish Cafe that shatters an aquarium.

“Now the brightly colored fish, clown fish, tangs, angelfish of neon blue and sun-bright yellow, were drawing last breaths until the blonde who had been eating spaghetti tossed the remnants of red wine from her glass and scooped up some water and added one of the fish to the wineglass.” Other diners follow her example until the cafe’s tables are filled with pitchers and glasses, “and in every glass swam a fish, its color brightened from underneath by a stubby candle that seemed at last to have found a purpose in life.”

Anyone who has read Grimes’ other novels, including the long-running Richard Jury detective series, knows that she has a way with words and quirky details. Such a lovely wit. And no one does mist and melancholy better.

The Way of All Fish is as funny as Foul Matter, although not quite as fresh because readers already have been introduced to aptly named publishing houses like Mackenzie-Haack and Swinedale and the depths to which writers, editors, publishers, agents, etc. will descend. As Candy and Karl discovered, “Books were to die for. Literally. . .How would they have ever guessed the publishing world was so shot through with acrimony that they’d just as soon kill you as publish you?” Now, the two are wise to the industry, hanging out in Barnes & Noble and flipping the pages of PW.  However, they have yet to write their own book. Then again, Grimes is doing a whale of a job for them.

confessionsIf you like this kind of inside-pages tale, check out Jane O’Connor’s Almost True Confessions (HarperCollins, digital galley), which I galloped through last fall. Free-lance copyeditor Rannie Bookman’s thrilled to get a chance to edit the latest top-secret tell-all by an infamous celebrity biographer. But then Rannie finds the author’s dead body and puts on her sleuthing cap against the advice of her cop boyfriend. She suspects the murder may be tied to the manuscript’s enigmatic dedication. What or who is “Audeo”? I’ll never tell…

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