From drug running in Alaska, to organised crime in Bath. Here are 9 books for you to consider…
The Mystery Selection book bags we’ve been receiving from Oundle Library have paid good dividends! Several of our recommendations this month were Mystery Selection titles and by authors we’ll now be watching for. It’s worth noting that two of our number (Freyja and Oxo) are very tough customers indeed and rarely give 5 Stars, so the books they’ve rated might be higher if they’d been reviewed by someone else. We’ve ranked our reviews from the top down.
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
3 million copies of this have been sold to date, and there’s soon to be a film, so it has to be pretty good. Essentially, it’s the story of Anna, an agoraphobic woman living in Manhattan, who spies on her neighbours. She becomes obsessed with the Russell family and watches them closely, until one night she hears a woman scream and is convinced her neighbour has been harmed. The police, however, are unsympathetic and Mr Russell denies anything is wrong. But the next day the woman appears in a window, apparently bleeding, before she disappears from sight. Can Anna convince the police there’s been a crime, or will they dismiss her as a crank? Feebs described this as a ‘spiral plot’ – a story where even the twists are disguised. Everyone who has read it agreed it’s definitely worth 4+ Stars.
No Fixed Line by Dana Stabenow
A Mystery Selection special, Oxo enjoyed this so much that she’s now searching for more by this author. When a plane crashes in the Quilak mountains in Alaska the weather is too bad for the official rescue teams to reach it. A retired State Trooper is sent to recover the bodies and work out why no plane has been reported missing. But finding the crash site he’s amazed to discover survivors – two young children who don’t speak a word of English, and a large bag of drugs. PI Kate Shugak is brought in to find out what happened. Oxo says the Alaskan setting is really interesting and the story was fascinating. She couldn’t put it down and gives it 4 Stars (which would be the equivalent of 5 Stars from anyone else!).
Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey
When the daughter of a criminal big boss marries the son of a deputy chief constable, Peter Diamond, Head of Bath CID, is tasked with making sure that the wedding goes off without a hitch. The father of the bride has recently come out of prison and while he was away another crime gang had been trying to take over his patch. So, when a body is discovered at the wedding reception the police suspect it is linked to inter-gang rivalries. There are several plot twists before the mystery is solved, but the killer was the last person Norfolk Gal was expecting. She gave it 4 Stars, saying it was a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery.
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
Having discovered Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Mo has decided to read the series in order. This is Book 2, which starts with the electrocution of a spectator at the annual curling match in Three Pines – the village outside Quebec that features in most of these novels. Running parallel with the murder investigation Gamache is also trying to solve some high-level corruption at the Sûreté du Québec and as he juggles both investigations things get very personal. Mo enjoyed the way both these storylines were developed and how they played out. She’s now gunning for Book 3. 4 Stars.
The Shrine by L.J. Ross
Cornish Eskimo tracked this down after a friend recommended the author. It’s Book 16 in the DCI Ryan series but, sadly, Northamptonshire libraries only have three of them. Set in Durham, this involves the theft of Saint Cuthbert’s cross from the cathedral and the murder of a police officer, shot dead on her doorstep. It’s an interesting enough story and the characters are likeable. But unexplained references to the previous books, and an ending that leaves you hanging made it feel unsatisfactory. At our meeting Norfolk Gal explained that all the books in the series are, indeed, linked. She’s reading them in sequence and says they are very good. For that reason, we’re going to rank the series at 4 Stars (as rated by Norfolk Gal) if you start at the beginning with Holy Island, which is Book 1.
The Curator by M.W. Craven
This won the CWA Best Crime Novel of 2019 award, and the protagonist, Washington Poe, has been described as “Britain’s answer to Harry Bosch”, so there’s some pedigree here. There have been three deaths in Cumbria but none of the victims seem to have any connection to each other, apart from the manner of their dying. Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw of the National Crime Agency are called in to help the local police, and then later the FBI become involved. This is a twisty and complicated plot which Norfolk Gal occasionally found hard to follow. But it’s worth persevering because things do become clear at the end, although it’s quite a journey to get there. 3.5 Stars.
Pulpit Rock by Kate Rhodes
Cornish Eskimo wonders if Kate Rhodes is trying to turn the Isles of Scilly into the next Midsomer Murders – a place where there are more killings per square yard than you can shake a stick at. But this misgiving doesn’t stop Pulpit Rock, which is Book 4 in the Ben Kitto series, being an enjoyable mystery. There are murders (of course) and Kitto and his team have to untangle lots of local connections, family tensions etc before they find the villain. Kitto is a likeable character but he’s the only one who seems real. These stories are a bit lightweight, not least because they are all set on the Isles of Scilly, which definitely limits the storylines. 3.5 Stars.
A Death at the Hotel Mondrian by Anja de Jager (aka Death in the Dunes)
An old-fashioned detective story set in Amsterdam. Detective Lotte Meerman is approached by a man who says he wants to tell everyone he’s not dead. When he gives his name (Andre Nieuwkamp) she knows he’s a nutter because he’d been murdered 30 years previously; his bones had been found in the sand dunes, and his killer had committed suicide. But the next day, feeling a bit guilty, she goes to the hotel where he’s staying and finds him dead. A DNA test shows he is, in fact, Andre, so Lotte is told to investigate. The case involves stolen identities and sexual abuse of minors and there are so many strands to the story that it’s a little confusing in places. But Freyja enjoyed it enough to award 3-Stars (probably 4 Stars from anyone else!).
A Shroud of Leaves by Rebecca Alexander
Part thriller, part detective story, this novel copycats Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series so closely it’s a bit laboured. Sage Westfield is training to become a forensic archaeologist. (And yes, like Ruth Galloway, she’s a single mother, with a married ex-lover.) When the body of a young woman is found on an estate in the New Forest it looks like an almost ritualistic burial. Sage and her colleagues investigate, knowing that 30 years earlier on the same estate a young woman disappeared without a trace. And in another timeline in the novel, there’s the story of the disappearance of a young man who’d been excavating Stone Age barrows in the area in 1913. While all these mysteries are eventually resolved, Freyja says the main story is a bit ordinary and wishes the 1913 element had played a larger role. 2.5 Stars.
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