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Archive for the ‘Murder’ Category

As Detective Inspector John Rebus, retired, talks to his medical examiner girlfriend, Deborah Quant, over dinner in the Caledonian Hotel restaurant, he recalls the murder there, over thirty years ago, of a young woman, Maria Turquand. The killer was never caught. With nothing but time on his hands, Rebus decides to investigate the case, imploring his former coworker, Siobhan Clarke to  bring him the cold case files.

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The day after Rebus chats with police officer, Robert Chatham, who years previously spearheaded a review of the case when new evidence was introduced, said Officer Chatham’s dead body was found washed up on shore, Rebus surmises it has something to do with his cold case.

How this cold case can be made to intersect with Clarke’s new assault and battery case perpetrated against known gangster Darryl Christie, only an experienced mystery writer such as Rankin can achieve.

Rather Be the Devil reunites Rebus with his co-workers, Clarke and Malcolm Fox. In addition, he meets up with his ‘friendly enemies’, Christie and Big Ger Cafferty. I haven’t read any of Rankin’s previous novels, so I was unfamiliar with the history of Rebus and his cohorts. While such knowledge wasn’t necessary to enjoy the book, it would have been nice. In addition, one arc of the story deals with issues surrounding Rebus’ health, which again, I had no familiarity.

The first 50 or so pages of Rather Be the Devil were a little slow, until the story got going. Then it was a reasonably fast read. The characters were well fleshed out, although I kept getting them confused with each other (Christie/Cafferty). The plot was interesting. Apparently Rebus never played by the rules, which he certainly does not in this episode.

While Rather Be the Devil was an enjoyable and satisfying read, I don’t know that I’d run out and start from the first book in the series (this is #21) or even line up to read the next in the series, if/when that is published. I think I’m more of a Peter Robinson/Inspector Banks fan.

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When the wealthy Mrs. Atterby walks into Bertha Cool’s detective agency with her daughter, Mrs. Cunner, to discuss Mrs. Cunner’s wayward husband, Bertha is all ears. Although most detective agencies don’t handle domestic cases, Cool is not above airing someone else’s dirty linen and she’s got just the agent for the case, Donald Lam. Of course, as Lam investigates, he discovers Mr. Cunner is involved in more than just stepping out on his wife…and Lam has the bruises to prove it.

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The Knife Slipped, a long lost manuscript (there seem to be a lot of them cropping up nowadays) in Erle Stanley Gardner’s Cool and Lam series, apparently was supposed to be the second book in the series. I forgot that I had read another book in the series and wasn’t overly impressed.

Bertha Cool is a smart talking, obese broad who pretty much has no scruples. Unfortunately, she is way over the top, so if you’re into the believable, you’d be hard pressed to believe any of this.

Donald Lam appears to fall hard and fast for anything in a skirt. He doesn’t have much brain power, but for a skinny guy seems to take his beatings in stride.

*****SPOILER*****

The plot is totally outdated, as it deals with cheating on police and fireman civil service exams, which is not something I’ve heard much about recently.

Gardner was a prolific pulp mystery writer, but he wasn’t one of the best. He created unique characters for the times, but I can’t say that I really like Bertha Cool or Donald Lam. I wouldn’t go out of my way to read more of the series.

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I’m beginning to get into Nordic mysteries so when I saw Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten (“first in the bestselling Swedish mystery series”) at Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs, NY, I had to do my civic independent bookstore duty and buy the book. It’s always best to start a series at the beginning, no?

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Prominent Goteborg, Sweden businessman Richard von Knecht plunges to his death right in front of his wife and son who were exiting their car. Initially, the fall was considered a “Society Suicide” but no one could fathom why the ever lively, fun loving von Knecht would jump. When medical examiner Yvonne Stridner concludes that it is homicide, not suicide, the Violent Crimes team, composed of Detective Superintendent Swen Andersson, Detective Inspector Irene Huss and a battery of policemen and women, are soon involved. Of course, initially, no motive for murder seems plausible, but as the team digs, things are not what they seemed.

My only Nordic mystery reading experience consists of the dark, brooding mysteries of Arnaldur Indridason’s Inspector Erlendur mysteries, which I love. My viewing experience consists of the excellent The Bron (The Bridge) which is also dark and both the British and Swedish versions of Wallander (of which the former is dark and the latter, not so much). Therefore, I expected a darker than normal book, which is not really what I got.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Detective Inspector Huss and would definitely read the eight or so books in the series, but it wasn’t as compelling as Inspector Erlendur. Huss is approaching 40 and is feeling the uncertainty that goes along with aging. She’s got twin daughters who are going through their growing pains. All of this complicates an already complicated investigation. The secondary characters are interesting in their own right. In television lingo, it is a good ‘ensemble’ cast, which is good because there is an associated Swedish TV series, starring Angela Kovacs who starred in the initial season of Mankell’s Wallander.

There’s enough swift moving action to keep readers interested. Huss runs into a bunch of unsavory characters including Hell’s Angels and friends of von Knecht (just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you can’t be unsavory).

The only thing I found offputting was the sexism exhibited by some of the police team. The book was written in 1998, so maybe it was merely my 2016 mentality, but it didn’t ring true.

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Luisa (Lu) Brant has just started her term as the first female state’s attorney of Howard County, MD after beating her boss in the election. The fact that she is the daughter of a previous, well respected state’s attorney certainly did not hurt her at election time.

It is January 5 and there is a murder that needs attention. Lu decides to try the case herself rather than delegate to a staff member because (a) there are few murders in the county and (b) there are some interesting aspects to the case. The victim is a middle aged women, killed in an apparent burglary. Her new rule is the attorney trying the case must visit the scene of the crime, so off she goes.

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In chapters alternating between the present narrated in third person and Lu’s childhood narrated in first person, Lippman connects the present to the past. Interestingly, the the titles of current chapters are merely dates while those of the past have actual titles such as Oh Brave New World That Has No Trees In It, relevant to the action in the chapter. Additionally the type fonts are different for present and past.

As Wilde Lake (the name of a lake near her home) progresses readers learn about Lu’s life, the loss of her mother soon after her birth, living with her father and her brother, 8 years her senior, the supposedly idyllic life in Columbia, MD, a planned community. Readers will contrast her solitude with her brother’s charm and outgoing character.

But there are dark sides to their lives as well and how those dark sides play into the murder is the meat of Wilde Lake. I will admit that the connection might be somewhat strained, but I enjoyed the journey. I found especially interesting Lu’s recounting her childhood. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that Wilde Lake is more a character study than a mystery. There is little in the way of police procedural and forensics. It is more about the relationships of the characters. The story of Lu’s past has a more ‘literary’ feel to it than the present day chapters.

I will tell you that I only read (or tried to read) one other Laura Lippman book, Hush, Hush , a Tess Monaghan mystery, and made it through only 100 pages. So the fact that I finished this one and enjoyed it is certainly worth noting.

So, now that I’ve taken you around in circles, I’ll conclude by saying that I did enjoy Wilde Lake and do suggest you read it, not for its mystery but for its character study.

 

 

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Former police officer Carol Jordan is pulled over for drunk driving, despite being on a deserted country road, less than a mile from her house. Having no one else to bail her out, she calls Tony Hill, psychologist, friend, once very close friend. Driving her home, he decides an intervention is needed, as many of Jordan’s former colleagues are concerned about her drinking. He indicates that he’s staying the night, and to make sure she doesn’t take another drink, he empties her cabinets without even asking.

Simultaneous to this incident, John Brandon and several other high ranking officials have decided that an overriding Murder Investigating Team is needed, covering several precincts which don’t have much expertise in investigating murders. And who better to lead the charge than Jordan. However, that means doing something about her drunk driving arrest. Jordan’s choice is essentially accept the new position, come out of retirement and get her arrest expunged or face the consequences of losing her license. What choices is there, really?SplinterTheSilence

Jordan recruits her select team, many of whom have worked for her before, such as Stacey Chen (master at the computer), Paula McIntyre (interviewer extraordinaire) and Tony. She and Tony also decide the team needs something to whet their teeth and suggests they look at the recent apparent suicide of an outspoken feminist who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her garage. Beside her was a book a poetry. Something just doesn’t feel right to Tony and Carol has learned to trust Tony’s instincts.

Despite the fact that this is an ongoing series and I hadn’t read any of the previous books, Splinter the Silence was totally enjoyable. You know that I like mysteries where the characters have a life and tend to grow over the course of the series and you can feel that in Splinter the Silence.

There’s certainly death in this book but it’s not gruesome and it’s not the point of the story, which is catching the killer. And of course in this day and age, computers are a main mechanism in identifying and locating people. The ending is both happy and sad (hey, that’s life). There are enough twists and turns to satisfy all mystery readers.

I like Val McDermid’s books and Splinter the Silence is no exception.

 

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Two things I’m not a big fan of—religious, evangelistic, cult mysteries and very tense drama, and yet Freedom’s Child a debut novel by Jax Miller, which contains both of the above, had me riveted. It is tense from beginning to end.FreedomsChild

The prologue, which you should go back and read again after you finish the book, begins “My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter. It’s surreal, honestly, and I’m not sure what feels more like a dream, her death or her existence. I’m guilty of both.” From there you learn that Freedom is accused of murdering her NYPD husband, served two years in jail before investigators found and convicted someone else for the crime and Freedom was released, is under the Witness Protection Program and is living in Oregon.

Freedom describes giving up her son, Mason, and daughter, Rebekah,  for adoption when it was thought she’d spend the rest of her life in prison, how she’s managed to locate them in Kentucky and follow them on Facebook. When there is a lapse in Rebekah’s status updates, Freedom begins to worry. It is her mother’s instinct that says something is wrong and she needs to find her daughter.

Freedom’s Child is told from Freedom’s perspective and many chapters open with “My name is Freedom and……” The story is interspersed with letters written (but never mailed) to her children, flash backs to her life before the murder and her incarceration, descriptions of her husband, her derelict brothers-in-law and mother-in-law. Miller keeps the suspense flowing from the beginning through to the end. While the book is not over graphic, you know how wicked the bad guys are.

Readers experience a mother’s heartbreak at giving up her children, even if she knows it’s for the best. Readers experience the heartbreak of knowing your child is in trouble and needs your help while you are thousands of miles away. Readers understand the lengths a mother would go to help a child.

Freedom’s Child is definitely one of the best books of the year.

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TheCompanySheKeptDoug Nielsen and his wife Margie were returning from their winter vacation when they pulled into a scenic overlook in Vermont. However, it wasn’t quite the scenery they imagined when looking up they saw a lifeless body dangling from the metal meshing that was designed to keep the mountain rocks from falling onto the interstate.

Gilbert, Joe Gunther’s cat, was asleep on Joe’s chest, and Joe himself was deep in thought when the phone rang. The first words he heard were “Susan’s dead”, uttered by a stricken Gail Zigman, his former romantic partner and now governor of Vermont. The Susan in question is Susan Raffner, Vermont state senator and Gail’s political advisor, close friend and sidekick. When Joe, as a leader in the Vermont Bureau of Investigation gets a call from the Governor to head up the investigation, he has no choice but to comply regardless of what their past relationship might have been.

It’s old home week for us Joe Gunther fans as he gathers the normal VBI team of Sammie Martens, Willie Kunkle, Lester Spinney and chief medical examiner (and Joe’s current girl friend) Beverly Hillstrom, along with various other law enforcement officers. The problem is that, regardless of all the high tech equipment and analysis, the investigation (which is high profile) is dead in the tracks (pun intended) pretty soon. So Joe gets the idea of having the team plod through all the analysis, interviews and paper, with the exception of Willy Kunkle, a loner by nature, to whom he basically gives carte blanche…as long as he stays under the radar.

As all Joe Gunther mysteries, The Company She Kept has twists and turns. I did not guess the end…but I don’t typically. The characters have developed personalities over the years that readers can count on, and they don’t fail us in this endeavor. I like series in which the characters age and develop and you see that clearly in this book. Willie, always  the rebel and outsider, is softening with the birth of his daughter. Joe has moved on from his first wife’s untimely death from cancer and his break up with Gail. Gail has progressed from real estate agent to gadfly to a politically savvy governor.

There’s not a lot of action in The Company She Kept. It’s enough to satisfy but not overload. There’s not a lot of forensic analysis either. Mayor has produced a more rambling, move slowly type of story. But that’s OK. In an Archer Mayor book it’s the characters that carry the story, not necessarily to murder.

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