G.M. Malliet: The Haunted Season

TheHauntedSeasonThe fifth novel in G.M. Malliet’s charming and intelligent Max Tudor series is a delight. The book finds Max happily married to the lovely Awena, and they are the now doting parents of Owen. They seem to share child care almost effortlessly, with the exception of Max falling asleep in church during a sermon given by his new curate, Destiny. While Destiny is not in the novel for large chunks, she still plays a large part, as before heading to Nether Monkslip to report for duty, she overhears a seemingly incriminating conversation in the steam bath at her women’s club. Problem: every woman looks the same wrapped in a towel, and she has no idea who they are. read more

Jane Casey: The Kill

TheKillAnother take on the British police novel comes from Jane Casey, whose love-life-clueless-work-life-competent Maeve Kerrigan is a fresh, memorable character. She’s young, she’s fighting tooth and nail to be taken seriously and treated equally, and she’s one of the few who gets along with her higher up, the prickly Josh Derwent.

Casey’s feminist take on the police novel is welcome and realistic – Maeve is mostly taken seriously by her boss but she’s treated in a very sexist way by Derwent, who nevertheless values her opinion and likes working with her. Higher up the chain female officers are threatened by her and Maeve handles her work life with aplomb. She’s made a pact with herself never to cry at work, no matter what happens: Josh tells her towards the end of the novel, “Don’t be that girl who cries at work.” It’s a perfect encapsulation of Maeve’s daily struggle to keep it together on the job, and reminded me of Holly Hunter’s solitary morning crying jag in the film “Broadcast News.” read more

Hannah Dennison: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall

DeadlyDesiresThe second in a series featuring former TV personality Kat Stanford, this is a welcome addition to the always popular British village subgenre. The tone is “madcap,” in a good way. Kat is living with her mother in the carriage house of Honeychurch Hall; her mother has just informed her that her Uncle Alfred, recently released from prison, is about to join them.

Both women are also caught up in a village controversy: a high speed rail line is proposing cutting through the town, destroying buildings and historic sites (there’s a British Civil War battlefield smack in the middle of their countryside), and when they stumble across one of the train authorities in a walk through a field to find sloes for sloe gin fizzes, Kat is literally caught in the middle. She sees that the railway would destroy the town; on the other hand, its representative, Valentine Prince-Avery, is handsome and charming and he just wants to discuss “options.” read more

Anne Cleeland: Murder in Thrall

murderinthrallHow has this terrifically inventive series slipped under the radar? This was one of our breakout books at Christmas when we could hardly order copies fast enough, and when I was recently at Malice Domestic, we sold lots of copies and one woman even told me she’d come to the conference specifically to meet Ms. Cleeland. After feverishly reading this one in a day, I can absolutely see why (and I plan on reading the next two as quickly as possible).

This has one of the odder set ups I’ve ever encountered in a mystery novel. While on one level it’s a straight up, almost typical, police procedural – a Scotland Yard DCI (that’s Detective Inspector to you) takes a young DC (that’s Detective Constable, the lowest rank) under his wing. It’s reminiscent of Elizabeth George’s pairing of Lynley and Havers – Cleeland’s DCI, Acton, is titled, as is Lynley; the DC, Doyle, is a working class (like Havers) Irish girl trying to find her way. She’s trying to absorb as much knowledge as she can, and as the story opens, it’s clear that Acton and Doyle work well together. read more

Sharon Bolton: Little Black Lies

littleblackliesS.J. Bolton may have changed her name to the more agreeable and feminine “Sharon,” but make no mistake, her creepy intensity is undiluted. This novel is a stand-alone in the mode of her earlier novels – Sacrifice, Awakening and Blood Harvest – and boy does it get under your skin. If you aren’t big on an eerie, gothic storyline, give this one a pass. On the other hand if you enjoy a well written and unforgettable read, dive right in.

Set on the Falkland Islands (there’s a map in the front subtitled “Land of Sky and Sea,” a cheerfully ironic subtitle if ever there was one) about a decade after the well-remembered Falkland Island conflict of 1982. The conflict is still fresh for the islanders (who live with the threat of land mines in their sheep fields) and one of the main characters is a Falkland vet with PTSD. He’s not the main character, but he makes the timing relevant, though he’s not as obvious a plot device as that implies. read more

Elly Griffiths: The Ghost Fields

ghostfieldsAs far as I’m concerned, a new Elly Griffiths novel is major cause for rejoicing. Her sparkly, vivid series set on the coast of Norfolk and featuring archaeologist Ruth Galloway is always a delight. My daughter and I were also discussing how good Griffiths is at tricking the reader, in ways big and small, and seems to keep getting better as a writer. All of these things apply to her new novel which finds Ruth called in when a WWII plane is unearthed on the beach, with a grinning skeleton at the helm. She spots the bullet hole in his forehead straight away and we’re off to the races. read more

Colette McBeth: The Life I Left Behind and Sophie McKenzie: You Can Trust Me

As I read, I often mentally try to categorize, to fit what I’m reading into a mystery context, wondering about the predecessors of what I’m reading. When I first picked up Colette McBeth’s book, I was thinking Ruth Rendell; but then I started Sophie McKenzie’s book and it all fell into place. These women aren’t following Rendell, they’re following feminine suspense writers like Charlotte Armstrong, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mignon G. Eberhart, Celia Fremlin, and even Mary Higgins Clark. They’re writing stand alone thrillers with a domestic twist. And they’ve brought them oh so creepily into the 21st century – these are genuinely scary reads, difficult to put down, and ultimately, all ends happily. read more

Kate Rhodes: The Winter Foundlings

winter-foundlingsPsychologist Alice Quentin had a rough time in Rhodes’ last novel, A Killing of Angels. A consultant for the police, she got caught up in a serial killer case that almost ended her own life. So, in this book, for a relaxing change of pace, Alice decides to spend some time at a hospital for the criminally insane, doing research. Ahhh, how refreshing!

Rhodes is devoted to a Victorian love of coincidence and it actually serves her quite well, especially in this novel, where the central crime is connected to the very Victorian Foundling Home. Really, the entire set up could not be more Victorian – the hospital where Alice is doing her research is an old, somewhat renovated throw back out in the country, and Alice has rented a picturesque, if freezing, cottage in the middle of the woods, the kind you might think belongs in a fairy tale. It’s probably the one belonging to the witch in Hansel and Gretel. read more

Judith Flanders: A Murder of Magpies

murder-of-magpiesJudith Flanders is a well known expert on Victorian manners and history, whose most recent book The Invention of Murder sits on our history mystery table. This is her first foray into fiction, and it’s delightful, causing me to both laugh aloud and copiously dog ear pages as Ms. Flanders is exquisitely quotable.

I loved her premise and setting. Her main character, Sam Clair, is a senior book editor at a major British publisher, and she’s in her forties. Flanders makes full use of Sam’s age, experience and gender, sliding in blindingly astute vignettes illustrating how women of a certain age tend to be ignored. As this book proves, ignoring a middle aged woman comes with its own perils. read more

Deborah Crombie: To Dwell in Darkness

todwellindarknessA new Crombie book is an event. Her Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid books have become instant classics, on a par with Peter Robinson’s, and I used to say, with Elizabeth George’s, but at this point I far prefer Crombie’s books to George’s. Her books are tighter and the character’s lives aren’t completely – or even at all – bleak and depressing. Gemma and Duncan have their problems, yes, but they are the problems of a normally lived life with a houseful of children ranging from teen to toddler. read more