In June, we’ll meet on Sunday, June 13 at 2 p.m. to discuss Peter Swanson’s Eight Perfect Murders. This book is available for purchase on our website. From the publisher: Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.
This is the third novel in Kylie Logan’s Jazz Ramsey series, and a contribution to the growing number of mystery novels featuring cadaver dogs or rescue dogs. Books by Paula Munier, Margaret Mizushima, Diane Kelly, Spencer Quinn, Robert Crais and David Rosenfelt all celebrate dogs in differing degrees. Logan’s is perhaps the least “doggy” series, though Jazz’s cadaver dog in training, Wally, not only deepens Jazz’s character, he advances the plot.
Jazz is an administrative assistant at a Catholic girl’s school in her hometown of Cleveland, and as a hobby, she’s training Wally to be a cadaver dog. While he’s still learning, he’s come in handy in the first two books, and this one is no different. Jazz is dating undercover officer Nick, who has asked her to keep an eye on his alcoholic mom, Kim. When Jazz gets a call from Kim in the middle of the night insisting Nick is dead in her back yard – and that she killed him – Jazz rushes over.
I’m not sure what it is about Michigan that creates great private eye novelists, but whatever the reason, Stephen Mack Jones has joined the likes of Loren Estleman and Steve Hamilton in creating his Detroit based private eye, August Snow. August is a reluctant millionaire – an ex cop who sued the police department – and he now (mostly) spends his time renovating his neighborhood, Detroit’s Mexicantown, one house at a time. When his godmother, Elena, calls, however, he agrees to meet with a dying man about his Mexicantown business.
Brian Klingborg’s new series features Inspector Lu Fei, and is set in northern China. Lu is a great new character and Klingborg’s book is a fast paced, intelligent police procedural with an interesting setting. It’s a terrific start to a new series. You can read my review of Thief of Souls here.
Q: First of all, I kept flipping to your author info as I couldn’t believe you weren’t Chinese. How do you come by your extensive knowledge of China?
A: I majored in East Asian Studies as an undergraduate, spent a year abroad in Taiwan, then attended grad school where I studied cultural anthropology with a China focus. After school I returned to Taiwan where I lived and worked for several more years. Since then, I have continued my sporadic exploration of Chinese culture, history and language. And in the process of writing Thief of Souls, I did lots and lots of additional research.
This is a really solid start to a new series, one that reminded me of Stuart Kaminsky’s classic Inspector Rostnikov series. This new series is set in China, rather than Russia, but many of the societal and economic restrictions are similar. Klingborg’s Inspector Lu Fei is as bemused and practical a thinker as Rostnikov. Lu Fei lives near Harbin, in northern China, but not in Harbin itself – he basically lives out in the sticks. He prefers the steadiness of country policing and doesn’t have a huge desire to move up the ranks.
This is the second in Kathleen Kalb’s delightful series about opera star Ella Shane, who is working in New York City in 1899. She and her cousin Tom run an opera company and live agreeably together in a large brownstone with Ella’s parrot, Montezuma. These books have a really vivacious quality, matching Miss Ella’s own. Not only is Ella a working woman in 1899, she sings men’s parts – she’s what was known as a “trouser diva”.
Her first nights tend to be problematic, however. In the first book, as she sang Romeo to her Juliet, Juliet was really dead. In this book, though the stage portion of her new show goes perfectly, when she comes off stage she discovers one of her co-stars in his dressing room, covered in blood, a dead man at his feet. The gentle singer is hauled off to the Tombs and Ella tries to wrap her head around his guilt.
This seems almost unbelievable, but it’s been 51 years since Tony Hillerman published his first Joe Leaphorn novel, The Blessing Way. The books are now such revered classics I was hesitant when I picked up Anne Hillerman’s first book, thinking there was no way she could continue the work of her father. But Ms. Hillerman has made the series her own. The central character is neither Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee, but Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito, giving the series an entirely new flavor.
I love this vibrant, lively, insanely readable series, a series that takes unexpected turns with its characters but still hews to the traditional norms of historical mystery fiction. The first book in the series, A Death of No Importance, was a fabulous origin story, where ladies’ maid Jane Prescott takes on the nouveau riche Benchley family in the first decade of the twentieth century. The books are set in New York City and the Benchley girls are viewed as rich upstarts, and Jane’s special charge, Louise, is shy and gauche and seems to fit in nowhere.
Murder at Wedgefield Manor is the delightful second book in Erica Ruth Neubauer’s series set in the 1920s, featuring the adventurous American World War I widow Jane Wunderly. After solving a mystery in Egypt in the first book, Murder at the Mena House, Jane, her matchmaking Aunt Millie, and Millie’s secret daughter Lillian arrive at Wedgefield Manor, the English country estate of Lord Hughes, who had been Millie’s lover years ago. Quite possibly, Millie and Hughes are rekindling their romance. Lillian is the product of their brief affair. Lord Hughes and his wife had adopted Lillian and raised her as their own, and as far as Jane knows, Lillian is not aware of the fact that Millie is her mother–a fact that Jane had uncovered in the course of her investigation in Egypt, where she met Lillian for the first time.
This is a favorite new series. The books feature Mercy Carr and her military dog, Elvis, who have come home to Vermont to nurse their wounds (and their PTSD) after losing the love of both their lives, Martinez, in Afghanistan. Both have reacclimated to a degree, though Mercy has a hard time with trust and tends to hold herself back when it comes to relationships. While Mercy is slightly on the outs with her perhaps boyfriend, game warden Troy, her life is a full one. She’s taken in a teenage mother, her baby, and her boyfriend; she has a tight relationship with her grandmother, Patience, a vet; and she and Elvis are now working as a complete team.