There’s a classic French novel called Le Grand Meaulnes, which is basically in two parts. The first is about a runaway schoolboy who stumbles into a marvelous, fairy tale experience in an isolated, ancient mansion in the countryside. The second half is the prosaic, logical explanation of this seemingly magic occurrence and the resulting quotidian grind of real life. In a way it’s satisfying to know what really happened, but in another way you want to rip the book in two and throw the ending out of the window. Or in the words of the marvelously named Sacheverell Sitwell, “In the end, it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.”
Williams, Willig and White, three bestselling authoresses who write historical adventures, romances and mysteries, have teamed up for the third time to write a wonderfully rich novel with a through line of the Paris Ritz. Being a hotel brat myself, I enjoyed this method of tying the novel together. It has three separate storylines, each focused on a different woman – one in 1914, one in 1942, and one in 1964. In the two earlier storylines, there’s a woman who lives in a suite at the Ritz. She’s the first character’s mother and the second character’s grandmother. The tie the third woman has to the first two is more tenuous and is one of the mysterious threads of the novel.
The second novel in Jess Montgomery’s remarkable series set in a 1920’s Ohio mining town is every bit as memorable and vivid as the first, The Widows, which was far and away one of the best books of 2019. Montgomery brings to life the story of the first female sheriff, Lily Ross, in tiny Kinship, Ohio. While the first novel concerned itself with the politics of mining, this novel is more of a straight mystery, which veers into the unfortunate territory of racism and because of the time period, an ever present and ingrained sexism. This is naturally a hindrance at times to Lily’s carrying out her duties.
I am smitten with this series, now four books in. Slight spoiler: Detective Gemma Monroe is planning her wedding to Brody, father of baby Grace. This is more or less background, however, as Gemma deals with a car bombing that takes place in the first chapter. Set during Halloween, this novel is atmospheric and embraces the fear inherent in Halloween, rather than the cute ghostie trick or treating aspect of this now huge holiday. Littlejohn goes back to the root: scary things that go bump in the night. In this case, literally, an explosion.
A list of snowy mysteries to help you enjoy the winter….
First up, of course, Jo Nesbo’s creepy The Snowman (2010), finds Inspector Harry Hole chasing down someone who buries bodies inside snowmen. You may never, ever look at a snowman the same way again. Ignore the bad movie – pick up this great read and be completely immersed.
Camilla Lackburg’s The Ice Princess (2008) finds writer Erica returning to her tiny Swedish hometown when a friend is found dead and frozen in his bathtub, wrists slashed. To process what has happened, she begins a memoir, and finds herself solving a crime. Atmospheric, full of well drawn characters, and yes, creepy as all heck.
Our next book club will meet on Thursday, January 16, 6 p.m. at the Grand Traverse Pie Company, 291 N. Zeeb Rd. We’ll be disussing Elly Griffiths’ stand alone, The Stranger Diaries, a gothic style ghost story set in present day Britain on the grounds of a slightly creepy old school. Griffiths introduces three strong female characters who share narrative duties. Clever, hard to put down & beautifully written. Purchase a copy on the website here. In February, we’ll be reading The Life We Bury by Alan Eskens, date to be announced. All are welcome at book club!
This novel is available January 7, 2020. You can pre-order it on this website.
There’s always a moment in a Tasha Alexander book where I give a little yip of joy. Be it a ghost ballerina or a lovingly described Worth dress (there’s a beauty in this book), in this outing, it was the body hidden in plain sight amongst all the others in Pompeii. When a fresher corpse is noticed by Lady Emily and her husband as having the wrong sideburns and the discovery was made, I could not have been happier.
If you enjoyed the new film Knives Out, and are craving a bit more fun, check out some of these great titles that have a similar dysfunctional family stuck in a big house vibe, often with a sidebar of humor or satire (or both).
A Fatal Winter, G.M. Malliet. In Malliet’s second novel, the delicious sleuthing vicar, Max Tudor, is dispatched to the home of Lord Footrustle to assist with funeral arrangements, but by virtue of a snowstorm, gets stuck in the middle of a dysfunctional family, all of whom seem to have had a reason for desiring the death of their patriarch. And it’s all the dead man’s fault, really, as the lonely Lord had invited his far flung family members to join him for Christmas. While this novel was written in 2012, it hews closely to the golden age parameters established so long ago, and so enjoyably, by Agatha Christie. While definitely tongue in cheek, Malliet breaths true life into her characters and her stories are wickedly clever.
This review comes to us courtesy of long time Aunt Agatha’s book club member and friend, Vicki Kondelik. This novel will be published on December 31, 2019 and is available for pre-order.
And Dangerous to Know is the third in a series by Darcie Wilde (a pseudonym for Sarah Zettel) set in Regency England and featuring Rosalind Thorne, a gentlewoman living in reduced circumstances after her father abandoned his family because he was heavily in debt. I have not read the previous two, but this book made me want to go back and read them. It stands on its own very well, and I was able to gather all the information I needed about Rosalind’s background.
I couldn’t keep it to 10 this year – can I ever? My taste does tend toward the traditional and historical fiction side of things, so that’s mostly reflected here. And a note: Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land, while not strictly a mystery, can definitely be enjoyed by his mystery loving fans. Quite simply, it’s the best book of 2019 of any variety, and I hope everyone reads it. I am looking to read it again myself.
There was lots to love this year! Some long-awaited returns (S.J. Rozan), some debuts (Melanie Golding, Allison Montclair, Jess Montgomery), some trying a different format or series (Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths), and of course some solid entries in already great series (Benn, Bowen, Jones, Massey, Shaber). Lots of great, passionate, spectacular writing. I love being a mystery reader!