Edward Keyes: The Michigan Murders

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This is one of the best selling books through our years as an open store.  A true account of the murders that took place in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor between 1967-69, and the story of how the killer was caught.  This is a used copy with spine creases and a stain on the bottom edge, but still perfectly readable.  $5.50.

Sujata Massey: The Widows of Malabar Hill

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Sujata Massey’s book is the first in a series set in 1921 Bombay.  The story centers on young Perveen Mistry, just joining her father’s law firm, and taking on a case involving women’s legal rights.  This will be our book club read for January.

Emily Littlejohn: Lost Lake

Three books into her series about Detective Gemma Monroe, I am already so smitten that this series belongs alongside favorite series of mine by Sarah Stewart Taylor, Elly Griffiths, Ellen Hart and Julia Spencer-Fleming.  All of these writers – including Littlejohn – create a rich setting, and populate their unique settings or occupations with even richer characters and stories.  All of them feature extremely strong women as their core characters.

Gemma lives in a smallish Colorado Mountain town – but still big enough to have some skiing and some cultural life – and her life is complicated.  Like a real person’s life is complicated.  She has beloved grandparents who raised her, but her grandmother suffers from dementia; she has a baby she loves and is engaged to the baby’s father, but she’s conflicted about him because of a past affair; and her relationship with her partner, Finn, can be prickly. Oh, and the police department is dealing with a leaker. read more

Candace Robb: A Murdered Peace

The third in Candace Robb’s Kate Clifford series, set in 1400 York, finds much has changed in Kate’s world.  Kate, a widow who had been shackled by her late husband’s debts, has at last paid them off.  She’s a happy mother to her wards – two of them her late husband’s illegitimate children – but she loves all three of her children, one of them saved from the streets of York, equally.  Her household is a bustling and happy one.

As the book opens, a friend appears of her doorstep in a snowstorm, requesting shelter.  Kate unthinkingly takes her in and only on reflection realizes the danger of taking in a woman who may be regarded at the worst as a traitor, at the least as a fugitive and corpse thief.  The woman, Lady Kirkby, has witnessed the beheading of her husband during an uprising in nearby Cirencester. read more

Paula Munier: A Borrowing of Bones

This first novel can almost be slotted into a new subgenre – “dog lit.”  It joins excellent books by Margaret Mizushima and Robert Crais in featuring working dogs (this one ex-military) who have a damaged human partner. (There’s another one in the works from well known dog lover Owen Laukkanen.)  Like Mizushima’s novels, this one has a wonderful feel for setting, in this case, the Vermont woods.

The main character, Mercy Carr, is back from Afghanistan with her partner’s dog, Elvis.  Both are mourning the loss of Mercy’s partner, Martinez, and woman and dog are walking the woods together, trying to move past PTSD and become more of a unit.  As the book opens they are out in the woods and Elvis finds a baby in a carrier with no mother in sight. read more

Lynne Truss: A Shot in the Dark

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While I was hesitant to pick up this novel – Truss is best known for her grammar book Eats, Shoots and Leaves – I was smitten by her introduction where she confessed her goal of becoming a member of the Detection Club.  After reading that, I was all in, and the book took me the rest of the way on its own.  This is the kind of funny, dry, intelligent humor the Brits do so well, and the set up is delicious.

The novel is set in Brighton in 1957, and makes frequent reference to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, a classic novel about gangs.  Truss’s Brighton, while also beset by gangs, is a slightly less ominous place.  The story opens as Inspector Steine is greeted by a new and enthusiastic recruit, Constable Twitten.  Steine is pretty oblivious and only interested in resting on his past laurels – where two rival gangs took themselves out under his watch – he now insists, Stalin-like, that there is no more crime in Brighton. read more

Stephanie Gayle: Idyll Hands

The third in a series about small town police chief Thomas Lynch, Gayle’s novel manages to be both charming and a straight up police procedural.  It’s set apart a bit from the norm (and I haven’t read the other two in the series, Idyll Threats and Idyll Fears), so I don’t know if the same parameters apply in the other two novels, but the narrators switch back and forth between chapters.

While the central character, as proclaimed on the cover, is Chief Tom Lynch, the other central character, a far as this novel goes, is Detective Michael Finnegan.  The story involves a cold case involving a human bone found in the woods 20 plus years ago; the case and the bone are affectionately known as “Colleen” and a local ghost story has sprung up around her.  When the rest of her bones are discovered early on, the detectives begin their hunt for the real Colleen. read more

Louise Penny: Kingdom of the Blind

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All good writers have themes they like to re-explore and think through in many of their books. In Kingdom of the Blind Louise Penny returns to a theme that has long been of interest to her, that of the unreliability of mere appearances. The pleasant facade masking rot within. As she focuses thematically on the yin and yang of her characters and thoughts – at one point, Gamache thinks to himself “that conversation had gone both well and badly. Was comforting and nauseating. Successful and humiliating”, she forces the reader to examine his or her own preconceptions. read more

Why I Love Ngaio Marsh

Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982), was one of the four cornerstones of British Crime fiction in the 30’s and 40’s, and that is reason enough to love her. Along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham, they were the original Queens of Crime, reshaping the puzzle based mystery and adding the bonus of continuing characters readers grew to love. Christie’s Poirot and Marple, Sayers’ Peter Wimsey, Allingham’s Albert Campion and Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn are some of the best known British detectives ever created. read more

Jonathan F. Putnam: Final Resting Place

This is a lovely series, full of energy and insight.  This installment, set during the election season of 1838 in Springfield, Illinois, follows the story of a man shot during the 4th of July fireworks and his subsequent trial, where his defense is taken on by Abraham Lincoln.  The two central characters in this series are Joshua Fry Speed, known to history as Lincoln’s best friend, and Lincoln himself.

Why, you may say to yourself, I know all about Abraham Lincoln.  Unless you are an historian, I assure you, you do not.  Putnam has chosen to set his series during Lincoln’s younger years, before marriage to Mary Todd, when he’s living what was then a hardscrabble life as a lawyer.  He and Speed share one bed in a rooming house; there’s another bed in their room shared by two other men. read more