Gerald Elias: an eclectic anthology of 28 short mysteries to chill the warmest heart

One of my favorite book events of all time was one for Gerald Elias’ first Danial Jacobus mystery, Devil’s Trill (2009).  Elias, himself a violinist (at the time associate concertmaster for the Utah Symphony), brought what he referred to as his “fiddle” to the event, and gifted the audience with a short performance.  I’ve never forgotten it.

I was also a fan of the books, based on the odd-ish premise that a blind violinist could be a detective, his remaining senses sharpened by the lack of his eyesight, heightening his deductive reasoning abilities.  This is actually pretty classic Sherlock Holmes territory, the “Watson” being Daniel’s former musical partner and friend Nathaniel.  The mysteries, while utterly traditional, also gave the reader a bird’s eye view of the music world.  Jacobus lives in seclusion in the New England countryside but is drawn out to the city for different reasons. read more

Allison Montclair: The Right Sort of Man

This is one of the most intelligent and funny first novels I’ve read in a long while.  Set in immediate post WW II London – any fan of Call the Midwife will be familiar with the setting – it’s a period of time still governed by rationing and coupons, and people who have suffered some war trauma, be it loss, living through the Blitz, or actually fighting in the war.

Our two central characters are Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge.  Iris has a secret history of resistance fighting and espionage, none of which she can talk about; Gwen, an almost titled member of the upper classes, has lost her husband and is raising her son at her mother-in-law’s after a stint in a mental asylum.  She refuses to talk about it. read more

Deborah Crombie: A Bitter Feast

I don’t think there was a book I was more excited to read this year than this one and happily, I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s been three long years since the last novel, The Garden of Lamentations, and I have missed Crombie’s perceptive take on human nature.  It’s character that dominates her novels.  Characters are the alpha and omega of her writing, and this book is no exception to the rule.

I have to say I nearly swooned when I discovered the book was set in the Cotswolds.  There can be no more English village-y type setting, and contemporary writers from Erin Hart to Elizabeth George to G.M. Malliet have taken this classic setting and run with it.  There’s a depth to Deborah Crombie’s writing that sets her apart, and it percolates through every detail of her novels, from setting to plot to whatever she has chosen to examine in a particular book. read more

D.M. Pulley: No One’s Home

Meet D.M. Pulley at the downtown library on Saturday, October 19 at 2 p.m.

This is an honest to god ghost story, inspired by Shirley Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House.  It’s guaranteed to give you the shivers.  Threading together the stories of several – very tragic –families who have shared the same house from 1922 to the present, the connections move into sharper focus as the book unfolds.

The story opens with the Spielman family, who are making a move from Boston to the wealthy Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, where they are amazed by the amount of house they can get for their money.  While Rawlingswood seems impressive, it’s also a graffiti covered wreck, with stripped pipes and broken windows.  The graffiti is more than disturbing, calling the house a “murder house” and referencing dead girls. As Myron and Margot check the place out, Myron gets more and more excited, and Margot, more and more worried.  Despite her objections they buy the house and begin to renovate it immediately, where all kinds of things go wrong, spooking the contractors, who eventually refuse to go up into the attic at all. read more

Jorge Zepeda Patterson: The Black Jersey

Review by Mike Simowski

In the colorful setting of the Tour de France (the world’s greatest bicycle race), murder and mayhem ensue in this unique and compelling thriller. Marc Moreau is a professional cyclist and one of the best in the world. But on his top-notch team, he is relegated to supporting his best friend who has won the Tour several times and is gunning for another against stiff competition. In this highly competitive atmosphere, accidents, crashes and other incidents occur at a rate that is both suspicious and alarming. Marc, a former military policeman, agrees to assist the French police in an undercover manner on the investigation, while still competing in the high-pressure 2,000-mile race. read more

Charles Fergus: A Stranger Here Below

Review by Nancy Shaw

Gideon Stoltz has come to Adamant, Pennsylvania, in the 1830s from his family’s farm in Pennsylvania Dutch country. A run-in with brigands has led him to the sheriff of fictional Colerain County, an area of deep hollows, heavily-forested hills, small farms, and a prosperous ironworks. He becomes the sheriff’s assistant, despite being out of his element. The local Scotch-Irish deride his Pennsylfawnisch Deitsch speech and habits. When he marries, he endures his in-laws’ teasing. He adores his wife and son, but feels he is a stranger. The historical mystery A Stranger Here Below is the first of a planned series about this sympathetic protagonist. read more

Ellen Hart: Twisted at the Root

The 26th novel in the Jane Lawless series is as good, as crisp, as memorable, as the first in the series. Jane, the calm center of every storm in her life, agrees to investigate a closed case (the alleged perpetrator is in prison) when her father, lawyer Raymond Lawless, asks. The case involves the murder of one partner by another – the partner was an obvious choice as the killer and was duly convicted. But.

Everyone Jane talks to – including her old friend, the flamboyant Cordelia – affirms the man’s goodness, and their disbelief that he could harm anyone. Many threads swirl around the case, which at first looked like a suicide. Ellen Hart, in her masterly way, uses these many threads to paint her complex portrait of a crime. read more

Ann Cleeves: The Long Call

Ann Cleeves wrapped up her stellar Shetland series and has turned her hand and eye to Devon, a British resort area where of course she finds out what’s lurking under the surface. She introduces the reader to detective Matthew Venn, who has a complex backstory that would seem to lend itself to further discovery in more books down the road.

Matthew is a bit OCD, reminding me slightly of Margaret Maron’s great creation, Sigrid Harald. He was raised by parents who were members of a Christian cult and when he renounced their faith he was banned from their lives. He’s married to the lively, artistic and sometimes messy Jonathan, who runs the local center for art and disabled adults. The odd combination of artistic pursuit and mental health and disabled adult care seems to work well and the center is a lively place, important to many families in town. read more

Kate Atkinson: Big Sky

It’s been a long wait for the new Jackson Brodie novel. Kate Atkinson was writing Life After Life and other literary hits. But her unlucky-in-love, tough-but-soft-hearted P.I. is back. This time Jackson’s 13-year-old son Nathan is staying with him on Yorkshire’s east coast while his mother Julia, Jackson’s former flame, acts in a TV crime series. Jackson’s daughter Marlee is now a law graduate and about to be a bride. Jackson does “dog work for solicitors—debt tracing, surveillance, and so on.” He also documents adulterous couples. read more

Hank Phillippi Ryan: The Murder List

What makes a thriller good?  What makes one stand out from the pack of – let’s be honest – the many, many books at the moment about women in jeopardy who have lost their memories or are unreliable narrators or have terrible husbands?  Let’s start with the main character.  Lawyer in training Rachel North has none of those problems.  Her memory is intact and her husband seems like a doll in a Red Sox cap.  She seems reliable and balanced.  She’s just – in a situation.

Thrillers need to be plotted like clockwork, without the gears showing to the reader.  So someone as gifted as Hank Phillippi Ryan can introduce many characters onto her canvas, turn the wheel of the plot, and a previously introduced character will unexpectedly show up where you least expect it.  Gears at work here, but not on display.  Masterful. read more