Sujata Massey: The Widows of Malabar Hill

I was a totally geeked out fan of Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura series about a Japanese American antiques dealer living in Japan.  The books became progressively better and better as the series went forward, and Massey has apparently brought all the knowledge and expertise gained in writing those eleven books to good use in delivering this bravura work of historical fiction.

Set in 1920’s India, young Perveen Mistry is a lawyer – extremely unusual for the time and place – working for her father’s law firm, and though she’s not allowed to argue cases in court she can do all the research and contract work needed by the firm.  Coming across her somewhat sparsely populated desk is the case of a will for three widows who were married to the same man.  Their male agent has submitted documents stating that the women want to give up their inheritance and donate it to a charity instead, and the document is signed by all three. read more

Carol Potenza: Hearts of the Missing

This book is the winner of the Tony Hillerman prize and thus has some serious shoes to fill, and it fills them fairly well. Set on the Pueblo, Potenza has created a fictional but believable tribe, the Fire-Sky tribe. She then gives each of her four major characters varying degrees of connection to the tribe. At the center of the story is Sgt. Nicky Matthews, a Pueblo police officer, not native herself.

Her best friend, Savannah Analia, the public safety director’s assistant, is full blood. Then there’s Ryan, who makes jewelery and who grew up with Savannah, but isn’t native. He does however have extensive knowledge and respect for native traditions. And then there’s conservation agent, outsider Frank, who is the uneven piece of this four person puzzle. read more

Susan Hill: The Various Haunts of Men

First in a series novel. 

There are some mystery novels that are as much novels as they are mysteries. Admirers of authors like Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell and P.D. James who favor complex plots, multiple characters and a subtle, slow accumulation of suspense found another skilled writer to savor when Susan Hill published her first Simon Serrailler mystery, The Various Haunts of Men, in 2004.

Branding the book as a “Simon Serrailler mystery” is a bit disingenuous, as Chief Inspector Serrailler is not the central focus, but a rather distant presence, reflecting the elusive nature of his character, particularly to DS Freya Graffam, a newcomer to the small English town of Lafferton, and the central agent of law enforcement in the narrative. Like the traditional English novel there are many other fully realized characters including the killer, his multiple victims, tangentially involved townsfolk and the town itself. read more

Ragnor Jonasson: Rupture

While this series started to come out in Jonasson’s native Iceland in 2015, the books have only now started to make their way stateside, via the UK.  Rupture, which Jonasson wrote in 2016, will be published here in January, is the third in his “Dark Iceland” series which began with the sensational Snowblind. Let me tell you, whatever publishing path this author took to get here is definitely worth the wait, as he is a phenomenal writer.

While I would classify this series as a “traditional detective” series, mostly because of the plot structure, it also has the feel of a contemporary noir.  Jonasson embraces both of these strong  threads in mysteries equally, and with equal aplomb.  His main character is Ari Thor, who began the series as a new detective in tiny Siglufjorour. read more

Clea Simon: A Spell of Murder

Clea Simon’s cozies have a bit of extra edge and sparkle to them, and have ranged from a pet psychic to a rescue cat narrator in a long career spanning several series. In this latest outing, the cats are again front and center, and this time they are witch cats. They’ve confused their owner, Becca, who is a fledgling member of a coven – one of them made a pillow appear out of thin air and Becca thinks she’s done it herself, as does the rest of her coven.

The cats are a little disgusted by this but the three of them – adopted by Becca – have a mission to protect and care for her and their powers are many and varied. They range from the very real cat talent of comforting their owners to the talents of making things appear, controlling thoughts, and walking through walls, the better to track Becca undetected. read more

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

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

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

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