I had mixed feelings opening this book. Jane Haddam died in 2019, after completing this one last book, and I was reluctant to start it. I love this series and am sorry to see it end. Jane Haddam was a combination of a traditional detective fiction writer and a contemporary social issue writer. In her best books, the social issues didn’t overwhelm the story – in her worst books, they did. This book is a loving wrap up to her long, revered and beloved series, and if you are a fan of Gregor Demarkian I recommend it.
This book will be published on September 8. You can pre-order it here.
Along with Deborah Crombie, Peter Robinson, and Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves is one of the very best writers of traditional detective fiction at work at the moment. With now three strong series to her credit, one of the most delightful features the cranky Vera Stanhope, whose hopelessly messy and unstylish appearance conceals a sharp and perceptive mind. She’s Columbo in the British countryside, just a shade less congenial. This installment finds Vera face to face with the fancier branch of her family, impoverished landholders who can’t keep up the stately family home.
I was a huge fan of Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Sweeney St. George series, published in the early 2000’s. Sweeney was an expert on gravestone iconography, and the books were beautifully written, thoughtful mysteries. Stewart Taylor has been away from mystery fiction since 2006, and this return feels more polished, more pointed in its narrative drive – it’s a step up. I’ll say up front it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
It’s not a total departure from the Sweeney books – the passion is there, the love of history is there, but it’s more focused. It follows the story of Maggie D’Arcy, who, as an adult, is a homicide detective on Long Island, but who, as a 20 something, lost the cousin who was like a sister to her. The cousin, Erin, had left the states for Ireland, and hasn’t been heard from since 1993. There are other young women who were killed (and discovered) in the same area, and Maggie and the rest of her family are pretty sure Erin is dead, but they’d like to know.
This tightly woven thriller-slash-police procedural is set in New York City, and like that city, the pace does not let up, from first page to last. It opens with Jo Greaver, a young cosmetics magnate, on her way to meet her blackmailer, toting a huge bag of cash. To the reader it’s not clear why she’s being blackmailed or who is doing the blackmailing, but it’s very clear something is very wrong and that very definitely something will go wrong.
It does, and it’s a cascade of wrong things, things that string poor Jo up tighter and tighter. There’s a shootout at the blackmail meetup, leaving Jo injured. She attempts to get through her day pretending she’s fine but the pain finally kicks in. There’s a dead, or at least seriously injured person, at the blackmail meetup. And the police have a bag load of evidence tagging Jo as the murderer.
This melancholy, thoughtful novel finds Inspector Banks struggling with some of the knottier issues confronting the world at the moment – immigration, drug use and human trafficking. Mystery novelists are often among the first to write about “issues,” wrapping them in stories that make the reader think. Robinson is embracing this macro view of the universe, while applying a writer’s micro view – the humans who populate the drama.
There are two main story threads in this book. One involves a young Arab boy found dead, stuffed in a garbage bin. The police are having a hard time locating any ties for him, and of course he turns out to be a refugee, with a particularly heartbreaking backstory.
At a book club recently, one of the members asked what were my favorite police novels? The obvious answer, Michael Connelly, sprang up, but the writers who drew me in to this particular sub genre were women. One of the true pioneers in this sub genre, Lillian O’Donnell, is one of my favorite writers. My late father in law introduced me to her in the 80’s and I’ve gobbled up everything I could find by this talented and to me, ground breaking writer.
Lillian O’Donnell started her career as an actress, but when her husband asked that she not be on the road so often, she decided to try writing. She wrote and sold her first mystery in 1959, but it wasn’t until 1972 that she created the character of policewoman Norah Mulcahaney. The Norah Mulcahaney books stretch from 1972-1998, finding Norah starting her career, climbing the ranks, marrying, becoming a widow, and along the way battling the sexism inherent in a very male environment.
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.
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.
This is one of the more stripped down narratives Louise Penny has delivered. Stripped down for Penny, that is. The essential story is a simple one that drives her narrative, but being a complex writer and thinker, she’s made the simple complex. There are two threads. One concerns the disappearance of a woman who happens to be the goddaughter of a Surete officer. Gamache, who has returned to work with a demotion (he’s head of homicide, not the entire Surete) accompanies the officer to the village where the woman lived.
This is the first Samuel Craddock mystery I’ve read, largely on the advice of other readers I met at Left Coast Crime this year. As when I had a bookstore, the best recommendations often come from fellow readers, and I decided to give this one a try. I was intrigued when I sat next to Terry at a panel and she told me this was a police series, by far one of my favorite sub genres. This is a softer police story than say, one by Michael Connelly, but it’s still a police novel and a very good one.