Sophie Hannah: The Killings at Kingfisher Hill

Golden age detectives are the perfect characters to provide a continuation of a series.  Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot – all have such well established character traits, and yet do not especially develop or change  – that they can be taken by another writer and made fresh.  Sophie Hannah is obviously familiar with Poirot and obviously loves him, as every reader does, despite his quirks.

Hannah also manages the feat of showing, not telling, Poirot’s cleverness and intelligence as he unravels a tricky case.  Like the great queen of crime herself, Hannah’s unraveling is only tricky from a certain angle, from another (Poirot’s) it’s more straightforward.  The telling is all in the angles.  This is a feat of sheer storytelling power. read more

Sarah Stewart Taylor: The Mountains Wild

This novel will be released on June 23, 2020.

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. read more

An Appreciation of Jane Langton by Nancy Shaw

Jane Langton

Jane Langton died last month, just short of her 96th birthday. Through 18 mysteries, her characters Homer and Mary Kelly studied transcendentalism while solving crimes. Langton wrote about the power of nature, art, and kindness. Her protagonists were often besotted with the natural world, or with art, while her villains and comically-awful annoyers were out of harmony with those worlds.

Though Langton hid clues and unveiled solutions, as the genre requires, her voice and presentations were utterly distinctive. She stitched plots together with quirky observations. A World War II-era University of Michigan alumna who studied astronomy and art history, Langton had prodigious powers of invention and spun plot complications from nuggets such as soil chemistry, the water table under a Boston church, and a flooded town under a reservoir. Her line drawings of the settings accompany most of the series, and the settings are integral to the stories. read more