Death on the Nile

Agatha Christie wrote this book after a winter in Egypt. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt and this past December I realized that dream. Obviously, the Egypt of Christie’s time varied in some important ways. The politics are more complicated today. But the people are still complex. Her characters focused on the Europeans on the cruise from Aswan with a complicated plot. I found the Egyptians surrounding me to far more interesting (no offense to my fellow travelers!)

Ms. Christie starts out in England where the difference between the have’s, the incredibly rich and beautiful Linnet, and the have not’s, Jackie and her fiancé Simon is blatantly obvious. The strength of Agatha Christie’s book always tracks to a significant theme. So we know something is going to happen even in the superb weather of Egypt’s winter. Hercule Poirot is never a disappointment.

As I cruised down the Nile myself, I had quite a few ideas for my second book about Sissy Holmes and her sidekick El who is full of surprises. Death could happen in the shadow of the large Ramses II statues that were moved instead of being left at the bottom of Lake Nassar when the most recent Aswan Dam was built. Or maybe in one of the many markets that are set-up outside of every tomb and temple. Thanks to Ms. Christie for the idea of  mysteries taking place in unusual locations!

Mary Stojak has had a number of short stories published in anthologies, journals, and magazines. Most recently she had stories published in The Letters a Sherlockian publication, In Short, Volume III a collection of Flash Fiction, and The Raven Review. Mary received her Masters in Fiction from Johns Hopkins University and currently leads a critique group.

 

 

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Ms. Lippman’s novel Sunburn is one of the 2019 Anthony Awards Best Novel nominees at the 50th Anniversary Bouchercon. She has a way of grabbing her readers and making them lose sleep as they read just one more chapter. Polly and Adam meet in a little bar in Delaware, but their drama doesn’t begin there. Secrets within secrets will keep you guessing. If you like thrillers, this touch of noir will make an enjoyable read from one of Baltimore’s best writers.

The other Anthony award nominees for best Novel are:

Give Me Your Hand by Meg Abbott

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Blackout by Alex Segura

November Road by Lou Berney

The winner will be chosen by the attendees of the 2019 Bouchercon this fall, Denim, Diamonds, and Death in Dallas Texas.

 

 

 

 

Ann Cleeves

Telling Tales was intriguing. Once again, her title was well thought out and descriptive of how the plot evolves. Her use of characters grounded in the past and the struggle of the younger generation to make their own place in the world, could be set anywhere, but her characters have more meat on their bones than that. They are fully realized, their motives twining with the influence of their environment and their own wants and fears. Vera is even at a loss until she finds a way to get them all talking. Her use of this device reminds me of how Agatha Christie’s Poirot loved to gather all the suspects in the same room, except she does it in a more subtle way.

Wildfire, a Shetland Islands mystery, showed the effects of an outside family moving into the neighborhood, and the gossip that spread like wildfire as a result. The setting has a stronger influence in these books than her Vera novels that are so dominated by the lead character (even when we consider that her father stole endangered bird eggs and dragged her around in search of their nests!)

I did quite enjoy both books although I think I’ll take a break since I’m beginning to nitpick. Not about how she writes, but such things as using the same names frequently. Best to have some space between readings so I don’t confuse the characters. I wonder if the names she keeps using are close family members or if they are just very popular names in that generation? Something to remember in my own efforts. Both books are very good and well worth your reading time.

Ann Cleeves

If you’ve only watched Vera on PBS, give yourself a treat and read the books by Ann Cleeves who created Vera. The Glass Room was great fun with the playful jabs at the house full of authors, and the more serious bits about the ups and downs of a writing career. Having gone to plenty of writing workshops, I recognized many of the character types. In the Fall, I’ll have the opportunity to take a Mystery Writers of America workshop with Miss Cleeves! We’ll see if any mysteries ensue!

In The Glass Room, Vera seemed to have a sharper edge at first than her film version, but then I reminded myself that there is always some interpretation by the director and actors. It didn’t take long to feel right at home with Vera Stanhope in the written word.

But I’ve been reading these out of order! Telling Tales, the next book I read, was published in 2005 as the second Vera mystery, seven years before The Glass Room. In this Vera Stanhope case, some of the mystery writing trophs she used, might sound very stereotypical. Yet when I was in the act of reading the book, her original way of employing them, had me fooled. A very good read, even out of order.

Ann Cleeves didn’t start with her Vera Stanhope character. She started with her Palmer Jones books in the eighties and her Inspector Ramsey books in the nineties.  The Glass Room is the fifth book in the Vera Stanhope mysteries. I’ll be going back to the beginning to read all of her books in hard copy except for the ones that are offered in audio version from my library. All those tedious chores are much easier when I’m listening to a good story. And that is all possible because my car is smart enough to have Bluetooth technology which connects to the library app on my phone! My next audio book will be in the Shetland series.

Rex Stout in Maryland

Nero Wolf and Archie Goodwin are at it again in The Final Deduction. Not one of Stout’s best, a little nipping and tucking in the plot would have helped. This selection was studied by the Macabre group in Maryland that meets bi-monthly. If you know the geography of Maryland, we met at a restaurant by the water this month around Arnold. We missed our fearless leader and decided to ask for volunteers ahead of time for future meetings so no one person would be stuck leading the discussion.

I couldn’t help thinking about Sherlock Holmes when I was reminded of the selection, and there were hints about Agatha Christie in the book too. We were all a little disappointed that there weren’t enough suspects, and the red herrings weren’t followed up. Maybe he was a little rushed on this one.

The best unusual word, at least in my opinion, was thaumaturgury. It’s a good word to look up but might be hard to slip into a conversation. August’s selection will be Gambit.

Malice Domestic Wrapping Up

The banquet was last night and we are getting close to the end. The winners were announced and there were a few surprises. Ellen Byron won contemporary for her southern mysteries. There were ties in two categories which I don’t think has happened before. Sujata Massey won in historical. Probably every book in the historical category deserved a prize.

A special shout and congratulations to Grace Topping on the publication of her first book and first Malice Panel!

Malice Domestic 2019

The best novels, short stories, and nonfiction books have been nominated for the Agatha Awards. There are a lot of keepers such as Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan and of course Louise Penny has a book nominated too. I’m going to have a particularly hard time voting for only one Best Short Story and one Best Historical Novel. Take a look. The novels are worth picking up, and you can read the short stories at malicedomestic.org/agathas.html

Best Historical Novel

  • Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen
  • The Gold Pawn by LA Chandlar
  • The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
  • Turning the Tide by Edith Maxwell
  • Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson

Best Short Story

  • “All God’s Sparrows” by Leslie Budewitz
  •  “A Postcard for the Dead” by Susanna Calkins
  •  “Bug Appetit” by Barb Goffman
  •  “The Case of the Vanishing Professor” by Tara Laskowski
  •   “English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Latest in Mysteries

I just finished the latest installment from Louise Penny, and if you are a true mystery fan, you’ve probaby been reading the books nominated and voted on at the latest Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida. If not, do yourself a favor and take a look. Just google, or search if you’re not a googler, Bouchercon.

The organizers did a great job, St. Petersburg was great, and the Wolf Pack had a grand dinner! The Bouchercon next year will be in Dallas.

A to Y – Sue Grafton

I was sad to hear that Sue Grafton had passed away in December. My condolences to her family. I’d been rereading her books inbetween selections for my book clubs etc. in anticipation of “Z.” Her daughter has told us that no one else will write “Z” for her and that she didn’t have a chance to start the last book in her series.

To write such a long series had to be a daunting task. When Bouchercon was in Albany, I had a chance to chat with her. Such a nice lady and her husband seemed like a great guy helping her out. But he did laugh about how she was ready to be done with the series.

Kinsey Milhone is one of my favorite detectives. It’s great fun when there are so many books available too. Ms. Grafton always managed to come up with great plots and keep me rooting for Kinsey and her simple black dress that survived fire and mayhem. It has been so long since I’ve read these books, I don’t know if it appears in “J.” I’ll find out soon enough! Too bad she didn’t want movies made of her books, but her books are a great contribution to the mystery genre as is. If you haven’t read them, give them a try!

Bouchercon 2017 – Toronto – Where It Hurts

If you’ve been wondering about my new background, it’s a street in New Orleans where Bouchercon was held last year. Soon, I’ll be leaving for Toronto for this year’s Bouchercon!

It’s always good to have an incentive to get back on a regular reading schedule! Today’s list is a review of Reed Farrel Coleman’s Where It Hurts. I’ve been known to read a police procedural or a hardboiled mystery once in a while so I wasn’t put off by Gus Murphy, a grieving  ex-cop, who’s lost his family. The formula works to make us feel his pain even though we don’t know for a long time how the instigating action, his son’s death, happened. The character is very likable and I enjoyed his friends from the sleazy hotel, The Paragon, where he now works.

His depiction of the Manhattan island setting was intriguing. Coleman obviously did his homework about the layout of the terrain and how the precincts are setup. Everything was going well until about two-thirds of the way through the book where I felt like I must have missed something. This is the point where I would have expected the logical links of the plot to fall in place. Instead, he tries out one plot ending after another. I lost count of how many times I thought the end was near. Instead, I found myself stumbling along with Coleman until we’re back to the doughnut shop. Did I say I didn’t like the ending? A very likeable lead character though, and Coleman has some obvious writing skills that could be enhanced by a later deadline. Not my pick for the Anthony.