Hank Phillipi Ryan, What You See

Hank has another great read in her Agatha nominated What You See. Boston unemployed news reporter, Jane Ryland is trying to balance her personal and professional life while embroiled in the murder of a John Doe across from City Hall and the possible kidnap of her sister’s soon-to-be step daughter. The love of her life police detective Jake plays a major role in the book as he investigates the death of John Doe. There are plenty of twists that keep the reader turning the pages of this mystery with the fun pace of a thriller. This Sisters in Crime past president uses all of her many skills to surprise us in a very good way. The book is a definite must read. What You See will give all of the wonderful writers nominated this year a run for the coveted award.

Agatha Nominee, Catriona McPherson

I always love Ms. McPherson’s books. In the Child Garden published by Midnight Ink, she has produced another fun plot  with twists and turns that kept me reading. Her characters are fully realized in the Scottish landscape too. If I was to say anything about improving this book, I would say give us more! This is another winner even if it doesn’t capture the prize.

Agatha Nominees

As usual, we have a great slate of nominees for best Contemporary Novel. They are….

Annette Dahofy, Bridges Burned (Henery Press

Margaret Maron, Long Upon the Land (Grand Central Publishing)

Catriona McPherson, The Child Garden (Midnight Ink)

Louise Penny, Nature of the Beast (Minotaur Books)

Hank Phillipi Ryan, What You See (Forge Books)

The list is impressive. I’m starting with the book I read first, Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. I admit that I thought I might be unduly prejudiced in her favor. I do love her characters in their slice of Canada. Her writing is fun and carries me along. However, I wasn’t intrigued by her plot in this one. I’m not sure why. Of course that doesn’t mean that I won’t be back for more of her books. I’m just not sure that she’ll be able to compete with the other nominees this year. We’ll see.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Ms. King has created an interesting scenario where a young woman, Mary Russell, meets Sherlock Holmes in the country after he has retired. She impresses him with her intelligence and powers of observation. You might even say that she is what Sherlock Holmes would have been like if he had been born a girl. The first part of the book is about how she comes to have a close relationship with Holmes as the Beekeeper’s apprentice. In this case, Sherlock does keep bees. The latter part of the book is filled with investigative casework.

Ms. King’s writing is very good, and Mary Russell is a memorable character. The book definitely deserves four stars although I would have loved to see the first part of the book expanded into a full novel.

For Sherlock Holmes Fans, Moriarity Returns a Letter

This is the third book in The  Baker Street Mysteries series by Michael Robertson. The premise is that two brothers, Reggie and Nigel, who now have their law offices in the 200 block of Baker Street are sometimes mistakened for the descendants of Sherlock Holmes.

A crime committed during the time when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were being published in The Strand comes to light and threatens the welfare of Reggie and his fiancé on the eve of their wedding.

Robertson’s writing pulls us along nicely for a while. Unfortunately, about halfway into the book, we know who the criminal is, and the tension dissipates. Switching points of view between the brothers doesn’t work well at all. The story abruptly ends with a bit of narration instead of action after the brothers meet up on the moors. What worked for Poirot doesn’t work for Reggie and Nigel. That is too bad since the Moriarty premise was interesting, and Robertson has some obvious writing skills. For those reasons, I’ll probably take a look at his other books, but I can’t recommend this installment.

 

Popular Mysteries, The Girl on a Train

Every so often, books that I would not classify as a mystery, thriller, or suspense, are touted as one. The best example of this that I can think of is Gone Girl. The book was a lot of fun to read. I liked its quirky, modern style. Yet I was surprised to see it nominated for a mystery award. All good novels involve questions to be answered, turns that take us by surprise, but that doesn’t make them a mystery, at least not to me. I mistakenly thought The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins would be another non-mystery labeled purely for dastardly marketing reasons.

Ms. Hawkins book is a mystery, even to a finicky person like myself. (I’m still trying to get over the changing definition of a cozy.)

The beginning is a bit sluggish as we wade through the confused thoughts of our protagonist and switch points of view. The reader must be ready to concentrate which is not always my forte. Ms. Hawkins’ writing techniques are fun for a writer to evaluate, yet not transparent enough if I use John Gardener’s standards.

Do read on! I won’t tell you exactly why as that would give away too much. I’ll just say that everything fits neatly together as we would expect from a writer of her caliber. The Girl on a Train gets 4 stars from me. (Don’t confuse this book with the movie that came out in 2013.)

Bouchercon 2015

I’m off to Bouchercon this week! I’m excited about seeing old friends and new. Although this is a fan mystery convention, it is a must for any mystery writer. There are plenty of opportunities to go to some writer events and pick up some pointers. Discovering new writers is always great fun too. I’ll be sharing some of my experiences after or maybe during the event.

How About a Canadian Mystery? Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month

If you haven’t read Ms. Penny’s earlier books you might want to take a look. She’s a perfect author for people who like to binge read. In this book, we’re in Three Pines which has a history for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and the residents of the usually peaceful town. The town is filled with interesting artists and a visiting medium who conducted a deadly seance. I won’t tell you more, I don’t want to give away too much. I’ll just say that you’ll love the characters, Gamache is a particular favorite of mine as he is with many readers, and you’ll love Three Pines if you haven’t read about before.

I read something at the end of this book that talked about Ms. Penny’s wonderful dialogue, appropriate I guess for an ad for an audio version of the book. But it is the blending of all the essentials of a good mystery that makes her books so satisfying to read.

Charles Todd’s Hunting Shadows

Ever since I met the mother and son duo, Charles Todd, at Malice Domestic this year, I’ve been reading their Inspector Rutledge books. Ian Rutledge is a Scotland Yard Inspector who was an officer in the bloody first World War. He’s returned with his own version of post-traumatic stress syndrome as well as Hamish’ voice in his head, a soldier he had shot because he didn’t follow orders. I was very curious how this accomplished author duo would handle Hamish since I have a similar situation in my first Sissy Holmes mystery. Without doubt, they do it seamlessly without interrupting the flow of the stories. Hamish plays a very important role in establishing Rutledge’s mental condition. If you do choose to read this book where Rutledge has managed to get Hamish under some control, I recommend that you read the earlier books in the series too. You won’t be disappointed.

The many historical details ring true and take the reader into different parts of the English countryside with ease. Their is a certain charm to their books which reminds me of other writers who’ve been this comfortable in their writing togs. If you have the opportunity to meet them in person, don’t pass it up. They are that charming.

As for  Hunting Shadows, you won’t be disappointed as you read about how the Inspector puts his wartime experiences to use when he hunts a sniper in the Fens of England. I won’t tell you more since it’s fun to watch his logic unfold as you read. He is their Poirot in that way, except you get to hear his thought process as the book progresses instead of waiting for the explanations at the end of the book.