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.

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!

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things, Marcia Talley’s first book, Sing it to Her Bones

Bouchercon is approaching which reminds me that I want to read the books nominated for awards. But first, I wanted to review Marcia Talley’s first book that won the Malice Domestic Grant in 1998. Almost two decades ago, I read this book for the first time. My mom recommended it which was always a thumbs up for me.

This book is the first Hannah Ives mystery. I remember that I wasn’t sure if I could relate to a cancer survivor. She’s had breast cancer and lived to tell the tale. Her thoughts echo the thoughts of all women about appearance, the possibility of reconstructive surgery, to the wig she buys to cover her sparse hair. She’s scarred by ordeal emotionally too which makes her very alive to the reader. Her sensitivity to the world around her and her estranged daughter make Hannah feel responsible when she finds the body of a girl in a well.

The setting is familiar to me because of friends I have who live near the Cheasapeake Bay, yet I had no trouble seeing the setting when I first read this book and was fairly new to Maryland. The sailing culture is a large part of the state which is natural when you consider how large the Bay is. Ms. Talley also uses sailing in the plot – no spoilers here! You’ll have to read the book to see how this fun and quick-moving plot works out. An enjoyable read!

Another Favorite – Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles

It is a problem, is it not mon ami? Agatha Christie introduces us to Captain Hastings, our master sleuth Hercule Poirot, and our friend Inspector  Japp all in one fell swoop.

For some of us the country house is a wonderful setting, giving us a hint of how the war had changed life in England. It is easy to picture the rolling grounds, the ancient house, and the nearby village. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s influence is also evident in the creation of the somewhat dense Captain Hastings acting as Hercule Poirot’s Watson. But Christie’s story and characters are uniquely hers.

If you’ve never read her first Poirot novel, this is a must read. Not only does it set the stage for all of his future exploits, the book is a masterful puzzle starting with a locked room, plenty of clues and red herrings, and suspects with motives and opportunities.