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 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!
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.
After reading so many new books (which I will catch up on my reviews in the future), I’ve been rereading some old favorites. One of these is the first Kurt Wallander book, Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell.
Wallander is well-known by PBS Mystery watchers. If you’ve only watched the video interpretations, you’re really missing out on some great books. Mankel weaves action, character, and a great feeling of the Swedish countryside together in a seamless satisfying whole. I can still imagine those cold winds from the book. The writing style is excellent too. When you’re reading a translation, you never really know if the style is the author or his translator. But I imagine that we must thank Steven Murray for giving us a true rendering of Mankel’s style in this case.
In this introduction to Kurt Wallander, an aging farm couple are murdered in a bloody way that is not typical of the rural, Swedish landscape. Wallander and his team work their way thru the possible solutions to the crime with meager clues in a very logical, exhaustive way. If you’ve seen the video version, try to forget it as you read the book! The puzzle is a satisfying one. This is definitely a must read!
In this Agatha-nominated historical mystery, Lucy Campion who was previously a maid is now a printer’s apprentice. In 1667, women were starting to be accepted in other occupations after the Great London Fire and the Plague. Her self-confidence make her the perfect amateur sleuth. In this her third novel, Calkins weaves a mystery with just the right amount of complexity against a lush historic background.
It’s not surprising that she is a serious student of history. While it takes a while to accumulate all the information at the beginning of the book, Calkins creates a completely believable world which becomes transparent as Lucy comes closer to solving the mystery. This is a definite must read.
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.
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.