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.


Reading on a Summery September Day – Sherlock Holmes and Margaret Atwood

I do love a good mystery and there are so many of them! We are quickly approaching the next Sherlockians of Baltimore meeting which is always great fun in Little Italy (in Baltimore of course.) The meetings are always interesting with analysis by some of our scholars and the quizzes on individual stories. Last time I constructed a crossword puzzle like some of our more gifted members. Little did I know how much time they took to create! I bow my head to all those who do this on a regular basis. Below you will find my puzzle for The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Quiz for the Speckled Band

I’ll give you the answers next time.  At the next meeting we’ll have a presentation about Sherlock and Jack the Ripper and will discuss  The Adventure of the Abbey Grange. I’ll have to pull out the Canon to review that one!

This group has been growing by leaps and bounds with some reminders from Greg Ruby who first told me about the group. He even put together a publication of all sorts of interesting bits of information called The Newspapers. One of my short stories about Sissy Holmes who is the reincarnation of Sherlock appears in that issue. It’s available for purchase at http://tinyurl.com/SOBNewspapers if you want to take a look.

What does all of this have to do Margaret Atwood? I just finished reading A Handmaid’s Tale which has been produced for Hulu and is also my book club’s selection. Technically it’s not a mystery, but I would argue that it’s a thriller. Her lead character is always at risk, always fearful that she will die, even to the point of acting like her former life with a husband and child did not exist. Captivated by the book, I read it in one day.  Kudos once again to our master of dystopian novels. I do love that she focuses on human motivations and interactions instead of volcanoes and tidal waves.

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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.



Trusted Favorites – Wallander

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!

Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante

I suppose that the “Mrs. Roosevelt” above was a giveaway that this is another historical mystery! MacNeal’s book starts shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. has officially entered World War II. Someone, we soon know who, has made the murder of a young woman who works for Mrs. Roosevelt look like a suicide, and produced a suicide note that casts aspersions on Mrs. Roosevelt herself.

For those of you who enjoy tons of historical facts, you’ll love this one. MacNeal produces many interesting characters including my favorite, her version of Winston Churchill. I probably would have been happy developing her material into four different books and slowed the pace. It is difficult to read quickly as I would have thought was expected from the tone of the book. But that’s just me. Those who are World War II buffs, will love this one.

Agatha Nominated Short Stories, From Santa to Quakers

I’ve always read mystery short stories, sometimes in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine or Ellery Queen, occasionally in literary journals or anthologies, and often online. Short stories are difficult to write. Ask anyone who has managed to write a book and decides to contribute to an anthology. But short stories are a great way to get a taste of mystery even if you have time to read a novel.

The characters in all of the nominated short story mysteries are interesting people who are in unusual circumstances. What I wonder as I read them is what will the twist be, that aha moment where the author manages to change, in a perfectly logical way, the solution to the mystery.

In Barb Goffman’s “A Year Without Santa Claus” published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, the director of all magical New Jersey things must solve three murders so that Santa will come for Christmas.

In Edith Maxwell’s “A Questionable Death published in History and Mystery, Oh My, a Quaker midwife and her friend unravel a mystery in 1888.

In Harriette Sackler’s “Suffer the Poor” also published in History and Mystery, Oh My, tells the story of a young woman who ministers to the poor in London’s East End.

In Terrie Farley Moran’s “A Killing at the Beausoleil” published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, two friends use knitting wiles to solve a murder when they rent a condo on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

In B.K. Stevens’ “A Joy Forever” published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, is it really murder when you encourage someone to kill themselves?

All five stories are good reads. You can find links to all five at Malicedomestic.org under the Awards tag.



Tessa Arlen’s Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman

I thought for sure this author had a few books under her belt, that’s how well this is written. It appears though, that this is Arlen’s first book. Well done! I usually think that switching points of view is a mistake. Arlen does this deftly using the Lady of the house and her housekeeper. As all of us who enjoy an occasional historical novel know those of different classes in this time period usually did not talk with each other, at least not in an honest straight forward way. That is one of the charms of this book. The reader is always wondering how far the two main characters will go outside their comfort zones to solve the murder of the very unlikeable nephew in the book.

The writing style of Arlen is wonderful. I would give her book top honors in all categories except the ending made me wonder what Arlen had not said. After I read that the manuscript had been much longer at one point, I understood that she did have to cut quite a bit to bring the manuscript down to a more reasonable length. Perhaps it should have been left at its original length? I look forward to her next book.