Archive for the ‘mysteries’ Tag

Homage to the Maestro of Mysteries   1 comment

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It’s difficult not to marvel at Marie Benedict’s how’d-she-do-it in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie which takes the famous mystery writer’s disappearance as inspiration while adding a twist the title character would surely applaud.

Agatha Christie did, indeed, disappear resulting in an extensive search, massive media coverage and abundant speculation – something that continued long after she was found. When her car was discovered abandoned in early December 1926, the worst was feared. The explanation, when she reappeared 11 days later, was amnesia.

Benedict divides the chapters in her novel into two sections: The Manuscript and Days after the Disappearance – beginning with Dec. 4 to Dec. 14. The former recounts the relationship between Agatha and her husband, Archie, from courtship to his later infidelity and demand for a divorce.  The alternating chapters describe Archie’s reactions, suspicions toward him and efforts to find the renowned writer.

References to Christie’s early works are made and Benedict provides a glimpse as to how mysteries became the genre of choice for the British author. The writing is engaging and the characters are vibrant. Archie, for example, is portrayed as a complete cad. He’s selfish, cold and calculating. However, when it comes to calculating, Agatha Christie, literally, wrote the book – several of them, in fact. Something Archie’s self-centered personality keeps him from recognizing, let alone appreciating.

Admittedly, the initial significance of the manuscript and its tie to the mystery eluded me. I’d likely be a disappointment to Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot; Marie Benedict would not.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

Sourcebooks, 2021

264 pages plus Reading Group Guide and “A Conversation with the Author”

Permission to Binge Read   1 comment

I like binge watching television shows, but I typically enjoy space/time between books when reading a series. Until recently, I’ve held to this; but all bets are off: it’s 2020.

Despite repeated rave reviews from friends, I’m a relative newcomer to Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries; I discovered them a few years ago.  Early on I realized I needed to pace myself because I knew I could easily fall under the spell of moving from one to the next with barely a breath in between.

I’ve read three in the past four weeks (with a brief break while waiting for a library copy to become available). When describing these mysteries I find myself using the word comforting, which probably sounds like an oxymoron given the context. Yet, the author imbues intelligence, sensitivity and humor into most of the recurring characters, especially Armand Gamache. With each subsequent work – Penny averages a book a year, sometimes more – the personalities are more distinct, more endearing.

Each mystery is finely crafted; the path to resolution is circuitous, but never superfluous.

Often, the setting is Three Pines, a village not far from Montreal. Initially, I wondered how such an isolated, idyllic and unpopulated locale could need the services of the national police so frequently. It’s no spoiler alert to simply note Three Pines is occasionally only a launching point.

I’m at the midpoint of Penny’s works and am wondering whether to charge ahead or slow down to extend the pleasure. It’s a quandary.  

     Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

Lost in a Land of Books   1 comment

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is a cross between a fairy tale and a video game, with some magic thrown. This requires the ability to suspend one’s sense of disbelief.

Most chapters begin with the name of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a graduate student who finds a mysterious, uncatalogued book in his school library. It’s especially baffling since it’s about him. Alternating chapters relate to a particular story within the found book. Confused yet? I’ll back up. A land, beneath ours, contains an ancient library with guardians who protect the books and the stories they contain. Zachary’s efforts to uncover the book’s meaning take him on adventure where bees, cats, doors, books – lots of books – and swords are important symbols.

Morgenstern creates a literary world unlike any other. It’s dependent on imagination and an appreciation of the different realms books take us to when we read. The writing is rich in visual detail, even if, at times, it doesn’t always make sense. This is similar to what Zachary experiences. He encounters multiple choices in his quest; almost as many subplots presented to the reader trying to fit all the pieces together.

Pirates, a sea of honey, searches for lost loves, artists, friends and mysterious passageways also inhabit the novel. The deeper Zachary goes into what is ultimately a search for the starless sea, the less engaging the narrative becomes. Yes, I wanted to know what was going to happen, but at almost 500 pages, it took too long to find out.

The Starless Sea
Three-and-three-quarter bookmarks
Doubleday, 2019
494 pages

Digging Up the Past   Leave a comment

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When reading a mystery I want to be surprised; I also want to reach the solution on my own. This might seem contradictory, but it’s my benchmarks for a good thriller.

Both were achieved in Fiona Barton’s The Child. I was pleased to be right. Of course, it took most of the book to fit all of the pieces together, but I did. Rather than feel disappointed once I suspected how things would end, I was proud of my sleuthing abilities.

Three main characters move the story: Kate, a journalist intrigued by the discovery of an infant’s skeleton when an old house is demolished; Angela, whose infant daughter was kidnapped from the maternity ward more than 40 years ago; and Emma, a middle-aged woman with secrets, including a teen pregnancy. Emma’s mother, Jude, has a pivotal role in the novel’s progression.

Kate is convinced there’s more to the story than the gruesome discovery at a construction site. Meanwhile, Angela’s begins to hope that she will finally have an explanation of what happened to her daughter. Emma fears that her past has literally been uncovered. Meanwhile, Jude has no interest in looking in the rear-view mirror and dismisses Emma’s anxieties as part of the strained relationship between the two.

Through Kate, the author methodically reveals the heartbreaks and fears each woman has suffered in their respective lives while fitting together the ways in which they’re all connected. If intrigue isn’t enough, there’s also a bit of science thrown into the mix.

The Child
Four Bookmarks
Berkley, 2017
365 pages

At Sea Without a Clue   Leave a comment

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Not all mysteries are thrillers; I like those that make me want to sleep with the light on – lots of lights. I expected to be kept awake by Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I wasn’t. I enjoyed it as a mystery, but it fell short as a thriller.

The story is intriguing enough: a small group of passengers aboard a boutique luxury cruise liner bound from England to Norway’s fjords. The 10-cabin ship is owned by an exceptionally wealthy man who has invited a few friends and members of the media for the maiden voyage. Part of the problem is the main character: Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel magazine low-level journalist who lucked into the assignment. Ware doesn’t imbue Lo with many attributes that evoke much empathy or interest.

The mystery begins when, after drinking too much on the first night of the cruise, Lo is convinced that the woman in the cabin next door (#10) was thrown overboard. It’s the same woman who had earlier lent mascara to Lo. The problem is, according to the ship’s manifest, the cabin is unoccupied.

Lo knows the woman existed; she had proof. The narrative follows her efforts to determine what became of the woman in the face of incredulity from others. In this, Ware is successful. However, the lack of intensity as Lo strives to prove the reality of what she saw, keeps the novel from reaching the level of thriller. It was easy enough to turn off the lights.

The Woman in Cabin 10
3.5 Bookmarks
Scout Press, 2017
340 pages

Nordic Intrigue and Drug Cartels   Leave a comment

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Like other Harry Hole mysteries by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, Phantom accelerates from zero to 120 in no time flat. The quick-pace, heart-thumping action alternates voices between a third-person omniscient narrator and a recently-murdered drug dealer. The latter isn’t as disturbing as it sounds. In fact, it’s a powerful device, identified by italics, having the deceased Gusto reveal a lot about his wasted life and elements of his demise, without divulging who dunnit.

Harry returns to Oslo from his self-imposed exile in Bangkok to help exonerate Oleg, the son of the woman he’s never stopped loving. Although they are not flesh and blood, Harry has strong paternal feelings for Oleg. Consequently, Harry finds it unlikely the young man could be guilty. Harry relies on former connections within the police force to help in his unofficial investigation, as well as employing his own brand of whatever-it-takes approach to solve a crime.

Russian drug lords, crooked politicians and policemen, and Harry’s own demons help propel the story beyond drug deals gone bad. Nesbo is impressive in his ability to create black and white characters with nuance; that is, even the bad guys have a few redeeming qualities, while the good ones can’t help but disappoint from time to time. In the process, it’s difficult to determine the guilty person before Nesbo spells it out.

It is not necessary to have read any of the previous Harry Hole mysteries before jumping into Phantom, the only question is why would you not want to?

Phantom
Four-and-a-half  Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
378 pages
http://jonesbo.com/

Posted May 20, 2013 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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Frozen Days, Nights and Hearts   Leave a comment

The images of a very pregnant police investigator and the frozen tundra evoked the movie Fargo. However, these are the only similarities with Asa Larsson’s Sun Storm. Larsson, no relation to Steig of the Dragon Tattoo mysteries, has crafted a novel rich with imagery but lacking in true suspense.

Rebecka Martinsson is a tax attorney in Stockholm called home to Kiruna, in northernmost Sweden, to help a friend suspected of murder. The gruesome, ritualistic crime takes place in a church run by the pastors who long ago banished Rebecka from their community. The back story, including the strained relationship between Rebecka and Sanna, more a former friend than a true one, fill most of the pages. What’s noteworthy is how compelling this is. In fact, at several points it’s easy to forget a murder investigation is underway, or that a threat has been made against Rebecka.

Larsson’s writing is stark, like the landscape of which she writes. Yet, it is easy to imagine the corrupt church leaders, their disappointed wives, the aggrieved Sanna, and a friendly neighbor. Rebecka is both insecure and confident. She tries hard to maintain an emotional distance from the area she was forced to leave. These very efforts make her interesting, but not altogether warm and engaging.

The only completely likeable character in the bunch is Anna-Maria Mella, the female investigator. It turns out, she actually is somewhat like the Frances McDormand role in the Coen Brothers’ film: intelligent, caring and ready to give birth.

Sun Storm

Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2007
310 pages

Chilling Thrills   Leave a comment

I’m not a fan of blood and gore thrillers in film, but put the stuff in a book
and I’m hooked. Jo Nesbo’s latest in the genre begins with terror and rare-
ly allows the reader time to breathe a sigh of relief. The Leopard starts
roughly where The Snowman left off, with Harry Hole now living in Hong
Kong where gambling and opium dictate his life – but not for long since
the Norwegian police need help solving another murder spree back on his
home tundra.

Hole doesn’t take long to determine the murders are related. Just as he
did in the previous novel, Nesbo takes readers on a hold-onto-your hats,
whiplash-inducing ride from one possibility to another, then back again,
and again. Additionally, he throws in several subplots just to keep things
really moving. The lure that actually brings Hole back to Norway is not
the challenge of the chase, it’s his near-death, elderly father. As Hole
unpacks the emotional baggage this creates, he establishes the connect-
ion of the murders, pines for his ex-wife and stepson, is attracted to a
female investigator, and is entangled in a turf war between the Oslo crime
unit and state police. This may sound like standard mystery ingredients, but
they’re not. And, it may make Hole seem like a superhero, but no way.

The beauty of Nesbo’s writing is the attention to detail, the depth of his
characters, and the thrill he creates as they battle to thwart or uphold
justice in very human ways.

The Leopard
Four Bookmarks
Adolph A. Knopf, 2012
517 pages

Posted March 15, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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