Archive for the ‘mystery’ Tag

Sherlock Holmes Redux   Leave a comment

The idea of pairing an older Sherlock Holmes with a young woman as a crime-solving duo is, well, elementary!

Laurie R. King has done just that in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, set many years after Holmes has retired to Sussex Downs, near the sea and far from London. There, he has mostly settled into life keeping bees and taking on the occasional case.

One day on a walk, he encounters 15-year-old Mary Russell, a bright girl, whose intellect captures his attention. The two begin a friendship based on mental acuity, powers of observation, science, deduction and a flair for the audacious.

There’s little mention of Dr. Watson, but Mrs. Hudson continues as Holmes’s housekeeper – and Mary’s surrogate caregiver. (Mary is an orphan left in the care of a cold, ill-disposed aunt.)

Through the years, Mary’s education is augmented by her time spent with Holmes. Even after she leaves for Oxford, they remain in touch.  It comes as no surprise when they work together to solve, at first minor crimes, before being thrown into webs of deceit and danger not unlike those once constructed by Holmes’ arch enemy, the now-deceased Moriarty.

Her intelligence, thirst for knowledge and appreciation of Holmes make Mary a likeable character. She understands him without being intimidated.

King injects humor and warmth into her writing and provides a different perspective of Holmes thanks to the strong, female character she has created in Mary. The thrill of the chase is evident in the way Holmes and Mary work together.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Four Bookmarks

Laurie R. King

Bantam Books, 1996

405 pages

An Old Lease   Leave a comment

The Paris Apartment proves I never have to read another book by Lucy Foley again. Her perspectives- from-a-handful-of-characters-with-a-motive-for-murder-in-the-early-pages formula is tiresome.

I appreciate a good mystery with unexpected twists. This worked in The Guest List, the first Foley novel I read, but not in two I’ve read since.

This one offers a variation in that one of the characters, Jess, is clearly not the guilty party. In fact, after arriving in Paris, she discovers her brother, Ben, has gone missing and, at great risk to herself, is determined to find him.

Ben had given Jess directions to his apartment of an old Parisian building, so he knew his ne’er-do-well sister was expected. She’s not only taken aback by his absence but also the swanky digs where he’s been living.

As with Foley’s other novels, nothing is as it seems – in more ways than one, as Jess soon realizes. Her fellow tenants include an alcoholic, an unstable young woman, the concierge, a socialite and Nick, Ben’s friend and the only one who’s helpful to Jess. They all lack depth and none spark a connection with the reader.

The focus is on Jess, with references to her troubled past and an inconsistent relationship with her brother. Still, he is her only living relative, which motivates her to learn what might have happened to him.

Foley’s style is tedious. Yes, it’s important to find out what happened to Ben, but Cliff Notes for this one would have worked just as well.

The Paris Apartment

(Barely) Three Bookmarks

William Morrow 2022

358 pages

Murder, cabinetry and amateur sleuthing   Leave a comment

The Grenadillo Box by Janet Gleeson is a fast-paced mystery blending intrigue with humor while providing a glimpse into 18th century British social standings and related expectations.

Nathanial Hopson is apprenticed to renowned master cabinet maker Thomas Chippendale. Although by all accounts, much of the artistry is at the hands of his many apprentices, including Hopson’s dear friend John Partridge, who’s suddenly gone missing.

Chippendale sends Hopson to complete work on an elaborate library in a country estate. Soon after his arrival, the lord of the manor is found dead. The cause of death is ruled suicide, however, Hopson suspects foul play. When another body is found on the property, Hopson believes the two deaths are related. An investigation ensues led by amateur sleuth Hopson. He’s a thoughtful young man but not averse to enjoying good times when they surface.

Among the clues is a small, intricately-carved box, which in itself is a puzzle with no obvious way to determine its contents. Meanwhile, the Lord’s gambling debts, his son ready to lay claim to the estate and its anticipated riches, along with a much younger wife provide plenty of motives.

Adding further intrigue are missing sets of Chippendale’s original drawings, which the celebrated craftsman charges his apprentice to locate.

In the midst of Hopson’s search for answers, Gleeson vividly describes the noises, sights and odors of the seediest parts of London. These images are contrasted with the wealth and comfort of the upper classes.

The Grenadillo Box

Four+ Bookmarks

Bantam Books, 2002

416 pages

Who’s the Prey and Who’s the Predator?   Leave a comment

The who-dun-it and who-was-it-dun-to formula crafted by Lucy Foley in The Guest List resurfaces in The Hunting Party. Although effective, I hope she doesn’t use the same approach in subsequent works. It’s clever, but enough is, well , enough.

It’s evident from the beginning that the victim and the murderer are among the handful of narrators. There are other characters, but only in supporting roles: spouses, two other couples, two additional guests and a third employee. What’s learned about them is from the narrators’ perspectives. The setting is an upscale lodge in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands in a blinding blizzard, plays a major role in the plot.

A group of old friends gathers on New Year’s Eve as they have since their days together at Oxford. They’re now in the early 30s and have established themselves in the world. Miranda is the spoiled, party girl used to the finer things; Katie, an attorney, is her childhood friend; Emma, is relatively new to the group and is the trip organizer; Heather manages the lodge; and Doug is the gamekeeper.  Through these narratives, their histories and personalities come to light.

Time is also key as it moves back and forth from December 30 to January 2. This pattern is similar not only to The Guest List, but Foley’s other novels.

Despite following the same blueprint, this mystery is engaging. Chapters become shorter the closer the reader gets to the reveal. In the process it becomes a rapid page turner.

The Hunting Party

Three-and-a-half bookmarks

William Morrow, 2019

328 pages, plus reading group guide and more

Dying for an Invitation   Leave a comment

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Lucy Foley’s The Guest List is an easy-to-read mystery without having to worry about anything lurking behind closed doors. There’s plenty of tension but the short chapters and the focus on a handful of characters are balanced with the eery remote Irish island locale; all contribute to creating the scene for not only a whodunit, but to whom?

Mostly, the plot moves back forth between the day before and day of Jules and Will’s wedding;  at times it is more specific:  the morning of,  the night of, now  and the next day. The narrative is told from several perspectives: Jules; the bridesmaid; the best man; a plus one; and the wedding planner.

The first chapter, not ascribed to any particular character, sets the scene of a large, posh wedding reception with a powerful storm raging outside multiple tents. When the lights go out no one is overly concerned, but what evokes chills is a terrifying scream.

Foley doesn’t return to the source of the scream until more than 50 pages later. In the interim, the main characters are introduced – broadly at first before they become more real making it possible to develop attitudes and feelings toward each one.  What surfaces in the character developments are jealousies, insecurities and, not surprisingly, several motives for murder.

Interspersed among the characters’ back stories are descriptions of the wedding, the island and storm, and, most significantly, what interrupted the festivities.  This is perhaps the least engrossing element. Foley provides plenty of whys, which leaves the question of who‘s the victim since there so many possibilities.

The Guest List

Four Bookmarks

HarperCollins, 2020

313 Pages

Posted November 10, 2021 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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A Different Perspective   Leave a comment

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Nella Rogers is proud of herself for getting her foot in the door of a New York City publishing company. She assumes her presence alone should cause people to think about race. Yet, in the two years since her hiring, she’s made little effort in changing the office culture. She is the only woman of color until Hazel arrives; suddenly Hazel is seen and heard where Nella never was before.

Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl addresses several topics and formats in one swift effort. First is the issue of race, but it is from the Black perspective. What initially appears to be a narrative about the lives of two Black women with different life experiences evolves into espionage; it becomes a mystery of sorts.

Nella grew up in a suburb among few Blacks; Hazel’s background is much different: she grew up in Harlem.  Hazel immediately ingratiates herself among the office staff, including Nella’s boss. A book under consideration for publication is troublesome to Nella because she views it as racist, but is reluctant to say so. When Hazel encourages her to speak up, things begin to change, but not as expected.

The novel includes two time periods: 1983 and 2018. The connection between the two isn’t fully addressed until the end. This, along with several threatening notes left at Nella’s desk, creates tension and intrigue. Inconsistencies in some of Hazel’s story cause Nella to suspect her colleague and make the reader wonder which one is the other black girl?

The Other Black Girl

Four Bookmarks

Atria Books, 2021

357 pages

Unraveling a Swedish Mystery   Leave a comment

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I’m not only a fan of Swedish mysteries, I also have affinity for the Scandinavian country thanks to hosting an exchange student years ago. While that relationship remains strong, it has no connection to the often dark tales involving murder and deceit.

Knock Knock by Anders Roslund reintroduces readers to criminal detective Ewert Grens. Seventeen years earlier Grens found a five-year-old girl as the lone survivor of a mass shooting in the family home that included her parents and two siblings.

Now, nearing retirement age, Grens discovers someone has broken into the same house. He’s convinced someone is looking for the girl, long ago given a new name as part of witness protection, and fears her life may be in danger.

A parallel narrative involves Piet Hoffman, a former police informer, whose life and family are threatened. Eventually the two plotlines intersect as several execution-type murders take place, similar to the one Grens investigated all those years ago.

Grens is an ill-tempered loner and long-time widower. That he has a soft side, albeit one rarely seen, is no surprise. By contrast, Hoffman is a devoted family man despite his past. The two are intelligent and complement one another. Their association goes back years to Hoffman’s informant days, but suggesting Grens is pleased to reconnect is far from the truth.

Knock Knock is just the kind of Swedish mystery that hooks me: vivid descriptions of Sweden, in this case Stockholm, a fast-paced narrative and interesting characters with often-imperfect moral codes.

Knock Knock

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021

438 pages

An Appetite for More Than Murder   Leave a comment

Bruno, Chief of Police

Author Martin Walker introduces readers to Bruno in the first of the Chief of Police series. The title character, whose formal name is Benoit Courreges, is a former soldier who’s drawn to the peaceful existence surrounding the small village of St. Denis in Southern France. This doesn’t mean his life is boring.

The brutal murder of an elderly North African, a veteran who fought with the French army, draws national attention. The novel addresses racism, victims of war, Nazis and more.

 Although Bruno is not the point man in a murder investigation he contributes a lot when it comes to solving the case.  Initially, two young people, including the son of the town doctor, are arrested as suspects. Bruno is certain their only crime involves drugs.

While working behind the scenes with the national police, Bruno enjoys his pastoral lifestyle living in a restored cottage in the country with his hunting dog, playing tennis and helping the locals stay one step ahead of the EU inspectors. He’s respected, intelligent and knows good wine when it crosses his lips.

Walker’s descriptions of the landscape, townspeople, French food and wine are enticing on their own. The murder investigation is almost secondary.  Three women attract his attention, which creates another mystery wondering which one will ultimately win his affections.

 The narrative is sweet, at times humorous and engaging without being saccharine. Bruno is a likeable, credible character full of common sense and a sharp mind. Identifying the murderer was logical without being predictable.

Bruno: Chief of Police

Four Bookmarks

Vintage Books, 2008

273 pages

Secrets in an Irish Village   Leave a comment

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The Searcher, like most of Tania French’s mysteries involves an Irish setting and new characters. Here it’s Cal Hooper, recently retired from the Chicago police force, in a remote village where he’s renovating a fixer-upper.

Hooper’s content to fish, repair his house and ready to mind his own business. His plans are interrupted when a local kid pleads for help in finding an older brother who disappeared months ago.

Despite efforts to not get involved, Hooper agrees to see what he can discover. Aware, he’s an outsider and not wanting to overstep local authorities or customs, Hooper goes about his investigation as stealthily as possible. It isn’t enough.

French’s description of Hooper’s run-down home, the harsh landscape and the village residents is like a travelogue designed to keep tourists away. Sure the area has some visual appeal, but little else going for it. Hooper soon learns he’s not as clandestine as he’d hoped in his efforts to locate the young man who’s gone missing.

In fact, he misreads the words and actions of most of those he encounters. He’s surprised when it’s clear the villagers, his neighbor in particular, are aware he helping the taciturn kid who showed up uninvited at his house.

Of course, the question, beyond the whereabouts of the missing person, is why everyone is keen to keep Hooper uninformed. French is a master at creating tension. The element of suspense veers towards the realm of thriller. It’s almost necessary to keep several lights on while reading.

The Searcher

Four Bookmarks

Viking, 2020

451 pages

A Past Booker Prize Winner   Leave a comment

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The White Tiger is one of many names the  narrator Balram Halwai gives himself  in a series of letters he writes describing his life as a servant, driver, wanted man and entrepreneur. The letters, written over the course of seven nights and addressed to the Chinese premier, are confessional while providing insight into Indian life. Early in the narrative, Balram admits he’s wanted for the murder of his employer.

Aravind Adiga’s novel, through the letters, details Balram’s life as the son of a rickshaw driver in a small village. Although intelligent, Balram’s education is cut short when he’s forced to do menial work in a tea shop to contribute to his family’s nominal income. Eventually, he learns to drive and becomes the driver for a wealthy family. This is a change of fortune in many ways, including a move to Delhi.

This is not simply about the haves and have-nots. Balram can’t help but see the differences between the rich and the poor. As a servant he’s barely acknowledged as a human. Yet he’s philosophical as he earns a token wage which includes a place to sleep, albeit one teeming with cockroaches.

Balram is attentive to the activities and, particularly, the conversations of his employers. His awareness of the discrepancies around him helps set in motion a plan for change.  The letters are more than Balram’s history; they also foreshadow his future. Adiga incorporates humor, mystery and commentary to create an engaging story about survival and success.

The White Tiger

Four bookmarks

FreePress, 2008

276 pages