Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns

Protagonist: William Rees
Setting: Durham, Maine, 1796
Rating: 4.3

William Rees, a weaver, has chased his runaway son, David, 14, to the Zion Shaker community in Durham, Maine, in 1796. The community elders aren’t pleased to see him at first, but later they seek out his help. One of the Shaker women have been murdered; Rees has been known to solve small mysteries and he has an eye for detail.

The Shakers pair Rees with a chaperone of sorts, Lydia Jane Farrell, a former Shaker who is opinionated and outspoken. Although asked to leave the Shaker community, she still lives nearby, although no one will talk about her transgression.

This debut novel by a librarian won the First Crime Novel Award from Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books, and it is simple to see why. The story unspools slowly, and is not only about the murders (more than one, as it turns out). It’s about a father and son’s relationship, and about a community that struggles with its principles as it shuns the modern world.

This appears on its way to becoming a series. I'm looking forward to the second book.

Friday, November 23, 2012

No Corners for the Devil by Olive Etchells

Protagonist: DCI Bill Channon
Setting: Cornish coast England
Rating: 4.5

Sally and Rob Baxter and their three children have moved to a Cornish sea village, where they live in a roundhouse and rent out vacation cottages on the property. As the townspeople like to remark, there are “no corners for the devil in a round house.”

Yet, there is evil out there. Someone has killed a teenage girl not far from their home, along the beach below their home. Their older son, Luke, is the last to have seen the girl and becomes a suspect. Rob begins to act distant and doesn’t rush to support Luke, leaving it up to Sally to deal with the police.

Sally (through whose eyes much of the story is seen) trusts the detective in charge, DCI Channon. There’s even a spark between the two, although neither acts on it. If there’s any fault with this novel, it’s the shifting point of view. Much of it is through Sally’s eye, someone who is connected to a suspect. Then the book shifts to Cannon, as the book becomes more of a police procedural. It’s a strange shift, although it didn’t really affect my enjoyment too much. I do wish, however, that I could have gotten to know Channon and his sidekick, Sgt. Bowles, a bit more. Hopefully I will, in later books.

This first book has all the marks of a promising series. It's a pity, therefore, to see that only three were written in this series.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall

Protagonist: Vish Puri
Setting: Delhi, India
Rating: 3.3

Dr. Jha, the Guru Buster who denounces frauds claiming to be in touch with the supernatural, dies while doing laughter therapy. An entire group of men see him murdered -- by a floating apparition, no less.

Vish Puri, of Most Private Investigators, also disbelieves in the supernatural and in those holy men who would extract large sums from the faithful, based on trickery. He investigates, along with his staff, Tubelight and Facecream. In the meantime, Vish's wife, Rumpi, and his Mummy-ji are off on their own, investigating a robbery that took place during a women’s house party.

While Vish doesn’t like to be compared to Sherlock Holmes, you can barely fault the people who do. After all, in one passage, Vish deduces from a glance: "His back was turned to the dhaba so that the detective was unable to see his face. But beyond the obvious -- that the man was in his early to mid-fifties, married, owned a dog and had reached the rendezvous within the past few minutes -- Puri was able to deduce that he was having an affair (there was a clear impression of an unwrapped condom in his back pocket) and had grown up in a rural area where the drinking water was contaminated by arsenic (his hands were covered by black blotches)."

Hall’s books are not deep mysteries. But they are delightful and whimsical, while also providing a look into the social mores of India.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Reckoning by Jane Casey

Protagonist: Det. Constable Maeve Kerrigan
Setting: London
Rating: 4.5

In this London police procedural, someone is torturing, then killing, sex offenders, specifically men who target preteen girls. Author Casey leads us down one path, sensitively detailing the lives of the victims and their families, only to stop mid-book and suddenly take another road: The man behind the killings is caught, and he has a compelling reason for having murdered those men.

Now Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan and the rest of the police team are thrust into another direction that leads them to the search for yet another killer. Aside from a gripping plot, Casey writes authentic characters. Maeve Kerrigan, a young, pretty policewoman, is still proving herself to male colleagues; as part of this, she hesitates to have a full relationship with a fellow detective (their off-again, on-again relationship is a central part of the book). In this investigation, she’s paired with Detective Inspector John Derwent, who has a reputation for being aggressive and abrasive; he cuts Kerrigan very little slack. And there’s Superintendent Godley, whose usual by-the-book investigating takes a sudden turn with this case. The characters are drawn in such shades of grey that, as a reader, it’s hard to anticipate what they will do next, creating an extra layer of tension.

The Reckoning is Casey’s third book (the second featuring Kerrigan), and the author is quickly gaining notice. She’s been compared to Nicci French, Sophie Hannah, and Tana French—and the comparisons are fitting, for this strong writer. In fact, the Kerrigan books seem set to become a series. Let’s hope it’s a long one; Kerrigan and the rest of her colleagues will easily draw you into their lives

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blood on the Tongue by Stephen Booth

"He was climbing steadily higher toward the top of Irontongue Hill, where the wreckage of Sugar Uncle Victor lay. In the gullies, snow already lay over a thin layer of ice that cracked and gave way under his weight. In the deeper areas of snow, his feet plunged in. But on the smoother areas he was aware only of the crackle and squeak as the snow compressed under his boots."

Protagonists: Diane Fry and Ben Cooper
Setting: Peak District, England
Rating: 4.5
It’s a brutal winter in the Peak District, and bodies are being found all over the place: a woman’s body in a snowdrift; a man’s body alongside the road on Snake Pass, which is very treacherous during the worse of the season; and another body inside the wreckage of a World War II bomber.

As Det. Sgt. Diane Fry investigates those, Det. Constable Ben Cooper is looking at a cold case of sorts: the disappearance of a WWII bomber, Danny McTeague, who vanished shortly after his plane crashed on Irontongue Hill in the changeable moors. McTeague’s granddaughter has received a parcel in the mail -- the pilot’s old medal, mailed from the area. Of course, the cases, new and old, will all coalesce in the end.

The third in the series, this is the strongest Booth book yet -- a very good police procedural, with an interesting cold case (which I always love), and wonderful, atmospheric writing. The maybe or maybe-not Fry/Cooper relationship is, thankfully, not delved into, making for a more potent mystery.