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Two British Mysteries from British Library Crime Classics

I was recently introduced to a revival series of long-forgotten British mysteries and crime novels from the 1920s and 1930s republished into the British Library of Crime Classics and made available in the U.S. through Poisoned Pen Press.  I found my first two reads in this series quite delightful.  They were “The Sussex Downs Murder” by John Bude and “Murder in Piccadilly” by Charles Kingston.

John Bude wrote “The Sussex Downs Murder” in 1936.  He was a full time mystery writer for 20 years before his untimely death at the age of 56 in 1957.  During World War II he remained at home in charge of the local Home Guard.  After the war he was a founding member of the Crime Writers’ Association.  Charles Kingston also published “Murder in Piccadilly” in 1936 but little is known about the writer.  He began writing crime novels in 1921 and continued for about 25 years producing about a book a year.

Of the two I find the plot and characters, as well as the setting, more memorable in “The Sussex Downs Murder.” It is set along the dramatic white cliffs of Sussex in England where the Rother brothers have a family farmhouse and a lime kiln business.  One day John takes off on a trip and never comes back.  His car is found abandoned. Suspicion builds among the investigating police on the brother, and also on the brother’s wife.  There had been rumors about an affair between the wife and her brother-in-law.  When human bones are found mixed into bags of lime from the Rother’s kiln the police confirm that John Rother was murdered.  There are a number of clever twists in the plot that will leave the reader second-guessing the killer.  “The Sussex Downs Murder” was one of those books that was hard to put down until the very end.

In “Murder in Piccadilly” a young member of the aristocratic Cheldon family, Bobbie, has fallen for a dancer named Nancy Curzon who works at a Piccadilly night club called the Frozen Fang owned by a gangland character named Nosey Ruslin.  Nancy is invited to the family estate to meet the family.  Bobbie wants to get his uncle’s blessing and a hand with his monthly expenses so he can afford to marry.  Nancy does not realize that her suitor is not already financially set.  Bobbie is initially the prime suspect when Uncle Massy Curzon is found murdered.  Is he just a fall-guy for someone else’s greed?

Any lover of the Golden Age of murder mysteries will love this duo of British crime novels.

Reviewed from supplied copies.

Liz Nichols

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Five by Ursula Archer

Five” is a psychological thriller set in beautiful Salzburg, Austria which pits a brilliant p0lice inspector, Beatrice Kaspary, against a serial killer who sets out clues using a popular kind of scavenger hunt called geocaching.

To find out more about geocaching I signed up for a free membership (there is also a premium level that allows for filtering and more features.) Geocachers hide small treasure troves for others to find and identify them with clues that require solving puzzles or problems and following GPS to specific coordinates.  Normally the treasure boxes are left in place and the finder simply signs a logbook found in the treasure box and also indicates the find online.  I learned that there are dozens of geocaches within a mile of my home.  Who knew?

In “Five” the serial killer takes the treasure hunt theme to a gruesome extreme by leaving body parts for Beatrice and her police team to find.  In some cases kidnapped victims are themselves left as the treasures to find.  The ingenious and sadistic killer controls the hunt by leaving clues on his own terms. First the team must figure out what each of the victims has in common.  That takes a long and frustrating series of interviews with family and associates of the victims, and an almost futile look for mistakes that the killer may have made.

Beatrice and the team really only start making progress in solving the murders when she starts turning the game against the killer causing him anger and frustration.  He starts making little mistakes in his frustration. This tactic also makes Beatrice a target for the serial killer.  She virtually invites him to come after her–and he does with terrifying results.  But will the cops be successful at getting the killer before he kills Beatrice and goes on harming other victims?

I found “Five” absolutely addictive and hard to put down until the last thrilling page.  Highly recommended, though not for the squeamish!

Liz Nichols

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Kill Me, Darling by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Once again Max Allan Collins has turned a fragment from the collection of unpublished Mickey Spillane notes and stories into a winner of a new Mike Hammer novel in “Kill Me, Darling.”  The latest in the series that was entrusted to Collins by Spillane shortly before he died is, in my opinion, the best of the Hammer series.

The settings are very well-researched 1950’s New York and Miami while the great Mafia families held sway over most of the major cities in the U.S.  The Mike Hammer we meet in this installment is older, wiser, and trying to recover from an extended bender.  The four month drinking stint comes about when Mike’s girl friend and assistant PI, Velda, walks out on him.

What motivates Mike out of his drunken stupor is the murder of a cop Velda used to work with on the NYPD. Mike wants to find out who killed the cop and also finally recognizes that Velda’s disappearance may be related to a case the cop was working to bust a gangland drug lord named Nolly Quinn.  When Mike finds out that Velda has become Quinn’s girl friend and companion in Miami Beach he sets out for the southland.  Mike skillfully plays along with the local cops, local press and a bevvy of some of the top mafiosi in the country in order to outwit and out-gun Quinn and save Velda.

The plot and the action are totally absorbing.  The new Mike Hammer is a more likeable guy having dried out and gained a little bit of savvy on how to win friends and influence people.  Despite Hammer’s improved awareness of how to more effectively get things done with and through others he still stays true to the rough, tough and deadly Mike Hammer image.  This is a Mike Hammer who can be equally appreciated by the usually male fan of hard-bitten graphic detective novel  and women who enjoy a thriller built around an interesting  storyline, atmospheric location with a more sophisticated and people-aware protagonist.  Now I can say I actually like this Mike Hammer and don’t just appreciate him academically as a classic icon.

Nice character development, Max!  Keep ’em coming.  “Kill Me, Darling” is highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)

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Double Fudge Browie Murder by Joanne Fluke

The Hannah Swensen Mystery series reminds me of the days growing up in Minnesota in and around the area described as the imaginary Lake Eden.  “Double Fudge Brownie Murder” was another walk down memory lane for me.

In this installment Hannah is confronted with the dilemma of being proposed to by three men including the handsome Ross Barton, a film producer Hannah had met in college.  There is at least as much romance in this book as murder mystery it and therefore it does not have quite the dramatic weight of most mysteries.  The fact that there are also recipies thrown in at the end of every chapter also makes this work (and this series) seem a little less substantial than most of the mysteries I read.

There is a murder in the midst of the romantic plot. Hannah finds a murder victim, a judge who has been assigned to try Hannah in a manslaughter case stemming from a freak accident Hannah and her bakery truck were involved in during a storm.  Hannah discovers the judge’s body in his chambers shortly after she is summoned to see the him about her case.  There are lots of potential killers to rule out and for the first time Hannah ends up crossing everyone off her suspect list.  The killer comes out of left field and very nearly gets Hannah as well.

The recipies alone are usually worth the read in the Hannah Swensen series.  In “Double Fudge Brownie Murder” there is not only a sinful brownie recipie, but also such unusual fare as baked doughnuts, hot pepper jam cookies, and a wierd spice cookie recipe with ketchup in it.

Light weight fare, but recommended for those who like food-related cosy mystery books.

Liz Nichols

 

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Butterfly Skinby Sergey Kuznetsov

This English translation of Sergey Kuznetsov’s early 2000’s psychological thriller, “Butterfly Skin” came out in September of 2014.  It was translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield.  The novel may appeal to those who liked “The Silence of the Lambs,” or Nesbo’s “The Snowman.”  I would characterize this novel as “Fifty Shades of Gray” meets “The Silence of the Lambs.”  Whether or not it is successful at holding the reader’s attention is partly a matter of taste.  For my taste, I find the novel flawed.

In order to keep me interested in reading such a graphically violent and sexually demeaning novel I must be immediately riveted by the protagonist and find some element of the serial killer’s personality or story so fascinating that it is worth it for me to slog through pages of very descriptive horror in order to see how the story develops between the protagonist and the killer.

I have read the first third of the book and so far the first person machinations of the protagonist and the killer leave me cold and unmoved.

The protagonist is a young female e-newspaper editor who decides to do a special series on a Moscow serial killer who leaves most of his victims, raped, skinned alive and with eyes cut out and jammed in the females’ more private orifices.  The bodies are left in places where they will be easily found.  As it happens the newspaper editor prefers her sex to be of the S&M variety.   So far, this plot and the extremely self-absorbed characters leave me uncaring about there fates and unwilling to spend more time wallowing in the book to see if something sparks my attention further on.

It happens sometimes that a book is just not my cup of tea.  I recognize, however, that this book may appeal to some readers.  It may appeal to some as a social commentary on contemporary Russian social issues.  It may also appeal to some for the horror and the rough sex.

I am neither recommending nor giving both thumbs down on “Butterfly Skin.”  For myself, I have simply chosen not to finish the book.

Liz Nichols

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Murder at Cirey by Cheryl Sawyer

Cheryl Sawyer’s new “A Victor Constant Investigation,” “Murder at Cirey” led me to look for more information about Voltaire’s 15 year residence at the Chateau de Cirey between 1734 and 1749.  The murder mystery is set during that period at the Chateau.  Voltaire and his paramour owner of the Chateau, Gabrielle Emilie de Breteuil, Marquise du Chatelet, are included as characters in the mystery.

Cheryl Sawyer is from New Zealand and currently lives in Australia.  She has been a publisher and writer in the South Pacific for twenty-one years.  She has written several historical novels.

Most of the other characters in this novel are fictional, including, Victor Constant, the persistent member of the military police brigade called the Marechaussee who was billeted in Chaumont in the Champaigne district.  He was sent to Cirey to investigate the reported murder of a military courier, Damien Moiron, who was found in the Cirey woods shot at close range.  Was the courier killed by a highwayman in an attempted robbery?  Was he the victim of jealousy because of dalliances with some of the ladies in the area?  Was he killed because of the military intelligence he carried? Is this a case of espionage gone wrong? Victor does not give up until he solves the crime and brings the guilty to justice, no matter the danger to himself.

I was captivated by this swashbuckler of a mystery from first page to last and found myself evaluating all the clues along with our hero.  I enjoyed getting to see France in 1735 through the eyes of Voltaire and the characters surrounding him.

Murder at Cirey” is Sawyer’s first crime novel.  Victor Constant should enjoy a good run as an historical crime-solver based on this first installment of the series.

Liz Nichols

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Death of a Liar by M C Beaton

Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is as irascible as ever in M.C. Beaton’s latest “A Hamish Macbeth Mystery,” “Death of a Liar.”  The novel is set, as usual, in Sutherland district of Scotland’s far north in a couple of fictional towns called Lochdubh and Strathbane.  Macbeth acts as the Lochdubh town constable under constant attack from his superior, Detective Chief Inspector Blair who is pressuring to bring all of the police force under one roof leaving the old folk in the isolated villages with no one to look out for their safety.  Needless to say, Hamish Macbeth is against the consolidation effort.

In this installment, Hamish is fooled by a young woman who claims to have been raped.  It turns out that she is a known liar and cannot follow through with a consistent story nor a description of the assailant. She ultimately admits that she made the story up.  The next time she calls for help she is ignored, and later is found brutally murdered.  A couple recently arrived from England also are murdered leaving Hamish with three challenging cases to investigate.  Are they related cases?

Ready to assist is a new forensic examiner, Christine Dalray who quickly develops an interest in Hamish beyond work.  Hamish, on the other hand, is longing to get to know a Polish baker who has recently settled in the area named Anka.  Anka takes a shine, instead, to Hamish’s police partner, Dick Fraser, and during the course of the story Dick leaves the police force to move in with Anka to become her assistant baker.  Once again, Hamish is left alone in his little police station home with no real prospects for a companion other than his dog and his cat.

There is one particularly wild scene toward the end of the book when the killers have Hamish locked in a coffin and are about to throw him  off a cliff into the ocean.  I won’t reveal the outcome, but it is not something I will forget anytime soon.

Death of a Liar” was an enjoyable read.

Liz Nichols

 

 

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Betrayed by Lisa Scottoline

Betrayed” is another in Lisa Scottoline’s Rosato & Associates Novel series.  This mystery concentrates on the less-well-known of the all-female law firm’s members, Judy Carrier.  Unlike Judy’s more out-going friend, Mary Di Nunzio,  Judy does not seek the limelight and has not been sought out by wealthy clients.  Therefore, Judy has not been on the partner track with the firm until boss, Bennie Rosato, lands the defense side of a series of asbestos cases against a major company and she assigns them to Judy.  Judy begrudgingly recognizes that her job is to minimize the damage claims and for that she will bring in millions of dollars in fees to the company and be considered worthy of partner status.

Judy’s main concern, however, is caring for her aunt who is about to have breast cancer surgery.  Shortly before the surgery she meets her aunt’s best friend, an illegal immigrant from Mexico named Iris, who is later found dead in her car of an apparent heart attack or possibly suicide.  Aunt Barb insists that Iris’ death could not have been of natural causes or by her own hand, and Judy turns the heat up on the police department to investigate when a huge amount of cash is found stashed in her aunt’s garage, ostensibly by Iris.  The money trail leads back to an extensive ring of corruption on both sides of the border with Mexico and it puts the lives of Judy, her mother, her aunt and anyone they come in contact with in jeopardy. Amidst the investigation into Iris’ death a couple other bombshells fall into Judy’s lap that make her feel very betrayed and alone.

Scottoline addresses a number of issues that millions of people face on a daily basis in this country.  Undocumented workers are frequent victims of crime and abuse because they believe they cannot freely report crimes to the police.  In order to stay in this country many who would never take up criminal activity feel forced to commit fraud and other crimes in order to be able to work and go to school under false identities.  The book also touches on generational issues and differences that lead to misunderstanding between ethnic groups and people of different economic strata.

There are some stereotypical things in “Betrayed” that might raise a quibble or two, but for the most part, Scottoline does a good job of introducing people to issues that affect millions living in this country, and yet are little discussed or understood by the majority of the population.

Liz Nichols

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Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler

I have been a fan of Tammy Kaehler’s since the publication of her first Kate Reilly Mystery, “Dead Man’s Switch” in 2011.  “Avoidable Contact” is the third novel in this series, and the best yet.  In the course of the first three novels Kate has grown from a rookie who lacks confidence and credibility at times to a mature, respected race car driver capable of pouring on the speed to support her team  and able to put together the clues of a murder mystery with equal finesse.

In “Avoidable Contact” Kate must ignore the fact that her love interest, Stuart, is seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident shortly before the start of the Daytona 24 hour race so that she can concentrate on her role as one of the three drivers for one of her team’s Corvette cars.   In between the adrenaline rush of racing Kate and her friend Holly nose around Pit Row trying to help the police discover clues to who purposely ran down Stuart.  A tragedy on the tracks appears to also be suspicious and may be related to Stuart’s attack.

The racing circuit provides a perfect venue for the thrills and chills of a first class mystery.  The action is naturally fast-paced and dangerous.  The race car drivers and the people who hang around them have big, interesting personalities that make for lots of descriptive color in the book.  Story arcs are also quite naturally segmented around the routines required to drive, relax and gear up again for the next shift behind the wheel.

As a reader I felt as if I had a Pit Row pass and was following Kate’s every move both on and off the race track.

Kate Reilly fans will love the addition to the series with “Avoidable Contact” and the series is bound to make many new fans with this book.

Liz Nichols

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The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander, author of “The Counterfeit Heiress” seems to have one foot in the Victorian era.  She has a good grasp of the people and places in and around London and Paris during that era, and particularly the world of upper class Victorian women.

When Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband Colin attend a costume ball in London they are surprised to see another guest in a costume that looks much like Emily’s.  Some guests recognize that party-goer as the world-traveling heiress, Estella Lamar.  The next day Emily learns that the woman she saw at the masked ball has been murdered and is not Lamar at all, but a woman who for some unknown reason was impersonating her.  Who killed the impersonator?  Where is Estella Lamar?

This period mystery is set between London and Paris in 1897.  The Hargreaves are asked to solve this double mystery by one of Lamar’s old friends, Cecile du Lac.  The settings in Paris give this mystery a rather Gothic, noir feel for many of the scenes take place in and around a Paris cemetery and the catacombs under the city.  This is also a psychological suspense story because it delves deeply into the mind of a reclusive young heiress and the actions of her apparent captor.  The chapters jump between the investigation into the murder and the disappearance of Lamar, and chapters that set up the story about Lamar, her captivity and her mental state that leads to some surprising twists and turns in the plot.

The Counterfeit Heiress” is an exceptionally well-crafted and complex mystery that will be enjoyed thoroughly by fans of her Lady Emily Mystery series and many other lovers of fiction set in the late Victorian era.

Liz Nichols

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