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Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

Cathi Unsworth‘s “Weirdo” is another mystery in the British “noir” genre. Unsworth has been called Britain’s “queen of noir.”  The book alternates between events that occur in a small British North Sea town in 1984 with the investigation of what actually occurred back then by a former cop turned private investigator in 2003.

In 1984 quite a crowd of teens within the town of Ernemouth dressed in goth uniform, professed to worship satan and got caught up in what looked like a ritual murder.  One of the girls active in the clique, Corrine Woodrow, was sent to a mental facility for the killing.  There seemed no question as to her guilt in 1984 and she did not do anything positive to help her case.  By 2003 the advent of DNA testing enabled the case to be revisited and PI Sean Ward gets the assignment.  Did Corrine act alone or did she have an accomplice?  Was she framed? What really happened at the old World War II pillbox back in 1984? Sean finds a good deal of defensiveness and protectiveness by the residents of the town as he dredges up the details of this cold case but he does finally get the cooperation of the local constabulary to turn the cold case into a full-fledged investigation.

The juxtaposition of chapters covering events in 1984 followed by events in 2003 works well in unwinding the “Weirdo” story.  The characters are British, but the story is universal.

Recommended.

Liz Nichols

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A Trio of Cosy Mysteries

I am hoping to catch up on my review writing by grouping some of the mysteries I have read over the past couple of months into related by somewhat shorter reviews.

The following books are Cosy mysteries with a strong sense of place and community.

Poisoned Ground” by Sandra Parshall is the sixth installment in the Rachel Goddard Mystery series.  Rachel Goddard is a veterinarian in rural  Blue Ridge Mountain Mason County, VA.  She makes a farm visit at the Kelly place and finds both Lincoln and Marie Kelly shot to death.  A packet of information from a resort company hoping to buy up a number of prime Mason County farms is found on the kitchen table.  The mystery revolves around determining whether pro-resort forces or anti-resort forces are behind the murders and stopping any further mayhem.  If the story was only about the struggle between pro-development sources and pro-agrarian forces it would be a story that has been told before, but there are many twists and turns and querky characters that make this plot much more interesting and unique.  Recommended.

Alan Beechey‘s “This Private Plot” is a British cosy set in the Cotswolds near Stratford-Upon-Avon and is part of Beechey’s Oliver Swithin Mysteries.  Oliver is a children’s book author who’s girlfriend, Effie, is a Scotland Yard detective. Oliver is also an amateur sleuth.  They are on their way to visit Oliver’s family in the Village of Synne when they come upon a body swinging on the end of a jump rope tied to the Synne hanging tree on the edge of town.  The initial conclusion is that the man hanged himself, but Effie and Oliver prove otherwise and thus also become targets of the killer.  The book is a little too punny for my tastes, but many who appreciate British humor, and all the references to Shakespeare will enjoy this book.  The mystery not only revolves around discovering who murdered Mr. Breedlove, but also seeing if Oliver’s brother, Toby, an archaeologist doing a dig in Stratford, can definitively prove the connection between Stratford Will Shakespeare and the London Will Shakespeare.  Once I got into the mystery, and especially the elements having to do with the historic mystery surrounding Shakespeare’s identity, this book grew on me and I give it at least one thumb up.

Death at the Door” by Carolyn Hart is the third in the “Death on Demand Bookstore Mysteries.”  Annie Darling is the owner of the Broward’s Rock bookstore while her husband, Max, operates a private investigation service.  There are the usual bevy of mystery loving members of the community who help Annie solve the most recent spate of Broward’s Rock murders.  First one of the island’s most respected doctors is shot and is at first thought to have committed suicide.  When the wife of a local artist is hammered to death by her husband’s sculpture mallet, Annie, Max and the island’s group of amateur sleuths make the connection between the two deaths and determine that the sheriff has the wrong guy locked up.  As usual, Hart has drafted an absorbing mystery with lots of potential suspects.  Again, recommended.

Liz Nichols

 

 

 

 

 

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All the Sons of Abraham by Eldred Buck

Eldred Buck, who has experience as an investment banker in London, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, has written a novel about living as an expatriot in Saudi Arabia called “All the Sons of Abraham.”  Buck clearly has extensive knowledge about international investment banking and understands what it is like to live as a foreign national in Islamic society.  Anyone looking for information on what life would be like working for a Saudi company and living in one of the international neighborhoods outside of Jeddah would do well to read this book.  The book may also be important in documenting some of the lead-up in the 1990’s to the conflicts between Islamic fundamentalists and the economic, cultural and political leadership in the West.

On the other hand, anyone looking for a fast-paced international financial thriller will not find it in “All the Sons of Abraham.”  It is simply not very thrilling.  At 802 pages it is just too long and convoluted to hold attention as a novel.  I slogged through half the book in two weeks and never got anywhere with the plot.  It is not until nearly half-way through the book that the more important elements of the plot are introduced– a financial debacle in the making precipitated by one of the managers of the Saudi bank that employes a unit of western investment bankers at their Jeddah headquarters; the radicalization of one of the sons of one of the Saudi trainees working with the western group of investment bankers; and the conflicts between western social, cultural and economic thought and practice and those of Islamic and Saudi culture.

The book is not well edited.  The first 400 pages should have been reduced to about 100 with tightly written story arcs that keep the reader looking for what happens next page after page.  The elements of intrigue and potential conflict needed to be introduced much earlier with less time spent on the issue of the main character’s mistress and how he could get away from that relationship without letting his wife know about it.  That appears to be a side-issue in the book that is really the only story arc that occupies the first 200 pages or so.  The main characters need to be developed so that the reader grows to care about what happens to at least some of them.  In half the book I still have not run into a character I really like or care about except possibly Omar, the bank financier in training who is increasingly in conflict with the very strict Islamic laws and increasingly under the surveillance of a relative who is a member of the religious police.

With some relief, I finally decided to put down “All the Sons of Abraham” and move on to one of the other many books that awaited me in my “to be read” pile.

Reviewed from a provided copy.

Liz Nichols

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An Air of Treason by P.F. Chisholm

P.F. Chisholm is the pseudonym of well-known British mystery and historical crime writer, Patricia Finney.  “An Air of Treason” is the sixth in her Sir Robert Carey Mystery” series set in Elizabethan England and it is a swash-buckling thriller of an historical mystery.

Sir Robert Carey is the youngest son of the illegitimate son of Henry VIII and therefore the half-brother of Queen Elizabeth I.  Carey is forced to make his way in the world as a courtier and soldier who is sometimes asked by the Queen to solve knotty murder mystery.  In an “Air of Treason” the Queen inveigles upon Carey to revisit the 30 year old murder of Elizabeth’s former lover’s wife Amy Robsart Dudley which occurred in 1560 at Dudley’s estate near Oxford.  What Carey finds confirms that a murder occurred; her death was no accident.  It also puts into question whether Carey’s father and/or the Queen herself were behind the murder.  Obviously, accusing the queen of murder would be an act of treason, so Sir Robert must tread very gently around solving this cold case crime.

An Air of Treason” literally transports the reader back to the 16th century.  Many of the characters were real historic figures and Chisholm/Finney has a very thorough understanding of what it was like to live in the 16th century and to interact with these historic figures. There are many others added to the story who are probably fictional, but are very life-like, interesting characters.  They include Carey’s henchmen, Dodd and “Tyndale,” and members of the gang of former soldiers who rob and take Dodd prisoner.  “Jeronimo” the former Spanish ambassador’s son is among that band of disgruntled soldiers who try to take advantage of Dodd’s connection to Carey.

One lose end that bothers me is that Carey is poisoned early on in the book, and yet he spends almost no time trying to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill him and almost all of his time trying to solve the 30 year old murder case for the Queen.  At the end of the book we know that Tyndale is one of the people sent by some unknown enemy to kill Carey, and yet as far as we can tell, he has not made a move yet.  I assume that some of these loose ends will be tied up in a future book in the Sir Robert Carey series.  It just seems curious that this loose end would be left undone at the end of this book.

Elizabethan mystery lovers will love “An Air of Treason,” despite the unsettling unfinished nature of one of the plot threads.

Liz Nichols

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Stop Dead by Leigh Russell

Frequently I find that British detective and police procedurals are written using abbreviations and colloquialisms that are difficult for Americans to understand.  Such is not the case with Leigh Russell’s new police procedural mystery, “Stop Dead.”  Russell even provides a short glossary of terms, something that I am sure most American readers appreciate.  This is the fifth novel in her “A Geraldine Steel Mystery” series.  Steel is a smart, savvy Detective Inspector (DI) who recently moved from a police department in Kent to one in London.

Steel and her side-kick Detective-Sergeant, Samantha Haley, investigate the brutal murder of a restauranteur, Patrick Henshaw.  The particular MO occurs in a couple more murders as the investigation progresses and in the end it appears the detectives are looking for a serial killer.  Is this someone closely associated with Henshaw such as his wife, his business partner or a girl friend, or is this a random act of violence?

The novel is tightly written and is hard to put down.

Stop Dead” is highly recommended for fans of British Police procedurals.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards has created a Halloween ghost tale in “The Frozen Shroud.”  The setting is the atmospheric Lake District in England and is part of Edwards’ “A Lake District Mystery” series in a fictional village called Ravenbank.  The protagonist is the District’s DCI Hannah Scarlett, who teams up with a history of murder expert from London, Daniel Kind.  Scarlett is head of the Cold Case Review Team and is investigating a five year old murder at the Ravenbank manor where a woman was brutally beaten about the head and killed. A shroud is put over the dead woman’s head.  The MO resembles that of the murder of a young Scottish housemaid at Ravenbank just prior to World War I.  She was also beaten faceless and left with a shroud over her bloody head.  The ghost of Gertrude was said to roam the old manor.

During a Halloween party at Ravenbank attended by the visiting murder history professor and the DCI another young woman disappeared and was found the next day murdered in the same manor as the earlier cases.  With the earlier cases there were either suicides or accidental deaths that happened right after the murders and in both cases the crimes were blamed on these people.  Neither DCI Scarlett nor Kind are so sure that the cold cases were correctly closed, and the new murder renews suspicions that someone is still creeping about Ravenbank causing murder and mayhem.

The Frozen Shroud” is a bit creepy, and the British dialogue takes a bit getting used to for American readers.  That being said, this is a good, fast read for a dark and foggy night.

Liz Nichols

 

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Blue Murder at the Pink Parrot by Ruth Ramsden

Blue Murder at the Pink Parrot” is an inventive, and strictly “adult” detective and mystery story set in Suffolk, England.  The author, Ruth Ramsden, is a self-professed fetish aficionado, and also illustrates tarot cards.  Some of her artwork illustrates this book.

The book’s protagonist, JJ Franklin, is a dominatrix by profession who also reads tarot cards and palms.  She makes the mistake of spending an evening with a man who obviously just wanted to sample the goods without paying for it, and that man ends up dead the next day.  JJ decides to investigate in order to make sure she doesn’t get accused of killing this man and the investigation leads deep into southern England and London fetish groups and clubs.

Blue Murder at the Pink Parrot” is really not my thing, but will have a certain appeal to those who like alternative sex and fetish themes mixed in with their mysteries.

Reviewed with a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander

Alexander’s “Death in the Floating City” is part of the Lady Emily Mystery series set in the 1890s with flashback chapters set in 1489.  Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband, Colin, respond immediately to the request of one of Emily’s school rivals, Emma Callum, to come to Venice in order to sleuth out the murderer of her father-in-law.  Emma’s husband, Paolo, has fled under suspicion of having committed the murder.  Emily does not believe her husband could have killed the older man.  Several others are investigated, including a medium who is accused of being Paolo’s lover, and members of another ancient Venetian family that has been the sworn enemy of Paolo’s family since the 15th century.  Paolo’s father had been interested in ending the centuries-old family feud.

The alternating chapters take place in the 15th century in a Romeo and Juliet-like story between a daughter of the Barozzi family (Paolo’s ancestor) and the son who becomes the head of the Vendelino family.  Besina Barozzi is first given in marriage against her will to a local merchant, and later she is divorced and sent to a convent to live out her life.  That does not mean, however, that she never again meets with Nicolo Vendelino, and they manage to share a few letters that are passed down in the families and are later discovered by Emily’s father-in-law, along with a ring Nicolo apparently gave Besina.

This was another of those books I was unable to put down until I found out what happened to Nicolo and Besina and what happened to the Barozzi who was murdered.

Liz Nichols

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The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith

Initially, I was attracted to “The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds” by the title.  I’d also read others in the Isabel Dalhousie Novel series of McCall Smith and enjoyed the philosophical bent of this sleuth.  This time it took reading to the very end of the book to understand the context for the title.  Once the mystery was solved and things were returning to normal for Isabel and her husband, Jamie, they sat out looking at clouds on an unusually bright day in Edinburgh, Scotland, appreciating the beauty and different shapes of clouds as they passed by.  Their comments are simply an appreciation of the natural beauty of the world and their thankfulness for the lives they lead that allows them to love and appreciate each other.  Jamie says to Isabel that he sees her in the clouds.  What a lovely thought!

This is a gentle mystery told by a philosopher who loves to consider life’s questions, big and little, through his protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie, the editor of a little academic journal called “Review of Applied Ethics.”  Working out of her home on this journal and kibitzing child care responsibilities with her musician husband, Jamie, allows Isabel the freedom to research and investigate not only practical philosophical applications, but also mysteries.  She tackles tackles every issue by examining all sides before coming up with a solution or a decision.  In this book Isabel agrees to investigate the theft of a painting by Poussin from the collection of a wealthy landowner named Duncan Munrowe and she is employed to help negotiate a deal for the painting’s return and/or to determine who took the painting. She learned that from the insurance company’s point of view it was better to pay a ransom for art theft than to see a work destroyed and have to pay out millions on the estimated market value of a masterpiece painting.

At the same time Isabel and Jamie are confronted with a decision whether to allow their child sitter, Grace, to continue teaching their three-year-old, Charlie, mathematics.  Isabel and Jamie decide that he is too young and earn the indignation of their nanny for questioning her judgment.  Isabel also helps a young friend who works at Isabel’s niece’s sandwich shop to determine whether moving in with his girlfriend is the right decision in the face of the disapproval of the young woman’s parents.  Every issue is considered from all angles.  Isabel rarely seems to make a snap decision.

Those looking for a lot of action will not find the Isabel Dalhousie their cup of tea, but for those of us who enjoy a more leisurely inquiry into every day issues and problems will find the deliberations of McCall Smith’s sleuth, Isabel, refreshingly cerebral.

Liz Nichols

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The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris

The Hanging Shed” by Gordon Ferris claims to have become a number one e-book bestseller and is the first in the Douglas Brodie Series.  The novel introduces a recently returned World War II vet, Douglas Brodie, who grew up near Glasgow and did some duty as a policeman before the war, then decided to become a freelance journalist in London after the war.  A call from a long-lost school chum brings him back to Glasgow to help find evidence to clear his friend from a date with the gallows for purportedly committing a heinous murder of his former girlfriend’s son.  War vet, Hugh Donovan, was grievously burned and disfigured during the War and comes back to live off his military pension with little to live for besides a lot of alcohol, painkillers and a friendly relationship with his former girlfriend, now a war widow, and her son.

When accused of the murder of the young boy Donovan can not recall anything, but because evidence is found in his flat pointing to his guilt, he confesses as a way of just ending what he believes to be his worthless life.  His solicitor, Samantha Campbell, however, believes in his innocence, and the more Brodie investigates the more he also believes in Donovan’s innocence.  But can they prove it in time, and can they find the real perpetrator? Can they locate the bodies of all the other young boys who have also mysteriously disappeared over a number of years?

The Hanging Shed” is a well-written, tense thriller that requires Brodie and Campbell to race against a fatal deadline to gather enough facts to convince a judge to overturn Donovan’s conviction and an investigation that spans western Scotland, the island of Arran and Northern Ireland to find and punish the real perpetrators.  This was one of those novels that was hard to put down and is strongly recommended.

Liz Nichols

(Reviewed from a supplied copy.)