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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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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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Remains of Innocence by J A Jance

Those of you who have read my blog regularly know I am a fan of J.A. Jance.  I particularly like the Brady Novel of Suspense series, based on Jance’s fictional sheriff of Cochise County, AZ, Joanna Brady.  “Remains of Innocence” picks up the Brady story seven years in to her employment as the county’s elected sheriff.  Even though she continues to have a small staff she has evolved over the years into an effective team player, well respected by other emergency services in Cochise County and within Arizona as a whole.  She works effectively with the fire department’s emergency service teams, with the chief of the Bisbee police department and others.  In earlier books so much of each plot had to do with how Joanna would gain the trust of her own staff and of the various other departments within county and city government.  She is no longer an outsider with limited credibility.

In “Remains of Innocence” Jance very cleverly builds murder cases on opposite ends of the country and brings them together into a suspenseful climax in Brady’s home territory.  First, the mother of a young woman in Great Barrington, MA has to be hospitalized and when she dies the daughter, Liza Machett, sets to work cleaning out their home of the mess created by her hoarder of a mother.  Liza discovers that her mother has hidden some $150,000 in cash over the last 30 years in hundreds of books and magazines.  Liza no more than gathers all that up when she gets a cryptic message from one of the guests at her mother’s funeral that people her dad worked with when he drove a bread truck know what she has and will not forget that her dad cheated them.  She finds out from her boss that the dad who disappeared years before had worked for the Boston organized crime.  Soon, the house is burned down, and Liza’s boss helps her to escape via an “underground railway” put together for abused women.  As she heads across the country on an interesting, clandestine trip with a variety of truckers people back home start being tortured and killed, including the man who gave Liza the first warning and her boss.  She wonders what her hidden stash of cash has wrought on everyone she comes in contact with.

Meanwhile, in Bisbee, AZ Joanna is cooperating with the police chief on an investigation of the apparent murder of a mentally disabled man who is the foster son of two local coffee shop owners, all friends of Joanna’s.  The new medical examiner happens to be the brother of Liza Machett, and unbeknownst to anyone else, Liza is on her way across the country to consult with her brother about what she should do with the ill-gotten money her mother had hidden all these years.  By the time Liza got to Bisbee, however, her brother had also been tortured and murdered.  Joanna has two murders to solve, while at the other end of the country a detective in Great Barrington is working on at least two more murders.  Are all of these connected or separate?

Jance has a wonderful storytelling ability with a simple, descriptive style that drills right into the hearts and minds of her heroine, the victims, and often also the perpetrators.  It is easy to get involved in each case and to almost feel as a reader as if you are investigating the case right alongside Joanna Brady.  “Remains of Innocence” is no exception, and, in fact, is one of the most suspenseful of Jance’s offerings.

Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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Neurotic November by Barbara Levenson

Neurotic November” is the 4th in the “Mary Magruder Katz Mystery” series.  The author, Barbara Levenson, is a retired Miami area judge and she really knows how to make a suspenseful tale out of her expertise in the law and court proceedings.  She also is very good at describing Miami settings and lifestyles.

Mary Magruder Katz is Levenson’s fictional defense attorney in the Miami area.  In “Neurotic November”  Mary acquires a university football player as a client who is accused of statutory rape against minor.  He admits to having sex with the complainant, but Magruder Katz’s client claims to have been entrapped by a girl who misrepresented herself as a college student who had consensual sex.  The book brings up a very important message for all young adults to know.  In many states it is considered rape when anyone over 18 has sex with someone under the age of consent, usually set at age 16.  A few states will allow for a lesser charge, or will consider dropping charges, if there is less than a 5 year difference in age between the teen and the older partner.  In many states, however, judges have very little leeway but to send even those who had no idea they were dealing with a minor to prison and to put them on the sex offender list once they are out of prison.  Obviously, such a conviction would ruin someone for life.

Mary also agrees to defend her boyfriend’s father who is being questioned in connection with a money-laundering case.  This particular thread is only begun in this book and promises to be one of the main themes in Levenson’s next mystery. At the same time, Mary tries to aid her assistant, Catherine Aynsworth, who comes in bruised and battered from an ex-spouse.  When the former husband turns up dead the police accuse Catherine’s current love interest, Mary’s private investigator, Marco Perez.  Mary sets out to find out who really killed Brady Aynsworth and in the process Mary and her boyfriend, Carlos, become targets themselves.

There are enough twists and turns, plots and subplots to keep any mystery reader involved from the very first page of “Neurotic November.”  One of my favorite mysteries of 2014.  I could not put it down until I had read the book cover to cover.

Liz Nichols

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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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Mysteries by Bill Stackhouse

I have had a couple of Bill Stackhouse mysteries read and ready to review for some time now.  One is “Creature of Habit” a Caitlin O’Rourke Mystery.  The other is “Thin Ice” an Ed McAvoy Mystery.

I read “Thin Ice in the winter of 2013 and just never got around to writing about it.  In honor of the end of the terrible winter of 2014 here’s the review.  After his medical retirement from the Detroit Police Ed McAvoy takes the position of chief of police of the sleepy little Catskill mountain town of Peekamoose Heights, NY thinking life will be a little slower.  He ends up having to solve the murder of the owner of a mobile food truck and the attack and injury of a figure skating champion who is practicing for the annual Peekamoose Heights Winter Carnival.  Shades of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding incident.  There is also a significant mobster theme in this book, as is the case with the Caitlin O’Rourke  series.  Again, as is typical of Stackhouse novels there are lots of colorful characters to keep the reader entertained–and confused about who to blame for all the shenanigans.

Caitlin O’Rourke is a retired women’s Italian League pro volleyball player who starts a detective agency out of her apartment above the Irish pub she owns with her brother and sister-in-law in Nashville, TN.  She takes on the case of who killed a nun by pretending to be one herself.  This is the perfect disguise for protecting a young autistic girl who attends a convent school who may have witnessed the murder.  It takes Caitlin and the police detectives she works with a long time to realize that the is not just talking gibberish every time she is asked about what happened to Sister Joyce actually is giving her helpers clues.   Before that happens, however, Caitlin and her charges at the convent school are nearly taken out in a bombing to their dormitory.

I have a few qualms about the way Caitlin resolves this particular murder.  She leaves it up to a local mafia boss to police his own.  The longer the case goes on the more lies Caitlin tells the police and everyone else to protect her mafia sources.  Something tells me eventually her consorting with shady types will get her into big trouble.

Aside from having some ethical qualms about how Caitlin gets things done, she is a strong character and one who will appeal to many mystery fans.

Thin Ice” and “Creature of Habit” are b0th recommended.

Liz Nichols

 

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Eyes Closed Tight by Peter Leonard

As the son of master thriller writer, Elmore Leonard, Peter Leonard was born with mystery writing in his blood.  “Eyes Closed Tight” is his fifth novel.  It is a very satisfying read for those who like hard-bitten, no non-sense detective thrillers and Police procedurals.

Former Detroit police detective, O’Clair has retired to run a small motel on Pompano Beach with his twenty-something girl friend, Virginia.  He is hoping to get away from the daily grind of solving murders, but the murders just seem to follow him.  He discovers a dead woman arranged on a lounge chair on the beach in front of his motel.  The way the woman is left with her eyes excised with an x-acto knife reminds him of a couple murders he thought had been solved in the Detroit area.  If a similar murder is brought to his doorstep a thousand miles away from Detroit, then they either convicted the wrong guy of the crime, or there is a copy-cat killer running around Florida now.

Because of his knowledge of the old crime, his expertise, and the location of the latest case, O’Clair is quickly recruited by the local police to work on the case.  He also takes a trip to Detroit to work with his old police detective pals to determine whether they locked up the right guy in Detroit, or whether this is a new pattern of crimes with a similar MO.  It becomes apparent that whoever is perpetrating the murders in Pompano Beach is now interested in attacking O’Clair’s girl friend, Virginia, and the local PD need to keep a police bodyguard with her at least during the night while O’Clair is in Detroit.  Some of the murder and stalking scenes are real nail-bitters.

Eyes Closed Tight” is a very well-written and engaging detective thriller.  It’s an absorbing crime story that has enough twists and turns to keep the attention of even the most jaded detective thriller reader.  Chapters written in the voice of the killer add to the tension without really revealing who this cold-blooded killer really is until very close to the end.  Even though the primary reader of Leonard’s novel will be middle-aged men, the book is a little more sensitive to women than the typical hard-bitten detective story.  Virginia comes across as a very capable gal-pal who is equipped with her own toolbox and her own ability to get herself out of a fix.  Women readers will particularly appreciate Virginia.

Recommended.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

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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