Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Road to Grantchester coverThe Road to Granchester by James Runcie

Though not a mystery in itself, this volume is a prequel to the Grantchester mystery series (books) and gives us a picture of what led Sydney Chambers to his calling as a vicar.  It is 1938 and war is on the horizon. Sydney Chambers spends the next seven years serving his country, gaining a Military Cross, and suffers the loss of friends and companions. Everything that’s happened to him during this time shapes his future as a private citizen and a member of the clergy.  It gives us an understanding of why he thinks the way he does and helps explain the reasons for the actions that he takes in his day to day life. 

This is a must-read for everyone who has enjoyed reading the Grantchester Mysteries.

4 Daggers
Joanne gives this “4 daggers out of 5”

madoc and janet rhys.pngThe Madoc and Janet Rhys Mysteries by Charlotte MacLeod:

  • A Pint of Murder
  • Murder Goes Mumming
  • A Dismal Thing to Do
  • Trouble in the Brasses
  • The Wrong Rite

This cozy mystery series by Canadian author Charlotte MacLeod features Inspector Madoc Rhys of the RCMP and his wife Janet.  For the most part, the stories take place in New Brunswick. I look at them as being a cross between a good Agatha Christie novel, a bit of the Murdoch Mysteries (the TV series) and a touch of the Beverly Hillbillies.

The books are peopled with funny, colorful, and eccentric characters.  The plots are intricate and well-crafted and the mystery of “who dunnit” is not easily solved.  It’s a delightful series, providing many laughs as I paged through each book. How unfortunate that there are only five books to this series.  I would gladly have read an additional five if they existed.

4 Daggers
Joanne gives this “4 daggers out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

We All Fall DownWe All Fall Down by Daniel Kalla

The killer in this novel by Canadian author Daniel Kalla is not a person.  The killer is the bubonic plague. Alana Vaughan is an infectious disease specialist with NATO and is called to Genoa, Italy, to attend a patient suffering from the disease.  Could it be bioterrorism or is there another explanation?

Alternating between the modern story with Alana Vaughan and the story contained in an eight-hundred-year-old medieval journal, Kalla pulls no punches when describing the horrible progression of this usually fatal disease and the suffering of its victims.

The clock is ticking as Vaughan and her team hunt for patient zero.  As the disease spreads, it’s a race to stop it from reaching epidemic proportions.

A great thriller that’s hard to put down once you read the first page.

4 Daggers
Joanne gives this “4 daggers out of 5”

A high mortality dovesA High Mortality of Doves by Kate Ellis

The one word that comes to mind when I describe this book is “bland”.  Everything about it is bland – the characters, the atmosphere (or lack thereof), the language, and the story.  It just doesn’t live up to the intriguing title and I found it to be a real disappointment.

It is 1919, just after WWI, though it could be any time as the author does nothing concrete to make the reader aware of when the events are taking place. In the Derbyshire village of Wenfield, young women are being murdered and found with a dead dove stuffed into their mouths.  When the local constabulary is unable to make any headway in finding the killer, Inspector Albert Lincoln of Scotland Yard is called in to handle the case. However, Lincoln’s personal problems and his general inertia leave the reader with little confidence in his abilities to do his job properly.

The story unfolds sluggishly, and even the surprise ending cannot redeem it. 

One Dagger
Joanne gives this “1 dagger out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Cold GraniteCold Granite by Stuart MacBride

Any account of child murder, whether it’s ripped from the headlines or found between the covers of a mystery novel, is disturbing .  MacBride’s debut novel, set in Aberdeen, Scotland, and featuring DS Logan McRae is certainly not for the faint of heart. A child murderer is at large and his indignities to the bodies of these little souls is truly gruesome.

If DS McRae thought that he’d be able to ease back into work after a year on sick leave, he had another thing coming.  The strangled and mutilated body of a four-year-old boy has been found in a ditch and they’ve pulled out all the stops to find his killer.  But David Reid’s body won’t be the last one they find.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could find anything to laugh at in a novel such as this, given its subject matter, but MacBride is able to slide in bits and pieces that do make the reader laugh out loud.  DS Logan himself can be a load of laughs, as he slogs his way through the bitterly cold December in Aberdeen, cursing at Angus Robertson and his six-inch hunting knife which were responsible for his year of sick leave.  Meanwhile, it seems that his superior’s major preoccupation is with his role in the upcoming Christmas panto, which inspires some very creative insults from DS Logan.

Colourful, complex characters, an atmosphere of cold, dark and death, and a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It doesn’t get better than this when it comes to a mystery!

5 Daggers
Joanne gives this “5 daggers out of 5”.

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Mountain Master of Sha-TinThe Mountain Master of Sha Tin by Ian Hamilton

Ava is thrust into a violent and volatile situation when her good friend, Xu, the Mountain Master, asks her to settle a triad war that has broken out in Hong Kong because he is too ill to leave his bed. She is forced to work against her arch enemy Sammy Wing and his nephew Carter – the new Mountain Master of Sha Tin – as they attempt to regain control of Wanchai.

Hamilton provides a comprehensive summary of Ava’s adventures to this point, providing any new reader with enough backstory to make the events in this novel understandable. However, I always recommend that one reads a series from the beginning as there are often subtle references in previous novels that become germane to subsequent stories.

The violence is ramped up in this novel and Ava is forced to do things that she’d rather not have to. Uncle’s presence is felt more than it ever has been since he died, almost as if he is reassuring Ava that she is following the right path. Her years of working as a forensic accountant have trained her well in approaching complex problems and she falls back on the tricks of the trade that she polished to perfection with Uncle by her side.

Offsetting the violence, Hamilton provides a subplot involving Pang Fai, Ava’s friend and lover, which opens the door to some interesting potential plots. I wonder if he’ll incorporate them in his next novel, The Diamond Queen of Singapore, due out in July 2020.

4 Daggers
Joanne gives this “4 daggers out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Lost manThe Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Australian Outback is a punishing environment even for those who know it well and respect it.  So how did Cameron Bright come to be where his body was found – at the legendary stockman’s grave – without any provisions or even a vehicle to get him safely back home?  This is the major question that is posed by this standalone novel by Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.  And this is the question that Nathan, the oldest of the three Bright brothers, tries to find the answer to. 

Harper’s ability to create such tangible atmosphere in her novels is critical to how the reader reacts to the whole story.  Here we suffer the heat and dryness of the Outback to the point of thirst; feel the grit of the sand between our teeth; and feel the sweat as it soaks into our clothes.  We can only imagine, in horror, what Cameron felt while slowing dying in the heat and relentless sun.

In The Roar of the Crowd by Janice MacDonald, one or her characters says: “literature teaches us that subtext and back story is where everything really happens”.  This couldn’t be more true than it is in this novel. Despite being estranged from his family for ten years, Nathan is determined to solve the tragic mystery surrounding his brother, Cameron.  But there are so many secrets and so much pain to get through…

Make sure you add this book to your list of “must reads” along with Harper’s first two, if you haven’t read them already.

5 Daggers
Joanne gives this “5 daggers out of 5”.