Joanne’s Mystery Picks

long callThe Long Call
By Ann Cleeves

Saying good-bye to Cleeves’ great character, Jimmy Perez, in Wild Fire, the last book in that series, was difficult so I welcomed the thought that there was a new detective in town with this first book in the Two Rivers series.  My excitement was short-lived as I began reading, puzzled at the underdeveloped, wooden characters and a plot that consisted of threads of a story that just didn’t tie together.  I felt like I was reading an outline, or at best, a first draft.

Detective Matthew Venn returns to North Devon to attend the funeral of his father.  His falling-out with his family is referenced but no substance is given to this estrangement.  When a body is found on the beach, and it’s determined to be a murder, Venn is called in to take the case.  

Peopled with some of the most distasteful characters that I’ve come across in a long time, the motivation and actions of some of them just doesn’t ring true.   Many of the story lines and characters needed extensive fleshing-out in order to come together to create a credibly good mystery. Too bad this wasn’t done before the book went to publication.

2 Daggers
Joanne gives this “2 daggers out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

36204075THE WORD IS MURDER by Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz is a multi-talented author and screenwriter.  He’s the creator and writer of the TV series Foyle’s War and has contributed scripts to Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Midsomer Murders.  His mystery and suspense novels for adults are cleverly plotted, and he has a large following of young adult readers for his Alex Rider series and The Power of Five series.

The novel begins when Diana Cowper walks into a funeral parlor to plan her own service.   Little does she know how timely her visit will be, for a mere six hours later she is found dead – strangled – in her own home.  Daniel Hawthorne, a strange and eccentric police investigator is given the case.

Hawthorne is set on having his life and work documented as he goes about his investigations and he chooses Anthony Horowitz to act as his ghost writer!  So here we have the “real” Horowitz as a character in his own book.  At times the reader has to sort out if what Horowitz is alluding to is in this book’s plot or something in his real life, which makes for very interesting reading.

At times amusing, this novel provides enough twists and turns and a simply brilliant ending to please even the most critical reader.  This is Horowitz at his best.

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

original_400_600WILD FIRE by Ann Cleeves

In the Acknowledgements, prior to the beginning of this book, Cleeves states that this is the last Shetland novel that she’ll write.  For the reader, this means that she needs to wrap up the stories about Jimmy Perez and his team.

This novel is all about dysfunctional relationships and families and I felt that the characters were simply shadows on the page – even Jimmy Perez wasn’t fully formed and we “know” him.   When the body of a young nanny is found hanging in the barn of recent newcomers to the island, the gossip about her and the families involved, takes off like “wild fire”.  Jimmy, along with his boss, Willow Reeves, has to sort out the truth from the lies and innuendo while dealing with their own fractured relationship.

The investigation into this incident is haphazard, darting here and there without any real pattern.  Leads are quickly acted on, then simply dropped when someone else comes forward with information, never again to be pursued.  The solution appears contrived and leads the reader to ask “how did we get here?”

This is certainly a disappointing ending to a series that I’ve enjoyed reading through eight novels.  Maybe it’s just as well that it’s the last installment.

 

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

HEART OF THE CITYheart-of-the-city-9781476740577_hr  by Robert Rotenberg

After the events in Stranglehold Ari Greene distances himself from his life as a cop and takes a job on a construction site for a new condo development in Toronto.  His life has been changed dramatically with the discovery of a 21 year old daughter of whom he had no prior knowledge.  When he stumbles across the body of Livingston Fox, condo developer, he is reluctantly thrust back into his former life, in pursuit of a vicious murderer who does not stop at killing only Fox.

After an awkward reconciliation with Daniel Kennicott, his protégé, Greene and he join forces once again as they follow the money in the high-stakes world of downtown development in pursuit of Fox’s murderer.  Like any case, once you crack the secrets you’ve pretty much cracked the case.  In this case, some of those secrets strike very close to home for Greene.

Rotenberg provides us with a first-class mystery as the suspects start adding up.

It’s Greene who works it all out in the end – to a startling and unexpected conclusion.

THE SEAGULL by Ann Cleeves35963210

When Vera is asked to visit her local prison to give a talk on the repercussions of crime on its victims, she’s confronted by former DS John Brace, now an inmate for corruption and his role in a death.  He wants to strike a deal with Vera. He’s prepared to provide her with information about the disappearance of Robbie Marshall, a notorious figure at the time he disappeared almost twenty years ago.  In return, he wants Vera to look out for his daughter and grandchildren.

Vera’s investigation into this cold case plunges her back in time to her years living with her father, Hector, and brings up disturbing memories of his illegal activities.

Marshall was someone she remembers as having visited their house along with Brace and two others, all friends of Hector.

The more Vera digs into this case, the closer it gets to home. With Hector being one of the last people to see Marshall alive, Vera is forced to consider the possibility that Hector was involved in Marshall’s death.  As Vera reflects on this time in her life we’re given a better understanding of how her past and her years of living with Hector in such a dysfunctional household have formed the person she is today.

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

97569THE CROW TRAP by Ann Cleeves

Secrets and betrayal – so often the stuff of a good mystery.  Cleeves’ first Vera Stanhope novel is steeped in both.  When three women are brought together to work on an environmental study, they each come with their own share of secrets.

And they each wear the cloak of betrayal.  Cleeves fleshes out each character admirably and makes them come alive on the page.  There’s Rachael whose confidence has been shattered by her lover and boss, Peter Kemp; Anne, who isn’t above playing a few unkind games, herself; and Grace, a timid-seeming woman whose past is a dominant presence in her life.  When Rachael arrives at Baikie’s Cottage, the project site, she discovers the body of her friend, Bella Furness.  Bella has hanged herself and Rachael finds this impossible to believe.  One could say that “the clock starts ticking” from this point as Rachael is determined to prove that Bella did not take her own life.

When another death occurs, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope makes her appearance and Rachael is forced to re-evaluate everything that’s happened.

With her casual and seemingly innocuous comments and questions, Vera is able to form a comprehensive time-line of events that point to the only person who could possibly be responsible for what has happened.

This is a cleverly crafted mystery where no comment or piece of information, however seemingly unimportant, should be dismissed.

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

71jxarwhpvlA LESSON IN DYING by Ann Cleeves

What a difference nine years makes!  This is the interval between the publication of this book and Cleeves’ first Vera Stanhope novel.  After reading this, the first Inspector Ramsay mystery, I’m glad to say that Cleeves certainly has improved as a writer.

The Northumberland town of Heppleburn is peopled with unlikeable characters, beginning with the odious headmaster, Harold Medburn, who is found hanged wearing his academic gown.

Ramsay is called in to investigate the case and with every new page we find him jumping to conclusions.  The school caretaker and his daughter decide to investigate the murders and Ramsay encourages them to do so, something that no proper Inspector would ever do.

Cardboard characters with no reasonable motivation, along with a poorly crafted plot make this a very disappointing read.