Joanne’s Mystery Picks

drowned livesDrowned Lives
By Stephen Booth

As a fan of Booth’s Cooper and Fry series, I was looking forward to reading this standalone mystery .  However, disappointment lay between the pages of this much-too-long tome. I can only wonder how lengthy this book was before the editor whittled it down because there was so much more that could have been deleted without losing the tone of the story, which was poor, at best.

Chris Buckley, a not too likeable character, has recently lost his parents, is facing redundancy and has entered into a business partnership in a rather dubious endeavor.  He is approached by an elderly man, Samuel Longden, who states that 

he is a distant relative of Chris’ and is writing a book about their family history and could use Chris’ help.  Chris is not at all interested in any collaboration with Longden and decides to forego a pre-arranged meeting with him only to later learn that Longden has been killed in a hit and run accident.  

Longden has left Chris a legacy in his will but only if Chris completes the book.  With his finances being severely strained, Chris decides to take on this task. With the introduction of Chris’ extensive family, I found it very confusing as to where to place each person on the family tree and how they were related to one another.  In some cases a character would appear briefly, interacting with Chris, and then drop out of the story for another hundred pages, leaving the reader to wonder what their importance was and how they fit into the mystery.

Reading the last page of this book was more of a “thank goodness that’s over” than “what a good story”.   I expected more of this author.  

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

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Do’s & Don’ts for Christmas Reads:

Silent Night Deadly Night

So what are you looking for in a Christmas mystery?

If you’re looking for an atmospheric, cozy mystery then choose something by Canadian writer, Vicki Delany.  Her latest novel, Silent Night, Deadly Night, has a good mystery at its core as the residents of Rudolph (a year-round Christmas community) are subjected to a group of “grinches” who almost kill the spirit of Christmas.  Christmas lives, but one of the grinches does not.  

yule log murder

I’d steer away from Leslie Meier’s latest – Yule Log Murder.  A shallower group of characters you’ll never find.  And when it comes to plot? Well, you’d get more satisfaction from reading the back of a cereal box!

It is said that “variety is the spice of life” and you’ll find that in christmas at the mysterious bookshopabundance in Otto Penzler’s anthology: Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop.  For seventeen years Penzler (owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York), commissioned a Christmas story from a leading suspense writer.  The stories were printed as pamphlets (a limited number of 1000 only) and handed out to the customers as a Christmas present. All seventeen are now contained in one volume and there are certainly some gems amongst them.

humbug murders

L.J. Oliver’s The Humbug Murders is the first book in The Ebenezer Scrooge Mystery series.  Scrooge is tasked with investigating the murder of his former boss, Fezziwig, when Fezziwig’s ghost visits him one night.  The book is peopled by so many of the characters from Dickens’ novels that some simply pop in, make an appearance and then disappear, never to be heard of again.  About the only character we don’t encounter is Madame Defarge! Overstuffed with characters, and a series of repulsive crimes make this a most unenjoyable read.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All.  May you find some great “reads” under your Christmas tree!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

challinorChristmas is Murder
By C.S. Challinor

Rex Graves, Q.C., is invited to spend Christmas at Swanmere Manor, a Victorian hotel in the English countryside, by his mother’s friend, the eccentric Dahlia Smithings.  The other hotel guests reads like cast of characters from a stage play – the tipsy handyman, the newlywed couple, the gay antiques dealer and his partner, the secretive writer, and the femme fatale.

When old Mr. Lawdry is found dead in the drawing room and Rex determines the death to be a murder, the tension amongst the guests increases.  The situation is further complicated when a snowstorm takes out the phone lines and makes it impossible to go for help. When two more people, with no apparent connection to one another are murdered, Rex takes it upon himself to suss out the killer.  

Filled with clichés, risqué innuendos, and a few funny moments, this book can help you bide the time if you, too, are snowed in and the phone lines are down!

Don’t take it too seriously – it’s meant to be a bit of a laugh.

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

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

hpcHercule Poirot’s Christmas
By Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie published this book in 1938.  But the story is timeless. Other than a brief mention of events in another part of the world, one could easily assume that this was a contemporary novel.

Simeon Lee, the patriarch of a family of four, insists that each of his children come home for Christmas.  But don’t think that he plans on playing “happy families”. His intentions are the complete opposite. He does everything to goad each of his children by insulting them and denying their petty grievances and long-held grudges.  Before the first Christmas cracker is even pulled, he’s found bludgeoned to death in his locked bedroom.

When the Chief Constable of Middleshire receives a call about the murder, he asks Poirot, who is spending Christmas with him, to come along while he investigates.  Poirot’s ability to stand back, observe and listen is his forte. It’s not his “little grey cells” (who aren’t even mentioned), that allow him to understand the “human condition”, but his powers of observation.  And it’s always that one word, or gesture, or look that, when observed by Poirot, seals the fate of the murderer.

A more clever mystery you won’t find.  There’s a reason that Agatha Christie is known as “The Queen of Crime” and this novel says it all.

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

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”