Joanne’s Mystery Picks

A couple Canadian authors for you this week.

488814The Last Good Day by Gail Bowen

A  lawyer-friend of Joanne’s loans her his cottage, one of a number of homes owned by the lawyers of the same prestigious firm, for a couple of weeks during the summer.  When one of the lawyers seeks her out one night for advice and the following day commits suicide, Joanne is forced to look at this group of people in a new light.  Something unpleasant is percolating just under the surface and it’s affecting everyone.  People are on edge, tempers flare, arguments break out.  When Taylor wonders what her legacy would be if she were to die right now, at the age of eleven years, Joanne is seriously troubled at how the stress is affecting everyone and realizes the need to get to the bottom of whatever is going on.

As the events unfold, Bowen draws to a close, a story-line that has woven its way through the past few novels and I felt a profound sadness at having to say good-bye to a character that was equally loved and disliked.

This is Bowen’s 9th novel in the series and I found it to be the best one to date.  Its overwhelming sadness marks it as being just that much different from the ones that came before it.  It’s one that I’ll remember for a very long time.

18169832Come Barbarians by Todd Babiak

Christopher Kruse could have had no idea that his decision to move his family to the south of France would change their lives forever.  He thought that by moving, he could start afresh, put his life as a high-risk security agent and the evils that came with that position, behind him.  But what he encounters here is far worse than anything he was escaping from and the loss that he suffers weighs him down like a too-heavy cloak upon his shoulders.  Kruse becomes tangled in a web of the powerful and corrupt as he tries to make sense of the horror that has unravelled his life.

Babiak has created an intense, face-paced story where the games that politicians play lead to murder and where his protagonist has to dig deep within himself, beyond all loss and pain, to maintain his humanity.

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

25790847Bryant & May: Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler

The mighty River Thames; Houdini; New Age healing; hallucinations; and Alzheimer’s: they are all topics in this latest installment of the cases of Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit.  Again Fowler takes what seem to be disparate themes, and weaves together a brilliant tale.

The body of a young woman is found chained to a post at low-tide, with only one set of footsteps indicating her journey to that spot.  Reminiscent of a locked-room mystery, the team scramble to work out how she came to be there.  In the meantime, Arthur’s periods of forgetfulness are becoming more frequent and are now including delusions, and he’s eventually confined to his home.  There, he’s able to ruminate on the case and consult with the many odd and eccentric characters that periodically help him.  It always comes back to the “River” for him.

May makes a poor judgement call and is suspended from duties, further complicating matters for his co-workers.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team is quickly learning that without Bryant’s presence in the Unit, they just don’t function.  He’s the cog in the wheel that keeps everything rolling along, regardless of his forgetfulness. When a suspect becomes clear to the Unit, there is no immediate evidence to actually tie them to the crimes.  And the River keeps calling them…perhaps Bryant is right…and it is the clue to the solution.

A great read!

51hy2bgbenkl-_sx328_bo1204203200_Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

This third book in the Cormoran Strike series hits a very gruesome note.  When a package is addressed and delivered to Robin at Strike’s office, it is revealed to be the severed leg of a young woman.  Strike is certain that one of three persons is responsible for this possible murder, the least being his former stepfather, Jeff Whittaker.  Foreshadowing of the disturbing events to come is done chapter by chapter with quotations from the many songs by the heavy-metal rock band, Blue Oyster Cult.

As Strike pursues the suspects on his list, Robin takes the initiative to explore related avenues, which expose her to great danger.

I could do without the gory details of the many and various body parts that are hacked off and the methods that the killer uses to bring down his victims, often recited to us in the first person.  To me it’s a bit too “over the top” – almost to the point of being gratuitous violence.

What I do like is how Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) fleshes out the characters of Strike and Robin, describing their respective back stories.  There’s no doubt that Robin is the star in this novel.  She’s become more confident and assertive in both her private and professional life, and we are now able to understand why these things have been so difficult for her, given what we now know of her history.

I’m anxious to see where the story goes from here as the surprises at the end of this novel have the potential to push it forward in many directions.  Cormoran and Robin are quite the team and I look forward to reading more of them, but with less gore to their cases!


Joanne’s Mystery Picks

25897794The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

Little Walsingham, a medieval town in England, is known to be very spiritual.

While Ruth’s friend, Cathbad, is cat-sitting for a friend there, he sees what  he believes to be an apparition of a woman standing at a graveside in the cemetery.  When the body of a woman matching her description is found in a ditch the following day, it’s apparent that what Cathbad saw was real flesh and blood.

Meanwhile, Ruth is contacted by Hilary, a former classmate, and now an Anglican priest.  She’s been receiving threatening, misogynistic letters and asks for Ruth’s advice.  Is there a connection between the woman that Cathbad saw and the letters that Hilary has received or is it simply a coincidence that the two things have presented themselves at the same time?

Meanwhile, Nelson is having problems on the homefront and one of his team has requested a transfer.

When another murder is committed everyone bands together to find the guilty party before more people are harmed.

Griffiths always adds a bit of humour in the midst of the corpses in her novels.  I love her Ruth character because she’s so real – down to earth and ordinary and someone that the reader can easily identify with.  She’s just so human and she makes me laugh!

9781510009806London Rain by Nicola Upson

It’s 1937 and the coronation day of King George VI.  BBC Radio will be broadcasting an adaptation of Josephine Tey’s play, Queen of Scots, and Josephine is sitting in on rehearsals.  In the course of the rehearsal a real-life love triangle is revealed when it’s learned that the play’s leading actress is sleeping with Anthony Beresford, THE newsman of the day while his wife, Vivienne, shocked and humiliated, works at the BBC.  Later, at the height of the festivities of the day, Beresford is shot dead in the broadcasting booth.

DCI Archie Penrose, Josephine’s friend, heads the case but it proves to be much more complicated than he originally thinks.  Two more people are murdered and it takes Josephine’s wit to unravel a history of lies and secrets going back years, to get to the truth of the deaths.

Upson captures the atmosphere and excitement of the time with such accuracy that one can almost imagine being there.

The real Josephine Tey is one of my favorite authors and from my perspective, her book The Daughter of Time is one of the best mysteries of its day and a must-read for all mystery lovers.  So it’s very interesting to see how Upson takes this real person and re-creates her as a character in her series of novels.  Since I jumped into this series with this book, there’s lots of back-story that I’m not aware of so I’ll be going back to read her series from the beginning, starting with An Expert in Murder.

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

15751561Last Bus to Woodstock: The 1st Inspector Morse Mystery by Colin Dexter

There’s always a danger when reading the books that a TV series is based on that one will prefer the TV program to the books and that the actors on the program will not “fit” with the characters in the book. That danger doesn’t exist with the first Morse book. For Morse, in Dexter’s first book in this series, is so very different from the Morse portrayed on TV by John Thaw that it’s easy to treat the book and the TV series as completely separate entities. Yes, there are commonalities between the Morses: their love of Wagner, crossword puzzles, and the “occasional” pint, but there the similarities seem to end. Dexter’s Morse is not so self-assured; he second-guesses himself and waffles between the obvious and the obscure. When a young woman is found murdered in the car park of a pub, Morse determines that a sexual predator is at large and that the public is in danger. But with each lead dismissed, Morse struggles to make sense of the crime, believing that it needs to be seen in a different light. We see a small part of the private Morse and get a brief glimpse of his vulnerability. One of the more shocking aspects of this novel is the attitude that the characters have to the crime. Such an attitude would not be tolerated today, but then this book was published in 1975, when that was the status quo. It will be interesting to see if “book vs TV series” continues to be as dissimilar as this first instance as I work my way through the rest of the novels. One thing is for certain and that is that I liked the book equally as well as the TV program that was based on it.


languageThe Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Detective Esa Khattak and his partner Detective Rachel Getty of Canada’s Community Policing Section are thrust into the center of a terrorist cell that is planning an attack on New Year’s Day.  Khattack’s friend, Mohsin Dar, working as an informant for INSET, Canada’s national security team, has been killed while investigating this cell.  With Rachel undercover in the mosque that houses the cell, Khattak works the periphery, gathering what information he can to identify the target of the attack.

Family plays a prominent role in this novel.  The members of the cell must work together as a family to achieve their goal and Esa, as head of his family, must act harshly at times, to guarantee the safety of his.

Khan’s beautiful writing can make us shiver as she describes Rachel’s trek across the snowy sidewalk and warm us all the way through as Rachel takes her first sip of a cup of steaming hot chocolate.

The author has given us a wonderfully intense mystery, layered with compassion, forgiveness ,and acceptance and characters who speak to our humanity.


Joanne’s Mystery Picks

ontheboneOn the Bone by Barbara Nadel

Truth, lies and family secrets: against a background of foodies and a chef who exceeds the boundaries of “good taste”, Nadel has crafted a novel that touches so many bases.

Inspector Cetin Ikmen and his colleague Mehmet Suleyman become incidental as the story unravels. We hear little of Ikmen’s family life or Suleyman’s mistress, Gonca. It’s the story of how and why Umit Kavas dropped dead on the street of Beyoglu that needs to be told and why his body showed that he’d indulged in the last taboo.

She shows us the precipitous slope that “not telling” can lead to and its effect on an entire family. The power of the internet, the radicalization of young people, and ISIS in all its horror are graphically examined and should make any parent aware of the dangers to their children, causing them to carefully monitor their computer use.

The novel lacks a lot of the humour present in the other Ikmen stories, but then humour really doesn’t have much of a place in a story of such unsettling themes. It’s one of those novel that will stay with you for a long time while you contemplate the “what ifs” in your own life.

200px-CuckoosCallingCoverThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Cormoran Strike is having a bad day. He has just broken up with his fiancée of 15+ years and is now virtually homeless, resorting to sleeping in his office. His PI business is floundering, and he is up to his eyebrows in debt. His prosthetic leg (the result of his tour in Afghanistan) is giving him grief and the temp agency has sent him another secretary who is surplus to his needs.

And then John Bristow walks through the door. Wealthy, and the brother of Charlie and Lula, both now deceased, Bristow could just be Cormoran’s ticket out of his troubles. Charlie, a school mate of Cormoran’s, died years ago when he rode his bike into a quarry; Lula Landry, the famous model, committed suicide a few months back by jumping out of her apartment window – or so the police concluded. It’s Lula’s death that Bristow wants Cormoran to investigate because he believes it was anything but suicide.

So Cormoran insinuates himself into the world of high fashion, rock stars, and dysfunctional families (the least of which is his very own).

Galbraith (the pseudonym of J. K. Rowling) has created a fresh new character in Cormoran – someone who endears himself to the reader after the first chapter. I enjoyed every page of this novel – the humour, the cleverness of the plot, and the well formed characters. Cormoran is a character I want to read more of!