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!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

princeling of nanjing

The Princeling of Nanjing by Ian Hamilton

Ava and her two partners in the Three Sisters investment firm are in Shanghai for the launch of the new clothing line, Po. Xu is her guest during the wining and dining of prospective clients and their conversation turns to problems that he’s having with his business. The powerful Tsai family is trying to force him to go back into the drug business and Xu knows that if he does, it will mean disaster for him on many scales. Ava offers to look into the family’s business dealings in the hopes that she can find something that will allow Xu to fend them off.

What she finds is corruption on a massive scale. And this corruption doesn’t end with the Tsai family – it reaches beyond their province and into the UK and U.S. where powerful political personages are implicated.

At a few points in the novel Ava voices her concern that she’s brought too many people into the equation. As a reader, I found it hard to keep track of all the characters, even with the chart that Ava made outlining who’s who. I actually wanted to skip those sections where detailed descriptions of the relationshipsbetween certain characters were given, as I found them too confusing.

This novel didn’t generate the same level of excitement as Hamilton’s earlier novels, but it did leave me wanting more. And as always with his novels, it left me with a real hunger for Chinese food!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

burningmanBryant & May and the Burning Man by Christopher Fowler

There’s no doubt in my mind that Christopher Fowler is a brilliant wordsmith!  His latest chronicle of the Peculiar Crimes Unit is proof of this. A more clever, witty, smart and “edge of your seat suspenseful” tome I haven’t read in a very long time.

It’s chaos in London, leading up to Guy Fawke’s night. Demonstrators are up-in-arms over the scandal involving a wealthy financier who’s been accused of insider trading. When a homeless man is found dead, burned  after a Molotov cocktail was thrown onto the steps where he was sleeping, the Unit are called in to investigate whether this was an accident or pre-meditated murder. And what’s up with Bryant? He seems more distracted than ever. Meanwhile his many odd contacts (comparable to  Sherlock Holmes’ “Baker Street Irregulars”), help to flesh out the strange tangents that he goes off on.

Filled with history, metaphor, and those odd bits of trivia that Fowler so cleverly adds, “The Burning Man” is most definitely his best to date.

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

detectivesduaghterThe Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thomson

Stella Darnell is meticulous. As owner of the cleaning company, “Clean Slate”, she has to be. The reader soon realizes that this isn’t the only reason for her obsessive cleanliness. After all she still has the plastic cover on her living room furniture, doesn’t vary her daily schedule one iota, and keeps her watch three minutes fast (something her father, retired CS Terry Darnell, always did). She’s hard on herself – harder than on anyone else. Is it because of having an absent father during her childhood? A father who was so consumed with work that he didn’t first see his new daughter until two days after her birth?

When Stella begins clearing out Terry’s house after his sudden death, she comes across confidential case files relating to the unsolved murder of Kate Rokesmith. It was a case that consumed Terry during Stella’s childhood and continued to do so right up until his death.

Meanwhile, “Clean Slate” is taking on more clients and Stella needs to recruit new cleaners. When Jack Harmon comes on board, she realizes that he’s the best cleaner that she’s ever had even given his odd behaviour. As these two mismatched people begin working together they take on more than they ever bargained for.

I liked the premise of this mystery and it was a fairly compelling read. The switching between past and present during the first part of the book was confusing at times and I found myself re-reading pages just to figure out  where I was in the story. This technique is a common one and usually better managed than it is in this novel.