Joanne’s Mystery Pick

s-l225THE BLACK CAT by Martha Grimes

For the past year, I’ve been reading Grimes’ Richard Jury novels in order and for the most part they’ve provided a good read.  Throughout the series, certain cases have taken their toll on Jury and he reflects upon them in subsequent novels.  I like to think that this makes him appear more “human” and believable as a character.  The Black Cat continues a story arc started two novels previously in The Old Wine Shades and the following novel, Dust, with the character Harry Johnson.  As a villain, Harry’s a pretty likeable guy, until you remember what he’s accused of doing.  Jury knows he’s guilty of horrible crimes but just cannot get the goods on him.  Harry sits at the periphery of the main stories in The Black Cat (a woman is found murdered in the garden of a pub of the same name and only a cat is witness to the crime); and Dust (a wealthy bachelor is murdered in his hotel room).

Some might call Grimes’ novels formulaic with the ever-present young, precocious child and her cat or dog; Melrose Plant’s bumbling about as a gardener, or a scholar (of Henry James, no less, in Dust); and the ubiquitous cups of tea that Wiggins’ partakes of at every stop along the way of whichever case they’re working on.  I like the humour that these things bring to the novels and often find myself laughing out loud.  They help to down-play some of the more gritty bits that we’re exposed to.

Will Jury finally get his man and have enough evidence to arrest Harry Johnson?  I do hope so because he should never get away with what he’s done.  Perhaps that evidence will be produced in Vertigo 42, Grimes’ most recent novel in this series.  I’ll be reading it with baited breath!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

9781782062080EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE: ENZO FILES #1 by Peter May

 It all starts with a wager to prove that a cold case can be solved with new scientific methods. Enzo Macleod, forensic scientist, jumps at the chance to solve the disappearance of Jacques Gaillard, former advisor to the Prime Minister, who went missing ten years previously.  Using the information that Roger Raffin, journalist and author of a book on the seven highest profile unsolved murders has compiled, Enzo follows a trail that begins with doodles on a pad of paper. As each clue takes him to a cache of other clues, his search takes on the feel of a scavenger hunt, leading him to the countryside around Paris.

Hovering in the background is Enzo’s constant worry about his two daughters.  He’s estranged from his eldest and worried that his youngest is throwing her life away on a guy with no future.  His worry is intensified when he realizes that his search might be putting his own family in danger.

May has written a good puzzler with interesting descriptions of Paris and its environs.  It’s only when the last piece of the puzzle is put in place that the true picture comes into focus.

jar-cityJar City by Arnaldur Indridason

When Inspector Erlendur of the Reykjavik police is called to the apartment of Holberg, an old man, he finds him dead, the apparent victim of a murder.

As he begins his investigation, Erlendur discovers that the reasons for Holberg’s murder date back many years and may include the twenty five year old disappearance of a co-worker, and the non-criminal death of a seven year old girl.

Arnaldur Indridason’s novel (translated from the Icelandic) has been critically acclaimed and has garnered him a Gold Dagger Award.  Based on these criteria, one could assume that he is a “good” writer.  This certainly doesn’t come across in my reading of this mystery.

I found the writing to be stilted and choppy, with no fluidity between sentences.  There were no gentle segues between scene changes and I noticed a number of inconsistencies in the details as the story unfolded.  Missing were those nuances that flesh out a character –humour, compassion, and kindness.  The characters didn’t have conversations with each other, but shouting matches instead. Erlendur’s daughter, a drug-addict, was particularly unlikeable and the way that she talked to her father was beyond disrespectful.  The comments that the coroner made during the autopsy of a seven year old girl were more than insensitive: they were absolutely despicable, and I found this scene to be very disturbing.  (Bernard Scudder, Translator)

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

mistletoe-science-631__800x600_q85_cropTHE MISTLETOE MURDER AND OTHER STORIES by P.D. James

In “The Mistletoe Murder”, a crime novelist recounts the details of a murder that she was involved in fifty years previously.

In “A Very Commonplace Murder”, a filing clerk recounts his reasons for not coming forward as a witness to a murder.

Two of the stories in this collection feature Adam Dalgliesh.  In “The Twelve Clues of Christmas” he’s a newly promoted Sergeant, where even at this early point in his career, his perspicacity is evident as he gathers information from an unseemly group of family members while their Uncle lies dead in his bed, of an apparent suicide.

In “The Boxdale Inheritance”, Dalgliesh is asked by his godfather to reinvestigate a sixty-seven year old murder that involves a family member.

Each of the four short stories in this collection is an absolute gem.

They contain many of the elements of P.D. James’ work that we’ve come to admire: her wit, her cleverness, and her understanding of human nature.

Each story is a carefully-plotted sumptuous little mystery.

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.