Posts tagged: mystery

Book review: Bury Him Darkly

By , May 29, 2015

Bury Him DarklyBury Him Darkly

by John Blackburn

What is it about ancient vaults moldering in the bowels of abandoned, crumbling estates that compel folks to want to open ‘em? Every dang time.

In John Blackburn’s Bury Him Darkly, the folks in question include a wealthy industrialist, an obsessive biographer, an elderly German scientist, a respected scholar and a local journalist. Each has their own reason for wanting the Church – responsible for protecting the security of Martin Railstone’s tomb, according to his final and specific instructions – to finally allow the opening of the crypt before the valley is flooded as part of a civil engineering project. Most of these reasons revolve around the possibility that Railstone was a genius and was buried with important works of art and science. On the opposing team is the Dean of Lanchester, convinced that the deceased individual was likely insane and definitely evil.

Part of the appeal of this author’s storytelling, as pointed out in Greg Gbur’s introduction, is the unpredictable nature of the narrative. The premise above is straightforward enough, but likely not to develop into quite what you expect. Blackburn penned novels from the late 50’s all the way up through the mid-80’s, and his specialty was the efficient and entertaining thriller, often a mixed genre bag of mystery, SF, horror, and espionage. This tale, from 1969, falls into three of those four categories, and is the only work by this author that the library currently owns, sadly. You can always change that!

But if you’re not really that into the take-charge, hands-on approach to collection development, at least give this slim novel a try and enjoy some vintage thrills.

- Ben

Book review: The Crooked Hinge

By , July 31, 2014

The Crooked Hinge

by John Dickson Carr

Known for his literary command of the “locked room” mystery, John Dickson Carr’s novel The Hollow Man was selected as the greatest example of this style by an unofficial panel of seventeen mystery fiction authors and critics in 1981. The full list is here.

His 1938 novel The Crooked Hinge took the number four spot.

What this impossible crime has in addition to a terrific set-up is an eerie atmosphere that displays Carr’s love of the bizarre that only occasionally made its way into his mysteries. The plot is typically complex and involves such disparate elements as:

-          a deteriorating automaton

-          the sinking of the Titanic

-          witchcraft

-          two persons claiming one identity

Behold as Mr. Carr deftly ties them all together!

The man was prolific and many of his mysteries are highly regarded examples of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. If you’ve ever enjoyed a whodunit from the first half of the twentieth century – or you like your mysteries spooky – give this vintage puzzle-master a try.

- Ben

DVD review: Top of the Lake

By , December 10, 2013

Top of the Lake

If you need more evidence that cream of the crop dramatic narrative lives in series TV these days and not movies, look no further than the miniseries Top of the Lake. The latest project from New Zealand auteur Jane Campion (if you’re not a film nerd you still remember The Piano right?), Top of the Lake features Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) trying find Tui (Jacqueline Joe) a tween age girl that goes missing after discovering she is pregnant. Tui claims to have no idea who the father is before she goes disappearing into the woods. All the clues point towards Matt (Peter Mullan), Tui’s own father and local big man with as many criminal connections as illegitimate children. Matt’s sway over the rural community is challenged by the appearance of G.J. (Holly Hunteroh yeah I remember The Piano now), a perplexing guru who has set up all female commune on an idyllic lakeside plain, the traditional stomping ground of Matt and his family. Detective Griffin is stuck in the middle. She has affinities for G.J. and her followers but she has tasked herself with solving the case by the book – not only to rescue Tui and her baby, but to spite a patriarchal police force whose good old boys ties with Matt and his gang reek of corruption.

There’s evil in the woods. The lake and the wilderness are as much a part of the story as any of the human characters. It is nothing short of Twin Peaks New Zealand, but where Twin Peaks’ palette is warm, Top of the Lake’s palette is cool. Where Twin Peaks is ironic, Top of the Lake is realistic. Since Mad Men devolved into Dallas, I know I’ve been dying to see Elizabeth Moss go toe to toe with sexist meatheads again. Peter Mullan’s turn as Matt, a conflicted ball of neuroses about to burst at the seams, is the tightest, most engrossing performance of a royal baddest dad since Tony Soprano. (Anyone who thought I was going to write “Walter White” can go watch Sons of Anarchy while drinking beer out of a can.) With astonishing cinematography usually reserved for feature films and powerhouse performances, Top of the Lake deserves to be at the top of your holds queue.

Book Review: Night of the Jabberwock

By , November 30, 2013

Night of the Jabberwock

By Fredric Brown

Is anyone else a fan of After Hours, one of film director Martin Scorsese’s few forays into (dark) comedy? It’s pretty fantastic. Like Night of the Jabberwock, the film’s odd and surreal proceedings take place all in one night, compounding the effects of the waking nightmare experienced by Griffin Dunne’s character, Paul. The similarities end there, but I point it out to draw attention to what convinced me beforehand that I would love this tale – the confined temporal space of a single bizarre night.

 “In my dream I was standing in the middle of Oak Street and it was dark night.”

With this mysterious opening line, Fredric Brown begins his disorienting mystery about a crime-solving newspaper reporter who indulges frequently in both his propensity to reference Lewis Carroll, and his fondness for stiff drinks. Alcohol, in fact, makes a number of appearances and could almost be counted as a main character alongside our protagonist, Doc Stoeger. At the very least, it serves to accentuate the abundance of strange coincidences that converge upon the small town of Carmel City.

Working throughout the 1940’s, 50’s and early 60’s, Fredric Brown wrote primarily mystery and science fiction tales, publishing many novels and dozens of short stories. His style has continued to find new fans, and Night of the Jabberwock (1951) is consistently listed as one of his best works. But you don’t need to take the word of book critics or bloggers; check out the weird mystery for yourself…I guarantee you’ve never read anything quite like it before.


The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling

By , July 21, 2013


The Cuckoo’s Callingby Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling

The publishing world spent the last week catching up to the news that The Cuckoo’s Calling, a highly regarded first novel published this past April by first time novelist Robert Galbraith, was in fact written by J.K. Rowling. Bookstores and libraries are scrambling to replenish their stock of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

As the publisher,  Mulholland Books, restarts the presses here are a few titles to keep you mysteriously satisfied as we wait to read this summer’s surprise hit.

Before the world knew the famous author behind the pseudonym, reviews had come in singing the praises of the The Cuckoo’s Calling. Here are three astute authors who recognized the world class talent, hiding behind the veil of Robert Galbraith:

The Cuckoo’s Calling reminds me why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place”, wrote Val McDermid, bestselling author of The Vanishing Point.

“…it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. A beautifully written debut novel introducing one of the most unique and compelling detectives I’ve come across in years” - Mark Billingham, author of The Demands

“A remarkably assured debut. Robert Galbraith’s portrayal of celebrity-obsessed modern London is at once beautifully written and utterly engrossing, his characters so real you could eat dinner with them, his ever-coiling plot guaranteed to keep you up past your bedtime. I couldn’t put it down“,Owen Laukkanen, author of The Professionals.

Here are two world class mystery series to enjoy:

Check out Robert Crais’s series featuring  P.I. Elvis Cole, a Vietnam veteran, and his unusual partner, stone-faced mercenary Joe Pike.  This series is set in celebrity-obsessed Los Angeles.  The likeable Cole has a complicated personal life, as does Rowling’s protagonist, Cormoran Strike, a wounded Afghanistan war vet.  The award winning Monkey’s Raincoat is the title to start with here.

Jo Nesbo’s sophisticated crime series features Norwegian Inspector Harry Hole, a disorganized alcoholic who is nevertheless a brilliant crime-solver.  He often employees unorthodox methods to investigate crimes rooted in the modern social issues of Norway- including heavy drug use, prostitution, rape and organized crime- and Nesbo’s writing is superb.  The middle of a sultry southern summer is the perfect time to become acquainted with one of the leading crime writers of Scandanavia.  Start this series with The Bat.

Finally, two stand-alone, brand new mysteries to enjoy:  the nail-biting Silent Wife by S.A.Harrison  and the widely heralded Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda.

“The true mystery of the world is the visable, not the invisible.”  Oscar Wilde

- laurie & julie

Book review: How Like An Angel

By , May 7, 2013

How Like An Angel, by Margaret Millar

How Like An Angel
by Margaret Millar

“It doesn’t look like much of a road.”

“It’s not supposed to. The people who live at the end of it don’t like to advertise the fact. Let’s just say they’re peculiar.”

So begins Margaret Millar’s 1962 novel How Like an Angel. The story concerns freshly penniless private eye Joe Quinn’s chance encounter with cult member Sister Blessing. Their brief interaction leads to a twisty missing persons case in the sunbaked, Californian oil town of Chicote. As written by Mrs. Millar, the central mystery and the path Quinn takes in his investigations would be interesting enough on their own. However, her creation of an isolated religious group that factors heavily into the plot gives this novel a unique feel and heightens the strangeness of the story.

Unlike her husband, Kenneth Millar (writing as Ross Macdonald), who is known primarily for his ‘Lew Archer’ series of hardboiled detective novels, Margaret’s mysteries rarely feature repeat protagonists. That really isn’t a drawback. As she demonstrates here with typically complex and realistic characters, she has a penchant for creating believable people.

But the real appeal of this particular author is her ability to combine this kind of characterization with masterfully plotted storylines of mystery and psychological suspense. The consistency with which she wields this talent places her firmly in the bittersweet category of the under-appreciated.

It’s high time any mystery lovers who haven’t yet experienced Margaret Millar’s grasp of the art form do so now. And why not start with this?

- Ben

Book review: Three Times Lucky

By , September 13, 2012

Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage

This book for ages 10 and up was brought to my attention by my boss with the claim that she thought it was a Newbery contender (again, we are rarely able to predict or agree with past winners.)  However, her claim wasn’t too far-fetched as this book is reminiscent of recent Newberry winners.

Like 2012’s Dead End in Norvelt (Gantos, 2011) this book features a small town full of eccentric characters and a murder mystery.  Like 2007’s Higher Power of Lucky (Patron, 2006) this book’s main character, Mo, is a “plucky orphan.” There is a whole genre of “plucky orphan” literature.  First thing you learn in Children’s Literature class is that most children’s authors get rid of the parents. It looks like an amended genre is emerging: “plucky orphan with loving adopted parent(s)”.  This is the case with the heroines in both Three Times Lucky and Higher Power of Lucky.

In Three Times Lucky, Moses “Mo” LoBeau’s parents, The Colonel and Miss Lana, find it easier to live together separately (think Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton) in their small, present-day, North Carolina town. While it is clear they love each other and Mo a great deal, Mo still sends letters-in-a-bottle to her biological “Upstream Mother.” Mo has a comfortable and interesting life; however, her life becomes a lot more interesting when the town’s resident grump turns up dead and she and her best pal decide they will get to the bottom of it.

Three Times Lucky is a witty, quirky book that is fun to read without the mystery, but those who need the mystery will appreciate it as well. This is Turnage’s first fiction book for children and she clearly has a gift for colorful colloquialisms, intriguing characters, and teasing a mystery along at a perfect pace for children. While, I’m still pulling for R.J. Palacio’s Wonder to take top Newbery prize, I admit that when I had to wrap up my lunch break with 20 pages to spare, I did finish this book while sitting at the Children’s Reference Desk, something I only do in emergency situations.

Book review: I am Half Sick of Shadows

By , December 8, 2011

I am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan BradleyI Am Half Sick of Shadows
by Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley’s fourth mystery finds 12-year-old, motherless, nosy chemistry genius Flavia de Luce, stuck at home during the Christmas season in bleak post war England. Her older sisters Feely and Daffy continue to torment her and she spends her time sequestered in her chemistry lab concocting a sticky trap for Father Christmas among the chimney pots of Buckshaw, the decaying family manor.

To bring in badly needed income, Flavia’s father contracts with a film company to make a movie at Buckshaw. The whole village of Bishop’s Lacey is atwitter at the arrival of glamorous Phyllis Wyvern and her co–star Desmond Duncan. They agree to give a Christmas Eve performance of scenes from Romeo and Juliet to benefit the roof fund of the local church. On the night of the performance, village guests and the entire film crew end up snowed in at Buckshaw.

While all are peacefully slumbering among the many nooks and crannies of the big old house, Flavia discovers Phyllis Wyvern dead in her room, oddly dressed with a length of film tied gaily around her neck. Of course precocious Flavia can’t follow orders to stay away from the murder scene and proceeds with her own investigation. Danger ensues.

Who killed the movie star is not as important as 12 year old Flavia’s maturing relationship with her sisters and a growing realization that she is very much like the mother she never knew. A bit of accidental luck brings hope that things will be looking up for the De Luce’s of Buckshaw in the New Year and that Flavia has many more mysteries to solve in the future.

Book Review: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead

By , August 23, 2011

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead
by Sara Gran

Make no mistake; Sara Gran’s new novel is not a cozy mystery, nor your standard detective novel.  Gran has written a genre-bending tale so real and gritty and mystical,  she’s gonna fold a new wrinkle in your brain.  You’ll love and despise lead character Claire DeWitt, as you cheer her on to solve the crime.  Gran has used Post-Katrina New Orleans as time and place for her mystery, weaving in the devastation, corruption, and heartbreak of its people.  If you’re not already familiar with Sara Gran, get to reading!  I’m glad to know that Claire DeWitt is just the first in a series, and you will be too.


Book review: Maisie Dobbs

By , June 10, 2010

Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear

My favorite mysteries feature women detectives who rely on pure intellect to solve their cases. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Dorothy L. Sayers Harriet Vane come to mind. Add to this list Maisie Dobbs, nurse, veteran of the First World War, Cambridge educated, psychologist and private detective. This series by Jacqueline Winspear begins with Maisie Dobbs and continues with the seventh volume, Mapping of Love and Death, due out in March 2010.

Begin with this first volume, for background on how a bright working class girl developed into the remarkable Maisie. Starting out as a servant after the death of her mother, she is taken under the wing of Lady Rowan, the vivacious and progressive aristocrat who recognizes Maisie’s talent and sees she receives a first rate education after intense tutoring by her friend psychologist Maurice Blanche. During WW I Maisie finds herself a nurse in a field hospital in France where she treats victims of mustard gas and other horrific injuries before she and her fiancé, surgeon Simon Lynch are both injured themselves.

This war experience provides the foundation for all of Maisie’s work as a private detective, giving her compassion and understanding as she navigates the harsh realities of post war England when the tremendous death toll of the war left many damaged souls as well as social and economic devastation. Somehow, the conclusions she reaches while solving her cases move Maisie and her clients a little closer to healing the wounds of war. For mystery lovers who relish plowing through multiple volumes at once, this character driven series is a prize.

- Phyllis

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