The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

19367226Book– In the vein of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (which uses Conan Doyle’s characters), Sophie Hannah has set out to write a new Hercule Poirot novel, with the permission of Agatha Christie’s estate. When a contemporary author sets out to reanimate the legendary characters of a deceased author’s canon, she has a tall task ahead of her and a lot of expectations to meet that do not apply to a wholly original novel, but I tried to be fair when I read her attempt.

Hannah does not do a great job of imitating Christie’s characters. For example, bumbling police inspector narrator, Catchpool (an original character), who exists as a reader surrogate for Poirot to be smart at, is afraid of dead bodies due to an apparently traumatic incident at his grandfather’s funeral. Barring how silly it is for a police inspector to fear murder victims, Catchpool is also gratingly incompetent and has all kinds of tiresome (if justifiable) doubts about his fitness for police work. Poirot is not rendered pitch perfect either. He overuses some typically Poirot-esque mannerisms, such as “little grey cells” and gratuitous French, but for reasons I cannot pinpoint, does not hit the mark.

Despite these complaints, I would still recommend this book. The mystery itself is elegantly constructed, with plenty of red herrings, and a beautiful resolution at the end. I did not correctly guess the murderer early on, which I typically do, and actually needed the scene at the end where Poirot explains the plot to everybody to wrap my head around how the murders went down. The Monogram Murders was a much better experience once I decided to read just for the plot, which is excellent, rather than the characters, which were not.

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

find herBook –Check out Find Her by Lisa Gardner for a murder mystery you can’t put down.

For 472 days, Flora Danes was held captive in a wooden coffin. On the occasions that she was released, Flora was raped and tormented by her kidnapper. But she is a survivor. Five years later, Flora is still trying to find a sense of normalcy in her life. She has the support of her mother, and her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. But Flora is caught in the past, actively searching out other girls like her that have gone missing, dedicated to hunting down their perpetrators.

Detective D.D. Warren arrives at a crime scene where a young women was left bound, naked, yet was somehow able to kill her attacker. Because Flora is no ordinary victim.  After learning of Flora’s traumatic history, Detective Warren grows suspicious of the intentions of this possible vigilante. When Flora herself ends up missing, Detective Warren must team up with the famed Samuel Keynes to find Flora against all odds.

I found Find Her to be reminiscent of author Gillian Flynn: an intense, driven thriller with a strong female lead. I thought the details of Flora’s captivity were terrifying, especially as someone who’s claustrophobic. It was an unsettling read, which for me constitutes the makings of a great murder mystery.

 

Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland

Link

indexBook- Set in 17th-century Edo (now called Tokyo), this mystery series follows the career of Sano Ichiro, a samurai investigator who rises from an ordinary policeman to the Shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People. This position does not come without some attendant danger. In addition to the obvious dangers of police work, Sano must navigate the viper-pit of nobles, courtesans, and hangers-on that wield the weak-willed shogun’s power for him and who view Sano as a threat. The primary conflicts in the series derive from Sano’s strong idealized moral consciousness and samurai principles clashing with the actual degradation and corruption of the Tokugawa shogunate that he serves.

The series includes tons of fascinating historical details and personages and paints such a strong visual image that, despite the uncommon setting, it is not hard to picture Sano’s world. These novels will appeal to fans of other mystery series with a strong sense of place, such as Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series. Sano Ichiro’s adventures are finished, clocking in at 18 volumes altogether, so there’s no agonizing wait for a sequel. Start with Shinju and see if you like it!

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

51-+74IGcjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book- Broke and unemployed Dahlia is pleased if rather confused when a handsome stranger at her roommate’s party offers her a dubious gig– to retrieve his spear (not a real spear, but a spear from fictional Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Zoth).  Naturally, the promise of a $2000 payout after 12+ months of unemployment is too much to resist. However, nothing ever works out as well as it seems it should. Dahlia is quickly embroiled in at least one potential romantic entanglement, the interpersonal dynamics of her employer’s in-game guild, and, oh yeah, a real-life murder. The real pleasure of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is the narrator’s unique voice. Dahlia is steeped in nerd culture and has an acerbic, self-deprecating style that either the reader will love or hate.

This book (which I would not be surprised to see become a series) straddles the line between young adult and new adult and will appeal to fans of both chick lit novels and cozy mysteries. Set in St. Louis, I found that the novel had a surprisingly strong sense of place that I appreciated. My spouse is from St. Louis, and I recognized many of the places and streets mentioned as ones I’ve been to when visiting my in-laws. If you can get behind a novel where the detective wears a Jigglypuff toboggan hat instead of a deerstalker cap, this is the book for you.

Renovation by Lane Robins

renovationBook – Sometimes a psychic gift can feel more like a psychic curse. Ever since a near-death experience in his teens, JK Lassiter has been able to read the memories of the people or places that he touches with his hands, sometimes so viscerally that the memories cause him psychotic episodes. Because of this, his parents shut him away from the world. When the book begins, however, JK’s brother has been recently freed JK from their well-intended imprisonment and has helped him land a construction job flipping houses. His first house is in a close-knit neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, where the prior owners have skipped town under mysterious circumstances. Though JK gets a seriously bad vibe from the house, he is determined to see the job through and grab his chance at a normal life. Despite having to wear gloves and keep some distance from people, JK tries to fit in, flirting with the sexy man next door, Nick Collier, and making friends in the neighborhood.

Things turn sour, though, when his desire for the truth and psychic abilities reveal bodies, animal and human, in the backyard of the house. Each of his new friends and neighbors, he begins to discover, has ample motive for the crime. To discover the culprit and to clear Nick and his friends, JK tries to harness his psychic ability that has to this point caused him only anguish.

Renovation will appeal to fans of both romances and mysteries, especially fans of closed-room mysteries. I found that the culprit was fairly easy to suss out early on, but watching JK figure it out was still a pleasure. This one feels like the start of a series, so if you liked it, keep your eyes out for another one.

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

6105001Book – I am always thrilled when I discover a good mystery series that I haven’t read yet. Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey is the first book of the Inspector Darko Dawson mysteries. Darko (love the name) is a detective inspector in Ghana who is summoned to the remote village of Ketanu to look into the suspicious death of Gladys, a medical student and dedicated AIDS worker. It is an emotional assignment, since this is the same place that Darko’s mother went to when he was a boy to visit her sister and family and she disappeared and the case is still unsolved. Could these two women somehow be connected? Darko’s investigation clashes with local law enforcement and unsettling customs – having young daughters marry local priests with multiple wives, as a penance for family sins. The author gives a wonderful sense of place and plenty of interesting characters and suspects that keeps the reader interested until the very end. We have all the books in this series for you to enjoy!

Fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels may enjoy this series also set in Africa.  However, the situations are grittier in the Darko Dawson mysteries and whereas Precious Ramotswe likes relaxing with a cup of bush tea and is a gentle soul, Darko Dawson prefers smoking pot and has anger management issues.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series 1 (2013)

TV Series – The Honorable Miss Fisher is the James Bond of lady private investigators—she’s got the fancy car, the sumptuous home, the gorgeous wardrobe, and the slick pearl-handled pistol.  Based on a series by author Kerry Greenwood and set in 1920s in Melbourne, Australia, this series features lush flapper-era costumes, gorgeous period sets, and intriguing historical details.  Stories in this series cover the gamut of Australian society and straddle social classes, dealing with such disparate topics as clandestine back-alley abortion providers and high-society charity functions.

Despite the historical setting, however, Phryne feels very much like a modern character.  She is the head of her own odd household which includes her butler (named, appropriately, Mr. Butler), her companion Dot, surrogate daughter Jane, and various other lovers and lost souls she collects. Fans of series like Bones and X-Files will appreciate the romantic chemistry between Phryne and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, a dashing and sardonic policeman with whom she often collaborates.  Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries will especially appeal to fans of the wide variety of BBC detective shows, such as Inspector Morse and Murdoch Mysteries.  We also own series 2 and 3 of this one, as well as the novels the series is based on, so feel free to make an afternoon of it!

Children of the Corn (1984)

Movie – When I think of horror movies, I picture monsters, deformed killers out for revenge (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers…), and those awful moments where you know somebody’s going to jump and freak the living daylights out of you.  Of course, there’s the occasional demonic force taking over a doll, a child, or a loving mother too.  Yet I feel the film Children of the Corn is in a category all its own.

A nice young couple finds themselves lost and stranded in a rural, seemingly abandoned town.  But then they hit a child with their car, who they appear to have killed.  Of course.  However, as it happens they are not responsible for his death. And as it goes in horror films, they find it necessary to load the body in their car and find the nearest policeman to explain what happened.  (This is reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, where picking up a terrified suicidal stranger ends up backfiring big time).  The couple soon discovers that they are being hunted by the only residents of the town–children.  As they uncover the mystery of what happened to all the adults, the couple must fight to survive the worst road trip of their lives.  Creepy and filled with evil children, this cult classic is one everyone should watch at least once.

Watching this film as a child, my eldest brother assured me I wouldn’t be scared because instead of monsters, the villains of this film are children.  Because I was also a child, there was nothing to fear.  Luckily, it was actually the vast fields of corn where the children hunted their prey that really freaked me out.  I shivered in fear at the thought of being lost in an endless maze of tall corn stalks, with no hope of escape.

If you want a good scare this Halloween without the special effects and CGI monsters, check out this film, and be forever terrified of corn mazes, and possibly children.

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

the_gods_of_gotham-1Book – If you have any interest in mystery, historical fiction, New York City, Holmesiana or just plain well-written human drama, Lyndsay Faye is the author you never knew you needed in your life.  Unless you did, in which case well done you.

Timothy Wilde is a New York City bartender in 1845, lending an ear to the world’s problems and working up the courage to confess his love for his childhood sweetheart, Mercy.  When a fire does away with his job and his life savings, however, he stumbles his way (pushed by his brother, the larger-than-life, twice as troublesome and three times as irresistible Val) into the work he never wanted but always should’ve had: as a ‘copper star,’ a member of New York’s brand-new police force.  A chance encounter with a ten-year-old girl in a blood-covered nightgown puts him on the trail that ends in the bodies of twenty children and sends the entire city into a flurry of tension along racial, ethnic and especially religious lines.  And while his determination to find the truth will make an investigator of Tim, it will also challenge his preconceptions about the people he loves.

Written in rich period language (a glossary is included), The Gods of Gotham is a fast-paced and atmospheric thriller that stands on its own merits as both a mystery and a piece of historical fiction.  But what makes it exceptional are Faye’s writing style and command of human nature.  Her prose is insightful, incisive and deeply felt, and her characters memorable and well-rounded.  New devotees will be pleased to hear that Tim’s adventures continue in Seven for a Secret and the recent conclusion to the trilogy, The Fatal Flame.

 

 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The-Sweetness-at-the-Bottom-of-the-PieBook – It is 1950 in the south of England, there is a dead body at the bottom of the garden, and the feelings of eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce can best be described as… delight.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first in a series of mysteries featuring a thoroughly unconventional young sleuth.  Flavia is a devoted chemist, a razor-sharp observer and–though she would never use the term of herself–a girl genius, with a noble heart but a matching talent for lying, inventing or thinking her way out of trouble.  All of this ought to combine to create a completely unbelievable character.  Miraculously, it doesn’t.  What it creates, instead, is a genuine original, an irresistible series that I couldn’t put down if I tried.

In her first outing, Flavia solves a mystery involving a dead bird, an extremely rare postage stamp, stage magic, an academic who fell from a bell-tower decades ago, and her own father’s boyhood.  Not every reader will love Bradley’s sometimes verbose and always metaphor-strewn style, but those who fall under Flavia’s spell will find six more titles waiting, the newest published just this year.  the audiobooks are exceptionally good, with Jayne Entwhistle providing a pitch-perfect Flavia who never seems more than half-an-inch shy of laughter.