The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

cuckooBook - The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith is a compelling, fun to read mystery. Set in modern day London, private investigator Cormoran Strike, a decorated wounded war veteran, is trying to keep his struggling agency afloat.  His life is an emotional mess and a new client gives Strike hope. John Bristow’s supermodel adopted sister Lula Landry is dead, and though the police have ruled it a suicide, he is convinced that she was murdered by being pushed off her balcony. He hires Strike to find the killer.  In order to give his full attention to the case, Strike employs Robin as a temporary office assistant, who turns out to be more valuable than he anticipated. The problem is that he really can’t afford to keep her. The investigation is an entertaining romp through the world of fashion and celebrities, as Strike and Robin form a sold fact finding team. Readers will continue reading to find out if there really was a killer and if Robin will stay on working for Strike or take a full time position elsewhere. Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. This mystery series is very different from the Harry Potter books and appropriate for more mature readers.  Recently published, the second Cormoran Strike book is The Silkworm.

A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

killingBook – You may know Julia Keller as a reporter and editor who worked at the Chicago Tribune, where she won a Pulitzer Prize, but she also wrote three adult mysteries in the Bell Elkins series. The first book, A Killing in The Hills, begins as three elderly men are gunned down at a diner. The county prosecutor, Bell Elkins, may be the next victim, because her rebellious 17 year old daughter, Carla, is a witness to the shooting and is keeping some secrets of her own. Also, Bell together with her friend from childhood, Sheriff Nick Fogelsong, wage their own war on drugs trying to find the source of a growing distribution of illegal prescription drugs.  Bell’s single mother life is further complicated by a case where a mentally challenged young man is accused of murdering his friend. This is a page turning haunting mystery set in a beautiful but poverty stricken small town in the Appalachian Mountains.  The book has received starred reviews from BookList, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly.  Looking forward to reading the next books in the series Bitter River and Summer of the Dead.

The Toyotomi blades : a Ken Tanaka mystery by Dale Furutani

toyotomiReading mysteries set in interesting locations is one of my favorite forms of armchair travel. In this whodunit Ken Tanaka, who became an amateur detective when he solved a murder involving a samurai sword in California, is invited by a Japanese television show to an all-expenses-paid trip to Tokyo to share the story of his adventure. Descriptions of the nuances of his travels were especially entertaining.

Despite being a third-generation Japanese American, Ken experiences some culture shock as he interacts with the television studio team. He also learns something about himself and his identification as an American regardless of his ethnicity or minority status. His humble sense of humor is likable and the overall tone of the story is light.

In addition to traveling among the sights in Tokyo, Ken’s sleuthing propels him into a treasure hunt in rural settings near Kyoto. Japanese history and legends color this mystery nicely. The historical embellishments as well as some code deciphering are slightly reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel. However, descriptions of humorous missteps that occur while traveling in a foreign land lighten the tone of this book.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

The Beautiful MysteryBook -  I picked up this book on audio, because it was billed as one of the best mysteries on audio, it received starred reviews from Library Journal, BookList, and Publisher’s Weekly and received numerous awards including the Agatha.  I was not disappointed by this locked room mystery. It is set in the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loupes on a remote Island in the wilderness of Quebec. No outsiders are allowed in the monastery of 24 monks who live a serene and very isolated life, but Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir are summoned to investigate the murder of Frère Mathieu, the monastery’s renowned choirmaster and prior. The investigation is difficult as the monks in the community haven taken a vow of silence. Ironically they have become world famous for a CD of their singing Gregorian chants. Their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as the beautiful mystery. The investigators soon find grim discords among the seemingly unified and peaceful brothers as they search for the motive and murderer.  This is the eighth book in the Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries. I now plan on reading the entire series. This book should appeal to fans of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case HistoriesBook - Three unresolved cases in England span twenty-four years. Case One involves the disappearance of three-year-old Olivia Land. Case Two involves the brutal, seemingly random, murder of eighteen-year-old Laura Wyre. Case Three involves Michelle, a new young mother who feels a murderous rage at being stuck alone out in the country with only her baby and husband for company. As private detective Jackson Brodie begins to look into the cases, he unearths startling discoveries and connections between the cases. We also get glimpses into Jackson’s own tragic past. As he comes to resolutions in the cases, he begins to make peace with his own history. This book was a page-turner and I enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns. It’s told from several different perspectives, which helps illuminate the hopes, struggles and failings of the characters. Despite the dark topics, the novel offers an overall message of hope and healing.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

lost symbolBook - Towards the beginning of Dan Brown’s third book featuring Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, Langdon points out that fewer students in his class have visited their own nation’s capital than have traveled abroad. In The Lost Symbol Brown wraps the buildings, monuments, and leaders of this nation in the intriguing style of clandestine history with which he previously enlivened the locales of Paris and Rome. At the request of a close friend and mentor, Langdon is called to Washington D.C. to present a lecture. However, his arrival at the U.S. Capitol Building begins a race to save his mentor’s life. During the thrilling chase and unraveling of codes meant to protect sacred metaphysical truths, and intertwining revelations of noetic science, readers are treated to a captivating underground tour of Washington. As in the movie National Treasure a large part of this story’s success is the authentic impression of historical embellishments. Here are several texts to help distinguish fact from fiction before embarking on a trip inspired by The Lost Symbol: Secret societies of America’s elite : from the Knights Templar to Skull and BonesThe Truth About Masons, Secret Societies and How They Affect Our Lives Today, Secret Societies: Gardiner’s Forbidden Knowledge, The Washington Monument : it stands for all, America’s library : the story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000The City of Washington, an Illustrated History. I listened to The Lost Symbol with the Library’s updated Overdrive app, which has convenient controls for listening at advanced speeds and for setting a timer.

 

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter

last busBook – Two girls are waiting for a bus but, impatient, they decide to hitch a lift instead. Later that night one of them is found murdered outside a pub. Enter Detective Inspector Morse, unhappily middle-aged, cranky, romantic, and (as his supervisor will say in a later novel), entirely too clever for his own good. No one is telling the whole truth, and Morse runs himself in circles second- and third- and fourth-guessing everyone’s motives in an attempt to find out what really happened that night on the way to Woodstock.

Last Bus to Woodstock shows its age in a lot of ways, not least the extremely dated attitudes toward sex and rape that nearly all the characters express, but it’s still a good, solid mystery with an engaging detective. I particularly liked the way Morse keeps getting things wrong: he makes lots of wild guesses and assumptions and follows lots of trails that lead only to dead ends before finally (of course) hitting upon the solution.

Written from the mid seventies through the late nineties, Colin Dexter’s popular Inspector Morse series was also made into a TV show that continues to be popular on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery, and has spawned two spinoff shows of its own.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbraBook – “What do you seek in these shelves?” What recently unemployed graphic designer Clay Jannon sought was employment. His quest was successful at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore; a place with bookshelves and ladders extending up three stories, and a collection of curious books that are never bought, but are “checked-out” by eccentric individuals. Clay calls upon his friends to assist him with investigating mysteries which extend far beyond the walls of the enigmatic store. This thought-provoking tale includes puzzles that revolve around technology as antiquated as the printing press and as cutting edge as Google wizardry. The humorous writing and optimistic tone make this novel a rejuvenating read. Appropriately, this book offers a surprise if the reader turns out the light. The audiobook does not offer that perk, but the narrator Ari Filakos delivers the likable Clay’s inner monologues and quirky humor so well that I went back and listened to some key sections to hear his moving delivery of them.

S. by J. J. Abrams & Doug Dorst

s.J. J. Abrams, the movie and television creator of popular works such as Armageddon and Lost, hired a writer and a graphic design team to bring this celebration of paper and ink reading to life. S. is a multi-layered set of mysteries, composed of a suspenseful love story handwritten in the margins of an enigmatic, fantastical adventure novel. 22 extra artifacts that arrived tucked into this novel, including a map on a napkin, a college newsletter, and a decoder wheel, required extra TLC from our cataloging department, and add to the fun of this eccentric reading adventure. The design team did a wonderful job of using textures, images, and fonts to provide the nostalgic look of a library book published in the 1940’s, as well as inscribing the seams and margins with delightfully realistic handwriting.

I especially enjoyed Dorst’s writing in the adventure novel. The story is an analogy of literary novels of the early twentieth century, in which prose and philosophy proliferated. As a four-time winner of Jeopardy, Dorst has a wonderful depth of vocabulary which he uses playfully and poetically. For example, an assassin moving in and out of time feels that he is sleepwalking through his endless assignments and that his only choice is “to live a life of vigilant somnolence or somnolent vigilantism”. In contrast, the writing in the margins between two students who are surreptitiously passing the book back and forth as they try to discover the true identity of the author, is informal and includes current digital acronyms.

The Bletchley Circle (2012)

bletchleyTV Show – The Bletchley Circle is a new British crime drama, premiering on ITV in 2012 and on PBS in America in 2013. The main character, Susan, was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during World War II, and although nine years later she’s now a housewife, she’s also been following the news reports on the murders of several young women in the area. She enlists the help of three of her old friends from Bletchley to help her decipher the pattern she’s sure is buried in the crimes to stop a killer the police can’t seem to catch up with.

I wasn’t expecting to love this show as much as I did. I tore through all three episodes in a day and a half. The show was a little more graphic than I expected – not gory, but they don’t shy away from describing the horrible things the killer does to his victims. It’s a delight, though, to watch a serious crime drama so completely focused on women that most of the men have only a few minutes of screen time. For any fan of British crime drama, this is a must-see.