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.

Shutter Island (2010)

shutter islandMovie – Shutter Island  is  a psychological thriller directed by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film opens in 1954 as federal marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Auel are on their way to Shutter Island, a mental hospital for the criminally insane off the coast of Massachusetts. They have been asked to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando a patient admitted to the asylum after she murdered her three children. It is a mystery that Rachel was able to escape barefooted from a locked cell and no trace of her had been found after a thorough search by the staff of the island and its buildings.  As Teddy question staff, patients, and Dr. Cawley, the head of the institution, it seems like everyone has a secret. He begins to suspect that a terrible fate may be in store for the inmates in Ward C  which houses the hospital’s most dangerous and evil patients. There are hints of experimental, unconventional, and cruel treatments.  Teddy also has a secret, his wife’s murderer is a patient at the institution.  Not only is Daniels driven to find Rachel Solando, but he wants to confront his wife’s killer. The gothic tone of the movie is spooky and unsettling with unexpected twists and turns.  The storyline closely follows the book by the same title written by Dennis Lehane, which I also highly recommend.

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

stella bainBook – This novel begins with a compelling mystery as the main character awakens in a field hospital in Marne, France during World War I, not knowing her name or anything about herself beyond what is evident from her British nursing uniform and her American accent. This beautifully written historical fiction has the reader rooting for the courageous nurse as she forges on with nursing the wounded, pursuing threads of her identity, and ultimately facing a court trial. The audiobook is narrated by Hope Davis, and her pleasant, soothing voice matches Shreve’s spare, graceful presentation of a tragic yet intriguing story revolving around the development of psychotherapy for victims of shocking events. The courage, generosity, and intellect of individuals who aid the victims of war and prejudice are highlighted in the telling of “Stella Bain’s” story. The historical setting also provides a nostalgic backdrop for a love story that develops sweetly during this hopeful tale of rebuilding. If you enjoy this book, the library collections contain numerous novels by this award-winning author.

The Rosary Bride: a Cloistered Death by Luisa Buehler

2rosary brideBookThe Rosary Bride is the first of six cozy mysteries taking place in the western suburbs of Chicago. Much of this story occurs at a school based on the author’s alma mater, Rosary College in River Forest, now named Dominican University. The central character, Grace Marsden, is an accidental amateur detective whose curiosity is sparked during a brief encounter with a spirit haunting the college library. In this volume, her understated clairvoyant abilities lead her to investigate a generations-old unsolved crime. Ample location descriptions in all the suspenseful Grace Marsden stories, make it enjoyable to travel along with Grace as her investigations take her to local landmarks such as the Graue Mill in Oak Brook, a neighborhood bookstore in Lisle, local forest preserves, Brookfield Zoo, and eateries around her home in Downers Grove, and the homes of her large Italian family around Melrose Park. Often the history of local landmarks is embellished playfully within these tales. A love triangle, adds a compelling romantic story-line to the series. Less successfully, some international espionage occasionally appears.

The City & The City by China Miéville

Book – Tyador Bocity & cityrlú is a detective in Beszel, charged with investigating the murder of an unidentified woman found in one of their slums. His case would be much simpler if he did not believe she was murdered in Ul Quoma, the neighboring city and other half of Beszel, a city which intertwines with his own but whose borders are strictly policed by a shadowy force known as Breach. To unwind the mystery, he must travel across and between these borders, but carefully, because the murderers appear to be extremely powerful – and Breach is always watching.

Miéville’s books always revolve around cities, from the fantastical cities of Bas-Lag to a mystical London, but Beszel and Ul Quoma are perhaps the strangest yet, although there is almost fantastical about them, strictly speaking. This book also features two of the greatest chase scenes I’ve ever read, enabled by the cities’ particularly peculiar geography.

The Spellman novels by Lisa Lutz

spellmanBook – The Spellmans are a madcap, zany family and a lot of fun to spend some pages with. Mom and Dad are the owners and directors of Spellman Investigations and employ their daughter, Izzy, as a detective. The problem is that Izzy is a bit of a rebel and not good at following rules or, in some cases, even the law. Not only do the Spellmans investigate their cases, but they usually have some hidden agendas within their agency and much of their time is devoted to discovering and exposing their own family’s secrets. Izzy’s seemingly perfect lawyer brother is often enlisted for help and her precocious younger sister Rae infiltrates the best-laid plans. Izzy narrates the books and provides footnotes at the bottom of the pages to offer further explanations regarding her family’s background, her romantic foibles and other items of interest. The series kicks off with The Spellman Files and the sixth Spellman novel was published earlier this year.    

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

thin manBook – Dashiell Hammett is considered the father of the hard-boiled detective genre, and if his “gritty and realistic” characters seem slightly less so to modern eyes, at least they’re still great fun to read about. Hammett himself worked as a Pinkerton detective before the First World War, so he comes by his colorful characters honestly. And it’s not hard to see a little bit of Hammett in the hard-drinking, hard-partying Nick Charles of Hammett’s last novel, The Thin Man.

When Nick and Nora Charles head to New York City for the holidays, they’re expecting to spend their time at glamorous parties and social events. But much like in Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, the detective is never allowed to rest. Nick’s past insists on catching up with him when a young woman he has paternal feelings towards asks him to investigate her father’s disappearance. So much for holiday fun: Nick spends the rest of the novel trying both to avoid doing any real work and to avoid disappointing his young friend. Of course things get nasty, but when Nick tries to protect his wife, Nora only complains that he never wants her to have any excitement. Nick and Nora’s relationship is such a delight that after the rousing success of the film version starring Myrna Loy and William Powell, the studio went on to make five more.

Elementary (2012)

elementaryTV – It’s New York City in 2012, and Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) has just been released from rehab where he finally managed to kick his cocaine addiction. His father, however, thinks he needs some additional looking after. Enter Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), former surgeon, current sober companion. Her plan is simple: she’ll live with him, escort him to NA meetings, and try to keep him on the straight and narrow. But Holmes is convinced that he needs an assistant.

It’s been a while since I loved a new TV show as much as I love Elementary. It really isn’t fair to compare this to the other currently-running modern Sherlock Holmes adaptation, BBC’s Sherlock; the two shows are doing completely different things. While Sherlock is adapting Doyle’s stories directly, Elementary is using the framework of a familiar set of characters to talk about the importance of friendship and loyalty, and it does so beautifully.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Beekeeper's AppBook – A large part of the appeal of King’s award winning historical mystery series is the unique relationship of the two central characters. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s works Sherlock Holmes was a confirmed bachelor. Yet, in the memoirs of Mary Russell, which have mysteriously arrived on the author’s doorstep, a more intimate portrait of London’s most famous detective is revealed. This initial text is set in 1915, over a decade after Sir Conan Doyle had finished his accounts, and Holmes “weary of interrogating men” has retired and is quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in the English countryside. Well into his fifties, he meets our narrator, the young Miss Russell on the Sussex Downs. Scientific observation and references to theories of the progressive thinkers of the day are interspersed within their verbal sparring as it is soon revealed that unlike Holmes’s previous biographer, Conan Doyle, Mary Russell possesses an intellect and an ego that equals Sherlock Holmes. Therefore Russell writes about the detective as a peer as well as a mentor. There is a poignant moment when the mature Holmes upon realizing that a like-minded individual has finally entered his life murmurs to himself “twenty years ago, even ten, but here, now?” Russell begins a unique routine of tutelage with Holmes. She quickly deduces that Holmes is not entirely retired and their first case to track down a kidnapped American senator’s daughter brings danger. Who is the cunning adversary that is so intent on brutally ending them and their fledgling partnership?

Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder by Gyles Brandreth

Game called murderBook – Brandreth, a noted real life biographer of Oscar Wilde, has turned to fiction and brought to life a series of historical mysteries which cast Oscar Wilde as a savant of deduction and even an inspiration for Conan Doyle’s invention of Sherlock Holmes. These stories are full of biographical detail and the dialogue is inspired by Wilde’s quotable witticism and his mercurial personality. It is easy to sympathize with the narrator of these tales, the struggling young writer Robert Sherard, who was a good friend and the first actual biographer of Oscar Wilde. In this series Conan Doyle is cast as a close associate and respected friend whom assists with details of intriguing investigations. A Game Called Murder is the second in the series, yet I easily enjoyed it without having read the first installment. Individuals such as Bram Stoker, and actual events, such as the first boxing match using Queensbury rules, populate the pages of this book. This tale’s amateur detectives seek to reveal a murderer who is daily working their way down a list from a dinner party game, a list from a game that asks “Who would you murder?”, a list that includes Oscar and his wife.