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 brideBook – The 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.

The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

no 1 ladiesBook – I enjoy listening to audiobooks, especially when they are set in foreign places so that I can familiarize myself with the correct pronunciations of the places and the characters’ names. One series that I am particularly fond of is The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat. Currently there are 14 books in the series and I never tire of listening to the further adventures of Precious Ramotswe, a “traditionally built” woman who decides to become Botswana’s one and only lady private detective and purchases a detective agency with the money left to her by her beloved deceased father. Instead of using high tech gadgets and weapons Precious solves her cases using her intuition, intelligence, likable demeanor, and the assistance of her secretary Grace Makutsi. Though the cases are not high profile, they are of utmost importance to her clients and thus handled with sensitivity and the highest priority. Mma Ramotswe’s goodness, wisdom, humor and love of Africa shine through the stories and McCall Smith does a wonderful job of placing us in her land and relationships through his vivid descriptions and tone. The other characters are also likable and it is interesting to see how they develop and interact as the series continues. Reader Lisette Lecat transports listeners to Botswana and gives personality to each character with her incredible array of accents. Her narration adds immensely to the overall appeal of this delightful series. Start with The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency and enjoy.

Revenge (2011)

revengeTV – Revenge is my guilty pleasure. This is a TV series shrouded in mystery, glamor, and as the title suggests steeped in revenge.  The main character is Emily Thorne, who makes it her mission to infiltrate the Hampton’s upper society to execute a meticulous plot of revenge on Conrad and Victoria Grayson who set up her father, an executive working for their company, for channeling money to a terrorist organization responsible for the downing of a commercial airliner. Emily’s father was imprisoned for life and nine year old Emily was taken by the foster care system. She never saw her father again. Her childhood was spent consumed by rage, loss and betrayal.  Emily is highly intelligent and tough and she has no problem passing herself off as a philanthropic wealthy socialite to her neighbors the Graysons, as well as a romantic interest for their son, Daniel.  Revenge is full of intrigue, people you love to hate, endless twists and turns, not to mention beautiful people, clothes, and houses. The plot can be a little farfetched sometimes, but it is still wickedly entertaining.