Tag Archives: mystery

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #8) by Louise Penny

Louise Penny is known for her murder mysteries, specifically those involving Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The Beautiful Mystery is book number eight in the series and for faithful readers there are several disturbing events which could easily be upsetting for those who’ve developed a bond with the central characters. As a newcomer, however, I had no expectations, although I was able to catch the gist of who was who and what was what from the narrative. References to former books in the series filled in the blanks, peaking my curiosity to perhaps go back to the beginning, especially since the first book, Still Life, is sitting on my counter (with a varied bunch of other titles) waiting to be read.

However, this is the one my Book Club picked, so this is the one I’ll discuss.

While the mystery comprises the predominant role in the plot, the interactions between the key players are a major component of the story. Inspector Gamache and his assistant Jean Guy Beauvoir head to a remote Gilbertine monestery, Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Louis on an Island in Quebec, to try to determine who killed Brother Matthieu, the choir director. Not just any choir director, but the man behind the CD of chants which took the world by storm. The once unheard of Cloister, now flush with enough cash to do some modernizations, became famous after their Gregorian Chants hit the top of the charts, upsetting the order of monks who willingly maintained a vow of silence. Which one of the hand selected two dozen monks would want to kill the rector who inspired such beauty? Even with the order of silence lifted, Gamache has a difficult time getting the monks to “talk”, but slowly he determines that appearances can be deceiving noticing that the calmness and serenity in this ancient order is somewhat of a facade.

Complicating matters is the arrival of Gamanche’s nemesis, Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur, the head of the Surete de Quebec, who likes to play mind games, successfully instilling anger and doubt into the minds of his subordinates. Mocking the detectives’ lack of success, he holds back the autopsy report indicating the true murder weapon which puts a different slant on the dead body found in the Abbot’s private garden. The best lead evolves around a weathered vellum full of unusual neumes and nonsense phrases in Latin which the rector was clutching. These neumes, a precursor of musical notes, indicate a haunting melody different from the normal chants. Their significance is another part of the mystery which borders more on a psychological drama than an action packed plot. It’s not until the last few pages that events begin to quickly happen leaving the reader with more than a few questions and the urge to read Mystery #9, How the Light Gets In, to discover how Penny resolves the conflict between the main characters. Four stars.

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A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

1918 was a difficult time in United States history. There was a war going on – The Great War – and more men were needed for the fight. With each draft calling on younger and younger boys to “enlist”, even eighteen year olds were in danger of being called to duty. Then there was the highly contagious Spanish Influenza which was killing people faster than the war. It seemed the young were more susceptible to its deadliness than the elderly. Hospitals couldn’t keep up with the demand and wards were filled to capacity with not enough personnel to properly care for their patients. Medicine also left much to be desired as antibiotics, such as penicillin, would not be discovered until 1928, readily available in 1942. Yet science wasn’t totally ignorant. Autopsies were useful in diagnosing cause of death with forensic science an up and coming field. All this and more is explored in A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang.

Allene Cutter, while celebrating her engagement to Andrew Smythe Biddle with a houseful of guests, is disconcerted when socialite Florence Waxworth collapses, falls down the stairs hitting her head and ends up in a literal “dead” heap. While everyone thinks it’s an accident caused by too much alcohol, Allene and her friends suspect arsenic as the cause. The distinctive smell of burnt almonds tips them off, especially since Jasper’s own parents committed suicide using that same substance. Jasper Jones works as a janitor at Bellevue Hospital and wants to check out the deceased “friend” to test their hypothesis. Through a convoluted series of events, the medical-wanna-be ends up an assistant to Forensics Chemist, Dr Gettler, in the hospital’s morgue. Unfortunately, since the police have determined Florence’s death accidental, he must secretly perform his own autopsy to confirm his suspicions.

Allene, from society’s upper crust, secretly has feelings for her former friend Jasper as well as for her childhood companion Birdie Dreyer, even though they have lost touch these last four years. Now that marriage looms, Allene wants to reconnect while she still can be somewhat independent. Her old friends aren’t sure they want to resume relations after being previously cut out of her life, yet their previous closeness is easily restored as they try to discover who is sending the little notes discovered near each of the increasing number of victims – all people who are known to them. Together they are determined to solve the mystery and stop the madness.

Each has their own obstacles to overcome. Birdie, despite her general feeling of malaise, maintains her focus on her younger sister Holly. Allene must deal with her upcoming marriage to Andrew who expresses his expectations for her behaviors which do not include the chemistry experiments she adores. He won’t even allow her to carry an electric lighter in her pocket, as this device is inappropriate for women. Jasper strives to make enough money to support himself and his sickly, alcoholic uncle plus save a little for medical school tuition.

There are several potential perpetrators of the crimes, but there are also a lot of misdirections, until the shocking truth is finally revealed. In between, the three eighteen year olds deal with their lot in life, often aggravated by the adults who don’t seem to understand (or care about) their needs and desires. The restrictions on females during the early 1900’s, before women were even allowed to vote, becomes a secondary focus as Allene and Birdie push the limits of their gender, determined to come up with solutions. While not everyone gets a happily ever after, the conclusion resolves most of the issues, with the bad guys getting their just desserts.

Each of the characters is selfishly wrapped up in themselves which make them less than likable, although they did, on occasion, have their honorable moments. The one nice guy, Ernie Fielding, was despised by everyone. There was also too much going on in the plot and while historically accurate, the various secondary crisis were overplayed when combined with the murders. I would have liked a simpler, cleaner plot without so many side issues.

Lydia Kang, a medical doctor, also coauthored Quackery, a book I recently read, with details about the radiation poisoning mentioned in this book. The use of radium in Clock Factories during this time period is also the subject of The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (another nonfiction book I am currently reading). The reviews for these books can be found on this blog, Gotta Read.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing this ARC In exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

As an aside, at one point in this book Allene goes to a location at Flatbush and Church in Brooklyn. When I was a child I lived around the corner from that very spot. I can picture the Dutch Reformed Church complete with a small graveyard on one corner, Garfields -a restaurant where my grandfather often ate his meals on another, and a drug store with a decent selection of paperbacks on the third, plus not far down Church, the RKO Kenmore movie theater where I saw musicals such as Gypsy, My Fair Lady, and The Music Man. I didn’t even need to cross a street as I lived right on that longish block. If I had stayed in that neighborhood I would have attended Erasmus High School (where my parents went to vote) and perhaps gone to Brooklyn College (my father’s alma mater). A shout out to grads from PS 249. Just a little walk down memory lane.

Too Sinful to Deny (Scoundrels and Sinners, Book 2) by Erica Ridley

Susan Stanton loves gossip, so much that when she overhears a juicy bit from a wife cuckolding her husband, she finds herself on the wrong side of The Ton, despite the truth to her words. Her mother’s attempt to marry her off to a morally questionable but well off gentlemen was destined to fail (see Too Wicked to Kiss) so she ends up confined to her room until further notice. Yet Susan was determined to attend The Frost Fair in celebration of the Thames freezing over, a rare occurrence. Who knew that despite her stealthy attempts to sneak out, she was discovered when she fell through the ice and drowned. Luckily she was rescued and brought back to life, but only to be banished from her beloved London – packed up and sent to the end of nowhere at Moonseed Manor in Bournemouth, to stay with her cousin Lady Beaune with the closest center of civilization the town of Bath.

The situation is even worse that Susan expected when there is no Lady Beaune to greet her and she is “welcomed” instead by her cousin’s creepy husband, Ollie. The town folks don’t cotton to her overtures of friendship, especially the owner of the dress shop who resents her popularity with the only decent men around including Gordon Forrester, the local magistrate. Susan’s only interest, though, is to find a way home again, if only she can discover a way to get to the closest town where her recognizable family name will provide the means of the necessary escape. Things are looking up when Forrester offers to accompany her to the upcoming Assembly in Bath, occurring in about two weeks, but Susan is not sure she can wait that long. It seems that there have been a series of recent deaths, and the lingering ghosts can’t rest until she does them each a favor. Seeing and hearing spirits seems to be a new but unwanted talent she has acquired after her near death experience and she’ll do anything to shut them up. Of course, these are ghosts of the recently departed, so who exactly is the murderer? There is a plethora of suspects which only a Bow Street Runner could untangle. Then there is the question of her missing cousin. Is she buried under that unmarked grave or is it that freshly dug mound of earth the resting place of some other hapless soul? Nobody’s talking.

Complicatiog her life is Ollie’s friend, Evan Bothwick, a devastatingly handsome rogue tinkering in the Pirate business and bent on making her his latest conquest. If only she could trust him, but she worries that he will not only keep her from escaping, but also steal her heart. Her focus is to keep her eye on the prize – someone from The Ton who loves London as much as she does, ready to marry a chaste and pure innocent, a dream threatened by Evan’s carefree ways.

Too Sinful to Deny, Book 2 in the Scoundrels and Sinners series, never seemed to end. While Erica Ridley tried to capture a sense of gothic all she exceeded in doing was to create a horrifying scenario filled with mean spiritedness and senseless violence which could not be compensated for by the rest of the trappings of a Regency Romance. The ghosts actually provided a bit of levity, if you can believe that. While the love interests had a somewhat decent sensibility, the townsfolk were a horrid unredeeming bunch who I’d just as soon not meet again. The only scene which brought a smile to my lips was when the heroine buys a seemingly endless round of drinks resulting in a packed bar with a tab she can never hope to pay unless her parents cough up her allowance.

If you are a fan of the Saw movies, this one is for you, but if you avoid fare such as chainsaw massacres, then find another book to read. Two and a half stars.

This ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

What are the elements an author uses to create suspense? One dramatic devise is to slowly release “clues” throughout the narrative leading up to a “big reveal” at the optimal climatic moment. The ultimate success of any thriller is when the reader is kept confused and clueless right up to the proper “ah ha” moment with a surprised “I didn’t see that one coming”. Failure results when the plot is either too obvious (I figured the ending out in the first couple of chapters of the book) or too erroneous (What the ???? This doesn’t make sense.) In the mix is the author’s artistry in creating the perfect “gimmick” as a means of imparting the necessary details.

In All the Missing Girls, the author, Megan Miranda, uses reverse chronology. Along with both an introduction and epilogue, the story counts backwards from day fifteen to day one of events with each chapter adding a bit of background about the details surrounding the disappearance of two girls, ten years apart. The story is told from Nicolette Farrell’s point of view as she revisits her hometown of Cooley Ridge in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina to help her brother Daniel in the care of their aging father who is at a facility. With his apparent encroaching demensia, it is time to repair and sell their no-longer-needed family home. Yet the process brings back old memories of the disappearance of her best friend Corinne after their celebration at the local fair following their high school graduation. The resulting accusations and recriminations from the local community led to Nic’s flight from home and relocation to Pennsylvania. Yet her brother Daniel and pregnant wife Laura, along with her Dad, remained a link for her to touch base from time to time allowing an occasional reconnection with her high school sweetheart Tyler. Now, ten years later, she’s engaged to Everett, a high end Philadelphia lawyer, and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter. It isn’t long though before Nic’s world turns upside down when Annaleise turns up missing, rekindling all the horrors associated with the loss of Corrine. As the tale “progresses”, Nic reveals specifics about both mysteries through her analysis of past events as she revisits the sites containing the ghosts of her past.

There were various problems inherent in this type of format. It was harder to keep track of events necessitating repetitions and calling for a quick read to keep the various particulars front and center. The opportunity for in depth character development was also hindered, since too much information would take away from the end result, especially since Miranda wanted to maintain a sense of mystery as we tried to figure out the guilty party. There were also a lot of dead ends left dangling as Nic’s thoughts rotated from present to far past to recent past.

For me the results were muddled. None of the characters were particularly likable, especially the two victims, and even the townspeople were petty and judgmental. Outsider Everett was the only one who had my sympathy as he tried to do the right thing and ended up getting kicked where it hurts. The conclusion, while acceptable, didn’t blow me away, but overall, a worthwhile read.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

What goes on in the minds of the people who surround us, individuals who are there but invisible, going about their daily lives while we are involved in our own personal minutia so that even if we notice their presence they are an afterthought?

That is the case in the novel Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka, a murder mystery which slowly reveals the guilty party via the personal reflections of three troubled souls who are somehow interconnected within the borders of the small town of Broomsville located in Northern Colorado. Fifteen year old Lucinda Hayes has been murdered on the carrousel at the playground of the local elementary school found by the night janitor, Ivan, an immigrant from Mexico with a criminal past. Cameron Whitley, Lucinda’s next door neighbor, has been obsessed with this beautiful teen, spending his evenings as a stone statue watching her movements. Cameron’s thought processes are a little strange as he has difficulty relating to others, becoming “Tangled” when situations are ltoo stressful for him to handle. Detective Russ Fletcher, a colleague of Cameron’s dad (a man who deserted his family several years previously), has vowed to watch over his former partner’s son keeping a promise to someone who ended up on the wrong side of the law. Cameron fears he will one day develop the evil characteristics which sealed his father’s fate, despite his inner sense of love for his long departed dad. Then there’s Jade Dixon-Burns, a girl who exhibits no empathy, not since she was rejected by her childhood friend who decided he’d rather hang out with the alluring Lucinda than remain cohorts with his fat, pimply companion from elementary school days. Through their collective thoughts the details of that fateful February night are slowly revealed with their paths intersecting as the surprising truth – clearly visible the entire time – finds its way to the surface.

Slowly is the key word. The reader must be patient as each trail is examined to see if it is a true path or a dead end. The bizarre contemplations of theseo three characters lead us to false conclusions time and again, yet within these premises are the clues necessary to solve the mystery. While I was curious to see how the author would reveal the perpetrator, I do wish she was a bit more purposeful and a little quicker in wrapping up a story which left a few too many strings dangling at the conclusion.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears as on Goodreads.

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Spoiler Alert: On May 6, 1937, The Hindenburg, a floating airship fueled by Hydrogen, caught fire and exploded as it neared landing in Lakehurst, NJ, amazingly only killing 35 of the 97 passengers and crew on board (plus one person on the ground for a total of 36).

That’s the given. We know the climax, now it’s up to Ariel Lawhon in her historical novel Flight of Dreams to get us there in one piece.

I always find it difficult reliving various past disasters whether it’s ships such as The Titanic or The Lusitania, or the zeppelin The Hindenburg – fact or fiction. It’s like hearing nails screeching on a chalkboard.

Lawhon has gone the fiction route, but she has done her research using real people who were on this luxury blimp for that fatal flight. While she fictionalized their actions on the three day journey, she vowed to accept their final plight of life or death. Using the blog site: http://www.faceofthehindenburg.blogspot.com and the book Hindenburg: An Illustrated History, Lawhon was able to get enough pertinant information to maintain some realism and even utilize direct quotes.

Taking liberties with the plot line she included incidents such as a near miss with some mountains which actually happened on another flight and felt free to apply actions to one character which might have occurred with another. Ultimately, Lawhon tried to stay true to the real life events while creating the mainly fictionalized interactions which drive the plot while in the background maintaining the threat of the Nazis Regime and the realization that war is imminent. A thin line to walk and well done.

Admittedly the story dragged in the beginning as the numerous characters were introduced (perhaps an annotated list would have helped), but the closer the story got to the anticipated explosion, the more exciting the book became. The conclusion included both joy and sorrow as the survivors dealt with the after effects of this tragedy, with the author giving her version about the hows and whys – when in reality nobody really knows exactly what happened (though theories abound).

The book contains short alternating chapters featuring the five central characters and their interactions with one another and the rest of the passengers. As events unfold, their motivations become clear and many questions are answered. Everything fits nicely together resulting in a well knit, tight tale worth reading. Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads. The

The Blood Red Indian Summer by David Handler

David Handler has written a series of mysteries featuring the investigative duo Berger and Mitry. The Blood Red Indian Summer is Book #8.

Des Mitry has a lot on her plate. She’s worried about her dad who is residing with her while he recovers from open heart surgery. The recuperation was successful, but her tough as nails father, assistant detective of the local police department, has lost his mojo.

Now she has to deal with a football legend who has moved into the New England village of Dorset along with the newscasters and paparazzi waiting for the NFL Champion Linebacker to mess up. As a Connecticut State Trooper, it’s her job to keep the peace and placate the neighbor who doesn’t like the noise and confusion of the new family next door, especially since they’re black.

Checking up on the complaints, Des is welcomed into Tyrone “Da Beast” Grantham’s home and introduced to the extended family who lives there – including his brother, cousin, mother, pregnant wife, sister in law, and father in law. All Tyrone wants is some peace and quiet while he waits out his one year NFL suspension resulting from the negative publicity following a questionable altercation with a charlatan hoping for a nice settlement.

Grantham is very gracious, but watch out if he loses his temper and changes into a beast with the temperament of the Incredible Hulk.

Complicating matters in Des’ life is the arrival of her boyfriend’s parents. She expects a problem since she isn’t white or Jewish like her significant other. Yet she and Mitch Berger get along so well together, in spite of his obsession with movie trivia. Plus Mitch helps her figure out the truth behind the various crimes she investigates. A series of incidents point to Da Beast as the guilty party, and even his own family thinks him capable of murder, but Des needs proof before she can make an arrest.

There’s a lot going on with numerous plots and subplots thrown into the mix making it difficult to keep the various characters straight. The murder happens late in the book, almost as an after thought, and the resolution is abrupt and disturbing. However, Des and Mitch are interesting characters who capture our interest and their eccentric parents add a nice touch despite the tendency for the author to stereotype his characters.

Ultimately, an excess of miscellanea along with a flawed plot distracts the reader and keeps this book from becoming a top notch mystery. Three stars is generous.