Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Guilty Not Guilty
By Felix Francis

Felix Francis is the son of the late Dick Francis, author of over 40 best-selling books.  However in the son’s case, the apple has fallen far, far away from the tree.

What begins as a gripping story of murder and estranged families soon becomes tedious and boring as the author pads the story with long descriptions of historical murder cases and assorted trivia, totally irrelevant to the case. 

Bill Russell is a volunteer steward at Warwick Races when he’s informed that his wife has been found murdered in their home.  He’s quickly placed at the top of the suspects list and charged with her murder.  His behavior at this point turns to the melodramatic as he weeps uncontrollably, calling out to his dead wife and berating her for “leaving him” all the while acting more like an adolescent than a middle-aged man.  The police seem ham-fisted in their investigation, ignoring the most basic aspects of collecting evidence.  

It was impossible to suspend disbelief in reading this because it was all just too unbelievable: from the characters, to the way in which the investigation was carried out.  Give it a miss and choose another book to read.  I wish I had!

Joanne gives this book 1 dagger out of 5!
Joanne gives this book 1 dagger out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

The Missing American
By Kwei Quartey

The Missing American: Quartey, Kwei: 9781641292122: Books - Amazon.ca

When Emma Djan, 26, meets #MeToo and has her career in the Accra, Ghana police force cut short a former colleague suggests that she apply to a private detective agency.  When she gets the job, she is thrust into the murky and dangerous world of internet and sakawa scams.

Meanwhile across the world in Washington, D.C., Gordon Tilson, a widower, is about to enter that same dangerous world, unbeknownst to him.  Through an internet support group he has become fond of a Ghanaian widow.  When she tells him of her sister who has been in a serious car crash, he reaches out to her by sending her thousands of dollars towards the hospital bills, much to the horror of his son, Derek.  When, on the spur of the moment, Gordon decides to go to Ghana to visit this woman, and then goes missing, Derek quickly follows, fearful for his father’s life.  Derek and Emma’s paths soon cross as she becomes involved in the investigation of internet scams like the one perpetrated on his father.

I loved the rhythm and cadence of the writing in Quartey’s First Emma Djan Investigation.  It’s reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series.  The characters are colorful and full-fleshed and the plot is rich with twists and turns.  It was a great read.

The subject matter is similar to Will Ferguson’s 2012 novel 419, which I highly recommend.

Bring on book 2 in this series!

Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Silent Scream
by Angela Marsons

Marsons’ debut novel, Silent Scream, is a riveting story of past horrors taking revenge on the present.  When D.I. Kim Stone is called to the scene of a brutal murder – a headmistress is found strangled in her bath – she knows that she’s on the hunt for someone devoid of conscience or caring, something that she’s been dealing with all her life.  Although her past does not define her, it does give her insight into how to deal with such people.  Kim Stone is smart, confident, and driven.  She expects her team to give their all and does not suffer fools gladly.  But she has “heart” and is a secret champion for the underdog.

When another murder occurs, the investigation begins to look at the relationship between the two victims, taking the team to the site of a former children’s home where human remains are subsequently discovered.  The clock is ticking for the potential remaining victims as Stone’s team tries to put the pieces of this complicated puzzle together. And that final piece brings with it a delightful twist to the story.

Marsons’ contract with her publisher is for 16 books in this series.  First Blood, published in 2019, is a prequel to the series and is her latest book, with eleven titles published prior to that.  Looks like I’ve got my reading cut out for me for the next 11 books.  This is a must-read series.

Available as an eBook on OverDrive/Libby.

Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!

Canada Reads @ the Library: From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

Defended by Celina Loyer

You have to read this Canadian best-selling memoir which has won critical acclaim and numerous prestigious awards, even if you read nothing else this year. 

Should you read this book because it is the brutally honest life journey of Jesse Thistle, a formerly homeless Métis addict? 

Should you read these brief vivid chapters sprinkled with raw lyrical poetry because it’s written by a natural storyteller?

Should you read it because Jesse has suffered addiction, trauma, and loss, but chronicles resilience and redemption with humour and beautiful clarity?

Should you read it because Thistle is now an Assistant Professor in Métis Studies at York University in Toronto, and is both a Vanier and Pierre Elliot Trudeau Scholar?

Should you read it because it’s a first-hand account of growing up Métis in Canada?

Should you read it because the author has literally rewritten the definition of homelessness in Canada? (https://www.homelesshub.ca/IndigenousHomelessness)

Should you read it because Jesse, a self-professed romantic, refers to it as “a quest for love”?

Maybe.

But – 

if you do not know about Métis people, or;
if you don’t get why some kids end up in foster care, or;
if you don’t understand why some people are addicts and homeless, or;
if you haven’t experienced systemic oppression;

You should read From the Ashes because it will stay with you.

Once I began reading, I couldn’t stop until 2 am. As a Métis woman, I was first absorbed, then deeply affected, by his account of how a system set up to save him actually failed him. By intertwining our shared history and the current situation of Indigenous people, Jesse’s stories touch upon my own family’s stories. They are also the stories that Canada needs to hear to understand why so many Métis people end up misunderstood.

Through the struggles of his childhood and dark times of addiction and homelessness, I was touched by Jesse’s ability to make real the truth of how he was saved by love. Through the love of his wife Lucie, he is loved back into the circle of family and community.  His healing is a story of resilience of spirit that made me want to cry with joy. This kind of restoration is a story that any Canadian can appreciate.

Really, you should just read From the Ashes because it’s a damn good book.

It is most definitely the “One Book that Brings Canada into Focus”.

Canada Reads @ the Library: Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Defended by Councillor Jacquie Hansen

Life can be tough for an Indigenous teenager.  This is a story of courage, chance, love and resilience, a “coming-of-age” book.  A must-read for all Canadians. 

By all accounts Jared Marten should have grown up to be a hardened criminal, with a violent nature, in and out of jail. Given his upbringing, he has no business being so caring and compassionate.  He is surrounded by a nasty cast of characters (especially a crazy mother) who love him but use him; his loyalty to them is unwavering but so is his resolve.  

By the time Jared is five years old he knows he is different.  His maternal grandmother calls him a Son of a Trickster because she sees spirits in him.  His mother, Maggie wants him to be tough and hard and makes his life a constant misery. 

Maggie is a heavy substance user with deep mood swings.  She is violent and trusts no one, not her own mother nor Jared’s father: “.. we forget them.  We leave them in the past and we don’t talk about them.” Subsequently,  attachment is hard for Jared.  

One day, Maggie brings a boyfriend home.  David is kind and giving, even clean cut.  He cares about Jared’s school marks and seems to care about Maggie too, until he doesn’t and becomes violent.  At one point, Maggie yells at Jared to nail gun David’s feet to the floor.  Jared cannot do it, so she does.  For a long time, she refuses to speak to Jared holding a grudge because she thinks he’s a wuss. Maggie’s mantra was:  Life is hard, you have to be harder.

Throughout the constant chaos, we see a very caring and compassionate side of Jared. Maggie says: “Jared, you have a big heart, and if you let it lead you around, people are going to use that. Trust me on that, okay?” She is right. 

Jared is a smart kid, but his grades start to fail because his family is a disaster.  To make ends meet and to secretly pay for his Dad’s rent, he bakes and sells pot cookies–that works for a while. He befriends and helps an elderly couple around their home and they become dependent on him.   

Jared starts to drink heavily and it is at this time that spirits begin to visit him.  Is he crazy like his mother? Soon he has a grizzly bear living in his bedroom, sees fireflies hovering, and sees his beloved dead dog Baby come back to life.  Maggie soon realizes that Jared has the gift of spirits and teaches him magic spells that keep the spirits at bay.  Jared’s life is a disaster.  The reader is left wondering if Jared will make it. 

There is one spirit, an old lady affectionately called Monster Aunt. She leads him to a better way and encourages him to stop drinking. Her mantra: Recovery begins with one sober hour.

Maggie hates that Jared is sober and says she wants her son back. 

Sitting there thinking you’re better than me.  You aren’t better than me, you self-righteous prick”. She feels judged, at which point Jared says: “I’m not judging you.  I love you.”

While Maggie’s life continues to spin out of control, Jared keeps loving and protecting her.  His determination, courage and strength are his resolve and finally his life begins to take shape. 

Life is hard…you have to be harder.

Canada Reads @ the Library: We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

Defended by Susie Moloney, EPL Writer-in-Residence

We Have Always Been Here, Samra Habib’s memoir about growing up and growing into being a Queer Muslim Woman is about as Canadian a story as you can get. It’s an immigration story, a spiritual journey, a story about seeing snow for the first time, and about coming into your own identity in Canada’s largest city. Habib walks through her challenges and takes them out of Canada and into the larger, global world, to commune with her Muslim sisters, her Queer sisters, and her Sisters, to gain perspective and to offer her own (there’s also a moment in the memoir where she finds identity in a leather jacket and a great pair of boots that I found particularly relatable). Habib’s story is broad, global, open, new, female, queer, fashionable, and spiritual. That ticks all the boxes on the Canadian BINGO card. We Have Always Been Here should be what Canada Reads, because it’s what Canada aspires to be–a place for everyone. Samra Habib is Canada as we’d like to see ourselves.

Canada Reads @ the Library: Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Defended by Scott Hayes

Radicalized is about all of us in the world right now. It’s more than a bit dystopic yet so much is like holding a mirror up to our society. Cory Doctorow’s book of 4 sci-fi novellas feels so relevant, so relatable, so scary, yet it still has moments of humour and irony and absurdity. That about sums up our life and times, no? If you’ve been paying attention to the news of the world and haven’t felt a little ‘radicalized’ already then reading this book will surely help to make you more aware of the invisible forces that control our lives, and maybe how we can control them back. Maybe.

Honestly, I think it should win the Nobel Prize for prescience and for offering some comfort during our crazy, calamitous COVID-19 times.

Canada Reads @ the Library: Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

Defended by Jason Purcell

Megan Gail Coles’s Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club throws into high relief the intersecting conditions—ongoing colonialism, racism, misogyny and violence against women, capitalism and the failures of resource extraction, among others—that converge to mark Canadian life. This novel reminds us how inextricable any one social issue is from any other, and brings into focus a vision of Canada that resists the national mythology.

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Grace is Gone
By Emily Elgar

Meg and her severely disabled daughter, Grace, have been residents of the small town of Ashford in Cornwall, for many years.  Meg is admired by her neighbours for her selflessness in caring for her daughter and Grace is genuinely loved by all who know her.  

So when Meg is found brutally murdered in her bedroom and Grace is nowhere to be found, the townsfolk are shocked beyond belief.  Police immediately set out to find Meg’s estranged husband whom she always contended was abusive to her and Grace.

Meanwhile an unlikely pair team up to search for Grace:  Jon Katrin, a journalist, whose coverage of Meg and Grace’s story backfired, resulting in his shunning by the community, and Cara, a sometimes friend of Grace.

The suspense had been built up nicely to this point and then Elgar got sloppy.  Jon and Cara proceeded to carry out their search based purely on supposition and “what ifs”, which left me shaking my head in wonder.  I already had the mystery figured out by this point, but was sorely disappointed that Elgar left me questioning the credibility of her characters.

Grace is Gone is available in eBook format on Hoopla.

                                      Joanne gives this book 3 daggers out of 5