Joanne’s Mystery Picks

the old successThe Old Success
by Martha Grimes

Do writers have a “best before date”?  I’m beginning to think so, especially since reading Peter Robinson’s Many Rivers to Cross, Ann Cleeves’ The Long Call and now Grimes’ The Old Success.  For each of these stories is just not up to the caliber that one would expect of these authors.

The Old Success is the 25th in the Richard Jury series and I was looking forward to some insight into one of his old cases but this was not to be.  Instead, Grimes has Jury collaborate with a DI with the Devon-Cornwall police and a former CID detective who has the reputation of solving every case he’s ever taken on, but one.  The three are tasked with investigating a series of 3 murders over the course of a few weeks.

Missing is the wit that Grimes brings to our favorite characters.  In fact, missing are our favorite characters! For they get barely a mention in this story.  What we do get are some new characters who appear on the page without any introduction, causing me to ask: “who are you and what are you doing in this story?”  As a result, rather than becoming a book that I couldn’t put down, this one was a book that I had to force myself to finish reading.  

Maybe Grimes was counting on her previous reputation to carry this book – in other words, her “Old Success”.    If so, it didn’t work for this reader.

2 Daggers
Joanne gives this “2 daggers out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Joanne's mystery picks - 3 book review

Having read these three mysteries, back-to-back, I thought I’d do a comparison of them.  Robinson’s latest centers on the discovery of the body of a teenage boy, stuffed into a wheelie bin.  A secondary story-line involves Zelda, Annie’s father’s partner, who is a victim of human trafficking.  Banks comes across as arrogant, pompous, and acting as a lone wolf as he interviews suspects and reveals details of the cases to the very suspects that he’s investigating.  His constant references to musical artists and obscure songs has now become tiresome and boring. The rest of his team are seldom present during this overly-long story. Banks and the other characters have no personality, no individuality, and are wooden and cold.

One would never be able to pick them out of a line-up, having no real sense of what they even look like.

Crombie takes her characters out of London and into the country as Duncan, Gemma, and family are guests at the family estate of Melody Talbot, Gemma’s detective sergeant.  But the quiet weekend that they’d all hoped for is not to be when a tragic car accident, followed by a series of mysterious deaths, draws Kincaid and Gemma into the investigation.  The complex relationships between the characters are fully explored, giving the reader a true picture of each participant in the story. I felt that I really knew these people and understood their motivations.

Logan McRae has a particularly gruesome case to tackle, in McBride’s fourth installment of this intense series.  A legal appeal has released a convicted serial killer back into the community 20 years after his crimes. Now people are going missing again and human meat is being found in butchers’ shops.   McRae, along with DI Steele and Insch literally jump off the page as they go about the grisly task of finding the killer, leaving the reader laughing at the gallows-humour and eccentricities of these colorful, well-formed characters.   McBride’s ability to bring his characters to life is second-to-none, and even the dead victims have more life than any of the characters in Peter Robinson’s latest.

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

drowned livesDrowned Lives
By Stephen Booth

As a fan of Booth’s Cooper and Fry series, I was looking forward to reading this standalone mystery .  However, disappointment lay between the pages of this much-too-long tome. I can only wonder how lengthy this book was before the editor whittled it down because there was so much more that could have been deleted without losing the tone of the story, which was poor, at best.

Chris Buckley, a not too likeable character, has recently lost his parents, is facing redundancy and has entered into a business partnership in a rather dubious endeavor.  He is approached by an elderly man, Samuel Longden, who states that 

he is a distant relative of Chris’ and is writing a book about their family history and could use Chris’ help.  Chris is not at all interested in any collaboration with Longden and decides to forego a pre-arranged meeting with him only to later learn that Longden has been killed in a hit and run accident.  

Longden has left Chris a legacy in his will but only if Chris completes the book.  With his finances being severely strained, Chris decides to take on this task. With the introduction of Chris’ extensive family, I found it very confusing as to where to place each person on the family tree and how they were related to one another.  In some cases a character would appear briefly, interacting with Chris, and then drop out of the story for another hundred pages, leaving the reader to wonder what their importance was and how they fit into the mystery.

Reading the last page of this book was more of a “thank goodness that’s over” than “what a good story”.   I expected more of this author.  

2 Daggers
Joanne gives this “2 daggers out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

challinorChristmas is Murder
By C.S. Challinor

Rex Graves, Q.C., is invited to spend Christmas at Swanmere Manor, a Victorian hotel in the English countryside, by his mother’s friend, the eccentric Dahlia Smithings.  The other hotel guests reads like cast of characters from a stage play – the tipsy handyman, the newlywed couple, the gay antiques dealer and his partner, the secretive writer, and the femme fatale.

When old Mr. Lawdry is found dead in the drawing room and Rex determines the death to be a murder, the tension amongst the guests increases.  The situation is further complicated when a snowstorm takes out the phone lines and makes it impossible to go for help. When two more people, with no apparent connection to one another are murdered, Rex takes it upon himself to suss out the killer.  

Filled with clichés, risqué innuendos, and a few funny moments, this book can help you bide the time if you, too, are snowed in and the phone lines are down!

Don’t take it too seriously – it’s meant to be a bit of a laugh.

2 Daggers
Joanne gives this “2 daggers out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

long callThe Long Call
By Ann Cleeves

Saying good-bye to Cleeves’ great character, Jimmy Perez, in Wild Fire, the last book in that series, was difficult so I welcomed the thought that there was a new detective in town with this first book in the Two Rivers series.  My excitement was short-lived as I began reading, puzzled at the underdeveloped, wooden characters and a plot that consisted of threads of a story that just didn’t tie together.  I felt like I was reading an outline, or at best, a first draft.

Detective Matthew Venn returns to North Devon to attend the funeral of his father.  His falling-out with his family is referenced but no substance is given to this estrangement.  When a body is found on the beach, and it’s determined to be a murder, Venn is called in to take the case.  

Peopled with some of the most distasteful characters that I’ve come across in a long time, the motivation and actions of some of them just doesn’t ring true.   Many of the story lines and characters needed extensive fleshing-out in order to come together to create a credibly good mystery. Too bad this wasn’t done before the book went to publication.

2 Daggers
Joanne gives this “2 daggers out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

71uqj1cdaflThe Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald

It’s every parent’s nightmare – that call in the middle of the night to say that your child has been in an accident. Abi answers the phone one night to be told that very thing about her seventeen-year old daughter, Olivia. Only it’s far worse: Olivia is brain-dead and on life support in order to keep her unborn baby alive, a baby that Abi knew nothing about. I was hooked at this point, but slowly I started to look at this novel more carefully.

The author utilizes “weather” in almost every chapter – but it goes nowhere to creating atmosphere. They are just words on the page. I found myself saying “fast forward” after the fifth or sixth passage talking about rain, sunshine, fog, or wind and it got very tiresome. And I just couldn’t believe these characters, expecially Abi, the martyred single-mom who could be called a “helicopter parent” except for the fact that she didn’t actually hover over her daughter, but had her locked in the helicopter with her! There just wasn’t anything genuine about any of the players in this story or the fact that an investigation into Olivia’s fall was deemed as unnecessary.

So, definitely not the top pick of the bookshelf for me, but some might enjoy it.

2 Daggers
Joanne gives this “2 daggers out of 5”