The Wrong Hands and Other Stories
By Peter Robinson
There’s no doubt that much has changed during the last nine months and the way we do things, from grocery shopping to visiting the library, can be stressful and not the most enjoyable experience that we’ve been used to having (assuming that one finds grocery shopping an enjoyable experience). In talking to friends and family, and from reading blogs and forums, I’ve come across many who have experienced a profound restlessness that has interfered with one of their greatest pleasures – that of reading. They’re ok to read the gas bill or catch the headlines in the newspaper, but when it comes to sitting down to read a “book” – well they just cannot concentrate for more than a few pages at a time. And I was one of these people, during the first few months of Covid-19. Not being able to read is akin to not being able to breathe for me. So I took to reading short stories – and they filled the need as I waited for my long-term concentration to return. Now I feel like I’ve come out of my cocoon, ready to read almost any book that’s put into my hands.
Robinson’s collection of thirty-one short stories (4 of which are Inspector Banks’ stories) and two novellas (both being Inspector Banks’ stories) might just be the ticket for you if you’re still struggling with problems of concentration. Here you’ll find psychological suspense, police procedurals, family tension, love (lost and found) and an ongoing examination of human nature. Robinson’s characters are colorful, fully-fleshed, and bring these well-told stories to life. There’s something here for every reader and every level of concentration.
It’s off to merry old England for Gemma Doyle, co-workers and friends, for a Sherlock Holmes convention. It gives Gemma a chance to visit with her parents, Anne and Henry, who live in London, as well as to pick up some new stock for the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. However, it’s not all tea, scones and Holmes.
While at the convention, Henry and Gemma encounter Randolph Manning, Anne’s estranged brother and the black sheep of the family. Thirty years previously he’d disappeared after taking an expensive painting that belonged to his parents. To say that the meeting was awkward and fraught with tension would be an understatement. When Henry is later found bending over Randolph’s lifeless body, he is quickly taken into custody. Gemma is determined to clear her father’s name.
Delany provides us with an interesting plot and enough twists and turns to keep the reader anxious to turn the next page. Her characters are believable and realistic and the setting is accurately depicted. I enjoyed the storyline concerning Gemma’s sister, Pippa, and the “hush hush” nature of her job (not unlike Holmes’ brother Mycroft). A perfect cozy for any kind of day!
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.
If you liked The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl then chances are you’ll like Ruth Ware’s latest. Lo Blacklock is a journalist who writes for a travel magazine and has just been given the best assignment imaginable: a week on board a luxury cruise. Feeling a bit fragile after being recently burgled, Lo is hoping that both the assignment and the atmosphere will help her regain her equilibrium.
When Lo witnesses a woman being thrown overboard, yet all passengers and crew are accounted for when she reports the incident, her credibility is quickly questioned. She’s determined to prove that she’s not mistaken and embarks on a dangerous path to find the truth of the matter.
Be prepared to share the tension, anxiety, paranoia and claustrophobia that Lo experiences as she searches for the answers to the questions: who was thrown overboard? And why?
Though not a mystery in itself, this volume is a prequel to the Grantchester mystery series (books) and gives us a picture of what led Sydney Chambers to his calling as a vicar. It is 1938 and war is on the horizon. Sydney Chambers spends the next seven years serving his country, gaining a Military Cross, and suffers the loss of friends and companions. Everything that’s happened to him during this time shapes his future as a private citizen and a member of the clergy. It gives us an understanding of why he thinks the way he does and helps explain the reasons for the actions that he takes in his day to day life.
This is a must-read for everyone who has enjoyed reading the Grantchester Mysteries.
This cozy mystery series by Canadian author Charlotte MacLeod features Inspector Madoc Rhys of the RCMP and his wife Janet. For the most part, the stories take place in New Brunswick. I look at them as being a cross between a good Agatha Christie novel, a bit of the Murdoch Mysteries (the TV series) and a touch of the Beverly Hillbillies.
The books are peopled with funny, colorful, and eccentric characters. The plots are intricate and well-crafted and the mystery of “who dunnit” is not easily solved. It’s a delightful series, providing many laughs as I paged through each book. How unfortunate that there are only five books to this series. I would gladly have read an additional five if they existed.
The killer in this novel by Canadian author Daniel Kalla is not a person. The killer is the bubonic plague. Alana Vaughan is an infectious disease specialist with NATO and is called to Genoa, Italy, to attend a patient suffering from the disease. Could it be bioterrorism or is there another explanation?
Alternating between the modern story with Alana Vaughan and the story contained in an eight-hundred-year-old medieval journal, Kalla pulls no punches when describing the horrible progression of this usually fatal disease and the suffering of its victims.
The clock is ticking as Vaughan and her team hunt for patient zero. As the disease spreads, it’s a race to stop it from reaching epidemic proportions.
A great thriller that’s hard to put down once you read the first page.
The one word that comes to mind when I describe this book is “bland”. Everything about it is bland – the characters, the atmosphere (or lack thereof), the language, and the story. It just doesn’t live up to the intriguing title and I found it to be a real disappointment.
It is 1919, just after WWI, though it could be any time as the author does nothing concrete to make the reader aware of when the events are taking place. In the Derbyshire village of Wenfield, young women are being murdered and found with a dead dove stuffed into their mouths. When the local constabulary is unable to make any headway in finding the killer, Inspector Albert Lincoln of Scotland Yard is called in to handle the case. However, Lincoln’s personal problems and his general inertia leave the reader with little confidence in his abilities to do his job properly.
The story unfolds sluggishly, and even the surprise ending cannot redeem it.
Ava is thrust into a violent and volatile situation when her good friend, Xu, the Mountain Master, asks her to settle a triad war that has broken out in Hong Kong because he is too ill to leave his bed. She is forced to work against her arch enemy Sammy Wing and his nephew Carter – the new Mountain Master of Sha Tin – as they attempt to regain control of Wanchai.
Hamilton provides a comprehensive summary of Ava’s adventures to this point, providing any new reader with enough backstory to make the events in this novel understandable. However, I always recommend that one reads a series from the beginning as there are often subtle references in previous novels that become germane to subsequent stories.
The violence is ramped up in this novel and Ava is forced to do things that she’d rather not have to. Uncle’s presence is felt more than it ever has been since he died, almost as if he is reassuring Ava that she is following the right path. Her years of working as a forensic accountant have trained her well in approaching complex problems and she falls back on the tricks of the trade that she polished to perfection with Uncle by her side.
Offsetting the violence, Hamilton provides a subplot involving Pang Fai, Ava’s friend and lover, which opens the door to some interesting potential plots. I wonder if he’ll incorporate them in his next novel, The Diamond Queen of Singapore, due out in July 2020.
DEAD MEN’S BONES (4 daggers out of 5) PRAYER FOR THE DEAD (5 daggers out of 5)
There’s never just one case at a time that Tony McLean is handed. Nor is it ever a couple of “normal” cases, easily solved, that land in his lap. First he finds himself ankle-deep in snow, peering into the gully of the River North Esk as the SOC officers retrieve the body of a man from the swirling, detritus-filled waters. Easy enough, he thinks, until he bends down to examine the man and discovers that not only is he naked, but his entire body is covered in tattoos with only a few traces of white skin visible. So begins Dead Men’s Bones, Oswald’s fourth book in his Tony McLean series. But before McLean can get back to the station, he’s alerted to a shooting at a farmhouse in north-east Fife. A prominent politician, Andrew Weatherly has shot and killed his wife, two daughters, and then has turned the gun on himself.
When journalist Jo Dalgliesh approaches McLean to ask for his help in finding Ben Stevenson, a fellow journalist who has gone missing, McLean is shocked beyond belief when Ben’s body is found deep in Gilmerton Cove in a sealed chamber, with nary a hair left behind for forensics. Prayer for the Dead takes McLean on a dark and dangerous path, one that he never imagined even existed.
Both of these novels are darker and more disturbing in their content as Oswald brings in more facets of the occult and deviant behaviour. But Tony is never completely on his own tackling the forces of evil. He’s supported by a cast of wonderful characters from Grumpy Bob (DS Laird), Angus Cadwallader, the pathologist, and DS Ritchie, to Madame Rose and Detective Superintendent Duguid (a perfect foil to McLean). These novels are not for the faint of heart!