Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Joanne is revisiting one of her favourite holiday reads with a revised review of one of Agatha Christie’s best.

hpcHercule Poirot’s Christmas
By Agatha Christie

Also published as A Holiday for Murder and Murder for Christmas. 

Simeon Lee, a cantankerous old and shrivelled man has sent word to his children scattered hither and yon, that he wants them all home for Christmas at Gorston Hall.  None of them are under any illusion that the reunion is going to be a “let bygones be bygones” gathering or a celebration of “happy families”.  No sooner have they set foot inside the stately home than Lee baits them with his announcement that he has made preparations after Christmas to change his will.   The die is cast and it’s later that evening, Christmas Eve, that Simeon Lee is found murdered in his locked room.

When Colonel Johnson, Chief Constable of Middleshire, is notified of the murder, he’s entertaining his good friend, Hercule Poirot.  Poirot gladly agrees to accompany Johnson to Gorston Hall when Johnson admits that Superintendent Sugden who has answered the first call, though a “good man”, is not “an imaginative chap”.

Upon viewing the crime scene and talking to the household, Poirot decides that the way to the truth is through the victim himself.  He must understand the psychology of Simeon Lee – “the character of the dead man”.

And in saying that, Poirot conducts a detailed and comprehensive psychological examination of Simeon Lee, leading to a solution that is just short of brilliant.

No wonder Agatha Christie is considered the Queen of Crime!

5 Daggers
Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

The Lonely Hour
By Christopher Fowler

When a baffling set of murders takes place across London, the Peculiar Crimes Unit works the late shift to try and find the culprit.  For the murders take place during the lonely hour – 4 a.m.  Headed up by the always pragmatic John May and the oh-so-eccentric Arthur Bryant, the unit struggles to find the common denominator between the murders in the hopes that they can put a stop to the bloodshed.

The often-times irreverent Bryant is at the top of his game again now that he’s recovered from what was ailing him and quickly recruits his usual odd personages and misfits to help him.  May, on the other hand seems distant and pre-occupied with something other than the case at hand, causing friction between him and Bryant.

Like all of the books in this series, Fowler’s latest is character-driven with setting following a close second.  And oh, what fun these characters are.  In fact, in the Acknowledgements page at the end of this book, Fowler says that this was the most fun he’s had with a Bryant & May novel.  And it shows.  Be prepared to laugh out loud and chuckle under your breath.  Reading this book was an absolute delight from the first page to the very last.

Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!
         Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Obsidian
By Thomas King

Thumps Dreadfulwater is at a cross-roads in his life: he cannot move forward until he reconciles himself with his past.  And this means solving the case known as the Obsidian Murders.  He’s just returned to Chinook from a month in Eureka, CA, where the murders took place, hoping to find the answers to this crime that left ten people, including his partner and her daughter, brutally murdered.  

When he gets home he finds that someone has been leaving reminders of the murders everywhere he frequents, as if taunting him to solve the case.  Has the murderer followed him to Chinook and is his life now in danger?  As Thumps goes over everything he knows and remembers about the case, he realizes that the answers have to be in the past, in fact, right at the very start of the whole case.

Again we are entertained by King’s wit and wordplay, with his quirky and colorful  characters and his subtle commentary on social issues.  You can’t help laughing out  loud as you follow Thumps’ investigation, often hampered by one or more of Chinook’s residents, however good their intentions are at the beginning.  But Thumps perseveres and everyone is better off because he does.

Joanne gives this book 5 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

hpcHercule Poirot’s Christmas
By Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie published this book in 1938.  But the story is timeless. Other than a brief mention of events in another part of the world, one could easily assume that this was a contemporary novel.

Simeon Lee, the patriarch of a family of four, insists that each of his children come home for Christmas.  But don’t think that he plans on playing “happy families”. His intentions are the complete opposite. He does everything to goad each of his children by insulting them and denying their petty grievances and long-held grudges.  Before the first Christmas cracker is even pulled, he’s found bludgeoned to death in his locked bedroom.

When the Chief Constable of Middleshire receives a call about the murder, he asks Poirot, who is spending Christmas with him, to come along while he investigates.  Poirot’s ability to stand back, observe and listen is his forte. It’s not his “little grey cells” (who aren’t even mentioned), that allow him to understand the “human condition”, but his powers of observation.  And it’s always that one word, or gesture, or look that, when observed by Poirot, seals the fate of the murderer.

A more clever mystery you won’t find.  There’s a reason that Agatha Christie is known as “The Queen of Crime” and this novel says it all.

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

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 1.19.10 PM.pngFierce Kingdom
By Gin Phillips

What starts out as a routine visit to the zoo for Joan and her precocious four year old son Lincoln, soon turns into a run for their lives as someone is stalking and killing the animals and humans alike. This is the ultimate story of Mother-love and how the instinct to protect one’s young wins out over everything else.

I read this mesmerizing thriller in one sitting and I defy anyone to be able to put it down before you’ve reached the last page.

5 daggers and then some!

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

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

The third sinThe Third Sin by Aline Templeton

When the body of a man is found in a car wreck on the Solway mud flats, it’s initially treated as an unfortunate accident.  That is until he’s identified as a man who was declared dead two years previously. DI Marjory (Big Marge) Fleming is called in to assist in the investigation, much to the chagrin of DI Len Harris who is relegated to following her lead.  

Her investigation finds that the dead man was part of a group called the Cyrenaics who believed that pleasure was the ultimate – until one of them died from an overdose.  The group disbanded, with some moving away, others disappearing, and one supposedly committing suicide. It is this last person who is now the center of their investigation.

Fleming and her team are tasked with investigating the recent death while having to review the case of the overdose death two years previously.  Their job is complicated enough without the constant hostility of Harris and his team who go as far as with-holding evidence with the aim of sabotaging the investigation.

A complicated case with complex characters leads to a whopping good mystery. Templeton is at the top of her game with this one.

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

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Cold GraniteCold Granite by Stuart MacBride

Any account of child murder, whether it’s ripped from the headlines or found between the covers of a mystery novel, is disturbing .  MacBride’s debut novel, set in Aberdeen, Scotland, and featuring DS Logan McRae is certainly not for the faint of heart. A child murderer is at large and his indignities to the bodies of these little souls is truly gruesome.

If DS McRae thought that he’d be able to ease back into work after a year on sick leave, he had another thing coming.  The strangled and mutilated body of a four-year-old boy has been found in a ditch and they’ve pulled out all the stops to find his killer.  But David Reid’s body won’t be the last one they find.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could find anything to laugh at in a novel such as this, given its subject matter, but MacBride is able to slide in bits and pieces that do make the reader laugh out loud.  DS Logan himself can be a load of laughs, as he slogs his way through the bitterly cold December in Aberdeen, cursing at Angus Robertson and his six-inch hunting knife which were responsible for his year of sick leave.  Meanwhile, it seems that his superior’s major preoccupation is with his role in the upcoming Christmas panto, which inspires some very creative insults from DS Logan.

Colourful, complex characters, an atmosphere of cold, dark and death, and a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It doesn’t get better than this when it comes to a mystery!

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

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Lost manThe Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Australian Outback is a punishing environment even for those who know it well and respect it.  So how did Cameron Bright come to be where his body was found – at the legendary stockman’s grave – without any provisions or even a vehicle to get him safely back home?  This is the major question that is posed by this standalone novel by Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.  And this is the question that Nathan, the oldest of the three Bright brothers, tries to find the answer to. 

Harper’s ability to create such tangible atmosphere in her novels is critical to how the reader reacts to the whole story.  Here we suffer the heat and dryness of the Outback to the point of thirst; feel the grit of the sand between our teeth; and feel the sweat as it soaks into our clothes.  We can only imagine, in horror, what Cameron felt while slowing dying in the heat and relentless sun.

In The Roar of the Crowd by Janice MacDonald, one or her characters says: “literature teaches us that subtext and back story is where everything really happens”.  This couldn’t be more true than it is in this novel. Despite being estranged from his family for ten years, Nathan is determined to solve the tragic mystery surrounding his brother, Cameron.  But there are so many secrets and so much pain to get through…

Make sure you add this book to your list of “must reads” along with Harper’s first two, if you haven’t read them already.

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

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Welcome to Joanne’s 150th review for our SAPL Reader’s Blog!!

51kplqqp2nl._sx332_bo1204203200_Unto Us a Son is Given by Donna Leon

As I was reading Leon’s latest Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery I began to think that she’d taken a departure from her usual format. The story was interesting – Count Falier, Brunetti’s father-in-law, asks him to investigate his wealthy, elderly friend Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada who has recently put a plan in place to adopt a much younger man as his son. And as the particulars of Gonzalo’s plan unfold, along with the resistance to the adoption by his friends, Gonzalo abruptly drops dead on the street. So – a death – but one that is easily explained.

It isn’t until page 169 that we are faced with a murder. As Louise Penny stated in an interview on CBC Radio’s “Q” in 2017: “Murder is the beginning, not the end of the story”. It is at this point that the author explores human nature and the “real” story comes out. Leon is certainly on board with this premise and beautifully peels away the layers of this story to get to the core and ultimately, to the truth.

Masterfully written, with fully-fleshed characters and a setting that begs one to purchase an airline ticket to Venice (if only to eat one of Paolo’s glorious meals), this novel ticks all the boxes as a terrific read.

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