Commissario Guido Brunetti is in an uncharacteristically sullen mood as we encounter him in the opening pages of the thirtieth installment of Donna Leon’s award-winning series. Is it because he laments the trajectory of his life, based on last night’s meeting with old friends? Perhaps he’s reached the tipping point with his children who take him so much for granted? Or is it the endless line of tourists who seek to swallow up everything good about the city he loves? Whatever the cause it foreshadows the horrendous events that are about to consume most of his time and energy.
Two women, with multiple injuries, are found unconscious on the dock outside the emergency room of the Ospedale Civile early in the morning. It’s determined that their injuries are the result of a boating accident while they were joy riding with two young Italian men. But why abandon them when it was just an accident?
As Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, continue their investigation they encounter the very darkest side of criminal behaviour and the most heinous of crimes.
Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons
by Christopher Fowler
Fowler’s Bryant & May series is a trivia lovers’ dream. Filled with arcane and esoteric facts they’re a treasure-trove of the weird and wonderful, the fantastic and fabulous.
When the Speaker of the House of Commons is nearly killed in an absurd “accident” involving a van unloading oranges and lemons, the investigation is turned over to the Peculiar Crimes Unit. However, they’d been disbanded and had all gone their own way. Scrabbling to get them back together and finding a new center of operations is no mean feat! They are joined by a new recruit – Sydney – a young woman who seems to “ring a bell” with some of the team.
Meanwhile the perpetrator of the incident involving the Speaker has upped his game and now has a murder to answer for. But he is not finished yet as he continues his barrage on churches following the lines of the old nursery rhyme: “Oranges and Lemons”, and adding to his list of the murdered and injured. Bryant pulls out all the stops as he consults the magicians, white witches and sundry others of his followers to complete the picture of the murderer and bring him to justice.
Clever twists and turns and surprises around every corner make this episode in the annals of the PCU as entertaining as those that have gone before. The quirkiness and eccentricity of the characters provides a laugh on every page.
Horowitz is a master at whatever he sets his hand to doing. Whether it be creating the TV series Foyles’ War and Midsomer Murders or writing the Alex Rider series for young adults, or creating the intricate and challenging puzzles such as are found in Moonflower Murders.
Moonflower Murders is a book within a book and both present intricately detailed murder scenarios. Linking the two books is retired publisher Susan Ryeland who once represented the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders and Atticus Pund Takes the Case.
When Susan, now living in Greece and working at a hotel, meets the Trehernes, they ask her to help find their daughter, Cecily who has gone missing. On the Suffolk coast and on the same day and in the same hotel as their daughter’s wedding some years previously, a horrific murder had taken place. Alan Conway subsequently wrote a book about the murder (Atticus Pund Takes the Case) and her parents believe that Cecily found something in the book that exonerated the man convicted of the murder, and has now put her life in jeopardy. Susan knows that she needs to return to England to help find Cecily.
Moonflower Murders is clever, brilliant, and a wickedly good puzzle. It most definitely is a 5 bloody dagger read!
Still having trouble concentrating long enough to read a full novel? Well here are a couple of great anthologies, containing short stories from some of the greats, as well as a riveting podcast from the U.K.
Murder on the Railways contains stories from Agatha Christie, Elmore Leonard, Leslie Charteris, Ken Follett, Maeve Binchy, Roald Dahl, Ruth Rendell, and many more. For railway buffs, it doesn’t get better than this, and for the general mystery lover, you’ve hit the jackpot here!
The Television Detectives’ Omnibus brings us stories from the likes of Orson Welles, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Margery Allingham, Colin Dexter, Dorothy L. Sayers, and more. Each story is a gem in itself, bringing to life, so succinctly, some of our favorite sleuths.
I’ve been listening to a podcast called SHEDUNNIT (shedunnitshow.com) recently and find it very interesting. Caroline Crampton, the creator of the series, discusses the golden age of detective fiction. Each new installment deals with a different topic, whether it be a particular author, themes in detective fiction, or the reconstruction of a real life crime.
There are at least a couple of stories in each of the anthologies that earn 5 daggers. The SHEDUNNIT podcast is a definite 5 daggers!
Murder by Milk Bottle
by Lynne Truss
Truss’ second Constable Twitten Mystery is a combination of “The Keystone Cops” meet “The Carry-On Gang” in a performance in an old English panto! It’s a complete and utter silly farce! Some might find it TOO silly, but one cannot help but laugh at many of the antics that take place during the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1957.
Truss’characters are more like caricatures than personages. There’s Constable Twitten: painfully naive when it comes to matters of the heart; Inspector Steine: self-absorbed and totally oblivious to what’s going on in his own station house; and Sergeant Brunswick: the bumbling and dim-witted officer who cannot see the “forest for the trees”. Only Mrs. Groynes, the police station charlady is a fleshed-out character and yet we know that she is not what she seems to be!
When three seemingly unconnected people are murdered by being bashed over the head with milk bottles, it’s up to this bumbling lot to solve the murders. Their unorthodox methods are worthy of great guffaws but would certainly not be sanctioned by either Morse or Gamache!
One Arranged Murder
by Chetan Bhagat
Keshav and Saurabh are business partners as well as flatmates and best friends. That is until Keshav falls in love with Prerna and wedding plans are being made. When things go awry, Keshav turns to his best friend for help and the two of them collaborate on solving a grisly murder.
Steeped in customs, food, and culture, Bhangat creates a colorful depiction of life in Delhi. Initially I would reach for my dictionary (Google) for the definition of some of the words used in the telling, but slowly it became easier to understand what was meant through the context of the sentences and paragraphs. With occasional laugh-out-loud passages and descriptions of the day-to-day interactions of family members, the story unfolds methodically and keeps the reader’s attention.
by Susie Steiner
This is the third book in the Manon Bradshaw trilogy. I’m saddened by this fact because I’ve grown to love the characters that have been brought to life on the pages of these books.
Manon is trying to juggle her family life with her husband and two kids while working part-time on cold cases. While on a walk with her two year old son, Teddy, she comes across a young migrant found hanging from a tree. She quickly heads home to report it, knowing somehow that she’ll be the one to investigate the case. What she doesn’t know is that she’ll soon be dealing with the issues of illegal immigrants, racism, and xenophobia. As SIO on this case now, Manon has even less time to deal with issues at home until her husband, Mark becomes seriously ill.
At times dark and disturbing, this novel reflects what is happening in so many countries today, showing to what ends people will go to in order to try for a better life.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is that while Steiner was writing it, unbeknownst to her, a tumor was growing in her brain. How interesting that part of this story-line reflects what was happening to Steiner, personally.
A highly recommended series: 5 Bloody Daggers for each: Missing, Presumed; Persons Unknown; Remain Silent.
by Ann Cleeves
Blue Lightning falls midway in the series of Shetland mysteries featuring Jimmy Perez. It really shows Cleeves at her best in both storytelling and creating atmosphere. Fair Isle becomes as strong a character as do Jimmy and the people who inhabit the island. Jimmy accompanied by his new fiancé Fran, returns to his home with much trepidation, knowing that strangers are not readily accepted. With the weather turning cold and stormy the feeling of isolation for many of the residents reaches a fever pitch. And then a body is discovered. A woman has been murdered.
Cut off from the mainland, Jimmy is forced to use what resources he can to conduct an investigation. As he begins interviewing the people who were part of the victim’s circle of friends, family, and acquaintances, he realizes that everyone is hiding something. Whether it’s pertinent to the murder or not – they all have secrets.
But no one, least of all Jimmy, could ever know that the tragic circumstances of this case would determine the direction of Perez’s future for some years to come.
The Lost Ones
by Sheena Kamal
It is debatable if one can find a more emotionally and physically scarred character than Nora Watts, the protagonist in Kamal’s first book in this new series. A five a.m. phone call from a man whose name means nothing to her, sets Nora off on a journey that she’d hoped she’d never have to go on. A girl is missing – one whom Nora is intimately familiar with yet has neither spoken to nor seen – Nora’s fifteen year old daughter whom she gave up for adoption upon her birth.
With only her mutt, Whisper, as a companion, Nora begins her search, relying on her uncanny ability to detect a lie from the truth, and instincts honed by the years that she lived on the streets. She trusts no one – for placing her trust in others has so often backfired in the past.
Kamal’s atmospheric description of Nora’s journey from the rain-soaked streets of Vancouver to the snowy Canadian interior and ultimately to a beautiful island had me shivering from the damp and cold. And Nora, too, is shivering as she faces the demon who has monopolized her nightmares for so many years.
An auspicious beginning to a new series!
by John Banville
It is 1957 in County Wexford, Ireland. The Catholic Church rules every facet of the country. Detective Inspector St. John Strafford is called to the aristocratic home of the Osborne family where a parish priest has been found dead. Strafford meets obstruction to his investigation at every turn as the “powers that be” attempt to sweep this murder under the carpet.
The manner of the priest’s death immediately had me determine the “why” of the murder, and the “who” followed shortly thereafter. I expected much more than the story that has played out so many times before in both real life and in fiction than what Banville hands us here.
The graphic and deeply disturbing description of certain events was, to me, completely unnecessary to the plot development. There were enough hints as to what had taken place without the need for such vivid descriptions.
I found Strafford a rather ambivalent character and as a result just did not find him believable. He was as disappointing as a DI as was the novel as a mystery. I expected more from this Booker Prize winning author.