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!

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

Do’s & Don’ts for Christmas Reads:

Silent Night Deadly Night

So what are you looking for in a Christmas mystery?

If you’re looking for an atmospheric, cozy mystery then choose something by Canadian writer, Vicki Delany.  Her latest novel, Silent Night, Deadly Night, has a good mystery at its core as the residents of Rudolph (a year-round Christmas community) are subjected to a group of “grinches” who almost kill the spirit of Christmas.  Christmas lives, but one of the grinches does not.  

yule log murder

I’d steer away from Leslie Meier’s latest – Yule Log Murder.  A shallower group of characters you’ll never find.  And when it comes to plot? Well, you’d get more satisfaction from reading the back of a cereal box!

It is said that “variety is the spice of life” and you’ll find that in christmas at the mysterious bookshopabundance in Otto Penzler’s anthology: Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop.  For seventeen years Penzler (owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York), commissioned a Christmas story from a leading suspense writer.  The stories were printed as pamphlets (a limited number of 1000 only) and handed out to the customers as a Christmas present. All seventeen are now contained in one volume and there are certainly some gems amongst them.

humbug murders

L.J. Oliver’s The Humbug Murders is the first book in The Ebenezer Scrooge Mystery series.  Scrooge is tasked with investigating the murder of his former boss, Fezziwig, when Fezziwig’s ghost visits him one night.  The book is peopled by so many of the characters from Dickens’ novels that some simply pop in, make an appearance and then disappear, never to be heard of again.  About the only character we don’t encounter is Madame Defarge! Overstuffed with characters, and a series of repulsive crimes make this a most unenjoyable read.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All.  May you find some great “reads” under your Christmas tree!

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

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

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”