Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Moonflower Murders
by Anthony Horowitz

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!

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

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

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!

Joanne gives this book 5 stars out of 5!
Joanne gives some of the stories and the SHEDUNNIT podcast 5 daggers out of 5!

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!

Illustration of 3 bloody knives, with only 3 of them coloured in. The other two are just grey.
       Joanne gives this book 3 daggers out of 3!

Remain Silent
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.

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

Blue Lightning
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.

Joanne gives this book 4 daggers out of 5!

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!

  Joanne gives this book 4 daggers out of 5!

18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics
by Bruce Goldfarb

In reviewing this book I’m deviating from the usual mysteries/crime/thriller books that I normally blog about. But I think this is such an important book that I wanted to make it known to the many lovers of the mystery genre for it gives background to the rules that govern the investigation of crimes and crime scenes, which is certainly something every good sleuth should know.

I’m a miniaturist – I make dollhouses, scale roomboxes, miniature furniture and accessories.  I learned about the subject of this book – Frances Glessner Lee – through the 1/12” scale (where 1” represents 1 ft. in real life) dioramas depicting real crime scenes that she created (see The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death: Essay and Photography by Corinne May Botz).  However, I was totally unaware of the journey that Glessner Lee had to take to get to this point.  Here was a woman who had no scientific or medical background but who began to question how unexplained and unexpected deaths were investigated. Up to this point the field of legal medicine” (forensic science) was steeped in politics, corruption and fear.

Frances worked to have medical examiners replacecoroners (who needed no knowledge of law or medicine, were appointed to their positions and were often corrupt).  In 1943 she became a consultant to the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard Medical School where she created an intensive week-long seminar for police officers.  The seminars provided the participants with the tools necessary to investigate unexpected and unexplained deaths including: how to estimate time of death, decomposition and other post mortem changes, blunt and sharp force injuries and related areas of death investigation.  Harvard Medical School was the only place in the U.S. to offer this seminar. In 1944 Glessner Lee created the dioramas to provide a 3D view of a crime scene, critical to any investigation.  They became an important component to the seminars then and continue to do so today.  “Today, the Frances Glessner Lee Seminar in Homicide Investigation is held at the Forensic Medical Center for the State of Maryland in Baltimore.  The seminars are conducted in accordance with the traditions set by Lee,…

This is a compact version of Francis Glessner Lee’s contribution to forensic science as outlined in this book.  She did so much more.  She was the first person to push to have forensic odontology (teeth) be used to identify victims, though no one at the time felt that this was a valuable tool.  Of course, today, it is used when necessary.  She was always fighting an uphill battle: against sexism, ageism, and ignorance, but she never waivered in her pursuit of what she felt was needed and necessary.

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

Snow
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.

Joanne gives this book 2 daggers out of 5!

The Unlocking Season
By Gail Bowen

Family has always been at the heart of Bowen’s series featuring Joanne Kilbourn (now Kilbourn-Shreve).  Now at the age of 60 Joanne is going back to her adolescence when she and Sally Love were the best of friends.  Sisters and Strangers, a new six-part TV series, is being produced by her good friend Roy Brodnitz who has asked her to work on the script.  It captures the tumultuous time between two men – Joanne’s biological father and the man she called father throughout her youth and the relationships that were made and broken during those years.

Before production even begins, Roy Brodnitz disappears and is later found in a state of severe hysteria and fear.  Nothing prepares Joanne and the production crew for his horrible death and Joanne is determined to find out the circumstances leading up to it.  Supported by family and close friends, Joanne is forced to make some serious decisions about what she should reveal in order to preserve Roy’s legacy.  Which skeletons should remain in the closet?

Joanne gives this book 3 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

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.

Joanne gives this book 4 daggers out of 5!