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

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”

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 woman in cabin 10The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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?

4 Daggers
Joanne gives this “4 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

Road to Grantchester coverThe Road to Granchester by James Runcie

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.

4 Daggers
Joanne gives this “4 daggers out of 5”

madoc and janet rhys.pngThe Madoc and Janet Rhys Mysteries by Charlotte MacLeod:

  • A Pint of Murder
  • Murder Goes Mumming
  • A Dismal Thing to Do
  • Trouble in the Brasses
  • The Wrong Rite

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.

4 Daggers
Joanne gives this “4 daggers out of 5”

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

We All Fall DownWe All Fall Down by Daniel Kalla

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.

4 Daggers
Joanne gives this “4 daggers out of 5”

A high mortality dovesA High Mortality of Doves by Kate Ellis

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. 

One Dagger
Joanne gives this “1 dagger 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”.