Loved it, as I figured I would: The Department of Sensitive Crimes, by Alexander McCall Smith

June 9, 2019 at 5:55 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

  Scandi Blanc. Thus has Alexander McCall Smith named his new series. This is how he describes his latest undertaking in The Scotsman:

“I’ve started a new series set in Sweden. I call it ‘Scandi blanc’ as opposed to Scandi noir.

“My central character is a Swedish detective called Ulf Varg – Ulf means ‘wolf’ in Danish and Varg means ‘wolf’ in Swedish so he’s Wolf Wolf.

“He lives in Malmo and works in this department which deals with unusual crimes.

“He has a dog called Marten, and he’s hearing impaired. He’s the only dog in Sweden who can lip-read, but only in Swedish.

“He also has various sidekicks, but all his cases are really peculiar.

“The whole thing is just having great fun. My books never involve any serious crimes. Nobody is ever killed in any of my books, so there’s no murder there.

“There is a case of lycanthropy, though – somebody who is possibly a werewolf. It’s good Scandinavian stuff and I’ve had tremendous fun.

There is also a case of multiple missing persons. But is it actually a case if one of those reported missing never actually existed in the first place?

One of the reasons I love police procedurals is that you have a team of investigators. The individuals who make up that team are often very interesting in and of themselves. And there interactions can also be quite memorable.

From the jacket copy for The Department of Sensitive Crimes:

Ulf “the Wolf” Varg, the top dog, thoughtful and diligent; Anna Bengstdotter, who’s in love with Varg’s car (and possibly Varg too); Carl Holgersson, who likes nothing ,ore than filling out paperwork; and Erik Nykvist, who is deeply committed to fly fishing.

Throw in a local beat cop who is amiable but talks nonstop, and you have an entirely winning (if, at times, exasperating) ensemble.

Alexander McCall Smith is also great on the subject of dogs. Martin (variable spelling ‘Marten’) is an entirely lovable canine. Freddy de la Haye is my all time favorite fictional dog.

I admit I’ve been made slightly anxious by the appearance of this new series. I see there’s a new Precious Ramotswe novel in the offing, but what about the Isabel Dalhousie series? I love both and don’t want to see either of them supplanted. But McCall Smith is such a prolific writer – just have a look at his Wikipedia entry and you can see for yourself. I probably don’t need to worry.

I’m an Alexander McCall Smith junkie; I don’t deny it. I still have the fondest memory of his appearance at the library several years ago.

Long may he write!

Alexander McCall Smith

 

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Rarely has the Australian outback been brought so vividly to life….The Lost Man, by Jane Harper

June 6, 2019 at 12:50 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

  Jane Harper is a relatively new author; The Lost Man is her third book. She’s been getting consistently favorable reviews, which is why I decided to try this one.

The Bright brothers are  cattle ranchers in Queensland, Australia. Their land is flat, vast, sun baked. There are three brothers: Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. The novel’s prologue reveals that a man has been found dead on a lonely stretch of land that’s well known for having a single gravestone on it.

The name of the man buried beneath had long since vanished, and the landmark was known to locals–all sixty-five of them, plus one hundred thousand head of cattle–simply as the stockman’s grave. That piece of land had never been a cemetery; the stockman had  been put into  the ground where he had died, and in more than a century, no one had joined him.

This is one of the most striking openings I’ve encountered in a novel in a long while. And the rest of the book more than lives up to the promise offered up in this prologue.

I was mesmerized by The Lost Man. I hated to finish it. The ending was just as dramatic as  the beginning; I was held captive by every word in between, as well. Oh, for more reading experiences like this!

Highly recommended, obviously.

I plan to go back and read Jane Harper’s first Two novels, The Dry and Force of Nature.

Jane Harper

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Two pleasing procedurals

June 5, 2019 at 8:17 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

Having fallen hopelessly behind in the reviewing process – and watching as titles pile up in my home office – I’ve decided to take a stab at remedying the situation.

So, to begin:

Both Jo Bannister and Peter Turnbull are, in my view at least, underappreciated writers, at least on this side side of the Atlantic. Both have a large and solid body of work, chiefly in the subgenre of the police procedural. Jo Bannister has authored several series; the one featuring Constable Hazel Best is her latest. Silent Footsteps is the most recent. It takes place, as do its predecessors, in the fictional region of Norbold.

Bannister has a wry sense of humor that often manifests itself in dialog. In this scene, Hazel is seconding Sergeant Murchison as he attempts to interview a possible witnesses to a crime. They belong to a gang called the Canal Crew. Murchison dives right in with a blunt opener:

“So what have you done with Trucker Watts?”
One of the hairy young men appeared to be senior to the other. ‘We ‘aven’t got ‘im. We never ‘ad ‘im. We ‘aven’t seen ‘im.”
There was something almost Shakespearean about it, Hazel thought. But Sergeant Murchison was harder to impress. ‘You saw him this morning, panhandling outside the off-license in Arkwright Street.’
Yes, they admitted, they had. They’d seen him off–or, to be more accurate, they’d seen him leave.They hadn’t seen him since.
‘Is that the truth?’
‘On my mother’s grave.’
Murchison frowned. ‘Your mother’s still alive, Billy Barnes.’
Yeah–but she’s already bought a plot down the Municipal. Cost her an arm and a leg, it did.’

Hazel has a close friendship with Gabriel Ash and talks to him frequently about the cases she’s working on. The two have a interesting back story. To be thoroughly filled in on that, it’s best to go back to the beginning and read Deadly Virtues. In fact, you could commit  yourself to all six books in this series, read them in order, and be well served.

One of my favorite titles by Jo Bannister is a standalone called The Tinderbox.

***************
Cold Wrath 
is a different story. It’s the twenty-fifth entry in the series featuring Chief Inspector George Hennessey and Detective Sergeant Somerled (pronounced ‘Sorely’) Yellich. In each of these slender novels, Peter Turnbull presents the reader with an intriguing puzzle. A body is discovered in an odd place; sometimes it’s  several bodies. Watching the action unfold as Hennessey, Yellich,  and company pursue various leads is invariably a pleasurable experience – at least, it is for this devoted lover of police procedurals.

Part of the enjoyment of immersing oneself in these novels resides in the fact that  they’re set in York, in the north of England. This is a magical city, steeped in history and  crowned by the presence of York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern England.

Another thing that distinguishes these novels is the author’s use of somewhat antiquated diction. This is especially evident in the way he begins each new chapter. This, for example, appears above Chapter Three:

In which the reason why Miles Law delayed calling the police upon discovering the body of Anthony Garrett is revealed, and Reginald Webster and Carmen Pharoah and George Hennessey are severally at home to the urbane and always too forgiving reader.

There’s something oddly Victorian about it, n’est-ce pas? Reginald Webster and Carmen Pharoah, by the way, are additional members of Hennessey’s team of investigators. All of these characters have interesting back stories, which are reiterated anew in each book.

I’ve read something like seventeen novels in this series. I never tire of them, and always  look forward to the next one.

Jo Bannister

Peter Turnbull

 

 

 

 

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‘The sense of proximate skin–of latent power beneath respectable garments–it had the effect of spring water, bubbling beneath her skin.’ – Courting Mr. Lincoln, by Louis Bayard

May 25, 2019 at 3:24 pm (Book review, books, Historical fiction, Mystery fiction)

  A thoughtful essay on historical fiction recently appeared in The New York Times Style Magazine. “Why Are We Living in a Golden Age of Historical Fiction?” may be  a somewhat clunky title – at least, I find it so – but author Megan O’Grady makes some points worth pondering:

A new kind of historical fiction has evolved to show us that the past is no longer merely prologue but story itself, shaping our increasingly fractured fairy tales about who we are as a society. The unmooring of time can be found everywhere, in battles for social progress we thought we’d already fought and won. In the media age, history is not simply a chain of facts recorded by scholars but a complex narrative harnessed by political parties and Facebook disinformation campaigns to speak to our sense of identity and belonging. The past we inherit speaks to us individually and collectively, but a common thread, much less a consensus view of reality, feels increasingly hard to come by.

The author mentions a number of titles. Three are among my favorites. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel evokes a turbulent period in English history with uncanny exactitude. And the other – O’Grady calls it “Penelope Fitzgerald’s strange and wonderful take on Novalis” – The Blue Flower.

Two mystery series, not well known in this country, more than satisfy my craving for atmospheric historical fiction: PF Chisholm’s Sir Robert Carey books and the Titus Cragg and Luke Fidelis novels written by Robin Blake.

And I’ve just finished the richly rewarding Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard. While my husband and I were vacationing in the Hudson River Valley, I had  the great good fortune to be reading A Pale Blue Eye, Bayard’s fictional  account of Edgar Allan Poe’s brief and turbulent tenure at West Point. So I had high hopes for this new novel – which hopes were more than fulfilled.

I can do no better than to quote from the jacket copy:

Told in the alternating voices of Mary Todd and Joshua Speed, and inspired by historical  events, Courting Mr. Lincoln creates a sympathetic and complex portrait of Mary unlike any that has come before; a moving and deep portrayal of the deep and real connection between the two men; and most of all, an evocation of the unformed man who would  grow into one of the nation’s most beloved presidents.

 

There’s some lovely writing in this novel, as is seen in the title of this post. Also some  delightful dialog, as in this exchange wherein Joshua Speed is trying to teach the awkward and unschooled Lincoln the rudiments of ballroom etiquette:
“All right,’ said Joshua. Try it with me. Until you find your way.”
“We’ll regret this,” Lincoln said.
“Now you are the lead, so you will just…you will hook your right hand round my back. Like that. Now I will rest my hand…lightly…here.
“This will end badly.”
“Be quiet. Now…raise your elbows. Shoulder height, that’s it. And back straight. And knees…well, you can bend the knees a little.”
“Like this?”
“Well, no, not like you’re praying.”
“I am praying.”
Dare I use the word, charming? Because that’s what this is. and much of the rest of the book as well. Charming, heartfelt, and irresistible.

Louis Bayard

 

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Crime fiction: First lines of note

May 5, 2019 at 10:47 pm (books, Mystery fiction)

I’ve recently come across two memorable beginning sentences in works of crime fiction.

From The Secret Pilgrim by John Le Carre:

Let me confess to you at once that if I had not, on the spur of the moment, picked up my pen  and scribbled a note to George Smiley inviting him to address my passing-out class on the closing evening of their entry course–and had Smiley not against all my expectations, consented–I would not be making so free to you with my heart.

The entire paragraph consists of this one sentence. The Secret Pilgrim is copyright 1990 but might as well be dated 1890, or even earlier, so graceful and old-fashioned is it, in its expressiveness.

For me, A Legacy of Spies (2017) was triumphant return to form for John Le Carre (not that he was ever really off form). And there is a new novel on the horizon: An Agent Running in the Field, due out here in October.

Alec Guinness as George Smiley. The Secret Pilgriim is dedicated by Le Carre to Alec Guinness, “with affection and thanks”

 

John Le Carre, at his home in Cornwall. What kind if expression is that: querulous? quizzical? inscrutable? some combination?

***************

A completely different case is presented by the opening gambit of the story “Dark Waters” by Freeman Wills Crofts:

For years Weller, the solicitor, had handled Marbeck’s affairs, and when he received the old man’s letter saying that he wanted to realise some securities, it struck him like a sentence of death.

Well, gosh! Talk about in medias res!

The story is off to a frantic start; Crofts sustains the pitch right through to the end of this brief and powerful tale.

“Dark Waters” appears in Bodies from the Library, an excellent new anthology featuring, according to the subtitle, Lost Tales of Mystery and Suspense by Agatha Christie and Other Masters of the Golden Age. As for Freeman Wills Crofts, he is one of the Golden Age writers whose works are  currently being reissued as part of the British Library’s Crime Classics initiative.

In the 1920s high culture priest T.S. Eliot, an avid detective fiction reader, classed Crofts with R. Austin Freeman, a still-active contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle, as the two greatest living detective novelists. Of Crofts, Ivor Brown, drama critic and Oxford graduate in the Classics, sics, humbly declared: “Before his invention, mine eyes dazzle.”

Curtis J. Evans, Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920–1961

The meticulous account of detective work, coupled with the ingenuity of the construction (and deconstruction) of the alibi were  to become Freeman Wills Crofts’ hallmarks, and they sett his debut novel apart from the competition. Over the next twenty years, the book sold more than 100,000 copies.

Martin Edwards on The Cask, in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

The Cask is excellent; I highly recommend it.

Freeman Wills Crofts  1879-1957

 

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So many mysteries….

April 19, 2019 at 8:49 pm (books, Mystery fiction)

 

I felt like reading another British Library Crime Classic, so I picked up Thirteen Guests. J. Jefferson Farjeon’s Mystery in White is the book that kicked off this series of reissues. Not all of these books have worked for me, but that one certainly did. If not quite as gratifying as Mystery in White, Thirteen Guests was nevertheless an enjoyable read. Luckily, there are more titles available by Farjeon. I intend to feast on all of them.

I wanted to read Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters because I was intrigued by a character in the Maigret series that I first encountered in Maigret and the Dead Girl. That character is the above named Lognon, commonly referred to be his police colleagues as Inspector Hard-Done-By.

Lognon is in fact an excellent investigator, but luck always goes against him. He wants more than anything to work alongside Maigret and his team at their headquarters in 36 Quai des Orfevres. But inevitably, his performance falls short of that dream. And so he trudges home to his invalid wife – a woman rather hard done by herself, I’d say – and their cramped little apartment, with very little to show for his considerable efforts. This includes, in the course of dogged pursuit of criminals, taking a beating that puts him in the hospital.

(As of September 2017, the headquarters of the Police Judiciaire is no longer at Quai des Orfevre, but has moved to premises on the Rue De Saussaies. The Research and Intervention Brigade, however, still operated out of the older location.)

I recommend both Maigret novels, but then I’m somewhat indiscriminate in my affection for this series.

A Suspicion of Silver is the ninth novel in the series featuring Sir Robert Carey, a character based on an actual historical personage from the Elizabethan era. A while back, I led a discussion with the Usual Suspects of the first series entry, A Famine of Horses. There was strong feeling in the group that Chisholm had made too free use of Archaic vocabulary without providing a glossary. Well, for this latest outing, she included a very lengthy glossary in the notes at the front of the novel. (“She listened!’ Frank exclaimed.)

The Silver in the title refers to ore which is being illegally gotten from a mining operation overseen by German emigres, experts in the process. Very interesting, and historically accurate as well. As for Sir Robert, he’s his usual resourceful, irreverent self, and still pining for his beloved – and married, though lovelessly –  Lady Elizabeth Widdrington.

From 1593, we go back to 1549 and the tumult and disorder of the reign of Edward VI. Not really Edward’s fault: he was twelve years old at the time. His reign was being overseen by a council of regents led first by his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and subsequently by John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick, who in 1551 became Duke of Northumberland.

Tombland is the seventh entry in C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. Shardlake, a Sergeant-at-law, carries out commissions assigned to him by the likes of Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, and Queen Catherine Parr. In Tombland, he is tasked by the Lady Elizabeth with looking into the murder of  the wife of John Boleyn,  a distant relation of hers. Elizabeth will one day be queen, but at the time this story takes place, her position is somewhat precarious; for instance, despite being the daughter of the late King Henry VIII, she is not permitted to call herself “Princess.”

Shardlake’s investigation takes him Norfolk, in the East of England, just as a peasant revolt is heating up. Soon Kett’s Rebellion has burst onto the scene. Shardlake becomes legal advisor to its leader Robert Kett, partly in order to save his own skin and that of his assistants, as the politically and religiously fueled mayhem gains momentum. His investigation is  forced, at least for the time being, into abeyance.

Andrew Taylor, himself a writer of excellent historical crime fiction, says this of C.J. Sansom’s series:

Where Shardlake goes, so do we. Sansom has the trick of writing an enthralling narrative. Like Hilary Mantel, he produces densely textured historical novels that absorb their readers in another time. He has a PhD in history and it shows — in a good way. He is scrupulous about distinguishing between fact and fiction.

Tombland is some eight hundred pages long. It provides the reader with a fully immersive experience in the turbulence of mid-sixteenth century England. Sansom has appended an afterward of some fifty or sixty pages of historical explication. So: a commitment, for sure, but well worth it, in my view.

Michael Connelly has reached a point in his career as a writer of police procedurals where he’s hitting them out of the park, one after another. In the beginning, there was Harry Bosch; then came Harry’s half brother and lawyer Mickey Haller. Now they’re appearing together. Then came Renee Ballard. She debuted in the excellent novel The Late Show. Next, she appears with Harry in Dark Sacred Night. And it all works – beautifully!

Lately, I’ve been listening to these books on CD. They’re usually read by Titus Welliver, who plays Bosch on the Amazon Prime TV series. Most recently, I listened to Two Kinds of Truth. Among other things – there’s always a lot going on in these books – Harry undertakes an undercover assignment where he’s embedded in an operation run by drug dealers who enlist addicts to score prescriptions for opioids and other saleable drugs at so-called “pill mills.” Vivid, true to life, and very scary!

Author Gallery

Georges Simenon

P.F. Chisholm (Patricia Finney)

Michael Connelly

 

C.J. Sansom, with a most excellent feline companion

What’s up next for me in this, my favorite genre? I’m currently reading Overture to Death, the next Usual Suspects selection. The author is Ngaio Marsh, whom I greatly admire. Then I’m very much looking forward to new entries in three of my best-loved series: Hitmen I Have Known, a Harpur and Isles (Yes!) mystery by Bill James; Cold Wrath by Peter Turnbull (Hennessey and Yellich are back, to my delight.) and Rough Music, the fifth Cragg and Fidelis historical mystery by Robin Blake.

 

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Mysteries: from India to Italy in one enriching leap

April 15, 2019 at 7:06 pm (Book review, books, Italy, Mystery fiction)

In February, Marge led the Usual Suspects in a discussion of A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee. This is the initial entry in a series set in post-World-War-One India, and it’s a great example of a first time author who hit the ground running. Beautifully written, this novel takes full advantage of its exotic setting, all the while weaving a tale of intrigue and introducing us to a memorable cast of characters. Chief among these is Captain Sam Wyndham, veteran of the Great War, who has been recruited to serve in the police force of India’s British Raj. His Sergeant is Surendranath Banerjee, called ‘Surrender-not’ because Sam and others have trouble pronouncing his name. (At any rate, it proves an apt nickname; he does not surrender to difficulty easily but is persistent and resourceful, and a great help to Sam.)

  Oh, and there’s a love interest for Sam. I just finished the second book, A Necessary Evil – also excellent – and all I have to say is, Make your wishes known, Sam, for heaven’s sake! Remember: He who hesitates….

Meanwhile, tensions between the Indians and their British overlords are portrayed with blunt realism. Even back then – undoubtedly before then – Indians were agitating for independence. Reading about the attitude of the British toward the native population, it’s no wonder. Enough to make you seethe with indignation, on their behalf.

Yet amidst all the turmoil, the allure of the place persists. From A Necessary Evil:

We left him and followed Sayeed Ali along a corridor whose walls were lined with murals that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Kama Sutra, and into a cloistered courtyard dominated by a huge banyan tree….We walked through another arched doorway into a stairwell, climbing two flights before entering a well-apportioned sunlit apartment. The room was divided by a carved teak screen peppered with small holes. In front of the screen, the marble floor was covered with a black and gold Persian rug, strewn with silk cushions.

There are those who maintain that this sort of meticulous description does not belong in crime fiction. I for one love it.

Banyan trees, by the way, are rather startling entities. Growing up in South Florida, I remember seeing them from time to time:

A Rising Man won the 2017 Historical Dagger Award, and was a finalist for the Gold Dagger, the Barry for Best First Mystery, the Edgar for Best Mystery, and the Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery.

A Necessary Evil was a Gold Dagger finalist ,as well as a finalist for  the Historical Dagger and for the Barry Award for Best Mystery. The third entry in the series, Smoke and Ashes, is already out.

(This information and more is “at your fingertips” can be found at the site Stop!YoureKillingMe.com)
*************************
  Then it was off to Italy, or more specifically, to Venice. Actually, the way that Donna Leon writes about La Serenissima, it seems less like a part of Italy and more like a separate principality, which, of course, it once was….

Unto Us a Son Is Given is, by my count, the 28th entry in Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series. Of these, I’ve read at least twenty. The Commissario and I are old friends; likewise, his wife Paola and children Raffi and Chiara. The latter has become an ardent conservationist; Brunetti is proud of her and her new found commitment to the cause.

The Brunetti family members are all getting older but at a blessedly slow rate. Reading each new book in this wonderful series gives me the chance to spend time with them in their magical dwelling place.

Brunetti’s fellow police officers are also on the scene, both those he genuinely likes, like Vianello, Signorina Elettra Zorzi, and Claudia Griffoni, and those whom he has learned to tolerate, like Lieutenant Scarpa. (That name always makes me think of Scarpia, the arch villain in Puccini’s Tosca.)

The plot – it’s not much of a mystery, really – concerns one Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada. This elderly gentleman is a wealthy friend of Brunetti’s father-in-law, Count Orazio Falier. Gonzalo is openly gay and, at this late stage of his life, is preparing to adopt a young man as his son. Gonzalo has no other immediate family, but he does have several siblings, including a sister to whom he is quite close. At any rate, Falier has his doubts about this prospective adoptee and asks Brunetti to see what he can discover about him.

This novel has an unusual structure for a mystery. Progress in the investigation is slow and methodical, yielding very few surprises. Then, about three quarters of the way  through the book, there’s a murder. It’s sudden, and deeply shocking.

I really liked this book – well, I like every book in this series. Donna Leon is one of my favorite authors. She never disappoints – at least, that’s the case where this reader is concerned.

 

 

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Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine forges ahead into the Digital Age

March 29, 2019 at 4:14 pm (Magazines and newspapers, Mystery fiction)

For years now, the arrival of the quarterly publication Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine has been cause for rejoicing.  Loaded with astute criticism, numerous reading recommendations (with helpfully assigned letter grades), and author news and information, this splendid periodical is a must read for fanatical crime fiction fans like Yours Truly.

The Editor/Publisher of Deadly Pleasures is Mr. George A. Easter. In this effort he is assisted by Associate Editor Larry Gandle and a number of knowledgeable and perceptive contributors.

In the Winter 2019 issue, Mr. Easter made known his intention to transform Deadly Pleasures to a digital only entity. When I first read this announcement, I admit that my heart sank. I prefer my newspapers and magazines to be in hard copy. But Mr. Easter has good reasons for making this switch. He gives those reasons in a special editorial, where he also acknowledges that for some readers, this will be not be a welcome change.

He offered to send me the PDF version of this issue of the magazine. I admit I was deeply impressed. My doubts pretty much evaporated.

And now is the moment to say that this issue of Deadly Pleasures, in any format, is a real triumph. To begin with, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Bouchercon Mystery Convention. To mark the occasion, George Easter was asked to come up with two booklists. One is entitled “Most Influential Novels of the Bouchercon Era,” and the other is “Great Reads from the Bouchercon Era, 1969-2019.” Mr. Easter is soliciting input from readers on both lists, but for myself, I can’t think how either one could be improved.

The second one, especially, is so full of excellent titles that I wanted to drop everything else and just read my way through it. This, despite the fact that I’ve already read several: The Laughing Policeman by  Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall, The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker, Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, The Dead of Jericho by Colin Dexter, and so on. These are all great inclusions, and there are many, many more.

But wait! In addition to these, there are Best of 2018 lists, starting with George Easter’s own selections. I particularly loved this list because – well, the fact is I often like the same books that George likes, to wit: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan, Snap by Belinda Bauer, The Fox by the venerable Frederick Forsyth, and three of my absolute favorite titles from last year: Broken Ground by Val McDermid, The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry, and November Road by Lou Berney.

This issue is fairly bursting with ‘Best of 2018’ lists. Three by distinguished mystery fiction experts  Oline Codgill, Otto Penzler, and Marilyn Stasio, followed by two pages of lists from various publications and websites.

There’s more… But let’s stop there and let me now guide you directly to this cornucopia of crime fiction. George Easter is most eager for folks to subscribe to the digital version of Deadly Pleasures. Toward  that end, he is graciously allowing me to post the link to the PDF of this Winter 2019 issue of the magazine. Here it is:

https://filedn.com/lw969DNk35fFeYTvNXSLMOY/Deadly%20Pleasures%20Mystery%20Magazine%20-%20Winter%202019%20-%20Issue%2085.pdf

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The Burglar, by Thomas Perry

March 9, 2019 at 5:48 pm (Mystery fiction)

  An attractive young woman is jogging in one of Southern California’s many posh neighborhoods. She’s wiry, full of energy, good looking. She is alone; the sun, almost always blazing brightly, is setting now. This woman intrigues you, as she is meant to do. You both admire her and fear for her safety.

But you can put your anxieties to rest. Elle Stowell – that’s her name –  is well equipped to take care of herself. In point of fact, what she is actually doing as she moves swiftly and silently along this quiet street in Bel-Air is, to put it bluntly, casing the joint.

Yes, Elle Stowell is an unusual person. I found that as I read, it took some doing to get used to her. Her character is more subtly drawn, more complex than you might at first believe it to be. She gets herself in a jam early on when in the course of pursuing her “profession,” she stumbles upon a  scene of horror that she was never meant to witness. And her witnessing causes a subsequent tragedy that changes the course of her life. Among other things, it adds another skill to her resume: that of investigator, and a relentless one at that.

Perry has an offbeat sense of humor; it’s never more in play than when he describes Elle’s take on relations between the sexes, to wit:

The problem was that men thought of themselves as being more similar to anything else on the planet–male horses or wildebeests or  chipmunks–then to female human beings. Women were their opposite. To them, a thirty-two-year-old male physicist was more similar to a billy goat  than to a thirty-two-year-old female physicist.

I mostly enjoyed keeping company with Elle, although at times her ingenuity stretched my credulity. Truth be told,  I was looking for another Bomb Maker and this novel wasn’t quite it; for one thing, the structure wasn’t as cunning as it was in that masterful scare job. Nonetheless, The Burglar was an enjoyable read, and I’d be happy to encounter Elle Stowell again. She is nothing if not resourceful!

Thomas Perry

 

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‘What seems beyond comprehension to the police is mere amusement to the professor.’ – Jacques Futrelle’s Thinking Machine stories

February 23, 2019 at 12:18 am (Mystery fiction, Short stories)

The American author Jacques Futrelle wrote mystery short stories in the early years of the 20th century. His name often appears in the ranks of those authors referred to as creators of the rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Others  often considered to be among this cohort are Arthur Morrison (Martin Hewitt), R. Austin Freeman (Dr. John Thorndyke), and G.K. Chesterton (Father Brown).

Futrelle’s protagonist is Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, more widely known as The Thinking Machine. He’s described thus on the Mysterious Press website:

Slender, stooped, his appearance dominated by his large forehead and perpetual squint, Van Dusen spends his days in the laboratory and his nights puzzling over the details of extraordinary crimes. What seems beyond comprehension to the police is mere amusement to the professor. All things that start must go somewhere, he firmly believes, and with the application of logic, all problems can be solved.

I’ve read several of the stories  featuring The Thinking Machine, and have enjoyed each of them. Most recently I read one entitled “The Problem of the Stolen Rubens.” It has an opening line that I love:

Matthew Kale made fifty million dollars out of axle grease, after which he began to patronize the high arts.

Here’s the rest of the paragraph:

It was simple enough: he had the money, and Europe had the old masters. His method of buying was simplicity itself. There were five thousand square yards, more or less, in the huge gallery of his marble mansion which were to be covered, so he bought five thousand square yards, more or less, of art. Some of it was good, some of it fair, and much of it bad. The chief picture of the collection was a Rubens, which he had picked up in Rome for fifty thousand dollars.

I also recommend “The Phantom Motor” and “The Problem of Cell 13.” The official Jacques Futrelle site has links to the full text of both of these (as  well as to “The Stolen Rubens).”

Then there’s “The Tragedy of the Life Raft.”

It is difficult to say exactly when this was written. It’s one of four stories Futrelle left at  home among his papers, unpublished, as he and his wife sailed to Europe.

In much of the writing of that era, there is a sense of an inexorable destiny lying in wait for the characters. This is true of the nonfiction as well as the fiction of that period. (That sensibility is, for instance, very much at work in”“A Memorable Murder,” Celia Thaxter’s account of the murders on Smutty Nose Island in 1873.) Futrelle’s story, though, points the finger of fate directly at the author himself. For he and his wife had booked their passage back to  the U.S. aboard the HMS Titanic.

This line appears near the story’s beginning:

Slowly, as he looked, the sky became a lashing, mist-covered sea, a titanic chaos of water; and upon its troubled bosom rode a life raft to which three persons  were clinging.

Futrelle’s wife survived. He did not. His body was never recovered. He was 37 years old.

To read the complete article, click here.here.

Jacques Futrelle 1875-1912

 

 

 

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