Friday, September 28, 2012

A Profile in Courage

There seems to be an interesting subgenre in mysteries where historic figures are cast as the protagonist. For example, the George Baxt celebrity sleuth series, Elliot Roosevelt's mysteries  featuring his mother Eleanor, or, more recently, Joanna Challis' series with a young Daphne du Maurier as sleuth.  So it was with a certain amount of curiosity that I picked up Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews.

The world is poised on the brink of war, the United States has no intelligence service overseas, and Roosevelt is ready to run for his third term in office.  Jack, the 22-year-old second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Ambassador to Britain, plans to spend his junior year traveling through Europe collecting research for his senior thesis. Before he set sails on the Queen Mary, however, Jack is escorted to a secret meeting with President Roosevelt.

Hoping to recruit Jack as his own personal spy in Europe, the President shares some top secret information about a Nazi plot to buy votes in the 1940 election and oust Roosevelt.  Being the President's eyes and ears are not without risk, as Jack soon discovers.  There are murders and chases, questionable allies and ruthless villains.  And that's before he even lands in Europe!  Jack's charm and intelligence are very much in evidence, but you see a vulnerable side as well in this young man.  He not only deals with  dangerous situations, but with his own ailing constitution.  How does the saying go?  A courageous hero feels fear but acts anyway.

This is a sexy, entertaining spy thriller that I truly enjoyed.  It's not an easy feat to take such a well-known historic figure and place him in such an incredulous position, but author Francine Mathews has done a superb job.  Of course, she has had some considerable experience -- she also writes a series of mysteries under the name of Stephanie Barron featuring the exploits of Jane Austen.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Well Met at Reichenbach Falls

One of the most memorable scenes from the Sherlock Holmes canon is the epic struggle between Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty.  The tussle ends with both characters plunging to their deaths -- apparently.  Well, such is the fervor of diehard fans, the members of the Sherlock Holmes Society have been making the pilgrimage to Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland every year since 1969 to re-enact the scene.

The Falls not only attract Holmes fans, but tourists from around the world.  A local church has a museum that includes a replica of 221 B Baker Street.  Check out the full article and video on BBC News Magazine  for quite an interesting story.

Thanks to Morgan for the tip.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bloody Scotland's Crime Novel of 2012

The winner of the 2012 Best Crime Novel was announced yesterday at the Bloody Scotland Festival held in Sterling .  The festival rewards excellence in Scottish crime writing. Eligible books are by writers born in Scotland, by writers living in Scotland, or books set in Scotland.

The coveted award was given to Charles Cumming for his book A Foreign Country.

From the publisher:
On the vacation of a lifetime in Egypt, an elderly French couple are brutally murdered. Days later, a meticulously-planned kidnapping takes place on the streets of Paris. Amelia Levene, the first female Chief of MI6, has disappeared without a trace, six weeks before she is due to take over as the most influential spy in Europe. It is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced in more than a decade. Desperate not only to find her, but to keep her disappearance a secret, Britain’s top intelligence agents turn to one of their own: disgraced MI6 officer Thomas Kell. Tossed out of the Service only months before, Kell is given one final chance to redeem himself - find Amelia Levene at any cost. The trail leads Kell to France and Tunisia, where he uncovers a shocking secret and a conspiracy that could have unimaginable repercussions for Britain and its allies. Only Kell stands in the way of personal and political catastrophe.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Coppers and Murderers

If you've been as caught up in BBC America's new crime drama, Copper, as I have, you may want to continue the experience.  The show is set in 1864 New York City, mainly in the tenements of the notorious slums in Five Points. 

Here are some mysteries with similar settings:
  • Murphy's Law by Rhys Bowen is the first in the series featuring Irish immigrant Molly Murphy, whose ambition is to be a private investigator in New York City. She uses her charm and sharp with to solve crimes, sometimes to the chagrin of her boyfriend, police captain Daniel Sullivan.
  • The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay, Faye.  Timothy Wilde, a 27-year-old Irish immigrant, joins the newly formed New York Police Department and investigates a series of gruesome murders in Five Points.
  • Lucifer Contract by Maan Meyers is a Civil War thriller based on an actual event.  In 1864, a group of Confederate officers slip into New York City with the intent ot embarrass Abraham Lincoln and create havoc on election day.
  • Murder on Sister's Row by Victoria Thompson is part of the Gaslight Mystery series featuring midwife Sarah Brandt and her friend Detective Sgt. Frank Malloy.  When a philanthropist's involvement in the rescue of a prostitute leads to murder, Sarah and Malloy are determined to bring the murderer to justice.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What We're Reading: Susan Hill Mysteries

A Guest Post by Librarian Melissa --
Once again I had recourse to Aunt Agatha's advice, and recently began on the Simon Serrailler mysteries by Susan Hill. Hill is best known, however, not for her mysteries, but for a book she wrote in 1983, The Woman in Black. It is a ghost story with such impact that it was adapted as a play by Stephen Mallatratt and has been in theaters in London (and elsewhere) since 1988. Most recently, in February of this year, the story became a motion picture starring Daniel Radcliffe, formerly (and always) known as Harry Potter. She has also written a variety of other novels, including a sequel to Daphne Du Maurier's classic, Rebecca, titled Mrs. De Winter.

On her website, Hill says, "I had never thought of writing crime novels because to me those had always meant ‘detective stories’ and although I enjoyed reading them, I knew I would be no good at the problem-solving sort of story with a series of dropped clues and a surprise ending. But the crime novel has become a serious literary genre over the last few decades and I realised that it presented the sort of challenge I wanted. My aim was to look at issues in the world around me and contemporary life–which I have not done in my novels before. I also wanted to know not ‘who dunnit’ but much more importantly, WHY? What motivates a criminal? Why does someone murder and perhaps not only once?"

Hill succeeds admirably with this series set in a small cathedral town in the south of England, but if you are looking for books in which the detective ties up each crime neatly by the end of the book, she is not for you. In fact, Hill defies many of the traditions of the serial mystery writer: She kills off people you think will be major characters who will continue from book to book (and usually they are your favorites); her detective, DCS Simon Serailler (a tall, cool, enigmatic blond), fails to solve a mystery by the end of one book, then picks it up again at the beginning of the next and figures it out halfway through that one; and her focus is wide, including the relatives, friends and love interests of her detective, as well as the personal stories of half a dozen others in each book, sometimes including the significant others of both the victims and the criminals.

It is these character studies that keep you coming back for more--you want to know what happens to these people, about whom Hill makes you care. Although her books are not quite as minutiae-filled as author Tana French's books, I think it is that same attention to place, person and detail that makes them appealing to me.

There are seven books to date, beginning with The Various Haunts of Men and ending with The Betrayal of Trust, and a new book is coming out later in the fall. Can't wait!

[Librarian Melissa can usually be found blogging on the Burbank Public Library blog and her Young Adult blog, YA Think?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

New Mysteries for September

What's new in September?  Check out these titles.  Although Noir master James M. Cain died 35 years ago, his last "lost" novel is being published this month. The book tells the tale of a young, beautiful widow who “takes a job as a waitress in a cocktail lounge, where she meets two new men: a handsome young schemer she falls in love with, and a wealthy older man she marries.”  The novel was assembled by Charles Ardai from several undated versions by Cain.

  • Cause of Death [Rina Martin] by Jane Adams
  • The Darling Dahlias and the Confederate Rose by Susan Wittig Albert
  • Outrage [Erlendur]by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Dead Ends by Sandra Balzo
  • Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay
  • Hiss and Hers [Agatha Raisin] by M.C. Beaton
  • Death’s Door [Billy Boyle] by James R. Benn
  • Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice [Jesse Stone] by Michael Brandman
  • Tiger’s Claw [Patrick McLanahan] by Dale Brown
  • Low Pressure by Sandra Brown
  • The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain 
  • Queens Ransom  by Tori Carrington
  • Frozen Heat [Nikki Heat] by Richard Castle
  • A Wanted Man [Jack Reacher ] by Lee Child
  • Seconds Away  by Harlan Coben   [YA]
  • Buffalo Bill’s Dead Now by Margaret Coel
  • The Tombs [Sam & Remi Fargo] by Clive Cussler & Thomas Perry
  • More Than Sorrow by Vicki Delany
  • Face of the Enemy by Joanne Dobson & Beverle Graves Myers
  • Mirage  by Clive Cussler & Jack Du Brul
  • Watching the Ghosts [Joe Plantagenet] by Kate Ellis
  • The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis
  • Lucky Stuff by Sharon Fiffer
  • Serenade to a Cuckoo by Flo Fitzpatrick
  • Robert Ludlum’s The Janus Reprisal by Jamie Freveletti
  • Laws in Conflict  by Cora Harrison
  • Car Wash Blues  by Michael Haskins
  • Murder in Mind by Veronica Heley
  • Red Jacket by Joseph Heywood
  • Tombstone Blues  by Ken Hodgson
  • In the Shadows of Paris [Victor Legris] by Claude Izner
  • Detroit Breakdown by D.E. Johnson
  • The Three Day Affair by Michael Kardos
  • Murder Most Austen by Tracy Kiely
  • Garment of Shadows [Mary Russell] by Laurie R. King
  • Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf
  • Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski [1st US edition]
  • Father Night by Eric Van Lustbader
  • Blood Lies [Rogue Warrior ] by Richard Marcinko & Jim DeFelice
  • Seven Days [Benny Griessel by Deon Meyer
  • Phantom [Harry Hole] by Jo Nesbø
  • Breed  by Chase Novak
  • Bleeding Through by Sandra Parshall
  • A Fistful of Collars [Chet & Bernie] by Spencer Quinn
  • Delusion in Death  by J.D. Robb
  • The Incense Game [Sano Ichiro] by Laura Joh Rowland
  • The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan
  • Black Fridays by Michael Sears
  • Elvis and the Blue Christmas Corpse [Southern Cousins] by Peggy Webb
  • A Death in Valencia by Jason Webster
  • Gone by Randy Wayne White
  • Severe Clear [Stone Barrington] by Stuart Woods