Archives for posts with tag: Mystery


     Are you Sherlocked?  The new season of the PBS show, Sherlock, has sent me down a Holmes and Watson rabbit hole.  Luckily, the popularity of the television shows Sherlock and Elementary on CBS along with the recent films starring Robert Downey, Jr., have inspired a rash of titles featuring the classic characters.  I’ve found radio plays, comics, stories imagining Holmes solving crimes without Watson or the other way ‘round, tales riffing on the original canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, books attempting to tie Holmes to Jack the Ripper or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a series depicting Sherlock in middle school, novellas featuring Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, adventures of Sherlock’s purported vampire twin, retellings from the perspective of Professor Moriarty, countless puzzle books, numerous “how to” titles for the art of deduction, and—believe it or not—a board book for infants entitled Little Master Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles: A BabyLit Sounds Primer.   (On a side note, the last entry is part of a board book series that includes baby versions of Moby Dick and Anna Karenina in addition to the Pride and Prejudice parody, Goodnight, Mr. Darcy.)

     An interesting newcomer to the mountain of Holmes titles is last year’s A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro.  I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s tagline, “You’ve never seen Watson and Holmes like this before.”  Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are 21st-century descendants of John and Sherlock—both Londoners dropped into an upper-crust Connecticut boarding school for reasons I cannot relate due to massive spoilers.  (Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of this plot I cannot reveal due to spoilers, massive or moderate.)  Watson and Holmes are atypical teens leading atypical lives trying to balance homework assignments, dances, and rugby practices with extortion, kidnapping, and murder.

     James “Jamie” Watson meets Charlotte Holmes at Sherringford, the posh school he attends on a rugby scholarship.  Jamie secretly wants to be a writer, an aspiration he cultivates out of the public eye as he navigates his new surroundings.  He has grown up in the U.S. and, most recently, London which he misses desperately.  Jamie’s estranged father and his new family live only an hour away, another sore point.  Charlotte, as you can imagine, has been busy with other activities.  Her upbringing reflects the family business—training in observation, deduction, the sciences (yes, all the sciences) sprinkled with lessons in lock picking, computer hacking, and wiretapping.  Jamie first spies Charlotte at the weekly poker game she runs in her dormitory’s basement.  A few days later, they officially meet and have the awkward conversation about their ancestors; a few weeks later, they are becoming crime solving colleagues bonding over clues in Charlotte’s personal laboratory.  By the end of the semester, they are fighting for each others’ lives.

     This book is really about relationships—between Charlotte and Jamie, Charlotte and her family, Jamie and his family, Charlotte and her past, the main characters and the school, Charlotte and…wait a minute, can’t tell you that one another spoiler (a HUGE one, trust me).  Certainly there is plenty of action-filled plot; by finals week, this Holmes and Watson duo unravel the mystery behind an assault, a poisoning, a deadly snake, eerie recreations of the original Holmes stories, an attempted murder, blackmail, clandestine surveillance, and a school-shuttering explosion.  This doesn’t even count the roller coaster ride occurring in the last few chapters of the book!

     Brittany Cavallaro successfully translates the spirit of the original Sherlock Holmes stories for a current audience.  Her main characters are interesting, three-dimensional blends of wit, intelligence, generosity, loneliness, adventure, and heart.  Her secondary characters are fleshed out as needed for the story, appearing when needed to further the plot then receding into the background until their next task; they aren’t necessarily flat or uninteresting just not as rounded as Holmes and Watson throughout the book.  Instead of directly translating Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories point by point into Sherringford, Cavallaro blends elements from several of them to create her mystery.  Some elements are more obvious—an exasperated-yet-grudgingly-respectful detective, Mycroft Holmes becomes Charlotte’s brother Milo, Jamie’s solicitous dorm mother, a murder weapon purposefully copied from The Blue Carbuncle (among others).  Charlotte displays the distinctive personality traits of the original Holmes, including an opiate habit which sets up one of the most moving scenes in the book—Jamie nursing Charlotte through an overdose attempt and its aftermath.

     A Study in Charlotte is an entertaining romp of adventure and mystery (with a dash of romance) that incorporates realistic situations and a serious topic or two along the way.  It’s a fun read, well-suited to high schoolers and teen lit. lovers looking for a quick book.  Due to some mature language and topics, it may not be to everyone’s taste.  You can find this book (and a variety of others) in the Teen Department of the Joplin Public Library.  Hope to see you soon!

I’m not really mubwwbch of a mystery reader. Unicorns? Spaceships? Talking dogs? I’m game. But whodunnits have never really appealed to me. However, when I saw Burn What Will Burn, I have to admit, the title hooked me. The short summary I read made it seem even more interesting: a poet finds a dead body and puts his own life in danger.

Set in fictional Doker, Arkansas, Burn What Will Burn is a story about what it’s like to be an outsider. Bob Reynolds is a poet with a lot of problems. First, people in his life tend to drown. Second, he has some sort of unnamed anxiety disorder. And third, he’s an outsider in a very small town.  When he finds a dead body in the creek behind his Arkansas home, his life begins to unravel very quickly.

When Bob pulls the body out of the creek and calls the High Sheriff Sam Baxter, he doesn’t realize that he’s stepping into a decades old web of lust, lies, and family secrets. No one in town trusts Bob or even really wants him around. When the High Sheriff wants to blame someone for the mysterious death, who better than Bob Reynolds? He’s a poet, which is weird enough in the small town of Doker, but he’s also just plain weird. He has a crush on the local “mechanic” Tammy Fay that borders on obsession, but she only wants to use Reynolds as a pawn in this small town conspiracy.

The story hinges on Bob Reynolds trying to get out of the hole he’s found himself in while surrounded by an angry preacher, a drug dealing felon, a corrupt sheriff, a mentally challenged boy, and Tammy Fay, a woman with an agenda of her own and no interest in returning Reynolds’ affection. Many of the characters McKenzie writes about are eerily similar to people I’ve encountered. However, sometimes they seem more like a roll call for small town stereotypes.

Honestly, I didn’t enjoy this book. Bob Reynolds is the narrator, and his internal monologue gets flowery at times. I also just didn’t like him, which makes reading a whole book through his perspective a little tedious. Often, Reynolds does things for reasons that not even he seems to understand. The plot seems to be unimportant even to Reynolds, who bounces from event to event without a clear plan of action.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted Reynolds to go through a flashback or two to explain his weirdness. On one hand, it would answer a lot of questions I had about the unseemly narrator. On the other hand, I think Bob Reynolds would have lost a lot of his intrigue if we knew his whole backstory. I had trouble connecting to a narrator who spends zero time thinking about anything other than the exact present moment he’s in. But maybe that’s part of the brilliance of this character: his lack of forethought is exactly what gets him into trouble.

At only 212 pages, Burn What Will Burn is a quick read, though probably better suited to folks who like mystery stories. It’s an interesting character study of small town living, but it’s not going on my Top Ten Favorite Books list.

Pirio Kasparov is a miracle, remarkable, or an anomaly depending on who is describing her – fishermen, her rescuers, or the U.S. Navy. Pirio was on a lobster boat that sank in the foggy North Atlantic after being rammed by a tanker. She spent 4 hours in 48 degree water before being rescued by the Coast Guard. Boat owner and friend, Ned Rizzo, did not survive.

As you read Pirio’s story in  Elisabeth Elo’s novel North of Boston you find a character more complex than a one word description. The only child of Russian immigrants she is a little damaged, smart, tough, courageous, and proud she is American.

As she tells her doubting father, in America the authorities will find the tanker that destroyed the lobster boat and killed her friend. But finding the tanker proves problematic for the Coast Guard. Pirio can only provide the color and according to the logs no boats of that color were out of the harbor that day.

Pirio wants answers, not only for herself but for Ned’s son, Noah. Noah’s mother, Thomasina, and Pirio have been friends since they were both banished to boarding school. They were rule breakers and drinking buddies. Pirio changed her lifestyle but Thomasina can’t and counts her sobriety in days.

Noah and Pirio share a special bond. Noah is a pal and because of circumstances sometimes Pirio’s responsibility. So for him as well as herself she wants to find who is responsible for Ned’s death.

Also the Navy is eager to study her. They want to know how she could survive for 4 hours in water that would kill most people in minutes. She feels a duty to help but the base in Florida is a long way from Boston and the answers she seeks.

She begins by questioning Ned’s former co-workers. He worked for years at a commercial fishing company, Ocean Catch. His acquisition of the lobster boat was recent. In fact its last voyage was also its first.

Someone else is raising questions about Ned. “Larry” says he is Ned’s friend but no one knows him. Pirio then suspects he is an insurance investigator but his real identity is reporter Russ Parnell. Russ’s prime interest is not the accident but in Ocean Catch and the voyages the fishing trawler Sea Wolf takes.

At first Pirio’s sleuthing is done around her hours at Inessa Mark, the perfume company her parents founded. But as she uncovers more evidence her search to find out what happened consumes her.

She soon begins to believe that there was nothing accidental about the tanker ramming the lobster boat. When clues point to Ocean Catch and the Sea Wolf she joins forces with Russ Parnell to find Ned’s killer and uncover the truth.

Following clues, and sometimes ignoring her instincts, Pirio finds herself in the far north and running for her life. Can she and Russ uncover the truth while evading ruthless killers who will go to any length to keep their secret?

This is Elo’s first novel. It took me a few pages to get accustomed to the author’s style but once into the story it was easy to get lost in the telling. Cold water survival, the perfume industry, Russian immigrants, commercial fishing, and whales are woven into a compelling story of suspense.

Pirio is an interesting character and indications are she will reappear in future novels. She has a difficult relationship with her father and she still misses her mother who died when Pirio was 10 years old. You get glimpses of their story throughout the novel. If there are additional Pirio novels, it will be interesting to see if we learn more.

If you are a Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane, and/or Lisa Gardner fan this will be right up your reading alley. However, I recommend it to anyone who likes suspense.

If you are a Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane, and/or Lisa Gardner fan this will be right up your reading alley. However, I recommend it to anyone who likes suspense.

  The second book in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, The Silkworm, finds the private detective in much better financial shape. He is doing well enough that he takes a case where payment is doubtful instead of continuing a case with an affluent but disagreeable client.

Leonara Quine’s husband, Owen, is missing. She thinks he went to an author’s retreat but can’t find him and he is not answering her calls. This is not the first time he has gone incommunicado so she can’t go to the police for help. With a child at home who requires constant care Leonara needs Strike to find Owen and bring him home.

Strike with the help of his assistant Robin traces Owen through London’s literary and publishing world. In talking with agents, editors, publishers, authors, and the missing man’s girlfriend Strike learns that Owen has penned his next great novel. A seemingly staged argument in a public place leads Strike to believe the disappearance may be a publicity stunt for the book.

That is until he discovers Owen’s horribly mutilated body in an empty house. Owen has been murdered in the same gruesome manner as the character in his unpublished novel. A murder straight from the pages of an unpublished work should limit the number of suspects.

However, Strike finds the novel was read by or readily available to a lot of people, many with a motive to kill. Quine’s novel depicted most of the people in his life in cruel and slanderous parody. The ones with the most motive to kill, his editor, publisher, agent, lover, rival author, and his wife, had all read the unpublished book.

Strike found Owen so technically his job is done but the detective in him can’t leave a case unfinished. Then the police decide Leonara is the prime suspect. Strike’s job turns from finding a missing husband to hunting a diabolical killer and proving Leonara innocent.

Robert Galbraith, better known as J.K. Rowling, has penned an intriguing character in Cormoran Strike. First introduced in The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike is an imposing figure at 6’ 3”, burly with part of a leg missing due to an IED in Afghanistan. He retired from the special investigations unit of the military police after the explosion and started his detective agency. He is intelligent, intuitive, and keenly observant to every detail. He runs investigations with the organized discipline and ethics he learned in the military.

His personal life however is in shambles. As we meet him he is broke, as the few clients he has aren’t inclined to pay, and homeless. He just ended his engagement to longtime girlfriend Charlotte and she has the flat and 9/10s of his possessions. He is private and a bit of a loner keeping the true state of his life from the half-sister and aunt and uncle who are closest to him.

The other central figure in the series is Robin Ellacott. Her association with Strike begins as a one week temp position. He can’t afford her but by the end of the week she has proven herself to valuable to lose. She wants to stay and Strike agrees to keep her on at a reduced salary much to the dismay of her new fiancé, Matthew. Matthew would rather she be in a higher paying job and away from Strike.

The smart, beautiful Robin has a secret ambition to be a detective. She is in her dream job but struggles to keep Matthew happy while proving her worth to Strike. Robin’s character develops more slowly than Strike’s and the desire to see what she will become helps drive the series.

Read alikes for this series are Robert Parker and Kate Atkinson. I would add John Sandford and Lee Child to the list. The library has both the print and audio versions of the books. The audio narrator is Robert Glenister who does an excellent job of bringing Cormoran Strike to life.

For mystery and suspense fans, here are some titles you may want to add to your summer reading lists.

Julia Spencer-Fleming is one of my favorite authors and her latest, Through the Evil Days, reminded me why. She is a master at building suspense with almost non-stop action while still having the characters drive the story.

Number eight in the Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne series has Clare and Russ leaving for a delayed honeymoon. A week on a frozen lake is an odd destination but Russ needs time to adjust to impending fatherhood and Clare has a decision to make that could end her future with the church. A double homicide and a kidnapped child who needs anti-rejection meds have the rest of Russ’s police force racing against time. Then the ice storm of the century hits. Russ and Clare are stranded and soon find themselves fighting for their lives against the elements and desperate killers who have a kidnapped and now very sick little girl.


Irene Hannon’s Heroes of Quantico series has strong characters and plenty of action. It is labeled Christian Romantic Suspense but the religious aspects are subtle with the action and relationships driving the narratives.

The first in the series, Against All Odds, features Evan Cooper, a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). He is normally called in after a kidnapping but his current assignment is to prevent one. A Middle Eastern terrorist is holding hostages and Monica Callahan’s father is the negotiator. Besides money and the release of prisoners this terrorist wants revenge. Half a world away Monica is the leverage he needs to get what he wants and he proves, even with protection, she is vulnerable. Can Evan control his growing attraction to Monica and, with his team, protect her?

An Eye for Eye is next and involves another HRT member, Mark Sanders. Mark is temporarily assigned to the St. Louis office while recovering mentally and physically from a shooting incident. Jogging on a hot August morning he runs into his high school sweetheart, Emily Lawson. Mark only has time to learn that Emily is a clinical psychologist and widow when their reunion is interrupted by a sniper’s bullet. His quick action saves them but the danger isn’t over. The sniper is still out there and to find him they have to figure out who is the target, Mark or Emily?

The third book, In Harm’s Way, involves Nick Bradley and Rachel Sutton. Nick, an FBI agent working in St. Louis, meets Rachel when she brings a tattered doll into his office. She found the snow encrusted doll in a parking lot and is unsettled by the bad vibes she feels when holding it. Nick keeps the doll but dismisses Rachel’s feeling that something bad occurred involving the doll. Then he stumbles onto a link between the doll and a kidnapped infant. Rachel becomes the target of unwanted media attention and as the FBI races to find the missing baby, also the target of a woman who’ll do anything to keep the child she stole.


For a lighter mystery try Vicki Doudera’s series about amateur sleuth Darby Farr. Darby is a real estate agent in Southern California but she solves mysteries on both coasts. The first in the series, A House to Die For, takes place in her hometown, Hurricane Harbor, Maine. Summoned home to finish a sale for her dying aunt, Darby must find who killed the potential buyer and why before she can complete the deal.

After mysteries in Florida, California, and back to Maine Darby is in the Big Apple for Deal Killer. In the city to visit boyfriend Miles they are soon involved with million dollar real estate deals, Russian politics, and murder. With a multitude of suspects, can Darby figure it out before someone else dies?

Doudera always has plenty of suspects and subplots in each book but can sometimes leave things unresolved. That said, I was entertained reading the series and I like the characters; I hope you do too.

“The Whole Enchilada” is the 17th novel in the Goldy Bear (now Schultz) culinary mysteries series. Goldy’s business, Goldy Bear Catering, is booming and she is busy cooking for events in and around Aspen Meadows, Colo. The first thing on her calendar, however, is a birthday party for her son Arch and his friend Drew.

Drew’s mother, Holly Ingleby, and Goldy met and have been friends since the birth of their sons on the same day, at the same hospital. They supported each other through bad times, even forming a support group, Amour Anonymous.

At the suggestion of their sons, they are now co-hosting a Mexican-themed potluck for the boys’ friends and families. The potluck, at the home of friend and Amour Anonymous member Marla, is fun but not without drama.

First Holly arrives visibly upset but is reluctant to go into any detail other than she is in a relationship mess. Then Holly’s ex-husband crashes the party, along with a stranger no one but Holly knows. Tom, Goldy’s police officer husband, escorts out the unwanted guests and all goes smoothly until the end of the party when Holly collapses.

She is dead of an apparent heart attack. Holly had been having puzzling financial difficulties, but Goldy is shocked to find she was living in a rental filled with religious statuary. When a sabotaged deck at the rental collapses and sends Goldy freefalling into a lake, her sleuthing sense goes into overdrive.

An envelope addressed to Drew lured Goldy out onto the deck.  Was the intended victim Holly or Drew? When Holly’s heart attack is discovered to be drug-induced, there is a smorgasbord of suspects. Could it be the ex-husband, an ex-lover, the mystery man from the party or the person it appears Holly is blackmailing?

Goldy and Marla comb through Amour Anonymous minutes and conduct their own interviews trying to narrow the suspect pool. Then Father Pete, their priest and Holly’s confidant, is stabbed, a Goldy look-alike is murdered, and Goldy is attacked.

Can our caterer/detective and her rich friend talk, snoop and bribe their way to the one person who wanted Holly Ingleby dead before there is another victim? This book was uneven but got better in the last half then rushed to the end and a surprising epilogue.

Goldy fans will be delighted at the end. If you are not a Goldy fan yet, please start at the beginning of the series, “Catering to Nobody.” I listened to this book, which is also available in print at the library.

Lately I have been doing my reading by ear.  I first listened to Daniel Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat,” and it was excellent – my last review did not do this book justice. “Silken Prey” by John Sandford was my next audio choice.  It is number 23 in the Prey series and the first I have listened to instead of read. The narrator, Richard Ferrone, perfectly captured Lucas Davenport, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Like the Prey series, I had read all of the previous Goldy Bear books.  But unlike my Prey experience, it took half the book before I became used to the narrator’s portrayal of Goldy.  The narrator, Barbara Rosenblat, has a raspy voice and used inflections for some of the characters, which was not how I “heard” the voices when I read the earlier novels.

Rosenblat has read all of the previous novels in the series, so perhaps her interpretation is what the author intended.  I just know I like my own interpretation of Goldy, and if there is a number 18 in the series I’ll be reading, not listening.

I recently browsed the new book shelves at the library intending to find something that was not a mystery. But I just can’t help myself; what drew my attention was “The Hero Pose” by Glen Ebisch and “Smarty Bones” by Carolyn Haines.

Ebisch’s slim mystery is a good quick read for a busy summer. The story revolves around Allison Randall, a former military MP who was injured in Iraq. She spent just three weeks in rehab at Bethesda before she left the hospital and the army with as much damage to her soul as her hip.

Heading north she drove with no destination in mind until an encounter with a deer stopped her on a road in Maine. The young woman who came to her assistance took her to the Savasana Retreat Center. With nowhere to go and no way to get there, Allison stayed at the Center to learn yoga and heal.

Leaving the center eighteen months later, certified to teach yoga, she drove south along the coast of Maine until she found Cornwell. In Cornwall Allison can walk the beach and it is a resort town where she can keep her involvement with others to a minimum. She decides to stay, open a yoga studio and settle into a solitary life.

Her solitary existence is challenged when one her clients asks her to investigate the disappearance of her boyfriend, Dr. Jim Schianno. As the girlfriend of a still married Dr. Jim, Lauren feels the police aren’t taking her worries seriously.

Not wanting to lose a paying client, Allison reluctantly agrees to see what she can find out. As she delves further into the case Allison discovers a mystery woman, a murder, and a hit and run accident. Her reluctance turns into a need know Dr. Jim’s fate. With his history of helping married women did Dr. Jim leave town with one, is he being blackmailed or was he murdered?

“Smarty Bones” is also a murder mystery and a fairly quick read despite being heftier than “The Hero Pose”. I picked it for the sassy cover and then saw it is number thirteen of the Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series. I read it even though I usually like to start with the first in a series.

I enjoyed this and didn’t feel lost even though I didn’t have the back story of the first twelve Sarah Booth Delaney adventures. Sarah is a private investigator in Zinnia Mississippi. She inherited the family plantation when her parents died and she lives there with her fiancée, Graf, and Jitty, the ghost of her great-great grandmother’s nanny.

Sarah is enjoying the late summer and time with Graf when she receives a visit from an outraged Frances Malone. Frances was a friend of Sarah’s mother and is a Delta society lady. A northern interloper by the name of Olive Twist is in town and about to besmirch the name of two of Zinnia’s oldest families using the Lady in Red.

In 1969 the casket of the Lady in Red was unearthed by a backhoe operator. The unknown woman was dressed in a red gown and perfectly preserved in an alcohol filled glass casket. No one claimed her and she was reburied in a cemetery in a nearby town.

Professor Twist says she has proof that the Lady in Red was involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. She has come to Zinnia to disinter the Lady in Red and to prove that she is related to either the Richmond or the Falcon families.

Sarah’s investigative partner, Tinkie, is married to a Richmond and her good friend, CeCe, is a Falcon. Frances implores Sarah to stop Olive Twist before she ruins the reputation of her friends’ families.

However, before Sarah and Tinkie get too far into the investigation the professor’s assistant is poisoned. Finding herself a suspect Twist wants to hire Sarah to prove she is innocent. Going by the adage ‘keep your friends close and your enemy closer’, Sarah and Tinkie take the case.

This humorous mystery turns more serious at the end but is still a perfect companion for a lazy summer day.