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Magical Music and Cambridge Spires

The Bellwether RevivalsBenjamin Wood’s debut novel The Bellwether Revivals begins with a mystery: a crime scene with two people dead and a third barely alive. But what happened prior? The rest of the book is about the events leading up to that moment. Oscar Lowe is a working-class twenty-something who makes a living as a care assistant at a nursing home. Eden and Iris Bellwether are ambitious siblings from a privileged background who both study at Cambridge. A chance meeting brings Oscar into their elite circle, which he soon finds is convoluted and laden with social traps. Oscar begins a relationship with Iris but finds that threatened by the increasing eccentricities of Eden, who believes himself capable of healing through hypnosis and the power of his music. Eden is also the clear leader of their group of friends, which begins to take on cult-like characteristics as Eden’s delusions become more grandiose. When Eden starts to feel he’s losing control of Iris and his parents, real tragedy ensues.

 

A classic story in one sense of the clash between the haves and have nots of society, this is also a gothic tale which delves into diverse topics such as mental illness, social isolation and music theory. Moreover, it is an intergenerational story, where those who were once young and charting the pathway to new innovations are now dependent upon and look up to the younger generation of today. Similar to The Talented Mr. Ripley or School Ties, Wood paints a picture that shows that being wealthy isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Fans of British novels and psychological drama will enjoy this story of complex relationships and intrigue. 

Melanie

 
 

Family Secrets and Country Stars

Miss Me When I'm GoneGretchen Waters had an exciting life, one tragically cut short by a fall down an icy set of library stairs. In Miss Me When I’m Gone by Emily Arsenault, her accidental death turns out to be much more when her best friend, Jamie Madden, begins researching Gretchen’s papers and her past.

 

This story is a unique blend of southern honky-tonk country and New England mystery. Gretchen’s success had come via a book, Tammyland, which she wrote following her own divorce. A travel memoir of sorts, Gretchen toured the southern states, visiting sites of famous female country music stars and writing about their lives while reflecting on her own. A second book was in the works, and Jamie soon discovers that it is an even more personal investigation into Gretchen’s own life and childhood. As she talks with more people, Jamie senses that Gretchen’s death may not have been simply an accident. 

 

Although a mystery, this book has elements of fun and quirkiness, especially the interspersed biographies on country music singers which are excerpted from the fictitious Tammyland. It’s hard to imagine how one chapter about Tammy Wynette could lead seamlessly into another chapter about a quest to find one’s biological father, but Arsenault makes it work and keeps the story fresh and engaging. This book is an enjoyable read; it may even provide inspiration to visit some country music sites, or at least sing along to a few Dolly Parton tunes!

Melanie

 
 

Then and Now

Then and Now

posted by:
October 15, 2012 - 7:55am

Cold LightThings are intense at age fourteen, and our perceptions of events are not always entirely clear. Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth examines the friendship between Lola and Chloe, as well as the tragic aftermath of Chloe’s suicide. The reader meets Lola in the present day, now going by her given name Laura. She is watching a report on the news about the building of a memorial for Chloe next to the man-made lake where she died. When the shovel is pressed into the earth to break ground, something is struck and a body is uncovered. Lola is transfixed for she knows far too well who the victim is, and her story begins to unfold.

 

Traveling back in time ten years, Lola relives the events that transpired when she was fourteen. She is the daughter of two older parents, Barbara and Donald. Donald is unusual, possibly manic-depressive, but his malady is never defined. He spends his time either hidden in his room or coming up with wildly implausible theories that then have to be publicly explored. Because of this, Lola is shunned at school until she makes the acquaintance of the beautiful Chloe who takes Lola as her confidant and friend. The young women’s friendship grows until Chloe meets her boyfriend Carl, who is several years older than her. At the same time, the town is thrown into unrest as an unknown man begins to attack young women.

 

Cold Light is a tragic tale told from the point of view of someone now older and wiser, looking back on events and trying to make sense of them. The story unfolds slowly and the reader is swept along as each new piece of information adds to the mystery and suspense. Whose body has been found by the memorial? How did it get there? And, ultimately, what does Lola know and how is she involved? Cold Light is a well-written suspense story that will thrill any mystery lover.

 

Doug

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Past is Present

Past is Present

posted by:
September 17, 2012 - 8:45am

The Cutting SeasonAttica Locke’s highly anticipated new novel The Cutting Season is an atmospheric murder mystery that weaves together two stories, skillfully drawing readers between past and present. A gripping story of race, love, and politics, The Cutting Season grabs readers from the first page. Caren Gray’s family has been connected to Belle Vie, an antebellum plantation in Louisiana, for generations. Unlike the neighboring farm where migrant workers harvest sugarcane, Belle Vie is now an historic estate open for tourists and social events. Caren lives on and manages the estate where she catches glimpses of the plantation’s dark history every day. When a murdered woman who worked on the neighboring farm is found in a shallow grave on Belle Vie, local police begin an investigation that Caren feels isn’t being handled properly. She digs deeper, asking questions that lead her to Belle Vie’s past. As she learns more, she starts to see parallels between the current murder and the disappearance of a former slave named Jason in 1872. Caren is unearthing secrets that someone may kill to keep hidden.

 

This novel is the first book in HarperCollins publishing’s new Dennis Lehane Books imprint. Lehane says of Locke’s writing, “I was first struck by Attica Locke's prose, then by the ingenuity of her narrative and finally and most deeply by the depth of her humanity. She writes with equal amounts grace and passion. After just two novels, I'd probably read the phone book if her name was on the spine." If The Cutting Season is any indication of what readers can expect from Lehane’s imprint, it will be very successful.

 

Beth

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Truth or Torture

Truth or Torture

posted by:
September 17, 2012 - 8:20am

The InquisitorGeiger, a troubled and complex man, has one special talent – he is able to immediately discern a lie. This skill comes in handy in his work as an information retrieval specialist, a euphemism for professional torturer. In The Inquisitor, Mark Allen Smith creates a unique, flawed character in this sometimes grisly, but always thrilling story that follows this one-named man in a dark world of intrigue.

 

Geiger and his partner Harry enjoy their work in the torture business, and while Geiger has complete focus on his craft, he does have one unbendable rule that he will not hurt children. Geiger himself has no memory of his life before he woke up on a bus when he was 19 or 20. He is working with a counselor to unlock some of the repressed memories from his traumatic childhood in an effort to eradicate the debilitating migraines which have been occurring more frequently.  

     

Geiger’s client, Richard Hall, is supposed to be bringing an art thief to him, but instead shows up with the thief’s twelve-year-old son Ezra. Rather than torture Ezra to discover his dad’s whereabouts, Geiger takes the boy and goes on the run. His protective instinct triggered, he also begins to develop an unexpected emotional attachment to Ezra. Hall and his cronies pursue the duo and the chase is on!  Unfortunately for Geiger, his resources pale in comparison to Hall’s who seems to have unlimited power and contacts in high places. In fact, as Geiger soon learns, there is much more at stake than a stolen painting. This fast-paced thrill ride with a compelling protagonist makes this a memorable debut which ends too soon. The good news is that Geiger will be back as Smith is hard at work on the sequel.  

 

Maureen

 
 

A Not so Peaceful Place

A Not so Peaceful Place

posted by:
September 17, 2012 - 7:45am

Gone MissingIn the quiet and picturesque town of Painters Mill, Ohio there is a thriving Amish community. These families have strong religious beliefs and shun the use of electricity, cars, and motorized farming equipment. They lead a simple life by relying on the land, and they have minimal interaction with outsiders. One would think such a peaceful place would be unfamiliar with the darker side of human nature, but sadly one would be mistaken. Linda Castillo has created an exciting mystery series situated in this bucolic setting, which has seen a crazed serial killer targeting both Amish and English women, a horrific home invasion, and hate crimes. The disappearance of young Amish teens is the focus of her latest release Gone Missing.

 

The Painter’s Mill Sheriff’s Department, though small, has a valuable and effective tool at its disposal to assist in solving crimes that involve the Amish. Her name is Chief Kate Burkholder, and along with her experience as a big-city law enforcement officer, she also was raised Amish. The plain folk have a natural distrust of law enforcement and few people are in the position to cope with the clash of cultures and ideals as Chief Burkholder.

 

Gone Missing is the fourth Amish mystery written by Castillo, though it is not necessary to read them in chronological order. In each, she provides a concise backstory that summarizes her protagonists’ personal demons and the inner battle to keep them in check. Sworn to Silence, the first Kate Burkholder novel, is under production by the Lifetime network as a two-hour movie starring Neve Campbell, with the possibility of it becoming a regular series. Interesting, informative, and chilling, these mysteries may not represent a serene drive in the country, but they are definitely worth the trip.

 

Jeanne

 
 

Vigilante Justice

Vigilante Justice

posted by:
August 21, 2012 - 7:30am

The DemandsMark Billingham returns with The Demands, the tenth novel featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. Police officer Helen Weeks walks into her local news agent, on the day that the shop owner, Javed Akhtar, is about to crack. He pulls a gun on Helen and takes her hostage, demanding that she contact Tom Thorne and persuade him to investigate a murder. Akhtar’s son Amin was arrested in an altercation that lead to a fatality and was sent to a prison for young offenders. There he was wounded in his cell and sent to the hospital wing, where he committed suicide. It was an open and shut case that did not warrant an investigation, but Akhtar is not so sure. He knows that his son could not have committed suicide and the only way to reopen the case is by taking drastic measures of his own. What follows is a knuckle-biting thriller as Tom Thorne hunts for the killer while Helen is trapped with a man who is at the end of his rope.

 

Fans of Billingham will remember police officer Helen Weeks from the stand-alone thriller In the Dark. Helen was pregnant with her son Alfie and was trying to solve the murder of her partner, Paul. Weeks is a strong, interesting character with a good sense of self preservation, and her return to the Thorne series is a welcome addition. Billingham’s writing gets better with each subsequent novel, and he is a master at building and sustaining tension and suspense throughout his novels. In the Dark works as a gritty police procedural and gripping suspense thriller that is sure to please. 

 

Fans of Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride or Ken Bruen will definitely enjoy these novels. Mark Billingham has truly entered the ranks of the best crime novelists of today.

Doug

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Playing with Identity

Playing with Identity

posted by:
August 16, 2012 - 2:19pm

Playing Dead“Have you ever wondered about who you are?”

 

Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin begins with a letter Tommie McCloud receives from a stranger, which throws her own identity and childhood into question. This leads the child psychologist and former rodeo competitor on a journey from her native Texas hometown, where she has just attended her father’s funeral, to the Chicago mob scene and meetings with a whole cast of seedy characters. At the heart of the story, though, the question remains: who is Tommie and who are her real parents? Through her journey, she collects little bits of information that eventually come together to reveal a family history far different than Tommie grew up knowing.

 

What sets this story apart from the usual family drama? First is the setting. Heaberlin, a former award-winning journalist and small-town Texas native, evokes a landscape with open ranges, oppressive heat and historical family ties to the land. Second is the plot structure. There is no solid ground. This is a story which continues to unravel, with every piece of the puzzle leading to more questions. Third is a flair for the dramatic. Rodeo competitions, hit men, kidnappings, unsolved murders and a mother with dementia (who of course holds important family secrets) all factor in to the story. A tale of twists and turns, Playing Dead will appeal to anyone who likes family sagas, mysteries or action/adventure stories. 

 

Melanie

 
 

Murders Old and New

Murders Old and New

posted by:
August 10, 2012 - 8:00am

Age of DoubtThe Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri is the latest mystery novel involving Sicilian detective Inspector Salvo Montalbano. There is a heavy rain, and the inspector is making his way to work when he comes across a young woman whose car is about to become submerged in water.  He rescues her and takes her home to dry off, and she tells him a story of a wealthy aunt, a luxury yacht and a speedboat that is docked in the port of Vigata. Soon after, the owner of the yacht calls the police as a dinghy has been discovered carrying a disfigured corpse. Montalbano heads to the scene and must discover the identity of the unknown man and if there is any connection between him and the crew of the yacht. He remembers the mysterious woman, but when he tries to locate her, he finds that she has mysteriously vanished. Told with a wry sense of humor, the reader will definitely enjoy Montalbano’s quirky style, his passion for Sicilian food and his romantic endeavors. He often uses non-traditional methods in solving the case, and there is enough action and suspense to keep the reader guessing.

 

In the novel, Camilleri also pays homage to the classic mystery writer Georges Simenon who published nearly 200 novels in his lifetime. Inspector Jules Maigret was his most famous character, and in Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard, Maigret must tackle the case of a man who was stabbed to death in an alley, but his wife insists that the shoes and tie he was wearing at the time of his death could not be his. Camilleri writes in a similar style to Simenon, the novels are light and breezy and make an interesting diversion featuring an exotic locale.

 

If you are in the mood for something new or wish to return to a classic tale, these mysteries would be perfect for the dog days of summer.

 

Doug

 
 

Cozy Up This Summer

Cozy Up This Summer

posted by:
July 3, 2012 - 8:30am

Dead Man WaltzingHearse and BuggyThe Azalea AssaultIt may be hot outside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get cozy with a good mystery. Join one of these three amateur sleuths this summer and see if you can figure out whodunit.

 

Dancing with the Stars may be over for the season but fans of ballroom dancing will be delighted to read Dead Man Waltzing by Ella Barrick. This is the second novel in the series, following Quickstep to Murder, featuring ballroom dance champion Stacy Graysin. When a well-known figure in ballroom dance is murdered and one of the instructor’s in Stacy’s dance studio is implicated, Stacy must find a way to clear his name and solve the murder.

 

A trip to the Amish country is a treat in the first book in a new series by Laura Bradford called Hearse and Buggy. Set in Heavenly, Pennsylvania, the story features Claire Weatherly and her Amish specialty shop, Heavenly Treasures. She hires a young Amish woman named Esther to work in the shop, but immediately finds trouble when the shop’s former owner is murdered and Esther becomes the prime suspect. Throw in a handsome detective named Jakob who has been ostracized for leaving the Amish community, and you have all the fixings for a promising new series.

 

If summer gardening is more your thing, try the Azalea Assault by Alyse Carlson, the first in the Garden Society Mystery series. Camellia Harris spends her time promoting the beautiful gardens of Roanoke Virginia, and is delighted when a national magazine sends a reporter to do a spread on one of these gardens. Her joy is short-lived when the world famous photographer arrives, proceeds to insult everyone in town, and turns up dead the next morning. Fortunately, Cam’s boyfriend is a reporter and the two immediately jump in to try and solve the case.

 

Doug

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