Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Review of Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins
read by Rachel Bavidge with a Full Cast

Penguin Audio, 2017. 12 hours.
Review written March 8, 2021, from a library eaudiobook

I decided I’d been reading too many children’s books and I was ready for a thriller, so I checked out this book by Paula Hawkins, who wrote the incredibly suspenseful The Girl on the Train. This one does have suspense, with danger and mysterious deaths.

The setting is an important part of the book. It all happens in Beckford, at the Drowning Pool part of the river that runs through town. Years ago, they used to use the pool to put accused witches through their ordeal and end up drowning them. In more recent years, it’s been the site of multiple suicides.

Nell Abbot has always been obsessed by the Drowning Pool and those who died there. She used to terrorize her little sister Jules with stories of the little boy who saw his mother jump to her death. She was working on a book about the “troublesome women” who died there. But now Nell Abbot is dead, having jumped off a cliff into the river. Or did she jump?

Her fifteen-year-old daughter Lena is convinced she did, and is devastated because of the argument they had shortly before. Jules has been called back to Beckford to care for Lena, and Jules has her own guilt because she’d refused to talk to her sister for years, and had been convinced the urgency in her voice on the phone recently was just a bid for attention.

All of Jules’ narrated sections are in the style of her talking to Nell. She thinks she hears Nell’s voice, and she sees Nell in everything, in all the memories of being in the same house where they grew up, and looking at Lena, who looks so much like Nell when they were young.

But it turns out that the little boy of of Nell’s old story is Sean Townsend, the detective in charge of her case. He didn’t actually see his mother jump into the river so many years ago, but he was at the river, and his mother’s death in the same way brings extra emotion to the case. And there was another death in the river only a few months before Nell, when Lena’s best friend Katie jumped to her death. Katie’s mother can’t forgive Lena for still being alive, and she couldn’t forgive Nell for being so obsessed with women drowning in the river that she surely gave Katie the idea.

But that’s just the beginning of this complicated story. We’ll find out more about all those recent deaths – from Sean’s mother to Katie to Nell. And to do it will take many perspectives. I wish I had paid attention and realized when I started listening that it was a full cast production. At first, I quickly lost track of who was who in the many voices I heard. It helped when I realized my eaudiobook showed the name of the current narrator on my phone screen, and I think if I’d read the book in print, that would have been easier to follow. There were so many characters, the different voices didn’t help me keep track of who was who.

It’s a sordid story. It seems like almost everyone in it was having sex with someone they really shouldn’t have had sex with. And I’m not talking merely adultery. There’s an awful lot of death, too – though we know that right from the start. Let me just say that not all the deaths in this book turn out to be suicide, which is also not a surprise. Who is responsible for different deaths is more of a surprise.

The characters also aren’t tremendously likable. Though by the end, I was especially rooting for Jules and Lena to make a family relationship with each other and find peace.

So it’s not exactly a pleasant story – but it’s certainly suspenseful and engaging. I stayed up an extra hour to finish it when I got to the end because I didn’t want to put off finding out what happened. Paula Hawkins does know how to weave a suspenseful story and feed us bits of what happened in a way that realization gradually dawns on us how much is at stake.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Even If We Break, by Marieke Nijkamp

Sunday, January 24th, 2021

Even If We Break

by Marieke Nijkamp

Sourcebooks Fire, 2020. 306 pages.
Review written December 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction

Even If We Break is a Then There Were None-style thriller for teens. As the book begins, five teens are making their way to a high-tech mountain cabin owned by one of them. There was a storm the day before that blocked the path for the car and boulders on the path still make it difficult for the two who have mobility issues.

We get the perspective of different teens in each chapter. Finn and Ever are transgender, with Ever using they/them pronouns. Finn uses crutches and Maddy, who is autistic, has been in an accident recently that changed her from a star lacrosse athlete to someone whose knee hurts when she walks, especially over boulders. Liva is the one whose parents own the cabin, and Carter works for her father’s company.

They are all high school students, but Liva, Carter, and Finn have graduated and will be going off to college at the end of the summer. So their three years of playing a role-playing game together will come to an end. They’re going to have one last immersive game experience in the mountain cabin first. Even though Finn hadn’t been joining them as often lately, and even though Liva’s ex-boyfriend Zac had stopped altogether.

There are stories that the mountain is haunted, and Ever, the gamemaster, weaves that into their adventure. Every adventure started with a murder, as the group are Inquisitors from the land of Gonfalon, and the Council hires them to use magic and skills to solve crimes. For this adventure, a councilor herself (represented by a pile of blankets) is dead.

But as the adventure begins, things begin to become all too real. The power goes out. They hear a music box, just like the story of the haunted mountain. Then bloody handprints. And yes, there’s murder. And that high-tech cabin? It’s hard to get out when it locks.

Never mind solving the murder – the teens who are left want to escape with their lives.

The author pulls the story off well. I’m tempted to say more, but won’t for fear it will give you clues. I did love the central role of the transgender teens and enjoyed that all the characters had emotional depth.

And I was very glad I had a chance to finish it in one sitting! This is not a book you want to set aside.

mariekenijkamp.com
FIREreads.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Christmas Resolution, by Anne Perry

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

A Christmas Resolution

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2020. 175 pages.
Review written January 5, 2021, from a library book

I like reading Anne Perry’s annual Christmas mysteries at Christmastime. Since I’m usually on a Cybils panel at Christmas, though, lately I end up reading them for the New Year.

I keep thinking that I should read her regular mystery series, since then I would probably enjoy these more. As she often does, this one looks at a couple on the periphery of her regular main characters. A lady named Celia is married to a police captain. They met during a criminal case, and it sounds like that is quite a story.

This book involved a case of blackmail and figuring out what happened in the past, which wasn’t as compelling to me as a good old murder mystery. There wasn’t really a puzzle to solve so much as to read about the characters’ way of tracking down the solution.

I did like the framing with a question of forgiveness: Who deserves forgiveness? Does the person have to be contrite? And how generous should one be in giving forgiveness? The main character is thinking about these things throughout the book, prompted by a Christmas sermon.

So even though I wasn’t too captivated by the mystery in this case, I still say that there’s nothing like a nice cozy little mystery for Christmas.

anneperry.co.uk
randomhousebooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Hand on the Wall, by Maureen Johnson

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

The Hand on the Wall

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 369 pages.
Review written March 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Hand on the Wall is the third and final book in the Truly Devious mystery series, and ties everything up beautifully. Yes, you have to read these books in order. You will be rewarded with an exquisitely crafted series.

In this trilogy, each book gives you pieces of the mysteries in the past and in the present, and each book gives you parts of the solution. You get information about the past mystery in flashbacks as our hero, Stevie Bell, figures out clues. You also have at least one death in each volume. In this book, Stevie and the reader figure out what happened.

This book also has the added drama – perfect for a mystery – of a bunch of students blizzard-bound at the ever-so-interesting isolated Vermont campus created by the eccentric millionaire Albert Ellingham. A blizzard always makes a good backdrop for murder! Can Stevie figure out the solution before the snow melts and she has to go home?

I so appreciate all the atmosphere and nods to great detective fiction that Maureen Johnson slipped into this book. Both mysteries – past and present – have layers to them so that even stretched over three books, they didn’t lag. And enough happened in each book to feel that it deserved to be a book and not just cram the whole thing together.

But the final volume, pulling everything together, was indeed the most satisfying. This is a mystery series with teens taking the starring roles, including the brilliant detective and the person getting a little too close to the truth for her own good. Mystery and danger both! And the fantasy of a school where you can study what you’re good at – even if that talent is finding a murderer.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Vanishing Stair, by Maureen Johnson

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

The Vanishing Stair

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2019. 373 pages.
Review written March 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Vanishing Stair is the second book in the Truly Devious trilogy. Yes, you need to read the books in order, because this is a mystery series, and clues are revealed along the way.

Stevie Bell was invited to Ellingham Academy to work on a decades-old mystery about the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of Albert Ellingham, the founder of the academy. In the first book, though, a present-day student dies, and another one disappears.

This book begins with Stevie back with her parents because of the death at Ellingham Academy. But, no surprise to the reader, she quickly gets back to the school, and more of the old and new mysteries unfold. In fact, this volume has Stevie making a major breakthrough about the old case – but we also have another death.

Fortunately, this time I’m reading with the book that comes next checked out and ready to go! I read the first book much too long ago, but anyone who starts the series now will not have the same problem. Check all three books out – you’re in for a well-crafted mystery, with many different layers. On top of that, the characters are quirky, interesting, and fun to spend time with.

Stevie does make a breakthrough in the old case in this book, but there’s still a lot to find out. These books finish at a satisfying place, but still make you eager to find out more.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Ambrose Deception, by Emily Ecton

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The Ambrose Deception

by Emily Ecton

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 359 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book opens with three unlikely candidates from three different Chicago schools being offered a $10,000 scholarship opportunity. When Melissa Burris, Bondi Johnson, and Wilf Samson arrive at the office, they’re first made to sign a form saying they won’t discuss the clues with absolutely anyone. Then they’re given an envelope with three clues and told to take a picture of the clue solution. They are also given a cell phone, a camera, a debit card – and the use of a car and driver to take them anywhere in Chicago city limits.

Now, the kids are pretty sure something’s fishy. Given the title of the book, the reader is pretty sure, too. Wilf decides to enjoy the car and driver while he has them and plans a list of fun activities in Chicago. But Melissa and Bondi start seriously tackling their three clues.

So begins a clever and inventive puzzle novel. The clues all lead to locations in Chicago – and they are clues that require some thought. I now wish I’d tried to solve some using the internet – but I was reading the book in bed and didn’t bother. I imagine kids who live in Chicago might have an advantage, but this is still a legitimate puzzle that you feel like you as a reader can solve along with the characters.

I like the way they repeat the clues periodically – so you don’t have to keep turning back in the book.

I like that the characters are pretty ordinary kids, each with their own quirks. In fact, the drivers also have their own quirks. Wilf is a real slacker, trying to take advantage of this. Melissa is very suspicious, not wanting to even use the debit card or the car and driver. Bondi is a take-charge kind of kid, but he jumps to conclusions in a few spots.

I won’t say what the “deception” is in the title, but it’s all very satisfying when it works out. A puzzle novel with ordinary kids cast as the solvers, kids whom adults had written off.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 420 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 General Teen Fiction

This book is a little unfair. There’s no Book One printed in bold on the cover – so how dare it finish up with those dreaded three words, “to be continued”? Well, it does.

Stevie Bell is a junior in high school, and she’s been invited to attend Ellingham Academy, where an eccentric millionaire established a school for bright kids and gives them a unique education – for free.

But Ellingham has a mystery associated with it. 80 years ago, the wife and child of the eccentric founder were kidnapped, and the wife’s body was found. One of the students as well was found dead – but the daughter was never recovered. The kidnapper sent a note signed “Truly, Devious.”

In the present day, Stevie is obsessed with true crime – and she wants to solve the mystery of Ellingham Academy.

The mystery and the story is woven well. Every few chapters, we’ve got a flashback to a scene that happened in 1936, when the kidnapping took place.

Stevie’s obsessed with the old mystery – so she’s not exactly prepared to find the body of one of her fellow students.

Now, there’s a fun surprise at the end, but I can’t exactly tell you if the clues are helpful or how well the mystery is woven – because of those dread words, “to be continued.” I am very annoyed that I can’t read the second volume right now. [Reader, the good news is that since I couldn’t post this in 2018 when I read it as part of my Newbery reading, now all three volumes are published, and you can read them all together!]

But I will say that I enjoyed every minute leading up to those dread words. (The surprise at the end is perfect!) The characters are quirky. The setting is well-drawn. Stevie even gets to look at some papers and other items from the time of the kidnapping.

Here’s the letter from Truly Devious:

Look! A riddle! Time for fun!
Should we use a rope or gun
Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty
Poison’s slow, which is a pity
Fire is festive, drowning’s slow
Hanging’s a ropy way to go
A broken head, a nasty fall
A car colliding with a wall
Bombs make a very jolly noise
Such ways to punish naughty boys!
What shall we use? We can’t decide.
Just like you cannot run or hide.
Ha ha.
Truly,
Devious

I can’t wait to get more clues in the next book!

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Christmas Gathering, by Anne Perry

Friday, December 27th, 2019

A Christmas Gathering

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2019. 193 pages.
Review written December 27, 2019, from a library book

Reading an Anne Perry Christmas Mystery has become a fun tradition for me, one I didn’t get to indulge in when I was on the Newbery committee, and this year put off because of Cybils reading. So I read this one a couple days after Christmas, but it still gave me a nice cozy and short mystery to put me in a vacation mood. Today the weather was even warm enough, I read most of it out on my balcony with my feet up. Maybe that doesn’t feel like winter – but it does feel like vacation.

I like the way you can tell these characters have appeared in her regular series books, at least as secondary characters. A Christmas Gathering featured Lady Vespasia and her new husband Victor Narroway. Vespasia is a relative of Anne Perry’s character Charlotte, who married the policeman Thomas Pitt. Vespasia knows that her husband has come to this Christmas party at a country house to do some work for the government, connected with his former position as head of the Special Branch, but he has not told her exactly what he is going to do.

As for Victor, he’s planning to meet a courier and take a package with misleading information to be passed to the Germans as genuine. But the job reminds him of a similar case twenty years ago, when he was much younger and the courier he was supposed to protect was murdered. He hasn’t told Vespasia of that failure that haunts him.

But somebody knows about the intended delivery of the package. Is a young lady courier going to die again?

I like the way that besides the mystery, this book also looks at a marriage late in life, and the motivation for keeping secrets from someone you love. As with many of Anne Perry’s Christmas novels, the importance of forgiveness and mercy toward those we love is emphasized.

anneperry.co.uk
randomhousebooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Prime Suspects, by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville, illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

Prime Suspects

The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations

by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville
illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Princeton University Press, 2019. 230 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 9/19/19 from a library book

Okay, now I’ve seen everything! This is a graphic novel murder mystery about research mathematics!

The characters have names that play off of the names of distinguished mathematicians. The lead detective uses ideas from his namesake.

The most interesting part is that when the detective team goes to the autopsy of recent victim Arnie Int, lieutenant of the Integer Crime Family, they found everything inside his body has decomposed – except for prime numbers! The apprentice detective pulls a bloody number out of his body and says, “It’s a prime, sir!”

They find the body is similar to a previous victim, Daisy Permutation. I like the scene where the detectives discuss it while playing billiards:

“It’s not a similarity, but in both victims, the internal organs were completely decomposed.
Except that in Arnie Int there was a smattering of primes, and in Daisy permutation, a smattering of cycles.”

“But that’s only to be expected.
Cycles are the fundamental constituent parts of a permutation, just like primes are the fundamental constituent parts of an integer.”

And it’s all done in a dark style, with some clueless videographers to explain things to, and mathematical puns in the background.

The math itself – where they compare the set of integers to the set of permutations – went over my head, and I’ve got a Master’s in Math. I read the back matter where it’s explained, and it still went over my head – though I at least understood what basic concepts were at work. And I did, after reading, understand at least that cycles are the building blocks of permutations as primes are the building blocks of integers.

And I’m still tickled to death that someone made a graphic novel thriller about higher math.

There are fun ads on the inside cover, such as: “Are you looking to get away from it all? Why not come and stay at Hilbert’s fabulous “Infinite Hotel”? There is ALWAYS room for as many guests as want to stay.” And: “RIEMANN’S ROOTS: We’ll plant your organic roots in straight rows. Guaranteed to have at least 41.69% of the roots in a straight line!” And: “Fermat’s Dreams: Truly remarkable ideas for the future which this inside cover is too small to contain!”

The back matter takes up 50 large pages, so it takes as long to read as the 180 pages of the graphic novel part. Yes, it includes the math, but also you’ve got notes on the mathematicians referred to, notes about the references in the art, and an explanation of how the book came to be – beginning as a screenplay (which has been performed in live readings).

Here’s the beginning of that section:

Integers and permutations are fundamental mathematical objects that inhabit quite distinct worlds though, under more sophisticated examination, one cannot help but be struck by the extraordinary similarities between their anatomies. This comic book stemmed from an experiment to present these similarities to a wider audience in the form of a dramatic narrative. In these after-pages, we will clarify some of the mathematical ideas alluded to in the comic book, giving the details of Gauss’s lectures and Langer’s presentation at the police precinct. We will also break down the content of some of the background artwork, explaining how some of it refers to breakthroughs in this area of mathematics, some of it to other vaguely relevant mathematics, while some content is simply our attempt at mathematical humor.

Our goal in Prime Suspects has been not only to popularize the fascinating and extraordinary similarities between the fine details of the structure of integers and of permutations, but also to draw attention to several key cultural issues in mathematics:

— How research is done, particularly the roles of student and adviser;
— The role of women in mathematics today; and
— The influence and conflict of deep and rigid abstraction.

I’m not sure everyone will love this book, but I sure do! Sure to be all the rage in graduate wings of math departments across the nation!

press.princeton.edu

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Colors of All the Cattle, by Alexander McCall Smith

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

The Colors of All the Cattle

by Alexander McCall Smith

narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2018. 9.75 hours on 9 compact discs.
Starred Review

I do love Alexander McCall Smith. Okay, he rambles at times, and his characters tend to go over and over their feelings and decisions. But they are delightful people to spend time with, and I lose my impatience when I listen to the books on my commute, since spending time with them makes sitting in traffic a much less odious experience.

This is now the 19th book about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. (Wow!) This book had more about Charlie, who was a young apprentice in the first book and is now getting to be a young man. He does some investigating in a difficult case, and we learn more about his private life.

But we also have Mma Potokwami manipulating Mma Ramotswe into running for Council – even though she doesn’t want to at all. She is not the sort of person who likes politics. But her opponent is none other than the villain of every book (Okay, this is always where I roll my eyes) – Violet Sepotho. So of course she can’t simply let Violet run unopposed. At stake is a proposed project to put up the Big Fun Hotel next to a graveyard – which would disrespect all the late people in the graveyard and their families.

As always, this book takes us to the heart of Botswana and shows us the heart of Botswana. It also shows some good people helping other people. And it’s nice to spend time in their company, even if it feels like a little more time than another author would have given the same events. By the end, you’re ready to pull up a chair, drink some red bush tea, and enjoy the stories.

alexandermccallsmith.com
recordedbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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