Archive for category Mystery Recommendations
Bottom line: A murder mystery TV series with great characters, acting, and storylines.
Rating: Strongly Recommended
Castle is my favorite TV show. Maybe of all time, but definitely my favorite currently running show. It’s a murder mystery that features Detective Kate Beckett and her crew, who have been told to bring a writer, Richard Castle, along with them in the course of their investigations, so that he can gather information to write a series of books.
I only tried it because it stars Nathan Fillion, who was the male lead in the tragically short lived TV series Firefly. Castle is fantastically good. It’s one of those rare shows where everything comes together: the writing, characters, casting, acting, plots, etc. are all just incredibly well done. They even managed to handle the sexual tension (it’s TV, therefore there must be sexual tension) well. I stopped watching Bones because at the end of every season, there would be this huge “will they/won’t they” cliffhanger, and then when they started the next season they just pretended the last episode hadn’t happened. After 5-6 seasons like that, I just got fed up. I’m not a huge TV watcher in general, but any time the writers start to obviously manipulate the audience, I lose interest instantly (this annoys my husband – we’ll be invested maybe a couple of seasons deep and all of a sudden, I’m done.). I want to be thinking about the story and the characters, not be wondering about how the writers are going to yank my chain next. Anyways, in Castle the relationship between the male and female lead feels natural, and progresses and regresses (for the vast majority) according to believable events within the context of the show. As the characters are the main draw for me, this is even more important than usual. And ALL the characters are great, even the supporting cast – they feel realistic and interact well and are basically the kinds of people that you wish you could go hang out with.
The only downside for me is that sometimes you get an incredibly intense, edge-of-your-seat, gruesome show, and sometimes you get a fun, lighthearted show, and you never know which you’re going to get. Although I think in general that’s a good thing (keeps it fresh), it is the reason I stopped watching about a year ago when I was pregnant and tired and stressed out and couldn’t handle anything even remotely intense. I haven’t managed to get caught up yet, but I will.
Side Note: As an interesting promotional tactic, the powers that be have created the Nikki Heat books that are supposedly written by the character Richard Castle (the Amazon author page even shows Nathan Fillion). They’re actually not bad mysteries. The writing style is a little more sensationalized and occasionally cheesy than I would typically go for, but it’s a fun extension of the Castle world. This is one of the incredibly rare times when I’ll tell you to watch the TV show first, but there it is. I’ve read the first two Nikki Heat books and enjoyed them. I don’t know yet if I’ll read the others – my “to be read” list has become quite enormously high again – but not because I don’t think I wouldn’t like them. Do be aware, especially if you typically read cozies, that these are fairly intense and PG-13-y.
Bottom line: JET is a free, full length novel introducing the JET series. If you’re a fan of thrillers, give it a try!
Rating: Strongly Recommended
Code name: Jet
Twenty-eight-year-old Jet was once the Mossad’s most lethal operative before faking her own death and burying that identity forever. But the past doesn’t give up on its secrets easily.
When her new life on a tranquil island is shattered by a brutal attack, Jet must return to a clandestine existence of savagery and deception to save herself and those she loves. A gritty, unflinching roller-coaster of high-stakes twists and shocking turns, JET features a new breed of protagonist that breaks the mold.
Fans of Lisbeth Salander, SALT, and the Bourne trilogy will find themselves carried along at Lamborghini speed to a conclusion as surprising as the story’s heroine is unconventional.
I recommend reading this book when you can devote a few hours to it and finish it all in one gulp – otherwise, you’ll still end up finishing it all in one gulp, but there will be babies crying, dogs barking, chores neglected, and food uneaten as you frantically race through the pages. The style reminded me the most of the Bourne trilogy (as suggested in the blurb). We have an extremely competent assassin: a female character far more strongly developed than one would normally expect to see in this genre. We have international shenanigans, scary bad guys, cool weapons, and clandestine government agencies. The writing was very tight, and as I said earlier, I was very impressed with the lifelikeness of the main character. Blake managed to create a ruthless assassin who still feels realistically human and also manages to be a sympathetic character. Descriptions were evocative without being tedious, and there are enough logistics and details (e.g. what kinds of weapons they used, how they get from point A to point B) to give the reader a good flavour of setting but not so much that your eyes start to glaze over. The only thing I know about guns is that they fire bullets, and the only thing I know about cars is that they come in different colours. (Yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but seriously, I look at a car and I can generally tell if it’s an SUV, truck, or car, but that’s it. I’m a mess trying to find my car in parking lots. Do you know how many gray cars there are?!? Anyways…)The only aspect I wasn’t crazy about was how the story jumped around in time and place, but I recognize that these were all important for the plot and/or backstory. My brain is very linear and I just have a hard time coming into and out of the main story line.
So basically, we have an intriguing premise, lots of action, an interesting main character, and last but not least, very good writing. Oh, and it’s free. What’s not to like? I’ll definitely be reading more in the series as time (and budget) allows, and will be checking out some of Blake’s other works.
Side note: This is a violent story, and while the writing certainly conveys that, it never felt overly graphic to me (and I am a total wimp).
Bottom line: A great example of the hard boiled genre, featuring a strong female P.I.
Blurb for First Book: A is for Alibi (1982)
A IS FOR AVENGER
A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.
A IS FOR ACCUSED
That’s why she draws desperate clients like Nikki Fife. Eight years ago, she was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer. But after all this time, clearing Nikki’s bad name won’t be easy.
A IS FOR ALIBI
If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey Millhone feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer–and sharper–than she imagined.
It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries, so I got A is for Alibi from the library and started over at the beginning (not all of them – I’m dedicated to you, my loyal readers, but not THAT dedicated). I’ve read up through T, though Grafton has published up through V (W is for Wasted comes out this fall). For a series that has 22 published books, plus some short stories (none of which I’ve read), the level of quality is surprisingly consistent – and high. The mysteries and characters are interesting and varied enough so that you don’t feel like you’re reading the same book over and over again. There are, obviously, some books that are better than others, but for the most part they’re very good reads.
One thing to note is that just because this series features a female detective, do not mistake these for cozies. They are definitely hard boiled: gritty and full of the realities of life – sex and bad language and all the rest of it. Kinsey is a tough, prickly, character, one that you come to respect before you necessarily start to like her. In the first book, you get enough details about her earlier life to keep you interested, without there being an info dump of backstory. I find it annoying when within a few strategic conversations in the first chapter you learn everything you need to know about a character. Real life doesn’t work that way. You do learn more about her as the series progresses, in a very natural way.
I’d recommend this series for anyone who likes the hard boiled mystery genre, or even mystery fans in general. Be warned that there is quite a bit of detail involved in tracking down various aspects of the cases; facts don’t seamlessly fall into place on the first try, which I quite like. Another great thing about these books is that any library is almost guaranteed to stock them. So, pick one up and give it a try – if you like it, you’ll eventually have 25 more great books to keep you entertained. Even for someone who reads as fast as I do, that’s at least a hundred hours of happiness.
I’m going to be posting some summer reading lists throughout the, well, summer. These won’t be in-depth reviews, just a list of “hey, these are great and you should drop everything and read them now!” books. I’m going to be doing it by genre, and for my first genre I’m picked Golden Age Mysteries. These are the mysteries that many people think of as the “classic” mysteries, typically written in the 1920’s or 1930’s. I love this era – so much so that they comprise the vast majority of the mysteries on my personal bookshelves that survive my frequent purges. So, here’s your summer reading list for Golden Age Mysteries:
- Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers. Normally I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one (just because it’s not the first and I’m a bit obsessive that way), but I think it really is her best and if you want to give Sayers a try, this is the one to do it with.
- Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie. Probably my favorite Christie, and a great introduction to her work.
- Opening Night / Night at the Vulcan (alternate title) (1951) by Ngaio Marsh. I’ve only read a handful of Marsh’s works, but I’ve enjoyed all the ones that I have read. I’d rate her a bit below Agatha Christie, but still very fun to read if you like this genre. She was from New Zealand and worked in the theatre, so several of her works are set in the theatre as this one is (and also features a heroine fresh off the boat from NZ).
- Death of a Ghost (1934) by Margery Allingham. This is my favorite Allingham. Her work is a bit darker than any of the others I’ve mentioned, but this one especially is extremely well crafted. Some of her books I found the characters to be flat, but in this one they are more fleshed out.
The four authors above are considered the four original “Queens of Crime”, and reading one of each of their works would certainly constitute a good introduction into the golden age of detective fiction. Another author that I hear frequently recommended along with the four above is Josephine Tey, but I have yet to read any of her works. So, as a bonus, I’m including:
5. Anything by Josephine Tey. This is going on my reading list for the summer.
I hope you enjoy your first reading assignment from me – look for more to come!
Bottom line: An enjoyable book, as much for the ambience as the mystery itself.
High seas adventure turns to high stakes sleuthing when a beautiful but troubled homicide detective and a New England sea captain join forces in this award-winning mystery set on the coast of Maine.
On leave from the Minneapolis Police Department after being shot, homicide detective Brie Beaumont has gone to Maine where she has family roots. She ships out on the Maine Wind for an early season cruise with Captain John DuLac and eight others. Caught in a gale, they anchor off remote and windswept Granite Island. But when someone aboard is murdered, Brie must single-handedly stage an investigation that moves from the ship to a small fishing village on the island. Plagued by flashbacks, and fighting a growing attraction to Captain DuLac, she works to unravel a mystery that will place her directly in the path of a psychopathic killer.
Two of my favorite things in life are reading and travelling. If I can find a book that is a great story and has enough local flavor to provide a mental journey, I’m an extremely happy camper. Rigged For Murder delivers on both counts. It’s a solid mystery, and there were enough descriptions of both the sailing and the island to give me a good feel for the setting. It’s well written, and the pace flows along nicely. I got it for free, but will be buying the next book in the series, Danger Sector.
There were a couple of things I didn’t love about it. First, there was a lot of nautical jargon, and the meanings weren’t always readily discernible from context. To be fair, I think authors generally tend to overexplain instead of the other way around, so it was nice to be treated as an intelligent creature (even if that might have been an overestimation on the author’s part!). Second, cynic that I am, it annoys me when people fall in love in a couple of days. Lastly, there are a couple of abrupt shifts in perspective, often a couple within the same paragraph. I found these a little disorienting.
Barring these minor issues (none of which are very distracting from the storyline), it’s a really fun read. I thought Brie was a great character – she was more complex than you sometimes find in these types of mysteries. Although you don’t get a lot of insight into the secondary characters, they felt realistic – characters, not caricatures.
Rigged for Murder is what I think of as a “Modern Cozy” – meaning it has several elements of a traditional cozy mystery, but there are aspects that are a little more PG-13 than you would tend to find in a traditional cozy.
What did you think of the book? Ever been sailing?
Bottom line: An interesting premise for a detective, and with a well thought out story to back it up.
Buying a gun to kill your wife: $3,000
Hiring Trauma Care to clean afterward: $1,500
Having that same cleaner uncover evidence that frames you: priceless
On her way to completing a degree in forensic science, Gabby St. Claire drops out of school and starts her own crime scene cleaning business. “Yeah, that’s me,” she says, “a crime scene cleaner. People waiting in line behind me who strike up conversations always regret it.”
When a routine cleaning job uncovers a murder weapon the police overlooked, she realizes that the wrong person is in jail. But the owner of the weapon is a powerful foe . . . and willing to do anything to keep Gabby quiet.
With the help of her new neighbor, Riley Thomas, a man whose life and faith fascinate her, Gabby plays the detective to make sure the right person is put behind bars. Can Riley help her before another murder occurs?
I knew I wanted to read a mystery today, and I started several before landing on this one. From the opening line of “Whistling a tune from Fiddler on the Roof, I used my tweezers to work a piece of Gloria Cunningham’s skull out of the sky blue wall.” I was intrigued. There were many things I enjoyed : the main character was three dimensional and interesting, it had a good murder/detecting plot, and the ending leaves you satisfied but with some unanswered questions about Gabby’s past and future. I thought having the amateur detective own a crime scene cleaning business and have gone to school for forensic science was a clever way to solve the age-old mystery writers’ dilemma: how and why would ordinary people investigate a crime?
A couple of quibbles I had with the book are as follows. For one, the supporting characters felt a little flat to me. For example, the supposed best friend is militantly vegan and she’s often described that way: “the animal lover did such and such”, or we see her forcing vegan brownies down her neighbours’ throats while ranting about animal cruelty. All of which is fine, but EVERY time she appears in the story it’s while doing some animal rights activism (not “animal right’s activism.” I shouldn’t have read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. It just made me more obsessive about punctuation – other people’s, not mine, of course!) or something like that. The father is a drunk and a sponge, therefore he’s only a drunk and a sponge.
The other issue I had was with the effort to introduce matters of faith into the book. I respect writers who try to imbue their works with topics that are close to their hearts, like faith and doubt (or environmentalism or healthy living or whatever it is they hold dear), and as a Christian myself, the content certainly doesn’t offend me. However, it felt forced. Several characters brought up God seemingly out of nowhere, and Gabby sure spends a lot of time thinking about how she doesn’t believe in God.
These two issues aside, it was an enjoyable read. I had gotten the book for free quite a while ago and just today got around to reading it, but I was glad I had it on my Kindle. I haven’t decided yet whether or not to pursue the series – it looks like there are several books already out.
Available: As an e-book for $2.99 and a print book, around $10.
More Info: http://www.christybarritt.com/
What did you think? Did you like the book?
Bottom line: A very fun read with a good mystery, an interesting main character (despite describing every single hat she puts on), and a clever roasting of the indie scene.
A writer’s retreat seemed the perfect chance for Dee Whittaker to take her mind off her marital difficulties.
However, she meets five of the most hideous writers ever to have mastered a qwerty keyboard, and her problems quickly multiply. Things escalate further when the handyman winds up dead.
After fleeing from the island, Dee attempts to get her life back on track but begins to notice that something strange is going on. The stories written on the island are coming true and hers is next – complete with a murder.
Her estranged husband makes an unlikely sidekick as the two of them try to stop the literary copycat killing an innocent woman.
Packed with topical references, Pompomberry House provides a satirical look at the emerging world of indie publishing.
As an avid reader, I’ve been watching the changing dynamics of writing and publishing – both through the introduction of e-books and greater prevalence of independently published authors. You could have one without the other, but e-books have made it possible for anyone to take ANY piece of written work, hit “publish”, and it’s available to the masses. Pompomberry House takes a look at a group of characters who probably should have thought twice before hitting the publish button on their books.
It takes a look at some of the challenges of being an indie author, as well as some behind the scenes action of what authors have to do to get their books noticed. (There’s a huge difference between being able to e-publish a book, and being able to e-sell it.) Most of the characters felt a little TOO over the top for me, but it is satire, so that might have been a stylistic decision. Although the murder/mystery/discovery aspects of the book were handled quite cleverly, I felt that the author was at her best when portraying the complicated relationship and emotions between the main character and her soon-to-be ex-husband.
As it says in the blurb, this is a book “packed with topical references…” I don’t know how well Pompomberry House will stand the test of time with all the contemporary mentions, but in the here and now, it’s definitely worth checking out – especially if you have any interest in indie authors.
Side note: This book is firmly in the PG-13 camp, so be warned.
Available: As an e-book ($2.99) or paperback ($14.95)
What did you think? Did you like the book?