Tag Archives: mystery

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

20th February 2012

* I borrowed this book from my local library. You can buy a copy from Indiebound here or for your Nook here.

In the midst of a dull lunch party in New York, Beatrice’s dull but carefully-crafted life is interrupted by a phone call: Her mother is calling from London to tell her that Beatrice’s sister Tess – who is also pregnant – is missing. Petrified of the possibilities, Beatrice relies on her older sister role to get her to the airport, the London, to Tess’s apartment. Tess is just being her flighty self, surely. The alternatives are too horrifying, and when that horror is realized, Beatrice is changed. Tess had gone into labor three weeks early, the baby, stillborn. The police mark Tess’s death a suicide in the face of this news, but Beatrice knows this can’t be and begins stacking up questions, trying to find proof that Tess was frightened of someone and that the someone murdered her.

From the start of Lupton’s debut novel Sister, it is apparent that Tess has been killed and that Beatrice is responsible for finding her killer. Sister is told in the form of a lengthy letter from Beatrice to Tess, as the sisters often wrote back and forth to one another. In trying to cope with her sister’s disappearance and death, Beatrice turns again to writing Tess, telling her, through her testimony to Mr. Wright, a Crown Protection Services attorney, what has happened since the moment she arrived in London. I thought this was an incredibly smart choice, as the consistency of Beatrice’s voice and writing makes the impacts of some of the twists and turns that much more effective.

Because Beatrice is writing the letters, the reader is aware that he or she is following a desperate sister down any possible path to gain answers to her many questions: Tess was having an affair with one of her married art instructors. She was part of an experimental drug trial, and she was scared of someone or something. Told from another perspective, I may have doubted Beatrice’s many hunches, but as a sister, I was with her 100%, begging alongside her for the police to follow up just one more oddity in Tess’s disappearance. However, Beatrice is an unreliable narrator, as there are moments in her letter when it’s quite obvious something is wrong with Beatrice. She references being unwell and suspecting that her sister’s killer is watching her, though she knows he’s behind bars.

By the end of the book, my legs were incredibly tense from tapping my toes and feet, desperately wanting to beat Beatrice to the finish, yet scared to do so. The ending is so incredibly shocking, but it wasn’t artlessly so. Lupton manages to make you feel you knew what was going on all along, even as you page back through the last chapter to feel the impact again. Even if you’re not a fan of crime fiction, this is one not to miss.

Have you read Sister? I immediately passed it to my mom, who also loved it, and now it’s sitting on my dad’s nightstand. I love that kind of book. 🙂

Series Obsession: Elly Griffiths

1st February 2012

I pride myself on having a fairly eclectic array of book reviews on this site, but puh-lease. You guys know how much I love mysteries, and when I read a fantastic review of Elly Griffiths’ latest book at Kittling: Books, I knew this was a series I would likely love. I may love most mysteries, but I have preferences. I’d like a strong female lead, or I’d at least like there to be a female on the team or as a partner. I prefer mysteries set in the UK, and I love it when there are a couple of cases that intertwine. Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin are great at all of these things. I’ve just added Elly Griffiths to those ranks. I checked out the first book in her Ruth Galloway series at the library a few weeks ago then immediately bought the next two books for my Nook. The first one was that good.

Instead of stringing you along, I decided to review each book in the series at once. This is one series that I’d recommend reading in order, and you can click the covers of the books to buy a copy. Enjoy.

In The Crossing Places, Dr. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, teaching at North Norfolk University and then coming home to her house on the saltmarshes, a desolate area in Norfolk where the earth meets the sky. Her life is routine, full of her cat and good Ian Rankin novels, and she’s content with it until DCI Harry Nelson requests her assistance. Lucy Downey disappeared a decade ago, but Nelson has continually received odd letters with archaeological, biblical, and mythological references, taunting him about Lucy. When he finds some bones, he calls Ruth in to identify whether the bones are animal or human, whether or not they are recent or ancient, and whether or not they are from a child.

The bones, though, are from another time, thousands of years ago, and while the discovery is significant, Ruth finds it difficult to go back to her life, analyzing bones and giving lectures. Instead, when another young girl goes missing, Ruth is more deeply invested in the case than she realizes, and she and Nelson must forge an alliance to help one another and find out what secrets the saltmarsh holds.

Though I enjoyed the mystery in The Crossing Places, a mystery for me has to be about more than who is dead/missing/assaulted, and Elly Griffiths has created an odd but entirely endearing cast of characters. Ruth is eccentric and intelligent, overweight but tired of wearing all black. Harry is married to a beautiful woman and isn’t that fond of the barren landscape to which he has moved. Then there’s Cathbad, a Druid interested in preserving the land and generally making people uncomfortable with his outlandish wardrobe. Each plays a significant role in this book, and these people, more than anything, were what drew me into this place of myth and science, history and storytelling.

In a land so ancient, Norfolk is a gem for archaeologists and a headache for contractors. When a building in the midst of being razed for a new apartment complex is discovered to be on top of an old Roman site, construction stops and digging begins. But the archaeological team finds something it didn’t expect – the bones of what look like a child beneath the door frame. DCI Harry Nelson immediately calls Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist, to determine whether these bones are from beyond recent memory or if there could possibly be a crime worth investigating.

At the same time, further research shows the site was once a Catholic children’s home, and after Nelson tracks down the priest and former head of the house, he discovers that two children went missing from the home 40 years ago. Inconsistencies and long-forgotten details muddy the case, but someone is worried. Ruth is left sinister gifts on her doorstep, much like a cat bringing prey to its master, and it doesn’t take long for the threats to intensify as Ruth and Harry dig much deeper than anyone intended.

Unlike some mysteries where the relationships remain stagnant because there is no character arc, Ruth and Harry are both changing. Their connection is inexplicable to each, but they are drawn to one another and have a quiet affection for each other. Though Harry is married and the two seem to be better friends than anything, I loved the deference, respect, and confidence Harry and Ruth show. Plus, several characters from The Crossing Places return and take greater part in the novel than in the first.

The first novel in the series certainly incorporates local mythology and history, but The Janus Stone is distinctly more focused on Roman mythology because of the discovery. The unnamed killer appears in the text between every couple of chapters, preparing sacrifices and detailing Roman rituals. The effect was beyond eerie and set up the action quite well, reinforcing the need to find out the identity of the killer, as he or she seems to be readying for a final act.

The sea holds secrets, but it also uncovers them. An archaeological team studying and mapping the erosion of the Norfolk coast makes a ghastly discovery: at least two skeletons are evident in a portion of the cliff face. Dr. Ruth Galloway is once again called away from her work to assist the police. After her work in Serbia, helping to identify bodies in mass graves, Ruth knows a thing or two about piecing together skeletons, even six of them. Ruth’s testing reveals the men were from Germany and were killed during World War II. But how did they end up here? Who killed them? DCI Nelson contacts the old Home Guard, but when two elderly men, formerly of the Guard, end up dead, Harry understands that someone is keen to make sure the truth never sees the light of day.

The House at Sea’s End is a departure from the first two novels in that there is no mythology here, only history – WWII history and Ruth’s own. Though I thought it was a bit artless, Griffith fleshes out Ruth’s experiences in Serbia by having one of Ruth’s friends Tatjana, whom she met in Serbia, stay as a house guest. Tatjana only serves to elicit Ruth’s memories, and I wish this had been done a bit differently. However, there is a lot to tackle in this novel: Ruth is no longer alone. A single, 40-year-old, working mother of a newborn doesn’t exactly have the time and freedom to traipse across the cliff and work for hours on end as she used to. But Ruth loves her work, and part of her life as a new mother is realizing and setting new boundaries for herself.

Once again, though, the strength of this novel is its characters. Though I didn’t love the plot in this one, I enjoyed seeing Ruth adapt to motherhood. All too often, I think authors have a difficult time reconciling a strong female character with her motherhood, but Griffiths doesn’t baby the reader. Ruth has her baby because she’s pregnant and knows it’s now or never. She is not naturally very maternal, but she wants to be good – both at her job and at being a mom. Watching Harry Nelson and Ruth’s friends adjust to seeing Ruth in a different light was also quite fun.

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I would deem this series, overall, as incredibly addictive and readable. If you’re at all like me and want your crime with a side of fantastic character development, I think this would be a winner for you. In fact, if you’re interested and have a Nook, let me know. I’ll use the LendMe option and shoot it your way. (Just keep in mind I don’t have the first one).

What’s the latest series that made you go a little crazy? Or are series just not for you?

Shakespeare’s Champion by Charlaine Harris

24th January 2012

*I borrowed this copy from my local library.

Lily Bard is tough. She’s had to be. After a brutal attack, she leaves her former life and moves to Shakespeare, Arkansas, taking up housecleaning and martial arts. But Shakespeare isn’t the sleepy little town it appears to be at first glance. Instead, this southern town is – even in the late 90s – struggling with race relations. When Lily arrives early at the gym one morning and finds the body of another gym member, killed beneath a heavy weight, she isn’t sure how it could possibly be connected to the racial tension in town, and it’s only after she takes a couple beatings and joins forces with a private detective that the pieces begin falling in place.

Charlaine Harris is most well known for her Sookie Stackhouse series, but I just can’t get into it. Lily Bard, however, is right up my alley.  I read the first Lily Bard book last year and really enjoyed it, but my library didn’t have any more of the books at the time, and I forgot about the series. I stopped in the library last week and just browsed and found this one!

Lily is such an amazing female character; she’s strong but flawed. She can kick some ass, but she’s also incredibly vulnerable. In essence, I think she’s a very “true” female character, and I love that she isn’t denied affection or romance simply because she’s tough. Nor does she turn into a simpering idiot when she falls for a guy.

Read this: If you like a good mystery, a strong lead female character, and romance that isn’t gag inducing.

Getting Lucky by DC Brod

19th December 2011

*I received an egalley through NetGalley from Tyrus Books. Buy it here from Indiebound. Buy the first in the series, Getting Sassy, here.

Robyn Guthrie is 40-something, caring for her ailing but sharp-tongued mother and stumbling through the complexities of a relationship on the brink of ruin. Her one solace? Her dog Bix and her job. As a freelance reporter, Robyn has a fair amount of autonomy until Claire, a reporter at the Fowler News and Record, is killed by a hit-and-run driver. Robyn feels a kinship with Claire because Claire was a dog owner as well and was actually killed while out walking her pup. Everyone else thinks the accident was a random hit and run, but Robyn is curious… Claire was working on a story about a community of eco-built homes in Cedar Ridge, and Robyn retraces her steps to figure out just what was going on in the development.

The last time I browsed NetGalley, I saw this book and grabbed it up mostly because of the cover and description. I kept reading because DC Brod wrote an intelligent, odd little mystery with a sense of humor that is more than a run-of-the-mill whodunit. Instead, it’s a novel of relationships. Robyn’s mother wants them to buy a home together, while Robyn is trying to figure out whether her boyfriend is ok with her desire not to have children. Robyn knows what she wants, but voicing it isn’t always easy, even for such a strong-willed woman. The mystery is not an afterthought, however, and Robyn’s journalistic investigation reminded me how much fun books with good reporters in them can be. This is most definitely a series you want to keep an eye on.

Read this: if you aren’t a huge mystery lover but want to give one a try. For you mystery lovers: grab it. You won’t regret it.

P.S. Sorry for going MIA last week. I was out of town for work with no Internet connection. Plus, the end of the semester is always a bit harried, even without a trip out of town. Hope all is well in your worlds!

Miss Silver Saturday: The Benevent Treasure

12th November 2011

Candida Sayle has one incredibly memorable event as a young girl. Invited to the coast with a friend’s family but arriving before them, she asks about the tide. Two elderly women note her name and tell her the tide will not rise until 11 p.m. She walks upon the beach, only to be stuck on the cliff side when the tide begins to rise much earlier. Fearing death, she calls out for a time.  Stephen Eversly happens to hear her and pulls her up to safety, though they cannot get back to the inn until the next morning. Much her senior, he protectively holds her until dawn.

This is one of the best openings to a book I’ve read in a long time, and though this particular motif (young woman stuck on the side of a cliff in danger of drowning) returns in several Wentworth books, it’s particularly effective here. Plus, it’s incredibly romantic, and I was so sad that it appeared Stephen and Candida would never meet again.

But five years later, a lot has changed.The last of Candida’s relations has died, and she has no options until two great-aunts reach out, past a family dispute, to ask Candida to visit. Eccentric and co-dependent, the Misses Cara and Olivia Benevent make Candida uncomfortable, especially after she has a dream that these two women were the same who nearly drew her to her death on the coast five years earlier. As Candida sees more of her aunts and learns of the Benevent Treasure and its terrible curse, she becomes more and more afraid of the Benevent home and family.

As usual with a Miss Silver book, the star here is not Maud Silver. Instead, Wentworth writes a novel of characters: Candida, an innocent but intelligent young woman. Olivia Benevent, who I swear is very similar in demeanor to Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. Cara Benevent, a poor soul who only wants love but who has been browbeaten by Olivia for so many years, she is withdrawn and skittish.

Miss Silver comes in – only when called and takes charge of the situation, knitting needles in hand, rising to the occasion in the final pages of the book. If you haven’t read Miss Silver yet, don’t let the knitting needles deter you. Yes, she knits with them, but mostly she uses them as a way to disarm her clients, who are usually hesitant to talk to her, whether it’s because they feel silly or that they shouldn’t discuss family business with a stranger.

Read this: and be prepared to be drawn into the wilds of England with missing secretaries, a mysterious legend, and a healthy dose of romance.

P.S. If anyone decides to take up the Miss Silver series, let me know. I’d love to read in tandem or include your posts for Miss Silver Saturdays.