Emily Dickinson nailed it when she wrote, “There is no frigate like a book.” Transporting me this month are The Black Hour, Lori Rader-Day’s stirring “whydunit” about a campus shooting, from a victim’s point of view; Ghost Month, Ed Lin’s coming-of-age thriller set in Taiwan; and The Kennedy Connection, R.G. Belsky’s conspiracy exposé. Perhaps the authorities have closed the books on these cases, but never underestimate an amateur sleuth seeking answers.
After a long, dry spell, ecclesiastic detectives make a showing. Readers will embrace Leta Serafim’s Papa Michalis in The Devil Takes Half, an assured series debut set in the Greek islands. And they will welcome back Father Mateo, costarring in Susan Spann’s sophomore historical romp, the 16th-century-set Blade of the Samurai.
The cats are back! After a steady stream of canine mysteries (still going strong), it’s reassuring to find a few standard-bearers back in the mix. If your readers run to cozies, don’t miss Eddie, the sleuthing bookmobile cat, in Tailing a Tabby from Laurie Cass. Jennifer McAndrews’s ball of fur enhances Ill-Gotten Panes. And the Series Lineup continues the feline frolic; check out Mike Resnick’s Cat on a Cold Tin Roof.
Farewell: This is my last mystery column; after three years, it is time to retire. Thanks to the LJ team for this great opportunity. Happy reading, everyone!
Debut of the month
Rader-Day, Lori. The Black Hour. Seventh St: Prometheus. Jul. 2014. 332p. ISBN 9781616148850. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616148867. M
Chicago’s Rothbert University was rocked when one of its sociology professors, Amelia Emmet, was shot randomly; the student attacker committed suicide immediately after. End of story. Readers enter as Amelia returns to teaching months later, determined to take ownership of her own mystery case. Teaching assistant Nathaniel Barber is protective, but covertly he wonders if Amelia might become his dissertation topic. A newspaper reporter has pursued her story since day one, and he hovers too closely for comfort. Finally, there is the suicide hotline staff who seem extra-zealous. All of these behaviors create an air of paranoia. Not until Amelia’s memory begins to loosen does she realize that danger has not left the campus. A seriously scary sailing regatta on Lake Michigan brings it all home, vividly! VERDICT With disconcerting timeliness (in the wake of recent shootings), Rader-Day captures the more sinister aspects of campus life. While the author captivates from page one with her psychologically attuned debut, it is the sociological frames that work so well: class, power, and violence. This reviewer was bowled over by the novel’s alternating points of view, superb storytelling, and pitch-perfect take on academia. [A July LibraryReads pick, see LJ 7/14, p. 119.—Ed.]
Lin, Ed. Ghost Month. Soho Crime. Aug. 2014. 328p. ISBN 9781616953263. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616953270. M
Jing-nan and his girlfriend Julia dreamt big, both of them leaving Taiwan for college in the United States and planning to reunite eventually. But life intervened. Tragically, both of Jing-nan’s parents died while he was in school; he is now back in Taiwan, working at the family’s food-stall business in Taipei. Then he learns that Julia—in Taiwan!—has been murdered. Despairing of the police force’s integrity, Jing-nan begins his own clumsy amateur investigation. Surprisingly, his passion for a postpunk band brings a new friend into his life. Further, his coworkers help him navigate the treacherous waters of Taiwanese gangsters, making it feasible for Jing-nan to succeed. Throughout, the significance of Taiwan’s “ghost month,” when spirits are said to mingle with the living, adds a layer of atmospheric tension. VERDICT Taiwan’s traditions play a major role in Lin’s category-defying thriller that manages to be both funny and profound. Lin, who also pens the New York City–set Robert Chow procedural series (One Red Bastard), writes with strong literary overtones and delivers a bang-up finale sure to keep readers engaged well past lights out.
Penny, Louise. The Long Way Home: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781250022066. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250022073. M
Penny’s tenth book in her award-winning “Inspector Gamache” series (after How the Light Gets In) is another excellent character-driven mystery set in the village of Three Pines. After the explosive events in the previous book, Gamache and his wife have retired to Three Pines for peace and recuperation. But Gamache feels obligated to leave his refuge as one of his best friends, Clara Morrow, requires his expertise when her husband Peter goes missing. After Clara became a more famous artist than her spouse, Peter left to find himself, promising to be back in a year. But he has not returned. Retracing Peter’s journey, Gamache, hoping to find his friend, instead encounters murder and madness. VERDICT As with all the author’s other titles, Penny wraps her mystery around the history and personality of the people involved. By this point in the series, each inhabitant of Three Pines is a distinct individual, and the humor that lights the dark places of the investigation is firmly rooted in their long friendships, or, in some cases, frenemyships. The heartbreaking conclusion will leave series readers blinking back tears. Highly recommended.—Marlene Harris, Seattle P.L.
Serafim, Leta. The Devil Takes Half: A Greek Islands Mystery. Coffeetown. Aug. 2014. 248p. ISBN 9781603819657. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603819664. M
One of Greece’s most far-flung islands, Chios has struggled through the centuries with Turkish invasions and natural disasters. In short, it is a potential treasure trove for archaeologists, and there are rumors of great riches to be found. One such archaeologist, Eleni Argentis, has been working for the past two years in the shadow of a remote monastery administered by an old priest, Papa Michalis. When Eleni’s assistant, teenager Petros, is found bludgeoned to death on the site, and random body parts belonging to Eleni are also discovered, police officer Yiannis Patronas is brought in to investigate. The suspect list is diverse: Eleni’s former lover; a competing professor; Petros’s mother and her boyfriend; and Eleni’s greedy stepmother all make the short list. Patronas and Michalis latch on to this academic puzzle with a vengeance. At times dealing with horrific violence, Patronas’s dedication to his people and his country’s heritage is heroic. VERDICT Serafim’s dense prose is perfect for lovers of literary and scholarly mysteries. Her plotting is methodical and traditional, with subtle nods to Sherlock Holmes, Greek mythology, and historical events.
QUOTABLE “Most priests quoted the Bible, cited proverbs to explain human behavior, the Old Testament to depict God’s wrath. With Papa Michalis, it had been chapter and verse of Murder, She Wrote and Columbo.”—Leta Serafim, The Devil Takes Half: A Greek Islands Mystery
Trow, M.J. Traitor’s Storm: A Tudor Mystery Featuring Christopher Marlowe. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. Aug. 2014. 220p. ISBN 9781780290621. $28.95. M
The enmity between Spain and England reached a crescendo in 1588, the year the Spanish Armada attempted to attack English shores. For Christopher Marlowe and his fellow spies, these are the nervous weeks before the real confrontation. No one is to be trusted, and an intelligencer has gone missing on England’s key watch point, the Isle of Wight. Sir Francis Walsingham sends Marlowe over to investigate. Once there, Marlowe wonders about the sanity of the locals. The governor behaves oddly, his wife is an unabashed adulteress, and the pirate industry is thriving. Meanwhile, tension builds as sailors, both British and Spanish, curse the weather and pray for wind. VERDICT Trow successfully combines adventure, wit, and history (and, yes, a mystery) in this winning historical series featuring the real-life playwright in his undercover role as an intelligencer for Queen Elizabeth I. The dashing spy makes it all look so easy. This entry (number six after Crimson Rose) is particularly engaging and would be no problem for readers new to the series.
Terry’s Reader Resolutions
Both Laura DiSilverio and Brad Parks were pledging to bone up on their Sherlock Holmes when I queried them late in 2013 (see Mystery, LJ 1/14, p. 76, for the full report). In her email, DiSilverio confessed “shamefacedly” that she hadn’t read a lick of Doyle. Parks was even blunter when he wrote, “Have I ever read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? No. Does this get more embarrassing to me with each year I try to pass myself off as a mystery novelist? Yes.” Both authors have reading suggestions for us. Parks cannot rave enough about Jamie Mason’s debut thriller, Three Graves Full (LJ 2/15/13), suggesting that “it’ll definitely have you hooked by the end of the first chapter.” DiSilverio touts the darkly atmospheric work of Cornelia Read.
Speaking of atmospheric, author Sophie Littlefield says she wants to read A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine (pen name of Ruth Rendell). Littlefield writes, “It won’t be the first novel by Vine that I have read, but it is the first she wrote under a pen name. What I am interested in is a window into the mind of a woman who has found success in writing a certain type of book (the “Wexford” series, written as Rendell), who wishes to push herself and her themes further. The moment of bravery, of daring, of creative temptation—familiar, I imagine, to all established authors—is what attracts me to this book.”
For us, Littlefield enthuses about Benjamin Whitmer’s forthcoming Cry Father (Gallery, Sept.). She says, “I am hoping Ben will get the attention he deserves—his prose is beautiful, bloodletting, unforgettable.”
newsworthy RIP Mary Stewart (1916–2014), a groundbreaker in contemporary romantic suspense, who died May 9, at 97. For decades now, countless librarians have dealt with readers wanting something “like Mary Stewart.” Known for her intelligent young female protagonists, Stewart broke the mold and swept readers off to glamorous places with style. While the author later gained greater fame when she moved over to Arthurian fantasy (start with The Crystal Cave), to me, Stewart will always mean Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-Spinners, Nine Coaches Waiting, and This Rough Magic. Romance columnist Kristin Ramsdell and I can riff for quite a spell about Stewart. We thank her. (See Romance obit, LJ 6/15/14, p. 73.)
Bain, Donald. Margaret Truman’s Undiplomatic Murder: A Capital Crimes Novel. Forge. Jul. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780765333674. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466804241. M
Bain continues to put his own imprint on the late Truman’s popular “Capital Crimes” series (after Experiment in Murder). PI Robert Brixton is still in DC (but missing Savannah) when a suicide bomber’s attack leaves him seeking revenge.
Cates, Bailey. Some Enchanted Éclair: A Magical Bakery Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. Jul. 2014. 328p. ISBN 9780451467416. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698140561. M
Katie Lightfoot, Savannah’s magical baker, wields her special touch with a movie crew struggling after one of its members dies suspiciously. Dusted with magic, this enchanting cozy series is up to number four (after Charms and Chocolate Chips). Cates also writes as Cricket McRae.
Crawford, Isis. A Catered Fourth of July: A Mystery with Recipes. Kensington. Jul. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780758274915. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781617732980. M
When Bernie’s boyfriend is the prime suspect in a Revolutionary War reenactment gone bad, she and her catering sister Libby move into investigative mode. This is number ten for the cozy series set in the Westchester region of New York (after A Catered Christmas Cookie Exchange). Includes drool-inducing recipes.
Hyzy, Julie. Grace Against the Clock: A Manor House Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Jul. 2014. 296p. ISBN 9780425259672. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698143128. M
Managing historic Marshfield Manor might be Grace Wheaton’s official job but sleuthing comes naturally, particularly when a key benefactor is poisoned at a big fund-raising event. Hyzy’s fifth entry (after Grace Takes Off) in another winning cozy series.
Kuhlken, Ken. The Good Know Nothing: A Tom Hickey Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Aug. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781464202865. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464202889. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464202896. M
Don’t miss the final installment in Kuhlken’s long-running “California Century” saga. The seventh entry (after The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles) is set in the midst of the Great Depression; an avenging Tom is determined to find his father’s killer.
Lamanda, Al. First Light: A John Bekker Mystery. Five Star: Cengage. Jul. 2014. 316p. ISBN 9781432828653. $25.95. M
Fans of the hard-boiled will want to binge-read Lamanda’s series if they are new to it. Number three (after Sunrise) finds Bekker hunting down the truth behind a politician’s sordid past.
Resnick, Mike. Cat on a Cold Tin Roof: An Eli Paxton Mystery. Seventh St: Prometheus. Aug. 2014. 212p. ISBN 9781616148898. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616148904. M
Cincinnati’s sarcastic PI is back in his third engrossing animal-related case (after The Trojan Colt). A simple missing-cat case turns deadly when a Bolivian drug cartel moves on the scene.
Rowson, Pauline. Shroud of Evil: A DI Andy Horton Mystery. Severn House. Aug. 2014. 216p. ISBN 9780727884114. $28.95. M
Andy’s latest case intersects directly with his personal quest to find his mother’s killers. No. 13 (after Death Surge) in a series set in Portsmouth, England, uncovers long-held secrets from the Cold War era.
Wortham, Reavis Z. Vengeance Is Mine: A Red River Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Jul. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781464202582. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464202605. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464202612. M
Why Las Vegas gangsters would descend on rural Center Springs, TX, is beside the point. Both comic and violent tones color Wortham’s fourth entry (after The Right Side of Wrong) in his country-noir series, which is doused with coming-of-age elements and set in the volatile late 1960s.
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Anderson, Lin. The Case of the Black Pearl: A Patrick de Courvoisier Mystery. Severn House. Jul. 2014. 188p. ISBN 9780727883865. $28.95. M
Check These Out
Belsky, R.G. The Kennedy Connection: A Gil Malloy Novel. Atria. Aug. 2014. 360p. ISBN 9781476762326. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476762333. M
Easley, Warren. Dead Float: A Cal Claxton Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Jul. 2014. 284p. ISBN 9781464202667. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464202681. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464202698. M
Finger, Gerrie Ferris. Murmurs of Insanity: A Moriah Dru/Richard Lake Mystery. Five Star: Cengage. Jul. 2014. 308p. ISBN 9781432828585. $25.95. M
Jones, J. Sydney. A Matter of Breeding: A Viennese Mystery. Severn House. Jul. 2014. 216p. ISBN 9780727883803. $28.95. M
Keeley, D.A. Bitter Crossing: A Peyton Cote Novel. Midnight Ink. Aug. 2014. 408p. ISBN 9780738740683. pap. $14.99. M
Spann, Susan. Blade of the Samurai: A Shinobi Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. 296p. ISBN 9781250027054. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250027047. M
Cass, Laurie. Tailing a Tabby: A Bookmobile Cat Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. Jul. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780451415479. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101638439. M
Gordon-Smith, Dolores. After the Exhibition: A Jack Haldean Mystery. Severn House. Jul. 2014. 216p. ISBN 9780727883766. $28.95. M
McAndrews, Jennifer. Ill-Gotten Panes: A Stained-Glass Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Jul. 2014. 296p. ISBN 9780425267950. pap. $7.99. M
Airth, Rennie. The Reckoning. Viking. Aug. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780670785681. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698170278. M
Börjlind, Cilla & Rolf Börjlind. Spring Tide. Hesperus. Sept. 2014. 420p. tr. from Swedish by Rod Bradbury. ISBN 9781843915157. pap. $16.95. M
Quinn, Spencer. Paw and Order: A Chet and Bernie Mystery. Atria. Aug. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781476703398. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476703411. M
Todd, Charles. An Unwilling Accomplice. HarperCollins. Aug. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780062237194. pap. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062237217. M
Tremayne, Peter. Atonement of Blood: A Mystery of Ancient Ireland. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781250046000. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466846241. M
Teresa L. (Terry) Jacobsen, retired librarian, was a training coordinator for Solano County Library, CA, and previous to that, a fiction evaluator/reference librarian for Santa Monica Public Library. She has written occasional feature articles for LJ and reviewed fiction regularly since 2004. She is an unabashed mystery fan who enjoys bringing new readers into the fold