Category Archives: mystery

Joseph Schneider — One Day You’ll Burn

A middle-of-the-road crime novel.

The good parts:

  • An unusual murder—a man roasted to death and dumped in the middle of the street in front of a Thai shrine.
  • New detective Jarsdel and old-timer Morales building a partner relationship.
  • A clearer picture of LA than most LA novels I’ve read lately (but I’m getting bored with LA).
  • An interesting secondary plot about someone killing pet dogs. (But why are the detectives on this case?)
  • An unusual detective—Tully Jarsdel has left academia to become a cop.

The not so good parts:

  • Jarsdel spends way too much time explaining and thinking about why he left his previous life to join the LAPD—repetitive.
  • Jarsdel’s unsympathetic two dads, who hate that he became a policeman—not an ounce of understanding.
  • The whiny girlfriend.
  • Not very good motives for the murderer or the dog killer.
  • Jarsdel’s “save the world” attitude.
  • The book could probably have been 100 pages shorter, leaving out some of the repetitive information, descriptions about driving routes, Jarsdel’s brooding about his life, etc.

Overall I enjoyed the story enough to keep reading to the end. I might read more of the series.

Harlan Coben — Win

Winston Horne Lockwood III, Win, is an egotistical jerk, but he knows it. He lives by his own rules because of his wealth and power. He likes few people and few people like him. I dislike his type—violent, above the law, with his own set of morals—but I find I almost like Win at times, especially his connection to his daughter. Mostly he’s the type of character I love to hate.

The plot is complex and interesting and Win’s decisions at the end of what to reveal and what not to reveal make an “almost” satisfying finish.

Elly Griffiths — Postscript Murders

Amazon calls this book a “Editors Pick: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense,” and lists it under “Gothic Mysteries” and “Police Procedurals.” I don’t think any of these genres apply. It’s a cozy mystery with a group of amateur detectives working with DS Harbinder Kaur because they believe their 90-year-old friend Peggy was murdered. It’s not gothic and the police procedurals are mostly about following instincts and vague clues. The story bumps along at a fairly slow pace (even with a few murders thrown in), not a fast-paced action-packed thriller.

The characters in the story are humorous and entertaining—Edwin, an 85-year-old neighbor of Peggy retired from BBC; Benedict, ex-monk, now a café owner; and Natalka, Peggy’s caregiver, an immigrant from Ukraine.

The climax of the novel is like rolling over a gentle hill instead of climbing a peak. And the wrap-up after the murders are solved goes on for a few chapters.

I read this as a stand-alone even though it’s the second book in the Harbinder Kaur series. I read the first book but didn’t connect until after finishing. It was a pleasant read if not all that exciting.

Candice Fox — Gathering Dark

Another good read from Candice Fox, but I prefer her books set in Australia. I read plenty of crime fiction books with LA as a backdrop. I’d much rather read the unknown to me settings in Australia where my imagination can take flight.

As they are in Fox’s other books, the characters are strong but quirky; many are mean and nasty. There are so many “bad guys” in this story it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who. All the cops are shady and twisted, some even criminal. Even Jessica Sanchez, the protagonist, pulls some very bad stunts in revenge on her partner after he fails to back her up on a call. Blair Harbour, the other main character, is only a year out of prison for killing her neighbor. She tries to be good but doesn’t always succeed. Blair’s friend “Tweat” (Blair is trying to help her find her daughter) is a thief and a liar.

I’m not sure if some of the outrageous and improbably situations the characters found themselves in were meant to be humorous, but they made me laugh.

Lisa Gardner — Before She Disappeared

I’m a fan of Lisa Gardner, and Before She Disappeared is another well-written, character-driven mystery. I wouldn’t call it a thriller as advertised. Also, it’s called a “stand alone” novel, but my instincts tell me we will see more of protagonist Frankie Elkin.

Frankie is a white, middle-aged, recovering alcoholic, skinny wisp of a woman, who inserts herself into a Haitian neighborhood in Boston to find a missing teen girl. She stands out like a spot of bleach on dark cloth. She travels around working as a bartender, but her purpose in life is finding missing persons. She has found fourteen people but all after they died. Her passion is to bring one home alive.

Gardner defines her characters in detail and gives us insights to even minor players. I found Frankie courageous, tenacious, sometimes very likeable, sometimes totally irritating. Others in the story—Frankie’s boss, her Boston police connection, her AA friend, the missing girl’s family, the villains, and more—were all interesting personalities. Even the feral cat, Frankie’s roommate, has a personality and brings a touch of humor to a dark story.

The plot held my interest with twists and turns, but was somewhat slow in the beginning. Having lived in and around Boston most of my adult life, I loved the setting even though I’m not that familiar with Mattapan. Even though the neighborhood in the book is poor and sometimes violent, Gardner builds a feeling of community togetherness.

A very good story. Only my irritation with Frankie’s reckless actions and her obsessions with her past kept me from giving it five stars.

Walter Mosley — Blood Grove

Mosley is a descriptive writer—settings, characters, actions—all are vividly detailed. You can see them in your mind’s eye. His characters are never one-dimensional. He digs deep and finds good and bad in heroes and villains alike. He describes LA of 1969 so well that you feel as if you’re living there.

In this story, Easy Rawlins is almost accidentally drawn into uncovering a complex plot of theft and murder when he sets out to find a missing girl for a PTSD veteran. Even after the young vet is murdered, Rawlins can’t let it go. He wants to finish the job, and if he doesn’t untangle the mystery, he could end up dead like his client.

The only thing that kept the novel from being five stars for me was too many characters to follow, even though each one felt distinctive.

Joseph Wambaugh — Hollywood Hills

Most of this novel is filled with tales of the motley crew of Hollywood Hills cops taking police calls—a mixture of hilarious, sad, heartbreaking, and violent stories. But mixed in with the incidents is a crime plot with many weird twists and turns. Wambaugh writes with such finesse and detailed characterization that you understand all the players’ (good an bad) motivations.

The book keeps you reading to see what crazy action will happen next.

Lori Rader-Day — The Lucky One

The novel is the story of two young women searching for the same man for totally different reasons. Alice is looking for her “kidnapper,” and Merrily is looking for her “stepfather.” They cross paths via a couple of wild characters, members the Doe Network, an online organization of volunteers trying to match missing and unidentified persons.

Alice and Merrily have different backgrounds and personalities, and yet they are in some ways alike. Both raised by single parents, Alice’s rich and powerful father controls and protects her, and Merrily is controlled and protected by her working class mother. Neither reaches out to uncover the mysteries of their childhoods until they are adults.

The plot is filled with twists and turns, deceits and lies. It kept me guessing, but sometimes my guesses were right on. The characters are well-written and interesting. The book kept my attention to the end. Lori Rader-Day is new to me and a good storyteller. I will look for more of her work.

Alex Kava — Hidden Creed

Kava gives us the three H’s—head, heart, and even a little humor. This is only my second read of an Alex Kava story and the first with dog handler Ryder Creed. She also includes FBI Agent Maggie O’Dell from another series. Kava gives us a picture of Florida’s Blackwater River State Forest for setting, a well-paced plot, and likable (and despicable) characters. My favorite characters are the dogs.

Ryder, his sister Brodie, and dog Alice uncover a body dump in the forest behind Ryder’s dog kennel. Some of the bodies aren’t even buried.

Even though the sixth book in the Creed series, I had no problem reading it as a stand-alone. I recommend for all murder mystery lovers.

Sara Paretsky — Fallout

Fallout is the third Paretsky novel I’ve read and the best of the three, even though published before the other two, Dead Land and Shell Game. The plotting is meticulous, and the characters are believable and likable, even V.I.’s dog, Peppy.

Private Detective V.I. Warshawski’s god-daughter, Bernie, and Bernie’s friend send her looking for August, who has disappeared along with an aging film star. August is a person of interest in the ransacking and drug theft from a gym where he works. But Warshawski finds his apartment has also been broken into and trashed.

The search sends V.I. to Lawrence, Kansas, where no one wants to answer an outsider’s questions. She continues digging, uncovering clues, secrets, lies, more missing people, plus injured and dead bodies, which all seem connected to events at a 1983 protest at a nuclear missile silo. At the center of all the mystery is Sonia Kiel, whose parents have labeled her crazy and ignore anything she says as hallucination and rambling. V.I. rescues her from an overdose, but she’s in a coma in the hospital, unable to answer questions.

A well-written story with step-by-step clues to the answers plus an engaging protagonist. I highly recommend this book to mystery lovers.