The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
Lord Peter Wimsey, his wife Harriet, and the faithful Bunter return to Oxford in 1952. This is the fourth mystery featuring the trio that Jill Paton Walsh has written or finished writing, continuing the books written by Dorothy L. Sayers. Peter has unfortunately inherited the title of Duke of Denver, and discovers that it includes the office of Visitor of St. Severin’s, a fictional college in Oxford, and is called upon to referee a dispute. St. Severin’s is far from peaceful; the head of the college is missing, and there have been recent deaths (presumably accidental) and other incidents. Oddly the deaths and two accidents echo Peter’s detective cases and Harriet’s mystery novels. The college’s finances are shaky, and there is an ongoing debate about selling a rare manuscript with connections to King Alfred in order to buy land near Oxford that could be developed.
Oxford itself is a character in the book, full of memories for Peter and Harriet, and instantly recognizable to 21st century visitors. While the atmosphere at St. Severin’s is increasingly unpleasant, reading this mystery was a real pleasure.
World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
The final book in a completely plausible pre-apocalyptic trilogy, World of Trouble finds former detective Hank Palace and his dog racing against time to find his younger sister Nico, encountering a cast of quirky characters. The asteroid Maya will probably hit Earth soon, but Hank keeps following leads from New England to a deserted police station in Ohio on his bike, and finds both hope and one last case to solve after he arrives. Hank is an appealing protagonist, and this book is just as compulsively readable as The Last Policeman (here’s my review of the first book) and Countdown City. World of Trouble will be available in mid-July.
Twisted Vines by Carole Price
Ohio crime analyst Cait Pepper gets a phone call on April 1 that her Aunt Tasha has died and left her a vineyard in Northern California and 2 Shakespearean theaters. Cait’s parents died five years ago, and she’s never heard of her dad’s twin sister. Her life already in transition, Cait takes a leave of absence and flies to San Francisco and finds that her aunt’s death is slightly suspicious and that her uncle died the previous year after being thrown from his favorite horse. Everyone has a secret and acts suspiciously from time to time. Some people want her to stay permanently, others are surprised she’s still at the vineyard after two weeks. The vineyard is only window dressing here, probably more of an element in the next book, Sour Grapes, due out in October. The upcoming Shakespeare festival is a nice setting, as is the house, with an owner’s suite above an office, gift shop and reception rooms. Detective Rook is helpful, temporary stage manager and Navy Seal Royal Tanner is a possible love interest, and young secretary Marcus is sullen and rude.
The series has some promise, but Twisted Vines has some first novel issues that better editing could have helped avoid, such as some phrases and gestures repeated more than once. Suspenseful, with a bit of romance. A good read, especially if you’re looking for a light mystery with an appealing setting.
Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke
In the 17th culinary mystery by Joanne Fluke, Hannah Swensen and Lisa, her partner at the Cookie Jar bakery and coffee shop, haven’t had a mystery to solve in four months. While Lake Eden, Minnesota, is a small town, Hannah has a gift (or curse) for finding bodies. Unfortunately, an accident during a thunderstorm leaves an unidentified man dead. The only identifying feature is a diamond on one tooth. Hannah, along with her family and friends, try to identify the man. Hannah wins a large and unexpected prize in a raffle, which fascinates her cat, Moishe. Also, Hannah and her sisters Andrea and Michelle are trying to plan their mother Delores’ wedding to longtime beau Doc, but Delores changes her mind about the menu, flowers, and dresses every couple of days. Along with recipes for blackberry pie, blue apple muffins, and triple chocolate cookies, the reader enjoys another charming visit to Lake Eden. If you like to start at the beginning of the series, look for Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, but I think you can start with any of her books. Each book has several recipes, and there is also a companion cookbook, Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook. Enjoy!
Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood
Although this is the 20th book in the Phryne Fisher series, this mystery could be a fine place to start. The books are set in late 1920s Melbourne, Australia, and the city is vividly described. Asked by Detective Jack Robinson to help investigate the murder of a choir director, Phryne joins the choir, which is preparing to perform Mendelssohn’s Elijah. During rehearsals, lunches, and parties thrown by the flamboyant soloist “Auntie” Mark, Phryne considers the possible suspects. In a parallel story, Rupert Sheffield, a mathematician in town to give lectures on the science of deduction has had some close calls. Phryne dislikes the very arrogant Sheffield, but his assistant, Dr. John Wilson, was a dear friend of hers in World War I, where she drove an ambulance and he was a medic. The reader learns that not only is Sheffield a former intelligence agent for MI6, but so is Phryne. Phryne’s assorted household, including the dog, helps with the two cases, and Phryne plays matchmaker for Dr. Wilson. Phryne and her friends are always good company, and so is the choir. I was even inspired to listen to a recording of Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Stephanie Daniel. The print book will be coming out in May, several month after being published in Australia.
W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
Kinsey is contacted by the coroner after an unidentified body has her name and phone number in his pocket. R. T. Dace was an alcoholic who lived on the beach. Business is slow, and Kinsey is curious, so she meets his friends and looks for the reason he was thinking of contacting a PI. Her investigation reveals that Dace had recently come into some money, and leads to Bakersfield, where she meets his estranged children. In a parallel story, rule bending PI Pete Wolinsky is on his last job ever, which doesn’t end well. The reader understands there must be a connection, but it takes the arrival of Robert Dietz from Las Vegas to connect the dots. Kinsey’s elderly landlord Henry gets involved in the case, and Kinsey has some hard decisions to make.
As always, Kinsey is good company and the low-tech 1980s California setting is enjoyable.
The Bones of Paris by Laurie King
This novel takes place in Paris, France in 1929. The main character is a American “down at his heels” Private eye named Harris Stuyvesant. He is currently in Paris on an assignment to find a missing American young woman who has not contacted her parents in months, which is totally out of character for her. The parents want her found and contract with Stuyvesant to find her.
Paris during this time seems to be one big Party/Pick up scene. In the course of his investigations, Stuyvesant encounters some big name American expatriates including author Ernest Hemingway and photographer Man Ray. Besides the investigations into the American girl’s disappearance, we are also treated to some of the more morbid history of Paris, including mass cemeteries, Catacombs, the Danse Macabre (The Dance of Death), Adipocere (wax made from human corpses), the Theater du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre (where murders are staged to shock and amuse the audience), and a number of gruesome suspects. Is it the Avant-Garde photographer who favors pictures of tortured/dying women, or is it the timid bone collector who keeps vats full of corpses being aided in decomposition by flesh eating beetles? Or is it the famous respected Count, a wealthy French hero of World War I, who runs the Theater Du Grand Guignol for the amusement of his mass of jaded followers?
This is a superbly written, darkly disturbing book.
Compound Murder by Bill Crider
A day in the life of Dan Rhodes, sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas, is an unusual and varied one. His dispatcher, Hack, can never tell a clear or concise story. Dan and his deputies deal with a dead body at the local college, thefts of copper and hair extensions, and a report of a wild hog inside a house in Clearview. The hog turns out to be a pet pig, and provides considerable comic relief. The dead man is Earl Wellington, an English professor who was not well-liked. Suspects in his death include the Dean and his department head at the college, along with student Ike Terrell, accused of plagiarism. A high speed chase after Ike peels out of the college parking lot ends with a cracked windshield and the need for Rhodes to visit the gated compound owned by Able Terrell, Ike’s father. I thought there might be a lot of violence in this book when I read about the compound, but there is more adventure and humor than violence. Dan is happily married, and has a dog who’s scared of his cat. I was amused to learn that the author, a native Texan, was an English professor. This is the 20th book in the Dan Rhodes series, and the first I’ve read, but I felt at home in Clearview right away. The first book is Too Late to Die.
Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews
This is a fun, fast-paced cozy holiday mystery. Meg Langslow and her husband Michael are busy preparing for Christmas with their 4-year-old twin boys and extended family in their small college town. Michael and Meg’s brother Rob are new volunteer firefighters and start getting paged to calls at local churches. One church has skunks; another has a small fire, while a third building has been filled with ducks. Meg is given the job of re-scheduling the various choir practices, nativity plays, and church services while looking for the culprit. A temperamental choir director almost puts Meg out of commission with a dislocated shoulder, and Meg’s mother is going overboard with holiday decorations. Michael is preparing for a one-man Christmas Carol reading for charity, while the little boys provide comic relief. Their days are hectic and tiring, and they long for a traditional holiday dinner with just their boys.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
In wintry Three Pines, bookseller and retired psychologist Myrna is worried when her friend Constance doesn’t arrive for a Christmas visit. She reaches out to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec for help. Gamache and Inspector Isabelle Lacoste find that Constance Pineault, 79, has been killed at her home in Montréal. When Myrna reveals Constance’s true identity as the last of the Ouellet Quintuplets, the mystery is only beginning. At the Sûreté, things are not well. Most of Gamache’s homicide department has been reassigned, and he’s thinking of announcing his retirement. Jean Guy, his assistant, is desperately unhappy and is working for Gamache’s nemesis, Superintendent Francoeur, who may be involved in a dangerous conspiracy. As Gamache and Lacoste race to solve one mystery, other friends are looking for information on what Francoeur is plotting, and retreat to Three Pines for safety, possibly jeopardizing everyone in the small village. Gamache knows that the danger could come from young Agent Yvette Nichol, needed for her computer skills. Eccentric poet Ruth Zardo plays a larger role than usual, along with her pet duck, Rosa. The story of the quintuplets and their parents is fascinating, and a nice contrast to the tension of the unfolding conspiracy. I listened to the audiobook, recorded by Ralph Cosham, and both couldn’t wait to find out what happened and hoped the book would never end, and with it, another treasured visit to Three Pines. This may be the best book yet in the award-winning series that begins with Still Life.