Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
The title is taken from a newspaper headline in 1914. Three unconventional sisters are living on a small farm near Paterson, New Jersey. Tall, independent Constance Kopp and animal-loving Norma are raising their pretty teenaged sister Fleurette after their mother’s death. When a car driven by factory owner Henry Kaufman crashes into their horse-drawn buggy, Constance sends him a bill for the damage. When there’s no response, Constance delivers another bill to the factory, and gets into a confrontation with Kaufman. This begins months of trouble for the Kopp sisters. The sisters are harassed, bricks are thrown through windows of their house with notes, and Fleurette is threatened with kidnapping. With the help of Sheriff Robert Heath, Constance and Norma are prepared to defend their home and younger sister. Constance also tries to help Lucy, who works as a silk-dyer for Kaufman, and whose young son is missing after a strike. Sheriff Heath is very supportive, but his resources are limited, and the sisters may have to move into town and live with their brother Francis and his wife. What’s truly remarkable about this suspenseful book is that all of the characters except Lucy were real people. The pace intensifies, the writing style is descriptive, and the settings are vividly drawn. Subplots are added, conversations imagined, and Norma’s fondness for homing pigeons is entirely fictional, but the well-developed characters, genuine suspense, and an incredible true secret that is gradually revealed to the reader all add up to a memorable first novel. Find out more about the sisters on the author’s website, or wait for the planned sequel.
Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew
Are you looking for a new mystery author, or some new recipes to try? This mystery debut, set in the Klein Karoo region of Western Cape, South Africa introduces Tannie Maria, a widow who writes an advice and recipe column for the Klein Karoo Gazette. Melktert (milk tart), anyone? Some of the letters Maria receives are rather alarming, and one correspondent is found dead. Maria and young reporter Jessie decide to investigate, to the dismay of their editor Hattie and detective Henk Kannemeyer. The food and scenery descriptions are wonderful, the mystery is both funny and suspenseful, and the appealing characters have depth.
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Sadie Sparrow is a detective in London in 2003, but is visiting her grandfather in Cornwall while on leave. On a run with her grandfather’s dogs, Sadie discovers an abandoned house, Loeanneth. In 1933 the Edevane family hosts a midsummer’s eve party at Loeanneth. The next morning, their little boy Theo is missing and is never found. Sadie is fascinated by the story and the house, and works with a retired policeman, the local librarian, and an elderly mystery writer to find out what happened. Much of the book is set at Loeanneth in 1932-33, where three sisters, Deborah, Alice, and Clemmie are growing up, mostly oblivious to their family’s many secrets. Readers who like mysteries and family sagas may enjoy this book, along with readers of Mary Stewart, Rosamunde Pilcher, or Melanie Benjamin. The beautiful house has its own secrets, and there are many twists and turns to the plot. Some readers thought it too long, but I kept turning the pages to find out the answers. Sadie is an appealing character, as is the mystery writer’s personal assistant. This was a memorable, satisfying read.
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
Cristina Rosati is 18 in 1943 when the war comes to Villa Chimera in the Tuscan hills south of Florence. Her brother Vittore works in Florence, trying to keep Italian antiquities safe and out of Germany. Brother Marco is an engineer with the Italian army in Sicily while his wife Francesca and their two children live with Cristina and her parents at the villa, where she swims, rides horseback, and plays with the children. After the Germans learn that there is an Etruscan tomb at Villa Chimera, they start visiting, and she meets a handsome German lieutenant. Also 18, orphaned Serafina is working with the Italian Resistance and is injured in an explosion. She has a connection to Villa Chimera that she’s forgotten, and is now a detective in 1955 Florence, where a murderer has begun stalking the Rosati women. The Rosatis had no easy choices to make during the war, and they didn’t all survive. Cristina and Serafina don’t know what secrets from the past may be haunting the Rosatis now. The most interesting part of the book for me was descriptions of life in Italy in 1943 and 1944. Some of the characters were more developed than others, such as Cristina’s father and brother Marco. The pace of the story intensifies, as the killer gets closer and the reader learns more of the events of 1944 at Villa Chimera. Beautiful settings, some appealing characters, with a story that kept my interest, but darker in tone and more gruesome than I expected.
Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
This is an outstanding mystery debut, set in southwest China in 1708. Exiled imperial librarian Li Du visits Dayan, near the Tibetan border, and reports to the local magistrate, his cousin Tulishen. Li Du learns that the emperor is coming to Dayan for a festival to celebrate a solar eclipse, and the preparations are considerable, including building a new pagoda. A few foreign visitors are in Dayan, including two Jesuits and a representative of the East India Company. When an astronomer dies suddenly, Li Du is useful as a translator and wants to investigate the death, although the magistrate would rather cover it up. The mystery is clever, but I especially enjoyed the variety of well-drawn characters, and the richly detailed setting. I hope Li Du will have many more adventures, and I think readers of mysteries or historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy reading this book.
Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
This debut mystery is set in northern Minnesota, in the winter. The tone is fittingly very dark. Former sheriff Cork O’Connor, one quarter Ashinaabe, is separated from his wife Jo, a lawyer, and worries about his three children. When the local judge dies suddenly, Cork starts investigating, as the new sheriff is inexperienced and the coroner is incompetent. More deaths occur, possibly accidental. With rumors of the mythic beast Windigo, Cork uncovers corruption, embezzlement, and blackmail, possibly involving his wife’s lover and the local Ojibwe casino. The pace and tension intensify as the book progresses, making it hard to put down, even though a happy ending is increasingly unlikely. This first book in an ongoing series won multiple awards, and reminds me of the mysteries of Dana Stabenow and Nevada Barr.
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Addie Baum, born in 1900, is looking back at her life as her granddaughter interviews her. The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, Addie is happiest at school. Her mother talks about how life would be better if the family had never left Russia, while Addie’s older sisters Betty and Celia strongly disagree, even though they live in a one-room apartment. Celia is timid and delicate, but steps in so that Addie can attend high school for a year and participate in the Saturday Club at a Boston settlement house. A trip to the seaside Rockport Lodge introduces her to girls who will stay her friends for many years. Celia marries a widower, modern Betty works at a department store, and Addie’s father spends most of his time at the synagogue. Addie becomes a secretary at her brother-in-law’s shirt factory, while attending the occasional night class and keeping up with her Saturday Club. The influenza epidemic causes more suffering and Addie struggles to find happiness, moving to a boarding house, trying to become a newspaper reporter and not having luck with men. Life becomes much better after sister Betty marries, and then Addie finally meets a nice man. Addie’s resilience, rebellious streak, and sense of humor make her an appealing narrator in this novel about working-class Boston girls and immigrant life.