I recently had the good fortune to read two new collections of mystery short stories. This is my idea of perfect armchair or bedtime summer reading, as the stories are focused on character and setting, but not so much on a detailed plot.
If you’d like to read about Bruno, Chief of Police visiting the weekly market in St. Denis France, and then cooking or enjoying the local food and drink with a collection of villagers, then look no further. Berries from a local French or farmer’s market make an excellent accompaniment to the stories. Occasional trips around the southwest region of France, horseback riding, and a cave in Lascaux add to the ambience. The mysteries are slight and easily solved by Bruno and company. The other 14 books begin with Bruno, Chief of Police. Some of these get rather dark in tone, though the writing and setting are always top notch.
If you’d rather visit Melbourne, Australia in 1928 or 1929, the delightful Miss Phryne Fisher will be your guide. Elegant, witty, and streetwise, Phryne is delightful and extremely well-dressed company, who occasionally takes justice into her own hands. Raised poor and currently rich and generous, Phryne shines in a wide variety of settings and mysteries. Sometimes the mystery is simply to discover if there’s actually been a crime, or just an accident. Another story features an eloping couple and no crime at all. Four of these stories are brand new; some older stories have been recently revised. Phryne is popular for the television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and has delighted mystery readers in 21 other books, beginning with Cocaine Blues and (so far) ending with Death in Daylesford.
The Delaney family ran a tennis school in the suburbs of Sydney for several decades. Recently retired, Joy Delaney feels like she and husband Stan are in a rut. No grandkids are on the horizon, and none of their four children became a tennis star. Then Joy, 69, after sending a garbled text, goes missing on Valentine’s Day, 2020. Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke cope in varying ways, and Stan is a suspect in Joy’s disappearance, as they had been seen arguing that morning. Then the story goes back to the September, 2019, with the four younger Delaneys reacting to their parents’ unexpected house guest, Savannah. Savannah, who’s almost like another daughter, cooks beautifully, cleans, and enjoys shopping with Joy. There must be a connection, but how? This is a great read for fans of relationship fiction and psychological suspense. There is quite a bit about tennis, though not a strong sense of place. The main focus is the Delaney family and their relationships, and of course, Savannah. While not a quick read at over 450 pages, this novel is hard to put down. Readalikes include Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown, All Adults Here by Emma Straub, and Watching You by Lisa Jewell.
The author of Orphan Train returns with a novel set in the 1840s, in England, on a perilous ocean voyage aboard the Medea, and on an island in southeastern Australia. This is not the sort of book I was in the mood to read, yet I couldn’t put it down. Naïve governess Evangeline is transported as a convict to Australia along with young Hazel, an herbalist and midwife, who delivers Evangeline’s baby on the ship, along with a sympathetic doctor. Also on the island unwillingly is Mathinna, orphaned daughter of an Aboriginal chief, who is taken from her stepfather by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Hardship, the abuse of power, the resilience of women, opportunity, and hope fill this well-researched epic novel. This is an August LibraryRead selection.
This is a very welcome new Corinna Chapman mystery set in Melbourne, Australia, centered around a bakery and an apartment house. Corinna and her boyfriend Daniel, an Israeli private investigator, focus on finding Geordie, the dog kidnapped from retired soldier Alastair. Geordie can sniff out explosives, but only responds to commands in Gaelic. Meanwhile, Corinna bakes bread and muffins with apprentice Jason, naps with Horatio the cat, meets a young troupe of actors, and tries to discover why her neighbor, a biblical scholar, is attracting a burglar or two to their building. The appeal here is the quirky characters, the cozy Melbourne neighborhood, delicious food, Corinna and Daniel’s romance, and some mystery and adventure. While there is quite a bit of suspense finding the missing dog and helping a visiting young woman who’s gone mute, it’s not the focus of the book. Jennifer Vuletic has fun narrating the audiobook and I’m not giving away the plot to share that the story ends with a potluck dinner in the apartment building’s rooftop garden. Sadly, no recipes are included. Earthly Delights is the first book in the series by the author of the popular Phryne Fisher books.
In the harsh, relentless heat of the Australian outback, Queensland rancher Nathan Cameron searches for answers when his brother Cameron is found dead by an isolated headstone, not too far from his fully stocked jeep. With his teen son Xander visiting from Brisbane for the Christmas holidays, Nathan settles in at the nearby family homestead, looking for answers. Younger brother Bub isn’t the brightest and Nathan’s extremely isolated, while successful Cameron seemed to have it made with lovely Dutch wife Ilse and two young daughters. A compelling standalone mystery by the author of The Dry, this novel has a twisty plot and an ever intensifying pace. Audiobook narrator Steve Shanahan is outstanding as the backstories of the family, staff, and neighbors are revealed. The complicated relationship of the three brothers and their mother Liz are the legacy of an angry, violent father who isn’t missed. Paintings are significant here, especially those of the legendary stockman’s grave. The red clay dust of the outback is everywhere, but Nathan finds beauty in the wide open spaces, as may the reader. A very satisfying read, this is on my list of most memorable books of the year.
To begin with, three people in a small town in southeast Australia are dead. Not an opening that draws me, but this first mystery novel is on several best books of the year list and I felt challenged to give it a try. Aaron Falk is back in drought stricken Kiewarra for the funeral, and is asked to do a little investigating by his friend Luke’s parents. Falk is a federal agent in Melbourne and soon finds that Kiewarra’s new police sergeant, Greg Raco, also questions the obvious solution. In general, Falk is no more welcome in town now than when he and his father left, suspects after a friend’s drowning. Newcomers to town, including Raco and his wife, school principal Scott Whitlam, and bartender McMurdo, are pleasant enough, as is Luke’s old girlfriend, Gretchen. Mal Deacon, his old nemesis, is as nasty as ever, even though he’s getting old. Short flashbacks to other points of view keep the reader one step ahead of Falk and Raco, but this is not at all a predictable book. The Dry is suspenseful and riveting, very cleverly written, and on my own list of best books of the year. Film rights have been sold, and another book featuring Aaron Falk is being published in February.
The gorgeous scenery on the cover is echoed in this beautiful, melancholy novel set in Thirroul, New South Wales, Australia. It’s 1948, and a doctor and a poet are finally home from the war, trying to find their way back to normal life. Anikka Lachlan and her husband Mac are happily raising their 10-year-old daughter, Bella, when railwayman Mac is killed in an accident. Ani and Bella struggle through their grief, helped by neighbors. Ani is given a job at the railway library, where she encounters Ray, the poet with writer’s block, and Frank, the doctor who has little patience for the villagers’ minor health complaints. Mac remains part of the whole book, with scenes from the beginning of their marriage, and as Ani learns new stories about Mac. Thirroul, south of Sydney, is picturesque, with surfers, fishermen, tropical flowers, and dolphins. The author commissioned a poem for the novel, and the novelist and poet both won the Colin Roderick award. Leisurely paced and memorable, a story of loss and love.
Imagine a ship full of 650 war brides, on board for the six week journey from Sydney, Australia to Plymouth, England. It’s 1946, and the ship is the Victoria, an old aircraft carrier, not the cruise ship the brides expected. The young women are on their way to new lives and families in England, with husbands they met in Australia during the war. Four brides sharing a cabin are featured. Lively teenager Jean, social climber Avice, pregnant farm girl Margaret, who has smuggled her dog on board, and secretive nurse Frances gradually reveal their stories of their lives during the war. Marine Nichol, who guards their cabin at night, and Captain Highfield, on his last navy voyage along with the Victoria, also have their secrets. The women are, by turns, full of anxiety, hope, and excitement. Friendships are formed, but rumors and gossip, from the crew as well as the women, have lasting effects. There’s even a sweet love story. Most of the characters are appealing and I was eager to learn their stories. Not all of the women have happy stories to tell, and some even get the dreaded telegram from England: not wanted, don’t come. I would have liked less drama, but Moyes is a compelling writer and excellent storyteller. This was a part of Australian history I hadn’t heard about, and she made the adventurous voyage, complete with a Miss Victoria contest, come to life.
I enjoy re-reading books occasionally, and sometimes I find books I haven’t read by favorite authors. All of these books were published between 1951 and 1960.
One of my favorite books to re-read is Trustee from the Toolroom, by Nevil Shute. Keith Stewart is an ordinary man in Ealing, England, who becomes trustee of his young niece along with his wife, and tries to find a way to get to the South Pacific to recover her inheritance. He is an engineer who makes mechanical models, and writes about them for The Miniature Mechanic, along with answering dozens of letters from readers working on the models. These readers later help him get to Tahiti and back home again, via the Pacific Northwest.
I also read The Far Country, by Nevil Shute, set mainly in Australia. Post World War II conditions in England were still bad, with some rationing still in place until 1954. Jennifer Morton gets an unexpected gift from her late grandmother, and visits her cousin’s ranch in Victoria, Australia, where she meets a Czech doctor working as a lumberjack. Beautiful scenery, appealing characters, and a good look at the differences between life in England and in northeast Australia around 1950. Nevil Shute’s novels are known for their excellent storytelling, with mostly appealing characters, usually ordinary people in extraordinary situations or settings. These aren’t necessarily gentle reads, as he is best known for the post-apocalyptic On the Beach, and the World War II novel, A Town Like Alice.
I listened to two Regency romance novels by Georgette Heyer: Venetia, and The Quiet Gentleman. Her books are known for mild romance and witty dialogue, along with some humor. They are also excellent as audiobooks. Since they’re set in the early 1800s, they don’t feel at all dated. The library has a large collection of both authors’ books, as they are frequently reprinted. If you’re looking for a change of pace for your summer reading, browse and enjoy.
A very good choice for vacation reading; I was charmed by this first novel about starting over in Australia. A surprise 50th birthday party ends in disaster for Manhattan novelist Lisa Trumperton. She heads home to Melbourne, Australia, where her sister Maxine and her son Ted live, keeping in touch with her elusive daughter Portia through texts. On a whim, Lisa purchases an old house in the country once owned by her great-grandfather. Landscaper Scott is a big help, and three retired handymen help her gradually fix up the house. But if Lisa can’t finish her books about the Brontë sisters, she’ll have to sell the house. A somewhat dysfunctional but caring family, a local book group that discusses Lisa’s book, and a cat that befriends a cockatoo add to the appeal of the book. I enjoyed watching Lisa deal with the challenges of her new life, such as flood, fire, and an unconventional wedding, with courage and humor.