The Spare Man

spare man jacket

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

This blend of mystery and science fiction from the author of the award-winning Lady Astronaut series and the Glamourist Histories makes for an entertaining read. Tesla Crane and Shal Steward are on their honeymoon on a luxury spaceship en route to Mars, along with Tesla’s therapy dog Gimlet. Tesla is traveling incognito, and Shal is a recently retired detective. When Shal witnesses a murder, he becomes a suspect, and Tesla, who has wealth and great tech skills, goes into action to clear his name. Tesla has anxiety and back pain from a lab accident years ago, and Gimlet both helps with her anxiety and charms almost all the passengers and crew. The spaceship has different levels with Earth, Martian, and lunar gravity, a fancy bar, an auditorium with a spectacular magic show, and plenty of staff corridors for Tesla to try to search for answers. Tesla and Shal enjoy spending time together, trying a variety of imaginative cocktails (with and without alcohol), and very much resemble a future version of Nick and Nora from the 1934 film The Thin Man. There is plenty of witty banter, a funny and indignant remote lawyer, and plenty of drama as well as security personnel with varying levels of detecting skills. Tesla is famous as well as wealthy and walks a fine line between asserting her privilege and needing accommodations for her disability. The mystery is clever and certainly kept me guessing. This book will be published October 11.

Brenda

Killers of a Certain Age

killers of a certain age jacket

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Four friends and longtime coworkers Billie, Natalie, Mary Alice and Helen are on a cruise to celebrate their early retirement when they spot another coworker and find a bomb. So much for a relaxing vacation! 40 years ago, when the women were 20, they were recruited to work for a nongovernmental organization that provides justice outside the law. In other words, they are assassins selected and trained to take out the very worst criminals and leaders. Flashbacks to their training and early missions make for compelling reading.

In the present, the foursome go on the run, after evacuating the ship. The only ones that could have targeted the group are the directors of their organization, known as the Museum. Boltholes in New Orleans and rural England lack the luxury of the cruise ship, and there’s tension among the group. Missions in New Orleans and the catacombs of Paris are well described, along with an art auction. As expected, there is a fair amount of violence, narrated from Billie’s point of view, along with clever detecting and planning, and an intensifying pace. This is an appealing group of very smart and dangerous women. While Helen seems a bit frail for only 60 and Billie has daily aches and pains despite doing yoga two hours every day, it’s refreshing to read about middle-aged protagonists who still move like action heroes when needed. I feel like the women probably know Elizabeth of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club. Will there be a sequel? Unknown, but I think there’d be plenty of interest. To be published September 6.

Brenda

 

The Grief of Stones

grief of stones

The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison

Sequel to Witness for the Dead, this is a stunning shorter fantasy mystery set in a steampunk world where technology is mostly in the background, with Thara Celahar traveling the city of Amalo with his new widowed apprentice Velhiro Tomasaran by tram and sending notes by pneumatic tube, and rarely, airship. Thara is a cleric who has the ability to read the thoughts and feelings of the recently dead, which helps in investigating the cause of death, location of a will or treasured item, or even identity or religion. His new cases involve him with all classes of society in Amalo. He is elven, many of his clients are all or part goblin. I like how the set of a character’s ears show their mood or energy level. His friends, including admirer and new friend Pel Thenhior, a composer and director of opera, often aid his investigations. Thara is not well paid, and has a single room, taking all his meals and tea out, and visiting bathhouses. When his secondhand black coat of office needs extensive mending, he gratefully trades with his female apprentice. Thara is frequently asked if he is well after a dramatic confrontation with a monster in an underground tomb, and he is clearly shaken up, having lost something very valuable in the process. Readers, along with Thara’s allies, will hope his health and fortune improve in the promised final book in The Cemeteries of Amalo trilogy, set in the world of The Goblin Emperor.

 

Brenda

A Pair of Mystery Story Collections

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.

Bruno’s Challenge and Other Stories of the French Countryside by Martin Walker

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.

The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions by Kerry Greenwood

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.

Brenda

A New Look at Agatha Christie

Recent Books and Films inspired by the Queen of Crime

Mysteries

 Benedict, Marie. The Mystery of Mrs. Christiemystery of mrs. christie jacket

Buzzelli, Elizabeth Kane. And Then They Were Doomed

Cambridge, Colleen. Murder at Mallowan Hall

Christie. Agatha. The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural

De Gramont, Nina. The Christie Affair

Hannah, Sophie. The Killings at Kingfisher Hill, The Mystery of Three Quarters

Rader-Day, Lori. Death at Greenway

Wilson, Andrew. Death in a Desert Land, I Saw Him Die

Non-Fiction

Thompson, Laura. Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life

Valentine, Carla. The Science of Murder: The Forensics of Agatha Christie

TV & Films

Crooked House

Death on the Nile

Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie & Agatha Christie’s England

Murder on the Orient Express

Triple Feature: Three Tales of Murder & Mystery

Coming Soonmarple jacket

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries 9/22

Cambridge, Colleen. A Trace of Poison 10/22

2020 saw the celebration of 100 years since the publication of A Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie’s debut novel. There continue to be new editions of her mysteries, as well as books and films inspired by the author and her characters. Enjoy!

Brenda

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Oakland private investigator Ivy Gamble is mugged on her way to work, and shortly afterwards a stranger appears in her locked office. Ivy is asked to investigate a suspicious, gruesome death at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Ivy doesn’t usually investigate possible murders, but the retainer offered is large, and she will have the chance to reconnect with her estranged twin sister Tabitha, a teacher at the school. Ivy has 14 years of experience as a PI, but feels ordinary compared to her brilliant, magical sister.

At Osthorne, Ivy wonders if it’s wrong to let staff and students think she also has magical powers. What if she dates one of the teachers? Does she want a relationship with her sister, and can she be trusted? Darkly humorous, this compelling read skillfully combines mystery, fantasy, and relationship fiction. Readalikes include Book of Night by Holly Black, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, and A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik.

Brenda

The Maid: A Novel

The Maid: A Novel by Nita Prose

Molly Gray enjoys cleaning, especially returning hotel rooms to a state of perfection. Mostly she enjoys her work as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel, in an unnamed city. While many of the guest treat Molly as though she’s invisible, other guests, such as wealthy businessman Charles Black, verge on rudeness. Molly is very naïve and socially awkward, but has a few people she trusts and counts as friends at the hotel, including a bartender and Giselle, Charles Black’s second wife.

Lately Molly has been struggling to pay her rent, since the death of her beloved grandmother, so her supervisor’s habit of swiping Molly’s tips is doubly frustrating. When Molly discovers a body in a hotel suite, she becomes a person of interest. With the help of some unexpected friends, as well as remembering her Gran’s wise advice, Molly gets ready to testify in court.

Readers will worry about and cheer for Molly in this heartwarming debut with several clever plot twists. This is not a gentle read, though it’s low in violence. Suggested for readers who like eccentric yet charming characters, with a theme of found family. Readalikes include Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little, How Lucky by Will Leitch, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Brenda

All the Queen’s Men

All the Queen’s Men by SJ Bennett

In this sequel to the delightful mystery The Windsor Knot, Queen Elizabeth takes center stage at Buckingham Palace, where the atmosphere in the autumn of 2016 is a bit darker than in the first book. The Queen has been secretly sleuthing with the aid of her assistant private secretaries for years. A few female staff members have been receiving poison pen letters, including her new assistant private secretary, Rozie Oshodi. One of them is found dead by the pool at Buckingham Palace, apparently accidentally. Brexit has passed, and the palace needs expensive renovations. The Queen discovers a painting of her former royal yacht at a Navy exhibition, and tasks Rozie with investigating how it ever left the palace. Rozie explores tunnels beneath the palace, and in the end, others get the credit for solving the mystery. I will definitely read the next book, and hope the Queen and Rozie get to spend more time together, perhaps at Sandringham or Balmoral, and enjoy the scenery even more than at Windsor Castle.
Brenda

Disappearance of a Scribe

Disappearance of a Scribe by Dana Stabenow

Perfect armchair travel reading for mystery readers; this is the sequel to Death of an Eye, but can be read on its own. Set in Alexandria, Egypt in 47 BC, Cleopatra is a secondary character. Tetisheri, partner in a trading company with her uncle, is occasionally needed to investigate mysteries for the Queen. The city, including the famous Library, docks, and a gymnasium, are vividly described. The city is in a rebuilding phase and there is plenty of traffic, noise, and occasionally, cement. After the body of a missing scribe is found in the Middle Sea, Tetisheri gets involved, and looks for a connection to rare books going missing from the Library. When a messenger boy helps her escape a dangerous situation, Tetisheri invites the boys and his friends to work for her, while wondering how she’ll get reimbursed. This is a witty, humorous, colorful, and exciting mystery. I look forward to another visit with Tetisheri in Alexandria.

 

Brenda

 

 

Clark and Division

Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

In 1942, the Ito family are forced to evacuate from southern California to the Manzanar Internment Camp. In 1943, older daughter Rose is relocated to Chicago. When Aki, 20, and her parents arrive in Chicago in 1944, they learn that Rose has just died. As they grieve for Rose, settle into a tiny apartment, then look for work, Aki is obsessed with learning about Rose’s life in the city. She meets with her former roommates and a friend from California, and reads Rose’s diary. Aki is welcomed by the Japanese American community in Chicago, fortunately finding work at the Newberry Library, and makes a few friends, including Art, who has a welcoming family. But her quest to find the truth behind Rose’s death is dangerous. Life for Japanese Americans in Chicago during World War II is well-researched and richly detailed. Aki is an appealing young sleuth, and I’d enjoy reading more about Aki and her family. Suggested for historical fiction and mystery readers. Readalikes include other mysteries by Hirahara including Grave on Grand Avenue, Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas, Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, and When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka.

Brenda