Louise Penny and A Great Reckoning

Have you heard of Louise Penny, the Canadian  author of the Armand Gamache mysteries set in Québec? If not, great-reckoning-jacketthen you probably didn’t spend up to an hour standing in a line that wrapped around the block waiting to see her talk about her brand-new book, A Great Reckoning. That was the scene recently in Naperville, when seven or eight hundred fans (including my sister and me) paid and waited to get a signed copy of her 12th book. The author event was great, including an interview of Louise Penny by mystery author Charles Finch, who writes Victorian era mysteries, and plenty of time for questions from the audience. There was much laughter at some answers, and a fascinating look at how hard it is to write a second novel when the first one took you five years or more. It’s truly remarkable that Louise Penny has kept up the excellent quality of her writing for twelve books in a series, including intricate plotting and characters who seem absolutely real.

The first book in the series is Still Life, if you need an introduction to this award-winning series. Three Pines is a tiny village in Québec, near the Vermont border. Only dial-up internet is available, and the town is missing from maps of Québec. In A Great Reckoning,  Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have recently moved to Three Pines, where several of his former cases have led. Now Gamache is the Commander of Québec’s Sûreté Academy, training police officers. The previous administration was corrupt and recent graduates have shown tendencies of cruelty. With a combination of new and current teachers, Gamache tries to reform the Academy. When there is a murder, no one mourns for the victim, but Gamache takes four cadets close to the victim back to Three Pines for safety and to continue investigating a map found in the walls of the local bistro. With links to World War I and plenty of scenes with the unforgettably unique villagers (including a possibly mad poet and her pet duck), this is a very satisfying yet suspenseful mystery that Louise Penny fans will savor. I’m not sharing many plot details, lest I spoil your reading experience. My sister wouldn’t tell me anything about the book until I’d read it, but thankfully she finished our shared copy in only two days. Already finished the series and hungry for more about Three Pines? Recipes based on the books can be found here. And as a follow-up treat, my Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing Charles Finch’s first mystery, A Beautiful Blue Death, in November. Happy reading, or bon appétit!

Brenda


Stiletto

stiletto jacketStiletto by Daniel O’Malley

This sequel to The Rook was worth the long wait. Britons with supernatural abilities are raised by the Checquy, a secret government agency which investigates crime. The Grafters, the Checquy’s longtime Belgian enemies, are in England for talks. Pawn Felicity is assigned to protect Odette, a young Grafter surgeon, but it’s not an easy job. Plenty of suspense, adventure, and some humor. The title is unclear until the last part of the book; a nice touch. If you’re in the mood for a quirky book with fast pacing and intriguing characters, enjoy!

Brenda


The Widow

widow jacketThe Widow by Fiona Barton

It’s rather a relief for Jean Taylor to be a widow. Maybe the reporters and detectives will leave her alone at last. Jean’s husband Glen was a suspect in the much-publicized disappearance of little Bella Elliott from her front yard. Bella has never been found, although her mother Dawn believes she’s still alive. Glen drove a delivery van, and may have been in Bella’s neighborhood that day. Jean, a hairdresser in London,  always stood by him, even after detectives reveal some of his dark secrets. Dogged PI Bob Sparkes can’t stop looking for leads in Bella’s case, and resourceful reporter Kate Waters manages to get the first interview with Jean. Read this compelling, fast-paced novel of psychological suspense to find out what happened to Bella, if Glen was guilty of her kidnapping, and what Jean knew or suspected and when. But the reader must decide if Jean’s story is reliable, as she has her own secrets. No graphic violence here, just plenty of chills. Readalikes include Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Expats by Chris Pavone, and The Last Child by John Hart.
Brenda


A Bed of Scorpions

scorpions jacketA Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders

A clever, satisfying mystery, the second to feature London book editor Samantha Clair. When Aidan, an old flame, asks Sam to lunch, she is shocked to learn that the gallery owner’s partner Frank has been found dead. Sam, along with her new boyfriend, DI Jake Field, begins investigating. Sam’s knowledge of the publishing world turns out to be both helpful and dangerous. The plotting is smart, the dialogue witty, and Sam can be very funny, especially when she kicks a snob at a dinner party or reacts after a bike accident. Sam’s older neighbor, her assistant Miranda, and her mother Helena, a solicitor, are all good company and do their bit to help Sam and Jake solve the mystery. I’m always happy to find a good new mystery author to recommend. My review of the first book, A Murder of Magpies, is here. There is a third book, but it’s just out in Great Britain, and will probably appear in the U.S. next spring.

Brenda


The Murder of Mary Russell

jacketThe Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie King

The title of the 14th book in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series may have fans rather worried. I’m not going to reveal much of the plot, just reassure readers that Laurie King continues to take this series in new and creative directions, including setting part of this book in Australia. Sherlock’s housekeeper Clara Hudson shares center stage here with Mary Russell, and I quite enjoyed getting to know her better. Very suspenseful, with a little humor; a thoroughly satisfying read.

Brenda

 


Journey to Munich

munich jacketJourney to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

In her 12th mystery, Maisie Dobbs is back in fine form after the somewhat disappointing and melancholy A Dangerous Place. Staying with Priscilla’s family in London in 1938, Maisie is approached by the Secret Service for a short assignment in Munich, Germany. An industrialist and inventor, Leon Donat, is to be released from Dachau after two years, but only to a family member. His daughter is ill, and Maisie is asked to impersonate her. Nothing is ever simple and straightforward in Maisie’s world, and she is also asked to look for Elaine Otterburn, a young woman she has cause to dislike. The tension in this book is ever-present, the storyline is detailed, and the writing is compelling. But what fans of Maisie want to know (and after reading the first book, Maisie Dobbs, many mystery and history lovers become fans) is how is Maisie? As she’s thinking of reopening her practice as a private investigator and psychologist, touching base with Sandra and briefly with Billy, and spending more time with friends and family, be assured that Maisie is as good company as we’d like. I just wish the book was longer.

Brenda

 


Home by Nightfall

nightfall jacketHome by Nightfall by Charles Finch

Another very satisfying visit to Victorian England as Charles Finch and his colleagues at their London detective agency ponder the disappearance of a German pianist from a theatre dressing room and worry about their business. Charles and his wife Jane are concerned about Charles’ brother Edmund, a member of parliament. He’s in mourning, and waiting for his sons to hear of their mother’s death. In their hometown in Sussex, Charles is able to distract Edmund by asking for his help investigating recent thefts and odd occurrences. The writing is richly detailed; I enjoyed the descriptions of the brothers out riding and interacting with townspeople, and Charles’ occasion frustration with communication with London only by letter or brief telegrams. Charles gets a glimpse of the depth of Edmund’s grief, and this draws them closer together. An attack on a local dignitary leads to dark secrets about his past, and Jane and her friend Toto help the men with the investigations. While the mysteries are clever, it’s the setting and the continuing development of the appealing characters that makes this mystery series a personal favorite. The first book is A Beautiful Blue Death.
Brenda