Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

It's 1932 and private detective Maisie Dobbs is asked to go undercover at the College of St. Francis in Cambridge by the British Secret Service. With a background in philosophy, they feel she's the perfect person to pose as a teacher while investigating any possible un-British activity at the pacifist college. When Greville Liddicote, the college's founder, is murdered, Maisie finds herself in the thick of two cases that might be related. While juggling her duties in Cambridge, Maisie is also trying to maintain a long distance relationship with James Compton, who's been in Canada on business. In addition, she's aiding an old acquaintance, Sandra, in getting back on her feet after her husband's death. She's also persuading her assistant, Billy, to move with his family to a brand new home that Maisie herself has bought (it involves some subterfuge to get Billy to accept her help without really knowing it). A Lesson in Secrets is one of the strongest books in the Maisie Dobbs series because of the ongoing character developments for Maisie and her circle of friends. It's also an interesting mystery that explores the rise of Nazism in Britain.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith

Private detective Precious Ramotswe is stumped by her latest case. A farmer, Botsalo Moeti, wants Mma Ramotswe to find out who killed two of his cattle. After several interviews, she's not sure who's telling the truth--including her client. Drama then arrives at the detective agency when Mma Ramotswe and her assistant, Mma Grace Makutsi, discover that one of the apprentices at the adjoining business, Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, is the father of twins. In addition, Mma Makutsi is deep in the final planning for her wedding, which will happen in a few weeks time. To top it off, both Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi are both convinced that they've seen Mma Ramotswe's dearly beloved departed white van driving around Gaborone. Could this be true or have they seen a ghost?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Darkside by Belinda Bauer

Jonas Holly is the local policeman in the area of Exmoor, which covers his home village of Shipcott. When paralyzed neighbor Margaret Priddy is found murdered in her bed, DCI Marvel and his colleagues are called in. Marvel is abrasive and verbally abusive to Jonas for his handling of the crime scene. Despite this fact, Jonas has to work alongside Marvel's team. When another local resident is killed, the authorities wonder if someone is killing people to put them out of their misery, since the second victim suffered from dementia. On the home front, Jonas is watching his wife, Lucy, lose more of her strength because of having multiple sclerosis and is rattled by anonymous notes he's receiving about him not doing his job properly. He fears they are from the killer. In Darkside, Bauer has written a police procedural which is similar to the author Tana French and the Simon Serrailler series by Susan Hill. Darkside is also set four years later in the same town as her first novel, Blacklands. It will be published in May.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander

Lady Emily is recuperating at her mother-in-law's home in Normandy after a traumatic honeymoon in Constantinople. While out riding one afternoon, she discovers the body of a young woman who has been brutally murdered. The woman, Edith Prier, had escaped from an asylum and is from a prominent local family. Emily finds herself drawn into the case, despite her husband's wishes that concentrate on recreational pursuits. Dangerous to Know is the fifth book in the Lady Emily series.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan

Emily Maxwell is a widow who lives with her dog, Rufus, in Pittsburgh. Her days consist of reading, listening to classical music, doing crossword puzzles and gardening. When her sister-in-law Arlene collapses at the breakfast buffet at a local restaurant, it causes Emily to branch out a bit. She also starts thinking about her childhood and her relationships with her children (Margaret and Kenneth), her four grandchildren and her wish to spend more time them. O'Nan has written a reflective, humorous, yet real novel about a woman nearing the end of her life. A real gem...I loved it. Similar to the novels of Anne Tyler, Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell and Drives Like a Dream by Porter Shreve.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

The residents of St. Jarlath's Crescent in Dublin are like family. When Noel Lynch finds out he's going to be a father, his friends rally around him. Noel, who has a problem with alcohol, knows he must sober up and become responsible, since Stella, the mother-to-be, has cancer and knows she won't live beyond the baby's birth. She asks Noel to raise the baby himself. With the help of Emily (Noel's cousin from America), his parents (Josie and Charles), friends Declan, Fiona, Lisa, Dr. Hat, and Muttie and Lizzie (friends of his parents), he hopes to turn his life around and be a good father to his daughter, Frankie--if only Moira, the nosy social worker, wouldn't always be expecting him to fail. Minding Frankie recounts the lives of all these characters as they interact and support each other. Regular Binchy readers will be delighted to revisit some of the people that have appeared in her most recent novels. A heartwarming delight.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir is with her client, Markus Magnusson, as he goes into the basement of his childhood home in the Westmann Islands off the southern coast of Iceland. The house was abandoned in 1973, when a volcano erupted in the area. Magnus is there now to retrieve a box for his friend, Alda. He gets the shock of his life when a head rolls out of the box. Next to the box, he discovers the remains of three men. Suspicion immediately falls on Markus and things get worse for him when Alda is found dead in her home. Thora immerses herself in Markus' past, specifically the time around the volcanic eruption in an attempt to prove her client's innocence. Ashes to Dust is the third book in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, but has not been published in the U.S. The mysteries are similar to Asa Larsson and Helene Tursten.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Night Season by Chelsea Cain

The Willamette River in Portland, Oregon is swelling and police detective Archie Sheridan is on the trail of a serial killer who is poisoning people and then throwing their bodies into the river. Archie's partner, Henry, is himself attacked. He barely survives, but his prognosis is uncertain. Meanwhile, reporter Susan Ward recently wrote a story about a skeleton that was found in an area that was wiped out in a flood in 1948. She is also working on a story about the recent murders. Archie's and Susan's paths intersect often and they work together to try and uncover the identity of the killer before he sadistically murders again. All the while, they deal with the chaos around Portland as it floods. In this fourth thriller featuring Archie and Susan, Cain is able to write a good story without the presence of a series regular, serial killer Gretchen Lowell. In fact, it's quite refreshing for that story to be in the background.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Death of a Chimney Sweep by M.C. Beaton

In the small Scottish village of Drim, incomer Captain Henry Davenport is found murdered, stuffed up his own chimney. Suspicion falls on local chimney sweep Pete Ray, who's also found dead. The authorities consider the case closed, but policeman Hamish Macbeth believes Pete was innocent and the evidence supports his claim. Hamish's superiors aren't happy about his meddling, but grudgingly know he produces results. Soon Hamish learns that Captain Davenport scammed many people out of their money, but who was so angry as to want him dead?