Category: Mystery Review (page 1 of 5)

Reviews: Two More Ruth Galloway Mysteries

Over the recent holiday I read the second and third Ruth Galloway Mysteries by Elly Griffiths. See the author post for more information about the series.

Number 2. The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

In The Janus Stone, construction workers uncover the bones of a child buried under the foundation of a structure. Ruth Galloway investigates and figures out the death is decades old, not centuries old. She and Detective Nelson search for the previous owners of the house and the child’s identity.

Number 3. The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths

When workers recording beach erosion uncover a mass grave, it is Ruth Galloway’s job to figure out how six men ended up bound, shot and buried there.

Quick Notes with Spoilers:

Both books feature the things that attracted me to the first novel, the compelling characters, the Norfolk setting, and the use of the present tense to give the action an immediate feel.

Although I enjoyed the second novel, there was some repetition of plot from the first.

By the third novel, however, the plot became a clone of the previous one, even though the victims were very different and the main character’s circumstances had changed drastically. In the climax scene, Ruth Galloway trudged  off to get captured by the villain on a boat, exactly like what happened in the second novel.  Once again Detective Nelson throws himself into the water to rescue her, but instead endangers himself, again the same scenario as the second novel.

I was particularly disappointed when Ruth Galloway chose to go off to meet the villain, when she had a compelling reason to go home to be with her child. The boat wasn’t that exciting a find, and to leave her child after her friend had just chided her for being an inattentive mother seemed weak and self-centered.

Personally, I thought the plot would have been stronger and more believable if Detective Nelson put himself in danger and Ruth figured out she needed to go save him.  That would have been a credible reason for Ruth to leave her child. According to the blurb for the next novel, Detective Nelson becomes ill and is in danger. So, perhaps I am being prescient?

 

 

Ruth Galloway Mystery

Author Post: Elly Griffiths

British novelist Domenica de Rosa writes awesome mysteries under the pseudonym Elly Griffiths.

The first series features forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway who lives in Norfolk, a county north and east of London.

Ruth Galloway Series:

  • The Crossing Places (2009) -see review below
  • The Janus Stone (2010) –quick review
  • The House at Sea’s End (2011) – quick review
  • A Room Full of Bones (2012)
  • Ruth’s First Christmas Tree (2012)
  • A Dying Fall (2013)
  • The Outcast Dead (2014)
  • The Ghost Fields (2015)
  • The Woman in Blue (2016)
  • The Chalk Pit (2017)
  • The Dark Angel (2018)
  • The Stone Circle (2019)

DI Stephens & Max Mephisto series

  • The Zig-Zag Girl (2014)
  • Smoke and Mirrors (2015)
  • The Blood Card (2016)
  • The Vanishing Box (2017)

Standalone Novels by Domenica de Rosa

  • The Italian Quarter (2004)
  • The Eternal City (2005)
  • Villa Serena (2007)
  • Summer School (2008)
  • A Girl Called Justice (2019)

 

The Crossing Places (first in the Ruth Galloway Mysteries series) by Elly Griffiths

When Ruth Galloway is called in to age some bones unearthed in a marsh, she quickly establishes that the Iron Age remains aren’t related to a decade-old case of a missing child. The detective who contacted her realizes Ruth’s expertise might shed light on some mysterious letters related to the disappearance. Soon Ruth is caught up in trying to find the lost girl as well.

This novel grabbed me in a way that I haven’t experienced in some time.

What I loved:

  • The main character is older, overweight, and lives with two cats. She seems grounded and real.
  • The novel is written in the present tense, making it feel immediate.
  • The pacing is fast. It fits in the mystery category because we don’t know who did what, but the fast pace makes it seem more like a thriller. It doesn’t wander.
  • Griffiths has a deft touch with foreshadowing.
  • The relationship between Ruth and the detective, Harry Nelson, makes a compelling character arc that pulls the reader into the next book without resorting to cliffhangers or unsatisfactory endings. It is perfect.

I hope the library has the next one on the shelf.

 

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About Author Posts:

Ever been at the library or in a store and wondered if you need a certain title or if you’ve read it?  Having a list like this makes it easy to check on your phone.

Author Post: Louise Penny

Louise Penny is a popular mystery novelist. She has a deft hand with plotting, pace, and character development, plus her setting — The village of Three Pines in Canada — shines.

Penny based her main character Inspector Armand Gamache (of the Sûreté du Québec) on her husband, Michael. Unlike detectives in many mysteries , Gamache is a well-rounded family man who is also good at his job.

People ask if the series should be read in order. My recommendation is that if you are going to read them all, then in order is preferable because they do build on one another. On the other hand, I skipped to the most recent one and was still able to enjoy it without reading all that came before.

Inspector Gamache Books in order:

Still Life (2005)

A Fatal Grace (2007)

The Cruelest Month (2008)

A Rule Against Murder (2009)

The Brutal Telling (2009)

Bury Your Dead (2010)

The Hangman (2010)

A Trick of the Light (2011)

The Beautiful Mystery (2012)

How the Light Gets In (2013)

The Long Way Home (2014)

The Nature of the Beast (2015)

A Great Reckoning (2016)

Glass Houses (2017)

Kingdom of the Blind (2018) –reviewed here

A Better Man (2019) – coming in August


 

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About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

Author Post: Tana French

I have a strong love/hate relationship with Tana French’s novels. I love her writing, especially her pitch perfect dialogue and feel-like-you-are-right-there settings. On the other hand I hate her characters, who are often unreliable narrators sinking down on some sort of negative character arc. They are slippery and slimy, and leave me feeling dissatisfied.

Although the Dublin Murder Squad books are loosely called a series, the main characters change from book to book.

Dublin Murder Squad Books

In the Woods (2007) reviewed for The Bestseller Code challenge

The Likeness (2008) -see below

Faithful Place (2010)

Broken Harbour (2011)

The Secret Place (2014) – on shelf

The Trespasser (2016)

Stand Alone Novels

The Witch Elm (2018) -see below

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Likeness (spoilers)

The premise completely spoiled this one for me. It was so unrealistic that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. Plus the undercover detective trapped in a house with a potential killer was more claustrophobic than chilling.

Yes, I disliked the book, but I keep picking up and reading more by this author.

The Witch Elm (spoilers)

Saw it on the shelf at the library and couldn’t leave it there. The main character, Toby Hennessy, proves that he’ll go along with shady dealings early in the book. After he sustains a severe beating and loses parts of his memory (another unreliable narrator!), he’s not at all sure what criminal acts he might have done in the past. Let’s just say his behavior slides downhill from there. Plus he loses his wonderful girlfriend, the only bright spot in the whole book.

On the other hand, the writing is superb. Stephen King describes French’s writing as “smooth, almost satiny prose.” Like ice cream, it is beyond delicious and addictive.

Which is why I picked up The Secret Place for my TBR pile this week. I just can’t help myself.

 

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About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

#BookBeginnings If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin

The 2019 Edgar award winners were announced this week and I’m featuring the best paperback original If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin for  Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Aging pop star Aimee En tells the police that a teenager stole her car and used it to run down a local high school football player named Liam Miller. As Miller’s life hangs in the balance, social media portrays Liam as a hero and the suspected car thief Wade Reed as a deranged killer. But are things that simple?

Beginning:

Five days earlier

In bed late at night with her laptop, Jackie Reed sometimes forgot there were others in the house. That’s how quiet it was here, with these hushed boys of hers, always with their heads down, with their shuffling footsteps and their padded sneakers, their muttered greetings, their doors closing behind them.

Discussion:

According to the blurb, the story’s told from multiple points of view. That may explain why the beginning is from Wade Reed’s mother’s point of view.

I think some of you may have already reviewed this. Did you like it?

Have you read anything by Alison Gaylin? Would you like to read this one?

 

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny Review

Time to share thoughts about Louise Penny’s newest novel, Kingdom of the Blind.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: How do you summarize a complex novel like this one? Here’s the gist:

A stranger has named Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to be one of the executors of her will, Still suspended because of an investigation in a case that went wrong months before, Gamache agrees to accept the task as a way to keep occupied. What would seem to be a straightforward duty becomes troublesome, however, when he sees the bizarre terms of the will.

As if that weren’t enough, the case that got him suspended rears its ugly head again and he must track down missing drugs and work to clear his name while at the same time figuring out who murdered one of the heirs.

Read the Acknowledgements For Kingdom of the Blind First

I really wish I had read the acknowledgments before starting the book — they are at the end– because they inform the reading so much. It turns out Louise Penny based her main character Armand Gamache on her husband Michael. In a few sad, wry, warm, stunning paragraphs she reveals how she thought the series was over when her husband passed away. He had been her muse and he was gone.

What happened next is an inspiration to writers. She discovered it is possible to keep writing and even find joy in it. You need to read it in her words, though. Truly a message for the ages.

Throw Out The Rules (Or At Least Loosen Them)

As I mentioned previously, Louise Penny has almost an entire shelf in the mystery section at our local bookstore and her books are very popular. To say she is a successful writer is an understatement. Yet, like another mega-bestselling writer Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling), she completely ignores tight/limited third person point of view and blithely “head hops” from character to character, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. From my understanding, the narrator doesn’t feel far enough away from the characters to be truly omniscient, either, so probably would be called third person multiple?

In any case, it appears that third person limited POV is good for beginning writers who have trouble moving from character to character without confusing readers, but masterful writers can loosen up third person point of view successfully and readers seem to prefer it.

Setting, Characters, and Plot

Another reason it is apparent she is a masterful author is that Louise Penny has a wonderful knack with setting (especially her descriptions of snow), is fantastic at developing realistic characters who drive the story, and she knows how to build a complex and believable plot. Many authors can are good at one or two of those. Kudos to Penny for being able to conquer all three.

winter-kingdom-of-the-blind

Public domain image by Larisa Koshkina from Publicdomainpictures.net

#BookBeginnings Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Today I’m reading Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Penny

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  How do you summarize a complex novel like this one? Here’s the gist:

A stranger has named Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to be one of the executors of her will, along with a bookseller named Myrna Landers and a young builder. Still suspended because of an investigation in a case that went wrong months before, Gamache agrees to accept the task as a way to keep occupied. What would seem to be a straightforward duty becomes troublesome, however, when they read the bizarre terms of the will, which before long leads to murder.

As if that weren’t enough, the case that got him suspended rears its ugly head again and he must track down missing drugs and work to clear his name.

First Sentences of Kingdom of the Blind:

Armand Gamache slowed his car to a crawl, then stopped on the snow-covered secondary road.

This was it, he supposed. Pulling in, he drove between the tall pine trees until he reached the clearing.

There he parked the car and sat in the warm vehicle looking out at the cold day. Snow flurries were hitting the windshield and dissolving.

Discussion:

The Chief Inspector Gamache series are set in Canada, around Québec and Montreal. I love the way she describes the snow and the cold.

Although this copy is from the library, I noticed that Louise Penny has almost an entire shelf to herself at our local bookstore. Her books are very popular.

Do you think it is surprising that the title is Kingdom of the Blind rather that The Kingdom of the Blind?

Have you read any of this series? What do you think?

Celine by Peter Heller Review

Time to jot down a few notes after reading Celine* by Peter Heller.

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:

Private investigator Celine is renowned for her ability to track down missing persons. When a young woman’s father goes missing in Yellowstone Park, Celine leaves the comfort of her apartment in New York City to track him down.

Notes:

Although Celine is older (late 60s) and has emphysema, she still can shoot, drive, and attach tracking devices to suspect’s vehicles with the best of them. Some reviewers say his main character is unrealistic. According to the blurb at Amazon, however, Heller based the main character on his mother, who was actually a private investigator.

How Heller handles the opening set up for the novel is unusual. He reveals the details of the client’s missing father in chapters two through four as a series of conversations between the woman and Celine. Sometimes the dialogue goes back and forth in big blocks of text with a bare minimum of tags. To break things up, he has the young woman leave and send Celine a letter containing some of the facts before they talk again. Even though these chapters are essentially an information dump, the author withholds at times and reveals bits of backstory of characters at times, and thus keeps the reader interested enough to continue reading.  I’m not sure the extended conversation without much action would have been my first choice with a mystery, especially since it duplicates some of the prologue, but overall it worked.

The author’s word selection and descriptions are lovely and you can tell he has an MFA. At times the novel seems to wander into the literary rather than mystery and there is a bit of road trip trope thrown in as well. In fact, the plot/tone feels like a car trip along a long, flat stretch of road with a few stops at cafes or roadside attractions to add surprises along the way.

Best Quote:

Here’s an example of one of the stops, when Celine spots a girl who is crying in front of an art gallery:

Celine reached for the girl’s wet hand, held it. “You, know I have lost three great loves. Loves that could knock the earth off its axis. Truly. Each time I thought my life was over.” The girl as very still, she was listening. “I have finally found the one I’m meant to die with. It’s a love so deep I cannot attempt to fathom it, and I don’t want to. I wish I could have told that to my younger heart-broken self. That everything would work out, more than work out, it would be glorious, So I am telling it to you, One day you will be grateful for this new chapter.”

 

Conclusion:

The fact the traumas occurred in a past (distance), the lack of realistic conflict (Celine confronts some bikers in a bar in a scene that went beyond contrived), and the main characters who rarely make mistakes, it all adds up to make the plot seem flatter than it should have been. A disappointment, given the premise.

 

Public domain photograph by Ken Kistler at PublicDomainPictures.net

#BookBeginnings Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

Let’s take a look at Michael Connelly’s Dark Sacred Night for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Dark Sacred Night* by Michael Connelly

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When Detective Renée Ballard, who works the night shift in Hollywood, runs into retired detective Harry Bosch rummaging through department case files she tells him to leave. Curious, she opens the files and discovers he was digging into in an unsolved murder of a teenage runaway.  What she reads about the case hooks her and soon she reluctantly joins Bosch in  the investigation

First Sentence of Dark Sacred Night:

The patrol officers had left the front door open. They thought they were doing her a favor, airing the place out. But that was a violation of crime scheme protocol regarding evidence containment.

Discussion:

Connelly introduced Renée Ballard as a stand alone character in the novel The Late Show last year.  Now he’s teamed her up with the character of his longest running series, Harry Bosch. I have a feeling sparks are going to fly between the two detectives, but not the romantic kind.

My stepfather introduced me to Michael Connelly. His books stand out as police procedurals because he obviously does his research to keep up with the latest crime fighting techniques.

What do you think? Have you ever read a mystery/police procedural by Michael Connelly?

#amwriting Studying Lethal White

The fourth novel in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, Lethal White, came out last month. The author (actually J.K. Rowling) has shaken up the typical mystery format in this novel. Does it work?

Lethal White* by Robert Galbraith

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

The typical mystery reveals something about a crime in the prologue or first chapter, usually within the first few pages. In book one of the Cormoran Strike series, Cuckoo’s Calling, Rowling follows the formula when a model dies in essentially the first scene (link is to my review). For this novel, however, she shakes things up. In fact, a crime is not mentioned until after page 40. Let’s take a look at an analogy to explain what she’s done.

Analogy

In most series, the relationship between ongoing characters, that is, the characters who are present in all or most of the books, changes and evolves over time. This forms a story arc. Using an analogy, the ongoing story arc of the main characters is like a stream which flows through the novels. The main mystery is what readers came to see, so the stream drifts along in the background while the main mystery plays out on the stream bank in the forefront. The stream is important, however, because it motivates readers to move on to the next novel when the main mystery has wrapped up at the end of each book.

Let’s emphasize:  the ongoing story arc is a backdrop, part of the staging.

Public domain photograph by Karen Arnold at PublicDomainPictures.Net

In Lethal White, Rowling points the camera at the story line of the two main characters. In effect, she focuses on the stream.

The two detectives, Robin and Cormoran, have had a mutual attraction that they continue to ignore, which is called the “will they or won’t they?” trope. The prologue of Lethal White features Robin marrying her longtime boyfriend Matthew while pining openly for Cormoran. At her wedding! Nothing dysfunctional about that, is there? The prologue sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Does The Change of Focus Work?

Although I am all for shaking up writing formulas, in this case it hasn’t worked.

When the mystery finally shows up on page 40, it plays out mostly on the far shore. The reader begins to wonder if the series has turned into a poorly-plotted romance. Eventually Rowling brings the crime to front and center, but by then at least some readers have lost interest.

If the “stream” (romance) had turned out to be a gushing torrent with whitewater and waterfalls, then the shake up might have been successful. As it is, the “stream” is barely a drizzle.

Turns out, the main crime is how much I paid for a novel that doesn’t live up to its promise.

(Robert Galbraith novels summary page)

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