Tag: mystery conference author

Author Post: Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin was born in Scotland and lives in Edinburgh.

Ian Rankin Novels:

John Rebus series

Ian Rankin was 25 years old when he wrote  Knots and Crosses. He did a magnificent job creating the older, grizzled character in John Rebus. The novels are riveting mysteries that are well-paced, with a nicely-detailed setting and have a believable plot. Rebus doesn’t solve everything alone, but is part of a team. Each novel involves some sort of puzzle as well.

I can’t wait to read more of the twenty-some novels featuring Inspector John Rebus.

1. Knots and Crosses (1987) –review
2. Hide and Seek (1991)
3. Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992)
4. Strip Jack (1992)
5. The Black Book (1993)
6. Mortal Causes (1994)
7. Let It Bleed (1996)
8. Black and Blue (1997)
9. The Hanging Garden (1998)
10. Dead Souls (1999)
11. Set in Darkness (2000)
12. The Falls (2001) – review
13. Resurrection Men (2002)
14. A Question of Blood (2003)
15. Fleshmarket Close (published in the US as Fleshmarket Alley) (2004)
16. The Naming of the Dead (2006)
17. Exit Music (2007)
18. Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012)
19. Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) – also features Malcom Fox (see below)
20. The Beat Goes On: The Complete Short Stories (2014)
21. Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)
22. Rather Be the Devil (2016)

There’s also a British TV series based on the Rebus books.

Malcom Fox series

Malcom Fox is one of the “Complaints” or cops who investigate other cops.

  1. The Complaints (2009) –shelf – Fox’s investigations don’t make him popular and when his own actions are called to question, he isn’t sure who he can trust to help. 
  2. The Impossible Dead
  3. Standing in Another Man’s Grave
  4. Saints of the Shadow Bible
  5. Even Dogs in the Wild
  6. Rather Be the Devil (with Rebus)


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: Francine Mathews

Francine Mathews writes a variety of genres. In addition to police procedural mysteries and spy thrillers, she has written a series of historical novels about Jane Austin acting as an amateur sleuth under the pen name Stephanie Barron.

Public domain image of Nantucket from NASA

Francine Mathews Novels

Merry Folger series

  1. Death in the Off Season (1994) – reviewed below
  2. Death in Rough Water (1995) -reviewed below
  3. Death in a Mood Indigo (1997)
  4. Death in a Cold Hard Light (1998)
  5. Death on Nantucket (2017)

In this police procedural mystery series, Detective Meredith (Merry) Folger is a third generation police officer who lives on the Island of Nantucket off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Caroline Carmichael series

  1. The Cut Out (2001) – reviewed below
  2. Blown (2005)

Francine Mathews worked for a few years as an intelligence analyst for the CIA. She used her experience to write the Caroline Carmichael novels.

Death in the Off Season*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Detective Meredith Folger’s father, who is chief of police, assigns Merry her first murder investigation when the mysterious brother of a prominent citizen ends up drowned in a cranberry field. Did the murderer intend to kill the victim, who had been hiding in Brazil for a decade? Or was the true target his brother Peter, a local cranberry farmer?

The Nantucket setting is intriguing and Mathews weaves in local details, such as the difficulty for residents to find affordable housing on an island that fills with wealthy tourists each summer. The plot is nicely complicated by the twist that we don’t know who the intended target is. There’s also a red herring or two.

The one weakness is the dialogue, which consists mainly straightforward interrogations with little realistic conflict between the participants and no subtext. It could have been richer.


Death in Rough Water

In the second of the series, Mathews delves deeply into the economic woes of the fishing industry on Nantucket. Merry’s close friend Del returns to the island after the death of Del’s’ father, fisherman Joe Duarte. It looks like Del is going to take over her father’s boat and fish for swordfish, but she is brutally murdered.  Merry’s father orders Merry to take a vacation. Instead, she continues to investigate her friend’s death.

For this novel, the intrigue builds around the father of Del’s daughter. If Merry can discover the toddler’s father’s true identity, it might reveal the motive for the murder. Mathews also weaves in a subplot around an anti-fishing activist and an explosion at Town Pier.

I was a bit disappointed when one of the side characters, who had been an admirable person up to this point, goes crazy with jealousy. It seemed like an unrealistic and contrived way to generate another suspect. The author could have created another character — one who was less stable from the get go — to fill the jealous role and it would have been more believable.


The Cut Out

When CIA analyst Caroline Carmichael discovers that her husband Eric — who is supposed to have been dead for two years — is actually alive and possibly working for the enemy, she is shocked. When the director sends her to find Eric and figure out what is happening, Caroline jumps at the chance even though she knows she’s being used.

Unlike with her Merry Folger books, this novel is filled with a huge cast of characters, so many that it is hard to keep track of them at times. Some of the characters were flat and not memorable, which didn’t help. The characters also travel all over the world, so the setting is more complex than the Merry Folger books.

The plot is also more tangled and and much, much darker.  As is usual with the spy thriller genre, the protagonist spends most of her time trying to figure out who she can rely on in her own team, including whether she can trust her own husband, rather than battling the bad guys.

In an unusual choice, the author writes flashbacks in present tense. I found it disorienting, which may have been the intention. After all, Caroline has just learned her husband is not who and where she thought he was.

The dialogue is better in this novel because everyone is lying and covering up their true agendas.


Overall, I enjoyed the Merry Folger books a great deal and would like to read more in the series.



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 Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

Today we’re reading Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues (A Jesse Stone Novel) by Michael Brandman 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!



Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues* (A Jesse Stone Novel) by Michael Brandman

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

When Robert B. Parker passed away in 2010, Michael Brandman took over writing the Jesse Stone novels. In addition to Killing the Blues, he also wrote Fool Me Twice and Damned if You Do for the same series.

Summary: Jesse Stone has taken a job as chief of police in Paradise, Massachusetts as a way of leaving his disturbing past in Los Angeles behind. When a string of car thefts lead to murder, he must find a way to protect the summer tourists and at the same time figure out if his past might have come back to haunt him.

First Sentence:

Coffee was the only thing on Jesse Stone’s mind when he entered the Paradise police station on a bright New England spring morning.

His first stop was usually the coffeemaker. But when he saw what was happening in front of Suitcase Simpson’s desk, which was located across the aisle from the kitchen area, he headed for his office.


I like that the story starts in a low key way, instead of dropping a murder in the first scene as many murder mysteries do. We get to know the characters before the action starts.

What do you think? Do you like the beginning? Would you keep reading?

Are you a Robert Parker fan? What do you think when another author takes over a series?

Sujata Massey: Author Post and The Pearl Diver Review

Sujata Massey taught English in Japan for several years.  She used her experiences to create the delightful Rei Shimura mystery series.

Novels by Sujata Massey

Rei Shimura series:

  • The Salaryman’s Wife (1997) –review
  • Zen Attitude (1998)
  • The Flower Master (1999)
  • The Floating Girl (2000)
  • The Bride’s Kimono (2001)
  • The Samurai’s Daughter (2003)
  • The Pearl Diver (2004) – reviewed below
  • The Typhoon Lover (2005)
  • Girl in a Box (2006)
  • Shimura Trouble (2008)
  • The Kizuna Coast (December 2014)

Daughters of Bengal:
The Sleeping Dictionary

The Perveen Mistry Investigations
The Widows of Malabar Hill (2018) (historical mystery)


The Pearl Diver* by Sujata Massey

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

Rei Shimura has been banned from Japan and is now living in Washington D.C. with her boyfriend Hugh. When her cousin is kidnapped, Rei leaps into action to find her. One thing leads to another and soon she’s also trying to find a Japanese woman who disappeared many years earlier. Are the two cases linked?

Although the novel is no longer set in Japan like the first novel, I still like how Massey works in details of Japanese culture, especially Japanese antiques, food (bento boxes), and pearl diving. The new setting is also concrete and detailed. Massey has a fine touch with setting.

The plot is rich, with many well-developed characters. The front matter includes a “Cast of Characters” list with snippets about a dozen of the more prominent characters. Character lists are always handy references, but aren’t necessary to enjoy this book. Unlike some other novels, the author does a good job of introducing new people so that it is easy to remember who they are.

Compared to her debut novel, which had a few bumps, this one is well done. I particularly liked the ending, which I won’t reveal.

I want to read more of the novels in this series.


Sujata Massey Author Post

Because I have been reading a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of what I’ve read. I thought the blog would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I’ve read. To get more organized I’m going to try to create an author post for each author with lists of novels. I will update later by linking to newer reviews and marking books as read .

#amreading #mystery The Salaryman’s Wife by Sujata Massey

Let’s take a look at The Salaryman’s Wife by Sujata Massey for our ongoing research into older mystery series.

The Salaryman’s Wife* by Sujata Massey

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

First in the Rei Shimura mystery series, originally published in 1997.

Summary:  Rei Shimura is a 27-year-old Japanese-American woman living in Tokyo, where she barely scrapes by teaching English. During a New Year’s vacation to the Japanese Alps, she discovers the body of one of the guests at the minshuku (family-run inn) where she is staying. Before long she’s caught up in the investigation while trying to avoid becoming the next victim.


This novel is all about the Japanese setting. The lodging, the food, the trips to various village and cities all play an essential part in pulling the reader into the mystery. Because the author spent time teaching English in Japan and takes frequent trips there, she is able to move past the tourist experience. She expertly captures the conflicts and inconsistencies between modern and traditional culture, as well as between Rei’s two sides, American and Japanese culture.


Public domain photo of Mount Fuji via Good Free Photos


The main character, Rei Shimura is in-your-face strong, yet sweetly unaware at times.  Her Japanese-American heritage adds depth to the story. It shows the difficulties of seeming to belong to two cultures and yet being fully accepted by neither. Author Sujata Massey’s parents were from Germany and India, so she understands the conflicts of a mixed-cultural background.

The characters in the story are diverse and interesting. At times it felt like there were way too many characters, some of whom played little role in moving the plot forward. By the end, we find out at least some of the characters who seemed extraneous were in fact involved in ingenious ways. For example, she gives a meal to a homeless man in one scene. Later on he rescues her.

Sujata Massey handles the dialogue well, especially the banter between Rei and her love interest Hugh. At times, however, the content of the dialogue seemed contrived. For example, Rei meets a powerful businessman for the first time and grills him for intensely personal information. He gives her everything she wants straight out. It would have been more realistic if she had to coerce him or if he had toyed with her before spilling. This is a problem I have as a writer, too. Instead of giving each individual in the conversation their own or an opposing agenda, as is the case in the real world, they simply say what is needed to move the story forward.


Sex Scenes

In the book we are using for our ongoing reading challenge, The Bestseller Code, the authors state that very few bestsellers contain sex as a topic. It seems like some older mysteries, like this one,  do have sex scenes. Massey’s scenes work well because the sex isn’t gratuitous. The scenes move the story forward because they cement the relationship between two characters and gives them a realistic motive to work together.


Although rough in spots, there are enough gems in this book that I enjoyed it. I’ll be looking forward to reading more in this series.

#amreading #mystery: The Falls by Ian Rankin

After having read the first in the Inspector John Rebus series by Ian Rankin, Knots and Crosses (previous review),  let’s compare it to the twelfth in the series, The Falls.


The Falls* by Ian Rankin

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Art history student Philippa “Flip” Balfour goes missing and her rich parents immediately pull strings to make the case a priority. When the new Chief Super Gill Templer assigns Detective Inspector John Rebus the task of checking out a doll found in a casket, he’s pretty sure it isn’t important to the case. Or is it?

What is similar between the two books:

Ian Rankin knows how to write a perfect first line. The first line of Knots and Crosses was eerie:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

For The Falls, it is intriguing:

‘You think I killed her, don’t you?’

As to be expected, both novels are set in Edinburgh, Scotland and the surrounding countryside. Also, both novels give a detailed picture of the inner workings of Scottish police departments.

Once again John Rebus is only one cog in a much larger investigative machine. Once again others, particularly his female colleagues, point him in the right direction or dig up pertinent clues.

Another similarity between the two novels is that there are puzzles to figure out, which makes sense because the main character’s last name “Rebus” is a type of word puzzle. In Knots and Crosses the names of the previous victims is a puzzle/clue. In The Falls, the puzzles — part of a role-playing game — are a central thread of the story. Regardless of his last name, in both novels it isn’t Rebus who works out most of the puzzles, but other characters.

What is different about the two books:

An obvious difference between the two books is the length. Knot and Crosses is a respectable 256 pages.  At 399 pages, The Falls is significantly longer.  Much of the difference in length is due a substantially more complex plot (details would be spoilers).

Some of the differences may be due to the fact that the two books were by different publishers. In Knots and Crosses, there are double quotation marks around the dialogue. In The Falls, the dialogue is set off by single quotations marks. Single quotation marks are more common in British novels.

Another difference is the theme of promotion and retirement within the police department. When Chief Super Farmer retires, John Rebus visits him. He notices how tidy Farmer’s house is and realizing he might be at loose ends, asks Farmer to help out with small pieces of the investigation. An older Rebus looks ahead and is a bit frightened about what his own retirement might look like, whereas in the first book he looked back on what had happened when he was young.


Keeping a mystery series moving ahead is no small achievement. Ian Rankin does a wonderful job creating compelling, complex characters and a multi-layered plot. As Rankin and his characters mature, we can only imagine what lies ahead.

#amreading Mystery: Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

With an opportunity to meet some great mystery authors coming up in September, I’ve been doing some background reading. Up today is Knots and Crosses: An Inspector Rebus Novel (Amazon affiliate link) by Ian Rankin.

There may be a few minor spoilers.


This is the first Inspector John Rebus mystery novel, originally published in 1987.

Summary:  A serial killer is strangling young girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. As one of the detectives assigned to the case, John Rebus is battling his own demons, which include debilitating flashbacks and mysterious anonymous notes. Can he figure out how all the puzzle pieces fit together in time?

Mystery Novel Dissection:

The novel starts out with an excellent hook, from the first line:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

That certainly sets the tone and grabs the reader’s attention.

From there, Rankin introduces the characters, starting with Detective John Rebus, the main character. Rebus was in the army, and trained with the Special Air Service (SAS) before becoming a police officer. He also suffers from flashbacks to memories that he has repressed, in many ways making him like Detective Rob Ryan in In The Woods (previous review). In fact, I did wonder if Tana French was influenced by Rankin’s writing.

John’s younger brother Michael is a hypnotist who uses his talents for entertainment purposes. At first it looks like Michael is a side character, but later we learn he is a form of Chekhov’s gun. His ability to hypnotize others helps solve the crime.

Jack Morton is another detective and John’s friend. In one of those funny things that happen when writing, Jack Morton on page 37:

…was thirty-five, six years younger than Rebus.

On page 38,

Morton had been a policeman for two decades…

Doing the math, Jack Morton had become a police officer at a very young 15 years old! Oops… Perhaps “nearly” two decades?

Rather than portrayed as a superhero who does it all, John Rebus gets a lot of help from others along the way, including from a female public information officer (love interest)  who figures out the significance of the anonymous notes. In fact, the help from other people goes a little too far at times, making Rebus seem the passive recipient of information rather than an active investigator. It does make him seem believable and human, though.

In the end, author Rankin makes good use of the “ticking clock” to build suspense towards the climax. Will Rebus be able to find the killer in time, before he kills again as he has promised?


For what I’ve read Ian Rankin was 25 years old when he wrote  Knots and Crosses, so he did a magnificent job creating the older, grizzled character in John Rebus. It is a riveting mystery that is well-paced, with a nicely-detailed setting and believable plot. Rankin doesn’t provide a lot of red herrings or overt clues, but it builds logically to a suspenseful climax. I can’t wait to read more of the twenty-some novels featuring Inspector John Rebus.

The next mystery novel in the series is Hide and Seek: An Inspector Rebus Novel by Ian Rankin.


Photograph from PublicDomainPictures.net

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