Category Archives: Mystery

*** White River Burning by John Verdon

White River Burning stars a retired NY detective who is asked to investigate a fatal shooting of an African American man by a white police officer, and who stumbles on a very complicated case of police corruption. The story is twisted enough to keep the reader’s interest, but what I liked best was the nuanced descriptions of very complicated characters as well as the mix of mundane tasks and police investigation.

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*** The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place is the latest Flavia De Luce mystery, in which she finds a corpse and proceeds to identify both the murderer and a wrongly-convicted one. The usual chemistry high jinks abound, accompanied here by copious literary quotes, maybe a little too precious? But fun, as fun as a book with a murdered young man could pretend to be.

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** Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

Gaudy Night is simply the reunion at the first women’s college in Oxford, and it’s the start of a series of pranks and threatening letters that cause the dean to ask one of the alumnae, a mystery writer, to investigate. The action moves slowly along 523 pages, with minute descriptions of the various professors and students, the quaint customs and schedule of the college, and the 1935 sexism that characterizes the college system, town, and society as a whole. So slowly that I found the main pleasure of the book to lie in its descriptions of a time long past, when female college students were carefully watched after 11pm (not that they did not manage to work around it!) and only a handful would get to have a professional life. That said, the overall intrigue is marred by the fact that our fearless heroine is, in fact, obliged to bring her (male) lover to untangle the mystery. Is her brain too feeble for this?

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* The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger

The Banker’s Wife stars the wife of an American backer working in Switzerland who disappears suddenly, apparently the victim of a plane crash, but it then transpires that his employer was laundering money for powerful interests, including the family of the Syrian dictator. Enters an American journalist who is digging up that story, and a few powerful but “good” clients — and we are soon swimming in a highly improbable situation where the little guys will triumph over the big ones, a la John Grisham’s The Firm, except it does not quite hang together. Too many wrong details (French waitresses do not and cannot live on their tips); and too many women, including the heroine, stumbling about because no one trusts them to understand anything.

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*** Baby’s First Felony y John Straley

Cecil Younger, the hero of Baby’s First Felony, has a problem. He has a suitcase full of cash that belongs to one of his clients (and whose origin is, to say the least. tainted), and more important, his rebellious teenage daughter is missing and is being held by a drug trafficker who wants him to forget about him in exchange for his daughter’s life. Fortunately his felon clients all turn up to help him catch the fiend, with much collateral damage including a blown-up apartment building and a few deaths. The whole story is written, hilariously, as a trial testimonial. It’s dark and funny and perfect.

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* Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie

Much of Elephants Can Remember is forgettable, and what’s not forgettable is so outlandish (featuring that old, tired device of twins, coupled with various lovers and mistaken identities) as to make the story a pastiche of mysteries. But there is one redeeming character, that of the mystery writer who, together with Hercule Poirot, untangles the mysteries of the family in which the murder-suicide happened, years ago. She hates going to literary lunches. She has lots of godchildren. And she may well be Ms. Christie herself. That said, the rest of the book is way too unlikely to be satisfying.

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** The Hollow by Agatha Christie

The Hollow gathers rich people in a fancy country house, where one of them is sadly shot to death with one of the many firearms the owner collects. Since the slain man has a wife, a mistress, and a jealous ex-mistress, and the owner’s wife has shown to be an accurate sharpshooter, the possibilities are many and Hercule Poirot will untangle the mess, using his usual techniques of deduction and very few modern scientific techniques. Set in a completely outdated setting and set of manners, the story may be as remarkable for its atmosphere as its (rather incredible) denouement.

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