Category Archives: Mystery

*** Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns

Saratoga Payback is the entertaining story of a private investigator who, having had his license revoked, just cannot turn off his investigative instinct. And of course a corpse on his driveway  is irresistible. He will be drawn into mysterious horse abductions and many more murders until the breath-taking finale. But the best part of the book is the self-talk and private life of our hero, with his aging knees, self-deprecating humor, and complicated relationship with the police chief.

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* Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Say you just found out that a psychopath made snuff films and the police officer to whom you reported your discovery (complete with abundant copies of said films) nonchalantly sent you away and told you not to worry your pretty little head. What would you do? (I know the premise is far-fetched but work with me.)

(A) Contact other and/or more powerful police authorities

(B) Get help from trusted friends and family

(C) Drive, unescorted, to the psychopath house, which is isolated out in the country, to see what you find

The heroines of Pretty Girls pick (C) and what follow is terrifying, but what terrified me the most was their stupidity. And also the amount of gratuitous details from the snuff films. And the ending that suggested that killing psychopaths yourself was better than using normal law and order avenues.

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*** Things We Have In Common by Tasha Kavanagh

I’m going to say that Thing We Have In Common is a mystery, since it contains a crime, and a serious one, the disappearance of a teenager, but the focus is on one of her classmates, a fat, friendless, and bullied classmate who is fascinated by the popular girl and convinced that a mysterious man is watching her and may bring her harm. The action is mostly in the girl’s mind, with short interactions with her mother and stepfather — and eventually the police. The peculiar logic of teenagers is perfectly captured, all the way to the disturbing, unsettled ending.

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** The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl

The Hermit‘s hero is a loner,  a Dane who fled some mysterious past to eke out a living as a taxi driver and piano tuner (really!) on one of the Canary Islands. He decides to investigate the suspicious death of a baby and unravels police corruption, too-cosy arrangements between money-hungry developers and the authorities, a family feud, and large-scale insurance cheating. Meanwhile corpses pile up.

The main character is satisfyingly unhinged and ruminating. The plot is certainly complex, so much so that it becomes almost absorb at the end. And I thought that the story just went on a little too long, that it lost some of its rhythm a hundred pages before the official end. But it’s certainly a different kind of mystery.

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*** The Dry by Jane Harper

In The Dry, an Australian federal agent is called back to his rural hometown to investigate a murder-suicide apparently committed by his childhood best friend. It turns out that his father and he were very literally run out of town years ago following another death and he is not welcome back. We follow his difficult investigation amongst hostile residents and thick secrets, while the earlier death is also revisited by him and the long-term residents, which means everyone except a handful of newcomers. It’s wonderfully grim and the long-term drought that is ruining the farmers adds to the gloom.

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*** The Mistletoe Murders by P.D. James

The Mistletoe Murder is the title story of a set of short mystery stories, all featuring a murderer who gets away with a crime, at least for a while. The stories show an abundance of small details and end up with the apparently least likely actor as the culprit, as in Agatha Christie novels. After reading them, I started wondering if the short story could be the ideal medium for mysteries.

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*** Cover Her Face by P.D. James

I thought Inspector Dalgliesh was awfully young in Cover Her Face, not realizing until I sat down to write this review that it was the very first Dalgliesh mystery in the series. And young Dalgliesh operates, logically, in a post-WWII atmosphere peopled with country squires, parlor maids, and falling apart once-grand homes that feel like an Agatha Christie mystery. It’s quite interesting to see a different-time setting.

The story is also Christie-like, with the least-suspected person ending up as the murderer (now, did I give it away?). More interestingly, the victim is herself rather devious, so the inquest is as much about her as it is about finding the killer. Old-fashionedly delightful.

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