Yes, The Other Mrs. is a page-turner. But do we really need another split personality trick to power a mystery? And even if you are not allergic to that, I found the story full of inconsistencies. What (apparently loving) mom would not know that there’s something wrong with her teenager? Or, for that matter, move in with another teenager without addressing obvious behavior issues? There’s quite a list of highly improbable actions like that.
I had doubts from the start: investigating a murder in which the main suspect has multiple personalities has got to create a pretty ridiculous story line. Add rival gang, more guns than I can imagine brought together, and a favorite PI of mine, and you get Hi Five, a disaster of a book. Read the earlier installments, they really are better!
Want to escape? How about another installment of Inspector Brunetti, who is moving in summer-hot-and-humid Venice this time, trying to solve a mysterious death reported by a now-dead woman. Trace Elements has plenty of time for jetting around the city in the police boat, partaking of coffee drinks appropriate to the time of day, and ragging on the hordes of tourists, along with some consideration for the fact that our friend Brunetti doesn’t like Agamemnon. As I said, a nice escapist read.
The Night Fire starts with a mysterious, never-solved murder that resurfaces after the detective who failed to solve it dies, decades later. It turns into an entire series of murders that another retired detective and his protegee, on the force, will tackle together. I felt it was perhaps a little too tight to be believed, but the intrigue is nicely contrived.
I’ve been reading this series in reverse order (see The Bird Boys) and the first book in it, The Do-Right, is as accomplished as the second. In it, the PI’s assistant just left prison and is trying to reconstruct a life on no money, an elusive job search, and a host of characters in a small town in the South. I very much enjoyed this portrait of a strong woman who needs to hide a bit to be accepted.
Killing Orders untangles a complicated story where the Catholic Church and the mob unite to circulate counterfeit stock certificates (I did not know such paper records still existed!). The detective’s aunt is involved and won’t help. It’s fast-paced and violent and enjoyable.
The Bird Boys is a delightful. slow-moving mystery that unfolds leisurely, in the 1970s so minus all the high-tech paraphernalia of today, when a PI and his assistant are asked to locate a missing brother (and a husband who’s up to no good, and a store thief, to liven things up). The story is just as much about the PI and the assistant as it is about the missing brother, with plenty of flashbacks and memories from all directions.
A Bitter Feast opens in a dreamy Cotswolds mansion for a comfortable weekend featuring a gourmet lunch prepared by the local pub owner, whose Michelin-starred pedigree makes for much more ambitious fare that can be expected in a standard pub. But deaths accumulate in the small village and soon it’s clear that the chef’s past has literally come back to haunt her, and the guests have to shift to their usual detective work. I particularly enjoyed two delightful portraits of a teenager and a chid that find a bond.
The Legal Limit stars two brothers raised by a brutal father. One has lapsed into drug dealing and the occasional killing; the other is a judge, vaulted into middle-class respectability but with a streak of wildness, well hidden. The drug-dealer brother’s eagerness to escape a long prison sentence he mostly brought on himself leads him to threaten his brother in ways that place his whole life in danger. The story takes us over the course of many years, and the reader may have been better served by an abrupt switch from the distant, secret past to the present, but it’s an engrossing story with complex characters and plenty of gray areas.
A Better Man takes us to Montreal, Quebec, where spring flooding may overwhelm the province, political intrigue swirls in the homicide department, and a man seems to have killed his pregnant wife, although no body has been recovered. The hero needs to solve the murder, get used to work for his son-in-law, and, as a side project, dynamite some ice dams so the province does not go entirely under water. It’s a bit too much, even if the intrigue is very twisted and the interactions between characters finely observed and rendered. It’s exciting but I found it best not to think too hard about the plot.