The first book in a contemporary mystery series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours, 40 minutes
Narrator: Karen Commins

Caroline Slade is a county manager for the Departement of Agriculture in South Caroline. She’s a by-the book civil servant who is strongly considering a divorce from her verbally abusive husband Allen. The only reason they’re still married are their school-age children, Ivy and Zack. Also, her immediate boss had killed himself just a couple of days later and Slade (don’t call her Caroline) takes over for him.

But then a local hog farmer, Jesse Rawlings, offers her a bribe about abandoned ranch. Slade rejects it, of course, wonders if she should report it like the law says. In the end she does report it – which leads her into a world of trouble. She’s known Jesse her whole life, but he turns out to be quite an unpleasant man, threatening her and her family. He even sexually assaults her pretty early in the book and Slade doesn’t report him, thinking of her own reputation.

When FBI Agent Wayne Largo and his younger partner Eddie comes to investigate the case, Slade’s life becomes even more complicated when they want to keep the investigation secret from her co-workers. And the complication just mount up when she becomes attracted to Largo.

This was a good mystery with interesting characters. Almost every character has secrets of their own. The plot isn’t too fast but the tension keeps growing steadily.

Slade is a determined woman and dedicated to her work and family. She always wants what’s the best for her kids and protects them with a gun if necessary. She’s smart and independent at work but stayed married to an abuser for many years (which, sadly, isn’t unrealistic) and didn’t realize some things about people close to her. Her best friend is in the same line of work but lives in a different city. She’s the first person narrator.

However, the book wasn’t perfect. Many of the minor characters are depicted as corrupt or simply malicious under a (somewhat) nice exterior. A bit too cynical view for my tastes. I also didn’t care for the sexual threats Slade is almost constantly subjected to. Otherwise, this was a good read.

A couple of plot threads are left open. I suspect they’ll be followed up in the next book.


A new Phryne Fisher mystery.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 22 minutes
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel

Orchestral director Hugh Tregennis has been murdered, with a stack of musical notes stuffed down his throat. Inspector Jack Robinson is looking for Phryne’s help because the policeman knows nothing about singers. Phryne agrees to help. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Tregennis was universally hated and nearly anyone in the choir could have killed him. Phryne promptly joins the choir and goes undercover.

Phryne has also some more personal troubles. Mathematician Rupert Sheffield is giving a lecture about the art of deduction and out of sheer curiosity Phryne attends. Rupert turns out to be very handsome but very rude and downright insufferably arrogant. But Phryne’s dear friend John Wilson is Rupert’s aide and head over heels in love with him. Rupert doesn’t seem to even notice poor John’s devotion and Phryne decides to educate Rupert.

This one somewhat rewrites Phyrne’s experiences as an ambulance driver in WWI. In a previous book (Murder in Montparnasse), we’re told about Phryne’s first love, after WWI. But apparently, Phryne had a fling with John Wilson just before her first love who was a famous Parisian painter. John was a young doctor who did his best to keep his patients alive. While he’s mostly gay, during the war both he and Phryne hook up, just to feel alive in the middle of death. They parted on good terms and quickly fall into bed together.

This was another somewhat unlikely story, but very entertaining. The familiar cast is back and the new characters are good, too. Most of Phryne’s time is spent in the choir, practicing along with the others. Some of the choir members are large personalities and very entertaining.

The sixth book in the historical mystery Smokey Dalton series set in Chicago 1969.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 20 minutes
Narrator: Mirron Willis

It’s autumn in Chicago in 1969 and Smokey is investigating houses which are owned by his girlfriend Laura Hathaway. One of the houses became empty recently because the manager died inside the building and Smokey is investigating the house’s condition. He’s somewhat prepared for the smell of death which seems to be everyone in the house but then he finds a secret door in the basement and behind it skeletons. Human skeletons. He talks is over with Laura and they decide to keep quiet about them because the building previous owner was Laura’s father so the discovery could be used against her. As a woman who leads a large company, her position is precarious.

So, they decide to document everything in case they can bring the matter to police. Smokey interviews and chooses to men to help him: a nationally known forensics specialist and a local mortician. However, they don’t know Smokey or his fugitive past, so he must be careful around. Also, they must be care while working in the building so that the neighbors don’t suspect anything.

Meanwhile, the trial of so-called Chicago 8 (later 7) has started. They’ve been charged with conspiracy and starting a riot. Seven of them are white men and one black. Racial tensions are heating up, again. There are more police and FBI agents in the city and Smokey must be more careful than ever.

Smokey and his team find more bodies so he has to investigate the past and finds a horrifying history of police brutality against black people.

The story tries to handle both 1969 and 1916. For me, both histories were fascinating, if horrifying at the same time because much of it is true. 1916 was at the beginning of prohibition and the various crimes surrounding it. However, they don’t have much relevance to Smokey’s case so some people might dislike that portion of the story.

The book has several grisly scenes and the tone is very grim. Smokey’s adopted son Jimmy feels almost like a distraction from his work and relationship with Laura. We don’t have much time to revisit other old friends.

Personally, I liked the book a lot but it’s not the best of the series.

The third book in the Vicky Bliss mystery series. This time John Smythe lures Vicky to Stockholm looking for Nordic treasure.

Publication year: 1983
Format: print
Page count: 296
Publisher: Avon Books

Three years after the end of the previous book Vicky gets an anonymous note which can only be from John. It contains one rose, a one-way ticket to Stockholm, a reservation for a night in a cheap hotel, and a cryptic note: Wielandia Fabrica. Vicky wants to get away from the miserable rain in Munich, so she travels to Sweden. Her boss grumbles, mainly because he wants her to continue the erotica book she’s writing, but lets her go. There, she feels right at home: she’s always felt out of place everywhere because she’s tall, blond, and beautiful. In Sweden, she’s surrounded by other tall and blond people.

However, one tall and blond man, Leif, acts very suspiciously even though Vicky enjoys his company. John is quite elusive, using several amusing disguises and just tries to get Vicky to return home. Instead she accepts an invitation from a distant cousin Gus Johnson. He’s an elderly gentleman and appears to be in danger so Vicky wants to warn him. However, she’s not the only one who travels to Gus’s small island home.

This was a very entertaining book. I’m not sure if the plot made any sense but it moved fast and was a lot of fun. Most the characters are new and they were entertaining, too. We also got to know stuff about Sweden’s history and art, which was great.

The second book in the Vicky Bliss mystery series.

Publication year: 1978
Format: print
Page count: 357+ an excerpt of He Shall Thunder in the Sky
Publisher: Avon Books

Vicky Bliss works for Professor Schmidt at the Munich National Museum. He also adores her. Schmidt comes across a forgery which even he can’t prove isn’t the real deal, except that the original Charlemagne talisman is part of the Museum’s collection. Vicky realizes she can do two things at once: she convinces her boss easily that she can look into a possible forgery ring and get a paid vacation while doing it. The replica was found in a dead man’s pocket and the police can’t find any information about him. However, the corpse had also a small strange slip of paper which Vicky thinks means the Street of Five Moons, in Rome.

So she heads to Rome. She thinks she’ll do a little investigating and just enjoy her new expense account the rest of the time. However, her hunch turns out to be correct and soon she’s trying to figure out who is the master criminal behind everything.

This was a fun and fast read. Vicky is a delightful first person narrator, even though she isn’t as clever as she likes to think. She has a doctorate in medieval art and the book is filled with references to art. I really enjoyed that. Rome was also a great setting!

The secondary characters are all new. Fairly quickly Vicky wraps the eccentric Count Caravaggio around her little finger and gets invited to his palace, so we get to know his plump and pretty mistress, aged mother, and gorgeous son who likes to paint but don’t have the talent. Vicky suspects them all at one point or another. Also, the count has a secretary, the charming and frustrating Sir John Smythe whom Vicky suspects most of all. The whole cast is fun and I quite enjoyed Smythe’s and Vicky’s snarky exchanges.

The plot is fast-paced. Vicky is clearly narrating this at some point later because a few times she points out “if only I’d known then what I know now”. They didn’t bother me, though. I’m a fan of Peters’ Amelia Peabody series and I think she uses a similar style there.

Collects CSI: Crime Investigation – Serial issues 1-5.

Writer: Max Allan Collins
Artist: Gabriel Rodriquez, Ashely Wood
Forensic Research, Plot Assist: Matthew V. Clemens
Publisher: Titan Books
Publishing year: 2004

This is a comics miniseries based on the original CSI TV-show. It uses most of the same techniques as the show and has the same characters: Gil Grissom, Catherine Willows, Nick Stoakes, Sara Sidle, Warrick Brown, and Captain Brass. Set in Las Vegas, the comic starts with philosophical musing about Vegas. Like in the show, the comic has two plots.

In the primary plot, someone is killing prostitutes and on the second grisly crime scene Gil realizes that the killer is imitating Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately, there’s a Ripper convention going on, so there’s no shortage of suspects. In the second plot, a young woman’s body is found in a dumpster behind the Majestic casino. Sara and Warren investigate that.

The comic focuses on the cases and the characters get no real chance to shine. The most humor is found on the scenes where Warrick and Sara have to go through garbage and compare the killers to human garbage. The Ripper con could have given a chance to interview several suspects but that’s not used. The con is mostly an excuse to show cleavage shots.

The art is ok. The murder flashbacks are painted in a different and startling style from the rest. The collection has also interviews from three actors on the show.

An ok read aimed, of course, for the fans.

I read the Finnish translation Libri di Lucan arvoitus (The mystery of Libri di Luca). It’s a standalone Danish mystery with supernatural elements: some people have magical powers which are used through reading out loud!

Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2005
Translator: Katriina Huttunen
Format: print
Page count: 439
Publisher of the Finnish translation: WSOY

Jon Campbelli is a very successful defense lawyer in Copenhagen. His father Luca owns a second hand bookstore, Libri di Luca, but they haven’t spoken in years because after Jon’s mother died Luca gave the boy up for adoption. The book starts when Luca dies seemingly of a heart attack and Jon’s life turns upside down. At first, Jon doesn’t want anything to do with the store but he comes to the store anyway. It turns out that the store is a beloved place for a lot of people and they’re afraid the Jon will sell it. Among the people Jon meets is Katherina, a young woman who has sever dyslexia because of car accident, Iversen who helped Luca run the store for many years and whom Jon remembers from his childhood, and a hostile young man called Pew who is also part of the regular bookstore crowd. But soon Jon finds out that his father has been part of a secret organization of readers. People, who have essentially magical powers which manifest through reading.

Meanwhile, Jon’s employer hands him a difficult case: Remer is a powerful businessman whom the police have been investigating for years. However, Remer is difficult to deal with and difficult to even meet. Also, when Jon finally meets him, Remer seems to be more interested in Libri di Luca’s fate than in his own upcoming trial.

This book has a very interesting magic system (it’s the only supernatural element). There are two kinds of magic users, transmitters and receivers, who can influence people when they’re reading and how they perceive the text. The groups are suspicious of each other and generally don’t get along. However, people in both groups liked Luca. The magical reading was fascinating and I would have liked to see more examples of it.

Jon becomes very quickly interested in the magic for someone who is supposedly only interested in his job and who hates fiction (because he’s angry at his father for abandoning him). To me, Katherina was the more complex character; after her accident, her powers had bloomed quickly and she didn’t know what was going on. For a while she thought she was going crazy, hearing voices in her mind (actually people who were reading nearby) until Luca found her and told her what was going on. Apparently, some Lectors do end up insane or drunk, trying to drown out the voices. Before meeting Luca, she learned to keep quiet about the voices and at the start of the book she’s a very quiet person.

Apparently, the book is labeled as a thriller but I think it works much better as a mystery, because there aren’t many chase scenes or running around.

I enjoyed the magic system and the book is a light and quick read.

Next Page »