mystery


A stand-alone mystery book in the popular YA series.

Publication year: 1989
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 150

This was a nostalgic read. When I was quite young, I read a lot of mysteries aimed at young readers, such as Nancy Drew and Hardy boys along with some series translated from Swedish such as the Detective Twins. But I always read them in translation. So, this is actually the first Nancy Drew book I read in English. This turned out to be part of the Nancy Drew files series aimed at slightly older readers. It’s supposed have romance, as well, but (happily) not in this book. I think the Finnish translations are from the other series.

Jesse Slade is a rock star who vanished three years ago. Paula’s best friend Bess is still a huge fan and when his final concert is shown on tv, she invites Nancy and George to watch it, too. Nancy see something startling: a body falling off a cliff on the background. Bess manages to get them invited to Los Angeles with the cable music TV station, TVR, which aired that last concert. Nancy persuades the manager to let her investigate Slade’s disappearance. The manager only agrees if Nancy goes undercover. She agrees. However, when she starts work, the people at the station are mysteriously hostile towards her.

This is a rather convoluted mystery for such a short book. Nancy and her friends get to know a little bit of the rock TV station’s life.

Nancy is a good role model for girls: eager for adventure and to see justice and goodness to win, happy to help people but she and her adventures don’t question the the American culture they’re set in. Her father is also clearly quite wealthy. Bess and George are her loyal friends who are always with her. George is a tomboy while Bess loves make-up and clothes. We don’t get to know the side characters much.

No doubt this is an exciting adventure to the intended audience, especially those who are interested in (US) rock TV stations.

The last page of the book has a synopsis for Nancy’s next adventure.

Advertisements

The first book in an alternate reality noir mystery series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Red Dog Press
Page count: 243 at GoodReads

In an alternate USA, four big families rule the city of Bridges. The city has been divided into four quadrants, each ruled by one family, and it’s very difficult to move from one quadrant to the other. The families are Spadros, Clubb, Hart, and Diamond.

Jacqueline was born in a whore house to the madam. She was also a member of a kid gang. When she was twelve her best friend, Air, was shot and she still has nightmares about it. She grew up not knowing who her father was, until one day he appeared. He had made a deal with the Spadros. Jacq was to be the bride of the Spadros heir. Despite being a “Pot rag”, as the very poorest are called, she was trained to be a lady and married Tony Spadros. Except that Jacq loved someone else and never saw him again after she was promised to Spadros. Roy Spadros, the head of the family, is a ruthless, cruel man who delights in torture and beating his wife. But Tony is different. He’s still a man who has spent his whole life in luxury, wanting for nothing. But he’s usually not cruel, only when it serves a purpose. He orders men killed when that’s required but not tortured. And he loves Jacq. Jacq has learned to pretend love but has never forgotten her only love, Joe. She also knows that if something would happen to Tony, she would be thrown back to the streets. So, in secret from Tony she has her own business as an investigator. It doesn’t make much money but she saves what she can.

The story starts when a woman calls Jacq for help. The woman is Air’s mother. Her youngest son is missing and nearby is the mark of the Red Dog Gang. Jacq refuses to help at first but the case won’t leave her alone: she can’t allow the little boy to just vanish. When the little boy’s older brother is found strangled in another quadrant, Jacq knows that she must investigate. But she has troubles of her own: she must support Tony or someone could murder him. She must keep her investigations a secret from him because it would ruin their delicate relationship. She must also keep her investigations a secret from everyone else who could ruin her life.

Jacq has a lot of contacts around the Spadros area, some of whom know who she is and others don’t. She uses a lot of disguises and lies. The story has a lot of characters, as well. Jacq herself is a tough and determined woman but she’s in a very vulnerable position and she also has hard time letting of the past, her childhood friend’s death and her first love. So, she’s also a vulnerable character.

The story is told from Jacq’s first person POV. Since she was born poor and then rose to the elite (although unwillingly) she has a different perspective than many of the other wealthy people. The story touches on the disenfranchisement of the poor, class struggles, and women’s rights, which are, sadly, still ongoing issues today.

The start of the story dropped us readers right in the middle of the story. Explanations came later mostly through Jacq’s thoughts. For the most part, this worked well and I enjoyed the story. Jacq is a very interesting character and her dilemma drew me in. The book is labeled as steampunk but there are very few steampunk elements in the story.

At the end, the current case is resolved (kind of) but the larger mysteries remain. We also get a timeline of this alternate history and a list of characters at the end.

The 17th book in the Amelia Peabody historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: print
Publisher: HarperCollins
Page count: 350

I’ve been reading the Peabody mysteries for a long time. Even though it’s been a few years since I read the previous book (Children of the Storm), reading this book was still like coming back to old friends. The cast is huge and so a new reader might be a bit lost among them. I recommend starting the series with the first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

Amelia and her family are archeologists and amateur sleuths. While they work on excavations around Egypt, mysteries abound. “Another year, another dead body”, and “Another pair of trousers ruined” come true in this book as well. 😉 The first books are written in Amelia’s first person point-of-view. However, this book is again written in a style which started a few books ago: divided between Amelia’s very personal first-person memoirs and document H which Ramses has written in third person POV and very impersonal style.

The wonderful thing about following this long series is to see the characters grow and change. For example, Amelia’s son Ramses has grown up and is now dealing with his own precocious twins. But at the same time, Amelia and Emerson are growing old. Reading about Amelia dying the grey out of her hair in secret was a surprisingly moving touch.

It’s 1922 and Amelia, her husband Emerson, their child Ramses, his wife Nefret and the various other people in the Emerson clan are excavating in Deir el Media. However, Emerson isn’t happy about that.

Mrs. Pentheric arrives to their house and claims that an Egyptian object is cursed and is responsible for her husband’s death. The object in question is an exquisite solid gold statuette in a very good condition. Emerson is convinced that it’s a great historical find which has been robbed from a tomb. Mrs. Pentheric wants Emerson to keep it and to get rid of the curse. Emerson agrees, but only so that he can find out where it came from and then return it to its rightful owner.

Mrs. Pentheric turns out to be quite a famous author of lurid romances and she milks the story all it’s worth. Thanks to her, reporters and tourists start to hound the Emerson residence. But then Mrs. Pentheric’s adult stepchildren try to take the statuette by force. Later, Mrs. Pentheric’s body is discovered and detective fever grips Amelia and her family.

In addition to the huge regular cast, the story has some new characters as well. Most of them aren’t really suspicious people, of course. However, Peters cheats by withholding pertinent info from the readers.

A solid entry to the series for us old fans.

A fantasy novella set in Bujold’s Five Gods universe. While it’s the newest in publication order, according to internal chorology, it’s the third. I recommend starting with the first novella “Penric’s Demon” to get the most out of the novella series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 4 hours and 29 minutes
Narrators: Grover Gardner

This story takes place about eight months after the events in “Penric and the Shaman” where Penric met some of the characters appearing in this story.

Learned Penric of the Bastard’s order is fishing with his friend who is a shaman when Locator Oswyl, this world’s equivalent to a detective, comes to get them. Someone has murdered a temple sorceress and he needs help from Penric to locate the demon which was living inside the sorceress. Much to his dismay, Penric can’t locate the demon and they come to the conclusion that someone, most likely the murderer, has stolen the demon.

This is essentially a murder mystery with some intrigue and sorcery added to it. While the temple sorceress is very much dead, her demon (an elemental spirit) which was inside her has mostly likely jumped to another person or animal. Wild demons are very dangerous so Penric must find the missing spirit. The story touches on life and death of humans and the spiritual beings who can be part of the them.

It’s a nice little story. I enjoyed the story and characters, as usual for Bujold. I’m particularly fond of Penric’s demon Desdemona and her interaction with Penric has, so far, always been delight.

A mystery book which has two intertwined timelines. One starts at 1972 and the other 1790.

Translator: Seppo Loponen
Publication year: 1988
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2010
Format: print
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Bazar
Page count: 667

This book has multiple POV characters and two distinct timelines. While it’s advertised as a thriller, I think it’s too slow to really call it that. The two timelines especially slow it down.

It has one first person POV who is Catherine Velis, a young computer expert who is working for a very influential company. But when she’s ordered to do something against her ethics and she refuses, she’s put into the company’s shit list. She isn’t fired but instead is sent to Alger which isn’t a welcoming place to a working woman in 1970s. But she has no choice. The book starts in the New Year and her friends want her to hear a prophecy from an old seeress. But the prophecy turns out to be strange and disturbing, a warning of danger. Some months later, Cat is getting ready to move to Alger for a year, but first she goes to a chess game between international masters. Strange things start to happen.

In 1790, two girls are novices in a nunnery where they’ve lived almost their whole lives. Valentine is an impulsive, passionate girl who finds it hard to stay in the confined life. Her cousin Mireille is a more calm and thoughtful girl. But the French revolution is sweeping across the country, even to the remote nunnery of Mountglane and the abbess is sending her nuns away before the state can confiscate the nunnery’s possessions. The nunnery holds a great secret: for hundreds of years the abbesses’ have guarded the pieces and board of a magical chess game. Now, the abbess knows that her enemies want the pieces and the only way to safeguard them is to give some of the nuns a piece and send them away.

The abbess chooses Valentine and Mireille as lynchpins who can help the others when needed. So, the cousins are sent to Paris for a distant relative Jacques-Louis David, a famous painter. The girls are introduced to various people and the Parisian lifestyle. However, they don’t know whom they should trust. The abbess herself goes to Russia, to see her childhood friend who is now known as Catharine the Great.

The book has a lot of parallel storylines and in the historical section we’re introduced to a lot of famous people from the times of the French revolution. I liked that most of all.

Cat is a confident woman and it takes quite a while for her to even start believing in the magical chess board and its powers. The person who tags along to her journey is a rich chess master who is eager to solve the puzzles. She also has a small dog whom Cat doesn’t like. Both Cat and her friend are quite impulsive and do a couple of things which could have easily killed them. Mireille is a more thoughtful character but she, too, must make quick decisions because of events. She and Valentine are caught up in people and events in the French revolution and its aftermath.

Unfortunately, I felt that the book was too long. While the historical sections were actually more interesting to me than the present-day parts, I’m not sure if they really added much to the book. The story has some puzzles but not many.

Perhaps I had too high expectations. A blogger said that it was “the book DaVinci Code wants to be”. Yet, the only similarity is that there’s a historical mystery at the root of both books. It did have elements I quite enjoyed, like the evolving relationship between Cat and her friend, and pretty much all of the historical stuff.

Written by an anonymous Chinese author and translated by Gulick.

Publication year: 1976
Format: print
Publisher: Dover Publications
Page count: 223 + translator’s prescript and postscript

Apparently, this is a translation of the first part of an 18th century Chinese manuscript. It’s a detective story but more in line with Western detective fiction than in the usual Chinese tradition. It’s loosely based on a historical regional magistrate and set during the Tang dynasty. Gulick’s prescript describes how different usual Chinese mysteries were at least at the time. While it was fascinating to read about their features, they sound very different. However, I don’t know if I would actually enjoy reading one. In the postscript he gives out his reason not to translate the latter half (it’s apparently Judge Dee’s exploits at Court and not a detective novel at all) and what alterations he made to the translation.

In the story, Judge Dee, who is a regional magistrate known for his honesty, tackles three unrelated murder cases at the same time. He usually sends his trusted minions to do the legwork of questioning or snooping around. However, occasionally he must do some questioning himself, too, undercover, of course. But mostly he deducts and questions people.

The first case is a double murder: two traveling merchants are found dead on the street. The local warden accuses a local hostel owner, Koong, of the murders because the merchants had stayed in his hostel. However, after talking with Koong, Judge Dee realizes that Koong isn’t a murderer and starts to look for another suspect. The second case the judge finds on his own: while he’s undercover looking for clues to the first case, he stumbles upon a household of two widows: one is the widowed mother to a son who died a year ago under circumstances that the judge thinks are suspicious. The son’s widow is a recluse who refuses to meet anyone and this apparently further proof of a misdeed. In the third case, a bride has seemly been poisoned during her wedding night.

Most of the time, Judge Dee calls people to his court and questions them there, under torture, if necessary. The Chinese legal system was quite different from Western ones. There are no lawyers. The judge can call witnesses if he wants. However, if the judge puts an innocent man (a woman) to death, he can be beheaded, as well. He’s also under scrutiny from the people around him. All courtly matters are public so there’s usually a large crowd of people watching everything he does, such as the questioning or examining bodies. Also, without actual forensics, Judge Dee has to rely on his wits and judge of character when questioning people.

This was a very interesting read and a fascinating glimpse into the (probably at least somewhat fictionalized) workings of ancient China and its legal system. The characters come from many different social classes, from high officials to humble workers and even outlaws. Judge Dee is feared by most of the people he questions but he’s also respected. He can, and does, torture people but thinks that he has good cause to do so.

Unlike in Western books usually, the three mysteries aren’t related to each other, except that they’re brought to Judge Dee’s attention before he can solve the first one. They’re pretty hard to crack. Some of the cases have supernatural elements, such as the ghosts of dead people and dreams which the judge can use as actual evidence. The book has also some illustrations. Three of them have been made by von Gulick and the rest are apparently ancient woodcuts.

The writing style is pretty straight-forward and easy to read. The chapters are short and point-of-view is omniscient.

Van Gulick wrote more than a few Judge Dee mysteries himself, too. I haven’t read them but now I’m wondering if they’re any good.

A collection of ten British crime stories set during Christmas.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Publisher: Profile Books
Page count: 278

These are all cozy crime stories and four of them actually don’t have a murder which was a nice change. They’re almost all historical short stories.

‘The Necklace of Pearls’ by Dorothy L. Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the guests invited to spend Christmas with a very rich, and not very nice, man and a collection of other guests. When the host’s daughter’s pearl necklace goes missing, Lord Peter is asked to look for it.

‘The Name on the Window’ by Edmund Crispin: this is a clocked room mystery or rather a pavilion which is surrounded by newly fallen snow and no footprints. Yet, a man was murdered in it.

‘A Traditional Christmas’ by Val McDermid: The narrator goes to her wife’s family for Christmas. Everyone is accepting of them even though they have a very traditional English upper-class Christmas. At least, until someone ends up dead.

‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ by Arthur Conan Doyle: a stolen jewel is unexpectedly found in a Christmas goose. Holmes and Watson go on a goose chase. (yes, I had to write that in honor of the silliness of the story 😊)

‘The Invisible Man’ by G.K. Chesterton: A Father Brown mystery where a ghost seems to be haunting a couple of people.

‘Cinders’ by Ian Rankin: In a Cinderella play, the Fairy Godmother’s actress has been murdered and Rebus and the other detectives have their hands full questioning the theatre troupe.

‘Death on the Air’ by Ngaio Marsh: A very nasty man is found dead. At first it seems like he was electrocuted through a radio but that might not be the case.

‘Persons or Things Unknown’ by Carter Dickson: A group of people has gathered to celebrate Christmas and their host tells them a mysterious tale from the house’s history.

‘The Case is Altered’ by Margery Allingham’: yet another tale where a rich couple has gathered a group of people in their house for Christmas when mysterious things start to happen.

‘The Price of Light’ by Ellis Peters: An older rich, and nasty, man is feeling his mortality and tries to find a way to pave his soul’s way to heaven. As long as it doesn’t cost too much and makes sure that he is remembered. He’s giving exquisite candlesticks to the abbey. But then, the candlesticks are stolen and Brother Cadfael makes his own investigation.

I enjoyed most of these stories. I haven’t read Rankin before and I ended up enjoying his story so much that I might read his other works this year.

Despite their shortness, most of the stories have a twist or two and kept this reader, at least, guessing.

Next Page »