Category Archives: mysteries

The Lying Game

shopping-1   Ruth Ware is back with another quiet and tense thriller – The Lying Game.  With an eerie Gothic setting, human bones found near a boarding school, and a group of schoolgirls who made lying an art, Ware creates a murder mystery with enough red herrings and sudden reveals to keep the reader wondering about the girls’ secret. In a clever twist of plot, the crime seems to be revealed early in the book, but the wary reader will be justified to hold back judgment.  Everyone is lying after all – even the author.  Not as riveting as Dark Dark Wood or The Woman in Cabin 10, but The Lying Game has Ware’s steady hand as she mystifies and teases; the ending is almost an afterthought as the secrets unravel; a great book to read on a dark and stormy night.

Review of Other Ruth Ware Mysteries:

 

Summer Mysteries

Magpie Murders
9780062645241_p0_v6_s192x300   The housekeeper trips on the vacuum cleaner cord and falls down the steps to her death; within days her employer’s head is chopped off with a sword, and suspects are everywhere.  Almost every character has the motivation to kill the victims in Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders.

Book editor, Susan Ryeland introduces the story with a delicious warning, promising more than the next best seller by one of her popular writers, Alan Conway.  In a clever mystery within a mystery, Horowitz channels Agatha Christie in a crime story with more than red herrings and formulaic clues.  Pay attention when you read or you will miss something.

After the editor’s short preface, the character in her author’s book, Atticus Pund, decides to solve one last crime in the three months the doctor has given him to live.  With his trusty assistant, Fowler, he leads the investigation of the English manor house murders.

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, you know, however complicated the plot and no matter how many characters you cannot remember, she will save you in the last chapter with her wrap-up and reveal not only the murderer but also the cause and effect.  But, what if the last chapters were missing?

After following the suspects and Pund’s finally declaring he knows who did it, the story suddenly stops and Horowitz drags the reader reluctantly back to the opening scene of the editor reading a book soon to be published.  Not having the last chapter, she begins to summarize the action and decipher the clues to uncover the ending in pages she hopes will be on her desk when she returns to her office.  Happily, just like Christie, she neatly recalls all those meaningful incidents the reader has forgotten.

The story now shifts and gains momentum as the book editor becomes the detective, not only looking for those lost chapters but also possibly looking for the murderer of her author.  As she questions each suspect, she uncovers his idiosyncratic humor placed within each of his mystery books, and the hidden clues about people he knew,  creating characters based on those he would mock.  Horowitz sprinkles the narrative with references to real authors the reader will recognize.

Although I usually hurry through the last pages, wanting the solution – and I did peek at the cryptic last line on the last page (“I had been the detective and now I was the murderer”) – I slowed down for the last hundred pages, reluctant for the story to end.  When it does…each of the murders is solved, and I never suspected whodunit.

Horowitz is a new author for me, and when I researched his background I found not only is he the author of the teen spy series featuring Alex Rider but  was also commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate  to write two new Sherlock Holmes novel, and commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate to write the James Bond novel Trigger Mortis.  In Magpie Murders, Horowitz references Sophie Hannah’s authorized reboot of Agatha Christie in The Monogram Murders.  

In an interview with the New York Times, Horowitz said he has already finished his next adult murder mystery, in which he has written himself into the plot. “Of course, I’m the one who is constantly fooled,” he said. He added, “A book does magic without saying, “Pick a card.” A whodunit is, at its best, a huge magic trick that says, “I’m going to tell you a story.”

I can’t wait to read it.

 

Earthly Remains: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

9780802126474_p0_v2_s192x300  Guido Brunetti is the kind of police commissario you would want in your corner.  He is civilized and soft-spoken, reads the classics every night, loves his university professor wife and precocious children.  Guido is an honorable man amidst the corruption.  As a fan of Leon’s series, I enjoy her descriptions of the rhythms of life in Venice and Guido’s family as much as the solving of the crime.

In this twenty-sixth book in the series, Commissario Brunetti needs a break.  After faking a heart attack to save his colleague from attacking a nefarious criminal, Brunetti is sent to the emergency room, and the doctor readily prescribes him two weeks of rest, away from the bureaucracy and crime of Venice.  Conveniently, his wife’s wealthy family owns an isolated villa on a nearby island with a stocked library for the erudite detective (Leon provides titles) and the promise of exercise rowing the deserted canals surrounding it.

Brunetti passes his days with the caretaker of the estate, Davide Casati, an old friend of his father, rowing into the laguna and checking on Casati’s beehives, until the death of bees and a sudden storm shatters his idyll.

Casati is found dead, and Brunetti finds himself back in investigator mode.  As he researches the man’s death, Brunetti finds an insidious cover-up of toxic waste illegally dumped in the laguna, leading him to question whether Casati’s death was accident or murder.  Leon answers in the end, but not without a strong statement about pollution and its effect on the environment.

Related Reviews:   More Guido Brunetti Mysteries

 

 

 

The Miniaturist

37-Petronella-Oortmans-dolls-house-Rijksmuseum-Amsterdam_grande

Petronella Oortman’s dollhouse on display at the Rijksmuseum

Using a cabinet currently on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam built in the late 17th century to replicate Petronella Oortman’s luxurious townhouse in the center of the city, Jesse Burton creates a tale around a poor eighteen year old girl in an arranged marriage to a wealthy Dutch merchant in The Miniaturist.

As Nella struggles to find a place in her new opulent home, her husband, Johannes, leaves her alone, disappearing for days, never consummating the marriage, while her new unmarried sister-in-law bristles at the competition for control of the household.  To appease her loneliness, Johannes buys Nella a replica of their house – a large doll house – and instructs her to find a craftsman, a miniaturist,  to fill it with miniature furniture.

9780062306845_p0_v2_s192x300Suddenly, the Miniaturist takes control of the plot.  With eerie foreshadowing and obscure messages the Miniaturist predicts Nella’s life, sending her new pieces for her dollhouse before she requests them.  A sudden shocking revelation changes the momentum and story evolves into a cross between an Alfred Hitchcock mystery and Morgenstern’s Night Circus.

I enjoyed every bit, anticipating the next surprise – a betrayal, secret lovers, a baby – with a warehouse of sugar both sweetening and decaying the characters. To be immersed in the drama, you must suspend belief.  Burton paints an authentic picture of the old Dutchmen: the burgermeisters with their forbidding rules of the city, the power and wealth of merchants, and the strict Calvinist Minister dictates – all adding to the intrigue.

Review: The Night Circus

 

Idaho

9780812994049_p0_v4_s192x300   Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho is a shattering and thought-provoking story, centered on a complicated collection of characters, connected by a mother’s murder of her own child.  Reading to discover the motive brings no satisfaction; Ruskovich is more interested in the inner workings of each mind, not just the killer.  Learning of Rustovich’s O’Henry award prompted me to read Idaho, but no surprise ending here.  The story weaves in and out of lives, backtracking, going into the future, dwelling on the present.  At times, the circular pattern is hard to follow as each character is slowly revealed.

The cast of characters meander in and out of the story, with flashbacks to the central focus, the murder of six year old May and her older sister June’s running away from the scene – never to be found. Later in the story, artist’s renderings of June’s appearance as she might be at different ages adds to the strangeness.

Jennie pleads guilty to cutting off May’s head with a hatchet while May sang in the back seat of their truck.  She begs for a death sentence, but is sent away to prison for life.  There she meets Elizabeth, a younger woman who has murdered her boyfriend and the neighbor who witnessed it.  Jennie attends poetry classes and takes notes for Elizabeth, who has been banned from class for her attack against another inmate.

May’s father, Wade, has inherited his family’s penchant for early onset dementia – all males seem to succumb in their fifties.  Ann, a music teacher at the local school, gives Wade piano lessons – his effort to focus his mind to strengthen his oncoming memory loss.  Before too long, Ann offers to marry Wade to care for him as he declines.

Almost as an aside, Elliot, an older boy with one leg from a horrible accident at the school, has the attention of both Ann and June, who has a secret crush. Rustovich connects his life as a tangent to the main action – another lesson in life’s struggles.

Are you keeping up?  Amazingly, Rustovich intertwines the lives of all the characters, although not until the end does her clever weaving become apparent.  The murder may be the focus but it is not the point.  Jennie’s sudden act may have been a moment of anger, but more likely an unthinking inexplainable move of frustration in the moment.  The author never really worries about the horrible act; the murder just makes no sense.

“Whatever brought that hatchet down was not a thought or an intention. No, the hatchet caught on the inertia of a feeling already gone.”

As Ann continues to discover more about the murder before Wade loses all memory, her pursuit of the truth seems to be a race with his decline.  Ultimately, he loses all memory and she is left with only Jennie as her source of information.  In the end, Ann creates a new life for the now elderly Jennie, and when the two wives eventually meet, it is not as dramatic as expected.

Their lives go on, despite the horrors – as does all life.  Maybe that was the point the author wanted to make.  The book is difficult to read, but full of thoughtful diversions leading back to how people cope.

 

 

 

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

9780062562623_p0_v2_s192x300   Whether or not you believe in ghosts, Carol Goodman’s Gothic mystery – The Widow’s House – might challenge your peace of mind.  The psychological suspense thriller is set in the Hudson Valley of New York with an unreliable narrator defying a host of chilling affronts.

When Claire and Jess Martin decide to move from their Brooklyn apartment to upstate New York near the farm where Claire grew up, they find the only affordable accommodations are as caretakers to an old crumbling mansion named Riven House belonging to their former college professor, also a writer.  Jess, having published his first book soon after graduating from college, has spent years looking for inspiration for his second, while Claire, an aspiring writer herself, abandoned her dreams to write to work as a copy editor to support them both.  When the money from Jess’s advance finally runs out, the Martins—now in their mid-thirties—are forced to move back upstate.

The house is clearly the Gothic replica of Thornfield Hall from Jane Eyre but soon takes on the characteristics of the Hitchcock setting in Gaslight or Shirley Jackson’s Hill House;  its history includes a series of tragedies and is thought haunted by the locals.  As Claire researches the house’s former occupants for her own novel, she is soon terrorized by their ghosts.

Goodman cleverly inserts doubt about Claire’s mental health, perhaps confirming the reader’s unwillingness to believe in the paranormal phenomenon appearing in the mist. Claire’s sanity is placed in question by revealing her nervous breakdown earlier, and her tendency to edit her own life, remaking it to something better and overlooking her traumas and losses of the past.  As people begin to die at Riven House,  Clare’s grip on reality becomes suspect, and the reader has to decide who to believe.

Like her other Gothic mystery romances, Goodman’s The Widow’s House combines  supernatural possibilities with the reality of human cruelty and misery.  In the end, you aren’t quite sure what the truth is, although Goodman provides a sane possibility. The captivating tale will haunt you and you will love every moment.

I am a fan of Goodman, having read all her novels from The Lake of Dead Languages to River Road.  As a bonus, Goodman offered a list of books that have inspired her in her notes at the end of the book.  You might look for one when you are in the mood for another chilling mystery.

Goodman’s List of Favorite Haunted House Stories:

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
  • The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Reviews of Other Carol Goodman Books: