Tag Archives: British mystery

The Queen’s Accomplice

9780804178723_p0_v1_s192x300  Women with power may be a threat to some but Susan Elia MacNeal uses this timely theme in her latest Maggie Hope murder mystery – The Queen’s Accomplice.  With the same British flavor as her other five books in the series, MacNeal features the young British secret service agent with a flair for logic in the search for a Jack the Ripper clone who has been killing women agents.  Since first meeting Maggie Hope in MacNeal’s Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, I’ve enjoyed her feisty attitude and mathematical acumen.  Her forays into romance with fellow agents help too.

The Queen in this book is not the newly popular Victoria nor the young Elizabeth of the new Netflix series “The Crown,” but Elizabeth’s mother, who stood by her husband, King George, during the war.  Although she only has a minor role in the plot, MacNeal confirms the Queen’s influence and wartime support.   As a modern woman of the nineteen forties, Maggie Hope has many of the same issues as women today, and has the support of other women, including the Queen.

MacNeal cleverly connects Maggie’s service in the war to ongoing problems women face in their personal lives and in the workplace.  Although the book is a mystery with a killer to be found, the story offers confirmation of women’s rights in making their own decisions, and in being valuable for their contributions to society.

9780399593802   The book ends with a new adventure about to start, as Maggie waves goodbye to the Queen and boards a plane to Paris.  The Paris Spy will be published this summer – I can’t wait.

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I Let You Go

9781101987490_p0_v2_s192x300    A hit and run driver kills a five year old boy walking home with his mother on a rainy night; after the accident,  his mother disappears in Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go.  The story follows a police procedural formula with chapters alternating between the investigation and the distraught mother, until a surprising revelation at the end of Part I changes the narrative into a tense mystery thriller.

Without revealing too much to spoil the fun of the many surprises, let’s just say every time I thought I had solved the crime, Mackintosh changed direction, and the plot twists were shocking.

After the death of the boy, Jenna is distraught and shaken. She leaves everything behind, and decides to disappear to a remote seaside town in Wales where she slowly begins her life as an artist again, drawing messages in the sand and taking photographs of them from the top of the cliffs for tourists to buy.  A year later, the police reopen the investigation with a new lead to the killer, and at the same time begin looking for the boy’s mother. They find both in the first shift in the plot.

Part II backtracks to Jenna’s life as a student and her relationship with a controlling abusive lover, who interrupts the story with his own insane ramblings.  In alternate chapters, Ray Stevens, the police inspector who is pursuing the case with his sidekick Kate, an attractive junior officer, tries to juggle the investigation with his own problems at home with his teenage son and his wife, a former police officer.  The family drama is a good distraction, but the pursuit of the hit and run killer is the focus, and drives the suspense as Mackintosh throws in red herrings – even to the last page.

I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did – a great summer book to read fast and furiously – but probably not before going to bed.

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood

9781501112324_p0_v4_s192x300Ruth Ware expands on the spooky setting of her title in her first mystery thriller – In a Dark, Dark Wood.  A glass house with no curtains or phone service; a group of six forced together for a “hen” party, the British term for bachelorette bash before the wedding; a Ouija board spelling out murderer, a gun over the mantle – mix these with a self-possessed bride and the groom’s ex girlfriend – and you get revenge, murder, suspicion, surprise.

The story flips back and forth from the main character, Nora, recovering in a hospital bed, with a police guard outside her door, and flashbacks to the “hen” party events leading up to her current distress.  Her amnesia adds to the dilemma, and keeps the reader wondering who is telling the truth.  Nora herself is not sure what she has done, and a secret from the past she holds with the bridegroom threatens her resolve.

Ware cleverly throws in plausible red herrings and scary scenarios to keep the pages turning quickly.  If you enjoyed The Girl on the Train and Before I Go to Sleep, add In a Dark, Dark Wood to the books that will keep you awake at night.

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Her by Harriet Lane

9780316369879_p0_v1_s260x420Harriet Lane’s suspenseful thriller – Her – uses an unlikable revengeful protagonist to methodically stalk her unknowing prey.  The book is a page-turner: you will know early in the story who the victim, Emma, is and her past relationship to the sly Nina – but you will wonder exactly how far Nina will go to exact her revenge.  The ending will have you holding your breath.

As in her first book – Alys, Always – Lane focuses on the characters, slowly revealing the unlikely villain, until you are caught in the story and wanting to alert the poor target of the venom.  In Her, Nina recognizes an old foe and carefully calculates how to exact revenge for something that happened so long ago that Emma doesn’t even remember it.  Nina remains incognito as she slyly insinuates herself into Emma’s life – stealing her wallet and then pretending to have found it, luring her toddler into the woods and then alerting the police to his rescue.  The chapters alternate between Emma and Nina, each relating the same incident, but from a different perspective –  Nina, the stalker; Emma, the vulnerable target.

A great read – not only for the comparison of the lives of two forty-year olds – one who wears Prada, the other stumbling through parenting a toddler and a newborn – but also for the intense psychological thrills as the story quickly progresses to a climax.  Harriet Lane has mastered the art of the dangerous female protagonist; I can’t wait for her next one.

Related ReviewAlys, Always

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling

9780316206846_p0_v3_s260x420Would I have read Robert Galbraith’s detective mystery – The Cuckoo’s Calling – if I had not known J.K. Rowling was hiding behind the words? Probably not.  But having loyally followed her from Harry Potter to her less stellar adult book, Casual Vacancy, I curiously wanted to know what this prolific author would do with a mystery.

The storyline follows a familiar formula. The grizzled war hero detective, Comoran Strike, and his trusty secretary/assistant, beautiful and young Robin, are on the case of a murder that the police have closed as a suicide. The victim is a model with a past and a shady boyfriend.  As the duo fend off red herrings, other characters and the setting offer a distinctive British flavor.

Galbraith/Rowling reveals the clues through endless conversations between possible suspects and Strike.  The tough Colombo-like detective (he is missing a leg, not an eye) with a soft-spot for his bright adventure-seeking new secretary, solves the case about halfway through the book, from crucial but mysterious clues that only he can decipher. What was the significance of the drops of water on the stairs and the victim’s missing note, written on a blue slip of paper?  How did the search for a birth father change the victim’s life?

“The dead could only speak through the mouths of those left behind, and through the signs left they scattered behind them.”

The clues drop out fast, and you might want to use Strike’s note-taking method to keep them all straight.  If you enjoy solving a crime as you read, the author happily gives you all the pieces, and dutifully reveals all in an Agatha Christie wrap-up at the end.  The murderer is a surprise but you might figure it out.

In the book’s last lines, Rowling may be sending fans a message with Comoran’s quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses.”

I cannot rest from travel:  I will drink
Life to the lees; all times  have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those 
That loved me, and alone; on shore and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name…

Not as clever as Harry Potter’s magical escapades, but The Cuckoo’s Calling had enough to keep me reading to find out whodunit, and wonder if Rowling/Galbraith has created the beginnings of a detective series.  Comoran Strike and Robin make a good team.