RIP Ruth Rendell, Mystery Author


Ruth Rendell, author of the popular Inspector Wexford mystery series, has passed away at age 85. Rendell wrote more than 60 novels in her 50-year writing career, publishing mysteries under the name Ruth Rendell as well as under a pen name, Barbara Vine. Some of her mysteries were also adapted into TV series in Britain.

In Rendell's New York Times obituary, it is noted that the author was among a small group of writers who elevated the formulaic mystery genre to new heights by introducing creative storytelling methods, characters on the fringes of society, and unusual perspectives. Her final book, Dark Corners is slated for publication in October.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #527 - Spotlight on Canadian Debuts

These 3 noteoworthy debuts share more than geography. Two are mysteries/police procedurals; two have strong historical significance; and all are inspired by real persons and/or events.

Asylum by Jeannette De Beauvoir is set in Montreal where Martine LeDuc is the director of PR for the mayor's office. Four women are found brutally murdered and shockingly posed on park benches throughout the city. Fearing a threat to tourism, the Mayor tasked Martine to act as liaison with the police department. She is paired with a young detective, Julian Fletcher. Together they dig deep into the city's and the country's past, only to uncover a link between the four women: all were involved with the decades-old Duplessis orphanage scandal. "A complex and heartbreaking mystery."

"Meticulously researched and resounding with the force of myth" The Thunder of Giants by Toronto playwright Joel Fishbane, "blends fact and fiction in a sweeping narrative that spans nearly a hundred years. Against the backdrop of epic events, two extraordinary women become reluctant celebrities in the hopes of surviving a world too small to contain them."

In 1937, at nearly eight feet tall, Andorra Kelsey, known in Detroit as the Giant of Elsa Street, is looking for a way to escape when a Hollywood movie scout offers her the role of Anna Swan (here is the link to the Canadian Anna Swan digital archive), the celebrated Nova Scotia giantess who toured with P.T. Barnum's "Human Marvels" traveling show.

Told in parallel, while Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan (born 1846) becomes a famed attraction as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Both women struggle to prove to the world that they are more than the sum of their measurements. "A genial, appealing celebration of two strong, independent women; recommended for fans of historical fiction." Especially for those who enjoyed The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker.

In The Unquiet Dead * * by Ausma Zehanat Khan, Detective Esa Khatta, head of Canada's new Community Policing Section specialized in handling minority-sensitive cases, is called in to investigate the death of wealthy businessman Christopher Drayton, found at the bottom of a bluff near his home in Lake Ontario. As Esa and his partner Detective Rachel Getty dig into the background of Drayton, it is evident that this upstanding Canadian citizen is in truth, a Bosnian war criminal - Lieutenant Colonel Drazen Krstic, with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 where thousands of Muslim men, women and children were slaughtered. As Khattak and Getty interview imams and neighbors and sort out what justice really means, they are forced to navigate the lingering effects of a horrible conflict and their own broken lives.

"In her spellbinding debut, Ausma Zehanat Khan (a former law professor with a specialty in Balkan war crimes) has written a complex and provocative story of loss, redemption, and the cost of justice..." "Readers of international crime fiction will be most drawn to the story, but anyone looking for an intensely memorable mystery should put this book at the top of their list."

* * = 2 starred reviews

Bruno, Chief of Police: Got Truffles?

Following the adventures of Bruno Courreges, the chief of police (in fact, the only police) in a small town of the Perigord in France, is a tour de force of excitement and pleasure. Well-conceived mysteries, comtemporary and edgy, are balanced with Bruno’s propensity for gardening, cooking, training his bassett hound puppy and riding his horse around the countryside. He is a friend and mentor to his whole village, protecting the farmers and market growers from egregious and invasive regulations, coaching the kids' tennis and rugby teams and upholding a strong, but individual, sense of rightness about surviving the vagaries of modern life and the bureaucrats of the EU. A nice juxtaposition here of domesticity, small-village life in modern France and the inevitable murder and mayhem.

Bruno has his own website and, rumor has it, a cookbook coming soon, but start with these recipes. He has become a larger-than-life character whose exploits and lifestyle provide an enviable counterpoint to, well, everyday life. I recommend you start with Bruno, Chief of Police and proceed in order through the eight (so far) books!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #526

Lady Montfort's (Clementine Elizabeth Talbot) annual summer ball is the highlight of the season, not just for the household but for the county, and all their London friends. With the millions of details to be seen to, her ladyship relies heavily on her capable and resourceful housekeeper Edith Jackson, a handsome woman in her early thirties. The 1912 ball went off without a hitch. Even the weather was perfect to show off the Montfort's new sunken garden. Tragedy strikes in the early hours of the next morning when the gamekeeper finds a body, hanging in a gibbet that turns out to be that of Teddy Mallory, Lord Montford's dishonorable nephew, just expelled from Christ Church, Oxford.

When it was discovered that a new housemaid and one of their London guests also disappeared during the night, Scotland Yard gets involved. After unwittingly witnessed a violent confrontation between her son Harry, Lord Haversham and Teddy in the early evening, Lady Montfort fears that the official police inquiry is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect. Taking matters into her own hands, the countess enlists the help of Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case.

In Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman "an enchanting debut, author Tessa Arlen (incorporates) exquisite period detail into her well-mannered mystery, offers readers an engaging peek into the lives of upper and lower classes of early 1900s England combined with a little history interspersed." For those who enjoyed English country house mysteries like Gosford Park and Kate Morton's The House at Riverton.

If the elegant estate on the jacket cover brings to mind another establishment depicted in a long-running Masterpiece Theatre TV series, it's intentional. In fact, Tessa Arlen will participate in a panel discussion entitled Downton Malice: British Historical Period Mysteries at the Malice Domestic convention in Bethesda, Maryland, Sunday, May 3, 2015.

Historical mystery fans interested specifically in the Edwardian era may wish to check out the author's Redoubtable Edwardians blog, choke-full of fabulous information and readalikes.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #523

Publicity-shy UK debut author (we really don't know much about him) Mason Cross sets his electrifying thriller (and the first in a projected series) The Killing Season * * in the heartland of the USA.

2 weeks before his scheduled execution, convicted mass-murderer Caleb Wardell (nicknamed 'The Chicago Sniper') escaped in an ambush, during a late-night transfer on a rural road. It appeared that someone knew exactly where and when, and Wardell was not even the target.

Within hours, the FBI calls in Carter Blake to assist in a task force to find Wardell before the ensuing public hysteria once the news of the escape leaks out. Blake, a man with a specialized talents in finding those who don't want to be found, teams up with Elaine Banner, the Bureau's rising star who is privately juggling life as a newly-single mother. Racing against the clock and Bureau politics, they must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random, just for the thrill of it, and always a step ahead of them.

"Cross keeps the pace breakneck, the suspense high, and the body count higher. Wardell is a terrific villain: intelligent, disciplined, resourceful, and utterly twisted. Banner is a single parent stretched between her daughter and her career. Blake is an enigma, but readers can trust that Cross will fill in his backstory in future novels."

For Jack Reacher and John Rain fans.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #522 "I think all families are creepy in a way." ~ Diane Arbus

"(W)holly absorbing and emotionally rich", contributing editor of Vanity Fair Lili Anolik (Princeton, MFA Boston University) sets her debut Dark Rooms * * in an exclusive New England prep school.

Edgar Allan Poe once observed that "the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic of the world." Nica Baker is beautiful - a 16 year old homecoming queen, popular, secretive and utterly wild. She has been murdered - a single gunshot wound, found not far from home. The police was quick to close the case when another classmate from Chandler Academy (a private feeder school to the Ivies) committed suicide, leaving a note as confession, apparently unrequited love gone wrong. But Grace, Nica's older sister was not convinced.

Deferring her enrollment to Williams, Grace takes a job on campus and obsessively goes about trying to identify the real killer. As she starts to penetrate the myriad lies and secrets in this insular community, the picture that emerges is far from pretty - especially condemnable are the adults they have come to respect and trust. "However, the story line just scratches the surface of this insightful, complex novel, which is all about angst: broken relationships, class and social issues, the human psyche. "

"Compulsively readable, (it) combines the verbal dexterity of Marisha Pessl's Special Topic in Calamity Physics and the haunting atmospherics and hairpin plot twists of Megan Abbott's Dare Me." Readers who enjoyed Reconstructing Amelia and The Starboard Sea might find much to like here too.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fire & Ice Series

Michael Ridpath is an English author with a banking background who has written a few different series, including a financial series. His latest is the Fire & Ice series. With four novels so far, the mystery books are set in Iceland and follow a main detective named Magnus Jonson and his colleagues as they investigate crimes and murder in Reykjavík and beyond.

Magnus was born in Iceland, but due to family problems he moved to Boston with his father and brother at a young. After working homicides for the Boston Police Department, he moved back to Iceland to work as a homicide detective there. He immediately delves into cases, explores family history, Icelandic sagas, and the death of his father.

It’s a good readalike for Arnaldur Indriðason’s wonderful Reykjavík Murder Mystery series as well as Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s. Thora Gudmundsdóttir series.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #520

Plague Land * * by S.D. Sykes. Dispatched to a monastery at the age of seven, now at seventeen Oswald de Lacy assumes the title Lord of Somershill Manor when his father and two older brothers too, succumb to the Plague that has decimated the countryside. Left at home are his overbearing mother and his dangerous and unmarried sister Clemence.

In quick succession, local villagers Alison Starvecrow and her sister are found murdered, which the ambitious village priest blames on a band of demonic dog-headed man. It is now Oswald's responsibility to solve the crimes. But every step Oswald takes seems to lead him deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.

"Sykes adds an intricate and intriguing debut (the first of a planned series) to the ever-widening pool of medieval-era mysteries. Thrilling plot twists and layered characters abound in this rich tale of murder and mystery in 14th-century Kent."

Readers might enjoy watching the Brother Cadfael series, based on mysteries by Ellis Peters; and Hugh De Singleton series by Melvin R. Starr.

Sadly, this brings to mind The Siege Winter, a stand-alone by the late Ariana Franklin (and completed upon her death by her daughter Samantha Norman), whose award-winning series based on the character of Adelia Aguilar, a medieval woman forensic pathologist will be fondly remembered by historical mystery fans.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Award-Winning Mystery Author Allison Leotta Discusses Her Detroit-Based New Novel "A Good Killing"

Friday May 15, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event will be recorded

Allison Leotta is a former federal sex-crimes prosecutor who creates compelling and thrilling fiction based on her real-life experience. She served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington DC, where she handled sex crimes, domestic violence, and crimes against children.

In her latest novel, A Good Killing, Leotta turns her eye toward small-town secrets hidden in a big football program. Drawing inspiration from the Steubenville rape case and the Jerry Sandusky trial, this novel features a strong female protagonist, a gripping premise, and heart-wrenching suspense that will keep you hooked until the last page.

A graduate of Michigan State University and Harvard Law School Allison Leotta has provided legal commentary for outlets such as CNN, PBS, Reuters TV, and MSNBC. Other novels include Law of Attraction, Discretion, and Speak of the Devil. Allison also runs an award-winning blog called The Prime-Time Crime Review, where she reality-checks TV crime dramas.

This event is cosponsored by Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookstore.

New Sherlock Holmes Story Found in a Scottish Attic


A new Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle has recently surfaced after being stored away in an attic in Scotland for more than 50 years. This is the first new Holmes story by the character's creator since the last adventure was published 80 years ago.

The story, Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar, is in the public domain and can be read freely online. Conan Doyle wrote the story to be part of a booklet called Book o' the Brig created as part of the Scottish town of Selkirk's fundraising effort to build a new bridge in 1904. The booklet's owner, historian Walter Elliot, received the booklet by a friend over 50 years ago, and stored it in his attic.

It's unusual that cleaning out one's attic results in an international news story, but mystery fans everywhere are rejoicing at this new addition to the Holmes canon!

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