Happy birthday, Lois Duncan!

Today marks the birthday of American novelist Lois Duncan.

Perhaps best known for her teen suspense and mystery fiction, Duncan has also held a more lighthearted pen in such works as the children's book Hotel for Dogs (perhaps better known for the screen adaptation) and a picture book called Songs of the Circus.

However, her teen novels were her biggest hit, and they are quite entrancing. My favorites include few of the ones not adapted for the screen--Gallows Hill and Down a Dark Hall. Gallows Hill features Sarah, a girl who is suspected by her peers of being a witch, which leads her into an investigation of the Salem Witch Trials. Down a Dark Hall tells the story of a young girl named Kit and her eerie encounters at a new boarding school.

One story of Duncan's that might sound more familiar would be Killing Mr. Griffin, the tale of high school students who kidnap their English teacher, which was made into a TV movie in 1997.

The most well-known may also be the least best example of her work. I Know What You Did Last Summer was turned into a movie, but Duncan had no part in the creation of the film, and actually did not like the final product.

Perhaps most representative is the true story of Lois Duncan's search for her own daughter's killer, Who Killed My Daughter?.

Crime and Mystery TV From Across The Pond

When you watch British television, it's easy to imagine the English countryside, dotted with small villages, where mysteries and random acts of crime are constantly happening. If you are a fan of this genre, head to the library and check out our wide selection of TV DVDs. Visit a county where grisly murders seem to be a norm in the Midsomer Murders series. Watch the adventures of a housewife turned detective in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. For a British detective drama series, try Chief Christopher Foyle in Foyle's War, Jaguar driving Inspector Morse, the popular Wire In the Blood series, or Inspector Jack Frost in A Touch of Frost. For a mix of english gardening and detective investigation, check out the ladies in Rosemary & Thyme. Fans of mystery novels adapted into TV can look for the Campion series or our selection of Agatha Christie DVDs.
All of these shows and many many more can be browsed here.

Inspector MorseInspector Morse

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #207

“A heartbreaking affair, an unsolved murder, an explosive romance: Welcome to summer on the Cape”. Beach read, you think? Oh, but Holly LeCraw’s The Swimming Pool** is much, much more. (Not to be confused with the equally scintillating French film of the same title.)

Jed McClatchey is puzzled by a bathing suit hidden in a closet at the family’ summer home at Mashantum. He remembers seeing it seven years ago on Marcella Atkinson, lounging around their pool. He was a college student then and she, part of his parent’s country club set, was exotic, beautiful and everyone’s secret crush.

In the intervening years, Jed and Callie, his sister suffered unspeakable losses : their mother was murdered and their father Cecil, a prime suspect, died without being charged. On impulse, Jed tracks down the divorced Marcella, and sets in motion the rippling effect that will shatter the fragile veneer of stability for both families, exposing a complex web of secrets and betrayal.

This "astonishingly well-crafted, completely compelling” debut is at once intense, gripping and passionate. You won’t stop until you get to the stunning conclusion.

May we also suggest: The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand for the summer colony setting and illicit romance; and Summer People by Marge Piercy for the psychological drama and character study.

For more beach reads this coming season, stay tuned.

** = Starred reviews

An Instance of the Fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost

“We are all capable of the most monstrous evil when convinced that we are right and it was an age when the madness of conviction held all tightly in its grasp.”

At nearly 700 pages, reading An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears, takes some commitment, but it is well worth the journey. Pears weaves a complex, sprawling, convoluted tale of politics, passion, betrayal, faith and scientific zeal, and, of course, murder. Set in the turbulent era of Restoration England (1660s), with its attendant political, intellectual and religious strife, it captures all the uncertainty, suspicion and speculation of the time. It is, in the end, an exploration of the very nature of perception and truth.

The plot pivots around the question of who poisoned an Oxford fellow. Four narrators, with differing degrees of reliability, each take turns relaying their account of the event and all the intricate history which surrounds it. All four accounts are completely different, but are given as full and honest disclosures, and are believed to be true by each teller, even while each is laboring under his own hidden and heart-wrenching history. The web of secrets surrounding the murder becomes more tangled with each tale. An “instance of the fingerpost”, from a quote by Francis Bacon, is that piece of truth which suddenly, fully and finally sheds light on opposing and uncertain conclusions and decisively reveals the object of the quest for understanding. With the fourth narrator, the veils of misperception and deceit lift and we have the fingerpost promised in the title.

Written with finely-wrought, eloquent language and revealing all the danger, turmoil and devotion of the human heart, this is a story that does not disappoint.

A Trio of Outstanding Historical Mysteries by Rennie Airth

River of Darkness 3

Detective John Madden survived the trenches of World War I and returns to Scotland Yard after the war with dark forces pulling at him. Having lost his young wife and baby daughter in the influenza epidemic, he is broken and alone. But he has a gift for reading the criminal mind and when a serial killer is loose in the villages of Sussex, Madden immerses himself in the pursuit of the crazed killer. River of Darkness is a superb police procedural, with strong, well-realized characters. Not a whodunnit – the identity of the killer is known to the reader early on – the book probes the nature of violence and the effect of war on the human psyche and the culture of England. Along the way, Madden finds another chance for love with the village doctor, Helen. This book is absolutely captivating, and you will be so glad there are more.

The second Madden story, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, is set eleven years later, in 1932, when another killer is targeting young teens in the rural communities of Surrey. Madden, with a new family, has left the force, become a farmer and healed the memories of his tortured past. But his great talent for discerning the complex patterns and motivations of the killer’s activity, and Madden’s proximity to the murdered children, make him indispensible in resolving the case, and his old friend, Chief Inspector Sinclair, draws him into the investigation.

In 1944, the third of the series, Dead of Winter, rounds out the trilogy, this time with a series of seemingly unrelated murders in London, beginning with the Polish ”land girl” who had been working on Madden’s farm. Again, Madden and Sinclair join forces. All three books capture with piercing detail the psychology of serial murder, as well as the life and times of England between the Wars and the very close friendships between Madden and his old comrades in the Yard. Airth has hinted that this might be the last of the series, but he has certainly left the door wide open for another. We can only hope.

The Man From Beijing, by Henning Mankell

A stand alone suspense thriller from the Swedish author that brought us the best-selling Kurt Wallander detective series. Book reviews (both good and bad) are popping up all over the place.

Henning Mankell’s latest epic, The Man From Beijing, begins in Sweden with a mass murder in a remote village. After local officials begin looking into it, Judge Birgitta Roslin learns she is connected to one of the victims and yearns to solve the mystery, which involves delving into her own past. The book cuts to 1863 where three Chinese brothers are kidnapped and forced into work. The connection between one of the brothers, the murder in Sweden years later, and the man from Beijing is quite interesting, and as Birgitta to tries to unravel the historical mess that is before her, she is unaware of the connection. Sweden, China, Africa, Colonialism, Mao, the Communist Party, and secret family diaries all help bridge gap.

Mankell weaves the stories in an enjoyable fashion. The reader gets lost in each era and works along with Birgitta to learn where that lone red ribbon that was found at the crime scene came from. It’s a great thriller, as far as thrillers go, but it’s no Kurt Wallander book. Mankell, we love you anyway, we don’t mind if you stick with more Wallander and less ground-breaking.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #199

On virtually every "must read" list of 2010, Paul Doiron's The Poacher's Son*** is an outstanding debut due out in April (already on order, heavy demand is expected, and more importantly, the holds are quietly building). Early readers (I counted 6) - all agreed that this is indeed, a fabulous fiction first!

At the heart of this provocative action/mystery is a father-son relationship. Mike Bowditch, a rookie game warden is surprised to find a cryptic message on his answering machine from his estranged father Jack, a brutal drunken womanizer, legendary woodsman and game poacher. It turns out Jack is the prime suspect in a double murder involving a cop and a timber executive. As evidence and suspicion mount against Jack, Mike risks his job, his honor, and his future with the woman he loves to try to clear his father's name.

Down East editor-in-chief Doiron takes a provocative look at the ties between fathers and sons, unconditional love, and Maine's changing landscape in his outstanding debut. Fans of C.J. Box's Joe Pickett novels, and Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon novels will appreciate the wilderness setting and the suspense. Social issue-driven mystery fans might ruminate on progress versus tradition, duty versus loyalty, and expectations versus desires. The first in a projected series, readers would be pleased to know that the next adventure with Mike Bowditch is just over the horizon.

*** = Starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly

Quirky Mystery Novels starring the Quirky Spellman Family

The Spellmans are not your ordinary family, nor are they your ordinary crew of private investigators. That’s right, the Spellmans are all in the family P.I. business.

Lisa Lutz’s series starts with The Spellman Files, which introduces us to the family, and centers around the rebellious Izzy, who at the age of 28 is obsessed with Get Smart, is sneaking out of windows, assuming false identities, and performing background checks on potential boyfriends. Eventually Izzy wants out of the business (like her lawyer brother David) and her mother gives her “one last case” before she is allowed to quit. Izzy is always into trouble, and her much younger sister Rae is following in her footsteps… until she goes missing, and Izzy finds herself on the other side of the interrogation table. Will Izzy be able to call it quits?

Mom is tailing Izzy, Uncle Ray always wears his lucky shirt, and keeps going on “lost weekends” requiring the family to hunt him down and bail him out of whatever insanity he got caught up in during his black outs. His namesake, young Rae, is addicted to sugar, when she gets grounded she is denied going on stake-outs, and she won’t do anything without being paid or negotiating first. Not your typical bunch! Follow Izzy and the zany Spellman family for more adventures in the laugh out loud Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans, and coming soon is The Spellmans Strike Again. (Note: The Spellman Files, won a 2008 Alex Award, given annually to ten books written for adults that appeal to young adults age 12-18.)

Kurt Wallander TV series based on the books

Henning Mankell is a Swedish all-star when it comes to writing crime fiction. His best-selling books featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander have been wooing readers for years. BBC aired a TV series featuring Sidetracked, Firewall, and One Step Behind - all based on the books of the same name- back in May. The first three are available on one DVD at AADL. Three more episodes of the Wallander TV series are set to air on BBC sometime soon. I look forward to more, as I really enjoyed these three episodes!

It’s interesting to see how Kurt Wallander is portrayed live in person, and by Kenneth Branagh no less. If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about regarding Scandinavian fiction, give the DVD a whirl. It may just encourage you to read Mankell’s books, or perhaps those by Asa Larsson, Kjell Eriksson, or Håkan Nesser- all of which are Swedish crime fiction all-stars.

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy

There has been a lot of buzz the past year regarding the over-talked-about Millennium Trilogy, which includes The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, all bestsellers. The books seem to have shot out of the Scandinavian fiction cannon at high speed and haven’t slowed down. (Larsson was recently named 2009’s most popular author in Europe by the Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter.)

The most recent buzz has been the controversy regarding the deceased author’s estate, a new biography about him, the question of whether additional books exist and will they see the light of day, and finally the debate over whether or not Larsson actually wrote the books. (Larsson died suddenly just after the manuscripts were accepted by the publisher, before they were published.) The Nordic BookBlog (an excellent source of all things Nordic Lit), and other online sources have been talking for months about the author and the series. I’m not saying everything that’s being said is correct or incorrect, or that you shouldn’t read the books, it’s just something for book talkers to chew on.
LarssonLarsson

Syndicate content