Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mysteries in the Times Book Review (4/27)

In the Crime column, Stasio focuses on Jack O'Connell's The Resurrectionist, a dark, surreal novel involving comic books and illegal trafficking in human tissue. She also discusses Andrea Camilleri's The Paper Moon, Domenic Stansberry's The Ancient Rain, Mick Herron's Reconstruction, and Richard Stark's Dirty Money.

Mysteries on the Bestseller List
Hardcover Fiction:
1. Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark
5. Small Favor by Jim Butcher (Harry Dresden #10)
6. The Appeal by John Grisham
7. Compulsion by Jonathan Kellerman (Alex Delaware)
12. Zapped by Carol Higgins Clark (Regan Reilly)
13. 7th Heaven by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club)
14. Dead Heat by Joel C. Rosenberg
16. Winter Study by Nevada Barr (Anna Pigeon)

Paperback Trade Fiction:
7. The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
17. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #8)

Paperback Mass-Market Fiction:
1. Simple Genius by David Baldacci
2. The Woods by Harlan Coben
3. Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child (Jack Reacher)
4. I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark
5. Creation in Death by J.D. Robb (Eve Dallas)
7. The Unquiet by John Connolly (Charlie Parker)
8. Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman (Alex Delaware)
12. The River Knows by Amanda Quick
13. The Alibi Man by Tami Hoag
16. Hokus Pokus by Fern Michaels (The Sisterhood)
17. Sacred Stone by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo (Oregon Files)
20. High Profile by Robert B. Parker (Jesse Stone)

Review: Murder Is Binding by Lorna Barrett

Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett
Berkley, 2008, 288 pages

Plot: This is the first in Barrett's "Booktown" series, set in fictional Stoneham, NH, a town full of bookstores. When Tricia Miles, owner of the mystery bookshop, finds the body of the next-door cookbook shop, she becomes the sheriff's main suspect in the murder. She must delve into a variety of small-town intrigues and secrets while dealing with her difficult sister and keeping her business afloat. The plot was good: nothing particularly shocking, but a fair number of twists and turns that kept me reading.

Characters: Tricia is a likeable character, and I'm looking forward to reading more about her in future books. She's kind and hard-working but not perfect, and she's less ridiculously naive (about things like going alone in the dark into suspect's houses and such) than many main characters of cozies are. As always with amateur detectives, Barrett will need to keep finding hooks to get Tricia involved in murder investigations - she was a suspect in this one, but (hopefully) that can't happen every time. There is a potential relationship with a newspaper editor, so maybe he will pull her in? Hmm. That editor was probably my favorite of the secondary characters, so I hope he sticks around. There are an assortment of other secondary characters who will provide for plenty of plots and subplots in future books, including other bookstore owners and Tricia's employees. Tricia has a rather fraught relationship with her sister, Angelica, and at the end of the novel Angelica moves to Stoneham, so there will be no shortage of family angst to draw upon.

Writing: The writing is fairly solid and serviceable but not particularly great. Since it's a first book, I'll give some leniency for roughness. It's certainly not bad, just not strikingly good, either. It could have used a better copy-editor, too - there were some typos. And, most annoyingly, both times that the phrase "Hear, hear!" was used, it was misspelled as "Here, here!" That's one of my pet peeves.

Grade: B

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Need some inspiration for a mystery?

The Old Bailey, London's big criminal court, has posted all its records from 1674 to 1913. You might have to wait a little while before accessing it, though, because everyone got really excited and the site has crashed.

No Bones for me.

For some completely inexplicable reason, my TiVo told me it was recording Bones last night but actually recorded Dancing with the Stars. Um, what? It's never done anything like that before, and it was quite disappointing to discover the error when I sat down all ready to watch. Oh well. I'll watch it online tonight.

How du Maurier wrote Rebecca

The Telegraph has an article about Rebecca and potential ties to the author's life. Any other Rebecca fans reading? I read it a few years ago and loved it.

4/29 Release: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Coming out today:

A Soviet police detective searches for a missing child. From Publishers Weekly:
"Set in the Soviet Union in 1953, this stellar debut from British author Smith offers appealing characters, a strong plot and authentic period detail."

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Indian Bride wins LA Times Book Prize

The LA Times Book Prize winners have been released, and the winner in the mystery/thriller category is Karin Fossum for The Indian Bride. Fossum is a Norwegian author, and this is the fourth book in her Inspector Sejer series to be translated into English. From Publishers Weekly:
Insp. Konrad Sejer is faced with a baffling crime when the battered body of a woman surfaces in a field outside the town of Elvestad. She's soon identified as Poona Jomann, the new wife of Gunder Jomann, who traveled to India in search of a life partner. Gunder's sister's injury in an auto accident kept him from meeting his bride at the airport, leaving her to travel to their new home alone, a journey that ended in murder. With a skill few can equal, Fossum deftly paints the provincial inhabitants of Elvestad, coupling those poignant word portraits with a whodunit and an insightful but fallible detective.

Reflections of Madness

In Bookslut's Mystery Strumpet column this month, Clayton Moore discusses several mysteries that have a hint of madness or a nightmarish mood.

The Times reviews Roman de Gare

I hadn't heard of Roman de Gare before, but the review makes it sound pretty interesting. It's "a thriller, a murder mystery and a somewhat self-conscious literary puzzle," but also somewhat overdone and silly, they say. Worth a look. I'll try to get it from Netflix when it comes out.

TV: Bones 3.11 - Player Under Pressure

This episode was supposed to air in season two, but it was postponed because of the shootings at Virginia Tech. They redid some of the character development stuff to make it fit into the third season, and it finally aired last Monday.

Plot: The decomposing body of a star basketball player is found in a university gym, and Booth and Brennan must explore the world of elite athletes to figure out who killed the star. The mystery this week was set up pretty well: there were a nice number of suspects with reasonable motives, but it wasn't too convoluted. And I guessed what the solution was going to be, but it was a "Wow, that was set up very well and now I feel clever" sort of thing rather than an "Aww, that was way too obvious" thing.

Booth/Brennan: Still no mention of the kiss in the Christmas episode! Bah. It seems that recently Brennan had been getting better at dealing with people, but in this episode she was back to being completely socially inept, to the point of messing up the investigation (by telling people they were suspects, etc.). Some of this might have been because this was an old, updated episode, but it was still annoying. They also had another instance of the "One of them inadvertantly insults 'people like' the other, and then they kiss [not literally, unfortunately!] and make up at the end" meme, which is getting a little old but still works, I think.

The Squints: Not too much going on there this week - I read that the subplot was supposed to be about Hodgins trying to propose, but obviously they had to take that out when the episode was postponed. There was some weird stuff about Angela being touchy about taking messages for Hodgins, and then Camille yelling at Angela for having sex in the storeroom and being caught on the security camera, and blah blah. Enh.

Overall Grade: B+

4/28 Release: Sundays at Tiffany's

New release today: Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

"As a little girl, Jane has no one. Her mother, the powerful head of a Broadway theater company, has no time for her. She does have one friend - a handsome, comforting, funny man named Michael - but only she can see him.

Years later, Jane is in her thirties and just as alone as ever. Then she meets Michael again-as handsome, smart and perfect as she remembers him to be. But not even Michael knows the reason they've really been reunited.

SUNDAYS AT TIFFANY'S is a love story with an irresistible twist, a novel about the child inside all of us-and the boundary-crossing power of love."

Honestly, I'm not sure this is a mystery, but it's James Patterson so I figured some mystery readers would be interested. It sounds intriguing.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Just an FYI...

I'm going away for the weekend, so posting will be sporadic to nonexistent, depending on how much downtime I end up having. (I will try to get my Bones post up before the new episode airs on Monday, though.) See you Monday!

James Bond News #2: Exhibit at Imperial War Museum

A James Bond/Ian Fleming exhibit opened last week at the Imperial War Museum in London. Here's the exhibition Web site. Anyone going? Wish I could...

James Bond News #1: New YA Series

Charlie Higson, who writes the Young Bond kidlit series, is now moving on to an older teen version. On why he's moving to YA:

"The question of sex is the hardest thing - one of the facts we get from one of Bond short stories is that he lost his virginity aged 16 in a brothel in Paris. I don't think I can quite get away with that for a 10-year-old reader."

Should be interesting. No word yet on a release date.

Voting Open: Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year

You can vote here among the longlist for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year award. The winner will be announced at the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival in July.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Women's Murder Club is coming back!

I just saw a commercial on ABC for new episodes of Women's Murder Club. The first new episode will be aired on Tuesday (4/29) at 10 p.m. Yay! I've missed this show. Anyone else watch?

Movie News: The Oxford Murders

Trashionista tells us that The Oxford Murders, based on a novel by Guillermo Martinez, is being released in the UK tomorrow. It sounds like it has potential - a professor tries to solve a series of murders that have something to do with math. And, of course, it's set in Oxford. No word yet on a US release date, but I'll keep my eyes open.

Top 50 Greatest Crime Writers?

The Times (UK, not NY) has a list here. Actually, that's the intro; there's a link from there to the actual list, and if you click on each name, you'll see a little blurb about the author and his or her works. I have to admit that I haven't read all that many authors on this list, but it will be handy for finding reading ideas. What do we think? Anything missing? I was kind of surprised that Highsmith was #1 - I'd expected Conan Doyle or Christie, I guess. Opinions?

Serialized Patricia Cornwell

The Times of London is serializing Patricia Cornwell's new novel, The Front, which will be released next month. It's the sequel to At Risk. Start with the first chapter here. To go along with this, they have a nice long profile of her up.

Quick Takes: Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark

Quick Takes are short features about books that we're not going to fully review at this point.

Premise: Carolyn's brother disappeared ten years ago when he walked out of his college apartment and was never seen again. He calls once a year, on Mother's Day, to let his family know that he's okay. This year, Carolyn has decided that she must find him. The case quickly becomes entwined with the disappearance of Carolyn's young neighbor, and Carolyn must delve into the past and present lives of everyone who knew her brother to figure out what's going on.

Thoughts: The reason this is a Quick Take rather than a review is because I didn't finish it. It was due back at the library today, and at about 12:30 last night I had 100 or so pages left and just wasn't enjoying it, so I gave up and just read the last few chapters. I will only review books that I've read in their entirety, but I may do Quick Takes on things I don't finish. But don't worry - I'll always tell you if I haven't read the whole thing.

I was really into Mary Higgins Clark for a while in my early teens, and then hadn't read her for years. I tried her 2007 novel, I Heard That Song Before, and thought it was a fun read, although nothing great, so I went ahead and started this one. I thought the plot of Where Are You Now? was fine. It wasn't anything particularly earth-shaking or memorable, but it was a decent suspense plot with perhaps a few too many characters.

The real problem I had with the book was the writing. Honestly, I'm not sure whether Clark's writing has deteriorated or whether my standards were lower ten years ago. Maybe it's a little of both. The grammar was okay, thank goodness, but the writing style reminded me of one of those old-fashioned, very didactic children's books in which everything everyone's thinking - and how the reader is supposed to feel about it - is carefully spelled out. The dialogue seemed completely unrealistic, and the interior monologues of the characters were just not written the way that real people think. The language was very formal and it was all about telling rather than showing. A few examples from the first chapter:

"First, I must find a way to track my brother down. What happened to him? Why did he disappear? There was no sign of foul play."

"When we were growing up, Mack was my best friend, my confidant, my pal. Half my girlfriends had a crush on him. He was the perfect son, the perfect brother, handsome, kind, funny, an excellent student. How do I feel about him now? I don't know anymore."

The character is clearly talking to the reader rather than actually thinking. I know this happens to some extent in all first person writing, but it was extremely exaggerated here - and the chapters that were in the third person had the same issue. This really kept me from getting into what could have been a quick, fun read.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday: What's on your shelf?

Each Wednesday, we'll have this open thread for The Mystery Shelf community to share what we're reading and watching right now.

This week, I'm...

Reading: I'm currently in the middle of Mary Higgins Clark's new one, Where Are You Now?; hopefully I'll have a review for you tomorrow. I think next up will be Murder Is Binding by Lorna Barrett, which my librarians tell me is based on the town where I live.

Watching: I should be getting another McEwan Miss Marple disc from Netflix today, and I'm also anxiously awaiting the next episode of Bones - I hope it will be online so I can watch it tonight!

What are you reading and watching this week?

Other Blogs about Mysteries

Do you have a blog that reviews or discusses mysteries? Leave a comment and I'll add you to the list!

Mystery Only
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Crime Fiction Dossier
Detectives Beyond Borders
Euro Crime
Hey, There's a Dead Guy in My Living Room
International Noir Fiction

All About Romance (includes romantic suspense and occasional mysteries)
Stuff and Nonsense

What is a mystery, anyway?

While deciding what to include in my Times Book Review post, I started thinking about how we're defining "mystery" for the purposes of this blog. Basically, anything goes. I'm using "mystery" as a catch-all for detective novels, crime fiction, thrillers, suspense, romantic suspense, etc. If the solution to a crime (or possibly another big puzzle) is at the center of a book, show, or movie, it counts. Of course, this definition may have to be refined as we go along, but I think it will work for now.

Mysteries in the Times Book Review (4/20)

Each week, we'll bring you a summary of mystery content in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, as well as the placement of mysteries on their bestseller lists. This post will usually appear on Sunday or Monday.

John Banville is writing mysteries under the name Benjamin Black. There's a review of the second in his series, called The Silver Swan. The review also mentions the stir caused when "literary" authors write mysteries. Personally, I like mystery as a genre - obviously, or I wouldn't have started this blog - but I also firmly believe that good writers are found in all genres and types of fiction, and that the artificial boundaries can be as hurtful as they are helpful.

The Paperback Row column includes a few things that sound mystery-like, or at least suspenseful: April in Paris by Michael Wallner and Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino. I haven't read either of these authors, but both books sound interesting. The Finder by Colin Harrison is an Editor's Choice, and the new Harry Dresden sci fi mystery by Jim Butcher, Small Favor, is discussed in Inside the List.

Mysteries on the Bestseller List
Hardcover Fiction:
2. Small Favor by Jim Butcher (Harry Dresden #10)
3. Compulsion by Jonathan Kellerman (Alex Delaware)
4. The Appeal by John Grisham
9. 7th Heaven by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club)
10. Winter Study by Nevada Barr (Anna Pigeon)
11. Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh
12. A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer
13. Dead Heat by Joel C. Rosenberg
14. Guilty by Karen Robards

Paperback Trade Fiction
8. The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
10. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency)

Paperback Mass-Market Fiction
1. Simple Genius by David Baldacci
2. The Woods by Harlan Coben
3. Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child
4. I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark
7. Creation in Death by J.D. Robb (Eve Dallas)
8. Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman (Alex Delaware)
9. Hokus Pokus by Fern Michaels (The Sisterhood)
10. The River Knows by Amanda Quick
11. The Unquiet by John Connolly (Charlie Parker)
15. The Alibi Man by Tami Hoag
18. Sacred Stone by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo (Oregon Files)
20. The Echelon Vendetta by David Stone

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

TV: The Murder at the Vicarage (McEwan)

First, two caveats: 1) I have never read this book, although I have read other Miss Marples and 2) I have not seen any of the Joan Hickson Miss Marple adaptations since I was a child, so Geraldine McEwan is my default Miss Marple, although I know these versions are somewhat controversial.

This is the first Miss Marple book, and so also the first in the McEwan TV series. I loved it, mostly. It's set right in St. Mary Mead, so it has all that lovely village life with cottages and flowers and tea and vicarages. It's my favorite type of escapist books/TV, really. An abrasive local squire (Derek Jacobi!) is found dead in the vicarage, and Miss Marple must help the police figure out what happened. Considering the small number of characters, there are a fair number of plot twists and the solution is pretty complex.

There was one element I didn't like: the nightmarish flashbacks that Miss Marple kept having. Sure, it was interesting to have some context for her, but they really pulled me out of the story. I'm not sure the flashbacks occur in any but the first episode; the only other episode I can think of with flashbacks is At Bertram's Hotel, and those flashbacks are to her childhood and fit in better with the story, I think.

Despite the flashbacks, I really enjoyed this and I'm looking forward to watching the whole series in order. (I saw a few scattered episodes when they aired on PBS.) I think Geraldine McEwan is a perfect Miss Marple: she's witty and sharp, but also gentle and caring, and really looks perfect for the role. And, of course, there's the knitting!

Masterpiece: Mystery Schedule

It seems that PBS has changed the name of Mystery! to Masterpiece: Mystery! in order to fit in with their other new names (Masterpiece: Classic and Masterpiece: Contemporary). But, more excitingly, they have posted their schedule for the summer. It includes:

Foyle's War: Series V: Yay yay yay yay yay! This series about a police detective on the southern coast of England during World War II is probably my very favorite British TV mystery series ever.

Lewis: Series I: This is a spinoff of the popular Morse series. I've never seen Morse (it's in my Netflix queue), but I liked the pilot of Lewis they showed last year, so I'll be giving this a try.

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: Series VII: These are based on the popular Lynley series by Elizabeth George, although I think the episodes they're producing now are not actually based on the books. I love the books, but I'm way behind - I've only read the first three. And only seen one of the adaptations. I wonder if I could catch up by the time these air?

The Shadow in the North: For some reason, this isn't on the schedule page, but it's on the main Masterpiece page so I'm assuming it will be aired. This is the second mystery featuring Sally Lockhart, a Victorian teen detective. I loved these books as a teenager. I'll have to watch the first adaptation (The Ruby in the Smoke) soon in preparation for this.

All in all, looks like a great season! Any opinions? What are you looking forward to?

Rereads: The Boxcar Children


This is the first in an occasional series in which we reread mysteries we remember fondly and see how they hold up.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (1942)

Summary: The four Alden children (Henry, 14, Jessie, 12, Violet, 10, and Benny, 6) are orphans who run away because they are convinced that their grandfather, who didn't like their mother, won't like them either. They find an abandoned boxcar in the woods and set it up as a house; Henry tries to support the family by doing yard work and odd jobs. A local doctor hires him and soon figures out his secret. Eventually, the doctor hatches a plan to reunite the children with their grandfather - who, of course, turns out to be delightful and not scary at all.

Then: I loved the Boxcar Children books when I was a kid, although I think I got into them a little later than I should have - I was also reading much harder things around the time I remember reading these. I think I loved them mainly for the old-fashioned atmosphere - the clothes, the meals, the idealized way of life.

Now: The first thing that really struck me when I reread this the other day was that it actually isn't a mystery at all. The rest of the series are mysteries, but this first one is... an adventure story, I guess. I'd sort of forgotten that. I still love the old-fashioned atmosphere, and this held up pretty well, overall. It's so very unrealistic, which I might not have realized as much as a kid. And scary! These kids are basically homeless, on their own in an unfamiliar town. (And how did they get there? Who let them leave wherever they were before? I really wanted that part of the story.) I was also struck by how strict the gender roles were - but it was published in 1942, after all. The children are all very, very duty-conscious, and the older ones, especially, seem to have no faults. I don't remember whether they get less perfect in later books - I'll have to read a few more soon.

Verdict: A little dated, but well-written, engaging, and full of enough action to hook today's kids.

On spoilers

Whether to give away endings is always a big question when you're talking about books, and it's even more important of an issue when talking about mysteries. Overall, our policy is to avoid spoilers, especially in reviews of new books and shows. Sometimes, though, the ending is what we want to write about. (This may especially be the case in our Rereads series, which is about older things anyway.) When there are spoilers, this warning will appear at the top of the post:


I know it's not ideal, but I hope that will at least help a little. If you have any other ideas of how to deal with this, let me know.

Tuesday Releases (4/22/08)

Here are some mysteries and thrillers being released today:

David Baldacci: The Whole Truth
Iris Johansen: Quicksand
Stuart Woods: Santa Fe Dead

Mystery Writers' Blogs

I'll keep updating this list as I find more...

Meg Cabot
Linda Gerber
Tess Gerritsen
Kristin Hannah
Clea Simon

Want to write for us?

You have your own opinions about what you read and watch, I'm sure. Care to share? We're always open to submissions. Here are the steps:

(0. OPTIONAL: E-mail me to check whether we're interested in a review of a given title. Please keep in mind that a favorable response to your query is NOT a complete guarantee that your review will be published.)

1. Send me your review of a mystery novel, short story, TV show, movie, game, etc.

2. I'll write back to let you know whether we will be able to use your review. I may suggest edits at this point, and I'll also want to confirm the name you'd like to appear on the review, etc.

3. After we work all that out, your review will appear on The Mystery Shelf. It may take a little while, because I space out posts based on type of content, etc. But it will get there!

I look forward to reading your contributions.

Hello out there!

Just a test post so I can see how it looks as I play around with the template.