Category Archives: Mystery

The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe

The Handsome Man’s DeLuxe Cafe by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon Books, 2014)

Although the characters and setting of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series are familiar to most readers of McCall Smith’s novels, the various mysteries that Ms. Ramotswe and Ms. Makutski need to solve keep things unpredictable. I’m glad that solving mysteries really is their paid job – so many fictional women solve mysteries only as a hobby, which is kind of sexist. As always in his books, the author’s characters frequently find themselves wrestling with the ethical choices involved in everyday situations. Precious Ramotswe falls squarely on the side of kindness every time, and has no regrets. This is a well written story that will satisfy fans.

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Past Perfect

Past Perfect by Susan Isaacs (Scribner, 2007).

I chose this book because I remembered enjoying another novel by Susan Isaacs called “Shining Through.” While Past Perfect isn’t terrible, it is not as good as Shining Through. The plot is similar in some ways – apparently Isaacs likes to write about spying, international politics, Germany, and young love. I think this novel is less interesting to me because it takes place in the present day, not the 1940s. The “past” of the title is 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. That was an interesting time, but since she is viewing it from the present day, we don’t really learn much about it. I do sympathize with her primary plot problem, which is trying to find out why she was let go from the CIA 15 years previously with no explanation. That would really bother me too, especially if it made it nearly impossible to find subsequent employment as happened to Katie. In the end she does find out what happened.

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The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith (Random House, 2013)

Fans will probably recognize by the title that this is the latest eagerly awaited novel in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. There is something about translating titles from non-European languages that results in odd phrases like the one in the title; a fact McCall Smith uses to his advantage even though his books are all published originally in English as far as I know. In this installment of the saga, the agency’s newly married assistant detective is pregnant and delivers a baby boy, but the detective work goes on as always.

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The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

In the most recent volume in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, a few surprising things happen.  Without them there wouldn’t be much plot, so I won’t spoil it by saying what the surprising events are. Mma Ramotswe and Mma Matutsi carry on with their usual tenacity and goodness, and it all turns out well in the end. This is one of the better books in the series, although they all have their charms.

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)

This is a very enjoyable, clever book that is hard to categorize. On the one hand it is the story of a twenty-something man living in San Francisco, with his iPhone and MacBook, web design skills and wealthy friends. But is also the story of aged bibliophiles and booksellers, printers and typeface experts, embroiled in a DaVinci Code style mystery. The best part is that the protagonist maintains his healthy skepticism and sense of humor, while in the end solving the puzzle that had eluded generations. Unlike many novels today, this one has an upbeat, optimistic tone without being frivolous. It celebrates modern technology while valuing friendship and enduring knowledge and skills.

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Death comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James (Alfred A.Knopf, 2011)

The long-awaited (I’m talking centuries) sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley is rewarding in one sense: it has an actual plot.  A murder mystery is a big improvement on young women scheming to catch rich husbands. Sadly, P.D. James’ prose is just as convoluted and stilted as the 19th century novelist’s headache-inducing style.  I suppose she felt obligated to imitate the original. I expected the question of “who fired the gunshots” to be a major plot element but instead it was casually dismissed. The real story of the murder didn’t even come out in the trial; it was revealed afterwards in conversations among some of the characters. There were so many characters, often called by last name only, that it was tough to keep track of what was going on (though this is probably not a problem for fans who have read P&P many times). Overall it was disappointing, even though I wasn’t expecting much to begin with.

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The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon Books, 2012)

There is a lovely quaint map of Edinburgh drawn on the endpapers of this latest novel in the Isabel Dalhousie series. There is no scale to offer context, but it is still a small window into the charming Scottish world inhabited by Isabel and her family. It reminds me of Jan Karon’s Mitford novels, which also come with a town map. I assume Edinburgh is much larger than Mitford, but McCall Smith makes it sound almost as cozy. Readers who have followed Isabel thus far will undoubtedly want to visit Edinburgh again in their armchairs to enjoy her philosophical meanderings and ethical dilemmas.

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