Category Archives: Mystery

I found you

I found you: a novel by Lisa Jewell (Atria Books, 2017)

This seemingly ordinary novel about a single mom somewhere in England (I don’t know English geography very well) sort of turns into a murder mystery when we’re not looking. A man shows up in a beach town without his memory and the single mom takes him in (knowing this is probably a stupid move). Meanwhile other pieces of the story are narrated as seemingly separate stories about a young foreign bride and a family with two teenagers, which eventually all come together. This is a well-written novel which keeps the reader wondering what will happen next, without so much graphic violence that you can’t sleep until you’re done. The character development is also very good, and the descriptions of life in England are a change of pace for American readers. I will probably seek out other books by Lisa Jewell.

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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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