Tag Archives: murder mystery

3 Mini New England Mystery Reviews: The Big Dig, Rogue Island, & Steamed

Three of the many older mysteries that I read this year for book clubs and for a genre study. These are all set in New England.

The Big Dig by Linda Barnescover image (Macmillan, 2002)
Carlotta Carlyle used to be police and is now a private investigator. A tall redhead, she has to disguise her striking looks to go undercover, as she does here, when she’s hired by another former cop, Eddie, to investigate possible criminal activity such as fraud, theft, or graft, on one of the many Big Dig construction sites in Boston in the year 2000. Posing as a new secretary and nosing around, she soon notices signs of a much more serious crime, especially after the dead body of a complaining construction worker is found on the site. The Boston setting, the gritty violence discussed matter-of-factly, and the first-person narration make this a good readalike for anyone who likes the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker. (Like Spenser, Carlotta can be something of a smartass and follows her own rules.) The Big Dig is 9th in the series, but can be read on its own.

coverRogue Island by Bruce DeSilva (Forge, 2010)
With a blurb from Dennis Lehane and its Providence, Rhode Island setting, this hard-boiled, noir-ish mystery has a headstart on being popular in the Boston area. Judging from the check-outs in our library system, this series featuring an old-fashioned, investigative journalist, Liam Mulligan, seems to be taking off.
Throughout a frigid New England winter, buildings in the neighborhood Mulligan grew up in are being burned down and the politically appointed arson squad doesn’t seem to be doing much to find out who’s doing it. This story of politicians and crooks (often one and the same, according to Mulligan) is populated with colorful characters and told in Mulligan’s voice. I enjoyed the audiobook edition, narrated by Jeff Woodman, and the book was popular with our library mystery book club.
First in Mulligan series that’s now up to three, Rogue Island won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

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Steamed by Jessica Conant-Park & Susan Conant (Berkley, 2006)
Discovering a murder victim on a first date can be very upsetting. Chloe Carter, a 20-something foodie living in Brighton, finds this out as she tries to make her cheating ex jealous with a guy she found on an online dating site who turns out to be a jerk. All isn’t lost as the chef at the restaurant is extremely hot. However, he also happens to be the prime suspect.
Steamed is half chick lit, half culinary cozy. Humor and recipes –along with a murder – make it a cozy, but the first-person voice, a sprinkling of spicy language, and the romantic comedy will appeal to chick lit readers. (First in Gourmet Girl series)

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Audio) & Musing About Series @BlackstoneAudio

cover image of How the Light Gets InHow the Light Gets In, published by Blackstone Audio at the end of August, is another fine example of the great partnership of author Louise Penny and audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham. It’s the ninth novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

If you haven’t heard of these books yet, where have you been? The author writes a unique blend of police procedural and cozy mystery that seems to please both literary fiction fans and suspense fans, as well as readers who “don’t read mysteries.” Louise Penny blends dark and light themes, using humor and the fully developed personalities of her characters to keep death and its attendant depression and despair from overwhelming the reader.

Also, the audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham, as I and many other audiobook listeners have said before, IS Armand Gamache. No other voice will do.

These books about Chief Inspector Gamache and his fellow homicide detectives, their families, and their friends in the remote village of Three Pines, are also a good example of why they should be called a sequence, not a series. “Series” used to mean that you could pick up any book – the first or the thirty-first – and find a complete story with just enough about the characters to get by on, and you would get the skinny on the characters in every book, because they stayed pretty much the same from one book to the next. It was often even different authors writing the books, all under the same pen name. Series books were formulaic, so readers familiar with the series would get what they expected and new readers could jump in any time with no problem.

Series books are different now. They are sequential in more ways than by publication date. Characters develop. Circumstances change. If you read a book out of order, you’re going to hit major spoilers for the book that came before. The main character could be married or newly divorced, thought dead, gone into retirement or come back out of retirement; secondary characters could actually BE dead, or be double agents, or be having an affair.

This is a problem for publishers, and librarians, and probably booksellers too. And not just because publishers seem to be unwilling to print the series titles in order inside the book anymore. We all want people to be as excited as we are that the latest book in one of our favorite series is out, but a reader who starts reading Louise Penny with How the Light Gets In is not going to have the benefit of understanding how events in the earlier eight books have built up to the crucial moments for Chief Inspector Gamache and his department that take place in How the Light Gets In.

So the bad news about these books being a sequence and not a series is: you need to start with Still Life and keep reading until you get to this one. The good news is: you’re going to love all of them.

If you’re an audiobook listener, you will want to listen to these! Even if you don’t like mysteries.

How the Light Gets In
Penny, Louise
Cosham, Ralph
Blackstone Audio
August 2013
9781427233011
$39.99 US
approx 13 hours on 11 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.

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Buried in the Backyard: Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

cover imageThree Graves Full by Jamie Mason, a first-time author from North Carolina, is an intriguing American suspense novel with a British feel. The dark humor and creepy ambiguity of Three Graves Full – making readers feel equal sympathy for both Jason Getty, the murderer who buried a body in his backyard, and Leah Tamblin, the crime victim whose fiance is missing and suspected dead, not to mention the police detectives assigned to the case – will be appreciated by fans of Ruth Rendell’s psychological suspense and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels and other crime fiction where the line between good and bad, law enforcement and criminals, gets a little blurry.

Ironically, when the discovery Jason Getty has been dreading for seventeen months finally happens, it’s the discovery of a different body buried in the side yard, where the landscapers he hired to draw attention away from the back were digging, and which he had no idea was there when he bought the house almost two years before.

At first the focus of the story is on Jason Getty and Leah Tamblin, but then county police detectives Tim Bayard and Ford Watts are brought in to investigate and readers see the case from their perspective and even, at times, from the perspective of Ford’s beloved canine partner Tessa, a Labrador retriever who investigates crime scenes by nose. (Bayard and Watts banter back and forth entertainingly and have a strong partner relationship that develops over the course of the book. I could see this becoming the first book in a series.) The perspective shifts back and forth and we get flashes of the past, too, filling in the story, which takes enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing.

Here’s how the book opens:

There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard. Jason Getty had grown accustomed to the strangling night terrors, the randomly prickly palms, the bright, aching surges of adrenaline at the sight of Mrs. Truesdall’s dog trotting across the lawn with some unidentifiable thing clamped in its jaws. It had been seventeen months since he’d sweated over the narrow trench he’d carved at the back corner of his property; since he’d rolled the body out of the real world and into his dreams.
Strangely though, it wasn’t recalling the muffled crunch of bone that plagued him, nor the memory of the cleaning afterward, hours of it, all the while marveling that his heart could pound that hard for that long. No. It was that first shovelful of dark dirt spraying across the white sheet at the bottom of the grave that came to him every time he closed his eyes to sleep. Was it deep enough? He didn’t know – he wasn’t a gravedigger. Then again, in his mind he wasn’t a murderer either, but facts are facts.

While reading Three Graves Full on my Nook, I found myself highlighting pithy or ironic sentences every few pages, but the author’s wordy writing style might not appeal to readers looking for a straightforward murder mystery. And although there’s a decent amount of action and even an unusual chase scene, the story has more to do with  psychology than police procedure. I would recommend Three Graves Full to fans of literary suspense authors like Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Kate Atkinson, and Nigel McCrery.

Three Graves Full
Mason, Jamie
Simon and Schuster (Gallery Books)
February 12, 2013
9781451685039
320 pp.
$19.99

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of Three Graves Full from the publisher through NetGalley.