Tag Archives: 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.

cover image

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)

In which I break my own rule to know whether it’s a sequel before reading: The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King @atRandom

cover image of The Bones of ParisThe Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King is a sequel to Touchstone. Now you know more than I did until I was about a third of the way into the book…

I understand why publishers don’t mention that a book is a sequel on book covers or in their descriptions, but I usually do my homework better and don’t end up reading books out of sequence too often. I’m a big fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels, though, and thinking The Bones of Paris was a stand-alone, I requested it for review through LibraryThing while waiting for the next Mary Russell.

To cut to the chase, The Bones of Paris can be read on its own, without having read Touchstone first, but I don’t recommend it. I think I would have really liked this book a lot more if I had read it with the background from Touchstone. As it was, it took me a long time to feel as though I knew the main character, Harris Stuyvesant, a brawling American private investigator in 1929 Paris looking for a young woman from a Boston family who has gone missing while living la vie de Bohème. So even though the plot of Bones didn’t have a direct relation to the plot of Touchstone, and the author’s many references to Harris’ recent past clued me in on enough of the basics of Touchstone‘s plot to get by with, it took me a long time to care much about Harris, who was acting like a Hemingway-esque drinker, fighter, and womanizer. I would have felt more attachment to him and to the other characters from the earlier book when they eventually enter this story, if I had read Touchstone first.

OK, I think you get my point. Once you’ve read Touchstone, The Bones of Paris is a great follow-up that takes readers into Paris in the time of Sylvia Beach and Ernest Hemingway, diving deep into the life of Montparnasse artists and their American followers and the nightclubs and lurid Grand-Guignol playacting in Montmartre. After conferring with Paris police detective Emile Doucet, Harris begins to suspect one or more of the artists don’t find the posing of live models realistic enough for their shocking artwork and are taking matters into their own hands. Though not a connoisseur of modern art, Harris meets surrealist artists like Man Ray, Salvador Dali, and Didi Moreau, along with a Grand-Guignol theatrical producer and patron of the arts, Count Dominic Pierre-Marie Arnaud Christophe de Charmentier–known as Le Comte, in the course of his investigation.

The Bones of Paris is a suspenseful story, especially once Harris’ stalled investigation starts to take off. The setting is very well-described; the author makes you feel a part of the buzz of excitement of Paris at that time without overloading the book with history lessons. There are a lot of French phrases included, but if the translations aren’t obvious, the author translates. The Bones of Paris does tell a complete story and I enjoyed reading it, so it is reasonable, I guess, to call it a stand-alone. But still…

Here’s the description of Touchstone from the author’s Web site:

cover of TouchstoneA touchstone is used to test the purity of precious metals.  A man with such a test can control the value of gold.  How much more could be controlled by a man with a human touchstone?

It’s eight years after the Great War shattered Bennett Grey’s life, leaving him with an excruciating sensitivity to the potential of human violence, and making social contact all but impossible. Once studied by British intelligence for his unique abilities, Grey has withdrawn from a rapidly changing world–until an American Bureau of Investigation agent comes to investigate for himself Grey’s potential as a weapon in a vicious new kind of warfare.  Agent Harris Stuyvesant desperately need Grey’s help entering a world where the rich and the radical exist side-by-side—a heady mix of the powerful and the celebrated, among whom lurks an enemy ready to strike a deadly blow at democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here, among a titled family whose servants dress in whimsical costumes and whose daughter conducts an open affair with a man who wants to bring down the government, Stuyvesant finds himself dangerously seduced by one woman and—even more dangerously—falling in love with another. And as he sifts through secrets divulged and kept, he uncovers the target of a horrifying conspiracy, and wonders if he can trust his touchstone, Grey, to reveal the most dangerous player of all…

The Bones of Paris
King, Laurie R.
Bantam Books
Sept. 10, 2013
432 pp., hard.
$26.00 US/ $30.00 CAN

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Bones of Paris through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Other opinions on The Bones of Paris (all excellent, and more timely than my own):
Giraffe Days
Popcorn Reads
Words and Peace


Malady in a Monastery: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (Audio)

Cover image of The Beautiful Mystery audio editionSet in a monastery deep in a forest in northernmost Quebec in mid-September when the leaves are already turning, The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (narrated by the talented Ralph Cosham) is a great audiobook to listen to as nights are getting longer and winter looms. In this eighth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, there’s no visit to the village of Three Pines, where readers of the first seven novels may have imagined spending quiet nights in the local B&B (quiet, except for when there has been a murder in or around the village), but meeting the monks of the fictional Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups monastery and catching up with the continuing story of the fallout for the chief inspector and his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, from traumatic events of the previous year (see Bury Your Dead and A Trick of the Light) more than made up for not hearing about my favorite Three Pines characters – Clara, Peter, Gabri, Olivier, Myrna, and Ruth.

“Some malady is coming upon us. / We wait. We wait.” These lines from T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral keeps entering the mind of Armand Gamache, the usually mild-mannered head of homicide at the Sûreté du Québec, during the time he spends at the remote St. Gilbertine monastery. No outsiders have ever before been allowed entrance; in fact, no outsiders – including the Pope – had known the monastery even existed until a few years ago. Chief Inspector Gamache appreciates the beauty of poetry and of the Gregorian chant that the monks have suddenly become famous for, but he’s no pushover when it comes to investigating murder. In this case, that murderer is clearly one of the twenty-three cloistered monks remaining in the building with the thick stone walls, behind the door that is always kept locked, but that isn’t the most dangerous thing lying in wait for Armand Gamache and his more philistine, but beloved, friend and lieutenant Jean Guy.

Listen to an excerpt from The Beautiful Mystery as narrated by Ralph Cosham here. If you like audiobooks at all, I guarantee you’ll like the audio editions of Louise Penny’s books, but you should start with Still Life, the first one. (Still Life is also a good one to read in the fall, if I remember correctly.) The only quibbles I had with The Beautiful Mystery narration is the way the author distinctly pronounced the “o” in the word “Catholic” (“Cath-oh-lic”) which sounded odd to me, and that he forgot to use the French pronunciation of the name “David.” Otherwise, the audiobook narration was as heavenly and mesmerizing as the Gregorian chant that was sung to near perfection by the monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups.

The Beautiful Mystery (Unabridged)
Penny, Louise
Macmillan Audio
August 28, 2012
13.5 hours on 11 CDs

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Beautiful Mystery on CD from Macmillan Audio through Audiobook Jukebox.

Other opinions of The Beautiful Mystery audiobook (all raves):
Bookin’ with “Bingo”
Thoughts in Progress

You may also be interested in my review of The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, here.