69-80.  Twelve New-ish Mysteries

You know I love reading (and re-reading mysteries).  Here are twelve that have come out in the last few years or so, and thus should be easily available for you to pick up!

69.-71.  Three Amory Ames mysteries

Murder at the Brightwell, Ashley Weaver

“It is an impossibly great trial to be married to a man one loves and hates in equal proportions.”

Death Wears a Mask, Ashley Weaver

“It was amazing, really, what murder had done for my marriage.”

A Most Novel Revenge, Ashley Weaver

“‘Well, darling, who do you suppose will turn up dead this time?’”

This is a series of dectective stories set in 1920s Britain featuring Amory Ames, and her husband, Milo. When the series starts, their marriage is on the rocks, largely because Milo seems to have a roving eye, and Amory can’t take it any more.  When her ex-fiance, Gil, asks her to help him by coming to stay with a group of friends of his at the Bridewell hotel, she decides to go, and damn the consequences. (Clarification - the consequences are merely gossip.  She has her own room.  This is a pretty lighthearted series.)  Gil hopes Amory will help dissuade his sister from making a disastrous marriage.  When the troublesome fiance turns up dead, not only does mayhem ensue, but Amory’s estranged husband arrives, hoping to take back his wife.

This is a pretty goofy and cosy series, but they were also pretty fun to read.  If you want real human emotion and suffering in your mysteries, this is not for you.  But if you want some escapist reading along the lines of Christie, these can’t be beat. I both thought the first book was ridiculous (like, I get it, Amory is beautiful and her clothes are fancy and her husband is hot for her), and totally bought the next two to keep reading.  Fans of Phryne Fisher or Maisie Dobbs would like these, or anyone who likes romping through British high society in the roaring twenties.  The next two books are along the same lines (murder at a masked ball! murder in a country house!), but I have to admit, I’m looking forward to reading the fourth one.

72. Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz

“A bottle of wine. A family-sized pakcet of Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips and a jar of hot salsa.  A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know).  The rain hammering against the windows.  And a book.”

This is a fun one.  Alan Conway is a famous mystery author, who has just sent his latest manuscript to his editor, Susan Ryeland.  The latest manuscript (which we get to read) is another classic tale of mayhem and murder, in the vein of Christie and Sayers.  But as Susan reads it, she begins to suspect there may be another, real-life crime being hinted to within the pages. She realizes she needs to investigate the truth, and, of course, happenings ensue.

It’s a clever conceit, and it’s very well done.  Meta of course, but why not? Both the “fictional murder” and the “real crime” are suspenseful and interesting.  The book is out in hardcover right now, and would be a perfect gift for the mystery lover in your life.  I myself am giving it to my grandpa.  Spoiler alert - but he is 91 and doesn’t have a computer, so I think I’m safe/

73. The Death Chamber, Sarah Rayne

“Georgina read the letter a second time - and then a third - because it was so extraordinary there was a strong possibility she had misunderstood it.”

I loved this book! The plot may sound unnecessarily complicated as I explain this, but trust me, Rayne pulls it all together.  And my favorite kind of book is the kind where the tendrils of history affect the past, so I was so in the bag for this.  The story focuses on Calvary Gaol (set in Britain, see?), which was a prison where people were sent to be executed before the abolition of the death penalty.  A tv producer decides to investigate to see if ghosts still exist.  While doing so he meets with Georgina Grey, whose grandfather had funded a local psychic society that is closing up shop.  The society has called Georgina up to hand over some family papers that had been stored therein.  She knows nothing about her grandfather, who was a doctor at the prison, overseeing the executions there.  She ends up hanging around trying to learn more about him, and overlaps with the television crew.  This is all interspersed from scenes from her grandfather’s life at the prison, and a mysterious prison escape that happened while he worked there.  Like I said, lots of plot but great fun if you are a mystery fan.  Especially if you like them in the Ruth Rendell/P.D. James vein (i.e. not hard-boiled, but not super cosy either). 

74. Arrowood, Laura McHugh

“I used to play a game where I imagined that someone had abandoned me in a strange, unknown place and I had to find my way back home.”

Bought this unknown based upon the creepy cover and back blurb, and as soon as I opened it I saw quote the “Do not stand by my grave and weep” poem, and thought, oh no this book will be terrible.  That is a terrrrribly cheesy poem and I stand by that forever.  So much so that I immediately told my husband that if that is ever associated with my death in anyway, I will come back and haunt him.  BUT! The book was actually pretty good, so maybe the author is decent with text and just sucks at picking poetry.

Arden Arrowood grew up in a historic home in Iowa on the Mississippi River with her grandparents and parents.  But when her younger two twin sisters vanish mysteriously, her life is upended.  Her parents move away, and she is torn from her beloved home.  Years later, when her father dies, she learns that her grandparents had left the home in trust for.  Adrift in life, she moves back home and tries to discover what really happened all those years ago.  So, in my wheelhouse for sure.  If you like this kind of book, this one is pretty good.  

75. The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware

“In my dream, the girl was drifting, far, far below the crashing waves and the cries of the gulls in the cold, sunless depts of the North Sea.”

This is a book has been a huge bestseller for whatever reason, but I thought it was super basic.  It’s not that well written and the mystery was sort obvious as well.  It just felt like cut rate Christie.  People, there are better mysteries out there - listen to me!  But, to be fair, I wouldn’t be so hard on it if it hadn’t been so popular, and if I hadn’t like her other book, In a Dark, Dark, Wood.  

Anyway, this takes place on a cruise ship.  Lo Blacklock is a journalist who is covering the launch of a super luxury boat, when she realises that something suspicious is going on.  The plot is pretty basic so to tell more would give it away.  It’s a fast read, but not for me.

76. Death of an Avid Reader, Frances Brody

“The newspaper item has been clipped, framed, and now held pride of place on the library’s landing.”

Another cosy mystery from a series, but with a bit more heft than the Amory Ames books described above.  This isn’t the first book in the series, but it’s the first I’ve read and it was easy to dive in here.  And the mystery takes place at a library, which is pretty fun.  Kate Shackelton has been asked by Lady Coulton to find a baby that she was forced to give up at birth.  At the same time, she gets wrapped up in a murder mystery at the subscription library to which she is a member.  I’m not quite sure of Kate’s background - she’s a widow, she’s solved crime before, but she’s a fun character and the mystery is reasonably complicated and I enjoyed the read.

77. My Husband’s Wife, Jane Corry

“Flash of metal.  Thunder in my ears.”

A pretty typical modern thriller, but a decent version nonetheless.  Part one is set in 2000, as Lily and Ed are starting their married life in London.  She is starting out as a young lawyer, when she is assigned a controversal pro bono criminal appeal (don’t get me started with a brand new lawyer being forced to take a case she doesn’t want, which is also much much too complicated to ever have been given to a brand new hire, but once I let that part go it was ok). She also gets involved with the life of her young neighbor, Carla, who lives alone with a single mother.  The second part takes part in 2015, as Ed and Lily are struggling to raise their autistic son, and Carla suddenly reappears in their lives.  Crime and mayhem assume.  As an airport read, I think this is excellent.  Not the greatest fiction (see the plot hole from the very start), but it kept me entertained, even if I feel like I’ve read a million stories like this before.

78. The Long Drop, Denise Mina

“He know this much to be an honest man but says he wants to help.”

This was a gift, and isn’t the kind of crime book I usually read - it’s more hardboiled and low-life crime-y than the stuff I usually seek out. But it’s based on a true story - William Wirt’s wife, daughter, and sister-in-law were brutally slaughtered in his Scottish home, and despite his iron clad alibi, he is a suspect.  He puts out a bounty for the real killer to try and clear his name.  Peter Manuel, a low life with gangster ties, claims he knows the truth, but this will involve Wirt in a world he doesn’t understand and know how to cope with.  As I said, this usually isn’t my sort of thing, but it’s really well written and compelling.  Recommend - even more if you like your crime on the dark side.

79. The Lost Girls, Heather Young

“I found this notebook in the desk yesterday.”

Oooh, I had totally forgotten about what this was when I picked it up, but once I refreshed my memory it was pretty good.  In 1935 Emily Evans vanished from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake.  Sixty years later, Emily’s surviving sister writes an account of that summer, which she leaves, along with the house itself, to her grandniece, Justine.  Justine is a bad way - she needs to get away from an abusive boyfriend, so he flees with her daughters to the lake house.  They try to build a new life there.  The story goes back and forth from 1935 to the present as we follow both stories - the summer Emily went missing, and Justine’s desperate attempts to rebuild her life in a failing lake town.

The mystery is good - the past stuff is great.  The present day stuff seems a little superfluous, and isn’t as compelling, but overall this is was an enjoyable read, and if you like this kind of book (and as you can see, it’s practically my favorite kind of easy escapist read of all), you’ll like this.

80. Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions, Amy Stewart

“On the morning of her arrest, Edna Heustis awoke early and put her room in order.”

So, I was actually asked to review this book for The Washington Post, and was super super excited, because I had so so loved the first two books in this series. Like they were on my best of the year top ten lists.  But, I got sick this summer and couldn’t get the review done.  Which was probably for the best, because I was let down by Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions.  I don’t know what it was about it - Constance Kopp remains an amazing character (she is, if you forget, the first female cop in Patterson, New Jersey). But this book is sort of issue-y.  It’s all about how young women are being jailed on so-called morality charges, when they are merely trying to live independent lives - and it’s tied up with Constance’s “sister” (SPOILER secret daughter) Fluerette running away to try to make it on the stage. I guess I like my Kopp sister’s mysteries more crime-y.  It is, I guess, important to learn about how these poor honest girls were railroaded by the system, but I found it dull compared to the first two books.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll read the next one for sure, but it wasn’t up to my expectations

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017