Through a Glass, Deadly by Sarah Atwell

This is the group read this month for The Cozy Mystery Corner Book Club on Goodreads.  Sarah Atwell is a pen name for Sheila Connolly, who writes the County Cork series, which I adore and two other series I have not tried yet, an Orchard series and a Museum series.

This series theme is glassblowing, which I admittedly know nothing about and don’t necessarily have very much interest in to be honest.  In general I am not an artistic or crafty person at all, not really any talent in those kinds areas. When I was a kid, in about second grade, my mom told me she always knew which project was mine when it was time to visit the classroom for back to school night.  She said she just had to look for the worst one on the wall and that would be it.  I have not improved over time.

Anyway, there is a lot to like about this book, the sleuth, Emmeline or Em, is different from most cozy mystery protagonists, at least initially.  She hears the proverbial bump in the night and rather than rush headlong into danger, she actually calls 911 and waits until she hears the culprits running away before getting out of bed to investigate.  She is a successful established business woman, most cozy mysteries start the series with the sleuth beginning their business.  The setting is in Tuscon and she does make the setting important and incorporate it into the story line.  It seems to me accurate and a good sense of place, although I have not been to Tuscon so I really have no way of knowing.  Interesting comments about limited exterior lighting to prevent light pollution suggest knowledge of the area.

Her brother, Cam is also another non-traditional cozy character.  He is obviously loyal and loving to his sister, an IT worker who lives a few hours away and visits when he can.  He seems somehow naive and innocent in an interesting way.  The other secondary characters are similarly interesting.

The book is also not traditionally plotted.  There is a murder and it is pretty straightforwardly solved in about the first two thirds of the book.  Then there is a second plot related to the murder but more in the lines of a low level thriller involving kidnapping and a missing valuable object(s).  It made it a different read than the usual cozy.

The negatives are that at least for me, there is too much detail on the glass blowing.  It might just be me, I like my themes in cozies to not overwhelm the mystery plot and here I found myself skimming some of the glass blowing detail because  I couldn’t understand it anyway.  I mean I get that you have special tools and furnaces and that temperature is important, but beyond that…ehh.  The other negative is that the mystery is not enough, there needs to be more red herrings or twists if it is going to be a mystery.

The negatives might improve in later books in the series.  There are two more and then it appears that is it.  Being that the series appears to be discontinued after 3 books, I am not sure that I will continue with it, although I do like a lot about the book.

A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie

This took me quite  a while to get round to reading.  I checked it out of the library a couple times and never got around to it before having to return it, until this time.  I am glad that I did read it this time.  This was a Agatha Christie-like English country house murder mystery.  Our sleuth, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, accepts a holiday time share to an estate in the Yorkshire countryside, wakes up to use the pool early and finds a body.  He is not accepting the local police’s assumption of suicide and so ends up having a “working vacation.”

Very well crafted mystery plot, with more than one murder, hints of blackmail, and infidelity scattered about.  Secrets abound among the group of vacationers with some having more to hide than others.  The stories are all cleverly woven together, there are no unnecessary story lines or characters.

Superintendent Kincaid has a sidekick in the form of his Sergeant Gemma James, a single working parent.  Gemma helps Kincaid with this case long distance, since he is away on vacation, however I am sure that as the series progresses her role will be more prominent.  After all, the series is  Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James, not just Kincaid.  Gemma seems like a good counterpoint sidekick for Kincaid and I look forward to seeing how the relationship between the two develops.

The series feels very much like Midsomer Murders, in fact Kincaid reminds me somewhat of Barnaby, so fans of that TV series should enjoy this!  This is an exceptional example of an English country house style murder and a highly recommended read.

Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham

 Interesting opening to a new series.  DC Griffith is a oddball police officer, a little bit maverick , a little bit socially awkward, a little bit protector of women,  and little bit..disturbed.  (Think Lisbeth Salanderesque.)  The issue at the heart of DC Fiona Griffith’s behavior is not revealed until the end so I won’t discuss that here.  The case she investigates involves a sad drug addict and her six year old child.  The pair of them are found dead in a squat.  The child’s murder was particularly brutal.  In the midst of the horrific crime scene, the police find a platinum card of a missing, presumed dead businessman. There are lots of twisting turns bits and Fiona investigates thoroughly, sometimes putting herself in danger, sometimes offending people, and sometimes getting into trouble.

I enjoyed this book a great deal, however I will say that Fiona’s behaviors were almost a distraction from the crime and the investigation. I found myself more engaged by the mystery of Fiona than the case she was working.  This may be due to this being the first in the series??  Even once the source of Fiona’s issue is revealed, it simply raises more questions which I assume will be addressed in future books.

I will definitely be following this series, if for no other reason that to see what happens to Fiona.

Resolution & A Brush with Death

Resolution is the third book in the Garnethill trilogy by Denise Mina.  I would highly recommend reading this series in order…or you will be completely  lost.

It is hard to discuss too much about this book without giving away spoilers to the first two in the series, because this plot wraps up events from those books.  On the whole this is a dark, gritty, violent series.  It covers a gamut of issues from childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism, family dysfunction, infidelity, drug abuse, rape and of course murder.  The protagonist, Maureen, as a drunken, self destructive incest survivor drives this whole trilogy.  The closest character I can compare her to is Lisbeth Salander of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame.

The negatives with the books, all of them, for me occur whenever Maureen interacts with the police officers. Those scenes seem to range from unrealistic to cartoonlike, especially by book 3 in the series.  Has Maureen learned nothing about the criminal justice system and dealing with police by that time??  Overall, a good trilogy with character development and growth over the course of the arc, an excellent sense of place, and  a nicely woven plot, if perhaps a little too neatly tied up in the end.

 

A Brush with Death is the second in the Penny Brannigan series set in Wales.  This book picks up right where the first one  left off.  Penny is living in the cottage she inherited from her close friend, Emma.  She stumbles upon a mystery from Emma’s past and feels compelled to follow it to the end.  I quite enjoyed the first in this series, however this one fell  somewhat flat for me.

The positives are the character descriptions and the setting.  Well executed to the point that the reader can “see” the people and the town.  There are a couple new characters that are introduced that I assume will be recurring because of the time spent developing them.  The mystery was interesting and I definitely had the culprit wrong, however there was information withheld from the reader until the reveal, so I don’t suppose you could solve it completely.

The negatives are that the romantic subplot didn’t really work for me. I didn’t get a sense of chemistry between the characters, but that is not a huge element in a mystery.   The dialogue was often stilted or on the other had silly.  The mystery seemed almost secondary, a bit emphasis in the book was the examination of change in social issues.  Although the portrayal of attitudes and the connection to a possible murder motive made this pertinent, it felt overshadowing to me.

I really did like the first book, so I might pick up the third one given the opportunity.

Cookie Dough or Die by Virginia Lowell

 I just finished this cozy mystery, Cookie Dough or Die by Virginia Lowell.  The theme is not cookie baking, although there is some of that going on, but rather a shop that sells all things cookie related with an emphasis on cookie cutters, both antique collectibles and the everyday kind.

The sleuth, Olivia or Livie as she prefers to be called, is a divorced woman living with her mother who owns The Gingerbread House, the cookie and everything cookie related shop.  She has a dog, Spunky, and a partner/sidekick, Maddie.  Livie had a mentor in starting her business, Clarissa Chamberlain, who dies in what Livie feels are suspicious circumstances.  The police seem convinced it is an accident or perhaps suicide and Livie sets off to investigate.

I found the characters of Livie, her mom, and Maddie fun and interesting.  They are well drawn, not just stereotypes.  The mystery is interesting although there are few “real suspects”, pretty early on the pool of suspects is narrowed down to three probable villains.

I did find that the victim, Clarissa, seemed to be somewhat contradictory character.  She is Livie’s mentor and seemed to single-handedly pick her up and push her into a business of her own, yet she also seemed to be a somewhat ruthless and calculating business woman, controlling with her sons, manipulative, and yet mawkishly sentimental over her collection of antique cookie cutters.  Certainly interesting to read about.

Well done cozy mystery.  I am sure I will read more in this series.

 

3 More Reads

 

Glazed Murder was a total impulse by for me.  I have a confession, I have always avoided this series because I have a pretty big aversion to donuts.  I worked for a nation wide donut chain that will not be named in college, back in…1984, and I think that I can count the number of donuts I have eaten since then on one hand.

Anyway I picked it up and read it last night and was really surprised, I will admit i flipped quickly past the donut recipes, which were plentiful, so anyone who does want to make them will have lots to try here.  The main character, runs a independent donut shop and has a dead body of a local banker dumped in her parking lot one night.  Suzanne Hart is an interesting character and I like the push-pull relationship with her mother, who she has had to move back in with since her divorce and purchase of the donut shop.  A couple of the secondary characters need more development, but I am sure that because this is the first in a series that will come later.  Anyway, this is a fun light cozy mystery that has potential to become quite a good series.

Murder in Volume was this month’s read for the Cozy Mystery Corner Mystery Group on Goodreads. There is a plethora of book/library/bookstore themed cozies and many of them are among my favorite cozy series.  This is an book one of a 5 book series.  The protagonist is Megan Clark, a librarian and frustrated paleopathologist.  She has a sidekick history professor, Ryan, who is much older than her, and in fact is the father of her childhood friends.  She drags Ryan along on all of her adventures.  It is on one of these new activities, a book club, that Megan and Ryan stumble on a body and are embroiled in the mystery.

The point of view switches back and forth throughout the book.  It is in this switching that we learn that Ryan is having romantic feelings towards Megan, seemingly unrequited as Megan is dating someone else.  The mystery includes references to other mystery series, similar to Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand series.  Part of these are understandable as discussion in the mystery book club meetings.

I did not connect with Megan Clark as a protagonist, she seemed arrogant and takes herself and her paleopathology degree far too seriously, even though it seems like it is not an employable degree. I also didn’t like the developing romance with Ryan at all, not being able to stop wondering what his kids would think of it.

I don’t think this is a series I will continue with, especially when there are so many other very good book themed cozies.

Perfect Love by Elizabeth Buchan is a women’s fiction novel, about Prue  a woman, wife, mother, and stepmother in her forties, who begins to be lured into infidelity.  This is a classic midlife crisis family drama novel, with complex family relationships and situations.   Added into this book is a running Joan of Arc metaphor that really doesn’t seem to work.  It actually could be eliminated from the book altogether.

I have read several of Elizabeth Buchan’s books and I have a strange relationship with them, I always find them very well written, with fully developed characters with all their flaws, and interesting plots. On the other hand, I would not say that I like them, if that makes sense.  Her stories are too realistic, there are never satisfying conclusions, no neat endings, no  punishment for the wicked or rewards for the good.  It always seems like things just trudge along and end with the characters still having numerous issues to work through, much like real life.

As someone who reads women’s fiction, for an escape from reality I am always frustrated, but I still keep reading them for some reason.

Blind Date by Frances Fyfield

 

 

I have not read any other work by Frances Fyfield, however I did watch and enjoy the TV series of the Helen West Casebook, which was based on her Helen West books.  I picked up this book because it was a selection for this month for the Kindle English Mystery Club on Goodreads.

I liked a lot about this book, the characters of Elisabeth Kennedy and Joe, were interesting in themselves and as a relationship.   The villain(s) twisted relationship revealed over time was intriguing and well done.  I found the setting, Elisabeth’s church tower apartment well done (and it is an important part of the story). The psychology of Elisabeth, the relationship between her and her mother, sister, and nephew is well done.

The mystery has more of psychological thriller feel to it than any other sub genre of mystery. The pacing was well suited to this type of mystery.

The issue I had with this book was with  character development.  I didn’t really get  a sense of Joe’s back story and I had trouble keeping his friends straight because they were not well defined enough.  I didn’t even understand entirely the idealization of Elisabeth’s sister, unless that was just some post-mortem “don’t speak ill of the dead” kind of thing but it seemed like an ongoing aspect of their relationship.  Even Joe realized that the story of Emma was too good to be true.  On the plus side, by eliminating some back story and character development, the pacing is accelerated.  This is fast moving and a quick read.

Overall, I did enjoy this and would read another book by Frances Fyfield.

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

  I just read the first one in this series and really enjoyed it so I was happy to get this one so quickly.  I love the character of Carl Morck.  I liked seeing how his success on the first Dept. Q case has changed him, making him more confident and more passionate about his work.

I do think this second outing in the series was not as good as the first.  My first issue was that the translation did not seem done as well.  The dialog flowed better in the first book and I am assuming that this is a translation issue not a writing issue.  The second “problem” was the limitation of Assad’s role in this book, he was not as prominent or as humorous as in the first one.  I really enjoyed this character and the developing relationship with Carl in the first book.  I will say that Assad came back strongly in the last 50 pages.  Finally, the plot as a whole seemed  more far fetched in this book. The over the top villain and all the animal hunting/cruelty was a little much.

The reader should be aware this is not really a whodunnit.  From the beginning, it is just an effort to find proof to link the group to their crimes, rather than determining a culprit.   I did not have an issue with the  violent, destructive nature of the group, I actually find that very timely with stories in the news today of teens “wilding” and events that occur in the city I work in, so that part was believable for me.   There was still plenty to like here and so even with the issues I had with The Absent One, I still will continue with this series.

The Killing of the Tinkers by Ken Bruen

 

I  just recent read the first in the series and enjoyed it so much that I picked this one, The Killing of the Tinkers, up from the library.  In this  outing of the series, Jack Taylor is more messed up (if you can believe that is possible) than he was in the first book.  Jack has decided to add a side of cocaine addiction to his already rampant alcoholism on his path to self destruction.  On top of the drugs and alcohol he also is burning through women, including a wife he picked up in London.  Now that Sutton is gone, Jack has acquired some new sidekicks, Keegan and Sweeper, who add their own color to the book.

In this book, the mystery surrounds murdered gypsies (tinkers) and as a side plot, murdered swans.  Jack stumbles his way drunkenly  through the mystery, acquiring some pretty brutal injuries along as the way and losing some teeth.  It seems like you should be able to smell the whiskey dripping off the pages at some points.   The resolution is messy, not a typical  “neat and clean with all the ends tied up”, but it suits Jack and his decidedly messy life.  I am definitely going to continue with this series of very engaging page turners, even though this biggest mystery might be how Jack stays alive.

The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey

 

The Last Detective is the first novel in the Peter Diamond mystery series.  I saw it mentioned as a recommendation and picked it up from the library and I am so glad that I did.  The character of Peter Diamond was engaging in his own way.  I am not normally a fan of the “anti-technology” quirk but it works for him.  He has an earnest manner about him and his lack of arrogance is quite endearing.  I also liked the changing points of view as the book progressed.  It was handled very well.  I have read books in which changing points of view can be confusing or just a device that adds nothing to the plot, but that is not the case here.

I did know who the “villain” was prior the reveal but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.  I am definitely going to continue this series.  Great mystery read!