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November 13, 2020

7 Mysteries Your Inner Detective Will Love

by MK French

Mysteries come in all shapes and sizes. A good who dun it can keep you glued to the pages, trying to solve the mystery right along with the characters. Some mysteries have a few good laughs or a dash of romance alongside the suspense. Whatever you are looking for you can find it in a mystery and today I have quite a variety for you.
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Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of the Stapletons by James Lovegrove

Sherlock Holmes adn the Beast of Stapletons
November 2020; Titan Books; 978-1789094695
ebook, print (384 pages); historical mystery
Five years after the events of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Henry Baskerville had remarried and they have a three-year-old son. This wife is now found brutally murdered. Is there another Stapleton beast haunting the family?

Watson’s back as the narrator for the tale, and the tone of the book is set from the start when a German shepherd intersects his path to 221B Baker Street and nearly bites him. For those not familiar with the original story, we do get a summary of it after the particulars of the current case are discussed in the beginning, so you don’t have to be fully conversant in the entire body of work to enjoy this novel. The specter of supernatural origins for the beast or that Jack Stapleton had actually survived is raised, and Holmes has to investigate the moors and their spooky atmosphere. Much like the original, the questions Sherlock asked are probing and delve into the relationships around Sir Henry. I knew the answer couldn’t be the first one found because we were two-thirds of the way through the book, and then more clues were discovered.

James Lovegrove has a great voice for Sherlock Holmes and a knowledge of the time period. I was surprised by the final third of the novel, as there were some twists and turns that seemed to come out of nowhere. The revelations will have ramifications for future novels, I'm sure. Sherlock and the dramas around him won't end anytime soon, and it's bound to be a doozy.

Two Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey

Two Murders Too Many
October 2020; Blue Shutter Publishing
ebook (167 pages); mystery
Charlie Simmons was sworn in as a police chief in Shannon, just in time for barns to burn, a woman to go missing and a body to be found. The body was of a serial blackmailer essentially holding the leading citizens in town hostage, so anyone could’ve been the killer...

Bluette has written a number of European travel mysteries, as she loves to travel and lives in France. Two Murders Too Many takes inspiration from real-life events that occurred during her father’s lifetime, which adds to the flavor of small-town life in Midwest America in the 1950s. Having a barn burn down is a community affair, as are the indigent population that can’t support or fix their own homes. A community getting together is the stuff of the “good old days” kind of stories, and the beginning of the novel gets into the history of the town, the “disproportionately large number of town characters,” and the ties between them all. It’s slow and meandering, occasionally addressing the reader directly as if you’re listening to someone tell this story like an oral history. Breaking the fourth wall is relatively rare here, so it doesn’t detract or interrupt the flow too much.

It takes a good third of the book before Otto’s body is found, and the slow, methodical pace of the novel continues in this same vein. It’s the slower pace of Midwest life, and Charlie has to talk to the townspeople in Shannon as well as the rural farm folk who mistrust the townies. Add in the secrets that Otto had blackmailed the people for, and it’s a long and frustrating path for Charlie to walk. Even after finding the killer and discovering why it happened, the novel isn’t quite over because the killer isn’t, either. Motives and behavior are erratic; the killer announces it almost gleefully, and the attempted “bonus” killing has such poor motivation other than “I wanted to.” These kinds of killers exist, and the world is a more frightening place with them in it.

Buy Two Murders Too Many at Amazon

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus
September 2020; Bethany House; 978-0764237768
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); romantic mystery
In 1928, Pippa Ridley received messages from the "Watchman," and hoped to find a connection to her birth, when she was rejected from the Bonaventure Circus. While she finds a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and a serial killer, she has to determine if finding her past is worth the risk of being in the killer's path. In the present day, Chandler Faulk digs into a circus depot's history to see if it should be preserved as a historic record or dismantled. She's balancing this job against a new medical diagnosis and single motherhood and is caught up in a deadly story darker than she thought she would find.

From the beginning, the language used to describe the locations in each timeline was gorgeous and evocative. I was fascinated by the strict limits placed on Pippa by everyone around her, yet she still ran around the Bonaventure Circus and could bond with the newborn elephant, Lily. She's very innocent, so much of the circus folks' lives occurs outside of her understanding and people push her in every which way. Even so, she still wants to find a sense of self and belonging and continues to do so despite efforts to shut her down.

In the modern timeline, Chandler is dealing with what is essentially chronic Lyme's disease and psychogenic seizures. Because her parents had been so disappointed with her getting pregnant in college and not knowing who the father was (this is mentioned many, many times), she pulled away from them and tried to raise her son Peter alone. This is difficult to do even though she's working for her uncle. The renovation project is important to her because she feels undermined by one of her uncle's employees, and the railroad depot's haunted reputation doesn't help matters when someone keeps breaking in.

Small towns are notorious for everyone knowing everyone else, and for lives to intertwine. Many modern-day people are descended from the circus folk so that the notorious killer of Pippa's time is still known and his descendants were shunned. Family lineage is still important; it's the reputation that matters, not the potential affluence, it's for that reputation that people are willing to kill. Chandler is new in town, at once folded into the small-town life and held back from it. The renovation project opens up secrets revealed in the final quarter of the book. That's where it takes on a more breakneck pace until we reach the conclusion.

The storylines build slowly with time and are laden with details. The reader ultimately knows more about the situation than Pippa or Chandler do, and that's where the tension lies.

Hawthorn Woods by Patrick Canning

Hawthorn Woods
July 2020; Indie; 979-8663487979
ebook, print (293 pages); mystery
Getting over a divorce in the summer of 1989, Francine Haddix goes to her sister's house in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois. The idyllic neighborhood proves to have a lot of mysteries simmering beneath the surface, including marital strife, simmering grudges, and a secret so terrible, someone will kill to keep it hidden.

House sitting while her sister is away on vacation in Europe, from the start Francine is nominally in charge of her nephew, too. I say nominally because summer for kids in 1989 was staying outside to play all day with neighbor kids, and coming in for lunch and once it's dark outside. With little to do and not many people to call, Francine starts looking into the oddities of her new neighbors. She isn't the only one, and it's interesting to see some of the discord beneath the veneer of small-town life. There are great callbacks to the '80s, like the Glo Worm that Diana has, right down to the incredibly heavy head and light body that it had, VHS tapes and movies of the era.

The final third of the book zoomed along and had lots of surprises. The reveals to multiple questions came one after the other until we get to the final one. It was quite the ride through the novel, and definitely not the quiet book it seemed like at first. With the weather turning cold, reading about a hot summer is a welcome change.

Buy Hawthorn Woods at Amazon

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa

May 2020; Epicenter Press; 978-1603817066
ebook, print (232 pages); cozy mystery
Kelly Pruett has to juggle life as a single mother to her deaf daughter as well as a private investigator in the family detective agency she inherited from her father. She’s also being stalked and is trying her best to solve a case with ties to Portland’s BDSM community. Digging deeper reveals not only details about the victim’s death but also secrets that her father had kept hidden from her.

Derailed is the first book in a series of novels featuring Kelly Pruett. The relationships with her ex-husband and former mother-in-law are strained by her insistence on being a private investigator. She tracks down even the smallest clues in facial tics and word choices, and often people will talk to her rather than police because they’re concerned about the repercussions of police interactions. At the same time, she has close enough ties with police to call and brainstorm avenues to investigate. She’s far more embroiled in the details than she wanted to be, which of course means her ex-husband is unhappy that they can’t get back together and he doesn’t want their daughter exposed to her work.

The personal life and professional life keep Kelly on her toes. I’m drawn in on both those levels, as I’m just as invested as she is in finding out what had happened to her client’s daughter. I also really enjoy seeing her interact with her daughter and find her crush on the police officer cute. I hope that her personal life pans out as well as the case does, because I grew to like Kelly and wish her well in future novels.

Buy Derailed at Amazon

The Chosen Ones by Lisa Luciano

The Chosen Ones
May 2020; Micro Publishing; 978-1936517305
ebook, print (288 pages); sport mystery
When a message left on an answering machine warns that one of the world’s top male figure skaters will be dead before the end of the Olympics, a disgraced reporter has one chance to save a life and resurrect his career. Brody Yates goes undercover as a trainer in order to infiltrate the backstage world of figure skating. What he discovers is a dangerous and competitive world filled with corruption and scandal.

Lisa Luciano is a former NY Times Olympic reporter and uses that knowledge to craft a novel with corruption, addiction, abuse, racism, homophobia, and suspects capable of murder in their quest for the gold medal. Taking place in the 1990s before such things were commonly discussed, Lisa’s foreword indicates that the corruption isn’t new, and the backstage dealings continue. “The guy who wins is the one who knows how to play the system.” The helpful articles, information, and additional resources at the back of the novel are fascinating and add to the depth of knowledge that Lisa brings to the novel. The perspective bounces around quite a bit so that we’re deep in the head of one character, and a few paragraphs later are in someone else’s.

Our introduction to the skating world in chapter two is all catty gossip, which really sets the tone for everything else.  Some skaters have the ear of judges, particularly Glenn, the current star of men’s skating. He’s clearly chosen his career and advertising money as his priority over his relationships; it seems to be a very common occurrence in the field. Freeman is picked on because he’s black; because he’s a dual citizen with Kenya, his parents suggest skating there instead of in the US due to racism. Robbie is young and relatively na├»ve, so he’s easily glossed over by judges. Brody easily works his way into the locker room as a trainer, and he gets suspicious of everyone right away. The descriptions and relationships are described slowly, and the chapters take their time to unfold.

As much as I was initially confused by the multitudes of names and perspectives in the beginning, I got drawn into the story. The clear implications of a conspiracy are more explicitly discussed after a third of the book has already passed, and then when the Olympics begins halfway through the book. This is the part of the book that I really enjoyed. There's a lot of drama, death in ways that Brody didn't expect (death of careers as well as actual death), some queerbaiting, and a lot more obvious double-dealing and behind the scenes scams to have agents' favorite skaters win the gold. Brody had faded out for a while, but he's there at the end to collect the threads and try to weave together a story for the paper. Even then, it's only the beginning of a future collecting data for him, because the ones in charge aren't gone by the end of the novel. That isn't the big spoiler for the story, not to worry. It's who wins the medals and how, and that was the fascinating part for me.

Buy The Chosen Ones at Amazon

The Tech by Mark Ravine

The Tech
February 2020; Dawn Hill Publications
ebook (463 pages); hard-boiled mystery
FBI Agent Alexandra Cassidy is in charge of a team of agents, all considered discards. They solve cases with outside help, and she is concerned it’s from the tech Michael Pearson. As she tries to find the truth, it might lead Alexandra to her death.

We open with a bank robbery, then a rather lengthy background for Alexandra. The robbery is solved entirely too quickly, actually, then the team is zinged forward into other operations. With Mike’s intervention, they get clues faster than normal, which we gradually learn has impacted a shadowy cabal’s operations. One arm is the money, another is kidnapping for human trafficking, another for gun-running, and others include hacking. I don’t feel particularly close with any of the agents in the first half of the book, for all that we get information into their backgrounds as we go. The only one that doesn’t have that kind of depth is Mike, who is constantly feeding the agents information.

There’s definitely suspense as the novel progresses, as all of the cases are tied together somehow. The rapid speed of the case clearance in the first third of the book means we go from one place to another to another, with so many people to keep track of. By about halfway through I got used to the speed of it and went along with the flow of the story. The different threads from the beginning also started to make sense, which helped. I was definitely drawn into the suspense and drama and had to know how it all ended. I was definitely satisfied with the conclusion, and all of the dramatic twists to get there.

Buy The Tech at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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