Archives:  Volume 1, Issues 1 (October), 2 (November) and 3 (December), 2004         Home
VOLUME I, ISSUE 3, DECEMBER  2004

Queer Street by Curt Colbert (Uglytown hardcover, $24.95, ISBN: 0972441298) Recommended by Bill Farley, Seattle Mystery Bookshop (Seattle, WA)
    
Uglytown is a small publisher of mostly-noir, mostly- excellent crime fiction. In the manner of a bygone era, each book is prefaced by a notice of WHAT THIS MYSTERY IS ABOUT. The one for Queer Street is too good to paraphrase or describe, so I quote: “WHAT THIS MYSTERY IS
ABOUT… A murdered female impersonator caught with her skirt up…Seattle’s most exclusive gay cabaret… love and deceit… a suave and patient spider… the tangled web we weave… a missing 12th Century Saracen dagger… dungeons and secret passages… a butler in the wings…missing fingers and diamond rings… hinky hoodlums and star-crossed lovers… what money can’t buy you… bent genders on a twisted street…racy photographs… mirrors and illusions… near-naked nymphs… big game hunters… J. Edgar Hoover… fighting commies and other undesirables…blackmail and payoffs… flying fists and velvet gloves… hypocrites and heroes… too much – too soon – too late… the third degree… coming clean…and ain’t love strange?”
    This is the third adventure for wisecracking Seattle P.I. Jake Rossiter and his secretary (in the first book, Rat City), understudy (in the second, Sayonaraville), and now full-fledged assistant, the redoubtable Miss Jenkins. The year is 1949, the dialog is suitably snappy, and the material is somewhat stronger than you might expect for that era if you weren’t around then, and maybe even if you were. (November 2004 release)

 

 

The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (Soho; $24; ISBN: 1569473765) Recommended by Dean James, Murder by the Book (Houston, TX)
     This wonderfully quirky first novel is set in a location sure to sound exotic to American readers: Laos in the mid-1970s after the Pathet Lao have taken over. Most members of the educated class fled Laos after the Communist takeover, but Dr. Siri Paiboun remained. The French-trained physician is one of the few remaining in Laos, and he is appointed
coroner over his objections that he is ill-trained for such a job. The bureaucrats who chose him, of course, probably did so because they thought he would do very little of import in his job, but they soon learn, to their cost, that Dr. Siri has an independent spirit and a most inquisitive mind. He also has little tolerance for fools, a trait that is likely to get him into trouble as well.
      Dr. Siri has several odd cases on his plate in his debut, and he is determined to find the truth in all of them. He is unable to let the cases go unsolved, because he has begun to have visions connected with each of the deaths. He is visited by the shades of those whose deaths he is investigating, and each of these visions tells him something
about the case.
     The Coroner’s Lunch is perhaps not to everyone’s taste, because of its unusual mix of mysticism, violent death, and gently satiric humor, but I found this book utterly charming. Dr. Siri Paiboun is one of the most delightful characters I’ve encountered in mystery fiction in recent years, along with Maisie Dobbs and Precious Ramotswe. If you enjoy the
truly original, don’t miss this one! (December 2004 Release)


 

Last Seen in Aberdeen by M.G. Kincaid (Pocket, $6.50, ISBN: 0743467574) Recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha’s (Ann Arbor, MI)
     M.G. Kincaid embroiders on her successful first effort, The Last Victim in Glen Ross, to write an even more compelling and disturbing narrative this time around.  Set in Scotland, these are police procedurals of the first order - her main character, Seth Mornay, is an ex-Marine, who has
some demons in his past, many of which are explored in this fine book. But like the best practitioners of this particular subgenre, this isn't a writer who messes around.  There may be an emotional subtext but the police investigation is the thing.  In this novel, the story opens around the disappearance of a ten year old boy, but the plot also involves smuggling, an 18 year old Lady of the Manor who wants to raise her exotic sheep in peace, and the turmoil of a woman Seth may or may not have impregnated who lies in the hospital, deathly ill.  This novel is emotionally richer, more ruthless, and more believable than the first.  If you are a fan of the British police novel, don't miss this one. (November 2004 release)

The Surrogate Thief by Archer Mayor (Mysterious Press, $24.95, ISBN: 089296815X) Recommended by Karen Spengler, I Love a Mystery (Mission, KS)
     Veteran Vermont cop Joe Gunther returns in the 16th book in this classic crime  series. When the gun used in a deadly standoff turns out to be the missing murder weapon from a thirty year old cold case, Gunther is forced to revisit his own past and re-open some old wounds. As a young detective, he had been assigned  to investigate the beating and robbery of Klaus Oberfeldt, an unpopular local grocery store owner. When Oberfeldt died  six months later, never having regained consciousness, no  one except his wife really mourned his passing. Distracted  by his own wife’s losing battle with cancer, Gunther never solved the case. Now Gunther’s desire to seek justice for the Oberfeldts is tempered by his reluctance to relive the  devastating
death of his young wife. (October 2004 release)

 

 

Death by Discount by Mary Vermillion (Alyson Books $13.95, ISBN: 1555838634) Recommended by Terri Bischoff, Booked for Murder (Madison, WI)
     Death by Discount is a traditional mystery that has social issues woven throughout - corporations vs. small business, the death of small communities in the midwest and hate crimes.  Vermillion presents all sides very well and refrains from becoming preachy.
      Mara returns to her small hometown in Iowa to bury her Aunt Zee's lifelong partner, Glad.  While the police are ready to write off the murder as a hate crime, Mara doesn't believe it.  Zee and Glad owned and ran the only radio station in town and were leading the charge opposing the potential opening of a Wal-Mart in town.  Will a Wal-Mart provide jobs for all the out of work mothers and fathers?  Or will it force the downtown, family-owned stores out of business?  Everyone seems to have a personal stake in the outcome and secrets to hide.  Was Glad killed because of her opposition to a superstore?  Is Zee in danger as well?  Could it be someone Mara grew up with?  Can Mara solve this mystery without stepping on too many toes?  When someone else is murdered, Mara realizes she needs to come up with some answers fast. Good thing she has a beautiful rookie cop to help her. (October 2004 release)

 

 

VOLUME I, ISSUE 2, NOVEMBER  2004 back to top

Bitch Creek (Lyons hardcover, 23.95, ISBN:   1592284353) by William Tapply.  Recommended by Kate Mattes, Kate's Mystery Books (Cambridge, MA)
    Tapply, a frequent contributor to fishing and hunting magazines, has also written several books on these topics.  I've long been a fan of Tapply's Boston-based Brady Coyne series featuring a lawyer whose clients are Brahmins who don't want the police involved in their problems. In Bitch Creek, Tapply has combined his gift for strong plotting and character development with his love for the outdoors and fly fishing.  His lean, poetic prose communicates a strong sense of small town life in Maine .  Thankfully, this is the beginning of a series, each installment of which will be named for a fly tie.       
      Stoney Calhoun has recently settled in
Maine , starting a new life in his middle age.  He has a steady income, although he isn't sure why.  His past is not clear since he was struck by lightening and remembers very little since waking from a coma.  He does know the government knows his past and doesn't want him to remember it.  As a result, he tries to keep any memories to himself (and us, thankfully).  His own identity is a mystery I suspect we shall learn more about as the series develops.
      Stoney has taken a job working for Kate, the owner of a fish and bait shop where he ties flies and takes tourists fishing.  He has found a nice little house with a creek running through his back yard and has a dog named Ralph. When a man from
Florida comes into the store wanting a fishing guide to help him find an old fishing site, Stoney takes a dislike to him and gets his best friend to go with him.  When neither return, Stoney and the police start searching for them.  We learn how to "read" the land as they walk through wilderness (how to tell what a fence was built for, how to read a topographical map, very cool things).  Eventually they find the guide.  It looks like the guy from Florida killed him but where did he go?  And who was he?  As Stoney begins asking questions, we prowl the backwoods like pros and meet some members of their small community who would make Maine proud.

     One of my favorite books this year. A great gift for the landlocked  fisherman or armchair detective in your life.  (September 2004 release)


Bye, Bye Love (Harper Collins Hardcover, $25:  ISBN  0060543310 ) by Virginia Swift  Recommended by Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen ( Phoenix , AZ. )
   I've loved history professor Swift's smart and sassy folk singer/professor/sleuth   Sally Alder since Brown Eyed Girl ($6.99).
Raised in the state, Sally spent years at UCLA before returning to the U of Wyoming
to direct its Dunwoodie Center for Women's History...and find a poetic murder. The NY Times discovered her in Bad Company ($6.99). Bye, Bye Love  is a craftily-plotted tale fusing "Mustang"-it's her car, but also her temperament-Sally's joy in the music of her youth and of the gorgeous southern Wyoming countryside with her relentless need to scratch the detection itch. Sally's never shaken her worship for Thomas "Stone" Jackson , an indestructible music star despite his bad-boy years. And now he sits in her office, asking her to bring the Millionaires and open a benefit concert in Laramie being organized by his fabled ex, Angelina Cruz (think Joan Baez). Stone, next to Harrison Ford Wyoming 's major Hollywood rancher, has bought the Busted Heart spread while Nina, retired from LA, owns the more modest Shady Grove near Albany . So Sally, who likes Nina, heads to Shady Grove in the face of the season's first killer blizzard to find that a killer has struck. But it's deer season, so maybe Nina's shooting was an accident. Then again, Nina's household is under high stress, quarrelsome, and features not just a kind of rat pack but members of Wild West, a do-gooder group of animal rights activists. Altruism and greed, what a combination, just the kind of thing to excite Sally and make her live-in lover Hawk worry.  (October 2004 release)

 

The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood (Poisoned Pen, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 1590581172 ).  Recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, Rue Morgue (Lyons, CO)
        Phryne Fisher is the free-spirited daughter of a baronet who early on fled her domineering father to strike out on her own, with a healthy trust fund to smooth over life's rough edges and enable her to indulge her tastes for elegance and luxury. After many adventures, including a stint as an ambulance driver in World War I, she's settled in
St. Kilda , Australia , with her two adopted daughters, a faithful maid, and her lover Lin Chung. Now her younger sister Eliza has joined the household to escape an unwelcome arranged marriage.
  But Eliza is not the sweet girl that Phryne remembers from their childhood. She's aloof, condescending, and terribly unhappy, with two great secrets that eventually come out in the open. Phryne has little time to deal with any of this, however, after she discovers a mummified corpse while they are at an amusement park and her investigations into its history put her and her whole family into unexpected danger.
    Meanwhile Lin has been charged by his family with settling a blood feud going back to the Australian gold rush of the 1850s, and both he and Phryne end up in Castlemaine, once the site of the great gold fields that drew fortune hunters from the world over. The two story lines converge neatly, each hinging on the general lawlessness of that colorful period in
Australia 's history. The history and treatment of  Chinese immigrants in the 1850s and 1920s is especially well detailed.
      This is the thirteenth book in an exceptional series that has been very popular in
Australia and is now being made available to American readers by this enterprising small press. The success of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs books may help pave the way for Phryne Fisher, who is an equally unforgettable character, with a heart as big as her pocketbook, a fine disregard for convention, and an insatiable appetite for life. (September  2004 release)

Good Morning, Midnight (Harper Collins hardcover, $24.95) by Reginald Hill.  Recommended by Karen Spengler, I Love a Mystery (Mission, KS)
 
     For those literary snobs who disdain detective fiction, I quote Reginald Hill's fictional Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel, "Don't be daft!"   Deservedly called the "sorcerer of style" by the New York Times Book Review, Hill writes with an intelligence and wit that make him, in my opinion, possibly the best crime writer of our day.  Only fellow British author Jill McGown comes close to Reginald Hill's ability to keep a series fresh by varying the plot structure with each book. 

        Good Morning, Midnight is based on the classic locked-room mystery convention, with a twist.  D. I.  Peter Pascoe finds himself investigating the apparent suicide of Pal McGiver, found dead in a locked room in his family's Yorkshire estate.  The death is an exact re-enactment of the suicide of Pal's father, the elder Pal McGiver, ten years before, right down to the book of Emily Dickinson poems found at the scene.  Can there be any doubt that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted?  Superintendent Dalziel, who investigated the earlier death, is satisfied.   Pascoe, however, is concerned about his superior officer's objectivity, especially given the cozy relationship that Dalziel seems to enjoy with the elder Pal's widow.   (September 2004 release)


Hot Plastic (Hyperion trade paper, $13:  ISBN:  1401300448) by Peter Craig Recommended by Carolyn Lane, Murder By the Book ( Portland , Ore. )
       A wonderful, 21st-century noir novel whose characters meet their fate in time-honored fashion - but not exactly - Hot Plastic is tailor-made for lazy-day reading.  Old-fashioned hustler Jerry and his teenage son Kevin run various con games across the country, but when they partner up with smart, sexy Collette, the scams become more elaborate and more reminiscent of Robin Hood.  Craig's writing is beautiful, with characters who are funny and quirky and with a plot that leaves you smiling-even while you check on your wallet.  (March 2004 release)

 

VOLUME I, ISSUE 1, OCTOBER 2004 back to top

The Alto Wore Tweed: A Liturgical Mystery by Mark Schweizer  (St. James Music Press, trade paperback, $10.00, 0972121129) recommended by Kate Birkel, The Mystery Bookstore (Omaha, Nebraska)

Haydon Konig's day job is as a police detective in the town of St. Germaine in the mountains of North Carolina. By avocation, he is the organist and choir master of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. Haydon's dearest desire, though, is to become a great pulp mystery writer like Raymond Chandler, which is why he buys Raymond Chandler's typewriter at an on-line auction, figuring that there's enough magic left in the typewriter to inspire his own writing. Haydon's two lives cross when Willie Boyd, the sexton of St. Barnabas is found dead in the choir loft and the church priest Loraine "Mother" Ryan becomes one of the main suspects.  In between the lines of that rather dry description lies one of the funniest books I've ever read. A feminist Episcopalian priest. Blow up sex dolls. A Christmas pageant.  A fourteen-year-old wine snob. And an absolutely hysterical send-up of pulp noir mysteries that makes the Bulwer-Lytton winners read like great prose. A 2002 release, this belongs to the one that nearly got  away category. A sequel, The Baritone Wore Chiffon (0972121137, $10.00) was released in February 2004.


Blitz, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin’s Press, trade paperback, $12.95, 0312327269), recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, The Rue Morgue (Lyons, Colorado)

If your idea of a British mystery involves country house parties, errant butlers or meddling spinsters, you haven’t been paying attention to the new breed of Brits who have literally taken the genre by the throat in recent years. Irish writer Ken Bruen just might be the toughest and grittiest of them all. He strips his sentences of most adverbs and adjectives, eschews transitional phrases, and punches up his short, declarative sentences with vulgarities that would make Richard Pryor blush. Yet, there’s an almost lyrical quality to his
prose. The title refers to the nickname of a psychopath who worships serial killers and decides to put himself in the history books by murdering eight cops. His final target is Brandt, a cop who once roughed him up. Brandt is crude and cruel and despised by his fellow. If there’s a good side to Brandt—and you have to dig deep—it’s that he supports his fellow cops, including a "nancy" and a black female officer, although he’s a self-proclaimed bigot. Near burnout, he’s teetering on an edge from which even he doesn’t dare glance down. But in a world where retribution often has to take the place of justice, Brandt is a necessary evil, a fact that his fellow cops eventually come to not only accept but to appreciate and perhaps even emulate. June 2004 release.



Cosmic Clues by Manjiri Prahbu (Dell, 6.99 paperback 0440241723), recommended by Kathy Harig, Mystery Loves Company (Baltimore, MD)

I am completely captivated by this debut mystery featuring Sonia Samarth, a newbie female private eye from Pune, India, who uses Vedic astrological techniques as well as traditional methods. The sights and sounds and smells of exotic India are savored in each chapter as Sonia solves several mind boggling cases. The secondary characters such as her techie young partner Jatin and Inspector Divekar are particularly well drawn. I predict a wonderful future for this series. September 2004 release.
 

Confession of a Deathmaiden, by Ruth Francisco (Warner Books, paperback, $6.99, 0446614394),
recommended by Jim Huang, The Mystery Company (Carmel, Indiana)

A riveting, challenging and utterly original first novel about a "deathmaiden," a woman who helps ease a person into death. After she attends the death of a Mexican boy, Frances Oliver raises questions. Her quest for answers takes her on a surreal journey through a Mexico driven by poverty and revolutionaries. This mystery novel reads like no other, and it's striking for both its emotional and its intellectual weight. First published in 2003 in hardcover, this September 2004 reprint belongs to the one that almost got away category.


The Damascened Blade, Barbara Cleverly (Carroll & Graf, hardback, $25.00, 078671333X), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

This is the third and strongest novel in Barbara Cleverly’s delightful Joe Sandilands series, set in 1922 India. Joe investigates a murder which takes him off the British military base at the Afghanistan border and into the hills. The feeling of tension, racial and otherwise, of two different cultures colliding, paired with the descriptions of both the beauty and the desolation of the Afghan countryside make this book hard to put down, especially as it’s also a fiendishly clever whodunit. The strength of the characters, the setting, and a very specific time and place show off the gifts of this almost overly talented author.  August 2004 release.