Usual Suspects

A most peculiar crime

Posted by JaneM on Tuesday, Apr 12, 2011 - 8:54 AM

full dark house coverRemember the X- files? 

Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May mysteries are set in the British equivalent—more or less—of the (also fictional) Peculiar Crimes Unit.

These are a delight for fans of Gilbert and Sullivan, as there are references throughout the series to both their operettas and their personal relationship, the latter of which somewhat parallels that of the fictional detectives Arthur Bryant and John May.read more


A series takes shape

Posted by JaneM on Tuesday, Mar 15, 2011 - 7:57 AM

shape of water coverAndrea Camilleri began writing the Detective Inspector Salvo Montalbano mysteries, set in his native Sicily, in 1994—in his late seventies.

The international bestselling series has since made both the author and his hero household names.

It was never Camilleri's intention to write more than a few crime novels, but the enthusiasm of critics and readers alike convinced him to put his middle-aged policeman through all sorts of increasingly complicated criminal hoops.read more


Dreaming of the Bones

Posted by JaneM on Tuesday, Feb 8, 2011 - 9:57 AM

New York Times Notable Book of the Year author Deborah Crombie has garnered tremendous praise—and has been nominated for virtually every major mystery award—for her piercing police procedurals featuring Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, who are personally and professionally entwined.

On Sunday, February 13, the Usual Suspects will be discussing Dreaming of the Bones (1997), the fifth book in the series.read more


Frozen stiff

Posted by JaneM on Monday, Jan 10, 2011 - 10:59 AM

Murder on the Iditarod TrailNew website … new year of Usual Suspects discussions

First up, our January selection, Murder on the Iditarod Trail (1991) by Sue Henry – just in case Connecticut is not cold enough for you.

Someone is killing off the leading competitors in Alaska's famous dogsled race.

This book won both the Anthony and Macavity Best First Novel awards and was the first of a series that will shortly add its thirteenth title, Cold as Ice.read more


The Parisienne Kinsey Milhone

Posted by JaneM on Monday, Oct 11, 2010 - 8:09 AM

marais.jpgWe first meet French American private investigator Aimée Leduc in Cara Black's first mystery novel, Murder in the Marais (1999). Leduc is a corporate security expert moonlighting as a Nazi hunter. Assigned to decrypt a coded photograph from the 1940s and deliver it to an old woman living in the Marias—Paris's historic Jewish quarter—she discovers the old woman dead, a swastika carved in her forehead. With the help of her partner, a dwarf with extraordinary computer skills, she is determined to solve this horrendous crime and as the murders pile up Leduc finds herself in the middle of a dangerous game of current politics and old war crimes. Read it for yourself and find out why the Los Angeles Times calls Aimée Leduc “The Parisienne Kinsey Milhone” and why author Lee Child thinks she is “One of the best heroines in crime fiction.” Then, join the Usual Suspects for their discussion of the book on Sunday, October 17th, at 2 PM. We enjoy meeting fellow mystery fans! For a copy of the book, phone 203-291-4821. There are ten titles in the Leduc series to date, including the recent Murder in the Palais Royal. Author Black identifies Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret stories as a major influence, as well as Leo Malet's lesser-known detective, Nestor Burma, whose cases take him to the darker corners and forgotten pockets of Paris. She says “I've liked them so much I hope to do the same with Aimée, so she and the reader can discover an off-the-tourist-track Paris, real and sometimes gritty." You can find even more French detectives on our Mysteries around the World list.


ZUÑI HEAVEN

Posted by JaneM on Saturday, Sep 18, 2010 - 8:42 AM

landscape.jpgDance Hall of the Dead, the second of the Navajo Tribal Police series by Tony Hillerman, was first published in 1973. The title refers to Kothluwalawa, the Zuñi heaven. Like the rest of the series, it is set on the Navajo Reservation in the Four Corners region of the Southwest and full of haunting descriptions of the landscape and the peoples who dwell within it. Legendary Navaho Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is called in by the Zuñi Tribal Police to help search for two missing teenage friends, one Zuñi and one Navajo, and in the course of the investigation – which is hampered by some rather strange tribal laws of the Zuñi – he ponders the beliefs of both tribes and their relations with each other. Dance Hall of the Dead received the 1974 Edgar Award for Best Novel. Hillerman was brought up among Indians, went to an Indian boarding school, and spent most of his life among Indians. His knowledge of their customs, religions, and folklore was extensive. The New York Times Book Review once said, “No wonder Hillerman's stories never grow old. Like myths, they keep evolving with the telling.” He died in 2008 and left a legacy of eighteen Leaphorn novels. Many of the later titles also feature the equally compelling Hillerman character, Navaho police officer Jim Chee. queenjance.jpgJ. A. Jance’s latest Walker Brandon suspense novel Queen of the Night is dedicated to Hillerman. Jance explains that he once sang the praises of mystery fiction to her and said "Literary fiction is where nothing happens to people you don't like very much." In a starred review, Booklist says Queen of the Night is “a mystery that Hillerman would be proud of and that her fans will love.”


In a Dry Season

Posted by JaneM on Sunday, Aug 8, 2010 - 11:15 AM

robbb.jpgPeter Robinson’s first novel in 1987, Gallows View, introduced Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks. The series is set in and around the fictional Yorkshire town of Eastvale. There are now 18 Banks titles in print, with the 19th, Bad Boy, due out later this month. In a Dry Season, the 10th in the series, won the Anthony and Barry awards for best novel and was nominated for the Edgar, Hammett, Macavity and Arthur Ellis Awards. It also won France’s Grand Prix of Crime Writing and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award and was a New York Times “notable book” of 1999. robds.jpgWhen a drought drains the local Thornfield Reservoir, uncovering a long-drowned small village and the skeleton of a murder victim from the 1940s, Detective Alan Banks and his Detective Sergeant, Annie Cabot, must investigate the decades-old crime and unmask an evil secret from the past. Robinson says “Often my stories are inspired by places. In this instance, it was a reservoir that I had visited near Otley, Yorkshire, in 1995. The water had all dried up, and what remained of the drowned village of West End was on view for the first time since the late 1970s. I just got an eerie feeling walking around there. And, of course, I imagined what if someone found a body that had been hidden underwater there for decades.” Robinson’s work is most often spoken of and reviewed in relation to that of prominent British crime writers, such as Reginald Hill and Ian Rankin. In a curious coincidence, only months before In a Dry Season came out, British author Reginald Hill published his novel On Beulah Height, in which another town and another mystery are exposed from beneath a reservoir. The author says he was relieved to find that “… apart from the reservoir, there are no comparisons to be made.” However, On Beulah Height was also a winner … Hill took home the 1999 Barry Award for best novel and it and was an Anthony and Gold Dagger Award nominee. It is the 18th novel in Hill’s legendary Superintendent Dalziel and Pascoe series, which is, ironically enough, also set in Yorkshire. Not certain whether or not Hill was inspired by the exact same reservoir as Robinson! Next Sunday, August 15th, at 2 pm, The Usual Suspects will be discussing In a Dry Season. For a copy of the book, phone 203-291-4821. New participants are always welcome.


Bittersweetness

Posted by JaneM on Tuesday, Jul 6, 2010 - 7:41 AM

pie.jpgIf you have already read Alan Bradley’s first Flavia de Luce mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and enjoyed it, you will not be surprised at the astonishing number of awards and honors it has been nominated for and received. If you have not: Picture an ancient country house somewhere in England. The year is 1950. A girl lives there with her eccentric family. Her name is Flavia de Luce and she is almost eleven. She has a passion for poisons. Imagine a long-abandoned Victorian chemistry laboratory. Add a dead bird by the back door with a rare postage stamp stuck on its beak and a dead body in the cucumber patch. Do not mistakenly think that this is a children’s novel. It has been called “an Enid Blyton novel for adults”, “the Mitfords, as imagined by Dorothy L. Sayers”, “Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”,”a dark Nancy Drew set in a gothic Midsomer”, and “reminiscent of the inhabitants of Mervyn Peake’s cult Gormenghast trilogy.” If that array doesn’t pique your curiosity, nothing will. You can read the first chapter on the author’s website and if you really like it you can join the Flavia de Luce Fan Club there, too! You will also find a list of entertaining interviews with the author, my favorite being the one about his amazing collection of out-of-date almanacs, yellowed dictionaries and other ancient repositories of arcane data. Alan Bradley was born in Toronto and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. He worked at numerous radio and television stations in Ontario, before becoming Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan where he remained for 25 years before taking early retirement to write in 1994. He was a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings where he collaborated on Ms. Holmes of Baker Street, which put forth the startling theory that the Great Detective was a woman, and was greeted upon publication with what has been described as “a firestorm of controversy”. weed.jpgThe second book in the series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag was released this past March and the third book, A Red Herring without Mustard, is due in March, 2011. The Usual Suspects will be discussing The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie on Sunday, July 11th, at 2 pm. For a copy of the book, phone 203-291-4821. New participants are always welcome.


Remembrance of things past

Posted by JaneM on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 - 9:00 AM

WOODS.jpgTana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin. In an interview at bookreporter.com she describes her writing style: “Here’s the main fact about the way I write: I have no clue what I’m doing. When I start on a book, I don’t know where it’s going to end up; I have a narrator, the kernel of a premise, an awful lot of coffee, and that’s it. Then I dive in and figure out the rest as I go along.” As for how she got into the mystery writing business, she explains “… almost by accident. When I had the idea for In the Woods I was working on an archaeological dig, between shows. There was a wood near the dig, and one day I thought, That would be a great place for kids to play … and instead of stopping there, I thought … what if three kids ran in there, and only one came out? I scribbled the idea down on a piece of paper. A year later I found it again, under a heap of phone bills, and I decided that I really wanted to do something with this idea. I never thought I could write a whole book, but I figured I could probably write one little section, and then another …” In the Woods, which was published in 2007, went on to win four major mystery awards: an Agatha, a Barry, an Edgar and a Macavity. The plot: Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories. LIKENESS.jpgIn a starred review, Booklist called it “a superior novel about cops, murder, memory, relationships, and modern Ireland” and an “outstanding debut and a series to watch for procedural fans.” Ryan’s partner, Cassie Maddox returns in French’s 2008 novel, The Likeness, and Booklist, in a second starred review called it “another winner.” Set six months after the events of In the Woods, a still traumatized Maddox is investigating the unsettling murder of a young woman whose name matches an alias she had once used as an undercover officer. FAITHFUL.jpgFrench’s fans are eagerly awaiting her third book, Faithful Place, which is due July 13th. In yet another starred review, Booklist calls this one “her best book yet.” Planning to run away with his girlfriend Rosie, Frank Mackey (now Cassie Maddox’s boss) concludes he has been dumped when she fails to join him and is astonished when Rosie's suitcase and evidence of foul play are discovered more than twenty years later. The Usual Suspects will be discussing In the Woods on Sunday, June 20th at 2 pm. New faces are always welcome. To reserve a copy of the book, call 291-4821.


Victorian crime and intrigue

Posted by JaneM on Sunday, May 9, 2010 - 11:39 AM

cater.jpgAnne Perry specializes in historical mysteries set in England and creates what Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times calls an “alluring world of Victorian crime and intrigue.” Critics have compared her novels to those of Charles Dickens because they explore the dramatic contrasts between the rich and the poor and the problems inherent in a society divided along rigid class lines. Perry features investigative teams composed of a professional male and an amateur female detective in two series. The upper-class status of the women and the professional contacts of their working-class husbands connect them to all levels of society.

Her first mystery novel, The Cater Street Hangman (1979), was the first of twenty- five novels featuring Inspector Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte.

perryface.jpgThe Face of a Stranger (1990) introduces Inspector William Monk and Hester Latterly, a forthright young woman who nursed with Florence Nightingale in Crimea, whom he later marries. There are sixteen novels in the Monk series.

In The Face of a Stranger, Monk is recovering from a serious accident and he finds he has lost not only his memory, but his professional skills as well. He is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of an aristocratic Crimean war hero and as his memory returns, Monk begins to realize that his own former self was not only an ambitious, but cold and perhaps cruel, man. The Publishers Weekly review called it a “period mystery with a pronounced and satisfying psychological dimension. “

The Usual Suspects will be discussing this book on Sunday, May 16th, at 2 pm. New faces are always welcome. To reserve a copy of the book, call 291-4821.

Anne Perry also writes a series of mysteries set during World War I which features a family involved in British intelligence work, and she adds a title to her Christmas series annually. These delightful books feature characters that we have met earlier in the Pitt and Monk series.

sheen.jpgHer latest release is The Sheen on the Silk, a tale set in 13th-century Constantinople at the brink of a Christian crusade. Anna Zarides, a young woman physician, disguises herself as a eunuch named Anastasius to prove her brother's innocence of a crime he did not commit. Publishers Weekly say of this one “As the danger, betrayals, and dead bodies mount, Perry conveys an earnest message about obsession, sacrifice, and faith at a dazzling crossroads of East and West civilizations.”
At 518 pages, it is a handful, but I hope to read more about the amazing Anna.

Here is some good news for fans who worry that Perry will run out of energy or ideas. In an interview she once said,”The other day somebody said to me, ‘You shouldn't write so much, you are turning out too much,’ and I spoke to my agent Nancy, and said, ‘I don't know that I can help it.’ Her reply: ‘You can't write less, it's like telling the birds not to sing.’”