I’m feeling that end-of-year compulsion to tie up loose ends and catch up on my book reviews for this year. This post gathers up all the private eyes, cops, and amateur sleuths I encountered in 2016.
The Body in the Library (Miss Marple #3) – Agatha Christie
I listened to this one while driving from Maine to Virginia back in January of this year. My sister and brother-in-law were along for the ride too and I remember discussing our whodunit theories over fast food dinner somewhere in Pennsylvania. We didn’t figure it out – Christie kept us guessing. This one stands out for having quite the cold-blooded murder plan.
Devil in a Blue Dress (Easy Rawlins #1) – Walter Mosley
Recommendation from: Beth Fish Reads
This mystery set in 1940’s Los Angeles features a black man named Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins who is hired by white men to look for a missing blonde who was known to frequent black establishments. Rawlins takes the gig as he needs the money to keep his house. It is not a fancy house, but home-ownership means independence and freedom for him and he does not want to give that up. The symbolism of Rawlins’ house is what I remember most from this book. The investigation and mystery in the rest of the book were fine. I’m not sure if I’ll read more in the series. I’m generally terrible at continuing on with mystery series even if I’ve enjoyed the first entry.
Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) – Louise Penny
I read a good chunk of this book one morning in Seattle. I had flown to Seattle for a conference and the time difference meant I woke up super early. While waiting to meet a friend for breakfast, I found a seat in Pike Place Market overlooking Elliott Bay and read and read. Still Life was an engaging mystery. A couple of the characters were a bit hard to believe in their terribleness. However, like other readers, I found the character Chief Inspector Gamache a refreshingly stable presence in a genre that seems to favor troubled, lonely souls as the leads. (Not that those are bad books, but it’s nice to have a change.)
Lush Life – Richard Price
A young white man is shot and killed while resisting an attempted mugging in the Lower East Side, his memorable last words being, “Not tonight, my man.” Price’s novel follows a wide cast of characters who are all connected to the fatal shooting: the shooter, the detectives on the case, the main witness, the family, and the people of the neighborhood.
Although the book dragged on too long in the end, Price is terrific at characterization, dialogue and scene-setting. The young man’s memorial service is one of the high points in this regard. Most memorable however are the early scenes where detectives psychologically break-down a witness who they believe is the murderer. When I read Adam Benforado’s Unfair earlier this month where it talked about American police interrogations, my mind immediately recalled these scenes from the novel.
The Deep End (The Country Club Murders #1) – Julie Mulhern
Recommendation from: Lakeside Musing
On the more frothy end of the mystery spectrum, we have Mulhern’s series which is set in mid-1970’s Kansas City, Missouri. I say frothy in terms of tone – it does have a fairly high body count. Ellison Russell is our amateur sleuth who discovers the body of her husband’s mistress in the country club pool. Her husband is missing, she’s a suspect, her teenage daughter is upset and there are a lot of dirty secrets she’s about to uncover. Ellison has a reputation among her set as a bit of an ice queen, but manages to collect a couple of potential love interests over the course of the novel all the same. (The philandering husband having left that field open.) I was a little disappointed that Mulhern didn’t lean more into the setting. It’s not every time you read a book set in Kansas City, much less in the 1970s, so I was hoping for more historic and local specificity than was delivered. Perhaps later books in the series do better on that score. Overall, it was a quick, page-turning read that hit the spot at the time I read it.
No One Lives Twice (Lexi Carmichael Mystery #1) – Julie Moffett
Another light mystery: Lexi Carmichael is a low-level tech for the National Security Agency who is suddenly thrown into high-intrigue mystery when her best friend mails her a puzzling document and then disappears. Suddenly, Lexi is being threatened on the street of her parents’ house, her apartment is being burgled, and several sexy men of undetermined trustworthiness have swooped in with offers to help. Lexi’s obliviousness strains credulity at times, but I liked the attention to detail when it came to the plot. In particular, the villains’ plans – when all is revealed – were satisfyingly interesting and complex. (The title does acquire some additional meaning by the end. It’s not just there for Bond connotation.) I know the author, so that’s why I wanted to check out the book. Overall, I found the book to be a fun bit of escapist reading.
A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine
Recommendation from: Teresa of Shelf Love (in the comments of the linked review)
All the books above have had at least partial focus on the investigator. In A Fatal Inversion, the main characters are complicit in the murder, and they fear discovery now that the body has been found many years later. The novel follows them in their present-day panic. It also follows them into their flashbacks as they remember being young and irresponsible, living it up in a country house, heading toward a tragedy of their own making. I was telling Teresa while I was midway through the book that A Fatal Inversion was like Tartt’s The Secret History featuring the young hippies from Joan Didion’s essay “Slouching Toward Bethlehem”.
Despite knowing who is responsible for the murder, A Fatal Inversion has a lot of unexpected revelations in store for the reader. In addition to this fine plotting, Vine’s characterization is also terrific. (Or rather I should say Ruth Rendell as Barbara Vine was her pen name). This was my first foray into Rendell/Vine. I’m not sure what would be next among her prolific backlist. I think I’ve had Rottweiler on my to-read list for a while, but I’m open to suggestions.