Tag Archives: mystery

A Mind to Murder

The second book in the Adam Dalgliesh series by P.D. James. Oh, I’ll read all of these at some point. This one takes place in a psychiatric hospital and you get to know all of the key players as the clues are released. Nice ending.

Cover Her Face

This is the first in the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries by P. D. James. Gail has been a fan for decades so I thought I’d crack one open and see what the big deal is. This is a post-WWII murder mystery that takes place on an estate in the English countryside. The local police don’t appear to be to handle it so DCI Adam Dalgliesh (that’s Detective Chief Inspector for those unfamiliar with British police ranks) from Scotland Yard is called in. Continue reading

And Then There Were None

This is a classic mystery novel that I picked up at a half-price sale at Open Books. I like to keep a backlog of small to mid-sized fiction novels because I’m always reading one, no matter what’s on the Kindle. But this book is not small to mid-sized in content, it’s a giant, complex, enjoyable mystery that continues to influence pop culture today. Continue reading

U is for Undertow

I’m all caught up with the alphabet series. I’m going to celebrate somehow. I think I’ll read one of the books that influenced Grafton the most, The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald. That should hold me over until the November release of V is for Vengeance. Smart, very smart.

I was initially skeptical about the subject of U. The mystery is a crime that happened 20 years earlier so Grafton leaves the first person for large chunks of the book, narrating a second story from multiple perspectives two decades previous. It also revisits the back story of her childhood and unearths a few secrets that Kinsey finds disturbing and hopeful.

It all works well and I was sucked in again. Here’s why: Grafton just says interesting and cool stuff. She uses the thoughtful musings of the deeply-etched main character Kinsey Millhone; just one of many reasons to read these books.

For example, this is Kinsey explaining her process of review and reflection on the case at hand:

I had a lot of ground to cover, consigning everything I’d learned to note cards, one item per card, which reduced the facts to their simplest form. It’s our nature to condense and collate, bundling related elements for ease of storage in the back of our brains. Since we lack the capacity to capture every detail, we cull what we can, blocking the bits we don’t like and admitting those that match our notions of what’s going on. While efficient, the practice leaves us vulnerable to blind spots. Under stress, memory becomes even less reliable. Over time we sort and discard what seems irrelevant to make room for additional incoming data. In the end, it’s a wonder we remember anything at all. What we manage to preserve is subject to misinterpretation. An event might appear to be generated by the one before it, when the order is actually coincidental. Two occurrences may be linked even when widely separated by time and place. My strategy of committing facts to cards allowed me to arrange and rearrange them, looking for the overall shape of a case. I was convinced a pattern would emerge, but I reminded myself that just because I wished a story were true didn’t mean that it was. (page 225)

That’s a beautiful insight into classic 3×5 note taking techniques for any purpose. Oh, and we have cool. Here is Kinsey’s recipe for helping a cancer survivor pack on some weight:

I’d introduced Stacey to junk food, which he’d never eaten in his life. Thereafter, I tagged along with him as he went from McDonald’s to Wendy’s to Arby’s to Jack in the Box. My crowning achievement was introducing him to the In-N-Out burger. His appetite increased, he regained some of the weight he’d lost during his cancer treatment, and his enthusiasm for life returned. Doctors were still scratching their heads. (page 264)

Her “crowning achievement.” That’s funny. Californians, they’re nutty. Sit tight and I’ll have my thoughts on the aforementioned book by Ross Macdonald shortly.

Athabasca

This is turning out to be the year of the re-reads, mostly because of that fateful trip to The Brown Elephant a few months ago. This is another book I recall finishing years ago and saying, “meh.” Actually, I didn’t say that exact word because it hadn’t been invented yet. But I’m sure you get the picture. You probably also think I’m cool because of my occasional exploration of The Urban Dictionary. Thanks.

I spent my youth wanting to like Alistair MacLean novels. Many of his books were made into movies my brother and I loved, like Bear Island and Force 10 from Navarone, so I figured the books would be just as great. But as a youngster, I struggled through Athabasca, Goodbye California, and Seawitch before eventually giving up. After awhile, I settled into Robert Ludlum as my favorite thriller writer and compared every book to Ludlum’s, jarring, macho, fast-paced stories.

Upon the second reading, I’m mildly surprised at how much I liked Athabasca. It started out rather slow but picked up markedly in the second half, and the last few chapters flew at a breakneck pace. The characters were not very deep, but the good people were likable and the bad guys were cruel.

It’s as much a mystery/crime novel as a thriller I think. It nicely builds in aspects of both for a fine reading experience. It has a classic investigation by a group of outsiders and builds up to a big unveiling of the guilty parties. But it also has some tight action scenes, including a near death experience and a tower assault.

I like the idea of Alistair MacLean. His writing spans a long period of time and there seems to be a lot of variability in his subject matter. I think I’ll grab one of his war novels next, like Where Eagles Dare or Guns of Navarone.

T is for Trespass

A little different style of book for Grafton this time around, but it was great. Her standard beginning is to introduce a specific mystery and rehash Kinsey’s life story for people reading things out of order. Not so this time. Grafton actually starts the book with some third person narrative about one of the antagonists and returns to it frequently. All this, while Kinsey is working a few non-mystery type of projects.

There are three distinct story lines, but one dominates. I don’t recall Grafton juggling that many big stories. The main story includes one of the most sinister villains that I recall from any of Grafton’s books and she ups the ante with a graphic action scene near the end. The villain is a thieving, malicious home care nurse who lands the job of taking care of Kinsey’s 90 year old neighbor Gus (not Henry, who lives on the other side of Kinsey’s place). No other villain has had quite that proximity to Kinsey and this one really hits close to home.

Listen to me, I’m on a first name basis with these characters and I’m talking about them like I know them. It feels kind of weird, but I’m really engrossed in this series. They just keep getting better.

** PLOT KILLERS FOLLOW **

I’m not sure I’m all that enamored with how Grafton ended this one. After a very exciting double climax, there were still a lot of loose ends. Oh, she cleaned them up, but she did it on more of a retrospective basis, which at times seem kind of hurried and contrived. It could have ended with some loose ends for all I care.

But listen to me, I couldn’t put it down. Once she got rolling late in the book I just blasted through it. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to wait to read “U.”

The Chicago Way

I wish I could remember the route I’ve taken to each book in my life. Something led me to find this book on my Kindle, but I can’t recall what. Harvey writes crime novels based in Chicago, so any number of reasons could have been involved. And for some reason it was only $1.59, which plants this squarely in the “no-brainer” category.

I enjoyed it. It was funny and full of detailed Chicago stuff. The mystery was solid also. It’s the story of an ex-cop, Michael Kelly, who’s now in business for himself. He’s in his office one day and a former partner walks in and asks him for some help on an old case that was never fully resolved. Then the former partner ends up dead shortly thereafter.

We have crooked cops and lawyers. We have two strong women, one of whom is a love interest and the other a close childhood friend. And we have a serial killer on death row in southern Illinois with some secrets. We also get a solid twist in the end that I didn’t see coming (probably my own fault).

Kelly is a Cubs fan and at times Harvey tries to make it a little too wry and gritty. But it’s endearing, here’s a scene:

I found my way over to the concession stand, stepped inside, and ordered a red-hot drug through the garden. The Packer fans stood nearby, eating a double of order of cheese fries. Each.

I liked it.

R is for Ricochet

Grafton is not having any problems keeping me interested in the continuing adventures of her private investigator Kinsey Millhone. There are a few new developments this time around. First of all, Grafton throws in a lot of material about Kinsey’s landlord/neighbor Henry and his quirky family. But that’s not all.

I’m noticing a straying from the grittiness. Kinsey is wearing more makeup, gettin’ mo’ lovin’, and buying more clothes than ever before. It could just be the nature of this book, in which there isn’t a mystery that she’s engaged to resolve, per se.

Grafton is 69 and still appears to be going strong. I have three books to get caught up then I’ll finish them up as she writes them. That should be fun. She writes one about every year or two, so she’s gotta live to be about mid-70’s. Here’s a great interview at Powell’s where Grafton says that she is going to name the z book “Z” is for Zero.

I’m anticipating the run-up to the last book, that should be fun. She is noncommittal on continuing the series after that.

It’s so relaxing reading her books. I don’t really think about what I want her books to be like. I don’t say, “oh, I want to learn more about her family,” or “damn, I wish the villains were more sinister.” I just let these books happen and enjoy them. I have other interests/leisure activities that aren’t quite so relaxing, like college football and golf. Those have a different type of fulfillment.

Keep it up Sue.

The Secret Adversary

Pure nostalgia baby! I read this book for leisure when I was in high school (or maybe even before). It was the first Agatha Christie for me and remains the only one I’ve ever completed. Which I don’t understand because I loved it and I love the mystery/thriller genre. Why I haven’t read more of Christie’s books is somewhat of a mystery itself. Upon the second reading, it did not disappoint.

I should note another item; this is the first free, public domain electronic book I’ve read on my Kindle. I just went to Feedbooks and did some searching and eventually arrived at the Agatha Christie page. As soon as I saw this I grabbed it because this book has been stuck in the back of my mind for a few years now. It has always remained a memorable book for me for some reason, but I can’t recall why. I’ve entertained thoughts of purchasing it for years but just never pulled the trigger. Now that burden is lifted.

Most people think of detective Hercule Poirot when they hear Agatha Christie. But he’s not in this novel. This book features Tommy (Beresford) and Tuppence (Prudence Cowley), two “young adventurers” who meet up one day in London after not seeing each other for awhile. In no time, they get up to date on each other and decide to start their own little detective agency. This leads to all sorts of intrigue and danger.

It feels a little like young adult literature. Or maybe it’s just kind of old-fashioned (written in 1922). Or maybe I just don’t have any idea what Christie’s writing style is like. It’s very upbeat and although there is danger and death, I never really got to the edge of my seat. But then again, I’ve read it before, albeit about 30 years ago. Here’s a passage that I found kind of humorous, it occurs when Tommy is captured; he’s trying to figure out what to do if he’s able to lure his captor into his cell:

Therefore, why not wait in ambush for Conrad behind the door, and when he entered bring down a chair, or one of the decrepit pictures, smartly on to his head. One would, of course, be careful not to hit too hard. And then—and then, simply walk out! If he met anyone on the way down, well—Tommy brightened at the thought of an encounter with his fists. Such an affair was infinitely more in his line than the verbal encounter of this afternoon.

The detective novel certainly has changed over the last 90 years huh?

Another technique Christie uses in this book is the big reveal. You know, when the smart detective goes through the deductive process they used to arrive at the solution. I’m not used to this because I don’t read that many classic mysteries. I read a lot of crime fiction, which I think is how I would classify Grafton or Burke. I don’t feel like Grafton ever uses the big reveal.

I will read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s other public domain book in the US. Maybe I’ll do that this year or next, so I’ll get a better feel for her writing.

P is for Peril

I’m getting close to catching up with Grafton’s alphabet mystery things. They’re just frickin’ reliable and I can bank on some great fun. I would love to know how Grafton feels about her predecessors like Raymond Chandler. In certain ways she pays homage by creating a hard-boiled, lonesome, private detective embroiled in smartly woven crime novels that highlight greed, corruption, and other human frailties. But she also pokes fun a little and makes things lighter. This book made me think of some similarities and differences.

One method to deepen the persona of said private detective is to build a relationship with coffee, cigarettes, or some other sort of vice. For example, in The Long Goodbye Chandler often had Marlowe making coffee. Real good coffee. I seem to recall rich descriptions of a simple cup and it was easy for me to picture Marlowe hunched over a cup of coffee, reading the LA Times, sorting through the next steps in solving whatever mystery was unfolding.

In much the same way, Grafton has Millhone eating McDonald’s all the time. Junk food, it’s another vice. But it allows Grafton to throw in some humor. Early on, Millhone has this run-in with breakfast.

I stopped off at McDonald’s and ordered coffee and a couple of Egg McMuffins. I needed the comfort of junk food as well as the nourishment, if that’s what you want to call it. I munched while I drove, eating with such eagerness I bit my own index finger.

It’s easy to picture a Millhone eating in her car while she’s ruminating on the details of the case. Grafton’s methods always keep it a little lighter, but I think it’s just as effective for character development and it strikes the right chords with me for the most part. I don’t think Millhone is supposed to be as dark as Marlowe, and she isn’t.

But both Millhone and Marlowe are alike in that both of them shun the societal norms of marriage, kids, and settling down. Recall that passage I talked about where Marlowe goes on a tirade against any other life but the one he is living. Take a read, I excerpted it in The Long Goodbye post. Millhone has a moment kind of like that when she goes to interview someone for her case. She’s interviewing a woman at the woman’s home, where there’s a handful of screaming, rambunctious kids. The screaming is so loud that Millhone can’t concentrate on the conversation. She thinks:

I tried to concentrate on what Blanche was saying, but all I could think about was that even at my age, a tubal ligation probably wasn’t out of the question.

So, much like Chandler, Grafton crafts Millhone in a manner that you never have to worry about her giving up this detective thing. Maybe we’re wrong though, who knows, maybe at “Z,” Millhone will have a husband and a kid and just ride off into the sunset. Something to look forward to I guess. That would certainly close out Millhone.

Hillerman died a few months ago and I feel like he never closed out his characters. But I may be wrong because I didn’t read the last few with that thought in mind because I didn’t realize how close to death he was. I’ll reread them all when I retire.