Monday, 28 May 2012

Mystery reviews

At long last, here are some overdue book reviews.  Please don't let the fact I didn't post about them right away make it seem that they aren't good - each of these following mysteries I loved, and are very good.

Sworn to Silence
- Linda Castillo - first in the Kate Burkholder series.  Kate is a police officer who returns to the Amish community of her childhood, invited by the city council (not Amish led) to be the police chief.  She hasn't been back since leaving as a teenager, turning her back on it after she survives the terror of being attacked by the serial killer named the Slaughterhouse Killer.  Shortly after she returns, a murder occurs, which mimics the way the victims of the Slaughterhouse Killer died many years ago. Kate is forced to confront her own memories, as well as her family, in solving this case, as she has to determine if there is a copy cat killer, or if the Slaughterhouse Killer has returned.

This was a fascinating mystery.  I really liked the character of Kate, I liked the police department in the tiny town she is police chief of, the depiction of  the Amish community, and the rogue FBI agent sent in to help.  John  Tomasetti, who has a tortured past of his own.  The mystery has lot of suspense, clues sprinkled through out, and a great pace.  It does have a weak ending, which was disappointing - for me, the killer didn't quite ring true, but this may be because it is her first book, as well as the debut of the series.

Kate herself is fascinating and complex, as is her background in the Amish community.  This book has really stayed with me ever since reading it.  The crimes are a bit graphic, but otherwise, this is a very good police procedural.  I will be reading more in the series.

I have Wendy at Musings of  a Literary Feline to thank for her review of Sworn to Silence, here. , which got me looking for the book.  Yaay Book bloggers!

One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson - 2nd in the Jackson Brodie series.  This takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland, two years after he inherited the fortune in at the end of Case Histories, the first book in this series.  Jackson is still with Julia, the actress sister from Case Histories.  He has followed her up her because of a play she is appearing in.  It is quite amusing to see how having all that money has changed Jackson, and how it hasn't.  He still doesn't see his daughter very often.  He quit his job, so he is no longer a police detective, or anything official.  He is bored. So when he sees a crime on a side street during the Fringe Festival held in Edinburgh every year, he jumps in to help.  And lands himself in a complicated mystery case that is by turns funny and bittersweet. This was fun to read from beginning to end.  I really like the character of Jackson.  He is like a rumpled Peter Falk - he doesn't seem to be paying attention, he jumps off into tangents, yet he is kindly and sweet, and determined.  I am so glad there are at least two more in this series!  I really am enjoying how he gets what we all dream of, enough money to retire, and he's not happy because things aren't good with Julia as they could be, and he doesn't have enough contact with his daughter.  At his heart he is a simple man, and wise enough to know that the things that matter, money can't buy, even though money is often at the root of most of the cases he used to work on, as it is here in this mystery. Highly recommended.

Elly Griffiths:
The House at Sea End - Book 3
A Room Full of Bones - Book 4

I have become a huge fan of this series.  Ruth Galloway is the plus-size forensic archaeologist who features in this series.  She is such a fun character.  She is plus-sized, loves food, and like Jackson Brodie above, somewhat bittersweet in character. She doesn't suffer fools gladly, and in a moment of weakness in the first book in the series, a gripping and terrible mystery and death leave her vulnerable, and she sleeps with the very married DCI Harry Nelson of the nearby police force.  In an surprising turn of events, she discovers she is pregnant, and at the end of book 2, The Janus Stones, she gives birth to a baby girl.  The House at Sea End and A Room Full of Bones take place over the first year of baby Kate's life.  Nelson's wife does not know at first, and slowly guesses, until she realizes on her own the truth at the end of The House at Sea End.  A Room Full of Bones is about the fall out for all three, and baby Kate.

This is not a series about a soap opera, however.  This all plays out in the background of the story, in each book, and for me it deepens the story.  It gives me an insight into all the characters involved, and all the secondary ones as well. It deepens the emotional connection too.  On top of all this, Ruth gets called in on interesting cases, mysteries that span centuries: in The House at Sea End, the bodies of several men are discovered in a cleft in a cliff mostly hidden by the sea.  They turn out to be from WW 2, and we (and Ruth) get a crash course in the Home Guard, and what it was like to fear invasion from the Germans, and what happened one night when the Germans did cross.  It was very interesting to read, and as the body count mounts, the mystery deepens when new bodies turn up, all linked to the WW 2 grave. It's up to Ruth and Nelson to try to figure out the clues, as they fight their attraction to each other, and work out what role he gets to play in Kate's life as the undeclared father. It's a nice interplay of the past affecting the future, and how the choices made now make the future to come, as the mystery graphically illustrates.

A Room Full of Bones takes us back in time to the medieval ages, and a bishop's casket that is uncovered during an excavation for a new building site.  The church it originally was part of was long since decommissioned.  Ruth is called in to examine the bones and determine if they could be the holy bones of the bishop.  In the same museum where the casket is to be opened to the public,  the curator of the museum is killed just before the museum is filled for the casket opening. Ruth   stumbles upon the body when she is  the first to arrive at the museum, s she gets an eyewitness viewing to the scene of the corpse and the casket. Later on, because of her field of work, she is taken downstairs to look at skulls collected by the ancestor of the museum.  They are Aborigine skulls from Australia, and the death of the curator is possibly linked to an Aborigine group who are seeking to reclaim the skulls to go back to Australia to enter the ground and the Dreamtime, a very important part of Aborigine religion.

This was a fascinating mystery.  In fact I read both books breathlessly, one in February, then A Room Full of Bones last month, unable to put them down.  There is something about Ruth, and her view of the world, and where she lives on the saltmarshes of Norfolk, that she is living a life I'd like to lead. . The mysteries are good, the characters are really fun, and it's very well-written  I really like the progression of the characters through each novel. I have always enjoyed series where I can see how events impact on characters, and this series is rich with this.   I highly recommend this series to anyone. Oh, and the descriptions of the archaeological digs is fascinating too.  Ruth is one of my favourite mystery characters, and this series is among my favourite series now.

So have you read any good mysteries lately?


raidergirl3 said...

Love Jackson Brody!! I wish there were more books already. But Susan, have you seen the Jackson Brodie movies? They were on PBS, filmed in Britain and the 3 episodes covered the first 3 books. Jason Isaacs stars perfectly as Brody.

Anne Simonot said...

I love the Ruth Galloway series too! And I found about it thru a book blogger too. Like you, I enjoy the mysteries but it's the character of Ruth and her less than perfect life which makes the books.

Daphne said...

I just read The White Devil, which wasn't really a mystery but there was mysterious elements. I think you'd like it quite a bit, Susan. Lord Byron, ghosts, English boarding schools...

Gavin said...

Thanks for this post, Susan. Atkinson is a favorite of mine and I really do need to read Castillo and Griffiths!

Anne Simonot said...

Oh, "The White Devil" is an awesome book. Recommended by me as well.

Susan said...

raidergirl3: No, I didn't see the PBS movies! I LOVE Jason Isaacs...Oh, I will have to check to see if they are on this summer again. Thanks for telling me!

Anne: Yes, the character of Ruth is original and so enjoyable, isn't she? Thanks so much for leaving a comment here, Anne! I will come find you :-)

Daphne: Ooh, I was waiting for this book to come out. Stephen King really liked it too, so between you and Anne, I have to go check and see if my library has it! Thanks for reminding me, Daphne. Did you review it?

Gavin: Oh yes, you have to read Castillo and Griffiths! I am enjoying the Jackson Brodie series so much. I think I'm taking my time because there are only 5 so far in the series! lol

Anne: thank you for the recommendation! between you and Daphne, I'm checking to see if my library has it yet :-)

Cath said...

Catching up on a few of your posts. I absolutely adore Ruth Galloway... one of my favourites of the current crop of crime books. I haven't read the latest but gathered the wife had guessed the truth at the end of book 3. Need to get hold of A Roome Full of Bones *soon*.

Susan said...

Cath: oh yes!!! do get it soon!! You have got to read it :-)