Saturday, November 13, 2010

A sampler of mystery reads

This mixed bag includes some books I've read over the last year and have been meaning to blog about...An assortment of historical, cozy, contemporary, and atypical detective novels. All are worth reading and well written.

Abigail Adams Mysteries: Barbara Hamilton Ninth Daughter, Marked Man

Abigail Adams
The Adamses are taking over  our house! We have been watching John Adams the HBO bio-pic based on the David McCullough biography and starring Paul Giamatti as Adams and Laura Linney as Abigail. Never would have thought Adams was such a whiner! Laura Linney's Abigail is almost exactly what you might guess: a steely New England beauty who was John Adams best supporter, critic, and dear friend - a very intelligent woman and perfect housekeeper at a time when people used sand for cleaning, shopped everyday, and had to boil their laundry in lye in giant washtubs. The early episodes are better, well more lively.  Anyway by coincidence, also just finished Ninth Daughter, the first of the series, having first read Marked Man. A fun series set in  pre-revolutionary Boston when the Boston Tea Party, Massacre and all kinds of mayhem leaving to the Rev. are taking place. They are well researched and characters well-drawn; Abigail is an interesting heroine.

Hank Phillippi Ryan Prime Time

I wanted to like this - HPR sent me a nice note and said she would read my blog when I signed up for the 4mysteryreaders listserv, which was really nice.  I read HPR's  prize winning short story On the House and it was excellent. Just not buying Charlotte McNalley, her on camera news reporter for a big city TV station - the plot was taut and the dialogue not un-witty but it didn't grab me. I may read some of the others though, just to see if it gets better.  

Randall Peffer Listen to the Dead 

Set in New Bedford and the cape islands, this is an interesting mix of contemporary and 1960s Carribean drug smuggling. It has a kind of haunting background full of the resonance of the past including the 1980s New Bedford serial killings and other violence. The interaction between quiet low-key harbormaster Corby Church who finds bones on a lighthouse island and Puerto Rican detective Yemanjá Colón, who channels the dead and whose grandmother is a Santeria priestess, is fun and interesting. I have to admit the scenes with the grandmother were not very convincing and seemed an odd kind of comic relief. The mood did swing back forth from kind of haunting to a sort of out of control comedy. It's pretty good. Even so despite all these positive qualities I kind of lost interest half way through and  did not finish but it was so full of good things I may read more of the series. Peffer's a talented writer.


Elly Griffiths The Crossing Places: A Ruth Galloway Mystery  

Set in the UK in a Norfolk salt marsh full of stone circles and bog bodies and with its main character an overweight archaeologist loner, this would seem so perfect for me that  I had to read it but once I started reading it I found it hard-going. It has a fabulous atmosphere and the characters, notably Ruth Galloway,  are human and flawed, and therefore kind of  interesting but the human interactions, institutional settings, don't ring true.  In one part because it focuses on the  kidnapping and murder of young girls and that is very hard for me to read (I can get past it at times like the recent Nevada Barr but it has to be very well done). Another problem was summed up on another blog, a commenter said that it is very hard for non-archaeologists to write about archaeology  in a way that seems credible and that is true here. Although Elly's husband is an archaeologist, she makes too many mistakes (archaeology done by one person, no description of archaeological techniques that make sense, instant C14 dating, no continuity on the descriptions of bodies and artifacts) to be able to buy it.

Jean-François Parot The Nicholas le Floch Affair A Nicolas Le Floch Investigation  

Set in pre-revolutionary France (sense a theme?), this was really, really good.  Gallic books sent me a copy and my husband and I both read it and loved it. A popular TV series in France, this really well researched novel has some interesting and rather eccentric characters, and pre-revolutionary jitters.


 Betty Kerr Orlemann Mission: Murder 

Set in horrifying murder central Bucks County ;-), this geriatric cozy is pretty sweet.I liked the main character 80-year old Hattie Farwell. My main problem with it is the made up political candidate that involves some ridiculously unbelievable dialogue and situations. Dialogue and interior monologues are not too believable in general but it was still an enjoyable read.

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