From the publisher:London, 1878. One April morning, a small boat bearing a young woman’s corpse floats down the murky waters of the Thames. When the victim is identified as Rose Albert, daughter of a prominent judge, the Scotland Yard director gives the case to Michael Corravan, one of the only Senior Inspectors remaining after a corruption scandal the previous autumn left the division in ruins. Reluctantly, Corravan abandons his ongoing case, a search for the missing wife of a shipping magnate, handing it over to his young colleague, Mr. Stiles.
As an orphan and former bare-knuckle boxer, Corravan would make a great hard-boiled detective, but Odden plays it traditional with this one. In fact, he reminds me much more of the detectives of the Golden Age period of mystery novels than the noirs of the same time–that is if Dickens was writing then instead of Agatha Christie. There is clearly a great deal of period-expertise and research behind this novel, but that doesn’t get in the way of a great mystery.
As a mystery writer myself I am always daunted by the task of coming up with something “new.” I seek out a new method or a new motive and usually settle on a new variation. I was pleased to discover something entirely new in Odden’s novel, though I won’t spoil it for you.
Charity Gray was an intelligent, inquisitive teen who disappeared fifteen years eariler. When her body is discovered, it should be a typical cold case. Before the Detroit police can get started, the FBI commandeers the investigation, with a prime suspect in mind: retired mobster Leo Agonasti. When Agonasti slips through their grasp, he reaches out to Sergeant Jefferson Chene. Their unusual friendship draws Chene into the thick of the case. Burdened with two reluctant FBI agents, Chene is working against the clock and the feds to find the real killer. Chene senses they are getting close to the answers. Will he be able to solve the murder and clear the old mobster of this heinous crime before time runs out?
Cutting back and forth between the perspectives of prime suspect Agonasti and lead investigator Chene, The Wayward Path walks the line between a police procedural and a crime novel, giving us lots of characters to root for. As it becomes clear that Agonasti had nothing to do with the death of Charity and Chene learns about her fierce curiosity, only more questions arise? What did the teenager come across? Who is targeting Chene? And why, after a gunfight in the streets that lands Chene in the hospital, do police find a picture of Chene’s girlfriend in the shooter’s pocket?
Fans of straight police procedurals will find a lot to like in the pages of Mark Love’s newest. Also, those with an interest in seeing both sides. With his attention to Agonasti’s backstory, I was reminded of Dennis Lehane’s Joe Coughlin series.
This is a solid read with interesting characters and a mystery with more than meets the eye.
For the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of being a member of Mystery Writers of America, whose membership includes such heavy-hitters as Stephen King, Walter Mosley, Louise Penny, and Tana French. (When my debut mystery, How Everything Turns Away, came out, it was listed right beside Stephen King’s newest, Billy Summers.)
Last April, MWA put out a book specifically for mystery writers working on their craft. How to Write a Mystery consists of essays by bestselling mystery and thriller writers from its membership. I read it when it first came out, took amble notes as I was plotting out my sequel, and planned to write a review. Then school started, my debut came out, and I got busy marketing it and writing the sequel. Now that school is over and my sequel is with my editor, I thought I’d better review this puppy before I forget all about it!
The collection is edited by Lee Child with help from Laurie R. King. The essays are broken into four sections: The Rules and Genres; Other Mysteries; The Writing; and After the Writing. Rather than give an overview of these, I thought I would just offer some gems I found in each section.
The Rules and Genres
“The novel is a movie stuntman, about to get pushed off a sixty-story building. The prop guys have a square fire department airbag ready on the sidewalk below. One corner is marked Mystery, one Thriller, one Crime Fiction, and one Suspense. The stuntman is going to land on the bag. (I hope.) But probably not dead-on. Probably somewhere off-center. But biased toward which corner? I don’t know yet. And I really don’t mind. I’m excited to find out.” -Lee Child
“The hard-boiled detective – think Chandler, Hammett, and Ross Macdonald…often has unorthodox methods that suit them well, and is not averse to bending or breaking the law in pursuit of justice…In the cozy, the setting is usually rural or small-town, the violence most often occurs offstage, the sex and profanity are minor to nonexistent, and the investigator is usually an amateur and most often a woman whose interests lie elsewhere – knitting or baking or antiques, say…technothriller novels [feature] international military action and potential conflict of all kinds, suffused with a deep knowledge of hardware, tactics, and the military heart and mind. Tom Clancy is the king here…Other writers have mashed the subgenres up…Carl Hiaasen combines the environmental thriller with comic noir…Andy Weir’s Artemis blends science fiction with the heist novel. Stephen King’s 11/23/63 is a political thriller by way of time travel. Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls does the same for the serial killer novel…Read them all, absorb them, see what works, figure out why it works – and then use everything you’ve read to create your very own style. Surprise yourself. Surprise us all. Make brilliant pretzels.” – Neil Nyren
“In a thriller, the story is about the choices the characters make when facing deadly threats, under increasing pressure, often with time running out. The only real way to find out what characters are made of is to crack their world in half.” – Meg Gardiner
“Twists can involve a discovery, a revelation – say, of a secret – a betrayal, a declaration of love, a mistake, a failure of courage…But no matter how you plant a twist, it should be earned, or the reader will feel burned. Use twists to ramp up the tension, the suspense, the stakes; to reveal and change character.” – Meg Gardiner
“An amateur sleuth is not paid for investigative services, the most daunting challenge for a writer of this subgenre is to justify the involvement of their protagonist in the storyline…Rather than worrying whether readers will like your amateur sleuths, you need to consider whether the characters are compelling and entertaining.” – Naomi Hirahara
“The root of noir is in character – and to fully experience a noir story, you have to see the character go from their norm, whether buttoned-up businessman unhappy with his job or bored housewife, to their rock bottom…while these kinds of characters can exist in a PI novel or procedural, if the series is more evergreen than ‘evolving,’ it’s harder to label the work as noir…The primary challenge in writing noir is the ability to let go – to allow your characters, through their own actions, to dig themselves deeper into the holes they’ve created, and to allow them to fail…In a dangerous world that’s more gray than black or white, noirs reflect our darkness – creating an eerie beauty that can arise only when all hope is gone.” – Alex Segura
“You should write the kind of story that you, yourself, want to read. If you are into crime, skip the feel-good stuff.” – Dag Ohrlund
“Poe believed that the short story was the pinnacle of prose compositions – the one that ‘should best fulfill the demands of high genius’ – in part directly related to the form’s brevity. Short stories, according to Poe, should be capable of being read in a single sitting, with ‘unity of effect’ being both a goal and a challenge.” – Art Taylor
“Writers often (too often?) strive to sneak a plot twist into the final line…But while such reveals can surely offer immediate pleasures, I would argue that character twists are often more effective.” – Art Taylor
“To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, plot is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing. All the pretty prose, marvelous metaphors, and captivating characters in the world will not make up for the lack of a good story.” – Carole Bugge
“Be audacious with your style. Be simple with your sentences, too. Just don’t attempt to do either one constantly.” – Lyndsay Faye
“I outline to what feels like the middle of the book, [then] I jump ahead and actually write the last chapter. By writing the last chapter, I know who did it, why they did it, and how they did it.” – Rae Franklin James
“When all else fails, remember to raise the stakes! Readers don’t read mysteries just for the puzzle. You have to give them emotional engagement.” – Deborah Crombie
“If you are writing a story with a character who is a forensic scientist, you might try to arrange an interview with a real person who works in a crime lab. Similarly, if you’re creating a character who has a background different from your own, you might want to reach out to someone who can tell you if you’re ‘getting it right.’ ” – Frankie Y Bailey
“When is it a good idea to introduce laughs and when should we resist? Can a death scene be funny? A murder? Absolutely. Elmore Leonard wouldn’t write them any other way and Oyinkan Braithwaite has taken up the baton in her biting black comedy My Sister, the Serial Killer. You have to park most, perhaps all, of your empathy to appreciate wit this scabrous – but it’s worth it.” – Catriona McPherson
“Advertising and marketing are for visibility, not for sales. A lot of people get disappointed when they invest in an ad campaign and they don’t see immediate sales results.” – Liliana Hart
“Your mailing list, which you use to send monthly or semiregular newsletters, is one of the foundations of your online presence. Newsletters allow you to reach your biggest fans directly.” – Maddee James
“A veteran writer was talking to someone whose first novel had just come out, and who was having an anxiety attack about the upcoming panel. The debut author admitted he had no idea how to promote his book. ‘I’ll tell you how,’ said the vet. I leaned closer. ‘Don’t promote your book,’ he said. ‘Promote yourself…If they like you, they’ll probably buy your book, and will probably like it…and will probably tell others about it.’ Wait a minute, I thought…if a book’s bad, no amount of liking the writer will change that. And that’s generally true. And yet…” – Louise Penny
Taking it’s name from Charles Mackay’s classic study of crowd psychology, Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, Louise Penny’s most recent mystery takes us back to Three Pines and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as he first protects a controversial statistician and then must investigate a murder following her visit.
Abigail Robinson is a visiting Professor of Statistics ready to give a lecture at a nearby university. However, her talk is cut short by gun fire. Why? One reason is certainly the content of Robinson’s lecture: forced euthanasia for the infirm and the elderly. One thing a worldwide pandemic proved, at least in Robinson’s eyes, was that the death of the sick and aged saved the country of Canada a lot of money. What if the nation took the tragedy as a model of public health moving forward? What if unavoidable death became mandatory? The slogan that gave so many hope during the pandemic, ça va bien aller, all shall be well, soon becomes a sinister mantra. If we kill all who aren’t well, then all who remain shall be well.
Inspector Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team soon uncover an intricate web of deceit, torture, and murder, and it seems that half of Three Pines is involved or at least knows a small piece of the puzzle.
While both engaging and timely (the spurious correlations made by Robinson are some of the very same we’ve heard about the pandemic in general), the plot does tend toward the overly complex at times. I have often wondered if contemporary mysteries have a convolution problem, as if the only way contemporary mystery writers can create an unsolvable crime is to add rope after rope, coil after coil, until they have a proverbial Gordian knot. I won’t give away the resolution of The Madness of Crowds, but suffice it to say, it requires a lot of people to be guilty of a lot of tangentially related things. Rather than an elegant reveal and a motive we should’ve seen from the beginning, we end with Gamache untying a number of threads I wasn’t sure should’ve been tied together in the first place. I had the right suspect fairly early on, but the motive took a lot of uncovering to understand.
That being said, I enjoy Gamache and the folks of Three Pines, and Penny did provide a good meditation on our times. One thing the pandemic has proved, to me at least, is that the pro-life movement continues to struggle toward consistency. With this mystery, Penny offers an interesting take on the concept.
Everyone thinks Roy Naysmith is past his prime as a detective. His bum heart doesn’t help matters. When he makes a switch from Omaha PD to tiny Winterset, Nebraska, his first major case involves the shooting death of Homer Coot, a Vietnam vet with a drinking problem. This investigation quickly takes a backseat, however, when a prominent citizen, Lydia Mullins, goes missing during a snow storm.
Through the course of the novel, Naysmith must work with eager rookie Clarence Thacker to unravel the corruption and petty crimes that plague Winterset and seem to add up to one giant conspiracy that could undo the entire town.
Terry Korth Fischer has a strong sense of police procedure, which she details with Hemingway-eque specificity. There is no gray area with how her detective solves the two cases he finds himself embroiled in, nor is there much suspension of disbelief required on the part of the reader. While the Homer Coot case falls by the wayside for a majority of the book, its relevance becomes apparent in the parallel investigation, whose actors are both more relevant to the community and more time-sensitive, so this also makes logical sense.
This mystery will appeal to mid-westerners and fans of realistic police procedural novels, but the characters of Roy Naysmith and Esther Mullins in particular give readers of any genre much to enjoy.
After her husband runs off with the girl next door, psychologist Britt Thornton decides to blow off some steam by accompanying her friend Arielle to France where Arielle is planning on purchasing a cheese shop.
Once in France, Britt immediately realizes her accounts have been frozen. Not only has her husband been unfaithful, he’s been embezzling funds and is now being tracked down by the FBI. They also track Britt down overseas.
Viane Thibaudet is a young, ambitious chef whose great aims lay far beyond her town of Chevalier. She wants to buy a restaurant in Paris with her husband’s money, only Jean-Luc isn’t willing to do it.
When Jean-Luc collapses after eating something his wife made for him, Britt is there to give him CPR. It is after all Viane’s cheese shop her friend Arielle is trying to buy.
This was a solid mystery with a delightful setting. Like the author, I am also a bit of a Francophile and it made me long to visit this fictional village. The only thing that didn’t connect for me was a B-plot or C-plot about a troubled teen named “Thirteen.” Britt receives steadily more unsettling text messages from him back in the states, but the tension never really rose for me. It is a very minor thread, however, and didn’t take anything away from the read.
Fans of cozy mysteries, especially those set in international locations, and epicureans will find much to enjoy about these characters and their strife.
After history teacher Darrell Henshaw has his bachelor party crashed by a cake-inhabiting medium, he knows he’s going to have one interesting honeymoon. In a strange Slavic accent, she whispers, “Ven you go to Crystal River, you vill have…two visitors from the other side, two visitors vaiting for you.” These visitors quickly turn out to be Daniel and Mia, the children of migrant workers. Through the course of the novel, Darrell and his new wife Erin must work with translator Luis to get to the bottom of what happened—all while simultaneously having a honeymoon.
This is my first paranormal mystery. It has a lot in common with traditional mysteries. For instance, the detective conducts interviews, gathers clues, and faces personal peril. However, much of what drives his investigation, as the genre suggests, comes from otherworldly agents. A medium tells him about the victims, visions of phantoms and a weeping painting help him ID children, and then eerie Christmas carols haunt a crucial scene.
The setting, Florida in the late 90s, appeals to me as I lived in Florida in the late 90s. I remember bringing in the new millennium in Tangerine, Florida at my aunt’s house as I was living in Orlando at the time. Overbeck portrays this strange time and place accurately, dropping in several fun Easter eggs, such as swimming with manatees and the approaching Bush-Gore election, which would become big drama in Florida politics.
If you’re a fan of paranormal mysteries or 90s paranormal film, you’re sure to enjoy Scarlet at Crystal River.
Today, I have the honor of reviewing a book by a fellow mystery writer at my publisher. T. L. Bequette, when he isn’t writing mystery novels, is a criminal defense attorney in California who serves on an annual faculty clinic at Stanford Law School.
Joe Turner, Bequette’s protagonist and narrator, is an Oakland defense attorney as well. When we first meet Turner, he is meeting with a current client, Leonard Dunigan, who is accused of killing a man by “squeezing his skull until it caved in.” From this very first scene we are thrust into Turner’s world in all its dangerous ambiguity.
Ricocheting from this hopeless case, Turner meets with Darnell Moore, a nineteen-year-old black youth who has become entangled with an Oakland gang, the IceBoyz. Moore stands accused of killing a rival Cashtown Killer gangster, the high-school aged Cleveland Barlow. The case seems open and shut. Turner could reduce the charges with a guilty plea. The only problem is, when Moore says he didn’t do it, Turner believes him.
With his southern-accented private eye, Chuck Argenal, Turner races to assembly the clues and the testimony needed to ensure Moore’s freedom. Unfortunately, thanks to a web of nefarious influences posed by the IceBoys and Cashtown gangs, witnesses are reticent to speak. Including Darnell Moore himself. What does he know, and why won’t he tell Turner?
One surprising element of this novel that I really enjoyed was a parallel story told in short inter chapters. Set in 2006, these chapters tell the story of twin boys shuffled around the foster system. When their too-good-to-be-true foster father turns out to be Iago-level evil, they only have one shot to escape. At first I wondered how this would all come to bear on the Moore case, but it kept my attention regardless. All I’ll say is that it does come to bear—in a big way.
All legal dramas will forever remind me of John Grisham, and this one is no exception. For anyone in search of some legalistic suspense or wanting to get an inside view of how criminal defense lawyers approach a case, look no further. The protagonist also reminds me of Robert B. Parker’s detective Spenser. Something about Turner’s wit and the playful relationship he has with the love interest, Edna “Eddy” Busier, a distinguished archeologist, smacks of Spenser. For this reason, fans of Spenser novels and other rye private eyes will find much to enjoy in Joe Turner.
With motives and methods so convoluted it takes the antagonist ten entire pages to explain them to our detective, The Sanatorium is certainly not a mystery you’re going to crack on page two. The author, Sarah Pearce, is able to blend together misogyny, archaic medical treatment of TB patients, modernist architecture, abuse of the mentally ill, bribery, serial murder, and Swiss resort life in such a way that this reader came away nauseated. Oh, also modern approaches to depression and anxiety, plus sibling rivalry and repressed memories. One imagines Pearce choosing keywords for her book.
“Which ones would you like?”
Pearce: “Um, all of them, obviously.”
In a typical mystery/thriller fashion, our detective must move from likely suspect to likely suspect. The difficulty inherent in The Sanatorium, however, is the suspects become increasingly unlikely until we are left with a pair of murderers who’ve been given so little attention and motivation that their capture rings hollow. Let me get specific—and warning there are spoilers ahead:
The killings are a two-woman job. That’s right, lady serial killers, so you know their motives must be big.
The primary killer is reeling from a date-rape. This attack, by her brother’s friend, leads her to bind, torture, and murder a series of uninvolved young women. Wait, what? I can’t have written that correctly. Let me check…nope, that’s right.
The secondary killer is all in it for revenge. Namely, she seeks to avenge her great-grandmother’s grisly…wait, great-grandmother? I don’t even know my great-grandmother’s name! The idea that someone would know what happened to their great-grandmother and then take any action whatsoever is far-fetched. That the distant trauma would turn them homicidal is laughable.
Then comes the epilogue. There we learn of a super-secret character lurching around the sanatorium this entire time, watching our detective and intervening when necessary. Either Pearce is covering her bases and tying up inconsistencies or she’s planning a sequel. Let’s hope it isn’t the latter.
I made the colossal mistake of not reading reviews beforehand. I should’ve checked Kirkus Review, at least. Their pithy verdict says it all: “Oh, dear.”