Perfect Sins: Jo Bannister Wednesday, Jan 28 2015 

Perfect Sins

Jo Bannister departed from her Brodie Farrell mysteries in Deadly Virtues, when she introduced a new series featuring young police constable Hazel Best, and the “Rambles with Dog” character of Gabriel Ash, a former government employee whose life has been turned upside down.

The two return in this compelling sequel, Perfect Sins, along with Ash’s dog, Patience, whose thoughts only Ash can hear, but who makes the kind of measured and sometimes snarky comments that add to the tone. Bannister doesn’t overdo Patience’s comments, either, keeping them to a minimum, but they lighten up what could be a somber tone, as Ash is trying to find out if his wife or two sons, kidnapped by pirates, could possibly still be alive.

Four years have past since their disappearance but Ash remains committed to following up any lead he possibly can in order to keep his fragile sanity and continues to follow his own path of questions. With Hazel still on leave after the shooting that ends Deadly Virtues, they finds themselves visiting Hazel’s father at the gatehouse of Byrfield House, an estate that has been in the aristocracy for generations.

The plot revolves around a mound near the ice house on the grounds belonging to Pete, Lord Byrfield, that is opened by a local archeologist, David Sperrin. Hazel has known Pete for years and considers him a friend, so it’s no surprise she becomes involved when the mound turns out not to be an ancient burial mound, but the more contemporary resting place for a little boy from about thirty years ago. Just who those bones belong to bring up more secrets kept than any of the participants can possibly imagine.

As Hazel is drawn back into the police work she loves, Ash finds his own questioning has stirred up some very nasty consequences for them both that put their lives in danger. One of the nicest things is that Hazel values friendship. Hers with Ash is not a sexually charged relationship, but one that shows that men and women can truly care about each other and remain caring friends without becoming romantically involved.

Intricately plotted, and with a nice touch for the vagaries of family life and relationships, this complex plot has a few surprises to reveal and its ending packs a wallop that will have readers searching for the next installment.

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Nele Neuhaus: The Ice Queen Sunday, Jan 25 2015 

IceQueen

German author Nele Neuhaus’ series with Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein is almost a prequel of sorts to the other books that have been translated in the series, Snow White Must Die, and Bad Wolf, the latter now in paperback.

But nothing is lost in reading them in this order as the stories are so interesting and this one is no exception. The body of a Holocaust survivor, American citizen Jossi Goldberg, is found shoat to death in his home with a five-digit number scrawled nearby in his blood.

Why would anyone bother to murder a 92 yr old man near the end of his life? Then the autopsy reveals an old tattoo on his arm, a blood marker used for Hitler’s SS. Who was Jossi Goldberg after all? A survivor of the Holocaust, as he’d lived his life, or was he really a Nazi?

While investigation his murder, two more execution-style murders of elderly people occur. The only connection between these people turns out to be that they were lifelong friends of Vera von Kaltensee, a baroness and the well-respected head of a philanthropic family.

With Oliver and Pia treading a fine line of political correctness as they try to investigate the Baroness, their trail leads them all the way to Prussia and secrets of long ago. They will encounter secrets, lies, and treachery reaching back decades as they find their way to the heart of the mess that started so very long ago.

There is an excellent mystery at the heart of this novel, one that will startle the reader as the story reaches its conclusion. A continued series well worth reading. Highly recommended.

Ursula Archer: FIVE Sunday, Jan 18 2015 

FIVE

Austrian writer Ursula Archer is a science journalist who has previously published YA and children’s books. Now she turns her hand to police procedural thriller in FIVE and readers will be very happy with her decision.

The book starts out with a bang: “The place where his left ear used to be was throbbing to the rhythm of his heartbeat. Fast and panicked.”

And the pace never lets up as police detectives Beatrice Kaspary and Florin Wenninger become involved in solving a series of increasingly confusing murders. First is the body of a woman who fell from a cliff who turns out to have GPS coordinates tattooed on the soles of her feet.

When the detectives trace the spot of these coordinates, they find a severed hand and more taunts that lead them to yet another site and more body parts. It soon becomes clear they are on the trail of a murderer who is using the sport of geocaching in a far more sinister way than usual.

The clues they are given are frustrating and obtuse, sometimes leading to a witness who then disappears, and all the time the two detectives feel the killer is playing with them. Then he starts to leave Beatrice text messages on her phone and the tension, never abated, ratchets up.

This is a clever and well-plotted mystery with the puzzle at its heart that grabs you and doesn’t let go. That the detectives are compelling figures adds to the mix. Let’s hope this is the first of a series from Archer. Auntie M will be lining up to read the next translation.

Tony Lee Moral: Playing Mrs. Kingston Sunday, Jan 11 2015 

Please welcome Tony Lee Moral, who will describe the genesis of his new mystery, Playing Mrs. Kingston:

PMKCover

How Alfred Hitchcock can influence Your Novel Writing by Tony Lee Moral

Alfred Hitchcock has been a huge influence on my life, ever since I saw my first Hitchcock film, I Confess, at the age of 10 years old. I was immediately struck by the moral ambiguity of the film and the conflicted viewpoint of the central character, a priest, played by Montgomery Clift. Since then I’ve written three books on Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense. Two books are on the making of specific films, The Birds and Marnie, which were made in the early 1960s and have a close production history; and a more general book called Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass, which is about all of his films, for aspiring screenwriters and film makers.

So when writing my murder mystery novel Playing Mrs. Kingston, I was immediately drawn to the Hitchcockian principles of suspense and characterization. The central character, Catriona Kingston, takes after many a Hitchcock blonde, particularly Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman and Eva Marie Saint. She is feisty, determined, action oriented, duplicitous and mysterious. The duel identifies she plays, both Catriona and Catherine, is reminiscent of Kim Novak’s character in Vertigo. Her boyfriend, Mario Montefiore, a saxophonist at the the Stork Club, was inspired by Henry Fonda’s character in The Wrong Man, who himself was based on the real life Manny Balestrero, wrongfully accused of a series of robberies in 1950s New York, the same time period in which my novel is set.

Hitchcock often spoke about the MacGuffin in his films, a key plot device that drives the story. The MacGuffin is the engine that propels the plot. It is the object around which the plot revolves and motivates the actions of the characters. In North by Northwest, the MacGuffin is the roll of microfilm in the pre-Columbian statue, which both Cary Grant, the hero, and James Mason, the villain, are after. In Playing Mrs. Kingston, the MacGuffin is the stolen Caravaggio painting, which Catriona’s arch enemy so desperately wants. But the real story is about Catriona and Mario, and finding out who the killer is. But in having a MacGuffin in my novel, the stolen painting, it drove the plot forward, and motivated the characters, especially in the second half of the book, when all seemed lost.

Good writing is subtext, reading between the lines, rather than on the nose dialogue. Much of the dialogue in Hitchcock’s best screenplays, such as Notorious, Rear Window and North by Northwest, have layers of meaning. Good dialogue should be full of conflict between the chracters and have a natural rhythm that’s easily spoken, like a verbal sparring game that resembles the epic tennis match in Strangers on a Train until someone scores a point. The writing between Catriona and Detective Radcliffe is like a cat and mouse game, with Catriona trying to stay a few steps ahead of the Detective who is chasing the real Catriona Benedict, while she is in disguise as Catherine Kingston.

Hitchcock loved counterpoint and contrast and often had two things happening at once. He built tension into a scene by having contrasting situations, with two unrelated things happening simultaneously. In Notorious, a big party is taking place in Ingrid Bergman’s honor, but she is too preoccupied in showing Cary Grant the wine cellar, which holds the MacGuffin, in this case the uranium ore stored inside the wine bottles. Upstairs the champagne is quickly running out, threatening to expose the couple to Nazi villain Claude Raines, who Bergman has married, which ratchets up the tension.

A good example of this in Playing Mrs. Kingston is when both Lowry, Catriona’s old theatre boss, and Detective Radcliffe are at the Kingston gallery, and Catriona is threatened to be unmasked at any moment for who she is really is. I had Notorious very much in my mind when writing the novel, especially the big party scenes, when the moral ambiguity of the conflicted heroine comes into play, and she marries into a family full of secrets and becomes trapped in the enemy’s house. Only by using all her wits is she able to escape.

Alfred Hitchcock's Masterclass Cover
Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass is published by Michael Wiese Books

Playing Mrs. Kingston is published by Zharmae Publishing Press

Lynda La Plante/Wrongful Death and M R Hall/The Burning Sunday, Jan 4 2015 

WrongfulDeath
Lynda LaPlante’s newest DCI Anna Travis novel, at close to 500 pages, could encompass two stories and then some. The London detective finds herself heavily embroiled in a case of suicide which is reopened after a criminal awaiting trial claims he has information that proves the man was murdered. With too many suspects to count, and far too many toes to step on, Travis is treading lightly when she’s handed a partner from the US, FBI profiler Jessie Dewar, part of the same exchange program that finds Travis seconded to an FBI course in the US.

Dewar’s brash approach soon ruffles feathers in everyone from suspects being interviewed to members of Travis’ team. It’s an uneasy alliance, even as Travis realizes Dewar has solid information to contribute.

Auntie M has a love-hate relationship with these books. La Plante’s dialogue with its lack of contractions often sounds stilted and formal. Yet there’s no question the author of the Prime Witness series has a knack for complex plots and that is certainly on view here. You’ll notice Auntie M keeps reading the series, because despite the reading flaws, the stories are compelling and the cases far from simple.

Always on the side is Travis’ boss, Langton, with whom she has her own complicated history. And there will be the potential for Travis to finally have some kind of private life after the death of her fiancé two years ago. A storyline in the US is conveniently cleared after Travis gets on the case, and it remains to be seen if she will return to the US in future entries in the series.

Burning

Auntie M is a huge fan of M R Hall’s series featuring Coroner Jenny Cooper and her complicated life. He gets inside a woman’s head well and writes in a believable voice. The cases are complex and yet have the ring of truth, and along the way, readers learn what constitutes the real job of a coroner.

In this outing, it’s the cold period between Christmas and New Year’s when Jenny is called to an horrific scene: a house has burned to the ground and it’s later discovered that three members of the family were inside; two daughters and stepfather Ed Morgan. With evidence of shotgun injuries to the three bodies, it is felt that Ed killed the girls and turned the gun on himself after starting the fire. But what has happened to his young son with wife Kelly, who was off premises at work that evening?

It’s a complicated case, made all the more so by some witnesses withholding information and others not realizing how important their information may be. And how does it tie in to the disappearance ten years ago of another young girl from the same village? There will come a time when Jenny isn’t certain who she can trust and that includes members of the police force who are supposed to be helping her investigation.

Add in the twists of Jenny’s personal life, and the return of her assistant after an accident from she sustained in the last book, helping to save Jenny’s life and that of her son, and it all adds up to a complex and compelling read.

Auntie M is surprised more readers haven’t discovered this always-satisfying series. Give it a try if you haven’t yet found the delightful and compelling novels in this series.