At this time of year, Auntie M likes to give readers a compendium, if you will, of stacks of books to choose from for gifts for the readers on your list. Don’t forget her axiom that it’s perfectly reasonable to buy a few for yourself!
Let’s start off with a little goodie that should soon appear in stockings all over the world: Short stories from the Queen of British Mystery, P D James, gathered into a slim volume perfect for stockings. The Mistletoe Murder and other Stories contains four classic short stories, two featuring her detective, poet Adam Dalgliesh. For a brief moment in time, readers can hear James’ voice in their reader ear once again. A delightful foreword by Val McDermid and a preface by James herself frame the perfect holiday treat. These are delicious: a snapshot of a setting, a crime to be solved, and you’re off! That’s the US cover on the left and the UK cover on the right. Enjoy!
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Keeping with the holiday theme is Ann Myers’ third Santa Fe Cafe` Mystery, Feliz Navidead. Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Cafe has her mom visiting from Minnesota to entertain, while keeping track of her teenage daughter performing in the outdoor Christmas play. When Rita discovers a dead actor during the first performance, she swears off investigating, but soon finds herself involved in a very dangerous situation. The Knit and Snitchers, her elderly group of knitting ladies, are back, giving information and clues to Rita even as they sneak their knitting onto statues and stop signs. There are a host of other entertaining characters, and don’t forget Rita’s mom. Who can resist Santa Fe at Christmas? Watch Rita solve a murder and drool over Myers’ recipes, too.
The Twelve Dogs of Christmas is David Rosenfelt’s newest Andy Carpenter mystery in the long-running series. This time he and his trusty golden retriever are helping his friend “Pups” Boyer, accused of murder when said neighbor is found dead–by Pups. It doesn’t help that the neighbor had filed a complaint against Pups and the noise of her local dog rescue. While Andy doesn’t believe Pups is guilty, his digging will bring him closer than he’d like to the real murderer. Rosenfelt’s real Tara Foundation, which finds home for injured or sick dogs, is the basis for Andy’s foundation.
Maggie Patterson is helping out her sick sister, covering for her at The Wine and Bark, the dog-friendly bar Rachel runs in a usually-quiet seaside town in California in Trigger Yappy. It’s Maggie who hears the argument between her friend Yolanda and Bonnie, the gal who runs the Chic Chickie shop. When Bonnie is murdered, the Roundup Crew and the very cute Officer Brad Brooks are on hand to help Maggie investigate to clear Yolanda, even if means putting her purser job on hold to do so. Filled with good humor, charm and a bit of romance.
We’ll stick with humor in Agatha Raisin’s latest adventure, Pushing Up Daisies. M. C. Beaton’s beloved character is the kind of sleuth Miss Marple wouldn’t recognize, with her hard-drinking man lust. A land developer is murdered and there are far too many suspects. Lord Bellington wanted to turn the community garden into a housing development, so there are few tears shed at his death. The villagers seem happy enough that his heir and son, Damian, doesn’t intend to follow his father’s plans, but he does want to find his father’s killer, and hires Agatha to investigate. This time a retired detective is on hand to assist Agatha, and it helps that he’s handsome. Agatha doesn’t let a second murder of a woman seen kissing the new detective deter her from her case–or him. Vintage Beaton.
A switch to historicals, and we start of with the continuing Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch with The Inheritance. With fine attention to Victorian detail, Lenox is thrust into his most personal case yet. His friend from Harrow, Gerald Leigh, asks for help from Lenox, only to disappear. Knowing that in the past Leigh has been the recipient of a bequest from an anonymous benefactor, he finds Leigh has received a second bequest. Could they be from the same person? And what does either had to do with his friend’s disappearance? His investigation will take him from the highs of society to the lows of the gangs of the east end of London before it’s over. An intricate plot with realistic and finely-drawn period details.
Ian Sansome’s new County Guides novel, Westmoreland Alone, with Stephen Sefton as narrator, Professor Morley (the People’s Professor) and his daughter Miriam, newly engaged, set out to conquer the Lake District. Owing to the the rather unusual end to Sefton’s night at the pub and cards before leaving, he persuades Morley he should take the train, with disastrous effect. A horrid crash reminds Sefton of his time in Spain and there is a tragic death. It’s the juxtaposition of the three personalities that provides a lot of the humor in the strained setting. Stranded after the fatal train crash, the three become involved in a suspicious death when the body of a woman is found at an archeological dig. It’s 1930’s England with all of the mores of the time. We see more of Sefton’s PTSD as the trio investigate gypsies, wrestling habits, country fairs and more.
Wilbur Smith has been called “the best historical novelist” by Stephen King, and he brings that talent to ancient Egypt in Pharaoh. This action-packed epic follows the Pharaoh’s advisor, Taita, where Egypt is under a brutal attack and Pharaoh Tamose is gravely injured. Despite leading the army to victory, Taita is branded a traitor after Tamose dies by the new Pharaoh. With his first person narrative bringing Taita and Egypt to life, sometimes in a boastful way, history feels present under Smith’s skilled hands when a kidnaping leads to preparation for another war.
1967 Florence and Italian culture come alive under Mario Vichi’s hands in the fifth Inspector Bordelli mystery, Death in the Tuscan Hills. Florence is getting over the tragic floods of the previous winter but Bordelli has resigned after failing to solve the investigation into a young boy’s murder at that time. He leaves the city, determined to find peace in his new home in the Tuscan hills, despite the nagging thorn in his side by leaving the boy’s killers free. While he learns a new way of life, tending to an olive grove, gardening, cooking, and worries about his confused love life, he still obsesses about the men at large. Retribution is at hand when he discovers all the cohorts’ identities. But now what will he do about it? An absorbing tale with Vichi’s usual footnotes for clarification in several places.
Will Thomas’ latest Barker and Llewellyn novel put their detecting skills to the test in Hell Bay, an impossible crime set in 1889 Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall. Barker has been tasked with providing security for a secret meeting with the French government at the estate there of Lord Hargrave. The security team fails miserably, with two deaths on the island and no means of leaving or signaling for help. It’s a classic locked-area mystery, as Barker and Llewelyn race to uncover the killer among them before he strikes again and dashes all hope of negotiating a new treaty with France. Chock full of historical details and rising tension.
Andrew Hunt’s Desolation Flats captures 1930s Salt Lake City in his Art Oveson series. The famed Bonneville Salt Flats are the site of international racers, there to break the land speed record. Then Nigel Underhill, a wealthy English participant, is murdered, and his brother disappears. It’s a case for Art in the Missing Person’s Bureau, and he’s been handed a helper: a former Scotland Yard detective the Underhill family has hired to assist Art. The trail will lead them between Utah and London and end in a most unlikely manner. A gritty and engrossing read.
For readers who enjoy books set in different countries, check out these:
Adam LeBor’s Yael Azoulay series have been praised for the geopolitical thrillers’ realistic and intelligent plotting and savvy yet human protagonist. Yael has managed to stop the plans of the powerful Prometheus Group and its leader is out for revenge. This third installment, The Reykjavik Assignment, takes the covert UN negotiator to Iceland for a secret meeting she’s arranged during a UN conference between three key players: the US Secretary of State, The UN Secretary General, and the President of Iran. She soon discovers a plan to disrupt it as an act of revenge against Yael herself. As the tension rises, and with the US President on hand, Yael races to stop the murder of the UN Secretary by unmasking the killer, who has his own motives for wanting the man dead. A chilling climax with a surprising twist at the end will answer some of Yael’s long-held questions. A stunning end to the trilogy.
It’s off to England and London’s Slough House in Mick Herron’s Real Tigers, a Jackson Lamb spy thriller that’s been called some of the finest spy fiction of the last 20 years. Slough House is where a disgraced spy is sent to push paper. But when one is the victim of a revenge kidnapping, it leads to a group of private mercenaries within the Security Service. Enter Jackson Lamb to sort it all out in a manner that will convince readers the spy novel with sharp dialogue and filled with sly wit is still around.
The Patriarch brings Bruno, Chief of Police, to the French countryside for the birthday celebration of the man who is Bruno’s childhood hero: Marco “the Patriarch” Desaix, a WWII flying ace. He knows many of the attendees, and is enjoying himself immensely, far away from his daily grind, when a longtime friend of the family is found dead. What started as a pleasant day turns into the kind of investigation he’d hoped to avoid, as what at first appears to be a tragedy may just be a murder. With his hero’s family all coming under suspicion, he must tread lightly in the Dordogne, from the river chateaus to the prehistoric cave paintings to find a killer.
To North Korea and the enigmatic Inspector O, in James Church’s sixth in the series, The Gentleman from Japan. Living with his nephew, Bing, the director of state security in northeast China near the border of North Korea, Inspt. O becomes involved when Bing needs his help after there are seven deaths in one night, apparent poisonings in noodle shops. Despite not wanting to investigate them, Bing needs O’s help more than ever. Their investigation will take them to Spain and Portugal before it’s straightened out as a world-wide plot develops. Satisfying and complex.
Back to the US for some great mysteries. Douglas Schofield’s Storm Rising fits that bill, with cop’s widow Lucy Hendricks leading the charge. After leaving for Florida, Lucy decides its time to move home to New Jersey and lay her old ghosts to rest. Yet the mystery surrounding her husband’s death becomes even stronger when her young son, Kevin, experiences a change in his behavior. With Hurricane Sandy quickly approaching, the elements conspire to destroy more than Lucy’s home as she tries to unpick the mystery surrounding her husband’s death. A true mystery laden with supernatural elements.
Not supernatural, but with a substance not known in earth: that’s the crux of the case before Kay Scarpitta in Patricia Cornwell’s new CHAOS. A bicyclist has been killed with superhuman force and Kay and her investigating partner, Peter Marino, are on the case in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the body has been found near the Kennedy School of Government. What doesn’t add up are the calls Kay’s husband, FBI agent Benton Wesley, have received before the incident from Interpol. Or were they? And when her tech-savvy niece Lucy fails to be able to trace the sender, all bets are off with a cyberbully involved. High tension, detailed forensics, and a whopping good story.
Ellen Crosby brings back her Virginia Wine Country Mysteries under the Minotaur umbrella in The Champagne Conspiracy. Vintner-sleuth Lucie Montgomery investigates an older mystery with her partner, Quinn Santori, when his uncle Gino enlists their help solving the 1920s death of Zara Tomasi, the first wife of his grandfather, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1923. Is there a connection to her death the day after President Warren Harding died at the same San Francisco hotel? With a blackmailer breathing down their necks, Gino and Lucie search for the truth before a family secret is revealed. Everything they hold dear will come under threat as a murderer tries to keep the truth about Zara’s death buried in time.
Gritty crime fiction takes to the streets of the Bronx in John Clarkson’s
Bronx Requiem. James Beck is back, and he takes it hard when an ex-con, determined to change his ways, is murdered just hours after his release before he can change his life. Enter James Beck, whose ring of ex-cons in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn try to find justice for the murdered man. But a deeper look into a street killing turns into something more complicated, and soon Beck and his ring need to watch their own backs to uncover the truth. Fast-paced and action filled.
And for those who want a paperback for stocking stuffers or maybe that grab bag gift, look no further than these:
Her Last Breath is Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder entry new in paperback, and she’s a favorite of readers with good reason. Investigating the world of the Amish isn’t easy, but it’s a world Kate knows, and as Chief of Police, she’s called in to a hit-and-run that leaves an Amish deacon and of two of his children dead, with a third clinging to life. The Amish lifestyle is accurately portrayed, its simplicity a stark contrast to the rapid pace and high tension. The widow was Kate’s friend as youths, and while she’s determined to find the killer, she starts to suspect it’s much more than a simple case in Painters Mill.
Sophie Hannah’s The Narrow Bed is part of her Culver Valley crime series with the highly interesting married detective duo, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. A serial killer is murdering pairs of best friends after giving the victim a hand-made white book containing a line of poetry before their death. Their search centers around stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck, who was a recipient of one of the white books, but is still alive a year later. How they solve this crime and it all comes together shows the hallmark of Hannah’s complex plotting for a read that’s filled with pathos and psychological ambiguity.
Carla Norton’s What Doesn’t Kill Her is the second Reeve Le Clair thriller. Now a college student after surviving being the captive of killer Daryl Wayne Flint, she’s getting her life back on track. Then the unthinkable happens: Flint manages to escape from the psychiatric hospital where he’s been held, and starts killing people from his past, settling old scores. And that included Reeve, and she knows she’s on his list. Not only that: she realizes she’s the one who knows him best and is the only one who can stop him. Chilling and tautly plotted.
And one for your true crime aficionado:
True crime writer Kathryn Casey earned Ann Rule’s two thumbs up as one of the best in the business. Now Casey explores the “Infamous Texas Stiletto Murder” in Possessed, taking readers to Houston and what at first glance is a domestic murder. The details include the magnetic and erratic Ana Trujillo, who had a reputation in Houston for her supposed occult powers. Stefan Andersson is the gentle, Swedish man who falls for Ana and comes under her spell. A fascinating look at the forensic evidence and witness testimony comes under the microscope as Ana tries to claim she killed Stefan in self defense. Meticulously presented.
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