Kjell Ola Dahl: The Courier Sunday, Mar 24 2019 

Kjell Ola Dahl’s The Courier starts out in Oslo, where in 1942 a young Jewish courier, Ester, escapes the Gestapo and the horrors of Auschwitz.

Turid is the young daughter of Ester’s best friend, Ase, murdered after Ase helped Ester flee to Sweden. And then there is Falkum, Ase’s husband, baby Turid’s father, and years later, Ester’s lover?

With the action alternating between events of the time, and now with Turid almost grown, the plot resonates with emotion in each period. The complex story never loses the reader yet brings the horrors of WWII to the forefront and it reverberations to so many.

It is an accomplished writer who can combine the tragedies of historical fiction with what is essenntially a murder mystery. The thriller aspects of each time period, the 1940s, the 1960s and the close present, are highly articulated and create a visual and cinematic timeline.

Dahl does a great job keeping the tension up as the narrative threads become increasingly intertwined and the truths of each era become apparent. The jumps in this timeline, far from disturbing, feel natural as the characters are well developed both in physical appearance and the way they change over the years.

The pace continues to pick up, from the opening when Ester sees her father being arrested, to the climax as the story becomes increasingly gripping.

A solid, dark mystery with elegant prose, Dahl won two award for The Courier when it was first published before being translated into English.

Three Thrillers: Berry, Margolin,Ryan Sunday, Mar 10 2019 

For your reading pleasure this March, as the rains come and the winds blow: three thrillers certain to keep your mind off the weather! Watch this spot for Margolin and Ryan later this week!

Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone thriller, The Malta Exchange, has been compared to Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with its ties to the Vatican, but it has a more complex plot that will capture your attention.

Malone sure does get around, and readers have to hope Berry and his wife, who are co-founders of History Matters, a non-profit that preserves historic sites, manage to get in some travel to the places Malone does when Berry is doing research for a new novel.

In Italy on Lake Como, Malone is trying to track letters between Churchill and Mussolini. Having disappeared in 1945, these could literally change our experience of the history of that time. But as if that alone is not enough of a storyline, of course Malone is not the only one who’s on their trail.

This is all happening at the same time a conclave is in progress to elect a new pope. Kastor Cardinal Gallo, however, is off looking for a document in Malta that stretches back to the 4th Century, but are his motives pure?

The two trails will soon merge. Readers will learn the older history of the Catholic Church as well as the more recent the role of the popes during the rise of Fascism and Mussolini in Italy. The Knights of Malta play an important role and readers learn their history (they exist to this day), as one of the smallest sovereign nations in the world. All the settings are well described, readers will feel they have been there, without it ever coming across as a travelogue.

Because the story starts a day before the Conclave is about to begin, that time constraint adds to the fast pacing. There are older characters readers know, like Stephanie and Luke, but also new ones, including twin brothers. Sure to delight readers new to the series and repeaters.

Elly Griffiths: The Stranger Diaries Tuesday, Mar 5 2019 


Fans of Elly Griffiths will be delighted to read The Stranger Diaries, the stand-alone that’s an homage to gothic literature of the highest quality.

At once atmospheric and stylish, this is a mystery chock full of literary gems, a very modern mystery with echoes of the past. Clare Cassidy is a literature teacher that her daughter attends, where she teaches a class on Gothic writer RM Holland, whose papers and library are at the school, a gothic marvel of its own.

When one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from relating to an RM Holland story by her body, detectives feel Holland’s works somehow hold the key to the case. Fearful the killer is someone she knows, Clare writes about her terror and suspicions in her journal, as is her routine, until the day she sees new writing in the diary in a different hand from hers. A second point of view is that of Clare’s daughter, Georgia, at once the quintessential teen, embarassed by her mother, but hiding her own secrets.

Both of these are engaging points of view, especially as Clare has the propensity to be rather snarky at times in a delightful way, as when directed toward her ex-husband, whom we loathe and pity at the same time. It keeps her very real.

And the there’s the third point of view. The investigating detective, DS Harbinder Kaur, is one early readers have been clamoring to see more of, and we can only hope that Griffiths will allows us that hope and bring her back in another book. At once highly original, Harbinder and her unlikely background make her an instant character who could support a series of her own, if Griffiths, already writing two popular series (The Ruth Galloway and the Magic Men mysteries) has that inclination.

Holland, the subject of a book Clare keeps intending to write, and his gothic story, “The Stranger,” become part of the plot and bring Clare into the sights of Harbinder. Notice Auntie M keeps calling these characters by their first names, as that is the level of identification readers will have for them.

As the bodies start to pile up, any preconceived notions we have about all of the characters seem to slip away and the suspense becomes tighter and tighter. This is an accomplished storyteller, a lover of literature, at the top of her game. Not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Sophie Hannah: The Next to Die Friday, Feb 22 2019 

The multi-faceted Sophie Hannah does it all: compelling stand-alones, resurrecting Hercule Poirot for Agatha Christie’s estate, and her Culver Valley police procedural series. But she doesn’t stop there–the hallmark of this series is that the protagonist of each book is a character involved in the action, not the detectives, centered on Simon Waterhouse and his wife, Charlie Zailer.

We learn of the continuing saga of the married duo as a secondary plot, insinuating itself into the main plot of the newest in the series, The Next to Die. And a strong feminist will muddy the waters by insisting the killer being sought is a misogynist pig, as three of the four victims are women. Could she be right?

There’s more than a bit of sly humor when your protagonist is a professional stand-up comedian. Kim Tribbeck has received a little white book, mostly blank, with a few lines of poetry inside. She’s tossed it away, but she does remember receiving it.

The importance of this becomes clear when a murderer takes to killing pairs of best friends, four in all over the last four months. In each case he’s given the victim one of these same hand-made books before killing them. Each contains a line of poetry. Each poet was a woman whose name started with an E. So where does that lead them?

Dubbed “Billy Dead Mates” by the police, the detectives have exhausted ways to link the victims. It becomes clear the case revolves around books, but in what way? And if these are truly killings of best friends, why was Kim Tribbeck given a copy and left to live? Could it be that the fact she hasn’t had a best friend in years have saved her life?

At once convoluted yet sharply intelligent, the plot wraps around itself until the superb mind of Simon Waterhouse allows him to see beyond the obvious and pull the case together.

There’s an almost gothic feel to the book, as the story unfolds by way of excerpts from a book Kim writes after the case is over, added to by conventional chapters of interviews and the thoughts of the various detectives on the team searching for this killer.

The characters are true to themselves, with distinctly-drawn personalities that show Hannah’s expertise at describing the psychology of different people with that wry edge that smacks of verisimilitude until they seem to leap off the page. The Independent has compared Hannah to Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendall with good reason.

Peter Robinson: Careless Love Wednesday, Feb 20 2019 

Peter Robinson’s 25th Inspector Banks novel, Careless Love, adds to his string of hits with a complex mystery at its heart.

When a young student’s body is found in a car on a lonely road, waiting to be towed, it first appears to be a suicide, but it soon becomes apparent the victim died elsewhere, raising questions about who else was involved.

At the same time, man in his sixties is found dead at the bottom of a gulley, his neck broken in a fall. Did he slip and fall, or was he pushed? Another suspicious death soon has Banks and his team sharing duties to figure out if these could possibly be connected, while waiting for forenscis tests.

And then a third victim is found, this one a clear murder, with ties to the first two victims, and the case heats up and extends.

The stakes get higher when an old foe of both Banks and his long-time patner, Annie Cabot, is found to be back in England. This side twist occupies both of their minds as the two head the team that will take them into the world of students and high finance to find what really happened to these victims.

Any fan of police procedurals will appreciate the solid police work amongst the Yorkshire setting. One of the delights of this series is the three-dimensional characters who populate it, and how readers see the threads of their investigations brought together to a rewarding conclusion.

Banks’s devotion to music has always been a hallmark of the series, and readers will learn about his preferences, from classical to 60s rock. Auntie M confesses to seeking out a classical violinist Banks recommended, and was thoroughly rewarded. The loner detective who yearns for companionship is never more attractive than here, seeking to understand poetry, playing his music to suit his moods, and figuring out the details of a complex murder investigation.

Highly recommended.

Ausma Zehanat Khan: A Deadly Divide Wednesday, Feb 13 2019 


Asuma Zehanat Khan returns with the fifth in her series featuring Canadian detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty in A Deadly Divide.

Bearing her hallmark observation of each character’s story, imbuing each with realistic emotion, Khan’s elevates her novels from simple crime stories. While increasing the suspense as the book progresses, she manages to tell all sides of complex human rights issues, a nod to her background in international law.

This time the Community Policing detectives are called to a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec. The local priest, found with a weapon in his hands, is released, while the Surete` detain a young Muslim helping the wounded on the scene.

But this is not a typical hate crime, and Khattak and Getty try to keep raging emotions calmed in a community reacting with fear, their efforts thrwarted by both a heavily right-wing university group and a right-wing radio host who inflames the popoulation.

Also at work are young Muslims trying to counteract his efforts with their own radio show, but there are secrets being kept from all of the detectives from all of these factions. And within the Surete` a mole is at work, adding to the fractures of the community with ill-timed leaks.

As if it isn’t enough to have this tension of political and religious differences, it soon becomes apparent that Esa and those he loves are in the crosshairs of someone else, someone egging him on and anticipating his moves and shadowing his circle.

How these things are connected is only half of the situation, as the two detectives grapple with their personal lives at the same time, making this a well-rounded portrayal of characters with emotional lives outside their jobs. Their very humanness, from postive to negative thoughts and actions, helps readers see everyone as fully fleshed. There are no cardboard characters here.

This ability to people her novels with characters who hold passionate beliefs, coupled with her thought-provoking, suspenseful plot, quietly educates readers while at the same time illustrating the complexities of living in the Western world as a Muslim.

Highly recommended.

Rhys Bowen: The Victory Garden Tuesday, Feb 12 2019 

Rhys Bowen’s newest stand-alone, The Victory Garden, brings the horrors of WWI close to home with its young protagonist, Emily Bryce.

The judge’s daughter, with a mother who is class conscious, has lost her beloved brother to the war. When she meets an Australian pilot convalescing at a local home, they fall in love, only to have that love thwarted by more than her parents.

Determined to make a difference, like her nurse friend Clarissa has done, Emily joins the Women’s Land Army, to her parents chagrin. Learning things that will come in useful brings Emily and a few of her cohorts to the small village of Bucksley Cross to work the garden of Lady Charlton, a widow who has lost her son and grandson to the war.

An unlikely friendship breaks out between the older woman and the educated girl, and when things change dramatically for Emily, she returns to the small, dark cottage Lady Charlton owns, where the journal of another young woman soon finds Emily concocting herbal potions that will do more than she could ever have imagined for the village and for herself.

With a hearty dose of self-determination, Emily finds a new family of unlikely friends at the same time that she finds her own strength.

Bowen encapulates the huge horrors of war by bringing them to the heartache of one young woman on a voyage of self-discovery. A satifying read from a talented writer at the top of her game.

Bernard Minier: Night Thursday, Feb 7 2019 

The fourth Commander Servaz thriller, Night, brings the Toulouse detective under the scrutiny of all of those around him after a death-defying opening, with its resultant effects.

In a church in Norway, a woman’s body is found on the altar. A female detective, Kirsten Nigaard, is investigating that case due to her own name being discovered. Then she becomes coupled with Martin Servaz, when photos of the French detective are found on the offshore oil rig where the dead woman worked.

Both feel this is the work of serial killer Julian Hirtman, Servaz’s nemesis, the most dangerous man Servaz has encountered. Indeed, the Daily Mail has called Hirtman “…a villain possessing the intelligence of Thomas harris’ immortal Hannibal Lecter…”

It’s a chase throughout Europe, from France to Austria, in search of Hirtman and young boy in his custody who desperately needs to be saved. Along the way, they will encounter acolytes of Hirtman, and foes in the form of parents of his victims, until the ultimate surprise is coupled with a huge betrayal.

This has a complicated and complex plot, with fast action and yet Minier never stints of the emotions behind several of the main characters. It’s easy to see why this was a number one bestseller in France, where Servaz’s first case, which introduced Hirtman, was made into a six-part series now available on Netflix.

Christian White: The Nowhere Child Wednesday, Jan 30 2019 


Melbourne writer Christian White’s manuscript for The Nowhere Child won last year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, along with its $15,000 prize. It didn’t stay unpubbed long, and besides the book, with a second to follow, there’s a planned mini-series on this first.

And with good reason as readers will see once they read this story that has the feel it could happen to anyone, one of its attractions.

Photographer Kim Leamy is teaching evening classes in Melbourne when a stranger approaches her. The American man insists she is really Sammy Went, kidnapped from her Kentucky home when she was 2 years old. With her mother dead from cancer, her step-father refused to answer her questions but acknowledges there is a secret to her Australia origins. Kim flies to the US to visit Kentucky with this man who says he is her brother, determined to find out the truth.

Small-town Kentucky comes alive under White’s skilled pen, with anyone who has ever traveled through remote southern towns able to recognize the dusty woods and small town minds that populate Manson. It’s perhaps coincidence that the town’s name echoes one of the US’s most recognizable madmen, but the name resonates with readers and adds to the creep factor Kim finds.

Seeing the US for the first time, Kim’s accent is remarked upon, but DNA shows she really is Sammy Went. She has an entire family she doesn’t remember. Who took her and why becomes her driving force as she visits people and tries to get to the bottom of a life she’s forgotten.

Alternating between NOW, Kim’s first person account, and third person accounts of THEN, when Sammy was taken, make this a most interesting and creative way to tell this story. The Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal snake-wielding congregation, held sway over a good portion of the town’s inhabitants when Sammy was taken. Being different, or trying to leave the fold, wouldn’t have been easy when Sammy was kidnapped.

Parsing out the historical details adds to the tension, and armchair detectives will swear they’ve worked things out–until a final twist shows they’re not quite there.

The sustained tension is impressive, with shifting points of view adding to the intensity. This is elevated psychological suspense, with its crackerjack pace and all-too believable characters that will not only have readers glued to the page, but have them anticipating White’s next novel. Highly recommended.

Joanna Schaffhausen: No Mercy Friday, Jan 18 2019 

Schaffhausen brings back tenacious police officer Ellery Hathaway in No Mercy, the follow-up to The Vanishing Season with FBI profiler Reed Markham. Readers will pick up on the action from the last book with Ellery on forced leave.

After shooting a murderer, and refusing to apologize for it, political correctness has forced Ellery into group therapy. Not a people person to start with due to her childhood horrors, she has difficulty getting close to people and this is a kind of torture for her.

Two people there come to her attention: a wheelchair-bound woman, scarred from the fire that cost her young toddler’s life decades ago, and a young woman whose life has been changed forever after a brutal in-home rape.

Ellery turns to Markham on both counts, the man who freed her from a killer’s closet when she near death as a child. The event tied the two together in a way that neither has tried to investigate–until now, when the threat to Ellery is raised in a way she might not survive.

With Ellery determined to explore both of these cases, divorced father Markham finds himself involved at a level that may cost him the promotion that would let him spend more time with his beloved daughter, especially when his boss and mentor’s former actions are called into question.

The flawed Ellery allows affection only from her adorable basset hound, Bump. Along with Markham, both unusual characters do more than carry this suspenseful plot. With fast pacing as the two cases heat up, Ellery is never far from the memories of her own violent past.

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