Mark Billingham: The Killing Habit; Their Little Secrets Wednesday, Jul 8 2020 

For some reason, Mark Billingham’s last two Tom Thorne novels didn’t make it to Auntie M’s To Be Read shelf, but she’s bought them herself to catch up.

The Killing Habit bring Thorne at first into the world where pets are being killed. A classic sign of a psychopath in the making, his goal is to find the culprit before his crimes can escalate.

To that end, he enlists DI Nicola Tanner, a welcome addition to the series. With her own quirks and the secret that binds them together, she’s working her own murder, a shooting by a motorcyclist that has drugs at its heart.

When the two find a serial killer is using a dating agency to target his victims, the chase is literally on before more women can be killed.

The opposing natures of Thorne and Tanner make them a dynamic couple with their interplay and dialogue some of the best in the book. Both are struggling with their personal lives, too. A great installment in one of Auntie M’s favorite series.

In Their Little Secret, with the personal aspects still looming for Thorne and Tanner, they duo become involved in the tragic suicide of a woman who has been the victim of a swindler.

At the same time, readers follow Sarah as she drops her young son off at school. She’s a devoted mum, has a strict routine, and couldn’t appear nicer.

When a young man’s bloodied body is found, CCTV shows a woman he was with shortly before his death. The reader knows more about how these two cases overlap than Thorne and Tanner do, and only heightens the suspense.

Coroner Phil Hendricks is back, too, a great character who manages to stay friends with Thorne and now Tanner. It’s a race to the finish between a couple who bring new meaning to the term psychopath.

This one is the 16th in an a police procedural series that is as authentic as it is filled with humanity.

Both books are Highly Recommended.

Ragnar Jonasson: The Mist Tuesday, Jun 23 2020 

Following the heels of the book that introduced us to her (The Darkness), Ragnar Jonasson brings Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir’s case that led to that action to the page in The Mist.

Hulda is obviously having a difficult time at work when she’s handed a case that will at least get her out of the office. Alternating where she finds herself now with what led up to her depression, readers see the events of the prior two months have led to this case, and to her situation at home.

They also see what has happened to an older couple who live in a very isolated farmhouse in eastern Iceland. While the couple are readying for Christmas, the become even more stranded when a huge snowstorm blankets the area.

Erla and Einar have lived in this remote location their entire marriage, after taking on Einar’s family farm. Erla has had a tougher time getting used to the loneliness, especially in the winter. When a stranger knocks on their door, lost in the weather, Einar invites him in. What was to be an overnight stay turns longer when the storm continues unabated.

Erla is suspicious of the stranger, and even more so when some aspects of his story don’t add up. Her fears ramp up as more and more things cause her to suspect their uninvited guest is not whom he says he is at all.

It’s a chilling turn of events and more so when Hulda fears she is searching for a serial killer.

Well-done, with complex plot and dark premise that builds to a stunning climax on many levels.

Elly Griffiths: The Lantern Men Tuesday, Jun 16 2020 

NOTE: This review was first published back in April. Auntie M is repeating it today, on its US publication date. If you aren’t already a fan of Elly Griffiths, get on board now! She’ll leave it up for a while so you can look for your copy, and while you’re at it, check out Griffith’s standalone, The Stranger Diaries, too, as well as her Stephens and Mephisto series set in 1950s Brighton.

It’s no secret Elly Griffiths long-running Dr. Ruth Galloway series is one of Auntie M’s favorites. She brings readers the newest, The Lantern Men, as accomplished as any of those preceding, one to read and savor, containing her wit and original and creative voice.

It’s been two years since Ruth left her marsh side cottage and her position at the North Norfolk University and as the police’s resident forensic archaeologist. She’s moved Cambridge to teach, and plan a future with historian Frank, and brought her daughter with DCI Nelson, Kate, and their cat, Flint. But where has she left her heart?

This is the subtext as the current story plays out. Having completed a week’s writing residency to finish what will be third book on forensic archaeology, Ruth is surprised when DCI Nelson appears for a visit.

Ivor March, in prison for life for murder, has offered to give up the site of more murdered bodies than he’s in prison for, but only if Ruth oversees the dig.

Reasonably wary, Ruth can hardly turn down a chance to bring closure to the families of the two missing young women, Nicola Ferris and Jenny McGuire. The Norfolk site where March insists the women are buried borders the fens in an area where local legend has it being haunted by figures holding lights and capturing travelers to bring them to their death. They are known as the Lantern Men.

The cast includes many of those readers will have met before and continues their stories but the case can be read as a stand alone. The setting continues its role as central to the case and to Ruth’s feelings as she becomes immersed in the case. But she’s chosen a new life in Cambridge; so why is she having panic attacks?

When a third body is found at the site, and another young woman is murdered, all bets are off. Nelson isn’t happy to entertain the thought that Ivor March is innocent? But if he isn’t the killer, then who is? While he keeps his feelings for Ruth buried as deeply as one of Ruth’s archaeological digs, he misses her, and that adds to his frustration over her new life with Frank in Cambridge.

It’s a finely wrought plot, with enough suspects to keep the reader at bay, while adding in terrific plot twists that will keep the reader on their toes with a building sense of urgency. Who is really at risk from a killer here?

All the balls Griffiths juggles stay afloat and lead to a stunning climax that finds this one Highly Recommended.

Marlowe Benn: Passing Fancies Saturday, May 30 2020 

Marlowe Benn brought readers her first Julia Kydd mystery, Relative Fortunes, and returns with the sequel, Passing Fancies. Set in the 1920s, I had the opportunity to speak with Benn about her books and their fascinating look at the era she’s chosen to delve into:

Auntie M: This is your second book set in the 1920s and your research is extensive, from manners to the clothing and food. What drew you to this era?

Marlowe Benn: First let me say thank you for this chance to share a bit about my books with your readers. I’m truly honored to be a part of this blog. I’ve always loved the style of the 1920s—the lively music, the daring fashions, the flamboyant determination to enjoy life’s pleasures. But while it looks like one big party, there was a lot of reckless desperation beneath all the rule-breaking fun. Notions like honor, duty, and moral responsibility seemed pointless after a crushing world war and global pandemic. With those old values discredited, new ones vied to take their place.

As I try to show in Passing Fancies, hopes for greater freedoms and opportunities for women and people of color struggled to compete with more cynical celebrations of wealth and power. I was drawn to this combination of eye-popping exuberance and deep social frictions. No shortage of mystery and crime fiction plot ideas there!

AM: Tell readers about creating the fascinating character of Julia Kydd, a thoroughly modern woman in this era, and one who has an unusual area of expertise that readers will learn about. How did your own past experience influence her development?

MB: Julia loves books. She likes to read, but it’s physical books she’s passionate about, as works of art. She’s been smitten by the Arts and Crafts “fine printing” movement, which revived the old hand bookmaking crafts. When I was in graduate school studying the history of that movement in the 1920s, I learned how to set type, print, and bind books by hand. As anyone who’s ever dabbled in today’s popular book arts can understand, it’s a heady thing to give visual and tactile form to a writer’s words. Julia is as addicted to that pleasure as I am.

AM: Julia’s family life is . . . complicated, to say the least, with several recurring characters. Care to comment on that?

MB: Complicated, and then some. In my first book, Relative Fortunes, Julia is vexed by her estranged older half-brother’s power over her money and thus over her independence. Although Philip is her closest relation, she barely knows him and seems to have nothing in common with him beyond a surname. Lacking conventional family attachments, in Passing Fancies Julia forges somewhat daring new bonds to take their place, both with Philip and with her lifelong maid and confidante, Christophine.

AM: In this second book in the series, Julia faces the racism of the era and has an epiphany of her own. It’s clear you feel strongly about that. Why choose that to explore?

MB: I often hear friends and acquaintances, who are white like me, talk about racism with sympathy for people of color, as if the problems don’t involve white people too. In fact, centuries of racism shape the experiences of all Americans, not just those of color. But because racist policies and values have always benefited white people—whether or not we condone or even perceive them—we tend not to see, or to deny or justify, our advantages. Julia is disturbed to realize this about herself, and readers may squirm too. Unfortunately, history is full of uncomfortable truths we cannot escape. As Faulkner famously put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

AM: What’s next for Julia?

MB: I wish I knew. Future publishing decisions are as uncertain as everything else these days. Julia has grand plans to get her Capriole Press off the ground, now that she finally has her printing studio, but we’ll all have to wait and see what happens.
AM: Thanks so much for these insights, Marlowe. And now on to discuss Passing Fancies.

Julia Kydd is trying to launch Capriole Press, a small press that will have limited but exquisite books that would be as beautiful to hold and admire as to read, and to that end, she attends society parties to find works she can produce. She’s also looking to find collectors who would back her and to be accepted into the publishing world.

It’s the Jazz Age in New York, and Julia is introduced to Harlem nightclubs. One particular performer she meets at a house party captures her attention, and even more so when Julia sees her perform.

Eva Pruitt is a black singer with a divine figure who has written an explosive novel. Despite being under contract, the novel is wanted by several houses until it goes missing during a murder.

The men in Eva’s life all want different things from her and go to great lengths to have what they want. The reality she has lived with and must continue to experience shocks Julia and creates a bond between the two women.

Julia steps in to help Eva while coming face-to-face with her own racial prejudices and assumptions. It will prove to be a life-changing relationship for Julia and those she loves.

In creating Julia, Benn has a young woman who chafes at the freedoms of the men who surround her. She’s bold and yet empathetic. She probably drinks too much at parties. Yet she holds the book together well and readers will be rooting for her to succeed as she matures.

Benn captures the era perfectly, and dazzles readers with the clothing, food, and excesses. She also takes a good hard look at the class and racial divides of the time, which still echo today.

James Oswald: Bury Them Deep Wednesday, May 13 2020 

James Oswald’s tenth Inspector McLean novel, Bury Them Deep, reinforces why he’s one of Auntie M’s favorites, whether its the newest McLean or in his equally well-written, yet vastly different series featuring detective Constance Fairchild (No Time to Cry; Nothing to Hide).

This time the Scottish detective mixes with a highly politicized operation when he sets out to find a missing administrative member of the Police Scotland team who’s not shown up for work. It doesn’t help that the woman’s mother is a retired Detective Superintendent Grace Ramsey, recovering from a broken hip, but still as intimidating as McLean remembers.

Assigned to the team working on an huge anti-corruption scheme, Anya Renfrew’s disappearance sets off alarm bells. With her access to many of the systems in place that unlock the secrets of Edinburgh’s most powerful businessmen, none of the possibilities look good. With fears Anya may have been bought off for the information she could share, another possibility is that she been silenced to keep her knowledge quiet.

Last seen in ancient hills where the maps are difficult to follow and the stories from folklore imbue the atmosphere, McLean and his team set out to find out all they can about Anya Renfrew, her current life, and her past.

At the same time, just to muddy the waters, an old foe of McLean’s at a long-term psychiatric hospital claims to have information about the missing woman.

It’s a race against time to find Anya as the team investigates a disturbing pattern of other women having disappeared from the same area where Anya is last seen.

One thing about Oswald’s plots: they are consistently creative and bring a new level of knowledge to the reader, as he explores areas most readers won’t be familiar with.

This ability to hit on unique stories, inhabited by a familiar cast of characters led by McLean, all set in the city and surrounding area of Edinburgh, make this a Highly Recommended read.

Sujata Maseey: The Satapur Moonstone Sunday, May 10 2020 

Sujata Massey’s Award-winning The Widows of Malabar Hill introduced Bombay lawyer Perveen Mistry, one of a few female lawyers in India in the early 1920s. Massey brings Perveen back for another adventure in The Satapur Moonstone, and it’s every bit as exciting a mystery as the first.

It’s 1922 and Perveen is asked to journey to the remote Sahyadri mountains to the state of Satapur. The royal family has recently seen its share of disasters: its maharaja died suddenly after taking ill and his eldest son died soon after in a hunting accident.

Now the dowager queen and her daughter-in-law maharani are at odds with how the next in line, a young crown prince, should be educated. With the British Raj agent involved in their rule, a woman is required as the two maharani’s live in purdah and do not speak to men.

After reluctantly agreeing to this venture, Perveen’s journey to the circuit house run by the Englishman Colin Sandringham is arduous, and it is even further to the royal palace in Satapur where the women await her visit. But Colin is interesting company and after a slight delay, Perveen is on her way inside a palanquin, being carried through the forest for the long and dangerous journey to the palace.

What she finds there, and show Perveen will cope with it, show her strength as well as her sleuthing skills. There are power plays and old secrets that threaten the young prince and his little sister, even as Perveen comes under threat. It will take all of her wiles to protect the royal children and carry out her commission.

The time and mores, the landscape and its dangers, all come alive under Massey’s graceful language and extensive research. Perveen is an interesting, intelligent woman, bound by Parsi customs and chafing at them due to her own history. It all makes for an absorbing read this is highly recommended.

Anne Cleeland: Murder in Deep Regret Wednesday, May 6 2020 

Anne Cleeland’s newest Doyle & Acton mystery, Murder in Deep Regret, finds the married detectives working a confusing case, just as they are having their portraits painted for his ancestral home.

A recent acquisition to the London Kingsmen football team, the player Rizzo had been awarded a huge salary that matches his popularity. So when his body is found inside St. Michael’s sacristy, an apparent suicide, Doyle’s nose for the truth twitches as her scalp prickles, and DCI Acton’s actions confirm this was murder.

The church is in the midst of a huge renovation project, dragging on due to the absence of the owner of the construction company. D’Angelo has gone missing after a sailing accident, and is presumed dead, lost at sea.

But what could his death and that of the most revered football player in recent history have to do with each other?

As the couple investigate and Doyle keeps her eye on her husband’s tendency for retribution and running a separate inquiry. Knowing he’s keeping secrets again, Doyle’s dreams come to the forefront with information, keeping the fey Irish gal asking questions without answers.

One thing she’s sure of, even as she juggles her job, watching over her husband, and caring for their young son, albeit with good help at home, is that whomever killed Rizzo did so to bring Acton into the the investigation.

Cleeland’s distinctive recurring characters, including those of their team and at home whom have become like old friends, round out the cast. This is another complicated case, with a hint of sexy romance that never fails to charm. A perfect read for distraction in these times, or anyone looking for a darn good mystery with characters you won’t soon forget in this continued series winner.

Kjell Ola Dahl: Sister Thursday, Apr 30 2020 

Sister, by Kjell Ola Dahl, brings detective Frank Frolich to the forefront. After several books with Frank and his partner in the Oslo PD, Frank has been suspended and is working to get a private investigator’s office off the ground.

When he meets Matilde, he feels his luck is definitely on the upswing. As the two learn about each other, Matilde soon convinces him to help Guri, her good friend who works at a refugee center. Guri wants Frank to find the sister of a Middle Eastern refugee there so the young woman can remain in Norway.

Then an author writing an expose on illegal immigration and how the refugees are treated shows up in Frank’s office and offers him cash for his help. Frederik Andersen’s first book revolved around a ferry tragedy decades ago. Was the police investigation stilted at that time? How are the two threads of the missing sister connected to this?

Soon several people are dead, and Frank has only one friend he can trust.

Frank is such an authentic characters with a shrewd sense of humanity that readers will follow him eagerly. Dahl establishes his sense of place with exquisite details, and his tightly-woven plot will keep readers flipping pages long after the light should be turned out.

Simone Buchholz: Mexico Street Wednesday, Apr 29 2020 

Chastity Riley is the state prosecutor who works with Hamburg police while she tries to figure out her complicated personal life in the newest entry to Simone Buchholz’s series titled Mexico Street.

With vandals routinely setting cars on fire, the Special Forces team, led by Ivo Stepanovic, are called in when one of these cars is found to contain a body.

Nouri Saroukhan is the estranged son of a Bremen gang of thugs who treat their family worse than their enemies at times. The tight-lipped and even tighter-wound clan have a feud with a rival family. It doesn’t help that Nouri loves a girl from the other clan.

What could be a simple feud gone too far turns instead to have threads connecting it to the financial district, while both families look for Aliza, a strong young woman on the run.

Tightly plotted, the story shows how some cultures within Germany are stuck in the past in terms of male dominance and female roles. There are difficult stories Riley confronts, and they add to her own darkness.

Riley is the quintessential noir heroine: this is a woman who drinks too much and smokes too much, yet there is something attractive about her tough exterior that draws people to her.

Buchholz’s writing has a dark tone awash with sparkling and observant prose that adds to the noir feel of the book. While this is book three in the series, it is Auntie M’s first brush with Buchholz and Riley, and it certainly won’t be her last.

James Rollins: The Last Odyssey Sunday, Apr 19 2020 


James Rollins’s Sigma Force novels return with the 15th in the series, The Last Odyssey.

The page-turner takes its cues from Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad. He brings his group of modern day researchers, and gives them a family life back home to return to, to Greenland.

Using part myth, part-creativity, Rollins brings his crew on an adventure that if it goes wrong, could allow a version of Hell to bring an apocalypse to the world and change society as we know it.

Research is key in a book such as this, and Rollins extensive knowledge shows, from the colds of Greenland to the warmth of the Mediterranean where a Bronze Age war changed society then. With Leonardo Da Vinci appearing, it’s a no-holds barred look at ancient societies and the early technology they fostered.

Rollins clarifies after the read what is based on fact and what has come from his imagination. Yet this tale of a cult how want to control the End of Days feels all too real and believable, supported by his continuing cast.

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S L Hollister, author

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(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

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