Sophie Hannah: A Game for All the Family Sunday, May 22 2016 

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Auntie M had previously mentioned Sophie Hannah’s standalone, A Game for All the Family, in a thriller post last fall. But it’s available now in the US and worthy of a second look for those of you who are hooked on this writer’s wicked imagination.

A Game For All The Family, shows Hannah’s deft hand at psychological thrillers, as well as her ability to create an intriguing story from the most seemingly innocuous bits of people’s lives that somehow escalate before the reader’s eyes into full-blown terror. This is the genius of her writing.

Justine Merrison is moving with her family to escape London and her high pressure job to the lovely Devon countryside, home to Dame Agatha, by the way. She has huge plans to do nothing at all, at least for a while, but the family is no sooner moved in than teen daughter Ellen withdraws and exhibits a change in her personality.

It seems Ellen has written a story that describes a grisly murder set in the family’s gorgeous new home and just happened to name a character after herself. What starts out as a school assignment morphs into the story of someone else’s family.

Then her good friend is expelled from school for a trifle and when Justine goes to the school to ask the head to reconsider, she’s told the student doesn’t exist–and that he never attended the school. Who is going crazy–Ellen or the school?

And then anonymous calls start, and Justine finds herself accused of sharing a murderous past with a caller whose voice she doesn’t recognize. Being caught up in this strange story will ultimately affect Justine, Ellen and their entire family, especially when Justine realizes it will be up to her to stop their torment.

How this falls out is part of the fun of reading the unique novel where Justine must find out just whom she’s supposed to be in order to stop the threat to her family. Twisted and entertaining.

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Elly Griffiths: The Woman in Blue, Ruth Galloway Mystery #8 Tuesday, May 3 2016 

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Elly Griffiths’ wonderful Ruth Galloway Mysteries are one of Auntie M’s secret delights. Each new book is like a treat, waiting to be devoured.

In book #8 in the series, THE WOMAN IN BLUE, Griffiths takes Ruth to Little Walsingham, a medieval town with a huge religious history. Her friend, the druid Cathbad, is housesitting near the cemetery of one of the town’s churches, St. Simeon’s, when he sees a woman standing near one of the tombstones. Dressed in white with a flowing blue cloak, is the woman real, or an apparition of the Virgin Mary that many pilgrims come to the town to worship?

When the same woman is found dead in a ditch the next day, it’s clear she was very human. There will soon be religious overtones to the investigation, and DCI Nelson and his team on the case. Ruth finds herself involved through the back door this time. An old friend coming to the area soon on a course asks Ruth to help her as she’s been receiving threatening letters. The fact that this old friend is now an Anglican priest is not the only thing Ruth must get used to. There is a change in Nelson and they’re both afraid of it.

Then a second woman is murdered, and Ruth and Nelson race to find a murderer before he or she can strike again. With Easter season in full bloom, pageants and services abound, and the local churches of all denominations come under scrutiny. Old faces we’ve seen before appear, and threads from past stories come full circle–or do they?

One of Griffith’s gifts is making Ruth, Nelson and their circle face the same things we each face in our daily lives in a most realistic way. There aren’t always neat solutions to life’s questions. Police and forensic archaeologists, no matter how devoted or how good at their jobs, have the same insecurities and the same longings as anyone else. Griffiths’ consistently captures our attention with a delicious mystery while echoing the realities many readers face.

Couple all of this with a murderer on the loose and a Good Friday Passion Play in progress and you have all the ingredients for a mystery rich with drama and intrigue as very modern dilemmas play out on several levels. Highly recommended~

A note to readers: Three of Auntie M’s other highly recommended mysteries from last year are out in paperback. If you missed any of these in hardcover, now’s your chance for great adventures reading from three authors skilled at weaving setting and character with compelling mysteries:

LONDON RAIN, Nicola Upson’s sixth Josephine Tey mystery takes readers to 1937 London, still reeling from the abdication of Edward VIII and bustling in readiness for the coronation of his brother. This behind-the-scenes look at a murder at the BBC involves scandals old and new, all set against the backdrop of a national moment in history.

AFTER THE FIRE brings Jane Casey’s London detective Maeve Kerrigan into the cement high-rise estates where a fire has left three dead–and one of them is a wealthy and outspoken politician. What was he doing on this motley estate, and how does his death tie in to the other two victims?

A SONG FOR DROWNED SOULS by Bernard Minier bring his Commandant Martin Servaz of the Toulouse crime squad face to face with his own past, when the son of a former lover is the chief suspect in the murder of a teacher at the same university his own daughter is attending.

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

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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.

Deborah Crombie: No Mark Upon Her Sunday, Apr 1 2012 

In the latest installment of her Duncan Kincaid/Gemma Jones series, Texas author Deborah Crombie’s  love and affinity for England once again shine through.

Detective Inspector Gemma Jones is finally very married to Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, and their blended family is adjusting to its newest member. Crombie skillfully weaves the tapestry of their lives into the investigation of their latest case.

Preparing to trade Gemma’s domestic leave to take his own turn, Duncan finds himself at the last minute involved in a murder investigation filled with far-reaching tendrils, as the victim was a detective with the Metropolitan Police and an Olympic-grade rower. A subplot includes a high-ranking predatory policeman which complicates his investigation at every turn.

Becca Meredith is a solitary and competitive rower, hoping to regain her footing in a controversial bid for a place on the Olympic team. Her dreams are ended when a training row ends with her being tipped from her scull and drowning in the Thames River near Henley. Her lover, Kieran Connolly, struggles with post-war injuries. Part of the volunteer K9 search and rescue team with his Labrador Retriever, Finn, he is among the first to find Becca’s body, caught near the downstream weir near Mill End.

When the mysterious drowning becomes Duncan’s case, his team investigates Becca’s past, including her rowing for Oxford Blue, and her ex-husband, a former rower. It quickly becomes obvious that Becca’s talented but difficult personality has led her to acquire many admirers and just as many enemies. Complicating matters is a politically fraught work situation that will spill over into a  separate investigation Gemma has gotten entangled with just as her family leave is ending, and this widens the list of suspects for both detectives.

Then Kieran is targeted in a horrid accident, it becomes obvious that there is a killer who needs to silence people and it’s up to Duncan to stop him before he can kill again.

Rooted in reality, Crombie’s endpapers on the hard-covered books contain a lovely hand-drawn map by Laura Maestro of the area, which goes a long way to helping readers unfamiliar with the area visualize the main places of the action. The descriptions and feel of The Leander Club, a revered Henley rowing club, as well as the grueling routine of an elite rower, add to the pleasure. One of the hallmarks of Crombie’s books is the way she brings to life pockets of the UK we readers vicariously come to know, and the clubby, status-conscious world of Oxford rowing blends well with the routines of the K9 rescue team and their dogs.

Ruth Rendell: The Vault Sunday, Jan 15 2012 

Rendell’s dear Chief Inspector Reggie Wexford has retired–or has he?

Wexford’s actress daughter owns a home in the posh Hampstead section of London, complete with a carriage house she offers to her parents, where Wexford and his wife Dora are spending time now that the Chief is retired from policing. Trying to fill his days with reading, opera, galleries and walks, he is also trying to cope with missing policing, six months out of service. One of these walks down the Finchley Road leads him to a chance encounter with a bright young detective he knew thirty years ago and instantly recognizes.

But Tom Ede has moved on and is now Detective Superintendent Ede, based at the new Metropolitan Police headquarters in Cricklewood. When Ede promises to phone the next day, Wexford finds himself anxiously anticipating the call. Yet he’s still surprised when Ede indicates he could use Wexford in the role of expert advisor. “Open confession is good for the soul,” said Tom, “and I’ll tell you frankly, I’ve asked for your help because so far we’re getting nowhere fast.”

Despite the lack of renumeration, Wexford agrees when he finds out the particular case Ede wants help with concerns a house in Orcadia Place, where four bodies have been found in an underground vault. Three of the bodies are of vintage variety, and one is new. The house’s new owner had pulled up a manhole cover in the garden with an eye to making an underground room and made the horrific discovery. Readers of Rendell’s 1998 novel A Sight for Sore Eyes will remember this particular house and its grisly climax with three bodies buried, one alive, but now the number is up to four. I hasten to point out that no knowledge of that book is necessary to enjoy this one. But the question for readers of the earlier book will become immediately apparent, as it soon does to Wexford: How did somebody else end up in that chamber? And who knew of its existence?

Wexford’s dogged nature and detecting skills will take him all over London’s neighborhoods as he uses his honed experience to figure out the criminal minds at work here and follows the trail that leads to the original murders over a decade ago. There are neighbors and workers and past owners to be interviewed and investigated. Just when he’s making what seems like progress on the case, a family tragedy brings him back to Kingsmarkham and changes everything. Wexford’s old partner Mike Burden makes his appearance here. Just as that situation looks to be under control, the books powerful resolution brings Wexford himself into physical danger.

This is Rendell at her finest, with masterful plotting and an eye for the details of human nature. Rendell delves into the psychology of her characters as she twists her plots, and twists them again, and that keeps Auntie M reading.

As an aside, it must be noted that many of the Wexford novels were made for television into a fine series called The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, starring George Baker as Wexford. A multi-talented actor and writer, Baker embodied the character, and died last October of pneumonia after a stroke. His third wife, actress Louie Ramsey, had played Dora, Wexford’s wife in the series, and predeceased him in March of 2011. One of Baker’s five daughters told the BBC after his death: “He absolutely loved Wexford and he loved being Wexford.”

How lucky for readers that Wexford’s creator is still going strong and we can only hope Baroness Rendell will keep Wexford alive and sleuthing for a long time to come.

Susan Hill: Betrayal of Trust Sunday, Jan 8 2012 

With the sixth Simon Serrailler mystery, the wonderful Susan Hill has given her readers a New Years gift that’s only missing its red bow. All of the delightful elements are here that make this acclaimed series one of the most highly anticipated in British mystery.

A gale passing through southwest England opens the action, affecting the characters in different ways.  The brooding Chief Superintendent has driven home from a friend’s wedding in Wales with the gale licking his heels. He’s tucked up warm and cozy, when the gale hits his flat in Cathedral Close and town of Lafferton with a vengance. At his sisters farmhouse, Cat Deerborn worries about Molly Lucas, the final year medical student who lives with her. Molly biked to the med school library and hasn’t returned home. Across town, arthritic Jocelyn Forbes faces the storm alone in her bedroom, wishing for someone to talk to about her deteriorating body.

Then just after midnight the river bursts its banks; streets and lanes fill up with flash flooding. Debris washes down the Moor into the road below and the hill becomes impassable, bringing with it stone, soil, branches, and along with this, bones from two shallow graves.

These bones bring Serrailler the chilling prospect of a complicated cold case involving prominent businessman John Lowther. Some of the bones belong to his daughter, Joanne, missing for twenty years, whose supposed death as a teenager led to her mother’s suicide. The others bones owner are harder to pin down and prove to be only the first of the surprising twists Hill has in store for her readers.

Lafferton’s force has been hit with budget cuts, and the shortage of staff finds Serrailler out doing the kind of legwork in this investigation he’s best suited for. The story lines threads and themes that follow Molly Lucas, learning how to manage the end of life in patients, and Jocelyn Forbes, facing hers, weave in and out of Serrailler’s investigation, as he tried to identify the second body while trying to learn what happened to Joanne Lowther.

Hill manages to wrap these disparate threads into a complex and highly satisfying plot, exploring the quality of life, what that really means, and whose decision it is to make that judgment.

A surprising twist in Serrailler’s personal life dovetails neatly with the novel’s theme but is not the only surprise Hill has in for her reader. This is a chillingly well-plotted novel, and Auntie M found the novel’s ending raised more questions than it answered and left her anxiously anticipating the next novel. Hill delves into the psychology of her characters in a way that makes them very human and allows her readers to relate to them with her deep empathy for the human condition.  Never one to take the expected pathway, fans of P D James and Ruth Rendell will find The Betrayal of Trust wholly satisfying and unable to put  down until the shocking last page is turned. It will be difficult to wait for the next installment.