Fine Crime Fiction for Fall Reading Monday, Sep 21 2015 

Auntie M has been reading up a storm this summer and brings you some of the finest crime novels out there for your perusal. These have things in common, which is why these particular novels are grouped together: darn fine stories supported by great writing. Enjoy~

Luke Delany’s third DI Sean Corrigan police procedural will grab you from its creepy opening. The Toy Taker starts out strong and never lets up, with Corrigan’s team at Scotland Yard covering the sickest criminals that roam the metropolitan mecca.

Delany’s experience as a former CID investigator serves him well and makes the story jolt into reality when a young boy is discovered missing from his bed one morning in a tony London suburb. There’s no sign of an intruder and no alarms were tripped; there are no signs of a struggle. Corrigan has a knack of being able to put himself into the mind of the criminal he’s seeking, a device that seems to have left him in this installment, frustrating him, his wife, and his colleagues.

The action doesn’t let up, even when another child is taken. What is the hold this predator has over the children who appear to have gone willingly with a stranger? Tautl written and gGuaranteed to keep you up late at night.

After the huge success of Bernard Minier’s The Frozen Dead, Auntie M was not the only reader looking forward to the sequel featuring Commandant Martin Servaz of the Toulouse Crime Squad. A Song for Drowned Souls
is the kind of crime novel that presents a fascinating look at the lives of the perpetrator and of the team on the hunt.

A young man is found, stunned, sitting by a swimming pool where dolls float on its surface. He’s discovered his teacher, drowned in her bath in a horrific manner, and is arrested for her murder. Servaz is called by his former college lover, Marianne, and immediately rushes over and takes over the investigation. The arrested boy is her son and she implores Servaz to clear Hugo.

To do so, he must reopen old wounds of his time at the Marsac school in the Pyrenees at the elite school where the victim taught. He will run into former students now teaching there during the case and find a former friend and competitor for Marianne’s affections figures in the case. Servaz’s daughter has just started in the prep division there and her presence will provide both a distraction and a boon to his investigation as it soon becomes apparent there are ties between students at the school and the murdered woman.

Miner examines the way the past haunts our present in a way that is chilling and highly believable.

Even if you’ve never visited the area, Minier will have you breathing in the scent of the trees in this evocative thriller that takes police procedurals to a new height. Highly recommended.

Open Grave
Kjell Eriksson’s Ann Lindell series continues with an unusual installment, not your usual hurried murder investigation at all, in Open Grave. The idea here is one more of a series of incidents that may or may not lead to murder. And the tension is palpable.

An aging professor has just won the Nobel Prize for Medicine, yet instead of rejoicing, the announcement brings problems to the doctor’s upper-class neighborhood. There are jealousies amongst his colleagues, some who are his neighbors, and even his housekeeper of decades seems to be on on the verge of leaving. What is there about the man that causes this reason for celebration to bring out the worst in people?

Eriksson spools out the story of the participants by delving into their pasts as unusual incidents start to happen. When Inspector Ann Lindell tries to sort out what is happening, her own past rears its head into the carefully arranged present she’s trying to fashion. And the expected outcome is far from the ending twist. The author knows human nature and describes it well in this psychological study that is subtle and character-driven.

run you down

Julia Dahl’s first crime novel, Invisible City, garnered multiple award nominations and is still nominated for more. It was a highly rated debut for Auntie M last year so she was looking forward to its newest, run you down, featuring young reporter Rebekah Roberts.

Rebekah’s ties to the Hasidic community started in the first book, her interested piqued by trying to find the mother she doesn’t know after Aviva Kagan abandoned her as a baby to be raised by her Christian father. Not sure she’s ready to meet the woman she’s finally found, Rebekah is drawn into Aviva’s community in Roseville, NY, by a man who contacts her about his young wife’s mysterious death.

Pessie Goldin’s body was found in her bathtub, an apparent accident or unmentionable suicide–but her husband believes she was murdered. As she investigates, Rebekah will find others like her mother who left the ultra-conservative sect and formed their own group. Some rage about the restraints they were forced to live under in their old community. And others find themselves inexplicably mixed up with groups who would kill without a clear thought for the lives and beliefs of others.

Dahl does a lovely job of letting Rebekah tell readers her story from her point of view as an outsider to a culture she’s trying to understand, while developing a wallop of a story that is its own mystery. One aspect Auntie M particularly enjoyed was seeing the protagonist’s growth and maturity in her job and in her personal life, which adds to the compelling aspect of the mystery. Don’t miss this one.

Slaughter Man
Auntie M enjoyed UK author Tony Parson’s foray into crime novels with The Murder Man, which introduced DI Max Wolfe, his daughter Scout, and their personable dog, Stan. With The Slaughter Man,
Max returns to investigate a heinous crime that jumps off the page from the Prologue describing the horrific slaughter of an entire family, except for the youngest child, apparently kidnapped.

It’s New Year’s Day when this occurs and the day after this wealthy family is found inside their gated-community home, all dead from a most unusual method: a cattle gun, used to stun cattle before butchering. When Max visits Scotland Yard’s Black Museum for background, he comes across a murderer who used just this method three decades ago and was dubbed The Slaughter Man by the press. Could the man, now released from prison, be on a murdering rampage? And why this particular family?

The happy family included two teens and parents who were former Olympians. There’s history here and Max is determined to find out how the past of the parents has led to this slaughter, always aware that as time goes by, his chances of finding the kidnapped boy alive grow dimmer.

Auntie M marveled at Max’s ability to withstand physical punishment, but Parsons does a good job illustrating his physical prowess and workouts at a local boxing club to balance what could be seen as super-human. For Max is definitely a very human detective, devoted to his daughter and her safely and happiness, and this makes him a very real character who leaps off the page and who readers will follow anywhere he takes them. Highly recommended.

Sophie Hannah seems to be everywhere, and Auntie M says this with all due respect and admiration. Last year's The Telling Error has been published in the US recently under the title Woman with a Secret and was previously reviewed on this blog on February 1st. It’s the tale of a woman keeping a secret and brings back the unusual husband-and-wife detective duo of Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, an interesting and intriguing pair, and if you haven’t made their acquaintance yet, now’s the time to do it.

Hannah was also the author of the new Hercule Poirot novel authorized by Agatha Christie’s estate, The Monogram Murders, notable for her outstanding voice of Poirot, which so many readers miss. Now she has a standalone in A Game For All The Family, which shows her 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.

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 changes 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. 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 the anonymous calls start, and Justine finds herself accused of sharing a murderous past with the caller whose voice she doesn’t recognize.

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.

Elizabeth Haynes: Under a Silent Moon Sunday, Apr 6 2014 

When Auntie M met Elizabeth Haynes last summer at Bouchercon, she found a warm, funny family woman with a history of working in police intelligence. Haynes’ darkly creative imagination was behind her first three sterling thrillers: Into the Darkest Corner, Dark Tide, and Human Remains.

Now Haynes is back with an incredible new book, the first of a series, where she brings her past experience into a startling procedural that has her trademark unusual way of telling a story. Under a Silent Moon introduces DCI Louisa Smith, heading up a investigation team in London’s suburbs.

What sets this novel apart from the usual police procedural is the device Haynes uses, containing a mix of police reports, witness statements, call logs and crime charts that add superb layers to the complex story and very human characters she creates. Haynes’ graphs and charts are the ones used in reality, and they add an extra layer to the book, while showing the inner workings of a real police investigation like never before. It also explains the role of the civilian police analyst and how their work aids and interweaves with the police.

Two women in horse country are dead, and Lou and her team must establish if their deaths are related. At a farm outside a small English village, a lovely young woman had been found murdered, the bloody scene a testament to her last minutes. In a nearby quarry, a car fallen into holds the body of an older woman and is at first considered a suicide. But is there a link between the two women and their deaths?

When it’s found that the first victim, Polly Leuchars, had open sexual relationships with many people of both sexes, the suspect list grows. Then an elusive woman who may have been involved in Polly’s circle brings drama of a different kind to a member of Lou’s team. There will be hasty decisions, regrets, and lives brought close to the brink of death before it all comes together.

Haynes has a wonderful grasp of human relations and emotions, and by telling the story from multiple points of view, she maintains a steady, growing tension that affects Lou and her team as they move to separate motive and opportunity within the lies they are being told. By having the same information Lou and her team are privy to at their fingertips, the reader feels they are uniquely involved in getting to the truth as Lou’s team investigates. It’s a wonderful device that immediately keeps the reader flipping pages to the next point of the view, the next interview, the next chart, at the same time as readers are caught up in the emotions and private stories of Lou and her team. It’s to Haynes’ credit that she manages to bring her police team off as every bit as human as the victims and suspects they are interviewing.

This is the first of a planned series and DCI Lou Smith is more than capable of holding the reader’s attention for future novels. Highly recommended.

G. M. Malliet: Wicked Autumn & A Fatal Winter Sunday, Dec 2 2012 

Tis the season for murder and Agatha Award winning author (for Death of a Cozy Writer) G. M. Malliet brings a new series to life with vicar Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent seeking a different kind of life. The tragic killing of his partner had left him guilty and resulted in a depression, a leave of absence,  and finally resignation and the search for something more meaningful. He entered the Anglican Church after schooling at Oxford and seminary training. This backstory fuels Max’s ability to get involved in murder.

In the first installment, Wicked Autumn,  Max thinks he’s found the peace and quiet he desires at his post at St. Edwold’s in Nether Monkslip, until murder erupts and spoils any sense of the idyllic village Max thought he’s found.

Wanda Batton-Smythe has led the Nether Monkslip’s Women’s Institute with an iron hand and a shrill voice that shuts out any contenders for her role. Browbeating the residents into performing as she wishes for the annual Harvest Fayre has only increased their general dislike of the formidable woman. When her body is found on the day of the Fayre, any sense of leaving his past behind vanishes for Max, thrust into the middle of distraught parishioners and suspecting what looks like an accident is actually a case of well-planned murder.

DCI Cotton, whom Max knows from the past, quickly ropes Max into helping with the investigation. Although familiar with the petty grievances and animosities of small-town life, Max is thrown by the idea that one of the residents of his lovely English village is capable of murder; yet he is realistic enough to see that there are many villagers who might have wished for Wanda’s demise. The suspects include Lily Iverson, a timid woman who nonetheless owns a local knitting business but often bore the brunt of Wanda’s assaults. There’s the owner of the Cavalier Team Room, Elka Garth, who often felt Wanda’s pressure, especially when it came to donating her services to the Harvest Fayre; and the chef and restaurateur Guy Nicholls, who felt the same pressures. Then there’s Frank Cuthbert, the local historian an author who often clashed with Wanda over his books. And that’s just the start of the list.

As the investigation heats up, readers will meet more villagers, several who will reappear in Malliet’s second book in the series, A Fatal Winter. But not before Max and Cotton team up to unmask a murderer.

In Book Two, winter has come to Nether Monkslip, and finds Max struggling with his Christmas sermon, but even more with the feelings he’s developed for Awena Owen, the New Age goddess who runs a shop in town. What would his bishop have to say about such an alliance? And should he care?

These are Max’s thoughts as he returns to the village after a brief London stay. A chance meeting on an early train between Max and Letitia, Lady Baynard, of nearby Chedrow Castle is soon put out of Max’s thoughts until Cotton calls him late that same night. The DCI has been at Chedrow Castle since earlier in the day, called just after the body of Lord Footrustle, Letitia’s brother Oscar, has been found murdered in his bed.

Only minutes after that call on his way to the castle, a second call had notified Cotton of the finding of a second body in the garden, that of Letitia herself, at first glance of natural causes. But with assorted relatives ensconced for the holidays in an extremely poor excuse for a family a reunion as orchestrated by the fated Oscar, Cotton knows his handful of CID officers, good as they are, won’t be enough to find this wiley killer.

His ace up his sleeve is his good friend Max Tudor, who will be his feet on the ground and his ears to the family.  Max is called to the castle by Lamorna, Lady Baynard’s religious grand-daughter, as special advisor to the family on the double funeral to be held.  Pastoral duties farmed out, Max leaves for a few days at the castle, and for an experience he’s not soon to forget.

The assorted Footrustle family  includes Letitcia’s Baynard side: two sons and the grand-daughter Lamorna, who had been adopted by Letitia’s dead daughter and son-in-law and left for her to raise. But Oscar’s side is well-represented, as he’d been married twice; three assorted children and one ex-wife are in attendance. This eccentric group includes the washed up actress, Lady Jocasta, Oscar’s daughter, and her American husband Simon Jones. Oscar’s ex-wife, Gwynyth Lavener, brings her teenaged children: Alec, Viscount Edenstarted, and his sister, Lady Amanda, two indulged but intelligent youths.

If this sounds like too much Debrett’s for you, Malliet thoughtfully includes a family tree, which you will find yourself consulting until the character’s become firmly rooted in your mind.

Basically a locked room puzzle, Max will eventually figure out who’s behind the deaths, but not before a third murder is committed, in a great twist that readers won’t see coming.

Readers of the Golden Age mysteries will be entertained by this series, which has all the hallmarks of village mysteries: that lovely English setting, a handsome protagonist, and just a hint of romance to round things out. Booklist says: “Malliet has mastered the delights of the cozy mystery so completely that she seems to be channeling Agatha Christie.”