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What appears to be the mundane investigation of a stolen farm tractor becomes a tangle of lies and a conspiracy of fools in Peter Robinson’s In the Dark Places. How is it possible for such a large piece of equipment to disappear so completely? An abandoned airplane hangar, the perfect location to transfer stolen goods, may be the answer, and there is ample evidence a murder has been committed at the site. This leads to the investigation of the sudden disappearance of two young men, one the son of a local farmer.
The missing boy's girlfriend may be the key to finding the missing men. While Detective Annie Cabbot guards the potential witness, Detective Winsome Jackman is working closely with Terry Gilchrist, the witness who found the bloody crime scene, but the recently returned veteran of Afghanistan is far more interested in Winsome than he is in solving the crime. The body count rises when a fateful auto accident high in the Yorkshire hills reaps a grim harvest.
Peter Robinson draws on the brooding atmosphere of the Yorkshire hills setting to examine the theme of isolation — in both the physical surroundings and in the lives of the characters. Taut, suspenseful, with a richly developed storyline and unforgettable characters, In the Dark Places is headed for award territory. Once you have read this novel, you’ll be sure to add Robinson to your must-read list. Readers of Ruth Rendell, Deborah Crombie and P.D. James will be delighted they discovered Robinson’s Inspector Banks.
Private investigator Michael Kelly is used to the mean streets of Chicago. Even so, in The Governor’s Wife by Michael Harvey, Kelly finds himself embroiled in some nefarious dealings that even he finds troubling. The case starts out fairly straightforward for Kelly. Someone wants him to find former Illinois governor Ray Perry, who mysteriously disappeared after being sentenced to 38 years in prison for corruption. It doesn’t even bother Kelly that his client remains anonymous or that they've deposited a $200,000 retainer fee in his bank account. However, when the bodies start piling up and Kelly’s own life is threatened, he begins to wonder if he is being set up. Can he trust anyone to tell him the truth?
Michael Harvey obviously has a penchant for the hardboiled detective stories in the style of Mickey Spillane and Nero Wolfe. His fast-paced plot is filled with clichés of the tough–as-nails private eye who is one step ahead of the bad guys. There's plenty of action, rough language, plot twists, gun play and femme fatales, but Harvey has updated these elements for the 21st century. If you enjoy a throwback to a time when a P.I. lived by a code of honor and the bad guys were thoroughly evil, then The Governor’s Wife will appeal to you.
What do a car thief, an art teacher, a suspended police officer and multiple missing persons have in common? To find out, Peter Diamond must go Down Among the Dead Men.
A small-time car thief just trying to earn a living snags a BMW. This becomes the worst mistake of his life. Pulled over by suspicious constables, a search of the car finds one very dead body. Convicted as an accessory to murder, he lands in the pokey for a very long stretch.
Superintendent Peter Diamond is coerced by his boss, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, to investigate a colleague’s breach of professional ethics. Ever the self-promoter, Dallymore expects to play a little golf with her superiors while Diamond brings in a result. To his dismay, he discovers the suspended officer in question is Henrietta Mallin, an excellent detective he has worked with in the past. Mallin admits that she received DNA results implicating her niece in a crime and failed to follow up. Diamond discovers the incident occurred three years before and the top brass knew it, yet chose not to pursue the issue at the time.
At the time of her suspension, Mallin was investigating a disturbing number of missing persons in one geographical area. The most difficult part of committing murder is getting rid of the body. What if someone simply disappeared and never reappeared? If all those missing persons turn up dead and the murder rate skyrockets, it would create a catastrophe for the division brass. As Diamond seeks the evidence to exonerate Mallin, he must navigate a minefield of egos — most especially Dallymore’s.
Peter Lovesey, a recipient of the Agatha Lifetime Achievement Award, writes a narrative that is both suspenseful and convincing. If you enjoy Elizabeth George, Stephen Booth and Colin Dexter, you’ll add Peter Lovesey to your list of must-read authors.
Private investigator Bernie Little and his canine companion Chet come to the rescue in Spencer Quinn's newest caper, Scents and Sensibility. Upon returning home from their adventures in our nation’s capital, Chet and Bernie are confronted with two thefts. The first affects their elderly neighbor, Mr. Parsons, the recipient of an illegally procured saguaro cactus. The second affects Bernie directly — his grandfather’s antique watch, Bernie’s prized possession, is stolen. Both of these incidents appear to be related to the neighbor’s son, recently released from prison and looking for fast cash. Bernie, ever the stalwart defender of the underdog, is outraged at the treatment his neighbor receives at the hands of one bureaucrat, who is equally outraged at the threat to the desert environment.
Doggedly determined to dig his neighbor out of trouble, Bernie and Chet head for the desert to investigate. There, they find the unfortunate bureaucrat, dead at the bottom of a hole recently occupied by a saguaro. Obviously, there’s a lot more at stake here than just a few stolen cacti. As they investigate, they discover links to drug smuggling and a long ago kidnapping. They also have their fair share of troubles with the opposite sex. Bernie is maintaining a long-distance relationship, and Chet is introduced to a puppy who looks and even acts an awful lot like him.
The delightful tales of Chet and Bernie are narrated from the dog’s perspective. Chet has limited understanding of his surroundings and he's often distracted by squirrels, cats, flies and the occasional female. Chet’s thought processes are laugh out loud funny, and his absolute devotion to Bernie is deeply touching. Bernie may be the brains of the outfit, but Chet’s deep loyalty often saves the day.
This is the eighth book in the Chet and Bernie mysteries, which started with Dog On It. The plots are original and refreshing, the mysteries are well-plotted and the characters are genuine. Whether you are looking for an engaging read or an audio book for a road trip, you can’t go wrong with this series.
James. R. Benn’s successful Billy Boyle mystery series has captivated readers with its historical accuracy and intriguing plots. Now, Billy returns for his 10th outing in The White Ghost. Get to know James, his research and writing habits, his past as a librarian (including a connection to BCPL!) and enjoy a sneak peek at where Billy’s headed next.
Between the Covers: The Billy Boyle series is set during World War II. Was this a historical time period that always interested you? What is it about this war that remains a historical touchstone for so many? Do you hear from veterans and/or their families?
James R. Benn: When I was growing up, nearly every kid in the neighborhood had a dad who was in the war. It was part of the fabric of life. My father served in the China-India-Burma Theater and I was mesmerized by his stories and the souvenirs he brought home. When I finally started writing, the choice was based somewhat on that history, but also on a study of the historical mystery genre. I discovered it was the fastest growing fiction genre, and noted that the Second World War was not well represented. It was then a natural choice.
World War II was a turning point for America; we went into it a somewhat isolated, disparate nation. It was this war that truly created the famous melting pot of America. Men and women from all walks of life and regions were thrown together and sent all over the world. Nothing like that had ever happened, and I think there’s a yearning for that kind of commonality. And clear-cut power, as well.
I frequently hear from the families of veterans. I have interviewed several vets at the invitation of family members, who say that their father, uncle or grandfather has never talked about the war. It often begins with reluctance, and then a stream of stories, mostly about their buddies. Finally, they may talk about combat. Once, a D-Day veteran signaled me to come close as his family chatted on the far side of the room. “They always ask me if I killed anyone,” he whispered. “I tell ’em no. But I did.”
BTC: Billy was a secondary character in your first book. Why did that character stay with you and compel you to flesh him out more fully? As the war progresses, it becomes more complex and morally murky. How have these complications and sometimes harsh realities changed Billy?
JRB: He just plain wouldn’t go away. I liked his attitude, and thought there might be something to his Eisenhower connection which would allow me to visit a wide variety of situations. After completing research for the first book, I sat down to begin writing. I’d planned on using the third person, being somewhat intimidated by first-person narratives. Then I typed the first line:
I wanted to die.
That stunned me, but I stayed with it. I guess Billy lives somewhere in my subconscious.
After the first book, I understood that the war had to take an emotional toll for Billy. I received terrific advice from the novelist Rachel Basch, who told me “remember, the story has to move down as well as forward.” Billy is constantly confronted by terrible choices, navigating the lesser of multiple evils in a horribly evil war. It is taking a toll.
BTC: In The White Ghost, Billy goes back in time to the Pacific where he gets involved with the Kennedy family. Why was it important to you to set Billy in the Pacific? How critical was it that you share the story of John F. Kennedy and PT-109?
JRB: I was surprised at how many readers asked for a book set in the Pacific; perhaps a lot of them had family who served there. I was stumped at how to do that in a way that made sense. Then I thought the Boston Irish connection with Jack Kennedy would be interesting. But, in the timeline of Billy’s world, it was May 1944. By then, JFK was back in the States and out of the service for medical reasons.
In a flash of unplanned genius, I noticed a gap between the third and fourth books; several months which fit exactly into the events surrounding the sinking of PT-109. So…now, the story can be told.
As a baby boomer, I grew up in awe of JFK. I had no idea what a very strange family he came from. The Kennedy children were brought up in a highly competitive and emotionally traumatizing environment. The war was the best thing that ever happened to Jack Kennedy; it got him out from under the thumb of his overbearing father and showed him what regular folks were like. He really had no idea.
BTC: Billy has travelled all over, beginning in England and including Norway, the Mediterranean and Ireland. Is travelling to these locations part of your research? What is your most memorable trip?
JRB: Yes; my wife and I have traveled to England, Sicily, Italy and Ireland for research. Sicily was quite special; we approached a farmer about looking at some bunkers on his land where a battle took place. It turned out to be Easter Monday, which is a big family gathering day in Sicily. We were taken in and treated as honored guests among the 30 or so family members. No one spoke English and we didn’t speak Italian. With the aid of a pocket dictionary and the German I and one of the men spoke, we talked all day. And ate and drank. We left that night loaded with flowers and fruit. It was a wonderful experience, and a perfect example of Sicilian hospitality. They’ve survived centuries of conquest by absorbing newcomers.
BTC: Other than travelling, do you have any research or writing routines?
JRB: My research is built around reading widely about the subject and geographical area I want to explore. I try to immerse myself in the time and place, through contemporary fiction and nonfiction. My goal is not to simply understand the facts of what happened, but how people in the 1940s would have perceived what was happening to them.
BTC: You pay homage to Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie in two of the books. Who are your biggest influences as a mystery writer?
JRB: The Sherlock Holmes stories were the first mysteries I ever read, so it was hard to resist a ride down Baker Street. While I also enjoy Agatha Christie, it was the proximity of her home (used as a naval headquarters) to the Slapton Sands tragedy that led me to give her a walk-on in The Rest Is Silence.
BTC: You had a long career as a librarian! Did that influence your writing in any way? What is the thing you miss most about working in a library?
JRB: My first job at age 14 was as a library page. I became a librarian out of an unabashed old-school love of books and reading. I wandered around the library field quite a bit, even getting to know Charlie Robinson at BCPL when I worked for a library automation company. That career wanderlust was probably due to the fact I knew there was something else I wanted to do with my life. It was my wife who steered me in the right direction on my 50th birthday, but that’s another story. Right now what I like best about libraries is inter-library loan, the mainstay of my research!
BTC: Do you have a finite number of books planned for the series? Can you give us a preview of Billy’s next adventure?
JRB: Billy and I have not grown tired of each other yet. I’m about to turn in the manuscript for the 2016 release, The Blue Madonna. That book will bring us to D-Day, with Billy and Kaz behind enemy lines in a strange chateau with ghosts, mysterious tunnels, downed airmen and a certain SOE operative who Billy knows very well. And oh yes, murders.
I also have a vague idea for a book involving USO entertainers at some point. Billy needs to see a good show, don’t you think?
Game Warden Mike Bowditch returns to the service with a new-found maturity and a very challenging assignment in The Precipice by Paul Doiron. Deep in the Maine forest lies a part of the Appalachian Trail so remote that signs are posted to warn even seasoned hikers there is no assistance or supplies for the next hundred miles. Two young women, recent college graduates from Pentecost University, venture into this treacherous region and disappear without a trace.
Mike leaves a romantic getaway with his girlfriend Stacy Stevens to join the hunt. Mike, with the additional challenge of keeping up with his partner, is teamed with Bob Nissan, who set the record for fastest hike of the trail. Mike quickly determines the hikers “point last seen” and narrows the search. An all-out manhunt ensues. Multiple jurisdictions coordinate their efforts against time and the elements. The hikers could be lost, hurt or crime victims. Stacy, a wildlife biologist, joins Mike on the trail. Then, a new horror emerges — coyotes ranging the area might be guilty of an act too horrible to imagine. A passionate defender of the animals, Stacy is willing to risk everything to uncover the truth.
Paul Doiron is a Registered Maine Guide and the editor emeritus of Down East, The Magazine of Maine. His first novel The Poacher’s Son won the Barry Award and was a finalist for the Edgar and Anthony awards. He draws on his vast knowledge of the region to create a backdrop for characters carved straight out of the Maine woods. He is a master craftsman at devising plots that are not only suspenseful, but original. Mike’s progressed from impulsive novice to experienced professional through five previous works. While this book can read individually, I highly recommend you follow the path through the woods with Mike and discover the five previous books.
Fans of C. J. Box, Dana Stabenow and Nevada Barr are sure to be pleased.
What would have happened if novelist Henry James had met detective Sherlock Holmes? Granted, Holmes is a fictional character, but in The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, the premise of this unlikely meeting is central to the story. Simmons, who is known primarily for sci-fi, fantasy and horror, combines elements of these genres in this narrative with historical events interwoven into his fictitious plot.
The story opens with Holmes saving James’ life by preventing him from jumping into the Seine one night. From that point on, the pair form an odd partnership that is at times akin to that of Holmes and Watson. However, James never fully believes that Holmes is really who he claims to be. Is this man who sometimes goes by the name of Jan Sigerson really THE Sherlock Holmes or is it all an elaborate ruse? What about the supposed suicide of James’ friend Clover Adams? Will Holmes be able to unravel the connection between Clover and the mysterious Irene Adler? For those familiar with the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, there are references galore to many of the characters and plots of these detective tales.
In addition to Henry James, there are other historical figures making appearances including Samuel Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Adams and Vice President Adlai Stevenson, to name a few. Simmons enjoys going into great detail about various events (e.g. the crushing of someone’s skull or James’ criticism of Doyle’s stories) which can either add to or sideline the central mystery of the story. For those who either enjoy a complicated mystery full of plot twists or the idea of famous historical figures interacting with famous fictitious ones, The Fifth Heart definitely has plenty of both to offer.
The days of summer are dwindling down, and all of the blockbuster movies we were waiting to see have long been released. What’s a cinephile to do when there’s not much left worth seeing in the month of August? Here are three entertaining novels that fall into typical movie genres to help you get through the rest of summer.
Looking for an edgy intergenerational dramedy? Pick up Mat Johnson’s Loving Day. Warren Duffy has returned to the Philadelphia ghetto to claim the dilapidated roofless “mansion” left to him by his recently deceased Irish American father, his black mother having died years before. Warren’s life can’t possibly get any worse, or so he thinks. He’s a not very good, not very successful comic book artist. He identifies as a black man although he’s so light complexioned he consciously overcompensates in an attempt to fit in. His marriage is over and the comic book shop his wife bankrolled for him has gone belly-up. He owes her some serious money and his only hopes of making some quick cash is drawing for hire at a comic book convention. Imagine Warren’s surprise when one of the convention attendees turns out to be the teenage daughter he never knew he had. Tal is more than surprised to learn about her racial identity, having been raised by her Jewish grandfather. She chalks up her hair and features to imagined Israeli roots. Johnson’s down-and-out protagonist retains his ironic sense of humor as he is forced to man up and become a father while exploring his own racial identity and helping his daughter to do the same. Potential love interests for both father and daughter make things interesting, especially since they stem from a special charter school at The Mélange Center, dedicated to helping biracial persons “find the sacred balance” between their black and white perspectives. Broadly comic and insightful as it comments on race issues today, Loving Day explores the dynamics of relationships of all kinds.
If suspenseful thrillers are your thing, look no further Michael Koryta’s latest. Last Words follows Florida investigator Mark Novak, a man whose wife and colleague at their pro bono legal firm is killed under mysterious circumstances. A year and a half later, a distracted and still distraught Novak is sent by his boss to a snow-covered Indiana small town to look into the unsolved murder of a 17-year-old girl, Sarah Martin. Although the case has been cold for nearly 10 years, it’s still very much on the minds of the residents of Garrison. It seems the main suspect, the eccentric outcast Ridley Barnes, wrote the firm to specifically request Novak’s services. Barnes raison d’etre is the continued exploration of the supercave beneath the town, a cave he believes is almost a living being. Barnes was the one who emerged from that cave with Sara Martin’s body after a search team failed to locate her. But Novak soon finds out that the caver isn’t the only potential suspect, and that the citizens of Garrison are not very happy to see the case revisited. Novak makes a crucial mistake heading into the case — he fails to do any research before he arrives, a decision he regrets almost immediately. Tightly plotted with interesting, well-developed characters and plenty of suspenseful action, both in the past and present, Last Words would make an excellent screen adaptation. Koryta has chosen an interesting backdrop for the potential crime, and he uses the cave and the exploration of its dark, cold, claustrophobic, labyrinthine network to suspenseful potential.
For the thrill of a satisfying psychological horror film, it’s hard to top Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. As the book begins, 20-something Merry is returning to her family’s former Massachusetts home (now fallen to ruin and up for sale) to meet with a bestselling author. Merry has a fascinating story to tell, one that continues to permeate all aspects of her life. Fifteen years earlier, the Barretts were struggling. Their father had been out of work for some time, and they were in danger of losing their house. Teen Marjorie had begun acting strangely. The stories she has always told 8-year-old Merry have taken on a sinister tone, and she delights in upsetting her. Strange things start to happen. Is it mental illness or something supernatural? While their stressed mother takes Marjorie to a therapist, their father opts for visits with a Catholic priest with ties to the media. Soon, the cash-strapped Barretts foolishly agree to allow their situation to become a reality television show, The Possession, as a way to pay the mortgage. Tremblay builds suspense and tension by telling the story through present day Merry, 8-year-old Merry and a snarky horror blogger named Karen who is deconstructing The Possession 15 years later. A Head Full of Ghosts is funny, clever and thoroughly chilling. Tremblay brings in plot elements from many famous horror movies, even as he pays homage to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story of madness “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Shirley Jackson’s classic gothic chiller We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Could Marjorie have been faking the whole thing, or was she possessed a la The Exorcist?