Tag Archives: whodunit

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE EBOOK The Student Body – An E.J. Pugh Mystery by Susan Rogers Cooper

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The blurb and arresting cover caught my attention and as I felt in the mood for an amusing contemporary whodunit, I requested the Netgalley arc.

Graham Pugh should be having a ball as a first-year student at the University of Texas in Austin. Unfortunately for him, his roommate, Bishop ‘Call Me Bish’ Alexander, is an arrogant asshole he can’t stand, to the point of dreaming of killing him in his sleep. Even more unfortunately for Graham, when he wakes up early one morning for a lecture, he finds that Bishop actually is dead on the floor. With Graham the prime suspect, E.J., Willis and the girls race up to Austin immediately. Unsurprisingly, it just so happens that Bishop annoyed a lot of people on campus, not just Graham. But who killed him? E.J. is soon facing a desperate battle to prove her son’s innocence.

This story, told in multiple pov with E.J.’s viewpoint in first person, was a bit grittier than I’d originally assumed. There were regular flashes of humour and plenty of snarky dialogue – but E.J. was too genuinely distressed at the prospect of her son being accused of murdering the unspeakable Bish for it to be truly comedic. In true whodunit tradition, no one appeared to care much for Bish, who was greedy, insulting and manipulative such that even his own mother wasn’t shedding too many tears.
As for the hapless Graham – despite the fact that there wasn’t any hard and fast proof that he had done it – the local police commander heading up the investigation decided early on that he was the only viable suspect. While I haven’t read any of the previous E.J. Pugh murder mysteries, I did get the sense that in this one, she is further out of her comfort zone than usual. What worked really well, was the uncomfortable dynamic between Graham and E.J.

Under normal circumstances, children leaving for college helps to establish them as adults. Though often needs parental assistance, it tends to be from a distance. Not so when Graham finds himself the chief suspect in a murder investigation that has the campus buzzing. When he calls his mother in, the two of them are clearly floundering. E.J. is concerned and protective, while Graham is terrified and wanting help – but not so that any of his peers would notice that it’s his mother offering the much-needed assistance.

Indeed, I found E.J. a fascinating protagonist. She certainly has edges. As well as battling her overly protective maternal instincts, she seems very ambivalent towards her husband. I had expected him to be the rock on which she leans as she negotiates this tricky investigation – but that role falls to Luna, her neighbour and local policewoman, who travels to Austin out of her jurisdiction to work with the crusty, recently divorced Champion heading up the case. Getting the measure of her character was every bit as interesting as the murder mystery, which has plenty of twists and turns – though I would have liked a sense that the victim was more than just a complete tosser who was universally unpleasant to everyone.

As for the denouement – while one of the key suspects was early on easy to spot, I certainly didn’t guess the motive or the actual murder suspect before the climactic reveal. This is an entertaining cosy murder mystery with plenty going on and an interesting protagonist. Recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The Student Body from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon

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The quirky title and interesting premise caught my eye – I’m always a sucker for crime set in space, so I requested the arc.

Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business? Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter’s wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.

This is basically a cosy mystery set in space. It has the classic ingredients – a victim that no one seems to care all that much about; a quirky, successful restaurant owner who inexplicably has sufficient time to shoot off here, there and everywhere to run down a number of clues; a friendly law enforcement officer who is happy to let Molly have crucial details of the ongoing case; lots of foodie details along the way.

I like Molly – the fact that she is happily married with adult children and is rushing around organising a wedding for one of them is a major plus point as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to see women of a certain age confident in her ability and established in a stable relationship and career featuring as the main protagonist for a change. However, while she is crazily busy, I did feel her characterisation was a little thin – mostly because the continual stream of puns and gags around the future version of the past crowded out the opportunities for us to bond with her.

The worldbuilding is detailed and builds up a clear picture of exactly what life is like on Mars for Molly and her family. We get plenty of descriptions of the places they visit and in particular, the build-up to the wedding and the celebration, but again, the focus on the one-liners and wordplay inevitably skews some of the detail, as destinations and placenames are clearly only added for the sake of the gag. The situation regarding androids as political tensions rise around their status is nicely handled and I did enjoy Molly’s relationship with her friend Jersey, whose husband, Trenton, is an android. The only problem I did have, is that given the abilities Trenton displayed in manufacturing a range of goods for Jersey, it did occur to me that the fears of unmodified humans were very well founded – and that aspect simply wasn’t investigated. Perhaps it is being left for another book in the series, as although at no time is this book flagged as the second in a series, there is clearly a previous book somewhere about another case earlier in Molly’s life.

The solution to the case worked well, in that the murderer is someone who has a strong reason for killing the victim and is well placed to keep threatening Molly as she endeavours to track down the perpetrator. The various story arcs are nicely tied up and overall, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion – but I cannot help thinking that if there were a few less puns and wordplay jokes, the overall characterisation and scene setting could have been a lot stronger.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Snared Book 16 of the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep

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Last year, I plunged into the tail-end of this series, Unraveled – see my review here. So when I saw Snared was available, I immediately requested the arc from Netgalley, keen for another slice of the feisty Gin Blanco…

Another week, another few clues trickling in about the Circle, the mysterious group that supposedly runs the city’s underworld. Gathering intel on my hidden enemies is a painstaking process, but a more immediate mystery has popped up on my radar: a missing girl. My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.

The overall tone and setting for this urban fantasy offering is darker than the breezy gung-go fun to be had at the Bullet Pointe western theme park where all the action took place in Unraveled. In this adventure, we start with the death of a young girl and the disappearance of another. As Gin watches the anguish of her sister, desperate to get her back, it takes her back to her own troubled past – and this is where Estep’s skill and experience kicks in. For those of us with the poor judgement to crash midway into this series, this provides us with valuable nuggets of information about Gin’s backstory – for those who have been following the series, this will doubtless provide further layers of characterisation.

While I’m sure there are nuances and allusions I am missing, at no point was I adrift, or struggling to work out what was happening to whom. I enjoy Gin’s gritty, rather violent take on Life as she is confronted with a range of unpleasant underworld characters. Her ice and stone magic give her some significant advantages in any kind of shootout or battle – but she isn’t invulnerable and when her own cockiness gets her into a very tricky situation, help comes from a completely unexpected quarter.

I really enjoyed the various plot turns snaking through this whodunit plot, where all is not as it seems, as well as savouring the extra information we learn about her traumatic childhood. Once more, an wholly enjoyable urban fantasy adventure full of action and twisty goodness.

While I obtained the arc of Snared from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Review of City of the Lost – Book 1 of the Casey Duncan series by Kelley Armstrong

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I enjoy Kelley Armstrong’s writing – see my review of Omens here. So when I saw City of the Lost on the library shelves I scooped it up.

cityofthelostCasey Duncan once killed a man and got away with it. Since then she’s become a talented police detective, tethered only to her job, her best friend, Diana, and the occasional evening with her sexy, no-strings-attached ex-con lover, Kurt. But then Casey’s own dark past begins to catch up with her. The two women need to run—and Diana’s heard of a place where they won’t be found, a town especially for people like them…

One of the prerequisites for a really successful murder mystery is an enclosed community where the murderer and the victim are necessarily interacting with no way of leaving once the deed is done. Which is why the country house week-end killing was one of the staples of the early whodunits – it ticked all those boxes and gave the reader plenty of opportunity to get to know all the guests and discover guilty secrets and hidden antagonisms. In this setting – an isolated community set hundreds of miles away from modern civilisation in the wilderness – Armstrong sets up the same backdrop for her crimes, though they are a good deal less genteel than Colonel Mustard in the library with the poker.

Does it work? Oh yes – I really liked the concept of this secret town with the hard-pressed sheriff, which also has echoes of America’s Wild West past when the rule of law was overseen by one man and his deputy. But while the setting may hark back to a historical past, the protagonist certainly doesn’t. Casey is half Filipino-Chinese, with a troubled past. She has always been the outsider, never quite belonging and her only friend is Diana, who also has her own problems. Casey is also a police detective and is immediately drafted in to assist the very grumpy sheriff who has a suspicious death and a missing person to contend with.

As the story gradually spools through the possible suspects, with a variety of other crimes thrown into the mix, we get to know Casey a lot better. For despite the story being told in first person pov, Casey takes some time to fully warm to. I liked that. In the days of protagonists emoting all over the place, it was a refreshing change to have a protagonist who doesn’t often show her feelings. Alongside the increasingly dire situation – think Midsomer Murders’ body count – there is a growing romance that also steadily gathers momentum throughout the book. While I generally don’t object to a romantic sub-plot, it is never the reason why I’ll pick up a book, so I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed watching this relationship unfold. I also very much enjoyed the major plot twist that explains exactly why the sheriff is perpetually bad tempered and unable to move away.

However, in order to really work, the denouement has to have plenty of drama and shock value. Despite the fact that I’d guessed who one of the main perpetrators was before the main unveiling, this still was a successful climax to the story, which Armstrong brought to a strong conclusion leaving a couple of dangling plotpoints so she will be able to resume this series in due course.

All in all, this is an enjoyable, slickly written book with plenty going on and an engaging, appealing protagonist. If you like classic murder mysteries with plenty of drama and an unfolding love story, then track down this book.
8/10

Review of Death on the Downs – A Fethering Mystery by Simon Brett

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In the depths of winter, still recovering from the over-indulgence of the Christmas holidays, this entertaining whodunit certainly hits all the right spots.

Caught out in a sudden downpour during a walk on the South Downs, Carole Sedden shelters in a dilapidated barn – only to discover deathonthedownstwo fertiliser bags packed with human bones. The gossips in the Hare and Hounds, the local pub in the hamlet of Weldisham, immediately identify the corpse as Tamsin Lutteridge, a young woman who disappeared several months earlier. But when Carole and her new neighbour, Jude, investigate further, they are not so sure…

Firstly, what this novel isn’t. You don’t get a graphic anatomy lesson in decomposition as in a Patricia Cornwall or Kathy Reiches – neither is this a Rankinesk study in world-weary cynicism. Which is a refreshing change as the current whodunit trend seems to be striving to make each book more bloodily horrifying than the last. Though neither are we in a Disneyland version of the genre. Brett treats the murder with suitable seriousness and his well written heroine is far more likely to be standing next to you in Tescos than some protagonists found in more lurid novels.

However, for me the outstanding feature of the book are the descriptions of the local landscape and characters. The acerbic humour running through these word sketches are a joy to read. The narrative pace is apparently unhurried, so I wasn’t flipping back to check up on clues or characters I might have missed during a half-page of inattention. Which didn’t prevent me staying up till 2 am in order to reach the denouement, where again, Brett’s capable storytelling pedigree is apparent. The ending was suitably satisfying with all the major plotlines thoroughly tied up.

My only niggle – and I am conscious that this a matter of personal preference – is that a certain amount of mystery regarding one of the protagonists wasn’t resolved. As this was a theme running through the story I did feel a little cheated that by the end I still didn’t know all the details. However, when writing a multi-volume series, it is always a fine judgement call as to how many hooks to leave trailing in order to tempt readers to continue with the other books.

I don’t need any such inducement. Brett’s witty, well-crafted slices of West Sussex murder and mayhem are right up there, jostling with the latest steampunk and urban fantasy offerings.
8/10

Review of Whispers Underground – Book 3 in Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch

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D.C. Peter Grant – U.K.’s answer to Harry Dresden – serves in a little known branch of the Metropolitan Police. So in this, the third book in the series does Aaronovitch manage to sustain the energy, quirky humour and detailed knowledge that has made this series so popular so quickly?

In Tuffnell Park, North London, a pair of railway tracks dive under a school, taking trains to and from Kings Cross. Wet, filthy, dangerous. Lovely place. And one Sunday before Christmas a sweet (sort of) kid called Abigail took me and my long-suffering Lesley May down there to look for a ghost.

We found one.

whispersundergroundAnd that was that, I thought, because come Monday, I get to do some proper policing. Persons Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been involved. And sure enough, in the blood; vestigia, the tell-tale trail magic leaves. Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘International Incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds and her firmly held religious beliefs are on my case. And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Underground, the buried rivers, the Victorian sewers, I’m hearing whispers of ancient arts and tortured, vengeful spirits…

That’s the premise – and with that we are whisked off in Peter Grant’s engaging, chirpy first person viewpoint to a ringside seat as he embarks on another investigation. Once more, we are treated to his cinematic descriptions of the city he clearly loves and knows as well as a London cabbie, while he plunges into another plot more twisty than Mama Thames herself.

Lesley May is accompanying him for most of the ride – and the sparky, yet poignant interaction between the two of them lit up sections of the book for me. In any successful long-running series, it becomes as much about the supporting characters as the protagonist. Aaronovitch doesn’t rely solely on having one of the most cheekily engaging main characters to keep our interest – he also surrounds Peter with a quirky cast. This ranges from Molly, the housekeeper at The Folly (think Mrs Hudson with sharp teeth and chronic insomnia); Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, Peter’s boss and that last official English wizard, to the pantheon of headstrong river goddesses who all seem to have a bit of a thing for Peter…

Aaronovitch is a highly experienced writer and knows that one of his writing strengths is creating powerfully effective backdrops, providing mood music to the action. This book has underground tunnels as a creepy setting to the action – not just the Underground, but also slices of the complex warren that burrows under London for a variety of purposes. I’d strongly advise you to avoid reading the passages set in the sewer while eating your dinner – it’ll put you right off your food…

Whispers Underground is every bit as good as the first two books – if anything, better. Peter’s character sings off the page and as Aaronovitch refines and fleshes out the world and supporting cast, his voice gains in emotional depth and confidence. This is certainly one of 2012’s outstanding reads.
10/10

Review of The Fourth Wall – Book 3 of the Dagmar Shaw series by Walter Jon Williams

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This book is told in first person present tense and this time, we are not in Dagmar’s viewpoint. The protagonist in this story is Sean Makin, ex-child star who at the height of his acting career was a household name and earned millions – which his parents have all taken. So as a failed adult actor, he is reduced to humiliating himself in shows like Celebrity Pitfight – think of Gladiators crossed with I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here

4thwallWhen he meets Dagmar Shaw and is considered for the lead part in her latest film project, he thinks his dreams have come true. However, what Sean doesn’t know is that people often have a shortened life expectancy around Dagmar. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the SUV that nearly knocked him down…

I’ve read all three books in this series. One of its strengths is that you don’t have to read any of the others to fully enjoy this particular book, where we have moved on. However, having read the first two, one of the pleasures was to see Dagmar through the lens of someone else – someone so essentially self-absorbed that she wasn’t particularly important to him. Until the end, that is…

So, change of protagonist; change of viewpoint and tense; complete change of scenario – gone are the politics and world-awareness of the first two books. Sean is only vaguely conscious there is a vicious war going on, as all his attention and energy is focused on Hollywood and events unfolding around him. Does it work?

Oh yes – this is an absolute joy. This is the book where Williams really hits his stride – and confirms for me just how uncomfortable he was with Dagmar as the main protagonist. Because Sean is inspired – there are layers in his characterisation that are wonderful, both tragic and hilarious. There were always occasional shafts of dark humour lancing through Williams’ other two books in the series – but in the character of Sean, Williams has given his readers an intimate and unforgiving insight into the life of a Hollywood actor. It is pathetic, funny and shocking by turns – all delivered in Sean’s pinpoint-sharp voice. The whodunit running through the filming is entertainingly twisty – I enjoyed the unexpectedness of the deaths and trying to work out who was the perpetrator.  And the fourth wall of the title?  This is the invisible barrier that the actors have to reach through in order to reach their audience.

There has been some criticism that the final denouement was something of an anti-climax. Which had me scratching my head, wondering whether we’d been reading the same book. I thought the ultimate twist provided by Dagmar was an amazing conclusion to the story – although I’ll concede that the whodunit discovery was slightly workaday. But surely, isn’t that the point? Isn’t that Williams playing a game with his readers – giving them a relatively bland payoff, as a caricature of a Hollywood-type ending? If he’d left it at that, then I think they have some cause for grumbling – but he doesn’t. He goes on to produce the real ending, which delivers an almighty punch.

All in all, this is one of the best books I’ve read in 2012. Sean is a wonderful creation and I’m hoping that Williams hasn’t done with him – I’d love another slice of Sean’s life. Please?
10/10

Review of Moon Over Soho – Book 2 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich

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Ben Aaronovich’s first book, Rivers of London, garnered a great deal of critical acclaim and positive attention from reviewers and critics alike. I certainly enjoyed it. So, does the sequel, released only a few months later by those busy folks at Orion, live up to the high standard set by the first book?

The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus moonoversohoWilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.

Body and soul – they’re also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, and the assistance of beautiful jazz aficionado Simone Fitzwilliam, Peter will uncover a deadly magical menace – one that leads right to his own doorstep and to the squandered promise of a young jazz musician: a talented trumpet player named Richard “Lord” Grant – otherwise known as Peter’s dear old dad.

Apart from the fact that this book reaffirms Aaronovich’s detailed research/knowledge of London’s tucked-away corners and we learn that he is also a jazz nut – it also firmly establishes this series as One To Watch. Peter Grant is a delightful protagonist – funny, slightly vulnerable and insatiably curious. And someone who seems to trip over trouble with great frequency. I liked the way this book immediately picks up the threads from Rivers of London, so we get to see more of the engaging cast of characters. Molly is a standout favourite and I’m waiting to see her get a lot more action. Peter’s long-suffering mentor, DCI Nightingale is still recovering from the injuries he sustained at the climactic ending of Rivers of London, as is PC Lesley May, Peter’s girlfriend. We also get to see more of the river deities at the heart of this series and the adventure with Ash is one of the more exuberant set pieces in the middle of this fast-paced whodunit. It is a relief to have an urban fantasy protagonist who isn’t nursing all sorts of major emotional damage due to a dysfunctional upbringing. While Peter was raised in a tough part of town, he also has a strong, loving family around him – even if it was rather haphazard.

I sort of guessed who was responsible for killing off the jazz musicians well before the denouement – though that didn’t really matter. I hadn’t seen the how and besides there’s another case where the threat is even more deadly and is clearly going to be taking up Peter’s time in the next book. The humour threading through the story immediately drew me in and held me. I read the book in a single sitting – however, in devouring it so greedily I’m conscious that I’m selling this novel short. There is a wealth of detail packed alongside the engrossing storyline – descriptions of London haunts; snippets of magical lore and delightfully irreverent insights into police procedure. So you can pounce on it and gorge on the story, but I think this is also a book that would benefit from being reread at a slower pace to fully appreciate what Aaronovich has crafted and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Whispers Under Ground.
10/10

Review of The Secret Hangman by Peter Lovesey

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Maybe you are already aware of Peter Diamond’s police career in the beautiful city of Bath – but The Secret Hangman is my introduction to Peter Lovesey’s work.

secrethangmanPeter Diamond is managing as well as can be expected after the shocking murder of his wife, three years earlier. He certainly doesn’t need his boss, Georgina, fussing about him. Neither does he need the attentions of the woman who writes, asking for a date. Not that he’s got much time on his hands to brood – not after a woman is found hanged in a children’s playground, to be followed by her husband a few days later whose hanging from a viaduct in a busy part of Bath during the rush hour throws the city into chaos. Despite urging from Georgina to close the case and concentrate on the ram raids the high-ups are concerned about, Peter has a bad feeling about the hangings. The facts his team uncover don’t add up.

But only when another hanged woman is found, the nasty possibility that they are dealing with a serial killer surfaces – and subsequent events leave Diamond and his team at the sharp end of an investigation where only their efforts stand between the next victim and a horrible death…

This excellent whodunit is the ninth book in the Peter Diamond series. The character is a grumpy widower, who has thrown himself into his career to compensate for his bereavement. I very much enjoyed the parallel storyline relating to Diamond’s personal life, which merged in a satisfying twist at the end of the book. And no – I’m not saying more than that.
Bath is an effective backdrop to the murders, although it features less than Booth’s gritty Derbyshire landscape as mood music to the grisly events. Not that there is much blood and gore in The Secret Hangman – a refreshing change to the current trend both in books and on TV to make murder corpses as bloodily graphic as possible. Lovesey doesn’t need to rely on blood and guts to keep the pages turning – he is a master at keeping the tension coming, while at the same time attending to the small details that give this tale a hard-edged reality. The denouement is thoroughly satisfying – especially with the extra twist in it regarding Diamond’s personal life. I was happy to see that in addition to the ten Peter Diamond books, there are also eight Inspector Cribb tales; three Bertie books and three Inspector Hen Mallin stories.

More books to add to the stack teetering dangerously by my fireside…
8/10