Tag Archives: mystery

Mr. Obvious by James Lileks

Mr Obvious by James Lileks: As a fan of Lileks‘s humor books, I was curious to see how his fiction read. Pretty well, as it turns out. After food critic Simpson is accidentally shot in the head, he finds himself on the trail of a mass murderer of decidedly minor media personalities. Don’t let the inane food puns on the back cover blurb fool you: this book really isn’t about food at all. Sure, his scathing critique of hospital fare was pretty funny, but it’s far from the main plot. Actually, the first three quarters of the book are almost nonstop laughs. I was reading the first few paragraphs to some friends and had to pause after every sentence so we could giggle. The ending is a huge let-down, though, vague and meta and generally kind of lame. That said, everything leading up to it is pretty great, so it certainly did not put me off Lileks in general. If you come across a copy, it’s worth a look.

Note: This is evidently the second book starring Simpson (the first being Falling Up the Stairs), but I haven’t read the first book so I don’t see why you should have to either. Also, this book is thoroughly out of print and I am shocked that I managed to stumble upon a copy at all.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (unabridged audiobook read by David Timson; 4 hrs 45 min on 4 discs): I confess, I was mostly interested in reading this after seeing the episode of the new BBC series Sherlock inspired by it, “A Study in Pink”. (And then I promptly re-watched the episode and understood a whole bunch more of the jokes.) The first part is fairly straightforward, starting with the meeting of Holmes and Watson and following through a couple of murder investigations that appear to be linked. Once they’ve caught the criminal, there’s a huge shift in narrative and suddenly we’re in Utah with evil Mormons. It was almost too random to be offensive, really. This turns out to be the backstory and motive of the killer, but it takes a while before that’s evident. I am hesitant to offer this up as a good introduction to Sherlock Holmes, since it is so dated, but the mystery part of it is actually quite fun. Definitely going to have to pick up some more of Holmes’s adventures.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Perfume by Patrick Suskind: This is the life story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man with superhuman olfactory senses but no body odor of his own. The whole tale is abundantly strange, from Grenouille’s unusual birth to the string of bodies he leaves in his wake, whether he knows it or not. He reminds me somewhat of Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. I would advise against reading while eating, as many of the scent descriptions are vivid and unpleasant. Grenouille experiences the world through his nose, and the world of 18th-century France was quite odoriferous. The weirdness of the story escalates at the end, until I started having trouble swallowing it. It was like the whole theme of the narrative shifted for the last few chapters. And if you look at it from that angle, the ending is (mostly) logical and satisfying, but most of the story leading up to it didn’t quite fit. That said, I flew through this book and was fascinated by the idea of telling a story chiefly through scent. And it is indeed told well. I’m just not sure to whom I’d recommend it. Perhaps people who like dark and weird fiction.

Now I’m terribly curious to see how they managed to make a movie out of a novel built around smells.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (unabridged audiobook read by Ralph Cosham): I’ve read a fair number of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but this was the first novel-length one I’ve picked up. Holmes is called in to get to the bottom of the death of a man connected to a family legend of a hellhound. Holmes and Watson of course do not believe in the supernatural, and their methodical tying up of all the loose threads is fascinating, particularly considering this was written in a time before fingerprinting and DNA evidence. I suppose there are those who do not enjoy having every single minute detail explained, but to me that’s what delights me most about Holmes stories: he loves to explain how he came to every single one of his seemingly random deductions. I especially like Holmes’s childlike enthusiasm when faced with a challenge: the more difficult it is, the more he enjoys himself. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this story, however, is how much of it is solved by Watson on his own. Evidently his many years as Holmes’s companion have rubbed off on him. My husband has a huge tome o’ Holmes on our bookshelf; I may have to read more of it.

A note on the audio version: Cosham’s reading of The Time Machine was a major reason I got into Wells in the first place, and this is no exception. He doesn’t do distinct character voices, but he makes up for that with engaging narrative style.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

A Place to Die by Dorothy James

A Place to Die by Dorothy James: Eleanor and Franz Fabian are visiting Franz’s elderly mother at her nursing home in Vienna, Austria. While they are there, an unexpected bit of drama crops up: one of the residents is brutally murdered on Christmas Day. Inspector Georg Büchner arrives on the scene and methodically goes through all the evidence, unweaving the tangle of lies and contradictions and unrelated issues to find the culprit. I enjoyed the musings on aging, the (too brief) discussion of the post-WWII climate in Austria, and the vivid descriptions of the Vienna woods. I also found the subplot of Eleanor’s marital problems and amateur sleuthing enhanced the main story rather than taking away from it. I’m not much of a murder mystery aficionado, and in fact don’t generally seek them out, but this one was really good. I really liked Büchner (though I am not familiar with his namesake) and Eleanor, and I’d be curious to see more of Frau Dr. Lessing in the future. All in all, a fun read. I may even have to start following the Inspector Georg Büchner Mystery series.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris

Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris: First of all, forget old Willie; the title comes from Shakespeare, Arkansas, where our story takes place. The landlord in question is the murder victim. The protagonist is Lily Bard, a standoffish housecleaner with a dark past, whose only hobbies appear to be working out at the gym, taking martial arts classes, and obsessing over whether or not people have learned her secrets. When she happens to see the body being transported using her garbage cart one dark evening she quickly discovers that she must find the killer in order to prevent her secrets from being blasted all over town. As this is the first book in a series, we are introduced to tons of characters and even a couple of potential love interests, neither of which are particularly interesting. The cover art made me think it would be a touch more light-hearted, but in the end it’s a somewhat humdrum murder mystery with just barely enough suspense to keep the reader involved. The ending was too predictable to justify the lead-up, but I won’t say that I necessarily saw it coming from a mile away either. It was fine as a quick gym read, keeping my attention while I was on the stationary bike, but I won’t be reading any more in the series.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Death Comes as Epiphany by Sharan Newman

Death Comes As Epiphany by Sharan Newman: Catherine LeVendeur is a novice nun who, while devoted to God, is more interested in the fact that living in a convent allows her to study and learn. When a psalter she helped write is defiled, the abbess sends her home to discover the vandal. In the midst of this she is swept up in a mystery of murder, theft, and vanity, as well as a timid budding romance with a secretive man. I enjoyed this one, which surprised me a little since I’m not much of a mystery reader, but I think what fascinated me most was the detailed description of life in the 12th century. It was very different from now, and it takes a talented writer to convincingly portray such characters without showing them in a modern light. Sure, perhaps Catherine herself is more progressive than was likely for a woman of those years, but she is engaging enough that one can overlook it. I may have to look up some other Newman books.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Heresy by S.J. Parris

Heresy by S.J. Parris: Giordano Bruno is an excommunicated monk on the run from the Inquisition for reading subversive literature. A few years later he ends up in Queen Elizabeth’s employ to root out Catholics at Oxford. When university fellows start turning up dead, Bruno finds himself in the middle of a long-standing feud over religion, love, and money. No one is what they seem, and though the culprit’s identity is hinted at throughout the story, I was never quite sure until the very end.

Even more interesting is the fact that Bruno was a real person. The author, having read his various journals and other works, discovered he’d left Oxford with a bad taste in his mouth, and wondered why. This novel is a fanciful answer to that question, clever and quite readable without losing the gritty reality of the time period.

Also posted on BookCrossing.
Read for the Books Won Challenge.

Indelible by Karin Slaughter

Indelible by Karin Slaughter: I would like to start by sharing something that I didn’t learn until the author’s note at the very end of the book: this is a sequel. I imagine much of my confusion regarding the plot of this novel can be attributed to that fact. In short, Sara the pediatrician and her ex-husband Jeffrey the police chief are held hostage by a couple of gunmen who raid the police station. Much of the book is spent in flashbacks to the early 1990s when Jeffrey took his then-girlfriend Sara to his tiny backwater hometown in Alabama, where they witness more dirty laundry in one day than most people accumulate in an entire lifetime. People die, secrets are revealed, bodies are found. Lena, the only female cop on Jeffrey’s present-day force, is part of the rescue detail and has vague issues of her own that are presumably covered in the previous book. It’s a pretty good story, if a wee bit predictable. I got a little tired of waiting for the characters to get around to actually talking to each other instead of running off and looking pensive again, but if everyone were forthcoming and honest there wouldn’t be nearly as much drama. While this book was a nice diversion on its own, I would have preferred to have known about (and read) its predecessors first.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich: Stephanie Plum is flat broke – she was laid off from her job, her car was repossessed, and she’s slowly pawning off everything she owns just to make ends meet. In order to get some much-needed cash, she starts working for her bondsman cousin as a bounty hunter. Her first FTA (Failure-To-Appear) is Joe Morelli, an old sorta-fling from high school. She finds him almost immediately, and he laughs in her face when he learns she’s on his tail, easily and repeatedly slipping through her fingers. From there she meets a couple of smart-mouthed hookers, gets stalked by a rapist/champion boxer, and generally runs into a lot of trouble. I don’t read many mysteries, so it was a little disappointing that I connected most of the dots over a hundred pages before Stephanie did, but it was a light, fast-paced story with a lot of humor and a fair bit of suspense (even if the biggest worry was that someone would walk in and embarrass Stephanie – again). If you want a quick read with some really funny narration, pick this one up, but don’t be surprised if you’re guessing much of the ending by about halfway through.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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