Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: The First Rule of Ten

Tenzing Norbu is not your average detective. Raised in a Buddhist monastery in India, son of a Tibetan father and American mother, hes escaped the monastery to fulfill his dream of becoming a police detective in Los Angeles. This book finds Ten having just retired from the force, ready to set up shop as an independent private detective.

And Ten quickly finds himself embroiled in a mystery. A former member of a religious cult turns up dead, and the cult's next-door neighbor, an almond farmer, is receiving threats. What follows is a complex mystery involving life insurance scams, property development, and a religious cult's demands for devotion. There is truly never a dull moment in this book.

A Buddhist monk detective is indeed a new twist to a well-worn genre. I got into this book quickly and was excited to see what happened. Ten's police connections make this much more police procedural than cozy mystery.

Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay, The First Rule of Ten (Hay House, 2012) ISBN: 1401937764 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Original Sin

A publishing house finds itself in the grips of fear after its director is murdered. The murder follows a series of odd pranks and suicides. It is clear that something is not right at the Peverell Press. Inspector Dalgliesh is called in along with two junior detectives. It seems clear that the murderer had to be one of the staff, but how and why remain a mystery.

As James always does, she manages to develop numerous complicated characters and a multi-faceted plot. On the side of law and order the two junior inspectors are more important than Dalgliesh to the plot and the investigation. As with the suspects, their own lives and histories will play pivotal roles in the investigation and its resolution. James does not disappoint in this mystery, and the book follows patterns seen in her other Dalgliesh novels. In the end the police discover that an alibi is not quite as unassailable as it seems. 

P.D. James, Original Sin (Vintage, 2009) ISBN: 0307455572 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: An Expert in Murder

Mystery writer Josephine Tey appears in this book as the protagonist, an amateur detective in a case that develops from the last performances of her play, Richard of Bordeaux. On the train to London, Josephine meets a young woman who later turns up dead. It appears that the victim and all the suspects had connections to Richard of Bordeaux. Josephine's friend Archie Penrose is the Scotland Yard inspector on the case. Josephine undertakes her own investigations too, trying to find the killer of the woman on the train, Elspeth Simmons.

This is a good mystery, and Tey is an essential part of the story. I was somewhat concerned that Tey might be merely a gimmick, but really the story could not have happened without her. The play and its environs involve a group of rather histrionic theater folk, but this is not overdone. Generally this is a solid story full of suspense. I didn't necessarily feel like I was connecting with the same Tey as when I read Tey's own works, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book all the same.

Nicola Upson, An Expert in Murder (Harper, 2008) ISBN: 0061451533 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Death of a Snob

Christmas finds Hamish at a loose end. When he receives an invitation to a health farm on a rural island he jumps on it. The other guests include Heather Todd, a snob who fancies herself the toast of Glasgow society. She proceeds to annoy everyone at the resort. When she turns up dead no one seems to be all that sorry, and just about anyone could be responsible. As per usual, Hamish's arch-nemesis Blair is anxious to get the incident declared an accident so that he can go home. It will be up to Hamish to prove that the death was a crime.

This was certainly an enjoyable installment in the series. I have yet to be disappointed by one of the Hamish Macbeth books. I do wonder about the extent of the hostility towards outsiders that is supposedly displayed on Eileencraig. Do such places really still exist? I wonder.

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Snob (St. Martins, 1991) ISBN: 0312058519 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: Whisky, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster

William Starr is a man who is a bit obsessed with Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell. In the eighteenth century Boswell and Johnson toured Boswell's native Scotland. Starr decides to recreate this voyage in the twenty-first century. Throughout the text he compares his impressions with those of Boswell and Johnson. From Glasgow through the islands and the Highlands, Starr gives us his impressions of the countryside, people, weather, and lore that define each area of Scotland.

Starr is clearly a man who loves Scotland. He is in his element while travelling through the Scottish countryside, though he harbors a certain amount of nostalgia for a Scotland long gone. Ultimately this leads to a bit of golden ageism. Starr is also a man who loves Boswell and Johnson, more so than the average reader likely will. The text is littered with passages quoted from Boswell and Johnson's own writings, more than the average reader will likely appreciate. I wish that Starr had focused more upon his own travelogue and less on Boswell and Johnson. Starr has an entertaining, Bill Bryson-like style that reads easily, but I would rather read Starr on his own than with the crutch of Boswell and Johnson.

William Starr, Whisky, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster: Traveling through Scotland with Boswell and Johnson (University of South Carolina Press, 2010) ISBN: 1570039488 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: The Lost Women of Lost Lake

At the Minnesota resort of Jill Ivorson and Tessa Cornell a mystery seems to be brewing. A mysterious man has arrived looking for two aging radicals wanted for the 1960s murder of a policeman. It appears that Tessa may know something about the case. What follows is a period of intense secrecy and suspicion, as some of the people at Lost Lake try to determine what deeds others at the resort have done. Complicating matters is the arrival of Jill and Tessa's nephew, Jonah, trying to escape his parents' arguing by moving in with his aunts.

This is certainly a cozy mystery, enmeshed in a resort community, perpetuated by a restaurateur-cum-sleuth. I appreciated, though, that this book dealt with more social issues than the average cozy mystery. This book touches on domestic violence, youth radicalism, and the secrets of our pasts. I enjoyed the book, and will look for more in the series.

Ellen Hart, The Lost Women of Lost Lake (Minotaur, 2011) ISBN: 0312614772 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: Final Notice

When Helma's Aunt Em arrived in Washington for a visit Helma is expecting the staid, responsible woman who was Helma's role model. Instead, she finds a woman who likes to kick back and have a good time. Aunt Em is recovering from a brain injury and her memory has suffered its effects. She brings numerous odd artifacts with her, things from her past whose meaning is a mystery. As Aunt Em starts remembering Helma stands to learn a great deal about her aunt's past, and a dangerous mystery is uncovered.

Helma is her usual irritating self in this novel. It's still unclear to me why the police chief puts up with her unwillingness to commit, though a relationship in which the female half is the commitment-phobe is certainly a refreshing change. The part of the book I found most problematic was the new age chief librarian, Moonbeam's color-personality test. The library staff are required to take it- if they refuse Moonbeam will answer the questions for them. Now, I happen to live in the area where the Miss Zukas mysteries are set. This region is full of people who would be all over a color-aura-personality management scheme. What doesn't make sense is the library director answering questions for people. Perhaps this is a sign that I've lived here too long, if I'm irritated that it doesn't follow the rules of hippie logic. Whatever. In any case, there's nothing out there quite like the Miss Zukas series. Anyone who enjoys quirky, cozy mysteries should give this a try.

Jo Dereske, Final Notice (Avon, 1998) ISBN:0380782456