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Newsletter- January 2015

January 2015 is here and that means it is time for another wonderful year of reading! This month’s newsletter features a few familiar authors and some “newbies”, and locales that may be right around the corner or around the world. As always, there is something for every reader, no matter if you are looking for a taste of adventure or an escape at the end of a long day.

Danish Red Cross Nurse Nina Borg returns in Death of a Nightingale ($15.99) by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis. First seen in The Boy in the Suitcase, which was chosen as A Notable Crime Book of 2011 by The New York Times, Nina is a mother of two whose dogged devotion to social causes often puts her own life at risk. At the Red Cross center where she works, Nina has been helping to care for the child of refugee Natasha Doroshenko, a Ukrainian woman accused of murdering her fiancé. When an attempt is made to abduct the child and Natasha escapes from the police, Nina becomes involved in the case which has ties to crimes in the Ukraine in the 1930s. Readers are given an insider’s view of both Denmark and the Ukraine and as the authors have said “Eastern Europe is intensely interesting to us Danes because geographically it is very close and yet many of us have no idea what it looks like and what it is like living there.” 

Lost and Found in Prague ($16.00) by Kelly Jones, combines elements of history and mystery in the modern–day Czech Republic. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, journalist Dana Pierson traveled Europe with her cousin, Caroline, who stayed behind in Prague when Dana returned to America. When Dana visits her cousin, now in a Czech convent, Caroline asks her to look into the death of a fellow nun whose demise may be linked to the murder of a politician. Czech history is woven into the story as Dana investigates both deaths and revisits the streets of Prague

Timothy Williams is among a handful of non- Italian writers who have series set in Italy. Although not generally as well known as Donna Leon, who writes about Venice and Magdalene Nabb, who wrote about Florence, Williams, who sets his books in Northern Italy, is an award winning author well worth discovering. His first book, Converging Parallels was published in 1982 and introduced Commissario Piero Trotti, an investigator determined to solve crimes, whatever the cost to his career. In Black August ($14.95), the Commisario investigates the murder of an old friend who had been found beaten to death in her apartment. Despite being warned off the case by his superiors, Trotti doggedly pursues the case, stirring up an even greater amount of trouble than usual.  The fourth book in the series, Black August won the Crime Writers Award in 1992 when it was first published. 

Chris Pavone’s The Accident ($15.00) has all the necessary elements of a page-turner: great characters, a twisty plot and enough tension to keep you reading long past bedtime. When Isabel Reed, a literary agent in New York, finishes the latest manuscript that’s come across her desk, she realizes two things; she has a potential block buster on her hands and the publication of the manuscript, which was submitted anonymously, will put many lives in danger. The book’s subject matter involves a media mogul’s wheelings and dealings with powerful figures from all walks of life, including government officials from around the globe and people from Isabel’s shadowy past. The Accident won a starred review from Booklist which offered the following praise: “Pavone’s plot twists tirelessly, shifting focus among a large cast of well-drawn characters and using flashbacks and changes of locale (Copenhagen, Zurich, Manhattan, Hollywood, the Hamptons) to build suspense.” The author worked for several years as an editor and knows the publishing world inside and out. His first novel, The Expats, (which I thoroughly enjoyed) won both the Edgar and Anthony award for Best First novel when it was published. 

The writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French has been writing psychological thrillers as Nicci French, since 1997, when The Memory Game was published. Recently, the married writers have focused on a series featuring Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist in London. First seen in Blue Monday (2011), Frieda Klein is a gifted doctor often called on by the police to consult on challenging cases. In Waiting for Wednesday ($16.00), the 3rd in the series, Dr. Klein is asked to review a case where there appears to be no motive for the murder. Klein is intrigued and soon uncovers that the victim was leading a secret life.  This series is perfect for readers who enjoy strong female characters and darker- edged British mysteries.

The Outcast Dead $14.95) by Elly Griffiths is the 6th in her series starring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. Introduced in The Crossing Places (2009), Ruth lectures at the University of North Norfolk when she is not out on a dig or acting as a consultant for the local police. Her latest archaeological find is the grave of a notorious murderer from the 1800s who was dubbed “Mother Hook.” The woman was said to have taken in orphans and then disposed of them and was hung in 1867. At the same time that the bones are being unearthed, a tragedy strikes a local family and Ruth is drawn into the investigation. According to the author, her inspiration for the character of Ruth came from her aunt “..who lives in Norfolk and still, at over seventy, teaches Maths, drinks gin and steers her boat along the Norfolk broads (rivers). Ruth is probably a combination of all the strong women in my life.” 

Lynda La Plante, known for her fabulous Prime Suspect series featuring DCI Jane Tennison , has written another series with a complex female lead. Anna Travis, first seen in Above Suspicion (2004) has risen to the rank of DCI in London. In Wrongful Death ($15.99), the 9th book in the series, new evidence leads Anna to review a case that was ruled a suicide. Her investigation leads her to question the original findings (and the work done by fellow officers) and puts her career in jeopardy. 

In 2012; Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was the book everyone seemed to be talking about. It stayed on the bestseller list for months and months and was not available in paperback until last year. It was the book I saw everyone reading, just like when it seemed like every other person on the bus was reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few years back. My prediction for the next “big book” is The Girl on the Train ($26.00) by Paula Hawkins. The idea of spotting something sinister from a train has been used before (remember Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington?) but Hawkins puts her own spin on it. Rachel Watson takes the same train, day after dreary day, on her way to and from work. The tracks pass by the back gardens of houses and Rachel imagine the idyllic lives of the couple she often sees there. One day she catches a glimpse of a shocking scene, just a glimpse but it is enough to convince Rachel that she witnessed a crime. She feels compelled to tell the police and little by little, the truth of who she is and what she really saw is revealed. Publishers Weekly gave this gripping debut a starred review.

The Goldfinch ($20.00) is Donna Tartt’s third novel. Tartt is known for taking a long time in between books, The Secret History was published in 1992 followed by The Little Friend in 2002. Although I loved The Secret History and recommend it, The Little Friend , at almost 600 pages, was not to my liking. The Goldfinch, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, focuses on the art world and the life of Theo Decker, whose mother was killed in an accident in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tartt takes her time (almost 800 pages) telling the story of Theo and the painting that changed his life, but to the reader, it is time well spent.

Michael Koryta established himself early on with Tonight I Said Goodbye (2004), his first private eye novel set in Cleveland. Published when he was 21 (!), it seemed to be the start of a long running series (or so I hoped). After only five books, Kortya struck out in a totally different direction, publishing three novels loaded with supernatural elements. The Prophet (2012), which I recommend, was a return to his hardboiled roots. His latest, Those Who Wish Me Dead ($16.00), tells the story of Jace Wilson, a teenage witness to a murder. The plan to stash Jace in a wilderness camp in Montana for troubled teens while police hunt for the killers goes awry when the men discover the boy’s whereabouts. Another recommended read!  

Laura Lippman has long been one of my favorite authors. I’ve enjoyed her award winning stand-alones, including What the Dead Know (2007) and After I’m Gone (2014) but I’m partial to her series set in Baltimore.  As Lawrence Block uses New York City as  more than just a background in his Matt Scudder series, Lippmann keeps the city of Baltimore front and center in her Tess Monaghan mysteries. Introduced in 1997 in Baltimore Blues ($14.99) which is now available in trade paperback, Tess is one of those fictional characters that I liked right from the start. An ex investigative reporter who lost her job due to down-sizing, Tess turns her skills to the private detective business. In her first case she is hired by a fellow rowing enthusiast accused of killing a local lawyer. Start with the first in the series and keep reading, after a four year absence Tess returns in Hush, Hush ($26.99), due in February.

A String of Beads ($26.99) by Thomas Perry is the 8th in his award winning series starring Jane Whitefield. Jane, a member of the Seneca tribe, is known for her skills as a guide but rather than helping tourists navigate strange cities, she helps people start new lives. First seen in Vanishing Act (1995), Jane has assisted desperate people escape desperate situations for years and believes that she can leave that life behind and enjoy a quiet life with her husband. When members of Jane’s clan come to her for help, she is drawn into the search for a childhood friend who is on the run.  Once again, Jane uses the many skills that readers have come to expect from this clever, resourceful heroine and once again, I recommend this series.

Vancouver, Washington author Ellie Alexander’s first book Meet Your Baker ($7.99) has just been released. Set in a bakery in Ashland, Oregon, and featuring pastry chef Jules Capshaw, this cozy mystery promises lots of food, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and of course, a murder. Recipes included!

Murder by the Book’s Book Group 

Our group, led by local author Lori L. Lake, meets the fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. Barbara Tom, one of the former owners of MBTB, chooses the book to be discussed each month. We meet at the Belmont Branch Library 1038 SE Cesar Chavez Blvd. January’s meeting will be held on Tuesday January 27 and we will discuss Norwegian by Night by Derek Miller. 

The Friends of Mystery Book Group meets at the Belmont Library on the third Wednesday of the month at 4:30 p.m. On Wednesday January 21, they will be discussing County Line by local author Bill Cameron. 

Happy reading!