Murder by the Bye:
Murder by the Book's
Some months are just chock-full of great titles and May 2014 is one of those months. There are books with tough but incredibly likeable characters, down-home or exotic settings and fascinating plots to keep us turning the pages long into the night. We have even had some days where it has been warm enough to read a few chapters outdoors but whether you read inside or outside, you have some wonderful choices this month!
Johnny Shaw is a Portland author, screenwriter, writing instructor, and editor-in- chief of Blood and Tacos, whose latest book, Plaster City ($14.95) is the 2nd in his series featuring Jimmy Veeder. We first met Jimmy in Dove Season, which was aptly subtitled “A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco”. MBTB’s Barbara Tom gave Dove Season a glowing review, saying “If Cormac McCarthy had a sense of humor, he’d be Johnny Shaw. Dove Season is dark and violent, funny and outrageous, heart-warming and heart-rending.” Set in the Imperial Valley of California, the action shifts between the US and Mexico, where both Johnny Shaw and his character Jimmy Veeder grew up. Now in Plaster City, the wayward Jimmy has settled down (a bit) into life as a family man and farmer but still makes time to raise some hell with his childhood pal Bobby Maves. Jimmy and Bobby go way back and both know that in times of trouble (or if a fiasco should arise) they have each other’s back. So when Bobby’s teenage daughter goes missing, he naturally turns to Jimmy for help and the two set off on a road trip to rescue the girl from whatever trouble she may be in. It definitely sounds like another fiasco-in-the-making and we can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
Chelsea Cain introduced readers to troubled police detective Archie Sheridan and serial killer Gretchen Lowell in Heartsick (2007). Set in Portland, the first book in the series was an immediate hit and was one of MBTB’s favorite books of the year. In Let Me Go, ($7.99) the 6th in the series, Cain continues to blend loads of local color, suspense, dark humor, and violence into a mesmerizing mix. Archie’s investigation into the death of a DEA agent leads to a bizarre masked ball on a private island, and a murder that most certainly involves Gretchen. With the aid of his partner Henry Sobol and reporter Susan Ward, Archie continues his quest to capture Gretchen Lowell and to save himself in the process. One Kick, Cain’s next book, is the start of a new series and is due out in August.
Some of the most popular books we carried at Murder by the Book were written by Craig Johnson, an author who lives in Ucross, Wyoming (population 25). If you were one of the lucky ones who crowded into the store to see him during one of his stops in Portland, you found out that he is a natural-born story teller and that he never seems to be without his cowboy hat. Johnson’s first book, The Cold Dish, came out in 2004 and introduced readers to Absaroka County, Wyoming’s Sheriff Walt Longmire. The Cold Dish won a star from Murder by the Book and became one of the store's best-selling titles. With a strong setting, well developed characters and great dialogue, it is easy to see why readers who might have shied away from reading a “western” loved the book. Any Other Name ($26.95) finds Walt investigating the death of a fellow lawman in a neighboring county. Detective Gerald Holman was known to play by the rules and his friends can’t understand what drove the man to commit suicide. The investigation takes Walt away from home at a time when he is experiencing some big changes on the home-front and finds him looking into a cold case Detective Holman worked on. Also out this month in paperback, A Serpent’s Tooth ($15.00) has Walt confronting an interstate polygamy group and seeking to reunite a young boy with his mother. Fans of Longmire, the A&E series based on the books, don’t have long to wait, the 3rd season debuts on June 2nd !
Lori Roy’s debut novel Bent Road won the coveted Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2012. Set in rural Kansas in the 1960s, Bent Road was described by Publishers Weekly as “Midwestern noir with gothic undertones” and tells the story of a family’s return to the father’s birthplace, a small community full of long- buried secrets. In Until She Comes Home, $16.00) Roy takes readers to a Detroit neighborhood in the 1950s. Families on Alder Avenue look out for one another; while the men go off to work in the factories, the women take care of hearth and home and children play outside under the watchful eyes of their neighbors. When one of the women in their tight-knit community disappears, the other women fear the worst. As the men organize search parties, the women busy themselves organizing meals for the missing woman’s family and supporting one another. As time passes without any sign of the her, rumors begin to spread throughout the community and support turns to suspicion. Roy has said that she writes about the past in part because it “…reinforces that despite our differences—be it the era in which we live, where we live, our sex, our race, our wealth—we’re not so different after all.” Until She Comes Home was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Mystery of the Year this year.
Reed Farrel Coleman has been writing about ex-cop turned private investigator Moe Prager since 2002 when Walking the Perfect Square came out. Over the years we’ve watched the Brooklyn-based PI as he attempted to deal with personal issues, all the while investigating crimes involving corrupt politicians, drug dealers, murderers and even members of his own family. In The Hollow Girl, ($16.99) which is billed as the final book in the series, Moe’s life has taken a turn for the worse. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that Moe has almost been destroyed by guilt. When he is approached by someone from his past, Moe reluctantly agrees to search for the man’s missing daughter. It seems that the young woman is an Internet sensation known as “The Hollow Girl” and as he begins to investigate, Moe wonders if the disappearance (and perhaps the girl herself) is nothing more than an elaborate hoax. Fans of Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone will be pleased to know that Coleman has signed a three book deal to continue writing the series and Blind Spot ($26.95) will be released in September. Long a fan of Parker’s works, Coleman has said “It’s easy for writers to create heroes. Easy for writers to create characters with flaws. Not so easy to do both. But Robert B. Parker was an alchemist who turned simple concepts into enduring characters.”
Holy Orders $16.00) is the 6th in Benjamin’s Black’s series set in Dublin in the 1950s. Featuring pathologist Derrick Quirke, the series began with Christine Falls in 2006. Quirke is a dedicated professional who is more at home in the morgue than on the streets of Dublin. When a friend of his daughter is brought in for autopsy, Quirke becomes embroiled in a case involving the Catholic Church- at a time when the church censored newspapers and controlled the daily lives of most Dubliners- his curiosity is not appreciated. Quirke is used to dealing with politicians and Dublin’s elite as he assists Detective Inspector Hackett in his enquiries but this case proves almost too much for them to handle. Tom Nolan of The Wall Street Journal named Holy Orders one of the Best Mysteries of 2013 saying “The murder mystery is solved, after its startling fashion, in due time—but not before Mr. Black has worked his lyrical magic at fine length, in scenes that unfold with a poet's grace. "Quirke had an abiding dislike of rain. . . . For as long as he could remember, rain seemed to have been falling on his life." Long may we wander Dublin's damp streets in the dour doctor's melancholy presence.”
David Downing’s previous series began with the outstanding Zoo Station, set in Berlin in 1939. The main character, John Russell, is a British journalist who has lived and worked in Berlin for over 15 years. Russell despises the Nazis but remains in Berlin to be close to his young son and his German girlfriend. Time passes as the series progresses (there are 6 books so far) and Russell’s life becomes even more complicated. We recommended the series to readers looking for well-written, thought- provoking stories set around WWII that focused more on human interactions than the big-picture events that were unfolding at that time. Downing’s latest book, Jack of Spies, ($27.95) is set in 1913 and introduces Jack McColl, a Scottish car salesman who moonlights as a spy for British Intelligence. Jack’s business takes him around the world and while he is selling cars he is also collecting bits of information that he hope proves useful to the government. As tensions around the world escalate, Jack begins to realize that his forays into the world of espionage have left him vulnerable. At the same time, he becomes involved with an American journalist with ties to the IRA and is faced with almost impossible choices in both his professional and private lives.
Victoria Thompson introduced Sarah Brandt, a midwife in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City, in 1999’s Murder on Astor Place. Sarah, a young woman from a wealthy background, left her life of privilege behind when she chose to become a midwife. Working throughout the city, and often acting as an unofficial assistant to Sergeant Frank Malloy, Sarah has delivered the babies of the very rich and the very poor. In Murder in Murray Hill, ($25.95) Sergeant Malloy enlists Sarah’s help as he searches for a woman whose father fears she has been lured away by a man who placed “lonely hearts” letters in the newspapers. Also out this month, Murder in Chelsea ($7.99) has Sarah and Frank investigating the case of woman claiming to be the former nursemaid of the abandoned child Sarah is raising as her own.
Australian author Kerry Greenwood writes two delightful series featuring two delightfully charming characters. Corinna Chapman, first seen in Earthly Delights (2004) is a banker turned baker in Melbourne, Australia. Except for the horrid hours that she must keep (baking requires rising very early!) Corinna has a wonderful life full of friends, good food and of course crime. Phryne Fisher, introduced in Cocaine Blues (1989) is a glamorous, adventurous woman living in 1920s Melbourne. As a private detective, Phyrne leads a life full of adventure: solving crimes and relying on the assistance of her friends, including DI Jack Robinson of the Melbourne police. Much more than a beautiful clothes-horse with an interesting hobby, Phyrne is clever and accomplished and as Greenwood says of her “She is a hero, just like James Bond or the Saint, but with fewer product endorsements and a better class of lovers. I decided to try a female hero and made her as free as a male hero, to see what she would do.” In her 20th outing, Murder and Mendelssohn ($14.95) Phyrne investigates the death of a conductor during a rehearsal for a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. As always, to get the full flavor of the characters, we recommend starting with the first book in the series. Fans will enjoy watching the Australian television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, available on Netflix.
William Dietrich, the author of six books in the Ethan Gage series, describes his main character as “American by birth, French by lifestyle, British by alliance, and soldier by happenstance… Gage would argue he is a model of loyalty and character – except when circumstances require him to spy, steal, flee, or shoot particularly unpleasant people.” In The Barbed Crown, ($9.99) Gage has severed ties with Napoleon and is determined to stop his takeover of Europe by whatever means necessary. Knowing Gage, his plan will be outrageous. Dietrich is known for creating wildly imaginative scenarios, supported by rich, historical facts and The Barbed Crown is no exception.
Norwegian writer Jo NesbØ burst on the mystery scene in 2006 with the release of The Redbreast, which introduced his continuing character Harry Hole, a troubled police detective in Oslo. Last seen in Police, (2013) Harry is taking a much deserved rest. NesbØ’s latest The Son ($26.00) is a stand-alone, set in Oslo. Sonny Lofthus is one of the most powerful inmates in prison. Drug addicted and having spent almost half his life behind bars, Sonny acts as a sort of father-confessor to the other men serving time. At eighteen, stunned by his policeman father’s suicide, Sonny confessed to the murder of two men. His father, whom he idolized, apparently took his own life as a result of being charged with corruption. After years in prison, still addicted and numbed by the stream of confessions he has heard, Sonny takes notice of one particular inmate’s story. It seems the man was involved in framing a cop, a cop who later killed himself. Desperate to learn the truth, Sonny works to break out of prison, while some very powerful people want him to stay locked up for good.
Camilla Läckberg’s The Ice Princess was published in English in 2008 and launched the Swedish author’s career here in the United States. Set in Fjällbacka, the small village on the west coast of Sweden where Läckberg grew up, Ice Princess introduced readers to writer Erika Falck and detective Patrik Hedström. The Hidden Child ($25.95) is the 5th book in the series and the latest of Läckberg’s books to be made available in the United States. When Erika Falk begins cleaning out her deceased mother’s things she makes a startling discovery. Tucked in among family mementos and old photographs is a Nazi medal. Erika searches for answers among her mother’s friends and when one of them is later found murdered, Erika’s husband Patrik is called in to investigate. The discovery of her mother’s war-time diaries leads Erika to discover secrets about her mother and the village of Fjällbacka that someone will go to any lengths to keep buried. One thing that sets Läckberg apart from other Scandinavian crime writers is her choice of setting. The small village of Fjällbacka may appear to be an idyllic tourist destination- Ingrid Bergman spent summers there- but Läckberg shows that village life can be just as dangerous as life in the big city.
Left Coast Crime is an annual conference for mystery fiction fans, first held in San Francisco in 1991 and will be held in Portland in 2015! Crimelandia will be held from March 12-15, 2015 and will feature guests of honor Chelsea Cain and Ridley Pearson, as well as a host of other authors. Noir, cozy, thriller, historical, graphic novels, and more… the planning committee is working on creating panels and events to meet a wide variety of reading tastes.
At our last meeting of the MBTB Book Group, we were reminded how lucky we are to have not one but two reading groups devoted to mystery fiction in our area. A visitor from Massachusetts said that there were no such groups near her and she added that it was difficult to persuade members of her book group to even consider choosing a mystery for the group to discuss!
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.
May’s meeting will be held on Tuesday May 27th, and we will discuss An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson.
In addition, we are reading any book by Josephine Tey.
The Friends of Mystery Book Group
meets at the Belmont Library on the third Wednesday of the month at 3:30 p.m. On Wednesday May 21, they will be discussing
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves.