Murder by the Bye
A monthly newsletter
Murder by the Book
Fall arrived on September 22nd, bringing a new season of reading. This month’s newsletter features books written by some familiar authors, books written by unfamiliar authors but with familiar characters and, as always, showcases the remarkable variety that is available for readers of mystery and crime fiction.
In 1930, a group of British mystery writers got together to form The Detection Club. Members included Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Anthony Berkeley, and each took the following pledge: "Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?" Beginning in 1931, the group published several works (with each author contributing a chapter) including Behind the Screen and The Floating Admiral. Continuing the tradition established by The Detection Club, Inherit the Dead ($25.95) is written by 20 of today’s most popular mystery and crime writers, each taking up where the previous author left off. The plot is fairly straightforward: A disgraced cop turned PI is hired to find a young woman who stands to inherit a sizeable fortune. As it turns out, he’s not the only one searching for the missing heiress. Look for chapters by Lee Child, Charlaine Harris, C.J. Box, Val McDermid, John Connolly and 15 others. A percentage of sales will be donated to Safe Horizon, which provides services to victims of domestic violence.
Standing in Another Man’s Grave ($15.00) by Ian Rankin marks the return of Detective Inspector John Rebus. After 2008’s Exit Music, it looked as though Rankin had put Rebus on the shelf for good. Malcolm Fox, an inspector with Edinburgh’s Internal Affairs, or "Complaints," Division, became a regular in Rankin’s latest books, The Complaints (2009) and The Impossible Dead (2011). However, Rebus did not go quietly into retirement: he became a volunteer reviewing cold case files. When a 10-year-old unsolved case seems connected to present-day crimes and possible police corruption, Rebus starts digging and his methods soon attract the attention of Internal Affairs. From his first case in 1987’s Knots and Crosses to the present, John Rebus has pursued justice his own way and Malcolm Fox believes that it’s time for all that to change. Standing in Another Man’s Grave marks the first time the two stubborn Scots have shared a book and readers are left hoping to see more of both these characters.
Cross and Burn ($25.00) by Val McDermid is the 8th book in her series featuring DCI Carol Jordan and Dr. Tony Hill, a forensic psychologist and criminal profiler. Fans recognize the characters from the television series Wire in the Blood, which starred Hermione Norris and Robson Green in the lead roles. When last seen in The Retribution (2011), Carol and Tony seemed to have come to a parting of the ways, both professionally and personally. Now it seems circumstances may force them to work together on a case involving a series of murders in an investigation headed by their colleague DC Paula McIntyre. It seems that the killer’s victims are all women and all bear a resemblance to DCI Jordan. The winner of numerous awards in the field of crime writing, most recently The Diamond Dagger Award by the Crime Writer’s Association of the United Kingdom, McDermid always tells a dark and disturbing tale with an added twist.
Elizabeth George was always was one of MBTB’s most popular authors. She has been writing about a continuing group of characters since 1988’s A Great Deliverance. Over the course of 17 books, readers have grown to feel as if Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers are their old, familiar friends. Lynley, the eighth Earl of Asherton, comes from a life of wealth and privilege (shades of Lord Peter Wimsey?) while Havers’s background is decidedly working class. In Just One Evil Act ($29.95) Barbara Havers takes center stage as she investigates the disappearance of her friend Taymullah Azhar’s daughter. Taymullah, never legally identified as Hadiyyah’s father, is heartbroken when the girl’s mother suddenly moves with their child to Italy. Havers offers to look into the matter, but she quickly learns that an investigation by a private citizen is not the same as one conducted by a member of the police force. A few months after Hadiyyah and her mother settle in Italy, the girl is kidnapped and Inspector Lynley becomes involved. Soon Havers and Lynley are working a case outside of the U.K. for the first time in their careers. When Taymullah is accused of arranging the kidnapping, Havers is forced to consider her friend a suspect. Fans of the series know to expect a suspenseful story, where the lives and actions of the characters are just as important as the mystery that must be solved, and once again Elizabeth George delivers. (Fans also expect a book of considerable length when they choose to read George and they won’t be disappointed with Just One Evil Act’s 736 pages!)
Back in 2006, few American readers had heard of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo but that changed with the release of The Redbreast, which introduced his continuing character Harry Hole, a troubled police detective in Oslo. Although The Redbreast is the third book in the series, it was the first to be published in English and mystery fans were soon hooked. Police ($25.95) catches up with Harry after the catastrophic events in Phantom (2012). Without giving away too much to those who haven’t read Phantom, suffice it to say that in Police, Harry remains a central character, yet is removed from the action. Oslo’s police force is being attacked by a killer who targets officers who worked unsuccessfully to solve cases. The victims were all investigators who are left at the scenes of crimes that remain unsolved. The question everyone is asking is who is protecting the public when the police cannot protect themselves? Nesbø knows how to fully engage the reader with his intricate plots and well developed characters and according to Helsingborgs Dagblad, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, "Nesbø simply has all the tools in his hand. He builds, he tightens the screws, he drills – he smashes. … Police is nothing less than outstanding."
The story goes that a publisher turned down one of Tony Hillerman’s early books saying "Your stories would be a lot more interesting if you took out that American Indian stuff." Luckily, Hillerman didn’t take the advice and went on to write a long-running series featuring Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Published in 1970, The Blessing Way introduced Joe Leaphorn, a dedicated detective who was raised in schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1980, Hillerman introduced Jim Chee in People of Darkness. Chee, also a dedicated police officer, is committed to preserving his culture and studies to become a healer. One of Hillerman’s strengths as a writer was his ability to create a strong sense of place for the reader and his respect and understanding of the Navajo culture added richness to his plots. Now, five years after Hillerman’s death, his daughter Anne Hillerman is continuing the Leaphorn and Chee series with Spider Woman’s Daughter ($26.99). When Navajo Nation Police Officer "Bernie" Manualito witnesses a shooting, she wants to be part of the investigation, even though as a witness she is not allowed to be involved. Working behind the scenes with her husband Sergeant Jim Chee, Bernie uncovers links that tie the shooting to a case investigated by the shooting victim, the long retired Joe Leaphorn. Fans may also want to look for Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn ($28.99). Published in 2009, it showcases the southwestern landscapes that Tony Hillerman lovingly portrayed. Anne Hillerman provided the commentary on the stunning photographs taken by her husband Don Strel.
Last month Sue Grafton published W is for Wasted, the 23rd in her series and this month it is Sara Paretsky’s turn with Critical Mass ($26.95). Both authors had their first books come out in 1982, Grafton’s A is for Alibi with California PI Kinsey Millhone and Paretsky’s Indemnity Only with Chicago PI V.I. Warshawski. Along with author Marcia Muller, whose first Sharon McCone mystery Edwin of the Iron Shoes came out in 1977, these women were trailblazers in the mystery and crime writing field. Each wrote about a smart, capable woman who was a professional investigator and each has gone on to create long running series featuring their protagonists. In Critical Mass, V.I. comes to the aid of her dear friend Dr. Lotty Hershel. Lotty and her friend Kitty Binder were children during the Holocaust and managed to escape to London in 1939. Even though the childhood friends both ended up in Chicago, they drifted apart until Kitty’s daughter Judy reaches out to Lotty for help. Judy claims that her life is in danger and she fears for the safety of her son, Martin. When Judy vanishes, V.I. searches for clues to the woman’s disappearance, leaving Chicago far behind as her investigation leads her to Vienna and Lotty’s childhood in Austria before the war. Paretsky masterfully combines a compelling present day mystery with secrets kept for over 70 years and as always, V.I. gets the job done. As Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times says "What really matters in a Sara Paretsky mystery are the crimes behind the crimes — the corrupt politics, the class divisions, the economic inequities, the dirty business practices and all the other injustices that incite the wicked deeds we love to read about."
Robert B. Parker, the creator of Spenser, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, Virgil Cole, Everett Hitch and a host of supporting characters passed away in 2010. According to his obituary, he died at his desk, working on a book, which is the way I suppose most writers might like to go. Since then, Ace Atkins has stepped in to continue writing the Spenser series, Michael Brandman is doing the same for the Jesse Stone series, and Robert Knott is writing about Cole and Hitch. As it turns out, the book that Parker was working on when he died featured Spenser, his Boston PI. Completed by his longtime agent Helen Brann, Silent Night ($24.95) is a Christmas-themed mystery that finds Spenser going to bat for Street Business, an organization that helps the homeless in Boston. With the help of Hawk (his friend/business associate/alter ego) Spenser takes on a criminal determined to destroy the community center and the lives of those it serves. Helen Brann, chosen by Parker’s widow Joan to complete the manuscript, explains the appeal of Spenser—and his creator—to Publishers Weekly this way "…In an uncertain world, Spenser lives by his code, and so did Bob. It gives both the character and the man a center that’s eternally sought after. For Bob, loyalty, chivalry and courage were more than just words."
As mentioned, Michael Brandman is continuing to write Parker’s series featuring Police Chief Jesse Stone. In Fool Me Twice ($9.99), a movie crew descends on Paradise, Massachusetts and Jesse is soon involved in managing Hollywood egos and protecting movie stars with threatening ex-husbands. That doesn’t mean that the day-to-day problems that arise in his small community don’t require attention; what the heck is going on with the high water bills people have been receiving lately? Jesse, first seen in Night Passage (1997), is a different kind of hero than Spenser, more flawed and with more complicated relationships but still a man who lives by a code of honor that seems to work for him.
Every mystery and crime fiction reader has a list of their favorite fictional characters and Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire is often included on those lists. We first met Sheriff Longmire in The Cold Dish back in 2004. Walt is the sheriff of the fictional Absaroka County, which is modeled after the area of Wyoming that Johnson calls home In the Spirit of Steamboat ($20.00), Walt is spending Christmas Eve alone, reading A Christmas Carol, when a young woman comes to his office looking for help. She has questions for former sheriff Lucian Connally and swears that she must return something to him. Walt accompanies her to Lucian’s assisted living facility where the old man swears he’s never set eyes on her before. She begins to tell a Christmas story of her own, one that takes place on Christmas Eve in 1988 during a record-breaking blizzard and involves a brand new sheriff on his first year at the job. This holiday novella is sure to please fans of the series as they wait for the next season of Longmire to begin.
The Double ($26.00) by George Pelecanos is the 2nd book in a series featuring Spero Lucas, an Iraq veteran in Washington, D.C. First seen in The Cut (2011), Spero works as an investigator for a defense attorney and has developed a talent for recovering stolen goods. He’s good at what he does and takes a 40% cut of the profits. In The Double, Spero is hired to retrieve a painting stolen by a former boyfriend of his client. A straightforward job soon turns complicated when it’s revealed that the thieving boyfriend has ties to some pretty serious criminals in the D.C. area. As always, Pelecanos uses the streets and neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. as supporting characters, giving added depth to the story. As a side note, Pelecanos says "When my uncle died in 1990, I took only one item from his estate: a painting...though I am not a particularly learned student of art, I knew that it was a special piece of work. For the last 23 years, "Double Portrait" by Minerva Chapman has been in the 3 different houses I have owned. The painting always fascinated me and I knew I’d write about it someday."
Lawrence Block’s Hit Me ($16.00) brings back Keller, the stamp collector who just happens to be a hit man. Now retired from his life of professionally disposing of people for money, Keller is a family man living in New Orleans. His new business venture involves rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina but times are getting hard and he is forced to resume his former career. His new jobs take him to New York, Denver, the Caribbean, and stops in between. Keller would much rather look for stamps to add to his impressive collection than do the work he gets paid for but philately is an expensive hobby, and Keller now has a family to support. This series by the multi award-winning author may not appeal to every reader, but Keller is a quirky and oddly engaging anti-hero.
Murder by the Book’s Book Group
Our book 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.
Meetings are held at the Belmont Branch Library, located at 1038 SE Cesar Chavez Blvd.
On Tuesday, October 22nd we will discuss Pronto by Elmore Leonard, which introduces readers to U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens.
The Friends of Mystery Book Group meets at the Belmont Library on the third Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. On Wednesday, October 16th they will discuss Black Dog by Stephen Booth.
Local events in October:
Wordstock- Portland's Festival of Words. Runs October 3rd-6th with most events being held at the Oregon Convention Center. On Saturday, October 5th, Barbara Tom, one of the former owners of MBTB, will be moderating a panel titled The Dark Side: Creating Suspense. Among the panelists is Portland's own Chelsea Cain.
The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes opens at OMSI on October 10 and runs through January 5th. This promises to be great fun.
Craig Johnson appears at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills on Thursday, October 17th at 7:00 p.m.
George Pelecanos will be at Powell's Books on Burnside on Friday October 18th at 7:30 p.m.
Friends of the Multnomah County Library Annual Book Sale runs from October 18th-October 21st at the Lloyd Center Double Tree Hotel. Bargains galore!