Friday, December 19, 2014

THE SANTA KLAUS MURDER by Mavis Doriel Hay








Mavis Doriel Hay’s The Santa Klaus Murder (1936) is a classic “the family gathers at Christmas” story.

When my wife saw the title of the book, she asked, “Is Santa Klaus murdered, or does Santa do the murder?”

Santa does the murder. The problem is to figure out who was wearing the suit.

His family almost universally hates Sir Osmond Melbury of Flaxmere. He uses his money to bully his children and grandchildren.

When they gather one more time for Christmas, one family member predicts such gatherings are nothing but trouble.

And that’s what happens. Sir Osmond ends up in his study with a bullet in his head. Any of the family or servants could have done it.

Colonel Halstock, chief constable of Haulmshire, investigates.

This is a classic cozy story. Different characters narrate different chapters (a la The Moonstone).

The first two-thirds of the book (at least) lays out the details. The solution lies somewhere among the myriad of details.

British Library Crime Classics recently reprinted this long-out-of-print classic. I stumbled across it (as an ebook) while looking for Christmas mysteries.

The Santa Klaus Murder is what I expected from a cozy written before my birth. It is clue-driven and ends with a long postscript that explains what happened in intricate detail.

Truthfully, I skipped a few parts of this book (too intricate for me), but I enjoyed reading this classic at Christmas time.

Monday, December 15, 2014

WINDIGO ISLAND by William Kent Krueger








William Kent Krueger’s Windigo Island is Jenny O’Connor’s story.

Two teenaged Ojibwe girls run away. Almost a year later when the dead body of one of them washes up on Windigo Island, Cork O’Conner, his daughter Jenny, and several others set out to find the still-missing young woman.

O’Conner’s group includes the missing girl’s mother, an old Ojibwe wise man Henry Meloux, Henry’s nephew Daniel, and others.

Along the way, Jenny O’Conner finds a love interest. She becomes obsessed with finding the missing child. And she longs to get back home near her own adopted child, a throw-away she saved in an earlier story. 

Windigo Island is more than just the name of the story. The Windigo is a spirit which overwhelms and destroys people.

The story’s villain, a man who enslaves and sells young women, is also called Windigo.

Krueger’s issue from the beginning goes back to the old tale of two wolves fighting in each human being. The wolf that overwhelms your life is the wolf you feed. You can feed the good wolf or the evil wolf. Each of the hunters faces a choice as to which wolf to feed.

I ordered this book from Mystery Guild. The only other William Kent Krueger book I’d read before was Ordinary Grace. 

Windigo Island was a good book, but it was no Ordinary Grace. Critics say there are other better books in the Cork O’Conner mystery series.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A MIND TO MURDER by P.D. James








P.D. James’ A Mind to Murder (1963) is a routine police procedural with a startling ending.

This is James’ second book about Scotland Yard Investigator Adam Dalgliesh.

Someone kills the widely-disliked administrative assistant at the Steen Psychiatric Clinic. The murder is almost a closed-room murder.

Clinic employees find the body of Enid Bolam in the basement record room. Scattered records surround her. The locked outside basement doors make it so that the murderer would have had to enter and leave through a monitored front entrance.

Someone in the building had to have done the murder.

Dalgliesh and his assistant Sergeant Martin interview the suspects, look into their lives and histories, and, almost fortuitously, solve the murder.

Several times the story mentions that Dalgliesh has solved every case he’s undertaken. He almost solves this case wrong. Only a last-minute surprise saves the day.

At one point, James writes of the plodding Sergeant Martin, “Methodical attention to detail had solved other murders and would solve this one.” And that’s how it happened.

I’ve had this book on my Kindle waiting to be read. When I learned of the recent death of P.D. James, I decided to read the book now to acknowledge a classic mystery writer I’ve read (in small doses) and enjoyed over many years. 

A Mind to Murder may not be the best book in the Adam Dalgliesh series, but, even in this lesser entry, James’ craftsmanship shines through.

RIP--P.D. James.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A DYING FALL by Elly Griffiths








In Elly Griffiths' A Dying Fall, forensic archeologist Ruth Galloway receives a disturbing letter from a now-dead friend.

Someone murdered Ruth’s college friend Dan Golding. They burned his house with Dan trapped in it. Dan wrote and mailed the letter just before he died.

Dan has been living in fear. He has discovered what he thinks may be the grave of the legendary King Arthur. The nature of his discovery has stirred the wrath of a group of neo-Nazi white supremacists at Dan’s small university.

Dan invites Ruth to come and help authenticate the discovery.

Ignoring texted threats, Ruth and her small daughter Kate go to Lancashire to look at the bones and discover the truth.

The Druid Cathbad goes along to visit a friend and to babysit Kate.

At the same time, Detective Chief Inspector Nelson (Kate’s father who is himself married with daughters of his own) is vacationing in Lancashire with his wife.

This book, like the others in the series has interesting characters, intriguing archeological information, and enough action to keep most people reading.

I finished A Dying Fall several days ago, so these comments are more sketchy than usual. (I’ve been away from the computer about a week.)

I have enjoyed every book in the Ruth Galloway series, and this one is no exception.

THE FINAL SILENCE by Stuart Neville








Stuart Neville’s The Final Silence is brutally violent.

Rae Carlisle, daughter of a Belfast politician, inherits a house from her uncle. Inside is a locked room. When Rae breaks in, she finds a handwritten book documenting a series of murders.

Rae asks Jack Lennon, a disgraced cop, for help.

Lennon ends up as the prime suspect in a murder. And, as it works out, the whole story ties in to the brutal violent history of Belfast, Northern Island.

Old acts and grudges don’t die. And even competent modern cops face cancer and police corruption.

No character in this book gets off easy.

I read this book a week ago. (I’ve been away from the computer.)

I found The Final Silence to be clearly written, a compelling, easy-to-follow story.