Friday, November 20, 2015

ALL MEN FEAR ME by Donis Casey

“There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags...who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.” --Woodrow Wilson, Address to Congress, 1915.
“Watch your neighbor. If he is not doing everything in his power to help the nation in this crisis, see that he is reported to the authorities.” --Tulsa Daily World.
Donis Casey’s All Men Fear Me made me think of what is happening today.
Alafair Tucker’s story is set during World War I. President Wilson tells the American people to fear Germans in America. Some people in Boynton, Oklahoma, apply Wilson’s advice to Boynton citizens of German descent.
After being cool toward the war, many Oklahomans are stirred up. The Germans have invited the Mexicans to invade us. The nation has broken into those who support the war and those who don’t (with some in between).
Americans have formed patriotic fronts and started to try to sort out unpatriotic people. Prime suspects for treason include people like Alafair Tucker’s visiting brother who works as an organizer for a draft-avoiding labor union.
Alafair’s son-in-law is of German descent. Even though he furnishes hogs for the army, he finds one of his gilts pinned to his front door with his slaughtering knife. A blood-penned note on the door tells him to leave town and go back to Germany.
On the other side, someone sabotages the local brick plant which supplies bricks for army installations.

A strange man in a bowler hat roams the community. Some think he is the devil.
Many are practicing voluntary rationing, even farmers who raise their own food and have an excess. The government has set out a schedule for meatless and wheatless meals and days.
A small group of Oklahoma radical union draft resisters foments what they hope will be a national revolt. And in amongst all this, someone kills two members of the local patriotic front (the Knights of Liberty).
Alafair Tucker’s whole family becomes involved. Alafair ends up trying to defend one of her sons in a murderous situation.
As with all the Alafair Tucker books, this one is strongly grounded in Oklahoma history. Casey tells the history in detail as the book works up to its unexpected conclusion.
The Alafair Trucker books are among my favorites. All Men Fear Me is an excellent addition to the series.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil (published in England in 2000) is a haunted castle mystery.

A concerned relative hires Lori Shepherd to inventory the books in Northumberland’s Wyrdhurst Hall. Lori’s real job seems to be to look after Nicole Hollander, the recently married abused mistress of the hall.

On the way to the hall, Lori is caught in a storm. She is almost killed when her Land Rover rolls into a ravine. She wakes up naked lying beside her rescuer on a narrow bed in his small cabin. (The naked part seemed strange to me too!).

When she finally gets to the old castle-like building, Lori finds it haunted. She herself begins to feel strange. Though she loves her husband and adores her children, she has strange sexually charged feelings for her rescuer.

Lori becomes aware that someone is trying to run off the abused mistress of the hall. Something strange is happening in the adjoining community as well.

Along the way, Lori finds a secret passage. She becomes aware that the castle has a murder and a love story in its history. She finds a cache of rare children’s books. And she learns that something terrible is happening at Wyrdhurst Hall.

Lori’s rescuer hikes down to her wrecked car to get Reginald, Lori’s pink flannel stuffed rabbit. And at one point, Lori places Reginald alongside Teddy, Wyrdhurst’s antique stuffed bear who plays an important role in the story.

Lori’s husband Bill sends Lori the journal though which the spirit of Aunt Dimity communes with her. And Aunt Dimity, after dire warnings, guides Lori through the rest of the story.

I enjoyed this book. I found the haunting and the mystery intriguing. The ending seemed contrived to me, but up to that point, the book kept my interest.

For me, the Aunt Dimity books are diversions. I read one when I want something light and enjoyable. So far, they have always filled the bill.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A DEATH IN THE FAMILY by Michael Stanley

Michael Stanley’s A Death in the Family is an excellent, wonderfully plotted, story.

Someone kills Kubu’s beloved father. Kubu (which means hippopotamus) is Botswanan Assistant CID Superintendent David 'Kubu' Bengu.

Kubu’s superior Jacob Mabaku takes Kubu off the case. The obese Kubu with his terrible temper, voracious appetite, and sharp intellect is left with nothing to do except to interfere. He is so upset he only nibbles at his food.

But his interference gets him in more trouble. Finally Mabaku assigns his best detective to another case, the apparent suicide of a government Department of Mines official. Kubu ends up investigating a mining scheme which climaxes with a murderous riot.

As always, Kubu is Kubu. He loses his temper, almost destroys both cases, and finally works out the solution, not just to his mining case, but also to the murder of his father.

Michael Stanley fills this story with humor, anger, and family love. Kubu’s relationship with his superior Mabaku deepens. And in an unexpected way, the story’s ending breaks your heart.

A Death in the Family is one of the best books I’ve read this year. The plot comes together in a special way.

I’ve read all the Kubu books so far. I recommend them all.

P.S. As an aside, I can’t help but note--This book’s title made me think of another great book with the same title, one of the best books I’ve ever read--James Agee’s A Death in the Family.

Monday, October 26, 2015

THE WHITE MAGIC FIVE AND DIME by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco

In The White Magic Five and Dime by Steve Hockensmith  with Lisa Falco, the cons get conned.

Alanis McLachlan's murdered mother leaves her The White Magic Five and Dime, a tarot reading salon in Berdache, Arizona. 

Alanis and her mother have long been estranged, but what the heck. The shop offers Alanis an opportunity to get in on her mother’s con.

A friendly cop gives her several leads, and she and her mother’s latest apprentice, a local high school student who lived with her mother, solve the murder.

The White Magic Five and Dime is humorous, light reading. The book tells you at least a little about reading tarot cards. Each chapter opens with a section in which a fictional author describes a card. The card’s meaning controls the chapter (more or less).

Along the way, we see Alanis’ growing up, being trained in how to con people, and finally running away when her mother tries to prostitute her as a part of another con. We also learn about her mother’s partner Biddle, how he taught Alanis the ins and outs of conning, and how he finally conned the wrong people.

Alanis ends up, not exactly believing in, but understanding, the tarot cards. The cards don’t tell the future but, correctly read, they can help you understand trends in your life.

The White Magic Five and Dime is just what the cover makes you think it is, a light, humorous mystery on a different kind of subject.

I bought the book on a Kindle special because I was intrigued by the title and the cover. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015


In M.C. Beaton’s The Deadly Dance (2004), Agatha Raisin sets up her own detective agency.

After a pickpocket robbed her in Paris and the police almost ignored her, Agatha decides she could do better. She goes back home, rents an office in Mircester, and hires staff.

Agatha being Agatha, she has an eclectic staff. Among them is Emma Comfrey, her next door neighbor who now lives where James Lacey had lived before. James is Agatha’s ex-husband with whom she still has connections.

Any Agatha Raisin fan knows what happens next. Agatha and Emma begin chasing every man who comes into their lives. They compete with one another, turning hot and cold about their “friendship.” Their competition becomes a deadly dance.

Along the way, Agatha saves a wealthy débutante from being assassinated at her own engagement party. Then Agatha solves the attempted murder and another actual murder which happens later.

The Deadly Dance ends with two people converging to try to murder Agatha. This comes after a earlier attempt to poison Agatha, an attempt which went wondrously wrong.

And the whole story ends with a disastrous but fun Christmas party at Agatha’s home.

No other cozies are quite like the Agatha Raisins. She is always going to be a mildly sex-crazed upper-middle-aged divorcée surrounded by men. And she is always going to be competing for the attention of whatever good looking man comes into view.

When it comes to the Agatha Raisin books, I suppose there is little middle ground. Most readers either like or dislike them. I like them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I just reread Peter Bowen’s Coyote Wind (1994), a book I’ve summarized on this blog before.

I suggested the book for our book group to discuss in November. When I got home, my wife said, “That book’s filled with dirty language. And you suggested it to a group of mostly religious old folks.”

Oh well. The language wasn’t what interested me. And I didn’t think about the language. I thought about what the book tells of the Métis, their code, the way they live, and the way Garbriel Du Pré solves a highly personal mystery.

Canada's constitution recognizes the Métis are one of the three aboriginal Canadian populations. They are descended from traders (mostly French) who took Indian wives. 

Métis went back and forth from Canada to the U.S. with some of them settling here.

Before more of the Métis migrated from Canada to the U.S. (following an unsuccessful rebellion), many Canadian Métis came here to hunt.

“The Métis drove the buffalo into stout blind corrals or drove the herds from swift surefooted buffalo ponies,” Du Pré remembers. “Make everybody meat for the winter. The carts sounded for many miles over their prairies. At night the men gambled. The leaders were all poor, like those of the Indians who were the lost generous and humble. Wealth was a sign of a bad heart. The more power you had, the less you owned. Nobody who ever wanted a chief’s job got it.
“Take that you white fools who want to be president.”

Out of their way of life came an ethic. And Coyote Wind illustrates that ethic.

Coyote Wind has so many good qualities. It is an excellent mystery set in the early 1990s. It has memorable characters. And it tells about a way of life that is, at the least, fading.

Even the dialect seems authentic to the group.

I’ve read Coyote Wind several times now, and I always enjoy it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

DEVIL OF DELPHI by Jeffrey Siger

Sometimes the best way to solve a crime is not to solve it.

Jeffrey Siger’s Devil of Delphi has an electric ending. I could see it coming, but then again, I couldn’t.

Greece’s Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis and his crew investigate the foreign mobs trafficking in bomba, counterfeit alcoholic beverages. The counterfeits have perfectly imitated labels. They threaten to destroy Greece’s wine and spirits industry. Some of the counterfeits are poison.

During the investigation, Kaldis gets crosswise with two master killers, Teacher with whom he has dealt before and her hired assassin, the psychopathic murderer Kharon.

Both are untouchable. Kharon lives in Delphi, the Greek mythological center of the world, a place where gods and rulers lived. Even the sacred mountain at Delphi reinforces its spiritual significance.

Kharon's name is that of the Greek mythological character who ferries souls to the underworld. 

Kharon kills the daughter of a prominent (but corrupt) Greek businessman. The businessman’s incompetent son tried to take down Teacher. The businessman attacks Kaldis and Kaldis’ dying boss Spiros.

So plenty happens. But the police can’t do much about it. Everyone is too dangerous or too powerful.

All this leads to the surprising ending.

The Andreas Kaldis books are among the best police procedurals I read. They take me to a place I’ll never be able to go. They describe government corruption, the kinds of fraud that surely helped lead to Greece’s present financial troubles. And they have interesting recurring characters (police, family, and villains).

If you are looking for good police procedurals, I suggest you try Jeffrey Siger’s Andreas Kaldis series.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

not a mystery - ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train (2013) is a young adult novel.

Near the end of a series of stays in abusive foster homes, seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer tries to steal her favorite book Jane Eyre. The librarian catches her, and to avoid juvenile detention, Molly has to serve 50 hours of community service.

She ends up helping ninety-one-year-old Vivian Daly organize her attic.

Vivian came to depression era Minnesota on an orphan train. She was one of tens of thousands of orphans sent on trains to the Midwest. Mostly well-intentioned people farmed the children out, often to abusive families.

Through a series of frightening and fortuitous events, Vivian ended up in Spruce Harbor, Maine, where, near the end of her life, Molly came to help her organize her attic.

Molly and Vivian are both orphans. As different as they are (Molly comes from Penobscot Indian ancestors and Vivian from Irish immigrants), they have much in common. And they come to love one another.

Orphan Train is a story of portaging. When the Wabanakis Indian tribe carried their canoes from one river to another, they had to decide what to leave and what to take. They had to travel light but to take with them what they valued.

Molly learns about portaging from a compassionate teacher. It occurs to Molly that both she and Vivian have had to portage, decide what to leave and what to take, along the way. (An especially sad part of the story has Vivian giving up her new born child.)

At one point, Molly tells her boyfriend Jack about what turtles mean to her Native American ancestors. “Turtles carry their homes on their backs. They’re exposed and hidden at the same time. They’re a symbol of strength and perseverance.”

And at another point Molly listens to the tapes of Vivian’s story and understands, “Vivian has come back to the idea that the people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. They’re with us in the grocery store, as we turn a corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.”

Orphan Train is a hopeful story. Vivian takes Molly in as she escapes the last abuse. And Molly helps Vivian find people she loves.

Christina Baker Kline tells her story in present time laced with flashback chapters.

I came to Orphan Train for two reasons: (1) A book group at our retirement center chose it to read; and (2) I knew an elderly married couple both of whom came to St. Louis as children on an orphan train. My two friends never seemed happy. I always wondered what their stories might be. They were too old and disabled to tell me.

As I read Orphan Train, I found myself thinking about how many of the orphans must have had even sadder stories than Vivian's. For many, there were surely no happy endings.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

ACCUSED by Lisa Scottoline

Lisa Scottoline’s Accused is a mixture of mystery and romance.

A thirteen-year-old heiress hires lawyer Mary DiNunzio of Philadelphia’s Rosato & Associates to prove a convicted murderer didn’t do the crime. Mary’s life is changing. She has just become a partner in the firm. She is newly engaged, but struggling to know if she should continue on the marriage path.

What makes the case strange is not only the age of the client but also the facts of the case. The murderer’s guilt seems obvious.

So Mary and her sidekick Judy Carrier investigate.

Complications ensue. Their client’s family throws the lawyers out of their house. They get their daughter committed to a mental institution. And Mary and Judy end up moving a bee colony into the hive for their institutionalized client.

Mary is working day and night. She and her fiancée grow farther and farther apart. Mary’s family and their friends the Tonys are as dysfunctional as ever. And Mary hits dead end after dead end in the case.

Finally, she and Judy (long-term friends) have a monster row. Judy thinks they are chasing shadows.

But all turns out well. Someone tries to kill Mary, and that helps break the case open. It also helps Mary decide about being married, about becoming part of two loving but dysfunctional families, and about reconciling with Judy.

I bought this book on sale from Amazon Kindle. I had heard of Lisa Scottoline and wondered what she wrote. I found the book humorous in parts but too long. There was too much elaboration on scene and minor details. Otherwise, I liked it.

Obviously the author didn’t write Accused with an old geezer like me in mind, but that didn’t matter. I enjoyed the book.


P.S. We were out of town for a while. That explains the gap in my postings.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Jonathan Latimer’s The Dead Don’t Care (1938) is clue-driven humorous noir.

A wealthy Key Largo, Florida, family hires two alcoholic detectives Bill Crane and Thomas O’Malley to find who is sending them ransom notes.

The vague notes, signed “The Eye,” appear in impossible places. Several appear on the threatened man’s pillow when he wakes up in the morning in his locked bedroom. 

Finally, The Eye carries out his threat. He kidnaps Camelia Essex, the twenty-three-year-old major heiress in the family.

Crane and O’Malley investigate. They go to casinos to gamble. They drink at local bars. They become entangled with a Key Largo mobster.

A rival gang assassinates the mobster, probably because of a dispute about slot machines. Along the way, The Eye kills another person in a hard-to-explain way. And, using his well-disguised intelligence, Bill Crane rescues the maiden and explains it all.

Jonathan Latimer fills The Dead Don’t Care with humor. The book opens with Crane and O’Malley nearly fighting a flamingo.

Crane buys O’Malley Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. He tells O’Malley he’s not uptown enough for these high class digs. O’Malley needs to learn quotations.

For the rest of the book, O’Malley uses exotic quotations in the right circumstances. Finally, Crane tires of hearing the quotations. He buys the book back from O’Malley at five times what Crane paid for it.

Crane and O’Malley are wise-cracking detectives, especially Crane.

The Dead Don’t Care has a little of everything. The notes and the second killing are closed room mysteries. The story ends as a cozy would, with a gathering of the suspects and Crane’s explanation of the clues. And the book has adequate violence and hard-boiled-detective-stuff to make it noir.

As with most of these books, the cover on the earlier editions promises a racier book than the book is.

I learned of this book by reading Patricia Abbott’s blog feature called “Friday’s Forgotten Books.”

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Arthur W. Upfield’s The Mystery of Swordfish Reef puts Australia’s Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) in an unfamiliar setting--the sea.

Bony investigates the loss of a fishing boat off the south-eastern coast of Australia.

The fisherman, his boat, and his two guides disappear. The fisherman is a prominent retired law officer.

When another fishing boat finds the man’s bullet-punctured skull in one of its nets, it is time to call in Bony.

Others have failed. Bony’s skills are particularly suited to the sands of Australia. He can read a hidden trail or see subtle land-locked clues. He knows how the natives and the white settlers think. But can he work on the beautifully described shifting sea?

Using two who know the sea well, Bony maps the movements of the missing boat and all who saw it. And his maps lead him to a rather obvious solution.

At one point Bony says: “I hope, at a later date, that from my papers you will clearly see how important it is to reconstruct the crime and its background. Even on unstatic water objects can be traced and their movements established.”

But there is more to the story than this. Bony catches two huge swordfish, one a near record-breaker, and a Mako shark. He becomes addicted to fishing for swordfish.

He makes a crucial mistake which almost costs him his life. And he attacks and tries to kill a man.

At one point, Bony questions whether he has lost the civilized part of his nature, whether he has become a savage. He is on the verge of despair.

So The Mystery of Swordfish Reef is different. But it still has the same Bony. It also has his wonderful allies, especially Jack Wilton and Joe Peace, the two who run the fishing boat Bony uses.

I enjoy reading about Bony.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

THE PATRIARCH by Martin Walker

Bruno is becoming ordinary.

Martin Walker’s The Patriarch opens with the seemingly natural death of a French WWII hero.

St. Denis Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges suspects foul play. He interviews witnesses and friends. He collects evidence to use when he can pursue the murderer.

The murdered man is the Patriarch’s son’s best friend. The Patriarch is a legendary WWII pilot, one of Bruno’s boyhood heroes.

Why does the Patriarch’s family open its doors to him? He isn’t part of that social milieu. Bruno watches the manipulation occur, but he keeps on investigating.

As so often happens in the Bruno books, The Patriarch has a touching local story. A sad woman opposes deer hunting. She turns her property into a no-hunting preserve. The deer strip the land and destroy the trees. They cause auto accidents.

When Bruno tries to do his relational magic, helping people work together to solve the problem, things turn tragic.

The Patriarch has all the usual things--great local color, somewhat-more-sketchy-than-usual descriptions of wonderful meals, a complex historical backstory, and Bruno’s bedding an of alluring young woman.

But this time, Bruno seems promiscuous. It is time for Bruno to settle down and find a wife.

I was disappointed in this Bruno book, But . . .

. . . The Patriarch was still better than many books I read. 

So, I have hope. Maybe in the next book (or the one after) Bruno will get his life together, begin to court someone he can marry, and once again use more of his wonderful relational skills to solve the local problems of St. Denis. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


“It’s only October,” said the vicar’s wife plaintively, “No one should be allowed to mention Christmas before the first of December.”


OK. So I broke the rules.

After a couple of hard reads, I was looking for something light. And lo-and-behold! Kindle offered a special on M.C. Beaton’s Kissing Christmas Goodbye.

Agatha Raisin receives a letter from a woman who expects to be murdered during the Christmas season. Christmas is about the only time her children come to visit her.

Her children hate her. She has bullied them and held them hostage using her wealth to keep them on the string. And now she plans to give her land and wealth away to build a technical school named for her late husband. She is about to change her will.

When Agatha and her new assistant Toni Gilmour go to the old woman’s mansion, they find a hateful old lady. Her murder (using Hemlock) seems appropriate though a daughter-in-law hires Agatha to find the murderer.

The people in the town hate the old lady. She owns everything, charges low rents, but bullies them too. They know that if she gives the land and village away, they will lose their homes, their very roles in life.

Many people have motives.

One thing is different about this Agatha Raisin. We see a side of Agatha we don’t often see. She takes the abused 17-year-old Toni under her wing.

Of course Agatha uses Toni’s talents as an intuitive detective. Toni solves an earlier murder.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye ends in a riotous, unbelievable Christmas party where Agatha learns she no longer cares for her ex-husband James Lacey. Agatha gives up on her illusions about having the perfect Christmas.

The story is unbelievable, but after all, that's what you expect from an Agatha Raisin. 

Kissing Christmas Goodbye has the expected characters. (I especially like Mrs. Bloxby.) It has the usual ditzy but determined Agatha. And it has occasional laugh-out-loud humor.

Christmas doesn’t usually come in September, but this time, for me at least, M.C. Beaton’s Kissing Christmas Goodbye filled the bill.

A SHORT STORY--"A Market Tale" by Martin Walker

Martin Walker’s “A Market Tale” is a heartwarming short story.

Kati, a Swiss tourist, finds the love of her life in the market at St. Denis, France.

The market is, as always, stalls filled with luscious food, crafts, and other items to sell to the villagers and tourists.

The problem is, the love of Kati’s life, a widower who lost his leg in the auto accident that killed his wife, has a hateful sister. His sister tries to short circuit the growing relationship, and Bruno, Chief of Police, intervenes.

I have always loved the St. Denis part of the Bruno stories. I like watching the market work, and I like Bruno’s sensitive approach to the people. These people are his friends and neighbors.

“A Market Tale” has no murder, just an attempt to sabotage a budding relationship and the way Bruno intervenes to make things better.

“A Market Tale” is a short story sold as a stand-alone in e-book format.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Sometimes characters make the story. Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast seemed that way to me.

When someone kills Laurent Lepage after the boy tells another unbelievable story about a big gun in the woods, former Chief Inspector Gamache investigates.

He and his team find the weapon. It has a picture from Revelation’s Second Coming etched on it. They track its history and learn it has a reason to be connected to Three Pines.

So does the chilling serial murderer John Fleming. He ties in with the massive weapon too. He wrote a mysterious play. The director of the local playhouse attempts to conceal the author’s identity to try to get the play produced in Three Pines.

After another murder, Gamache and his team work through to a solution.

My problem was, I saw no convincing reason the facts had to lead to the solution they led too. Several people could have committed the murder. I couldn’t help but think of the Gamache story where Gamache nailed the wrong person. (Penny rectified Gamache’s mistake in a later book.)

I found the premise too fantastic. True, Penny says in her Afterword that such a weapon and plans for its larger prototype existed. That part of the story is one of those fictions loosely based on fact.

But that didn’t much matter to me. What mattered were the characters--Gamache’s wife Reine-Marie (who plays a large part in solving the crime), the poet Ruth, the bookstore owner, the grocery owner, the bistro owners, Laurent’s mother, and all the rest. They made the story for me.

And I had one other thought. I wondered about how art begets art, a major theme in the Gamache books. The Nature of the Beast seems to be built around William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.”

As with all the Gamache stories, creative people play a large part. Ruth took ten years off from writing poetry after writing a few lines about a horrific experience in her life. The great painter Clara struggles to paint a portrait of her husband after his horrific death (which showed who he really was). One suspect does skillful line drawings and writes great music with terrible lyrics.

At one point, Gamache says of John Fleming’s seemingly innocuous play, “It has everything to do with him. If John Fleming created it, it’s grotesque. It can’t help but be. Maybe not obviously so, but he’s in every word, every action of the characters. The creator and the created are one.”

When I talk about how I wish Louise Penny would write something lighter sometime, my wife says (paraphrase), "She won’t. That’s not how her mind works."

So be it. Though I didn’t think The Nature of the Beast was her best book, I still see Louise Penny as a particular blessing for mystery lovers.