Sunday, December 4, 2016

Has Agatha Raisin changed? In M.C. Beaton’s Pushing Up Daisies, at first it seems that way, but by the end of the book, Agatha is as lonely and insecure as ever.

That’s how I see Agatha. Lonely and insecure. Always seeking another man, always wanting to be at the center of attention, always wanting to be more attractive and compelling than anyone around her.

But she solves mysteries. In this case, a man’s son hires her to investigate his father’s murder. The father was a titled landowner whose land has plots devoted to small community gardens.

Local townspeople plant the gardens as they have done seemingly forever.

When the man decides to sell the land for development and do away with the gardens, someone kills him.

Along the way, two other people die, and Agatha and her detective agency bump into two semi-related murders and a kidnapping.

All this happens in Cotswold village of Carsley and the towns around.

Agatha competes with her best friend the vicar’s wife Mrs. Bloxby to be noticed by a young man Agatha sees as an Adonis.

And of course, Agatha is just successful enough in her pursuit to be hurt again.

Pushing Up Daisies has all the usual characters, Agatha’s ex husband, her other men friends, the detectives at her detective agency, and even her two cats.

I find the Agatha Raisin books sad, humorous, well-written, and a joy to read. Every time I pick up one, I remind myself that Beaton wrote the book for an audience other than old men like me. But then I read about and enjoy Agatha Raisin anyway.


I checked out this Kindle book from our local library.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Leslie Meier’s Christmas Carol Murder is a cozy reworking of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Someone sends a letter bomb to a hated realtor who is foreclosing on many of the houses in Tinker’s Cove, Main.

Almost everyone in town is among the suspects. People are losing their homes and businesses. In some cases, medical bills swamp already-foreclosed families.

Lucy Stone, intrepid part-time reporter for the local newspaper The Pennysaver, investigates the murder.

Lucy’s college-age daughter becomes part of a group protesting the foreclosures. Lucy’s husband becomes a member of the board that is laying off town employees because town revenues are down. And Lucy herself takes on the role of Mrs. Cratchit in the town production of “The Christmas Carol.”

After contentious meetings, personal attacks (including Lucy’s husband getting his truck tires slashed), and an attack on the niece of the murdered man’s real estate partner, Lucy risks her life to confront the murderer.

The story ends with the Scrooge-like real estate partner of the murder victim having a terrifying experience and a change of heart. He comes up with ways to help Tinker’s Cove’s struggling people.

For me, Christmas Carol Murder was just what it sounds like, a light, almost TV episode-like cozy to help pass a few hours in the Christmas season.

I checked this out as a Kindle book from our local library.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


“Is there anyone anywhere in our government who actually cares about our country? Our families? I’m sick and tired of one politician after another, all focused only on what puts money in their pockets and nothing else.” --Andreas Kaldis’ pregnant wife Lila.

In Jeffrey Siger’s Santorini Caesars, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis and his crew end up with a huge surprise.

When assassins kill a general’s daughter during a government demonstration, Kaldis wonders why.

Someone targeted the young woman. She wasn’t a random victim.

And the killers themselves are easily identifiable. It is not that they could be named. It is that they appeared to have come from the military. They seemed to be professionals.

Are the generals fighting among themselves? Was the killing a way send this particular general a message? Is the military planning a coup? And do  those plans tie in with a meeting of generals (including the up-and-coming young generals known as the Caesars) on the Island of Santorini?

As with all the Kaldis stories, the economic/political chaos in Greece plays a huge part. Kaldis and his investigative team can’t tell who is plotting against whom.

Then the story takes a strange turn. With the investigative help of the young Santorini woman at the center of the book’s major love story, Kaldis learns of an unexpected possibility.

As always with the Kaldis books, Santorini Caesars is an excellent police procedural complicated by the political and economic collapse of Greece. Everyone is at risk. Kaldis and his crew are different. They act ethically in their mostly unethical world. Kaldis’ team works through what is happening in a systematic way until the whole thing climaxes in violence.

I always look forward to Siger’s books. They tell me much about Greece. Siger fills his books with all-too-human characters. (The continuing characters are ones I love.)

If you have not yet come upon Jeffrey Siger’s Andreas Kaldis books, you might want to look them up. They are well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A VOICE IN THE NIGHT by Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri’s A Voice in the Night is a Sicilian police procedural.

Inspector Montalbano and his crew investigate the “suicide” of a grocery store manager. A powerful Mafia group owns the store.

As if that weren’t enough, they also investigate a brutal murder. Someone murdered the lover of the son of a powerful politician.

Both the Mafia and the politicians use media and government to smear Montalbano and his crew. So Montalbano lies, manipulates the evidence, and enlists his own media allies.

Along the way, he worries that he is growing older. He continues to have telephone contact with his lover Livia, though his contacts are not so contentious as in some of the other books. And he eats huge meals with richly described food.

Always there is food in these books.

A Voice in the Night is not the best of the Montalbano books. Camilleri wrote it several years ago, and it is just now being published. Camilleri mentions this in his afterward.

The book interested me because of the way it portrayed the public as sometimes duped and the police as often having to manipulate the evidence.

At one point Montalbano and his radio announcer friend have this conversation:

Montalbano says--“I don’t think popular will or public opinion has any concrete effect on things anymore.”

“So, in your opinion, the press and television serve no purpose? Don’t they serve to shape public opinion?”

“Nicolo, the press--that is the newspapers--are useless. Italy is a country with two million illiterates and thirty percent of the population that can barely sign their names. Three-quarters of those who buy newspapers read only the headlines, which often--and this is another fine Italian custom--say the opposite of what the articles themselves say. The few remaining people have already formed their opinions and buy whatever newspaper reflects what they already think.

Sound familiar? Except that maybe in the U.S. we might apply some of what he says to the Internet and TV too.

A Voice in the Night wasn’t the best of the Montalbano books. Still, the book had enough to keep me reading.

Again, my thanks to Stephen Sartarelli. His excellent translations make it possible for me to enjoy these books. 

Monday, November 21, 2016


In Alan Bradley’s Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, Flavia de Luce acts completely out of character.

On her return from boarding school in Canada, Flavia lets her family keep her from seeing her father who is critically ill in the hospital. She goes day after day without going to see him.

I can’t visualize Flavia doing that. She takes her beloved bicycle Gladys and peddles around to the connecting villages. She finds the body of an arthritic wood carver strung up in the apparatus he invented to stretch his aching back. She even peddles to the train station and goes to London to find clues in the murder.

But she can’t peddle to see her father no matter who tries to keep her from doing so. That's just not Flavia.

Flavia interviews the witch across the street from the house where she found the corpse. She untangles the strange history of the woodcarver and his family. She figures out how the cat which mewed to come into the room with the corpse gives her a major clue. She even puts up with a new member of the family. But she doesn’t go to see her father.

In case you can’t tell, that bothered me.

Aside from that, I found Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd to have everything I admire about the Flavia de Luce books. The book has her chemical brilliance, her reference to all kinds of literary works, her way with words, and her strong determination.

It also has wonderful passages to quote, as these books always do. Here are a few--

“...the perfect crime is extremely rare, [and] so is the perfect solution. In real life, we are never able to dot every i, cross every t, or tease out every last strand of what we think of as evidence.”


“It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for your spirits.”


“Brains, in reality, do not go clickety-clickety-click from A to B to C to D and so forth, rushing like a train along the rails, until at the end, with a happy “Toot-toot!” they arrive at their destination, Z, and the case is suddenly solved. Quite the contrary. In reality, analytical minds such as my own are forever shooting wildly off in all directions simultaneously. It’s like joyously hitting jelly with a sledgehammer; like exploding galaxies; like a display of fireworks in which the pyrotechnic engineer has had a bit too much to drink and set off the whole conglobulation all at once, by accident.”


And finally, “Real life is messy, and it’s probably best to keep that in mind. We must learn never to expect too much.”

I could go on quoting from there. But the last quote says a lot about this book. Even the best books are imperfect. Real life is messy and tragic. And so was Alan Bradley’s Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd.

Friday, November 18, 2016

REAL MURDERS by Charlaine Harris

When I checked out Charlaine Harris’ Real Murders from the local library, I thought I was getting a cozy. I was wrong.

Twenty-eight-year-old Lawrenceton, Georgia, librarian Roe Teagarden belongs to a group called the Real Murders Club. They meet regularly to review historic murder cases, to discuss the details of them, and to decide who might have committed the murder.

Then someone starts killing the members of the club. Each of the brutal murders mirrors a historic murder. The culprit plants clues to implicate one of the club members in each murder.

We know, almost from the beginning that one of the club members is the murderer. The only question is which one.

Along the way, Roe begins to form romantic relationships with two men, one an author who has recently moved to town and the other a local policeman. This is a new adventure for Roe. It will lead nicely into the next book.

As with most such books nowadays, the book involves a life-threatening conclusion.

One other comment--Real Murders is what I would call nicely written. It is simple, clear, easy to read, and interesting. But it is not a cozy.
I checked this Kindle book out from our local library. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

THE DEAD HOUSE by Harry Bingham

Harry Bingham’s The Dead House is the fifth book in the Fiona Griffiths series.

Fiona and the Wales police teams of which she is a small part investigate three crimes. 

The first is what she calls “a corpse without a crime.” 

The second is “a crime without a corpse.” 

And the third is a crime ring made up of wealthy entrepreneurs. The police can’t even figure out what crime they are committing.

All three investigations falter. Fiona’s brilliance, persistence, and unusual mental illness combine to help them solve all three crimes.

The dead house is a small holding place in an almost-ancient cemetery. In Victorian times, families sometimes laid out their dead there rather than keeping them in their homes until burial.

Fiona spends a night protecting the corpse of a beautiful young woman laid out in the dead house.

As it turns out, the woman died of natural causes. But Fiona’s intuition tells her there has been a crime.

Fiona’s investigation leads to the “crime without a corpse,” a missing young woman from eight years ago.

And her mental illness saves her life. Fiona fixates on the dead. In this book, she plots a lifesaving map using the names of the corpses she has found over her police career as mnemonic devices to help her remember where the landmarks are.

The Dead House has two harrowing, life-threatening scenes. It harks back to medieval times in a bone chilling way. And like all the Fiona Griffiths books so far, it is a police procedural.

At one point Fiona says of her supervisor, “Flashes of insight and occasional obsessive brilliance: that’s what I bring to the party. But effective policing is about much more than that, and Burnett’s skills in managing this operation show why he’s heading for DCI, and I never will.”

If you can’t already tell, I like to read about Fiona Griffiths.

To learn a little more about Fiona’s mental illness read my comments on an earlier book here..

THE HIGHWAYMAN by Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson’s The Highwayman is a Walt Longmire novella.

Longmire and Henry Standing Bear help Wyoming highway patrolman Rosey Wayman deal with a ghost in Wind River Canyon.

The ghost of a long-dead highway patrolman sends distress signals on the highway patrol radio. Rosey’s supervisor thinks she is imagining the signals. He thinks she needs mental evaluation.

Walt and Henry Standing Bear ride with Rosie to hear the signals. Finally, they do hear the signals. Walt is skeptical, believing someone has cracked the radio codes needed to send the signals. But Henry Standing Bear sees it differently. The spirits are alive for him. They walk through Wind River Canyon.

Oddly enough, they are both right.

Along the way, Longmire and Standing Bear run across an Arapaho medicine woman whose history and magic change everything.

The Highwayman is intriguing. It has much native American lore. It delves into Rosey Wayman’s history. And it has the often usual Walt Longmire life-threatening struggle with an element of nature.

I have mixed feelings about the Longmire stories. In some ways they have come to seem stereotyped to me. After Walt ended up in a life-threatening snowstorm two books in a row, I quit reading about Longmire for a while.

But I always enjoy the dialogue, the characters, and, for the most part, the plots in the Longmire books.

The Highwayman was a good way for me get back into Walt Longmire.

I borrowed this Kindle book from our local library.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

THE DEVIL'S STEPS by Arthur Upfield

Arthur Upfield’s The Devil’s Steps was too complicated for me.

Australian Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) is working for military intelligence. He is stationed at Wideview Chalet, an Australian resort in the shadow of Mount Chalmers.

When someone kills a foreign agent pretending to be a guest at the resort, the hunt is on.

Bony’s friend Bisker, the alcoholic resort go-about, hides a whiskey bottle in a flower pot.

But Bisker was not the only one to use the flowerpot as a hiding place. When Bisker goes back for the bottle, he finds two gold fountain pens taken from the dead man’s body.

Bony discovers microfilm rolled up in both pens.

In an attempt to steal the pens, another nefarious character kills a local policeman. Then someone else holds up Bony and steals the pens. And the story goes from there.

Everyone in the story has a complicated backstory. Even the well-portrayed sympathetic characters have complex stories to tell.

And Bony stays with the investigation after his superiors try to call him home. He can’t leave the murdered men unavenged (or a case unsolved).

As always, Upfield writes beautiful, detailed descriptions. The half-caste Bony uses his bush tracking skills to follow the “devil’s” size twelve footprints etched in the damaged frost-covered grass. And the story ends on a positive note.

I prefer the Bony stories where he is working in the desert, at sea, or in the bush. I found him too constrained in the restricted setting of Wideview Chalet. And the story was so complicated that I skimmed through some of its explanations.

Still, I enjoy reading about Bony. I love Upfield’s views of the countryside, his skill at describing characters (especially the sympathetic characters), and his main character Bony. 

The Devil’s Steps (first published in 1946) is the tenth book in the Bony series.