Mystery

MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz

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When an editor receives the final installment in famous author Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd mystery series, she is immediately sucked into the story.  A housekeeper has died falling down the stairs–a seeming accident.  But when the wealthy estate owner is decapitated at the foot of the same staircase days later, it must be connected.  Detective Atticus Pünd hadn’t intended to take any more cases since he learned he is dying.  But the facts of the case are too strange to pass up.  It seems everyone in the village had a motive for one or both murders, and yet none of the motives seem to explain all of the events.  As the novel draws to a close and Pünd is about to reveal the murderer, the editor realizes that there is a chapter missing.  She puts in a call to her boss, asking him to contact the author, and instead receives startling news:  the author is dead–an apparent suicide.  It turns out that he, like his character Pünd, was dying of cancer.  But something doesn’t sit right about the author’s death, and as the editor searches for the final chapter of his manuscript, she begins to suspect that he may have been murdered, as well.

This intriguing double mystery reads a bit like an Agatha Christie.  It is riddled with quirky suspects and red herrings–both in the framing story and the mystery “novel” within.  I found the Pünd plotline more engaging at first, as it took me a little while to get into the framing mystery once the Pünd story abruptly ended.  But it was a neat concept and definitely kept me reading to the end.  I recommend it to fans of classic whodunit mysteries.

THE PERFECT COUPLE by Elin Hilderbrand

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The maid of honor’s body washed up on the Nantucket beach the morning of the wedding.  It was the bride who found her.  Needless to say, the wedding was canceled.  Now it is up to the chief and his lead detective to interview the shell-shocked bridal party and figure out what happened.  The simplest explanation, of course, would be that it was an accident.  Girl has too much to drink, goes for a late night swim, washes up on the beach the next morning.  But what about the abandoned kayak that belongs to the father of the groom?  Why does the other bridesmaid seem so reluctant to discuss the MOH’s love life?  Why was the bride on the beach so early in the morning carrying a suitcase?  And where is the best man?  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone has at least one secret and no one is as perfect as they seem.

A character-driven mystery, this novel will appeal to some mystery fans, but also realistic fiction fans who like some good old-fashioned family dysfunction.  In the end, exactly what happened is less important than the complex web of relationships between the characters.  A fast and enjoyable summer read!

THE WORD IS MURDER by Anthony Horowitz

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On the day that she visited the funeral home to arrange her own funeral, Diana Cowper was murdered. Author Anthony Horowitz might never have been aware of the somewhat unsensational murder of elderly mother of a relatively well-known actor if he had not been approached by Daniel Hawthorne, an abrasive former detective turned police consultant with an unusual proposition. Hawthorne suggests that Anthony shadow him on the case and turn the events into a murder mystery story, which Hawthorne is certain will be a bestseller, due not so much to the intrigue of the case but to Hawthorne’s particular brilliance as a detective. Although he is off-put by Hawthorne’s egotism and other personality flaws and fears that such a book would be difficult to sell, Anthony finds the circumstances of Diana Cowper’s death so unusual and engaging that he must know what happens to her. And unless he agrees to Hawthorne’s book, he might never find out how the story ends. As the investigation unfolds, Anthony learns more dark secrets than he ever expected about Diana, her son, and Hawthorne himself. But every time he thinks of quitting, the mystery spurs him on, until he begins to wonder if he, the writer, is destined to solve it himself.

This meta-literary mystery is a fun, suspenseful read with enough twists, red herrings, and maddening clues to keep you going to the very end. The meta-literary framing, along with the brilliant yet barely likeable detective, sets the story as a kind of modern Sherlock Holmes novel, although the characters of the detective and record-keeping assistant are far from Holmes/Watson clones. I suspect this mystery may not be for everyone, as the meta-literary format is somewhat unique and experimental, but personally, I loved it. I particularly loved the moments when theories I had ended up being theories that Anthony would pursue–and then later have scornfully debunked by Hawthorne. I recommend it to mystery readers who like character-driven novels and who are open to interesting framing devices.

THE MORE THEY DISAPPEAR by Jesse Donaldson 

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Sheriff Lee Mattock was popular in the small town of Marathon, KY. No one could believe it when he was murdered. But as deputy Harlan Dupee soon learns, Lew may not have been as innocent and he seemed. Harlan follows the trail of Leo’s killer, gradually uncovering the complicated web of Marathon’s underground Oxycotin trade.  Meanwhile, teenaged Mary Jane finds that getting rid of Lew hasn’t led to the immediate freedom she and her boyfriend thought it would, and the drugs no longer seem to provide enough of an escape. 

Not quite a mystery, Donaldson’s novel is a harsh glimpse into prescription drug abuse in the ’90s and its impact on individuals and communities.  The book may grab some mystery readers due to its subject matter and the puzzle-like way that the whole picture gradually develops, but it will likely appeal most to readers who enjoy gritty, realistic stories about dysfunctional communities, corruption, and seedy small town life. 

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel’s life fell apart before the divorce, really.  It was the drinking.  If she hadn’t been such a drunk would Tom have taken up with Anna?  Maybe he wouldn’t have kicked Rachel out and taken his new wife and child into the house that used to be hers, the house she still passes every day on the train to London.  To distract herself from looking at the home that used to be hers, Rachel focuses on a couple a few houses down who seem to be perfectly in love.  She makes up stories about their perfect life together.  But one day, she sees something that makes her wonder if their lives are so perfect after all.  And the next morning, Rachel wakes bruised and bloody with no memory of the previous night except a vague certainty that she went to her old neighborhood.  Even worse, she discovers that the woman she has been watching disappeared that same night.  Despite warnings from the police, Rachel cannot help but begin her own investigation, trying to recover the memories of what she saw–or did.

This excellent thriller will soon be a film.  Through the perspectives of the three main female characters, the mystery slowly unfolds with enough foreshadowing to allow readers to gradually solve it themselves and enough complications to make them second guess every one of their inferences.  Even once my suspicions of what had happened to Megan were proven correct in the final chapters, I still wasn’t sure how it would end.  Well-crafted, full of deeply flawed and suspicious characters, and impossible to put down, this is a must-read for thriller lovers.

ODD THOMAS by Dean Koontz

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Odd can’t help it that the dead communicate with him.  They sense that he can see them, and often they tell him the stories of their deaths–which, for those spirits restless enough to stick around, were usually untimely and unpleasant. Odd is not a cop, and he has no desire to be. He is nothing more than the best short order cook in Pico Mundo. But sometimes he can’t help getting involved with apprehending a murderer or preventing a future crime. His gift just won’t allow it. And when a suspicious man comes to the diner surrounded by the shadowy spirits that usually gawk at mass-murder, Odd knows it is up to him to prevent an unthinkable tragedy, despite the warnings that his involvement may lead him down a path of incredible suffering.

Wow, was this novel great! It starts with a quick case to get you hooked and then moves into the slow-moving but incredibly suspenseful main plot. Do not mistake “slow-moving” for a negative qualifier. Odd is an unreliable narrator. He admits at the beginning that he is leaving out major details for the sake of the story. When he deviates from the main plot into quirky asides about particular ghosts, characters, the town, or himself, he both deepens the incredible character development and ramps up the suspense. In this case, the slow-broil is brilliant and ultimately very satisfying when so many little details come together in the end. And I have never read an adult mystery/thriller series with this level of character development. This is a new favorite for me!

I highly recommend the audiobook!

SOUTHTOWN by Rick Riordan

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He planned the jailbreak for months. Some of his associates were less than perfect, but he could always get rid of them on the outside. Once Will Stirman escaped, he would have only one thing on his mind: revenge. The private detectives responsible for putting him in jail will pay for his imprisonment and for the innocent lives that their treachery took.

PI Tres Navarre knows his boss is keeping something from him. Ever since Erainya heard the news about the infamous human trafficker’s escape from prison, she had been on edge.  She had even contacted her bitter rival Sam Barrera to arrange a meeting, though she won’t explain why. Tres knows the only way to get to the truth is to find out what really happened when the human trafficking ring was busted eight years ago. But the case reaches a new level of urgency when Stirman threatens Erainya’s son.

This fast-paced mystery/thriller is part of Riordan’s Tres Navarre series. The story is marked with interesting characters, but it is the plot that keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end. The book is short and the story moves quickly. Riordan gives enough clues for the reader to puzzle out the mystery along with (or possibly before) the detectives. The stakes are high for both the detectives and the criminal, and there is enough blame on both sides to make the story morally intriguing. I would recommend this book to adult readers who enjoy thrillers and fast-paced mysteries.