Mystery

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Arthur Conan Doyle

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The death of Sir Charles Baskerville would seem on the surface to be nothing more than an old man’s heart attack.  But the look of terror on Sir Charles’ face, the nearby paw print of a giant hound, and the ancient legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles which has plagued the family for a century are enough to prompt Dr. Mortimer to call in the assistance of Sherlock Holmes.  After an initial study of the case it is clear to Holmes that Charles Baskerville’s death was murder and that the new tenant of Baskerville Hall, the baronet Henry Baskerville, may be in grave danger.  So it is that Dr. Watson travels to Baskerville Hall with Sir Henry and the most famous and terrifying of Sherlock Holmes adventures unfolds on the dark moor.

For lovers of mystery and horror, The Hound of the Baskervilles remains a classic.  Through Watson’s recollections, diary entries, and letters, the suspenseful mystery comes together and the reader, along with Dr. Watson, is challenged to sift through the many complications and red herrings to tease out the true culprit and motive.  A great book that may even be of interest to advanced 5th-6th grade readers, as well as teens and adults!

THE BONE GARDEN by Tess Gerritsen

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When Julia bought an old fixer-upper house in rural Massachusetts, she was looking forward to gardening–a relaxing project to keep her mind off of the divorce.  But when she unearths a human skeleton which shows signs of premortem trauma, she finds herself getting swept up in a mystery that began in 1830s Boston.  She meets Henry Page, an 89 year old man with family connections to her new estate, and they begin searching through boxes of old letters, many of them written by the famous Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Along with Julia, the reader begins to hear the story of seventeen-year-old Irish immigrant Rose Connolly and medical student Norris Marshall, the son of a lower-class farmer.  While Norris, Wendell, and their fellow doctors try to discover the cause and treatment for a fever epidemic that claimed the life of Rose’s sister and many other recently pregnant women in the hospital, Rose tries to protect her late sister’s child from her abusive brother-in-law, Eben.  Norris and Rose’s stories become intertwined when nurses and doctors from the hospital begin to be murdered and mutilated with a distinctive pattern of knife wounds.  Norris and Rose are the only two people to have seen the murderer (a figure cloaked in black with a mask like a skull), but no one believes them, and due to their lower-class status and circumstantial evidence, they both become murder suspects.  Meanwhile, it seems people besides Eben are after Rose’s baby niece.  The key to the mystery may be found in an old locket that Rose pawned to pay for her sister’s burial.

If you like thrillers and find medical history interesting, then this is the book for you!  Gerritsen weaves details about Victorian medical knowledge (or lack thereof), body-snatching surgeons, and the medical education system of the time into a suspenseful mystery plot.  The present day plot is kind of cheesy, but only comprises a small fraction of the novel.  Readers who like suspenseful forensic mysteries or historical fiction thrillers will likely enjoy this novel.

If you liked The Bone Garden as a historical mystery, you may be interested in The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale.  If you liked The Bone Garden as a medical thriller, you might like the Lincoln Rhyme books by Jeffrey Deaver.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

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The man Jack had always completed his assignments thoroughly and efficiently.  His knife dispatched the man, the woman, and the little girl before even a scream could pass their lips.  So it comes as a great surprise to him when he discovers that the toddler has somehow escaped into the night.  The man Jack follows the little boy’s scent up the hill and into the graveyard, but there he loses the trail as a mysterious, black-velvet-clad man named Silas escorts him from the graveyard, persuading him that he never saw the child there in the first place.  The inhabitants of the graveyard, the ghosts of all of those laid to rest within its gates over the centuries, offer the child their protection.  The ghosts Master and Mistress Owens adopt the child, whom they name Nobody (Bod), and Silas, who is neither living nor dead and can therefore leave the graveyard to procure food for the child, agrees to be his guardian.  Bod is given the freedom of the graveyard, seeing as the dead see, moving through walls, fading into shadow, and exploring worlds on the border between life and death.  He grows up safe inside the graveyard, but outside its gates, the man Jack has not abandoned his search for child.

The Graveyard Book won the 2009 Newbery Medal, which is somewhat surprising given the book’s subject matter–the dark, fantastical world stands out from typical Newbery winners–but fully deserved.  Gaiman builds a vivid world in the graveyard and explores themes of life, death, family and friendship, love and loyalty, identity, and morality.  He weaves these themes into his brilliantly imagined storyline, which keeps readers engaged in characters and plot from beginning to end.  Fair warning: you will reach a point in the story where you will become unable to put this book down.  Plan your time accordingly.

I highly recommed this book for upper elementary, teen, and adult readers who can handle dark fantasy and murder mysteries. I also cannot recommend highly enough Neil Gaiman’s audio book performance of this book!  It is one of my top two favorite audiobooks of all time–an absolutely stunning performance.  It is great to listen to, whether you are experiencing the book for the first time or reading it again.  You should definitely check the audio book out!

THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammet

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Sam Spade never hesitates to take a case when the money is good.  When the young, attractive Miss Wonderly asks him to tail the man who ran off with her sister, he doesn’t think it will be much trouble.  But the case goes terribly wrong when Spade’s partner, Archer, is murdered.  Spade soon realizes that Miss Wonderly isn’t who she claims to be, and that a complicated web of murder, lies, and betrayal surrounds an incredibly valuable black falcon figurine.  As the police begin to question the private investigator’s methods, Spade continues to wriggle out of their grasp, throwing himself into the hunt for the Maltese Falcon and hoping to unravel the mystery and maybe get his hands on some of the profit.

The Maltese Falcon is a fast-paced, hard-boiled detective novel, with a complicated plot that keeps you guessing.  It’s great for anyone who likes classic cop banter and noir-style detective stories.  It is the book on which the 1941 film starring Humphrey Bogart was based.  (And although I do enjoy the book, I actually prefer the film; is that blasphemy?)

THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold

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Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon takes a shortcut home from school through a cornfield where her middle-aged neighbor, George Harvey, is waiting.  When she accepts his offer to show her his cool underground den, he rapes and murders her, disposing of her dismembered remains in a sinkhole.  The story unfolds as Susie’s ghost watches her father, mother, sister and friends deal with the tragedy of her death and search for answers and justice.

This book wasn’t quite what I expected when I first read it. I thought the main thrust of the plot would be devoted to tracking down her killer and bringing him to justice. But it was much more subtle and complicated than that. It’s an upsetting story, but having Susie’s ghost as narrator lends a sort of peace to the story that it wouldn’t have had being told by the father or the detective. The reader knows from the start what happened, so the pressure for justice and the need for the characters to learn the killer’s identity isn’t quite the same as it would be if we needed that information as well. Also, while Susie is dead to the characters, she is very much alive to the reader. It is upsetting, to be sure, but it is not just another serial killer book.

THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde

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Literary detective Thursday Next lives in the strictly regulated police state of England and spends much of her life struggling under the shadow of crimes of her relatives–her fugitive time-traveling father and her dead brother who allegedly led an ill-fated charge of the Light Brigade that left England and Russia locked in the Crimean War for over a century.  But when the manuscript of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit is stolen by the elusive, murderous, and perhaps insane Acheron Hades, Thursday finds that her own work is almost more than she can handle.  After killing several of Thursday’s comrades–and nearly Thursday herself–Hades kidnaps the detective’s uncle and steals his Prose Portal, a unique invention that allows a human to travel into a work of literature.  The villain uses it as a means of extortion, kidnapping characters from the original manuscripts of classic works of literature and threatening to murder them–forever altering the literary work–if his monetary demands are not met.  For Thursday, this case is beyond personal.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book!  I found the literary allusions hilarious and loved the way they were woven into the plot and this sci-fi world.  I also really liked the premise of her father’s work with the ChronoGuard of government time-travelers and wish we had gotten to see more of that.  The rest of my book group had more ambivalent feelings about the book.  Most enjoyed the literary allusions, but many disliked the sci-fi elements.  I don’t think they were fans of sci-fi in general.  It is worth noting, however–for any hard sci-fi fans out there–that there is not much description of the “sci” behind the “fi” in this one.  Still, I would personally recommend it to anyone who likes quirky mysteries and classic literature.  It’s a lot of fun!

THE BONE COLLECTOR by Jeffrey Deaver

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Lincoln Rhyme was once the greatest forensic investigator the NYPD had ever seen.  That was before the accident that left him paralyzed and bedridden—only able to move one finger.   Although he once delighted in the intellectual puzzle of criminology, Lincoln Rhyme now desires only one thing:  his own death.   But when the NYPD asks for his help tracking down a serial killer with a strange fascination with human bones, Rhyme cannot resist taking a crack at the bizarre case—especially as it becomes clear that this serial killer is leaving clues specifically for Rhyme himself.  Energized by the mystery and his new partnership with the incredibly strong-willed and clever police officer Amelia Sachs who serves as his “arms and legs,” Rhyme postpones his assisted suicide and takes up the race to find the pattern behind the serial killer’s madness before he can claim another victim.

This mystery is a fast paced thriller with emphasis on the forensic aspects of detective work.  The characters are compelling and while enough information is provided for the reader to piece the mystery together, there are also enough twists and turns to keep you guessing.   Don’t read this book if you are squeamish; the serial killings are described in detail.  But if you like a good mystery thriller, I highly recommend it.  It is the first in the Lincoln Rhyme series.

If you like forensic thrillers, you might like books by Tess Gerritsen.

THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley

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Growing up in 1950s England, Flavia isn’t an average eleven year old girl.  She loves chemistry, poisons, and plotting vengeful pranks against her two older sisters.  But when her father is accused of murdering a man found dead in their garden, Flavia channels her creativity and intelligence toward solving the mystery of what really happened.  One thing is certain–whether innocent or guilty, her father is not the man she thought he was.  Trying to stay one step ahead of the police, Flavia begins her investigations with a cold-case apparent suicide of a school teacher that has some connection to her father’s and the recent victim’s past.  As she learns more about her father’s past she discovers the key to the mystery is more complex than she had first imagined. Flavia is a witty, clever, and endearing narrator, and the mystery itself is intriguing and difficult to unravel.  It’s a fun read, especially if you are interested in chemistry (or poison)!