Since the middle of May, I have read the following books:
The Killing Forest by Sara Blaedel, Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley, Anna and the Swallow Man by Graviel Savit, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, The Reunion by Hannah Pittard, and Laura by Vera Caspary.
It is an eclectic list of books, most of them worth the time I took to read them. Blaedel’s The Killing Forest is a dark police detective story set in Sweden. Louise Rick is the primary detective assigned to find the murderer of a woman left dead in the forest, near where Louise grew up. The mystery deepens as a teenaged boy goes missing, and hints of members participating in old rituals surface. Rick has to confront old demons as she investigates the murders and disappearances, including the disappearance of her own adopted son. I had read Blaedel’s The Missing Girls a few weeks earlier, so I knew I would be interested in another Louise Rick mystery. Blaedel takes readers on a ride through history and old quarrels to discover the new murderer—or is an old one?
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson is a book I placed on reserve at the library and waited weeks to get! After I read the book, I knew it had been worth the wait. The book features a precocious nine year old boy and his novelist mother who need a caretaker for a short period while the mother writes another novel. The mother was wildly successful with her first novel and has never published another one even though she has continued to write almost every day. Now, she needs money, so she asks her editor to find her a babysitter/housekeeper/jack-of-all-trades so she can concentrate on the writing to meet a quick deadline.
Next on the list, also after a long wait from the library, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney arrived and I began reading. Actually, The Nest and Be Frank With Me arrived at the same time, so my dilemma was which one to read first. I started with Be Frank With Me since it was the shorter of the two. I would rate The Nest as so-so. I am not sorry I read it, but I cannot give it my highest recommendation. After reading much about it, I was looking forward to a really absorbing book. The story focuses on four adult siblings whose father had set up a trust for them with the money to be distributed on the youngest sibling’s fortieth birthday in February of the next year, according to when the book takes place. Melody, the youngest sibling, is the least successful of the four; even her mother cannot remember when Melody’s birthday is! The four siblings are thoroughly unlikeable. For some time, they have called the trust money “the nest.” Their father intended for the money to be a small inheritance for each of them, but he invested wisely and the sum is quite large until, you guessed it, one of them gets into serious trouble and the mother, who has the power to do so, uses a large portion of the money to bail out the errant child.
Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley is a thoroughly delightful mystery. Many other mystery writers have praised it even though it breaks some of the rules of mystery writing. The first broken rule is that the detective falls in love with a murder suspect. Bentley did not like Sherlock Holmes and wanted to write a detective who could smile and had a sense of humor. Trent’s Last Case is a slim volume well worth the readers’ time.
Anna and the Swallow Man by Graviel Savit and The Reunion by Hannah Pittard are not worth mentioning other that I read both of them. I suppose I do not regret reading them, but I do not recommend them either. Savit’s Anna and the Swallow Man takes place in Poland during WWII. It is a strange story and even though the Swallow Man rescues Anna, I quickly became disenchanted with the story. The Reunion is another sibling story, but lacks the nuances of The Nest. Three siblings who live in far flung areas of the US gather in Atlanta, their hometown for their father’s funeral. After their mother’s death from cancer when Kate, the youngest child, was only ten, the father marries one woman after another, producing children with all but one of them. The three original siblings, all adults, have half-siblings ranging from six to twenty-four years old. The first three siblings are relatively close in that they talk with one another and occasionally get together, but they have had little to do with the half-siblings once Kate left home for college. Kate is the narrator and is supposedly a liar, so how do we believe anything she tells us? I say ignore both Savit’s and Pittard’s books.
The Summer Before the War is Helen Simonson’s second book. Her first is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, a truly outstanding book. The Summer Before the War takes place before WWI and features characters who live in East Sussex, a small English village. Beatrice Nash takes a job teaching Latin at the school in East Sussex. She is fortunate to have the job because as a woman, she could easily have been overlooked. Her father, a professor, has recently died, so Beatrice is on her own and feels fortunate to have the job. Of course, she runs into many of the prejudices against women—the norm of the time. The story is compelling and will keep readers interested from beginning to end.
The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain is a story of family secrets, mostly kept from Riley, the youngest chil of three siblings, who must now go through her father’s effects following his death. She has an older brother who is damaged by PTSD and who refuses to help her, but comes in and out of the picture as she delves into the family’s past. She has always known that their older sister, a violin prodigy, had committed at seventeen when Riley was only a toddler and Danny only four. In going through her father’s papers, Riley finds mysterious notes and correspondence. She begins to piece together a strange story related to her older sister. The story may have some predictable moments, but it is gripping and will keep readers engaged.
One of my former students recommended The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It is a mystery for kids, and it is well written. A wealthy man dies and leaves a set of clues for pairs of people. The winners of the puzzle will receive a great deal of money. Who was the man who left the clues? Why did he choose these particular people to play the game? Once readers sort of the players, readers will enjoy the story.
Finally, I read Laura by Vera Caspary after seeing Connie Cronley recommend Caspary and several other female mystery writers of the 1940s. Laura is well worth the time it takes to read the slim volume, and I look forward to reading other books by Caspary. The book published in 1942 was made into a movie in 1944 and follows the book fairly closely. The screenwriter did take some liberties with the story, but stays true to the majority of it.
What books lie ahead for me? Here are a few I have on hold and for which I am waiting, not always patiently, from the library.
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, Miss Jane by Brad Watson, The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell, and The Letter Writer by Dan Fesperman. One that I can hardly wait to get is The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick, but I am #53 on 19 copies, so I may have to break down and buy this one! Stay-tuned for more from the Book Whisperer.