Category Archives: Detective Series

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite: Penny’s Latest Gamache Novel

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On a recent visit to Central Library for a meeting, I stopped to check the Quick Pick (QP) table just to see what was available. Imagine my surprise to find six copies of A Better Man, Louise Penny’s latest in the Armand Gamache series. It was published in August, 2019!

Not surprisingly, A Better Man has already received accolades from a number of reviewers. The Times of London named it a book of the month while The Christian Science Monitor named it one of the best books of August.

Louise Penny’s fans expect her to provide a good story. A Better Man certainly has a strong storyline.  All of our favorite characters from Three Pines are included along with the police agents we’ve come to know.

Besides investigating a murder, Gamache and Beauvoir and the police crew must deal with several other issues: Gamache’s return to homicide after a suspension and a catastrophic potential flooding across the province.

After a nine-month suspension, Gamache returns to the Surete’ demoted to second in command of homicide under his son-in-law, now named Chief Inspector Beauvoir.  Of course, long-time Penny fans will remember that Beauvoir will soon be leaving Quebec for Paris and a safe job, no longer a police officer. How will Gamache act when he is no longer in charge? What about the other officers, the subordinates?

The other difficulty that will involve police and other first responders is the potential for flooding caused by the April thaws and continuous rain. Rivers are threatening to burst dams and flood the province.

Gamache has mentored Beauvoir through his career and his rise to Chief Inspector. In the process, the two have become related through Gamache’s daughter’s marriage to Beauvoir; even more than being related, the two have developed a mutual respect and love for one another as brothers in arms and human beings.

As the story moves forward, I enjoyed seeing Beauvoir engage in many of the behaviors he has observed in Gamache over the years. Gamache is a calm man, a man given to defusing situations with a quiet word and a calm demeanor even when he faces a man holding a gun on him. Beauvoir finds himself thinking like Gamache and quoting lines of poetry or literature—if only in his own head.

The main investigation involves a missing pregnant woman who happens to be Agent Lysette Cloutier’s goddaughter. Several years earlier, Gamache had brought Agent Cloutier from accounting into homicide so she could help with tracing money as part of criminal investigations. Superintendent Isabelle Lacoste is also back following her recovery from a shooting in a drug operation of nine months earlier.

Annie, Gamache’s daughter and Beauvoir’s wife, is about the same age as Vivienne, the missing woman. Annie, too, is pregnant, so Gamache and Beauvoir think about how they would feel if Annie were missing.

While trying to locate Vivienne, the team encounters resistance from Carl Tracey, Vivienne’s abusive drunken husband. Thus, Tracey becomes the prime suspect in Vivienne’s disappearance.

The threatening weather conditions also play a vital role in the investigation. Other issues that intrude on the investigation include tweets denigrating Gamache and saying he is unfit for service. I found those tweets to be disturbing because they clearly are being sent out by people who do not know Gamache and have no respect for him because they do not know the full story.

Another side story concerns Clara, the artist resident of Three Pines. Her latest exhibition has been savaged by art critics. She feels personally attacked and deflated because of the terrible reviews.

In the end, Gamache and Beauvoir determine what has happened to Vivienne and who is responsible. The results are surprising. A Better Man is certainly a satisfying read.

Louise Penny’s Web site, https://www.louisepenny.com/books.htm, gives readers insight into the characters and the setting of the Gamache novels. Readers can also subscribe to her newsletter which keeps them updated on Penny’s work.

I learned on the Web site that Penny is a great supporter of literacy programs. In addition to being actively involved in literacy organizations, Penny has written a grade 3 novella: The Hangman. The story is set in Three Pines and features Chief Inspector Gamache. The book is designed to engage “emerging adult readers.” Anyone who works with adult learners knows that finding appropriate reading material at a level that the readers can understand as they are learning, but also appeal to an adult audience, is difficult.

The Book Whisperer Enjoys The Sentence is Death

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Anthony Horowitz has an impressive body of work as a writer, TV script-writer, and TV show creator. He even stars in two of his recent books: The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death. In both of those books, Horwitz shadows former police detective and now PI Daniel Hawthorne as Hawthorne solves tricky murder cases, a’ la Sherlock Holmes. Hawthorne approached Horowitz to act as Watson, chronicling Hawthorne’s investigation and subsequent solving of the cases. Against his better judgment, Horowitz agreed to the arrangement and even signed a three-book deal, so readers must expect a third book in the Hawthorne series. Perhaps this one will have paragraph in the title since the first two have word and sentence as part of the titles.

Richard Pryce, a high-profile divorce lawyer is found murdered in his own posh home, bashed with an expensive bottle of wine and then cut with the broken bottle. The list of suspects grows as the investigation heats up. Anthony Horowitz tags along with PI Hawthorne whom the police have brought in to help with the case. Each time Horowitz believes he has made headway in figuring out the murderer, he finds himself back as square one.

Hawthorne does not share information willingly and allows Horowitz to think he has figured out a clue when he may be close but not completely on the right track. Add to this frustrating mix, DI Cara Grunshaw of the Metropolitan Police who is in charge of the investigation and eager to solve the murder before Hawthorne succeeds even though they are supposed to be working together toward the same end.

Horowitz describes DI Grunshaw’s hair as “real but it resembled one of those cheap wigs worn by department-store mannequins, jet black and as glossy as nylon. It didn’t seem to belong on her head.” He also says she is “mean and hostile.” And the name Grunshaw seems right out of Dickens, a name that suggests someone vile.

Can an incident from six years ago when Charles Richardson, a friend of Pryce’s, died in a cave exploration accident have something to do with Pryce’s death? Three friends, Richard Pryce, Gregory Taylor, and Charles Richardson, all friends from university days, would meet once a year to go on spelunking holidays. Six years ago, a sudden rainstorm caused the cave the three were in to flood and Charles drowned in the cave while Richard and Gregory managed to escape.

Pryce had just settled a divorce dispute between Adrian Lockwood, wealthy land developer and his wife Akira Anno, a well-known author. Anno had threatened Pryce in a restaurant when the two happened to meet unexpectedly. Anno felt she had been cheated in the divorce settlement. But would she kill Pryce after making a public threat in front of many people?

Gregory Taylor must be counted as a suspect too until he, too, is found dead. Is his death murder, suicide, or accident? Then Davina Richardson, Charles’ widow, has motive to kill both Pryce and Taylor, doesn’t she? After all, her husband goes into the cave with Pryce and Taylor, but he does not make it out alive, leaving her a widow with a young son. What about other suspects? The list grows.

Horowitz has great fun playing with language in The Sentence is Death. Akira Anno, for example, is an author who has written novels and recently published a book of haikus. During the investigation, Hawthorne and Horowitz ask Anno about Haiku 182:

“You breathe in my ear/ Your every word a trial / The sentence is death.”

Hawthorne and Horowitz take the poem too literally to mean that Anno wishes someone dead, possibly Pryce. She tells them that “you have not understood a single word I wrote.” She continues by saying, “The haiku was not about Richard Pryce. I wrote it before I knew of his existence. It’s about my marriage. It was written or Adrian Lockwood.” She goes on to explain “I have placed myself in a condemned cell [by marrying Adrian]. I use the word trial in two senses. It refers to my day-to-day suffering but also to the fact that I am legally his wife. And I am not sentencing him to death. In fact, it is exactly the other way around. I am the one who is dying, although the last line is of course a paraposdokian, with the double entendre in sentence.”

Horowitz is clearly having fun with the haiku and the language in that passage and others.

DI Cara Grunshaw has made it clear to Horowitz that he should report to her everything he learns when he is with Hawthorne. Horowtiz believes he has figured out who murdered Pryce and why. He lays out the story to Hawthorne who seems to agree with him and even tells Horowitz he can share his information with DI Grunshaw.

When Horowitz tells Grunshaw the whole story, she pretends she has known all along what Horowitz is saying. Then she promptly arrests a suspect, but is she correct?

When Horowitz sees Hawthorne after the newspapers report the arrest, the two of them meet with Davina Richardson one more time. Hawthorne tells Davina that Gregory Taylor had been to visit her shortly before his death. She responds, “You can’t know that.” Hawthorne replies with “when you have excluded the impossible whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth.”

That last line sums up the investigation, for Hawthorne has, indeed, excluded the impossible and has deduced who murdered Richard Pryce and why. For you to learn who the murderer is, dear readers, you must read The Sentence is Death for yourself. And since Horowitz has signed a contract for three books about Hawthorne, we must look for the next one.

Discover more about Anthony Horowitz at his Web site: https://www.anthonyhorowitz.com/.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Literary Bent to The Last Detective

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Peter Lovesey is a prolific author with more than fifty published books that include mysteries and short stories as well as nonfiction. In addition, he has edited anthologies of short stories. Lovesey has written eighteen books featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond.

The Last Detective, the first book in the Diamond series, almost becomes the last since DS Diamond resigns from the force—only to be reinstated, of course, but after a delving into and solving the murder that takes him off the force in the first place.

Set in Bath, The Last Detective opens with the finding of the nude body of a beautiful woman floating in Chew Valley Lake. Since the body has been in the water an indeterminate time, the medical examiner has a difficult time identifying the cause of death. Some speculation includes suicide, but the police can find no clothes along the shore anywhere. Finally, the ME decides that the woman has been murdered, likely by asphyxiation.

Chew Valley Lake where the body is found is pictured below:

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Although DS Diamond is only in his forties, he sees himself as the last detective using legwork, questions of anyone who might be involved, and avoiding computers. At times, he must give in to the pressure to use computers to research crimes, but he assigns those duties to John Wigfull, his new assistant detective.

Like many other brilliant detectives in fiction, DS Diamond faces an uphill battle with the administration. He is of size and has been accused in a previous investigation of pressuring a man into confessing for a crime he did not commit. By the time readers meet Diamond, he has been exonerated, but not to the extent he hoped: complete exoneration, leaving no mark on his record. Diamond also believes Wigfull has been assigned to him as a spy for the brass, so he is distrustful of Wigfull.

He explains to Assistant Chief Constable Tott that in the Missendale affair, Hedley Missendale had confessed because he had been threatened by organized crime bosses to take the fall. Missendale knew he would be safer in prison than disobeying orders. Diamond is accused of racial prejudice, however, in pursuing Missendale, a known criminal. Of course, the official report makes no mention of the threats Missendale endured. The verdict was overturned and Missendale freed.

After some time, the woman is identified as Geraldine, Gerry, Snoo, a former actress who played Candace Milner on The Milners, a soap opera. Her husband is Gregory Jackman, professor of English at the University of Bath.

Complications to the story arise along with subplots. Jackman identifies Gerry’s body for the police. DS Diamond immediately interrogates Jackman, thinking he must have committed the murder, especially since he has not reported his wife missing in the four weeks since he has last seen her.

Jackman is having a coffee and watching three young teenage boys playing near the river. He sees one of the boys dodge a stick thrown by his friend, lose his footing, and fall into the river. Jackman runs to the river’s edge, removing his shoes and suit coat. He manages to grab the boy and drag him ashore, giving him “the kiss of life” to revive him. In the hubbub after the rescue, Jackman slips away unnoticed and no one knows who has saved Mat Didrikson. The mystery man becomes another subplot that takes on significance as the story progresses.

Molly Abershaw, a determined newspaper reporter, takes pictures and statements from Dana and Mat Didrikson, publishing a story in her newspaper. She asks for people to identify the man who rescued Mat or for the man himself to come forward. Then Mat sees a documentary on TV about the Jane Austen exhibit at the University of Bath. Jackman is the curator, so he is showing the reporter around the exhibit when Mat recognizes him. In an effort to thank Jackman, Mrs. Didrikson gives him two letters written by Jane Austen to her Aunt Jane Leigh Perrot. Mrs. Didrikson by researching Jane Austen discovers the letters belong to a man who wanted them only for the stamps. He does not know the value of the letters and Mrs. Didrikson offers him thirty pounds for them which he accepts.

Along with Gerry’s death, the Jane Austen letters go missing. Thus, the complications surrounding the case mount up. Diamond clears Jackman of the murder, but then he questions Mrs. Didrikson who has tried to evade him.

In a particularly nasty exchange between DS Diamond and his boss who accuses Diamond of assaulting Mat Didrikson in trying to apprehend Mrs. Didrikson, Diamond resigns. Diamond takes several menial jobs, including one as a bartender. Shortly before Mrs. Didrikson’s trial is to begin, Jackman tracks Diamond down and enlists his help in trying to prove Mrs. Didrikson’s innocence, another uphill battle.

So, readers, the real killer is…. No spoilers here. Read The Last Detective to discover if Mrs. Didrikson is the killer or someone else is responsible for Gerry’s death. And where are the missing Jane Austen letters?

Peter Lovesey maintains an extensive Web site: https://peterlovesey.com/. There readers can discover a list of all his works and information about Peter Livesey himself.

Below is a picture of the Jane Austen Centre located on Gay Street in Bath. Austen lived on the street, but in another home. She actually lived in several locations in Bath.

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Lovesey sets the Diamond stories in Bath where he lived for a number of years. Lovesey has won a number of awards including the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000, the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, and the Ellery Queen Readers’ Award.

I enjoy reading books in a series because I can become better acquainted with the main character and learn about other characters in his/her life. The series allows the author to continue to develop characters, thus creating a sense of family.

 

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The Book Whisperer Reviews a Mystery for Juveniles

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Caroline Carlson received attention for writing good books for kinds 9 – 12. I am an eclectic reader and enjoy discovering new books for juvenile readers as well as YA books. The cover of The World’s Greatest Detective makes the book look old.

That choice of cover fits with the story because it is set in a time when people rode in carriages and on trains rather than in automobiles and airplanes.

Tobias, Toby, Montrose, is an orphan. His parents leave Toby with his Aunt Janet, mother of six children of her own, while they take a vacation at the seaside. Unfortunately, his parents disappear on that trip, leaving Toby at age eight an orphan.

At first, Toby stays with Aunt Janet, a woman whom Toby has never heard laugh. She does, however, check his fingernails for dirt. At first, the extended family decides Toby should stay with Aunt Janet. Soon, though, Aunt Janet sends Toby to Uncle Francis who owns a hotel and restaurant.

Uncle Francis becomes quickly impatient with Toby who is after all only eight. When Uncle Francis tires of Toby, he sends the boy to Aunt Ingrid who owns and operates a bakery. But that placement does not work out either and Toby finds himself with Cousin Celeste who works in a hospital.

The next relative who takes Toby is Uncle Howard, a horse stable owner. Uncle Howard quickly sends Toby to Grandfather Montrose; sadly, Grandfather Montrose dies soon after Toby arrives. Thus, the last relative is Uncle Gabriel Montrose, a private investigator who lives on Detectives’ Row.

Now, Aunt Janet has warned Toby that if he cannot make himself amenable enough to stay with Uncle Gabriel, Toby will be sent to an orphanage where he will eat gruel because Uncle Gabriel is THE LAST RELATIVE. Toby is not sure what gruel is, but he does not like the sound of it. As a result, Toby does his best to be of use to Uncle Gabriel, to keep his fingernails clean, and to be on his best behavior.

As one might expect, Detectives’ Row has a number of detectives living and working there along with Uncle Gabriel. Miss Flossie Price and Miss Anthea March are PIs who live near Toby’s uncle. Julia Hartshorn is another PI who works alone. The elderly PI, Mr. Rackham, is also a member of Detectives’ Row. The most famous detective of Detectives’ Row, however, is Hugh Abernathy.

Now, Toby is well acquainted with Mr. Abernathy because of Sphinx magazine which details Mr. Abernathy’s expertise in detective work. Much like Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Abernathy is the famous sleuth and Mr. Peartree writes up the stories for Sphinx. Toby is fascinated with the stories and waits eagerly for each issue to arrive.

Toby describes Mr. Abernathy who “wasn’t young any longer, but he was more heroic than ever, and he lived with his assistant, Mr. Peartree, in a tall white house at the easternmost end of the Row.”

Upon his arrival at Detectives’ Row, Toby becomes his uncle’s assistant, particularly filing away paperwork on cases and dusting the desk. He would like to become a real detective himself.

When Uncle Gabriel, whose business is failing, receives an invitation from Mr. Abernathy to participate in a contest to determine the World’s Greatest Detective and win $10,000, Toby becomes excited. Uncle Gabriel, however, refuses to take part in the contest. As luck would have it, Uncle Gabriel is going on a trip to find information on a case he has been working. He arranges with Mrs. Satterthwaite, his cook, to stay with Toby until Uncle Gabriel’s return.

Toby seizes his chance and enters his uncle’s name in the contest, determined that he will go to Coleford Manor where the contest will take place and solve the mystery so he can win the $10,000 for his uncle and also be named the World’s Greatest Detective.

On Detectives’ Row, Toby sees a girl about his age with a small dog in tow. She tells him she is a murderess in training and that her mother and grandmother are both murderers.

Uncle Gabriel leaves Toby at home thinking Mrs. Satterthwaite will be along soon. Uncle Gabriel does not know that Toby has sent Mrs. Satterthwaite a note saying he will be staying with Aunt Janet. Toby’s plan is in full-swing as he heads to Coleford Manor. He tells Mr. Peartree that Uncle Gabriel will enter the manor through the back door and will stay in his room to do his detecting. He does not want the other detective contestants to see him.

At Coleford Manor, Toby encounters the girl and dog again. The girl is Ivy Webster, and Coleford Manor is her home. Her dog is Percival. Her parents are the hosts for Mr. Abernathy’s contest. Miss March, Miss Price, Miss Hartshorne, Mr. Rackham, and Mr. Philip Elwood are the sleuths along with Toby, of course, who are participating in the contest. Mr. Abernathy and Mr. Peartree are also at the manor. Ivy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Webster and their older daughter Lillie are also in the home.

Toby and Ivy must discover if all the people in Coleford Manor are who they claim to be. Is there an imposter in the group? If so, who can it be?

Toby quickly learns that the detective course he purchased by mail with his last coins is operated by none other than Ivy Webster. Ivy, too, wishes to be a detective. The two squabble over territory until they finally decide to join forces and work together although Ivy is continues to be strong-willed and difficult at times.

Mr. Abernathy has planned a murder mystery with the person not actually being murdered, but the detectives must determine who has committed the pretend murder. Then, of all things, dear readers, guess what happens? A real murder, you say? Well, of course, you are correct.

The biggest surprise is that the murder victim is none other than Mr. Abernathy himself. Now, what will happen? Who can be the murderer? Everyone in the house becomes a suspect. Ivy and Toby look for clues everywhere and listen for any tidbits that will help them solve the case.

They learn that Mr. Abernathy is not a nice man at all; he has many enemies. Thus, the number of people who might wish him harm is large. Ivy and Toby must put the clues together and solve the mystery and yet keep one another safe since a real murderer is on the loose.

The World’s Greatest Detective offers readers an opportunity to figure out the clues along with Ivy and Toby. The writing is crisp and lively. The story moves along quickly. Readers will enjoy the give and take between Toby and Ivy as they work to solve the mystery.

In addition to The World’s Greatest Detective, Caroline Carlson has written The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, a trilogy. She has also published The Door at the End of the World. Carlson has an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find out more about her at her Web site: https://carolinecarlsonbooks.com/.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite!

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Alan Bradley has written ten books featuring Flavia de Luce, a young lady interested in chemistry and solving murders. Through the ten books, fans have come to know Flavia, her father, her sisters Daffy and Feely, Mrs. Mullet, the housekeeper, and most importantly, Dogger. Of course, we must mention Cynthia, the vicar’s wife, and Inspector Hewitt of the local constabulary.

The Seattle Times describes Flavia as “the world’s greatest adolescent British chemist/busybody/sleuth.” The Wall Street Journal calls Bradley’s mysteries “delightful…. The mysteries in Mr. Bradley’s books are engaging, but the real lure is Ms. de Luce, the irreverent youngster.”

Bradley has a robust body of work; his most famous and most widely read books are those in which Flavia shines. On the radio, Bradley’s wife heard Louise Penny, delightful mystery author, describing the Debut Dagger fiction competition. To enter, writers had to submit the first chapter and a synopsis of a murder mystery. Bradley’s wife persuaded him to write about “the girl on the camp stool” who was a minor character in a novel Bradley was writing.

Bradley won the Debut Dagger award and thus his first book in the Flavia series was born: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Interest has continued to grow in Flavia’s adventures and the books now number ten. The latest book is The Golden Tresses of the Dead. The Golden Tresses of the Dead opens with Feely’s marriage to Dieter, the former German POW. Readers will remember that Mr. de Luce has died, leaving the three girls living in Buckshaw which now belongs solely to Flavia.

Mrs. Mullet continues as cook and housekeeper, always dispensing her wisdom. Mrs. Mullet knowledge is limited, but she shares it. She tells Flavia “Miss Daphne says she doesn’t want her tea. She’s got ‘er nose stuck in a book. Useless, I think it’s called, by some woman named Joyce.” Flavia and Dogger have formed a partnership as PIs: Arthur W. Dogger & Associates. In The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Dogger and Flavia have their first client, Mrs. Prill who asks them to find some purloined letters.

A number of other people figure in the story. Miss Pursemaker and Miss Stonebrook are missionaries just returned from Africa. They stay briefly with Mrs. Prill before Cynthia, the vicar’s wife, asks Flavia to put them up at Buckshaw until they give their lecture on disease in Africa which will take place at the church.

As Flavia and Dogger investigate the missing letters, they first visit Dr. Brocken, Mrs. Prill’s father. Dr. Brocken has made his fortune making and selling homeopathic medicines, particularly those made with balsam. He now resides in Gollingford Abbey, a nursing home, supposedly suffering from dementia. After meeting with Dr. Brocken, Dogger and Flavia decide to visit Mrs. Prill in her home.

Dear Readers, what do they find when they arrive at Mrs. Prill’s grand home? Why, of course, Mrs. Prill is dead, sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee in front of her.

Now, who has killed Mrs. Prill and why? Why does Dr. Brocken feign dementia? What role do Miss Pursemaker and Miss Stonebrook play? And don’t forget about the finger found in Feely’s wedding cake. To whom did it belong and why is it in the cake?

Since The Golden Tresses of the Dead is a mystery, readers must read the book to discover how these characters come together and why they are involved in the murder. Suffice it to say that readers will not be disappointed with Bradley’s latest Flavia escapade as Flavia and Dogger become true partners in their investigations.

Bradley’s Web site is a bit out of date, but readers will find some useful information there:

https://alanbradleyauthor.com/.

The Book Whisperer Discovers Charles Todd & Inspector Rutledge

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CatherineTarrant tells Inspector Ian Rutledge that “you aren’t afraid until you’ve got something to lose. But when you love someone or something, you’re terrified – there’s so much at stake, then, so much at risk, you see….” Catherine’s statement becomes pivotal in Rutledge’s investigation into Colonel Charles Harris’s murder. A Test of Wills marks the first in the Inspector Rutledge series by mother/son duo Charles and Caroline Todd, writing as Charles Todd.

As noted before in this blog, I do love a good series. A series allows the authors to grow as writers. Another advantage is that the characters also develop fully as the series continues. Many books in a series can be read as stand-alone books. The plots are not intertwined and the newest book does not depend on the previous book for the readers to understand what is happening. However, reading the books in order does allow readers to see the characters’ growth. Occasionally, readers may also find references to past stories.

I have had a Charles Todd book on my TBR list for some time. On a recent visit to the library, I discovered my local library had A Test of Wills, the first in the Inspector Rutledge series, so I checked it out.

A Test of Wills takes place in 1919, following WWI. Inspector Rutledge has just returned to work at Scotland Yard following a rehab after the war. He still battles Hamish, a dead soldier who haunts him and taunts him. Rutledge must constantly work to keep Hamish at bay because of Hamish’s interference and negative comments.

Superintendent Bowles does not like Inspector Rutledge and hopes to see Rutledge discredited and fired from the force at Scotland Yard. As a result, Bowles sends Rutledge on a nearly impossible mission, one that Bowles hopes will completely disgrace Rutledge and even cause a scandal. The mission is to solve the murder of Colonel Charles Harris which occurred in the village of Warwickshire.

Colonel Harris’s murder has been brutal: a shotgun blast severed his head from his body as he rode his horse in the countryside near his estate. Rutledge discovers the villagers distrust him since he comes from London, so Rutledge must win their trust in order to solve the murder. Rutledge must piece together bits of information until he can see the whole puzzle laid out before him. Unfortunately, the pieces do not come in sequence, so he has blank spots to fill.

Rutledge interviews villagers, servants, and friends; all of them say that Colonel Harris was a good, kind man whom everyone loved. Rutledge comments, “Yet someone murdered him.” The most obvious suspect is Captain Mark Wilton, pilot and war hero, who is engaged to Lettice Wood, Charles Harris’s ward. Why would Wilton kill Harris, though? The men are good friends and both have been happy about the engagement.

Still, servants overhear a heated argument between Wilton and Harris following dinner the night before Harris is murdered. What have the two long-time friends argued about? How much does Lettice know about the argument? Rutledge runs into road blocks in questioning both Lettice and Mark. Neither is keen to talk about the argument. The servants can only say they heard raised voices, but could not understand what was being said.

Other villagers may also have motive, but several of them have alibis that Rutledge verifies. In addition to the pressure from everyone in the village, Rutledge faces pressure from Bowles and Scotland Yard to solve the murder. If he accuses Captain Wilton, a decorated war hero, Rutledge will face censure from the Crown as well as Bowles. Of course, readers know that’s exactly what Bowles wants since the accusation will discredit Rutledge.

Dogged perseverance allows Rutledge to keep seek information and putting the information together to find the killer. Is it Wilton? Is it Mavers, the loud, obnoxious villager who spews venom at everyone in the village? Or is it someone else? Will the key lie in the argument between Wilton and Harris the night before Harris’s death? Or is another reason the cause of the murder. Read A Test of Wills to discover who kills Colonel Charles Harris and to discover if Rutledge continues as inspector.

Charles and Caroline Todd write the Inspector Rutledge series together. The series now numbers 36 books. The two also write another series starring Bess Crawford, a battlefield nurse; those books now number 10 in the series. Bess Crawford has been compared to Jacqueline Winspear’s Masie Dobbs, a favorite character, so I look forward to reading one of the Bess Crawford books as well.

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Caroline Todd earned a BA in English literature and history with a master’s in international relations. Charles Todd has a BA in communication studies, emphasizing business management and a culinary arts degree. Both Todds credit listening to “fathers and grandfathers reminisce” for their story-telling skills.

Read about both Todds and their books at this site: https://charlestodd.com/.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite Series

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Kingdom of the Blind is Louise Penny’s fourteenth mystery set in Three Pines. It is the book Penny almost did not write.  In “Acknowledgments” found at the end of Kingdom of the Blind, Penny tells readers that after her husband’s death, she did not think she could continue writing the Gamache series. Michael was the inspiration for the series and always her first reader. Penny was ready to return the advance to the publishers and end her writing career. Or so she thought.

Luckily for the passionate readers of the Armand Gamache series, Penny one day found herself sitting in front of the computer and typing the following: “Armand Gamache.” She followed up with “slowed his car to a crawl.” Kingdom of the Blind was underway and Armand Gamache, his family, colleagues, and friends continue their lives.

On her Web site, http://www.louisepenny.com/, Penny points out that “my books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.

If you take only one thing away from any of my books, I’d like it to be this:

Goodness exists.”

And that’s what we find in all of the fourteen books: Goodness does exist. Many fictional police detectives and PIs are deeply flawed characters. Extremely intelligent, they can figure out puzzles and put pieces together to solve terrible crimes. They often have difficulties forming permanent, strong relationships with other people, however, even their colleagues. They push themselves beyond ordinary endurance and are workaholics, rarely leaving the job behind.

While Armand Gamache exhibits all the intelligence and strength of those other fictional detectives, he also adds another important characteristic: real humanity and love. He works continually on a case, but he does not ignore family, friends, and colleagues in the process. He keeps his own counsel, but he is warm and loving to those around him. He is compassionate and kind. He exhibits goodness in the face of terrible evil.

Readers will remember that at the end of Glass Houses, Gamache made a fateful decision to allow a load of drugs to slip away. That was a purposeful decision in order to stop the larger manufacturing of the lethal opioids and ultimately save lives. The powers-that-be above Gamache do not see the big picture, however, and blame him for allowing the dangerous opioids to slip away. As a result, Gamache is on suspension in Kingdom of the Blind, but that does not stop him from being part of the investigation to locate the drugs and the manufacturing plant as well.

To complicate matters, Gamache, Myrna Landers, his long-time friend and neighbor in Three Pines, and Benedict Pouliot, a young man unknown to the others, all receive a letter from Maitre Laurence Mercier. Mercier asks that the three meet him at a remote farmhouse on a particular day and time. The invitation contains no other information. Out of curiosity, the three show up despite the winter snow and threat of additional snow.

When the three meet Mercier, they learn they are to be executors of Bertha Baumgartner’s will. All three claim never to have known Baumgartner. Myrna then remembers Baumgartner was a cleaner who had worked some in Three Pines for people. She called herself Baroness.

Penny delights her readers with this dual storyline of the strange will and even stranger choice of executors along with the search for the opioids and the opportunity to stop the dangerous drugs altogether.

Dangers abound on all sides from both storylines. Gamache must juggle the search for the opioids and discover the truth about Baumgartner. Secrets and lies from both stories keep the readers guessing. How much does one person know about another?

Through all the horror and the danger, Gamache remains a force for good and humanity. Gamache’s family life helps balance the horror on the streets.

Penny reminds readers that the themes of her books are “inspired by two lines from a poem by WH Auden, in his elegy to Melville. Goodness existed, that was the new knowledge/his terror had to blow itself quite out to let him see it.”

Do not fear that Kingdom of the Blind is the last story from Three Pines. Happily, Penny tells her readers: “Lots of people have written, worried that KINGDOM OF THE BLIND is the last in the series. It isn’t. I plan to write about Three Pines forever.”

While Penny’s fans do not need to be reminded, others who have not begun the series featuring Armand Gamache and his friends should know that Penny has won many awards. Kingdom of the Blind alone was an “instant #1 New York Times Bestseller, a December 2018 Indie Next Pick, BookPage Best of the Year 2018, a LibraryReads Pick for November 2018, Washington Post’s 10 Books to Read This November, and One of PopSugar’s Best Fall Books to Curl Up With.”

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite!

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I enjoy reading books in a series. One of my favorite series is by Alexander McCall Smith, a prolific writer of books in a series as well as stand alone books. I await the latest installment of the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books with great anticipation. The most recent book is The Colors of All the Cattle, book 19 in the series.

As usual, the story is slow-paced and, although a mystery, does not involve gruesome murders. Instead, like the other books in the series, Precious Ramotswe and her team focus on helping people resolve relatively small problems. One of the incidents the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has taken in The Colors of All the Cattle does involve a violent hit and run which resulted in severe injuries to Dr. Marang, a man from Mochudi, Mma Ramotswe’s home village.

To complicate matters, Mma Ramotswe’s good friend Mma Potokwane, who oversees the orphanage, persuades Mma Ramotswe to run for political office to become a member of the council. The only other candidate is the infamous Violet Sephotho, a frequent nemesis in the stories. Sephotho favors the building of a large new hotel next to the cemetery.

Mma Potokwane and Mma Ramotswe do not wish to see such a large and potential noisy hotel built where people go to mourn their late relatives.  At first, Mma Potokwane does persuade Mma Ramotswe to stand for office as an independent. The meeting of the group which includes Mma Potokwane, Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, Mr. Polopetsi, Fanwell, and Charlie gives readers a few chuckles. Charlie insists on being literal when Mma Potokwane calls the meeting to order. Charlie maintains everything is in order.

When Mma Potokwane explains the “call to order” simply means the meeting will begin, Charlie wonders why she simply didn’t say that. The meeting digresses for a bit before the business is actually underway. Of course, Mma Makutsi despises Violet Sephotho and wants to write a scathing statement for Mma Ramotswe agains Sephotho.

Longtime readers will recognize that Mma Ramotswe allows Mma Makutsi to vent about Violet and then Mma Ramotswe gently turns the conversation. Mma Ramotswe will not make promises she cannot keep while Violet continues to promise everything from jobs to higher wages to better streets, all items she would not be able to accomplish.

Charlie works for Mr. J.L.B. Matekon, Mma Ramotswe’s husband, in the garage, but Charlie is also an apprentice to Mma Ramotswe in the detective agency. Charlie realizes he knows Eddie, a friend from school days in Mochudi. Eddie works for his uncle repairing cars that have been damaged in accidents. Charlie wants to ask Eddie if he can help locate the owner of the blue car that hit Mr. Marang and left him so badly injured.

That idea is a good one until someone throws a brick through the window of Charlie’s uncle’s home where Charlie rents a room. The brick could have hit the uncle’s two children who were playing in the room at the time. Charlie rightly feels threatened, so Mma Ramotswe invites him to stay in her home for a time. Mma Ramotswe realizes that Charlie has attempted to blackmail Eddie in an effort to get information. That effort has not yielded the information Charlie hoped to gain.

Mma Ramotswe in her wisdom understands that Charlie is trying. She advises him to “never, never think that you are justified in doing something wrong just because you are trying to do something right.”

In the end, all comes right as one expects in the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency stories, and that is one characteristic I like about the stories! Other characteristics to like include the continuing growth of the characters as well as the introduction of new characters even if for one book only. Mma Ramotswe continues to be guided by Clovis Andersen’s book The Principles of Private Detection and her own good common sense.

Alexander McCall Smith has developed a robust Web site where readers can find information about all of his books and read a monthly story: https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/.

Some of my favorite quotes from previous books include the ones which follow below:

From In the Company of Cheerful Ladies: “A life without stories would be no life at all.”

From The Good Husband of Zebra Drive: “And if there’s bad behaviour,” Mma Potokwane went on. “If there’s bad behaviour, the quickest way of stopping it is to give more love. That always works, you know. People say we must punish when there is wrongdoing, but if you punish you’re only punishing yourself. And what’s the point of that?”

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews the First in the Kopp Series

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The Book Whisperer has been silent here, but that does not mean she has not been reading! The last post chronicled the September reading list for TOO many book clubs, as it turns out. In fact, I had to give up on Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, the South Broken Arrow Library book club choice. Since I have spent my life as a student and/or teacher, I find it hard to give up on a book, especially when I enjoy the discussions in a group. Still, that’s what happened with Caramelo. I did go to the discussion and confessed that I had not read the book. I did enjoy hearing what others had to say about Caramelo.

The focus of this review is Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. I have owned a copy of Girl Waits With Gun for about two years. Why I waited so long to read it is a mystery to me now because I found it quite riveting and look forward to reading the other books in the series: Lady Kopp Makes Trouble, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions, and Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit.

Before writing Girl Waits With Gun, Stewart wrote nonfiction. The Drunken Botanist is “a historical tour of boozy plants.” She also wrote Wicked Plants which explores “evildoers that may be lurking in your own backyard.”

Stewart was finishing research on her book The Drunken Botanist; she was looking for information about Henry Kaufman, a gin smuggler. In the research, she discovered an article about Henry Kaufman, a silk manufacturer. Stewart became captivated by the Kopp sisters and did further research into Kaufman and the Kopp sisters. In fact, the title of the book is taken from a headline of the day.

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In Paterson, NJ, 1915, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp were riding in their horse-drawn buggy when a car driven by Henry Kaufman, an evil and powerful businessman, hit the buggy. The Kopp sisters were not badly injured nor was the horse, but the buggy was destroyed.

Below, Constance, Norman, and Fleurette:

Constance demanded that Kaufman pay for the repair of the buggy, asking for $50. At the scene of the accident, Kaufman acted as if he would pay for the buggy’s repair because a number of people had gathered to help the injured sisters. However, Kaufman, a sleazy drunk, had no intention of paying for the buggy’s repair.

Constance refuses to go quietly without the money for the buggy’s repair. Stewart takes up the story from that accident and uses the real-life events and adds a bit of fiction to enhance the story. The result is a thoroughly intriguing tale of three independent women who, in the end, take down a wealthy drunken, abusive businessman and his gang of ruffians.

The Kopp sisters live on a small farm; they have no running water or heat beyond wood stoves. They manage to get by with very little. Their mother has died and has left them a small legacy. Their older brother, Francis, is married and kindly invites the sisters to move into his home with his wife and two children who live in Paterson. The sisters quite politely decline his offer, preferring to make their own way.

The buggy/car accident propels the sisters into a dangerous situation since Henry Kaufman is an unscrupulous man who employs thugs to threaten and harass the Kopp sisters. In fact, Kaufman and his gang will stop at nothing to keep from paying the $50 for the buggy’s restoration. However, the refusal to pay comes from an even deeper feeling of privilege and entitlement since Kaufman has never had to work for anything. His father handed over the silk factory in Paterson, NJ, to his son in hopes that running the business would make Henry grow up and act responsibly. No such transformation takes place, though. Henry uses his position and money to drink and carouse, leaving the business to run without him most of the time.

Stewart adds a sub-plot to Girl Waits With Gun that is not part of the real story, but it adds a great deal to the action.  When Constance visits the silk factory to present Henry Kaufman with the bill for the buggy’s repair, she encounters Lucy, a young woman working at the factory. Constance learns that Lucy has given birth to Henry Kaufman’s son, but the young boy is now missing.

That missing child stays in Constance’s mind and she wants to find the child to reunite him with his mother. Readers will discover why Constance becomes so determined to find Lucy’s child.

As Kaufman increases his attacks on the Kopp sisters and their home, Constance turns to the sheriff for help. He is an intelligent, kindly man who truly wants to help the Kopps. He is also interested in stopping corruption in his city which means he is aware of Henry Kaufman and his gang.

The sheriff gives Constance and Norma guns so they can protect themselves. He also teaches them how to shoot the guns. The Kopp sisters become more and more familiar with the sheriff as Kaufman’s attacks escalate and become more dangerous. His gang throws bricks through the Kopps’ windows. They threaten to kidnap Fleurette, the youngest sister, and sell her into white slavery.

Obviously, the situation is becoming more and more dangerous, but the Kopp sisters refuse to be intimidated or to move from their home. Constance and the sheriff meet to discuss ways to combat the attacks. Constance is bright and offers effective suggestions to the sheriff. It is not a spoiler to say that in the end the sheriff offers Constance a job as deputy sheriff. Her role as deputy sheriff will continue in the books that follow.

Will good overcome evil? What will become of the Kopp sisters? Will Henry Kaufman be brought to justice? Read Girl Waits With Gun to discover the answers to all these questions and more. Girl Waits With Gun provides good entertainment about strong women who prevail in the face of all odds.

On her Web site, https://www.amystewart.com/, Amy Stewart provides additional information about the real people in Girl Waits With Gun: https://www.amystewart.com/characters/. She also provides additional information for book clubs such as discussion questions. Stewart will also arrange for Skype interviews with book clubs.

Not only does Amy Stewart write nonfiction and fiction, she is an artist as well. See examples of her art below.

 

The Book Whisperer Is Not Thrilled by This Cozy Mystery

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Jenn McKinlay, http://www.jennmckinlay.com, has written nearly forty books including romantic comedy, Library Lover’s Mysteries, Cupcake Mysteries, London Hat Shop Mysteries, Good Buy Girls Mysteries under the name Josie Belle, and Decoupage Mysteries under the name Lucy Lawrence. McKinlay has a loyal following.

McKinlay receives a great deal of praise with terms like “exuberantly entertaining,” “tender cozy full of warm and likable characters,” and “a deliciously thrilling mystery.” Sadly, I am not a fan. Death in the Stacks is the second in the Library Lover’s Mysteries. Amateur sleuth and full-time librarian Lindsey Norris has promised herself and her boyfriend Sully, a tour boat captain, that she will no longer get mixed up in solving murders. That’s because she nearly dies in Hitting the Books, the first in the series as readers learn in Death in the Stacks.

When I see books set in libraries and bookstores, I am always willing to give them a chance. Some live up to expectation while others do not. The dialogue in Death in the Stacks tries too hard. Far too many puns appear in the conversations with characters trying to out-pun one another. Puns form terrific humor in small doses.

Another flaw in the book lies in too many characters. Keeping track of who does what becomes difficult. The romantic entanglements in the book are stilted and don’t ring true to me.

Death in the Stacks begins when Lindsey finds Olive Boyle, newly elected library board president, sitting at Lindsey’s desk using her phone and holding up a finger as if to say, “Wait!” Lindsey is chagrined, but she maintains her composure, interested in what Olive will say about being in the office.

Readers soon learn Olive is a vindictive and hateful cow. Although the library board acts in an advisory capacity since the town council really regulates the library, Olive is under the impression that she is in charge. She wants the library staff to wear black and white uniforms as if they are servers in a restaurant. She wants Paula, one of the staff members fired because Paula has tattoos and purple hair. Olive also hints that Paula has a criminal past.

Olive is the kind of bull that carries its own china shop around. She noses into everyone’s business and discovers people’s secrets in order to control them and get what she wants. At the biggest fund raiser of the year, dinner in the stacks at the library, Olive is stabbed to death in the library stacks near the end of the evening when most people have left. Paula discovers the body and even picks up the knife. Obviously, she is the killer because Olive has wanted her fired and has publicly announced that fact.

Right? Of course, that would mean the end of the book on page 69 at the beginning of chapter 8 and we have 17 chapters to go. Clearly, too, Lindsey must get involved in solving the murder along with her friend Robby, the British TV and movie star.

The Library Lover’s Mysteries continues with seven more volumes currently. For those who want a cozy, quick mystery, Death in the Stacks will fit the bill.