Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

First Line: "If you'll permit me," said the Stranger, "I'd like to tell you a story."

Clare Cassidy is a literature teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R.M. Holland, who is best known for his short story, "The Stranger." When one of her colleagues is found dead with a line from the story by her body, Clare's life and her work collide head-on.

The investigating officer believes that not only do Holland's works but Clare herself hold the keys to the case, and she's determined to learn everything Clare knows. Not knowing whom to trust and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides everything to her journal-- something that she's done most of her life. Then one day she notices writing in her diary... and handwriting isn't hers.

I've been a passionate Elly Griffiths fan since her first Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery, The Crossing Roads. I also have a long-lived fondness for Gothic novels with their creepy old houses and stalwart heroines defying the odds to uncover old secrets. When I discovered that Griffiths had written a Gothic novel, there was practically singing and dancing in the street. Once I'd turned the last page of The Stranger Diaries, I almost went outside for an encore jig.

The story is told in three distinct and compelling voices: the voice of Clare herself, the voice of her teenage daughter Georgie, and the voice of Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur. Woven throughout the chapters are portions of Holland's short story, "The Stranger" and passages from Clare's diaries. The differing viewpoints work together extremely well, due in part to the fact that you get to see what each one thinks of the other. For example, Georgie is much more aware than her mother Clare realizes, and Harbinder is packed to the gunnels with pre-conceived notions... and anger.

In fact, Harbinder could be considered the most fascinating character in the book; she certainly received the strongest reaction from me. Her prejudice and her anger made me want to slap her a time or two, but it also made me want to know what had happened to make her so bitter. Yes, Harbinder's evolution throughout The Stranger Diaries is one of its greatest pleasures.

Although there is often humor due to the differing viewpoints, Griffiths skillfully keeps building the suspense. There is more than one mystery to The Stranger Diaries. Yes, we have a murderer on the loose, but there is also the century-old mystery of the identity of R.M. Holland's Mariana. Holland keeps mentioning her in his letters, but... who is she? The solutions to both mysteries are excellent. I didn't deduce the identity of the killer until mere nanoseconds before the official reveal, and the unveiling of the mysterious Mariana made me laugh and smile.

If you're in the mood to spend a few hours thoroughly enjoying yourself, I know just what you can do-- pick up a copy of Elly Griffiths' The Stranger Diaries. I sincerely hope there's another Gothic novel in this talented writer's future.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
ISBN: 9781786487407
Quercus © 2018 (UK Edition)
Paperback, 416 pages

Thriller/Suspense, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from The Book Depository.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Jimm Juree Case Files

Colin Cotterill writes two mystery series that I enjoy very much: the excellent historical series featuring the national coroner of Laos, Dr. Siri Paiboun, and the Jimm Juree series set in southern Thailand. I'd noticed that there'd been no more Jimm Juree books for a while...and then in one fell swoop, I discovered a prequel (The Amok Runners) and a series of short stories that continue this intrepid journalist/ amateur sleuth's story.

I think it's the age-old publishing story of "We don't want you anymore" as far as Jimm Juree is concerned, and I will admit that the series isn't for everyone. Cotterill's humor is wide-ranging, and he's even been known to poke a bit of fun at-- gasp!-- the United States and a U.S. president or two. He also has some unique characters. One of Jimm's brothers is a transvestite computer hacker living in Chiang Mai. Another is a bodybuilder who's in love with a woman old enough to be his mother. Speaking of mothers, Jimm's is suffering from dementia, which is the main reason why everyone but the older brother moved to southern Thailand to run a run-down coastal resort. And don't forget Jimm's grandfather. He's an old retired traffic cop who is seldom seen and speaks even less, but when he does, he's usually instrumental in solving Jimm's case.

Jimm could have had a brilliant career in Chiang Mai as an investigative reporter on the crime beat, but family is all-important. She may no longer be in the big city, but she certainly doesn't have a problem finding crimes to solve, so I was happy to find out that these short stories are an on-going project for Cotterill. The Jimm Juree Case Files is a series of seven (so far) short stories, each one dealing with one of her investigations.

"The Funeral Photographer" is all about how a group of poor countryfolk seeks revenge on the rich people who swindled them. (B+)

"When You Wish Upon a Star" shows Jimm trying to find out what really happened when a man's wife dies in a car accident. (B+)

"Highway Robbery" shows how Jimm figures out a complicated armored car robbery. (A)

"The Zero Finger Option" features a series of cryptic messages that puts Jimm on the trail of a killer. (B+)

"Trash" shows what can happen when Jimm's grandfather (whose hobby is picking up trash that washes up on the beach) finds a tin can with a note inside. (A)

"Spay With Me," or how taking her mother's dog to the vet leads Jimm to solve a bank robbery. (A)

"Sex on the Beach" leads to murder on the beach, and Jimm is just the person to solve it. (B+)

All the stories are enjoyable, and all show Cotterill's talent with ingenious puzzles, humor, and a wide range of characters who prove that all people, no matter their circumstances, have value. I'm definitely looking forward to Jimm's next case.

The Jimm Juree Case Files by Colin Cotterill
DCO Books © 2017-2018
A series of seven digital short stories.
Approximately 280 pages.

Short Story, Jimm Juree mysteries
Overall Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Some Cozy Holiday Cover Love

One of my favorite things to see this time of year are the covers on all the holiday-themed cozy mysteries. Cozy mystery book covers are fun any time of the year, but there's just something extra special about the holiday ones. That's why I thought I would share a few with you. Some of them are so good that you can feel the snap of cold in the air or smell the cookies baking! did someone commit murder yet not knock the tree over?

I can feel the warmth of the fire, and since I haven't had lunch yet, that food looks mighty good!

This one has a good holiday vibe even if there's no snow on the ground. Hmmm...I wonder if there's a desert-themed holiday cover anywhere?

Mmmmmmm! Gingerbread men!

Donna Andrews always seems to have fun with her bird-themed titles!

Shut the door-- you're letting all the heat out!

I love the tree and the fireplace, don't you?

Now I'm starving. Fork over those cookies and no one will get hurt!

Lovely village scene, snow, mittens, hot chocolate...

My favorite. The colors. The houses, the water, the boats. The peace and tranquility...

I've told you my favorite cover. Which one is yours? Inquiring minds would love to know. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Big Empty by Stan Jones & Patricia Watts

First Lines: "Son of a bitch." Nathan Active jerked upright in the Navajo's copilot seat at the sudden sound of Cowboy Decker's bush-pilot drawl in the headset.

Chukchi police chief Nathan Active's wife is having a difficult pregnancy, and he'd like nothing better than some quiet time on the job so he can focus on her needs; however, he's not going to get it. When young mother-to-be Evie Kavoonah and her fiancé Dr. Todd Brenner are killed in a plane crash in the remote Brooks Range, bush pilot Cowboy Decker is convinced that the crash was no accident-- and definitely not pilot error. He doesn't rest until he convinces Active to get in his plane to fly to the crash site to check it out.

What they find convinces Active that Decker is right. Now he's got a murder investigation, an anxious adopted daughter, and an extremely nervous pregnant wife to deal with. No rest for the weary!

Stan Jones' Nathan Active mysteries continue to be my favorite series set in Alaska-- and it's for a multitude of reasons. There's a strong cast of characters from all walks of life. There are intriguing-- and often spine-chilling-- mysteries to solve. The setting of extreme northern Alaska is often a character, and last but not least, the cultural information is fascinating. Each book comes with a short glossary at the beginning which I find extremely useful because part of learning about a culture is learning a bit about the language.

The Big Empty is 50% mystery and 50% the personal life of Nathan Active. At times I found that percentage weighing too heavily on the personal life aspect, but only because I find Nathan's wife annoying. I shouldn't. Grace Active has had horrendous things happen to her in the past, and she's finding it daunting to overcome them. Anyone would, and I applaud Jones for not only having a troubled character like Grace but for dealing with her problems honestly and with great sensitivity.

The mystery is a good one, beginning with discovering what caused the crash and then moving into whodunnit territory. I did find the killer's identity to be a bit too easy to deduce, but getting to the reveal was enjoyable.

If you're a fellow armchair traveler/sleuth who loves solving mysteries in exotic places, you should meet Nathan Active and learn about the culture of the Inupiat. I still remember one book scaring me badly when Nathan went out on the pack ice. Even though you can pick up The Big Empty and read it as a standalone, I recommend starting at the beginning with White Sky, Black Ice. You've got some mighty fine reading ahead of you.

The Big Empty by Stan Jones & Patricia Watts
ISBN: 9781641290029
Soho Crime © 2018
Hardcover, 264 pages

Police Procedural, #6 Nathan Active mystery
Rating: B+
Source: the publisher


Sunday, December 09, 2018

On My Radar: Elly Griffiths' The Stone Circle

I've made no secret of the fact that Elly Griffiths is one of my favorite authors. This coming Thursday, you'll be able to read my review of her latest book, The Stranger Diaries. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that I was thrilled to discover that her next Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery will be released in the UK next February. (Yes, I love Griffiths so much that I usually buy the UK editions of her books.)

Let's see what this latest book is all about, shall we? (And if you haven't read any of the books in this marvelous series yet, I strongly suggest that you begin at the beginning with The Crossing Places because the lives of this fantastic cast of characters are every bit as absorbing as the mysteries!)

Available in the UK 7 February 2019!

"DCI Nelson has been receiving threatening letters telling him to 'go to the stone circle and rescue the innocent who is buried there'. He is shaken, not only because children are very much on his mind, with Michelle's baby due to be born, but because although the letters are anonymous, they are somehow familiar. They read like the letters that first drew him into the case of The Crossing Places, and to Ruth. But the author of those letters is dead. Or are they?

Meanwhile, Ruth is working on a dig in the Saltmarsh - another henge, known by the archaeologists as the stone circle - trying not to think about the baby. Then bones are found on the site and identified as those of Margaret Lacey, a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared thirty years ago.

As the Margaret Lacey case progresses, more and more aspects of it begin to hark back to that first case of The Crossing Places, and to Scarlett Henderson, the girl Nelson couldn't save. The past is reaching out for Ruth and Nelson, and its grip is deadly."

I can't wait to read The Stone Circle! How about you?


In case you prefer the US edition of the book, it will be available on this side of the pond on May 7, 2019!

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Spirit Is Moving Slowly Weekly Link Round-Up

Which spirit is that you ask? The Christmas decorating spirit. Part of me wants to haul out every little smidgeon that looks remotely Christmasy and decorate the house to a fare-thee-well. The other part would rather my minions did it all while I point and supervise. The problem is... I don't have minions (although I've always wanted a few).

But hey-- my desk is decorated! (And I'll have you know that I only had to remove one tiny hill of paperwork off the desk before I took this photo.)

While the pro- and anti-Christmas sides of my personality duke things out, we're still dealing with doctor's appointments. They're not the two-per-week for two months I had through all these eye procedures, but still! At least my dentist is the last one I'll be seeing for a while, and now it's Denis's turn to trek to his doctors. And may I just say that I wish the rest of me was as in as good a shape as my teeth!

I'm still enjoying my new peepers. We've been bringing out DVDs of favorite movies that I've never seen with good eyesight, and it's almost like I'm watching them for the first time. Lots of fun!

All righty then. I can see those links out in the corral are up to no good, so I'd better get myself out there. Head 'em up! Moooooooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Mama bats literally nudge their babies out of the roost.
  • Meet the cats of the National Trust. 
  • Llama antibodies may be the key to flu prevention.
  • A man-eating tigress was killed in India. She was lured to her death by Calvin Klein cologne.
  • Researchers can now monitor whales via satellite.

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • Why fall color has been so meh in parts of the U.S. this year. 
  • The museums of Venice have re-opened after the city's worst flood in a decade. 
  • This South Carolina cabin is now a crown jewel in the Smithsonian collections.

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Get to know Rex Stout, beloved creator of Nero Wolfe.
  • Zelia Nuttall, the archaeologist who helped Mexico find glory in its indigenous past.

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Burning Man by Alan Russell

First Line: Even before I pressed down hard on the gas, Sirius was aware that something was up.

Los Angeles police officer Michael Gideon and his K-9 partner Sirius are heroes and celebrities after capturing a serial killer in the midst of a roaring inferno. After months of rehab, Sirius may not be able to resume his official duties as a member of the LAPD, but with Gideon heading up the new Special Cases Unit, wherever Gideon goes, Sirius is going to be right by his side. With the official case of a crucified teenager in a city park and the personal case of an abandoned dead baby at the foot of Angel's Flight, the two are not going to have any spare time, and that suits them both just fine.

2018 seems to be my year of reading mysteries that have detectives with canine partners. Most of these books have been excellent reads, and Burning Man continues the trend. Reminiscent of Michael Connelly, Alan Russell's first Gideon and Sirius mystery makes the setting one of the strongest characters in the book. Readers learn interesting bits of Los Angeles history along the way, and the fierce Santa Ana winds and fire add a great deal of tension.

I loved the voice of Michael Gideon as well as his sense of humor. When told that he's going to head up the Special Cases Unit, he asks, "What would I tell people? That I work in the Defense Against the Dark Arts Division?" This is a man who is still suffering from PTSD. His burns may have healed, but his mind hasn't, and being on the job is helping to keep him sane. The only thing that bugged me about Gideon was his TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) moment when he completely disregarded Sirius's behavior in a parking lot.

My annoyance was short-lived, however, because the cases he was trying to solve were too interesting. The crucified teenager put a lot of miles on Gideon's car because the dead boy wasn't who he appeared to be, and since he was popular, he had a very wide circle of acquaintances. The investigation into the death of the abandoned baby was very personal to Gideon, and it allowed readers to look more deeply into his backstory. His handling of this second case said a lot about him as a person.

Burning Man is a book in which I learned quite a few things about weather, fire, Los Angeles history, skin grafts, and the Safely Surrendered Baby Law. This fast-paced book's two investigations also kept me guessing. But it's the smart-alecky character of Michael Gideon and his dog Sirius that are going to make me reach for the other books in the series. Good stuff!

Burning Man by Alan Russell
eISBN: 9781612186092
Thomas & Mercer © 2012
eBook, 328 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Gideon & Sirius mystery
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Tumbleweed by Janwillem van de Wetering

First Line: Adjutant-Detective Grijpstra felt that this was not the best morning of the year.

Maria van Burne is a beautiful, high-class prostitute who's been stabbed to death on her houseboat which is moored in a canal in Amsterdam. It is up to police detectives Grijpstra and de Gier to solve her murder. While they interview suspects with iron-clad alibis and make trips to an island off the coast of the Netherlands, their commissaris will find himself investigating allegations of black magic and traveling to Curaçao.

It had been several years since I first sampled the Grijpstra and de Gier series of Janwillem van de Wetering, so I thought I'd better pick up the second book, Tumbleweed. The book concentrates on the mystery and moves very quickly, and I discovered that, although a great deal of time had passed since I read that first book, I soon felt right at home.

Grijpstra is the older of the two detectives. He's married and a grouch. De Gier is single and likes to dress fashionably. They work together well and I liked both characters, but I have to admit that their superior officer the commissaris (who is never mentioned by name) was my favorite. The commissaris is an older man who's crippled by rheumatism yet not ready to retire. He has a lively mind and is interested in almost everything, and when he sent officers back to photograph the dead woman's bookshelves because "I am always interested in what people read," I was completely won over.  Later on, his attitude toward travel was merely icing on the cake.

The mystery in Tumbleweed is intriguing, and the book reads quickly. Even though the emphasis is on the story, the characters are beguiling, and you can't help wanting to know more about them. One thing I do know for certain: I'll be grabbing the next book in the series in order to continue my literary love affair with the commissaris!

Tumbleweed by Janwillem van de Wetering
ISBN: 1569470189
Soho Press © 2003
(Originally published 1976)
 Paperback, 225 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Grijpstra & de Gier mystery
Rating: B
Source: Paperback Swap