THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware

Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Don’t people know that the phrase “…. has gone terribly, or horribly, or awfully, wrong”  has been used so often that it grates on the ear, not to say irritates the mind?

Anyway, annoying protagonist, and not the kind you dislike because you are supposed to, but because she is the kind of person you really wouldn’t have much to do with in RL, being almost an alcoholic, a paranoid skittish person, and one who basically is just pinballing through life, bumper to bumper.

Not much of a thriller plot, with a really improbable ending.

Don’t think I will search out any more of Ware’s thrillers.

BLEEDING HEART SQUARE by Andrew Taylor

‘Don’t go of a night into Bleeding Heart Square, It’s a dark, little, dirty, black, ill-looking yard, with queer people about.’ – From “The Housewarming!!: A Legend of Bleeding-Heart Yard”,  The Rev’d Richard Harris Barham: The Ingoldsby Legends, or, Mirth and Marvels, Third Series, 1847.

Legend states the Devil once danced in Bleeding Heart Square and left a murdered woman behind him. Formerly the site of a medieval palace, it is now, in 1934, a decaying north London cul-de-sac. In a lodging house resides a collection of tenants with equally colorful histories, including the sinister Samuel Serridge.

As the story opens,  we find the protagonist, Lydia Langstone, walking out on her abusive husband and moving in with her estranged father in his apartment in Bleeding Heart Square. In doing so, she unknowingly stumbles onto and into dark secrets, both old and current.

Rory is in a relationship with Fenella and he eventually comes to live in Bleeding Heart Square and strikes up a relationship with Lydia in their quest to find out what had happened to the previous owner, Miss Philippa May Penhow, who had disappeared very suddenly four years previously, with Serridge being the prime suspect in her disappearance. Herbert Narton, a police officer, has been on his case for the last four years trying to gather evidence to prove Serridge has murdered her, but he also has some skeletons in the cupboard and his own agenda for trying to implicate Serridge.

Not long after her disappearance, the local vicar (a very odd man too) had received a letter purportedly from Miss Penhow which was sent from New York, saying she was now living there. Narton challenges that the letter was from her and gets Rory involved with his suspicions.

A little slow, but still great fun, nice mystery, and I as usual had no clue as to what actually happened.  Must see what else he has written.

 

A CAREER OF EVIL by Robert Galbraith

This is the third in the Cormoran Strike mystery series, and tiresome it was.  Having solved two high profile homicide investigations with the assistance of his sidekick Robin Ellacott, private investigator Cormoran Strike is recovering from his newfound popularity. He and Robin have finally managed to re-establish their usual work routine, when they receive an extremely unusual package: one that contains a severed leg from a female. The incident causes Strike to reflect on the many individuals he’s crossed in the path, and to wonder just how many might be looking for revenge. He makes a list of these men for the police detectives working the case, but it seems like the officers don’t take Strike’s concerns very seriously. Cormoran and Robin make the decision to pursue their own independent investigation.

Their search for information leads them to some of London’s shadier neighborhoods, as they seek information on the men on Strike’s list of suspects. Dead end after dead end frustrates them. Unfortunately, it appears the owner of the leg isn’t the killer’s only victim—more bodies appear and the association with Strike hurts his business. Cormoran and Robin need to solve this case before their agency goes belly up.

Too much adolescent bullshit with the multiperson romances going on with Robin and Strike, and frankly, stick to the mystery.  I am done with Galbraith… Rawling …. in whatever guise she shows up in .

 

THE SILKWORK by Robert Galbraith

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before.

I have decided that I don’t much like J. K. Rawlings as Robert Gabraith.  Every chapter has some quote from somewhere, that is not terribly apt, nor quotable, but comes off as annoying and pretentious.  “Look how much I read… look at all these obscure quotes.”  Really irritating.

The title of the book, The Silkworm, is the title of the roman à clef which the dead guy had written, Bombyx Mori.  The silkworm was a metaphor for the writer, who has to go through agonies to get at the good stuff.

Really great mystery, but frankly, the adolescent horseshit engaged in by Strike and his assistant is just so babyish.  Grow up, speak up, and stop playing soap opera.  Really.

A BALI CONSPIRACY MOST FOUL by Shamini Flint

In this second of the series, Inspector Singh, everyone’s favorite portly and wheezing homicide detective, is still recovering from his last case when terrorists set off a bomb on the neighboring island of Bali. With Singapore’s anti-terrorist team busy defending the home front, Inspector Singh’s bosses ship him to Bali to assist with the investigation. Unfortunately, Inspector Singh has as much experience with terrorism as he does with proper diet and exercise – none.

When the police find a skull fragment of a man who was killed before the bomb went off, Inspector Singh is assigned to the case. With Bronwyn Taylor, a peppy and eternally optimistic Australian cop, at his side, Singh’s investigation leads him to the wife of the murdered man, and her group of entitled, expatriate friends. The murder seems like an open-and-shut case – that is, until Bronwyn and Singh realize that this crowd is riddled with enough cheating and discontent to fill out a soap opera.

This simple murder is quickly becoming more complicated than Singh could have imagined. And how does it all tie into the act of terrorism that brought him to Bali in the first place? Set in an exotic locale and starring an unforgettable cast of characters, this second mystery featuring the utterly lovable Inspector Singh is exciting, funny, and suspenseful, with an ending that even the most seasoned detective couldn’t predict.

Shamini’s characters are gloriously and unabashedly ordinary, human, and in some cases downright homely. Shamini is the Somerset Maugham for the 21st century, but in 3D. Her characters are overweight, overskinny, and poorly dressed.  A fun, cozy mystery without the old ladies knitting or the single thirties lady protagonist and the handsome homicide detective.

STILL LIFE by Louise Penny

As the early morning mist clears on Thanksgiving Sunday, the homes of Three Pines come to life – all except one…

To locals, the village is a safe haven. So they are bewildered when a well-loved member of the community is found lying dead in the maple woods. Surely it was an accident – a hunter’s arrow gone astray. Who could want Jane Neal dead?

In a long and distinguished career with the Sûreté du Quebec, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has learned to look for snakes in Eden. Gamache knows something dark is lurking behind the white picket fences, and if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will begin to give up its secrets.

Definitely a fun mystery, with a nice police detective who isn’t an alcoholic, a drug addict, divorced, strange, or otherwise a less-than-fine human being.  Nice change.  Looking forward to more of this series.

CLAIRE DeWITT AND THE BOHEMIAN HIGHWAY by Sara Gran

When Paul Casablancas, Claire DeWitt’s musician ex-boyfriend, is found dead in his Mission District home, the police are convinced it’s a simple robbery. But Claire knows nothing is ever simple.

With the help of her new assistant, Claude, Claire follows the clues, finding hints to Paul’s fate in her other cases—especially that of a missing girl in the gritty 1980s East Village and a modern-day miniature horse theft in Marin. As visions of the past reveal the secrets of the present, Claire begins to understand the words of the enigmatic French detective Jacques Silette: “The detective won’t know what he is capable of until he encounters a mystery that pierces his own heart.” And love, in all its forms, is the greatest mystery of all—at least to the world’s greatest PI. 

Claire is heavily tattooed; she drinks and takes drugs to excess, as often as not stealing the drugs from the medicine cabinets of unsuspecting friends. To solve her mysteries, she relies on mysticism and dreams as much as on more traditional methods of investigation.  Claire investigates for the next several months with the aid of her new assistant, Claude, a graduate school dropout. In and around the investigation, Claire ruminates on the disappearance years earlier of one of her best friends, a girl named Tracy. As teenagers, Claire, Tracy and a girl named Kelly were inseparable. They discovered Silette’s book, Detection together and began investigating mysteries of their own. Then, shortly after they solved a particularly difficult case, Tracy simply disappeared and neither Claire nor Kelly ever heard from her again. Tracy’s disappearance was a critical element in the first Claire DeWitt novel and we now get the backstory that fills in many of the blanks.

In Bohemian Highway, we meet a Claire who is clearly out of control and not functioning well in her life’s destiny as a detective. She spends much of her time searching out sources for purchasing cocaine and whenever she visits anyone’s house or apartment, either as part of the investigation or just because, she seeks the bathroom and checks the bathroom cabinet for drugs. If she finds Percocet or Vicodin or Valium or anything else that will help her get high, she takes one or two of the pills and puts the rest in her purse. If she finds cocaine in the house, she steals it.

She is, in short, a mess. Her nose is constantly bleeding. Half the time it’s not clear whether she’s experiencing reality or some drug-induced dream. It is thoroughly depressing.

And yet, we are meant to believe that her finely honed instinct for detection is totally intact and that she is able to intuit the clues that she needs to eventually solve this case. I have no experience with cocaine, but somehow, I just don’t think that’s the way it works, especially when you are mixing cocaine with Vicodin, Percocet, Valium, Adderall or whatever else the next medicine cabinet holds. Yes, one has to suspend disbelief when reading fiction and allow the author his/her artistic license, but this was too much for me.

It seemed that the mystery, the main one and the smaller side ones, took a definite back seat to her drug use and her fogged musings on the friend of her high school days who went missing and was never found.

Not as good as the first in the series, but I think a third is coming out and perhaps that will wrap everything up.

LETHAL WHITE by Robert Galbraith

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that. 

OK, we all know that Robert Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling in disguise.  And this is a detective story disguised as a romance, or a love story disguised as a detective story.  Pretty good mystery, less good romance, leaning a bit to the hokey side. All that magical mystical stuff from Harry Potter perhaps having smooched up her brain.

And now after the howler Mz Rowling created with her phobic remarks about transgender women, and then her long blogged essay with even more transgender phobia explaining her first transgender phobic remarks, it is hard to want to read the rest of the series.

It becomes one of the issues about the art and the artist, and can one separate them, compartmentalize them, and enjoy the work and dislike the creator?  Tough one.

CLAIRE DeWITT AND THE CITY OF THE DEAD by Sara Gran

This new series features Claire DeWitt, the world’s greatest PI—at least, that’s what she calls herself. A one-time teen detective in Brooklyn, she is a follower of the esoteric French detective Jacques Silette, whose mysterious handbook Détection inspired Claire’s unusual practices. Claire also has deep roots in New Orleans, where she was mentored by Silette’s student the brilliant Constance Darling—until Darling was murdered. When a respected DA goes missing she returns to the hurricane-ravaged city to find out why. 

Well, phooey, that little blurb doesn’t even begin to describe this book.

One reviewer named Claire DeWitt is a detective, willing to use all means necessary–including hallucinogenic dreams, the I Ching and fingerprint analysis–to solve her cases. She knows ultimately she will be solving the case for herself, because sometimes the client doesn’t want it solved:
“The client already knows the solution to his mystery. But he doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t hire a detective to solve his mystery. He hires a detective to prove that his mystery can’t be solved.”

Leon is a client who has requested her help finding his uncle Vic, a lawyer who disappeared during Hurricane Katrina. He feels a little guilty: “‘You know what it says in the Bible,’ Leon said with resignation. ‘Look out for thine uncle as you would thineself. Or whatever.'”

Claire tends to lie a little if it suits seeking solutions to a mystery, and isn’t entirely honest about her history to Leon. “‘How old are you?’ ‘Forty-two,’ I said. I was thirty-five. But no one trusts a woman under forty. I’d started being forty when I was twenty-nine.”

Claire’s search brings her into contact with gangs of feral, forgotten children and with her own tumultuous history as a detective when she apprenticed in New Orleans. Claire frequently references a book by a famous detective (albeit fictional) whose thoughts on detecting are philosophical musings on mystery, truth, and humanity, as well as her history with Constance, her mentor. The time shifts flow smoothly and don’t feel the intrusive into the story; in fact, they blended very well, sometimes foreshadowing the next development in the mystery. Claire’s own mystery was worked in nicely, leaving a feel for her character but with a sense there is a lot more to discover.

As in many detective mysteries, setting plays a crucial role. One of the many small mysteries of the book is how Claire and the people of New Orleans never refer to Katrina by name, the way the rest of the country does. They call it a ‘flood’ and speak of it in terms of days (“‘By Monday the phones were down and…’ The rest of his sentence was obvious and he didn’t say it out loud”) or by location: at the Superdome, Houston, back home. Claire notes the problem with locating people, phone numbers, addresses in post-Katrina New Orleans, and at least a couple of the locals involved in Claire’s mystery are suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder. Finding Vic means visiting some of the ravaged areas, and Gran’s imagery is striking in its objectivity:
“Signs with letter missing told the story: lots of OTELS and HOT BO LED CRA FISH and AWN SH PS. In the intermediate zone I started to see the marks spray-painted on houses: circles with X’s through them, numbers and letters in the hollows of the X.”

There is proliferate drug use, but it is handled well. It is apparently an activity Claire engages in to self-medicate as well as bridge gaps between herself and other people.  This is very much a noir mystery, dark and painful in spots, but one I could not put down. 

And no, Jacques Silette is not a real person.   

A RED HERRING WITHOUT MUSTARD by Alan Bradley

“… a cup of ale without a wench, why, alas, ’tis like an egg without salt or a red herring without mustard.”  – Rhomas Lodge and Robert Green, in A Looking Glasse, for London and Englande (1592).

A beguiling novel starring the insidiously clever and unflappable eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce. The precocious chemist with a passion for poisons uncovers a fresh slew of misdeeds in the hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey–mysteries involving a missing tot, a fortune-teller, and a corpse in Flavia’s own backyard.

Flavia had asked the old Gypsy woman to tell her fortune, but never expected to stumble across the poor soul, bludgeoned in the wee hours in her own caravan. Was this an act of retribution by those convinced that the soothsayer had abducted a local child years ago? Certainly Flavia understands the bliss of settling scores; revenge is a delightful pastime when one has two odious older sisters. But how could this crime be connected to the missing baby? Had it something to do with the weird sect who met at the river to practice their secret rites? While still pondering the possibilities, Flavia stumbles upon another corpse–that of a notorious layabout who had been caught prowling about the de Luce’s drawing room.

Pedaling Gladys, her faithful bicycle, across the countryside in search of clues to both crimes, Flavia uncovers some odd new twists. Most intriguing is her introduction to an elegant artist with a very special object in her possession–a portrait that sheds light on the biggest mystery of all: Who is Flavia?

As the red herrings pile up, Flavia must sort through clues fishy and foul to untangle dark deeds and dangerous secrets.

A sweet, charming mystery,starring  a pre-adolescent who is constantly tormented by her really rather nasty two older sisters.  Appropriate for all ages, young and those of us with a few miles on us.