Bloodroot (2001) by Susan Wittig Albert in the China Bayles series of (amateur sleuth) crime fiction, set in Mississippi. I thought this was the best of the series. Key motifs were dreams, heredity, Huntington’s Disease, property ownership, births “on the wrong side of the blanket.” Almost no appearances by McQuaid or Ruby in this book.
Killing the Shadows (2000) by Val McDermid, a thriller featuring crime profiler Fiona Cameron. A very dark story. A lot of intertwined plots. Voyeurism, psychological profiling, and all kinds of communications technology feature strongly. Too much “had she but known” at the end of chapters.
Aftermath (2001) by Peter Robinson in the Banks police procedural series. Excellent, most (not all) of the violence is retrospective, complex plot elements are deftly woven together. Plot involves a serial killer and sexual crime and abuse investigations of children. Set in Leeds and Eastvale, mostly.
In the Midnight Hour (2001) by Michelle Spring in the private investigator Laura Principal series, set in Cambridge, England. Motifs are lost children (search for a lost child, Laura’s miscarriage and her ambivalent feelings about it), courage and cowardice. I thought it was her best to date.
Fraud (2001) by David Rakoff: Humorous nonfiction essays. I think he’s better than Sedaris, whom I also like. Essays on climbing Mt. Monadnock on Christmas as a non-sportsman, gay New Yorker; Steven Segal and the Omega Institute; being Canadian; being Freud in Barney’s Dept. store window; the Loch Ness Monster; tracking school with Tom Brown; his cancer and treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto; et al.
Unbreathed Memories (2000) by Marcia Talley, in the amateur sleuth series featuring Hannah Ives, a middle-aged breast cancer survivor. Set in Annapolis and Baltimore, MD. The plot is simple, concerns family relationships, not all that interesting.
Occasion of Revenge (2001) by Marcia Talley, in the Hannah Ives series, set in Annapolis and Chestertown, MD. Again with the “had she but known” stuff at chapter ends. But this plot was better than the one in Unbreathed Memories.
Lying Awake (2000) by Mark Salzman, excellent fiction that reads like non-fiction, about a nun with a neurological disorder than gives her visions. Explores daily life in a Carmelite monastery. The nun, Sister John of the Cross, has to decide whether to give up her visions, and her sense of being very close to God, in order to maintain harmony in her community. I’ve recommended it a lot.
A Place of Execution (1999) by Val McDermid, a police procedural with Inspector George Bennet, DS Tommy Clough. A solid mystery, minimal gore, lots of puzzles, great characters.
Adam and Eve and Me (2001) by Ruth Rendell: Not really a mystery, as we know who did it from the start. Some sections and character development strong, some not. Schizophrenia. It almost seems like cheating when the murderer is psychotic and unaware of what she’s doing. All the plots fitted together nicely but it was a little over-complicated, I thought.
A Test of Wills (1996) by Charles Todd, in the Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge historical mystery series, set in Warwickshire, England, after World War I. Rutledge hears the voice of Hamish in his head; Hamish is a Scottish soldier he killed for insubordination. Complex plot, great ending. A bit difficult to keep characters straight.
Hunting Season (2002) by Nevada Barr, in the Anna Pigeon/National Parks series. Set in Natchez Trace Park in Mississippi. Plot involves illegal hunting, bent and murderous rangers, stolen land, racial tension. Good plot and action, with history of the area.
Dressed to Die (1998) by Beverly Connor, in the Lindsay Chamberlain series. Chamberlain is a Univ. of Georgia forensic anthropologist. Two major plots, involving stolen archaeological artifacts, are neatly related. Lindsay’s brother Sinjin appears in this one.
Death by Darjeeling (2001) by Laura Childs, a “tea shop mystery.” Set in Charleston, SC. Pleasant enough mystery but chapters extremely short (2-7 pp each) which makes the story disjointed. The motive for the murder isn’t known until the killer is identified. Not that well written: too much description of eye movement (glistening, widening, etc.) and of how people talk. The characters seemed caricaturish, not real. The tea info was fun.
The Nanny Diaries (2002) by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Fiction (based on real life) about a 21-year-old nanny and the family she works for for 9 months in NYC. Funny.
Dead Cat Bounce (1998) by Sarah Graves, the first in the home repair series. Jake Tiptree was a financial trader; she comes to Eastport, Maine to live and renovate a house, and ends up a sleuth. I figured out the killer by page 107 (of about 300 pages). Too many comparisons with “downeast” and the rest of the world. Some editing errors, too much “had she but known.” Themes of revenge, promises and doing one’s duty, children protecting parents. FBI involved. Read for bookgroup.
The Chalon Heads (2001) by Barry Maitland, in the Kathy and Brock series. A police procedural with specialised knowledge. Extremely complex, good crime novel featuring stamp collecting. Set in Surrey and London. Quite gruesome.
Women of the Silk (1991) by Gail Tsukiyama. Fiction, read for bookgroup. Set in China from 1919 t0 1939, about a daughter given to silk work at age 8 after living on a farm until then. Similar to Amy Tan’s books in voice and dialogue but more gentle in tone. Moving. Lots of sad deaths. Themes of pain (of sex, birth), hairdressing as a ceremony equivalent to marriage, fate (resigning oneself to it or fighting it), and some interesting exploration of relationships.
Scene of Crime (2001) by Jill McGown, in the Lloyd and Hill series. Both are DIs, in Malworth, England. Plot is strong, characterisation a bit weak and no unifying themes.
April Fool Dead (2002) by Carolyn Hart, in the Annie Darling series. Too much awkward reference to mystery authors and books, as always in this series. Writing style simplistic (as always in this series). I think I read them because they are exceedingly cozy and sometimes I’m in the mood for that. In this one, Annie plans a Whodunnit media/PR event for Emma’s latest book. Someone else creates a similar flyer and posts it everywhere, with 5 crimes from the past alluded to — all are designed to draw attention away from the killer’s own crime.
Questionable Remains (1997) by Beverly Connor, in the Lindsay Chamberlain series, set in Georgia, with two plots, involving 1500s Indians and Spanish conquistadors, and contemporary murders for insurance money. Themes include Native Americans’ beliefs, “enemies,” caving, and greed.
The Weight of Water (1997) by Anita Shreve, for bookgroup. A historical novel set in the Isle of Shoals, in NH/ME, specifically on Smuttynose, in Maine. Includes a murder story from 1870s, via a diary, told in alternating chapters with the contemporary story about 5 people on a boat out of Portsmouth. Somewhat choppy feeling. Tragic. Themes of carelessness and fragility, transplants/roots, holding on, choices, the weight of stories.
The Echo (1997) by Minette Walters, suspense novel set in London in the present day. Good story, a bit too complex, kept forgetting who was who. Ending a bit anti-climactic.
Animal Husbandry (1998) by Laura Zigman, a singleton novel similar to Bridget Jones’s Diary. Set in NYC, present day. Light read, a bit hard to get into at first but then fun. Jane Goodall (not the famous one) researches extensively to determine why her latest relationship didn’t work out and eventually publishes her theories under a false name with false credentials in her friend’s men’s magazine. Each chapter begins with text of actual scientific work on love, sex, mating.
Cat on the Scent (1998) by Rita Mae Brown, an animal mystery set in Crozet, VA. Plot involves a business partnership formed to buy up land with underground water sources. Meh.
Stones from the River (1994) by Ursula Hegi, for bookgroup. An epic novel about secrets and stories. Set 1915-1952 in Burgdorf, Germany, this is the story of the main character, Trudi Montag, a Zwerge (dwarf), and her passions, resentments, revenges, loves, stubborness, courage … her life.
Airtight Case (2000) by Beverly Connor, in the Lindsay Chamberlain series, set in the Great Smokey Mountains. Complex, well-plotted (plot involves forging historical documents), all story lines (including one from the 1700-1800s) pulled together. At the outset, Lindsay is attacked and buried with two hikers who tried to help her but were killed; she gets out and has memory loss but recovers most of her memory in a few days.
Hard Eight (2002) by Janet Evanovich, in the bounty hunter Stephanie Plum series, set in “the Burg,” New Jersey, with Lula, Ranger, Morelli, Grandma Mazur, and Stephanie’s sister Valerie. Plot so-so, but funny as usual, though could use more Grandma Mazur.
Grave Secrets (2000) by Kathy Reichs, in the Tempe Brennan (forensic anthropologist) series. Tempe investigates 1982 savage murders in Chupan Ya with the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation. Then she’s asked to help on a contemporary murder case and missing persons case of the Canadian ambassador’s daughter.
Evan Can Wait (2001) by Rhys Bowen, in the Constable Evan Evan series, set in Llanfair, North Wales. So-so, a little boring, though plot was pretty good. Some folks comes to town to film the raising of a WWII plane from a lake; one of the guys snoops around for other stories and gets killed in a slate mine. Involves looted art. Alternates between the present and an account of someone’s pre-WWII crimes.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (1996) by Rebecca Wells, fiction, for bookgroup. Set in Thornton, LA in the 1930s to the present. Fun. Themes include race relations, mother-daughter bond (forgiveness, envy, etc.), loss (of loved ones, self, sanity), religion vs. spirit.
And Justice There is None (2002) by Deborah Crombie, in the Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid series, set in London. Her books are always good. This one involves the antiques business, drugs habit, black-white relationships, Notting Hill and Portobello Road.
Innocent Graves (1996) by Peter Robinson, in the Alan Banks (police procedural) series, one of my favourite crime series, set in Eastvale (outside of London).
Acid Row (2002) by Minette Walters, suspense set in Bassindale Estate (near London?), a low-income neighborhood with maze-like streets and only two egresses. Two separate stories — one about pedophiles and rioting, another about a 10-year-old runaway girl — are tied together very lightly. Villains and heroes.
Miss Pinkerton (1932) by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Several stories about Hilda Adams, a nurse-turned-PI. Classic mystery.
The Wedding (1995) by Dorothy West. Fiction, for bookgroup. Novel about gradations of race (colour) and class in one African-American family now living on Martha Vineyard’s “The Oval. ”
The Cranefly Orchid Murders (2002) by Cynthia Riggs, a mystery set on Martha’s Vineyard (West Tisbury), with 92- and 11-year-old sleuths. Plot is about the sale of a piece of land that everyone wants — one for a commune, one for a golf course, one for conservation trust, one for housing development. OK book. Some characters seemed unnecessary, didn’t seem to have a purpose.
The Grace Maurice (2002) by Martha Grimes in the Richard Jury/Melrose Plant series. Horses, Premarin (the Wyeth-Ayerst estrogen replacement, taken from tortured pregnant mares) and the Ryder family are the focus of this one. Melrose buys a horse, Aggrieved. He also hires and fires an ornamental hermit. Melrose is my hero.
The Lovely Bones (2002) by Alice Sebold. Fiction, for bookgroup. This book, about a 14-year-old girl raped and killed and now (1970s) in heaven, was pretty bad in many ways.
One Man’s Meat (1942) by EB White, essays that are totally relevant 60+ years later. Excellent.