Mystery

bookcover: 
Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers' Club
Author: 
Robert J. Harris
Publisher: 
Floris Books
Genre: 
Action-Adventure: 
Rating: 
7
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781782503538

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Books for kids have a tall order. They should have a subtle (practically invisible) moral lesson that is delivered in a package that is fun, entertaining, not condescending. They should use language well, introduce the reader to new concepts, places, stories and characters, as well as make all those things relevant. And the instant the story begins to smell moral, young readers are out the door. Those old mystery books series like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys managed to fulfill all of the above, as well as write to a child's eye view, and introduce essentials like the importance of side-kicks. Robert J. Harris's Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers' Club also does a pretty good job of filling this very tall order.

It seems a no brainer to pick young Artie Conan Doyle to be the inquisitive main character of a child mystery, but it is a perfectly genius concept. And of course, Artie must have a childhood sidekick to parallel Watson, hence the dependable and oft hungry Ham. Even the 'Gravedigger' title falls perfectly into the kid mystery genre, too. And where better to begin the tale than in the beautifully drawn murk of Greyfriars graveyard a week after the death of the most famous of loyal terriers, Grayfriar's Bobby?

Mix together ghosts, gravediggers, a mysterious tenant, the lady in gray, a couple of curious boys, and fantastic ambiance and you have a solid recipe to satisfy any reader's mystery appetite. Artie and Ham felt quite real to me as we were hot on the trail of the mystery. I even like well-read Artie's home library, and hope young readers will be inspired to check out Artie's favorite books. I recommend Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers' Club to any kid (or adult) who would be interested in Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and even Sherlock Holmes. Meanwhile, I did a little research, and find myself intrigued by some of Robert J. Harris's other titles.

The Hardy Boys* meet Arthur Conan Doyle in Robert J. Harris's Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers' Club.

*(Okay, the Hardy Boys don't actually make an appearance in 1872. You probably knew that, but I figured I should make it really clear.)

bookcover: 
Author: 
Merry Jones
Publisher: 
Oceanview Publishing
Action-Adventure: 
Rating: 
9
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781608091911

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Review: 

As the story begins, Elle Harrison is beginning a new year of teaching second grade at Logan Elementary. Though this is a book in a series, we can tell without reading the other books that our Elle is a survivor, fighting to keep her life on an even keel, in spite of personal demons, destructive memories, and fears of random individuals like the creepy school custodian. She fights in a tangible way by taking on new challenges like selling her house to free herself of her past, and taking up the trapeze with her friends Becky and Susan (both projects with dubious success.) She's haunted by memories of her late husband, Charlie, and zones out, a thing her friends call "pulling an Elle." She has a lot to deal with, including finding the school principal Mrs. Marshall murdered, and being interrogated by Nick Stiles, the same detective who had been on her husband's case. By the end of the first chapter, her canoe is fully loaded with rocks and headed toward the waterfall with a slow leak.

We have sympathy with Elle because she has such troubles. She deals with not only her personal issues, but also having to work with Joyce (her nemesis). Joyce is something of a cold fish, and would be a challenge to work with in any environment except maybe in concert with other cold fish. Elle and her friends have empathy for their students, even troubled ones like Ty Evans, one of her former pupils who has a troubled family, and whose release from prison complicates the story.

Writing in first person is a challenge. Though Elle's life has made her neurotic, a condition which has her second guessing everything, this can be difficult for the reader to hear constantly and still remain sympathetic, she does remain a sympathetic character. This does make her pretty whiney for a heroine, although she has good reason to be. Her friends are somewhat supportive, and I can't decide if the author meant them to be realistic, loyal or pandering, because they know of her problems, but aren't as supportive as they could have been. (What kind of friends drink with someone prone to blackouts?) As for the mystery, on one count I was surprised, and on another count, I was not. I did enjoy the read. Even though Elle is a prisoner of her history and nerosis, and lives to be a piñata for life to beat up, I finished in one sitting. Childs Play is a series book that does stand alone.

bookcover: 
Last to Die, Rizzoli and Isles book cover
Author: 
Tess Gerritsen
Series: 
Rizzoli & Isles
Publisher: 
Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine
Rating: 
9
ISBN/ASIN: 

9780345515636

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Last to Die was my first Tess Gerritsen novel. It is a story of pursuit and rescue, of outsiders and insiders. Our entry into the story is thru Teddy Clock, whose family is massacred. He (and others) are rescued by the mysterious blonde who says "if you want to live." Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli has his case, and takes him to the Evensong boarding school in Maine, where many strange and damaged orphaned children are sequestered in protective custody in the wilderness. Medical examiner Maura Isles and Detective Jane Rizzoli make it their business to protect the orphans. Something is after them.

Fans of the television series Rizzoli and Isles will recognize the characters to some degree; but Jane and Maura's lives take a different turn in the books than they do on the screen. If I had never seen the television series, I would have visualized the book differently, I think, even though I read the books first, and discovered the series later.

I found the writing to be very serious, as compared to someone like, say, the entertaining Janet Evanovich, but infinitely more relatable than Kathy Reichs Bones series. No puff and fluff here, but chilling to the bone. Tess Gerritsen's knowledge as a doctor is intrinsic to the content of the book, and the content of Maura Isles personality, but the author's love of mystery and puzzle solving comes out as well. If you want a book that talks down to you, and that spoonfeeds you the story, Gerritsen's stories are not for you. If you love writing that respects you as a reader, and presents challenging stories and well rounded characters carved as sharply and clearly as a doctor's scalpel, then you will love Gerritsen's work as I do, though it might come with some nightmares.

bookcover: 
Madam Tulip
Author: 
David Ahern
Series: 
Madam Tulip Mysteries
Publisher: 
Malin Press
Action-Adventure: 
Rating: 
8
ISBN/ASIN: 

B01DPY6FLA

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Madam Tulip by David Ahern is a cozy mystery about an out-of-work actress with her father's psychic gift. When her best friend suggests making money with her psychic gift, Derry creates the role of her life - a fortune teller for the rich and famous. But her first gig as her alter ego, Madam Tulip, is disrupted by murder.

With her best friend framed for the murder, and the life of a super model in jeopardy, Derry must solve the case before it destroys her friends, family, and herself.

I adored Derry, her father Jacko, and her friend Bruce the most. Derry's borage tea addiction, Jacko's dramatic flare, and Bruce's unwavering loyalty kept me going back for more.

Ahern weaves an intriguing tale of murder and mayhem, with quirky heroes and dastardly villains. Madam Tulip is a fun exciting read and I look forward to the next book!

bookcover: 
Author: 
John F Dobbyn
Publisher: 
Oceanview Publishing
Action-Adventure: 
Rating: 
8
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781933515939

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Review: 

Neon Dragon is the second book by John F Dobbyn that I have read but it is first in the series, unless the author plans to pull a "Star Wars" and publish events wildly out of order. I inadvertently flipped the reading order only because book two came to me first. I know it happens to everyone—discovering book two or three (etc) after a series has already gotten rolling. In this case, both volumes do stand alone. This legal thriller series centers around the cases of Boston lawyer, Michael Knight. The way Dobbyn handles backstory (in book two) was something of an unwanted revelation to me to take back to my own writing, and still may lead to my switching a story to first person, and losing masses of backstory by converting into anecdotal "partner" conversation. I was surprised how little I had to know about Knight to accept him.

Some of that mysterious backstory comes out in Book One.

As the first book, Neon Dragon answers a few questions I had about Knight's history, and especially his history with his mentor Lex Devlin. Some of that backstory was deftly sidestepped (in book 2) because it had been handled already in Neon Dragon and to be honest, I didn't miss it. Being the first in a series, certain things about the character simply must come to light, and although I do appreciate the deftness with which Dobbyn handles some of this inevitable backstory, I'm still on the fence about how much is essential. He does an excellent job on the slow reveal, and packs in a few surprises at every turn.

We learn that Juvenile Michael is caught in his first criminal act for a street gang and is on the brink of a life of crime when provided a straight and narrow and uphill path by a criminal trial attorney who teaches Michael how to set high goals and achieve them.

Neon Dragon establishes certain key and reoccurring characters including Michael Knight of course, his mentor Lex Devlin, the District Attorney and "First Lady of Prosecution" Ms. Lamb, Mike's college friend Harry Wong, and a few others. It also establishes Michael as being able to slip in and out of various worlds—although not the world of Chinatown—because of a Puerto Rican mother and a white father, and casts light on his rocky childhood (with an emphasis on the hood).

In Neon Dragon, while in the middle of a trial, a prominent judge finagles Michael into defending his son Anthony who was wrongly accused of shooting ancient Chen An-Young in Chinatown. It's kind of the legal equivalent of a "cute meet," which is to say, an unusual but interesting way to be introduced to the crime that will make up the body of this story. What follows is a glimpse into the inscrutable criminal underbelly of Boston's Chinatown, where nothing is what it seems. It is a glimpse that is believable and entertaining, stays far enough from the courtroom to avoid legalese-tainted boredom, and close enough to the characters to be practically un-put-downable (a terrible word, but one most authors would love to find in a review.)

These are the things I like about this book: the solid team, the sense of place, the action integrated with what feels like solid legal know-how, the who-what-where-why done-it placing it solidly in its genre. The lilt and lift of the story, however, is all due to the uniqueness and compelling charm of Michael Knight's voice: a little naive, a little foolhardy, a little braver than he ought to be, a little more musical, and a lot more sarcastic. Grisham had better beware. John Dobbyn's humor, pacing, and turn of phrase just may knock Grisham out of the front seat of the legal thriller roller coaster.