Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Crime Hits Home, Part 2

 

Crime Hits Home is an anthology from Mystery Writers of America, edited by S. J. Rozan. The book was published in April 2022 and all of the stories in the book were first published in this book.

The theme for the stories in this book is home and the crimes that endanger it. The definition of home has been interpreted in different ways in the various stories in this book.


In 2023, I reported on the first three stories in the book. See my comments on those stories here

This week I have read four more stories in the book:


"Banana Island" by Susan Breen

In terms of pure enjoyment, this was my favorite story. Marly Bingham owns a small house in Long Island City (three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, Standing Room Only kitchen). For this house she has been offered two million dollars. She doesn't want to sell, although she could use the money. Many of her relatives live in the same area and she wants to stay where she has family. But the really interesting part is that Marly works for the IRS; her job is to talk on the phone to scammers who try to convince lonely, needy people into giving away all their money. While Marly is taking up the scammer's time, they are not bothering other people. The scammer she is currently working on is very persistent. The story was very unusual, entertaining, and  I loved the resolution. 


"Calling Mr. Smith" by Ellen Hart

This is another unusual story. It takes place in October 1987, in Hollywood, Minnesota. The theme is "you can't go home again." 

Astrid Ahlness is returning to her home town and the house she grew up in to celebrate her mother's 75th birthday. Astrid and her mother have never gotten along. Her older brother, Ivor, has always been the favored one who can do no wrong. Now that they are older and have families, Astrid and Ivor get along fairly well. Astrid desperately wants to inherit her half of the house when her mother dies, but Ivor wants to buy it from their mother for his summer home. There is a lot of plot and backstory packed into this 23-page story. Overall it was sad and depressing but well-written.


"Stalking Adolf" by Renee James

This story centers on a transgender woman. She lives with her 16-year-old daughter, who resents the fact that her father chose to become a woman. The woman, who narrates the story, is being stalked by a man who threatens her life and her daughter's. One night he invades their home, and she has to decide how to handle the situation. An interesting story, but the resolution made me uncomfortable.


"Playing for Keeps" by S.J. Rozan

The last story in the book is very brief and takes place in the US following World War II. The main character is a Jewish girl who was in a Polish prison camp during the war. Her mother's cousin brought her and her younger brother to live in a small town in Ohio following the war. The children in the neighborhood taunt her and bully her brother into giving up his marbles. She is determined to win them back. An excellent story and very moving.


Other resources:



Sunday, June 9, 2024

A Rip Through Time: Kelley Armstrong

 


This is the first book in a time travel trilogy by Kelley Armstrong. The main character in this book is a female police detective, Mallory Atkinson, from Vancouver, British Columbia, who is visiting Edinburgh in 2019 because her grandmother is very ill.  While out jogging in the evening, she tries to help a young woman in the streets who is being attacked; at that point she is transported to another time, which she later finds out is Edinburgh in 1869. For the rest of the story, Mallory's focus is on trying to figure out what happened and how she can return to her own time. 

Soon she learns that her consciousness is in the body of a very attractive young house maid who works in a house owned by a young doctor, Dr. Gray, and his sister, Isla. This is what she sees when she looks in the mirror:

"The girl—young woman, I should say—is no more than twenty. Honey-blond hair that curls to midback. Bright blue eyes. Average height with curves not quite contained by the corset over my chest. Not me."

There are a lot of convenient coincidences. A policewoman from 2019 transported back to Edinburgh 150 years earlier is very lucky to end up in a situation that she did. The owner of the house she is working in is an undertaker who has gone to medical school, and his major interest is investigating deaths (cause of death, etc.). He has a friend in the police who can give him access to bodies for research in some cases. His sister runs the house; she is a chemist who cannot work in her chosen field because she is a woman. All of this gives her opportunities and access that she would not have had in other households. However, I easily accepted these coincidences because the story was so interesting and fun.


My thoughts:

  • Mallory tells the story in first person present tense narration. I usually like stories narrated by the main character and it works well here. I usually don't like the use of present tense in fiction, but I am getting used to it.
  • The characters are very well done, and the women in the book are strong characters, not afraid to assert themselves. Mallory has to be careful with her behavior because she knows that no one will believe that she is actually from 150 years in the future. She must act subservient like a maid would, and do all the work a maid does, after she recovers from the attack.
  • I like time travel books a lot, and this one was a good read and educational. I learned a lot about Edinburgh and Scotland in 1869. 
  • As far as I could tell, the author did a good job with the setting and atmosphere in Edinburgh in 1869. On her website, Armstrong has notes for the sources she used in research for this novel.


Armstrong is a Canadian author, and I am always looking for Canadian authors to read. Since this story is set in Edinburgh, we don't get a Canadian setting, but I have read two books from another one of her series, the Rockton series, set in the Yukon territory in Canada.

I read this book on my Kindle; it was the third eBook I read this year. I have the 2nd book in this series as an eBook also and I would like to read it by the end of the year. 


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2022
Length:       352 pages
Format:      eBook
Series:        A Rip Through Time #1
Setting:      Edinburgh, Scotland
Genre:       Time Travel
Source:      Kindle Unlimited.


Thursday, June 6, 2024

What Was Lost: Catherine O'Flynn

 


A young girl, Kate, ten years old, lives with her grandmother; her goal is to be a detective, and run her own detective agency. She has few friends, hates school, and entertains herself with investigating cases that she has made up. She spends a lot of time at a huge mall nearby watching others and pretending she is a detective. One day she disappears and most of the story focuses on how this event affects other people in her neighborhood, over the following years.

The first section focuses on Kate, up to the point where she goes to take an exam for placement in a school that her grandmother plans for her to attend. The remaining portions of the book take place in 2004 and 2005, 20 years later, and focus on Kurt, a security guard in the Green Oaks Mall, and Lisa, an employee at a large record store in the mall. 

Lisa's connection to Kate is clear; her older brother was Kate's friend and was the last person seen with her before she disappeared. He was blamed for her disappearance. Kurt's connection is not revealed until much later in the book.

Most of the book takes place in a very large mall in Birmingham, England. Although the focus is mostly on the three main characters, other topics are covered in interesting ways: consumerism, how the development of malls affected other businesses in the area, and  relationships in families and dysfunctional families.


My thoughts...

This book has elements of crime fiction but is far from a traditional mystery novel. I liked it a lot, even though I wondered where it was going at times. The story held my interest throughout. I liked the focus on a few characters and the characterization was excellent.

I loved the ending. I would not call it a twist ending, but it was not what I expected. Open issues from the first third of the book are tied up satisfactorily.


I first learned of this book many years ago at Margot Kinberg's blog.

Other good reviews are at 746books and Clothes in Books.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Henry Holt and Co., 2008. Orig. pub. 2007.
Length:      240 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy. 


Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Nearly Nero, Part 2

 

In April, I read the first four stories in Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman. See my comments on those stories here. This week I finished reading the remaining six stories in the book. 

The subtitle for this book is "The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe." Between 2008 and 2016, Estleman wrote nine short stories about Claudius Lyon, a man who is obsessed with emulating Nero Wolfe in all ways, and his assistant, Arnie Woodbine. Six of these stories were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. One was published by the Mysterious Press, one by the Mysterious Bookshop, and one was published by Crippen & Landru.  The last story in the book ("Wolfe Whistle") was written for publication in this book. 


The last six stories are: 

“Wolfe Trap” 

“Wolfe in Chic Clothing” 

“Wolfe in the Manger” 

“Wolfe and Warp” 

“Peter and the Wolfe” 

“Wolfe Whistle” 


Two of those stories were set at Christmas, "Wolfe Trap" and "Wolfe in the Manger." Those were my favorite stories in the book.

In "Wolfe Trap," Captain Stoddard of the Brooklyn Bunco Squad asks for Lyon's help because his niece has been accused of theft. She works at a successful bookstore and was the only person around when $200 went missing at a Christmas party. Otto Penzler is a character and the crime took place at his book store.


I found that the later stories in the collection were more imaginative, developed some of the characters to a greater extent, and had more interesting puzzles. It is also much clearer in those stories that Claudius Lyon is intelligent and a good solver of puzzles. He may be a nut case who wants to  model his whole existence around another person's life, but he is clever at the right time and place. 


The book also includes:

  • An excellent introduction by the author, discussing Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries and Estleman's decision to write a humorous version of Wolfe and Goodwin in these stories.
  • The introduction that Estleman wrote for the 1992 Bantam paperback edition of Fer-de-Lance.
  • A Recommended Reading section.


Also see this review at George Kelley's blog



Friday, May 31, 2024

Six Degrees of Separation: From Butter to Tales from the Café

 

The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six books, forming a chain. The common points may be obvious, like a word in the title or a shared theme, or more personal. Every month Kate provides the title of a book as the starting point.


The starting book this month is Butter: A Novel of Food and Murder by Asako Yuzuki. Just based on the subtitle, I want to read it. It is described at Amazon as: "A highly fresh and original novel following a journalist in contemporary Japan as she investigates a serial killer convicted of luring wealthy men in with her cooking classes only to seduce, murder, and rob them, and a gripping exploration of misogyny, obsession, and the pleasures and pressures of food." That sounds pretty interesting.


1st degree:

Another Japanese mystery that focuses on a serial killer is The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Sōji Shimada. I have not read that one but my husband has, and I may read his copy someday. That book has also been described as a locked-room mystery.


2nd degree:

My next link is to a book by Japanese author Keigo Higashino. Malice features one of Higashino's series characters, Detective Kyoichiro Kaga. A best-selling novelist is found murdered in his locked office, inside his locked house. However, in this book the focus is less on solving the locked-room problem than on the relationships between the dead man and the suspects, and the motive behind the killing. 


3rd degree:

I recently read Newcomer, another mystery by Higashino which also featured police detective Kyoichiro Kaga. This one has a very different structure and mood. A woman who has recently moved to the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo has been murdered in her apartment, and it appears that she knew her murderer. Each chapter features a location at which Kaga interviews various witnesses or suspects who can give him information leading to the solution of a crime in the neighborhood. Information is doled out bit by bit as a picture of the murder and the circumstances surrounding it are revealed. 


4th degree:

For my fourth book I will stay with Japan and Japanese authors, but move to another genre. The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa is a fantasy about a cat and a boy who is left alone after his grandfather dies. This is another one my husband has read, and I will read it soonish, since it is a book about books.


5th degree:

The previous book leads me to another Japanese novel about a cat, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. The cat and a man take a journey together. That is all I know about the story and all I want to know before I read it. 


6th degree:

Next I am featuring a book about travelling, but this time it is a book about time travel. Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi is about a café in Tokyo which has been serving a special coffee for more than one hundred years. Visitors to the café can also take advantage of a special service; they can travel back in time under specific conditions. This is the second in a series of books about time travel in a Japanese café; I read the first one and I enjoyed it very much. This one is on my list of 20 Books of Summer.



I did not travel very far in my Six Degrees for June. I stayed in Japan. But I did cover various genres. Have you read any of these books? 


If you did this month's Six Degrees, where did your list take you?


The next Six Degrees will be on July 6th, 2024 and the starting book will be Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos (translated by Michael Hoffman), which won the 2024 International Booker Prize.


Thursday, May 30, 2024

Newcomer: Keigo Higashino

 

I enjoy reading Japanese mysteries. My favorite Japanese author is Keigo Higashino, who has written two mystery series in addition to some standalone novels. This book is the second book featuring Detective Kyoichiro Kaga that has been translated to English.


Each of the books by Higashino that I have read is very different. He definitely does not follow a formula. In Malice, the first book in English to feature Detective Kaga, the story was more focused on characters and relationships. This book, Newcomer, seems at first to be a more straightforward police procedural. A woman who has recently moved to the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo has been murdered in her apartment, and it appears that she knew her murderer. Detective Kaga spends a lot of time visiting various locations, mostly small businesses, near her home to gather clues about her activities before she was murdered.

Each chapter features a location at which Kaga interviews various prospective witnesses or suspects, and each chapter reads almost like a self-contained short story. The reader doesn't know much about the murder and the victim until about a third of the way through the book. Information is doled out bit by bit as a picture of the murder and the circumstances surrounding it are revealed. For a while this method of introducing the crime and the characters related to it annoyed me a bit, and it seemed like a simplistic way of telling the story. But as the relationships between all these shops and people come together, the complexity of the story is revealed. 


I have enjoyed every mystery by Keigo Higashino that I have read. I was rereading my reviews of his books, and I realized that I have never given my husband credit for introducing me to this writer (and many other Japanese mystery authors). He has been appreciative of Japanese mysteries for years, and now I share his enthusiasm.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2018 (orig. pub. 2001)
Translator:  Giles Murray
Length:       342 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Kyoichiro Kaga
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.