Dr. Ruth Galloway Mystery #9
This is the ninth entry in the Dr. Ruth Galloway mysteries and it is an impressive and multifaceted novel. We were introduced to Ruth, a forensic archeologist, in THE CROSSING PLACES (2009) where she helped the police solve a very perplexing case involving a missing child. Many of the characters, from that first entry, are still a part of Ruth’s world. As an expert on bones, she is frequently asked to assist the police and she often works with DCI Harry Nelson. They have a complicated relationship – — COMPLICATED!
When bones are found in an underground work site, Ruth is enlisted to determine their age. She is horrified to report that the bones look as if they have been boiled and they appear to be modern. The investigation reveals a network of tunnels under the town – perhaps the remnants of old chalk mines.
At the same time, the police have a missing persons case involving a homeless lady but few people take notice until a new case develops where a middle class mother disappears after her school run. Suddenly it’s big news. The themes of underground societies and the plight of the homeless are consistent throughout the novel.
Ruth has some personal issues as well but I won’t discuss them here because it would be a spoiler for readers who want to start the series at book 1 (Crossing Places). I always like to read a series in order, but of course , that is a personal choice. The novel ends with some startling information about one of the characters.
THE CHALK PIT by Elly Griffiths (2017) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 358 pages
Elly Griffiths has a second series known as the Stephens and Mephesto Mysteries. The third book is available in the U.K. but here (in Canada) we have to wait until September.
“In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself. For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war. ” — The opening lines of a speech given by King George Vl of England, on the day it was announced that England was at war with Germany. (September 3, 1939)
The 13th novel in the MAISIE DOBB’S series begins with Maisie rushing to the home of her dearest friend Priscillia, so they can listen to the Prime Minister’s announcement on the wireless: war has been declared. This is a time period the British often refer to as the “phoney war”, or Churchill’s term “the twilight war” where nothing much happens on land, involving the Allies, for about eight months – ( although the seas are a different matter). The children of London are evacuated to country homes and the adults of London must carry gas masks and adhere to strict blackout rules. The initial chaos contributes to the cases that Maisie must confront since the police force, and the bureaucrats are overburdened. Maisie is employed to investigate the murder of a man who was a Belgium refugee in the first war and she also attends to a little girl who is an evacuee with a mysterious background.
Fans of this series will remember that the first novel (MAISIE DOBBS, 2003) began in 1929 with Maisie, also a psychologist, opening her inquiry agency. Many of the early cases had seeds in the first war and many of the characters were physically or mentally wounded by that war. But there was also healing and new life. It is therefore terribly heartbreaking that many of the children that offered up hope throughout the series are now eligible to fight in the new war. And here is what separates a series from a stand-alone novel; the reader may become totally invested in the characters in a series. I thought the last book ( JOURNEY TO MUNICH, 2016) was the weakest in the entire collection but I still wanted more Maisie (and friends).
The author manages to convey an overall sense of incredulity among the older characters that there is – indeed – another war. And some acceptance. But the younger characters – meaning those who weren’t yet born during the 1st war or those who were too young to remember – often display a sense of excitement.
Overall I felt this was maybe not the best entry in this series – but it was good – and I will look forward to reading about the next chapter in Maisie’s life.
IN THIS GRAVE HOUR, a Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear, (2017), Harper Collins, 332 pages.
Historical Fiction Novel
This novel begins in 1914 as three American sisters are heading into a nearby town, from their rural farm, to pick up a few provisions. Suddenly a motor car, driven by a young factory owner, slams into the ladies’ pony cart, causing extensive damages and narrowly avoiding serious physical harm or death. This is the only form of transportation for these three women so elder sister Constance has the damages assessed and sends the bill to the factory owner. He ignores it. Constance decides to take the factory owner to court. At this point in the story the factory owner – a man by the name of Henry Kaufman – enlists his group of thugs to systematically harass, stalk, blackmail and endanger the three sisters. Not a nice guy.
One of the best aspects of this fiction novel is that it is based on the real life story of Constance Kopp – a woman who became America’s first female sheriff. The factory owner is pretty easy to dislike; he sees himself as an entitled man with his inherited wealth, and his treatment of all women and his employees is despicable. Of course these events took place one hundred years ago so things would be different now (we wish –think of affluenza teen in the U.S.A.)
This is a great book to read for fans of strong female characters. Don’t suggest to these ladies that they may improve their life by finding a man to marry them. They will do whatever they can to stay together. In their past we find that they would handle a problem “head-on” and find a solution, And yes they had problems (even secrets).
The ladies find assistance from the sheriff. He’s a good sort and not afraid to ruffle some feathers.
Throughout the story the woman have other difficulties as well, especially their dwindling cash reserves. They have recently realized that they can’t keep selling off packets of the farm or they will soon have nothing. Youngest sister Flaurette has some sewing talent but A paying job would sure help.
Perfect for fans of female fiction and historical fiction.
Possibly first of a series.
GIRL WAITS WITH GUN HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT PUBLISHING 2015 408 PAGES
A MURDER MYSTERY
This is a delightful murder mystery reminiscent of the work of Agatha Christie and primarily set in an upscale British seaside resort during the 1930’s. Lots of fun characters (suspects?) and a dead body or two, along with some complicated relationships, amateur sleuthing and a few interesting subplots — what more could a fan of the British cozy mystery want? The witty banter between husband and wife, Amory and Milo, is more Nick and Nora Charles than Christie but their relationship is a little more complicated. Five years earlier Amory chose to marry the cad over the gentleman– and wouldn’t you know it–both are at the Brightwell (one by design and one by surprise) I sincerely hope that this is the first in a series because I just want MORE. I am already casting the characters, in my head, for the film version. Wonderful book.
I still have a handful of WW1 fiction titles that I would like to introduce in my blog before I move away from this topic (for now but not forever) and again I will emphasize that these novels could be set during and/or after the war.
DEAFENING…….by Frances Itani (2003) It has been several years since I read this novel but I think of the story and the characters often. That has to be a sign of a good novel. It is primarily the story of a girl, Grania who becomes deaf at age five after a bout with scarlet fever. She lives in a small town in Canada. The book addresses her education and her close family ties and much more as she is growing up. Eventually she meets a nice man and they marry but soon after the wedding, World War 1 breaks out and Grania’s dear husband signs up as a stretcher bearer with the Canadian army and heads to France. I have written about this book in more detail in an earlier posting because this little blurb could not possible do justice to such a special novel. A wonderful novel that just may send the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions. It was like that for me.
THE CRIMSON ROOMS….by Katharine McMahon (2009) This is a novel that expertly illustrates that a war isn’t really over simply because the fighting has stopped. Evelyn Gifford is a young woman in her 30’s trying to become a lawyer at a time when women were not expected to be lawyers. She lives in a household of women (mostly relatives) and they are grieving for Evelyns’ brother–his hat still hangs on the hook near the door where he left it on his last leave. Evelyn has some interesting cases including a war veteran who refuses to defend himself from a murder charge.I really like this novel and I think it tackles some issues that were in the forefront at the time. It is a stand-alone and a mystery.More next blog.
My last few blog entries have revolved around mystery series set during (or in the aftermath) of World War 1. I would like to continue that theme with this post about three mystery series that may be of interest to anyone who appreciates historical mystery fiction of this era. All three of these mystery series take place after the war but they all incorporate elements of he war, and in some cases the actual answer to the mystery can be found directly in something that happened during the war. All of the novels on this page feature strong, intelligent women as the main characters
Daisy Dalrymple is a character created by Carola Dunn with her first adventure being “DEATH AT WENTWATER COURT” (1994) and then followed by 20 more entries. The reader will learn early in the first novel that Daisy was the privileged child of an Earl but after the war (and because of the war) her circumstances changed dramatically. Her beloved brother Gervais died during the fighting and was buried somewhere in France. Her father died immediately following the war from the Spanish Flu. The Dalrymple money and estate were entailed and thus it was left to a distant cousin. Daisy’s fiance was a Quaker and a “conscientious objector” but he worked as an ambulance driver near the front and he was also killed. To keep busy (and to make money) Daisy began to write successful magazine articles. Her stories on the” Grand Old Estates” allowed for her to travel. In the first novel Daisy meets an interesting fellow – DCI Fletcher, himself a widower after his wife died from the Spanish Flu. Oh yeah…..and there’s a murder. These novels, although the subject matter can be intense, tend to be more like a cozy and less gritty than some other series of this era.
The next series is actually one of my favourites during this era–the DANDY GILVER series by Catriona McPherson with the first entry being “After the Armistice Ball (2005). This first novel is set among the struggling upper classes, in the aftermath of World War 1. We meet a character named Alex who has just inherited an estate , even though he was a second son. His older brother died in the war. A lot of things just aren’t the way they were meant to be. Dandy and Alex become WORK partners and I just love their witty banter, and the droll insight. They are at their absolute best when their investigations bring them to areas of Scotland where the superstitions and customs may seem ridiculous but they’re brilliant at separating the chaff from the wheat. And the war does figure directly in some of the entries, for example, they have a case that involved a “conchie”–that would be slang for conscientious objector. In one telling but simple scene, Dandy is talking to a woman about her own school age sons and, without thinking she asks the woman if she has sons. She realised her mistake immediately as the woman’s face crumpled in on itself. After the war a person NEVER asked a stranger about their sons. This series has 10 titles.
Jade del Cameron is another strong female character written by Suzanne Arruda with the first entry of the series called “THE MARK OF THE LION”(2006) Jade was an ambulance driver during WW1 where her pilot boyfriend downed his plane very near to where she was working. His dying wish was for her to travel to Africa and find his illegitimate brother. In truth I found this to be more of an “African Adventure series ” rather than a “WW1” series but an interesting read all the same.
I am very excited about my next blog post–I will be combining two of my favourite elements of fiction. I love fiction about Scottish Islands, I have written many blogs about this subject in past posts. And I also love World War 1 fiction so I am going present some Scottish Island fiction set during World War1.
I love mystery series – I suppose that started with Nancy Drew – but I still watch closely to see when my favourite authors are ready to release the next entry in their series. I will stalk them on the internet and the new release section of my library hoping to get near the beginning of the queue. I like to see the characters grow and change and develop and sometimes they even encounter set-backs. (It has just crossed my mind that Nancy Drew is not at all like that – she was always 18, dating Ned Nickerson and palling around with Bess.)
The first series is MAISIE DOBBS …By Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press, 2003) Maisie is a woman who is easy to admire. She spent many of her early years “in service ” until one day she was caught by the lady of the house using the library. This transgression might have resulted in immediate dismissal but instead the lady took an interest in Maisie and her informal education had begun. She went on to a more formal education but at the onset of WW 1 she trained to be a nurse (lying about her age). She saw many years service at the front lines in France. The novel actually begins in 1929 as Maisie is opening her office as an “Inquiry agent and Psychologist” but her cases constantly bring her back to the war and her earlier years are usually recounted as a flashback memory.. She deals with shell-shocked soldiers and many injustices that still stem from the war. She also manages to straddle the world of the upper and lower classes . Personal grief, depression, anxiety are all examined in the books. The Maisie Dobbs books now number 10—-in order MAISIE DOBBS 2003, BIRDS OF A FEATHER 2004, PARDONABLE LIES 2005, MESSENGER OF TRUTH 2006, AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE 2008, AMONG THE MAD 2009, THE MAPPING OF LOVE AND DEATH 2010, A LESSON IN SECRETS 2011, ELEGY FOR EDDIE 2012, LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED 2013. I highly recommend these novels. In a side note—-Jacqueline Winspear did not write a Maisie Dobbs book this year but instead she came out with s stand-alone (also about WW1) but I didn’t like it. Unfortunately I can not tell you why because it would be a spoiler. But rest assured Jacqueline Winspear fans, it was well reviewed by the REAL press. It is called THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF LIES 2014.
Another series I like also features a WWI . nurse. The books are by Charles Todd and feature a British nurse–Sister Bess Crawford. The first novel begins on Tuesday 21 November, 1916, 8:00 am aboard the HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic. Britannic had been requisitioned as a hospital ship with the onset of WWI and was travelling to collect wounded from Greek Macedonia, Palestine, and Mesopotania. The time and the date are important because 12 minutes later, at 8:12 a.m. an explosion rocked the ship. (Probably a mine) Fifty five minutes later the Britanic was lost beneath the sea. The Britannic had been the sister ship of the Titanic and many improvements had been undertaken so this ship could avoid the fate of the Titanic. Unfortunately simply human error was probably responsible for the quick sinking; the nurses had opened all the portholes on the fresh and breezy day to air out the chambers. There were adequate lifeboats (unlike the Titanic) and the final death toll was 30 lives. Even these lives could have been spared but several lifeboats left before the captain called”abandon ship” and they were swept into the propellor. This is a fairly accurate account of the sinking of the Britannic – I know , I researched it–(Okay, okay I googled it) And then the fiction…..Our heroine Bess is sent home to recover from a broken arm and she uncovers a mystery. I almost did not read this novel because of the author. Charles Todd—-I just had to wonder what a man could know about the emotions of a frontline nurse. Well guess what…Charles Todd is the pen name of a MOTHER and SON writing team.The first book is A DUTY TO THE DEAD 2009, AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS 2010, A BITTER TRUTH 2011, AN UNMARKED GRAVE 2012, A QUESTION OF HONOUR 2013, AN UNWILLING ACCOMPLICE 2014. One of the books deals pretty heavily with that other enemy–the spanish flu.
Charles Todd also writes a series featuring WWl veteran Inspector Ian Rutlege. I have read some good reviews BUT I have not read them
sorry i made a little mistake
Fiction novels set on Scottish Islands.
When I was googling and searching for fiction set on the Scottish Islands I came across this book by the famous writer Mary Stewart. I was very sure(kind of, sort of) I had read it many years ago so I checked some review sites to see if it was indeed the very book I remembered. Then I made a BIG MISTAKE and I looked on that site that begins with a W and in two short paragraphs it revealed the plot –and the ending! Definitely not a good idea for a whodunnit. It was the book I had read maybe thirty years ago but I just couldn’t convince myself to read it again – what with knowing the ending and all. Then fate jumped in. I was having dinner with a longtime friend and I mentioned my blog and my interest in Scottish Island fiction. This was actually the same friend who had travelled the Islands and Highlands of Scotland with me over twenty-five years ago (we actually had a rail/ferry pass called “The Island and Highland pass”). At the end of the evening she handed me her well-worn paperback copy of “Wildfire at Midnight” and suggested that it was worth reading again. Apparently she too had originally read it many years ago and it had inspired her, during her travels on Skye, to find a place much like the lodge/hotel in the book (preferably without the murders) We stayed in an establishment called Flodigarry Hotel for a few days that she now says she chose because it reminded her of the Camas Fhionnaridh Hotel from “Wildfire at Midnight” (although it was on the northern part of the island and nowhere near the Cuillin). I remember eating strawberries and real cream in the beautiful lounge area. It was very lovely and made me think I was in an old black and white movie.
Back to the novel. Young, exhausted, divorcee(scandalous) Gianetta decides to clear out of London shortly before the coronation (1953) , and ends up at a very remote and isolated lodge on Skye. The cast of characters (including her ex-husband) staying at the lodge become a cast of suspects after a murder takes place. This is a great atmospheric whodunnit that may sound dated to modern audiences especially when Gianetta is trying to get her priorities straight—-
“Has no one ever told you that people mean more to women than principles? I’m a woman, Inspector Mackenzie!” (p. 178) Ah huh.
There are some great descriptions of the mountains and scenes of mountain climbing — made more timely since Hilary was about to conquer Everest. This paperback is only 224 pages so it is really a nice quick read.
Another book by Mary Stewart is called “THE STORMY PETRELS” (Fawcett, 1995) and it takes place on a fictional Scottish Island called Moila. This book made me think of the plot diagrams my teacher would draw on the chalkboard when I was in primary school. It looked like a mountain . First the flat meadow (beginning/exposition) , then up the mountain (rising action), the mountain peak(climax), down the other side of the mountain (falling action), and then some more flat ground(resolution/ending) Well if I had to plot this book it would be a flat line with a few ant hills and gopher holes. Nothing much happens. I should state that I don’t usually write at all about books I haven’t enjoyed – I mean I have never written a book so who am I to judge – but I think it may be important for people who have read “Wildfire at Midnight” to know they are not getting the same goods with “The Stormy Petrels”.
Mary Stewart will be 97 next month.
Not sure is this qualifies as contemporary but–oh well.
P.S. Dear fans of Scottish Island fiction. Please read the comment left on this post by Linda Gillard. She is a very successful author (Emotional Geology, Star Gazing) and she has written about the Islands and lived on Scottish Islands. Her recommendations are received with gratitude. (and maybe THE STORMY PETRELS is worth reading if only for the descriptions.)
I am back on my blog and I am happy to say that I haven’t yet run out of Scottish Island fiction with an emphasis on murder and mystery. Today’s entry is a 2006 novel written by Maureen Jennings. This author is well known here in Canada for her “Murdoch” mystery series that also appears as a tv series on Canadian tv. This novel is the first of two to feature Christine Morris as a Canadian police officer and expert in profiling. This is a contemporary novel. As the story opens, Christine is at a conference in Edinburgh where she is learning about modern police methodology. She is shocked when she is contacted by the Northern constabulary of the outer Hebrides and informed that her mother has been in a fatal car accident on Lewis and has disappeared. Christine is estranged from her mother but the last she heard her mother was residing in Canada. On Lewis, Christine finds herself working with a local officer in unexpected circumstances and together they try to solve a murder. Even Prince William figures into the plot. And the book covers a little slice of life on Lewis. The second Christine Morris novel is called “The K Handshake” (Dundern 2008) although it is set in Canada. A solid mystery.
Mystery, Historical Mystery
This is a book that sat on my for later shelf for a long time because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I thought it was a hard-boiled detective novel and I didn’t want to read an entire book as seen through the eyes of a boozy,weary and cynical Private Investigator . But this book has a twist. The narrator is a gently raised young lady who works for a boozy,weary and cynical P.I.
On October 29, 1929 Katherine Pangborn is yanked out of Miss Beeson’s Finishing School for Young Ladies and told her father has committed suicide and she is poor. Good-bye. She needs to find a job but her skills include flower arranging and planning dinner parties. She meets a man named Mustard, while pawning her late mother’s jewelry, and he sets her up as a secretary for P.I. Dexter Theroux.
Two years later she is Still working for Dex, clacking the typewriter to look busy, when a Client walks through the door. And then the adventure begins.
Katherine is just the right mix of Finishing school proper and street smarts. And she is more of a baby-sitter than a secretary since her boss’s alcoholism leaves him unreliable. Yet he is sympathetic and likable character even though he is trying to drown his memories of WWI in a bottle. The demons he must face from the trenches in France are unimaginable.
This is so NOT a hard-boiled detective story that I think fans of traditional crime noir would be disappointed. This isn’t gritty and there is no sex (explicit or implied). It would probably be more appropriate for fans of the cozy mysteries.
I loved it and hope to read the sequel soon.