Tornados are featured in several recent books – from literary fiction to genre mysteries.
In Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos, a tornado is the catalyst for the trajectory of the lives of several people. A 1978 storm takes the life of a mother; many years later the dysfunctional siblings gather for a funeral.
The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum is another story about the effects of tornados on a family. A sister joins a group of storm chasers in order to locate her mentally ill brother, who is a storm chaser, himself.
A 1963 tornado in Oklahoma changes the lives of four people in crisis in Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon.
There are rumors of a movie of The Breathtaker by Alice Blanchard. Set again in Oklahoma, this is a fast-paced thriller about a police chief who realizes that foul play, rather than the storm is the cause of death for several deaths. The murders mount as the tornado season progresses.
In other books, a tornado is not the driving force in the narrative or psychology of characters, rather it’s a convenient plot point.
The Riesling Retribution by Ellen Crosby is a mystery that begins with a skull discovered after a tornado.
Similarly, in A Bad Day for Pretty by Sophie Littlefile a body is found in the aftermath of a tornado.
I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but at the suggestion of a good friend I picked up The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first in a series by Alan Bradley starring wannabe detective Flavia de Luce. Flavia is one of the most unique protagonists I have seen lately: she’s smart, inquisitive, resourceful, and witty. She has an obsession with chemistry, especially poisons. Oh, and did I mention that she’s eleven years old?
In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, we are introduced to Flavia and her family, who are living in an estate called Buckshaw in England in the 1950s. Her mother disappeared when she was a baby, so Flavia is left with her distant father, her antagonistic older sisters, and man-about-the-house Dogger. Things are boring as usual at Buckshaw when Flavia discovers a dead man in their cucumber patch in the middle of the night. When Flavia’s father is taken into custody as the prime suspect, Flavia gets on the case to find out who really did it and prove her father’s innocence. Flavia follows a series of initially puzzling clues (including an antique postage stamp and a dead bird) that lead to the identity of the killer, making for an exciting and surprising climax. I listened to the audiobook and it’s very enjoyable; the reader manages to capture Flavia’s spirit very well and make it an exciting listen.
After finishing this book I had to immediately go out and pick up a copy of the second in the series, called The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. Flavia meets a traveling puppet show team whose car has broken down, and so they elect to do a series of shows in Bishop’s Lacey while they are waiting for the repairs. When the star of the show is murdered, of course Flavia is the first one on the case. I’m in the middle of it right now and I’m glad to say that Flavia has kept her cheek and tenacity fully intact. The third book in the series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, just came out a couple months ago to rave reviews, and it’s certainly next on my “To Read” list. If you like mysteries with a strong female protagonist, the charming setting of England, or mysteries that really keep you guessing right up to the end, this series will not disappoint. Even if you don’t usually read mysteries, I recommend checking out this series, because I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know Flavia de Luce.
Alice Teakle grows on you. In the beginning of Following Polly by Karen Bergreen, I thought Alice was pathetic and weird; I wasn’t sure I liked her. Her preoccupation, not to say, hobby, is following an old school mate, who is now a major celebrity. She seems particularly adept at sabotaging herself and any success she might achieve in work or family life.
As Alice’s life starts to fall apart and she is the prime suspect in first one then another murder, I really began to respect her resourcefulness. Alice turns out to be amazingly adept at hiding from the police, and surviving on the streets.
No matter how bad things ge, Alice is funny and smart (she also has a photographic memory). She is definitely not a stereotypical heroine and the plot’s trajectory is not predictable.
A Spider on the Stairs is a “contemporary reimagining of the classic English mystery.” It is refreshingly old-fashioned in its absence of gore and forensic razzle-dazzle.
This is part of a series featuring Scotland Yard Sergeant Jack Gibbons and his best friend, Phillip Bethancourt. Bethancourt is an upper-class dilettante who tags along with Gibbons while he investigates first one, then several murders around the beautiful, yet tourist-clogged town of York. Chan does a marvelous job of evoking the cozy atmosphere of the bookshop, York’s warren of streets and the countryside during a particularly rainy spell.
Phillip’s social connections provide Jack with insider knowledge that help to solve the case. Because he doesn’t have to work and has no real family obligations, Bethancourt can devote whatever time and energy he has left over- after socializing late into the evening and romancing women.
The book begins with a murder in Mittlesdon, a charming old bookshop. There is a feeling of calm, unhurried serenity as the bodies stack up – even the bad guys remain polite and civilized.