As you might know by now, the things I love in books include: murder mysteries, retellings of iconic works, and ensemble casts. Recently I discovered that One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus ticks all three of those boxes! It’s a twist on the iconic movie The Breakfast Club, featuring a compelling murder mystery, and it features a dynamic and well-rounded set of characters. I devoured this book in a a day or two, because it’s very compelling reading and I had to know whodunit.
The brain is Bronwyn: driven and Ivy League bound. The athlete is Cooper: a baseball player already being scouted by teams and colleges alike. The princess is Addy: the popular girl with the perfect boyfriend. The criminal is Nate: the drug dealer with a broken home and a bad reputation. These four find themselves in detention with Simon, who runs their school’s notorious gossip app and loves spilling everybody’s secrets. But before their punishment is over, Simon is dead and they’re facing a lot of tough questions. Their lives, and their secrets, will never be the same again.
One of my favorite things about this book was the character development. Rather than sticking to their typecast roles, these characters grow, change, and discover new things about themselves through the course of their ordeal. Nobody is quite who they appear to be, in both good and chilling ways throughout the story. It reminded me strongly of the new Jumanji movies in that a dangerous situation is brightened by unexpected friendships made along the way.
Even better – there’s a sequel! One Of Us Is Next is available now, and to my delight it doesn’t immediately put the same characters in danger, derailing all their personal growth and happy endings. Instead, secondary characters from the first novel (including Bronwyn’s hacker younger sister) step into center stage in the second, taking on a whole new mystery and a whole new set of secrets. If you like hopeful mysteries, teen books, great characters, or can’t get enough of The Breakfast Club, I recommend this author’s work whole-heartedly.
Mystery fans, rejoice! Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, first published in 1937, is getting a new film version this October. The film acts as a companion film to the 2017 film Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh (also based on a book of the same name). Like its predecessor, this Death on the Nile film will feature a star-studded cast and promises a thrilling interpretation of Christie’s original book.
In the original story, the famous detective Hercule Poirot is on vacation in Egypt when he is approached by heiress Linnet Doyle, who’s being plagued by a stalker. Troubled by the depth of the stalker’s hatred, Poirot finds himself onboard a cruise ship with the stalker, her victim, and the other troubled passengers, none of whom are telling the whole truth. As they journey up the Nile River, the danger mounts and Poirot races against time to discover which of the passengers’ secrets leads to murder.
I’m very excited about this movie, being a lover of mystery books as a genre and Agatha Christie in particular. I saw Murder on the Orient Express when it came out a few years ago, and it was enjoyable. However, Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot doesn’t always work for me. While I always read him as mostly dainty and intellectual, Branagh plays Poirot as a dynamic and dramatic character with a troubled past. In the case of Death on the Nile, though, tangled morality and stormy emotions take center stage, so this version of Poirot might actually be more effective.
Whether you’re brand-new to Agatha Christie and her most famous character, or a devoted fan, this is a great opportunity to experience a great mystery story AND think about how storytelling changes when books are turned into movies. You can even compare the new film to an older film version, released in 2004, for the full experience. That’s what I’ll be doing – so stay tuned for my review!
Over the last month, I have had the chance (and frankly, the time) to indulge in one of my favorite digital offerings at the Davenport Public Library, Acorn TV! Since mysteries are my genre of choice, Acorn TV a great place to find both long running mystery series and shorter limited run series. Acorn TV has many excellent dramas, comedies and documentaries as well. Two recent mysteries that I have discovered, Mayday and Winter are both top notch mystery series. Each series is just one season and contain five and six episodes respectively. These are but two of the many great mystery series available on Acorn TV. To access Acorn TV from home, go to www.davenportlibrary.com and click on “Digital Content” at the top of the page. Then, follow the directions under Acorn TV to create an account.
Mayday – A small English village holds its annual Mayday festival and parade where a local teenage girl will be crowned as Mayday Queen. But as the parade begins and the Queen’s float appears down main street, it is empty. The Mayday Queen has disappeared mere moments before the parade is set to begin with only her abandoned bike found near the woods at the edge of town. The locals quickly organize to look for her throughout the area. As the search goes on it becomes clear that many in the village have a motive to do harm to the young girl. We meet a cast of characters, including ex-police officer, her detective husband, a real estate developer, a society wife and a man with mysterious access to heaps of cash. Many of the locals have their own dark secrets that they intend to keep at any cost. The series not only highlights the intricacies of the police investigation but how the villagers react to a suspect being one of their own. Mayday if full of red herrings, shocks and surprises and I highly recommend it for mystery fans.
Winter – Australian detective Eve Winter is on a brief hiatus between cases when she is recruited to come back after the death of a young woman whose body was found at the bottom of a rocky cliff just north of Sydney. Simultaneously, Eve learns of a young girl hospitalized after a hit and run accident. It becomes apparent to Eve that these two cases have everything to do with each other and if she can get the young girl to trust her and talk may be the key to cracking the case. Splitting her time between the murder investigation and gaining the young girl’s trust, Eve and her team discover that there are many powerful and influential residents who will cover the secrets in their past at any cost. Winter is another great mystery series with all the twists, turns and secrets of the past that make the story so memorable and suspenseful.
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.