The Poet

Looking for an author who is not only prolific but a dependably good storyteller? Michael Connelly has written over 21 books, and continues to create new characters and develop relationships between old characters.

In The Poet, written in 1996, reporter Jack McEvoy’s brother has apparently committed suicide. Jack can’t believe that his twin brother, a homicide cop, would have killed himself. To clear his brother’s name, he starts to investigate several anomalies. This  leads Jack to research the deaths of homicide detectives around the country. Because he is a crime reporter for Denver newspaper, Jack can both write a story about the serial killings and find out what happened to his brother.

He ultimately combines forces with the FBI whose vast resources jump start the race to catch  the Poet. McEvoy knew that there was a serial killer when he found out that the various suicide notes contained lines from Edgar Allan Poe poems. What the FBI uncovers about the killings is very disturbing for Jack as he gains more knowledge about how his brother died.

Connelly’s skill is in combining an absorbing plot and likable protagonists; a great go-to guy when you just need a good read.

Inspector Wallander

If you’ve caught the recent series on PBS, you may want to go back to the first dvd series of Wallander. Kenneth Branagh inhabits the morose Swedish Inspector Kurt Wallander. He feels the pain and suffering of the world to the extent that it interferes with his relationships with his daughter, father and ex-wife. Always close to burnout, Kurt repeatedly puts his job before whatever is left of his home life, and they are very much aware of that.

The tv series is based on the Henning Mankell mysteries set  near Ystad in Southern Sweden. The tones are bleached out; the Swedish countryside comes off as pale and tired – as if all  vibrant hues  have been drained out out of the world. It sounds incredibly depressing but there’s something about  Wallander’s character and Branagh’s portrayal of him that makes this very complex man impossible not to watch and root for.  Optimism and hope seem misguided if not futile, but Wallander keeps hanging in there.

Those looking for nonstop spectacular violence and pounding background music will be disappointed but if you enjoy complex characters, intricate plots and incredible acting, you won’t be disappointed.

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax

Dorothy Gilman’s series about a senior  spy begins with The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. The 60-something Emily Pollifax decides that she needs to do something more meaningful with her life, and begins by walking into the CIA to volunteer her services.

Published in 1966, some of the sentiments seem dated; women in their sixties today would be less likely to be have as their primary identity being a frail-looking grandmother who has never been part of the workforce. What is interesting is the Cold War attitudes and alliances. It’s one thing to set a book in the sixties, it’s another to read one written with those assumptions.

I decided to read this one after hearing Nancy Pearl’s recommendations on NPR; they were part of a list of books that featured travel. Mrs. Pollifax does get around; in this book she starts out in Mexico (acting as a courier), and ends up in Albania.  Along the way, she proves herself resourceful, tenacious and very, very tough – even by current standards. Her innocence leads her to trust others more easily than a professional spy would, but it allows her to develop relationships that will come in handy later. If you want to make a quick visit to a world gone by, and to meet a slightly eccentric but very successful spy, give these a try.

Listening to Chet the Dog

I have found a new series to listen to as I drive around the Quad Cities and beyond.  It is the “Chet and Bernie Series”  from Spencer Quinn who introduces the world to two-legged Bernie, a down in his luck private detective and his four-legged pal Chet—a canine with a penchant for solving mysteries. In an interview with the author on how he decided on this series

Q. How did you come to write Dog on It?
A. My wife said, How about doing something with dogs? The basic building blocks came to me right there at the kitchen table: two detective pals; narration by the four-legged one; and all in the first person, which I’d never tried before in a novel. Plus the most important thing – Chet would not be a talking dog (or be undoggy in any way) but would be a narrating dog. Anything that thinks and has memory must have a narrative going on inside. I went to the office – over the garage, commuting distance fifteen feet – and wrote the first page. Then I wanted to know what happened next.

Chet is a mixed breed law academy dropout. Bernie is a retired police officer trying to be a private detective. Between Bernie’s divorce, Charlie his sone and Susie Sanchez, Bernie’s reporter girlfriend, Chet can’t catch a nap and is always on the alert. Chet has a dry sense of humor, which the reader, Jim Frangoine, does well.

These are wonderful books for those who enjoy the narrator being the four legged kind.

There are three books in teh series so far:  Dog on It, Thereby Hangs a Tail and the newest book, To Fetch a Thief.

More Great Scandinavian Intrigue

If you have already read Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) and want to try a different type of Swedish crime fiction, I would highly recommend Camilla Läckberg’s first novel, The Ice Princess, set in the picturesque town of Fjällbacka, Sweden.

The Ice Princess centers around writer Erica Falck who returns to her hometown after the death of her parents in a car accident.  Shortly after she arrives from Stockholm she happens to discover her childhood friend, Alexandra, who has died of an apparent suicide.  Grieving for their daughter, Alexandra’s parents ask Erica to write an article about Alexandra for the local paper.  While researching Alexandra’s death Erica runs into an old friend, Patrick, who is a police officer in town.  The two discover many secrets about Fjällbacka’s most prominent family whose past is intertwined with the death of Alexandra and eventually learn that her death may not have been at her own hand.

I’ve also included a beautiful photo of Fjällbacka, Sweden which happens to be the hometown of a friend.  She snapped this photograph over the summer (which was taken late in the evening).  Since Läckberg is also a native of this fishing village, she uses authentic street names, landmarks, and other notable and unique features of the village, including Ingrid Bergman Square, named for the Swedish actress who spent a good amount of time in Fjällbacka.

Books on CD – Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

In addition to listening to an audiobook while on a long car ride, books on CD are a great way to pass the time while gardening or listening to while cleaning the house, or just about anything else!  One of my most recent discoveries is a great mystery with a hint of “chick lit,” Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.

Young, London-based businesswoman Lara Lington has just learned that her 105-year old great-aunt has just passed away – an aunt that she did not even know.  While attending Sadie’s funeral, Lara hears voices and catches an occasional glimpse of a young woman dressed in 1920s attire.  She then realizes that the young woman is not an illusion but is actually the ghost of Sadie at age 23!  Sadie has decided to relentlessly haunt her grand-niece in order to nearly force Lara to help her find her most prized possession, a dazzling, diamond, dragonfly necklace that was stolen before she died.   The pair form an unlikely duo that argue, confide in each other and share a friendship in the most unlikely of ways – all while solving the mystery of the missing necklace.

Twenties Girl has a little bit for everyone -mystery, romance, intrigue and comedy.  A definite recommended read – you may find yourself  circling your block a few dozen times to find out how the book ends!

Meg Cabot’s Mysteries

Size 12 is Not Fat and Size 14 is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot, are the first two books featuring former teen queen and singing sensation Heather Wells.  Through an unfortunate series of events, Heather’s days of singing in shopping malls have come to a halt.  Her bad luck includes a mother who ran off with her entire fortune to Argentina and her father who currently resides in prison.  To get back on her feet she takes a job at the fictional New York College as the resident assistant in Fisher Hall, which is also known as “Death Dorm.”  In each of these mysteries, Heather plays an amateur sleuth and assistant to her landlord who, conveniently, is a private investigator and the two team up to solve the crimes that take place in Fisher Hall.

Whether she is trying to find out if her female residents are truly elevator surfing (or being thrown to their deaths) or attempting to seek out the wealthy New York College students who killed the star cheerleader for knowing too much, Heather Wells is a likeable character whose escapades will keep you laughing and guessing.  The third book featuring Heather Wells, Big Boned, completes this series.  Meg Cabot’s mysteries are full of humor, mayhem, murder and a little romance too. 

The Armchair Traveler – Quebec

Louise Penny , a former  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter, steeps her mysteries in the French culture of Quebec. Her Chief Inspector Gamache  series has been compared to Agatha Christie (a small village setting and large cast of characters and  surprise endings) .  In Brutal Telling, Gamache is called in when an unknown dead  body turns up in  local bistro. Penny’s skill is creating a place that is so appealing that  readers want to move there, bringing to life people you want to spend time with and describing meals that make you salivate.

Kathy Reichs works as a medical examiner in Quebec (and North Carolina). Apparently, the tv show Bones was inspired by Reichs’ work and she also works as a producer on the show.

The  heroine of her mysteries is Temperance Brennan, who, coincidentally, is a  forensic anthropologist who works in both Quebec and North Carolina. Monday Mourning is set in Montreal, where Tempe investigates the skeletons found in a pizzeria.  In this installment, her romance with detective Andrew Ryan is not going well, though the French Canadian setting is as magical as ever.

Think warm thoughts

It throws one for a bit of a loop to write down dates like 2010 without seeing George Jetson puttering around in his airborne aquarium.

Similarly, assembling a list of fiction titles that hits shelves long after the subzero temps have left creates a warm feeling, albeit brief.  There will be a baseball game or two on the television, and, heck, I might finally be writing the correct date on my checks.  What’s crazy is you can place those holds now.

The possibilities of short-term time travel might not be that awe-inspiring, but given the bleakness of being Iowan right now, grade me on the curve.

Jodi Picoult — House Rules
Rita Mae Brown — Cat of the Century
Alexander McCall Smith — Double Comfort Safari Club
James Patterson — Worst Case
Tim LaHaye — Matthew’s Story

If You Like Sherlock Holmes…

We have a display for you! At both Main Street and Fairmount Street libraries, we have mysteries and DVDs of Sherlock Holmes spinoffs.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King  is the first in a series featuring a feminist Mary Russell. A teenager at the time, she meets the great Holmes  while she is wandering the Sussex countryside. Holmes mentors Mary as they investigate the kidnapping of an American senator’s daughter. The World WarI era , an Oxford setting – where Mary is a student, and the evolving relationship in which Holmes mentors his young protegee are all strong points of the novel.

The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr is a humorous paranormal twist on the Holmes canon. The setting is a ghostly Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh,Scotland. Watson and Holmes are called in by Sherlock’s brother to investigate murders that Mycroft fears may threaten Queen Victoria. The author of The Alienist “reflects a deep knowledge and understanding of Holmesiana.” Publisher’s Weekly