Tag Archives: mysteries

Pen Name Mysteries

Amazon link for The Cuckoo's Calling
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The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith and Devoted in Death by J. D. Robb are pen name mysteries by famous authors I’ve never read. Robert Galbraith is J. K. Rawling of Harry Potter fame and J. D. Robb is the romance writer Nora Roberts. Both books, I think, are excellent.

The Cuckoo’s Calling introduces Cormoran Strike, private investigator. He has had a recent run of bad luck in business and love. Then he gets a new case. It promises to pay well, but seems to him to be more a matter of reassuring his client than of investigating a murder. It looks like J._K._Rowling_wikicommons pen name mysteriesan open and shut case of a London celebrity suicide. But is it? Or is a murderer hiding in plain sight? With his office temp, Robin, he gets drawn into a sad, tangled story of fame and envy, money and family.

Despite the sadness of Cuckoo’s central story, you still feel cozy in Cormoran’s office looking out on a wet and wintry London. Despite the nastiness of some of the characters, you feel sympathy toward them.

In Devoted in Death, you never feel cozy nor inclined toward understanding the reasons for murder. You see right off the bat who dun it, and why. You then follow the action and the thinking by police lieutenant Eve Dallas and her detectives as they figure it out. The plot is grisly and twisted enough to make a good episode of Criminal Minds.

Amazon link for Devoted in Death
Click to buy on Amazon

It takes place in New York City in 2061. I’m not a big science fiction fan, but this setting is ok. There are some technologies that we, to my knowledge, do not have at the present time. And that is kind of neat to think about. But it doesn’t get in the way of the story.

Some aspects of American society maybe are eternal, one being the disconnect between NYC and the ‘flyover zone’.  An Arkansas deputy in the city for the first time expresses his awe: “That kicks the cow in the ass.” That line alone made the book worth reading.

The edition that I have is labelled ‘romantic suspense’. I don’t know why. There is suspense but no more ‘romance’ than in any other Nora_Roberts-wikicommons-Devillibrariangenre mystery. The book includes the protagonists’ lives outside the investigation, but not overwhelmingly so. The book is suspenseful, yes, but romantic, no.

In their different ways, English versus American most obviously, both books engaged me right from the start. I may now seek out books written under the authors’ real names to see how they differ. For sure I want to read more of their pen name mysteries.

Who’s Kitten Who?

In the mood for a fluffy book, I wondered if Cynthia Baxter’s Who’s Kitten Who? might be a bit too fluffy based on the cover and title.  Still, give it a try.

Who's Kitten Who?
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Amateur sleuth Jessica Popper is a veterinarian who runs a mobile clinic on Long Island.  She lives with her fiancé and numerous animals.  She has a habit of running into murder and mystery.  In this book, it’s the murder of a community theatre writer. The backdrop is her home life and the visit of her future in-laws, whom she has not yet met, and their little dog Mitzi.

The actual mystery is good – some clues so you could feel like you were figuring it out but not enough to be too obvious.  The pets and her interaction with them are well drawn and entertaining.  Some LOL moments produced by her daily life with humans and animals. Fluffy? Yes.  A good read?  Yes.

The visit by the in-laws – good in that her fiancé’s mother is so god-awful that she gives you nightmares.  The tension between Jessica, her fiancé and his parents and Mitzi is very good.  It is realistic enough for any of us who have hideous memories of meeting “the fam” of a significant other.  It is over the top enough to make us laugh and feel relief that nothing we experienced was ever quite this bad.

Where it fails, in my opinion, is that Jessica tolerates this abuse by fiancé and his parents and actually still wants to be involved with this inconsiderate jackass.  I was relieved when I thought she had seen the light, smelled the coffee, woken up to her future with this dysfunctional pack of egotistical lunatics.  When loose ends are being tied up after the mystery was solved, I fully expected her to say “I never want to lay eyes on you again, go live with your deranged mother and her deranged dog and spare every other woman’s emotional wellbeing.”  What I read instead surprised me – indeed annoyed me.

Aside from that, I don’t like books where there’s no connection between title and content (excepting those with a series-based reason) and there isn’t here.  I don’t like mystery protagonists who suddenly act stupid for the sake of moving the plot along, and that happens here at least once in a major way.

I should, I suppose, read another of the ‘Reigning Cats and Dogs‘ series to get a better sense of Jessica and the pillock she’s engaged to.  Other than the points I mention, it’s a fun, well-written and engaging mystery with mostly likeable characters.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Sept. 8/11. Below are Amazon links to the first two Jessica Popper books. The right sidebar links are for Ms. Baxter’s second series featuring travel writer Mallory Marlowe.

 

Dog Gone

Eileen Key’s Dog Gone is about dogs disappearing from a boarding kennel.  Cleaning lady Belle wants to help her friend, the kennel owner, keep her business alive so she enters the world of dogs and dog shows.

Amazon link for Dog On by Eileen Key
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It’s a well-intentioned story about dog breeding and showing as well as dangers posed by a black market in purebred dogs.  But I felt important issues about pets and show dogs and breeding were muddled in their presentation.  Puppy mills, research labs and dogfighting fodder were mentioned as possible fates for stolen dogs.  The value of microchipping was stressed, as was the fact that chips are not like a GPS that track the dog.  You must have the dog in order to read the microchip.

My biggest problem was with the dog owners.  All the dogs were from champion bloodlines.  All were used for breeding and were beloved family pets.  The expected revenue from the central dog’s puppies was the means for financing the college education of the dog owner’s daughter.  Yick, I thought, are they concerned about losing their pet or an income source, one that they stress cost a huge amount to acquire?  So visions of backyard breeders recouping the cost of an overpriced puppy danced through my head.  The people who say “I paid $2000 for that dog, you know”,  “I can sell those puppies on Kijiji for $800 each, you know”.

Dog Shows

The owners enter their dogs in major AKC shows.  But they all have just one or two dogs who are family pets. However, nice as that thought is, I’m not sure it’s realistic. The amount of money involved in dog shows is made clear by Key, both the outlay required to participate at the top level and the rewards for having a champion.

Ok, there are people in the hobby or business of dog shows and breeding that do not have large kennels.  But they are pretty few and far between at the top championship levels.  Living and breathing dog shows is what most reputable breeders do, and Key’s dog-owners don’t do that.  So I wasn’t sure if I was being asked to care about pet owners who enjoy competing at dog shows or who see their purebred as a money-making machine.

Belle, our sleuthing heroine, is a self-confessed non-dog person.  Ms Key does not mention any dog in her acknowledgements, which seems de rigueur in doggy books. But she thanks kennel owners and vets. I think they gave her a good crash course in dog shows and pet care.

There is a strong Christian message in the book.  Rereading the publication details, I saw Barbour Publishing’s mission is to provide “inspirational products offering… biblical encouragement to the masses.”  It fits in easily with Belle’s characterization as a Christian and pastor’s wife.  It’s a good light read.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Sept. 16, 2012.

 

Dog On It: Review

Dog on It is the first in a mystery series by Spencer Quinn, aka Peter Abrahams.  The protagonists are Chet (dog) and Bernie (human).  Set in the US Southwest, the story is told by Chet.  He is a K-9 police school flunk-out and Bernie barely scrapes by as a private detective. They work as an investigation team, but neither of them has a superior or supernatural method of communication with the other.

Amazon for Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
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Chet understands human language, verbal and body, better than Bernie realizes.  But Chet can’t always convey what he knows to him.  Unlike Randolph, say, in the Bull Moose Dog Run series, he can’t read and doesn’t know how to use human language to communicate.  He does dog type communication – barking, wagging tail, bristling neck hair, growling.  Bernie can misinterpret these signals as Chet wanting a toy or Chet just barking for no good reason.  And Chet sometimes misses the significance of something in the human realm so doesn’t indicate its importance to Bernie.  I found myself thinking, “come on Chet, that’s important – bark!  Tell Bernie!”  And Chet would just think, “hmm, that kinda reminds me of something” and go back to licking himself.

The plot centres on a missing girl, so there are not a lot of doggy elements in the story itself.  You meet a neighbour dog and his situation makes you think.  And there’s a trip to an animal pound – also a lot to think about.

The jacket blurb says you don’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy the story. Being a dog lover, I really liked the insights into dog behaviour from a dog point of view. You get to know the people and dogs through Chet’s eyes. If you aren’t interested in dogs, I don’t know what it would be like reading a story from a dog’s perspective.

Chet and Bernie both can figure things out and are clever, but not overly so.  I don’t know what goes through a dog’s mind, but Chet’s thoughts seem pretty believable.  He comes across as a regular smart and galumphing type dog. So does Bernie. The book is a good who-dun-it, aside from the pleasure of reading something from a likeable dog’s point of view.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, June 28/11

The Wrong Dog

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Aug. 21st, 2010

In the library last week, I found a new-to-me dog mystery writer.  Carol Lea Benjamin writes a series featuring The Wrong Dog Amazon linkprivate detective Rachel Alexander and her intrepid Pit Bull partner Dashiell (as in Hammett), Dash for short.  I have so far only read The Wrong Dog which is about cloning of dogs.  The dog who is cloned is a Bull Terrier, a “seizure alert” dog for her person who has severe epilepsy.

It’s a good story with quite a bit of information about dogs’ ability to sense an impending seizure and how they respond in such an event.  It also talks about the issue of cloning, not so much technical information, but more ethical.  What would be the ramifications if we could clone our canine best friend?  Would personality and emotional response be identical or just the physical characteristics?   Can inherent talents like sensing seizures be passed on?  These types of questions are wrapped in a story of good guys and bad guys, money and loneliness, all set in NYC’s Greenwich Village.

Dashiell doesn’t do the intellectual work of detecting, but he’s good at finding clues and he’s great protection for Rachel.  I didn’t get much of a sense of what Rachel looks like – partly because in this book at least, Benjamin doesn’t say much about her appearance.  Also, when seeing the name, I kept thinking of the filly who won the 2009 Kentucky Oaks and Preakness.  I’m quite sure the two Rachels don’t look alike.

Carol Lea Benjamin is a dog trainer with several fiction and non-fiction dog books to her credit, and a former detective.  Next time I’m at the library, I’ll be getting out another Rachel and Dash mystery.

Finding a new Dick Francis

In need of a book for bedtime reading, looking through bookshelves – and finding a Dick Francis mystery you haven’t read.  That is true happiness.

 bookshelves with catI thought sadly that I’d read all of Dick Francis’ many novels.  Then, twice in a couple months, when library books were finished and I searched my own books for something to tide me over, I found unread Dick Francis novels.

I love mystery novels.  You get both a mystery and a glimpse into another world.  With Francis, it’s many topics but always with some horse racing, whether steeplechase or flat.  He was a top steeplechase rider for many years.  Then he began writing about that world, wrapping a lot of horsey information in a good who-dun-it.

I’ve read that mystery novelists are accorded lesser status in the literary world than regular novelists.  Like romance novelists, they are considered “genre literature.”  I don’t agree with that difference in status ranking.  In mysteries, I’ve explored human emotion and reactions, both good and evil, learned about subjects I’ve never really thought about before, and it’s all working toward an end – who did the dastardly deed.

Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin, Quentin Jardine, Michael Jecks, Martha Grimes, Andrew Greeley, Janet Evanovich, P. D. James – these are writers that I have devoured.  All different in writing style, lead characters, subplots and settings.  All have protagonists whose lives progress throughout the lifespan of the novels.  With them, after randomly reading one of a series, I went back to the beginning and tried to read them sequentially.  Among Canadian mystery writers I’ve discovered at the library are Lyn Hamilton and her archeological mysteries and the Murdoch books by Maureen Jennings.

Murdoch, a police series set in Victorian Toronto, has been very successfully adapted for television.  The tv shows go beyond the books and I find them just as entertaining and insightful as the books themselves.  Can’t say the same for the television adaptation of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series.  I enjoy the Lynley shows, but they are not as mystery novel and cat on chairrich as the books – truncated and not accurately reflective of the books’ characters.

I’m not fussy on the “cozies” – the Miss Marple-ish amateur sleuths (although I love the real Miss Marple) but I love some village series such as M. C. Beaton’s Highlands’ Hamish MacBeth books.  I have no time for the young woman P.I. who never has any food in her house, but I make an exception for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.  I find tiresome protagonists who put themselves in trouble because they insist on refusing help.  I don’t like glib, wisecracking heroes or heroines although, again, I love the originals of this persona in the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and the incarnation by Robert B. Parker in his Spenser.

I like books that delve into the human, and societal, condition in their plot lines and characterizations.  All the authors I mention above do that, in very different worlds.  And, being mysteries, they add a second layer of information processing in figuring out who committed the crime and how they did it.  They may be “genre” but it’s a genre I like.

Other really good mystery novels by great jockeys.