Category Archives: Murder

The Last Child

the last childby John Hart

John Hart is a writer who describes himself as a “recovering” attorney who lives in North Carolina, the site of his novels.  Although he is currently not practicing law, his experience in our criminal justice system benefits his writing.  He has received praise as a writer who can bring his characters to life, making them very real to the reader.  His thrillers keep us on the edge of our seats, unable to put his work down.  In the book “The Last Child,” Hart mixes a boyhood adventure much like Huckleberry Finn’s with a modern mystery of missing children and serves us a winner of a story.

The hero of the book, Johnny Merrimon, is a 13-year-old boy who had lived in a very happy and strong family.  This changed a year ago when his sister disappeared.  Johnny still will not accept that she might be dead.  His family has been devastated.  Johnny’s father has disappeared, apparently absorbing blame for not being on time to pick up his daughter.  His mother feels guilty and changes her entire life-style, having lost two of her loves- her daughter and her husband.  She uses drugs and alcohol to dull the pain.  The result is that she loses touch with her son.  Both Johnny and his mother are abused by the town’s rich and influential power figure.  Johnny fights back the only way he knows how.  He spends his every moment and all of his energy to find the sister—the twin sister he has lost.  Clyde Hunt, the troubled police detective, is always there, still trying to solve the mystery, which has devastated him and his family, too.  Now the town cringes in fear.  Another young girl has gone missing.

Before long there are dead bodies and twists and turns that keep the reader both guessing and involved.  Hart’s book is full of action and suspense.  There is little time to rest, or to put this exciting book down—which you certainly won’t.  Our book club gave this book the highest rating of any book we have read.  I highly recommend it to both mystery lovers and to anyone who enjoys a fast-paced, exciting story.

Key Ideas from different club members:

I really liked the characters; Well-written; Like 2 books in 1; Wonderful page-turner!  Loved it; Nice read; Fantastic!  Suspense and drama all wrapped up into one; Kept you reading and guessing; Couldn’t predict the ending; Keeps you guessing till the end; Fabulous book!

The Club Members rating of this book:

Pat Gombita, Pat Kuna, Sharon Shaffer, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Helen Skalski, Deb Stewart, Barb Swanson, and Linda Troll

Club’s Average Rating:  4.9 of 5       Rating Range:  4 to 5

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Family, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Murder, Mystery

The Dirty Duck

by Martha Grimes

dirty duckThis month our book club decided to read works by Martha Grimes. She was born in Pittsburgh on May 2, 1931. Her   father was the city solicitor and her mother owned the Mountain Lake Hotel in western Maryland. Grimes and her brother spent summers in the country at their mother’s hotel (it was torn down in 1967). Grimes received her bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Maryland and taught in a number of places, including Frostburg State University. Most of Grimes’ novels fall in the subdivision of mysteries sometimes called “cozies.” Her most famous character is Richard Jury, a detective from Scotland Yard. Each of the 22 Jury mysteries are named after a pub, usually found in England. The Dirty Duck is the 4th in the Jury series.

Superintendent Richard Jury must find a serial killer who is targeting Americans from a group touring England. The murderer leaves behind lines of poetry after slashing his victims. Jury must also deal with another possible crime. One of the tourists is James Farraday, a millionaire widower from Maryland, who’s 9 year old boy, Jimmy, has disappeared. Farraday demands that Scotland Yard take over this case from the local police, too. Jury is helped by his friend, Melrose Plant, a rich aristocrat. Children often play an important role in the Jury stories, as in this one with the possible kidnapping of Jimmy. The discussion with Jimmy’s teenage sister, Penny, shows that Superintendent Jury has a good rapport with children.
It is recommended that you read the Jury series in order, with the earlier mysteries first. The characters change and develop. Events often build on things that happened in previous books. It is easier to follow and less confusing if you get to know the characters along the way. Grimes is a fabulous writer who uses the English language very effectively. Her stories are often complex, containing a large number of colorful characters, which makes it harder to casually follow events. Martha Grimes is a thinking person’s author. The Dirty Duck is an outstanding example of one of her early books. I would strongly recommend her to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

Other books by Martha Grimes read by the book club:
Richard Jury books: Dust (#21), Lamorna Wink (#15), The Old Wine Shades (#20), The Horse You Came In On (#11) and The Old Silent (#10)
Other books: Foul MatterThe Way of the FishesDakota and Hotel Paradise
Book club members who read Martha Grimes:
Pat Kuna, Donna Norseen, Sharon Shaffer, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barbara Swanson, Linda Troll, and Rae Ann Weaver

 

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Murder, Mystery, Strong Sense of Place, Travel, Writers

Books from the New York Times Best Seller’s List January 2014

  How Lucky You Can Be by Buster Olney

Where can you find a good book when you are looking for one?  The library has hundreds of books, but which one should you choose?  One option is to read reviews (like this one) or to wander through book lists, like the New York Times.  This will give you a good idea of what books are being read and enjoyed by others.  Our club decided to pick books from some of these lists.

​The book How Lucky You Can Be was written by Buster Olney, an ESPN announcer.  It is subtitled “The Story of Coach Don Meyer.”  Coach Meyer is the most famous coach that you never heard of… but other basketball coaches around the country know about him.  He devoted himself not only to his teams but also to teaching the art of coaching to anyone interested in the game he loved.  This is much more than a sports story.  It is the story of a dedicated man who at times neglected his family to achieve greatness in his field, passing the legendary Bobby Knight in career wins with over 903 victories, the most by any coach in history at that time.  It took a tragedy for him to express the love he had for his family — wife, children, and his players.

​ Don Meyer had been a college player at Northern Colorado and a head coach for years at David Lipscomb College and Northern State University.  His success was tremendous, but this story really begins on a lonely stretch of two-land road in South Dakota.  While leading a caravan of cars, taking his players on a team-building retreat, Meyer fell asleep at the wheel.  His car veered into an oncoming tractor-trailer truck.  The Coach was crushed, and it was feared that he would die from his injuries.  At the hospital, doctors prepared his wife because they were certain he would not make it through the surgery.  After five hours, Meyer survived but lost part of a leg, his spleen, and had numerous other injuries.  Meyer said that the accident was the best thing that could have happened to him.  He equated it with an angel providing him with a message.  The doctors found that Meyer had terminal cancer.

​ The story describes how this driven coach, who did not want to give up coaching basketball, rose to face the greatest challenge of his life.  He reassessed his life and his relationships.  His three adult children describe the changes that he under went.  Meyer now expressed himself, particularly his emotional self.  He did not hold back telling his children, his wife, or his players how much he loved them.  This tragedy actually has made their family even closer.  This is the story of a man who’s belief in God, his religion, his family, and his team— both coaches and players– gave him the strength to come back to coaching and to fight the lose of a leg and the cancer.  This would be the toughest battle of his life.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly, not only for basketball fans, as an inspirational story of a man fighting to overcome tremendous odds.  (5 of 5)

Other books from book lists rated by different club members:

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Part love story, part meditation on finding spiritual peace in the midst of crisis.  It is a beautifully written, tender and passionate story of a man trying to put his life in perspective.  (4 of 5)

  Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss

A funny, informative nonfiction book with excellent examples of misused punctuation. (5 of 5)

  The Hundred Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

The story spans the 20th century with a character similar to Forest Gump.  (4 of 5)

 The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Multiple story lines and strong women tell the story of World War II.  (5 of 5)

    Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Thought provoking historic novel about women being held back by authoritive men.  (4 of 5)

     Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Published in 1932, a thought  provoking novel anticipates developments that have profoundly changed society.  (4.5 of 5)

 The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

This tale shows how we do get second chances to fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams, especially during the season of miracles.  (5 of 5)

 God is not Mad at You by Joyce Meyer

A book that explains the relationship between God and man.  (5 of 5)

     Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

‘Tis the season to be jolly – a funny novel with a heroine who rounds up stray animals of all sorts as well as a killer.  Duck the Halls! (5 of 5)

    Nighttime is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark

A riveting novel of psychological suspense that depicts the mind of a killer. (4 of 5)

The Club Members rating these books:

Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barb Swanson, Linda Troll, Patti Tullis and Rae Ann Weaver

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, Crime, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Historical, History, Humor, Inspirational, Inspirational, Murder, Mystery, Personal Insights, Religion, Sports, Sports/Entertainment

Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead

written by Louise Penny

The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

The author, Louise Penny, is one of the most decorated mystery writers alive today.  She is the only author to have won four Agatha Awards for Best Novel, and she’s not done.  Ms. Penny is a Canadian who lives in a small village south of Montreal.  This explains why her hero, Armand Gamache, is a French Canadian and why her crimes take place in Canada.

This story is a fusion of three events.  The first is an emotionally crushing confrontation with terrorists, which resulted in death and injury to police officers in Garmache’s division.  The second is a murder of a hermit in a small town of Three Pines that has already been solved, or at least someone is in prison for the crime.  The central part of the novel occurs in the walled city of Quebec, the French-speaking center of the bilingual nation, in a rather unusual setting—a library that maintains the history of the English in the city.  The swirling events are much like the swirling snow and winds of Canada’s winter—making it harder to see what is right in front of Garmache.  He must try to make sense of finding a body buried in the library’s basement.  It is the murdered corpse of a fanatical extremist who has spent his life trying to find the burial site of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain.  Why would anyone want to kill him?  Why would he be buried in the basement of this library?  Garmache has to deal with many personalities and with his own weaknesses and frailties to solve this murder.

Ms. Penny not only ties the three stories together and maintains our attention, but she also tells us about her homeland.  She blends history, Champlain’s life and death, with current issues, such as terrorism and the separatist movement in Quebec.  Her characters are strong but fragile in many ways, relying on good investigative skills but also on love and loyalty to find solutions.  Garmache must relive the horrors and sadness of past events before he can bury his dead.

Don’t let Louise Penny’s approach of swinging back and forth in explaining the three different events throw you.  They will make sense as the author develops the story.  Although each of her books is a self-contained story, it would probably be wise to read this series in sequence to see the development of the characters.  Do not hold back from reading this particular book, however.  It will be a worthwhile experience.

Key Ideas from different club members:

Wasn’t impressed, author didn’t distinguish or describe most of the characters;  A lot of characters, too many, hard to follow;  Starts slow;  I like Inspector Armand Gamache;  Liked the book;  Surprising ending;  Flashbacks helped me understand the story;  Nice book, continuation of series;  Fresh mystery, easy to read.

The Club Members rating of this book:

Linda Bowman, Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Juanita Sanner, Bill Simmons, Helen Skalski, Deb Stewart and Linda Troll

Club’s Average Rating:  3.9 of 5       Rating Range: 2 to 5

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Foul Play at the PTA

By Laura Alden

Published by Obsidian

Copyright ©2011 

Laura Alden gives us a second installation of the PTA Murders. Who knew that Wisconsin could be hazardous to your health?

Beth Kennedy is a single mom with 2 kids that she loves. She makes sure to come to her kid’s hockey games, attends school functions, manages her home, owns and manages a children’s book store, and is secretary of the PTA. Still she finds time to solve murders. I say murders because this is the second book from Laura Alden in which Beth is impressed into solving a murder because the local sheriff’s office is getting nowhere fast.

In this PTA mystery the local nice guy is murder in the school parking lot after a PTA meeting, but no one can imagine why because everyone genuinely liked him. Beth doesn’t want to get involved, but when she starts losing business at the book store because local do gooders think one of her new employees is a murderer, Beth is compelled to find the real killer to clear an innocent name and get business back to normal.

The PTA murders are not for serious mystery novel fans. Even the casual fan enjoys trying to figure out whodunit before they get to the end of the book, but Alden doesn’t give you that opportunity. Alden does her best to throw you off the scent of the killer giving mildly compelling reasons for others to be the culprit, but the reader is not introduced to the killer in the beginning so how can they ever be considered.

In actuality there seems to be little intrigue and a whole lot of family, boyfriend, PTA interaction with only a small amount being useful to the case at hand. With all of the preceding said however, for those of who just like to sit down and lose themselves in someone else’s story without trying to figure things out this is a great book. The main character, Beth, and her sidekick, Marina, are likable and easy to relate to. And her peripheral characters meld well with the story and its main characters. Alden really does a great job of creating characters like local busybodies and PTA parents that you actually hate, probably because we all know someone like them. I really was more interested in the families Thanksgiving plans, the PTA meetings, the book store, and her budding relationship than I was with the mystery itself.

Needless to say in the end this is a fun and easy book to read, but don’t expect a mind shattering mystery. She presents us with a super mom but not such a super sleuth.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Family, Murder, Mystery

The Distant Hours

By Kate Morton

Published by Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2010

 

“The Distant Hours” is not only a great title for this book, but for all of Morton’s work. She excels at haunting her pages with imagined lives and visions from England’s Victorian and post-Victorian past. In reading this story you’ll find out what the distant hours are, and you’ll begin to see how relevant it is Morton’s writing.

 

Edie Burchill has always felt a bit disconnected from her parents and from her extended family. Her parents seem the practical sort and her mom’s family is the brash and crude sort with a chip on their shoulder for any who they perceive to look down their noses at them. Edie; however, is bookish and a bit of a dreamer. She longs to be closer to her family, especially her mother, but their differences make it hard to cross the chasm.

 

When Edie’s mother receives a letter that had been lost in the post for decades, and she sees her mother’s dramatic reaction to its contents, she must know more. And even though her mother stonewalls her at every turn, Edie slowly uncovers her mother’s past which includes her rocky relationship with her family and her days as a child evacuee from London during World War II when she spent a glorious year in the English countryside at Middlehurst Castle with the Blythe family. So in addition to uncovering her mother’s history she also unravels the secrets that waft in the air and seep from the stones of Middlehurst Castle. Edie learns of the personal heartaches of the twins, Percy and Saffy, and of their little sister Juniper Blythe. She is eventually entrusted with two horrible secrets that have their roots deeply entrenched in Edie’s favorite book “The True History of the Mud Man,” which just so happened to be written by the Blythe sisters’ father, Raymond.

 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous review, I absolutely love Kate Morton’s writing! The way she descriptively creates a setting and a mood is just phenomenal. And her acumen with character development keeps the story riveting. Her characters motivations and secrets are never presented entirely upfront; she slowly feeds you what you need to know about a character until you have a much more complex person that what you started with. In this story Percy and Saffy Blythe, the twins, are perfect examples of this. They are each initially described as the opposite side of the same coin; one the picture of strength and purpose and the other weak and motherly; however, by the end of the story these notions are nearly turned on their side.

 

Having read “The Forgotten Garden” and now “The Distant Hours,” I’ve really begun to hone in on Mortons’ forte as a mystery writer. She excels at writing the decades and even centuries old imagined cold-case. She knows how to dig from the present to the past, how to make family research look exciting. While she is not the first to write these types of stories it works now more than ever as people are becoming more and more interested in the uncovering of family history. The interest is not just in one’s own family history, but the histories of famous people and of complete strangers.

 

If I had any criticism at all, it might be that on rare occasions what is presented in a flashback chapter might be just as interesting if discovered in the present. This of course may take a little from the character development that I gushed about earlier. To be completely honest though, “The Distant Hours” was just so thoroughly engrossing that few negative thoughts popped into my head.  If you have yet to read a Kate Morton book then “The Distant Hours” is a great place to start.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Drama, Europe, Family, Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, War, Writers

Snow Falling on Cedars

By David Guterson

Published by Harcourt Brace

Copyright © 1994

San Piedro, Washington is a sea worn island of tall wild cedars and well tended strawberry fields. These things in addition to the islands weather, isolation, and confinement mold the personality of its residents. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is at once a romance, mystery, and historical drama that, for some, will elicit reflection and strong emotions.

Hatsue and Ishmael grew up together on San Piedro Island, and slowly a secretive and complicated relationship developed between them. In the 1930’s and 40’s interracial relationships of any kind were publicly difficult. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and thrust America into World War II any naïve hopes that Ishmael or Hatsue had of making a life together shattered.

Over 10 years later, the two are thrust back into contact. Ishmael now runs the small town newspaper that his father started and he is covering a rare event in Amity Harbor, a murder trial. The defendant is Hatsue’s husband Kabuo Miyamoto; he is accused of killing another man, a former friend, over the ownership of his parents’ old strawberry farm.

The start of Kabuo’s trial coincides with a massive snowstorm which incapacitates the town. However this storm is also going to lead Ishmael to a fortuitous discovery and a moral dilemma. Will he want to share what he learns?

David Guterson has written a story of love and war, and pride and prejudice, that is at times ethereal and then plummets to the harsh and occasionally indelicate.  His descriptions of San Piedro and its surrounding waters are heaven like for anyone who can visualize them – misty and green, white and windy, and the occasional sun dappled strawberry field. These scenes are contrasted against flashbacks of a dead man at sea, an autopsy, war time in the Pacific and European theaters, Japanese interment in American, and the prejudices that existed on both sides.  In addition there are unnecessarily descriptive sex scenes (which rarely ever add anything to a good story) and the possibly necessary, however unenjoyable, profanity laced wartime conversations.

The author adroitly tells his story in and out of flashbacks which would normally turn me off, but he fills them with such meaningful detail that you can’t help but to see the point and the beauty of it. In this way he rounds out so many characters; it is actually difficult at times to tell who the main characters are. He spends so much time with so many characters expressing their physicality, motivations, idiosyncrasies, relationships, and etc. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is just an extremely well crafted story filled with repression, anger, and desire that captivated my attention.

 

1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

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Filed under Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, Strong Sense of Place, War