Category Archives: Strong Sense of Place

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

The Forgotten Garden

By Kate Morton

Published by Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2008

A genealogical mystery spanning nearly 100 years and 2 continents, “The Forgotten Garden” captivates the senses and the imagination.

Cassandra lived with her grandmother Nell in Brisbane, Australia, until recently when her grandmother died. Nell left Cassandra their home and the antiques business that they worked in together. In addition she left a somewhat perceptible secret which had implications to a mystery that Nell was trying to solve.

It was always a little odd how different Nell was from her sisters and the rest of her family, but Cassandra didn’t think much of it until after Nell’s death when her great aunts tell her that Nell had known for quite awhile now that she was not a blood relative. By way of a little white suitcase that Nell received after her father’s death and the diary that Nell kept of her own identity search thereafter, Cassandra begins to piece together the clues of Nell’s family history. This mystery will take her to London and then to a cottage and garden on the Cornish Coast where she will find links in her family history that she could not imagine. Through this journey of discovery through her ancestor’s tragic lives she will slowly begin to cope with her own tragic history and begin to move beyond it.

Kate Morton has written a riveting mystery riddled with loss and loneliness that ultimately ends in truth and contentment. This novel shifts back and forth between three main characters that lived decades apart. At the beginning of each chapter Morton clearly tells us what place and time period you are reading from so the book is in no way confusing. You would think that skipping between time periods might slow the book down; however, it provides the necessary history for the reader to see where Cassandra is headed or where she has been.

In addition, Morton’s characters in this book are often gloomy and burdened with secrets, and yet for a few of them she draws them towards the light making us take pleasure in their company. She also paints a moody yet beautiful picture of the Cornish Coast which is made all the more so when contrasted with the glaring sun and oppressive heat of Australia. She makes me want my own cottage on the Cornish Coast. “The Forgotten Garden” is a spellbinding novel with a surprising yet fitting climax that I highly recommend.

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Filed under Family, Mystery, Romance, Strong Sense of Place

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

Coyote Waits

By Tony Hillerman

Published by Harper & Row

Copyright © 1990

Chee and Leaphorn investigate a cop killer in the Navajo Nation where the killer might just be a victim as well.

Officer Jim Chee is on his way to Red Rock to meet a fellow officer Delbert Nez for a coffee break. However, Nez thinks that he has spotted the vandal that he has been after for awhile. Chee thinks about giving him back up, but Nez doesn’t sound like he needs it. When Nez doesn’t show up at Red Rock Chee gets worried and finds him shot and burning in his patrol car. Risking his own safety, he pulls Nez from the vehicle and starts down the road only to find who he believes to be the killer, Ashie Pinto, an 80 year old Navajo Shaman who is staggering around in the middle of the road with a bottle of whiskey in his hand and a pistol in his belt.

While Chee is almost certain that this is his man, his friend and newly hired public defender, Janet Pete doesn’t believe Pinto is guilty. In addition, Pinto’s family doesn’t believe he could have done it either, and they urge Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, to whom they are loosely related to investigate. Pinto is making all of this necessary of course because he refuses to speak of the event, he will neither confirm nor deny his guilt. Following two separate paths Chee and Leaphorn will find themselves in the middle of a case that proves to have historical and monetary significance.

Hillerman is the master of Native American Mysteries. He meshes Navajo tradition and lore into his stories so confidently and seamlessly that the casual reader can only assume that they are accurate. I love his protagonists. Hillerman writes us individuals with strengths and weaknesses and contradictory personality traits and actions. They are not portrayed as super human, it is their intellect and knowledge of their peoples ways that makes them so interesting and good at their jobs. “Coyote Waits” is a fine example of Hillerman’s art of storytelling and understanding of logic.

I was first introduced to Hillerman’s work by way of the PBS Mysteries series that featured Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn which were fine films. From there I had to read some of his books. I have read “Skinwalkers” and now “Coyote Waits.” I won’t devour all of his books one after another, but whenever I’m looking for a good mystery, in an interesting setting, with strong three dimensional characters I will look for Tony Hillerman.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Murder, Mystery, Native American, Strong Sense of Place

Scotched

Scotched

By Kaitlyn Dunnett

Published by Kensington Publishing

Copyright © 2011

Liss MacCrimmon and the Moosetookalook crew are back in another deadly tale. Moosetookalook is hosting the first annual Maine-ly Cozey Con, a mystery writer’s conference, and murder is the Maine event.

The Maine-ly Cozy Con was lured to Moosetookalook by Liss’ aunt Margaret who knows the producer of the event. This mystery conference is the brainchild of a former town resident, Nola Ventress.  Nola has a disreputable past in town, but she agreed to bring the event to The Spruces Hotel as a favor to Margaret and because The Spruces has the unusual distinction of being the site of a real life murder.  Nola makes one big mistake though, in an effort to get some publicity she sends program information to a well known mystery book blogger. While the idea is well intentioned, she didn’t stop to realize that this blogger was mostly well known for her scathing book reviews; she rarely had anything good too say.

When this blogger shows up in person and begins to snoop around and hassle various writers and residents of Moosetookalook, it isn’t long until Nola realizes her mistake and Liss has more murders to investigate. This time however, Liss goes barking up the wrong tree when she is looking for a suspect. This mistake might just save her life in the end though.

While it is slightly far-fetched for such a small town to have so many murders, the reader must let themselves be taken by the fantasy to enjoy the Dunnett’s stories. Dunnett of course alludes to this in “Scotched” when she draws a parallel between Moosetookalook, Maine and Cabot Cove, Maine of “Murder She Wrote” fame. If one can allow this to pass they are in for an enjoyable murder mystery. While one would never mistake the Liss MacCrimmon series as being hard core, suspenseful murder mysteries, it can be said that she writes a solid story that has you guessing till the very end.

I have to say, I don’t know how many more murder mysteries you can squeeze a 27 year old former Scottish dancer, current Scottish Emporium owner, bride to be, and resident of small town Moosetookalook into. If I could, I would recommend a Scottish Wedding Murder for Liss and Dan. If Dunnett wishes to continue writing about Liss’ meddling, Liss is going to have to travel much more. Portland would be nice. How about Aroostook County?! I hear they grow great potatoes up there, and who knows maybe she could dig up a Skeleton while she’s digging in the dirt.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Murder, Mystery, Romance, Strong Sense of Place, Writers

Scone Cold Dead

By Kaitlyn Dunnett

Published by Kensington Publishing Corp.

Copyright © 2008

Review by A. Kendrick

Liss MacCrimmon was a dancer for a Scottish song and dance troupe called Strathspey, but she had to give up her life of travel and performance when she blew out her knee. Now she lives in a sleepy little Maine backwater called Moosetookalook where she runs a Scottish Emporium. You would think that Liss’ life would be very quiet and boring, but that is the furthest thing from reality.

Liss’ has taken quite nicely to her new quiet life. She runs the Emporium, teaches dance, and even has a boyfriend, Dan Ruskin. She seems rather satisfied with her life, but she has booked Strathspey for a show in a nearby college town, and she begins to feel pangs for her old life. Something goes terribly wrong though, when, at the after show party the troupe’s manager dies of an apparent allergic reaction, but with a little digging by the local police it becomes clear that this was no accident; it was murder!

Kaitlyn Dunnett has won me over with a female sleuth who is not only independent but attractive, a beautiful New England setting, and a love for Scottish/Gaelic heritage. This murder mystery was light, fun, and happily devoid of any gore. There is no super surprise as to who the killer was, rather there is a slow reveal and a moment of enlightenment. It is kind of nice when you are figuring out who the murderer is just before the author reveals it. (It makes you field smart and intuitive, even if you aren’t.) One caveat to my enthusiasm for this story is that a mild romantic triangle begins to develop which, unfortunately, does not come to resolution in this book. I don’t really care for romantic cliff hangers myself. All in all though, this is a quick, enjoyable read.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Murder, Mystery, Romance, Strong Sense of Place

Death Along the Spirit Road

By C.M. Wendelboe

Published by Berkley Trade

Copyright © 2011

Manny Tanno has a nice FBI Academy position in Washington D.C., but every now and again he gets pulled from the classroom to work a case, and it is usually on the Rez. Why does he get picked for the reservation cases? Because, Native Americans on the reservations don’t trust the federal government too much, so the FBI likes to take advantage of Manny’s Heritage as a full blooded Oglala Sioux.  Manny was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and served there as a tribal cop before joining the FBI.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is aptly described as a place of despair trying to lift itself into dignity with the construction of a resort that will bring much needed money to the tribal coffers and thus to the community. However the high powered real estate tycoon in charge, Jason Red Cloud, has been murdered in a most native style – he is found dead on the reservation with a war club in his head. Manny’s Supervisor has decided to send him back there to solve this murder case. Quite a few problems stand in his way though, many in the community don’t trust or like him because he works for the government now, his contact with the tribal police is an old high school nemesis who is trying to make him look bad, he isn’t ready to revisit his family history (his brother was sent up for a dishonorable murder from back in his American Indian Movement days), and he has multiple people trying to kill him. Manny is going to have to uncover an intricate web of murder, deceit, and greed that goes back decades and will culminate when he finally finds Red Clouds Killer.

“Death Along the Spirit Road” is pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect much when I began this book, but when I heard comparison’s to Tony Hillerman I thought I should check it out. And Almost out of the gate you begin to see the similarities between the Manny Tanno and Willie With Horn combination and Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee; The older experienced officer who isn’t happy being back on the rez working together with the younger officer who is embracing his heritage.

Comparisons aside though, Wendelboe’s mystery is entertaining. It is packed with action and intrigue, and it leaves you guessing to the end when the truth is revealed because of one seemingly innocuous clue. While hand to hand combat and gun play don’t seem to be Manny’s forte, as his many injuries attest to, he has a way with interrogations that to me were funny, if not ingenious. “Death Along the Spirit Road” is a solid first effort with a couple of bumps but mostly triumphs, and if it is any indication of things to come I will be looking forward to the next installment.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Historical, Mystery, Native American, Strong Sense of Place