The Fleur de Sel Murders (Brittany Mystery, #3)

The Fleur de Sel MurdersThe Fleur de Sel Murders
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250308375
Series: Brittany Mystery #3
Publication Date: March 26, 2019
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

The old salt farmers have always said that the violet scent of the Fleur de Sel at harvest time on the salt marshes of the Guérande Peninsula has been known to cause hallucinations. Commissaire Dupin also starts to believe this when he’s attacked out of the blue in the salt works.

He had actually been looking forward to escaping his endless paperwork and taking a trip to the “white country” between the raging Atlantic Ocean and idyllic rivers. But when he starts snooping around mysterious barrels on behalf of Lilou Breval, a journalist friend, he finds himself unexpectedly under attack. The offender remains a mystery, and a short time later, Breval disappears without a trace. It is thanks to his secretary Nolwenn and the ambition of the prefect that Dupin is assigned to the case. But he won’t be working alone because Sylvaine Rose is the investigator responsible for the department—and she lives up to her name….

What’s going on in the salt works? Dupin and Rose search feverishly for clues and stumble upon false alibis, massive conflicts of interest, personal feuds—and ancient Breton legends.


If Bannalec hadn’t been able to hack it as a mystery author, he’d have had a great career in tourism; he sells me on Brittany every time I read one of his books.  Brittany springs to life off the page.

This can also be a hinderance; too much of it bogs the story down and there are spots of too much in this book.  The start, where he’s setting the scene in the salt gardens, almost killed the story’s momentum before it could ever get started.  I mean, yeah, it was beautiful and descriptive, but it dragged.  I deducted 1/2 star for the moments like this that happened throughout the book.

Once the story got going though, and the bodies started dropping, the pace picked up dramatically, so that by the end it was as edge-of-your-seat as traditional mysteries get.  I like Dupin, too, although he comes across a bit off-foot in this one, as I think he’s meant to, as he has to work with a female detective that’s as take charge as he is.

There are at least 5 more books in this series to look forward to, and it’s a series I think I’d eventually like to own.  They’re not the binging kind, but quite enjoyable once or twice a year – especially if you’re in the mood for a mental holiday-on-the-page.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022’s Death in Translation square.  Originally written in German and translated into English.  It could also work for Terror in a Small Town, and, of course, Genre: Mystery.

In the Middle of Hickory Lane

In the Middle of Hickory LaneIn the Middle of Hickory Lane
by Heather Webber
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250774651
Publication Date: July 26, 2022
Pages: 308
Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism
Publisher: Forge

Emme Wynn has wanted nothing more her whole life than to feel like part of a family. Having grown up on the run with her con artist mother, she’s been shuffled from town to town, drawn into bad situations, and has learned some unsavory habits that she’s tried hard to overcome. When her estranged grandmother tracks her down out of the blue and extends a job offer—helping to run her booth at an open-air marketplace in small-town Sweetgrass, Alabama—Emme is hopeful that she’ll finally be able to plant the roots she’s always dreamed of. But some habits are hard to break, and she risks her newfound happiness by keeping one big truth to herself.

Cora Bee Hazelton has her hands full with volunteering, gardening, her job as a color consultant and designer, and just about anything she can do to keep her mind off her painful past, a past that has resulted in her holding most everyone at arm’s length. The last thing she wants is to form close relationships only to have her heart broken yet again. But when she’s injured, she has no choice other than to let people into her life and soon realizes it’s going to be impossible to keep her heart safe—or her secrets hidden.

In the magical neighborhood garden in the middle of Hickory Lane, Emme and Cora Bee learn some hard truths about the past and themselves, the value of friends, family, and community, and most importantly, that true growth starts from within.


This one was not my favourite Heather Webber magical realism story, but that’s purely a matter of subjective taste for the theme.  I’m not interested in reading about con men (women), even unwilling ones seeking redemption.  But it had a garden with a dead body in it, and magical realism, so I was willing.

Putting aside the bits about living the life of a con, and keeping secrets, etc. there was a lot to like in this story.  Once I wrapped my head around just how huge the cul-de-sac had to have been to accommodate the garden described, it sounded magical, and all the characters, as usual with Webber’s writing, come to life on the page.  There is, as usual, the theme of ‘love conquers most everything’ but until the end it wasn’t dominant.

The dead body is discovered on page 1, but then just sort of lurks there in the background, while the police work at identifying the remains (they’re old).  But things come together at the end and I have to say I wasn’t really expecting them to come together in quite that shape.  I love when an author is able to surprise and blindside me.  It bumped the story up .5 a star.

I didn’t read this for Halloween Bingo, but looking at my card, I have Country House Mystery unread, and curiously, no desire to read anything for it, and my Lottery wild card still un-used, so I think I’ll use it and swap out Country House Mystery for the Home is Where the Hurt Is square, since this story definitely involves crimes that occur in nice, normal families.

 

The Baker Street Letters (Baker Street Mystery, #1)

The Baker Street LettersThe Baker Street Letters
by Michael Robertson
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780312538125
Series: Baker Street Mystery #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

First in a spectacular new series about two brother lawyers who lease offices on London's Baker Street--and begin receiving mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes

In Los Angeles, a geological surveyor maps out a proposed subway route—and then goes missing. His eight-year-old daughter in her desperation turns to the one person she thinks might help—she writes a letter to Sherlock Holmes.

That letter creates an uproar at 221b Baker Street, which now houses the law offices of attorney and man about town Reggie Heath and his hapless brother Nigel. Instead of filing the letter like he's supposed to, Nigel decides to investigate. Soon he's flying off to L.A., inconsiderately leaving a very dead body on the floor in his office. Big brother Reggie follows Nigel to California, as does Reggie's sometime lover, Laura – a quick-witted stage actress who's captured the hearts of both brothers.

When Nigel is arrested, Reggie must use all his wits to solve a case that Sherlock Holmes would have savored, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans will adore.


An impulse grab at my library, I had no idea what to suspect from this book – I was unfamiliar with the author and series, but the premise sounded like potential fun: legal chambers at 221B Baker street are obliged, by the terms of their lease, to open, read and answer letters written to Sherlock Holmes.

The book turned out to be well-written and fast-paced, though it lagged a bit in the middle for me.  The plot was interesting and well-constructed, although grand in a way that, at the risk of generalising, seems to be SOP for male authors.  It was good, and I enjoyed it, but this is not the kind of mystery where the reader really gets to participate; this is a traditional mystery with pretensions of thriller-ism.

In the Real World, I tend to find men more relatable then women, so I suppose in the karmic balance of things, it’s natural that I’m the exact opposite in the Book World.  In Book World, I prefer my authors to be female, as – again, at the risk of generalisation – they have voices that I find most relatable, as well as an ability to write characters and their relationships in a way that hooks me.  There are exceptions on both sides, of course, but this isn’t one of them: while it’s a good story with a great setup and a lively style, the characters failed to click with me.  I liked them, but they didn’t feel natural, and I’m completely dismissing the “romantic” element.  Laura is great, but her connections to the main character and his brother feels wooden, at best.  Luckily, that chemistry, or the lack of it, is irrelevant to the story and easy to ignore.

There are at least 4-5 more books in this series, and I have the 3rd one checked out – my library didn’t have the second one.  I may read it before the due date, but I’m going to put it aside for now; this feels like a series I could enjoy periodically but never binge on.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022, for the Amateur Sleuth square.  It takes place mostly in Los Angeles, so it would also work for the Golden State Nightmares square.

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder

Marion Lane and the Midnight MurderMarion Lane and the Midnight Murder
by T.A. Willberg
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781409196648
Series: Marion Lane #1
Publication Date: June 10, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Books

They were a band of mysterious private detectives who lived beneath the streets of London in a labyrinth of twisted tunnels and ancient hallways, the entrance to which no one had ever found. The Inquirers were something of a myth, a whispered legend that may or may not exist, depending on whom you asked. They were like ghosts, some said, these sleuths who guarded the city...

London, 1958:

Elaborately disguised and hidden deep beneath the city's streets lies the world of Miss Brickett's, a secret detective agency, training and housing the mysterious Inquirers. From traversing deceptive escape rooms full of baited traps and hidden dangers, to engineering almost magical mechanical gadgets, apprentice detectives at Miss Brickett's undergo rigorous training to equip them with the skills and knowledge they will need to solve the mysteries that confound London's police force.

But nothing can prepare 23-year-old apprentice Marion Lane for what happens after the arrest of her friend and mentor Frank on suspicion of murder: he has tasks Marion with clearing his name and saving his life. Her investigation will place Marion and her friends in great peril as they venture into the forbidden maze of uncharted tunnels that surround Miss Brickett's.

Being discovered out of bounds means immediate dismissal, but that is the least of Marion's problems when she discovered that the tunnels contain more than just secrets...


Meh.  Brilliant idea but mediocre execution.  I wanted to like it, and the really cool premise of the underground detective agency kept me reading when it felt like a slog, but unfortunately, the characters, while all likeable, failed to click with each other; there was no spark.

In better hands this would have been an amazingly fun book and start of a great series.  I don’t regret reading it, but I don’t regret getting from the library either.  There’s at least one more, but I can’t say I’m at all curious about it.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022’s Darkest London square – it’s a perfect fit for it.

Blood and Moonlight

Blood and MoonlightBlood and Moonlight
by Erin Beaty
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: June 28, 2022
Pages: 442
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux

Rising above the city of Collis is the holy Sanctum. And watching over its spires is Catrin, an orphan girl with unique skills―for she alone can spot the building’s flaws in construction before they turn deadly.

But when Catrin witnesses a murderer escaping the scene of his crime, she’s pulled into a dangerous chain of events where the only certainty is that the killer will strike again. Assigned to investigate is the mysterious and brilliant Simon, whose insights into the mind of a predator are frighteningly accurate.

As the grisly crimes continue, Catrin finds herself caught between killer and detective while hiding her own secret―a supernatural sight granted by the moon, destined to make her an outcast, and the only thing that might save her and those she loves from becoming the next victims...


Thanks to Whisky in the Jar for putting this book on my radar.  I finished it last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The characters make this a YA murder mystery with a side of romance, but the plot has some dark and disturbing elements that are touched upon (sexual violence/incest) that put it at the older end of YA.  The setting is supposed to be, I think, medieval, but it worked better for me to imagine it as an alternate reality, thereby making anachronisms less anachronistic.  This was easy to do as the city/country names have little to no similarity to real ones, and the religious system is based entirely on the sun and moon.

Mental illness is a very prominent theme in the story and though I have no first, or even second-hand experience with it myself, the inclusion in the story didn’t feel disrespectful or heavy-handed.  The moon magic was interesting and felt like a fresh take on magic systems; the mystery plotting was a little clunky, possibly over-complicated, but overall it kept the story moving along.

In general, I thought it was a good read and if the author were to make a series out of it (could easily go either way) I’d read the next one happily.

The trouble with anthologies … and Charles Dickens

Great Stories of Crime and DetectionGreat Stories of Crime and Detection
by H.R.F. Keating, Various Authors
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 2002
Pages: 1784
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Folio Society

I’ve accumulated a solid collection of thick crime anthologies over the years and I’ve really enjoyed all of them – I get the chance to find new authors, experience a wide variety of writing styles and have access to mysteries and authors I might not otherwise be able to find.

But the one problem I’ve had again and again is that I pick up one of the large anthologies and often can’t remember which stories I’ve read and which I haven’t.  While I appreciate the anthologies as a chance to expand my mystery horizons, I know I also tend to gravitate to the same types of stories – so when I see one that looks good I find myself double guessing myself: did I think that the last time and have I already read this?.  I know I could look up reviews, but that takes way too much time no matter how organised my online ‘bookkeeping’ is.

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that the simplest solution was the best: I had MT pick up a pack of index cards, and I started slipping on in the front of each anthology.  Now when I read a story, I jot in down on the index card, along with the date read and a quick rating.

This has been very handy, and I figure, if someday  my books travel beyond my library, maybe someone will get a kick out of finding my ‘ephemera’ and comparing notes with me.

All of which brings me to my mini-review of the first story I’ve read in Great Stories of Crime and Detection, V. I.  Volume I covers “The Beginning” up until 1920, and starts with the obvious, Murders in the Rue Morgue, which I’ve already read, so I chose the second story To Be Taken With a Grain of Salt by Charles Dickens.  Don’t ask me why, because, with the exception of A Christmas Carol I can’t tolerate Dickens’ paid-by-the-word writing style.  Maybe I felt the need to torture myself with mind-numbing prose?

If I did, I failed, because this story was delightful!  Written with an economy of style I can hardly credit to Dickens, but fully fleshed out and wonderfully creepy.  At 10 pages long it’s a compact ghost story about a man who sits on the jury of a murder trial, and how the victim sees to it that justice is done.  It’s an unconventional follow-up to the conventional starter, and it makes me eager to find out what’s to follow.  I doubt I’ll follow them in strict order, but I have high hopes that they’ll all be wroth reading, and I look forward to filling up my index card.

It has left me feeling completely flummoxed by Charles Dickens though.

Game On: Tempting Twenty-eight

Game On: Tempting Twenty-EightGame On: Tempting Twenty-Eight
by Janet Evanovich
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781398510128
Series: Stephanie Plum #28
Publication Date: November 17, 2021
Pages: 286
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

When Stephanie Plum is woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of footsteps in her apartment, she wishes she didn’t keep her gun in the cookie jar in her kitchen. And when she finds out the intruder is fellow apprehension agent Diesel, six feet of hard muscle and bad attitude whom she hasn’t seen in more than two years, she still thinks the gun might come in handy.

Turns out Diesel and Stephanie are on the trail of the same fugitive: Oswald Wednesday, an international computer hacker as brilliant as he is ruthless. Stephanie may not be the most technologically savvy sleuth, but she more than makes up for that with her dogged determination, her understanding of human nature, and her willingness to do just about anything to bring a fugitive to justice. Unsure if Diesel is her partner or her competition in this case, she’ll need to watch her back every step of the way as she sets the stage to draw Wednesday out from behind his computer and into the real world.


It’s another Stephanie Plum, and I wanted something easy that had a chance of making me laugh out loud.  I got it.

Evanovich appears to have needed a break from the Morelli vs. Ranger writing, and instead brought Diesel back for the pursuit of an internationally infamous computer hacker, lurking in the Berg, killing off rival hackers that managed to hack his system.  A nice change from the mobsters Stephanie is usually running from.  Also a nice change was the flip of luck between Stephanie and Lulu; it’s Lulu who now finds herself target of every embarrassing, messy happenstance that the two run into.

Mostly though, it’s just an enjoyable you-know-what-you’re-getting read.  It wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t bad either.

The Sanctuary Sparrow (Brother Cadfael, #7)

The Sanctuary SparrowThe Sanctuary Sparrow
by Ellis Peters
Rating: ★★★
Series: Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #7
Publication Date: January 1, 1996
Pages: 216
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Book of the Month Club, Inc.

In the gentle Shrewsbury spring of 1140, the midnight matins at the Benedictine abbey suddenly reverberate with an unholy sound- a hunt in full cry.

Persued by a drunken mob, the quarry is running for its life. When the frantic creature bursts into the nave to claim sanctuary, Brother Cadfael finds himself fighting off armed townsmen to save a terrified young man.

Accused of robbery and murder is Liliwin, a wandering minstrel who performed at the wedding of a local goldsmith's son. The cold light of morning, however, will show his supposed victim, the miserly craftsman, still lives, although a strongbox lies empty.

Brother Cadfael believes Liliwin is innocent, but finding the truth and the treasure before Liliwin's respite in sanctuary runs out may uncover a deadlier sin than thievery- a desperate love that nothing, not even the threat of hanging can stop.


 

Not the best one I’ve read so far.  My favourite part was Liliwin’s sanctuary, and the time he spent with the brothers.  I ended up skimming the whole scene between him and Rannlit because it was all too sweet and twee for me.  Peters seemed to spend a lot more time describing scenery and settings in exhaustive detail, and I’d catch myself half way through thinking alright already.  I was also certain as to who the killer was long before the half-way mark. Sometimes the biggest clue is the way the author draws the character, and such was the case in this book; in trying to write a nondescript character, Peters created the only plausible suspect.  There were details I did miss though that added to the complexity of the plot, and they were well crafted.  The ending was a little eye-rolling, but not so much as the ending of book 6, if I recall correctly.  Peters seemed to like daring escapes, for a bit, at least.

Not a bad book, but not the best of the 7 I’ve read either, by a long shot.

Lord Peter Whimsey: The Complete Short Stories

Lord Peter Wimsey: The Complete Short StoriesLord Peter Wimsey: The Complete Short Stories
by Dorothy L. Sayers
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781473657632
Publication Date: February 13, 2018
Pages: 437
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Hodder Paperback

Presented in chronological order, these short stories see Lord Peter Wimsey bringing his trademark wit and unique detection skills to all manner of mysteries. From poisoned port to murder in fancy dress, Wimsey draws on his many skills - including his expertise in fine wine and appreciation of fine art - to solve cases far and wide, some even taking him to foreign countries and unexpected hiding places in pursuit of miscreants and murderers.

Containing 21 stories taken from Lord Peter Views the Body, Hangman's Holiday, In the Teeth of the Evidence and Striding Folly, now published together for the first time in one volume, this is the ultimate collection for fans of classic detective fiction and Dorothy L. Sayers.


 

My current distal discomfort being what it is, I thought a book of short stories would work for me, and I’ve been in the mood for some Whimsey.

Of this entire collection, I think the only one I’d read previously was The Necklace of Pearls.  A few I didn’t much care for – The Queen’s Square pops immediately to mind, but that could be simply chalked up to my current attention span and the story being a fair-play mystery with maps are at odds.  I liked the logic behind how Whimsey solved it, I just found the process tedious.

My favourites are far and away the easiest to identify:

The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Mileage’s Will:  I loved this story and I think it’s a great example of superior writing, in that it was short but still contained all the suspense and entertainment many long stories struggle to achieve, and it was a nice departure from a ‘murder’ mystery.

The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head: Another ‘no-murder’ mystery; less suspense but still oodles of fun with old books, maps, and a treasure hunt.  Peter learning what happens when you poke a dragon in the eye was the cherry on top of this delightfully fun tale.

The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach: Probably my least fave of the 4 I’m listing, but there was a whimsy about it I enjoyed, if the premise itself wasn’t totally disgusting.

Talboys:  This one was just funny.  Sweet too, but mostly just funny.  The ending is sublime.

All in all a solid set of short stories, with very few disappointments.

The Newcomer

The NewcomerThe Newcomer
by Mary Kay Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250256966
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Pages: 440
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

After she discovers her sister Tanya dead on the floor of her fashionable New York City townhouse, Letty Carnahan is certain she knows who did it: Tanya’s ex; sleazy real estate entrepreneur Evan Wingfield. Even in the grip of grief and panic Letty heeds her late sister’s warnings: “If anything bad happens to me—it’s Evan. Promise me you’ll take Maya and run. Promise me.”

So Letty grabs her sister’s Mercedes and hits the road with her wailing four-year-old niece Maya. Letty is determined to out-run Evan and the law, but run to where? Tanya, a woman with a past shrouded in secrets, left behind a “go-bag” of cash and a big honking diamond ring—but only one clue: a faded magazine story about a sleepy mom-and-pop motel in a Florida beach town with the improbable name of Treasure Island. She sheds her old life and checks into an uncertain future at The Murmuring Surf Motel.

And that’s the good news. Because The Surf, as the regulars call it, is the winter home of a close-knit flock of retirees and snowbirds who regard this odd-duck newcomer with suspicion and down-right hostility. As Letty settles into the motel’s former storage room, she tries to heal Maya’s heartache and unravel the key to her sister’s shady past, all while dodging the attention of the owner’s dangerously attractive son Joe, who just happens to be a local police detective. Can Letty find romance as well as a room at the inn—or will Joe betray her secrets and put her behind bars? With danger closing in, it’s a race to find the truth and right the wrongs of the past.


 

The absolute latest by Mary Kay Andrews (I told you I needed post-op easy reads), save for the somewhat disappointing novella The Santa Suit, and reading this I could almost believe Andrews has found her groove again.  It’s another mystery/romance in the same vein as The Weekenders but written a lot more smoothly with a much easier flow.  Andrews is still using multiple POVs, and they start off a bit clunky – this might be an editing issue, as I think bolder title timelines/location identifiers might have helped.  Once established though, the POVs worked smoothly, and Andrews played some small mind-games with the reader, introducing possibly unreliable narratives once or twice.  Again, a little clunky, but mostly effective.

The story is about the murder of the MC’s sister, which = mystery, but really, there’s no mystery about who killed her, just whether or not justice will be served.  That means that it’s less about investigating and more about case building, leading to some over-the-top antics that you’d like to believe are totally unrealistic, but just might not be.

I’ve read a lot of Andrews’ work now – not all of it, but enough to feel confident saying she really doesn’t write romance in the sense that the reader is swept away.  The male mc’s are mostly ‘good’ guys, but there’s not a one of them I can remember thinking I’d date him. At the end, I’m happy for the MC, but not bowled over by her HEA.

This is a beach-read worth reading; or, if you’re luck runs like mine does recently, a good solid yet light read to loll away the hours when confined to your bed.  Enough to keep you interested, not enough to tax your pain-meds-addled mind.