About the Whodunit Book Club

Whodunit Book Club has met in its present location for almost seventeen years! If you would like to join us, our meetings are held on the last Tuesday of every month (except December).
We meet at the Chapters Store located at 41 MicMac Blvd., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Phone (902) 466-1640

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Sworn to silence" by Linda Castillo

Wow! How lucky to find another great first of a series! Just when I thought I was running out of authors, I discover another one who is young and talented. (by that I infer lots of wonderful reads ahead!)

With a great cover scene of dead cornstalks in a snowy farmer's field, "Sworn to silence" grabs you right away. Set in Ohio's Amish country, this mystery/thriller features a unique protagonist. A female police chief who was formerly Amish.
Kate Burkholder has chosen to leave the Amish way of life and is shunned by her family. She leads a somewhat solitary life but enjoys her job largely due to her loyal employees.

Kate maintains a devastating secret from her youth which comes back to haunt her when a body is found in a wintery farmer's field. The setting is so well depicted that the cold is almost palpable... Loathe to call for assistance from outside law enforcement agencies because of her secret, Kate is called to task by the town's council who employ her. When the case becomes even higher profile with the discovery of a second body, they go over her head and call in an agent from the BCI. Agent John Tomasetti is a damaged individual. His posting to Kate's case is probably his last chance at salvaging what is left of his formerly illustrious career. He lost his wife and children to a psychopath and doesn't want anyone else to suffer what he has had to...

When Kate does not follow protocol and fails to find the culprit, the town council remove her from her duties. Knowing nothing else in her life will fill the void, Kate continues to work the case with the help of John. There is an attraction between them which is largely due to all the baggage they carry with them.

When Kate is eventually captured by the murderer, both she and John fear for her survival. Her ingenuity with the help of sound police work, bring the culprit to justice bringing about a most satisfying ending to the novel.

Linda Castillo had written a sound police procedural. Kate Burkholder is both intiguing and likeable and I look forward to meeting her again on her next case. "Pray for silence" is due out June 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Bad things happen" by Harry Dolan

It seems like lately I've been reading a lot of debut novels. I didn't plan it, but on several occasions I've been pleasantly surprised. Such was the case when I picked up "Bad things happen" by first time novelist Harry Dolan.

The book was unsettling for many reasons. First and foremost because the reader doesn't know who the protagonist is for the bulk of the book. He is referred to for the most part as 'the man who calls himself David Loogan'. Who is he really? An ex-cop (therefore a good guy) -- an ex-felon (therefore a bad guy)? The reader is made tense by the possibilities.
Set in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the novel follows the solitary Loogan who accidentally befriends a periodical publisher, Tom Kristoll. He eventually works for Tom as an editor for Tom's mystery magazine "Grey Streets". In due course, Loogan has an affair with Tom's beautiful wife. But life imitates the stories in 'Grey Streets'. Plans go wrong, bad things happen, people die...

The second protagonist in the novel is female homicide detective Elizabeth Waishkey. When Tom Kristoll dies, she meets David Loogan and is unsure whether he is a suspect or someone who can help her solve the case.

Written in a 'noir' style, "Bad things happen" is a very promising debut which held my attention and my interest until the last page. The characterizations were deftly rendered. Difficult when the reader doesn't really even know who the protagonist is! Bravo Harry Dolan!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A cup of Christmas tea

Every year at this time I like to share this Christmas poem with my friends and family.
It seems to epitomize the true meaning of this festive season.

The poem "A cup of Christmas tea" written by Tom Hegg is one I read every year to remind myself just what is important.
Merry Christmas everyone!

A Christmas recipe to enjoy!

1 cup of water
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup of brown sugar
lemon juice
4 large eggs
lots of nuts
2 bottles red wine
2 cups of dried fruit

Sample the wine to check quality. Take a large bowl, check the wine again. To be sure it is the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink.
Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
Add one teaspoon of sugar. Beat again. At this point it's best to make sure the wine is shtill OK.
Try another cup .... just in case. Turn off the mixerer thingy.
Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
Pick fruit off floor.
Mix on the turner.
If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers pry it loose with a sdrewscriver.
Sample the wine again to check for tonsisticity.
Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something. Who careshz.
Check the wine.
Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
Add one table.
Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find.
Greash the oven and wee in the fridge.
Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.
Don't forget to beat off the turner.
Finally, throw the bowl through the window, finish the wine.
Wipe down the counter with the cat.
Fall into bed.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Hound" by Vincent McCaffrey

If bibliophilia is an illness, then Henry Sullivan is terminal! Books are his work, his life and his love. A book Hound, Henry is a former bookstore employee who now buys and then resells books over the Internet from his home.

A single man in his mid-thirties, Henry’s days are marked by estate sales, library book sales and other quests for saleable books. He enjoys a regular pint and a game of chess with his friend and confidant Albert. He makes the trek across the city of Boston to visit his father whom he seems never to have actually connected with. He shares a passing word with his landlady whom he respects and admires.

His heretofore predictable, mundane life is upturned when his landlady dies. He learns he will soon be losing his rent controlled apartment when her house is sold. This development, though troubling, absolutely pales to insignificance when Morgan Johnson, an old flame, calls him to value her husband’s books. One wonders if he is thinking of rekindling the flame when he learns of Morgan’s death the day after his visit with her. She was an important part of his life in the past and he is profoundly disturbed by her passing. Her book collection which was filled with many signed first editions was very valuable -- but would someone kill her for it?

In attempting to discover how Morgan died Henry becomes enmeshed in her family’s secrets. She was the second wife of a prominent publisher and traveled extensively. Her family and extended family hid troubles, resentments and deceptions beneath a thin veneer of respectability that their wealth and renown afforded them. Was murder kept in the family as well?

Somewhat reminiscent of John Dunning’s Bookman novels, this is a mystery novel that is more novel than mystery. Literary in both style and subject, Hound is a novel for those who enjoy a more sedately paced story.
If you are looking for action you won’t find it here. Filled with anecdotes and asides on bookselling and the love of reading, Vincent McCaffrey’s love for books absolutely drips from the pages. If you share that obsession, then you will be touched and moved by his words.

Vincent McCaffrey is obviously a man so well read that he seems to have gleaned a deep understanding of human nature from his studies. His characters are appealing and sympathetic and his story well plotted. I look forward to his next novel after what was a most enjoyable debut.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Castle' television show

Fans of the TV show "Castle" may be in for a treat. (or not, who can tell???)

Richard Castle has a book out. Yes that's right folks, a fictional character wrote a book... The title is as the TV show suggests "Heat wave". The publisher's blurb refers to Richard Castle as if he is a 'real' person! You can only imagine what nightmares that will present to me as a library cataloguer!

This link has an online interview with the show's stars Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic that fans will find interesting.

Whodunit Book Club - November 24, 2009

The last 2009 meeting for the Whodunits! Eighteen people attended and everyone was in good pre-holiday cheer.
Pam's question this evening was: "Do you like to receive books as gifts?"
Although we are all avid readers and booklovers the answer was not quite what one would anticipate. Many said that they would like to receive gift cards for a bookstore so that they could choose the books themselves. Reading is such a personal thing that they didn't want others choosing books for them. A few said that they did like to receive books because they appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into the choice. Most of us seem to like to give books as gifts. Perhaps we think that we are better able to choose books because of the sheer number we have read? A few confessed to giving books as gifts but reading them first! This caused quite a stir...

The novel discussed this month was R.D. Wingfield's first Inspector Frost novel "Frost at Christmas". Some of those who had watched the "Touch of Frost" television series felt that the televised Frost had a more mature sense of humour than the Frost from the novel. And speaking of humour, there was quite a bit within the pages of "Frost at Christmas". Many said they laughed aloud while reading it. The general consensus was that the book was enjoyed by the majority and some said that they would definitely read the rest in the series.

We learned a little about R.D. Wingfield. Born in London in 1928 he lived in Essex for many years with his wife and one son. He was exempted from military service due to poor eyesight and later became a radio dramatist for the BBC. He died in 2004 from prostate cancer.

Inspector Frost is pithy, acerbic, irreverent and usually right. He is so sloppy and bumbling that you gotta love him! At least I do...
Like most British police procedural series the six Frost novels should really be read in order. Anyone who hasn't yet read the entire series is in for some seriously good entertainment.

Winners of the free books this month were: Lynne, Laird, Nancy and Brian.

Merry Christmas to all the Whodunit members!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

David Jason is Inspector Frost

This month's Whodunit Book Club selection is the first in the Inspector Frost series of novels by the late R.D. Wingfield. I have long been a fan and read "Frost at Christmas" in the mid 1980s. Of course, being a fan, I was sure to view the television series "A Touch of Frost" which was based on the series starring David Jason as Jack Frost. He plays the part admirably.

Anyone who hasn't yet seen the TV series should do so. The shows are available at the Halifax Public Library if you missed them on TV.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The late great Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey at home in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, 1992. Photo © Steve Marsel Studio Inc.

"He lived with as many as six cats at a time: the 'people,' he claimed, to whom he felt closest." —Susan Lumenello (Harvard Magazine, March–April 2007)

Many of us who watch Mystery on PBS will recognize the art of Edward Gorey.
The introduction to the show is available on YouTube.

Renown for his macabre artwork I have long been a fan.

A colleague of mine recently visited his home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts which is now open to the public. I am SO jealous. She said the house was a fascinating glimpse into the eccentric figure that was Gorey.

Many of Edward Gorey's works are available at the Halifax Public Libraries. Gorey's illustrated (and sometimes wordless) books, with their vaguely ominous air and ostensibly Victorian and Edwardian settings, have long had a cult following.
One of my favorites is his alphabet book for adults "The Gashlycrumb Tinies". His ingenious rendering of the alphabet is much too gruesome and frightening for the average child.

The book of interviews "Ascending peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey"
provides an intriguing glimpse into the life of this brilliant eccentric.

There is a great online interview with Edward Gorey on the MYSTERY! website.

Also, the Wikipedia entry for Gorey provides a comprehensive coverage of the man and his work.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why do we read?

Whether a book makes you laugh or cry, it becomes indelibly a part of you. Once the words are read you can't unread them.
Think of all the things that the words and phrases within books have made you think about. The things that without the book you would never have thought of before...
The memories the words sometimes conjure. How the author's description of something or someone will make you reflect on your own experiences.

From the book "Hound" by Vincent McCaffrey.
"I lie in bed at night and read as though my life depended on it. And it does, even if it's a mundane life."
No truer words were ever spoken.

Reading makes us grow. It makes us more empathetic and broadens our knowledge of the world and the people in it. Reading provides us with a diversion from life's stresses and provides endless topics for conversation. In fact, I can think of no negatives when it comes to reading.
So... why not go and open a book???

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yorkshire mysteries of Lesley Horton

I just finished the 5th in the series of Yorkshire mysteries by Lesley Horton. Each and every one an enjoyable read. The novels feature Detective Chief Inspector Handford who is a likeable, though complex protagonist.

This novel "Twisted Tracks" featured three simultaneous murder investigations. The murders seemed mysteriously linked. It was discovering what linked them that would crack the case. Also in Handford's inbox was a spate of staged car accidents. An elaborate insurance scam, these accidents often included women and small children as the victims.
Busy at work, his wife on a teaching exchange work term in Florida, and his mother looking after him and his daughters seems enough stress for Handford. But there is more! Thirty years ago his brother was a suspect in a rape case in which the victim later committed suicide. Handford was his brother's alibi. However, Handord who was just seventeen at the time and idolized his brother, lied to cover for him. Now that lie has returned to haunt him as the rape case has recently been reopened. As a high ranking police officer, he must now tell the truth and recant his former testimony. What will this do to his brother, his parents, his life?
Written with a deft understanding of police procedure and a keen knowledge of human nature, this series is one I will continue to follow with enjoyment.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whodunit Book Club - October 27, 2009

A lively group of seventeen attended this evening's Whodunit Book Club. We welcomed one new member.

Pam's 'magical question' this evening: "Do you find that the length of a book influences/impacts upon your reading choice?"
Most ascertained that the size of a book made little to no difference in whether they would read it or not. Some commented that if they were really pressed for time, then they would steer clear of a lengthy book. Some said that the size of the print was more of a factor than the number of pages. The comment was made that their opinion depended upon genre. For instance a mystery should be no longer than about 350 pages while a historical novel could be up to 1000 pages and not be too long.

The book discussed this month was "Talking to Wendigo" by John C. Goodman. A first novel by a Canadian author, the book was generally liked by the majority of members.
Many commented that the imagery was outstanding with wonderfully vivid descriptions. The characters were well fleshed out and the First Nations lore was well depicted. The weakness of the plot was what let the book down for a lot of us. Repetition of known facts (especially concerning the gold scam conspirators) was annoying. The placement of the body was disappointing. Why if the murderer took the trouble to move it, didn't he move it farther away? Far enough that the smell of decomposition would not alert anyone to its whereabouts. The 'mystery' was not the book's strength.
The protagonist William was a likeable character, though he seemed directionless and thus easily led. He felt he had wasted his life and that he was a failure. It was only when he retired and moved to the remote woodland location that he became more introspective and seemed to grow emotionally. The touch of romance at the end of the book was satisfying.
Most of the Whodunit members agreed that they would read another if the author decides to turn it into a series. The vivid characters and descriptions were enough to make up for the plot weaknesses. Also, with a second novel perhaps the protagonist would 'grow' as would perhaps the author's handling of plot.
Due to Pam's generousity, the end of the club brought the 'free books' draw as per usual. Tonight's winners were: Carolyn, Lynne, Brian and Elizabeth.
Pam held a second draw for six copies of Anne Murray's new book "All of Me".
The winners of this draw were: Elizabeth, Nancy, Laird, Joanne, Jean and Marilyn.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The Brutal Telling" by Louise Penny

It seems so unfair that the reddest, juiciest apples are oftentimes the ones in which a worm is concealed. The picture perfect, idyllic town of Three Pines proves this true when a stranger’s body is found in the town’s café on the village green.

The café is run by Olivier, a gay man who moved to Three Pines with his partner Gabriel who runs the local Bread and Breakfast. The two men are now village fixtures and have befriended one and all. Why would anyone leave a dead body in the café?

When Chief Inspector Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec returns to the village to investigate the murder, he is pleased to see his old friends again. Gamache has invaded their territory before, always on business, but the village has become a favorite of his on a personal level. He suspects that his friend Olivier is not being completely truthful with him, but cannot imagine why. He along with his hand-picked murder team examine the circumstances of the crime as only they can. In addition Gamache has chosen a new member of the team, a young constable who at first seems to have little to offer, but since Inspector Gamache has chosen him we trust he has hidden depths. He teaches him the same lesson that he has taught the others: “What kills can’t be seen. That’s what makes it so dangerous. It’s not a gun or a knife or a fist. It’s not anything you can see coming. It’s an emotion. Rancid, spoiled. And waiting for a chance to strike.”

The villagers want desperately for the murderer to be NOT ‘one of them’. It would be much easier to comprehend if a stranger had committed the crime. There are newcomers who have renovated an old house and turned it into a luxury spa who are disliked by some of the villagers. How convenient if they were the murderers…

When the police find the woodland cabin where the murder took place, they are dumbfounded to learn that the cabin is filled with priceless antiques and other treasures. Gamache wonders how this new revelation will impact on his inquiries. Why didn’t the murderer also steal the valuables? How did an old hermit come to have these items?

We know from the outset of the novel that the secret Olivier has been keeping from Gamache is that he knew the murder victim. He took provisions up to his cabin and shared stories and tea with him on a regular basis. Why then doesn’t Olivier just let the police know this?

The brutal telling” is the fifth book in this series. All superb examples of what mystery fiction should be. The first book in the series, “Still life”, deservedly won five prestigious literary awards.

The setting, a picturesque village in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is a place that is hard to leave when the last page is reached. Louise Penny’s characters are so well drawn that over the course of five books they have become my friends. With this latest novel, Gamache has become my very favorite fictional detective. Interspersed with poetry and art, these are literary mysteries for the discerning reader. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure to read Louise Penny you are in for a real treat. When I finished “The brutal telling” my only disappointment was that I have to wait at least a year for another book in the series.

"A Brutal Telling" review ©Lynne LeGrow

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mystery Writers Panel

Mystery Writers Panel
Mount Saint Vincent University
Faculty Lounge, Seton Academic Centre, Room 405/405

part of the

Panel Authors include:
Pamela Callow, Anne Emery, Brad Kelln,
R.J. Harlick, and Vicki Delaney

Friday, October 30th
7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Reception, Book Sales & Author Signings to follow
Everyone Welcome

For additional information:

or call
457-6178 (Faculty of Education main line)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Get in the mood for Halloween

My all-time favourite chilling tale is the novel "Harvest Home" by Thomas Tryon. A book that will give you nightmares! A New York couple and their daughter move to a quaint country village in New England hoping to settle into a tranquil existence. They found that the locals were obsessed with ancient pagan rituals and that the village is seemingly controlled by the Widow Fortune, an old woman with a knack for healing. The village has a secret, and its insular villagers are all in on it! Determined to discover what that secret is leads the protagonist to find that some secrets are best left undiscovered.
Harvest Home is a great read for those interested in the horror, suspense, and mystery genre. While it's not the typical blood-and-guts horror story, it is terrifying, largely due to its believability.
This novel was made into an excellent TV mini-series entitled "The dark secret of Harvest Home" starring Bette Davis as the Widow Fortune.
There is even an online study guide available for the novel "Harvest Home".

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Whodunit Book Club - September 29, 2009

A good crowd turned out for this month's club meeting and we welcomed a new member to our group!
Pam's 'magical' question was: "Do you multi-task when you read?"
The answers were varied. Some liked quiet and maybe a glass of wine or coffee. Several actually like noise in the background when they are reading and liked to read when listening to music and/or watching television. One member cooks while reading and one reads while walking her dog. One who shall remain nameless actually admitted to driving while reading but she qualified it as to highway only (how comforting!).
I prefer quiet when reading, but admit to liking a beverage to accompany my book.

The book discussed this month was "Real Murders" by Charlaine Harris. We learned from Pam that the author has been writing since childhood and that she published two stand-alone mysteries before our book club selection which is the first in a series. The sixth book of this series entitled "A fool and his honey" garnered hate mail by the author which sounds intriguing... Charlaine Harris is a prolific author who also wrote the Lily Bard series set in Shakespeare, Arkansas (about a rape survivor) and the popular Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels. (Sookie is a telepath). The Sookie Stackhouse series has been adapted for television in the show "Trublood". The author's most recent series are mysteries with a dash of the supernatural and feature Harper Connelly.

Most Whodunit members agreed that the book "Real Murders" did not live up to its beguiling premise. There was only a superficial connection to the old murders. The book lacked suspense as most cozy mysteries do. The members of the fictionalized book club were an odd assortment who didn't seem to have any real reason for being there. The librarian was unrealistic and 'prissy'. We commented though that this is one of the author's earlier works and probably not as good as her later novels. Most members said they wouldn't read further novels in this series, but that they wouldn't discount Charlaine Harris and that they were willing to try one of the author's other series.

One of our digressions this evening was a short discussion on vampire fiction. We discussed its immense popularity and decided that the 'seduction of evil' and the immortality aspects of this genre were what fascinated readers. To read another blog article about vampire fiction click here.

The book winners this month were: Cathy, Judy, Carmella and Jane/Gayle.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The versatile Susan Hill

Perhaps you have heard of the prolific British author Susan Hill. She is probably most famous for the classic horror story "The woman in black" which relates the haunting testimony of a young lawyer who records in detail the nightmarish events of his stay in a house on a marsh in northern England, and the terrible events that alter his life forever. Another well known title is "Mrs. DeWinter", a follow-up to Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" telling of what occurred after the fire at Manderley.
Susan Hill, the recipient of several prestigious literary awards, is the author of many children's books and is also a playwright and has edited several anthologies of short stories.

In the past few years she has produced a four book (so far) mystery series set in England's West Country featuring British policeman Simon Serrailler. The novels are written with a sound knowledge of British police procedure and a unique understanding of human motivation and the details of daily life. A first rate detective story with a cunning twist at the end, the first book in this series "The various haunts of men" is one of my favorite mystery novels. The other three novels in the series are: "The pure in heart", "The risk of darkness" and "The vows of silence".

Recently she has published a novella, "The Beacon". A small gem, this story portrays the life of the spinster daughter of a farming family set on a remote English hillside. The novella is so well written that you can almost hear the wind battering the old farmhouse and the reader feels the protagonist's mixed emotions when following the death of her parents a family secret in revealed...
A versatile author who is equally adept writing several different genres, Susan Hill is an author not to be missed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A disappointment...

For some years now I have been a fan of the mystery novelist Val McDermid. I was very keen to read one of her most recent novels "A Darker Domain".
Well.... I read about half of it. I just couldn't reconcile reading it when I have dozens of great books waiting to be read.
The plot was disjointed and did not hold my attention. I felt no real empathy or connetion to any of the characters.
Have you read this novel? Was I too hasty in dismissing it? I'd love to hear from you with your opinions...

Whodunit Book Club - August 25, 2009

Summer book club meeting attendance usually reflects that many are on vacation. We were a small group of a dozen, but very vocal!
The monthly question: What attracts you to your next book?
The answers were varied but mostly boiled down to: Setting, cover, reviews, and referrals by people with similar reading tastes.

The book this month was "The Calling" by Inger Ash Wolfe. Voted one of the Best Mystery Books of 2008 by Publisher's Weekly, much hoopla has been made about this book's author. A pseudonym of a well known North American writer. There have been many speculations including Jane Urquhart, David Adams Richards, Margaret Atwood and many more. We wondered why. Did the author want this title to be considered separate from his/her other works? Did they feel that this was a less 'literary' work than their previous works? An online interview with the author stated that the name Inger Ash Wolfe was chosen to honour a relative of the author's who likes mysteries. Click here to view another online response by Inger Ash Wolfe.
There was some lively discussion about the book's plot and protagonist(s). Some felt that the plot didn't 'ring true' based upon the protagonist's personality. He was not depicted as a true serial killer because initially his victims came to him. They were consenting adults who were terminally ill. However the euthanasia angle fell flat with the terrible act he committed while in Quebec. It was felt that when he desecrated the bodies to mask his compassionate euthanasia, he was eventually corrupted by his own acts and became evil over time.
Whodunit members were disappointed that the character of Hazel Metcalf was not more fully developed as she was flawed and interesting.
Of the twelve members present, seven felt they would like to read the sequel "The taken".

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Bad things" by Michael Marshall

When bad things happen to people is it because they deserve it? When bad things happen to you do you say to yourself “What did I do to deserve this?” The whole concept of action and consequence is brought into play… At least in your mind. In the case of Michael Marshall’s protagonist in Bad Things it seems that the very ultimate in bad things has happened, his four year old son has died. As an indirect result of this tragedy his marriage has ended and his legal career waylaid.

When we meet John Henderson he is living in coastal Oregon and working as a waiter in a seaside restaurant. His is a solitary life with little to no contact with his former wife and remaining son, or, for that matter, any of his former friends or co-workers. Then one night he receives an ominous e-mail message that reads “I know what happened”. John himself does not know what happened even though he was a witness to his son’s death. Naturally he follows up the message by returning to Black Ridge where he once lived and where the tragedy occurred.

Black Ridge is depicted by Michael Marshall with an ominous sense of foreboding reminiscent of the early works of the master Stephen King. An eerily real, small Pacific Northwest community surrounded by a menacing forest with local inhabitants who seem chillingly distant and a prominent town family who seem to have local authority figures and all the townsfolk under their power. The setting in this novel is as much a ‘character’ as the human characters.

Once there, John meets up with the sender of the email message, Ellen Robertson. She maintains that the death of John’s son has eerie similarities to the death of her husband. She intimates that she is being watched and that her emails and phone messages are being monitored. John recognizes her sincerity and decides to remain in Black Ridge to discover if there is any basis to her paranoia.

John is not the only person to have recently returned to Black Ridge. Kristina has been away for a decade, but has now returned. She doesn’t like the place and doesn’t understand herself why she has made her way back to her home town. John also reunites with a former co-worker who has remained in the area, and whose history seems tied to John’s buried past.

The mounting suspense and the revelations of the plot culminate in a page-turning climax where John’s past is explained and he is temporarily reunited with his ex-wife and son. The periphery characters are tied into the revelations in a satisfying way.

More of a supernatural thriller than a mystery, this novel evokes a sense of imminent evil. The reader wonders if this is all in the mind of the protagonist somehow brought about by his sense of guilt for past wrongdoings, or whether the evil is an entity unto itself. The ending leaves the reader with just the right amount of unease and a feeling that the evil encountered in the pages of the novel could resurface at any time to dishevel someone else’s world.

I will read more of Michael Marshall’s fiction even though his novels do not follow the criteria for the mystery genre which is my favourite. After reading this novel I have become a fan of his writing style. Written with a flair for stating profound truths which make the reader nod his/her head in agreement, while at the same time evoking a sense of looming dread, this novel is a masterwork of supernatural suspense.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Whodunit Book Club - July 28, 2009

We were honoured tonight to have the author of this month's selection visit our Whodunit meeting. Eugene Meese was a delight! He regaled us with some of the background preparation and notes that he used as 'fodder' for his debut mystery novel, "A Magpie's smile". Members of the club asked lots of questions, and it was generally agreed that everyone enjoyed the book. (That doesn't often happen).
It seemed quite obvious that there were two protagonists of the book. One the policeman Jake Fry and the other the city of Calgary.
Written with a keen sense of place and time, the novel was painstakingly researched even down to what the weather was on any one of the eight days in May 1977 in which the book was set. Eugene Meese lived in Calgary during that period and took copious notes on all of the news stories of the time. He employed a storyboard to aid in the chronological structure of the novel.
All of the characters in the novel, both primary and secondary, were fully rounded out. The detail was sharp but not monotonous. The sights and smells came through with deftly placed words that evoked a sense of place not often found in first novels.
Mr. Meese assured us that "A Magpie's smile" is a stand-alone novel. He did say however that he has an idea for a series 'in the works' set on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia during the 1990s. He is also exploring the idea for a historical novel set in 1920s Romania.
This photo was taken this evening at club.
If you were not one of the lucky ones who attended tonight's meeting, you can listen to Eugene Meese by following the links found here.
The blurb from the back cover reads: "When the scalped remains of a Jane Doe are discovered within the rubble of a demolished house, Detective Jake Fry is assigned the task of hunting down Calgary's most disturbed murderer. Working against a rising body count and police department politics, Fry must relentlessly pursue a murderer with an agenda no one but he can comprehend. During Calgary's first economic boom, people flocked from all corners of the country to the city rumored to have streets paved in gold. Explore the dark side of this boom in "A Magpie's Smile", a tautly chronological police thriller and cinematic portrait of the frenetic Calgary of the 1970s."

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Hurting distance" by Sophie Hannah

Anyone who is a fan of psychological mystery/thrillers by such authors as Ruth Rendell or Minette Walters is sure to enjoy "Hurting distance" by Sophie Hannah. This is the second title I've read by her and they keep getting better! The author had SO many loose ends that I couldn't imagine how she would resolve the storyline. However, she tied everything together flawlessly. Quite a feat!
The novel's title is explained on page 80 which states: "The people you love are within hurting distance, close range. Strangers aren't."
The novel begins with Naomi Jenkins who is fearful for her lover when he doesn't show up at their weekly rendevous site. She is certain that he would never not show up without first letting her know. She becomes so upset that she reports the matter to the police. They interview the man's wife who insists that he is fine and visiting friends in Kent. Then when the police won't follow the matter further she changes her story and says that he raped her and must be found at once! The police view her as very unreliable as she keeps lying to them and changing her story.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as the back story of the policewoman Charlie Zailer becomes an integral part of the plot. The novel is told alternately by Naomi and Charlie Zailer, so the reader gets a two-sided view of the plot development. Convoluted, but in a brilliant way, Sophie Hannah manages to keep all of her ducks in a row and has written a complex novel of obsessive love, betrayal and damaged psyches.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Sweetness at the bottom of the pie"

What a novel premise for a mystery novel! The protagonist is an eleven year old female aspiring chemist. Growing up in a motherless, and very eccentric household, Flavia de Luce is memorable to say the least. Throw in a dead bird, a little poison and some rare stamps, and you've got a unique historical British mystery written by a Canadian, Alan Bradley.
The book is the first of a proposed series called the Buckshaw Chronicles and Flavia even has her own fan club!
It has placed on numerous bestseller lists and has won the Debut Dagger Award awarded by the British Crime Writer's Association!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Whodunit Book Club - June 30, 2009

Another great evening spent at Chapters Dartmouth. The question posed this month was: "Do you save books up to take on vacation?" It is always interesting to hear how others answer the questions and even more interesting to hear the little anecdotes that go with them. Most of us DO take books on vacation, but not that many actually save them up for this specific purpose. Some take as many as one for each day they will be away, others just take one book to read on the journey and buy more when they reach their destination. We heard about the rewards of writing travel journals, the merits of taking books with us that are local to the area we are visiting so as to possibly get our books signed when we are there!

This month's novel was "The Spellman Files" by Lisa Lutz. Most of us enjoyed the book, in fact there didn't seem to be anyone who disliked it. However, that being said, most of us agreed that there was no real 'mystery'. It was just a nice light read bordering on the farcical. The Spellman's seemed unable to differentiate between their own personal family life and their work, partly we suppose due to the fact that they work from their home.
We heard that the second novel in this series "The curse of the Spellmans" has been nominated for an Edgar Award. Personally, even this accolade will probably not entice me to read it. Although I rather enjoyed the first novel, I feel that I have no wish to make further acquaintance with the Spellman Family.
Next month's meeting should be exciting as we have the author Eugene Meese attending our meeting. His novel "A magpie's smile" is our selection for next month.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lisa Lutz interviews

Since this month's Whodunit title was "The Spellman Files" by Lisa Lutz, I thought some might be interested in these online interviews with the author.

Interview #1:
Interview #2:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"The Spellman Files" part 1

I say part 1 because of course this title will be dealt with in depth at the June 30th meeting of Whodunit.

Finished reading this month's Whodunit title "The Spellman Files" by Lisa Lutz. A quick, entertaining read but not exactly what I would call a mystery per se. The book read like it would make an excellent script for a comedy film.
My casting for the film version goes like this:
Izzy Spellman = Sandra Bullock
Little sister Rae = Abigail Breslin
Brother David the lawyer = James Spader
Father Albert = Gene Hackman
Mother Olivia = Dixie Carter
Uncle Ray = Robert Forster
Daniel the dentist = Greg Kinnear
Stone the cop = Mark Ruffalo

Disagree with my casting? Then by all means write a comment!

Oh, and by the way, since when do dentists actually clean teeth? Don't they have dental hygienists in San Francisco?
Don't you think the Spellmans must have a share in a car parts business? I've never heard of so many broken tail lights or slashed tires...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Die with me"

Just finished reading a debut novel by Elena Forbes. "Die with me" was a pleasant surprise! Forbes included all the elements of a mystery/psychological thriller that much more seasoned novelists sometimes have difficulty with.
The protagonist is the broodingly handsome DI Mark Tartaglia who inherits a murder case because of the fact that his mentor/DCI is in the hospital recovering from a serious accident.
A modern police procedural mystery set in West London, the crime involves the apparent suicide of a young girl. However it soon come to light that the girl was 'assisted' in her death by a man and that this was not the first young girl to meet her end in the same manner! Someone seems to be targeting the most 'lost' girls and exploiting their vulnerability for his own sadistic pleasure.
Just when things get interesting for Tartaglia and his sergeant Samantha Donovan a new DCI is appointed to the case in a position above him... a woman, the formidable Deputy Chief Inspector Carolyn Steele. With her comes a profiler, Dr. Patrick Kennedy.
What I particularly liked about this novel was the deep characterization. I felt I knew all the characters well and the satisfactory ending left me wanting more. Since it said on the jacket flap that Forbes is now writing the sequel, I look forward to another quality series!

An interview with Elena Forbes is available online.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"He grassed me up!"

Anyone who has ever read a British mystery has probably heard the expression "he grassed me up!" or read someone described as being 'a grass'.
The phrase/term means someone who informs to the police.
I for one have always wondered where the expression originated.
Word and phrase origins are one of my interests, so when I chased this one down I thought I'd share it via blog. I found the answer on the website "Phrase finder".
Inform on someone to the police.
In 2005, British newspapers picked up on a story about a burglar who had stolen cash, jewelery and an African Grey parrot from a house near Hungerford, Berkshire. David Carlile, widely described in the press as 'feather-brained', explained to the police that he knew that African Greys could talk and he didn't want the bird to 'grass him up'.
'Grassing up' has been a commonly used expression in the UK since the mid 20th century, but is less common elsewhere. The first known use of 'grass' in that context is Arthur Gardner's Tinker's Kitchen, 1932, which defined a grass as "an informer". Grass was a well-enough established word in the 1980s to have spawned 'supergrass', i.e. a republican sympathiser who later 'turned Queen's evidence' and informed on the IRA.
Informers are variously known as squealers, noses, moles, rats, snouts and stool pigeons. These terms invoke imagery of covert snooping around and of talking. Grass is less intuitive. It could just have arisen from 'snake in the grass', which derives from the writings of Virgil and has been known in English, meaning traitor, since the late 17th century.
There is another route to the word and this is via rhyming slang. Farmer and Henley's 1893 Dictionary of Slang defines 'grasshopper' as 'copper', i.e. policeman. The theory is that a 'grass' is someone who works for the police and so has become a surrogate 'copper'. The rhyming slang link was certainly believed in 1950 by the lexicographer Paul Tempest, when he wrote Lag's lexicon: a comprehensive dictionary and encyclopaedia of the English prison to-day:
"Grasser. One who gives information. A 'squealer’ or ‘squeaker'. The origin derives from rhyming slang: grasshopper - copper; a 'grass' or 'grasser' tells the 'copper' or policeman."
That comes only a few years after the term grass was coined and there seems little reason to doubt it as the derivation. The original users of the term 'grass up' were from the London underworld and would have certainly been better acquainted with rhyming slang than the works of Virgil.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Murdoch mysteries on TV

As mentioned in a previous post on this blog, the Maureen Jennings Murdoch mysteries were televised this week. I had to watch as the books are amongst my favorites.
What a disappointment! Although the actor who plays Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) is not hard to look at, the whole feel of the show struck an off chord with me.
When I watch a historical piece on Masterpiece Theatre, I am THERE. Totally immersed in the time period with the realistic characters. When I read Maureen Jennings' books I feel the same. Watching the Murdoch mysteries however, I felt that the actors were obviously 'play-acting'. The acting was poor, the whole feel of the piece FAKE. The depiction of the electrical apparatus and testing was poorly done. The suitcase with the recorder actually had a stove element as an antenna!
All in all, I don't think I'll spend another hour watching this show. Besides I could be reading a Maureen Jennings novel instead.... MUCH BETTER!

Arthur Ellis Award announced!

On June 4th The Crime Writers of Canada announced that former Toronto Star columnist Linwood Barclay has won the Arthur Ellis award for best novel for his book "Too close to home".
The psychological suspense thriller is about the killing of a family in a quiet suburban neighbourhood and the secrets that emerge in a seemingly peaceful town.
I haven't read it yet, but it sounds like a great read!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Euphemisms for Death

Most mystery novels have one thing in common.... There is usually ALWAYS a dead body. As mystery readers you must have heard many different euphemisms for death. I thought it would be fun to list some of them for your entertainment. Some I'd heard of before some I hadn't. I've put them in alphabetical order. The first one is one I'd not heard before but is one of my favorites!

At room temperature
Became living-challenged
Big sleep
Bought a pine condo
Bought the farm
Bumped off
Buy it
Cash in (or out)
Ceased to be
Checked out
Crossed over
Crossed the bar
Crossed the River Styx
Dance the last dance
Deader than a doornail
Dirt nap
Done for
Eat it
Gathered to his people
Gave up the ghost
Get your wings
Go into the fertilizer business
Gone into the west
Gone to meet their maker
Got a one-way ticket
In a better place
In the grave
In Hell (or Heaven)
In repose
Kicked the bucket
Kicked off
Met his maker
Moved into upper management
No longer with us
No more
Off the twig
Passed...(over, on, away, etc)
Popped off
Pushing up the daisies
Resting in peace
Return to the ground
Rubbed out
Run down the curtain
Shuffled off the mortal coil
Six feet under
Sleeping with the fishes
Snuffed out
Sprouted wings
Stone dead
Struck out by the big blue pencil
That good night
Toes up
Wearing a toe tag
Went belly up
With the ancestors
Worm food

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Blog comments

Just thought I'd mention that I sent author Ariana Franklin an email to tell her that we had covered her book "Mistress of the art of death" in club. I sent her links to this blog and my website. She replied! Her reply can be found under comments at the bottom of the post for the book club meeting dated May 26, 2009. Just click on the comment to read her reply.
If you want to leave a comment yourself on any of the blog posts, just click on the '0 comments' at the bottom of the post and another page will open ready to receive your comment.
I hope to hear from you soon!

"They died in vain"

I work at a public library and recently came across a mystery reference book titled "They died in vain: overlooked, under-appreciated and forgotten mystery novels". A quote from the back cover "If characters die in a mystery novel, and no one reads their story, have they died in vain?"
What a great premise for a reference work! Makes me want to read all the titles listed just so that the characters won't have met their end in obsurity...

A few of the titles/authors mentioned are:

"A question of guilt" by Frances Fyfield
"Jitterbug" by Loren D. Estleman
"The victim in Victoria Station" by Jeanne M. Dams
"The christening day murder" by Lee Harris
"Lonely hearts" by John Harvey
"Fugitive colors" by Margaret Maron
"A show of hands" by David A. Crossman

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Maureen Jennings' Murdoch mysteries sold to TV!

Congratulations to Canadian mystery author Maureen Jennings! Her historical mystery series (one of my favorites!) featuring Toronto policeman William Murdoch is to be shown on American television!

Press Release
Head North of the Border For a Series of Fascinating Adventures in MURDOCH MYSTERIES
The new American Public Television-distributed series MURDOCH MYSTERIES, airing on public television stations nationwide beginning June 30, 2009, follows the exploits of young detective William Murdoch (Yannick Brisson) as he navigates the streets of 1890’s Toronto. Using unconventional, cutting-edge forensic science techniques, Murdoch battles ridicule from his fellow officers and skepticism from his superiors to solve a series of challenging killings that plague the city.

This is a photo of Yannick Brisson who will play Murdoch in the series:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gail Bowen wins Derrick Murdoch Award!

Congratulations to Gail Bowen, author of "The Brutal Heart" and "The Endless Knot". These novels are the latest entries in her series which features Joanne Kilbourn, a university professor, sometime political columnist, and a wife, mother and grandmother. The series has been adapted for television and stars Wendy Crewson in the lead role.
Last week the Crime Writers of Canada announced that Gail is the winner of this year’s Derrick Murdoch Award in recognition of her contributions to Canadian crime writing. Gail will receive the award on June 4 at the CWC’s Arthur Ellis Awards dinner, being held this year in Ottawa.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Forensic mystery series

With the immense popularity of such television shows as "CSI: Miami", "CSI: New York", and "Bones", it is evident that the subject of forensics interests a lot of people. But did you know that there are great mystery series that feature forensics? Of course, most know that the TV series "Bones" is based upon characters created by Kathy Reichs in her Temperance Brennan series. Another novelist famous for her forensic pathologist protagonist is Patricia Cornwell with her Kay Scarpetta series.

Perhaps you were less aware that there is a great new series written by Simon Beckett? His series is set in the Norfolk marshlands and features Dr. David Handler. The first book in this series is "The chemistry of death".

Another forensic detective is Reuben Maitland who is the lead character in the books by John Macken. The first book in this series is "Dirty little lies".

Last but not least, there are the Eisenmenger and Flemming forensic mysteries written by Keith McCarthy. This delightful series begins with the title "A feast of carrion".

For forensics with a historical slant I recommend you try "Mistress of the art of death" by Ariana Franklin. This award-winning novel is set in 12th century Cambridge, England. See previous post for more details.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Whodunit Book Club - May 26, 2009

A pretty good turn out for a nice sunny spring evening. Everyone was very vocal tonight which generated some lively discussion both on and off topic.
Tonight's question: "Do you keep all the books you buy, or pass them on?"
There were certainly two schools of thought. I would say the majority regarded their books as friends to be kept and treasured. One member said she would get rid of her furniture before she would get rid of her books. On the other hand, some read their books and then passes them on to others less fortunate. One member said she "hated the thought of all of those words just sitting there not being used".
Comments were made on whether the lending of books was practiced and if it was wise.
After some anecdotes, the consensus was that if you are willing to lend a book, you must also not count on its return.
On to this month's book "Mistress of the art of death" by Ariana Franklin.

The majority of the members seemed to enjoy the novel. Some found it hard going at first, but the pace picked up after the second chapter and it was a great read after that.
Set in medieval Cambridge England, the novel centers upon a female physician to the dead from Salerno who has been instructed by the King to visit Cambridge in the hopes that she might discern who was responsible for the murders of four children. The king was concerned because the Catholic citizens were blaming their Jewish neighbours and this was having an impact on the King's tariffs. The novel was steeped in religious history. Many lessons were learned which is one of the great perks of reading a historical novel. Margaret and I agreed that it was a cross between Kathy Reichs and Diana Gabaldon with about 60/40 veering toward the side of Gabaldon.
Written with historical accuracy and a keen sense of place, the mix of an intelligent protagonist and graphic scenes of depravity was skillfully rendered. The novel was very descriptive, though not at all boring or tedious in that description. It was agreed that the author viewed Henry II in a very sympathetic light.
The book had a satisfying conclusion and most agreed that they would read another book by the same author.
This novel won the Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Historical Award for 2007.
and has it's own website which is certainly worth a visit: http://www.mistressoftheartofdeath.com/

Sunday, May 24, 2009

100 best mystery novels of all time

100 Best Mystery Novels of all time
The above link is another blog posting, so its validity is questionable.
Some might think it a good list, others would disagree. Some of the books mentioned are not mysteries in my opinion.
For instance "Silence of the lambs" by Thomas Harris, though an excellent read is a suspense/thriller and not a 'mystery'. "Smiley's people" by John Le Carré is a spy novel, not a 'mystery'.

What are your thoughts? Do you know of another, more true to the genre listing?
I'd love to hear from you...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mystery award winners

Mystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. They are the sponsors of the prestigious Edgar Award. The 63rd Annual Edgar® Awards Banquet was be held on Thursday April 30, 2009 in New York City.
The 2009 Grand Masters were announced to be James Lee Burke and Sue Grafton.
The winner for best novel was "Blue heaven" by C.J. Box.
The winner for best first novel was "The foreigner" by Francie Lin.

If you are interested in reading award-winning mystery fiction you can also check out the Agatha Awards (named for Agatha Christie)which are handed out by Malice Domestic Ltd. The winner of the 2008 Agatha Award for Best Novel was "The cruellest month" by Louise Penny. Winner of the Best First Novel Agatha was "Death of a cozy writer" by G.M. Maillet.

Other American awards for mystery fiction include The Anthony Awards. The Anthony Awards are literary awards for mystery writers presented at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. The awards are named for Anthony Boucher (1911-1968), one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America. The most recent winner of the Anthony Award for Best Novel was "What the dead know" by Laura Lippman. The winner of the Anthony for Best First Novel was "In the woods" by Tana French.

Then there is the Macavity Awards for mystery writers. Nominated and voted upon annually by the members of the Mystery Readers International, the award is named for the "mystery cat" of T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The 2008 winner for Best Novel Macavity was "What the dead know" by Laura Lippman.

The Shamus Award is awarded annually by the Private Eye Writers of America to recognize outstanding achievement in private eye fiction. The 2008 Shamus winner was "Soul Patch" by Reed Farrel Coleman.

For the other side of the 'pond', there are the Daggers which are sponsored by the British Crime Writer's Association. This association was founded by novelist John Creasey in 1953. The winner of the 2008 Duncan Lawrie Dagger was "Blood from stone" by Frances Fyfield. The 2008 Duncan Lawrie International Dagger went to "Lorraine connection" by Dominique Manotti. For new writers there is a CWA New Blood Dagger which in 2008 went to "Bethlehem murders" by Matt Rees. The star of the awards ceremony was Sue Grafton who was the recipient of the 2008 Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement.