Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

missing

Well, hello there! It has been much too long since I’ve posted here. I didn’t mean to go so long without writing anything but, you know,…life. Not that I’ve had a lot of stress or craziness – it just seems that when I’m in the day to day stream of living blogging seems to come last. But I’d really love to make it a priority for the rest of the year. So, here’s to a new start!

Last weekend I was in the mood to read something engrossing, fast-paced with great characters, preferably set in England. While searching my shelves I remembered that I had checked Missing, Presumed out from the library and it was sitting in my library stack – it was meant to be. I opened it, began to read, and almost didn’t stop until I finished it on Monday evening.

Set in Cambridge and centered on DS Manon Bradshaw and her colleagues, Missing, Presumed starts off with a report of a missing Cambridge student, Edith Hind. The door to Edith’s house is ajar and there is blood on her kitchen floor which immediately elevates the case to a high priority status. As Manon and the rest of her team, including her supervisor Harriet and her affable friend Davy, rush to find clues frustration takes over as they find nothing to really lead them to locating Edith. As weeks go by their desperation grows until Edith’s surprising link to an ex inmate rushes them toward the startling resolution.

At the same time as we’re following the investigation we’re also learning about Manon’s messy love life and Davy’s dissatisfaction with his jealous girlfriend. Though the novel is told from multiple view points (Manon, Davy, the victim’s mother) I feel Manon is most definitely the main and most interesting character and the one I think the series will follow on to the next book. The character development in this novel is its strong suit as the actual mystery layer is not as well developed as in some of the best mysteries, but I’m hoping that the author will focus more on that aspect of her series in the next volume. So though this is not the most fantastic mystery I’ve read it is a solid start to a new series and I will probably read the next one when it’s released in summer 2017.

Have you read any good mysteries lately?

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

murder roger

After reading so many contemporary novels over the past few months, last week I wanted to read something old fashioned, comforting and familiar – so I turned to Agatha Christie. It seems odd to say that a book about a murder is comforting, but there is something about Christie that is so routine and recognizable and that makes her novels a nice reprieve from modern life. And haven’t we needed an escape lately?

This novel is narrated by a Dr. Sheppard of King’s Abbot, a small village to where Hercule Poirot has retired to tend to his garden and retire from society. But as everyone there knows he is a lauded detective he gets asked to help when Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy businessman, is found stabbed to death in a locked room. With the assistance of Dr. Sheppard, Poirot goes through his usual logic-based investigations, relying on village gossip and speculation to fill in the blanks.

It all smoothly hurtles along until the reader is snapped to attention by the completely astounding ending. It’s an ending that I certainly didn’t see coming and it is so admirably clever that I sat in silent admiration for Christie’s skill after the last page had been turned.

I’ve read a lot of  contemporary mysteries lately and I have to say that this novel trumps them all. I’d forgotten what a skillful writer Christie is and how you can get lost in her books like nothing else. After finishing this I ordered a few more Poirots to read over the summer and I’m looking forward to spending a few lazy afternoons  reading about the Belgian detective and his little grey cells.

*Thanks to Simon and Rachel for mentioning The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on their “Tea or Books?” podcast and inspiring me to read it.

The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

child garden

I read about this Scotland-based mystery in a recent issue of Library Journal who gave it a starred review. I always look out for books that are well-reviewed yet don’t have the ‘buzz’ that a lot of other books have – the ones that not everyone is talking about. This one is definitely in that category and it is an eerie, well-plotted mystery that I really enjoyed.

Gloria Harkness lives in a rural, isolated old house in southwest Scotland near where her special needs son is in a care home. One night an old friend from her childhood, Stig, pounds on her door, scaring the living daylights out of her. When she recovers from her shock he tells her a convoluted story about how someone he knew from his teen years has reappeared and has intimated that she knows what happened to a boy from their school who died mysteriously. The school they attended just happens to now be the care home where Gloria’s son lives. Never one to turn away from a good puzzle Gloria agrees to help Stig find out the truth about the death. Her search takes her all over the countryside as she tracks down the other children who attended the school and discovers disturbing revelations that have disastrously affected their adult lives. Can she and Stig discover the truth before they, too, are irreparably impacted?

Gloria and Stig are wonderfully down-to-earth characters and the secondary characters are also very colorful. One of my favorite parts of the book was the references to Scottish folklore and things such as devil’s bridges and rocking stones. It added a slightly creepy factor to the mystery which I like.

If you like the earlier, supernatural tinged stories of SJ Bolton The Child Garden would appeal to you. It has all of the elements of not only a very good mystery novel, but also of an effective scary story (though not too scary). It’s a perfect read for this time of year.

Disclaimer by Renée Knight

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One of my very favorite genres is the ‘suburban suspense’ or ‘domestic suspense’ novel. Books like The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, etc. They can be extremely well done with vivid writing, well drawn characters and clever, tight plotting. Or they can be predictable, messy and dull. Thankfully, Disclaimer is in the former category. It is an excellent example of this particular brand of novel.

The story is told in alternating chapters first from the viewpoint of the revengeful stalker who is trying to ruin the life of an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and then from the filmmaker, Catherine’s, point of view. Twenty years previously the stalker’s son died and he’s convinced that Catherine was the cause. His late wife wrote a fictionalized version of the accident that killed their son and the stalker has found it, self-published it and made sure that Catherine, her husband and her son have seen it. Though it is fictionalized there’s enough truth in it for Catherine’s husband to realize that it is about her and their marriage and family is utterly devastated. As the novel progresses, the suspense increases and the stalker gets angrier – the stalker wants more than to ruin Catherine’s life – he wants to end it. But then the plot takes quite a turn, something I didn’t see coming at all – and it left me breathless and quietly horrified.

Disclaimer is not only an excellent suspense novel but a novel that makes you question your own assumptions about how well you really know people, even your own family. I think this is a stunning novel and if you are in the mood for a meditative page-turner this summer this is the book for you.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

girl on train

So the first book I finished in 2015 is the gripping, twisty, clever, nail-biting mystery that is being advertised as ‘the next Gone Girl‘. Whether it will have that kind of success or not (the film rights have already been bought) I don’t know or care, I just enjoyed the experience of reading this very well-written thriller.

The novel has three narrators and we see parts of the story from each perspective. The main narrative follows Rachel, a thirty-something alcoholic who can’t get over her ex-husband. Not wanting to tell her roommate that she’s been fired from her job she still takes the 8.04 train every day into London where she drinks in the park or hangs out in the library. One of the houses the train passes on her journey into town captures her interest and she looks for the inhabitants, whom she has mythologized in her mind as the perfect couple, every time the train goes by.

As her drinking gets worse she antagonizes her ex-husband and his new wife to the point of hatred (on their part) and frustrates her roommate. Then one Saturday night she blacks out and can’t remember where she went or what she did except for vague flashes of falling and of fighting. When the wife of her perfect couple goes missing on the same day Rachel wonders if her missing memories hold the key to solving the woman’s disappearance.

Like all good thrillers, this novel has many layers so I don’t want to say too much about the plot as part of the fun of the story is peeling back the layers for yourself. It is not as dark or gleefully twisted as Gone Girl (which is just fine by me) but still holds the reader in thrall in a most delicious way. I wouldn’t suggest this for fans of Gone Girl – I’d suggest it for anyone who likes complex, highly suspenseful novels, unreliable narrators and page-turning puzzlement.

Book Group: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

daughter of time

Last month my book group discussed The Daughter of Time, a 1951 mystery novel with a twist. Inspector Grant is in the hospital with a back injury, bored out of his mind, when a friend brings him an intriguing case: Did Richard III really murder his young nephews, the famous “Princes in the Tower”?

Using as many primary sources as he can have his friends track down he goes about breaking apart the case in his mind and comes to the conclusion that Richard III was very different from the king portrayed by Shakespeare and in popular history.

I thought this book would generate a hearty discussion and it mostly did. However, about half of the group had never heard of Richard III and, therefore, the emotional impact of Grant’s deductions didn’t hit them as hard as it did others. I think this book would be more suited to book groups whose members are history buffs, Anglophiles or fans of historical fiction. Or English people.

How would I rate this as a book group choice? I’d give it a 3/5 rating.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

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I received an eGalley from Harper through Edelweiss.

This is the first book I read in what I consider ‘summer mode’. Do you find your reading tastes/expectations change when summer comes around? I do. I want to read mysteries, YA, contemporary more than classics and the ‘buzz’ books of the season. I think it’s all so fun. Elizabeth is Missing is definitely a buzz book. I’ve been hearing good things about it for months now and it is the #1 LibraryReads pick for June.

The entire novel is told from the viewpoint of Maud, a woman in her seventies who has dementia. Is she the ultimate unreliable narrator or is her friend Elizabeth really missing? She hasn’t seen her friend in months and on the many notes she keeps to jog her memory she finds she’s written the phrase ‘Elizabeth is missing’ over and over again. She tells her frustrated daughter Helen, calls Elizabeth’s son in the middle of the night, even goes to the police department many times to report the disappearance. In the midst of her forgetting and then suddenly remembering that she doesn’t know where Elizabeth is, her mind dwells in the past, in her teenage years.

Maud was a teen during the post-war years in England when her young married sister Sukey disappeared from home. She and her parents searched and waited, always suspecting Sukey’s husband of hurting her, yet there was no evidence and he seemed just as devastated as they were. The police believed Sukey purposefully ran away and couldn’t devote any man hours to investigating.

As the two parts of Maud’s memory weave together, seamlessly moving forward, there is doubt that these events are true. Did Sukey really disappear, is Elizabeth missing? After all, Maud can’t even remember where she is half the time – is she accurately portraying these dismaying events?

This is a clever and very tightly written novel that propels the reader forward, desperately wondering if either or both of these mysteries will be solved. Though it’s much slower paced than a typical mystery novel it summons just as much suspense and that eerie and subtle feeling of dread that the best thrillers contain. I marvel at Healey’s ability to make both the past and present storylines compelling and to create such smoothly flowing transitions between them.

Elizabeth is Missing was a great start to my summer reading. It will be published this week in the UK and Australia and next week in the US.

Do you already have plans for your summer reading?