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Peter Termayne is, as I understand, best known for his series of historical mysteries featuring Irish nun Sister Fidelma, which I have recently begun reading. However, he has written mysteries set in other eras, including the more-or-less modern one, and some of his shorter offerings are collected in Ensuing Evil and Others: Fourteen Historical Mysteries.

It's quite an interesting range, from a murder mystery set in the castle of the historical MacBeth and his lady Gruoch, to a modern locked-room mystery set in an airplane in flight. In between we visit the theatre district of Shakespeare's England, the well-known occupants of 221B Baker Street, a battleship during the Napoleonic Wars, the London of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and India under the British Raj, plus a bonus Sister Fidelma story. An enjoyable read.

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Whispers of the Dead is another enjoyable collection of pieces by Peter Tremayne concerning the deductive skills of seventh century Irish religieuse and legal advocate, Sister Fidelma. These short stories are drawn from all periods of of Fidelma's career, and include a story in which she impresses her teacher while still in her early years of study with the perceptiveness, her logical reasoning and her passion for truth. Written later in Tremayne's career, the narratives flow more smoothly and the tics are less pronounced. And the mysteries are fun. And the look at life in the seventh century - and all the issues which divided the Roman and Celtic churches - is something I'm liking quite a bit. I continue to be a fan.

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Ever since I finished reading all the Dame Frevisse mysteries by Margaret Frazer (and the Player Joliffe mysteries too), and having read most of Ellis Peters' Cadfael mysteries, I've been a at bit of a loss for historical mysteries with clerical detectives. That gap in my reading life has for the time being been filled with a new series.

I have just encountered (for the first time) the Sister Fidelma mysteries by Peter Tremayne (one of Celtic scholar Peter Berresford Ellis' pseudonyms). Hemlock at Vespers: Fifteen Sister Fidelma Mysteries is a good introduction to the series, consisting as it does of short stories set throughout the earlier years of the seventh century Irish religieuse's crime-solving career.

What makes these stories so much fun is the background - the Irish church is still in full flower and outside cultural influences have not yet swept away a society in which women had a legal, social and economic status that would not be seen again in Western civilisation until the early 20th century.

Sister Fidelma is a dalaigh (her culture's version of a lawyer) one who is authorised to conduct investigations as well as argue legal cases before a Brehon judge. She holds one of the highest rankings possible in the Irish legal system, that of anruth, which gives her a social status equivalent to that of a minor king. While she is clearly Christian - although firmly on the Irish side of the religious divide, including preferring Pelagian to Augustinian philosophy - it is also suggested on several occasions that this is more a matter of following social expectations than a religious vocation. As Tremayne writes, before the arrival of Christianity, members of the professions - doctors, lawyers, educators and so on - were usually Druids. Once the Church supplanted the Druidic orders, those in the professions tended to join the Church instead. This was, of course, much more palatable in this eta, when celibacy was optional and the Irish Church operated religious houses where married clerics could live together and raise their children.

The stories themselves are interesting glimpses into another time and culture, as well as being decent mysteries. Tremayne's skill as a writer develops as one reads through in chronological order, although his phrasing remains vaguely stilted throughout, perhaps as an intentional choice to convey the nuances of what was a highly status-conscious society. He also has a few "tics" that show up mostly in describing Sister Fidelma, notably the ubiquitous references to her "rebellious" red hair.

But Fidelma herself is sufficiently fascinating a character, and the setting of the stories is so interesting, that I did not have much difficulty in ignoring the tics and just enjoying the stories.

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Isabel Allende's novel Ripper is many things - an unusual take on the crime thriller genre, a portrait of an intelligent young girl growing up in a violent world, an intricate and detailed study of the socially diverse communities of San Francisco, an exploration of obsession, possession and revenge.

Amanda Martin and her mother, Indiana Johnson, are at the centre of this novel. Amanda is a precocious, and from some of the many viewpoints in the novel, spoiled, teenaged girl with a fascination for murder. When not behaving like a typical, if intelligent and eccentric, teen, Amanda plays Ripper on the Internet: "The kids who played Ripper were a select group of freaks and geeks from around the world who had first met up online to hunt down and destroy the mysterious Jack the Ripper, tackling obstacles and enemies along the way. As games master, Amanda was responsible for plotting these adventures, carefully bearing in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the players’ alter egos." Having exhausted the mysteries of the Ripper crimes, Amanda and her associates - including her grandfather Blake Johnson - decide to research and try to solve a string of recent murders, aided by Amanda's access to unpublished details through her father, Bob Martin, the deputy chief of the personal crimes division of the San Francisco Police Department.

Indiana is a beautiful and warm-hearted, if somewhat naive, thirty-three year old with a distinctly bohemian view of life. Long divorced from Amanda's father after barely three years of a teenage shotgun marriage, Indiana is the epitome of the new-age cult of spirituality, sensuality and intuition. A Reiki massage therapist who also practices a range of holistic healing techniques from aromatherapy to nutritional counselling, Indiana is an object of desire for many of her clients - including Ryan Miller, a war veteran and amputee who has gained the friendship of both Indiana and Amanda - but is in love with Alan Keller, the scion of a wealthy society family, who showers her with gifts but never takes her home to meet his family.

Allende choses to begin the novel with one paragraph that tells the reader where Amanda, Indiana, and the narrative as a whole is headed:
"Mom is still alive, but she’s going to be murdered at midnight on Good Friday,” Amanda Martín told the deputy chief, who didn’t even think to question the girl; she’d already proved she knew more than he and all his colleagues in Homicide put together. The woman in question was being held at an unknown location somewhere in the seven thousand square miles of the San Francisco Bay Area; if they were to find her alive, they had only a few hours, and the deputy chief had no idea where or how to begin.
Allende then dials the narrative back several months, to the beginning of the murders that Amanda and her online Ripper friends will try to solve, as the danger moves closer and closer to Amanda's real life.

Woven into the surface narrative threads of the Ripper crime-solving game and the real-life investigations by Bob Martin, Allende presents us with one finely crafted portrait after another of the large and diverse cast of characters that are in one fashion or another - like a literary version of six degrees of separation - connected to Amanda and Indiana. In these portraits are hidden subtle commentaries on the forces - often rife with violence - that shape lives.

For instance, consider the close juxtaposition in the text of the biographical summaries of two women, one Blake Johnson's housekeeper, the other, the glamorous former model who was married to one of the murder victims.
At forty-six, Elsa looked sixty. She suffered from chronic back pain, arthritis, and varicose veins, none of which stopped her being cheerful and singing hymns to herself wherever she went. Nobody had ever seen her wear anything but a blouse or a long-sleeved top, because she was ashamed of the machete scars she’d suffered in the attack when soldiers killed her husband and two of her brothers. She had arrived in California at the age of twenty-three, alone, having left four young children in the care of relatives in a border town in Guatemala; she worked around the clock to send money to support them, then brought them to California one by one—riding on train roofs at night, crossing Mexico in trucks, and risking their lives to get over the border along secret roads. She was convinced that if life as an illegal immigrant was hell, staying in her own country was worse. Her oldest son had joined the military in hopes of making a career and getting American citizenship. He was now on his third tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had not seen his family in two years, but in the brief phone calls he was allowed, he sounded content. Her two daughters, Alicia and Noemí, had an entrepreneurial streak and had managed to get themselves work permits; Elsa was sure that they would keep making progress, and that if the future was bright and there was an amnesty for immigrants, they would become permanent residents. The two girls ran a cohort of undocumented Latino women who wore pink uniforms and cleaned houses. They drove their employees to work in trucks just as pink, with “Atomic Cinderellas” emblazoned on the bodywork.

Though she still looked twenty-five, Ayani was about to turn forty, and her long career as a model was over; fashion designers and photographers grow tired of seeing the same face all the time. Ayani had lasted longer than most because the public recognized her. As a black woman in a white woman’s profession, she was exotic, different. Bob imagined she would still be the most beautiful woman in the world at seventy. For a time Ayani had been one of the world’s highest-paid models, the toast of the fashion world, but that had ended five or six years ago. Her income had dried up, and she had no savings; she’d spent her money like it was going out of style, as well as continuing to support her family back in their village in Ethiopia. Before she married Ashton, Ayani had juggled credit cards, taking loans from friends and from banks to keep up appearances. She was still expected to dress as she had when designers had given her their clothes for free, to attend parties and nightclubs with A-list celebrities. She duly showed up in a limousine wherever she could be photographed, but lived modestly in a studio apartment at the unfashionable end of Greenwich Village. She had met Richard Ashton at a gala fund-raiser for the Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation, at which she gave the opening address. This was something she knew a lot about, and she took every opportunity to expose the true horrors of the practice—she herself had been a victim of it in her childhood. Ashton, like everyone else at the gathering, had been moved by Ayani’s beauty, and by her openness in describing her ordeal.
Despite her apparent privilege, Ayani's origins are no less traumatic than Elsa's. As she says:
I was born in a village of mud huts, and I spent my childhood carrying water and tending goats. When I was eight, a filthy old woman cut me, and I almost died of hemorrhage and infection. When I was ten, my father started looking for a husband for me among other men of his age. I only escaped a life of backbreaking work and poverty because an American photographer spotted me and paid my father to let me come to the United States.
In just a few paragraphs, Allende brings to our minds the world that so many women in the developing nations inhabit, one where colonialism and a male-dominated society leave women vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Yet there is such a contrast between these two women's escape from such conditions. One, through an accident of birth called beauty, finds herself in privilege, the hardships of her childhood smoothed away behind a face that seems younger than her years, the other aged beyond her years by work, sorrow, and the insecurities of being an undocumented worker in America.

Through portraits such as these, of characters who in some way intersect with the lives of the protagonist and her circle of family and friends, Allende's novel goes beyond the nature of the thriller novel to dissect the culture in which the subjects of the genre exist and thrive. Violence - from the murders themselves, to gang wars and illegal dogfighting, to memories of SEAL ops and collateral damage done in the hills of Afghanistan, to institutional cruelty and child abuse - is the dark and ever-present underside of the teaching nuns, the vholistic healers, the vibrant drag queens, the dedicated police officers, the upper crust families that Allende also portrays.

And when the game is fully afoot and the revelations start to come one after another, the final hunt for the serial killer and the final victim is as suspenseful and surprising as any crime triller reader could wish for.

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A fatal hit-and run seems to lead to a haunting of the house where the dead girl used to babysit.

A late night talk show host is tormented by mysterious phone calls and emails from someone who seems to know him all too well.

A paralysed girl who can only communicate through eye movements has a terrible secret.

And Thora Gudmundsdottir receives a strange request from a serial child molester being held at Iceland's major facility for the criminally insane. He want to hire her to investigate a closed case to see if there are grounds for the verdict to be set aside - but it's not his own case. Jósteinn Karlsson wants her to prove the innocence of a severely mentally handicapped young man who is one of his fellow inmates, who was charged with arson and the murder of five people - four of them residents of a community living project for people with disabilities and the fifth an employee there - who died in the fire.

Thora's investigation will ultimately cross the paths of all these people, and uncover the truth behind all these mysteries - or at least, all the truth that can be found.

In Someone To Watch Over Me, Yrsa Sigurdardottir has shaped another fascinating, atmospheric mystery, with just a touch of the strange and inexplicable - but she also gives us a journey into the world of the physically and developmentally disabled, and those who care for them, their fears and frustrations and vulnerabilities. Looming over everything is the shadow cast by the global recession, affecting almost everyone in one way or another. Sigurdardottir's gift is to set her mysteries in a complex and detailed world where there is always much more to be seen than just the crime and the investigation.

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In Annelie Wendeberg's The Devil's Grin, the protagonist, Anna/Anton Kronberg, is a passing woman and a skilled doctor, working at Guy's Hospital in the very new field of bacteriology. When at home, she lives in one of the poorest districts of London and offers what medical help she can to the poor around her - passing in this milieu as a nurse.

She meets Sherlock Holmes when she is called to examine the corpse of a man found in the water treatment works, a possible victim of cholera. When Holmes insists on observing the autopsy, they both realise that there is something very suspicious about the man's death - and the game's afoot.

As Holmesian pastiches go, it was adequate - her characterisation of the world's first consulting detective was better than many, though not the best. As a story about a passing woman trying to hold the disparate pieces of her life together and survive the daily deceit needed to be who she needs to be, It caught my attention and made me care about the protagonist.

The most annoying thing, for me, was Wendeberg's occasionally awkward and anachronistic use of language. Modern slang, inappropriate word choices and clumsy sentence construction - all possibly due to Wendeberg writing in her second language? - these things tended to kick me out of the story from time to time, but not badly enough to keep me from diving back in.

Fun, fast read with some interesting psychological insights into the situation of someone forced to live her life as a constant masquerade in order to be true to herself.

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Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs, the most recent chapter in her Temperance Brennan series, delivered exactly what I expect and look for in Reichs' novels - a fast but engaging read with lots of forensic clues and some unusual information tossed in.

The main elements of the plot this time involved some unidentified partial remains, a glimpse into the culture of the "websleuthing community" and extreme religious fundamentalism. Well put together, and this time out, I was as surprised as Tempe was when the penny dropped.

Naturally, Tempe blithely put herself in mortal danger again, which is one of the things that annoys me greatly about Reichs' books, but on the plus side, things are looking good for Tempe and Detective Ryan.

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I have finally gotten around to reading my first novel by Val McDermid, A Place of Execution, and it lived up to all the praise I've read concerning her work. Well-written, great characterisation, captivating plot, excellent balance of foreshadowing/seeding of pointers to the final revelation - everything done just right. I started reading it last night, and I could not put it down, but rather read all night and finished around dawn.

It is one of those books where for one reason or another, an old crime is revisited with unexpected results. The first (and longest) part of the novel is set in 1963, in the isolated village of Scardale, England - barely twelve homes plus the manor where the local landowner lives - where a young girl, Alison Carter, the thirteen-year-old stepdaughter of the new incumbent of the manor, Phillip Hawkin, is missing. For recently promoted DI George Bennett, this is his first big case - and he's determined to solve it. The narrative follows the case through all the dead ends and new developments of investigation, through to an arrest, trial and conviction for rape and murder - even though the body of Alison Carter is never found.

Thirty-five years later, journalist Catherine Heathcote, who grew up near Scardale and remembers Alison Carter, meets press liaison officer Paul Bennett - George's son - in Brussels, and learns that his girlfriend's sister, Janis Wainwright, now lives in the old manor house in Scardale. The co-incidental meeting leads to a decision to interview George Bennett and write a book about the case - but what she and Bennett discover changes everything they thought they knew about the disappearance of Alison Carter.

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Tana French's first novel, In the Woods, is a thing of beauty. More than just another crime thriller, it's a sensitive and moving portrait of the often wounded people who seek the truth about the darkest impulses in the human psyche.

Adam Robert Ryan is the sole survivor of an unsolved mystery that left him, blood-soaked and traumatised, alone in the woods while two of his friends went missing. Now an adult, he is a detective with the Dublin Garda, working the murder squad. His partner, Cassie Maddox, is the only woman in the squad; her friendly manner hides wounds that not even Ryan knows about. Not just partners with a great working relationship, they are friends as well.

Then they catch a murder case in Knocknaree, the town where Ryan lived when he was young, the town he hasn't been back to since his parents took him away from the woods where his friends vanished. The victim is a young girl, left in the middle of an archeological dig just outside of Knocknaree, head smashed, body violated with an unknown object.

The investigation takes many turns, as the detectives find links to a political battle over a roadway soon to be built over the ancient ruins where the body was found, to connections to the twenty-year-old disappearances of Ryan's friends. And by the end of it, both Cassie and Rysn's lives are changed forever.

I can hardly wait to read more from French.

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Having read rather a steady diet of fantasy and science fiction over the past few weeks, I decided to spend a few weeks with some of my other preferred genres, starting with mystery/crime thrillers. I thought I'd try out an author I haven't read before, but who had received some very positive reviews - Lesley Thomson. Her first novel, The Detective's Daughter, sounded promising - a retired detective dies while trying to close "the case that got away" and his daughter takes over.

It was an interesting first novel, to be sure, but I find myself, at the end, having very mixed feelings about it. The basic plot was good, and I found myself liking the main character, Stella Darnell. I thought Thomson did a good job of portraying the emotional state of a woman dealing with the death of a parent she had long been estranged from.

The various male characters in the book, most of them presented as both real or potential lovers and suspects in the crime, were rather less well done, however, being either somewhat caricatured, over-the-top, or both. I also found it just a little too convenient that as the book progressed, almost everyone that Stella knew was associated with the crime in some important way.

What I had the most trouble with, however, were the frequent and unheralded switches in POV, often between one paragraph and the next, and the regular breaking of the fourth wall, so to speak, as the author drew back from a close third person POV to make an omnipotent observation.

On balance, the novel was just enjoyable enough that I'm going to give one of her other books a try to see if it is improved in any of the areas I found lacking.
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Bones on Ice is set in the world of extreme mountain climbing, with its main crime scene being the death zone on Mount Everest - or Sagarmatha, as it is officially known in Nepal. Kathy Reichs had almost finished work on the novella when two devastating earthquakes hit Nepal, on April 25 and May 12, 2015. She writes in her Afterword of her decision to finish and publish the novella:
I stopped writing, uncertain. I didn’t want to exploit such a tragedy. At the same time, I more than ever wanted to share the stories of Everest. I’d been touched by the heartbreaking losses and the triumphant victories. I decided to complete this work to honor those lost, and to direct attention to organizations providing disaster relief, and to groups dedicated to improving long-term conditions for the indigenous communities of Everest.
I'm glad she finished it, because it's one of her better works in recent years. She does well at conveying the ways in which the community of high-altitude mountaineers are different from us low-risktaking folks, and the experience of trying to complete an intensely athletic undertaking in severe cold while starved for oxygen. Her characteristic info-dumps were well-woven into the fabric of the narrative.

And the plot unfolded nicely, such that I didn't figure out the key plot turns until just before she unveiled them. She's even noticed how silly it is that Tempe always puts herself in danger - and while she does it again, this time there's a voice in her head telling her she's going to far, and she consciously ignores it.

Another enjoyable forensic mystery from Reichs.

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I first discovered Laurie R. King's Mary Russell historical Holmesian mysteries a few years ago, and devoured most of them in a few reading binges. After reading the earlier Russell/Holmes books in rapid succession, however, the difficulties I encountered in slogging through The Language of Bees, which was quite slow-paced in comparison to the preceding novels, led me to leave off reading the series for a while.

Returning to the series with The God of the Hive rekindled my interest, and as there had been several more books in the series published since then, I decided to see how far my reawakened enthusiasm took me, and I am now fully caught up and eagerly waiting to get my electronic hands on the recently published Dreaming Spies.

King's The God of the Hive is a continuation of The Language of Bees, in which we discovered the existence of Damien Adler, Holmes' son by Irene Adler, an artist with PTSD from The Great War and a history of drug abuse, who has been living in Shanghai. His wife, Yolanthe, has an unsavoury past which has brought brought them both, and their daughter Estelle, into the orbit of an occult cult - The Children of Light - led by Thomas Brothets, a charismatic Aleister Crowley wannabe. The cult, its leader, and the Adler family have relocated to England, and now Damien's wife and daughter are missing. The Language of Bees followed Holmes' and Russell's adventures following on the discovery of the murder of Yolanthe, and ended up in the aftermath of a magickal ceremony (in which human sacrifice was intended to be part of the ritual) in the Orkney Islands with the words "to be continued."

As The God of the Hive opens, there are warrants out for the arrest of Holmes and Russell, and Mycroft is being held prisoner in an unknown location by persons unknown. Russell, with Holmes' grandaughter Estelle, is trying to make her way south in the company of the aviator she hired to get to the Orkneys in The Language of Bees, while avoiding arrest and the murderous intentions of Brothers' henchmen. Holmes, with Damien - wounded during a confrontation with Brothets - is trying the same thing, aided by a sympathic fisherman and later an even more sympathetic female doctor Holmes more-or-less kidnaps in order to get medical aid for Damien.

Holmes and his group end up in Denmark, Mary and hers in the care of a strange forest-dwelling hermit after their plane crashes during the flight south. And we discover that all of the business with Damien, his family, amd the cult has been a very small part of a very large plot aimed directly at Mycroft.

God of the Hive was quite fast-paced and held my interest well. And it delivered a strong conclusion that made the entire two-volume story arc worthwhile in the end.

The volume that followed, The Pirate King, was a delight for me to read, being set amidst a company of film actors who are making a film about a company of film actors making a film of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. Shot on location, as it were, in Portugal and Morocco, there's a great deal of funny business about show business - showing that things really don't change much in the performing arts despite advances in technology - and a very interesting brush with real pirates.

The novel ends with our heroes Sherlock and Russell in Morocco, unknowing about to embark on a much more important and harrowing adventure.

Garment of Shadows opens with an injured and amnesiac young woman that readers will instantly recognise as Mary Russell, alone but recently tended, waking in an unfamiliar room in what she will soon discover to be the Moroccan city of Fez. Realising that soldiers are about to enter the house, her first instinct is to grab everything useful in her room and flee before she can be found.

A switch in viewpoint to Holmes gives the reader much necessary background about the political situation in Morocco, which will bear heavily on the story. Holmes has been visiting his maternal fifth cousin, Morocco's Resident General, Maréchal Louis Hubert Lyautey while Russell finishes up her work with the film. While visiting Lyautey, Holmes meets former friend and ally, Ali Hazr. Hazr is one of Mycroft's agents but seems to have aligned himself with self-declared Emir of the Republic of Rif, Mohammed bin Abd-el-Krim, the leader of one of the many factions in the current struggle for political control of Morocco, its mineral resources, and its strategic position at the southern side of entrance of the Mediterranean (the northern side being British-controlled Gibraltar).

As the plot unfolds, Ali and Holmes have two important tasks to undertake - arranging a secret meeting between Abd-el-Krim and Lyautey, and finding Ali's brother Mahmoud, last known to have been in the company of the also missing Mary Russell.

In Garment of Shadows, King gives us not only a fine Russell/Holmes adventure in which Russell takes the lead and demonstrates her many skills and competences, but a well researched account of an early attempt to throw off European colonialism in Northern Africa. Naturally, I enjoyed both aspects of the novel, although some readers may be less enthusiastic about Russell and Holmes sharing the stage with the politics of the imperialist project and the struggle to overthrow it.
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A very interesting mystery from Sujata Massey, involving an antique chest with a secret history and a series of murders that seem to dog its previous owners. Antiques dealer Rei Shimura finds herself in the middle of the investigation when she purchases the chest on behalf of a client only to discover that it has been tampered with - and people are dying because of it.

In addition to the basic mystery plot, there was just way too much ficus on rei's relationship with Scottish lawyer Huge Glendinning, the too macho for words gaijin she hooked up with in the first novel in the series. Rei thinks she loves him, but his attitude toward her makes me could hope to see less of him in future books, however, as he has gotten tired of sticking out like a tall, red-headed sore thumb in Japan and wants to go home to Scotland, while Rei does not want to leave her ancestral home, and appears to have learned that giving up her independence to live with Glendinning was a bad idea. Hoping that absence will make the heart grow cooler and Rei will find someone less patriarchal to have fun with, I look forward to the next mystery.

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Die Again, the 11th volume in Tess Gerritsen's crime/mystery/thriller series featuring Jane Rizzoli, Boston cop, and Dr. Maura Isles, M.E., is another tautly paced novel with a rather unusual serial killer and lots of clues that need to be processed before the real killer is identified.

Fortunately, this time around there were no personal links to Rizzoli or Isles, and neither one finds herself alone and in mortal danger - they're just two investigators working a case, and the intense jeopardy scene falls, as is proper, to the person who holds the one piece of information that could crack the case.

We also see new developments in our intrepid investigator's personal lives, which in my opinion do not bode well for Jane and Maura, but we will have to wait for the next installment to find out where those are taking us.

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The Tudor Vendetta is the third and final (one assumes) volume in C. W. Gortner's Spymaster series, featuring Brendan Prescott, secretly the illegitimate son of Henry VIII's younger sister Margaret.

In previous volumes, Prescott has been in the service of William Cecil, working undercover to preserve the Tudor line of succession - first Mary, then Elizabeth. In The Tudor Vendetta, Prescott, forced to flee England for his own safety following his role in taking down the Courteney Plot, returns - in the company of his mentor Francis Walsingham - to take up his role as protector of Elizabeth, now queen of England. Though Mary, her sister, is dead, Elizabeth faces many challenges and dangers, not the least of which is the continued animosity of Catholics both at home and abroad.

It is Cecil's plan to keep Prescott close to Elizabeth, both as an intelligencer and protector, and to keep Elizabeth from going too far in her relationship with Robert Dudley, risking her crown and her life through indiscretion. Elizabeth, however, has other plans for Prescott.

An assassination attempt gives Prescott reason to suspect that a Spanish agent he believed to be dead is still alive and plotting against the new Queen, but Elizabeth fears that an even greater danger is marshalling against her, and sends Prescott to investigate.

An enjoyable tale, drawing on what most historians consider to be no more than gossip arising from the circumstances of Elizabeth's early relationship with her step-father Thomas Seymour (who married Henry VIII's widow Katherine Parr) - but again, there's just enough room in the gaps of history to make the plot a plausible one.

His mission accomplished, Prescott is finally free to settle down to a quiet life in the country with his lady love Kate - but I can't help but hope the Elizabeth will need him again.

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In recent years, I've been consciously on the look-out for female writers of mystery/thriller/detective/whatever novels featuring female investigators (whether professional or amateur) in settings that depart from what so often seems the norm - modern day big-city America.

To this end, I have just tried out the first novel of another new writer - Sujata Massey. What intrigued me about the writer is that she is the British-born daughter of parents from Germany and Japan, living in the U.S. And writing about an American-born daughter of American and Japanese parents living in Japan. This struck me as a very interesting assemblage of influences and choices.

Overall, I enjoyed The Salaryman's Wife - it is a decent mystery novel, with a fair amount of action, although I must admit that the killer was obvious from quite early on, as the pertinent clues were made quite visible. This may be due to this being Massey's first novel, and one hopes that future novels will be less easy to solve. But that wasn't all that much of an issue for me, because I enjoyed watching the character growth of protagonist Rei Shimura. Shimura begins the book as a young woman feeling out of place and uncomfortable - as a half-Japanese woman who speaks the language well but is still learning kanji, who is an expert on Japanese art and antiques but does not assimilate well into the culture, particularly in terms of significant differences between Japanese and American gender roles - and this shows in a certain awkward combination of insecurity and bravado. Over the course of the novel, she becomes more confident and secure within herself, and I am quite interested in seeing how this growth alters the way she is presented in the next novel.

I also enjoyed the window that the novel creates into Japanese culture - in business, in media, in personal relationships.

My main gripe is the romantic element. She falls rather rapidly in lust with a blond Scottish lawyer working in Japan who is initially one of the prime suspects in the murder, without there being much rhyme or reason for the attraction, at least in my opinion. I prefer that if there is going to be romance in a novel, that it be based on mutual respect and some degree of commonality in interests, worldviews, and the like. At my age, I've learned that while lust can be short-term fun (and I'd never suggest that a protagonist refrain from responsible sex-play), if you're going to frame a sexual relationship as a romance, please give us more than lust and the heightened arousal that comes from a shared intense experience to ground it in.

But that's rather hard to find. So I'll just breeze over that bit and enjoy Rei and her relationships with parents, relatives and friends, all of which have much more depth in the novel.

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Amitav Ghosh's novel The Calcutta Chromosome is fascinating but hard to characterise. Part science fiction, part medical thriller, part meditation on the nature of knowledge, part conspiracy theory, part post-colonial examination of the British presence in India... As I said, it's hard to characterise.

It begins with Antar, a middle-aged man living in New York, at some point in the not-too-distant future, whose job appears to consist of working with an AI named Ava in an attempt to inventory ... I'm not sure what, maybe everything. He recognises an artefact shown him by Ava as the damaged ID of a man he once worked with L. Murugan, who disappeared in Calcutta in 1995. Murugan was obsessed with the discovery of the transmission mechanism of malaria by an Englishman named Ronald Ross in 1895 - only Murugan believes that Ross' discovery was actually orchestrated by a secret society whose members embraced a kind of anti-science, and for whom Ross' work on malaria was just a sideline on the way to their real goal.

The novel moves between the three timelines - Antar's, as he recalls the strange things Murugan told him; Murugan's, as he searches for clues to the whereabouts of the secret society, and Ross's, as he conducts his research in the midst of colonial India, surrounded by servants who may or may not be part of the society Murugan will look for a century later.

What is particularly interesting about the novel is Ghosh's concept of anti-science, or comprehending without knowing, that has been adopted by his mysterious group. It seems to incorporate an intuitive analogue of the uncertainty principle - that watching changes the watched. Ghosh never fully describes it, possibly because wherever it is, it's not something that is reducible to words. What he does, is write the unravelling of the mysteries of Murugan's quest in a fashion that urges the reader to comprehend the novel in just that fashion. Ghosh rarely tells his readers anything, he merely presents a slow accretion of clues and leaves the reader to put it all together and figure out what has gone on, and why. All the answers are in the mind of the reader, not in the book.

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As Constant Reader already is aware, I do enjoy mystery thrillers, and I tend to like them fairly dark and a tad gruesome. This is part of what makes Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan books so much fun - a forensic anthropologist is always going to have a touch of grue about her. Hard to identify human remains are like that. Also, Reichs' novels tend to be entertaining, fast-paced, suspenceful but not too challenging, and it's often fairly easy to figure out the plot twist.

Her latest, Bones Never Lie, was exactly what I've come to expect from a Temperance Brennan book, and that's a good thing. I must say that this time I found the ending very easy to see from a long ways off, the clues were so out in the open, but watching Brennan work out the obvious is fun. I could do with a few less info-dumps and "as you know, Bobs" - but this time everything that is sometimes a bit annoying was offset by the fact that Andrew Ryan is back in Tempe's life, and at last it looks like he's here to stay.

I also gobbled up two novellas, one of which - Bones in her Pocket - was a pleasant surprise because I did not figure out the real killer until shortly before Brennan stumbled over them. The other, Swamp Bones, was a bit easier to figure out, but as usual, watching Brennan do her thing is fun.

And now I am up-to-date with the series, and will just have to wait for the next one to come along.

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Trss Gerritsen started her career as an author with a string of romantic suspense novels; she later switched to writing medical thrillers, drawing on her own experience as a physician, before beginning her highly successful crime/mystery novels featuring police officer Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. Harvest was the first of her medical thrillers, with a plot centred around a second year surgical resident who uncovers a series of mysterious heart transplants using untraceable donors have been taking place in the hospital she works in - and that the people responsible will go to ant lengths to discredit, or if necessary, silence her.

A fast-paced read, with the requisite surprise plot twists and a just-in-the-nick-of-time resolution. And there's even a touch of romance.

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Nicci French is the pen name of British duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French; together, they have written four mystery novels featuring psychiatrist Frieda Klein, as well as a number of stand-alone thrillers. Being a sucker for mystery/thrillers featuring female protagonists, and having a certain ibterest in the psychology of crime, this seemed a likely series to feed my addiction. And so it was - I ended up reading the three volumes I was able to acquire in two days.

I love the complexity of this series, the way the protagonist's personal and professional lives are changed by the circumstances that keep drawing her into the lives of people committing and dealing with the aftermath of violent crimes - as police, as perpetrators, as victims, as family and friends of all three. These are more than just murder mysteries. Can't wait to find an ebook of number four in the series.

Blue Monday

First in this series of mystery novels, I found it quite an enjoyable ride. At first I was put off by the rather choppy writing stule, but before long the story and the characters got to me wnd pulled me in, particularly the lead character, who I found myself liking quite a lot.

In this first novel, Klein begins to suspect that a middle-aged patient she is yreating for panic attacks is connected with two child abductions 22 years apart. She brings her cincerns to the attention of the investigaing detective, DCI Malcolm Karlsson, who is at first reluctant to work with her but conrs to appreciate the insights she brings to the case. And while I won't spoil the ending, I have to say that the last key reveal sent shivers down my spine. I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. I liked that.

Tuesday's Gone

A visiting social worker on her rounds finds a woman on her case list calmly feeding tea and biscuits to a corpse, the case falls to DCI Karlsson, and the curious psychological aspects of the case cause him to turn to Frieda Klein for insight. Meanwhile, Klein is facing questions about her professionalism, she's facing hostile media attention over her involvement in another case, her niece Chloe is becoming too much for Klein's sister to deal with - and she has the strage feeling that she is being stalked. Another compelling read.

Waiting for Wednesday

A middle-aged mother of three is found savagely murdered in her home. DCI Karlsson would like to bring in Frieda Klein to consult, but the department insists that instead he work with one of Klein's professional rivals, Hal Bradshaw - who turns out to be a pompous ass who goes for the quick and easy explanations. Karlsson soon enough discovers that the victim had secrets which point in quite a different direction than Bradshaw's pufferies.

Klein is still dealing with the fallout from a case she worked on where an apparently innocent man was imprisoned, to say nothing of recovering from an assault suffered the last time she worked on a case with Karlsson. Another complex mystery that moves on multiple fronts and holds onr fascinated through to the end.


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