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Newsletter #124 December, 2018 February, 2019

Who Dunnit - Short
Mystery Reviews
by Mary McKinley

        If you've been in recently you may have noticed that we're shifting books to make them more accessible, so if you're looking for something specific and can't find it, be sure to ask! We appreciate your support in keeping the oldest independent SF bookstore (since 1974) and one of the oldest independent mystery bookstores (opened in 1980) in business.

        Like so may of us in my generation, I cut my mystery teeth on Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, the Hardy boys, and that lot. In high school, my boyfriend gave me a copy of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories - and I was hooked. I read Poe, John D. MacDonald, Agatha Christie, and many other classics. I always felt that working in a bookstore would end up costing, rather than making any money because, well books! So far, so good - I try to limit myself to one book a week. Now I just need the time to read.

        So what does Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a famous basket ball player, have to say about Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother? Recently out in mass market paperback ($7.99) and written with Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes is a not-so-classic "smarter brother" story. This book covers Mycroft as a young man, fresh out of Cambridge, and shows how he became the man that he is - founder of the Diogenes Club and the backbone of and the power behind the British government. The story stays true to the time period - it's well researched, stays true to the mores. His "Dr. Watson" is a Cyrus Douglas, black man from Trinidad, and as they are traveling to Trinidad, Cyrus often has to act as Mycroft's servant. Once in Trinidad, they go on the hunt to find out who, or what, is making children disappear. If you read this expecting Mycroft to be as he is in the Doyle stories, you'll be disappointed. This is an active Mycroft, one who follows the trail, and isn't afraid of exertion. He's also young - only 23 - and I suspect in later books we'll find out why he became solitary and sedentary. Sherlock makes a brief appearance, but this isn't his story.
        And if you liked this, Mycroft and Sherlock came out in hardcover ($25.99) in October. In this novel, we find out why Mycroft is sedentary and why he delegates the "footwork" to Sherlock and his friend Cyrus as they try to discover how opium is being brought into the community. We see a young (18 years) Sherlock and watch his interest grow in solving crimes as he and Cyrus work out who is killing, stripping, and draining bodies of blood only to leave them in a park. We also see the two brothers diverge in interests and tastes, and get a better understanding of the factors that drove them not necessarily apart, but farther from each other. These two books are related, but were also written to be stand-alone books. You can read them either in order or alone. It's hard to know who wrote what portion of the books, or if Jabbar wrote and Waterhouse "cleaned up", but the books are well written, the language flows, and I am finding that the history of the brothers and how they became the men that they are, fascinating. If you've ever wondered about Mycroft Holmes, this is a great way to get to know him. There will be a third book out in April of 2019, which is still untitled.

        Based strictly on the title, I had to read The First Prehistoric Serial Killer and Other Stories by Teresa Solana, translated from the Spanish by Peter Bush ($14.95). I was glad I did - this was laugh out loud funny, but twisted. The title story has the protagonist, who is useless at everything but thinking, discover forensics, psychoanalysis, and religion, as well as the first serial killer. The other stories include the depths a loving mother and her dying friend use to protect her daughter from a wife abuser. There's also a vampire who is just a trifle out of step with today's world, very picky ghosts, and a very entitled art curator with a very odd art display. The second part of the book has intertwining stories about the seedier side of big city living and a guide book to Barcelona. The author challenges you to identify and follow the themes. Some of the stories felt incomplete - just a little bit more might have made them more enjoyable for me, and this refers to the second half of the book. The first half is delightful. I will be looking for more of her writings.

        I admit to being a sucker for books set in Scotland. Or books having Scottish protagonists. Pretty much anything with a Scottish connection. Catriona McPherson writes a new wonderful series starting with Scot Free ($15.99). Lexy (Leagsaidh, in Gaelic) Campbell fell in love with an American and followed him to California when disaster strikes. She's divorced, broke, going home to Scotland, and trying to free her last client from a murder charge while not being charged herself. The story got a little contrived in the middle, with a lot of small details that added nothing to the story and were thrown out as red herrings, but it got neatly wrapped up in the end. There were a couple of intriguing twists along the way that kept my attention. This is lite reading, but enjoyable. Scot and Soda, book 2 in the series, is due out next April.

        Amanda Flower's newest series is also Scottish in nature. Flowers and Foul Play ($15.99) has our heroine stood up at the altar, put out of business by a big chain florist, and then her godfather dies, leaving her a Scottish cottage with a walled, dying garden. Of course, as she's checking out her garden she finds the dead body of her solicitor who is hated by everyone in town so there are more suspects than clues. The garden rapidly comes back to life the more time she spends there until it is once again flourishing with an ancient yellow rose twining around the menhir in the center. Overall, I found this book to be rambling, going off frequently on tangents, and primary characters rapidly changing personality - sweet and helpful one minute, then angry and combative the next, for no apparent reason. The premise of the book is supernatural to a certain extent, but it falls short, not able to maintain that link in a reasonable fashion. Book 2 in the series, Death and Daisies, has a November 2018 release date in hardcover ($26.00).

        On my list of books to read next is Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May series. These follow the lives of two English detectives that work for the Peculiar Crimes Unit. There's humor, detecting, murders, and history. In order, the books are: Full Dark House, The Water Room, Seventy-Seven Clocks, Ten Second Staircase, White Corridor, The Victoria Vanishes, Bryant & May On the Loose, Bryant & May Off the Rails, Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood, Bryant & May and the Invisible Code, Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, Bryant & May and the Burning Man, Bryant & May: London's Glory, Bryant and May: Strange Tide and Bryant and May: Wild Chamber, with two more scheduled for release in December of 2018 and March 2019. Most of these are in trade paperback format and range from $15 to $16.00 new, with a selection in used. Reviews to follow!
        IQ ($7.99) by Joe Ide was a surprise to me. I usually go for the lighter side of murder, preferring solving a mystery instead of finding a killer. I picked it up because it has received rave reviews and collected several awards including Winner of The Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award for Best First Private Eye Novel, Winner of the Macavity Award for Best First Novel, Winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, Nominated for the Edgar Award, Barry Award, and Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel. It's also a "thinker's" story - think Sherlock Holmes and his ability to see what's there, as well as what's not. Isaiah Quintabe, or IQ as he is known, is a high school dropout. He grew up in East Long Beach, running with a gang, until disaster hit his family. Now he takes on cases that the LAPD won't and charges whatever his clients can afford - chickens, yard work, cash, whatever. This had me hooked from the beginning, starting with seeing how a serial rapist/killer thinks and plans and adapts to changes in situations. What people around him don't realize is that he is a genius with a wide streak of practicality and common sense - not a typical former gang-banger. He notices a cell phone on the ground where, only moments before, there was a young girl talking on it and who is now missing. On his way to protect a Rapper who has been receiving threats, he meets a dog breeder who specializes in large pit bulls and killing people for money. The story flips between the present - who IQ is today - and the past - the death of his brother - was it accidental or a murder? IQ doesn't have any police connections, all of the work is done through deduction and reasoning. His neighborhood is real, and poor. The author, Joe Ide, grew up not far from there and captures the atmosphere of poverty and the need to do anything for money. His next two books, Righteous ($15.99; and Wrecked ($27.00), are both on our shelves. If you like gritty, deductive, human protagonists, you will probably like IQ.

        Janet Evanovich is up to her 25th Stephanie Plum book - Look Alive Twenty-Five ($28.00), and we find Stephanie working at the Red River Deli trying to find out why the previous three managers have disappeared leaving just one shoe behind. This book was more satisfying to me than her previous two as it has more of a story. It is still pretty formulaic - Stephanie busts bond jumpers, some easy, some very difficult and dangerous, gets distracted by Ranger and Morelli (and no, still hasn't opted for one), has some supernatural help from Wulf Grimiore, and finally saves the day. As always, it's a fun read as long as you don't expect great literature or in-depth character building.

        Years ago, I quit buying toys for kids as presents, instead buying them books. Once children discover books, there are whole universes that open up for them. Encyclopedia Brown books are still written and we stock several of them. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are still around and in our used section. Best of all, we have new classics are on our shelves. Much to my amazement, I found that Alexander McCall Smith (of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books) writes a series of children's books featuring Precious Ramotswe's first cases as a child herself. Her books teach valuable lessons such as just because a person has lots of sweets doesn't mean that he has stolen them and to not be afraid to ask many questions - both good signs of a detective. The first book is The Great Cake Mystery ($6.00; ages 7-10), and deals with disappearing sweets. The thief is finally found and the lesson, or moral of the story, is that appearances can be deceiving. In the second book, The Mystery of Meerkat Hill ($6.99), Precious helps her new friends find their missing cow, with the help of a small friend. The Mystery of the Missing Lion ($6.99), finds Precious visiting her Aunt Bee on a game preserve when an actor lion who is there for a movie, goes off on his own. Precious, with the help of her friend and the lion trainer, are able to track the missing lion down. Precious, with her quick thinking, prevents the lion trainer from accidentally trying to recover a wild lion, and, as is quite proper, he thanks her four times for saving his life. These books talk about Botswana, giving some history of the place and people, and are gentle reminders that we all live together and need to treat each other gently, whether human or animal. There are readers questions at the end of each book which could be used to open conversations with the readers. If you enjoy McCall's gentle humor and way with words, you (and your kids) will enjoy these books.

        Mr. and Mrs, Bunny - Detectives Extraodinaire! ($8.99; ages 8-12) translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath, is hilarious. Madeline comes home one day to find her parents missing and a note on the refrigerator written in a squiggly code. There are also lots of beady fox eyes watching her through the kitchen window. She is able to find two detective bunnies (because detectives get to wear fedoras) who are willing and able to help her. They end up calling in a marmot (and marmots never bring cake) to help decode the message because marmots are mad decoders. The foxes are thwarted, the mystery solved, the parents rescued, and the Bunnys decide to change hats. The second book, Lord and Lady Bunny - almost Royalty ($8.99), has Madeline wanting to save for college even though that's a long way off. Her parents, being ex-hippies, have almost no money ($6.27, to be exact), but they inherit a sweet shoppe in England, and travel across the pond to take up residence. Mrs. Bunny decides she wants to be queen, so she and her husband follow behind to Merrie Olde England. The Bunnys and Madeline are thrilled to be reunited, and Mrs. Bunny's book is published, Mr. Bunny debuts on stage as King Lear, and they invent magic candy that just has to be trained. As always, everything works out happily, and Mrs. Bunny gives her book royalties to Madeline for college, since her ex-hippie parents manage to end up with $6.27 exactly after expenses.

        Based on a comment from Don, I took a look at the Liturgical Mysteries by Mark Schweizer. These include The Alto Wore Tweed, The Baritone Wore Chiffon, The Tenor Wore Tapshoes, The Soprano Wore Falsettos, The Bass Wore Scales, The Mezzo Wore Mink, The Diva Wore Diamonds, The Organist Wore Pumps, The Countertenor Wore Garlic, The Christmas Cantata, The Treble Wore Trouble, The Cantor Wore Crinolines, The Maestro Wore Mohair, The Lyric Wore Lycra, and The Choir Director Wore Out (just in with signed copies). They range in price from $12.95 to $13.95. They take place in the small town of St. Germaine, North Carolina and feature Police Chief Hayden Konig in his quest to become the next great Mystery Writer. He even has Raymond Chandler's typewriter to help him write! Unfortunately, he's a terrible writer. Luckily, he's a much better deductive detective than a writer. He's also the choir director at the local Episcopal church, and dead bodies keep showing up in the strangest places: choir lofts, lakes, by a singing gorilla... I haven't read these (yet!), but I've sampled them. In between the excerpts of Hayden's horrible writings are delicious, funny stories that also gave me a decent musical education. This series just got added to my list of "must reads".

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