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Newsletter #109 March May, 2015

Recommendations
by Elizabeth LaVelle

        Foxglove Summer ($7.99) by Ben Aaronovitch sends Peter Grant way off his manor - and outside his comfort zone - to a village in rural Herefordshire. Two eleven-year-old girls went missing there, their cell phones found hours later near a local monument, and Nightingale wants Peter to make sure their disappearance isn't connected with any unethical use of magic, and that 'certain individuals' in the vicinity aren't involved - the individual in this case being Hugh Oswald, a wizard who returned from Ettersberg, but retired due to PTSD. A quick interview makes it clear that Oswald wasn't involved, but with the search for the girls going critical, Peter volunteers to stay and help out the local police any way he can. He's thinking of routine police work, but the local police are so desperate for a break in the case that they request a full Falcon assessment. Peter's review of the operation's action list turns up an interview note about one of the girls having an invisible friend, and the chips from the girls' phones show all-too-familiar damage - definitely magic involved. To find out exactly how and what and why, Peter gets some help from Beverley Brook (deputized by Nightingale) and local DC Dominic Croft. Dominic makes a great sidekick for Peter - he combines local knowledge with a view of local life that meshes nicely with Peter's sense of humor, and he adapts really well to working on a case that turns out to involve some very 'weird bollocks' indeed. When things get spooky, and Peter mentions that Dominic doesn't have to help him, Dominic's response is: "My patch, my village. Probably my folklore. So, yeah - actually, I think I do." Peter provides his customary snark (on architecture, police procedure, the rural environment, foodie restaurants, race relations, and more), sends a dead sheep off to London for Dr. Walid to autopsy, comes up with a cunning plan or two, and repeatedly demonstrates solid policing skills while dealing scientifically and/or creatively with uncanny events. And from Hugh Oswald we learn more about the terrible battle at Ettersberg. I'm looking forward to seeing what Ben has up his sleeve for book 6. (Hope it's back to Belgravia nick, I really miss Seawoll and Stephanopoulos!)

        In The Dragon Man ($9.99) by Garry Disher, a woman has been raped and murdered, her body found near the Old Peninsula Highway. And now another woman, whose car broke down along the same highway, is missing. This brings Detective Inspector Hal Challis - senior homicide investigator for the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne, Australia - to the town of Waterloo to work with their police on solving the crimes. Disher gives us a nicely varied group of cops. Hal Challis is an interesting combination of methodical investigator and intuitive detective, who spends his spare time restoring an old airplane - and dreading phone calls from his wife, a perhaps not entirely sane woman who is in prison for trying to have him killed. Detective Sergeant Ellen Destry is smart and capable, but facing some trouble at home - her husband is a traffic cop who resents her promotion, and her daughter Larrayne is a typical teenage pain in the neck. Detective Constable Scobie Sutton, whose wife works long hours in the city, has a preschool daughter he adores, and loves to talk about. Constable Pam Murphy is a recent transfer with a knack for connecting with people, and also for connecting the dots between apparently random incidents. And then there's Constable John 'Tank' Tankard, the sort of bully who gives cops a bad name, and the sort of harasser who gives men a bad name. As the team searches for the killer, Disher serves up an assortment of smaller crimes as subplots. Next in the series is Kittyhawk Down ($14.00), which starts with a couple of months-old cases - a missing toddler and an unidentified drowning victim. After the Waterloo team takes down a lover's lane rapist, Ellen Destry heads home to find Larrayne in tears (someone smuggled drugs into her birthday party) and a teenage boy passed out in the bushes in the back yard. Then Hal Challis witnesses a bizarre incident at the local airfield - a muddy Land Rover does its best to ram Janet Casement's Cessna just as she's landing. Next Disher adds in an aerial photograph of a marijuana crop - on land owned by a local man with a short fuse, a lot of grudges, and plenty of weapons - and 3 shotgun killings, giving Challis and the team at Waterloo plenty of investigating to do. It's easy to see why both of these books were finalists for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel (Australia's version of the Edgar). Disher does a great job of using his many plot threads - you get to see various parts of the investigations from different characters' perspectives, and the story moves along briskly, with plenty of twists. Plus one investigation may turn up a bit of information that turns out to be important in another case. He also develops his characters adeptly - information about their backgrounds and personalities is worked in a bit here, a bit there, over the course of each book, as they go about their investigations and their lives. The series continues with Snapshot ($14.95), Chain of Evidence ($14.95, Ned Kelly Award winner), Blood Moon ($14.00), and Whispering Death ($14.95). I'm looking forward to reading the rest of them.

        Roderick Alleyn, second son of a baronet, is an intelligent, well-educated, occasionally whimsical Scotland Yard detective in Ngaio Marsh's long-running series. First up is A Man Lay Dead ($14.95, originally published in 1934), which begins with a classic gambit: a group of people gather at a stately home for a house party. There is special entertainment planned: the guests will play the Murder Game - one is secretly chosen as 'killer', and must then choose the 'victim', after which there will be a mock trial, with everyone aggressively questioning everyone else to find out whodunnit. When Charles Rankin is actually murdered, it falls to Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn to try to sort out the crime. The dead man was a bully and a womanizer, and several people stood to gain materially by his death. The police collect physical evidence, conduct interviews, and check backgrounds, but each clue seems to point to at least two of the suspects, and potential motives provide an abundance of red herrings. Alleyn is able to rule out young reporter Nigel Bathgate as a suspect fairly quickly, then promptly recruits him as a sidekick. This is a lovely example of Golden Age mystery, smoothly written with a dry sense of humor - I especially enjoyed PC Bunce, the local cop, who relishes playing the victim when the crime is reenacted, and Nigel, who finds himself smitten with his host's niece Angela and struggles to make witty rejoinders to her remarks despite being terrified by the way she is driving her sports car. Marsh makes good use of her inside knowledge of the theatre in the second book, Enter a Murderer ($14.95, originally published in 1935). Since his darling Angela is out of town, Nigel Bathgate has a spare theatre ticket, and invites Roderick Alleyn to join him at the show. They witness a tense scene backstage beforehand, between actors Felix Gardener and Arthur Surbonadier. Gardener shoots Surbonadier with a revolver - part of the show - only this time the gun is loaded with real bullets. Alleyn calls in his team from Scotland Yard, and Nigel is happy to stick around and help, and get a scoop in the process. First there's the problem of how the real bullets made their way onto an occupied stage (the gun was actually loaded in front of the audience), and what happened to the dud bullets that should have been in the desk drawer on the set. And Alleyn quickly notices that the actors aren't so much answering questions as putting on performances for him when he interviews them. As the investigation grows more complex, Alleyn and his team need some serious sleuthing and fast footwork to get to the truth - and to keep Nigel out of trouble. (We also have books 3-16 in the series, $14.95 each.)

        In Mystery at Riddle Gully ($9.95, ages 9 and up) by Australian writer Jen Banyard, schoolgirl reporter Pollo (short for Apollonia) di Nozi is in trouble with the mayor: her most recent story told the whole town that he wears a toupee, and isn't nearly as young as he claims to be. The town council funds her newspaper, and the mayor has threatened to put an end to that. She's determined to find a big story for her last issue, but her nose for news gets tangled with her vivid imagination - she's convinced that the stranger she spotted in the town cemetery is a vampire, and she's out to prove it! Meanwhile, Will Hopkins is trying to adjust to life in Riddle Gully: new home, new school, and especially his new police sergeant stepdad - a nice enough guy, but he does ask a lot of questions. When Will loses his temper and spray-paints rude graffiti about his stepdad on the school, his attempts to hide the evidence lead to one mishap after another. Then Will and Pollo cross paths, and she conscripts him into her investigation. Will does his best to introduce some much-needed pragmatism into Pollo's wilder flights of fancy (and help her keep track of her pet sheep, Shorn Connery). And Pollo's story turns out to be much bigger, although very different, than she expected. This is a fast-moving, funny, warm-hearted mystery. As a bonus, it shares positive messages - about community involvement, protecting endangered species, and learning to deal with anger instead of losing your temper and doing things you regret - all worked smoothly into the storyline. I'm looking forward to reading Riddle Gully Runaway ($9.95, expected in April).

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