Books from the Mystery Discussion Group
These are the books read for the Main Library Mystery Book Discussion Group, in reverse chronological order of book group meetings. Annotations by librarian Liz Mellett. See below for books read in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Susan Elia MacNeal, Mr. Churchill's Secretary: a novel (2012). This first mystery won the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original on September 19, 2013 at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention held this year in Albany, New York. It was also nominated for the 2013 Nominated Dilys Award, the 2013 Edgar Awards (Edgar Allan Poe Awards) and the 2013 Macavity Award.
Stefanie Pintoff, In the Shadow of Gotham (2009). “The scream that pierced the dull yellow November sky was preternaturally high-pitched.” Having left New York City for a quiet country town in Westchester County Detective Simon Ziele doesn’t expect to be faced with the worst homicide of his career: a young woman has been brutally murdered in her bedroom in the middle of the afternoon. This atmospheric historical mystery won the 2010 Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America.
G. M. Malliet, Wicked Autumn (2011). “Wanda Batton-Smythe, head of the Women’s Institute of Nether Monkslip, liked to say she was not one to mince words.” This might be what gets her killed. Vicar Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent, finds it hard to believe that anyone in the cozy little village where he has found peace could be guilty of murder, yet it is soon clear to him that this is what happened. This intelligent and witty mystery was one of the Boston Globe’s Best Mysteries of 2011.
Colin Dexter, The Way through the Woods (1993). One year after a young Swedish student, dubbed the “Swedish Maiden” by the press, disappeared from Oxfordshire a clue laden poem is sent to a newspaper, intriguing the English news-reading public and prompting the irascible Inspector Morse to write a letter of his own. He is soon on the trail of a killer. This clever, literate tale won the British Crime Writers’ Gold Dagger Award.
Barbara Hambly, A Free Man of Color (1997). New widower Benjamin January, a musician and doctor, returns to 1833 New Orleans from Paris and is rapidly caught up in the intrigues of the city during Mardi Gras. A free man of color, January is unable to practice as a surgeon and it is while working as a musician that he finds himself suspected of murder and reluctantly sets out to solve the crime. This is the first in an impressive historical series.
Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (2008). A notorious real life 1860 murder in Wiltshire, England had all the elements of a classic Agatha Christie mystery: a shocking crime in a country house setting, a “respectable” middle class family with secrets, an inexperienced local police force and a famous Scotland Yard detective sent to solve the crime and pilloried in the press for his solution. Charles Dickens was fascinated by the case – he suggested a solution to Wilkie Colllins – but he was wrong about the murderer. Winner of the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize.
Michael Connelly, The Black Echo (1992). "The boy couldn't see in the dark, but he didn't need to." When L.A. homicide detective Hieronymus Bosch is called to Mulholland Dam on the report of a dead body in a drainpipe, he recognizes the murdered man, a fellow Vietnam tunnel rat named Billy Meadows. His investigation is complicated by his indifferent department and the interest of the FBI. This novel won the Edgar Award as Best First Mystery in 1993 and was nominated for an Anthony Award.
Cara Black, Murder in the Marais (1999). Parisian P.I. Aimée Leduc has sworn to avoid criminal cases because her father, a police detective, was killed in the line of duty. When she agrees to a top secret decoding job for a man who knew her father she doesn’t expect trouble – until she finds an old woman dead, with a swastika carved on her forehead. This atmospheric first mystery was nominated for an Anthony Award.
Ken Bruen, The Killing of the Tinkers (2002). “The boy is back in town”. Disgraced ex-cop Jack Taylor returns home to Galway with a leather coat and a coke habit. When a Gypsy asks him to look into the murders of young men of his clan he agrees, even though he suspects no good will come of looking into something the police have refused to investigate. This novel, described by the Boston Herald as “a dark heart-stopper”, won the Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel in 2005.
Jill McGown, Unlucky for Some (2005). Bingo player Wilma Fenton is killed while walking home with a purse filled with her winnings – and the murderer leaves the money neatly fanned out across her body. Chief Inspectors Lloyd and Hill are faced with a fascinating puzzle in their thirteenth outing together. McGown was chosen by The Times (London) as one of the twentieth century’s “100 Masters of Crime”.
Zoë Ferraris, Finding Nouf (2008). “Before the sun set that evening, Nayir filled his canteen, tucked a prayer rug beneath his arm, and climbed the south-facing dune near the camp.” When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, desert guide Nayir al-Sharqi is asked to lead the search. The discovery of her body ten days later presents him with a mystery. How did she drown in the desert, and why is her family so disinterested? This fine series debut is set in contemporary Saudi Arabia and features a devout Muslim sleuth. It won a 2008 Los Angeles Book Prize for First Fiction, and was nominated for a California Book Award and a Macavity.
Nancy Pickard, The Scent of Rain and Lightning (2010). “Until she was twenty-six, Jody Linder felt suspicious of happiness.” The quiet town of Rose, Kansas is stunned by the news that convicted killer Billy Crosby has been released and is coming home. No one is more horrified than English teacher Jody Linder, who had grown up believing Crosby had murdered her parents. This cold case mystery, a Kansas Notable Book in 2011, was nominated for an Agatha and a Macavity.
Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010). Larry Ott and Silas Jones were unlikely friends in 1970s rural Mississippi. Larry was the child of lower-middle-class white parents, Silas the son of a poor, single black mother. The boys forged a bond that was only broken when Larry was suspected of a terrible crime. More than twenty years later Silas has returned to town as a constable…and Larry is once again the suspect when another girl disappears. An American Library Association Notable book in 2011, this novel won a Los Angeles Book Prize and was nominated for the Edgar and Anthony awards.
Anne Perry, The Face of a Stranger (1990). William Monk awakens in hospital without his memory. They tell him he is a London police detective, and, desperate to escape his grimy surroundings, he hides his amnesia and returns to work. While investigating the murder of a young nobleman he uncovers clues about his own identity, and he doesn’t much like what he learns about himself. This fine Victorian mystery, the first in the series, was nominated for an Agatha Award.
Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers (1997). It is a senseless and violent crime. An elderly farmer and his wife are murdered, and the dying woman’s last word is foreign. Not much of a clue for Kurt Wallander, recently divorced and drinking too much, but enough to inflame anti-immigrant sentiment. This series debut won the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Best Swedish Crime Novel award in 1991.
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Blood Sinister (2001). Detective Inspector Bill Slider investigates the murder of Phoebe Agnew, a journalist famous as a champion of the underdog and a fierce critic of the police. Did she uncover one secret too many, or was the motive more personal? Booklist calls this “another superb procedural from Harrod-Eagles, whose Slider series belongs right up there with the work of John Harvey and Ian Rankin.”
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know (2007). Thirty years ago two young sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and investigators have always wondered – how do you kidnap two girls from a busy mall and leave behind no clues or witnesses? Detective Kevin Infante is the latest to ponder these questions when a woman involved in a hit-and-run tells the police she is one of the girls. Lippman has won numerous awards for her novels, including the Edgar, the Shamus, the Agatha and the Nero Wolfe.
Margery Allingham, More Work for the Undertaker (1964). Aristocratic amateur sleuth Albert Campion is called in to investigate the death of Ruth Palinode, one of an eccentric family who live on the seemingly quiet and cozy Apron Street. Yet ruthless criminals blanch at the mere mention of Apron Street, and the police are baffled. Allingham wrote during the Golden Age of mystery writing, and remains widely read and highly regarded. The BBC adapted many of her mysteries for television.
Bruce Macbain, Roman Games (2010). The time is 96 AD and the city is Rome. Notorious senatorial informer and libertine Sextus Verpa is stabbed to death in his bed. Under suspicion: his slaves. Which one? It doesn’t matter. They will all be put to death unless Plinius Secundus, aka Pliny the Younger, is able to discover the murderer before the law courts return from their holiday recess. This vivid tale is local author Macbain’s debut mystery.
Caroline Graham, The Killings at Badger's Drift (1987). When 80-year-old spinster Emily Simpson is found dead in her cozy little cottage in the tranquil village of Badger’s Drift, the doctor is quick to find that a heart attack was the cause of death. Her closest friend refuses to accept that diagnosis, and Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby is called in to investigate. This book won the 1989 Macavity award for best first mystery novel and was named one of the top 100 crime novels of all time. The popular British television show Midsomer Murders is based on this series.
Lawrence Block, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (1997). Alcoholic ex-cop Matt Scudder is an unlicensed private eye who does favors for friends in New York City. He’s kept busy during the summer of 1975 with three seemingly separate cases: clearing a salesman suspected of killing his wife, ransoming a set of books not meant to be seen by the IRS, and identifying the armed robbers of an after hours bar. Block is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, and this novel was a Shamus award nominee and winner of the Japanese Maltese Falcon award.
Margaret Maron, The Bootlegger's Daughter (1992). North Carolina lawyer Deborah Knott is running for the Colleton County judgeship while investigating an eighteen-year-old mystery. Gayle Whitehead never knew her mother, who was murdered when Gayle was a baby. Neither she nor Deborah expects the investigation to lead to new murders. This novel, the first in a series, won all four major mystery awards: the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar and Macavity.
Dick Francis, Forfeit (1968). Reporter James Tyrone becomes suspicious when racing columnist Bert Chekov recommends some “can’t lose” horses – then dies in an “accidental” fall from a window. But even Tyrone’s experience at a London scandal sheet fails to prepare him for what he uncovers when he looks into his colleague’s death. Dick Francis is the only three-time recipient of the Edgar Award for Best Novel. He won one of them for Forfeit in 1970.
Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009). Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce has a passion for poisons. This turns out to be a good thing for her father, the widowed Colonel de Luce, after he is accused of murder. Flavia is the only member of her eccentric family who ever uses the long-abandoned Victorian chemistry laboratory in their ancient country house, and she is determined to discover who is really responsible for the corpse in the cucumber patch. This first mystery has deservedly won a number of awards, including the Agatha, the Dilys and the CWA Debut Dagger.
Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone (1977). On Valentine’s Day, four members of the Coverdale family – George, Jacqueline, Melinda and Giles – were murdered in the space of fifteen minutes. This novel, called a “classic” by the London Times, opens with one of the most famous first lines in crime fiction. In 1991 Rendell received the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs (2003). Maisie Dobbs is hired by Christopher Davenham to follow his wife Celia when he believes she is having an affair. As Maisie follows Celia to the grave of a casualty of the Great War, it brings home the state of affairs in London ten years after the war to end all wars. Maisie Dobbs won the Agatha and Macavity awards for Best First Mystery, and was a New York Times Notable Book.
Robert B. Parker, Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980). Wisecracking Boston private eye Spenser is hired to protect Rachel Wallace, a woman with a lot of enemies. Unable to agree with his methods, Rachel ends up firing him, but when she disappears Spenser is determined to find her. Parker was awarded the 2002 Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder must advertise (1933). In this classic of the Golden Age, Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover in the offices of Pym's Publicity, a respectable London advertising agency. Ad man Victor Dean has been killed in a fall down a spiral staircase and he left behind a half finished letter with allegations of criminal goings-on at the agency. This entertaining tale is one of five Sayers' titles on the Mystery Writers of America's list of the Top 100 Mystery Novels of all Time.
Carl Hiaasen, Sick puppy (2000). When Palmer Stoat notices the black pickup truck following him, he is afraid his precious Range Rover is about to be carjacked. But Twilly Spree, the man tailing him, has vengeance, not sport-utility vehicles, on his mind. This blackly humorous novel showcases all the reasons why The London Observer has called Hiaasen "America's finest satirical novelist".
P.D. James, The murder room (2003). Commander Adam Dalgliesh is already acquainted with the Dupayne – a museum dedicated to the interwar years, with a room celebrating the most notorious murders of that time – when he is called to investigate the killing of one of the family trustees. It seems the victim was seeking to close the museum against the wishes of fellow trustees and the museum’s devoted staff. The recipient of many prizes and honors, the author was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991.
Robert Barnard, A scandal in Belgravia (1991). Thirty years after young aristocrat Timothy Wycliffe was bludgeoned to death in his elegantly furnished flat in Belgravia, his friend Peter Proctor, a retired Member of Parliament, is writing his memoirs. When he keeps getting sidetracked by speculations on Timothy’s unsolved murder, he decides to investigate. Barnard is an eight time Edgar nominee and the winner of the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger and Nero Wolfe awards.
Tony Hillerman, Dance hall of the dead (1973). Two boys disappear, and Lt. Joe Leaphorn sets out to locate them. Three things complicate his search: an archaeological dig, a steel hypodermic needle, and the laws of the Zuni Indians. Covering the huge expanse of the tribal grounds, Leaphorn tries to follow the clues in the native sphere, but finds himself drawn toward the white culture for the reasons behind these murders. This fascinating story from the bestselling author of Talking God and Skinwalkers won an Edgar for Best Mystery Novel.
Walter Mosley, Devil in a blue dress (1990). Los Angeles, 1948: Easy Rawlins is a black war veteran just fired from his job at a defense plant. He is drinking in a friend's bar, wondering how he'll meet his mortgage, when a white man in a linen suit walks in, offering good money if Easy will simply locate Miss Daphne Money, a blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs. Winner of the Shamus for Best First Novel.
Donna Andrews, Six geese a-slaying (2008). Meg Langslow has been volunteered to organize the annual Caerphilly Christmas parade. The parade features a live nativity scene on a flatbed truck, the Three Wise Men on camels and Santa Claus in a horse-drawn sleigh, plus 12 drummers, 11 bagpipers, etc. Meg’s job is already hard enough when her nephew Eric, wide-eyed and ashen-faced, whispers, “Meg, something’s wrong with Santa.” Andrews has won the Agatha, Anthony and Barry awards, and a Lefty for funniest mystery.
Charles Todd, A test of wills (1996). Ian Rutledge left a brilliant career at Scotland Yard to fight in the Great War. In 1919 he is back, hiding the fact that he is suffering from shell shock from his superiors. Then he is assigned a case that promises to spell disaster. A popular retired military officer has been murdered, and the chief suspect is a much decorated war hero and a friend of the Prince of Wales. This impressive debut was an Anthony and Edgar nominee and a Barry Award winner for Best First Novel.
Donna Leon, Friends in high places (2000). Commissario Guido Brunetti is visited by a young bureaucrat looking into the lack of official approval for the construction of Brunetti’s apartment years before. Annoyance turns to suspicion when the young man, clearly afraid of heights, is found dead after a mysterious fall from a scaffold. Brunetti starts an investigation that will take him into the dangerous areas of drug abuse and loan-sharking, and will reveal, once again, what a difference it makes in Venice to have friends in high places. Winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger.
Deborah Crombie, Dreaming of the bones (1997). Crombie has been nominated for virtually every major mystery award for her brilliant police procedurals featuring Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, who are personally and professionally entwined. In this New York Times Notable Book, Duncan’s ex-wife, a Cambridge biographer, asks for his help in proving that her current subject was not a suicide but was in fact murdered. Initially skeptical, he finds aspects of the case that arouse his own suspicions.
Louise Penny, Still life (2006). “Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round.” Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec and his team are called in to investigate a suspicious death that the locals in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines are sure is just a tragic hunting accident. Winner of the New Blood Dagger in Britain and the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for best first crime novel.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The laughing policeman (1970). The Mystery Writers of America chose this title as one of the best 100 mystery novels of all time. It is Christmas in Stockholm, and Inspector Martin Beck is called to the scene of the first mass murder in Sweden. A bus driver and eight passengers have been mown down by machine gun – and one of the victims was a young policeman who worked under Beck. Was he the target? This classic police procedural won the Edgar Award, the only translated novel ever to have done so.
Tess Gerritsen, The bone garden (2007). Present day: Julia Hamill discovers the remains of a long dead woman in the garden of her newly purchased home in rural Massachusetts. Boston, 1830: An impoverished medical student joins local “resurrectionists” and finds that selling bodies on the black market makes him a prime suspect when a nurse and doctor are murdered. Gerritsen interweaves 19th and 21st century narratives, and “the story, which digs up a dark Boston of times long past, entices readers to keep turning pages long after their bedtimes.” (Kirkus Reviews)
William Tapply, One-way ticket (2007). Boston lawyer Brady Coyne is at home in his townhouse on Beacon Hill, Sam Adams in hand and happy that the Sox are ahead, when a client calls from the ER. Seems Dalton Lancaster has been severely beaten by a group of thugs – and he refuses to call the police. He wants Brady’s help. Publisher’s Weekly is rightfully enthusiastic about this 23rd entry in the series, saying “fans will cheer Tapply’s engaging hero every step of the way”.
Linda Barnes, Deep pockets (2004). Harvard professor Wilson Chaney hires Boston private investigator Carlotta Carlyle to track down a blackmailer and put a stop to the blackmail before his comfortable life and career are ruined. Publisher’s Weekly said “The twists and turns in this nail-biter are at once startling without ever becoming absurd.” Award-winning local author Barnes has created a memorable sleuth in the 6’1” redheaded cop turned private eye.
Lindsey Davis, The silver pigs (1989). Davis received the 1999 Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective for her creation Marcus Didius Falco, an Informer in 70 AD Imperial Rome. In his debut, Falco is hired to discover who murdered a Senator’s niece, which sends him to Britain, where, according to the author, “the weather is filthy, the natives restless, the women angry, and his mission turns into a nightmare from which he only narrowly escapes alive.”
Peter Robinson, In a dry season (1999). Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks is assigned the case when Thornfield Reservoir dries up and a skeleton is exposed, wrapped in World War II blackout curtains. This novel won the Anthony, Barry, France’s Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award. And as if that weren’t enough, Stephen King says this is “the best series now on the market.”
Raymond Chandler, The big sleep (1939). “I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be.” Los Angeles P.I. Philip Marlowe is hired to collect the gambling debts of General Sherman’s daughter Vivian from a small time hood named Eddie Mars who may also be blackmailing the family. Time magazine included this classic hardboiled mystery in its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923-2005.
Jan Burke, Goodnight, Irene (1993). “He loved to watch fat women dance. I guess O’Connor’s last night on the planet was a happy one because that night he had an eyeful of the full-figured.” Former newspaper reporter Irene Kelly is drawn back to her old job when her best friend O’Connor is murdered…and all because of an unsolved, three-decades-old murder the veteran newspaperman wouldn’t let rest in peace. Burke’s clever debut was an Agatha and an Anthony Award nominee.
Peter Lovesey, Bloodhounds (1996). “Darling, if ever I’ve met a group of potential murderers anywhere, it’s the Bloodhounds.” Peter Lovesey won the Macallan CWA Silver dagger, as well as the Barry and Macavity Awards with this tale of the Bloodhounds of Bath, a group that meets in a crypt to discuss crime novels until the corpse of one of the Bloodhounds is found in a locked houseboat, with the only key held by a man with a perfect alibi. Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond investigates.
Rex Stout, The doorbell rang (1965). An extremely wealthy woman offers Nero Wolfe the largest retainer he has ever seen if he can stop the FBI from harassing her. His publishers considered this the finest detective story ever written by Rex Stout.
Laurie King. The beekeeper's apprentice (1994). “I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.” In the fiercely intelligent Mary Russell, King has created a young woman who can more than hold her own with the Great Detective. This was chosen as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.
Reginald Hill. On Beulah Height (1998). Fifteen years after the small Yorkshire village of Dendale was flooded to create a reservoir and three young girls disappeared, drought begins to expose the landscape and 7-year-old Lorraine Dacre goes missing. Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel, a cop on the case when the first girls vanished, is determined to find her. Hill won the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime contribution to crime writing in 1995.
Sharyn McCrumb, If ever I return, pretty Peggy-O (1990). 1960s folksinger Peggy Muryan moves to Hamelin, Tennessee in search of peace and quiet, but instead receives threatening messages that culminate in the murder of a woman who looks like her. This novel was a New York Times Notable Book and a Macavity Award winner for best novel.
Donald Westlake, The ax (1997). When paper company executive Burke Devore is laid off, he decides that the only way to get a new job is to kill the competition in this blackly humorous tale. Westlake received the prestigious Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.
Carolyn Hart, Letter from home (2003). 13-year-old Gretchen Gilman’s life is changed forever when murder strikes her small Oklahoma town in the summer of 1944. This poignant novel was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and won the Agatha Award for Best Mystery of 2003.
Josephine Tey, The daughter of time (1951). Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard is in the hospital recovering from a broken leg when he happens upon a portrait of Richard III. Deciding that "Nothing in that face fits the facts of history," Grant sets out to solve the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, undeterred that the "crime" took place over 400 years in the past. Noted crime writer and reviewer H.R.F. Keating placed The daughter of time on his list of 100 Best Crime and Mystery Books.
Ngaio Marsh, Vintage murder (1937). Scotland Yard detective Roderick Alleyn is on vacation in New Zealand when he meets the members of a traveling British theatre troupe. When the group's manager is murdered, the local police are happy to have Alleyn's assistance in solving this Golden Age puzzle.
Arthur Conan Doyle, The hound of the Baskervilles (1901). "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!" And the game is afoot for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, as the world's most famous detective travels to the moors of Devonshire in an attempt to solve the mystery that has cursed generations of the unfortunate Baskerville family.
Agatha Christie, The murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). When murder strikes the cozy English village of King's Abbot, retired Belgian detective Hercule Poirot investigates. This classic mystery features one of the greatest and most controversial endings in the genre's history.