Tag Archives For: mystery

06 Mar, 2017

A Great Reckoning

/ posted in: Reading A Great Reckoning A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books on August 30th 2016
Genres: Crime & Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 389
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Goodreads

When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes.
Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go but must.
And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map.


I had never heard of this detective series until BEA 2016 when Louise Penny was one of the speakers at the adult breakfast.  This is the twelfth book in the series.  Normally I would never start a series in the middle but I had a copy of the book so I decided to try it.

This seems like a good place for new readers to start.  From what I gathered from the text, the detective at the heart of the story had investigated police corruption.  After this investigation, a lot of high ranking people were arrested.  The detective retired from the police.  Now he is taking an interim job as the director of the police academy.  He knows that a lot of students are coming out of the school predisposed to brutal conduct.  He wants to change the culture of the training.

You don’t need to know much about what happened before to enjoy this book.  What you need is explained in the text.  The detective lives in a small town that is not on any maps.  An old map of his town is found in a wall in a local shop.  It has a lot of strange pictures on it.  As an exercise, he gives a few cadets copies of the map and asks them to figure out the mystery behind it.  Then his major suspect for teaching police misconduct is murdered and a copy of the map is in his nightstand.  The detective thinks someone is trying to frame one of the students – a girl whom he admitted to the school after she was previously turned away.

There are several mysteries explored in this book. Who killed the professor? Why did the new director admit this girl to the school? Why isn’t the town of Three Pines on any official maps?  Who made the one map it is on?

This book is set in Quebec City and the surrounding countryside.  I haven’t read many books set in Quebec.  The author lives there and her love for the community and culture comes through.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who like police stories and mysteries.  It was interesting enough that I will pick up future books.  I probably won’t go backwards because reading this one does tell you what happened in the previous books.

 

About Louise Penny

She lives with her husband, Michael, and a golden retriever named Trudy, in a small village south of Montreal.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
12 Jan, 2017

Kingdom of Strangers

/ posted in: Reading Kingdom of Strangers Kingdom of Strangers Series: Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #3
on June 5th 2012
Genres: Mystery & Detective
Pages: 375
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Saudi Arabia

“A secret grave in the desert is unearthed revealing the mutilated bodies of nineteen women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade.
However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani, is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing, since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women on the force. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own.”


This is the third book in this wonderful mystery series that features a woman trying to advance in the man’s world of Saudi Arabia.  Katya is officially a forensics tech.  She wants to be a detective but that is not allowed.  There is push back now about even allowing women to work in the police department at all.  Some people only want women to do things men absolutely can’t like search female suspects and handle female corpses.

Katya has set out to make herself necessary.  Now a gravesite with nineteen women has been found and she wants to help with the case.  When an expert on serial killers is brought in to help with the case and she turns out to be female, Katya is excited but worried about the hostility this brings up in her male coworkers.

She is also worried about her secret getting out.  Only married women are allowed to work for the police.  She isn’t married but has been pretending that she is.  Now she is actually getting married and her father wants to invite everyone.  She is also having concerns about the marriage.  Nayir, her fiance who she met in the first book, is much more conservative than she is.  She can tell that he is uneasy about her working with men.  Will he try to control her once they marry even if he claims that he won’t now?

The author lived in Saudi Arabia and that shows in the small details of her writing.  The story seems to have a strong sense of place in Jeddah.  There are many issues brought up in this book.

The mistreatment of Asian women

Many Asian women are brought to Saudi Arabia to work as maids.  Abuse is rampant.  The women are charged fees to get jobs.  They can’t always pay back the fees and end up in virtual slavery.  Some are repeatedly raped.  The mystery in this book focuses on the difficulty of solving crimes involving these women because so many run away from the abuse and are not reported missing.

Morality as a weapon

Enforcement of morality is a theme in several parts of this book.  The investigation is dragging on because the head coroner won’t let men handle the bodies of the murdered women to preserve their modesty in death.  But, there aren’t enough women to process the bodies quickly because they don’t like to hire women.

Old case files have the pictures of female victims removed because of modesty making it hard to compare them to new cases.

A missing woman can’t be reported missing because the only person who knows that she is gone is her married lover.  If it is found out that they were together, she will be charged with prostitution and he will be charged with adultery.

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Even if you aren’t a big mystery fan, I’d recommend this series for the details of life in modern day Saudi Arabia.

About Zoe Ferraris

Zoë Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.

In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

She currently lives in San Francisco.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in the Middle East
29 Aug, 2016

Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness

/ posted in: Reading Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness (Ethical Chiang Mai Detective Agency #1) by David Casarett
Published by Redhook on September 13th 2016
Genres: Crime & Mystery
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Thailand

“Two nights ago, a young woman brought her husband into the emergency room of the Sriphat Hospital in Thailand, where he passed away. A guard thinks she remembers her coming in before, but with a different husband – one who also died.
 Ladarat Patalung, for one, would have been happier without a serial murderer-if there is one — loose in her hospital. Then again, she never expected to be a detective in the first place.
 And now, Ladarat has no choice but to investigate…”


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Ladarat Patalung is a nurse ethicist at a hospital in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. When a police detective asks for her help in searching records to see if this woman has brought other men to the hospital, she finds herself falling in love with the idea of being a detective.

Her life has been stagnant. She was widowed twelve years ago after just a few years of marriage. Her life revolves around her job and her cat. Now she is being proactive and getting involved in the lives of people around her.

It becomes obvious very quickly that this book is written by a Western man for an intended audience who is not familiar with Thai culture. Terms that would be easily recognized by a Thai audience are painstakingly defined. The author has spent a lot of time in Thailand and has done a lot of research but it does distance the reader from the story. He works all this detail in by having Ladarat contemplate everything around her very deeply. It makes her come off as a very cerebral and unemotional character who is always partially removed from the people and circumstances around her.

I love the premise of the main mystery. Why does a woman bring in a second dead husband a few months after her last one died? That’s what made me interested in the book. I also haven’t read many books set in Thailand. However, there are several other plots in this book and sometimes that mystery gets forgotten for a while. There is the story of an American man who is injured while on his honeymoon. This serves to set up discussions on American versus Thai responses to health care and crises. There is also a mystery man hanging out in the waiting room who never speaks to anyone. Ladarat is charged with getting rid of him because there is an inspection of her hospital in a few days and the administration doesn’t want homeless people hanging around.

I did learn about Thai culture and attitudes while reading this book.  I’d recommend this for people who like deliberately paced stories with plenty of slice of life details about places that they aren’t familiar with.  Another book that does this well is The Marriage Bureau for Rich People.

3s

17 Jun, 2016

IQ – Sherlock Holmes in East Long Beach

/ posted in: Reading IQ – Sherlock Holmes in East Long Beach IQ by Joe Ide
Published by Mulholland Books on October 18th 2016
Genres: Crime & Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in California

East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood's high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can't or won't touch. They call him IQ. He's a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he's forced to take on clients that can pay. This time, it's a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.


Isaiah Quintabe’s whole world fell apart when his brother Marcus died leaving teenaged Isaiah on his own.  In order to make his rent he gets a local drug dealer and petty criminal named Dodson as a room mate.  It changes both of their lives.

Now years later Dodson has a case that he thinks Isaiah would be interested in.  It has a huge paycheck attached and Dodson has decided to help out to get his cut – whether Isaiah wants him around or not.

This book reminded me a lot of a Carl Hiaasen novel.  The mystery is convoluted.  The characters are quirky and unexpected.  The book is laugh out loud funny at times.

  • IQ is a loner who is brilliant and who has trained himself to be observant and make deductions like Sherlock Holmes
  • Dodson is a drug dealer who wants to move on to crimes with a better class of criminals
  • Deronda is a woman from IQ and Dodson’s past who is looking to be become famous any way possible
  • Cal is a depressed rap superstar who has a greedy entourage
  • Add in a hit man with an obsession with breeding the perfect attack dogs

The story is told through dual time lines.

Present Day

Cal is too depressed to leave his house and go into the studio to record his contractually obligated next album.  Anything he writes is way too depressing to record anyway.  He is attacked in his house by a gigantic dog.  He only gets away by falling in the pool and making so much noise that the neighbor calls the police.  A man comes out of the woods to get the dog and lets Cal live.  Isaiah takes the case.

In the Past

Dodson has just moved in with a grieving Isaiah.  He realizes that he has a genius as a room mate and that genius is in need of money.  He decides to put Isaiah’s brain to use to think up better criminal activities.

It is interesting to see what happens in the past to make Isaiah the detective that he is today.  This is supposed to be the start of a series and I can’t wait to see what Isaiah gets up to next.

My only quibble is that at one point they rob a pet store and take feline epilepsy test strips.  I wish they would have gotten me some.  Those would be handy since nothing like that actually exists.  The author probably meant feline diabetes test strips.  Sorry, that’s my veterinarian side coming out.

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First come first served and if you want to throw in a few dollars for shipping that would be great but not required.

 

29 Jan, 2016

Strange Gods

/ posted in: Reading Strange Gods Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri
on June 24th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Kenya

In early 20th century British East Africa, there are rules for the British and different ones for the Africans. Vera McIntosh, the daughter of Scottish missionaries, doesn't feel she belongs to either group; having grown up in Africa, she is not interested in being the well-bred Scottish woman her mother would like her to be. More than anything she dreams of seeing again the handsome police officer she's danced with. But more grisly circumstances bring Justin Tolliver to her family's home.


Vera’s uncle is the doctor at the Scottish mission where Vera lives.  His body is found with a Masaai spear in his back.  The colonial government wants a suspect in custody rapidly and seizes upon a local witch doctor who has been highly critical of the white doctor.  The African people know that he would never have done this in this manner.  A cursory investigation points at several English suspects but this is not acceptable to the local authorities.

Vera, Justin Tolliver an English policeman, and Kwai Libazo, a half Masaai/half Kikuyu policeman are left to investigate on their own if they want to get the real killer before an innocent man is executed.

This book captures an era where British landowners were running roughshod over the local tribes in Kenya.  There were African police employed by the British but they were not allowed to be seen having any authority over Europeans.  They weren’t allowed to speak in meetings about cases.  Police investigations did not bother to interview Kikuyu people who may have information about crimes.  The goal was to show that this was a safe place for British people and to keep Africans subjugated.

Vera was born in Africa to Scottish parents.  She was raised by her Kikuyu “second mother”.  She understands the unfairness of British rule and the resentments of the African people but can’t do anything about it because of her sheltered status as an unmarried European woman.

Justin has come to love Africa.  He is the second son of an Earl but his local status fell sharply when he joined the police.  Now he is ostracized from society in Nairobi.

Kwai wants to learn about how the British investigate crimes but is seen as a traitor because he works for the occupiers.  He has never fit in anywhere because of being half Masaai.  He has never been fully accepted by either tribe.

There is a casual racism throughout this book that was probably typical of the time.  Even characters who are supposed to be enlightened are dismissive of most Africans.  Attempts are made to include the Kikuyu point of view but I’m not sure how effective it is.  They seem a bit too passive for everything that is happening to them. This may be because we are only hearing the stories of Africans who have chosen to work closely with the British.

08 Jan, 2016

City of Veils – a mystery set in Saudi Arabia

/ posted in: Reading City of Veils – a mystery set in Saudi Arabia City of Veils on August 9th 2010
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Saudi Arabia

Women in Saudi Arabia are expected to lead quiet lives circumscribed by Islamic law and tradition. But Katya, one of the few women in the medical examiner's office, is determined to make her work mean something.
When the body of a brutally beaten woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, the city's detectives are ready to dismiss the case as another unsolvable murder-chillingly common in a city where the veils of conservative Islam keep women as anonymous in life as the victim is in death. If this is another housemaid killed by her employer, finding the culprit will be all but impossible.


  • An American woman living in Saudi Arabia for a year with her husband isn’t met at the airport when she returns from a month in the U.S.  After her husband finally arrives to get her out of the Unclaimed Women* room, he takes her home and runs out to get dinner.  He puts the food on the table and then disappears.
  • The body of a woman is found on the beach.  She is not easily identified because her face and hands have been burned beyond recognition.

Katya Hijazi is a laboratory technician in the forensic lab in Jeddah.  She would like to do more but her opportunities are limited.  Her break comes when one of the few female police officers who goes on murder investigations is fired because she lied about being married.  Katya is lying too.  Unmarried women aren’t allowed to work for the police in Saudi Arabia.

Nayir Sharqi is a desert guide with nothing to do during the hottest time of the year when no one wants to go to the desert.  It has been eight months since he last talked to Katya, who he met while working with the investigation in Finding Nouf. He was considering marriage when she suddenly stopped communicating with him.  Now his uncle wants him to ask her about a friend of his who died.  This opens up lines of communication again.  When Katya finds out that the dead girl was involved in making documentaries about the origins of the Qu’ran, she enlists Nayir to read through the documents she’s found because of his knowledge of the scriptures.  What he reads shakes the underpinnings of his faith – as does his involvement with Katya and a police officer who has his own code of justice that uses logic and mercy but doesn’t always conform with the letter of the law.

This is the second book in the series set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  When I think of Saudi Arabia, I don’t often think of the beach.  Jeddah is a coastal town and the water plays as much of a part in the lives of the people there as the desert.

This is a very nuanced look at life in Saudi Arabia and the women who live in virtual seclusion there. The author is a white woman who lived in Saudi Arabia with her husband’s family. That informs her description of Miriam, the American woman who has been left stranded when her husband disappears.  She also has small insights into life in Saudi Arabia.  How do men who have to pick up women to drive them home from work pick out the right person from a group of burka-clad women?  Look at the purse and then hope she recognizes you.

She writes compassionately about men struggling to adapt to a world where women are being granted rights that they think conflicts with their faith. She explains the frustrations of the women who want to do more with their lives than be sheltered.

 

She explains the complications of a murder investigation in a world where men can deny police interviews with female relatives. How do you recreate the life of a victim who has lived her life mostly hidden?

This is a great series and I’m looking forward to reading the last book soon.

 

*Seriously, Unclaimed Women?  Like baggage?  That’s just rude. Women aren’t allowed to enter the country without a man to be in charge of them.

About Zoe Ferraris

Zoë Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.

In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

She currently lives in San Francisco.

19 Oct, 2015

Finding Nouf: a mystery set in Saudi Arabia

/ posted in: Reading Finding Nouf:  a mystery set in Saudi Arabia Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
Series: Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #1
on 2009-05
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective
Pages: 305
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

Fast-paced and utterly transporting, "Finding Nouf" is a riveting literary mystery and an unprecedented window into the lives of men and women in Saudi Arabia.
When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir al-Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. But when the coroner's office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened.


When a 16 year old girl from a wealthy Saudi family goes missing along with a truck and her camel, her family assumes that she ran into the desert.  They hire their desert guide Nayir Sharqi to lead the search team.  When she is found, the official story of her death and recovery don’t make sense to him.  Then a family member asks him to investigate to find out what really happened.

The mystery of what happened to Nouf wasn’t the point of this book for me.  Nayir is a very devout Palestinian man living in Saudi Arabia.  He was raised by his unmarried uncle.  He has almost no contact with women at all.  He doesn’t understand them and this society doesn’t allow him to meet them.  He starts to realize the depth of his ignorance when trying to understand the motivation of Nouf.  He is also uncomfortable to be working with Katya, a woman in the pathology lab and the fiance of his contact in the Shrawi family.

I found the explanations of the gender conflict in Saudi Arabia to be the most interesting parts of the book. 

Nayir is talking to Muhammad, Nouf’s paid escort for when she wanted to leave the family compound without one of her brothers.  He introduced his wife, Hend.

“Nayir sipped his tea and marveled at the casual way that Muhammad had spoken of his wife.  There had been no need to explain who she was, and telling Nayir her name was something else entirely.  It put Muhammad squarely in the category of young infidel wannabe.  Gone were the days of calling one’s wife “the mother of Muhammad Junior”; today women had first names, last names, jobs and whatnot.  He wondered how many men had known Nouf’s name.”


Later there is this sign at the zoo.

CHILDREN MAY BE ACCOMPANIED BY EITHER THEIR MOTHER OR FATHER BUT NOT BOTH PARENTS.  BOYS OVER THE AGE OF 10 ARE CONSIDERED ADULTS.


Even the women have been conditioned to think this is normal.  In this passage Katya is thinking about her fiance and his attitude towards her.

“With dismay, she came upon a painful truth:  that a modern, enlightened man like Othman, the sort of man who could actually meet a woman in public and not think she was a whore, might not have enough within him to sustain a passionate relationship.”

 

I was reading this book on vacation at the pool when a Muslim family came in.  The mother and teenage daughter were wearing hijabs and long sleeved, long pant bathing suits.  The adult male was wearing swimming trunks and showing off his tattoos.  The double standard was jarring especially while reading about so many examples of women being treated as lesser beings in this book. If women choose to dress modestly because they believe it is part of the tenets of their religion, fine. But if they are told that they have to because they are responsible for hiding themselves to protect men from having to control their thoughts, then that is not ok.

While being forced to work with and consider the lives of women over the course of the investigation, Nayir starts to reconsider his ideas of proper etiquette.  There are two more books in the series and I am interested in reading them to see how this develops.

About Zoe Ferraris

Zoë Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.

In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

She currently lives in San Francisco.

25 Nov, 2014

Dick Francis’s Damage

/ posted in: Reading

I don’t read a lot of mysteries, especially series of mysteries. This author is one I read routinely though. I appreciate that there isn’t a repeating character that always finds a dead body and takes it on himself to investigate. If that happens over and over to a person, I start thinking they must be a serial killer. This author writes characters that have a legitimate cause for investigating the crime at hand. They aren’t just nosy busy bodies.

In Damage, Jeff Hinckley is an investigator for the British Horseracing Authority. A murder is committed by a suspect he’s trailing through a crowd at an event. The murderer was banned from racing because his horses were drugged but he claimed he didn’t do it. Now other trainers are receiving threats to pay money or their horses will be drugged. Maybe the investigation into the first trainer was flawed?

When every horse at an event tests positive for the same drug, the BHA receives a threat. Pay 5 million pounds or it will happen again. Hinckley is assigned to find out what is going on. The sabotage starts escalating from drugged horses to sick people to accidents on course.

The interesting part of the book for me was figuring out how these things were happening. All do you drug all the horses at an event, for example? The main character is good at disguises and going undercover.

There are some side stories in here that distract a bit from the main plot. The resolution of the plot seems abrupt and slightly anticlimactic. I felt sort of, “Well, that’s that then” at the end but it was interesting and kept me reading up to that point.

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