The Second Murderer
Many a mystery writer has taken a shot at reimagining the work of Raymond Chandler, usually with mixed results. But in The Second Murderer, Denise Mina seamlessly resurrects Chandler’s supersleuth Philip Marlowe, right from the opening line: “I was in my office, feet up, making use of a bottle of mood-straightener I kept in the desk.” As was often the case with Marlowe as penned by Chandler, our hero can be found in a high-society mansion in one scene and sleeping off a hangover in a Skid Row flophouse in the next, but he’s a breed apart in both milieus. The Second Murderer is a pre-World War II, Los Angeles-set PI mystery, but with a modern sensibility—and it plays much better than one might expect of such an amalgam. As Marlowe attempts to track down a missing socialite, he’s joined on the case by Anne Riordan, owner of her very own all-female detective agency. Mina has done what few before her have managed, ably resuscitating Marlowe for legions of Chandler fans yearning for one more installment.
A Killer in the Family
With last year’s inventive and suspenseful Little Sister, Gytha Lodge propelled herself onto mystery fans’ must-read lists (including that of this reader). I am happy to announce that her latest Jonah Sheen mystery, A Killer in the Family, is just as impressive. Aisling Cooley sends a DNA sample to an ancestry website in hopes of locating her long-missing father, but is horrified when she’s subsequently contacted by the police. Aisling’s DNA closely aligns with that found at a murder scene, one of the grisly tableaus created by the so-called “bonfire killer,” who leaves their victims on pyres in fields. Aisling’s sons—one lively and popular, the other brooding and taciturn—naturally pique the interest of the police, but Aisling’s father is of even greater interest. Before he disappeared 30 years ago, he left a cryptic note saying that he loved his family, but could not “keep living this duplicitous life.” Thus, Aisling finds herself caught on the horns of a dilemma: whether to assist the police or protect her family. Lodge has a surefire winner on her hands with A Killer in the Family, easily one of the most original mysteries since the aforementioned Little Sister.
A Chateau Under Siege
The medieval town of Sarlat is a bit outside the bailiwick of Bruno Courreges, everyone’s favorite French policeman since the days of Inspector Jacques Clouseau, but there is to be a reenactment of the liberation of the town from England during the Hundred Years’ War and Bruno is on hand for the festivities. When a horse slips and falls, its swordsman rider is forced to improvise his role in the choreographed performance. He winds up getting stabbed in front of the horrified onlookers and appears to be bleeding out. A doctor appears out of nowhere to take charge of the emergency and the patient is airlifted to a hospital, after which he vanishes from the face of the earth. Strange, right? It will get stranger, as Martin Walker’s A Chateau Under Siege, one of Bruno’s more unusual adventures, proceeds. Bruno is tasked with guarding the daughters of the victim, who may or may not have been a clandestine government agent of some sort. And, as happens with some regularity in the Bruno novels, our hero finds himself tangled up in a situation with international ramifications that would tax any small-town cop (other than Bruno, of course). Balzac the basset hound, always a welcome diversion, plays a minor but pivotal role, and as with all the preceding books in the series, A Chateau Under Siege is by turns suspenseful, amusing and, in its Gallic way, nothing short of charming.
★ Proud Sorrows
The latest Billy Boyle mystery from author James R. Benn, Proud Sorrows finds the wartime military investigator on leave in rural Norfolk, England, although it will prove to be the proverbial busman’s holiday, with little of the rest and recuperation the hero sorely needs after his adventures in the two previous novels, Road of Bones and From the Shadows. A downed German bomber that crashed two years prior resurfaces in a peculiar turn of the tides at a nearby bay. When one of the bodies found in the cockpit turns out to be that of an English officer, the case falls to Billy to investigate. It appears the English officer has been murdered, as his injuries are not consistent with the crash. It will not be the last murder tied to the bomber, however, as one of Billy’s informants, a shell-shocked veteran, gets stabbed to death in a melee following an air raid scare. Sir Richard Seaton, the father of Billy’s lover, Diana, is considered by police to be a good candidate for the perpetrator. To exonerate Sir Richard, Billy turns to his trusty allies: Kaz, with his powerful intellect; Big Mike, the tenderhearted muscle of the group; and quick-witted and lovable Diana. The mystery is first-rate, the dialogue is period correct and the series as a whole is the best set of wartime novels since those of the legendary Nevil Shute. Proud Sorrows is absolutely not to be missed!