Tag Archives: mystery

Same Time, Same Place by David Barnett

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Same Time, Same Place by David Barnett

Barnett, Dave. Same Time, Same Place. Sourcebooks, 2022. ISBN 9781728249506 336 pp. $16.99

*****

Daisy and Nate are guards at a social history museum, on opposite shifts. Someone jokes that is would make more sense for Daisy to be on days and Nate on nights, but that’s not how it worked out and it’s for the best: Nate is a warm people person and Daisy is well, a bit curmudgeonly, as she follows an exact protocol each shift. Her reports end up in the circular file and the handoff efforts are met with b=gentle teasing.

Thanks to her observance, though, it’s Daisy who notices objects are disappearing–and returning!–from their displays and wants to not only document it, but solve the mystery. Nate gamely joins forces. In the meantime, their supervisor is much more concerned with a campaign to increase the museum’s visibility and bring in new revenue, while a coworker seems to be setting her cap for Nate just as Daisy’s interest is getting piqued.

Alternating chapters reveal character slowly. Daisy has a past trauma that is just alluded to, while Nate is more open about his abusive childhood: getting beaten up by his boxer father who didn’t seem to understand where the line between in the ring and at home was. It’s clear (to me!) as time passes that in addition to being traumatize, Daisy is on the spectrum. At home, she and her sister are caretakers for their mother, dying of cancer; Nate is caretaker to Ben, his 10-year-old son who is coping with his parent’s divorce and mother’s new boyfriend by hanging on a the street corner with a not-very-nice gang of older boys.

Same Time, Same Place looks at a glance like a romance or mystery novel; it contains elements of both, but ultimately is a more psychological and inspiration tale about flipping the narrative. Both characters suffer from the effect of events in their past that form their identity. Nate comments that “History is just the stories we tell ourselves about what happened to make us what we are. Sometimes the stories are true, sometimes they’re not.” The true denouement is not the museum’s solvency, the artifacts disappearance resolved, or even their attraction, but Daisy coming to the same realization that we don’t have to be our past, which ultimately is what allows their relationship to move forward.

Along the way, Barnett addresses family dynamics, racism (subtly) and modern life in Manchester (UK). Superbly written, he masters the voice of both genders. The clever cover design, a diagonal split of deep blue and sunny yellow, represent the many dualities of the novel: Nate and Daisy’s stories, work shifts, custodial responsibilities, traumatic backgrounds, and tandem voices.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #SameTimeSamePlace from #NetGalley

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

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The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

de Gramont, Nina. The Christie Affair. St. Martin’s Press, 2022. ISBN 978-1250274618 320 pp. $27.99

*****

I readily admit to being a bit of a lazy reader: I read to escape, I want to be entertained, and I read nonfiction, not mystery, to exercise my brain. I was attracted by the jazz-age cover (those pearls!) and scintillating title, and it took midway through chapter two to realize the narrator was speaking about THAT Agatha Christie, of mystery novel fame. I almost put the book down several times, and am SO glad I stuck with it.

Nan O’Dea is in love with Archie Christie, who has promised to leave his wife for her. When he breaks the news to his wife Agatha, she goes missing for almost two weeks, amid scandal and intrigue (which is amazing for book sales!), and upon her return, does divorce, and both former spouses remarry. This inventive historical novel imagines why Nan, why now, and what happened during those pivotal eleven days. While the narrative gives insight into multiple characters, including the police inspector, it’s all as imagined by Nan (who may not even be a reliable narrator!) The story moves back and forth in time from Nan’s unsavory experience as an unmarried pregnant girl in a corrupted convent and a seductive mistress. The timeline is usually easy to follow (though there are one or two muddled times that took a little re-reading). In the midst of Christie’s disappearance, there is a murder mystery involving two guests near where the author is holed up.

Without giving away too much plot, I will say the voice and story are compelling, the plot brilliantly woven, and the tone reminiscent of Christie herself. Period details seem to be well-researched and the ending is extremely satisfying. I fully expect this to be an Edgar Award contender if not winner this year.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheChristieAffair from #NetGalley

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Lockhart, E. We Were Liars. Delacorte, 2014. ISBN 978-0385741262 256 pp. $

*****

I re-read this award-winning destined to be a classic again this year. The tight writing, suspenseful plot, over the top wealth, existential questions, and budding romance are a pull through the whole novel, a tale in which a damaged but privileged young woman returns to her family’s New England home on a private island to find it much changed. Her family seems to be walking on eggshells around her, and her beloved cousins are not much help recovering her missing memories. Without giving too much away, I will just say this is an unputdownable book that left me a little breathless.

Harriet Spies Again by Louise Fitzhugh

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Harriet Spies Again by Louise Fitzhugh

Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet Spies Again. Yearling, 2003 (reprint). $7.99

Harriet is missing her no-nonsense nanny, Ole Golly, and delighted at her return for three months while her parents are in France, but Ole Golly is sad, and depressed and… innocent (according to a overheard conversation)? The sleuth is determined to get to the bottom of why Ole Golly’s marriage failed with the help of Sport. A mysterious new neighbor is a nice foil to Harriet.

The dated feel, old New York setting, and delightful protagonist are a wonderful reminder of enjoying these books as a ten-year-old that didn’t fit in, and my neuro-atypical nine-year-old loved them when we read them together.

Darling Jim by Christian Mork

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Darling Jim by Christian Mork

Mork, Christian. Darling Jim. Henry Holt & Co, 2009. ISBN 978-0805089479 320 pp. $25

***

A Dublin postman makes the unfortunate discovery that someone on his route is deceased, but signs of a struggle and two other bodies discovered within the house indicate there is much more than meets the eye going on. His colleague is intrigued by story, and begins investigating the triple homicide of a maiden aunt and her two nieces.

I thought the language was beautiful, but didn’t like that we had to dig though so many layers to get to the story–we have the weird postman, then Niall, then the story delivered through the journals, and then within the journals, Jim’s allegoric storytelling. For all those points of view, there weren’t a lot of distinct voices, to me. Maybe for this reason, I found the pacing slow and the characters, uncompelling. Institutionalized racism gives the novel an old-timey tone, despite its present day setting.

The novel blends a strong sense of the gothic with fairytale elements, and when you add love for a bad boy, revenge, sex, and murder to the menu, it seems like all the right ingredients for an unputdownable book, and I really had to push to get through it. I did like how neatly the ending wrapped up, and thought that was cleverly done.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Bradley, Alan. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Delacorte, 2009. ISBN 978-0385342308 pp. $

****

When a man turns up dead in the garden, an aspiring child chemist tries to beat local law enforcement to the punch by conducting her own murder investigators. Eleven-year-old Flavia and her sister have an ongoing competition to off one another that is very Spy vs. Spy. This is a funny, fast paced, macabre mystery set across the pond, in the 1950s. Highly readable even for someone (like me!) who doesn’t particularly care for mysteries.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

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The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Morton, Kate. The Forgotten Garden. Pan, 2008. ISBN 9780330449601 645 pp. $

***

I gave this slow paced mystery about disposable girls almost 100 pages. A small child is abandoned on the wharf in Maryborough when her ship arrives from England; the dockmaster takes the little girl home, and since he and his wife have been trying (unsuccessfully) to have a child of their own, they keep her, calling her “Nell,” and then even relocate, when someone begins making inquiries about a lost girl years later.

Nell has amnesia, and doesn’t find out she is adopted until she comes of age. She has a daughter of her own, who abandons HER child, Cassandra, to Nell. It isn’t until Nell passes that her Cass realizes her background is one big unsolved puzzle, and sets off for England to find figure out the mystery of her ancestry. During the journey, Cass studies her grandmother’s diary and the little white suitcase–and it’s contents–Nell was carrying on her voyage.

Although the initial chapters are short, lending a fast-paced feel, there isn’t a lot of action; it’s all back story. The author has some clever turns of phrase (“he was a scribble of a man” is going to stick with me!). Then, on page 94, the author begins to introduce short stories written by Eliza Makepeace, a woman who lived on the grounds of the estate Nell grew up on, before her fateful sea voyage. Whomever can SHE be?

I admit, I skimmed all the way to the end, to discover that the author blatantly hits the reader over the head with the symbolism of the stories from the fairy tales, and to notice that throughout, characters conveniently discover everything they need to know through “research” which means serendipitously stumbling about exact, thorough sources.

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

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Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner. Best Friends Forever.

Best Friends Forever has a good hook, or maybe several good hooks, right at the beginning; any one of the first four chapters could have come first.

In spite of being estranged for 10 years after Addie “tattles” to her parents about the goings on at a party senior year, she doesn’t hesitate much in acquiescing to whatever Val wants when she shows up at Addie’s door the night of their high school reunion, fearful she may have accidentally killed a former classmate. Addie reflects on her childhood and difficult high school years as she and Val flee to Key West, pursued by a local police officer who has taken on the case of the belt found at the scene of the crime.

Except for the mystery part, this reminded me SO much of Blume’s Summer Sisters: the unbalanced friendship, casual parenting, disabled brother, missing person, summer/beach/swimming theme… even the portrayal of the best friend through multiple narrative voices, never her own. And, since I was a class of ’92 grad, this story had special appeal to me–lots of allusions and references that hit home.

Weiner is a decent writer who mixes intrigue, romance, and comedy with a healthy dose of wry sarcasm. A solid read.

Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn

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Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn

Quinn, Spencer. Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery. Atria, 2009. ISBN 978-1416585831 pp. $

****

In this missing person story, private investigator Bernie is accompanied on his cases by his loyal Chet, who has a real nose for solving mysteries. In this book, they are investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl.

I don’t care for dogs, mysteries or stories featuring talking animals–but I did enjoy Dog On It. The mix of humor, comedy and suspense is very well balanced. I especially admired the unique viewpoint and consistent voice–I think the author did a great job of capturing the essence of a dog.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris

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Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris

Harris, Charlaine. Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) Ace, 2001. ISBN 978-0441008537 292 pp. $

****

Sookie Stackhouse is a mind-reading waitress in Bon Temps, LA who falls for a tall dark and handsome newcomer … who turns out to be a vampire.

I am not a mystery fan, but spurred on by True Blood on HBO, I devoured this book in one setting and went on to finish the series. Funny, sexy, thought-provoking, great characterizations.