Category Archives: Location Mystery

Last Breath – Robert Bryndza

Last Breath – Robert Bryndza I’ve read the kindle edition of this thrilling British police procedural. This is the forth in the DCI Erika Foster series.

As this story begins, a body has been uncovered in a trash bin in London. DI Peterson is called to the scene. Erika tags along on this snowy evening despite the fact that she is no longer part of the Murder Investigation Team. Peterson reports to DCI Marion Hudson, who though not on the scene, is still in charge of this investigation. Erika in her fashion ‘crashes’ in on the scene. Her current duties have her compiling administrative reports in Bromley. But being at the murder scene, and seeing it run poorly, gets Erika’s inner detective sparked, that, and Superintendent Sparks chasing her off probably had as much to do with her motivations. But a behind the scenes police investigation and an unforeseen circumstance align in such a way as to promote DCI Hudson to Acting Superintendent and DCI Forster can work the investigation.

While investigating this killing, Erik, through her connection with the pathologist Isaac, finds out that sloppy police work caused a killing with the same signature markings from going unnoticed, these are slow killings where the murderer seems to torture his victim a few days before killing them. So, now there are two brutal homicides. The killer has both luck and skill in hiding his identity as well as his crime and a third killing takes place. But as clues turn up and connections are made, Erika and her team get closer to the truth… As news that a third victim has been taken. With an increasing sense of urgency and a ticking clock until this next victim is killed the pace of this story really starts to race. And luck won’t be on the killer’s side for long…

This story certainty has Erika at her most introspective. As a reader of this series we’re starting to see much more growth in Erika, especially in her interactions with her various superiors up the chain of command. She still shows her indignation at police ‘perception’ motivations. When called in by the Assistant Commissioner she stands her ground while not getting much support from Acting Superintendent Hudson. But through her outside interactions with former Assistant Commissioner Marsh and her nemesis Superintendent Sparks, she begins to see things from their perspective. Which is one of those areas we see Erika becoming more forgiving of those around her.

And towards the end of this story, through her interactions with Isaac, Peterson and Hudson, Erika is really starting to take stock of her life. The choices she herself has made, as well as the circumstances that life has dealt to her. It seems that a certain amount of healing is taken place within her, and I look forward to seeing her in the next thrilling case!

   She went on: ‘Getting over the loss, that bit people can sympathize with and understand, but moving on, trying to fill the gap the loss has left, is impossible… You know I’ve been seeing Peterson – James – since before Christmas.’

Isaac nodded. ‘You like him, don’t you?’

Erica nodded and got p, grabbing the box of tissues from the desk opposite.

‘He just wants to be with me, and I keep pushing him away. He’s such a good guy… Like Mark, he was the one everyone loved. I just don’t know why Mark had to die and I’m still here. He was a great guy. I’m just a bitch.’

Isaac laughed.

‘I am, it’s not funny.’

‘You’re not a bitch, but you have to act like one sometimes. It helps you get the job done.’

Erika laughed. ‘No, thank you, but I just want to be alone.’

‘No, you don’t… Every day I have to do post-mortems on people, and so many of them had their hole lives ahead of them. They probably died wishing they could have done things differently, wishing they has been nicer, loved more, not stressed so much. Go and see James. You could be dead tomorrow and lying on that slab in there.’

‘Brutal, but true,’ said Erika. ‘You should give advice more.’

‘I do, but most of the people I see at work can’t do anything with it. They’re dead.’

Black Cherry Blues – James Lee Burke

 Black Cherry Blues – James Lee Burke Published in 2011 by Mulholland Books, 288 pages I read this on my kindle at a very nice price.

This is the third book in the Dave Robicheaux series, and it seems to pick up right after the death of his wife. Her death, as well as her ghost haunts him through this story. But it’s a friend of his from College that brings the former New Orleans homicide detective to check into a pair of oil company men his friend Dixie seems to have gotten himself in bed with.

One thing leads to another as they say, and when thugs send a not to subtle threat involving his adopted daughter, its payback time. Then, when one of the oil lease-men turns up dead, Dave follows the leads to Montana to clear himself and finds that his old friend Dixie has taken refuge with a mafia family who’ve helped him in the past.

With missing Indian activists, oil company land deals and mafia drug transactions… well as picturesque as the landscape is, it may not be the healthiest place for an ex-lawman to be asking too many questions.

I’ve read this book having just finished his novel New Iberian Blues (2019). Its been thirty years between these two books and it’s a clear demonstration of something I’ve been calling the “Stephen King effect”. This novel has a fairly simple linear narrative with a limited number of characters moving through it… whereas New Iberian Blues has several narrative threads weaving through numerous characters over a sweeping story arc, and it shows how James Lee Burke has grown and developed as a masterful storyteller.

And, though this novel is smaller in scope than its latter novels it is no less dramatic in is descriptive landscapes:

“I headed for the Blackfeet Reservation, on the other side of the Divide, east of Glacier Park. In the early morning light I drove up the Blackfoot River through canyons of pink rock and pine, with woodsmoke drifting through the trees from the cabins set back in the meadows. The runoff from the snowpack up in the mountains was still high, and the current boiled over the boulders in the center of the river. Then the country opened up into wider valleys and ranchland with low green hills and more mountains in the distance. I started to climb into more heavily wooded country, with sheer rock cliffs and steep-sided mountains that ran right down to the edge of the road; the canyons and trees were dark with shadow, and by the time I hit the logging town of Lincoln the air had turned cold and my windows were wet with mist. I drove into clouds on the Divide at Rogers Pass, my ears popping now, and rivulets of melted snow ran out of the pines on the mountainside, bled across the highway, and washed off the dirt shoulder into a white stream far below. The pine trees looked almost black and glistened with a wet sheen.”

New Iberia Blues – James Lee Burke

New Iberia Blues – James Lee Burke Published January 2019 by Simon and Schuster, 465 pages of pure scenic detective fiction. I checked my copy out from the library and I sure wasn’t disappointed with this. This is the book I had in mind when I was reading Debbie Herbert’s Cold Waters. There are several threads running through this story and its woven together masterfully.

Detective Dave Robicheaux spies a woman tied to a cross drifting in from the bay while on the deck of his old friend Desmond Cormier’s house. The award winning director Desmond and company are in the area filming a new movie when a series of unfortunate incidents occur. From a dead woman on a cross, to a hanged laborer, then a crooked sheriff’s deputy is killed… as Robicheaux diggers deeper into the people surrounding Desmond the bodies pile up.

Is there a killer amongst Desmond’s friends or could it be a fugitive death row inmate from Texas who has been spotted in the area… or perhaps its an albino mafia contract kill whose also returned to New Iberia. It couldn’t be a young deputy who has a knack for being around just when someone is killed… could it?

The descriptions are wonderfully drawn in a vibrancy of detail and oe of the things that I liked about this story is that there is time in between the events. Everything isn’t cramped together, its spaced out, paced over a series of months, season even. The story starts in the spring and concludes in the fall and Burke gives amble nuanced description of the bayou throughout its transitions.

And its not just the physical landscape, no, the characters themselves are painted with a fine-tip brush. Even the recently deceased get rendered in full dimension:

   By Monday the victim had been identified through his prints as Joe Molinari, born on the margins of American society at Charity Hospital in Lafayette, the kind of innocent and faceless man who travels almost invisibly from birth to the grave with no paper trail except a few W-2 tax forms and an arrest for a thirty-dollar bad check. Let me take that one step further. Joe Molinari’s role in life had been being used by others, as a consumer and laborer and voter and minion, which, in the economics of the world I grew up in, was considered normal by both the liege lord in the manor and the serf in the field.

He’d lived in New Iberia all his life, smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, and worked for a company that did asbestos teardowns and other jobs that people do for minimum wage while they pretend they’re not destroying their organs. He’d had no immediate family, played dominoes in a game parlor by the bayou, and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, never traveled farther than three parishes from his birthplace. He had gone missing seven days ago.

Cold Waters – Debbie Herbert

Cold Waters – Debbie Herbert 2019 published by Thomas Mercer 323 pages, I read the kindle edition

There are more drama llamas running through this book than bulls at Pamplona!

I picked this book hoping to get a sense of small town Alabama, and a good mystery in the mix… instead, I know more about the Keurig machine in the police station in an ‘old man vs new tech’ trope than I do about the building itself. The characters themselves are drawn straight out of central casting and never really developed past their tightly confined narratives… they boarder on base stereotypes. .. and as far as the ‘mystery’ goes, the only red herring will be found in a jar of cream sauce in Delaney’s pantry…

The story is about Violet, as she returns home from her stint in a halfway house having been interred at a mental facility for ten years following her witnessing the death of her best friend… or is she more than a witness? She is presented as a troubled soul who takes solace in her superstitions and talismans. And she has her reservations about returning to her home in Normal, a small Alabama town, to claim an inheritance left by her mother.

Waiting for her there are her evil step-sister Delaney and her father, an alcoholic with rage issues now showing signs of dementia. I characterize Delaney as ‘the evil step-sister’ because that is how she is presented by every character that narrates their interactions with her… and she is true to that stereotype.

The story is narrated in the first person and predominantly by Violet. For most of the time she’s narrating in the present-time, but smore chapter are set in the past, mostly ten years ago when the death of her friend Ainsley occurred. Other characters narrate scenes from their points of view, Delaney, Hyacinth (Her mother), Boone (the detective)… but even though the narrator changes, the ‘voice’ doesn’t change. Its as if all these characters sound the same.

Since is was an Amazon April recommendation I didn’t want to just shelve it. But, at about the halfway point I was able to push the throttle down and go right into skimming mode, just to get through this.

As for the theme in all this? Quite simply, the ends justify the means. Cue music, roll credits…

“You were rude,” she accused. Her eyes raked over me. “And why didn’t you wash up? I told you they were coming this afternoon.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“I mentioned it twice at breakfast,” she insisted.

She hadn’t, but I let that go. “Why did you tell them those lies about me having nightmares?”

“they weren’t lies. Every night, you scream in your sleep.”

My anger went down a notch. Was she telling the truth? I shook my head. “If I had nightmares, I’d remember.”

Delany arched a brow. “Do you always remember your dreams or wake up from a bad one?”

“No, guess not,” I had to admit. “Do I really call out Ainsley’s name?”

“You do. Repeatedly. Last night and most every night.”

The Oxford Murders – Guillermo Martinez

 The Oxford Murders – I’ve read the Penguin Press 2005 paperback edition translated from Spanish to English.

This is the third novel by Argentinian mathematician Guillermo Martinez. The story is a nice, compact (197 pages) page turner on a classic mystery reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel. I enjoyed this story, its narration was clear and to the point, no barrel of red herrings that you would get from Colin Dexter.

Our narrator, an Argentinian mathematics student come to Oxford to further his studies, tells this tale of events that happened in the past… it unfolds nicely at a leisurely pace on the bucolic suburb of Oxford. Shortly after settling into a room he lets from an elderly lady, she is murdered, and a mathematical clue is left with his mentor Professor Seldom, who discovers the body with our narrator.

I like the opening to this story. Its narrated in a journal or a diary tone that seems somewhat intimate and old fashioned… I can picture the then young, now older man reflecting back a what would probably be one of the most memorable highlights of his life. A grand adventure!

The story touches on several mathematical topics and theories, as well as several philosophical themes as the two gentlemen work to solve what may be a series of murders, each laid out in a mathematical sequence. As I finished this book, there was something that I had remembered from somewhere else… the best place to hide a murder, is in a series of murders.

One of the draw backs to this book being so brief, is that although we are taken to several different locations within Oxford while taking this pursuit, we never really get to stop and admire our surrounding all that much. Surely Kaminsky would have shown us more of the sights.

Now that the years have passed and everything’s been forgotten, and now that I’ve received a terse e-mail from Scotland with the sad news of Seldom’s death, I feel I can break my silence (which he never asked for anyway) and tell the truth about the events that reached the British papers in the summer of ’93 with macabre and sensationalist headlines, but to which Seldom and I always referred – perhaps due to the mathematical connotation – simply as the series, or Oxford Series. Indeed, the deaths all occurred in Oxfordshire, at the beginning of my stay in England, and I had te dubious privilege of seeing first at close range.

Red Chameleon – Stuart Kaminsky

Red Chameleon – This is the third Inspector Rostnikov novel. Published in 1985

I found it interesting that the novel mentions the transitions in Soviet leadership through the span of the prior novels, Death of A Dissident (1981) and A Black Knight in Red Square (1983) From Brezhnev to Andropov and then the death of Chernenko. From the climax of the second novel to the start of this third novel finds Chief Inspector Rostnikov demoted to simply Inspector Rostnikov, and it is due to this demotion that Procurator Khabolov, who succeeded Procurator Timofeyeva, assigned Rostnikov, along with his new leg-man the uninspired Comrade Zelach, to investigate an insignificant murder of an old Jew.

“In Moscow, the investigation of a crime is a question of jurisdiction, and the investigation of important crimes is an important question of jurisdiction. Minor crimes, and no one is quite sure what a minor crime is, are handled at the inquiry stage by MVD, the national police with headquarters in Moscow. Moscow itself is divided into twenty police districts, each responsible for crime within its area. However, if a case is considered important enough, a police inspector from central headquarters will be assigned. The doznaniye, or inquiry, is based on the frequently stated assumption that “every person who commits a crime is punished justly, and not a single innocent person subjected to criminal proceedings is convicted.” This is repeated so frequently by judges, procurators, and police that almost everyone in Moscow is sure it cannot be true.”

An old man is murdered in his bath and the only clues that Inspector Rostnikov has to go on is a very old photograph of four young men, and an old brass candlestick was taken from the scene. A very old photo of now very old men… who are they? Where are they? Are they even still alive? Well, at least one of them isn’t alive anymore. But who takes a simple old candlestick? It’s a question, a puzzle that draws the detective in Rostnikov to solve.

Along the way he, like Prometheus, tries to bring that spark to Comrade Zelach and ignite the detective in him.

“Zelach,” he said as they rode up the escalator, “do you think of me as a violent man?”

“No, chief inspector,” said Zelach indifferently. “There’s a stand on the corner. I have not eaten. Would it be all right if I bought some blinchiki?”

“It would be all right, Comrade Zelach,” Rostnikov said sarcastically, but the sarcasm was lost on Zelach. “Do you want to know where we are going?”

Zelach shrugged as they pressed through the morning crowd.

“In that case, we will let that be your surprise for the day.”

Meanwhile, we find our old friend Inspector Emil Karpo investigating a sniper at large in the city, and Inspector Sasha Tkach investigating a series of luxury car thefts. The pursuits of these investigations enable us a readers to again venture through the streets of Moscow and encounter the unique characters that populate the city… hell, this is as enjoyable as dogging Spenser around Boston!

Black Knight In Red Square – Stuart Kaminsky

Black Knight In Red Square – I read the 2012 MysteriousPress.com kindle edition of this novel.

This is the second in the Inspector Rostnikov series. There has been a murder, a poisoning of an American, two soviets and a Japanese citizen at a hotel in Moscow. The American was a journalist reporting on the Moscow Film Festival. The other victims were also connected with the festival. Is this just an isolated incident? Could there be a nefarious person or group who seeks to spoil an important cultural event?

Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and his trusted assistants, the idealistic Sasha Tkach and dedicated Emil Karpo set off to investigate. From swank hotels, to meeting with prostitutes in dark Metro Stations, and following suspicious westerners to theaters and Moscow landmarks. Something is certainty going on..

Thanks to a brief meeting with the KGB’s Colonel Drozhkin, Porfiry is informed that there may be western capitalist fanatics loose within the city of Moscow. Now, not only does he have to solve the murder, but he is being tasked with preventing any terrorist plots against the Film Festival.

I’m real taken with the writing, the way Kaminski draws me into the whole story. And, there’s even a bit of the old noir detective fiction. Here Tkach is interviewing a suspect at her hotel room:

“I haven’t been much help, have I?” she said, rising slowly.

“You’ve told me what was necessary.”

“If you’d like to come back tonight after dinner and ask more questions,” she said, taking a step toward him, “I’ll be right here.”

Now Tkach smiled, and his smile stopped her. The game-playing halted, for she had seen something that told her things had not gone as she had guided them. That smile was quite knowing and much older than the face of the good-looking young detective.

“I have to work tonight,” he said, stepping past her. “But I may have more questions. And perhaps next time you will answer with the truth.”

Without looking at her he crossed the room, opened the door, and stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him. At this point, he had no idea whether or not she had told the truth. He’d had no reason to be suspicious until he gave her know what you are hiding. Tkach didn’t know that it was the smile of all detectives from Tokyo to Calcutta to San Francisco to Moscow. He had seen her play her scene out, then had given her the knowing smile, and for an instant she had broken, showing that there was something more behind those eyes and that lovely facade. He had no idea what she might be hiding or why. He would simply give the information to Rostnikov and let him worry about it.”

Death Of A Dissident – Stuart Kaminsky

Death Of A Dissident – Originally Published in 1981 – I read the kindle version from MysteriousPress.com

On the eve of a political dissident’s trial he is murdered by means of a rusty sickle, left at the scene. Is it a political crime? A crime of passion? Or perhaps a random act of violence which does not occur in the Soviet state… It is assigned to Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov to investigate. But, where to begin… well it doesn’t take long for the hammer to drop and now there are two murders on his plate.

This is the first in the Inspector Rostnikov series and I found it to be quite the experience. I felt myself really drawn into the city and its people. The story is peppered with both the broad brush strokes of scenic narrative as well as the pinpoint vignettes of interactions which make the story come to life. For example in a simple act of questioning witnesses we see the psyche of the average muscovite.

“He was a foreigner?” tried Karpo.

“Yes,” went on the old man, “definitely a foreigner, English or American, he…”

“Did he speak?” tried Karpo.

“I…I…,” stammered the old man, anxious to please.

“No,” said the son, hugging the blanket over his vulnerable legs. “He said nothing. He just ran down Petro Street.”

Pytor Roshkov had decided to fix his eyes on the fascinating painting on the wall of the first meeting of the Presidium.

“Then you don’t know if he was a foreigner,” Karpo continued.

“No,” said the son.

“Yes,” said the father.

“If you would try less hard to please me and harder to simply tell the truth, you will get out of here much faster and back to your home or work,” Karpo said.

You can feel the weariness of exasperation coming through Inspector Karpo. The way Kaminsky just drops these little interactions through the novel makes this story so immersive. I really had the feeling of being transported to another time and place.

I am very much looking forward to the next book in this series “A Black Knight in Red Square”

“Though there are rules and regulations, restrictions and requirements, it is no easier in Moscow to find a killer or a saint than it is in New York, Tokyo, or Rome. If the world does not know this, the police do, and so they learn to value patience and good shoes.”

The Foreigner – Francie Lin

The Foreigner – Francie Lin hits a lot a major themes in this novel, love, family, honor, the past, the future, heaven and hell… but, is it a mystery? It’s a mystery in the sense that there are crimes and criminals and even a car chase down a highway in Taiwan. But as for mystery… I find it to be a mystery only in so far and there are things unknown, hidden things, but any story really takes time to unfold. You really don’t get the full picture of a character in a novel all up front… it rolls out over time.

And in The Foreigner, the ‘mysterious’ past is only ‘mysterious’ because it hasn’t unfolded yet.”

As the story unfolds, Emerson, an eldest son who is close to his immigrant Chinese mother in America is thrust into a journey back to his mother’s home in Taiwan after her death of natural causes. There he must find his younger brother who’s cut ties with them years before in order to settle the estate.

Upon finding his brother ‘Little P’, Emerson is drawn into a murky criminal underworld whose dealings are centered around their uncle’s karaoke bar called the Palace.

A keeper of a shared past. That’s how Emerson views his younger brother. Now that thier mother, his mother, has past away Little P is the only one left to validate his memories as he comes to see things.

Having recently lost a parent myself, this thought had a eureka moment for me as I now see my own younger siblings as sojourners traveling on towards the end of days. Siblings, they are the only ones who really knew you when…

Emerson finds Little P in business with Uncle, and two cousins named Poison and Big One. And while Emerson seeks to extricate his brother from the seedy noir world in which he is erythromycin much a Foreigner, he encounters two young women, Angel and Grace. With the help of a friend and compatriot of Uncle named Atticus Emerson hopes to learn some of the things about Little P’s life here in Taiwan that he brother chooses not to talk about.

Yes, it has occurred to me that there is more to the naming of these characters than meets the eye, and I wish I had a better recollection of To Kill A Mockingbird than I do because, although Emerson is about forty years old in this story, it’s really his coming of age story… he may just be the Scout in this journey of discovery.

And for a taste of that ‘noir’ style.. How’s this:

“Only the British would name a strip club The Admiralty,” she said, digging in her purse for the cover charge. “How is that erotic to anybody?”

The stout matron at the door turned out to be the bouncer and cashier both, and as she took our money, she rattled off a little spiel that was meant to be sexy and suggestive (“You look for fun tonigh’, huh? Our girls lot of fun”) but lost something in the bored, dry transaction of money for sex, especially when she and Angel scuffled over the amount of change owed. Inside the bar flanked the sides of a short catwalk illuminated by blue lights, with a pole at either end, and every once in a while a girl in a bikini and plastic heels would clamber onstage and do an indifferent little dance. Mostly, though, the dancers sat around the inside of the bar munching sandwiches and drinking Cokes. The place was not very crowed, which gave it an intimate air of soiled hopes.

Trouble In Nuala – Harriet Steel

Trouble In Nuala – Published August 10th 2016 by Stane Street Press Kindle Edition, 200 pages

I really can’t recall encountering a more complacent and reluctant protagonist in a mystery novel.

This is a mystery of a cozy variety. The setting is colonial Ceylon in the 1930 and I thought that was very nicely set and laid out. The descriptions of the lush garden are a delight for several senses, as well as the author’s treatment of the variety of foods consumed. She paints the picture very deftly.

But for most of the first half of the novel the only thing missing… was a mystery. When we finally got to the discovery of the body, the inspector’s lack of initiative, or even much interest beyond the perfunctory procedural motions had me taking a step back and wondering if rather than the Inspector, Shanti de Silva bein the ”detective’ of this story… perhaps his wife Jane is. She seems to be the more inquisitive of the two, and even enjoys her detective novels from the local library.

“His brow furrowed. Why wasn’t he as angry as Jane about this Renshaw business? It was too easy to dismiss her views as womanly emotion. If a snail was important, wasn’t a man even more so?”

He even dissuades her from speculation…

“‘Anyway,’ he mumbled through a mouthful. ‘I know you too well. You’re just curious to find out how they know each other and it’s really none of our business.’ “

She is the one pointing out to him…

“‘Don’t you think it’s odd he didn’t mention knowing Madeleine Renshaw? “

Even upon finding the body.. The corpus maximus he has this lovely line:

“Where will going round asking a lot of questions get us?”

At this point I practically spoke to the book saying “A Clue! Perhaps asking some questions might get you a clue or two..”
Eventually he does take on the mantle of ‘detective’ and set about questioning suspects and pointing out the clues in the story… but up to this point I seriously had my bets on Jane as the detective.
But all’s well that ends well. I do like him as a character, and the scenes where he has interactions with his wife are warm and cozy, like a mystery of this stripe should… and despite the slow start, I will be reading the second in this series shortly.