Dogs and people happened to converge on the fountain but it was clear and dry. Temperatures were well above freezing so we all wondered why there was no water. It is a mystery fountain. [photo 1] [photo 2] [photo 3]
“Shanghaied” by Eric Stone (Bleak House Books: hardcover $24.95; paperback $14.95)
“I love Chinese food. But sometimes China doesn’t do much for my appetite.” – Ray Sharp
Though this novel might at the beginning be categorized along with books by writers like Barry Eisler, Brent Ghelfi and maybe even Lee Child, halfway through Eric Stone turns his action story on its ear in an entirely unexpected way.
This is the fourth book in a series featuring detective Ray Sharp, a Hong Kong-based investigator who does “due diligence” investigations with his partner, the Chinese-Mexican dwarf Wen Lei Yue. As the story opens Ray and Lei are looking into a missing monk. What they can’t decide is if the monk is just having a little illicit fun or if the monk is the money man for his well-endowed monastery, in which case his disappearance is more worrisome.
“The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu” by Michael Stanley (Harper, $24.99)
As everyone knows, there is a very famous series of books set in Botswana, by Alexander McCall-Smith. McCall-Smith’s delicate prose is matched by the charm of his main character, Precious Ramotswe. Now there is a new series set in Botswana, with a slightly darker take, though the main character, Detective Kubu, would surely be friendly with Precious were they to meet.
Detective Kubu (the Botswana word for “Hippo”) is hugely fat and hugely smart. If Precious is the African Miss Marple, then Kubu is the African Nero Wolfe. Kubu and Wolfe both share a deep appreciation for the pleasures of the table, and both of them have brains that work best with their eyes closed.
If you own a mystery bookstore, you want to hold an event with Elmore Leonard. That’s what Jamie Agnew, co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s mystery bookstore in Ann Arbor, told a crowd at the Ann Arbor District Library downtown Thursday evening, while introducing Leonard. Partnering with the library to bring the famed author to town, Aunt Agatha’s was living the dream.
Leonard – who has written over 40 Western and crime/mystery books since his first was published in the 1950s – sat down for a joint interview with his son Peter Leonard (also a crime writer, with two novels under his belt and a third on the way). Fellow Western and mystery author Loren Estleman acted as the interviewer.
The three writers – all Michigan natives – spoke to more than 200 people in the library’s multipurpose room. Every seat in the audience was taken. People who couldn’t find chairs leaned against the walls, novels by the Leonards and Estleman in their arms for the book signing to follow.
“The Last Child” by John Hart (Minotaur Books, $24.95)
Recently one of the VPs at St. Martin’s, Matthew Baldacci, asked if he could swing by the store with author John Hart. I had enjoyed Hart’s first book, “King of Lies,” and enthusiastically agreed – just as enthusiastically, Mathew offered to FedEx me copies of Hart’s new book, “The Last Child.” The book arrived on a Wednesday afternoon for a Thursday visit – I trundled into the store to pick it up, hoping I might get at last halfway through before Hart stopped in – and I couldn’t put it down. I was finished with the book Thursday morning, eager to have a chance to discuss it with the author.
“Liars Anonymous” by Louise Ure (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $25.95)
“When had I crossed that weathered threshold that divided the world between citizens and survivors? Between what could be and what we are in our darkest hours.”
I know I’ve really enjoyed an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of a novel when I look back and see how many pages I’ve dog-eared, for one reason or another. In the case of Louise Ure, it’s for her use of language, which is both precise and original. Sentences like “I missed my friend Catherine like she was a country I could no longer visit,” and “Her teeth had click-clacked with nervous energy while she filled out the paperwork, like a sleeping rabbit dreaming of carrots” are so evocative, and so vivid, they stay with you. It’s not often this kind of clarity is found in a hard-boiled mystery novel, but here it is. Maybe the beauty of the language is meant to carry the reader through the story of Jessie Dancing, which is one of the darker books I’ve read in a long while.
“Next of Kin,” by John Boyne (Thomas Dunne Books, $15.95)
Every good book has a secret somewhere in the story – in a mystery, the secret of course is usually the identity of the killer. In John Boyne’s historical mystery, the secret is not the killer’s identity, but the killer’s very personality, his motives, and the extent of his moral depravity. This stand-alone novel is set in 1936 Britain, where one of the central issues of the day is the relationship between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Of course, we know how that turns out, but Boyne offers a possible behind-the-scenes scenario that’s very interesting.
[Editor's note: Robin Agnew and her husband Jamie own Aunt Agatha's mystery bookstore in Ann Arbor. She also helps run the annual Kerrytown BookFest, along with eight other book lovers. Versions of these book reviews first appeared in her store's newsletter.]
“A Rule Against Murder,” by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, $24.95)
This may be the most traditional of Canadian writer Louise Penny’s now four novels, though she has been labeled from the beginning as a “traditional” mystery writer. And indeed, she does write in the same tradition that Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey and Agatha Christie were following (and helped create), but she has managed to make this old form her own. She has an exceptional gift with prose, and the character development she brings to her writing is very modern. In each book, Penny has manages to slightly change up her formula to make each story feel fresh, and this one is no exception.
Editor’s note: “Mantra for Murder” is Ann Arbor resident Linda Fitzgerald’s first novel – this is the book’s third chapter.
Background: Since the sudden death of her husband ten months earlier, Ann Arbor freelance writer Karin Niemi has felt half-dead herself. Now she’s just desperate enough to schedule a session with Dana Lewis, the city’s celebrity psychic. In Chapter 3, Karin and her best friend set off for Dana’s home. But as they’ll soon discover, Dana has been murdered. And their jaunt across town is actually the first stage of a long and bizarre journey that will lead them into the halls of academe, the surprisingly messy lives of Ann Arbor’s social and political elite, the esoteric realm of computer hackers and black-box voting, and – strangest of all – the mysteries of the afterlife.