I loved Janet Flanders’ A Murder of Magpies, a clever mystery set up London’s publishing world. Samantha (“Sam”) Clair is a marvelous protagonist. Sam is an established, somewhat jaded middle-aged editor with few illusions about her authors. Because she is a woman, middle-aged, competent and unflashy….. Well you can imagine how she is frequently treated and ignored. When a friend goes missing, Sam she proceeds with curiosity and the help of her equally accomplished and exasperating mother and a rumpled detective. Sam’s reactions feel so very human and she looks at things just a little differently because of her own experiences and intellect. The London setting and the politics of the publishing and fashion worlds supply additional substance to this fun mystery. Janet Flanders is clever, funny and charming, and deftly inserts sly feminist touches.
This is the kind of mystery I particularly like. It has great characters with unexpected depth, courage and talents. The settings are interesting, as is the plot. As it happens, the fact that A Murder of Magpies is a mystery is less inportant than the characters and how they interact with each other and their environments. This is a fun, decidedly non-noir story, and I recommend it.
Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs murder mysteries are always interesting and enjoyable. A Dangerous Place is no exception. Maisie, a recent widow, is working her way through a period of great personal trauma when she stops in Gibraltar on her way home to England after sojourns in Canada and India. The setting is the sinister, troubled period of the Spanish Civil War, and Gibralter is right on the brink of it, literally. There is a lot going on, and perspectives keep changing. In addition to Winspear’s inspired choice of setting and an unexplained murder, she gives us Maisie Dobbs. Dobbs is a different kind of detective — thoughtful to the extreme about the crime in question and the people around her. In this novel, Dobbs is also compelled to give a great deal of thought to her own well being. She is trying to center herself even as she unravels the murder she has discovered.
I really like this series because of Maisie Dobbs and the way she approaches her cases. This particular novel is especially good because of the horrific yet fascinating political context presented by the Spanish Civil war and the inexorable approach of fascism.
Mick Herron’s Why We Die is a strong mystery with quite a lot happening. It’s a shame Lauren Bacall isn’t around to play the vamp, but Jennifer Lawrence would make a powerful Zoe Bohm, a down on her luck private eye who stumbles into the highly perilous inner workings of a crime family. Arkle, one of three brothers, is seriously the scariest thug I’ve seen. Sociopath doesn’t begin to describe him. The interplay among Arkle and his two seemingly less scary brothers provides unifying substance to the careening violence, where nothing seems to go quite right. The plot is spectacular, but so too are the characters and their troubles. It’s a page turner with depth, supported by a grungy Oxford setting. I highly recommend this book, particularly to people who like female detectives, British mysteries and a lot of noir.
S.D. Sykes has written a masterful murder mystery set in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death in Britain. Plague Land has an unwilling hero. Oswald de Lacy, the third son of a minor British lord, was destined for the religious life, despite his lack of faith. When Oswald’s father and two elder brothers are killed by the plague, Oswald inherits his father’s title and returns home literally to become the lord of the manor.
In the course of an interesting plot and intriguing characters, S.D. Sykes tells her readers quite a bit about how the Black Death