by Gloria & Theodore Feit
We didn’t make it to the movies this weekend, so instead of a Monday Movie review we have some great mystery reading to recommend. So grab a cup of coffee/tea and enjoy a good book!
Victims By Jonathan Kellerman
Released March 2012
Reviewed by Gloria Feit
Homicide detective Lt. Milo Sturgis, along with the LAPD consulting psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware, have been called to a murder scene, where the female victim has been disemboweled in a particularly grotesque manner. Although at first blush it would seem to be a revenge killing, as they gather information about the woman, Delaware is skeptical that this is the case. When, as the title implies, another victim is found, killed in precisely the same horrific manner, and the police are unable to find a single thing in common between the two victims, they must look elsewhere for leads to follow.
This is the 27th in this series, and as with the previous entries, it is a police procedural of the highest order – the police doing their thing and Alex Delaware providing insights into the victims and the kind of twisted mind that might be responsible for these murders. The plot and characters are well developed, and the writing as good as ever. On arriving home one evening, e.g., he speaks of their home in Beverly Glen: “the sinuous silence of the old bridal path leading up to my pretty white house, the prospect of kissing my beautiful girlfriend, patting my adorable dog.” [That would be, respectively, Robin, and Blanche, their little French bulldog.] He describes another character as having “the anxious nobility of a Velasquez prince,” and one particular scene where “the sky was charcoal felt stretched tight. A few stars peeked through like ice-pick wounds.”
This was a fast, thoroughly enjoyable read, and it is recommended.
Edge of Dark Water By Joe R. Landsale
March 25, 2012
Reviewed by Gloria Feit
The reader is introduced to sixteen-year-old Sue Ellen and her family on the no-nonsense first page, when Daddy is ‘fishing’ – a chore that combines ‘telephoning,’ i.e., “cranking that telephone to hot up the wire that went into the water to ‘lectrocute the fish,’ dynamiting them, and poisoning them with green walnuts. I might add, as does the author, that the dynamiting doesn’t always work too well, as he attempted it one time when he was so drunk that some of his fingers got blown off.
By page eight, Sue Ellen, Daddy and her Uncle Gene, finishing up the fishing project, discover the body of her friend, May Lynn Baxter, at the bottom of the lake, long dead, her hands and feet tied behind her and with a sewing machine weighing the body down. She describes her as “the kind of girl that made men turn their heads and take a deep breath . . . [who] moved like she was hearing music we couldn’t,” a girl with no living family who had dreamed of going to Hollywood and becoming a movie star. Sue Ellen and another good friend, an African-American girl named Jinx [described as having “a sweet face, but her eyes seemed older, like she was someone’s ancient grandma stuffed inside a kid”], and Terry, the fourth member of the group and a boy who was rumored to be homosexual, determine to “burn her up” and take her ashes to California from East Texas, described as a place where “jobs, especially for women, had become as rare as baptized rattlesnakes.” That trip, when it finally begins, fittingly enough in a leaky boat, is like nothing the friends, or the reader, could possibly have anticipated, or even imagined.
This author’s writing has been compared to that of Mark Twain, and deservedly so. That said, I should add that I found the writing to be very original, as is the book as a whole, which is [loosely] placed in time by the frequent casual references to the segregation that was then the norm, as were drunken, abusive husbands/fathers, and convincingly captures the vernacular of small-town, little educated and poverty-stricken Southerners of the period. There is some graphic material [not sexual, I should point out] that seems of a piece with that. Edge of Dark Water has been described as “hillbilly noir,” and that captures it as well as anything.
Elegy for Eddie By Jacqueline Winspear
Reviewed by Theodore Feit
The Maisie Dobbs series, now with nine entries, has taken her from World War I, where she served as a nurse, to the cusp of the Second World War. In this novel, there are three themes, which can tend to confuse the reader until the author brings them together and makes sense out of what at first appear to be separate subplots.
To start with, a delegation from Lambeth, scene of Maisie’s childhood, visits her to engage her services as an investigator to find out how a young man died in a paper factory. The other two plot lines, one more personal to her than the other, has Maisie questioning her own motives and standards as well as her relationship with her lover; and the last involving the stealth campaign of Winston Churchill to prepare Great Britain for the possible war with Nazi Germany.
The book is equal to its predecessors in characterization and human interest. Obviously, it is more political in tone than its forerunners, given the time in which it takes place: the depression era and rise of Adolf Hitler. While Maisie’s introspections may be overdone, they certainly are in keeping with the character.
Death on a Platter By Elaine Viets
Reviewed by Gloria Feit
Death on a Platter marks the return of Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper extraordinaire. This time around Josie is assigned by her boss, “Harry the Horrible,” to mystery-shop restaurants in St. Louis for a food tour company based in New York City. At the top of the list of required dishes to be sampled are items considered delicacies, apparently seen to be “real” St. Louis food, e.g., [cow] brain and pig ear sandwiches, St. Louis pizza [who knew?], and toasted ravioli. While the first two are daunting to our heroine, the pizza, and certainly the ravioli, are another matter. Especially the ravioli, as her mother’s best friend for about seventy years is none other than the owner of Tillie’s Off the Hill [whose billboards, sweatshirts, etc. read Get Toasted at Tillie’s], a bustling restaurant in the River Bluff area, on a street that has seen better days though it is now the object of a large conglomerate in the process of putting up casinos and trying to buy out all the businesses in the area. So far, Tillie, a widow whose daughter works in the restaurant with her, is the lone holdout.
Josie’s mom, Jane, now seventy-six years old, is invaluable to Josie in many ways: she lives, with her eleven-year-old daughter, Amelia, in a “mom-subsidized” apartment on the ground floor of her mother’s house, “with her free maternal babysitter upstairs.” This enables her to have Amelia attend an upscale school, with the help of a scholarship. For the past year, Josie has been dating Ted, a veterinarian, and is anxiously awaiting the proposal she fears/hopes is coming.
When Josie mystery-shops Tillie’s restaurant, she witnesses a scene wherein a drunken customer, apparently a regular, becomes unruly [also a frequent occurrence] and Tillie is forced to call the police. When Josie returns the following day, the same man, once again drunk, loudly complains that his ravioli is too bland and demands it be made spicier. Immediately upon eating the replacement dish, he is struck ill and has to be taken to the hospital, where he soon dies; Tillie is arrested and charged with his murder. Jane demands that Josie investigate and find out who else might have wanted the man dead. When she identifies three possible suspects, Jane tells her “The police aren’t going to clear Tillie’s name. They think they’ve got their killer. It’s up to you to find the real murderer.” And Josie has no choice but to comply.
This is another fast-reading, delightful entry in a very enjoyable series. The characters are endearing, especially the ‘tween’ Amelia, changing her name as often as her jeans, Ted, who Josie loves but fears marrying, and Stuart Little, the hero Shih Tzu. The book ends with several St. Louis-area shopping tips, and a preview of the author’s next book, which will be a new entry in her Dead End Job mysteries.