by Daisy Bateman
Here is the latest installment of our new column, Top 5 Mysteries I Have Read During the Pandemic, this one from mystery author Daisy Bateman. As we continue to spend most of our time at home, we are all looking for book suggestions so we asked mystery authors and reviewers to share the top 5 mysteries they have read during this pandemic.
I’ve been reading so much while stuck at home that I found I could make a whole list just of books set on islands. Which seems appropriate for these isolated times.
The Wall by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Marcia is from a formerly well-off family who lost most of their money in the Depression. But they still have the summer house on Rock Island, a place that’s refined enough that when your cheating, vicious ex-sister-in-law shows up and says she’s going to stay, you can’t just tell her to pound sand. Juliette is so unpleasant that it’s no great loss when she goes missing, then turns up dead, but as suspicion touches nearly everyone in Marcia’s life, her summer in her childhood haven becomes ever more of a nightmare. Having read a few of Rinehart’s books, I’ll admit that there are a few tropes she tends to return to, but she knows how to craft a good story, and love and her tales of love and death among the rich and the beautiful always make for some good escapism.
They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall
A modern take on And Then There Were None, in which seven people are lured to an island off the coast of Baja California to be killed for their sins. Among them is Miriam “Mimi” Macy, our narrator, whose anxiety and self-centeredness make her unreliable in other than the usual way.
There’s a lot to dislike about her, but she remains sympathetic, until the point where the reader is forced to confront with what, in fact, they have been sympathizing. The failings of all the characters (mostly) mirror the seven deadly sins, and their deaths are gruesomely appropriate (and in some ways appropriately gruesome). Not a sunny story—figuratively or literally, when a storm rolls in—but an even darker twist on a mystery classic.
The Lighthouse by P.D. James
A remote island off the coast of Cornwall is an exclusive retreat for the rich and powerful, that promises complete security and privacy for its VIP guests. Those connections are why, when a visitor dies under suspicious circumstances, Adam Dalgliesh and his team from the CID are called in to handle the investigation. The victim was a famous author and a deeply unpleasant man, who almost everyone present had genuine reasons to hate. James is a master of character, and her poet-detective is as compelling as ever, as the mystery ticks along nicely. One thing that did take me by surprise (minor spoiler alert!) is the SARS subplot, complete with severe respiratory symptoms and a quarantine, which gave the book some unexpected resonance.
Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
Not, obviously, Christie’s most famous murder island book (see above), but a solid entry in the Poirot canon. The great detective is vacationing at a seaside resort on a private island, making his usual practice of observing his fellow guests. Among them is the gorgeous Arlene Stuart Marshall, irresistible to every man except her husband, who seems to be amusing herself by flirting openly with another married man. Then she’s murdered, strangled to death on a remote beach, and everyone with a motive seems also to have an alibi. But Poirot’s little gray cells do their thing, and the result is a satisfyingly ingenious resolution.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. An eccentric billionaire clones dinosaurs on an island in Costa Rica, with the intention of creating the greatest theme park the world has ever known. Then things go wrong, mistakes are made, and life finds a way to bite your head clean off. As a biologist, I’m aware that the depiction of biology is laughably awful (pro tip: if you ever see a writer describe DNA as a protein, you can safely disregard anything more they have to say on the subject), and Ian Malcolm’s diatribes do go on about 500% too long. But when the lights go out and the dinos start killing, there’s no better way to spend a summer afternoon.
In Daisy Bateman’s debut mystery Murder Goes to Market (Seventh Street Books), Claudia Simcoe has left the tech world for a new life running a market specializing in artisanal, locally-made goods in the peaceful coastal town of San Elmo Bay. But then Lori Roth a former tenant of the market—evicted when Claudia learned that the hands making her “hand-dyed” textiles belong to overseas factory workers—turns up dead, hit over the head with a jar of pickles and strangled with a cheese wire. With a rising body count and a police chief who thinks Claudia looks like an easy pick to be the killer, suddenly her new life doesn’t seem so peaceful. Relying on her tech skills and some help from her quirky new friends, Claudia races to save her business and herself before the killer adds her to the region’s local, artisanal murders.
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