by Cathy Ace
Here is the latest installment of our new column, Top 5 Mysteries I Have Read During the Pandemic, this one from mystery author Cathy Ace. 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.
Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride
My take: I’ve read all twelve of Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae books this summer, and have enjoyed each one. I love his “voice”! However, I should warn you that they are not for the faint-hearted. Topics/themes include child abduction, torture, and murder, and cannibalism, pornography, and sex crimes. The violence is graphic, and heart-rending. But, if you have a dark heart (it seems I do!), you’ll also find these books to be laugh-out-loud funny. The vividly-drawn characterisations are second to none, and the humour arises from situations that are…well, without context it’s pointless trying to describe how these police “procedurals” work, but they do – satisfyingly well, for me. I have given details of the first in the series because I know many like to start at the beginning, which I do too, and did. MacBride is unlikely to be hired by the folks at Aberdeen Tourism any time soon (my reading of these books hasn’t led me to add it to my must-visit-when-I-can list!) but his unflinching, yet ultimately entrancing, portrayal of the Scottish setting is an integral part of his storytelling, which I adored. Scottish author, Scottish setting.
Here’s the cover blurb:
Christmas is coming, cold, dark, and wet, bringing death with it. DS Logan McRae is having a bad week: his first day back on the job in Aberdeen after a year out on the sick, and four-year-old David Reid’s body is discovered in a ditch. Stripped, strangled, mutilated and a long time dead. But David Reid is only the first; there’s a killer stalking the cold granite streets, abducting children, leaving their torn bodies behind.
Then there’s Logan’s new boss, DI Insch, a bear of a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly and thinks everyone’s a fool; the manipulative, crude, chain-smoking DI Steel with an overactive libido; and the bitter Dr Isobel MacAlister, Grampian Police’s chief pathologist and Logan’s ex. Not to mention Inspector Napier from ‘Professional Standards’ who would love to throw DS McRae out on his scarred backside. And all Logan really wants to do is see WPC Watson naked…
And as if that wasn’t enough to worry about, he has to deal with pushy journalists, dead Edinburgh hoodlums, the mentally ill, and geriatric hit men. The dead are piling up in the morgue, almost as fast as the snow on the streets, and Logan knows time is running out. More children are going to go missing. More are going to die.
If Logan isn’t careful, he’s going to end up joining them.
Here’s the link: Amazon: Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride
The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty
My take: I don’t read historical novels (I read old books that were contemporary-in-their-day, but not historicals…just my choice), however, this book, set in 1981, falls within my personal parameters of “contemporary”. (NOTE: The Chain, by the same author, was also on my TBR pile, but this one came to hand first.) To be honest, I was wary of reading a book set during the euphemistically named “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, but that overarching situation was used as a backdrop to the main police procedural in this book – an approach that worked well for me, as I was aware of the “real players” mentioned, and recall the news of the day, which dovetails into the storyline. My work took me to Belfast on several occasions during the late 1990s; on one occasion I even had the dubious pleasure of staying at The Europa Hotel, which was bombed dozens of times – earning it the title of “the most-bombed hotel in the world” – before finally being rebuilt by the mid-nineties. It was something of a surreal experience to sit in the entirely glass-fronted restaurant/lounge and imagine the place a decade earlier; I also saw the sectarian murals, checkpoints, and wastelands described in the book, which made for a more visceral read. It’s a well-told story, with believable characters and what I felt to be a good balance of personal/plot development propelling the story onwards. The case which provides the main narrative for this book was complete, and satisfying, and I plan to read more of the Sean Duffy series, of which this is the first title. Irish author, Irish setting.
Here’s the cover blurb:
Northern Ireland, spring 1981. Hunger strikes, riots, power cuts, a homophobic serial killer with a penchant for opera, and a young woman’s suicide that may yet turn out to be murder: on the surface, the events are unconnected, but then things—and people—aren’t always what they seem. Detective Sergeant Duffy is the man tasked with trying to get to the bottom of it all. It’s no easy job—especially when it turns out that one of the victims was involved in the IRA but was last seen discussing business with someone from the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force. Add to this the fact that, as a Catholic policeman, it doesn’t matter which side he’s on, because nobody trusts him, and Sergeant Duffy really is in a no-win situation. Fast-paced, evocative, and brutal, The Cold, Cold Ground is a brilliant depiction of Belfast at the height of the Troubles—and of a cop treading a thin, thin line.
Here’s the link: Amazon: The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty
Sunset Express by Robert Crais
My take: A bit of a break from the “COLD” theme above, this is the sixth in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, and Cole is the star of this title, with Pike playing a pretty small role. If you haven’t already met LA private eye Elvis Cole and his helpmate/colleague Joe Pike, then by all means begin at the beginning with The Monkey’s Raincoat; I’ve read the series in order except for this book (no idea why/how I missed it out, but now parts of the characters’ arcs make a bit more sense!). I’ve only been to LA once, so find the descriptions of the setting to be helpful, if a little confusing on occasion, but the reader is treated to the joy of meeting well-rounded people who go about their jobs, and lives, in relatable ways, despite the hoped-for (and delivered) “classic, sleazy, LA P.I.” storylines and plots. Noirish rather than noir, there’s enough character development in these books to give the reader a novel that’s a fully developed portrait of criminals, investigators, and cops, rather than just a grainy snapshot. Pitch-perfect P.I. novels, where the author’s skill at writing for the screen pays off; more Parker than Chandler, a thoroughly enjoyable read! American author (LA), American setting (LA).
Here’s the cover blurb:
Prominent restaurateur Teddy Martin is facing charges in his wife’s brutal murder. But he’s not going down without spending a bundle of cash on his defense. So his hotshot attorney hires P.I. Elvis Cole to find proof that Detective Angela Rossi tampered with the evidence.
Detective Rossi needs a way back to the fast track after falling hard during an internal investigation five years ago. But Cole needs to know if she’s desperate enough to falsify the case against Martin in order to secure her own position.
As Cole and his partner Joe Pike work their way through a tangle of witnesses and an even greater tangle of media, they begin to suspect that it’s not the police who are behind the setup.
Here’s the link: Amazon: Sunset Express by Robert Crais
The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
My take: Back to Britain for this one, and a delicious melange of Brit-references (the book drips with mentions of Strictly, Waitrose, and other cultural touchstones). The intertwining of a fictional “classic gothic tale” (which can be read as a short story throughout, and at the end of, the novel – a nice touch) sets us up for a gleefully-developed modern take on the gothic structure, which works superbly because of the role of the fictional gothic story, and because it’s a good story of increasing psychological suspense, well told. We’re in safe hands with Elly Griffiths at the helm: I very much enjoy both her series of books, and this true standalone doesn’t disappoint. The claustrophobia is ratcheted up by the school setting, the class-sensitivity, and the ploy of giving the reader multiple points of view to enjoy. The suspense builds, the clues are there if you want to pick them apart, and the conclusion is satisfying in every way. I would also recommend Elly’s Ruth Galloway books (start with the first in the series, it’s really worth it). English author, English setting.
Here’s the cover blurb:
Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she even teaches a course on him. But when one of Clare’s colleagues is found dead, with a line from Holland’s iconic story “The Stranger” left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her life collide with her favorite literature.
The police suspect the killer is someone Clare knows. Unsure whom to trust, she turns to her diary, the only outlet for her suspicions and fears. Then one day she notices something odd. Writing that isn’t hers, left on the page of an old diary: Hallo Clare. You don’t know me.
Clare becomes more certain than ever: “The Stranger” has come to terrifying life. But can the ending be rewritten in time?
Here’s the link: Amazon: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
Scot Free by Catriona McPherson
My take: You know the saying “From the sublime to the ridiculous”? Well, this book proves that the ridiculous can actually be sublime. Catriona McPherson’s contemporary, suspenseful standalones are always enthralling, and her Dandy Gilver books a delight. This series? It’s touched a special nerve for me, because – as a Welsh immigrant to Canada – I can relate to Lexy (“Lexy spelled L-E-A-G-S-A-I-D-H. It’s Gaelic.”) Campbell’s discombobulation as a Scot transplanted to America (California, to be state-specific, which, I’ve learned, matters!). For example, when I arrived in Canada (British Columbia, to be province-specific, which, I’ve learned, matters!) I immediately realized that being able to turn right on red is a brilliant and sensible way to keep the traffic moving; the concept of needing TWO sinks in the bathroom is beyond me, however – why pay for two sets of everything (and wave goodbye to acres of truly useful countertop) when one set works perfectly well…just as long as you and your significant other agree to allow a gap of three seconds between each of you spitting out your toothpaste in the morning. Along with her always-on-point (and sometimes-pointed) cultural observations, Catriona introduces us to a group of people who might seem to be misfits, but who – we come to learn – fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw to create a functioning, and wonderful, community at the Last Ditch Motel. They support, and occasionally confound, our sleuthing marriage guidance “expert” as she not only navigates the often-confusing Americana that is to become her new norm, but also a case of “murder most explosive” where there is peril, there are clues, and a satisfying solution. Start with book one of this series. I’ve just re-read it because there are two more installments waiting for me on my Kindle, and I wanted to immerse myself in a trilogy of trials and tribulations for these characters in one hit. A Scot-who-became-an American, with a Scot-in-America setting.
Here’s the cover blurb:
It’s the Fourth of July in California and Lexy Campbell is headed home to Scotland. But first she must deliver her final dose of marriage guidance to the elderly Bombarros. They don’t turn up for the session, but the cops do. Turns out Mr Bombarro is in the morgue and Mrs Bombarro is in the jail, arrested for murder.
Certain of the old lady’s innocence, Lexy decides to stay and clear her name. But after her own recent whirlwind divorce, she’s got no money and no place to stay. So she checks into the Last Ditch Motel.
As the plucky little band of motel guests start to take over Lexy’s life, and the shady Bombarro relations come to town, one thing is for sure…the fireworks have only just begun.
Here’s the link: Amazon: Scot Free by Catriona McPherson
Cathy’s latest book:
The Corpse With the Crystal Skull—Cait Morgan Mysteries #9 by Cathy Ace Welsh Canadian, globetrotting sleuth, and professor of criminal psychology Cait Morgan is supposed to be “celebrating” her fiftieth birthday in Jamaica with her ex-cop husband Bud Anderson. But when the body of the luxury estate’s owner is discovered locked inside an inaccessible tower, Cait and her fellow guests must work out who might have killed him – even if his murder seems impossible. Could the death of the man who hosted parties in the 1960s attended by Ian Fleming and Noël Coward be somehow linked to treasure the legendary Captain Henry Morgan might have buried at the estate? Or to the mission Bud and his secret service colleagues have been sent to the island to undertake?
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