Read Recently — August 2016 — Mysteries

Maisie Dobbs: a novel by Jackqueline Winspear

Set in 1929, this book introduces us to Maisie, a girl who rose from service to the rich to become a private investigator. Preferring a cerebral, psychologically-driven approach, Maisie’s first case has a man who believes that his wife is having an affair. She isn’t; she’s visiting the grave of a first love, who came back from the war with disfiguring injuries and PTSD. He moved to a facility known as The Retreat, sort of a home for war veterans with this sort of problem. The dead man died on the site, seemingly by accident, but Maisie suspects foul play . . .

Maisie’s a decent detective and she has a large cast of characters surrounding her, from the caretaker of her building (who helps her out in her investigation) to the noblewoman who helped her go from Service to detective, to her widowered father, but neither they, nor Maisie herself, nor the mystery in question really grab, if you get what I mean. It isn’t in any way bad; unlike with many books I read all the way through this but as I write this I had to look through the book again to remember anything about it.

It sort of falls into the narrow gap between recommended and not-recommended; I really ought to create a term for that space. If I must choose something, and I suppose I must, I’d call it mildy recommended (very mildly) because it’s not badly written at all and it might, in fact, work better for you than it does for me.

Robert B. Parker’s Kickback: a Spenser novel by Ace Atkins

In the cold weather of February, Spenser is hired by a woman from the suburb of Blackburn to find out why her son was sentenced to a juvenile facility in the Back Bay (literally in the Bay; it’s on an island) for no real crime. Like Mattie Sullivan in Lullabye, she can’t afford to pay him, but she can offer food (this time a sandwich. To be fair, it’s a good sandwich). Rita Fiore and her firm are working on the legal end of things, but Spenser should be able to find out the wherefores and whys.

So this isn’t a mystery as such; we know who dunnit and we know what and why dunnit. Put like that, it’s hard to express what Spenser is really up to here. Wandering around and pissing people off, definitely. At one point he gets falsely accused of statutory rape to try to make him back off. It works about as well as you might expect

It looks like there’s more going on than just an incompetent judge. Could someone be on the take? Could the mob be involved? Will Spenser get to the bottom of it? Of course he will.

Atkins does a little better with each book. I’m looking forward to the next one. Recommended.

Lending A Paw: a bookmobile cat mystery by Laurie Cass

Minnie Hamilton is assistant director at the Chilson, Michigan, USA district library. Thanks to donations from a wealthy patron, she has managed to get a bookmobile running, and for even more fun, she gets to drive it (the bookmobile is important because Chilson is a fairly widely-distributed district, with lots of small townships wherefrom people can find it difficult to get to the main library). During the winter, Minnie lives with her Aunt Frances, who has a large house, but in the rest of the year Minnie lives on a houseboat and Aunt Frances runs a B&B (more on that later).

Minnie was recently adopted by a stray cat, who she named Eddie (he just looks like an Eddie to her). On the first day of the Bookmobile ride, Eddie follows her off the boat and into the bookmobile, where she only discovers him once she’s underway and it’s too late to take him home. Worrying about what her boss will say if he discovers that she took a cat along (this on the one hand seems a little paranoid; the boss hasn’t forbidden bookmobile pets (though perhaps only because he hasn’t thought of the possibility), but on the other hand in today’s litigious society someone who is allergic to cats or afraid of them could cost the library a lot of money). Minnie decides to keep Eddie as much under wraps as she can.

of course, Eddie doesn’t agree with this plan, but fortunately he proves to be very popular with the locals. he also breaks loose at their last stop (attendance at which is light–okay, non-existent–due to a successful local softball game) and leads a pursuing Minnie to a corpse.

The corpse in question, one Stan Larrabee, was a local man with an oddly unsavoury reputation . . . but Minnie was fond of him because he donated the money that made the bookmobile possible. And he didn’t die of natural causes. Minnie tries to leave the matter to the police, but she just can’t leave it alone and Eddie keeps providing inadvertent (?) clues (he shreds a document that would lead her in the wrong direction, for example).

To a large extent this reminds me of the “Cat In The Stacks” series by Miranda James, especially in terms of Minnie’s relationship with the Police. Minnie’s is less familial than Charlie’s is, but it is distant — which drives her efforts to investigate herself (that is, the police don’t tell her what’s going on so she feels the need to make sure that the right person is caught and/or cleared).

Now, remember how I said that the aunt runs a B&B and that we’d talk about that in a bit? This is that bit. Minnie has breakfast at her Aunt’s place every Saturday, which is the one day that Aunt Frances gets one or two of the boarders to cook for everyone. This sets up the fact that, in addition to providing her boarders with a relaxing vacation, Aunt Frances also, without telling them sets them up with someone else in the house that year. Objective: matrimony! So far, this obnoxious habit has been rewarded with undeserved success, but this year things are going wrong: not that people aren’t pairing off, but they are pairing off with the wrong partners! Gasp! How dare they! Can Minnie and Aunt Frances get them all back to the people Aunt Frances, in her infinite wisdom, has decreed they spend the rest of their lives with? Spoiler warning: they can’t. (If I seem kind of annoyed about this subplot, it’s because I am. This kind of behaviour really annoys me)

The library stuff feels realistic, and we do get to see enough of it for that to matter. Other than Aunt Frances, Minnie’s friends are interesting people (and even Aunt Frances, when she’s not trying to be the marriage broker, is pretty cool). Eddie seems like a real cat, and I liked Minnie. All things considered, there’s enough good stuff here to outweigh the marriage subplot and call this one recommended.

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