The Thursday Murder Plot – Richard Osman

Four 70-80-year-old members of an upscale retirement village in SE England meet on Thursdays to discuss unsolved cold cases. The murder of a local developer suddenly affords the the opportunity to apply their talents to a “live” case. Their manipulation of the police to share information is sublime. The writing exhibits wit and intelligence, and the diabolical plot is riddled with red herrings. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

Trace Elements – Donna Leon

Another fabulous account of Commissario Brunetti’s exploits in Venice. Leon’s stories have recurring themes: a leisurely pace to a single investigation; very little death, in this case a single ambiguous apparent accident; no violence; little technology other than the formidable computer skills of Signorina Elletra. The unrelenting heat and humidity of a Venetian summer is described graphically. But at the core, Brunetti is an observer of human behaviour. And thus, he is acutely aware of moral dilemmas, as expressed eloquently at the end of the book: “Brunetti was both accuser and accused. He had to decide which crime to punish, which to ignore, and choose the greater criminal”.

Amy notes: There are always good meals in her books, and Brunetti reads thoughtfully, which often provides perspective on the mystery

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

It is an extraordinarily hot summer in England in 1976, and someone has gone missing from a suburban avenue. Two 10-year-old girls, Grace and Tilly,  begin a dual search for the missing person and for God (based on a misunderstanding of a Vicar’s sermon). Secrets emerge about a tragic event 10 years previous – is this linked to the disappearance? This is an evocative coming-of-age story that is also about a community in need of absolution. Cannon’s writing is wonderfully descriptive: “carpet the colour of cough syrup”. Overall, a moving and perceptive story – highly recommended. Thanks Joyce, for telling me about this book.

The Finder – Will Ferguson

Ferguson has written a very enjoyable mystery-thriller. There are four principal characters: an Interpol officer pursuing a mysterious “finder” who locates lost treasures, plus a jaded travel writer and a photojournalist. One of the joys of this entertaining story are the locations: the southern-most island of Japan, New Zealand, and the Australian outback. So, a winning combination of memorable characters with exotic locations. Ferguson’s writing blends wit with adventure; highly recommended.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

This imaginative story takes place at the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, aka a magic school. The writing is delightful with similes like: “mist was draped across the school grounds like a headache clinging to the temple of a mildly concussed and half-hungover private investigator”. A teacher has been killed at the school. Imagine how difficult it is to be a non-magic PI attempting to uncover a murder mystery when magic is used to confuse, confound and deflect. Very entertaining – thanks Amy for this recommendation.

Metropolis – Philip Kerr

Another sublime Bernie Gunther crime thriller. The plot is intricate with vivid characters, and Kerr’s books always have superb context. In this book, it is Berlin in 1928 so lingering effects of WWI and the rise of facism are all key features of difficult Berlin life. Gunther is a republican meaning neither a socialist or fascist so he has to navigate complex and dangerous social politics. And there is much moral philosophy about the origins of crime and the role of police. Regretfully Kerr died in 2018 so this will be the last of his writing

Knife – Jo Nesbo

The latest Harry Hole thriller is brilliant, one of his best. Hole’s usual chaotic life is even more nightmarish with binge drinking and blackouts.  A fiendish villain plots to frame Hole for a murder that Harry can’t be sure that he isn’t guilty of. So a diabolical plot with Hole’s behaviour driven by revenge and some very dubious actions. Finally there is a very satisfying enigmatic ending. Overall, an outstanding example of Scandinavian noir crime thrillers.

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

What if you found an old mis-shelved fiction book in a University Library that contains an incident from your own life, described in perfect detail? This is the beginning of this wildly inventive novel and it gets better! Doors are painted on surfaces that become portals to an underground maze of tunnels and rooms filled with books/stories. Characters in reality interact with characters from stories, and time is very flexible. But this magical place is under attack and great quests ensue. Morgenstern’s writing is wonderfully imaginative; previously she wrote the fabulous The Night Circus (2011). Both books are must reads.

 

Amy adds; it’s a love letter to storytelling, and it gripped my heart.

Stranger Diaries – Ely Griffiths

This is a very satisfying mystery/thriller. Who would have a motive to murder an English teacher at a high school in the south of England? And then kill another teacher? All the major characters in the story are women: a mother & daughter and the investigating detective who is a single gay woman of colour. The “bad guy” is, as typical in this genre, someone who no reader will ever anticipate, making for a fun read.