The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith

A fascinating book set in three time periods: 1630s in Holland, 1958 in New York, and 2000 in Sydney. The story divulges impeccable information on art and art forgery, provided in the context of a mystery of how an original painting and its forged copy come to be reunited. Thanks Amy for giving me this book.

Give Me Your Hand – Megan Abbott

Give Me Your Hand - Megan AbbottThere are two key features in successful mystery thrillers: context and plot. In my opinion, context is often the most informative and dramatic element. This book is about two young women in two time-lines: THEN as high school students, and NOW, as post-doctoral researchers in a University medical research laboratory. Given my own background as a biomedical researcher, clearly the context is novel and appealing, the description of lab smells, the equipment, everything is described perfectly. But this is a book about relationships, in particular a friendship complicated by academic competition. And there are dark secrets: a key phrase repeated in the book is “You don’t have a self until you have a secret”. A key progression from dark secrets are lies and then paralyzing “Crime & Punishment” type guilt. Finally, this is a book about women. Highly recommended. Thanks, Karen, for this book suggestion.

Lethal White – Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for JK Rowling)

Lethal White - Robert GalbraithThe fourth Cormoran Strike book has a complex plot and, as in previous books, the evolving relationship between Cormoran and his associate Robin is central to the story. In many ways, this is a superb procedural book: how are clues discovered and interpreted? The procedural emphasis is reminiscent of Michael Connelly’s detective Harry Bosch. But the real joy in this Galbraith book is how Cormoran and Robin interact, how ideas and theories are discussed and debated (much like Inspector Lynley and Havers in the E. George mysteries). Both characters are completely dissimilar and have some significant human frailties that are often endearing. Finally the choice of certain words requires the use of a dictionary, a delicious practise that I find completely satisfying. Violence is minimal; this is an excellent book about plot and motive.

Day of the Dead – Nicci French

Day of the Dead - Nicci FrenchThis is the 8th and final book in the Dr. Frieda Klein series, and so provides a powerful climax with respect to Klein’s arch-nemesis, the serial killer Dean Reeve. Klein remains an enigmatic figure, for sure. Radical plot changes occur to make this a very satisfying read. I look forward to what this husband/wife team write in the future. Thanks Joyce, for your original recommendation of this series and for your enthusiastic thumbs-up for this last book.

The Punishment She Deserves – Elizabeth George

The Punishment She Deserves - Elizabeth GeorgeThis may be the 20th Inspector Lynley mystery book and they are a continuing joy to read. At about 700 pages, the story is rich in detail. The portrait of the English countryside (Ludlow) is impeccable, as always. But the core of this novel is the unlikely partnership of the urbane and cultured Lynley with the impulsive Barbra Havers, his assistant. Their repartee as they investigate a crime is simply wonderful to read. And until 8 pages from the end, there is only a single death so a nice change from crime books about brutal serial killers with more detail than one would like about blood spatter analysis.

The Only Cafe – Linden MacIntyre

The Only cafe - Linden MacIntyre.jpgThis is a superb book, a mystery in the John LeCarre mold. Secrets abound: What will someone do to survive in a genocidal war? Was do we really know about a father when he goes missing? The setting is contemporary Toronto with topical issues like Jihadist recruitment. The back-story is the tragic conflict in Lebanon from 1976-83=2. Unanswered questions are rampant – this is just great writing, in part about journalism: can the truth ever be revealed.

Prussian Blue – Philip Kerr

Prussian Blue - Philip KerrKerr has written a number of novels about a German police detective, Bernie Gunther, and this is the best so far, in my view. Gunther is the epitome of the hard-boiled Philip Marlowe-like PI. The context of the BG plots is Nazi Germany; Prussian blue takes place in 1939. Gunther is a socialist and anyone not a member of the Nazi party will always be viewed with suspicion by Gunther’s superiors. Then add in the characteristic that Gunther is a Berliner, which makes him flippant, disrespectful, subversive, sarcastic – the list goes on! But he is a good cop in difficult times, and his deductive skills force the Nazi superiors to use him in difficult and sensitive investigations. The novel dwells on the existential crisis of investigating a murder in the Nazi context. This is mystery writing at its best.