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After I’m Gone

After I’m Gone
Laura Lippman

When local big shot and bookie Felix Brewer skipped bail and disappeared, he left behind a wife Bambi,  three daughters, and a mistress, Julie. When Julie disappeared ten years later, many people assumed he had sent for her. It was 15 years before her body was discovered.
Private investigator Sandy Sanchez is trying to solve the cold case of Julie’s murder. Digging into the past, he finds layer after layer of secrets and lies. But will he discover the truth?

After I’m Gone uses multiple narrators and weaves together accounts spanning many years. While it initially appears to be a story about Felix, it really the story of all the women he loved and left behind. Each one adds her own unique perspective to this novel.
Part mystery, part family drama, After I’m Gone is all page-turner. Telling a story from so many viewpoints is tricky, but Lippman did an excellent job. Each character has their own distinct voice but they tell one story.
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Cut To The Bone

Cut To The Bone
A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass

The year is 1992, and Dr Bill Brockton is a professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee. He frequently assists the police in solving murder cases. He has just hit upon the idea of using a vacant patch of ground and corpses to study the details of how the human body decomposes.
However, the cases he’s working with the police are inceasingly starting to remind him of cases that he’s solved in the past. Is someone killing to send him a message? Is his family in danger? Dr. Brockton must use all the knowledge at his disposal to solve this string of grisly murders before it is too late.

Cut To The Bone is a prequel to the other novels in the Body Farm series, based on the real-life Body Farm at UT. Although the timeline was fudged a bit, it was fascinating to take a peek back at the beginnings of forensic science, when things that are standard practice now were experimental and exciting- like an artist’s reconstruction based on a skull, or using blowfly larvae (aka maggots) to determine time of death. The Body Farm novels always do a good job balancing the action of a mystery with the technical forensic details- and keeping it in approachable terms.

Cut To The Bone goes beyond the questions of who did it, and how, to explore the why. This novel refers to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, and the serpent in paradise, to address the issue of evil in the world. I don’t read many forensic novels where a character consults their pastor (I don’t remember it anywhere in this series either) but I appreciated the depth added by a spiritual and moral perspective.
I also enjoyed the portrayal of Dr Brockton’s relationship with his son and wife. It is sadly rare to read a novel featuring a loving marriage between two people who, even after decades together, share respect, care, and yes, sexual attraction.
Any Body Farm novel is a good read for fans of forensic mysteries. But I think the authors have outdone themselves with Cut To The Bone. The characters, relationships and moral depth make this much more than your average forensic mystery.

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Other good forensic mystery authors: Kathy Reichs, Jeffery Deaver.

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Blue Monday

Blue Monday
Nicci French

Frieda Klein is the last person on earth you would expect to become involved in a police case. She is a single woman, living alone in her own house. She has a lover, Sandy, but he doesn’t sleep in her bed. She enjoys small rituals like drinking tea in front of the fire. She is a psychotherapist who only sees a few people a week so that she can give each patient proper consideration. When she can’t sleep, she takes long walks on dark, cold London streets. In short, Frieda lives a small, quiet life.
Frieda is not alone, tho. She remains close friends with her brother’s ex-wife Olivia and daughter Chloe. She is in touch with her former mentor, Reuben and her own mentee, Jack. Finally there is the Ukarainian handyman Josef who (quite literally) falls into Frieda’s life. Each of these people looks to Frieda for help in some way- and she offers strength and guidance. But at the end of the day she retreats to that quiet spot with a cup of tea- or a cold solitary walk.
Frieda’s life is thrown into turmoil when one of her patients, Alan, begins talking about his dreams. These dreams closely mirror the kidnapping of a young boy that just happened. Not only that, Alan has had dreams in the past that could also link to unsolved crimes. Frieda goes on a search for the truth.
Inspector Karlsson is Frieda’s contact at the police. He is intrigiued by her insights but also frustrated by her tendancy to try to solve the cases on her own.

This being a murder mystery, of course Frieda and Inspector Karlsson solve the case. But is the kidnapped boy alive? Is Alan guilty?  And can Frieda maintain her quiet solitary life- and still help all the people she cares for?
This book is good from a psychological thriller standpoint. But Frieda and the cast of supporting characters are also exceptionally well drawn. I know after Blue Monday, Nicci French also wrote Tuesdays Gone. I can only hope the books continue for at least all the days of the week.

Full confession: I actually, accidentally read Tuesdays Gone first, so I knew how Blue Monday ended. It was still so good that I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. That’s how you know you’ve really got a good mystery: when you know whodunnit and you want to read it anyway.
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Identical

Identical
Scott Turow

25 years ago, Cass plead guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, Dita. Now, he is almost finished serving his prison sentance. His identical twin brother, Paul, has meanwhile climbed the political ladder and is now a state senator running for mayor. Dita’s brother, Hal, has never been quite convinced that Paul was not involved in the murder. Hal is now a sucessful real estate tycoon, who retains the services of Evon, a former FBI agent. He directs her to research Dita’s murder with the help of Tim, a very old private investigator who was  on the case 25 years ago.

In Identical Turow brings the courtroom drama for which his novels are famous. He includes complicated details about doing DNA and fingerprint analysis on identical twins. He switches back and for from the present drama between Cass, Paul and Hal- and what happened 25 years ago. He writes a nice backstory for Evon, including her complicated relationship with her current girlfriend.
Turow writes all of those things well, but he is most famous for (and I like him best for) his plot twists. Identical certainly has plot twists! I feel like there were 3 major ones in this novel; I did guess one (primarily because I was looking for it) but was happily blindsided by the other 2. I will say just this- its not an accident that the characters in Identical are Greek, and their names allude to more than one myth.

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You might like: Defending Jacob, Landay. The Prestige (movie)

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White Fire

White Fire
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Can I just say, this book caused a lot of happy squealing on my end? First when Preston personally (!) sent me an Advanced Reader Copy (!!) Then when I saw the first page of the book, and again when I finished it. I have been a huge fan of Preston and Child’s Special Agent Pendergast for about 10 years now. Having finished their latest sub-trilogy in the series, they decided to explore new ground with Pendergast. And by new ground, I mean going way back in the past to the ground at the root of all detective stories: Sherlock Holmes.
I have long held that Pendegast is the most Sherlockian of detectives currently being written. So one of my squeals came when I opened White Fire to see a note that the character of Sherlock Holmes was used in this novel by permission of the Conan Doyle estate! Of course, how one of the greatest detectives in fiction got mixed up with Sherlock Holmes is a (typically, delightfully) twisted story.

Special Agent Pendergast’s protege, Corrie Swanson, is looking for the perfect research project to advance her studies at the College of Criminal Justice. She stumbles upon accounts of a man-eating bear in a Colorado mining town in the 1870s. Corri pours all of her resources into research, but powerful families in the town (now a high-class ski resort) are uncomfortable with what she unearths. While she digs around in the past, houses in the town are being burned to the ground. Corri makes some impetuous descisions, and this is where Pendergast has to come riding in to bail her out.
Pendergast’s take on the man- eating bear is wildly different, colored by an old Sherlock Holmes tale (invented in this book by Preston and Child. They do a remarkable job of alluding to Conan Doyle’s style but still writing in a manner recognizably their own.) Pendegast must call on all of his resources to not only solve the case but keep Corrie alive (and out of jail.) He leverages all of his connections and explores all his fields of obscure knowledge before bringing all his impressive powers of thought and deduction to bear and, of course, solving the case! All this while attired in only the finest of bespoke black menswear (the detailed descriptions of his Colorado snow gear were pretty funny.)

If you had merely said to me the words “Pendergast and Holmes” I would’ve been excited. Happily, this book was everything I hoped it would be- and more. Lincoln and Child do not disappoint. Fans of Pendergast will be happy to encounter him in this unique adventure. Readers new to the series will find this book an excellent place to start.

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The other top (altho not quite as good) Sherlockian detectives currently being written are J. Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme and J. Nesbo’s Harry Hole.

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Police

Police
Jo Nesbo

At the end of Nesbo’s last book, Phantom,  a lot of us thought Harry Hole was dead. Since Police is being marketed with the tagline “a new Harry Hole novel”, I don’t think its too much of a spoiler to reveal that Hole is still alive… at least when Police starts.

There is a killer on the loose in Norway, and he seems to be targeting police officers. Is his motive revenge, hatred, or even love? The politicking at police headquarters impedes rather than advances the case. A few who have worked with Harry Hole try to form their own task force and solve the crimes like he would. But can they do it without him?
This novel is typical of all the Nesbo has written in the Harry Hole series; that is to say, excellent. Psychological analysis, modern forensics, and old-fashioned beat cop detecting all play a role in solving the case.  The case takes unexpected twists and turns that keep you guessing (and turing pages) up until the end. A story arc involving the corrupt chief of police and his henchman gets wrapped up. But is it as good if there is no Harry Hole? You have to read the book to decide.

SPOIlER ALERT
My feeling is that this just might be the final Harry Hole book (altho Nesbo has fooled us before.) If, in fact, it is- I’m not disappointed with this farewell to the character. For once he might have a book where he doesn’t disappear into an alcoholic drinking binge/blackout. For once he might get to be happy with his long-time off-and-on girlfriend Rakel and her son Oleg. I’m only disappointed because I never wanted to say goodbye to Harry. Oh, I know, characters are usually better if they say goodbye before we are quite done with them. But 9 Nesbo books (in English) over the last few years have made me rather attached to Harry Hole. He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest fictional detectives of the last 20 years.

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Other characters in the running for the best detective of the last 20 yeats: the fictional Pendergast of Preston and Child. the fictional House of TV. the fictional Lincoln Ryhme of J. Deaver. the fictional Temperance Brennan of K. Reichs. the fictional Sherlock of the BBC.

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The Highway

The Highway
C.J. Box

I first encountered the writing of CJ Box when he came to our bookstore to sign his previous book Breaking Point. When I realized it was about a WY game warden named Joe Pickett, I was not very interested. Guns and trucks, hunting and horses, boots and Stetsons aren’t really my thing.  But before I knew it, I was sucked into the mystery and stayed up way too late to find out what happened. Then I realized that I enjoyed CJ Box’s writing and his characters. Sometime in the last 6 months, I’ve read over half of his books- cowboys notwithstanding.
CJ Box summarized The Highway as “a serial killer long-haul trucker.” Obviously it gets more involved than that, but the premise is just as frightening as it sounds. This book is part of a three book series starring a Sheriff named Cody Hoyt. However, as the reader, you spend a lot of time with the thoughts and actions of his professional partner, Cassie Dewell. For all the apparent machismo of his books, CJ Box writes women’s voices very well. Cassie is flawed but strong, and I would happily read more books with her as the lead.
As a bonus, CJ Box excells at decribing the breathtaking scenery where his stories take place. You really haven’t read about a sunrise in Yellowstone Park until you’ve read his description.
If you always wanted to read mysteries about game wardens and sheriffs in our Western states, these books are perfect for you. If you never wanted that, but like a good mystery, give CJ Box a try. Like me, you might find yourself suprised to like his books.

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