Category: Amateur Sleuth


Elizabeth Peters 1927 - 2013

Author Barbara Mertz, who wrote mysteries under the names Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters, died August 8 at the age of 85.
Read her obituary in the Globe & Mail.

## Related post: MBTB review of Crocodile on the Sandbank
# 1 with Amelia Peabody, Egyptologist, set mostly in Egypt. First book takes place around the 1880s.

I admit Crocodile on the Sandbank is one of my favourites and I have read it more than once. This series is less mystery, more general adventure in an exotic location.

Go to her page on Stop, You're Killing Me! for the complete list of mysteries she wrote under both pseudonyms.

The Illusion of Murder
by Carol McCleary


Book # 2 with Nellie Bly, an American investigative reporter, in Paris and around the world, starting in 1889

Try this series if you like Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody books. Set in the same time period, but based on real-life journalist Nellie Bly, this book chronicles Nellie's 72 day race around the world, in her challenge to novelist Jules Verne's book Around the World in Eighty Days. In this fictional account of her travels, Nellie witnesses a murder in Egypt and suspects one of her fellow travellers of being involved.

First book: The Alchemy of Murder

For a non-fiction account of this trip, try Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's history-making race around the world by Matthew Goodman

Read Nellie Bly's book Around the World in 72 Days online here.


Arthur Ellis Best First Crime Novel nominees

The Crime Writers of Canada held the Arthur Ellis Awards dinner May 30.

Here is the list of nominees for Best First Crime Novel:

* Simone St. James: The Haunting of Maddy Clare WINNER
Sarah Piper's lonely, threadbare existence changes when her temporary agency sends her to assist a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis - rich, handsome, scarred by World War I, and obsessed with ghosts - has been summoned to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old maid Maddy Clare, who is haunting the barn where she committed suicide. Since Maddy hated men in life, it is Sarah's task to confront her in death. Soon Sarah is caught up in a deperate struggle. For Maddy's ghost is real, she's angry, and she has powers that defy all reason. Can Sarah and Alistair's assistant, the rough, unsettling Matthew Ryder, discover who Maddy was, whereshe came from, and what is driving her desire for vengeance - before she destroys them all? Publisher's description

Peggy Blair: The Beggar’s Opera
Decaying but beautiful Havana provides the atmospheric backdrop for Blair's absorbing debut, the first in a series introducing Ricardo Ramirez, "the inspector in charge of the Havana Major Crime Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police." When a boy is brutally raped and murdered, suspicion falls on a visiting Canadian policeman, Det. Mike Ellis. The ailing Fidel Castro wants to send a strong message that Cuba doesn't tolerate sex crimes, and a provision in Cuban criminal law that gives the police just 72 hours to secure an indictment ensures a fast pace. Nothing, however, is quite as simple as it should be: Ellis has a cloud hanging over him from a past shoot-out; he has forgotten much of the crucial evening; and Ramirez himself either has supernatural powers or is rapidly succumbing to dementia. Meanwhile, communism and ancient belief in spirits coexist in a Cuba where tourists are as likely to encounter requests for soap and pencils as requests for money. Publisher's Weekly review

Deryn Collier: Confined Space
When respected ex–Canadian Forces commander Bern Fortin cuts short his military career to take a job as the coroner for a small mountain town in the heart of BC, he’s hoping to leave the past behind. Bern’s looking forward to a quiet life, but the memories of what he witnessed during his stints in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries haunt him still.
When the body of one of the workers is found floating in the huge bottle-washing tank at the local brewery, Bern is called in for a routine investigation. What first appears to be a tragic accident takes a menacing turn when the body of the worker’s girlfriend is discovered in a nearby field. Bern needs the help of brewery safety investigator Evie Chapelle, who, burdened by tragedies she might have prevented, is more determined than ever to keep her workers, and their tight-knit community, safe. Soon, Bern and Evie find themselves risking their jobs—and their lives—to uncover a killer hiding in a place where it is awfully hard to keep a secret. Publisher's description

Peter Kirby: The Dead of Winter
Inspector Luc Vanier is drinking his way through Christmas Eve when he is called out to investigate the murder of five homeless people. His investigation takes him into the back rooms of the Catholic Church, the boardrooms of Montreal's business elite and the soup kitchens and back-alleys of street life in winter. Publisher's description

Chris Laing: A Private Man
In 1947, World War II veteran and former lawman Max Dexter opens his own detective agency in Hamilton, Ontario. Max and his assistant Isabel O'Brien are on the case from murder to money laundering and organized crime. Publisher's description

To see the winner of the Best Crime Novel award go to MBTB post:
Arthur Ellis finalists announced: Best Crime Novel Nominees


Mystery Memo # 116 featuring amateur sleuths

The Mystery Memo is a log of all of my mystery reading, with brief comments and a star rating for each book read. It is published every 4 to 6 weeks.

This Mystery Memo has one perfect read: Sara J. Henry's Learning to Swim, described below.

The following selections from my Mystery Memo # 116 features crime solvers who are not paid investigators like private eyes or police officers of any kind. They include journalists (Jan Burke's Irene Kelly, Julie Kramer's Riley Spartz), workers in forensics (Kathryn Fox's pathologist Dr. Anya Crichton, Ellie Griffith's forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway) and just plain amateur sleuths (Charles Todd's new series with World War I nurse, Bess Crawford and Sara Henry's young protagonist Troy Chance who sees a child fall off a ferry)

Click here to download the entire Mystery Memo # 116 and see all 16 mysteries.

Jan Burke: Disturbance (2011) ****
Book # 11 with reporter Irene Kelly in southern California
The serial killer in Bones (# 7 in series) has recovered from a serious injury and escapes from prison, determined to take vengeance against Irene. Half way through the book, he kidnaps her with the help of several of his sons. This was a fine action/adventure mystery, but it would be best to read at least Bones before this one.
First book: Goodnight, Irene

Kathryn Fox: Death Mask (2011) *** ½
Book # 4 with freelance pathologist and forensic physician Dr. Anya Crichton.

Anya has been invited to give workshops to professional football players about sexual behaviour. After several young football players with a connection to the same high school end up dead, she helps investigate. A complex plot but with less forensics than the others in the series.
First book: Malicious Intent


Elly Griffiths: The House at Sea’s End (2011) ****
Amateur detective/British police procedural.
Book # 3 with Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist.

Several bodies found in a seaside cave turn out to be German soldiers from WW2. A German researcher comes to town claiming he knows who they are but then he is murdered. Someone is determined to keep the secret of who killed these men, but Ruth and her sometime lover DCI Nelson are on the trail. This series is strongly character-driven with good archaeology content.
First book: The Crossing Places

Sara J. Henry: Learning to Swim (2011) *****
Amateur sleuth
Book # 1 with Troy Chance, a young woman who works in Lake Placid, NY.

While on a ferry trip across the lake, Troy thinks she sees a child fall from a passing ferry. Without thinking, she jumps in and yes, a 6-year-old boy has been tied into a sweatshirt and is underwater. She rescues him and heroically swims to shore. The pace hardly slows down after she traces the boy’s father to Ottawa and accompanies the child back home. Troy is determined to get to the bottom of who threw the child in the water. Enthralling writing style, a good balanced character in Troy and an interesting narrative voice. A great read.

Julie Kramer: Silencing Sam (2010) *** ½
Book # 3 with television journalist Riley Spartz

Riley is the main suspect in the murder of a local gossip columnist. While trying to prove her innocence, she also tackles stories at a wind farm troubled by bombs. I find Riley’s point of view interesting.
First book: Stalking Susan

Charles Todd: An Impartial Witness (2010) *** ½
Historical/Amateur sleuth.
Book # 2 with war nurse Bess Crawford, set in England during WW1.

After Bess travels to England with a seriously injured pilot who constantly carries a photograph of his beloved wife, she sees the woman from the photo having an emotional scene with another man at the train station. When the woman is soon found murdered, Bess comes forward to the police with her information and gets involved looking into the woman’s life.
First book: A Duty to the Dead

posted by Sharon

The Devil's Dust
by C.B. Forrest

Canadian police procedural/investigator

Book # 3 with Charlie McKelvey, a 30-year veteran Toronto police detective, newly retired.

Description: Retired Toronto detective Charlie McKelvey runs from a cancer diagnosis and the violent memories of the big city and retreats to his hometown. A small declining mining centre in northern Ontario, Ste. Bernadette offers McKelvey a chance to resolve old family issues, including his fathers involvement in a deadly wildcat strike in the late 1950s.
When the local police force enlists his help in tracing an upswing in youth violence and vandalism, McKelvey stumbles into the hornets nest of a crystal meth industry....
First book: The Weight of Stones


Sam Thomas: The Midwife's Tale ****

Sam Thomas: The Midwife’s Tale (2012) ****

MBTB mini-review: I love an unusual point of view. Following midwife Bridget Hodgson through the dangerous streets of 1644 York brings that time period alive.

Here's what Booklist had to say: It is 1644, and civil war has erupted in York, England. The Parliament’s armies have revolted against the king and laid siege to the city, but midwife Bridget Hodgson still has babies to deliver. She soon finds an even bigger problem. Her friend Esther Cooper has been convicted of murdering her husband. She will burn at the stake if the real killer is not found. Bridget and her servant, Martha Hawkins, set out to save Esther. Martha has street smarts and excellent knife skills. The two women begin investigating while keeping clear of the rebel artillery and confronting an evil figure from Martha’s past. They find that Esther’s husband, an ostentatious Puritan, had a very sinister secret life. Moving from the dank alleys of the poor neighborhoods to the mansions of the rich, Bridget and Esther capture a brutal killer and find that traitors are often tyrants. The author is a historian, and his period detail creates a vivid atmosphere. The strong female characters and action-packed plot will please historical-mystery readers.

This is suggested for fans of Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series and C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series

## Related posts:
MBTB profile of Ariana Franklin
MBTB review of C.J. Sansom's Sovereign # 3
posted by Sharon

The Sound of Broken Glass
by Deborah Crombie

British police procedural

Book # 15 with Duncan Kincaid, a Scotland Yard superintendent, and Gemma James, a sergeant, in London, England

Summary: While investigating the murder of a well-respected barrister who was found dead at a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace, Detective Inspector Gemma James and her partner, Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot, begin to question everything they think they know about their world and those they trust most.


Jefferson Bass: The Inquisitor’s Key ****

The Inquisitor’s Key
By Jefferson Bass

# 7 with Dr. Bill Brockton, a forensic anthropologist in Tennessee, in the Body Farm series

MBTB review:
Bill Brockton and Miranda Lovelady are called to Avignon, France to identify a set of mysterious bones found in a hidden chamber in the Palace of the Popes. Although the stone inscription hints that the bones might be those of Jesus, the two anthropologists remain skeptical while they attempt to identify the remains. When an attempt on their own lives is made, the pair realize things are not quite as they seem and the pressure is on to uncover the mystery of the two thousand year old bones.

This installation is completely different from the rest of the series and would fall more comfortably in the “archaeological thriller/mystery” category. Bass flips back and forth between the mystery of today’s discovery of the bones, and a medieval account of what happened. The forensic detail that we are so accustomed to is paired down and the history, archaeology and politics of the time are brought into limelight which was a nice change for me. As usual, Bass’ plot was action packed and we delved into Brockton’s love life a bit more than usual. Overall, a real page turner.

First book: Carved in Bone

## Related posts:

Spotlight on Jefferson Bass and the Body Farm novels posted in November 2009

MBTB full review of The Bone Thief # 5

MBTB full review of The Bone Yard # 6

posted by Shiela


Homicide in Hawaii

Aloha fellow readers, I'm off to sunny Hawaii and I thought I would share some of the titles I will be taking with me on vacation.

Primitive Secrets (2002)
By Deborah Turrell Atkinson

Book # 1 in the Storm Kayama series

An exciting new voice richly and suspensefully evokes modern and ancient Hawaii...

When Storm Kayama walks into her lucrative Honolulu law firm one morning, she's shocked--and grieved--to find her adopted uncle at his desk, stiff and cold. Years before, Miles Hamasaki had fulfilled a promise to Storm's father and brought her to be raised with his own family. But, as questions surround Miles' death and her adopted family begins to close ranks, Storm suspects that he has been murdered.
Heading to the Big Island for a weekend escape from escalating pressures, she narrowly escapes a terrible accident. Storm takes refuge in the home of her Aunt Maile, a traditional Hawaiian healer, and Uncle Keone, a paniolo on the huge Parker Ranch. There she encounters a legend from her youth and a family totem, or 'aumakua, which Aunt Maile promises will protect her. As Storm struggles to heal her own childhood wounds and bring justice to Hamasaki's killer, she also comes to grip with the rifts in her own life and culture. (Book Description)

The Green Room (2005)
by Deborah Turrell Atkinson

Book # 2 in the Strom Kayama series

Storm Kayama needs to build her clientele, so when surf promoter Marty Barstow's wife Stephanie walks into her new law office, Storm agrees to represent her, despite her distaste for a bitter divorce situation.
When Stephanie's son Ben, a promising surfer, invites her to O'ahu's North Shore for a contest, Storm jumps at the chance. Not only will it be a thrill to observe the meet, but Storm will also have the opportunity to watch a distant cousin compete. Nahoa Pi'ilani has grown from a mischievous kid to a surfer of international renown, and he seems to have put the trouble that once brewed between their families behind him.
Then a child delivers a package to Nahoa containing an ancient Hawaiian weapona wooden club encircled with shark's teeth. Storm recognizes the lei o mano. It's a threat, a call to battle.
Events soon suck her into a vortex of escalating peril. As if she were in the green roomthe underwater space where tons of churning water can imprison a surferStorm is buffeted and disoriented by local legend, greed, and cutthroat competition and must confront not only a vicious killer but a haunting incident from her past. (Book Description)

Hula Done It? (2005)
By Maddy Hunter

Book # 4 in the Passport to Peril series

For travel escort Emily Andrew and her fellow Iowans, aloha means "hello" to all the sun, surf, and scrumptious cuisine their Hawaiian cruise has to offer. But for Professor Dorian Smoker, a renowned expert on the legendary Captain Cook, aloha also means "good-bye" -- as in "man overboard."

Sure, it could have been an accident. But Emily wonders if some guest with a grudge might have knocked off the opinionated professor. Or maybe it had something to do with that missing journal Nana's friend lent him -- the one with the mysterious treasure map. Emily figures the map is probably a fake. But when another copy turns up, she and her friends take off, rafting down rivers and plunging through jungles to find the treasure themselves. Unfortunately, Professor Smoker's killer just might have the same idea. And this tropical heat wave could quickly turn into a crime wave... (Book Description)

The Flaming Luau of Death (2005)
By Jerrilyn Farmer

Book # 7 in the Madeline Bean Culinary Mystery series

When Holly Nichols sets her wedding date, trendy L.A. party-planner Madeline Bean decides to throw her top assistant the hippest and most lavish bridal shower on the planet. The guests embark on a “destination” party to a fabulous and exclusive spa/resort in Hawaii. The salt-rubs! The paraffin pedicures! The dead body in the mud bath! Ew. It doesn’t help matters when Holly confesses to Maddie that she can’t really go through with the upcoming wedding after all. In her effort to smooth the matrimonial path for her dear friend, Madeline must track down the mystery man Holly may have married ten years earlier and never actually got around to divorcing. How hard can that be? Well, with the elusive gentleman in question running from a gang of rare vegetable smugglers, the bridal shower guests imbibing in one “Bridesmaid Mojito” too many, the current fiancé developing an allergy to scandal, and a murderer on the loose, it looks like anything but clear sailing down the aisle for one of Mad Bean’s best employees. (Book Description)

Right from the Gecko (2007)
By Cynthia Baxter

Book # 5 in the Reigning Cats and Dogs series

Surf’s up . . . and so are the stakes when veterinarian and amateur sleuth Jessica Popper escapes to the land of hula, hibiscus, and geckos for a professional conference. The last time she and boyfriend Nick Burby touched down on the island of Hawaii, Nick caused a volcanic eruption when he unexpectedly popped The Question to commitment-phobic Jess. But this trip proves just as dangerous when Jess befriends an ambitious young reporter whose body later washes up on the sand . . . and someone thinks Jess holds the clue to the killer’s motive.

There’s no end of suspects among the exotic flora and fauna, from the victim’s journalistic rivals and a mystery boyfriend to an eccentric beachcomber and a governor’s aide with ties to a controversial biotech firm bringing progress to paradise. One of them is a killer with the chameleon-like ability to stay hidden—and if Jessica doesn’t uncover hula-dunnit in time, she’ll be saying aloha . . . permanently. (Book Description)

## Related post: Hawaii Mysteries (posted in 2010 - includes MBTB mini-reviews)

Happy Reading!!


The Cozy Corner

With winter settling in, it's nice to pick up a good cozy and cuddle up by a roaring fireplace. Here are some that have caught my eye:

The Probability of Murder (2012)
By Ada Madison

Book #2 in the Sophie Knowles math series

Dr. Sophie Knowles is a professor with a way of making even the most complex math problems fun for her students. But when the school's beloved librarian is found shot to death in the stacks, Sophie learns that her friend was more complex than she ever knew. Now, Sophie must take on some rigorous deduction homework before the chances for another murder on campus increase exponentially... (Book Description)

Endangered (2012)
By Ann Littlewood

#3 in the Zoo Mystery series

Zoo keeper Iris Oakley is sent to a remote farm in Washington State to rescue exotic animals after a drug bust. Instead of pets, she finds smuggled parrots and tortoises destined for sale to unscrupulous or unsuspecting collectors. The zoo’s facilities are full, and she ends up with two macaws shrieking in her basement. The marijuana grow operation and the meth lab are the cops’ problem. The smuggling side-line is hers. Then she discovers a woman who escaped the bust—dead. Iris has stumbled onto a violent crime, something far too dangerous for a widow with a young son. But it’s too late to untangle herself. (Modified Book Description)

Cast on, Kill Off (2012)
By Maggie Sefton

Knitting Mystery Book #10

Kelly Flynn’s knitting pal, Megan, is about to get hitched, and all the planning is falling into place. Megan has found the perfect seamstress, Zoe Yeager, to create the dresses for Kelly and the other bridesmaids. And each bridesmaid is knitting her own loose-knit shawl to drape over the lovely dresses. But Zoe has more than bolts of fabric and seam-cutters stashed away in her shop—she’s harboring a secret. Bruises on her face show a troubling side of her marriage, and just after she finds the courage to leave her husband, Zoe’s found dead from a single bullet shot.

Though her husband is a key suspect, it turns out there are others who might have had designs on Zoe’s death. One is fellow seamstress Leann O’Hara, who recently discovered Zoe won a bridal gown design contest with one of Leann’s own designs. Now it’s up to Kelly and her knitting pals to use their sleuthing savvy to solve the case, while helping Megan stay cool and collected as the big day approaches. They’ll have to stitch up all the loose ends before they can don their dresses and shawls and escort Megan into the land of happily ever after… (Book Description)

Foul Play at the PTA (2011)
By Laura Alden

#2 in the Beth Kennedy PTA series

PTA meetings at Tarver Elementary School can get pretty heated. But after parent Sam Helmstetter is strangled in his car following a meeting, mom and PTA secretary Beth Kennedy and her best friend Marina fear there may be a cold-blooded killer in the group... (Book Description)

Keep warm and Happy Reading!

Posted by Shiela


Paul Lawrence: The Sweet Smell of Decay (2009) ***½

The Sweet Smell of Decay
By Paul Lawrence

MBTB review: Harry Lytle is charged with investigating the brutal murder of his cousin Anne Giles. Assisted by his friend, a butcher named David Dowling, the two embark on a journey that takes them across the English countryside, through the dirty and smelly streets of the capital, and into the dreaded Tower of London in an attempt to seek justice. Dirty politics, seedy characters and miscommunication plague them at every step of the investigation and Lytle finds himself on the wrong side of the law and in a terrible, no-win situation.

Mixed feelings regarding this one. I really wanted to like the book and I did enjoy it overall but there were so many parts where the story just dragged on (albeit it REALLY picked up at the end). Set in 1664 London, Lawrence does a fantastic job describing the period details and setting--so much so that the reader can almost smell the “decay” and see the sights of England through Harry’s eyes. I'm going to give the second book in this series a try before adding this author to my "love it" or "leave it" category.

Posted by Shiela


Hallowe'en Mysteries

Here's best link I've found for Hallowe'en mysteries:
Janet Rudolf's Mystery Fanfare Blog

Check out her post for October 25 for an extensive list of Hallowe'en Crime Fiction.

Here are a few spooky mysteries on the cozy side:

Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman

# 1 with Alison Kerby, a guesthouse owner with two unexpected guests (ghosts) in her newly acquired Jersey Shore Victorian, in the Haunted Guesthouse mysteries

What's a Ghoul to Do by Victoria Laurie
# 1 with M.J. Holliday, a medium and ghostbuster, and her partner Gilley, in the Ghost Hunter mysteries

Half Way to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
# 1 with the Night Huntress
Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father—the one responsible for ruining her mother's life. Fantastic Fiction

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris
# 1 with Harper Connelly, a lightning survivor who can find bodies, and her stepbrother Tolliver, in Sarne, Arkansas

For a harder edged Hallowe'en read, see a previous MBTB post:
Something Creepy for Halloween


Want more? See this list using the key words "Halloween mystery fiction" in the online SILS catalogue.

posted by Sharon


Janice Hamrick: Death Makes the Cut (2012) ***½

Death makes the Cut
By Janice Hamrick

The first bell of the new school year hasn’t even rung, and Texas high school teacher Jocelyn Shore is already at the scene of a murder. Friend and fellow teacher Fred Argus has been found dead on campus, and it isn’t long before the annoying, albeit attractive, Austin police detective Colin Gallagher uncovers evidence that Fred might have been selling drugs to students. Shocked by her loss as well as the insinuation that Fred was a dealer who got what he deserved, Jocelyn starts asking the kinds of questions guaranteed to set fellow teachers, administrators, and parents on edge.

With the school serving as the setting for a big-time director’s latest film, her investigation could hardly have come at a worse time. Jocelyn, however, finds clearing her friend’s name far more important than the needs of a pesky movie crew and doesn’t care who knows it. But it’s only when she’s attacked while on set that she realizes someone is determined to make sure the secrets hidden by Fred’s death remain hidden no matter what the cost (abridged book description).

MBTB Review: There is more meat to this mystery than her previous attempt and Jocelyn’s (and Kyla’s) sassy attitude keeps the momentum going in Hamrick’s second book Death on Tour. I loved the back to school setting which is so appropriate for this time of the year and it made me nostalgic for when I was teaching (minus the body count of course!) Suspects and suspense were aplenty, sarcasm and hunky men abound, this cozy quick read will have you wanting more of Jocelyn Shore.

Don't forget to pick up Hamrick's first mystery Death on Tour.

Click here to read a full review of Death on Tour

Posted by Shiela

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