Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith. Random House, 2016. 9781101996256.
A guest review in verse by Murphy’s Mom because: National Poetry Month
Summer vacation has been ruined for the sunbathing Jude and her cousin.
They were enjoying sights and sun of Hollywood when the phone call came in.
Jude’s best friend / drama queen / glamour puss Maggie Kim was dead in her pool.
Maggie was always one for hysterics. But she is really gone,
Killed by an enemy, or who knows, it might have been someone she called a friend.
Parents and coroners alike want to believe Maggie took her own life.
But if it was murder…
Everyone is a suspect during the Kim family’s time of anguish and strife.
Jude knew her better than everyone;
they would gossip, laugh, and get snarky by the pool as they soaked up the rays.
Now with Maggie dead and gone, Jude knows her responsibility,
to keep the braying hyenas and blood-thirsty sharks (their so-called friends) at bay
while looking for answers.
But her own skeletons are rising to the surface.
Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers. Dover, 1923. 9780486473628.
The first Lord Peter Wimsey novel is another milepost on my yearlong journey through classics of the mystery genre. Lord Peter takes a baffling case: the body of an unknown man, nude except for a pair of gold pince-nez glasses, in the bathtub of an an architect. His friend, the police detective Mr. Parker, is trying to solve the apparent disappearance of wealthy financier Sir Reuben Levy. The corpse in the tub is obviously not the missing man, but is there a connection between the two cases?
Lord Peter Wimsey is wonderful: he projects the image of a silly younger son of a wealthy aristocratic family (Sayers said he was a cross between Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster), but underneath it he has a sharp mind, both analytical and philosophical. He’s turned his walking stick into a combination measuring tool and compass with a sword hidden inside, plus he has a magnifying monocle and an encyclopedic knowledge of crime and detection. His butler, Bunter, has taken up crime scene photography and fingerprint detection.
This is another mystery that surprised me with how funny it was — there was quite a bit of dry commentary on class, and characters talked about how real life was different than in detective stories. On the more serious and philosophical side, Sayers included thoughtful discussion of the morality of enjoying mysteries when someone’s life has been lost. I had only expected a puzzle and an adventure but found a story with depth and complexity.
Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong by A.J. Low. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016. 9781449477899.
Elementary-aged, Singaporean amateur sleuth Sherlock Sam (real name: Samuel Tan Cher Lock) teams up with his sister, his cousin, and his snarky robot Watson to solve the mystery of his Auntie’s missing heirloom cookbook. Sherlock Sam is earnest, he learned all about problem-solving from Logicomix, he’s annoyed that adults keep pinching his chubby cheeks, and he’s motivated by food. This book made me hungry: it’s packed full of Singaporean delicacies (Sherlock Sam’s love of his Auntie’s ayam buah keluak is the main reason he wants to solve the case quickly).
This is an illustrated chapter book (though Andrews McMeel’s AMP! Kids imprint is known for graphic novels) with delightful black and white spot illustrations by Andrew Tan.
The Murder at the Vicarage: A Miss Marple Mystery by Agatha Christie. Harper, 1930. 9780062073600.
I’ve decided that my personal reading challenge for 2017 is to sample the classics of the mystery and detective genre. I started early, with the first Sherlock Holmes novel in November. This was my first inkling of how difficult this will be, since I immediately wanted to read the rest of the stories! My next author was Agatha Christie. Now I want to read through all of her mysteries, too. I had only known that Christie’s books had well-crafted puzzles, I had no idea how funny she was!
In The Murder at the Vicarage, local blowhard Colonel Protheroe is murdered in the vicar’s study. No one in the village of St. Mary Mead is terribly sorry that he’s gone, and there is no shortage of suspects. The story is narrated by the vicar, Leonard Clement, who makes hilariously dry internal observations about the odd characters who cross his path as he tries to solve the crime. In a tiny village where everyone knows everyone’s business, a murder is almost gleefully appreciated. Everyone fancies themselves a detective and begins looking for clues. The most observant and knowledgeable about human nature (as well as being an avid mystery reader) is Miss Marple, one of the many spinsters who dominate local life. I loved the various winks to the reader about the conventions of mystery novels — this was written in 1930, as the genre was just beginning its golden age!
Normal by Warren Ellis. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. 9780374534974.
Hidden in an experimental forest in rural Oregon is a facility funded by various government agencies and NGOs, a facility where professionals help mentally ill futurists. They observe trends in technology, finance, and warfare in order to predict what comes next, and are driven mad by what they predict. Foresight strategist Adam Dearden arrives after a breakdown and is ready for time away from the constant inbound information that controlled his life. Then a patient goes missing from his locked and very closely watched room, leaving behind a huge mound of writhing insects on his bed. The facility goes into lockdown and everyone begins to panic. Adam decides that the safest thing to do is to solve the mystery before anyone from the outside world comes and investigates his background too closely.
Ellis provides his usual gonzo, fever-dream take on current and near-future technology, much of it based on the work of futurist friends. He writes a fast-paced mystery that will leave you unsettled by the doomsday scenarios that brought patients to the facility.
Nailbiter Volume One: There Will Be Blood by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Image, 2014. 9781632151124.
Contains Nailbiter #1 – #5.
Nailbiter Volume Two: Bloody Hands by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Image, 2015. 9781632152329.
Contains Nailbiter #6 – #10.
Eliot Carroll has been investigating the connections between the Buckaroo Butchers — sixteen serial killers born in the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon. He called his friend, Army Intelligence Officer Nicholas Finch, to tell him he’d solved the mystery. But by the time Finch arrives in town to meet him, Carroll is missing. Now Finch just wants to find his friend. Did acquitted serial killer The Nailbiter (who chewed his victims’ nails right down to their bloody bones) have anything to do with his friend’s disappearance?
It features a local cop who used to date a serial killer, a Murder Shop that sells killer memorabilia, a ton of suspicious characters, and some of the grossest flashbacks I’ve seen in comics. This is perfect for splatterpunk fans and, as someone starts impersonating past serial killers, of the movie Scream. There’s a hilarious story in the second book where comics writer Brian Michael Bendis heads to Buckaroo on his bike to make notes for a graphic novel. But I was on board as soon as I read about any librarian’s favorite serial killer, The Book Burner, who torched libraries with people inside and then killed some authors. (I am, of course, happy that he’s fictional.)
Running Girl by Simon Mason. Scholastic, 2016. 9781338036428.
What if a mixed-race, 15-year-old suburban British slacker had a mind like Sherlock Holmes’, with his photographic memory, knowledge, and analytical skills? Garvie Smith is bored out of his skull in school, gets terrible grades, refuses to apply himself, and hangs out with friends at the park smoking weed. The only thing he puts any effort into is avoiding another lecture from his mom. Then one of his classmates, Chloe Dow, goes missing. Garvie takes it upon himself to find out what happened to her even as the young and serious Detective Inspector Singh tells him to leave the investigation to the police.
The two brilliant investigators piece together conflicting stories and physical evidence on their own, only occasionally sharing their insights with one another. I rooted for each of them through heaps of twists and turns. This books is 432 pages long and never lags. I am someone who tunes out during chase scenes in pretty much any media, but the one in Running Girl had me gasping on the edge of my seat. I really hope this is the start of a series, or maybe even two: one for Garvie and one for DI Singh.