An American microbiologist dies on stage as he is about to lecture at a scientific congress in Prague. He was apparently stabbed by local criminals in the course of a robbery, but Professor Hildegard Kraus from Heidelberg and her colleague Alex Kértesz from Jerusalem, who hear his last words, wonder whether one of the assembled scientists might be the real killer. Whoever it was has also taken the watch the victim had borrowed from Hildegard, a treasured keepsake with an extraordinary history and, perhaps, the ability to do more than tell time.
From Wednesday, June 20th through Sunday, June 24th, Mystery Time will be available as a free Kindle book on Amazon.
Booklist said, “…Hannah has hit upon an engaging premise; a mystery series starring a research scientist working at the University of Jerusalem. She has the makings of a good series: a sympathetic hero and an intriguing, nicely evoked setting.”
Pattern Recognition, published by William Gibson in 2003, scores high in originality. It’s a mystery story, in a way, about a group of fanatical fans of an on-line series of film fragments. It’s not clear why these fragments are so interesting, and I didn’t understand the techniques that supposedly allowed for their production, but the fans share a compulsion to find the identity of the “maker” who is responsible.
The story is told from the point of view of “footage” fan Cayce Pollard, who is an extreme example of a trend detector; she’s one of those people who know instinctively whether or not a fashion item or brand logo is cool. Her reaction to uncool is visceral, and an extreme case, like the apparently innocuous Michelin tire man symbol, can actually induce a panic reaction or make her feel sick.
I don’t know if there are people who have such extreme reactions to esthetics, but the idea is thought provoking. In the modern developed world we often seem to be spending inordinate amounts of thought and money on non-essentials such as fashion of all sorts, but in fact this seems to be a basic component of human nature. It’s likely that people living at subsistence level have the same adverse reactions to things that seem ugly, and indulge those reactions whenever they can. Is it possible that esthetic sensitivity contributes to survival?
I don’t know if it’s officially a separate genre, but there are quite a lot of thrillers that chronicle the adventures of people searching for (possibly non-existent) ancient artifacts. Sometimes the premise is that they are real, and will change the course of history if they are found. In every case, they provide a powerful motive for epic clashes between good guys and bad guys.
The Moses Stone, published by James Becker in 2009, is one of these stories that takes a more measured view. The Moses stone of the title, the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, is probably only an ancient copy (it’s written in old Aramaic). Maybe that’s why it has a only a very minor supernatural power – when uncovered after two thousand years, it’s dust free. That seems like a bit of a let down, more suited to the daydreams of a tired housewife than to such a unique religious artifact.
It’s an entertaining plot. The good guys are a British policeman who becomes involved when a couple of British tourists are murdered in Morocco, and his archeologist ex wife. The Israeli Mossad is on their side but bloodthirsty Arab and British bad guys are also looking for the prize.
However, if you would like an even more exciting true story, read The Gold of Exodus, a 1998 book by Howard Blum. This chronicles the adventures of two bona fide nuts (used here as a term of respect and admiration) who become obsessed with finding said gold and follow the trail wherever it leads them, finally sneaking into a Saudi Arabian army base. They didn’t find the gold, but at least they survived.
The Lying Game, published by Ruth Ware in 2017, has a lot to recommend it. It’s well written and has an intriguing plot and a nicely described setting in the rural English area around a girls boarding school. That said, I wouldn’t like to read any more of her books. The reason is, I just went through 446 pages of the heroine’s non-stop emotional torture.
Her story begins when she arrives at boarding school at the age of fifteen because her mother is terminally ill. She immediately hooks up with three other girls, and together they form about as obnoxious a clique of teenage girls as you could hope to find. One of their amusements is making up lies to make fools of outsiders. She begins to narrate the story seventeen years later, by which time she apparently regrets at least some of her early behavior.
She is now married and the mother of a six month old baby girl. In keeping with the fraught emotional level that seems to characterize her life, she loves all three of her school friends and her husband and her baby. She’s called back to the area of her old school when the question of what happened to the father of one of her friends while they were at school together seems to be answered with the finding of his body. Naturally, the friend lives in an old mill house that is gradually crumbling into the river.
It was a bit of a relief, toward the end, when it seemed that actually she might not love her husband all that much.
PS. A newly edited version of Death of a Gypsy is now available in the Amazon Kindle store.
In “No Time For Goodbye”, published in 2007, Linwood Barclay introduces an intriguing puzzle; a teenage girl wakes up one morning to an empty house, her parents and older brother having apparently vanished into thin air. Twenty-five years later, now married and with a daughter of her own, Cynthia still has no idea what happened.
Barclay’s explanation of the inexplicable, although not presented until near the end of the book, is clever and even believable, if you’re willing to credit the existence of some extremely nasty people. Until that point you have to make do with a series of baffling clues, as the cold case suddenly takes on new life.
In addition to the puzzle, I enjoyed some of the characters, including a career criminal who’s not a bad guy when he’s not rubbing people out.
How did I miss Peter Lovesey? I just read a combined volume containing The Last Detective and Diamond Solitaire, mysteries featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond first published by Lovesey in 1991 and 1992. Although I wasn’t immediately smitten with the fat, irascible detective, he grows on you. He sometimes lumbers off in the wrong direction, but he’s smart and he never gives up, and his long suffering wife is always there for moral support.
In The Last Detective, Diamond takes a long time to discover the identity of a naked murdered woman found in a lake because he ignores an important clue. Subsequently he resigns from his job in a fit of temper, but nothing prevents him from eventually solving the case.
Diamond Solitaire is the story of how Diamond, now reduced to doing odd jobs, becomes intrigued by the problem posed by an mute little Japanese girl who was left in Harrods where he’s working as a security guard (until he’s fired for apparently overlooking her). No one comes forward to claim her for several weeks, but after Diamond manages to present the mystery on television she’s snatched from the institution where she’s being cared for. The plot develops in some unlikely ways, but it did make a good read.
By the way, there’s something odd going on regarding this blog. I keep receiving notifications that people with the email address outlook.com have started to follow the blog, but they’re not listed as followers. Is it because not a single one of them has confirmed the intention to follow? Since I see only an email address and no profile, I have no idea who they are. ???
I started to read The Cauliflower, published by Nicola Barker in 2016, because it looked like something different. As a stream of consciousness riff on 19th Century Bengali holy man Sri Ramakrishna it’s in fact so different that I read nearly half of it only out of inertia before becoming interested in the story.
Barker explains that she has been interested in Sri Ramakrishna since a stranger gave her some material about his teachings when she was ten years old. She eventually went on to read everything she could find about him, and takes advantage of the unstructured format of the book to pass on facts and stories about his life peppered with sometimes skeptical asides. She says she’s interested in how faith works and how a legacy develops.
I didn’t learn how faith works from this book, but I’m convinced that Sri Ramakrishna was a true believer (and a bit of a lunatic), and I imagine that he became a widely respected guru because he was both convincingly sincere and charismatic. He religious goal was to achieve a trance state, by means which included extreme self-denial, which he and the people around him interpreted as being a communion with god (in whatever form, Hindu or other, he was worshiping at the time).
Barker brings in Mother Theresa, because she is also a saint who is associated with Calcutta. The contrast between the two interpretations of religion is striking: Mother Theresa felt called upon to serve mankind, while Sri Ramakrishna wanted firstly to enter a state of ecstasy himself and only secondarily to help others achieve the same state (although there is one story about his demanding a donation of food and clothing for poor villagers).
Then there is a third road to salvation not mentioned by Barker but popular in more than one religious group today, which requires neither self-denial nor service. To ensure one’s entry to heaven the person (generally a man) merely has to force all women out of public spaces and into encumbering clothing, so that he may go wherever he likes without ever having to see a female form or hear a female voice and thus perhaps be distracted from his spiritual thoughts. Judging by the popularity of this form of religion, oppression is much more fun than self-denial or service.