Sunday, February 17, 2013

A delightful trio of mysteries from Peter Robinson, Alan Bradley and Peter May

January and February have been given over to mysteries, thrillers and crime novels.

Something about the shorter days of winter, early dusk, cold winds and colder rain make these stories inviting.

Four books on which to report since last we met. Three of those books I liked a lot.

Book 19: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson
Book 21: The Critic by Peter May
Book 22: Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
Book 23: Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

Peter Robinson's last book, Before the Poison, was disappointing. Something of a ghost story set in an old English mansion, it was a departure from Robinson's police procedurals featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks.

Banks returns in Watching the Dark and is called upon to unravel a tangled mystery that begins in England and ends in Estonia.

It begins, as such books so often do, with the discovery of a body. DI Bill Quinn has been shot to death with a crossbolt.  Days later, another body surfaces, this time a Tallinn journalist who knew Quinn.

The deaths appear connected to a complex migrant labor scam. But Banks is also certain there's a connection to a young English woman who disappeared in Estonia years before.  Her disappearance, which haunted Quinn, soon comes to haunt Banks too.

As for Banks, he's given up smoking and swapped Scotch for red wine, but he's no less the driven detective, relying on instincts and intellect to solve the mysteries that elude everyone else.

Banks' reappearance is welcome as is Robinson's return to top form.  


It's taken only three novels for Peter May to become one of my favorite mystery writers.  

The Critic is the second book to feature Enzo Macleod, the Scots forensic expert living in France. This time he's out to solve the grisly murder of an influential American wine critic. The critic's murder is soon followed a series of other deaths and disappearances.

The characters, setting and plot are quite well done. Two additional factors make these novels stand out for me.  

The first is the humor that infiltrates each story. The second is the information about life in France that is conveyed to the reader. In The Critic we learn a great deal about winemaking in France's Gaillac region.


Alan Bradley's mysteries, set in the English hamlet of Bishop's Lacey, and featuring 11-year-old Flavia de Luce are delightful.  Flavia is one of the most endearing and entertaining literary characters in years.

With an eye for details and a nose for mischief, Flavia is a natural detective who basks in her flair for stumbling upon murder scenes. She uses her natural cunning, a precocious knowledge of chemistry and a shameless willingness to engage a child-like charm to coax information out of adults to solve those same murders.

And it cannot go unsaid that Flavia has an impressive knowledge, and appreciation, for poisons; fights with her sisters and has named her bicycle Gladys.

It's time Masterpiece Theater stumbled upon this series. Speaking From Among the Bones and its predecessors, like Flavia, are irresistible.


Joe Lansdale is an Edgar-award winning author, which makes Edge of Dark Water all that more disappointing.  It's a very silly book and a truly bad effort from a talented writer.

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