Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

The theme this month was a connection to the elements - water, earth, air, fire.  We have a wide range of books that have been recommended and we hope you find something you may want to read:

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Bitter Water by Gordon Ferris

Gordon Ferris often gets compared to Ian Rankin as he is Scottish and sets his noirish crime stories in a Scottish town where the reader gets to see the underbelly of a city and invest in a hardened crime investigator. Where I am sure that this comparison helps with marketing, but it short changes this series of novels. Douglas Brodie is a local crime reporter in Glasgow and he gets involved in the investigation of a death that has been overlooked during heated clashes between police, mobs and a newly formed group of vigilantes called The Glasgow Marshals. With the help of Advocate, Samantha Campbell, Brodie begins to find out that the old saying 'still waters run deep' proves true.


Death in a Ditch by Graham R Wood

Published in 2002 as two novels in one book, Death in a Ditch is the first mystery by British author Graham R Wood. Set in France in the 1960s, Detective Lauriant investigates the murder of a French-speaking German with an Argentine passport in a small town. The victim leaves behind an antique shop that has its own set of mysteries. This novel is part of the Detective Lauriant series and it is a historical cozy mystery where the people in the small town and the lifestyle is just as important as the murder plot and the insight into a historical era.


Hell is Empty and Death Without Company, both by Craig Johnson

These are two books from Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series.  Death Without Company is the second Longmire mystery and takes the reader to Absaroka County, Wyoming, where Mari Baroja is found poisoned at the Durant Home for Assisted Living.  Sheriff Longmire investigates the death with the help of his friend Henry Standing Bear, his Deputy, Victoria Moretti and newcomer Santiago Saizarbitoria.  According to Johnson's website Baroja has a connection to the local "Basque community, the lucrative coal-bed methane industry, and the personal life of the previous sheriff, Lucian Connally, lead to a complex web of half truths and assumed allegiances. 

Hell is Empty is the seventh Longmire novel and focuses on Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian, who has a reputation as a killer. Shade confesses to the murder of a boy 10 years previously and burying him in the Bighorn Mountains. Walt is asked to transport Shade through a blizzard to the site and on the trip realises that he knows the family of the lost boy. The journey becomes just as much personal as it is professional. 

This mystery series has become a TV program, Longmire,starring Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips. The TV program is excellent, but so are the novels as you get a sense of weather and landscape and how this impacts the lives of the people in Absaroka County, Wyoming.

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Hot Water by Sally Gunning

Hot Water is a cozy mystery set on the Cape Hook island of Nashtoba and featuring Peter Bartholomew, an islander born and bread, who owns a local company that specialises in odd jobs. One of his jobs, cataloguing books at Edna Hitchcock's place, leads him to discovering her dead in her bath. What seems to be an accident that involves too much bourbon and Seconal, soon becomes an investigation as Peter worries that water in the bath was hot when he found her. As Peter begins to figure out what happened to Edna he not only finds out about the history of the people on Nashtoba, he gets distracted by the return of his ex-wife Connie, and Edna's estranged daughter, Martha.  

This is a debut novel published in 1990 and Sally Gunning continued to write nine more mysteries featuring Peter Bartholomew.


The Burnt House by Faye Kellerman

The Burnt House is set around the core mystery surrounding the crash of a small commuter plane carrying Forty-seven passengers into an apartment building in Granada Hills, California. L.A.P.D. Lieutenant Peter Decker works to calm the fears of a 9/11 type terror attack and to investigate the lives of the four unidentified bodies and the disappearance of an airline employee. Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus are personally shaken by the tragedy as the crash happened close to their daughter's school. The mystery continues to become personal as he and Rina delve further into the past to find out what happened in the present. Faye Kellerman has written 21 Decker/Lazarus novels and The Burnt House is the 16th in the series. Kellerman is an Orthodox Jew and she frequently deals with Jewish themes and characters into her mysteries. The character of Decker was raised as Southern Baptist who returns to his Jewish roots after marrying Rina, an Orthodox Jew. This exploration of faith and family is central to all her novels.

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Still Water by John Harvey

This is the ninth DI Charlie Resnick mystery and set in Charlie's usual stomping ground, Nottingham, England. Published in 1998, the novel starts with the battered body of a young woman is found in an inner-city canal, floating in still water. Charlie's lover, Hannah, knew the woman and suspects that her murdered friend was the victim of domestic abuse, not the victim of a serial killer, as suspected by the Serious Crime Squad. Hannah asks Charlie to take the case. As he delves deeper he begins to question the nature of relationships and what people do for love. John Harvey is a prolific writer with over 90 books under various names. He is most known for his jazz-influenced Resnick novels, however, he has also written the Frank Elder Trilogy and many stand-alones and short stories.


Smoke Without Fire by Elizabeth Ferrars

A retired Professor of Botany, Andrew Basnett, is sucked into the aftermath of death of his neighbour, Sir Lucas Dearden, a judge who is killed by a bomb in his flat. Set over Christmas, Basnett pieces together the possible motives for the explosion, ranging from cases Sir Lucas ruled on to his relationship with his children. Smoke Without Fire is the sixth in the Andrew Basnett series.  Born in Rangoon, Burma in 1907, Elizabeth Ferrars took a diploma in journalism from 1925 - 1928 and went on to write her first two novels in the 1930s. Ferrars wrote under two other non-de-plumes, Morna MacTaggart and According to wikipedia, "though the majority of her works are standalone novels, she wrote several series. Her first five novels all feature Toby Dyke, a freelance journalist, and his companion, George, who uses several surnames and is implied to be a former criminal. Late in her career, she began writing about a semi-estranged married couple, Virginia and Felix Freer, and a retired botanist, Andrew Basnett. Several of her short stories also feature an elderly detective called Jonas P. Jonas." Ferrars died in 1995. 


Fire and Fog by Dianne Day

Fire and Fog is the second Fremont Jones mystery by Dianne Day. Fremont is woken up by what is now known as San Frisco earthquake of 1906. In the devastation and confusion that follows, she volunteers for the Red Cross and becomes involved in unravelling the mysteries that are uncovered by the quake, such as a smuggler's cache. Fremont is left to investigate on her own as her sleuthing partner, Michael Archer, is nowhere to be found. This is a cozy historical crime novel, where our intrepid heroine juggles suitors, ninjas and possible treasure. Dianne Day began writing the Fremont Jones series (five novels) in 1995. Dianne Day also wrote stand-alone mysteries, her last being Cut to the Heart in 2000, set on the islands off South Carolina at the beginning of the US Civil War. Day died this year aged 75.


The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

This debut novel by is written in the form of three separate crime novels, each set in a different decade and imitating the style of a famous crime writers from that decade. The first book starts in 1931 and introduces the reader to Shem Rosenkrantz, a hard drinking American living in France, and his much younger French wife, Clotide-ma-Fleur, who is of a delicate nature. Written like a Georges Simenon book, this first novel features a police detective much like Maigret. The second book picks up the life of Shem and Clotide-ma-Fleur in 1941, where she has become a Hollywood actress and he is her philandering husband and a hack screenwriter. Set in Los Angeles, the middle book echos the style of Raymond Chandler. The final novel is written in the first person like a Jim Thompson book and is set in 1951. Clotide-ma-Fleur has been confined to a private clinic due to a nervous breakdown and Shem has sunk even lower. He is living off the money earned by his prostitute girlfriend, whom he pimps, and is hounded by gangland types for money he owes. By the looks of things, this is the crime novel of 2013. Ariel S Winter is a former bookseller and her love of reading and authors has definitely created a tour-de-force.   


Wet Graves by Peter Corris

Published in 1991, Wet Graves is the 13th Cliff Hardy novel and it the central mystery is connected to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A serial killer is targeting old men with a connection to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and PI Cliff Hardy investigates. Peter Corris is known as the godfather of Australian crime fiction, and his character of Cliff Hardy is a private investigator archetype. Corris describes his main character in the following on his website, "Cliff Hardy, born and raised in working class Maroubra, ex-army, law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned Private Eye, has a love-hate relationship with his time and place. He embraces the best aspects of Australian life - the tolerance, the classlessness, the vigorous urban and rural culture - while despising the greed and the conservatism that are constantly threatening to undercut what he sees as "real Australia". Inevitably drawn into the ambit of the people he deplores, Hardy struggles to resolve his cases while remaining true to his own threatened values. The professional challenges spill over into his personal life where he is never on firm ground."

Next month we will be focusing on serial offenders, as we bring an example of the book series we tend to go back to, have just found out about or just want to share.