Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the theme was rock, paper, scissors. That means it could be a crime involving one of those elements or a story that uses these elements as a metaphor or a location. We left it up to the imagination.


Don't Lie to Me by Tucker Coe
Tucker Coe is one of 16 pseudonyms for American writer Donald E. Westlake has won an Edgar in three categories (Best Short Story, Best Screenplay and Best Novel). As Tucker Coe he wrote five novels featuring the character Mitch Tobin. Don't Lie To Me is the last of these five books and was published in 1972.

Tobin is an ex-policeman who was thrown off the force after he was involved in the death of his partner. The five novels track his journey of forgiving himself and managing his guilt, as well as solving crimes. We suggest that you read these books in sequence to get the emotional journey of the main character. In Don't Lie To Me, Tobin is a night watchman at an art museum (paper) and an old girlfriend seeks him out at the museum to ask for his help.

Westlake won the Edgar for Best Screenplay for The Grifters  and several of his novels have been made into movies, e.g. 1967's Point Blank (based on The Hunter), The Hot Rock (1972) starring Robert Redford, Payback in 1999 with Mel Gibson and 2013's Parker (based on Flashfire) starring Jason Statham.


A Scream of Murder by John Creasey
John Creasey founded the Crime Writer's Association in the United Kingdom in 1953. Like Westlake, he wrote many books under a number of pseudonyms, 23 to be exact. He wrote crime, westerns and romance novels. 

He wrote over seven different series, and A Scream of Murder (1969) is the 44th novel featuring Patrick Dawlish and initially written under the pseudonym, Gordon Ashe. In this novel a dead man is found on an icy road and he is known to the police. 


Trouble in Paradise by Robert B Parker
Trouble in Paradise is the second in the Jesse Stone series from Robert B Parker. Stone is the Chief of Police in a small town called Paradise, Massachusetts. In the previous novel Stone moved from the west coast to escape his past and settles in Paradise to rebuild his life. Unfortunately Paradise only wants a Police Chief that will not work to hard and interfere in the way the town runs. In this novel, Stone starts to dig into the culture of the town when he deals with the string of hold-ups on the affluent Ritzy Island in Paradise Harbour. 

Parker is a hard boiled crime writer and was asked to complete Raymond Chandler's novel Poodle Springs. Stone is typical of the lead male character who is macho and does things his way.  Parker is usually known for his private eye character, Spenser, but he has written other series such as Sunny Randall and Cole & Hitch.


Third Girl by Agatha Christie
This is the 35th Poirot novel and from the later part of Agatha Christie's writing life. It is set in the mid 1960s and smacks of Christie trying to bring a younger generation onboard. If you are a fan of Poirot you may find this book a bit difficult as he is slightly mocked, but it is an interesting attempt to bring a well known and beloved character into a new era. Sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn't. 

According to wikipedia, 'the novel is notable for being the first in many years in which Poirot is present from beginning to end. It is uncommon in that the investigation includes discovering the first crime, which happens comparatively late in the novel."


Greenmantle by John Buchan
John Buchan wrote five novels featuring Richard Hannay. The most famous one was The 39 Steps that was made into a movie twice by Alfred Hitchcock. Greenmantle is the second of the five Hannay novels and was published in 1916. It is set during World War One and sends Hannay into Asia Minor to find out if the Turkish seditionaries are going to drive a Islamic uprising that will distract the Allies from the war with Germany. It is a rip roaring spy adventure. 

John Buchan lived a varied and interesting life, from working as a diplomat in Southern Africa in the late 1890s to becoming Governor General of Canada in 1935. He started writing fiction (36 novels) and non-fiction (52 novels) in 1896 until his death in 1940. 


Last Will and Testament by Elizabeth Ferrars
Elizabeth Ferrars wrote eight mysteries featuring semi-estranged married couple Virginia and Felix Freer. Last Will and Testament  (1978) is the first in the series. Virginia is the primary character and does most of the investigating and Felix is her estranged con-artist husband who drops in and out of the story.

Elizabeth Ferrars wrote under E.X. Ferrars and Morna MacTaggart and started writing in 1932. She died in 1995 and her last book was published posthumously in the same year. She wrote over 60 crime novels, most are standalone, however she did write three series, this one, a series featuring Toby Dyke and the Andrew Basnett books.


The Ingenious Mr Stone by Robert Player
The Ingenious Mr Stone (1946) is told in the first person by three protagonists. It's present day is the mid 1940s and the story being related is set in the mid 1930s in the UK. It highlights how perspective is important to the 'truth' we are told as readers. Mr Stone, the investigator is only introduced halfway through the book, and that is intriguing in itself. The mystery is pretty easy to figure out but the unusual way it is told makes this an interesting read.

Robert Player is the pseudonym for architect, Robert Furneaux Jordan. He wrote six crime novels and four novels on architecture.


Paper, Scissors, Death by Joanna Campbell-Slan
This is the first in the Kiki Lowenstein series and is tagged as a scrap-n-craft mystery. This could put off a lot of readers, so you hope that the marketing team knows what they are doing creating this very very niche sub genre. This is a cosy mystery, however it morphs into a story about a woman discovering herself and becoming more impowered. Which is nice. 

This series is Joanna Campbell-Slan's first and she writes strong characters in a clear voice. It will be interesting to see if she stays in the marketing pigeon-hole she has been put in.


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Published in 2009, this first novel in this series is set in the summer of 1950 in England and its main protagonist is an 11 year old girl called Flavia de Luce who lives with her two older sisters and her father in a decaying mansion in the English countryside. To put it very succiently, Flavia is a keen chemist and uses her skills in this area to clear her father of being accused of the murder of a man who visited their home. However, Alan Bradley manages to convey a realistic young girl that is inches off that line of being too precosious. You will like this book if you like Flavia and buy into her being the central character.


Dead Dry by Sarah Andrews
Em Hansen is a forensic geologist and this is her 10th outing. Set in Utah, USA, Em is called on from her regular job at the Utah Geographic Survey to work with state law enforcement to help with investigate why a massive quarry wall collapsed. During the dig they discover a mutilated body of of an old geologist colleague. The geologist world must be small.

Sarah Andrews is a geologist so the job details in this mystery are correct. Obviously the landscape is central to her novels and her play ground is the Rocky Mountains, which is a very beautiful part of the world. 


Body Scissors by Jerome Doolittle
This debut novel from Jerome Doolittle was published in 1990. Set in Boston, it features Vietnam war veteran, Tom Bethany, who is a security consultant who lives off the grid. He is hired by a Presidential campaign committee to vet a Sectretary of State nominee, and as a result, he becomes involved in solving the murder of the nominee's daughter that happened years before.

Jermone Doolittle is a former journalist and editor for The Washington Post. He wrote six political thrillers in the early 1990s featuring Tom Bethany. 


Paper Butterfly by Diane Wei Liang
Mei Wang is a successful private investigator in Beijing, China who was introduced in The Eye of Jade (2008). Paper Butterfly picks up Mei Wang's story from there and throws her into the investigation into the disapparence of the Chinese pop music star Kaili.

According to Good Reads, "Diane Wei fled Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and returned to Beijing six years later to find the sweetheart she lost when the troops rolled in, separating them but never severing their bond. In the Mei Wang mystery series she draws deeply from her life story, filling her books with vivid details that only someone who has lived it firsthand can know." 

That is it for this month. I hope you enjoy the recommendations. See you next month.