Locked Room Mysteries We Have Read

Crime Novels Set or Written in the 1930s

Recommendations from SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month's theme was anything to do gardens, horticulture or landscape. Here are our recommendations:

The Nightmare Thief by Meg Gardiner
Jo Beckett is a Forensic Psychiatrist in California who works with her partner, Gabe Quintana, to solve murder cases. Beckett and Quintana are working on a case in San Francisco when they encounter a suspicious group of men escorting six college kids into the woods for a wilderness adventure. As Jo looks into this activity she is invited to the twenty first birthday party of a spoiled rich girl, Autumn Reiniger, who is looking for more excitement in her life. Autumn's father tries to fulfil his daughter's wishes by arranging for her and five of friends to be 'kidnapped' and taken on an ultimate reality game with fake guns and fast cars. It all goes awry when Autumn is actually kidnapped and Jo figures out that it is not a game anymore. The Nightmare Thief (2011) is the fourth Jo Beckett novel. 

Meg Gardner is an American writer who now lives in the UK. She started writing the Jo Beckett novels in 2008, this is one of two of her mystery series, the other being, the Evan Delaney books about Evan who is a writer and legal assistant in California.

A Grain of Truth by Dr Lynne Milne
This is a non-fiction book written by Australian Forensic Palynologist, Dr Lynne Milne, who was able to assist the Australian police to track a murder through the identification of pollen. This is as much of a biography as it is a discussion about how the analysis of a few grains of pollen became crucial in a murder investigation in 1996.  In addition Dr Milne highlights how the study of pollen has help solve a multiple rape case in Western Australia and various ways this science has assisted in identification of remains in mass graves in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Dr Lynne Milne is an Adjunct Research Fellow in the Department of Applied Geology at Curtin University, a lecturer in forensic science at Murdoch and Edith Cowan Universities in Australia.

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
Written in 2006, Raven Black is the first in the Shetland Island series. The Shetland Islands is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north-east of mainland Britain. This story features Inspector Jimmy Perez who investigates the the murder of a teenage girl on New Year's eve that leads him into the history of the islands. Four of the books from the Shetland Island series were used as the basis to Shetland, a British TV series that premiered in 2013 starring Douglas Henshall.

Ann Cleeves is a British crime writer who has written four crime series that include the Vera Stanhope novels that have been made into the British TV series, Vera, that premiered in 2011, starring Brenda Blethlyn; the Inspector Ramsay novels that she wrote in the 1990s and her first series, the George and Molly books that she began in 1986.

The Darling Dahlias & The Confederate Rose by Susan Wittig Albert
This is the thirds in the Darling Dahlias series about the gardening club in Darling, a small town in Alabama in the 1930s. As the Depression starts to impact Darling, one of the Darling Dahlias, Verna Tidwell discovers there is something amiss in the County's finances and before she can bring it to light, she is accused of being the thief. This is a historical cosy that delves into the lives and experiences of women is a small Southern town in US. 

Susan Wittig Albert started writing 1992 with the China Bayles mysteries set in Pecan Springs,Texas and featuring herbalist, China and her best friend, Ruby, who is the owner of a New Age shop who solve murders. Wittig Albert writes another two mystery series, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series and the Robin Paige Victorian-Edwardian mysteries, which she co-writes under the name Robin Paige with her husband Bill Albert. 

The Winter Garden by Carola Dunn
Set in 1923 in England, The Winter Garden is the second in the Daisy Dalrymple series. Daisy is an Honourable, which means she is the daughter of a Lord. However, she is a working woman as her brother died during World War One and the estate has been entitled to her cousin. Daisy is fun, intelligent and resourceful. She embarks on another assignment as a writer for Town and Country to do a feature on Occles Hall in Cheshire. While photographing the winter garden she and the gardeners discover the body of a young woman. Daisy, of course, investigates and finds out the secrets of Occles Hall. There is some nice wit and a tight plot that makes this a quick read.

Carola Dunn is a UK born American who is now living in Oregon, Canada. She was a historical romance writer who switched to writing crime. She started writing the Daisy Dalrymple series in 1994 and has written 21 in total. She also started a second series, the Cornish Mysteries in 2009 and has written three so far.  

The Lost Gardens and The Water Lily Cross by Anthony Eglin
Anthony Elgin writes English Garden Mysteries that features Lawrence Kingston who is a botanist so there are quite a few latin terms for flowers and greenery. Two of his books were read this month, firstly The Lost Gardens, where Kingston is asked by a young Californian, Jamie Gibson, who is bequeathed Wickersham Priory, to restore the derelict gardens of the property. Kingston discovers an old chapel in the gardens and as he delves more and more into the the history of the chapel, the mystery deepens. The second novel was The Water Lily Cross, where Kingston is asked to track down a missing friend who is also a botanist. He unravels the mystery through a combination of gardening knowledge and cryptic crossword type puzzles, a passion he shared with his friend.

To Fear A Painted Devil by Ruth Rendell
This is one of the first Ruth Rendell's and it is interesting to see the beginnings of her writing style. This standalone is set in a small English village the story focuses on the death of Patrick Selby on the night of his wife's birthday party.  He apparently dies from heart failure brought on by being stung by a swarm of wasps. Dr Greenleaf is the investigator who believes there is something more to Patrick's death. 

Ruth Rendell is one of the best modern English crime authors who is known for her series featuring Chief Inspector Wexford. Ruth Rendell has also written 26 standalone novels as well as 15 books under the name Barbara Vine. 

The Black Garden by Joe Bright
The Black Garden is Joe Bright's first novel to be published through the traditional publisher. He has has written five novels, four of which have been self published. You can read a really interesting interview with him here. This book is an American Gothic tragedy featuring a young university student from Boston, Mitchell, who takes a job in a small rural town cleaning out the rubbish in the gardens of an old house. The old house belongs to George O'Brien, an elderly man, and his granddaughter, Candice. As Mitchell cleans out the gardens the mystery behind the town and why the inhabitants treat George and Candice as social pariahs becomes clearer and clearer. 

The Scent of Murder by Felicity Young
Set in Edwardian London and featuring the first (fictitious) female autopsy surgeon, Dr Dody (Dorothy) McClelland, The Scent of Murder is the third in the series. This series is described by Harper Collins Australia as Agatha Christie meets Phryne Fisher from the Kerry Greenwood novels. Don't you sometimes wish the marketing department's didn't reduce something to a sentence? Just because this series is about a female sleuth in a historical period does not mean that it is the same. Read this series for its own merits, the characters are interesting and Felicity Young delves into some interesting issues related to female's bodies, responsibility and social conventions.

Felicity Young was born to British Army parents in Germany and educated at an English boarding school. Her family settled in Western Australia in 1976. Felicity became a nurse, married young and had three children. She went back to university as a mature student and completed an Arts degree in English Literature. In 1990,  she and her family moved to a small farm 40 kilometers NE of Perth (Western Australia). Her first novel was in 2012.  

Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell
Originally published in Swedish in 2005, Kennedy's Brain was translated into English in 2007. It features Archeologist Louise Cantor rather than Henning Mankell's well known character, Kurt Wallander. This tight thriller follows Louise Cantor through her investigation into the death of her 28 year old son in Sweden. She tracks the reasons behind his death to Sydney, Australia and to Maputo in Mozambique and delves into the intricacies of the AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa.   

Henning Mankell is married to Eva Bergman, the daughter of Ingmar Bergman. He has been writing children's books, mysteries and plays since 1977. He started his Wallander series in 1997 and is a prolific writer. He has been a long term  left wing political activist. He has protested the Vietnam War, the Portuguese Colonial War and the Apartheid system in South Africa. He was also on board the MS Sofia, one of the boats that took part in the flotilla which tried to break the Israeli embargo of the Gaza Strip in 2010.

Dead Head by Rosemary Harris
This is the third in the quirky Dirty Business mystery series featuring Paula Holliday, amateur sleuth and gardening professional of Springfield, Connecticut. One of Springfield's well known and likable ladies, Caroline Sturgis, is outed as a woman with a past and a fugitive from the law. Paula is hired by Caroline's husband to find out who gave her up to the authorities and what happened to Caroline in her past. 

Rosemary Harris splits her time between Brooklyn, New York and Fairfield County, Connecticut and is a keen gardener and writer. According to her website she "is a member of Sisters In Crime, Mystery Writers of America, CAPA, Ct Authors and publishers Association and CMGA (Connecticut Master Gardeners Association)."

Those are our recommendations for this month. Next month our theme is murder during a natural disaster.