Crime & Mystery set in Los Angeles

Our focus for this meeting of the Crime and Mystery Book Club of the Library of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts was the location of Los Angeles, USA. There were a variety of books and authors read, the ones you expect and a couple of wild cards. Here they are in no particular order:

Switch Blade; The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Trunk Music by Michael Connelly  

City of Echoes by Robert Ellis

The Pictures by Guy Bolton

The Monkey's Raincoat; The Sentry by Robert Crais

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

The Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder by Steve Hodel

Inner City Blues by Paula L. Woods

The Final Analysis of Dr Stark by Joseph Telushkin

Case Pending; Knave of Hearts by Dell Shannon

Malicious Mischief by Lesley Egan (AKA Dell Shannon) 

The Big Sleep; Farewell My Lovely; The Lady In The Lake by Raymond Chandler

The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald

To Fetch A Thief by Spencer Quinn

The Kept Girl by Kim Cooper

Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen

The Song is You by Megan Abbott

The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald

SMSA Library Crime & Mystery Book Club Favourite Stories of 2017

New Year & Over 40 Recommendations from the Latest SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

Welcome to 2016 and the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Library crime & mystery book club's latest recommendations. All of them read over the holiday period. Click on the books listed below for reviews and information. Enjoy.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

Her Royal Spyness Mysteries by Rhys Bowen

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Play Dead by Bill James

The Fall of Man in Wilmslow; The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

Grave Mistake by Ngaio Marsh

Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School for Villainy by Shamini Flint

Shoulder The Sky by Anne Perry

Chosen Perry by Karen Grigsby Bates

Smoke and Mirrors by Kel Robertson

Grandad, There's A Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill

City of the Dead by Sara Gran

The Marathon Conspiracy by Gary Corby

Dishing The Dirt by M.C. Beaton

Chance Developments by Alexander McCall Smith

Even Days in the Wild by Ian Rankin

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Dictator by Robert Harris

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

The Whites by Richard Price

The Spies of Warsaw; The Polish Officer; The World At Night by Alan Furst

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia Macneal

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs

Looking for Rachel Wallace by Robert B Parker

The Ghostway by Tony Hillerman

Singing the Sadness by Reginald Hill

Three Crooked Kings by Matthew Condon

Red Mass by Rosemary Aubert

The Man Who Watched Trains Go By by Georges Simenon

Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer

A Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke

Acute Misfortune - The Life & Death of Adam Cullen by Erik Jensen

The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

See you next month.


Recommendations of Crime & Mystery Books featuring Medicine

Our theme for this meeting of the Sydney Mechanic's School of Arts' Library crime and mystery book club was anything to do with medicine or caring for others in a vocational capacity. The subjects covered include nursing, social work, dentistry and doctors at sea.

Death Duty by Clare Littleford
Published in 2004, Death Duty is Clare Littleford’s second novel. It features Jo Elliott, a social worker in Nottingham, UK. Jo has recently broken up with her partner Alex, another social worker, and is going about her day when she is the victim of what is thought to be a mugging. She begins to suspect that the mugging is not a standalone event and that she is being stalked when small things begin to go wrong or are damaged. It is a slow burn story that focuses on Jo’s life, both personal and professional, especially a case she was involved in eight years earlier involving a problem family called the Metcalfes, the stress that she and her fellow social workers are coming under from an current inquiry following the death of a child in their care, and Jo’s recent break up with Alex.

The insight into social work is most probably spot on as Clare Littleford’s used to be a social worker. According to the Book Depository, Clare was born in Bedford in 1973, and ‘used to work at Nottingham City Council, in the housing department, before taking an MA in Writing at Nottingham Trent University. She then worked for a lottery-funded community development project in inner city Nottingham.’

Operation Doctors by Holly Roth
American crime writer, Holly Roth was born in Chicago after the First World War and died in 1964 after falling off a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea. Her body was never found. She wrote 24 spy and detective novels in 10 years, starting with her first novel in 1954, The Content Assignment. Roth began writing crime novels in 1957 with two novels featuring the British detective Medford. Operation Doctors is the second of those books. It is set on board a ship, off the European coast, and has a wide range of nationalities on board. It is centred around a young woman who is injured and loses her memory. One of the passengers is an American neurosurgeon and is the primary character solving the mystery. Medford the detective only features in the story in the second half. It is a slightly implausible story that is of its time. The cold war is just about a character in its own right. Roth is excellent at ratcheting up the tension and it is an interesting read.

Roth led an interesting life. The travelling her father did as part of his business, included his family, so she grew up seeing a lot of the world. She was married at age 20 and widowed the following year. She worked as a model as well as a writer for some American magazines. She wrote two of her novels under the name PJ Merrill and four as KG Ballard.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie, I know, we could not get through a meeting without a recommendation that includes Agatha Christie. This is why she is the Queen of crime writing.  One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is a Hercule Poirot story that features the death of Poirot's dentist, Henry Morley. Morely was killed by a gunshot wound and it was officially found to be a suicide. However, Poirot does not believe this to be the case and he goes on the hunt for the killer. 

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen
American author,Tess Gerritsen is known for her series of novels featuring Boston Detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles (now a long running TV series, Rizzoli and Isles). Gerritsen is a qualified doctor who began writing when she was on maternity leave. she is now retired and writes full time. So she knows what she is writing about when it comes to the medical detail in her novels. In The Bone Garden Maura is working on finding out the mystery surrounding the remains of a woman discovered in the grounds of a home in rural Massachusetts. The story connects back to a previous tale of murder and cadaver trafficking in Boston in 1830. Gerritsen weaves both timelines and the two stories to a satisfying if gruesome conclusion. For lovers of crime who like quite a bit of detail in relation to the state of the body and subsequent medical findings.

Angel Without Mercy, Angel of Vengeance, Destroying Angel by Anthea Cohen
This series of 18 books which begins with Angel Without Mercy (1984) and ends with Better Dead (2005), features Agnes Carmichael, a nurse who uses accidental and not so accidental homicide as a way to right the wrongs in her world. Mean, nasty people are Agnes' victims, as she follows a code that could be compared to Jeff Lindsay's serial killer protagonist, Dexter Morgan. These novels turn the cosy British village crime novel on its head with a protagonist that acts on what most people feel about that person who deliberately drove over the neighbour's cat.  

Anthea Cohen, which is the pseudonoym for Doris Simpson, was born in 1913 and died in 2006.

Blood Work by Michael Connelly
Blood Work is the debut of retired FBI criminal profiler Terrell, 'Terry' McCaleb. While recovering from a heart transplant, Terry is drawn into the death of the person whose heart he received, which occurred during an unsolved convenience store robbery. This investigation takes him back to a previous case that involved a serial murderer called the 'code killer'. 

This is a typical Michael Connelly novel, a fast moving, plot driven thriller. It was made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood in 2002. 

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

For the last month of the year, we are recommending series that we enjoy or have just started reading. 

Big Issue.jpg

The Big Issue Magazine

One recommendation from the left field. In a time when magazines are on the decline, one of our members suggested The Big Issue as a magazine that should be regularly read. Not only because the money goes to a good cause, but because the articles are well written, interesting and more substantial than any other magazine available today.

According to its website, "The Big Issue is timely and topical and loved by readers for its distinctive brand of irreverence. Since its inception in Australia in 1996, more than eight million magazines have been sold, with $16 million going into the pockets of Australia's homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged." Get a subscription this Christmas and your money will go to homeless women. 


The Raven's Eye by Barry Maitland

The Raven's Eye is the 12th novel in the Brock and Kolla series, which are usually classified as whydunits rather than whodunits. DI Kathy Kolla and DCI David Brock of Scotland Yard, London are in the Serious Crime Unit. There is not an hint of romance between the characters which is pleasant change from the norm. The series started in the early 1990s and is still being writ

ten today. Maitland's love of architecture comes through in his description of London and the rest of England, if the story goes there, His focus on the growth of his characters through the years, rather than a reset that does happen in other series, keeps readers coming back. If you like a police procedural and good characters, start at the beginning of the series with The Marx Sisters.


Series by Elizabeth Linington

Elizabeth Linington has written under many non-de-plumes, namely, Dell Shannon, Anne Blaisdell, Lesley Egan and Egan O'Neill. In 1960 she published Case Pending the first novel of her most popular series (written as Dell Shannon) featuring LAPD Homicide Lieutenant Luis Mendoza.  She wrote 41 novels as Dell Shannon.

In 1961 she published three books, Nightmare, a standalone that was written under the name Anne Blaisdell and made into a movie called Die Die My Darling in 1965 starring Tallulah Bankhead and Stephanie Powers. Another Dell Shannon called, The Ace of Spades, and A Case for Appeal her first novel written as Lesley Egan. She has also 16 novels under her real name, Elizabeth Linington. 


Echo Park by Michael Connelly

Echo Park is the 12th in the Hieronymus 'Harry' Bosch series. Bosch is a LAPD Detective who retired and became a private investigator before returning to the LAPD's Open Unresolved Unit - basically the cold case unit. Bosch is a Vietnam War vet who grew up in refuges and orphanages and his past is a theme that comes up often in the series. Los Angeles is just as much a character in these novels and Harry's many roles in the LAPD and as a PI give the reader an insight into different parts of the city. These books are 'airport novels' that are a bit formulaic so it is difficult to read one after another. However, they are great one-off reads.


Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Marketed as a medieval noir, Veil of Lies is the first in this crime series set in 1383 featuring Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight turned detective. Guest was stripped of his title as a result of supporting his liege from the House of Lancaster over Richard II, son of Edward the Black Prince for the English crown. Guest is preoccupied with his loss of status in relation to his birth right, and the idea of heritage and breeding anchors his approach to life. The tone of the book is a bit modern in comparison to the history it is illustrating, which makes this a light read. The use of the term noir in describing the book is misleading as a disgruntled private investigator who is attracted to a woman involved in a crime does not make it noir. It makes it like most private investigator crime novels out there. 


Getting Warmer by Alan Carter

This is the second book in the Cato Kwang series set in Perth, Australia, first featured in our recommendations earlier in the year. The plot is described on the Freemantle Press website as "Cato Kwong is back. Back in Boom town and back on a real case - the unsolved mystery of a missing fifteen-year-old girl. But it's midsummer in the coty of millionaries and it's not just the heat that stinks. A pig corpse, peppered with nails, is uncovered in a shallow grave and a body, with its throat cut, turns up in the local nightclub. As a series of blunders by Cato’s colleague brings the squad under intense scrutiny, Cato’s own sympathy for a suspect threatens to derail his case and his career." This is a series I am planning on diving into, as it is always interesting to have a series set in a city that is not a common location for crime novels.


Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson

This is the first in the Flaxborough Chronicles by Colin Watson written in 1958. Flaxborough is a small fictional town in England, not the name of the Detective, which is a bit of a change. These cosy British crime novels feature DI Purbright and Sergeant Love who are decent and centred, and in Coffin Scarcely Used they investigate the death of the unpopular editor of the local newspaper. The novels usually target the pretentiousness of the bourgeoisie and money is the root of all evil. There are twelve novels in total and four of the Flaxborough novels were adapted for television by the BBC under the series title Murder Most English. The last book was written in 1982. Colin Watson died in 1983.


The Inspector Montalbano Series by Andrea Camilleri

According to "In 1994 Camilleri published the first in a long series of novels: "La forma dell'acqua" (The Shape of Water) featured the character of Inspector Montalbano, a fractious Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary Sicilian town. The series is written in Italian but with a substantial sprinkling of Sicilian phrases and grammar. The name Montalbano is an homage to the Spanish writer Manuel Vazquez Montalban: the similarities between Montalban's Pepe Carvalho and Camilleri's fictional detective are remarkable. Both writers make great play of their protagonists' gastronomic preferences" This is a very popular series that has been translated into English and was made into a long running television program by Italian TV channel RAI in 1999. The TV series has been running for nine seasons and is still in production.  


The Rabbi Small Series by Harry Kemelman

The Rabbi Small series began in 1964 with Friday The Rabbi Slept Late and ended twelve books later in 1996 with The Day The Rabbi Left Town, when Harry Kemelman died at the age of 88. This series is one of the most famous clerical detectives in crime fiction. Although technically a Rabbi is not part of their community as the same way as clergy in Christianity. The books are set in a small knit Jewish community in a fictional town of Bernard's Crossing, along the east coast of the US. The books are fill of humour and sharp observations and the mysteries are solved by the Rabbi using logic and teachings from the Talmud. Kemelman did say that the purpose of his stories was to teach and explain Judaism to Jews and Gentiles. He succeeds in this.


Almost Night by Ann Prospero

Almost Night is Ann Prespero's debut novel featuring Detective Susannah Cannon of the Miami Police Homicide Squad. Published in 2000, this novel is written in the first person and highlights what Susannah goes through in the male-dominated world of a homicide police squad. The story starts when the body of Carla Reeves indicates that the killer has previous skill and knowledge and indicates that they may be a serial killer. However, Almost Night is the only crime novel by Ann Prospero at present, so not technically a series. Ann Prospero has also written recipe books and is a freelance journalist.


Hangman by Faye Kellerman

As highlighted last month, Faye Kellerman writes a series featuring Peter Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus set in Los Angeles. She is an American author who explores modern Judaism through these characters. She has written nineteen novels in this series, two short story novels with her husband, crime author, Jonathan Kellerman and has co-written a teen novel with her daughter Alexa.


The High Commissioner by Jon Cleary

The High Commissioner introduces Sergeant Scobie Malone of the Sydney police. Written in 1966, Malone is sent to London where he is to arrest the Australian High Commissioner for the murder of his first wife. This novel was a best seller and made into a movie. However, Cleary wrote two more Malone novels in the following ninenteen years before coming back to writing a Malone novel nearly every year. Jon Cleary is known for his 1953 novel The Sundowners as well as his Scobie Malone series. He wrote over fifty six novels, twenty of them featuring Malone.


Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs is the first in the Maisie Dobbs series set in between the world wars in England. Maisie is a Psychologist and Investigator who began her education prior to World War I when as a servant in a big house owned by Lady Rowan Compton, she was discovered reading in the library. Lady Compton supports Maisie's search for knowledge by sponsoring her to be educated by Lady Compton's friend Dr Maurice Blanche, a Psychologist. The war intervenes and instead of going to Cambridge University, Maisie enlists as a nurse. The impact of the war is a thread throughout Maisie's career and the following ten novels, as we follow Maisie through the late 1920s and early 1930s. Jacqueline Winspear was born and grew up in England and now lives in the US. The series is ongoing. 


A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow

The Kate Shugak series is set in Alaska and starts with A Cold Day for Murder, first published in 1992. Kate is an Aleut and was raised by her grandmother in the National Park in northern Alaska. She is an ex-investigator for Anchorage District Attorney's office and is now a Park homesteader. She was injured in her role as an investigator for the D.A.'s office and is now asked to use her skills to find out what happened to a missing National Park ranger. The books investigate the tensions between the traditional Aleut way of life and modern America. There are twenty one novels in the Kate Shugak series. Dana Stabenow also writes science fiction and thrillers and has two other series, the Star Svensdotter series (science fiction) and the Liam Campbell series featuring Alaskan State Trooper Liam Campbell.

The SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club will be back in January, when we will discuss what books we read over the holidays. See you then.