Favourite Crime Novels Read During 2018

SMSA Library Crime & Mystery Book Club Favourite Stories of 2017

Recommendations from the SMSA Mystery & Crime Book Club

ere are April's recommendations of books from the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Mystery and Crime Book Club.  The focus for this month is a story that includes frames, doors and mirrors.

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Smoke and Mirrors by Kel Robertson
This is an Australian crime novel was published in 2008.  It is the second novel featuring ustralian Federal Policeman Brad Chen.  He is an ex-football star of Chinese extraction who is named after Australian cricket legend Donald Bradman. The book is set in Canberra and involves politics and crime.  Sounds like a typical day in a politicians life then.  According to Pan Macmillan Smoke and Mirrorsprovides readers with more of the intricate plotting, witty dialogue and eccentric characters from Kel Robertson's sensational debut, Dead Set (2006).” 

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The Mist In The Mirror by Susan Hill
Susan Hill is an English author who wrote The Woman in Black and I'm The King of The Castle. The Mist In The Mirror is in the same tone - a period crime novel with supernatural overtones.  The synopsis by Random House says “An inveterate traveller, Sir James Monmouth has spent most of his life abroad. He arrives in England on a dark and rainy night with the intention of discovering more, not only about himself but his obsession with Conrad Vane, an explorer. Warned against following his trail, Sir James experiences some extraordinary happenings - who is the mysterious, sad little boy, and the old woman behind the curtain? And why is it that only he hears the chilling scream and the desperate sobbing?”


Cameo by Winston Graham
Winston Graham is not known for crime novels.  He wrote the Poldark novels and Marnie, which was made into a film by Hitchcock. Cameo is a bit of a departure for Graham.  It is set in London during the Blitz in World War 2.  A soldier on leave goes to check on his parent's home after a night out drinking and accidentally goes into the wrong house where he finds a dead woman. It all starts from there.

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The Doors Open by Michael Gilbert
Set in modern times, Paddy Yeatman-Carter, a regular insurance broker, sees a man attempting suicide in the reflection of his carriage window one night on a commuter train.  He intervenes and stops the man by taking him to the pub for a drink. However, the very next day the same man is found dead, and Paddy believes the circumstances to be extremely suspicious. Paddy involved his friend and lawyer, Nap Rumbold, to help him to discover the truth. During their investigation they become suspicious of the dead man’s employers: the Stalagmite Insurance Company, who appear to hire some very dangerous staff.  You won't look at insurance companies the same again.


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Jose Carlos Somoza
Somoza was born in Cuba but lives in Spain.  
The Athenian Murders  is a postmodern murder mystery set in ancient Greece. It tells two stories at the same time - the translation of an ancient Greek manuscript that tells the story of the death of one of the pupils from Plato's Academy and the investigation into what caused it; and the footnotes show a second plot set in the modern day about the academic who is translating the text. As the story advances, however, the translator is alarmed to discover references to himself, which seem to address him personally in an increasingly menacing fashion. The Athenian Murders is Somoza's English debut.


The Art of Murder is another English translation of Somoza's original Spanish novel.  It is set in the near future where realism in art has reached a new level.  Each painting is literally alive. The model is the canvas, and young men and women are lining up for the privilege to be painted, posed, bought and rented by collectors.   The Amazon.com synopsis says "a young female model is brutally murdered, and the detectives assigned to the case may have little interest in modern art, but they're going to have to acquire an appreciation quickly."  It is well written but disturbing as the themes of art, under-age sex, and ownership confront the reader.  

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Orders From Berlin by Simon Tolkien
This novel is set in 1940 during World War 2.  Set during the Blitz (popular setting this month) Detective Constable Bill Trave investigates the death of a rich widower in his Chelsea flat on the behest of the man's daughter, Ava.  Ava learned from an old friend of her father that he worked for MI6 before the War and that this may have something to do with his death.  This is a spy thriller set in war time, with double agents, Nazis and Churchill.  Nice.

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Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay
A modern take on Rear Window, Trust Your Eyes uses the internet as the window that enables a schizophrenic man, who spends his days and nights on a website, to see something that he shouldn’t: a woman being murdered behind a window on a New York street.  Thomas, the viewer gets drawn into a conspiracy of crime while battling his dilusions.

That is it for this month.  Hope you find the recommendations helpful.

Recommendations from the SMSA Mystery & Crime Book Club

Each month the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Library runs a Mystery and Crime Book Club where each member reads a book of their own choosing within an agreed sub-genre or theme.  For January, we shared the books we read over the holidays.  Here are some of the recommendations:


Tattoo by Manuel Vazquez Montalban
Tattoo (1975) is the second book in the Pepe Carvalho Mystery series by Spanish author Manuel Vazquez Montalban, and the first one translated into English. His first book, I Killed Kennedy (1972), has not been translated, so you can only start with Tattoo.  Manuel Vazquez Montalban was a prolific poet, journalist, essayist and writer in Spain.  He was well regarded and celebrated.  His novels featured 50 year old gastronome-detective Pepe Carvalho and delved into the many facets of Spanish life, from the communist movement in Spain to corruption of the police and politicians.  Tattoo is about the discovery of a drowned man floating in the ocean and the search for his identity.  His face has been destroyed and the only thing that can help to identify him is the tattoo on his shoulder that reads ‘Born to raise Hell in Hell.’ 

Manuel Vazquez Montalban died in Bangkok, Thailand in 2003 on his way back from a speaking tour in Australia.


A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight by Victoria Lincoln
A true crime story, A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden (reprinted 1989) received an Edgar as the best non-fiction crime book of 1967 from the Mystery Writers of America.  Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted in the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall Rivers, Massachusetts in the USA.  The case caught the imagination of the public and was memorialized in a popular skipping-rope rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

Borden chose to remain a resident of Fall River for the rest of her life, facing ostracism and speculation.  Victoria Lincoln was born and raised in Fall River in the early 1900s and understood the social milieu in which these incidents took place. She offers a unique perspective to the Lizzie Borden case and decided to write about it many years later, even though many books, articles and essays had been written on the subject.

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Blood and Judgement by Michael Gilbert
In Blood and Judgement (1959), the London police are called in when a woman's partially buried body is found near the reservoir. This murder victim is the wife of a criminal who has escaped from prison. The ex-convict is suspected of the murder. According to crime writer Martin Edwards who wrote an essay on Michael Gilbert, “He introduced Sergeant Patrick Petrella, son of an Englishwoman and a senior Spanish detective. Petrella’s first book appearance was in Blood and Judgment, a police procedural which opens with the discovery of a woman’s body on Bonfire Night.” British writer Michael Gilbert had a very long a productive career.  He practiced as a lawyer in London and published his first novel in 1946 and his last one in 1999.  He died in 2006 at the age of 93.  He was a founder-member of the British Crime Writers’ Association.

Ian Rankin
Two novels from Ian Rankin were recommended. The eighth Inspector Rebus novel, Black and Blue (1997) explores the impact of the North Sea oil rigs and ‘industry’ on Aberdeen and Glasgow, and the 16th Inspector Rebus novel, The Naming of the DeadThe Naming of the Dead is set against the backdrop of a G8 meeting in July 2005 in Edinburgh.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
The latest Dennis Lehane, Live by Night (2012), is set in Boston and Florida in the 1920s.  Prohibition has made organised crime an industry and Lehane brings it all to life.  I think Lehane is one of the best crime writers alive.  He always makes his subject matter riveting, complex and with many shades of gray.  I am looking forward to getting this out of the library.


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Death of a Dissenter by Lynton Lamb
Born as a son of an English Reverend in India, Lynton Lamb grew up in London and studied art.  He was primarily an illustrator who designed stamps, decorations for the Orient Liner and the binding for the bible used at the Queen’s coronation.  He is the author of British children’s classic The Railway Children and wrote the Inspector Charles Glover detective stories between 1969 and 1974.  Death of a Dissenter (1969) was his debut, and is about a quaint English village where the rector of the village parish is the prime suspect.  It is described as light, humorous and full of provincial English.

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The Notting Hill Mysteries by Anabel Donald
The Notting Hill Mysteries is a series of five crime novels featuring London-based freelance researcher and occasional private investigator Alex Tanner.  Alex lives in the Ladbrooke Grove end of Notting Hill. Not the fashionable bit but the end near what was once known as Rillington Place.  All five books are set her and have a strong connection to the London borough.  Alex’s story starts with An Uncommon Murder (1992).  Set in 1990, Alex investigates the decades –old unsolved murder of Lord Sherwin. Alex’s story continues in In at the Deep End (1995) where she looks into the strange goings-on at Rissington Academy, an exclusive boarding school, where a student has drowned.  The third book in the series is The Glass Ceiling, Alex receives a letter from a ‘Ms X’ which lists the names of four famous feminists and has an X next to the name of the one who has recently died.  She races against time to try and stop the death of the remaining three. The Loop sends Alex backwards and forwards across the Atlantic in search of a missing young man. On an assignment in Chicago a beautiful young model begs Alex to find her missing lover. The trail leads Alex from Chicago back to England.  As usual there is more to it than the plot. Destroy Unopened is the final novel in the series and starts with a recently widowed woman bringing Kate an envelope marked "Destroy Unopened" which contains letters indicating a long-term relationship between a woman and a married man.  These letters are in some way connected to the killing of small blonde women that is happening in Notting Hill.  Kate tries to unravel it all.  

Book to Die For – Edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke
This is a collection of over 120 essays by current crime authors about their favourite crime novel.  Some of the pairings include: Eddie Muller on The Big Heat by William P. McGivern; Mark Billingham on The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett; Megan Abbott on In a Lonely Place, by Dorothy B. Hughes; Laura Lippman on Love’s Lovely Counterfeit, by James M. Cainby; James W. Hall on LaBrava by Elmore Leonard; Val McDermid on On Beulah Height, by Reginald Hill.  The essays are chronological, so you can read the history and development of crime fiction over the last 200 years.  The novels written about are mainly American and British, so it is by no means definitive, but it is a fascinating read.  As a bonus, there is also a short paragraph about the writer of each essay.


Bonus comment
Each year World of Books sell over 4 million used books online. Started in the UK, eight years ago, World of Books purchased unsold inventory of used books from UK charity shops and reselling them online, originally through online sites through amazon.com, but now also from the World of Books website www.worldofbooks.com.  Books are bought in bulk, paying by tonnage rather than paying for individual titles. Then, using custom-designed software, each title is evaluated for saleability and set selling prices accordingly.  In 2010 alone the business recycled 26 million books.  Check it out. They deliver worldwide.

Next month the sub-genre or theme is Partners in Crime.