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Books in February

Brrr, this winter has been long and cold! Good thing there's always books to warm us up!

Crime Scene Asia, Volume 1 is a very odd collection of short stories set in various Asian countries, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, India, Thailand and Vietnam. The authors all appear to be non-Asian (judging by their names) who happen to be living in one of those countries and who write crime fiction in general. There are nine stories altogether, including one by the editor, and of course a given reader will prefer certain stories over others. I liked “Lord Tony’s Deal” by Roger Vickery and “The Cat City Caper” by Dawn Farnham, although none of the stories completely wowed me. I would point out that this volume is definitely not for everyone; many of the stories use extremely strong language and depict horrendous sexual brutality in great scatological detail, so be warned.

Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James are asked to look into the drowning death of Connor Swann, the son-in-law of Sir Gerald and Dame Caroline Asherton, partly because of their celebrity and partly because of the coincidence that their son Matt had drowned in mysterious circumstances many years earlier. Connecting the two deaths is their daughter Julia, sister to Matt and witness to his death, and estranged wife of Connor. Although the case seems quite simple at first, the more Duncan and Gemma investigate, the deeper the layers grow…. I had been picking up this series as I found the books, but when I tried to start the 17th book in the series, I realized I had missed far too many books to make sense of the relationships, so I went back to this title, the third of the Kincaid and James books. I’m enjoying the developing relationship between the two main characters, and with this particular volume I liked the complexity of the mystery; also, I didn’t guess the culprit until almost the very end, always a plus in a mystery series! Recommended - but do try to read the books in the correct order!

When two young children mysteriously disappear while on their way to buy some sweets, their bodies being found several days later, DI Edgar Stephens of the Brighton police enlists the aid of his two sergeants, Emma Holmes and Bob Willis, to discover all they can about the children, their families and their habits. As it happens, his old friend Max Mephisto, magician extraordinaire, is in Brighton to perform in the Pantomime, and soon his knowledge of show business will figure into Ed’s investigation, albeit in a very unusual way. When a third child goes missing, Ed knows he has very little time to solve the crime before that one, too, might turn up dead….”Smoke and Mirrors” is the second in the Magic Men series and although it’s not as compelling at Ms. Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, it is quite fun. Set in the early 1950s, there are a lot of surprisingly modern ideas thrown into this story. This one has more actual theatrical detail than either the first or third (which I read out of order) in the series, which was really entertaining; I don’t really want to say anymore about it because it dovetails nicely with the murder mystery, so suffice to say that the author doesn’t disappoint! I think one could read this novel without having first read “The Zig Zag Girl,” although the nature of the relationship between the two men is better understood if one does have that background in mind. Recommended.

On two separate occasions, two young women are mysteriously kidnapped, rendered unconscious by chloroform and then left, unmolested and unrobbed, to be found some hours later, conscious but unable to identify their assailant. Inspector Montalbano is of course concerned about this strange crime, but he is also in the process of looking into a fire at an electronics store, the owner of which seems to have disappeared. Then a third woman is also kidnapped, but then is found with injuries, and *then* a corpse is discovered wrapped in cellophane….I’ve lost count of how many Montalbano books there are now, but this latest one is just a good as all the rest of them. Better, actually, to my mind because for once there are no beautiful young women who fall madly in love with the much older Montalbano, a factor is some of the earlier books that has always annoyed me. The strange kidnappings turn out to be even weirder than they seem, and the larger mystery is handled very well by the author. But as ever, the best thing about a Camilleri novel is the relationships between the main characters; in addition to Montalbano’s usual team of officers, this story introduces a new Prosecutor, Dr. Platania (filling in for Montalbano’s usual nemesis, Dr. Tommaseo) with whom, unusually, Montalbano gets along - a nice touch, that! As always, recommended, but read the series in order (and if you’ve never read any of the Montalbano series, you have many, many hours of enjoyment ahead of you)!

When Division Commander Alastair Gilbert is savagely murdered in the kitchen of his rural home, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma Jones are sent to investigate the crime. They find that there is no shortage of suspects, as the victim was a cruel, cold and vindictive man, and soon they are embroiled in the many petty emotions and complicated relationships among the villagers. At the same time, the two must come to terms with their own relationship and how to move forward…. I enjoyed the village aspect of this novel in particular, probably because relationships in small English villages are always entertaining to read about, at least in fictional form! The previous book in this series ended with the relationship between Duncan and Gemma changing, about which the two of them have very different perspectives, and a large part of this novel deals with the aftermath of that situation. As a result, you have both a crime to solve (which I did, shortly before the reveal at the end) and a relationship with which to agree or disagree, making for a satisfying read. Although Ms. Crombie’s writing is not top-of-the-line in terms of mystery writers, it’s quite serviceable and I will continue reading this series, at least for the time being. Mildly recommended.

Ready for Spring now, thank you very much!

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