Meeting of Mystery, Pt. 1
Posted by: Neil Hollands
I treasure the meetings of the staff book group at Williamsburg Regional Library. My colleagues are always a font of interesting choices, books that I wouldn’t necessarily gravitate to myself. When our subject matter is broad, as it was when we met this month to discuss our mysteries, I know the meeting is going to add some new titles to my to-read list. Here’s a selection of the books that came to the table this month:
Sheila from Technical Services got us started with Lis Wiehl’s Waking Hours. It’s a blend of mystery and urban fantasy. A forensic psychiatrist investigates the murder of a Westchester County teen at a party that the other teens in attendance can’t remember. She ends up teaming with a former NFL linebacker whose romantic advances she avoided back in high school in a story that involves demonic possessions, mystery, and a touch of romance. It’s the kind of book that will leave a group of librarians giggling a little bit at the plot description…. and then racing to the catalog to put it on reserve after the meeting.
We all miss Lisa after her recent retirement, but she was back for book group with a junior fiction selection, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. It’s the story of Jeremy and his friend Lizzy, two kids who seldom leave their NY apartment building or city neighborhood, at least until his 13th birthday brings a present from his father, who died several years ago. It’s a puzzle box that leads Jeremy and Lizzy on a voyage of discovery. A fan of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, or someone looking for something in John Green’s style but oriented to slightly younger readers, might give this book, by Wendy Maas, a closer look.
Laura, newly promoted to head our Automated Services division, is most definitely not a fan of cozy mysteries. So she got a kick out of G. M. Malliet’s Death of a Cozy Writer. Perhaps best known for her Max Tudor series, Malliet’s first book concerns an obnoxious English writer killed in a locked room in his English manor house, probably by a member of his own dysfunctional family. What makes this notable is the glee with which Malliet dissects her own genre.
On a much different note, Laura also praised Matt Rees’s first book in the Omar Yussef series, The Collaborator of Bethlehem. Yussef is a history teacher in Bethlehem, who tries to quietly teach his students the wisdom of peace between Palestine and Israel. When one of his former students is accused of collaborating with the Israelis, Yussef goes to his defense, must do so with great care not to bring the danger back to his own family. This is a mystery series that not only entertains, but gives readers insight into the complicated world of modern Palestinians.
Cela, the retired head of our Technical Services department, has discovered the joys of Louise Penny’s Three Pines series and its detective, the cultured Armand Gamache of the Montreal Sûreté. She reported on the first book Still Life, but had been racing through the titles and already had the fourth of the series in front of her. These books mix elements of the traditional village cozy, the police procedural, and psychological suspense. They’re my current first choice for a sure bet for mystery readers. If you’re not reading them, by all means get started.
My choice was Junkyard Dogs from the Walt Longmire series, a book that balanced humor and a serious murder gracefully. You can see a longer report here.
My boss Melissa read the first book in the new series from Women of the Underworld creator Kelley Armstrong. Omens features Olivia Taylor Jones, a wealthy, Ivy League-educated young woman, whose engagement to a CEO fiancee is thrown into chaos when she discovers that she was adopted, and that her real parents are accused serial killers. Hounded by the press, she finds herself in little Cainsville, Illinois, investigating the crime her birth mother says will clear their name. In her new series, Armstrong’s paranormal elements are more subtle, and mysteries will be part of each plot.
Our group leader Cheryl prefers nonfiction, and when she reads fiction, she often returns to classics. Gaston Leroux is best known for The Phantom of the Opera, but it was preceded by one of the first locked room mysteries, his 1907 classic The Mystery of the Yellow Room. Cheryl found this one more historically notable than pleasurable for a modern reader.
Her other choice was from Josephine Tey’s classic Alan Grant mysteries, The Mystery of the Singing Sands. This entry finds Scotland Yard’s Grant on forced vacation in Scotland, but he still finds a mystery, a murder on the train up that proves to be much deeper than first assumed. Tey’s Golden Age classics should appeal to fans who are still reading Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.
My post is getting long, and I’m only halfway through this meeting of great, diverse reading choices. I’ll be back later this week with the remainder.