Book Review: In the Shadow of Gotham

In the Shadow of Gotham

Stefanie Pintoff

Minotaur Books

400 pages

It is the dawn of the 20th century, and Detective Simon Ziele is attempting to recover from the death of his fiance in a steamer accident.  Her death has caused him to leave the city police force and join the force in the much smaller town of Dobson, New York.   So far, the quiet pace has been comforting, but that all changes with the murder of Sarah Wingate, a young collegiate who was visiting her aunt in the country.

Sarah is not your typical lady; she is a mathematician studying at Columbia University and the competition between the coeds is fierce.  Sarah is attempting to solve a difficult mathematical formula.  While you wouldn’t assume that a math problem would invoke such jealousy, Sarah’s peers are after her to discover her solution.  It is unclear to Ziele whether this envy could have motivated a murder.

Add to that the fact that Ziele is contacted by a man named Alistair Sinclair, a criminologist at Columbia.  He believes he knows who the culprit is, but the problem is the suspect disappeared to weeks previously.  Ziele is forced to decide whether he should heed to Sinclair’s hunch or whether he should go off on a different tangent.

The fact that I bought this book is pretty shocking.  I tend to only buy books I have heard of before, or at LEAST heard of the author before, but I stumbled upon In the Shadow of Gotham at a used book sale, and for the price, I could see no reason to not take a chance on it.  Not to mention I was on a huge mystery kick last month.  I am glad I took a chance, because this book turned out to be really gripping.  Was the whodunit aspect a mystery?  Not really.  I had the pool of suspects narrowed down fairly quickly, and my hunch turned out to be right, so I was a little shocked by the fact that Sinclair and Ziele didn’t pick up on it sooner.  I suppose Pintoff had to make the book a little longer!

One issue I did have with the book was the storyline of the dead fiance.  It was mentioned on the back of the book, so I assumed that it would play into the book a lot, but it really didn’t.  I kept hoping for more information on Ziele; how he felt about the situation, how he was coping, and what exactly happened to his fiance, but it was only touched on briefly a few times.

Despite my few qualms about the book, the issues were minor, and overall I certainly thought it was a great plot that was finely written.  I plan to read more Pintoff in the future.

Other Reviews:

S Krishna’s Books

I purchased this book from a book sale.

Book Review: The Twisted Thread

The Twisted Thread

Charlotte Bacon

Voice

384 pages

Claire Harkness is one of those girls.  The type that is unflinchingly beautiful, that seems to get what she wants when she wants it.  So it is a shock to everyone at Armitage Academy when she is found dead in her room one morning.  It becomes apparent straightaway that she has been harboring quite the secret; Claire has recently given birth.  How she died and the whereabouts of her new baby are unknown.

Madeline Christopher is a young woman interning in the English department and she is in the vortex of the mystery.  Because of her youth, Madeline is trusted by the teenagers involved, and very quickly she begins hearing information about the case that deeply disturbs her.  I will just add that it involves a secret society that very much reminded me of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

The mystery surrounding Claire’s death and the paternal parentage of her baby seems clear from probably the midpoint of the book, and in the end wasn’t so shocking.  In fact, it was surprising to me that the investigators on the case didn’t pick up on it earlier.  I suppose that would have made the book go too quickly! The whereabouts of the baby, and whether it was dead or alive, kept me guessing much longer.

I have been on a mystery kick recently, and The Twisted Thread only added to my voraciousness of the genre.  I was enthralled for the majority of the book, and found it insatiably readable. Add to that the setting of a prestigious boarding school, and you’ve got a real winner.  I always seem to go crazy for the boarding school setting, and it did not disappoint in this instance.  If you are into literary mysteries, certainly take a chance and pick this one up.

Other Reviews:

Presenting Lenore

I received an e-galley of this book from Netgalley.

Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Tom Franklin

Harper Perennial

304 pages

Larry Ott is a solitary figure.  Having lived in a small, southern town for his entire life, his reputation is tarnished and he is treated as a pariah.  As a teenager, Larry had been an outcast, so everyone was surprised when he was asked on a date by one of his female peers.  No one knows what happened to the girl, who disappeared while out with Larry.  From then on, the suspicions of the entire town lie with Larry, and everyone believes that he is guilty of the girl’s disappearance.

Now, years later, Larry lives by himself in the same town, and his old friend Silas “32” Jones is the constable of the town when another girl disappears.  Once again, Larry is caught in the middle of everyone’s suspicions.  32 is himself coming to terms with what happened years ago, and as the book wears on, his old relationship with Larry comes to light.  Added to all this complexity is the fact that 32 is black and Larry is white; not a seemingly big deal now, but decades ago in the south, their friendship was something that had to be more hidden.

I am a big mystery buff; literary mysteries are my weakness, and I expected this to be your run of the mill mystery about two missing girls.  In fact, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was anything but.  The character development was absolutely exquisite.  Both 32 and Larry, especially, were so intricately woven that I was immediately submerged into their world.  Larry became one of the most sympathetic characters I have ever encountered.  One scene was especially poignant for me.  The boys are teenagers, and Larry is dressed as a ghost for the local haunted house.  It seems as if his peers may have accepted him at this point, and he is part of the social scene, or so both he and I expected.

‘Anyway,’ he went on, ‘when Larry come out of the haunted house, we all just kind of pretended not to see him.  All of us.’

He told her how Larry stood in the floodlight for a long time.  Figuring it out.  The mask deflated under his arm.  Finally he turned and walked down the dirt road to the paved one.  He paused at the road in his whipping sheet and waited, as if a car was coming though none was, waited a long time, and still no car came.  Some of the seniors had forgotten him and were passing cigarettes and beer, but Silas watched as Larry finally crossed the road and walked into the parking lot.  He stopped there, too, and took off his sheet and looked over the cars, as if selecting one to buy.  He’d forgotten where he’d parked his mother’s Buick, that’s what he was doing now.  In case anybody glanced over and happened to notice him and yell, ‘Hey, look! It’s Larry! Come back! Join the party!’

My heart ached for Larry.  He is one of those characters that I expect will stay with me for a long time to come.  I just now realized that Franklin has written other novels prior to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and I am anxious to see if anyone has read them and, if so, how they compare to this one.

Other Reviews:

The Book Lady’s Blog

Rhapsody in Books

The Literate Housewife Review

Caribous Mom

Books and Movies

Eclectic/Eccentric

Fizzy Thoughts

Page 247

Linus’s Blanket

Lesley’s Book Nook

I purchased this book for my kindle.

Book Review: When Will There be Good News?

When Will There be Good News?

Kate Atkinson

Little, Brown and Company

400 pages

Joanna Hunter seems to have it all.  She is a successful doctor with a handsome husband and a baby son that she adores more than anything. She is hiding a dark secret, however; Joanna was the only survivor of a brutal attack as a child that resulted in the deaths of her mother, sister, brother, and even dog.  The killer has just been released from prison when all of a sudden Joanna disappears.  Her babysitter, Reggie (Regina) is a precocious teenager who is instantly suspicious and nervous about Joanna’s disappearance, despite the assurances of Joanna’s husband that she is only visiting a sick relative.

Throw in a bunch of crazy situations in Reggie’s life, along with the appearance of PI Jackson Brodie, and you have a story full of all kinds of twists and turns. It would generally be the type of book I would be all over.  My appetite for literary mysteries tends to be insatiable. When Will There be Good News? feel flat for me though.  The characters seemed two dimensional to me, and I did not feel that any of them were very realistic.  Add to that a bunch of unbelievable situations and it just ruined it for me.

The one aspect of the book that did end up drawing me in was the unrequited love between Jackson and Louise, whom he had worked with previously and I believe appears in the other Jackson Brodie books.  Louise was the one character that I really cared about.  She was realistic, albeit infuriating, and the way she jerked her husband around angered me.  Then you have Jackson, who is also a newlywed.  Both he and Louise hid behind their new marriages and refused to acknowledge their feelings for one another.  I am sure that is to create suspense but really . . . I just wanted them to both stop being so passive aggressive.

As it stands, I can’t say whether or not I will read more from Atkinson.  Her most recent books sounds pretty good, but I am skeptical as this one really let me down.

Other Reviews:

Rhapsody in Books

Page247

Shelf Love

Farm Lane Book Blog

S Krishna’s Books

I purchased this book from Barnes & Noble.

Book Review: Little Face

Little Face

Sophie Hannah

Penguin

320 pages

Alice Fancourt is a new mother and has just left her newborn daughter for the first time after giving birth a few weeks before.  She is only gone a short time, but when she comes home, she finds her husband asleep and Florence in her crib.  Only . . . she is certain the baby she comes home to is NOT Florence.  Alice immediately phones the police and an investigation is started, but no one, including her husband, believes her.

One week later, Alice and the baby disappear together, and the police are forced to take the matter more seriously.  Add on top of that the murder of David Fancourt’s first wife a few years previously, and you have a novel of suspense on your hands.

I wrote a review just a few days ago for the first Hannah book I read, The Wrong Mother.  I loved that book so much that I decided to read more of Hannah, and I wanted to start at the beginning, so I picked up Little Face. It did not disappoint at all.  There was a strong psychological aspect, which picked up more and more as the novel went on.  I couldn’t decipher whether or not Alice was correct in her claim that the baby she came home to was not Florence.  While her husband seemed to be a caring, considerate husband at the start of the book, he quickly became abusive once Alice refused to recant her allegation that the baby was not Florence.

I am even more interested in Hannah now.  I have ordered her next book and plan on saving it for my vacation next month.  I highly recommend reading Sophie Hannah if you are on the lookout for a good literary mystery.

Other Reviews

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Semicolon

Farm Lane Books Blog

I purchased this book from Barnes & Noble.

Book Review: The Wrong Mother

The Wrong Mother

Sophie Hannah

Penguin

432 pages

Sally Horning is your typical frazzled mother of two young children.  She has a caring but clueless husband and a busy career.  Her one bit of respite was one year ago when she went on a “business” trip and met a man named Mark Bretherick.  Sally and Mark had a week long affair that lasted only as long as their respective trips.  Now, a year later, Sally is shocked to hear on the news that the wife and daughter of Mark Bretherick have been found dead–the result of a murder/suicide.  However, when Mark Bretherick appears on the screen during a news broadcast, Sally is horrified to realize that this is not the Mark Bretherick she spent a week with.

Sally begins her own sleuthing into the mysterious deaths of Geraldine and Lucy Bretherick, as well as also trying to discover who the real Mark Bretherick is.  She is extremely hesitant to clue anyone into what she is doing, as that would mean fessing up to her affair, so even her closest friend is unaware of the mess Sally has gotten herself into.

I have been on a “literary mystery” kick recently.  I am not sure how well developed this sub genre is, but basically I was looking for something along the lines of Tana French, now that I have read all three of her books.  I stumbled upon Sophie Hannah one day when I cam across an interview she had done with French.  I noticed that French seems to be constantly touting Hannah’s work, so I knew straight away I should give her a try.

Comparatively speaking, Hannah’s books are more fast paced and plot oriented.  The character development is nowhere near the caliber found in French’s books.  Regarless of that fact, I am definitely seeking out all of Hannah’s books now.  The suspense is there, and all I want with a good mystery is to keep my attention while drawing me into a good story.  If you are on the lookout for another mystery writer, do not hesitate to give Sophie Hannah a chance.

The Wrong Mother was the book club choice for my real life book club this month.  I am hosting, so I got to choose the book.  I rarely choose a book that I know so little about–I literally discovered this book the day I suggested it, but I was in the mood for a mystery and I figured What the heck.  We haven’t met up yet, so I can’t say how my book club liked it, but I was enthralled.  I read the book in about 24 hours.  I was afraid, before reading the book, that it wouldn’t be great for discussion, but I think we will have plenty to talk about!

Other Reviews:

A Novel Menagerie

Everyday I Write the Book

I purchased this book from Borders.