Sunday, May 9, 2010

ERIN HART AND KATE ATKINSON


 


I am surprised to discover that I have become a fan of series mystery novels. Although I have read at least one of each, I was never enthralled with Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta books, John Grisham's legal thrillers, Sue Grafton's alphabet series, or James Patterson's numerical series. (I note that Patterson's The Ninth Judgment" is on the top of the bestseller list today.)


But I have lately fallen under the thrall of 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, the amateur sleuth of the Alan Bradley mysteries. I really enjoyed "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" and "The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag", both of which I have reviewed here, and I'm eagerly awaiting the third book.

Since then, I have discovered two more mystery/suspense/detective novelists I like enough to look for other books by them. The first is Kate Atkinson, whose book, "When Will There Be Good News?" I found at a consignment shop. I wasn't lucky enough to happen upon the first book in the series, but it hardly mattered. "When . . . . " is actually the third book that pairs Private Detective Jackson Brodie and Edinburgh's Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe. But except for learning that Brodie had somehow become a millionaire along the way, it didn't matter that I was reading the third book without having read the first two.

When a train Brodie is traveling in crashes, he is rescued by Reggie, a 16-year-old nanny, whose efforts at CPR save his life. At an Edinburgh hospital, Dr. Joanna Hunter takes over the lifesaving effort. Meanwhile, Inspector Monroe has been advised that a man involved in a long-ago multiple murder has turned up in a local hospital. But as it turns out, identities were mistakenly switched in the aftermath of the train crash. To Monroe's surprise, her old pal Brodie is the man who has ended up with Andrew Decker's wallet.

Reggie, who becomes very attached to Brodie after saving his life and visiting him at the hospital, has her own worries. Her employer, Dr. Hunter, has gone missing, and no one, not even her husband, seems to care. In a strange quirk of fate, Brodie learns that Dr. Joanna Hunter is one and the same person as Joanna Mason, whose mother, sister and baby brother were murdered by a madman wielding a knife, leaving only 6-year-old Joanna alive. In fact, it is Brodie himself who found traumatized little Joanna hiding in the wheat fields.

Now, 30 years later, Inspector Monroe is looking for that very same murderer. Reggie convinces Brodie to help her find Dr. Mason, Monroe continues to search for Decker, and all the while plots are converging and everyone is careening toward an ending that may be as disatrous as the train wreck.

Atkinson lives in Edinburgh, and I enjoyed the glimpses of the city she weaves into the story. And I especially enjoyed the character of Reggie, stalwart, independent and plucky. I hope she turns up in later Brodie/Hunter mysteries. In the meantime, I am going back to read the previous two books in the series, "Case Histories" and "One Good Turn".



Not one but two blogging friends recommended Erin Hart's "False Mermaid" to me, knowing how much I love everything Celtic. I was a little bit smarter this time, and looked up the book on amazon.com. It turns out that "False Mermaid" is the third book in Hart's series about Dr. Nora Gavin, an American MD and forensic anthropologist lecturing at Trinity College Medical School, and Dublin University archaeologist Cormac Maguire.

When a body is discovered in a peat bog by Brendan McGann, a local who's been cutting turf, police are called in, as well as Cormac and Nora, who is especially interested in studying ancient bodies preserved in bogs. As they begin excavating the site, they learn that it is actually just a head that has been discovered. Almost perfectly preserved because of the peat, the head is clearly that of a red-headed woman who has been executed by having her head chopped off.

The question is, how old is the head, and where is the rest of the body? And the villagers ask another, inevitable question: Does the head belong to Mina Osborne, who disappeared two years ago, along with her three-year-old son?

Working together, Nora and Cormac, along with detective Garret Devaney, try to solve both mysteries. Nora is convinced that local landowner Hugh Osborne, Mina's husband, murdered his wife and son. However, she and Cormac do accept an invitation to stay with Hugh and help in the excavation of some property he plans to develop. Also living at Hugh's house are his icy cousin Lucy and her strange son, Jeremy. And then there's McGann, who is a well known adversary of Hugh. Hugh has been the primary suspect in his wife's disappearance from the beginning, but could one of the others have done away with Mina and her son, or did she simply disappear of her own volition?

Except for a substory involving Detective Devaney's home life, I found that the plot unfolded very well. A romance between Nora and Hugh is handled subtly. Nora is reluctant to become involved with anyone, especially since she can't get another murder out of her mind - that of her own red-haired sister back in her home town of St. Paul, MN. I especially liked Nora for her devotion to discovering the true identity of "The Cailin Rua," or "Red Colleen," as the girl found in the bog comes to be called.

I will now be reading the second book, "Lake of Sorrows", also set in Ireland and involving Cormac, and then "False Mermaid", which moves betweens Ireland and St. Paul and is reportedly the book in which Nora really begins to investigate her sister's death, which she blames on her brother-in-law.

1 comment:

lila said...

I'm now reading the second Flavia De Luce mystery. I love these books too! They make me chuckle along the way.
What a great little 11-year-old sleuth she is!