More New Mystery Fiction (book reviews)

I needed a second blog to list the great new mysteries I can recommend. I still mourning the loss of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone.

A Song of Comfortable Chairs (2022) Alexander McCall Smith. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is back, and there is trouble close to home. Mma Makutsi is the center of the story this time as her husband’s furniture store is under threat by another store, and helping out is Mma Makutsi’s arch enemy Violet Sephotho.

Smith is a master of introducing the story slowly, after giving his characters some personal drama to grapple, and then threading the mystery along the personal conflict. His books are really just colorful struggles of average people.

The ladies are charming, a bit fastidious at times, but Smith creates a great little world for them. If you were to visit Africa, this would be somewhere you’d want to visit. Like an English countryside village, the lives of these Botswanans are intertwined and the simple things are endearing.

Long Shadows (2022) David Baldacci. The Memory Man series, Amos Decker, is back. His series is now my favorite Baldacci current character series. The book starts with a suicide, Decker’s former FBI partner. His most recent partner has been reassigned, so he’s breaking in yet another partner. This book takes place mainly in Florida, in the gated communities of the well-to-do.

The story contains the typical Baldacci detail and well-researched subject matter. There are multiple deaths and the usual suspects, and the growing concern that larger forces are involved. Of course the storm gains twists in the last 100 pages, opening up new possibilities.

Baldacci cranks out books at the rate of every six months, which is a great pace for us consumers of mysteries. Like Janet Evanovich, I’m amazed at the publication pace, but I’ll keep reading as long as the quality is there.

City on Fire (2022) Don Winslow was featured on CBS Sunday Morning a couple of years ago; I knew I’d have to check him out. Since, I’ve read several of his books, and latched onto his latest, City on Fire. The sign of an outstanding writer is believably, and somehow Winslow convinced me that he knows the locale and the dirty business he writes about. Some of his characters are off-kilter, but not so much they seem made-up.

The mob wars over control of the business, with scores to settle and honor to uphold. Set in 1980s Providence, Rhode Island, less Godfather and more Goodfella’s. It’s gritty and unforgiving, a nasty business to be a part, who can you trust and family alliances tested.

If you have read and enjoyed other Winslow books, this one is for you. Mob life makes life cheap and expendable. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad, they look alike, but the difference is in the heart. Winslow is skilled at the nuances of character development and keeping many character arcs in motion at the same time.

I read other reviews that talk of a Greek tragedy, identifying a Helen of Troy character and playing on comparable themes of loyalty, betrayal, false flag, greed and so on. I highly recommend this book.

Going Rogue (2022) Janet Evanovich returns with another Stephanie Plum mystery. This time, Connie, the buxom, take-no-shit, office manager at the bail bonds company turns up missing. Her safe return hinges on finding, and returning a commemorative coin. It is up to Stephanie and Lulu to recover the coin.

The Plum books are easy reads, not simplistic stories, but each book feels as comfortable as the last. Evanovich gives us characters that are as familiar and inviting as your favorite sitcom or daytime soap. They might be flawed or predictable, but they entertain and fail to disappoint. You hope each time Stephanie gets her shit together and has a run of good luck for a change. Her long suffering parents put up with a lot, especially with the craziness of Stephanie and the antics of the grandmother who lives with them. She’s more a teenager than a senior citizen. Instead of Debbie Reynolds, who played Grandma in the one Stephanie Plum film, I always think of Golden Girl Estelle Getty.

Evanovich is obviously a talented and successful writer. She excels at the humorous situations and banter among the quirky characters. From book to book, you’ve read the same reporte between characters, but it always works. The plots have twists and turns but never stray too far from the facts and characters at hand.

There will soon be another blog covering more mysteries from the year.


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