Monday, February 22, 2021

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review


The popularity and appeal of the older, sagacious female sleuths or mystery solving figures has always been a much-loved part of the mystery/crime genre. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was my first favorite amateur detective. Murder She Wrote continued giving credence to the reliability of the older woman sleuth in its lead role, Jessica Fletcher. Most recently, Richard Osman’s book The Thursday Murder Club centers around a group of septuagenarian sleuths, equal parts women and men, who are up to the task of resolving the question of whodunit. And, now one of my favorite contemporary authors Elly Griffiths in her novel The Postscript Murders gives us the character of Peggy Smith, who is known as the “murder consultant” by mystery authors who are having plot problems.

It’s a unique twist though, because the aged murder expert has herself been murdered, and the plot leading up to it must be discovered. It is up to Peggy’s Shoreham-by-Sea friends, who include 80 year old Edwin, Peggy’s care worker Natalka, and coffee shack owner Benedict to piece together what they realize is anything but a natural death. Finding a postcard in Peggy’s desk with the threatening message of “We are coming for you” seals the deal for the friends in determining that it’s murder that has brought about Peggy’s demise. 

The Postscript Murders opens to a still living Peggy writing in her observation journal with what she is seeing one day out of her seaside view window. There are two men she is watching who seem to be out of place in the neighborhood. Peggy lives in a retirement home, Seaview, but she’s still as sharp as ever, even at 90. However, she has reached the point in life where she must have a care worker come in and do certain basic services for her. When the care worker Natalka arrives for her afternoon duties on this particular day, she finds Peggy sitting in her chair by the window, dead. Nothing seems out of place, and Natalka calls her supervisor to report the death, thinking the death was just a case of Peggy’s advanced age. Then, Natalka begins to look around Peggy’s desk. Finding the postcard with the sinister message and encountering a masked gunman when she and Benedict are sorting through Peggy’s books puts a whole new spin on the murder consultant’s death. 

DS Harbinder Kaur, last seen in The Stranger Diaries, returns in The Postscript Murders to the delight of Elly Griffiths’ readers. Although in her thirties, Harbinder still lives with her parents, but readers get a closer look in this book at the dynamics of the Kaur family, showing how it’s possible for this arrangement to work well for everyone. Natalka takes her suspicions about Peggy’s death to the Detective Sergeant, and it isn’t long until Harbinder is investigating what really brought about the elderly woman’s death. When one of the authors Peggy helped is also found dead, of a gunshot, the group of friends is off running, as far as to Aberdeen to a Literary Festival, to find answers. Harbinder, while working with Peggy’s friends, is trying to keep police procedure at the forefront of her investigation. The friends, not so much.

The story is told from the multiple viewpoints of Harbinder, Natalka, Edwin, and Benedict. Elly Griffiths is brilliant at character development, and we come to know these characters through their separate narrations. It seems Natalka has the most secrets in the group, but she has some rather stiff (ouch) competition from the dead Peggy. And, although murder is a serious business, there is humor in the telling, too, especially in parts dealing with Harbinder’s family and her police partner Neil, whom Harbinder often compares to a squirrel. Readers can always count on Elly Griffiths to provide the most captivating characters, ones generating an emotionally vested interest with the reader. And while the characters do drive this story, the mystery itself is always at the center of the action. 

With this second book featuring Harbinder Kaur, we know have been gifted with three separate outstanding series from Elly Griffiths. Her first series, the Ruth Galloway series, has a special place in my reading heart, and her Stephens and Mephisto series never fails to intrigue me. Of course, this prolific author even has a children’s series, too. Justice Jones has two books so far, and I am absolutely charmed by it. The Postscript Murders has solidified the Harbinder Kaur series as another one to mark on your calendars for a yearly thrill.

Thanks to Quercus and Net Galley for an advanced copy of The Postscript Murders


Friday, February 19, 2021

A Girl Called Justice: The Smugglers' Secret by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review


Justice Jones: Secrets of Smuggler’s Inn is the second book in Elly GriffithsJustice Jones children’s mystery series. Yes, that Elly Griffiths, the brilliant author of the Ruth Galloway series, the Stephens and Mephisto (the Brighton) series, and the Harbinder Kaur series that have been on mystery/crime best selling and award lists for years. Now, with this children’s series, which is also a great read for adults, the author has given children and young adults a jump start on reading great mystery stories. 

I got the same sense of thrilling suspense from reading both Justice Jones books as I did reading The Westing Game, my favorite young adult mystery up until now. I can’t imagine any better books to instill the love of mysteries in a young reader than Griffiths’ new adventures. While set in England in 1937, they are completely relatable, as the only effect seems to be no cell phones, which would be all the rage for pre-teens and teens now. I find that a refreshing absence, and I think all readers of this series will, too. A dropped note is far more thrilling than a text message, any day or creepy night of the week. 

Justice Jones has returned for her second term at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Although Justice would rather stay with her barrister father in their London house, she has the advantage of entering the spring term with some established friends and an understanding of the rules, which of course doesn’t keep her from breaking them. Justice’s two best friends are Stella, who is a roommate in her pod of five girls, and Dorothy, who is a maid at the school. Dorothy is only three years older than Justice’s twelve years and is as big a fan of mysteries and investigating them as Justice is. Stella, although not as enthusiastic about sneaking around trying to solve a mystery when it occurs, does support Justice in her curiosity. And, of course, there are mysteries aplenty this term, starting with the new matron, Miss Robinson, who doesn’t seem to recognize a broken bone when she sees one. 

The headmistress, Miss de Verre, has decided the 2nd Levels class should volunteer in the village community this term, and Justice has been assigned to help an older gentleman named Mr. Arthur, who lives in Smugglers’ Lodge. Of course, Smugglers’ Lodge is rumored to be haunted. Mr. Arthur is blind and at first he just wants Justice to read the papers to him, but they develop a friendship and start using their one afternoon a week together to talk. He requests a favor of Justice, and it is one she jumps at the chance of undertaking, as it involves a mystery, and Justice is all about the mystery. Mr. Arthur is trying to connect with his adult daughter with whom he lost contact years ago, and he thinks she might be at Highbury. Justice is delighted to start investigating who it could be, and it coincides nicely with Justice’s puzzlement of why Miss Robinson is sneaking around at night and why the forbidden basement at Highbury seems to be attracting certain teachers’ interests.

To reveal anymore of the story would rob readers of the same pleasures of discovery I had, and I never want to do that. I can add that there is a murder, which shouldn’t be too surprising. There’s a new Games Master, Miss Heron, and, Justice finds out she’s not hopeless at athletic activities, although she still and forever hates lacrosse, and Justice discovers other abilities she has, outside of being an ace detective. Justice shows lots of growth in this book, with a nod to the future of a well-balanced person and productive adult. She is a highly likeable character, and how she handles the challenges she faces endears her to the readers even more. 

So, if hidden tunnels and disorienting fog and secrets around every corner and people who go bump in the night catch your interests, this second Justice Jones book is right up your mystery alley. Did I mention towers with mysterious lights? As a delightful bonus to it all is an inclusion of the blueprint of the Highbury House and a list of the cast of characters. This bundle of thrilling mystery is bound together in a cover (both books) that can only be described as a work of art. Share this series with your children or grandchildren but be sure to buy a copy for yourself. I do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Guest List by Lucy Foley: Reading Room Review

I am a big fan of the locked room mystery scenario, which extends itself to the isolated island mystery. Of course, the most well-known isolated island mystery is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a story that gets chilling fast. More recently, Rachel Howzell Hall’s gripping They All Fall Down presented an island of select invitees to a gathering of deadly consequences. And, now I have another favorite in this remote island setting where once again the secrets the guests carry lead to murder. The Guest List by Lucy Foley is an outstanding addition to the locked room/remote island collection. 

Will Slater and Julia/Jules Keegan are a golden couple, rising stars in their respective worlds of television and magazine publishing. So, Jules knows that the setting for their wedding must be special, unique and unforgettable. After an only-the-unique-apply search for a venue, she awards the prize wedding to a wedding planner who offers the distinctive location of a remote island off the Irish coast. The island contains a recently restored stone house with ten bedrooms, so the wedding party can all stay overnight after the rehearsal dinner and before the next day’s big wedding. Aoife, the wedding planner, and her husband Freddy, the chef, will need to make sure everything is perfect for Jules’ dream wedding, as she will accept nothing less. Jules is happy to have gotten a huge discount on the venue and services because it is the first wedding being held there, and Jules also agreed to feature it in her magazine. Will, who is the star of the "Survive the Night" television series, is pleased that the outdoor wedding at the ruins of the island’s small church will jive with his outdoors image he projects to the public. 

The wedding party contains the ushers, all in their thirties, who were at school with Will at Trevellyan’s, an all-boys school where Will’s father was headmaster. The wedding seems to take them back to their youth, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for the wedding. The best man, Johnno, is especially a reminder of something Will wants left in the past. Jules has a lone bridesmaid, her half-sister Olivia, who brings her problems of a bad breakup with her and causes Jules to be even more irritated with her sister than usual. The bright spot for Jules is her long-time friend Charlie, who is to be the master of ceremonies. His wife, Hannah, who is largely left on her own by Charlie, develops a friendship with Olivia, as Hannah understands what a bad ending to a relationship can do to someone. But, there is so much hidden and buried within the characters, secrets that need to be told, but secrets that can have dire consequences. It’s a weekend of Russian roulette in never knowing when or if a secret will explode. And, the biggest secret of all is who has been murdered, a clever departure from the normal order, and the reader doesn’t discover who the victim is until late into the story. Trying to guess the identities of both the murdered and the murderer is quite fun, as those secrets of so many make it challenging. 

Lucy Foley has created a character driven tale that has layer after layer peeled back to reveal the horrors of lives ruined and lives interrupted. The characters are so well fleshed out in the narrative due largely to the story being told by five of those characters—Aoife, Hannah, Olivia, Johnno, and Jules. Through their narrations, the reader gains not only a great insight to those characters, but also to the other supporting cast. The secrets run deep, and once they start unraveling, they are gasp worthy. The big twist that comes at the end is a shocker. Foley has paced this story well to accelerate the suspense at just the right moments. The revelations come forth with stunning impact, and the reader will be caught off guard more than once. I think this is Foley’s best book yet.