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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Historical Medical Mysteries Starring Female Leads

Posted by Jessica W.
I have always loved historical fiction because there is such a variety of times and events that can be told from different points of view.  I also enjoy mysteries and the thrill of finding out “Who done it”. Both series that i am currently reading involve female main characters who use their medical knowledge to solve crimes. One series, the Lady Darby mysteries, follows Lady Darby as she uses her forcibly acquired medical knowledge to solve crimes in Scotland in the 1830’s with the help of inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. The other series I am reading is the Gaslight Mysteries.  These books follow turn of the century midwife Sarah Brandt as she continually finds herself involved somehow with a murder investigation run by New York City Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy. Both of these series have romantic story lines but they definitely do not take over the main plot. So here is my list of mysteries with female protagonists with medical knowledge

Set in Scotland in the 1830s, this book follows recently widowed Lady Kiera Darby in her quest to clear herself as a murder suspect.  Kiera is immediately suspected after a guest of her sister’s party is found murdered.  She must then work with the handsome inquiry agent Sebastian Gage to clear her name and solve the murder.

This book is filled with period details and details of the beautiful surrounding landscape. The book moves along pretty quickly as various suspects are ruled out and the killer is finally caught.  I really like Kiera’s determination to solve the crime, not just to clear her name but to catch the killer.  

After her first investigation, Lady Kiera Darby travels with her family to visit old friends. While staying with the Dalmays, Kiera finds that her old art mentor, who she believed to be dead, had actually been in a mental asylum.  When rumors swirl of a missing girl and the possible involvement of her old tutor, Kiera is again involved in solving the puzzle.  With the help of inquiry agent Sebastian Gage and her own knowledge of the human body, Kiera must clear her friend’s name before it is too late.

I thought this book did a great job of showing the flaws of the mental asylum system in the early 1800’s.  The details about mental institutions of the time also made the book almost a little scary.  More of Kiera’s past is revealed in this book, which explains some of her motives in the investigations.  Again filled with wonderful imagery of the landscape and details of the time, the second book in the series is as good if not better than the first.

While delivering a baby, midwife Sarah Brandt sees someone from her past.  When she goes back the next day to check on her patient, she finds the girl she recognized has been murdered.  She then involves herself in Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy’s investigation into the young girl’s death.  Using her knowledge as a midwife as well as her well connected family Sarah works to bring the killer to justice.

Set in New York City in the early 1900s, the book is well researched and includes many details about the period.  I found that the social hierarchy of the city at the time was really interesting.  I also thought the corruption of the police department was intriguing.  I really liked the twist at the end.

Sarah Brandt delivers a baby to a poor tenement family only to find that the baby's Aunt Gerda has been raped, murdered and left in an alley. The police do not care much about a poor “charity girl” who was probably killed by one of her many beaus.  Sarah turns to Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy for help to further the investigation into the young girl’s death.  Together they are led all over New York City in hopes of catching a killer before anyone else dies.  

You learn more about Sarah and her relationship with her “old money” family in this book. This second book in the gaslight mystery series is much more fast paced than the first with more twists as well.  You also learn more about Detective Malloy’s home life and why he is so hesitant to trust Sarah.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Too Many Mystery Series? Never!

Posted by Cary H.
I grew up reading mysteries.  Like many other readers who have been caught the mystery bug, when I find a good series I’m thrilled to have so much reading to look forward to!  From my first set of Nancy Drew books when I was twelve, to my current reading habits today, I am always on the lookout for a new series.

What I find interesting is the way in which serendipity plays a role in our discovery of new books to read.  One of my absolute favorites – The “Prey” series by John Sandford – has been on the best-selling lists for years, with the twenty-fifth installment (entitled Gathering Prey) published in 2015, but I just discovered it.  New to me!  I can’t explain why it took me so long to give this sensational series, starring Minneapolis detective Lucas Davenport, a try.  Possibly, my love of British mysteries and the wealth of wonderful choices of series with settings across the pond (Richard Jury series – Grimes / Reginald Wexford series – Rendell / Jack Frost series – Wingfield / Dalziel & Pascoe series – Hill / Jordan & Hill series – McDermid / Inspector Morse series – Dexter, etc.), kept me busy until now.  Not to mention years spent reading Agatha Christie over and over.  John Sandford’s Prey series is very well written, and he manages to evolve the characters over time so that you really feel like you understand their lives and backstories without this information getting in the way of the story.  Lucas Davenport is a wonderful fictional character and this series is really worth the time.  I prefer the audio version because the narrator, Richard Ferrone, is spot on.   

Speaking of wonderful British mysteries, I am delighted by the various new British mystery series out on DVD for American audiences.  If you’re already hooked on DVD series like Midsomer Murders and Inspector Lewis, you may be ready to give these newer choices a try:

Broadchurch – Each episode of the first season works toward solving the mystery of the death of a young boy in the town of Broadchurch.  Lots of suspects and twists and turns.  Great acting by two main characters (one being David Tennant of Dr. Who fame).

Luther – Not as new, but definitely a wonderfully-well done series starring Idris Elba as the handsome, intense detective with a passion for life and his job.

Grantchester – Totally different feel to this series, with a 1950s Anglican vicar as the main character.

New Tricks – Very popular, long-running series with all new characters.  I am happy to say I still like this series and have followed the new characters on an enjoyable ride.

We don’t carry every British crime drama DVD set at the library for space and availability reasons, but if you’d like a really good comprehensive list, check this out:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Favorite Young Adult Mysteries

Posted by Megan J.
Want an easy read, but don’t want to sacrifice exciting plots and interesting themes? YA books may be right for you! And don’t worry—no librarian is going to judge you for being a not-so-young adult checking out a YA book. In fact, we may start talking about our own favorite YA picks, such as the ones below:

Haddon’s book can technically be considered a mystery, since the plot revolves the protagonist’s investigation into what happened to his neighbor’s dog. However, the most important questions the book raises deal more with empathy and family than intrigue and murder. The story is told by protagonist Christopher, a 15-year-old boy living in England who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. While Christopher learns about his neighbors and his own family’s past, readers learn about Christopher’s unique outlook and his frustrations in interacting with other people. Christopher’s viewpoint is certainly different and readers may initially feel exasperated with his frequent confusion in social situations, but as the story grows, it gets easier to relate with Christopher’s struggles. Our social culture is anything but simple, and everyone can understand the feeling of uncertainty when trying to navigate an unfamiliar world.  Thoughtful, ultra-logical, and often funny, Christopher’s voice will stick with you long after his story ends.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Probably best known in the internet-world for her hilarious Twitter feed, Maureen Johnson is also a celebrated YA author.  Johnson’s Shades of London series begins with protagonist Rory Deveaux’s introduction to boarding school life in London, England, but the same day she arrives, a brutal murder occurs near her school, followed by a series of murders mimicking the style of Jack the Ripper. As “Rippermania” takes hold in London, Rory begins to uncover the city’s secrets and discovers that the killer may be even stranger than everyone believes. Among the supernatural aspects of the book is a gripping mystery that scares and surprises readers, while at the same time showing off the city of London (and the mountain of research Johnson did on the city while writing).  The Name of the Star is an enticing start to Johnson’s Shade of London series, and is sure to whet reader’s appetites for the next three books in the series, the latest of which was published in February of this year.

Another mystery novel that delves into the supernatural, Riggs’ first fiction book was inspired by his hobby of collecting vintage photographs from garage sales. The use of these old photos in his novel helps create the mysterious and slightly creepy atmosphere in his story. The novel follows Jacob Portman as he attempts to find the truth behind his grandfather’s tales of growing up in an orphanage in England and the “peculiar” children that lived with him. As you may have guessed, he learns much more than he bargained for. While it is often the unique use of vintage photos that draw reader’s interest, Riggs’ story itself is thrilling and satisfyingly spooky enough to keep it. For those who come away craving more “peculiarity,” Riggs’ sequel Hollow City was released last year.

By now, most people have read John Green’s latest novel, The Fault in Our Stars, but before he wrote about the complexities of living with disease, Green was already using smarter-than-your-average-teenage characters to discuss issues that transcend the “teen” sphere. In this Edgar award winning book, protagonist Quentin (or “Q”) harbors a crush for his neighbor Margo, a so-called legend at his school for the multiple pranks and adventures she has organized. Q believes that Margo had forgotten he existed until the night she coerces him into being her getaway driver during her night of revenge. After the ensuing high jinks, Q returns to school the next morning thinking that his relationship with Margo has changed, only to find that Margo has disappeared. Using the clues she leaves behind, Q begins to search for Margo, questioning all the while whether Margo is as “legendary” as she appears. Using references to Walt Whitman and a dash of cartography, Green’s novel questions whether our understanding of others is as complex as we believe. Make sure you check out the novel in time for the film adaption, which hits theaters July 24!