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The Murderous Month of May! Focus On Mysteries

Mysteries Reviewed!

The following reviews feature the best mystery books of 2012-13 for adults and young adults as noted by Booklist and Good Reads.

Beggar's Opera

by Peggy Blair

This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty Literary Society!


Not only does Canadian Blair’s exciting new series take place in contemporary Havana—a slam dunk of a setting for crime fiction—but it also boasts an unusual and unusually intriguing premise: Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of Havana’s Major Crimes Unit, sees dead bodies, the ghosts of the victims of his unsolved cases. But this isn’t another paranormal wrinkle in a realistic crime series (like Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge novels); no, Ramirez may have inherited something called Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), in which the victim suffers from vivid hallucinations. But he hardly has time to worry about his dead companions at the moment, as a Canadian policeman, Mike Ellis, is being held on suspicion of the rape and murder of a young Cuban boy, and the police have 72 hours to formally charge or release him. Meanwhile, a Canadian lawyer, Celia Jones, arrives to help Ellis negotiate the formidable Cuban bureaucracy. Each of the three major characters could hold up a crime novel on his or her own, and Blair interweaves their stories beautifully; she also invests Havana geography (with its decaying buildings and rusting American cars) with new vigor by focusing not only on photo-worthy street scenes but also on the complex lives of the people who live inside the broken buildings. A fine novel and the launch of what looks to be a superb series.

Dare Me

by Megan Abbott


This book is recommended for mature young adult readers by Booklist.


The full range of human experience—from joy, love, and lust to greed, betrayal, and despair—can be expressed in any activity, so why not cheerleading? In this terrific novel, Abbott (an Edgar winner for Queenpin, 2007) takes a plot that seems torn from the headlines and transforms it into Shakespearean tragedy with friendship bracelets. Narrator Addy Hanlon is lieutenant to ruthless cheer-captain Beth Cassidy, and together they rule their high-school cheerleading squad until the arrival of Coach French, who coolly upends the power structure while letting the girls drink at her house. Addy’s in, Beth is out, but Addy’s in for more than she bargained, and Beth, an unforgettable villain, lashes back with stunning ferocity. As the cheerleaders train for the final game like Spartan warriors with eating disorders, there is a death, there is a mystery, and its unravelings seem to implicate everyone. Much of the novel’s power comes from the way Abbott captures the fierce urgency of the teenagers’ emotional lives. Living in an insular world where adults, boys, and other students are largely nonentities, they’re glib about the abuse done to their bodies and psyches, living only for halftime. This is cheerleading as blood sport, Bring It On meets Fight Club—just try putting it down.

Deadly Cool

by Gemma Halliday

This book is recommended for grades 9-12 by Booklist.


Hartley has had a rough day. The junior came to school thinking that all was well with her boyfriend, Josh, only to hear rumors that he had been caught having sex with Courtney, the unofficial queen of the Color Guards and head of the Chastity Club. When Josh avoids Hartley, she has no choice but to push for a confrontation. Only, instead of finding Josh in his bedroom, she finds Courtney—dead. While the cops seem in a rush to lock up Josh, Hartley is determined to prove that someone else is responsible. Halliday has her finger on the pulse of high-schoolers, whether goth, jock, prude, or computer nerd. The story is told in Hartley’s irreverently funny voice, keeping the murder and mayhem from being emotionally overwhelming. With red herrings aplenty and a wicked pace, this relentlessly pulls the reader along to an explosive conclusion. Happily, Halliday has more adventures in store for Hartley.

Ghostman

by Roger Hobbs

This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty Literary Society!


A first novel comes along every few years that clearly separates itself from the field, like Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. This year’s Secretariat is going to be Ghostman, a propulsive thriller that combines incredible detail and nonstoppable narrative drive. Jack White is the Ghostman, a pseudonymous loner living far off the grid who specializes in disappearing. After a high-level heist, he makes sure that all traces of the caper vanish. Only once, in Kuala Lumpur, did it all go bad. The organizer of that job, a master criminal named Marcus, blames Jack for the fiasco, so when Marcus penetrates Jack’s deep cover, it clearly means trouble. But Marcus doesn’t want to kill the Ghostman, at least not yet. What Marcus wants is for Jack to even the score by making a botched armored-car robbery in Atlantic City disappear—except, of course, for the take, which has itself disappeared but needs to be found. The clock is ticking because if the $1.2 million in freshly minted bills isn’t recovered quickly, it will explode. Naturally, there are multiple levels of double- and triple-crosses layered within the premise, and Hobbs tantalizingly reveals them—always keeping his hole cards thoroughly vested as he tracks Jack’s progress. The suspense builds inexorably, heightened rather than impeded by the supportive detail with which Hobbs undergirds the action (the backstory on those exploding bills, for example, will have readers wondering how a twentysomething author could possibly know what he knows). There’s also a jaunty, cat-and-mouse subplot involving Jack and a female FBI agent who may be more interested in Jack than the crime. Comparisons to Lee Child are inevitable here, and surely Hobbs possesses a Child-like ability for first unleashing and then shrewdly directing a tornado of a plot, but he also evokes Elmore Leonard in the subtle interplay of his characters. A triumph on every level.


HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Knopf knows it has a winner here and is backing Hobbs’ debut with the kind of marketing support rarely granted a first novel. Movie rights have been sold to Warner Brothers, and options have been signed by 13 publishers across the globe.

The Girl is Murder

by Kathryn Miller Haines


This book is recommended for grades 7-10 by Booklist.


Iris Anderson used to be a private-school girl. She also used to have a mother and a father with two legs. But after her father was injured at Pearl Harbor, her mother became depressed and committed suicide. By the time Pop returns home to start a detective business, the family’s fortunes have fallen, and 15-year-old Iris finds herself living on the Lower East Side and attending P.S. 110 with kids a lot tougher than she is. This is the premise of a smart offering that gives both mysteries and historical fiction a good name. Here the mystery surrounds Tom, a boy at school who disappears. Pop has been hired to solve the case, but Iris can see that doing the required legwork on only one leg can be pretty exhausting. So she takes it upon herself to become her father’s assistant. That gets her to places she shouldn’t be, like the Savoy in Harlem; hanging out with the wrong people; and lying to just about everybody. The mystery is solid, but what makes this such a standout is the cast. Sounding as though they’re right out of the 1940s (well, a 1940’s movie, anyway), the characters, young and old, leap off the pages. Iris, intriguing and infuriating, captures the tension inherent in the teenage years, no matter what the decade. This joint is jumping.

Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty Literary Society!


When Nick Dunne’s beautiful and clever wife, Amy, goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, the media descend on the Dunnes’ Missouri McMansion with all the fury of a Dateline episode. And Nick stumbles badly, for, as it turns out, he has plenty to hide, and under the pressure of police questioning and media scrutiny, he tells one lie after another. Juxtaposed with Nick’s first-person narration of events are excerpts from Amy’s diary, which completely contradict Nick’s story and depict a woman who is afraid of her husband, has recently found out she’s pregnant, and had been looking to buy a gun for protection. In addition, Amy is famous as the model for her parents’ long-running and beloved children’s series, Amazing Amy. But what looks like a straighforward case of a husband killing his wife to free himself from a bad marriage morphs into something entirely different in Flynn’s hands. As evidenced by her previous work (Sharp Objects, 2006, and Dark Places, 2009), she possesses a disturbing worldview, one considerably amped up by her twisted sense of humor. Both a compelling thriller and a searing portrait of marriage, this could well be Flynn’s breakout novel. It contains so many twists and turns that the outcome is impossible to predict.

Heist Society

by Ally Carter

This book is recommended for grades 6-10 by Booklist.


After a childhood spent assisting her father, one of the world’s most talented art thieves, Katarina Bishop tries to leave the family business behind when she forges her way into a New England boarding school. She quickly discovers, though, that her past is inescapable. Her father has been accused of stealing already stolen masterpieces from a dangerous Italian billionaire. Certain that her father is innocent, Kat resolves to find the missing paintings and return them to their unsavory owner, who has given her a two-week deadline. Carter, the author of the Gallagher Girls series, skillfully maintains suspense as Kat assembles a team of teen accomplices, travels across Europe, and plots an impossible art heist to save her dad. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, cinema-ready adventure, and the details of thieving tools and techniques, lavish settings, and cast of eccentric characters, including possible spies and love interests, all add texture and depth to the action. Readers will hope for a sequel to answer the book’s central mystery: if Kat’s father isn’t guilty, then who is?

Kill You Last

by Todd Strasser

This book is recommended for grades 9-12 by Booklist.


After three teenage girls go missing, the police and the media camp outside Shelby’s home, where her fashion-photographer dad had previously taken photos of the girls as part of his modeling business. Everyone knows Dad is “borderline creepy” with young girls. Is his agency a scam? Is he the serial killer? Or is one of his workers guilty— perhaps his gorgeous assistant Gabriel? What about the journalist following the story: how come he knows so much, especially when the bodies are found? And who is sending Shelby threatening e-mails and texts? Can she trust her best friend? Dad is loving and protective toward Shelby, though he is distant from Mom. As in the best mysteries, the final revelation is both a total surprise and yet no surprise at all; how could Shelby––and the reader––have missed the prime suspect?

Live by Night

by Dennis Lehane


This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty Literary Society!


Lehane’s latest historical thriller, following The Given Day (2008), continues the author’s propulsive narrative train ride across twentieth-century American history. This time the train stops during Prohibition, and the individual focus is on Joe Coughlin, a Boston cop’s son by birth but a gangster by choice, rejecting his father’s platitudes about crime not paying and choosing, instead, to live by night, in a “world without nets—none to catch you and none to envelop you.” Joe begins in Boston, and after a stint in prison, it’s off to Tampa, where he quickly becomes the crime boss of Ybor City, rum-running capital of Florida. Joe, like Vito Corleone, is a thoughtful gangster, a family man who would prefer to do business without violence but who draws violence to him like a magnet. Despite evoking comparisons both to The Godfather and to the TV series Boardwalk Empire, Lehane’s novel carves its own unique place in the Prohibition landscape, partially because crime runs at a more languid if no less lethal pace in Ybor City than it does in the North. And, somehow, when the staccato rhythm of gunfire overwhelms the tranquil tempo of a slowly turning ceiling fan, the jolt to our system is stronger, as is the realization that Joe’s worlds of night and day are held together by the thinnest of fibers. This is an utterly magnetic novel on every level, a reimagining of the great themes of popular fiction—crime, family, passion, betrayal—set against an exquisitely rendered historical backdrop.


HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Note to that big IT department in the sky: add bandwidth, launch satellites, do whatever you need to do to prepare for the digital promotion campaign that will accompany the launch of Dennis Lehane’s new novel.

Name of the Star

by Maureen Johnson


This book is recommended for grades 8-11 by Booklist.


Flip-flop-wearing, Cheez Whiz–eating 18-year-old Rory has left her Louisiana home to spend her senior year at an esteemed London school, Wexford. Her arrival, though, is met by a series of grisly murders precisely mirroring the 1888 killings of Jack the Ripper—and Wexner is right in the center of Saucy Jack’s stomping grounds. After a near-death experience, Rory finds herself with the ability to see the shades, ghosts drifting about London. This ability brings her to the attention of a squad of young people with similar talents who are working with the authorities to sniff out the copycat killer before the final murder takes place. Johnson proves again that she has the perfect brisk pitch for YA literature, never overplaying (or underplaying) the various elements of tension, romance, and attitude. The mechanics of the squad’s ghost busting are a little goofy, but, otherwise, this is a cut above most paranormal titles, with a refreshing amount of space given to character building. What’s that coming through the fog? Yes, it’s more volumes in the Shades of London series headed our way.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

by A. S. King

This book is recommended for grades 10-12 by Booklist.


High-school senior Vera never expects her ex-best friend, Charlie, to haunt her after he dies and beg her to clear his name of a horrible accusation surrounding his death. But does Vera want to help him after what he did to her? Charlie’s risky, compulsive behavior and brand-new bad-news pals proved to be his undoing, while Vera’s mantra was always Please Ignore Vera Dietz, as she strives, with Charlie’s help, to maintain a low profile and keep her family life private. But after Charlie betrayed her, it became impossible to fend off her classmates’ cruel attacks or isolate herself any longer. Vera’s struggle to put Charlie and his besmirched name behind her are at the crux of this witty, thought-provoking novel, but most memorable is the gorgeous unfurling of Vera’s relationship with her father. Chapters titled A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Dad) are surprising, heartfelt, and tragic; it’s through Ken that readers see how quickly alcohol and compromised decision making are destroying Vera’s carefully constructed existence. Father and daughter wade gingerly through long-concealed emotions about Vera’s mother’s leaving the family, creating the most powerful redemption story of the many found in King’s arresting tale. Although King’s characters turn into the people they’ve long fought to avoid becoming, they ultimately rise above their challenges, reflect, and move on. A worthy, well-crafted addition to any YA collection.

The Rage

by Gene Kerrigan

This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty Literary Society!


Welcome to Dublin, where the economy has tanked, and violence has surged. Vincent Naylor walks out of prison and right back into the same business that landed him there, armed robbery. Working with his dimmer brother, Noel, and some friends, they kidnap an armored truck driver to learn how the system works, setting up for their biggest score yet. Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey is working the murder of an investment banker and contemplating perjuring himself in an upcoming trial when he gets a tip from an old nun that a strange car has been parked on her street for some time. That car turns out to be the getaway car, and that phone call changes lives when two of the men involved in the robbery are killed in the street. Vincent takes off on a revenge spree, and Tidey can’t help but reexamine his own life. The sparse writing style seems well-matched to the content in this tense, thoughtful thriller, which won the UK’s Gold Dagger award for best crime novel of the year. Fans of Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes, and Declan Burke won’t want to miss this one.

Shatter the Bones

by Stuart MacBride

This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty literary society!


Alison and Jenny McGregor—Aberdeen's own mother-daughter singing sensation—are through to the semi-finals of TV smash-hit Britain's Next Big Star. They're in all the gossip magazines, they've got millions of YouTube hits, and everyone loves them. But their reality-TV dream has turned into a real-life nightmare. The ransom demand appears in all the papers, on the TV, and the internet, telling the nation to dig deep if they want to keep Alison and Jenny alive. The media want action; the public displays of grief and anger are reaching fever-pitch. Time is running out, but DS Logan McRae and his colleagues have nothing to go on: the kidnappers haven't left a single piece of forensic evidence. The investigation is going nowhere. It looks as if the price of fame just got a lot higher.

shelter

by Harlen Coben


This book is recommended for grades 8-12 by Booklist.


Mega-successful mystery and thriller writer Coben launches a spin-off to his long-running Myron Bolitar series for adults by having the sports agent–sleuth’s nephew, high-school sophomore Mickey, come to live with him. Mickey’s got problems and mysteries of his own: his father died eight months ago, his mother is a relapsed junkie, and the cool girl he has just met in high school has disappeared. (And Mickey’s not nuts about long-estranged Uncle Myron, either.) Disturbed by the vanishing of his friend, Mickey investigates on his own, getting lost and beaten and nearly destroyed by the underworld he discovers. This series opener gets off to a slow start, with Coben trying to establish that he knows some high-school lingo, what texting is, and so forth. Mickey himself, the first-person narrator, often sounds more middle-aged than teen. The resolution, though, is quite satisfying and points to a good deal of potential for what might come next.

Silence of Murder

by Dandi Dalen Mackall

This book is recommended for grades 8-12 by Booklist.


“I have never even once thought there was something ‘wrong’ with my brother,” says 17-year-old Hope Long, but few people share her view. Jeremy, 18, is selectively mute, autistic, and on trial for the murder of a beloved local coach. Wherever their irresponsible alcoholic mother has taken them, Hope has always been Jeremy’s advocate, but now, in order to save Jeremy from execution, she must testify to his insanity. Convinced of her brother’s innocence, Hope sets out to discover the real murderer. Her investigation leads to the loss of her only friend, a forbidden romance with the sheriff’s son, family secrets, and a journey of self-discovery. Hope’s first-person narrative pulls readers immediately into the story as she works her way through clues and false leads to the truth. The well-plotted mystery is intriguing, and Hope’s determined efforts to solve it have an authentic feel. Secondary characters are a tad one-dimensional, but Hope’s compelling voice and the very real sense of danger propel the pace to a solution that will have readers talking.



Skinner

by Charlie Huston

This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty Literary Society


This tour de force features two of the most interesting characters we’ve seen in years. Skinner, a savant-like killer who struggles to interpret emotions and to speak with normal affect, spent his formative years as part of a bizarre experiment—an origin story that unfolds piece by broken piece, each one with fascinating complications. His job is to protect Jae, a damaged, emotionally fragile robotics expert and data analyst with an amazing capacity to sift meaning from massive streams of information. She’s supposed to find the source of an attack on the U.S. power grid. But the motives of the people who’ve hired them are maddeningly elusive, and, as the job leads them through Europe toward an unlikely plot in a Mumbai slum, they have to wonder whether they’re pawns in one of the most circuitous bait-and-switches of all time. Huston’s world, where powerful private security firms battle each other for access to the “new markets” created by global chaos, is cynical, chilling, and eminently believable. The plot itself may be a bit of a stretch, but this is mind-bendingly original, from the characters, to the dialogue, to the sensory-overloaded world that feels eerily like the one we’re about to live in. Add Huston (Sleepless, 2010) to the A-list.

— Keir Graff

Suspect

by Robert Crais

This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty Literary Society!


The most multifaceted and appealing new protagonist in crime fiction this year just may turn out to be a dog—and a hard-boiled dog, to boot. Maggie is a German shepherd trying out for the LAPD’s K-9 unit, but it looks like she isn’t going to make it. A former military dog, Maggie survived three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan but was severely wounded (her handler was killed) and now suffers from the canine version of PTSD. LAPD cop Scott James, shot during an altercation in which his partner was killed, also suffers from PTSD and has been assigned to the K-9 unit, but it doesn’t look he’s going to make it, either. Scott and Maggie immediately bond, but the hard-nosed sergeant who heads the unit doubts whether either one can measure up. Man and dog think otherwise, however, and as Scott continues—off the books—to investigate the shooting that cost his partner her life, he finds that Maggie has his back, just as his partner did. Taking a break from his critically acclaimed Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, Crais launches what looks like a stand-alone, but anyone who reads 20 pages of this gripping and heartrending thriller will devoutly pray that it’s the beginning of a new series. As Scott digs deeper into the death of his partner, he stumbles on a massive cover-up. That story is thoroughly involving and skillfully presented, but, frankly, it’s hard for the reader to think of anything but Maggie. We become singlemindedly obsessed with the safety of this beautiful, sensitive, and stunningly intelligent animal, much as Maggie lives to protect and please Scott. Crais take us inside Maggie’s head—and, even more, her remarkably sensitive nose—but always in the most believable of terms (this is no talking-dog cozy). A read-in-one-sitting thriller, plot- and character-driven in equal measures.


HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Crais has hit the New York Times best-seller list eight times, with Taken making it to number one. The track record will jump-start this one, but the book itself will do the rest.

Three Graves Full

by Jamie Mason

This book is recommended for adults; a good read for our Faculty Literary Society!


First-novelist Mason hooks the reader with her first sentence, “There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.” Mild-mannered widower Jason Getty is responsible for burying one body, but he’s shocked when two others are discovered in his yard and found to be the work of the home’s previous owner, Boyd Montgomery, who came upon his wife, Katielynn, in bed with Reid Reynolds three years earlier, just weeks before Reynolds was to marry his childhood sweetheart, Leah Tamblin. Getty, on tenterhooks, is massively relieved when police wrap up the latter two murders, until persistent detective Tim Bayard finds blood traces in Getty’s house that point to a third crime. As Getty prepares a cover-up, Tamblin comes looking for answers and resolution, and what seemed a closed murder case opens up again. Racheting up suspense is one thing, and Mason manages it masterfully, particularly as it concerns Getty’s fate. But portraying characters so well and so thoroughly, examining and explaining their motives even for murder, requires a level of skill that is rare, marking this as an astonishingly accomplished debut and Mason as a writer to watch very closely.

Quote for the month: "I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts." ~ Stephen King

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Recommended Professional Development Reading: Crime and Puzzlement

by Lawrence Treat

This is one of the books featured in the Common Core Speed Dating Session. It is a great book to use as a starter for class.


The format in each of these books is the same: you read the story, study the picture, then solve the crime. Each volume contains 24 separate mysteries, with answers in the back if you get stumped. Guaranteed to pique the interest and hold the attention of the most distracted teen.