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Death of a Doxy

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This is another case in the Rex Stout’s fantastic mystery series featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Breaking one of his cardinal rules of not accepting a case when he doesn’t have a paying client, Wolfe takes on the case of a murdered mistress found dead in her flat because Orrie Cather, one of Wolfe’s action men, is under suspicion (and under arrest). There are plenty of suspicious characters in the picture, from the mystery lover who paid her bills to her condemning, “respectable” sister. Yet, when signs begin to point in one direction, an opportunity for a paying client arises, making the mystery a harder knot to untangle if Wolfe wants to receive his fee. One reason I really like Rex Stout’s books is the characters. Nero Wolfe is a larger-than-life misogynistic genius who can only function on a schedule or risk getting indigestion from getting upset at meals. Archie Goodwin is the wise-cracking optimist who retains his good humor in all situations. In Death of a Doxy, the minor characters also get a chance to shine: Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Inspector Cramer are all in good form. If you’ve read Rex Stout, you’ll like Death of a Doxy; if you’re thinking about reading one, this is as good a place to start as any.
Black Orchids

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This book is Archie Goodwin's recounting of two different cases--one in which Nero Wolfe acquires the rare black orchids, the other one in which he sends cut flowers from his black orchids to a funeral.In the first case, Wolfe leaves his house to go to the flower show to see the newly-bred black orchids. While he is there, someone gets murdered and Cramer won't release Archie from questioning to drive Wolfe home. While waiting, Wolfe gathers some evidence, gets a client, and even works the black orchids into a deal. Once safely home, the only thing he has to do is solve the case, within the client's limiting instructions.In the second case, Archie and Wolfe are approached by a society lady who thinks someone is out to ruin her. Two of her aquaintances have received letters in which the writer claimed knowledge of certain damaging secrets and wrote that this lady (Wolfe's potential client) had told the writer about it. She wants to know who wrote the letters and she wants proof. Throw in one murder, tag with a chimpanzee, and pig chitlins, and you have the story.Almost any Archie and Wolfe mystery is bound to be fun. Here was no different. Archie was charming and bright, Wolfe was obstinate and correct. Just as things should be.
Bloodhounds: A Peter Diamond Investigation

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First, a rare stamp is stolen in broad daylight after the thief notifies the police and press ahead of time in a bold taunt. The Bloodhounds, the local reading group for mystery fans in Bath, are interested in the opportunity to discuss a real mystery, but after one of their members ends up dead, murdered, in a different member's locked houseboat (the Mrs. Hudson), they all begin to suspect one-another. Only one Bloodhound, Milo, is above suspicion as he has a solid alibi--being with the police at the time of the murder. However, Milo, the fan of classic mysteries and locked room puzzles, had the only key to his houseboat in his possession at the police station, and the houseboat was found locked with no sign of forced entry. Peter Diamond, the Detective Superintendent in charge of investigating the murder, has his own locked-room puzzle to solve.Peter Lovesey builds his characters well. His plotting is creative and fair to a reader who likes a mystery that gives enough clues. The writing is clear, and the dialogue is sharp. None of these assets are the best point of the book however. My favorite aspect is the clever references to other mystery authors and mystery genres which any crime book lover will find amusing. Whether it's Bloodhounds debating the benefits of the noir crime versus the puzzle-based whodunits or it's John Dickson Carr's rules of a proper locked-room mystery, a well-read reader will appreciate the nods to favorite authors.
Borkmann's Point

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This is the second book in the Van Veeteren series by Swedish mystery writer Hakan Nesser. It is the first that I have read. When Van Veeteren is nearing the end of his vacation on the coast, he gets called in to assist in a serial murder investigation in a nearby town. By the time Van Veeteren is consulted, two have been killed, and the killer has been practically beheading his victims, earning him the title ‘The Axman’ in the press.Van Veeteren joins the local police: Bausen, the chief who is set to retire in one month and who just wants everything closed by then, Kropke, the pompous computer-literate man, and Beate, an ambitious young woman who feels the need to prove herself. Those four, with later one of Van Veeteren’s underlings from the city, attempt to find the killer before too many others die.The mystery was straightforward. It was okay. There was nothing outstanding about it, but it clung together cohesively. There are short sections interspersed between chapters which give outtakes from the killer’s point of view. Between those and the information gathered by the detectives, the reader should be able to figure out the mystery—but not too early in the story. Nesser’s writing-style, however, made the reading difficult at the beginning. He writes in short sentences. Or incomplete sentences. Sentences like I am using right now. To illustrate the point. Making the flow somewhat isolating. Perhaps that was what he was going for. Then he would have achieved it. (I don’t think I can keep it up). His writing construction feels like rapid-fire, catching the reader off guard and making him pay attention (or put the book down). The isolation achieved by the writing construction further adds to the wonderful descriptions of the atmosphere and to the passive attitudes of the characters to give the book a well-developed sense of place. The other good point, in addition to the formation of setting, is the characters. Most of them are not very likable, but they are very real. In a genre that is full of clichéd, contrived, or condensed characters (some of whom are in very good books—nothing against them), it is refreshing to find an author who can hit the mark. I wouldn’t recommend this book for everybody, but if you like atmospheric novels with real, though not particularly endearing, characters and with a bit of crime to work through, you will probably like this book. I will buy the next one.
He Who Fears the Wolf

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This is the third book in Norwegian author Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series. It is the second translated into English and the second I’ve read.This psychological novel focuses on three misfits and the circumstances that cause them to cross paths. Errki Johrma is a schizophrenic recently escaped from a mental hospital who suffers from severe hallucinations. Kannick Snellingen is an obese young man who lives at the local reform school for boys. Morgan is a bank robber who has the misfortune of grabbing Errki as a hostage in order to enable his escape from his most recent robbery.There is, of course, a mystery and a murder also. Shortly after Errki’s escape, Halldis Horn, a woman who lives alone on her remote farm, is found brutally slain on her own front porch. Kannick is the first to come across the body and report its discovery, and Errki is spotted in the woods in the vicinity of the property. Inspector Sejer is probably the most reasonable detective I’ve encountered in my reading of mysteries. He is loathe to jump to conclusions and does not make assumptions based on stereotypes. And he is kind and dedicated—I think his younger coworker, Detective Skarre sums up his character best when he explains that Sejer, a widower for eleven years, believed that when he said “till death do us part”, he meant his death. Karin Fossum is thoughtful not only in her creation of Inspector Sejer but also in all the other characters in the book. All three “misfits” are depicted with a gentle touch and with understanding. This book is as much a fight for understanding between the armed and hostage as it is a mystery, as Errki and Morgan try to find shelter on the run.
A Long Shadow

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A Long Shadow is the eighth in the Ian Rutledge series by mother/son writing duo Charles Todd. It is the first that I have read.Ian Rutledge is a police inspector from Scotland Yard who has recently returned from fighting in the trenches in France during World War I. While he struggles to recover from the memories and guilt haunting him, he resumes his duty of solving crimes and tries to heal a country that is just as shattered and broken as he is. In this book, he investigates a case in a remote village of a man (the local sheriff) found barely alive, shot in the back with an arrow in the nearby woods thought to be haunted by ancient Saxon ghosts. Looking into the attempted assassination, Rutledge is drawn to an unsolved mystery involving the disappearance of a teenage beauty. While the cases may or may not be related, there are common factors, and in a small town, most events are related. During the investigation of the case, he confronts local prejudice and tries to maintain his sanity in spite of the constant chiding of his ever-present companion Hamish (the ghost of a fellow soldier he had to execute for refusing to fight or the manifestation of his guilt for the lives lost under his command).The book is well-written and the descriptions evocative of a bleak yet slowly recovering country. Before reading the book, I was wary of the fact that one of the main characters is either a ghost or symptom of the detective's imagination; however, the supernatural was not overdone. The writing was done in a manner so that I could understand how his conscience and shell-shocked hallucinations were a reaction to his war experience, and that made his trauma and struggle to recover all the more palpable for me as a reader.The mystery wasn't difficult to figure out, from fairly early in the book. But the story remained interesting and suspenseful not because everyone was a suspect but because there was a question of whether Rutledge would survive / maintain control long enough to solve the case. Starting in London and throughout the investigation, Rutledge's condition is made worse by a stalker who shadows and terrorizes him by leaving tokens demonstrating that Rutledge is vulnerable anywhere at any time.The book is not gruesome--in fact, there is very little description of blood or gore. However, the book left me more emotionally drained than many violent stories do. I want to read another (and plan to do so) but not for a while.
The Mother Hunt

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In this book, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are faced with an odd case—a newly widowed socialite wants to find a baby’s mother. The child was left on her doorstep with a note which said that the boy should live in his father’s house. The young widow admits that it is quite possible her late husband was the father and she is prepared to take care of the child—but only if she can be sure that it is his. While she doesn’t want to have her generosity taken advantage of by an impostor, she thinks that if Wolfe can identify the mother and figure out her movements during the crucial time-frame, then she can at least be more confident that the note is legitimate.While Wolfe doesn’t usually get involved in family matters, he accepts this case. Quickly, the case heats up with murders, and it gets so hot that Wolfe has to take refuge outside his brownstone. This is one of my favorite Wolfe books so far. Archie and Wolfe are in top form, and Saul gets more involvement than in most cases. As with all the Wolfe books, the mystery isn’t complex and isn’t really the focus of the book. The mystery is a vehicle that carries the characters and their interactions through the course of the book—and this was a good ride.
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