Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who Doesn't Love A Mystery?

One afternoon several years ago, I was in the Corning Public Library when a group of women came out of the meeting room. They were all chatting about books and checking out books.
I asked one of the Librarians about them. "Oh, they're the Adults Reading Club," she told me. "They meet the first Tuesday of every month at 2 p.m. Anyone can come."

And that is how I started attending this very informal reading group. I learned that they had tried all reading the same book and then discussing it, but that what worked best for them was to read whatever they wanted to and then talk briefly about what they were reading and why they liked or didn't like the book. Discussion was always fun when several people had read a book (or an author) and had differing opinions.
One of the things I remember from this group was a woman who said: "I'll read anything as long as it isn't a mystery." "What? Does she have any idea what she's missing out on?", I wondered. I can't even imagine my reading life without the enjoyment of a good mystery. And in this stack pictured of my most recent reads, there were some really good mysteries.

Let's begin with the two Louise Penny books - #'s 5 & 6 in the CI Armand Gamache series: The Brutal Telling begins with two friends sitting before the fireplace in a cabin hidden deep in the woods of Quebec. One is telling an old tale of people fleeing from slaughter and destruction. It is an old story - a myth told and repeated and embellished over and over around fires just like theirs. It was a story, nothing more, but it seemed like more than that. Especially when the old hermit so clearly believed in it. "It's coming. It won't be long now." "Chaos." "Chaos is coming, old son, and there's no stopping it. It's taken a long time, but it's finally here."

"With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. As families prepare to head back to the city and children say goodbye to summer, a stranger is found murdered in the village bistro and antiques store. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to strip back layers of lies, exposing both treasures and rancid secrets buried in the wilderness." (From the inside cover of the book jacket.)

I just met Gamache in Penny's first novel, Still Life, and immediately fell in love with him, his investigative team and the inhabitants of Three Pines. I just wish our library had all of Penny's books instead of just three. And while I missed reading, #'s 2, 3 & 4, it was no problem picking up the relationships between the villagers in this book. The surprise was when one of those main characters was arrested for the murder of the stranger - a man all of them denied knowing.

I am glad the library did have the next in the series, Bury Your Dead, because while it does have a completely new mystery not set in Three Pines, it does find Gamache sending his second in command, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, back to the village to unofficially re-open the case. He feels he made a mistake and it wasn't the only mistake he made.

Gamache and Beauvoir are both on recuperative leave. Gamache keeps reliving his mistake in judgment which got four of his team killed and nearly ended his own life. He can't keep Agent Paul Morin's words out of his mind. These memories interspersed throughout the novel inform us just what happened to get Morin and the others killed.
The Chief Inspector has retreated to Quebec City and the home of his mentor in order to heal physically and mentally. His days are spent quietly in the Literary and Historical Library. Not until a murder occurs in the basement of this very old building does Gamache begin to come alive again.

Penny's writing is superb - not just for the mysteries, but for the historical settings and the vast knowledge she presents about her native country. I had previously had my interest piqued by Kathy Reich's books; now more than ever, I would like to visit Canada.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum is Kate Atkinson's first novel and the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year Award winner. "Ruby Lennox begins narrating her own life at the moment of conception and from there takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of a girl determined to learn more about her family and the secrets it keeps." (From the back cover of the book.)

Ruby is part of a middle class English family living in York. By interspersing flashbacks with the story of Ruby's life, we also meet four generations of women from Ruby's great grandmother on down and see how their lives affected hers. At times it was a bit hard to keep everyone straight, but their stories were all interesting. And while there was no sign of P.I. Jackson Brodie in this first Atkinson book, I still very much enjoyed her writing.

I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson upon the recommendation of my daughter, Kari. When she asked me what I thought of it, I told her I was surprised it wasn't scarier - or thicker. (It is a very thin little book.) The book was published in 1959 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It is considered one of the best literary ghost stories published during the twentieth century.

I always feel like I've missed something when other readers I highly regard recommend books that I don't feel as inclined toward. What did they see in it that I didn't? Should I go back and read the book again? Yet other recommends from those same people I find fantastic - love the books and the authors.

There was a 1963 movie (The Haunting) made from this book starring Clare Bloom, Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn and Richard Johnson. I do not remember seeing the movie, yet when I look at its promo poster online, I feel some of the suspense and fear I did not feel while reading the book, so maybe I did see it. Please do not dismiss this book because of me. Read Kari's excellent review at and then decide.

Nancy Pickard continues her Marie Lightfoot series in Ring of Truth. Once again Lightfoot is authoring a true crime book - this time about a minister and his lover who have been tried for the murder of his wife. Pickard's mysteries have so many layers as Lightfoot tries to discover the whys and not just the who's. Our library does not have the final book of this trilogy. I'll have to search it out elsewhere.

Who doesn't love a mystery? Not me. I love them for sure.

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