Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Maisie Dobbs

March 21, 2012

Title: Maisie Dobbs

Author: Jacqueline Winspear

Genre: Mystery–Historical

Publication Date: 2003

Number of Pages: 294

Geographical Setting: London

Time Period: WWI-era England

Series (If applicable): Maisie Dobbs

Plot Summary: Intelligent, spunky Maisie Dobbs deals with “discreet investigations” for a living in London just after World War I.  Her first case appears to be a run of the mill infidelity matter but leads her to the Retreat, something of a convalescent home and monastery combined, and elevates the mystery to a higher level.  As the mystery unfolds, so does Maisie’s personal history, from working as a servant in a grand household, to her education encouraged and supported by Lady Rowan, to her time spent on the front as nurse during World War I.  Mystery, history, war and romance are woven together in this upbeat and engaging read.

Subject Headings: The Teens (20th Century); Women detectives; Extramarital relations; Domestic workers; Nurses; Human nature; Women psychologists; The Twenties (20th century); Psychologiest-detectives; Murder; World War I veterans; World War I; Dobbs, Maisie; Housekeepers.

Appeal: compelling; easy; relaxed; comfortable; compassionate; poignant; upbeat; engaging; series (characters); strong secondary characters; character-centered; richly detailed; historical details; accessible; engaging; unpretentious; well-plotted; compelling;

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: character-driven; engaging; strong woman protagonist

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell.  This memoir of a “affecting portrait of a vital, intelligent young woman“ (Kirkus) details the author’s time in service as a kitchen maid in 1920s England. Readers might enjoy reading about what Maisie’s life may have been like had Lady Rowan not encouraged Maisie’s education.

Elsie and Mairi Go to War: Two Extraordinary women on the Western Front. Elsie Knocker and Mairi Gooden-Chisholm, like Maisie, are courageous, intelligent and unconventional women who set up an aid station on the Western Front.  Readers who enjoyed Maisie Dobbs may also enjoy this true account of spunky nurses during World War I.

The Great Silence: Britain from the shadow of the First World War to the dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicolson.  Readers who appreciated the details of Britain during the World War I era in Maisie Dobbs may appreciate this social history of the first two years in Britain following World War I.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  This first novel in mystery series also features a strong, smart, independent woman protagonist who is war veteran.  Though In the Bleak Midwinter takes place in the US after the Iraq War, this compelling story also offers a strong sense of place that readers may have enjoyed in Maisie Dobbs.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd. Like Maisie, the main character in this mystery series is a strong, resourceful and self-sufficient woman serving as a British nurse during World War I.  The only difference between this character-driven, compelling mystery series and Maisie Dobbs is that the mysteries take place during the Great War.

Alfred and Emily by Doris May Lessing.  Half fiction and half memoir, Alfred and Emily opens with a novella that imagines what life for her parents would have been like if World War I had never happened.  Fans of Maisie Dobbs may be interested in an idea of what Britain would have been like if WWI never happened.

Name: Ally C.

A Is For Alibi

March 21, 2012

Author:  Sue Grafton

Title:  “A” is for Alibi

Genre:  Mystery

Publication Date:  1982

Number of Pages:  274

Geographical Setting:  California, Nevada

Time Period:   Early 1980s

Series:  Kinsey Millhone Mysteries, Alphabet Series

Plot Summary:   Nikki Fife, who served eight years in prison for allegedly poisoning her husband, hires private investigator Kinsey Millhone to find her husband’s real killer.   Because the victim was a callous and unfaithful divorce attorney, the suspect list is long.  Kinsey manages to narrow the list of suspects down to family members, close friends, and a few former spurned lovers.  In the midst of the investigation, she finds herself attracted to one of the suspects which further complicates the situation.  As Kinsey delves deeper into the investigation, she becomes entangled in a world of death and violence and must find the killer before it is too late for everyone involved!  This fast-paced, suspenseful mystery with a sassy heroine and a multitude of twists will hook readers from “A” to “Z”.

Subject Headings:  Murder investigation, Poisoning, Female private investigators, Adultery, Southern California

Appeal:  fast-paced, suspenseful, investigative, plot-centered, candid, conversational, series characters, plot twists, violent, gritty, introspective, strong sense of place

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: investigative, suspenseful, plot-centered

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Elements of a Murder: A History of Poison by John Emsley- Elements of a Murder:  A History of Poison examines 5 toxic chemicals and their use in some of the most infamous murders in history.  Elements of a Murder: A History of Poison and “A” is for Alibi both have murder by poison as a subject. 

Mortal Danger by Ann Rule- Mortal Danger examines several murders committed by spouses or family members.  “A” is for Alibi and Mortal Danger both have murder by loved ones as a main topic.

Special Agent:  My Life on the Front Lines as a Woman in the FBI by Candice DeLong- Retired agent Candice DeLong discusses her undercover work on major cases during her twenty year career with the FBI.  Special Agent:  My Life on the Front Lines as a Woman in the FBI will appeal to readers interested in the life of a female investigator. 

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors (why they are similar):

Edwin of the Iron Shoes (Sharon McCone Mysteries, 1) by Marcia Muller- San Francisco private investigator Sharon McCone investigates the murder of an antiques dealer.   Like “A” is for Alibi, Edwin of the Iron Shoes is a suspenseful, fast-paced mystery with a female private investigator and a strong sense of place.

Track of the Cat (Anna Pigeon Mysteries, 1) by Nevada Barr- Anna Pigeon, a park ranger in western Texas, must investigate the death of a fellow ranger.  Like “A” is for Alibi, Track of the Cat is a suspenseful, plot-driven novel with a female detective and a strong sense of place.

A Trouble of Fools (Carlotta Carlyle Mysteries, 1) by Linda Barnes- Former cop and now private investigator Carlotta Carlyle searches for a missing cab driver.  Both A Trouble of Fools and “A” is for Alibi are plot-driven, fast-paced mysteries with former female cops who are now private investigators.

Elissa

Abby Cooper: Psychic Eye

March 21, 2012

Author: Victoria Laurie

Title: Abby Cooper: Psychic Eye

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Publication Date: 2004

Number of Pages: 304

Geographical Setting: Detroit, Michigan

Time Period: Present Day

Plot Summary: Abby Cooper, a woman with amazing psychic and intuitive abilities, finds herself in the middle of a police investigation after one of her clients is murdered. Abby has a deep dislike of law enforcement after a fellow psychic was arrested years ago, and finding herself forced to work with the handsome officer Dutch proves to be nearly as hard of a challenge as catching the killer. Abby realizes she must use her talent and wit to find the killer before he finds her, no matter her personal feelings for the officer at her side.

Subject Headings:

Paranormal phenomena
Murder investigation
Women psychics

Appeal: Witty, richly detailed, conversational, fast-paced, upbeat, familiar, realistic, series characters, sympathetic, gentle, contemporary, urban, simple, unembellished,

3 Appeal Terms that Best Describe the Book: conversational, richly-detailed, realistic

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Psychic: My Life in Two Worlds by Sylvia Browne

One of the leading psychics in the world, Sylvia Browne discusses her journey to realizing her potential as a psychic and balancing her life in our world with that of the dead.

Discover Your Psychic Type: Developing and Using Your Natural Intuition by Sherrie Dillard

This is the go-to handbook for anyone who wishes to learn more not only about the types of intuition but also to find out what type of psychic you are and how to hone your talents.

History in Blue: 160 Years of Women Police, Sheriffs, Detectives and State Troopers by Allan T. Duffin.

This book discusses the history of women in the police force and how they broke down the  gender barrier in order to do the work they loved. Includes dozens of interviews with women of all ages and types of police work describing how they made their way up through the force.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

The Trouble with Magic (Bewitching Series #1) by Madelyn Alt

Cozy mystery/romance series concerning a 30 year old woman who must partner with her friends’ Wicca group in order to solve a mystery and clear their friend of murder charges. Fast-paced, conversational, witty and the first book of series.

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti is literally a woman without a soul and finds herself stuck in a whirlwind of paranormal occurrences after she accidentally kills a vampire. Fast-paced, witty, intelligent,  literary and romantic.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

The series that brought paranormal mystery/romance to the forefront. Sookie is a small-town mind reader whose life turns upside down when she meets Bill Compton, the new vampire in town. Fast-paced, imaginative, upbeat, contemporary and conversational.

Name: Courtney Rose

Mortal Groove

November 16, 2011

Author: Ellen Hart

Title: The Mortal Groove: A Jane Lawless Mystery

Genre: GLBT mystery stories; Mystery stories

Publication Date: 2007

Number of Pages: 358

Geographical Setting: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Time Period: Current

Series: Jane Lawless Mysteries, Book 15

Plot Summary:    Jane Lawless is a Minnesota restaurateur who maintains very close relationships with her friends and her family.  In this book of the series, Jane’s father is running for governor, and family secrets, as well as the secrets of those involved in his campaign threaten the campaign’s success, as well as the personal well-being of many of the characters.  Many of the characters in this book have secrets, the least of which is their sexuality.  Jane and her sidekick Cordelia investigate the people working with her father after the assault of one of their friends. This takes them back to a murder around the time of the Vietnam war. Jane’s investigation results in the kidnapping of her brother and she takes it upon herself to try to save him.  In the meantime, Cordelia is trying to regain custody of her niece, and Jane’s brother is trying to save his marriage by searching for his wives’ baby, given up for adoption at birth.  This multi-layered story offers resolution of most story lines at the end of the book, while creating new issues, perhaps to be resolved in the next book.

Subject Headings:  Candidates for public office; Cold cases (Criminal investigation); Fathers; Lawless, Jane; Lesbians; Murder investigation; Restaurateurs; Secrets; Thorn, Cordelia; Women detectives

Appeal: memorable, suspenseful, fast-paced, entertaining, multi-layered, secretive, witty, strong secondary characters, family-centered, thoughtful, bittersweet, elegant

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: well-developed characters, subtle, engaging

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

 Inseparable: Desire between Women in Literature by Emma Donoghue

This book discusses the prescense and evolution of women in love in literature. This scholarly work delves into the portrayal of lesbians in classic  and contemporary literature as well as the prevalence of lesbians in crime fiction.

The Safe Sea of Women by Bonnie Zimmerman

This Lamanalysis of lesbian fiction and short stories between 1969-1989 discusses the portrayal of lesbians in fiction set against a historical background.  This book is for anyone who is unfamiliar with the genre (Amazon.com)

Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabel-Rouser by Rita Mae Brown

This conversational, engaging and witty autobiography of this mystery writer chronicles her  eccentric family as well as her love interests, and is written in a funny tone.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Report for Murder: A Lindsay Gordon Mysteryby Val McDermid

This is the first book in the series, featuring an amateur sleuth.  This character is the U.K.’s first lesbian detective (Amazon.com) and has a sidekick, also named Cordelia and a loyal following of friends and family.  While grittier than Mortal Groove, this book has its intricate plotting.

Lucky in the Corner by Carol Anshaw

This work of domestic fiction revolves around a mother and daughter, dealing with issues of the mother’s sexuality and the mother-daughter relationship. This book has strong secondary characters that are well-developed.  Even though, this book deals with social issues in more depth, it does so with wit and a sense of humor that is present in the Mortal Groove.

Blue Plate Special by Abagail Padgett

This book series, Blue McCarron mysteries, features the main character, Blue who is a social psychologist, who is hired by the police department to help solve a murder. This story follows Blue’s new relationship with her psychiatrist partner, Roxie, and includes a cast of funny, idiosyncratic characters (Novelist).  This also is a very suspenseful story with a series of red herrings, similar to the story in the Mortal Groove.

Name:Cheryl

Little Girl Lost

October 12, 2011

Author: Richard Aleas

Title: Little Girl Lost

Genre:Mystery

Publication Date: 2004

Number of Pages: 221

Geographical Setting: New York

Time Period: Contemporary

Series: followed by Songs of Innocence.

Plot Summary:

John Blake is a PI, but not the Mike Hammer/Raymond Chandler tough-guy sort. Instead, he’s an English major who couldn’t find a better gig and now he’s a desk-bound detective, doing all his investigating from the safety of an office and an Ethernet connection. All that changes one day when he reads the paper to find out Miranda, his high school girlfriend who he’s not seen in ten years is dead. Murdered. On the roof of the strip club where she worked, not living the quiet suburban life he imagined for her. As he digs deeper he ends up hunted by the police and by a mob boss and his men, while trying to uncover what happened to Miranda and her now-missing best friend Jocelyn.

Subject Headings: Detectives, murder mystery, strip clubs,

Appeal: character-driven, gritty, intricately plotted, plot twists, fatalistic, fast-paced, flawed character, open-ended, urban, action-oriented, bleak, foreboding

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: gritty, character-driven, fast-paced

 3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Chandler, Raymond. The Simple Art of Murder. This collection of Chandler’s short story work is recommended for the non-fiction titular essay that leads off the collection, wherein Chandler describes the noir or hardboiled mystery and expectations, some which Aleas intentionally subverts.

Cody, Diablo. Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. Diablo Cody, writer of Juno, details a year in her life working as a stripper, including the seedy underbelly of the industry.

Hirsch, Foster. The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. Readers of hardboiled mysteries tend to love noir, and this is the most well-known guide to film noir, detailing common character traits, recurring plot-threads, and the visuals that make film noir so distinctive.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Block, Lawrence. Grifter’s Game. oth are pulps, although Block’s focuses on the conman as lead character. Both contain fatalistic endings where the lead’s morality is put on trial, and the final pages leave the reader shocked.

Faust, Christa. Money Shot. Both are contemporary noir-pulp; Faust’s book has a female heroine caught in the world of pornography, Aleas’ male lead is entrenched in strip clubs. Both cases are extremely personal.

Hammett, Dashiel. The Maltese Falcon. Both are hardboiled mysteries where the lead character, in the course of a murder investigation, must temporarily have a truce with an apparent mob boss.

Name: Brian C.

The Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum

October 12, 2011

Author: Karin Fossum

Title: The Water’s Edge

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date: 2007

Number of Pages: 227

Geographical Setting: Norway

Time Period: present

Series: 6th in the Inspector Sejer series

Plot Summary:  In Fossum’s haunting sixth novel featuring Inspector Sejer, Ris and Kristine Reihhardt are out for a quiet walk on a Sunday afternoon when they stumble on the body of a young boy left in a pile of leaves.  They also have happened to see a man with a limp walking out of the woods and to his car just minutes before.  Is this man with a white car and a distinct look the killer?  After finding the boy, the couple’s relationship is tested as Ris becomes more and more obsessed by the case while Kristine is disgusted by his morbid fascination.  As Inspector Sejer and his young partner, Jacob Skaar, begin interviewing townspeople, the stark beauty of Norway comes alive and the nature of the tight-knit community is revealed.  Before long, another young boy has gone missing, leaving the entire town edgy, terrified and suspicious of each other.  This time, however, the boy has some serious problems of his own in relation to his single mother that may complicate the case.  With haunting, poetic prose Fossum tells the dark, twisted story through the eyes of the Reinhardts, the killer, and the investigators as the chase down the elusive murderer. This novel is satisfying on many levels; first as an intriguing police procedural, second as a character-centered novel that gets into the minds of many characters, and lastly as a musing on human nature and the meaning of good and evil.

Subject Headings: crimes against children, grief, marriage, murder, murder investigation. Konrad Sejer

 

Appeal: chilling, haunting, atmospheric, character-centered, dark, elegant, compelling, engrossing, intense, bleak, contemplative, evocative, foreboding, psychological, suspenseful, sophisticated, multiple plots, investigative, start, rural, poetic, well crafted, police procedural

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: chilling, atmospheric, character-centered

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Staalesen, Gunnar, The Consorts of Death.  Like The Water’s Edge, this is a police procedural mystery that also takes place in Norway and features a young boy who is connected to a murder.

Holt, Anne, What is Mine.  This novel features a Norwegian police commissioner who leads a murder investigation of the murder of several young children.  Fans of Fossum will enjoy the characterization as the main characters attempt to get inside the minds of the criminals.  Like The Water’s Edge, this is an engrossing mystery with several plot twists.

Edwardson, Ake, Frozen Tracks.  Like The Water’s Edge, this is a haunting police procedural from a Scandinavian writer in which two crimes are connected.  Also like Fossum’s novel, this book features multiple plot lines, one of which gets inside the mind of the criminal.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Holt, Elizabeth, Living in Norway.  This picture book shoes the beautiful landscape of Norway and also talks about the history of the country and the unique character of the Norwegian people.  Fans of Norwegian writers may be interested in learning more about and seeing a visual representation of the setting and landscape that is so important to these mysteries.

Amy Hammel-Zaban, Conversations with a Pedophile, in the Interest of our Children. The Water’s Edge seeks to get in the mind of a pedophile to better understand the affliction and try to show the abuse that occurs early in life which often turns people into pedophiles.  It also features an important scene in which the detectives are interviewing a known pedophile who gives them some vital information.  This book would be helpful for those who wish to gain a better understanding of this affliction after reading this novel.  Like the novel, it also features a first person account of a pedophile.

Rangle, Larry, Crime Scene: From Fingerprinting to DNA Testing- An Astonishing Look at the Real World of CSIThe Water’s Edge features multiple scenes of crime scene investigation and the crime is also eventually solved using forensic evidence.  This book would be great for readers who are interested in learning more of the forensic aspect of the police procedural.

Name: Meghan Maleski

City of Bones

October 12, 2011

Author: Michael Connelly

Title: City of Bones

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date: 2002

Number of Pages: 421

Geographical Setting: Los Angeles, California.

Time Period: Current day

Series (If applicable): Number 8 of the Harry Bosch
Myseries.

Plot Summary:  While out walking his dog a man d iscovers a human bone.   Harry Bosch is called in and discovers an entire skeleton in a shallow grave.  The medical examiner finds that the bones are of a young male child who was the victim of continually abuse.  A woman calls the police and claims that this may be her brother from 1980.  Bosch investigates and learns that a registered sex offender was living near this woman and her brother at the time of death.  Bosch then investigates the boy’s father who admits to killing his son.
However this does not add up and Bosch continues to investigate.  He finds out the boy’s sister was sexually abused by the father and it was the sister who was abusing the boy physically.  As the story seems to be winding down there’s a twist and it is learned that the boy is murdered by somewhat of an unlikely suspect for the least obvious reasons.

Subject Headings: Vietnam veteran-detectives, crimes against children, murder
investigation, Bosch, Harry, Police – Los Angeles, California, Detectives – Los
Angeles, California, Child Abuse, Redemption.

Appeal: Character-driven, Intricately plotted, Atmospheric, Bleak, Suspensful, Gritty, Compelling, Engrossing, Chilling, Pyschological, Detailed Setting, Urban, Engaging.

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: Character-driven, Intricately plotted, Bleak.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

The Darkest Night: Two
Sisters, a Brutal Murder, and the Loss of Innocence, in a Small Town
by Ron Franscell.
A true story of an abduction, rape, and murder where one of the victims
lives to tell the story.

 A Slaying in the Suburbs:
The Tara Grant Murder
by Andrea Billups.  This is a look into the murder Tara Grant and
the disposal of her remains in a park.

 By Their Father’s Hand:
The True Story of the Wesson Family Masssacre
.  True story of incest, abuse, and murder.  These themes all play a large part of City of Bones.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Buried Prey, by John Sandford.
Two bodies are discovered in a house demolition and have been identified
to be the bodies of two girls who disappeared in 1985.  The investigation of a over 20 year old case
may appeal to those who enjoyed the investigation in City of Bones.  Also similar
to City of Bones this book belongs to
a series.

Hide, by Lisa Gardner.
For those readers that enjoyed the Harry Bosch series, this book also
belongs to a series.  It is number 2 of
the Detective D.D Warren novels.  Also
similar to City of Bones, this book
also deals with a crime that had occurred over 20 years previously to the time
frame the story is told in.

Without Mercy, by Lisa Jackson.
Similar to City f Bones this
is another murder mystery involving younger victims.

Name: Bill P.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

October 12, 2011

The Hound of BaskervillesAuthor: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Title:  The hound of the Baskervilles

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date: 1902

Number of Pages: 272

Geographical Setting: England

Time Period: Early 1900’s

Plot Summary:  Generations ago a hound of hell tore out the throat of Hugo Baskerville on the English moors.  Once again the legend lives as the latest head of the line Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead in the same area with a massive hound’s print found nearby.  It is up to Sherlock Holmes and his trusted friend Dr. Watson to piece together the puzzle before the next Baskerville in line winds up dead.

Subject Headings: Curses; Detectives; Dogs; Moors and heaths; Holmes, Sherlock; Watson, John H.; Murder investigation; Eccentrics and eccentricities; Nineteenth century

Appeal: Plot-driven, Fast-paced, Suspenseful, Compelling, atmospheric, dark, sophisticated, intriguing, series (characters), investigative, plot twists, classic

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: Suspenseful, atmospheric, investigative

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective’s Greatest Cases by E. J. Wagner

Wagner blends familiar examples from Doyle’s accounts into a history of the growth of forensic science, pointing out where fiction strayed from fact. The author avoids the technical details that mar so many other efforts in this genre, injecting life into her narrative by weaving in true crime cases that either influenced Holmes’s creator or may have been influenced by a published story from the Baker Street sleuth.

The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World’s Most Perplexing Cold Cases
by Michael Capuzzo

Once a month, several forensic experts gather in a posh Victorian brownstone in downtown Philadelphia, have a sumptuous lunch, and then consider cold cases brought to them by baffled detectives. The club is called the Vidocq Society, named after the nineteenth-century French criminologist who was one of the inspirations for Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy: The Footprints of a Gigantic Mind  by Josef Steiff

Sherlock Holmes sees things others don’t. He sees the world in a different way, and by so doing, allows us to see that same world – and human behavior – in different ways as well.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

The 39 Steps  by John Buchan

He has been feeling bored with London life – until he discovers a dead man in his flat, skewered to the floor with a knife through his heart. Only a few days before, the victim had warned him of an assassination
plot that could bring the country to the brink of war. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the murderer, ordinary man Richard Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland. There, on the wild moors, he must use all his wits to stay one step ahead of the game – and warn the government of the impending danger before it is too late.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Village rumor hints that Mrs. Ferrars poisoned her husband, but no one is sure. Then there’s another victim in a chain of death. Unfortunately for the killer, master sleuth Hercule Poirot takes over the investigation.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

One of the first English detective novels, this mystery involves the disappearance of a valuable diamond, originally stolen from a Hindu idol, given to a young woman on her eighteenth birthday, and then stolen again.

Name: Jason Rock

The Hangman’s Daughter

October 12, 2011

Author: Oliver Potzsch

Title: The Hangman’s Daughter

Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Publication Date: Published in Germany in 2008. Translated into English by Lee Chadeayne in 2010.

Number of Pages: 435

Geographical Setting: Bavaria (Modern-day Germany)

Time Period: 17th Century

Series (If applicable): N/A

Plot Summary: In a small town in 17th century Bavaria, children are being murdered. Adding to the town’s panic, signs of witchcraft are found on each of the victims. With marauding soldiers left over from the Thirty Years’ War roaming the countryside and faced with the danger of famine or poverty from a bad crop year, the town council just wants this problem to go away. The town’s midwife, Martha Stechlin, is quickly arrested on suspicion of witchcraft and murder. Jakob Kuisl, as town executioner, is forced to torture Martha to make her confess to the murders. Jakob does not believe that Martha is either the murderer or a witch and finds himself with just days to find out who is really killing the children. With the help of his daughter, Magdalena and Simon, the town’s young doctor, who is also in love with Magdalena, Jakob, sets out on the dangerous mission of proving Martha’s innocence.

Subject Headings: Executioners, Witchcraft, Midwives, Bavaria, Thirty Years’ War

Appeal: Engrossing, Builds in intensity, Atmospheric, Dark, Suspenseful, Plot-driven, Well-drawn characters, Violent, Investigative, Historical details, Small-town, Well-researched

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: Dark, Suspenseful, Historical details

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

1) The History of Torture by Daniel P. Mannix. Readers can learn all they want to know about this gruesome aspect of human history.

2) Witchcraft: A History (Dark Histories Series) by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart. This is a scholarly yet readable look at witchcraft from Roman times to the present.

3) The Thirty Years’ War 1618-1648 (Essential Histories Series) by Richard Bonney. This book explains why the Thirty Years’ War was a turning point in the development of warfare and looks at the especially devastating effects of the war on civilians.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

1) Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. Set in the twelfth century, this historical mystery is about a female medical student from Italy who comes to England to investigate the deaths of four children.

2) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Though written in a challenging literary style, this historical mystery set in a medieval Italian monastery would appeal to fans of The Hangman’s Daughter.

3) The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry. This is a stand-alone historical mystery set in 13th-century Constantinople at the beginning of a Crusade.

Name: Elizabeth Allen

Special Topics In Calamity Physics

October 10, 2011

Author: Marisha Pessl

Title: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Genre: Mystery, Literary fiction, Coming-of-age

Publication Date:  2006

Number of Discs: 17 sound discs, 22hrs

Geographical Setting: Stockton, N.C.

Time Period: Contemporary

Plot Summary:  This is a darkly funny coming-of-age story centers on the character of teenager Blue Van Meer.  Told in the first person narrative, after her mother dies in a car accident while Blue is in kindergarten, Blue travels with her eccentric, highly intelligent, and womanizing widower father Gareth for ten years.  Blue and her father travel to different obscure college towns, where her father is a visiting lecturer for no more than one semester until he and Blue are off to another college in another town.  While this does nothing for Blue’s social life, she is highly attached to her father and, in his company, has developed a clever, deadpan, and astute outlook on life, as well as an impressive lexicon of all things literary, political, philosophical, and scientific.  In Blue’s final year of high school, her father decides to finally settle down in Stockton, N.C. for the entire school year, where Blue is enrolled in the private St. Gallway school of Stockton.  In no time, Blue finds herself courted by an intriguing faculty member, Hannah Schneider, and is reluctantly accepted into her group of student followers: Milton, Charles, Leulah and Jade, each of whom seems to be hiding something about their past.  Blue is slowly accepted by this group of high school royalty known as the Bluebloods, but things soon begin to unravel when a man dies mysteriously at Hannah’s house and, eventually, when Hannah herself is found dead.  It is up to the clever and resourceful Blue to piece together the puzzle of this intricately forged murder mystery.  Cleverly told in a format that models a college syllabus (the chapters are named after everything from Othello to Paradise Lost to The Big Sleep), including a final examination at the end, this novel is an eclectic and intellectual murder mystery, full of subtle literary allusions and a slight undertone of menace or mystery pervades throughout.  Most importantly, however, is the coming of age story of extremely likable Blue van Meer, who, while being too intelligent for her own good, struggles with the classic themes of love, acceptance, and identity.

Subject Headings: Teenagers – Death, Teenage girls, Teachers – Death, College teachers, Father and daughter, Eccentrics and eccentricities, Cliques, Identity (Psychology), Moving to a new city, Murder, Murder investigation

Appeal: quirky, eccentric, dark, funny, mysterious, literary, postmodern, sincere, coming-of-age, suspenseful, character driven, intricate, detailed, engaging, leisurely paced.

 3 appeal terms that best describe this book: intricate, quirky, dark

 3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

1) Donna Tartt, The Secret History.  Pessl’s novel is termed the postmodern version of Tartt’s book, which is about a young man who upon his enrollment at a small Vermont college finds himself embraced by a clique of five young people led by a professor.  This group also, however, holds a dark secret that the young man slowly uncovers.  On NoveList, Shauna Griffin says, “Subtle suspense and building dread, as well as flawless prose, characterize both The Secret History and Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Each features a cast of brilliant but self-indulgent young people, whose secrets–and guilt–eventually come to light.”

2) Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, Lolita.  Pessl directly references Nabokov on several occasions in Special Topics, and has professed great admiration for the author personally.  Lolita is referenced frequently, and readers of Special Topics may want to pick this up simply because it was mentioned so many times.  This novel is much more shocking and tragic, however, than Pessl’s novel.

3) Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex.  This award-winning coming-of-age novel is very different from the plot of Special Topics, but the authors build the story the same way and create their eccentric and likable main protagonists the same way.  If you were a fan of Blue van Meer, you would also be a fan of Middlesex’s Calliope.

3 Relevant Nonfiction Works

1) Jay Robert Nash, Among the Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present.  Books on missing persons are frequently discussed in the novel, and a reader may be curious enough to want to pick up material on the subject.

2) Maggie De Vries, Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister.  Same reason as the above, but this one has more in common with the theme of Hannah and her mysterious past and weird fascination with missing people.

3) Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  Without giving away too much, this book would interest those who wish to learn about the political organization that comes up at the end of the novel.

Name: Rebecca C.