My Darling Detective by Howard Norman

One reason to write books is that you can name your chapters — more than just One, Two. You can name a chapter “Visiting Nora at Nova Scotia Rest Hospital”.

Out of nowhere appears a book about Jacob from Halifax who was born in the reading room of the Halifax Free Library where his mother Nora worked as a head librarian.  The book begins with Nora flinging an open jar of black ink on to the photograph “Death on a Leipzig Balcony” by Robert Capa. Nora is arrested and brought to the police station where she is interrogated by Martha, who is Jacob’s girlfriend.

Martha, a police detective, is also charged with investigating a cold case, which is, incidentally, a case about Jacob’s father, and also, incidentally, a case about his mother.

The case is very very cold.

And as Marthe reveals, the files reveal more information about Nora than her son has ever had. The details of his birth as he has been told them are incorrect. What Jacob doesn’t know, among much else, is that his real father was a Halifax police detective who was a known Anti-Semite and who was suspected of one or two murders of Jews who had just barely escaped from the camps…

Jacob has grown up among hundreds of photographs of his mother and the man who was not his father, hanging on the walls of their bungalow. Once, when he invited a girlfriend to dinner, his mother told her that “If I thought you would be part of his family… I would take you through the pictures one by one… It would probably give you, healthy as you appear to be, a heart attack…”. As he walks his girlfriend home she tells him, “I now identify with the survivors of the Titanic.”

But the man in the photographs is not his father, his mother is now confined to the Nova Scotia Rest Hospital, and Jacob decides to study Library Science at the university….

Siri Mitchell, State of Lies

Delightful, improbable, curious thriller peppered by just the right amount of domesticity. Imagine a woman baffled by the sudden death her husband. Slowly, spontaneously, she discovers one thing after another that her husband had done or planted that make no sense. Her son is sure that his father is in a worm hole. At school he draws pictures of black men he calls ‘the Firm’. Her father is about to be secretary of defense, her neighbors are eager to help….

The plot sleds into a not so credible ending. The stakes are too high, the crimes too catastrophic, and the characters themselves start melting. But the next one will be a treat….

Anne Perry

Delicious, spicy and scathing dialogue among Victorian ladies and their feminine advice about men, husbands, manners, and society. But also dainty and adorable details about the human very human habits defining circumstantial character and characteristics. In Callander Square:

“Instead of perching on the edge like the other children, she snuggled far back in the deep corner, like a cat, with her feet tucked under her. She still managed to look prim. She waited for him to speak.”

“Would you like to play the piano, Chastity?” he asked.

“No thank you Uncle Reggie.”

“Playing the piano is a most useful art. You can sing at the same time. You cannot sing at the same time as playing  the violin.” 

“I cannot sing anyway, no matter what I played.”

Rendered by Davina Porter in the perfectly pitched ingenuous voice of a child uninterested in lying — or in playing the piano….

Whether it is Inspector Monk with his beautifully tailored expensive suits or Inspector Pitt who appears to be a late 19th century Columbo (“He surveyed Pitt with distaste . Can’t you do something about that coat?  I suppose you can’t afford a tailor but for heaven’s sake get your wife to press it… you are married aren’t you?… Not even the prince of Wales’ tailor could have made Pitt look tidy….), each book by Anne Perry is a luminous venture into the specific tastes, values, beliefs of the class-codified life of a dirty, crowded, cold and mostly unpleasant London …

Mrs. Jeffries Questions the Answer by Emily Brightwell read by Lindy Nettleton

Mild cozy historical mystery about an unliked lady and owner of property who was discovered stabbed in her house at night, and presumed by the mean Inspector Nivens to have been killed by a burglar. To prove the silly inspector wrong Mrs. Jeffries & her 19th century crime solving household must summon all their downstairs skills and friends, again.

The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts with an introduction by Martin Edwards read by Gordon Griffin

Remarkable introduction to a remarkable detective novel. The introduction explains that Crofts was an engineer who mapped out detailed specifications for his detective fiction much the way an engineer would draw up plans for a house or a bridge. Knowing this transforms the way we read and appreciate the work — and magnifies the intelligence behind Inspector French’s investigation of a missing husband, a disappeared nurse… and the disorder beneath a domestic peace.

Pamela Kelley Six Months in Montana

A sweet perfectly staged gem of a romance, with no excessive sexual details and no drawn out “chapter 4” breakup before coming back together. An uncle’s unusual bequest puts a hold on Molly’s hotel management career: she is compelled to help out an old friend by agreeing to marry and live with him for 6 months, as per the condition in his uncle’s will.

While sharing a home with her new husband and his surly cook,  Molly organizes and opens up a B & B called “Rose Cottage”. The two fall in love, of course, an old girlfriend introduces some unpleasantness in the mix, and the six months come to a close without any verbal promises or commitments.

Molly wants to stay but Christian is certain that she should return to New York to give her dream promotion a chance. She does….. And yet there is a happy ending. Have a listen.

Changing Lara by Anna Jacobs

How is it that Anna Jacobs always swaddles you into a world that feels cozy and safe and hopeful?

Here is another story about a working woman who wants to retire but puts it off until she is at the edge of the world and has to fight her way back to home and to England. There she discovers that her financial advisor has emptied her bank account of everything but her last bonus.

She nevertheless sets up house, in a pleasant community where she has purchased a home, spontaneously, without permission, and without regret.

She is of course divorced and her ex-husband does not much like the fact that her next door neighbor is well off and cares for his ex-wife, carefully. Things move slowly and sweetly. All is well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Colleen Hoover, Verity, read by Amy Landon and Vanessa Johannson

Within a minute or two we know that the female narrator is New York City tough; hard headed, unlike the pedestrian who was used to staring at his phone as usual while trying to cross the same street as usual. She calls it: “death by routine.” In that clever, wary, prudent way that a woman can get after a few years alone in the city.

Soon, the narrator lets us know that she is not that tough, not that citified, not social at all in fact. That the day we meet her is the first day out of her apartment in a long long while.

But still, she has just gotten both money and work today and now back in her apartment with her agent she may also get sex. Except that she doesn’t want sex with this man who will already take 15% off the top.

“…. just looking out for ya… Looking out for me? He knew my mother was dying. And he hasn’t checked in with me in two months. He’s not looking out for me. He’s an ex-boyfriend who thought he was going to get laid tonight but instead was quietly rejected right before finding out that I’d be staying at another man’s home. He’s disguising his jealousy as concern.”

So, a woman sharp as a tack.

It is not until later that we see again how a woman deceives a man, how one woman who lies deceives another woman who lies, and how the world between them, the world they create and inhabit is desolate, bereft, and bankrupt… and we too, reading it, become desolate, bereft and bankrupt.

Deadly Codes by JP O’Donnell

In a small town in bourgeois Massachusetts, the wife of an NSA agent is killed by a car bomb as she starts up her husband’s car. It seems obvious that the bomb was directed at the husband, but Jennifer, the twin of the dead wife, is not so sure. She contacts a private detective, Gallagher, and tells him about her sister. She tells him what nobody else knows: the sister was having an affair with a woman; who has since disappeared. … Gallagher is fascinated. Despite having promised his new wife that he would no longer engage in detective work, he decides to take on the case and find the woman with whom the dead wife had ‘fallen in love’.

So begins Gallagher’s neat, curious, compelling hunt for an absent woman…. whose real identity uncovers treachery, treason and betrayal.

Read by Jordan Rich