Tag Archives: series

‘Monday Mourning’ by Kathy Reichs

Where does this author find the time? Kathy Reichs has impressive professional credentials as a forensic anthropologist and manages to write a novel almost every year in addition to her work. Dr. Reichs works for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, State of North Carolina and for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciares et de Médecine Légale for the province of Quebec. She is one of only sixty-eight forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and formerly sat on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. A professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Dr. Reichs is a native of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D at Northwestern. She now divides her time between Charlotte and Montreal and is a frequent expert witness at criminal trials. She also produces the TV series ‘Bones’ which is based on the novels. Like I said, where does she find the time?

What I like about her crime novels is the authenticity of the forensic anthropology which she is expert at. The novels are somewhat formulaic, but I find this more comforting than irritating.  She usually is called in to deal with some odd bones which lead to the discovery of a crime.  Following her instincts, she investigates, often without the support of her colleagues, gets into danger herself, all the while juggling her private problems and love life while simultaneously solving the mystery!  Of course in the end she is ok, and the perps are brought to justice.  In a sense she has put herself into the character of Temperance Brennan, who also divides her time between the two locations, has the same credentials, and does the same work. What I like the best is that when she takes on the mystery,  she also takes those bones and makes real people out of them. She cares about the people the bones represent and wants to reveal their secrets to honour them, even in death. It all rings rather true, is entertaining, and I usually learn something interesting.

In this particular instalment, she finds some bones in a rat-infested basement of a pizza joint. The mystery leads her into the sad, but all too realistic, story of the kidnapping and brainwashing of these young girls whose bones she has found. In addition to the bones and what they reveal, she also takes on various criminal issues like this and deals very sensitively with them.

The first few books she wrote had French titles: Deja Dead, Death du Jour, and then a number of English titles followed, about one per year. Some are set in the States and some in Canada. Her website will give you a full listing. I’ve read seven so far and enjoy picking one up every year or so. Maybe you will too. I’ve never actually even seen the TV series but I’m sure the books are better! 🙂
Kathy Reichs Website

‘The Forgotten Affairs of Youth’ by Alexander McCall Smith

     It was at a reading conference that I heard someone said, “Everyone needs  a series occasionally.” And this week was one of those times when I needed a series. The relaxation of picking up a book where one is already familiar with the characters was just what was needed for a bone weary soul. In the same way that comfort food is not necessarily as nutritious or healthy as what our steady diet should be, nevertheless, there is a place and time for it. Bring on the chocolate and the series! Rest for the weary and pleasure for the soul!

Set in Edinburgh Scotland, ‘The Forgotten Affairs of Youth’ is number 8 in the Isobel Dalhousie series. If you are unfamiliar with the series, begin with the first ‘The Sunday Philosophy Club’. The author is a Professor of Medical Law and no slouch. Though the reading seems light and easy in this series, there are weighty philosophical matters dealt with and moral and ethical issues galore. Isobel Dalhousie is a nosy Scottish philosophy editor who dabbles in sleuthing and other people’s lives. Her love life is a nice side plot and in this instalment, for those who are familiar with the series, something significant happens in that regard. I wonder if there will be another in this series, it felt like the final chapter to me.

Alexander McCall Smith’s books are a breath of fresh air no matter which of his series you delve into. There is charm and warmth. But also permission to enjoy human nature at its most recognizable and imperfect. Because that is what life is like.  Why not relax into a series, it’s ok. It’s good for you.  Check out the author’s website, it’s worth a visit. He has several to choose from.
Alexander McCall Smith Website

‘Bruno, Chief of Police’ by Martin Walker

What a lovely escape into rural France. And for crime fiction, even the brutal murder and subsequent investigation seems muted and gentled by the rolling hills, the mellow wine, and the rich and tasty food. But make no mistake. This is an intelligent novel, well written and full of political and historical reality and unafraid to deal with difficult issues.

Bruno is a village policeman, well versed with the ways of his sleepy but robust little town, from the markets to the vineyards. He has a basset hound, makes his own wine, grows his own vegetables, and teaches five year olds tennis. That way he not only participates in community service, but knows the characters of the boys when they become troublesome teenagers.  Here’s a quote about Bruno from Walker’s website. “Bruno handles cases with great discretion, circulating so quietly and tactfully among his neighbours that his interviews are more like friendly visits; it’s a wonderful detection method and even cannier literary strategy, allowing Walker to pursue the plot of his mystery while beguiling the reader with extended scenes of village market days, old-fashioned wine harvests, etc.”

Martin Walker comes to his novel writing with an impressive list of credentials. He is an Oxford scholar, accomplished in journalism, European history, politics, international relations, and economics. He owns a basset hound,  just like his character Bruno, and a house in the Dordogne region of France. This is the first in his Bruno series and he has written other books as well. His website is worth looking at.  I’m sure I’ll be making an armchair visit to France and this Bruno series again!
Martin Walker Website

‘Case Histories’ by Kate Atkinson

Crime fiction is something I read occasionally. When the mystery is part of a series and the protagonist is familiar,  it becomes a great thing to pick up when headed for a lazy day in the sun and sand.  This one does feel very much like a beach read.

Case Histories is first of the Jackson Brodie books and takes place in Britain. It is also a popular TV series there. Atkinson has written several other mysteries that are not part of this series.

The book begins with three seemingly random cases at the beginning which set up the story. Of course they become inevitably intertwined by the end.  Atkinson did a good job of making me care about the people in the story as well as looking for the whodunits. There are lots of clues along the way but they get thrown in unexpectedly so you have to pay attention. There is some violence, and some rather blunt, rough language so if that bothers you, stick to Miss Marple.  The tone that was set by doing that though, seemed to fit the atmosphere of the novel which has a quirky, comic feel to it, despite some very serious circumstances.

Jackson Brodie, the private eye, has a haunting history of his own to deal with and his own problems to solve. His adventures continue in One Good Turn, When will There be Good News, and Started Early, Took my Dog.

‘The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party’ by Alexander McCall Smith

This book made me think about shoes. No, not because of Mma Makutsi’s love of shoes, not because shoes actually talk in this book, and not because there is a shoe tragedy in this story. No, it is none of these. It is because when I pick up yet another instalment in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, it always feels like putting on an old comfortable pair of shoes and heading out for a pleasant walk in good weather. There is the sense that we know and recognize each other and have been down this road before.

If you are unfamiliar with this series, go to Smith’s website and get started.
Alexander McCall Smith It’s probably good to read them in order, whichever series you choose. If you are a frequent visitor to McCall Smith’s series, then you will enjoy the usual wit and wisdom.

As you may have guessed from the title, Mma Makutsi finally ties the knot with Phuti Radiphuti and Mma Ramotswe unravels another tangled situation or two. There is a reappearance of a character from earlier books – the little white van. And all three men:  JLB Matekoni, Phuti, and Charlie the apprentice, get to prove how kind and loving they really are.  Not at all a bad scene for yet another African sun to set on.

‘The Charming Quirks of Others’, by Alexander McCall Smith

In this, the 7th instalment of the Isabel Dalhousie Series, otherwise known as the Sunday Philosophy Club, Isabel is asked by some friends to look into a tricky situation. A successor is being sought for a headmaster position, but the board has gotten a letter suggesting that one of the candidates has a serious skeleton in his closet. Isabel is asked to discreetly look into it and what she discovers is surprising!

Alexander McCall Smith is himself a medical ethicist and through the main character of this series, he explores moral and ethical issues. But he does it in such an amusing and entertaining way! The author has a way of elevating and celebrating the ordinary, and Isabel Dalhousie is an ordinary, slightly nosy, Scottish lady. Because of her innate desire to help others, she ends up in some situations that she really shouldn’t be in, and unlike Mma Ramotswe, who always gets things right, Isabel often gets things wrong. And that is why we love her.

McCall Smith is master at capturing everyday sorts of truths in his books, articulating that which we know to be true, but have never found words to describe. “She was well dressed…it was not ostentatious clothes that were really expensive, it was quiet clothes that exhausted the credit card…”.

One of the things McCall Smith does so well is celebrate the little things in life…which, of course, are really the big things. Did you know that he plays bassoon in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra)? There is pleasure to be found in being amateur, for the author and for his characters.

To get into the series, start with the first one, The Sunday Philosophy Club, and watch an interview about the Isabel Dalhousie Novels from the link below.  This website is also helpful for keeping all of his series straight, and knowing which book is next so that you read them in order. To see the videos, just click on Multimedia.

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‘Corduroy Mansions’, by Alexander McCall Smith

Corduroy Mansions is a boarding house in the Pimlico district of London. The building is  a lovely crumbling mansion block, and just like corduroy fabric it is slightly worn but still sturdy, and ever so comforting.

In this new series by Alexander McCall Smith (Sandy), we meet a Pimlico Terrier (a fictitious breed created by the author) and a host of characters whose lives intersect in a variety of ordinary but intriguing ways. What most of the characters have in common of course, is that they live in Corduroy Mansions. There are real people in this book, not stereotypes (with the exception perhaps, of Oedipus Snark, Liberal Democrat, who behaves as horribly as most people would expect of a politician).

There is a profound warmth and depth to McCall Smith’s characters in all of the series he has created, the most well known being the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series set in Botswana. In this new series, his seemingly scattered vignettes are skillfully woven together but the book is more about personalities than events. Less is learned about the setting – it is my wish to get on the train and visit Pimlico to see if I can find the Belgian shoe store!

Like 44 Scotland Street which was first published in installments in The Scotsman newspaper before it was bound into book form, Corduroy Mansions first appeared in installments online. In fact, the second bunch has been bound into a book called The Dog who Came in from the Cold, and the third is unfolding online as we speak, at the The Telegraph website. Have a look.

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I’ve included below a CBC interview that Shelagh Rogers did with the author in Newfoundland. The interview is very funny and captures the author’s good humour and quick wit, and he has some very interesting thoughts on Africa.

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