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Double Indemnity by James Cain (1936)

doubleindemnityI love the film noir Double Indemnity, one of the American Film Institute’s Greatest American Films. This taut and sparely written novella differs in a few ways but retains the power of the classic film. Greed and lust in 1930s Los Angeles, depicted by insurance agent Walter Neff and femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson, result in a memorable denouement.

Check out James Cain’s novella Double Indemnity today.

Signal by Patrick Lee (2015)

signalWith a device that can't be explained by logic or reality, power hungry villains, and a secret government project, Signal is another fast-paced futuristic thrilling adventure. Once I got over my disappointment that we wouldn't be seeing more of Rachel, I became engrossed in Sam's next escapade. Brought in by his old colleague Claire, Sam must race against the clock to battle a sightless enemy with a constant advantage.

Just like the first in the series (Runner), you'll need to suspend your disbelief. A lot of crazy stuff is going to happen, but you'll be frantically flipping the pages to discover what comes next in Patrick Lee’s latest conspiracy novel.

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood (2004)

ghostwriterA young Australian boy searches out the mysterious past of his mother in postwar England based on the clues revealed in the ghost stories composed by his great-grandmother. A few of the ghost stories are included, and it becomes increasingly hard to discern if art is following life, or life is following art in John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer.

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly (2014)

burningroomHarry Bosch is near retirement and is assigned to cold cases with a young but very bright partner who has received favorable publicity from her last assignment. He and his young partner find themselves investigating two unusual cases simultaneously. The first involves the recent death of a victim shot 10 years before and the second case, the death of children in a fire from which his partner, as a child, survived. The cases would appear unrelated except for an anonymous phone call (placed by Harry?) on the department tip line.

The young partner and the reader have the benefit of Harry’s experience on a fast-paced tour involving a grisly autopsy, an arrest of a loner survivalist, political and departmental pressure, along with lots of sound but risky police investigation. At the end, could there be penance and redemption for a wrongdoer, and does Harry keep his job for yet another case?

Check out Michael Connelly’s latest Harry Bosch novel The Burning Room (for another take, check out The New York Times review). And if you enjoy the adventures of Harry Bosch, check out our list of other popular mystery and suspense series.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (2014)

louisepennyFormer Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has retired from the Quebec police and is enjoying a peaceful retirement with his wife Reine-Marie in Three Pines. Life is serene with good food, company of friends, and social gatherings. But Clara and Peter Morrow have had a riff, agreeing to separate for one year and meet again to assess their relationship. After that one year Peter fails to return and Clara, in distress, seeks help from the good inspector.

Gamache and his prior associate Guy Beauvoir join with Clara and her friend Myrna in the search. They trace Peter’s journey from Quebec to Scotland then return to visit Peter’s art professor and family in Canada and end with a stormy voyage along the St. Lawrence. Strange paintings Peter left with a young relative may be important to resolve the mystery. Jealousies, danger, and storms plague the investigators throughout the search in Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home.

Nero Wolfe. Seasons 1 & 2 (2001-2002)

nerowolfeWith Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe (the brilliant detective) and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin (his leg man), this A&E television series is one of the best.

The TV series is based on the original stories by Rex Stout written between 1934 and 1958. It is beautifully shot with set design and costuming that reflects the time period of each story.

All of the episodes of Nero Wolfe include a climactic meeting of the suspects in Wolfe's office at his luxurious brownstone as he discloses the identity of the murderer, a classic mystery story devise; however in this series, it becomes a scene full of color, wit, and charm.

An unusual aspect of these Nero Wolfe shows is its reuse of supporting actors and actresses for different roles in the tradition of a repertory theater.

Not All Tarts are Apple by Pip Granger (2002)

NotAllTarts_UK_largeSeven-year-old Rosie, who lives with her aunt and uncle in the Old Compton Street Café, is the darling of their Soho neighborhood.  Her low-class neighbors are made up of con men, thieves, shady lawyers, fortune tellers, pimps and prostitutes.  One day, a girl at school tells everyone that Rosie’s mum is a tart.

Rosie’s world is turned upside down and she fears her secure life with her aunt and uncle will come to an end.  What transpires is a hilarious tale of good guys and bad guys told from a little girl’s perspective.  Pip Granger’s Not All Tarts are Apple is a charming and entertaining story.  The British vocabulary just adds to the good old humor.

The Archbishop in Andalusia by Andrew M. Greeley (2008)

archbishopThe reader is greatly assisted by the floor plan of La Dona Teresa’s Palacio showing the bedroom where she was attacked (she readily survived) and the courtyard pool where attractive ladies sat, in full view from the windows, enjoying the warm Spanish sun. The first pages of The Archbishop in Andalusia also include a much-needed name list of the Spanish aristocrats and other characters in the story.

While Archbishop John Blackwood "Blackie" Ryan is visiting Cardinal Diego Sanchez y Romanos, El Moro in Seville, the good Cardinal organizes a dinner party in Blackie’s honor and seats him next to the beautiful and disturbing Dona Teresa. Subsequently Blackie becomes Dona’s spiritual advisor and helps solves the locked door mystery shrouding her brutal attack. Dona Teresa is beset by live-in relatives who would interfere with her choice of spouse and gain control of her resources, but Blackie intervenes to find who is responsible for the Duchess’ misfortunes.

If you enjoy this Blackie Ryan installment, check out Andrew M. Greeley’s other works.

The Murder Man by Tony Parsons (2014)

murdermanAfter a transfer from the anti-terrorism unit to homicide, DC Max Wolfe is immediately involved in the investigation into the grisly murder of investment banker Hugo Buck. When a homeless man is killed soon after in the same way, it seems there's a serial killer on the loose who specifically targeted both men. What is the connection between the victims and will there be more deaths before Max and his colleague, DCI Mallory, discover the identity of the killer?

In this first book in the Max Wolfe series, author Tony Parsons creates an interesting main character who struggles to raise his five-year-old daughter, Scout, on his own, while mourning the loss of his wife. He is also able to craft a puzzle that keeps you guessing until the end. The Murder Man is a good read-alike for those who enjoy the Mark Tartaglia series by Elena Forbes.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (2014)

silentsisterIt's usually pretty easy to get quickly drawn in by Diane Chamberlain's novels, and this one does not disappoint. In fact, The Silent Sister is a great page-turner.

Riley MacPherson is the protagonist in this story. She is a young woman in her mid-twenties who has the unpleasant and depressing job of clearing out her childhood home after her father passes away. She discovers that her family kept many secrets during the time she was growing up, including a really huge one concerning her older sister. Very enjoyable!

Brunswick Gardens by Anne Perry (1998)

brunswickgardensIn Brunswick Gardens, Anne Perry presents a good mystery that brings in social issues of the 19th century that are still in play today – women’s rights and evolution versus creationism. The characters reveal their feelings to these issues in a believable and interesting way. The “who-dun-it” part is enjoyable too with many subtle hints and clues from the characters.

The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre (2001)

constantgardenerA gruesome murder of Tessa Quayle in northern Kenya sets off the action of this gripping story. The Constant Gardener is not just the story of a diplomat seeking to find those responsible for the murder of his beautiful young wife, but also a parable of the conflict between forces seeking power and money opposed by those led by human values. The title is most appropriate as Justin Quale persists in uncovering those responsible in the face of powerful and deadly opposition. The ending is sad but not unexpected as Justin in one sense does accomplish some of the goals of his most courageous wife and finds a way to reconnect with her.

Of his 23 novels, John Le Carre rates Gardener as one of his four best.

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver (2014)

murderatbrightwellIf you’re a fan of traditional mysteries, you’ll enjoy this one. Set at a fashionable hotel on England’s southern coast in 1932 with a cast of characters right out of an Agatha Christie mystery, Murder at the Brightwell is a witty and energetic who-done-it.

Amory Ames, wealthy and dissatisfied with her life, takes a holiday at the seaside and turns detective after a fellow hotel guest turns up dead and another is suspected of foul play. The plot takes on a new dimension when her husband Milo arrives unexpectedly. Amory and Milo Ames’ off and on again marriage seems to be laying the foundation for a lively and clever new series of mystery novels by Ashley Weaver. At least I hope so.

The Messenger (2006) and The Secret Servant (2007) by Daniel Silva

messengerGabriel Allon, the Israeli spy in many of Daniel Silva’s novels, is cast against terrorist groups from al-Qaeda and the sword of Allah who would attack the Vatican and kill the Pope and/or the U.S. President should their schemes succeed. The Secret Servant follows The Messenger and includes many of the same characters and intrigues of the prior novel. These adventures give the reader a bad taste for most of the antagonists and an appreciation for Israeli secret service. The Secret Servant has an extra twist of an Arab willing to help the Israelis in an effort to save a woman’s life as well as that of his own son. In both novels, a young woman is in great danger in the hands of terrorist but Allon and his team come to the rescue.

Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh (2013)

tellingthebeesAlbert Honing, a beekeeper in his eighties, lives a quiet life until he discovers his two elderly neighbors, also beekeepers, murdered. Narrator Albert slowly and deliberately tells this tale of relationships and family secrets and loss. Bittersweet and wonderfully written, this tale vibrates with a mesmerizing rhythm. Albert’s bee lore regularly takes center stage and factors heavily in the story; readers will learn the poignant meaning of its title.  I listened to Telling the Bees, Peggy Hesketh’s first novel, and recommend it for those who can patiently allow Albert his story’s due.