Tag Archives: murder mystery

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Impossible Girl

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

In 19th century New York a young woman, born under less than auspicious circumstances, makes a living in a male-dominated profession-as a resurrectionist.  Cora Lee and her alter-ego Jacob know how to find the best marks-the subjects with the most interesting anatomic anomalies that will draw top dollar from local medical schools and museums, once they die that is. 

Cora would never help someone along to the grave just to earn a fee; she knows all too well that if her secret got out, her own corpse would be a very profitable commodity.   Unfortunately, it seems some of her competition is not nearly as scrupulous.  Several of her cultivated future marks go missing, only to turn up dead from unnatural causes, and already stolen from the grave before Cora’s crew gets the chance.

Just as someone discovers the double life she has been leading, rumors of a girl with two hearts get out, and a museum of curiosities is willing to pay top dollar for the cadaver.  Unfortunately, the girl with two hearts is real; she is not dead; and she is Cora.  Will she become the next victim of the murderer/resurrectionist?  Who else knows Cora’s secret?  Who can she trust?

This story presents a murder mystery that is unique in both scope and subject.  It contains some unusual elements, such as a brief chapter narrated by each victim-their final moments, their fears and regrets.  These little chapters add additional shadowing to the story, which is told mostly from Cora’s point of view.  While the victims share what they know at the end, and shortly thereafter, the reader is still left hanging to the very last chapters of the book to find the identity of the real killers. 

Cora’s double identity, as a proper young lady who deals with doctors, medical schools and curators, as well as attending endless funerals to “scope out” the dig sites, and as her twin brother Jacob, a rough and tumble, rude, crude and unsavory character who leads the crew of grave robbers, manages to show both sides of her personality.  Cora is strong but vulnerable; naïve and street-smart; romantic and hard all at once.  The author has done an excellent job portraying this complex character, someone who has led a life most of us could only imagine.

Lydia Kang has obvious spent a great deal of time researching the time period and her character’s “profession,” as shown through her knowledge of period medical terminology and treatments, the street slang of the grave diggers, and esoteric knowledge of lifestyles and habits of the time.

I award this story 4.5 stars, and recommend it to any fans of Victorian-era mysteries, star-crossed romances, and strong female protagonists.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Hallowe’en Party

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party (Hercule Poirot #39)
by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review

I realize it is a little past the season for stories that revolve around Halloween parties, but I didn’t have time to get to this book before Halloween this year and I didn’t feel obligated to wait another year before I read it.  This Agatha Christie classic, the 39th book in her repertoire, features the famous Hercule Poirot who is called in after a disturbing murder at said party, which takes place in the opening chapters.

Poirot’s old friend, Ariadne Oliver, who appears earlier in Dead Man’s Folly, appeals to Poirot for help when a young girl is murdered at the party she is attending.  Mrs. Oliver is a famous mystery author, and I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps the character was a bit of an author self-insert for Dame Christie as she talked theories of the case with the detective, and even did a bit of interrogation on her own.

Joyce Reynolds, a thirteen year old girl who is universally regarded as a compulsive liar, claims to have witnessed a murder in the past.  She is brushed off by her audience, a group of party-preppers as well as her peer group, as having simply made a bid for attention.  However, things take a nasty turn when she is found dead, drowned in the bucket using for bobbing for apples at the end of the festivities.

Numerous suspects are soon identified, including a couple of local school teachers, a couple of presumed forgers, now supposedly dead or missing, and a landscape gardener who lives in the garden he created for a local rich widow, whose disputed will following her death two years earlier provides the first leads in the case.

 The party that sets the scene is at the home of Rowena Drake, the niece of the late Mrs. Llewllyn-Smythe, who stood to benefit in Llewellyn-Smythe’s will before the last codicil (amendment) was uncovered.  She is also found to have ties to the gardener, and one of the perceived forgers who was also the late lady’s au pair.  However, Mrs. Drake is a respected member of society; a leader of charity groups; and her daughter was the best friend of the late Joyce Reynolds.  What secrets does she really hold?  It takes the shock of another murder before she is ready to reveal what she knows.

Another old friend, the now-retired Superintendent Spence, mentioned in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, also makes an appearance, and so this book, near the end of the series and presumably Poirot’s career, feels almost like a reunion as our intrepid detective solves the case, uncovers the true murderer, as well as his relationships to the victims, and saves the life of another.

I really enjoyed this story, with all its twists and turns, sorted affairs, and intrigue that abounds in what is reputed to be a quiet, respectable community.  Christie turns everything on its head, and provides a number of false leads, leaving the reader in suspense about the culprit to the very end.  I give this book five stars, and recommend it to any fan of mystery fiction.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Speaking in Bones

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

Speaking in Bones (Temperance Brennan, #18) by Kathy Reichs (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

When Dr. Temperance Brennan is accosted in her office by a web sleuth who claims to have proof a missing teen was tortured and possibly murdered in a horrifying manner, the forensic anthropologist is drawn in to a case with more twists and turns than seems possible.

This 18th book in Kathy Reich’s series involves genetic defects, exorcism, the power of belief, religious fanaticism, and disturbing psychological disorders for a wild ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains and rural North Carolina.

The first lead, given and guarded stringently by the hostile amateur web sleuth Hazel Strike leads to dismembered body parts found at different times and different locations, all at overlooks to Brown Mountain, a site known in local lore as a place of mysterious happenings. 

Hazel apparently feels betrayed when Tempe brings in local law enforcement on the search, and takes off, taking her hoarded evidence with her.  The next time Tempe sees her is on a slab in the coroner’s office, leading Tempe to feel guilty over her missed calls and suspicious of Hazel’s rivals on various web sleuthing sites.

The plot grows ever thicker as Tempe, along with local cops and deputies from jurisdictions where Hazel’s body and the various dismembered pieces are found investigate the motives of various people in the missing teens’ lives, as now a possible boyfriend has joined the ranks of the lost.  How these two are connected, and exactly who the body parts belong to, make up a very exciting chase.

The only issue I had with this story is the local lore of Brown Mountain was brought up in such a way that it looked like the author was going to have it figure prominently in the story.  However, at the end, though that topic was addressed once more, it was as an aside, and didn’t play a significant part in the plot or even have any real meaning for the story.  While it is an interesting tidbit, it was one “red herring” that I was disappointed led to nothing.

Overall, this story was thrilling and contained even more convoluted turns than usual with a Kathy Reichs book.  I admit I did not expect the climax in the least, and was kept guessing up until the very last chapter.  I award this book 4.5 stars, and recommend it to fans of forensic thrillers, mysteries, and anyone who loved the television show based on Reich’s work, Bones.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review 

Ten strangers from different walks of life meet as they embark for an island off the coast of the English shore, the invited guests and newly hired staff for the mysterious owners.  These ten people soon realize none of them have actually ever met their hosts/employers, just as a storm strands them there, with no way to communicate with the mainland.  Then, the bodies start piling up, as the unwitting residents realize a murderer walks among them.

This beloved Agatha Christie story, originally published in 1939, has also been published under the title, Ten Little Indians, and has been produced, and imitated, multiple times as movies, plays, television shows, and has served as inspiration for other author’s works.  In some versions the guests are stranded on a snowy mountain that can only be reached by cable car, but much of the plot remains the same.

Dame Christie’s plot draws on an old children’s poem, which the murderer, unknown to the end, utilizes as both inspiration and methodology.  The poem, alternately called “Ten Little Indians” or “Ten Little Soldiers,” depending on the version, details grisly ways these unfortunates decrease in number until all have met their fate.

It takes several deaths for the remaining party to realize that their numbers are dwindling, in accordance with the rhyme.  However, they still have difficulty reconciling how the killer can perform these outrageous deeds, unseen and unknown, especially on an isolated island.  Wittier guests realize that the murderer must have set things up ahead of time, but repeated searches of the island prove futile as the body count rises, and the survivors grow more and more suspicious of each other.

What the “tribunal,” presided over by Justice Wargrave, a retired judge, determines is, in accordance with a recorded message left for the party on the first night, each of the guests has participated in a wrongful death or murder, but has escaped justice in some manner.  Each victim first denies and then admits the truth, if only in their own mind, before their demise.

Still, the reader is left wondering clear to the end of the story as to the actual identity of the murderer, as several good suspects fall prey to the unseen killer.  In fact, Christie only reveals the actual murderer after the end of the story, in a document attached to the end, like an afterward, which reveals the murderer’s thoughts and actions in his/her own words.

It is not surprising that this story is one of the best-selling books of all times, and is a tribute to the author is work is so absorbing and timeless.

I give this book five stars, and recommend it to all fans of mystery, crime, and to any who have ever watched a movie or television production based on Agatha Christie’s work.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Death in the Clouds

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

Death in the Clouds (Hercule Poirot, #12)by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review 

When I did a post last week about the celebrated author Agatha Christie I had not yet had the leisure to finish reading this lesser-known entry in her vast body of work.

 To be honest, when I read the first couple of chapters, I was afraid that this would be a more modern retelling of The Murder on the Orient Express, one of my favorites, as it entails a murder committed on an airplane mid-flight in a cabin full of people.  Luckily, the superficial resemblance to that other story ended quickly, as Hercule Poirot, the private detective, is both a witness, and (to some) a possible suspect in the case!

The victim is a “money-lender” a famed character in Paris who uses blackmail material as collateral for her loans.  Who out of the passengers would benefit from her death?  The case is complicated when the victim’s staff, following her pre-stated instructions, burns all the evidence of her clients’ misdeeds.

Poirot, assisted by detectives in both France and England, interviews witnesses and seeks clues that involve passengers from numerous walks of life, with more than a couple of hints of new romance blossoming out of the tragic event on the otherwise routine flight from Paris to London.

As usual, Christie wove a tale with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, with a pace just fast enough to maintain interest but not get the reader helplessly lost. I was actually able to anticipate one or two small clues before they were revealed, but the major villain was still a complete surprise. 

The uniqueness of the methodology of the murderer was notable; as a blow-dart gun, a wasp and snake poison were, and still are, unusual elements in a murder of any sort, especially on a luxury flight.  Perhaps this is why the writers of Doctor Who chose to utilize this story, among others, when they did an episode that featured the real-life disappearance of the author among mysterious circumstances.

Overall, a very good story, and as usual, a stand-alone, so new readers to the author will not be lost.  I have to give this one five stars for originality, plot, well-developed major and secondary characters, and a slightly humorous but absorbing murder case.

A Modern Whodunit: Knives Out

Fans of classic mysteries in the tradition of the late Dame Agatha Christie, this is your movie!  Knives Out, currently showing in movie theaters, keeps audiences guessing whodunit to the very end.

The all-star cast, which includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, and Don Johnson, portray the family and staff of the late mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (played by Christopher Plummer) as they gather first for the birthday party of their patriarch; and again after his demise, which occurs later that same night.  The family members, instead of grieving, though, are more apt to quibble and point fingers at each other as to who had more motive and means to commit murder.

Daniel Craig plays Benoit Blanc, a modern Hercule Poirot-type detective with a southern accent, who was hired by means of a secret message to investigate the death.  Blanc follows clues and shadows Marta (Ana de Armas,) the late author’s private nurse, through wild goose chases that uncover more than one suspect and enough red herrings to hide the true criminal to the very end.

Marta, the only character other than the detective who was not after Thrombey’s fortune, spends most of the movie believing she is responsible for his death.   Marta tries to hide, and fails completely in attempts to lie, about her involvement in the crime.  Her surprising motivation-a promise made to the elderly author immediately before his demise.   Why did he prompt her to lie, and what other secrets will be uncovered before the end of the movie?  Who actually is responsible for Thrombey’s death?  And who will inherit his estate?

I was both pleased and surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie.  The mystery was intriguing, the plot had as many twists as any good novel, and the action was enjoyable.  There was just enough humor included to keep the story from becoming too dark without turning the whole movie into a spoof of the genre.  Not to mention, the majority of the action takes place on an estate that contains hidden compartments, a secret door, and a horde of “props” from Thrombey’s novels, (spoilers) some of which may prove important to the plot!

Check it out at a theater near you!