Cursuses, Diamonds, Oland, and Addisons: Four in One Mystery Monday (Magdalen Nabb, Johan Theorin, Elly Griffiths, Lauren Grodstein)

Dear Reader:

Ahhh spring! 19 degrees Farenheit. 16 more inches of snow! Black ice…

The flowers are so lovely this time of year (in my imagination) up here on the fabled shores of Lake Superior… OK, the upside – two days of glorious cross country skiing with Gus. It makes me laugh to see him so happy to run around on the trails.

And it’s always summer somewhere, at least in a novel.

Mysterious Monday…

I was on the road again last week, trying to get by without breaking my back while carrying everything in a backpack and bookbag, including my macbook air (version one which is not THAT light). So, I chose my thinnest mystery for takeoffs and landings and packed up my kindle.

35) Death of a Dutchman (hard copy)

Magdalen Nabb’s series (including Death of an Englishman, The Marshal and the Murderer, The Marshal and the Madwoman) focuses on the Marshal, an Italian military officer (do we ever know his name? I’m not sure) patrolling Florence in an unnamed time – I think there was a reference to computers, but otherwise it could have been post-WWII Italy and that is what it felt like. Although he is not remotely responsible for solving murders, the Marshal has a habit of taking on crimes and solving them faster than the slow-witted police whose responsibilities they are.

I have NO idea what this cover photo is about – nothing to do with the book!

Heavy and thoughtful, the Marshal walks the squares, doing his rounds of the hotels (checking passport records), and seeing all. This mystery takes place in hot summery Florence, amid the tourists and ice cream, as the Marshal strives to solve the death (suicide? murder? not much of a mystery if it was a suicide…) of a Dutch-Italian-English jewelry maker who grew up in Florence.

I found this book confusing. Perhaps I didn’t read the beginning carefully enough or perhaps I should have started with the first book in the series, but I couldn’t understand what a marshal was (I still don’t really, but toward the end I did figure out he was in the military) and that kept me from really understanding what his job was and why he shouldn’t be solving the crime. The Marshal is a likeable character, but he spends most of the book sweating heavily and chasing villains through the sun when he’s not trying to survive a flash flood. Even though I read this book through in just a few days I never really got pulled into it. Although I did like learning about a different world – the streets of Florence and the cultural landscape of Italy – those boozing northerners and peasant southerners!

45) The darkest room by Johan Theorin (kindle)

A Swedish couple have moved to the Manor House on Oland, an island off the southern Swedish coast, to make a new life. They bring their two children and begin to renovate a huge, very storied house that was in their family on the island’s coast at Eel Point. We learn the sad, hundreds-year history of the house as the book moves back and forth between present and past.

Interwoven into the story are some local thieves taking advantage of unoccupied summer houses and a fresh, new female police officer eager to make her way. This is a book that requires suspension of belief as ghosts move along major plot points.

Unfortunately, this was another one that didn’t suck me in – to be fair, I picked it up and got one third of the way through awhile ago. I went back to it in an attempt to wrap up another book and put another notch on my list. So, maybe I didn’t give it a fair chance.

I’m pretty rational and not that able to suspend belief, but I don’t think that element bothered me, it was actually pretty interesting to watch the explanation of what was actually happening with all those bumps in the night emerging and I found that element “believable.” I guess if “one” is going to set out to read every mystery by someone with a Scandinavian name, there are going to be a few duds along the way. But I always hate to say duds because someone else might love this book.

190) The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (Kindle)

Ahhh… this one I really liked! I picked this up awhile ago on some kind of Amazon sale for $0.99 or $2.99… Ruth Galloway is a 40ish archeology professor at a British university living on the Northeastern British coastal marshes with her two cats (Flint and Sparky). She’s mildly frumpy, contented to live alone, but enjoys a good bonk now and then.

When Detective Chief Inspector (what is this Germany? why do they need so many titles?) Harry Nelson drops by to see her about a child’s body found near her house in the henge. She identifies the body as Iron Age, disappointingly, since two local girls have gone missing, one ten years ago and one recently, and it had been hoped (feared?) that this might be one of them.

The marshes are the location of ancient pagan worship and sacrifice sites, full of cursuses and torques and bodies. They also house diverse ecosystems, including birds. Ruth is pulled into the search for the girls, interwoven with local and her own personal history.

I liked Ruth (single frumpy female professor living with multiple animals, go figure!). I enjoyed the archeological tidbits. The mix of suspense, reckoning, and personal worked for me. A quick search indicated that Griffiths has done a “Ruth Galloway” series (The Crossing Places is the first which is probably why it was on sale), so, happily, I can keep following her.

91) A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein (kindle)

Dr. Pete Dizinoff and his family (Elaine and Alec) have been friends with the Sterns (Joe, Iris, Laura etc) since college. At the time the book begins, something is wrong. Pete is living in the garage studio, the Sterns aren’t talking to him, and Alec won’t look at him. This is another book that moves back and forth in time – dropping hints about events, then shifting back a few months, a few years, answering questions and raising more. Key events include a patient’s Addisons.

This is one of the first books I bought when I got a kindle in 2009. I started it. Didn’t finish it. Kept it in my “good reading” folder for three years. And then I found it again and worked my way through it.

To be fair to myself and the author, I went back and started it over. And I still didn’t get into it that much.

It was highly reviewed in 2009. But something about these families didn’t make them real or sympathetic to me. Alec is too smart ass. Elaine is a question mark. Pete? Maybe I have trouble really getting inside a man’s head (I did notice many times Grodstein trying to do it and wondered – did she get it right? Is this how men think? I don’t think we should be conscious of this kind of stuff in a novel. Maybe her writing of Pete was a bit forced…)

This is the sort of book I used to love – an Oprah book – family thrown into crisis, family digs their way out, family figures out what to do next… I think I’ve been reading so many classics, early 20th century novels, and nonfiction that I’ve temporarily lost my taste for this kind of book – a modern family saga.

And so to the end..

Ah well, one out of four ain’t bad.

Ruby’s garden flower of the day

Happy reading, Ruby



  1. 🙂 I wonder if the lack of local flowers have affected your ability to enjoy slightly senseless books?

    I confess, I never really enjoyed the modern family novels of angst filled smart asses — I’d rather take on the ghost mystery, which would otherwise not be a first choice. Think you hit the nail on the head – the more you read, the more duds you will come across. And then you find those treasures that you otherwise would never have happened upon…it is like looking for gold; you have to move a certain amount of dirt to find the nuggets.

  2. Hi: Yes, that must be it – so, my solution is to choose a new and even more colorful theme for my blog. Absolutely true – reading widely risks some disappointment.

    But also great treasures – like Dorothy Whipple and Helen R. Hull. I probably won’t stop challenging myself to make my way through the books I have even if they don’t grab me, but I’ll DEFiINTELY be choosier in future. Thanks for writing! Ruby


  1. The List « A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books

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