Over the last few years we have had a monthly mystery book discussion group at the Twin Lakes Library. We try to read a variety of mysteries — some are more thrillers or detective fiction, but usually there is a mystery element. We would like to introduce you to three of the books that we have discussed and liked.
One of our favorites has been “The Winter Queen” by Boris Akunin. Akunin is the pen name for best-selling Russian author Grigol Chkhartishvil. In Russia, this series, set in 19th century Russia, is wildly popular. In “The Winter Queen,” hero Erast Fandorin starts out as an eager young police recruit who is looked upon by his superiors as a little soft and naive, but good enough to help with the paperwork and lesser chores. An apparent suicide of a wealthy university student piques Fandorin’s interest and he sets out to investigate the case. From there he stumbles onto an international criminal conspiracy that takes him across Europe with villains, near-death experiences and a bit of romance along the way.
Our book group enjoyed the setting along with the nonstop action and some of the humorous plot devices. Fandorin finds himself in some unbelievably sticky situations in which he somehow manages to survive. In one instance, his “Lord Byron” whalebone corset saves his life. Even after the official case is wrapped up, there is a shocking twist for Fandorin at the end of the book.
We recently read Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” Not all of our group members counted it as a favorite, but we had to admire Christie for her ingenuity with this book. This is a Hercules Poirot novel, set in the village of King’s Abbot where Poirot has retired. His friend, wealthy businessman Roger Ackroyd, has just been murdered and Ackroyd’s stepson, Ralph Paton, is the chief suspect. Captain Hastings, Poirot’s usual assistant, is absent from this book. Instead, the local doctor, James Shepard, assists in the investigation.
This novel is famous for its twist ending which was quite a hit when it was published in 1926. The book has been on many top lists over the years, including being designated as Best Crime Novel by the British Crime Writers’ Association in 2013. Some of our group did not agree with all the accolades this mystery has been given. You will have to read it and judge for yourself. Community Library has this title available in a book discussion kit — feel free to check it out!
Finally, the group gave a hearty thumbs-up to “The Crow Trap” by British author Ann Cleeves, which features Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope. This is the series opener and revolves around several deaths in a remote area in Northumberland where three women are gathered to do an environmental survey to determine if a quarry should be built near a national park. Vera — loud, uncouth and admittedly nosey — comes to investigate. There is a lot of focus on each of the women in the survey team and how their backgrounds intertwine with the suspicious deaths.
We all agreed that the writing is rich, the characters vividly portrayed and the main detective delightfully quirky yet razor-sharp. This book is pretty long, around 500 pages, but it’s well worth the read. The series just gets better from there. Community Library has this title available in a book kit, too.
Note that this series, along with Cleeves’ Shetland series, has been dramatized for TV and is available on PBS and via DVD. Both series are highly recommended!
We hope that you enjoyed reading about books the “Make Mine a Mystery” book discussion group in Twin Lakes has read. Come see us at the library and we will be happy to help you find a great book to read.
Off the Shelves is published Sundays. Each week a different Kenosha Public Library or Community Library staff member organizes reviews of a handful of books available through the library system.