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Staff Picks Category: Mystery

The Diviners by Libba Bray []

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An enchanting mystery that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end! A dark story of the supernatural set in 1920s New York City. Speakeasies, theater, jazz and plenty of twenties slang to keep you giggling.

The story follows a young woman named Evie O’Neill who possesses a power she just can’t explain. After Evie’s brother dies, she is sent to New York City to live with her uncle, a professor of the occult. A chilling murder takes place and Evie’s uncle is called in to help the police investigate the mysterious circumstances. Could Evie’s power help solve this disturbing mystery?

Bray’s characters will stay with you long after you finish reading. Stay tuned for the second book in this series, Lair of Dreams.

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Bored To Death []

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Jonathan Ames casts Jason Schwartzman as his alter-ego “Jonathan Ames” in the comedic, sleuth series Bored To Death. Ames is a young author from Brooklyn with motivational issues struggling to complete his second novel. One evening he turns to famed pulp writer Raymond Chandler for inspiration. After completing Farewell My Lovely, he proceeds to take out an advertisement on Craigslist boasting his reasonable rates and unlicensed detective services.
Each episode follows Schwartzman on madcap cases, painful romantic encounters and surprisingly tender buddy-buddy moments with brilliant co-stars Ted Danson and Zack Galifiankis. The show also features cameos appearances from John Hodgman, Patton Oswolt and Kristen Wiig.

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Judex []

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I tend to be someone who knows what he’s looking for in the stacks and will often go in with a list. We can’t always be a slave to structure though. Judex is a film I checked out based solely on the intriguing box cover. It also is a part of the Criterion Collection… so, I knew I was in for something interesting.

This 1963 French movie is an homage to a 1916 silent film of the same name. Set at the time of the original, Judex hits the ground running with a mysterious blackmail letter, a murder, strange sci-fi/occult touches and a stoic, caped man. Countless twists and turns, masks, hidden identities, a circus, knives and a lovable detective color this suspenseful caper. Furthermore, Judex is photographed in the most brilliant black and white with stylish camera angles that would make any film nerd’s heart have serious palpitations.

It pays to sometimes take chances with movies; going in blindly. However, I’ve done the work for you already on this one. So, go ahead and enjoy George Franju’s Judex!

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Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon []

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Ron McLarty narrates this bizarre and wonderfully entertaining crime novel by Thomas Pynchon. Infusing the perfect hippie bravado to our central character Doc Sportello, McLarty transports us to this far out time.

Filled with film and music references, original music (sung a capella by McLarty on the audiobook), hilarious dialog and a gritty tone, Pynchon creates a unique take on the detective novel. Doc, who is a long haired, stoner private-eye in Los Angeles at the close of the 1960’s, is on the case to find a missing ex-girlfriend. Along the way, he has run ins with colorful characters in this backdrop of groovy pads, surf music and drug culture.

Flower power is over and something darker is on the horizon.

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The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch []

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Whenever I go to New York City I make a pilgrimage to the Strand bookstore.18 miles of books, how could I not?! During my last visit I became overwhelmed, and after 45 minutes of wandering, snatched The Hangman’s Daughter from the “books everyone loves table.” To my surprise, the book was a lot of fun.

Originally written in German, this mystery novel set in 17th century Bavaria has both an interesting plot and a plethora of historical detail. When the body of a local child turns up in a river with suspicious markings, the townspeople assume dark magic is afoot. Despite the lack of tangible evidence, the town midwife is accused of witchcraft. Jakob Kuisl is an unlikely detective (oh, and the town hangman) who stands out as the voice of reason in a world that is ready to accept witch hunts and gruesome medieval medical practices. Can the hangman prove that the midwife is innocent before it’s too late?! You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Those critical of language and authenticity may find the translation too modern but I found it approachable. An engaging whodunit!

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Maigret and the Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon []

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A wine dealer is shot and wounded via gunfire through a mail slot, traces of poison are found at the Admiral Hotel, a mysterious waitress keeps reintroducing herself as the plot thickens, the footsteps of a giant are discovered, a doctor is having a nervous breakdown behind bars, the mayor is acting rather suspicious, a customs official is shot in the leg and a large, wandering yellow dog is present at the crime scenes.  What does it all mean???

Fear not, international mystery fan.  The laconic, pipe smoking, French speaking inspector Maigret is on the case!

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Murder Your Darlings by J.J. Murphy []

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First in a new cozy series, Murder Your Darlings features Dorothy Parker and her Vicious Circle of friends at the Algonquin Round Table. Real people mingle with fictional characters in a historically-based setting. Not to worry, liberties are taken to make it more entertaining, and you don’t have to be bothered with the facts unless you choose to read the historical note at the end.
When a drama critic is found stabbed with his own fountain pen under the legendary Round Table, Mrs. Parker and Robert Benchley, together with the police and a team of bootlegging gangsters, chase down the murderer while spewing sarcastic quips, puns, and one-liners all over New York. William Faulkner makes a delightful cameo. The parody is hilarious and my only quibble is that some of the punch lines are too obviously set up. Still, I’ll be gleefully anticipating the next Algonquin Round Table Mystery.

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Wicked Autumn: A Max Tudor Novel by G. M. Mailliet []

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First in a new series, this book is an homage to the traditional English village mystery. Max Tudor is the village priest, settling into his peaceful existence in the peaceful village of Nether Monkslip – a far cry from his previous life as an MI5 agent. Wanda Batton-Smythe is the self-styled head of the village, and head of the Nether Monkslip Women’s Institute, organizing the fall Harvest Fayre, and creating ill-feelings and enemies in her wake. She had no close friends, but did anyone really hate her enough to kill her? Max Tudor finds himself in the middle of the investigation, and we can look forward to visiting the other villages that he is also responsible for in future books. I believe that this is the type of mystery that provides all the clues for you to be able to figure out the culprit, although I was just happy to go along for the ride.
Two things that endeared this book to me from the (near) beginning:
  1. Cast of Characters list (when I was writing my great mystery novel as a preteen, this was as far as I got)
  2. Wanda is reading a Booker-prize winner, and says, “In no year, in fact, had she enjoyed reading any of the Booker winners, but she felt honor-bound to read them, and to drop into conversation the fact that she was reading them.” I read this before the short list for the Booker prize came out this year, and was surprised that were actually several books that I am interested in reading, including The Sisters Brothers.

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Cutter’s Way by Ivan Passer []

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“These are just the facts, Rich. I mean, I haven’t even begun to let my imagination loose on this thing.”

A film about our first head librarian? Telling a tale of the creation of the Cutter System (the same system Forbes Library uses to this day)? I’m afraid not… though Dylan and I are working on the second draft of the Charles Ammi Cutter Story. In theaters 2039.

Rather, Cutter’s Way is a film directed by Czech New Wave pioneer Ivan Passer that stars Jeff Bridges and John Heard. Heard plays Alex Cutter, a one armed, one legged, eye patch wearing bitter Vietnam veteran who is on the verge of losing touch with reality. Side bar: I tend to get drawn to movies where a character wears an eye patch (True Grit, The American Friend (though Nicholas Ray really needed to wear one of those in real life), Kill Bill, Thunderball or any pirate film come to mind). Cutter lives his life with the feeling that he has nothing to lose and often exists in a drunken stupor without the will to live. Though his antics on some occasions are entertaining to his wife Mo and his closest friend Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges), most of the time he’s putting himself and others in danger.

Bone, a yacht salesman who doubles as some sort of refined-hippie-vagabond-couch-surfing dude, witnesses the disposing of a body after a murder. He decides to flee the scene and not get involved (not getting involved happens to be a central theme of Richard Bone), but winds up being questioned and finds himself on the front page of the paper. Cutter, in turn, becomes obsessed with this case and is convinced he knows who has committed the terrible act.

Cutter’s Way is an overlooked film that explores the limits of friendship and expertly combines the genres of drama, mystery, comedy, adventure and film noir.

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Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson []

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Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series is one of my favorites. Part mystery, part western, set in the remote and mythical Absaroka County, Wyoming with a wonderful cast of characters, with sheriff Walt Longmire at the center. I was thrilled when I heard that A&E has been filming the new series Longmire based on these books.
Walt starts off on routine prisoner exchange, dreaming of lasagna and his daughter’s upcoming marriage. The prisoner exchange hits some complications and Walt heads off into the Bighorn Mountains after the prisoner Raynaud Shade, a Crow Indian and a sociopath who claims to hear voices and seems to know that the (same?) voices have also spoken to Walt when he has been in the mountains. Walt is led through the icy hell of the peaks of Wyoming by Virgil, coming across his own demons, and yes, carrying Dante’s Inferno to complete the metaphor. The latest in the Walt Longmire series; start with The Cold Dish.

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The Broken Shore by Peter Temple []

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Joe Cashin is a big city cop who has gone back to his childhood home on the coast of South Australia to recuperate, physically and mentally. When a local millionaire is murdered, Cashin won’t accept the easy story that some local aboriginal boys are responsible. In the course of the investigation, Australian political and social divisions are examined. The sense of place is practically another character, but be warned: this is a darker Australia than is often portrayed in the media. Includes helpful Glossary of Australian Terms. Temple is the winner of five Ned Kelly Awards by the Crime Writers’ Association of Australia.

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