Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Back Bay Books, 352 books, $15.99 (c2012)

This is not a murder mystery, but one of the characters manages to disappear. (Could it be Bernadette? Hmm?)

I’m not immune to the allure of lighter summer fare. Murder doesn’t always hold up well under a bright sun with bees buzzing the multi-hued flowers. I pushed this ahead in the queue thinking it was a “summer read.” That is to say, iced skinny latte, heavy on the froth. Add a lot of sugar.

Nopey, nope, nope.

The delightful teenage Bee (short for Balakrishna — what was her mother thinking!) and her mother, the eponymous missing person, Bernadette Fox, are the central characters. Bee’s father, Elgin Branch, may take up a lot of paper space, but he is such a literary tool, designed to move the plot along without much development. Also present is a major citizen of Wackyland, neighbor Audrey Griffin, mother to one of Bee’s schoolmates. Never seen but indisputably there is virtual assistant Manjula Kapoor of Delhi.

Bernadette and family live in a decaying former school for wayward girls in Seattle. It was to have been a project to distract Bernadette. At the time she and her husband bought it, she had been an architect fleeing an unknown disaster in L.A. But the renovation project stalled before it began. Bee was born and is now in the eighth grade. That’s how long Bernadette has had to fix their home.

Never mind. There are other crazy things coming down the pike to occupy Bernadette's scattershot thinking. It starts with all the (sometimes hilarious) reasons Bernadette can think of — and they are many — not to live in Seattle. It moves on to Audrey’s foot, blackberry vines, mudslides, Antarctica, and loss. Misunderstandings, deceit, psychological fragility, and the burden of simple family stuff add to the mix.

This is a wonderful book, wonderfully written, wonderfully humorous and eccentric. Wonderful.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Harper, 496 pages, $27.99 (and worth every penny)

If I ever stop raving about this book, it will be because I’m dead.

Anthony Horowitz has mastered the art of writing a mystery so much so that he can even be full-blown meta about it. Yes, this is a mystery within a mystery. And each one is superb.

I don’t want to give too much away, so here are the bare bones.

Right from the start you find out that an editor at a publishing company in present-day London has as her main client a dislikable, but immensely popular, mystery writer. The publishing company has received his latest manuscript, but it is missing the crucial whodunnit pages at the end.

Horowitz actually presents this manuscript, set in 1955, in a small village in the English countryside. (Can you say "cozy"?) He writes in the mystery writer’s voice. Then he places that story within another mystery eggshell. The present-day editor must find the missing pages. It should simply be a matter of asking the author for those pages, except the author has died by falling off the tower of his eccentric home in the English countryside.

Was it murder? Ohmygosh, was the author murdered for what his book revealed? Or, Occam’s razor, was it suicide?

Horowitz makes every character appear suspicious. He drops legitimate clues throughout the two stories. There are red herrings. There are two remarkable detectives, meta-fictional Atticus P√ľnd and simply fictional Susan Ryeland. Hats are offed to myriad other mystery novelists, especially Dame Agatha. It is clear that Horowitz is a fan and a scholar of the genre. Fair play to you, Mr. Horowitz!

Most definitely an MBTB star!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

Scribner, 336 pages, $26

Although “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” starts off forced and a little bumpy, the tone soon smoothes out and the story moves along. Especially noteworthy is the story of Lydia as a young girl and the trauma that becomes her “defining moment.”

Lydia is the star of this book, mostly as a young woman, a bookseller who cares about the books and the people who buy books. She even finds a space in her heart for the “BookFrogs,” a set of lost, sometimes perplexed, uniformly odd men who haunt the bookstore in lieu of a wider experience in the outside world. When one young BookFrog commits suicide in the bookstore, it is to Lydia that he leaves his worldly belongings. That consists mostly of books with holes cut in them, sometimes lots of holes. Thus the mysteries are set: What happened to Lydia when she was young and what sort of message, if any, was the young BookFrog sending to Lydia?

The story is a little heavy on coincidence, but there’s a definite charm to it. Lydia, her friend Raj, and Lydia’s father have interesting parts and quirks. As a matter of fact, every character, minor or major, has quirks. And, of course, in a setting close to my heart, Lydia does work in a bookstore. (And that is where the dead body is discovered.) 

I wish for Raj and Lydia, who spend the book looking for their true stories, what the anonymous delivery man (brief, quirky appearance) said when delivering life-changing papers, “May your news bring peace.”