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

Thursday, September 27, 2007

ALL SUMMER, by Claire Kilroy

Better late than never, right? This book was published in 2003, but I didn’t stumble across it till it was remaindered earlier this year. I grabbed it because I had enjoyed Kilroy’s second book, Tenderwire, which I included as one of my picks for the best paperback of 2006. To my delight, I liked All Summer even better – indeed I’ve awarded it one of my rare stars.

Since I have been reading mysteries for more than 30 years, I have to admit to having become a bit jaded – it takes something pretty special to thrill me the way this book did. It’s hard to say too much about the plot without giving too much away, because figuring who’s who and what’s what, rather than whodunit, is what generates the suspense, but this much we learn fairly early on: our heroine, Anna Hunt, finds herself sleeping in a barn somewhere in Ireland with no memory of her identity or her past, and a suitcase stuffed with money. Later on chronologically (but early on in the narrative, which jumps back and forth in time) she remembers that she was somehow involved with someone she calls Kel in an art theft, and that he gave her the scar where a knife slashed under her eye, the shock of which apparently caused her memory loss.

I might as well also let you know now that some major questions about Anna’s past remain unanswered, which is part of what gives her narrative its compelling dreamlike quality. But the answers to these questions turn out to be not as important as the headlong rush of her present difficulties, as she runs, not always sure why, from threats, she’s not always sure from whom. Her narrative is written to a second person “you,” who remains, for the reader, a largely shadowy character in her story but, for Anna, the most important.

There are several sudden, satisfying, and, for the most part, surprising twists in the tale, including the one in the very last line that reveals this to be not so much a crime story as an excruciatingly complex and powerful love story.

John Kenny’s review in The Irish Times summed up the unsettling but unputdownable quality of this book well: “Kilroyhas strikingly combined a poetic sense of language with a commitment to the narrative thrills of good storytelling…We have here an unusual phenomenon: a novelist who knows the occult powers of descriptive language.” If you like your mysteries neat and tidy, you may want to give this one a miss, but if you enjoy the unexpected and unusual, this one will make you shiver.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Comic Mysteries

M wrote:
found your site via kimbooktu - i wonder if you can provide some recommendations. i review books of different genres from a comedy perspective. my favorite mystery series are by lindsey davis (falco) and elizabeth peters (peabody). they are both superb writers with meticulously researched settings and great comedic skill.can you recommend any other similar authors?

My suggestions:
Robin Paige has a nice gentle wit, in a well developed Victorian setting; Sarah Caudwell and Anthony Oliver are great for dry and broad British wit respectively (though neither, alas, are still writing, and are largely out of print). You might also want to browse titles in our off-beat humor section. I'll add more as they come to me, but in the meantime I hope other readers will weigh in.