9 books to read from The Next Chapter's mystery book panel
As is The Next Chapter holiday tradition, our mystery panel joins Shelagh Rogers to deliver a brand new list of whodunits.
Bookstore owner J.D. Singh, McMaster University professor P.K. Rangachari and Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Cannon have nine books that mystery fans should read over the holidays.
Margaret says: "It's the first novel by Penelope Williams who lives in Westport, Ont. The setting is Northern Ontario and it's a classic psychological drama.
"A woman returns to her small hometown of Parnell, Ont. after a number of years living elsewhere. There are all kinds of buried secrets and intricate problems within this town. It begins with a death that may or may not be a murder, but murders happen. Her writing is really good and the pacing is excellent — the characters stand out. I'm finding it really hard to put down."
J.D. says: "The novel is set in the early 1990s in Los Angeles. There was a note from the author which gives you the background to the story. In March 1991. there was an altercation between a young, I think it was a 15-year-old African-American girl and the Korean-American owner of the deli or liquor store that she was in. The altercation ended in the young girl's death. The whole thing was caught on video. The recommendation by the jury was the maximum of 16 years, but the trial judge said no, just probation and community service.
"This was also around the time of the Rodney King affair. As you know, L.A. was set aflame because of things like this. This novel is fiction, but the genesis of the story is that incident. The story starts in the early 1990s and then it concludes in 2019, when the paths of these two families cross again after some 15 years with tragic consequences. It's a marvel."
P.K. says: "Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2018. The title is actually a quote from William Blake, and Blake permeates this novel. The character Janina tells the story and she is a bridge construction engineer with a fondness for algebra, which she has converted into framing horoscopes and predicting people's futures. She lives in a small village at the border of Poland and Czechoslovakia. It's set in winter time and all kinds of people are dying. It's mostly males and she's trying to figure out why they're dying. She has a suspicion that the animals around are killing these people. And of course, nobody believes her.
"The book is brilliant. It's one of the funniest books I've read. It takes you for an interesting rollercoaster ride as to who's doing what to whom. The body count keeps increasing and nobody knows what's going on."
Margaret says: "Everything in this book is compelling. We have a nine-year-old boy who is lost on a lake in a boat — the engine has died. There's a detective who's trying to save this boy and a town that's not being terribly cooperative. Even the [grandparent] of the kid seems to be more interested in [her] business than in saving [her grandson]. It's a very complex novel but readable."
J.D. says: "It's set around the time of the Kennedy assassination in 1963. It's the story of two people, one who's on the run because of the assassination. Guidry is a street lieutenant for the New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. He's always known that everybody's expendable. It now seems that it's his turn because he knows a little bit too much about the assassination — so he runs.
"The other principal character is Charlotte, a middle-aged woman with two daughters, a dog and a broken-down car. She's running from a stifling existence in small town Oklahoma. This is America of the 1960s after all, so if you're anything but a hetero white male then you are next to nothing. She wants to teach her daughters that they can be whatever they want to be.
"Stephen King, an author who I do not read a great deal but whose reviews I do like, called this one exceptional."
P.K. says: "This is a book that's written more in anger than sorrow. John le Carré has gone to town on current events in this one. It's scathing about Brexit and scathing about Trump, Putin and the state of Britain. It's an interesting book. It's amazingly funny and that's so surprising because he's not really a funny writer."
Margaret says: "It's got murder, money, a nice setting, royalty, you name it. The author is the historian Charlotte Gray. The research is impeccable and it's about the 1943 Sir Harry Oakes murder which was never solved in the Bahamas.
"The most interesting thing about this book is that she spends a lot of the book going into the gold rush in Northern Ontario, about which I knew nothing. It's wonderful. She really does recreate that period in time."
J.D. says: "The New York Times Book Review said, and I'm paraphrasing, that it's the scenery and the big guy in front of the scenery [Walt Longmire] that keeps people going back to the series. I'd add that it's Vic, Henry, Sancho, Ruby and Dog, let's not forget Dog, as well as Walt that keep me hooked. This one is just a pure delight."
P.K. says: "It's set in Hamilton in 1947 and it's very nicely written. It's set within walking distance of where I live — the streets are there and so on. It makes me feel terribly nostalgic because when I moved to Hamilton in 1981, much of what he describes was there at the time. It's a breezy story. It's an easy story to read. It's very old fashioned but great fun."
The panellists' comments have been edited for clarity and length.