It’s always a treat to find a new series I like, and when the books are from a Canadian author it feels like an extra bonus. Enter the Birder Murder Mystery series, recommended to me by a birder friend some time ago.
Inspector Domenic Lejeune is too good at his job. So he sticks with policing when he’d rather be hiking across marsh and cliff in search of rare birds. A Canadian serving in the UK police force, he can at least enjoy the location of his new posting. Norfolk is prime birding country.
He only has to overcome the distrust of his fellow officers while solving a high-profile murder case. On the plus side, the deceased was an avid birder. Minus side: the birding community doesn’t trust him any more than his new co-workers do.
Nicely plotted, with a broad cast of characters and complications, A Siege of Bitterns is a satisfying read. It’s one of those omniscient point of view books that drops into multiple heads in the same scene, which always confuses me a bit. Maybe because of the omniscience, it feels like more of a thinking, or puzzle, sort of story instead of a heart one. My brain appreciated that. I’ll definitely be reading more in the series.
It was meant to be a smile, but Maik got some sense of the last sight a swimmer might see when a Great White Shark approached. [page 81]
Book 1 in the Birder Murder Mystery series, A Siege of Bitterns received the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. You can find Canadian author Steve Burrows here: abirdermurder.com.
[Review copy from the public library. I read the print version, but the digital version is available to libraries through Hoopla Digital.]
Daniel Riffkin has been sober for four years, carefully managing his life and limiting contact to his dog, a few close friends, and his AA meetings.
Now he finds himself sharing his home in Miramar Bay, California, with his teenage niece. And developing concern for Stella, a single mother who’s afraid she’s being framed for missing funds at her work. And hosting his best friends’ teen daughter to give them some breathing space.
Before he became a successful newscaster, Daniel trained in forensic accounting. He has the skills to help Stella. But as they begin to care for one another, can he risk failing her?
This is a feel-good, life-affirming, second-chance novel that speaks hope. As a Christian reader, I’d have loved to see it written to trace Daniel’s faith journey and how that impacts his changes and growth. However, the book is written for a general-market audience. Likely more readers will find it this way, and I hope it’s widely-read.
If you have an addict in your life (even yourself) or someone carrying deep regrets, Tranquility Falls offers a glimpse of hope that recovery and healing are possible. The author interviewed many people so he could portray Daniel’s struggles in a real and relatable way. In his closing acknowledgements, he writes, “This story is dedicated to everyone who taught me so much and granted me new reasons to hope.”
Addiction is only part of the story. There’s also identity, betrayal, grief, crime, Hollywood, legal drama, and beautiful scenery. And romance.
I really like Daniel. He’s honest in his struggles and he’s present in his conversations. Instead of serving easy answers, he knows he doesn’t have any. So he listens. Asks open-ended questions like he’s encountered in his years of counselling and recovery. Supports his friends with total attention.
Mornings like this, it was hard to believe the summer heat would ever arrive, as if the world told fables no one believed anymore… A San Francisco-style light drifted in gentle waves with the mist, a feather-like whisper of a world that remained just out of reach. [Chapter 10, page 2]
Readers familiar with the Miramar Bay series will recognize some characters from previous books, always a pleasant treat.
As well as crafting sweet, Hallmark-movie-like stories like these, internationally-bestselling author Davis Bunn also writes thrillers. And as Thomas Locke he writes science fiction and fantasy. For more about the author and his work, visit kensingtonbooks.com/pages/davis-bunn-books and tlocke.com.
Layered characters, vivid descriptions, twists and surprises, and solid Biblical truth in a spiritual warfare novel with some fully criminal humans as well. This book satisfied me as a reader and as a writer. Karin Kaufman started this new series off with a winner.
Teagan Doyle is chasing angels, desperate to find hope. Instead, she and her boss/mentor John Bergland (Berg) find demons. Sometimes. Often their paranormal investigations turn up wobbly pipes and other natural explanations for the things that freak out their clients.
But not this time. Their current case involves a former church whose new owners want to renovate into a bed and breakfast. Renovations have turned up a body walled up in the basement. The owners report flickering electricity, cold drafts, moving objects… and not one natural cause in sight.
Teagan and Berg don’t believe in ghosts and refuse to work with mediums or spiritists. They believe the God of the Bible. And in angels, both holy and fallen.
Part of what makes this book shine is their unlikely but perfect pairing. Teagan’s past is a string of unhappy endings, including washing out of police academy, infertility, and a cheating ex-husband. Berg is in his seventies, a retired minister, his movement restricted by severe arthritis.
The way Teagan describes Berg is how I feel about them both:
“I caught his past and his personality in snippets, quilting them together over time to form my idea of who he was.” [Kindle location 465]
Other favourite lines:
“If you cash in your chips because you think God can’t use a sinner, you don’t know your Bible.” [Kindle location 2870]
“You get to ask forgiveness for your serious lapse in judgement, believe God when he says he forgives, and then move on and do your job.” [Kindle location 2876]
Told from Teagan’s point of view, the writing is taut with a bit of a noir feel. I like the mix of human and supernatural villains, and I didn’t find it too scary (I did stick to reading during daylight!).
Despite being Christian fiction, the book has some minor profanity. If that’s an issue for you, be warned going in. I found it jarring but not enough to put me off the story. This is one series I hope to follow to the end.
Chasing Angels is book 1 in the Teagan Doyle Mystery Series. Book 2, Call of Chaos, will pick up right on its heels.
Karin Kaufman writes in a wide spectrum of fiction, from intense novels like this and the Anna Denning series to lighter-hearted cozy mysteries like the Juniper Grove series and Smithwell Fairies series to the Geraldine Woolkins children’s books. For more about the author and her work, visit karinkaufman.com.
Armand Gamache is one of my fictional heroes. As a homicide investigator he has seen more darkness than most, but he also believes that, to quote the author, “goodness exists.” Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond of him and comforted by his presence on the page. I’ve grown fond of the other recurring characters too.
This is the one series I’ve persisted in reading despite the profanity and the times when the darkness gets a little too grim for me. In their own ways they’re stories of hope. Of second chances, restored relationships. Light in the darkness.
The context of the title is the Shakespearean quote, “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
The Gamache novels are mysteries with a strong focus on the characters. This time, instead of the serene and peaceful Quebec village of Three Pines, All the Devils are Here is set in Paris. A reader who knows the city will find an extra bonus, as the author has gone to great lengths to familiarize herself with the subtle nuances that bring it to life on the page.
Another thing I appreciate about this book is the evocative language. Some of my favourite lines:
Where else would you find darkness but right up against the light? What greater triumph for evil than to ruin a garden? It wouldn’t be the first time. [Chapter 1, 1%]
What’re you going to focus on? What’s unfair, or all the wonderful things that happen? Both are true, both are real. Both need to be accepted. But which carries more weight with you? [Chapter 1, 2%]
Séverine Arbour stood at the door, her face set in a pleasant smile with a base note of smoky resentment and a hint of smug. [Chapter 2, 4%]
Until he saw the stain on the floor. And the outline of the body. Like skin around a hollow man. [Chapter 31, 63%]
All the Devils are Here is the 16th Gamache novel. This is a series you could start here, but it’s well worth beginning at the beginning. That way you’ll understand the character relationship nuances. For more about bestselling author Louise Penny, visit louisepenny.com.
Seventy books is a reduction in reading for me, and I’m happy about that. It allowed more time in a crazy pandemic year for knitting, jigsaw puzzles, baking, and other comforting activities. Plus I read more nonfiction in 2020 and that takes longer.
Here are the books I’ve most enjoyed last year. Some were produced in 2020, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?
Crime podcaster Morgan Scott has a successful online career (complete with crazy stalker and an incarcerated murderer who has vowed revenge) but she doesn’t have many in-person friends.
Sitting home alone over the Christmas holidays would just give her time to brood about her enemies, so she decides to follow up on an old murder in a town so remote that it’s barely marked on the map: Birchardville, Pennsylvania.
Her life in Florida has not prepared her for winter with actual snow. And while Birchardville may be remote, danger still finds her there.
I liked the fact that Morgan is Asian-American (her birth name is Chen Meifeng). This doesn’t factor much into the story, but it’s nice to see a protagonist who’s not your standard Caucasian.
What does factor in is her independent, self-reliant, sometimes-funny personality. And as one Birchardville resident says, she’s “theologically sound.”
I enjoyed the author’s voice in this story, and will be looking for more of her books.
A remote Scottish island. A private hotel
steeped in history. And a repeat of a centuries-old murder.
This is the sort of mystery I love best.
The setting is so real I can almost step into it, and I liked the protagonist, Kate
Hamilton, from page one. Kate deals in antiques, not crimes, but she has a good
eye for detail and strong motivation to solve this mystery. The company of an
attractive, vacationing English police detective is a bonus.
The language is engaging. My favourite
Three years had passed since Bill’s death, and the veneer of coping I’d laid over my grief was as thin as eggshell porcelain and every bit as breakable. [page 1]
Guthrie sat between his mother and Elenor, looking as if his license to exist had just expired. [page 29]
How many minutes, hours, days had that old clock marked? Years rolled by, then decades and centuries, and every morning the hands of the clock turned anew, as if it were possible to record over the failures and griefs of the past. [page 64]
A Dream of Death is the first book
in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, and I’m eager to read book two, A
Legacy of Murder.
Connie Berry is an American author who
writes this Scottish setting like it’s one she knows well. For more about the
author and her work, visit connieberry.com.
A whimsical town, a host of quirky
characters, and events that seem to conspire to keep Matthew Sadler from
leaving once he arrives by “happenstance.”
Fleeing painful memories, Matt and his
motorcycle are roaring along the highway when a near-accident forces him onto a
hidden side road. On the far side of a covered bridge, he discovers the town of
He’ll leave as soon as he gases up. Or
after a night’s rest in the charming Happenstance Hotel. Or after he helps the
elderly sisters who run the hotel. Or after…
As well as the sisters, he meets Bear, a
local mechanic with some unusual turns of phrase, and Veronica, who bears a
startling resemblance to his dead wife.
The longer he stays, the more he suspects
a mystery behind the hotel’s troubles.
This gently-paced novel will bring smiles—and
maybe a wistful longing to find a place like Happenstance in the real world.
The road was scarcely wide enough for two cars to pass, a dirt path with a scattering of gravel on top as a sort of apology. [Kindle location 30]
We got whatcha want, unless you want what we don’t got, and then you prob’ly don’t need it. [Bear, describing the town; Kindle location 50]
They came with their offerings of food to their gods of guild and duty and pity, but he would rather have been alone. [Matt remembering the visitors after his wife’s death; Kindle location 1788]
Author Janice L. Dick is known for her
faith-filled historical fiction. Although The Road to Happenstance is a
contemporary novel, the town’s nostalgic feel lends an impression of stepping
back in time, and Matthew’s personal struggles are affected by his faith. For
more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.
[Advance review copy provided by the publisher. My opinions are my own.]
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