For Mysteries & More!

15 Years of Mysteries: Part Three

Welcome to Part Three of 15 Years of Mysteries! The Mystery Book Club (at my local library) kicked off its third year of reading with a tie in to a local community initiative.

In the late 1990s / early 2000s, several communities across the United States created “If all of {city name} read the same book” initiatives to promote reading and discussion. Syracuse’s version, CNY Reads One Book, launched in 2001/2002 with A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines in conjunction with Syracuse Stage which mounted a production of the stage play of Gaines’ work in February/March 2002.

For the 2005/2006 season, the CNY Reads One Book program selected Miriam Grace Monfredo’s North Star Conspiracy. Monfredo’s first novel, Seneca Falls Inheritance, is set against the backdrop of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention and was an Agatha award nominee for Best First Mystery Novel in 1992. Her second novel, North Star Conspiracy, incorporated the Underground Railroad and abolitionist movements as part of the story.

We were fortunate to host the author for a lecture (followed by a Q&A) at my local library as part of this initiative, and naturally our Mystery Book Club was ready having picked the book for our inaugural read of 2006.

January 2006 Special Event selection

North Star Conspiracy by Miriam Grace Monfredo

Synopsis:  Librarian Glynis Tryon is drawn into the Underground Railroad movement as she investigates the death of a freed slave in this second book of the series.

Thoughts:  An excellent, well researched historical mystery set in Seneca Falls, NY. Glynis is an engaging sleuth.


February 2006 selection

Death by Chocolate by Diane Mott Davidson

Synopsis:  Goldy Bear is dealing with an abusive ex-husband, a moody teenaged son, and a fledgling catering business. On top of that she witnesses the death of a handsome local shrink. Only she isn’t sure it was just an accident.

Thoughts:  This second book in the Goldy Culinary Mystery series was well-written and entertaining. Not having read the first book prior to this one didn’t have much impact on enjoying the story.


March 2006 selection

Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs

Synopsis:  Theodosia Browning left behind the cutthroat world of advertising to return to her roots and open a tea shop in Charleston, South Carolina, but it’s not long before she’s solve less than genteel murder cases. In this series debut, Theodosia caters a home and garden party that ends with a guest dead and clutching an empty teacup. It’s up to Theodosia to clear her reputation and find a killer.

Thoughts:  The novel introduces a cast of colorful characters in a charming setting. It’s a solid debut and mystery plot. Best read accompanied by a cup of tea.


April 2006 selection

The Amber Room by Steve Berry

Synopsis:  After the death of her father, Rachel Cutler sets off on a journey to uncover a secret history and a lost treasure.

Thoughts:  I remember this being a rather exciting read with lots of interesting historical tidbits.


May 2006 selection

The Madman’s Tale by John Katzenbach

Synopsis:  A former asylum inmate faces dark memories of the time he was incarcerated, recalling visions of serial killer.

Thoughts:  While a great example of the “unreliable narrator” troupe, this book somewhat misses the mark. Part of this stemmed from a muddled narrative. It’s a better story about the struggles of mental illness than a mystery.


June 2006 selection

Long Time Gone by J. A. Jance

Synopsis:  J.P. Beaumont investigates a half-century-old murder that may have ties to a more recent slaying involving the ex-wife of Beaumont’s former partner.

Thoughts:  I liked this book, but again, this was well into the series’ run so I felt a disconnect to the character’s history and background circumstances.


July 2006 selection

The Villa of Mysteries by David Hewson

Synopsis:  The body of a girl is found along the banks of the Tiber River at an archaeological dig. The corpse appears to have been involved in an ancient Dionysian ritual, but this death doesn’t date back to ancient times. Italian detective Nic Costa and his team are assigned to investigate. When the daughter of a British tourist is kidnapped, it becomes a race against time to solve the case before she becomes the next victim.

Thoughts:  Reading this police procedural was a lot like watching a cop drama show. Many of the characters had their own subplots. At times (especially early on), the story seemed a bit disjointed, but it all came together satisfyingly in the end.


August 2006 selection

The Sultan’s Seal by J. B. White

Synopsis:  In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, magistrate Kamil Pasha investigates the death of an Englishwoman that may have political ramifications.

Thoughts:  This debut novel is an intriguing historical mystery that takes readers to an under-used time and place in the genre.


August 2006 Special Event selection

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

Synopsis:  A Baltimore lawyer delves into the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s death. To help him solve the case, the lawyer tracks down the real-life model for Poe’s famed detective, C. Auguste Dupin.

Thoughts:  I’d previously read Pearl’s The Dante Club which featured Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and J. T. Fields. These literary giants are working on the first American translation of The Divine Comedy, but the project is imperiled by a killer who appears to be mimicking the scenes from the Dante Alighieri’s work. While Pearl’s sophomore effort isn’t as solid as his debut, the blend of fact and fiction make for an engaging read.


September 2006 selection

Steeplechase by Jane Langton

Synopsis:  In the 18th and final book in the Homer Kelly series, historian Homer Kelly and his wife, Mary, search for a lost church that has ties to a Civil War era feud.

Thoughts:  This was a disappointing read. The expectation is that it’s a murder mystery story. It is not. This novel fits more firmly in the historical fiction vein. The storytelling is actually fine, but those looking for a detective story won’t be satisfied by the modern day hunt for a lost church steeple.


October 2006 selection

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Synopsis:  Sookie Stackhouse is gifted or cursed depending on what you think precisely, but she can read your mind literally. Of course when a serial killer is targeting women who are dating vampires, reading minds can sure help. Oh, vampires? In Sookie’s world they exist, and she’s started dating one. Unfortunately, that makes her the killer’s next target.

Thoughts:  A little horror or the paranormal make for a great October read leading up to Halloween. And yes, this series debut novel has all the hallmarks of a classic mystery. The whodunnit aspect of the novel was just as satisfying as being introduced to Sookie’s world and the books and TV series, True Blood, that followed.


November 2006 selection

A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read

Synopsis:  Madeline Dare followed her heart to marry ruggedly handsome Dean, a farmboy-genius investor. Now Maddie’s stuck in the post-industrial wasteland of Syracuse, NY, while her husband spends weeks on the road perfecting the railway equipment innovation that might be their only chance to escape.  When a set of long-buried dog tags link her favorite cousin to the scene of a vicious double homicide, Maddie, drawn by the desire to clear her cousin’s name, uncovers a startling web of intrigue and family secrets that could prove even more deadly.

Thoughts:  I liked the mystery here (based on an actual local case) and the depictions of some of the characters. What I didn’t like was the constant bashing of the locale. We get it. The main character hates Syracuse!


December 2006 selection

For the Love of Mike by Rhys Bowen

Synopsis:  In this three-time award-winning mystery, Molly Murphy goes undercover in the garment industry in 1901 New York City. She’s landed two cases: searching for the missing daughter of an Irish aristocrat and investigating a case of industrial espionage.

Thoughts:  Our group liked the first book so much (see the 2005 selection list), we decided to read another!


And those were the selections for 2006. Another mixed bag of genre types. The reason for two selections in August was part of a cross promotion for another book club at the library meant to appeal to fiction and mystery genre readers alike.

In 2004, I began a book discussion group focused on the mystery genre. In the 15 years since, the Mystery Book Club has read more than 150 mysteries, suspense thrillers, and a few true crime tales. Follow along as I take you through the years in a look back at “15 Years of Mysteries.” Stay tuned for part four.

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  1. 15 Years of Mysteries: Part Four – The Poisoned Martini
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