Posts Tagged ‘mystery novel’

The specter of death writ large looms over Ben Winters’s science fiction–mystery hybrid ‘The Last Policeman’

March 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 26, 2019

Maryland native Ben H. Winters is a prolific author whose first two books, published in 2009 and 2010, were the literary mashups Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina. The author’s first wholly original novel, the horror story Bedbugs, appeared in 2011. Since then, Winters has completed a number of volumes for adults and young readers. His work for the youth set includes a horror anthology and a pair of mysteries. Over the years, Winters has also penned several theatrical productions meant for both adult and young audiences.

Most of Winters’s adult-oriented tales have science-fictional elements; many also borrow elements from the mystery genre. His 2012 book, The Last Policeman, straddled both literary categories in launching what’s come to be called the Last Policeman trilogy.

The core death investigation plays out against an unusual background: The planet is six months away from a catastrophic collision with a massive asteroid. A number of tales about apocalyptic encounters between Earth and heavenly bodies with menacing trajectories focus on the effort to avert potential tragedy or to preserve segments of the population. The 1998 movie Deep Impact, by way of example, features both elements, with the U.S. government converting a set of Missouri caves into a shelter for a million survivors while a space mission attempts to alter the asteroid’s course.

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It was a dark and stormy week: Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ is a masterful, influential whodunnit

December 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 7, 2016

It is early August in 1939 or thereabouts. Ten men and women of varying ages and backgrounds have gathered on Soldier Island, an isolated point of land about a mile off the coast of Devon, England. They will soon discover that each person present is united by a grisly secret — and moreover that they’ve been assembled by someone with malevolent intent. As a storm closes in, cutting off the uneasy inhabitants, members are killed, one by one. With their numbers dwindling, and the bonds of trust among the party becoming ever more frayed, the survivors reach an even more unnerving realization: The killer is someone among them…

This, of course, is the plot of Agatha Christie’s classic 1939 murder mystery, available now as And Then There Were None but first published in the United States as Ten Little Indians. The title under which the book was originally published in Britain included a vicious racial slur that is rarely if ever used in polite company. Its name was taken from a post-Civil War minstrel song, the lyrics of which inform the plot of and were quoted in Christie’s book.

I had neither read this book nor seen any of the various TV or film adaptations of it until just this past week. (I am, I must confess, unfamiliar with all of Christie’s work.) I was visiting some friends in Virginia when the book happened to come up in conversation; I prevented my friends from naming the killer, announcing that I hadn’t actually read the book (and also disclosing the original title). They offered to loan me a paperback copy — a 2011 reprint that refers to “soldiers” rather than “Indians” or this notorious epithet — and here we are.

Some consider And Then There Were None, as I shall call it, to be Christie’s masterpiece; fans named it her most popular book in a poll conducted in 2015 to mark the 125th anniversary of the British writer’s birth. Having now read the book, it’s blindingly obvious that myriad works are descended from Christie’s tale.

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Private eye struggles to make a dark and drama-filled journey in Lehane’s ‘Moonlight Mile’

April 29, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 29, 2013

A dozen years ago, private investigator Patrick Kenzie sent Beatrice McCready’s husband to prison. Kenzie discovered that the man had kidnapped the couple’s niece, 4-year-old Amanda McCready, after being appalled by her mother’s dangerously neglectful attitude.

At the beginning of Dennis Lehane’s 2010 novel, Moonlight Mile, a nearly bankrupt Kenzie is on the brink of finding long-sought gainful employment in the midst of the Great Recession. But he puts off accepting a job offer after hearing Beatrice McCready’s desperate new plea for help locating Amanda: “You found her once. Find her again.”

Where has the 16-year-old Amanda gone and why? What happened to Sophie, her high school friend, and to Sophie’s boyfriend, both of whom are also missing? What should Kenzie think about the neglected childhood Amanda led after he restored her to the custody of her careless mother? And does this new case truly offer a shot at redemption for the awful fallout from the first time Kenzie found the missing McCready?

Lehane, the author of Mystic RiverShutter Island and The Given Day, is a master story-teller. (I’ve read the latter two of those books in addition to Moonlight Mile.) But in comparison to the other Lehane volumes I’ve consumed, this work — per Goodreads.com, the sixth featuring Kenzie and his partner-turned-wife, the former Angie Gennaro — is a bit of potboiler.

Still, Moonlight Mile is a solid and compelling detective story, with punchy but realistic dialogue, sharply drawn characters and an intriguing plot. Most any lover of mysteries should enjoy this novel, and I will gladly be reading more of Lehane’s work.

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