A good friend of mine remarked that possibly book groups are at their best when the majority of the members don’t like the book they’ve just read. It’s absolutely true that the best movie reviews are the ones that creatively pan the movie, and while book reviewers aren’t always as biting as movie critics, there’s something to be said for reading a book that everyone can find fault with, especially if the “everyone” is a group of well-read, articulate people who are genre-savvy and not afraid to express their opinions, which is a good description of the Field of Mystery Book Group. So, yes, we didn’t particularly like The Woman in the Library, our January book, and we even criticized the noir-ish cover which wasn’t a good guide to what was inside, so you can imagine (if you weren’t there) how much we had to say about the rest of the book. We debated whether the device of having a framing story around the book within the book worked, discussed why the characters in the book inside the book seemed so flat and one-dimensional, and why the author resolved the murder plot so quickly and unsatisfyingly.
It was a fun discussion, and we managed to choose our book for February in one round.
The book is An Honest Living, by Dwyer Murphy. It’s been described as a modern noir and a love letter to New York City. The main character has left the high powered world of large corporate law firms to work on his own, with an office in Brooklyn from which he takes whatever cases he can. One day a woman shows up, claiming to be famous author Anna Riddick, who’s got $10,000 in cash and wants our protagonist to investigate whether her husband has been stealing and selling her rare books. After he’s carried out her wishes, the REAL Anna Riddick shows up, and now the protagonist is in over his head with a twisted plot of counterfeit books, possible suicides, impersonations and a small time real estate crook who’s suddenly striking it big. If the premise sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably seen the movie Chinatown, but this book is set in 2005 New York City and the world of books, so it’s not quite the same, and it will be interesting to see what the author does with the similar plot.
This month’s book group meeting will be a hybrid one on February 18, so if you’re interested in joining us, email me the week before at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send you the link. It should be a fun discussion with a lively group.
Another great discussion at the Field of Mystery Book group meeting this Saturday. I wouldn’t have thought there was any mystery book that everyone in the group would enjoy, though of course I try to find that kind of book. We have pretty diverse ideas about what constitutes a good mystery and why, and most discussions are mixed, some people liking the book, some disliking it. However, The Maid, which was our December selection, hit everybody the right way and even made it to the top of the “Best Book We Read This Year List” for some people. What a great way to end the year!
And of course we chose the book to start our new year reading: The Woman in the Library, by Sulari Gentill. I’ve ordered copies of the book for all our members so we can start reading immediately.
The Woman in the Library has an intriguing premise: four people are in the Reading Room at the Boston Public Library. None of them knows anything about the others. They all just happen to be in this room at this particular time. A scream rings out in the building, and security comes to the Reading Room and tells everybody to stay where they are while security investigates what’s going on. The four people at one table start talking to each other, forming friendships, getting to know each other. Classic situation, except that all of these people have secrets, and some of those secrets may be deadly.
The book, which has been listed as one of the top mysteries of the year, looks like a lot of fun. Join us on January 7 for a lively discussion.
The best kind of book group discussions, in my opinion, are the ones where everybody’s read the book and everybody has strong opinions about the book. Under those criteria, the Field of Mystery Book Group had a GREAT discussion of Two Nights in Lisbon on Saturday, in which everybody got involved and everybody shared insights into the book’s plot and characters and issues. Then we turned to the business of choosing our book for December, and we didn’t even need two rounds of voting to decide. We’re going to be reading The Maid, by Francine Prose.
I’ve already written about The Maidhere. Molly,our main character, works as a maid in a fancy hotel, where her difficulties in reading social cues and responding to situations the way other people do aren’t a problem, most of the time. She used to live with her grandmother, who helped her with simple rules to cover most situations, but she’s been having troubles since her grandmother died. Things get worse for her when, in the course of her cleaning a room, she discovers the dead body of a prominent guest. Her behavior, normal for her but odd-seeming to other people, makes her an object of interest to the police, who think of her as a possible murder suspect. Poor Molly finds herself in a huge tangle, and only with the help of her friends, some of whom she doesn’t realize are on her side, can she save herself and find the real killer.
It’s a fun read and a relatively short one, which is good considering we’re approaching the holiday season. Copies will be available at the Circulation Desk, so if you can join us on December 3, you’ll be in for a good discussion (and refreshments!).
Have I mentioned before how much I love my book groups? How energized I feel after one of our meetings? This goes for all my book groups (as you know, I run three), most recently for the Field of Mystery Group, which met on Saturday and discussed with great vigor and intensity the issues and characters in our October book, Northern Spy. Reading the book myself, I felt bad because I didn’t really see it as a mystery (more of a thriller), though there was some disagreement about that among the members of the group. Those of us who are also in the FIeld Notes Book Group had the slight advantage of having read Say Nothing, which was also about The Troubles, as the Irish refer to the decades-long bloodshed in Northern Ireland, but the group was still able to talk about terrorism, the role of history, the possibility of hope, whether Northern Spy was really accurate in the aftermath of the Good Friday accords. It was, as I said before, an invigorating discussion and one I was pleased to be a part of. Then we turned to the possibility of choosing our next book, and with a rare unanimity on the first round of voting, we decided on Two Nights in Lisbon, by Chris Pavone. I’ve ordered copies and they will be available at the Circulation Desk soon.
Two Nights in Lisbon starts with Ariel, the main character, waking up in a hotel room in Lisbon she shared with her husband. They’d gone to Lisbon on a business trip (for him; she was going along as his company). Her husband is gone. He left no note. He doesn’t return any calls or respond on his cell phone. She had no idea he had any plans for the day. When he doesn’t return, she reaches out to hotel security, the local police, the American embassy. Nobody can help her. She realizes that perhaps she didn’t know her much younger husband as well as she thought she did. Is he in trouble? Is she? Time is running out, and she has the sense that if she doesn’t find him soon, she will never find him.
It’s interesting to notice how many thrillers and mysteries turn on the question of how well you know someone you think you know well. Possibly it’s just a scary concept that you could be close to someone, married, even, and it turns out that other person is completely different from what you thought they were.
In any event, we will almost certainly have a great discussion of this book, so if you’re able to join us, please do so.
Sometimes you hit a dud, a book that nobody in the book group finds particularly good or interesting, and that pretty much happened in the Field of Mystery Group with our most recent selection, Solitude Creek, by Jeffrey Deaver (for some reason, I found it nearly impossible to get the name of that book right; you would not believe some of the things I called it, entirely innocently). We still managed to have a lively discussion of the book and what its flaws were, and then when the time came for us to decide on the book for October, we were surprisingly united in our first round choice of Northern Spy, by Flynn Berry. We will be meeting on October 1, and copies of the book were put on hold and are already coming in to the library.
The book is set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the present time. Though the Good Friday Peace Accords of the 1990’s stopped a great deal of the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, the IRA is still around and still a problem. Our protagonist, Tessa, is a new mother working as a producer for the BBC. When the IRA commits a robbery and there’s a shot of a young woman putting on a mask just before the robbery, the police think it’s Tessa’s sister, and she does resemble Tessa’s sister, but Tessa is confident they’re wrong. Her sister is against violence and besides, she was on holiday when the robbery took place. As she digs into the facts of the case, trying to prove her sister’s innocence, Tessa finds herself torn between conflicting loyalties, struggling with her sense of right and wrong, and her desperate need to protect her family, including her baby.
This should be an exciting read and an interesting discussion. Come and get the book out from the library and then join us on October 1 for discussion and refreshments.
The Field of Mystery Book Group had another interesting discussion on Saturday, especially considering that the group was pretty divided on one of the most important elements of our August book, The Book of Cold Cases. Whether you liked the supernatural element or not (and it was a really significant supernatural element, with a real haunting and a ghost who makes the climax happen), there was plenty to talk about, including how the book could have been written without the ghosts. After the discussion, we chose our book for our September meeting (which will be on the 10th rather than the 3rd, so we don’t run into Labor Day Weekend): Solitude Creek, by Jeffrey Deaver.
Surprisingly, the group hasn’t read Deaver before, even though he is a prolific mystery/thriller writer who has written numerous series of books and has been nominated for many mystery awards, including a lifetime achievement award from the Boucheron convention and eight Edgar awards. Solitude Creek stars one of his series characters, Kathryn Dance.
At a concert, someone shouts “Fire” and the people panic, rushing for the exits, which are blocked. Some people are trampled to death. It turns out there was never any fire; someone deliberately set up the people to panic and die.
Kathryn Dance is a brilliant investigator with the California Bureau of Investigations, and as she starts looking into this case, she discovers the perpetrator is a person obsessed with using people’s fears to kill them. He’s just getting started with the concert, and Kathryn realizes that he’s going to go for bigger and more dramatic killings unless she can stop him first.
Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk of the Field Library. Join us for our usual scintillating discussion, and, of course, coffee and donuts, on September 10 from 10:30 to 12:00.
The Field of Mystery Book Group had an especially stimulating discussion on Saturday of The Long Call, as is often the case when we have a book that some people really like and some people don’t. There was plenty of interesting material to talk about with this book, and at least some of us will probably be looking for more books by Ann Cleeves. Then we had a really easy time picking the book we’re going to be reading for August, which is The Book of Cold Cases, by Simone St. James (as an aside, I’m a little surprised we didn’t pick The Verifiers, which was another of the choices and one of the more intriguing possibilities – probably I’ll read it myself soon).
Years before, two men in the same area by similar means and with similar cryptic notes left on their bodies. Beth Greer, a rich and eccentric woman, was seen leaving the scene of one of the murders, and was charged with the crimes, but acquitted (shades of Lizzie Borden). No one else was ever caught and charged. Beth went back to her family mansion to live more or less as a recluse.
Shea is working as a receptionist by day, and running a true crime website by night. Her choice of hobby is a little odd, given that she’s the victim of an attempted kidnapping by a man who’s coming up for parole soon. Chance brings her into contact with Beth, and, not expecting any kind of response, she asks if she can interview Beth. To Shea’s great surprise, Beth agrees, but on her terms: in her home, when she chooses. Shea’s torn between delight that she might be getting the scoop of her life, and worry that she might be getting manipulated by a sociopath.
Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk shortly, and we’ll be meeting on August 6 at 10:30 (refreshments served!) for a discussion. Join us if you can.
After an invigorating discussion of our June selection, My Sweet Girl, which many of the members of the group didn’t particularly like, the Field of Mystery Group had little trouble selecting our book for July, which is The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves.
Ann Cleeves is a name familiar to mystery readers; she already has two excellent series, the Vera Stanhope series and the Shetland series, both of which have already been made into television programs. The Long Call marks the beginning of a third series, this one based on the Two Rivers area of Devon, England.
Detective Matthew Venn grew up in a tightly knit, closed minded strict evangelical community in North Devon, and left it when he became an adult, losing his family as well as his community. When he returns to his former home for his father’s funeral, he feels decidedly unwelcome, While he’s leaving the funeral, he gets a call from his team that a body has washed up on the shore, a man with an albatross tattoo, clearly murdered.
To solve the case, Matthew has to dig deeply into the home he left behind and the lives and secrets of the people he thought he knew. His former life and his present life collide in painful, revealing, ways.
Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk. Come and join us on July 9 at 10:30 for what should be an interesting discussion (they’re always interesting discussions, whether we like the book or not), and coffee and refreshments.
You don’t need to agree on all aspects of a book to have a good discussion. The Field of Mystery Group had some major disagreements about certain aspects of our May book, Razorblade Tears, but we had a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion about the themes and characters of the book nonetheless. And we managed to choose our book for June, which is My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa.
Talk about an intriguing premise and opening! Paloma, the protagonist of My Sweet Girl, is a young woman who was adopted from a Sri Lankan orphanage as a child, and brought up with the best of everything. When we meet her, for some reason she has been cut off from her adoptive parents’ money, and is trying to find a way to pay off her roommate, who is blackmailing her about something to do with her past in Sri Lanka. She comes home to discover her roommate dead in a pool of blood. When the police arrive on the scene, not only is the roommate’s body not there, nor is there any evidence of any murder, but there’s no evidence he was ever there in the first place. Is Paloma’s secret safe, now that her would-be blackmailer is dead? Or is she in more trouble than ever from whoever killed her roommate? And what’s that secret she’s so terrified that anyone else will discover, and what, exactly, happened between her and her adoptive parents to make them cut her off?
Copies of the book are already available at the Field Library circulation desk. Join us when we meet on Saturday, June 4, at 10:30 (later than our usual meeting time) to discuss what promises to be a fun read.
Saturday the Field of Mystery Book group got together to discuss April’s book, The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olson. While we all liked certain aspects of the book, we had a lively discussion about the aspects of the book different members found problematic. At our previous meeting, in March, we chose the book for the month of May, since the next meeting will be coming up quickly. The book is Razorblade Tears, by S. A. Cosby, and copies are already available at the circulation desk.
Razorblade Tears is by the author of the excellent Blacktop Wasteland. Two men, both former convicts, one white, one black, have nothing in common except their gay sons, who are married to each other. Neither father was terribly accepting of his son’s sexual identity, but when those sons are murdered, the two men find themselves working together to face their prejudices and avenge their sons, trying to do better for their sons after their deaths than the men were able to do when they were still alive. Cosby’s a great writer of action and suspense, and his characters in Blacktop Wasteland were vivid and unforgettable, so we have every reason to expect an excellent read from this book.
We’ll be meeting on May 7 from 10 a.m. till 11:30. You can come and pick up a copy of the book at the Circulation Desk now, and we look forward to getting together and discussing the book then.