13 June 2008

Locked-Off Murders

Inspired by fellow blogger Petrona whose latest posting is about "island novels", I decided to investigate my mini-reviews for different sorts of isolation. I've come up with 11 murder mysteries that I've read in the last 3 years or so, that are really variations on the "locked-room" scenario.

On an island

THE LIGHTHOUSE, P.D. James, my rating 5.0
Combe Island off the Cornish coast has a bloodstained history of piracy and cruelty but now, privately owned, it offers respite to over-stressed men and women in positions of high authority who require privacy and guaranteed security. But the peace of Combe is violated when one of the distinguished visitors is bizarrely murdered.

PIG ISLAND, Mo Hayder, my rating 4.8
Journalist Joe Oakes makes his living exposing supernatural hoaxes. The video of the 'the devil of Pig Island' has been around for a couple of years and Joe is absolutely sure that it is a hoax. Rumours of Satanic rituals taking place on Pig Island still proliferate, particularly among the mainland locals who resent the fact that the island is no longer open to them. The secretive religious group that lives on the island invites Joe to stay with them on the island for a week to see how the community lives. That dreadful events occur on Pig Island seems confirmed by two pieces of evidence that Joe can check for himself: a dreadful smell apparent when the wind blows from that quarter, and decaying chunks of flesh that constantly drift from the island to the mainland.

RAVEN BLACK, Ann Cleeves, my rating 4.6
Set on Shetland. Magnus Tait, an elderly man living on his own, mentally slow, and once dominated by his mother, was thought by the islanders to have been responsible when a little girl disappeared a few years ago. Her body was never found. But now when Magnus's teenage neighbour Catherine Ross is found strangled, there are those who say that Tait must be the prime suspect, and that the police need look no further. The detective is Jimmy Perez, an islander himself, now living on Fair Isle, but he went to school on Shetland. A carefully constructed satisfying read. 4.6

THE RECKONING, Sue Walker, my rating 4.4
They buried three girls. They buried the killer. But did they bury the truth? In June 1973 the bodies of three missing teenagers were found on the tiny Scottish island of Fidra. And when his father was arrested for the murders, 11-year-old Miller McAllister's life fell apart.

Isolated by snow

RENDEZVOUS AT KAMAKURA INN, Marshall Browne, my rating 4.3
Just when things really can't get any worse, Aoki is sent by his superintendent to the Kamakura Inn, a ryokan in Hokkaido, to recuperate.The detective in Aoki is revived as he realises that the other guests at the ryokan have secrets to hide, and he wonders if he has been sent there intentionally. He remembers an unsolved mystery of the disappearance of a woman 7 years earlier, and realises that at least two of the other guests have connections to that case. When the ryokan is cut off from the world in a snow storm, this tale becomes a classic locked room mystery. The ryokan is a house of many secrets, built to hide as well as accommodate, and the tension grows as first of all the telephone, and then the lights fail.

THE SACRED CUT, David Hewson, my rating 4.8
For the first time in two decades, Rome is paralysed by a blizzard. And a gruesome discovery is made in the Pantheon, one of the city's most ancient and revered architectural treasures. Covered by soft snow is the body of an American tourist - her back horribly mutilated.

DISTURBED EARTH, Reggie Nadelsen, my rating 4.2
Winter 2003. War is looming and New York is paralysed by the worst blizzard in years. Artie Cohen is called in to investigate a case: a pile of blood-soaked children's clothes have been found on the beach in Brooklyn. Almost against his will, Artie finds himself drawn into a case that involves the death of a child and the unaccountable disappearance of another, all against the background of a city already stricken by fear.

On a train

THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN, Agatha Christie, my rating 4.5
When Ruth Van Aldin Kettering is found murdered on the Blue Train en route to her annual winter trip to the French Riviera, it is up to Hercule Poirot to discover if she was murdered because the famous jewel was in her possession or was she murdered by her husband or his mistress or was there yet another sinister motive.

THE EXCURSION TRAIN, Edward Marston, my rating 4.0
London 1852. A trainful of excited fans are delivered to the illegal prize fight between Mad Isaac and the Bargeman near Twyford. But one second class passenger does not leave the train. He has been garrotted en route. Inspector Robert Colbeck of the Detective Department of the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard, now known as the Railway Detective, after his success in the previous year, takes up the case.

THE VICTIM IN VICTORIA STATION, Jeanne M. Dams, my rating 3.9
American Dorothy Martin broke her ankle shortly after her second marriage. Her British husband is ex-policeman Alan Nesbitt much in demand by police forces around the world as a consultant, and in this book he is only a voice at the other end of the phone. Dorothy has to travel to London by train to see her specialist, and during the journey she talks to the young man in the opposite seat, who is the CEO of a software company. When they arrive at Victoria Station he appears to have fallen asleep, and when Dorothy tries to wake him she finds that he is very dead.

NEVER GO BACK, Robert Goddard, my rating 4.5
An old mate from Harry Barnett's RAF days is organising a 50th anniversary reunion in Scotland at Kilveen Castle where as young men they had taken part in a psychological experiment. But even before they arrive at the castle one of their group has disappeared and soon after they arrive another dies in strange circumstances.


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, you'd mention about island mysteries. I'm reading one now in Sister Pelagia and The Black Monk by Boris Akunin.

Kerrie said...

Thanks for that comment. Reminds me also that Boris Akunin wrote one based on a ship didn't he?

Juliet said...

What a fantastic list! The PD James and the Sue Walker look very good (not sure I could cope with too much decaying satanic pig flesh right now, though). I just posted about another Island Novel today!

Martin Edwards said...

Quite apart from the new Ann Cleeves, 'White Nights', I'd recommend the very different, antiquated but nevertheless extraordinary 'Obelist'Golden Age mysteries by the American C Daly King - 'Obelists Fly High' is the best. The three books deal with isolated transport scenarios - on a plane, a train and a ship.

Kerrie said...

Thanks for the recommendation Martin. I'll see if I can track them down.


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