The Muralist – B.A. Shapiro

shapiro_muralist_jkt_hrAlizee is a painter working for Roosevelt’s WPA when she vanishes in 1940. Tormented by her inability to get visas for her Jewish family living in German-occupied France, Alizee’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Worried friends, fellow artists Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Lee Krasner, don’t know what to do. Seventy years later, Alizee’s niece, Danielle, uncovers paintings hidden behind the works of these famous Abstract Expressionists which may hold the answer to Alizee’s mysterious disappearance. Switching back and forth between pre-WWII and today, the author captures the inner workings of New York’s art scene and the first truly American school of painting. Through her poignant description of Alizee’s descent into madness, she also manages to highlight the forgotten plight of European refugees who were not granted asylum in the United States. What happened to Alizee and was she the impetus that spurred her fellow painters to greatness? An interesting work of fiction for adults that stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.

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Roman Blood – Steven Saylor


175px-Roman_Blood_coverThis is a great book for readers who enjoy Roman history — like I do. It’s the first in the Roma Sub Rosa series, mysteries which feature sleuth Gordianus the Finder.  The year is 80 BC and Sulla rules Rome. Young lawyer Marcus Cicero is defending Sextus Roscius, accused of murdering his wealthy father.  (The gruesome penalty for patricide is to be marched to the Field of Mars, brutally whipped, sewn into a sack with a snake, chicken and dog, and then chucked into the Tiber.) Cicero hires Gordianus to investigate.  Rumor has it Roscius plotted the murder because his father threatened to disinherit him and leave the money to the unborn child of a prostitute with whom he was having an affair. As Gordianus pursues the truth, his house is vandalized, his slave Bethesda attacked and someone tries to kill him, more than once.  Maybe, because he discovers something that could set Roscius free but implicate Roman Dictator Sulla in the process.

 

L.A. Confidential – James Ellroy

LAconfidentialcvrThis book contains a series of events so intricately crafted, finely tuned and well meshed that the author gets the prize for best plotted mystery of all time.  Varying threads come together beautifully in this story about police corruption and Hollywood sleaze in the 1950s.  Three LAPD officers become embroiled in a case involving sex, double-dealing and murder following a shoot out at an all night coffee shop.  Edmund Exley is a straight arrow who informs on fellow officers to get ahead.  Wendell “Bud” White is an enforcer who hates men that abuse women.  Jack Vincennes is more celebrity than cop as technical advisor on a television show called Badge of Honor, and provides tips to a scandal magazine.  The three must set aside their differences to unravel a conspiracy that involves organized crime, corruption, heroin trafficking, pornography, prostitution, racism and old Hollywood.  A tour de force in imagination and creativity.

Defending Jacob – William Landay

defending-jacob-book-coverI enjoyed this character-driven mystery by a talented writer with a compelling voice who is also a lawyer.  Andy Barber is an assistant district attorney in suburban Massachusetts living the good life.  He is well-respected, and happily married to wife, Laurie.  They have a son, Jacob.  Andy is completely blindsided when his 14-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.  Jacob insists he’s innocent.  Andy believes him, yet damning facts and shocking revelations surface before and during the trial, forcing him to realize how little he knows his child.  They are an embattled family in crisis as they face the trauma of the trial and it’s aftermath.  A shocking twist proves the perfect conclusion to this well-crafted courtroom drama.   

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

DaVinciCodeSymbologist Robert Langdon investigates a murder in Paris. Near the body is a riddle leading to clues hidden in works by Leonardo da Vinci.  He joins forces with Cryptologist Sophie Neveu.  They learn the victim was a member of the Priory of Sion, a secret society which included da Vinci.  The victim sacrificed himself to protect the location of the Holy Grail, hidden for centuries.  Langdon and Neveu match wits with an operative of Opus Dei — a Vatican-sanctioned Catholic sect plotting to seize the Grail.  But what if the Grail wasn’t a thing but a person?  Mary Magdalene, married to Jesus.  What if the Merovingian Kings of France are of their bloodline, with descendants of Jesus alive today?  I’m no fan of books where characters run about frantically, but this one is well written, a good read and the clues clever.  It’s been denounced as an attack on the Catholic Church and criticized for historical and scientific errors, but it does prove Mary Magdalene was never a whore.  Ever.  Beware religious revisionism!

 

Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear

cover_maisie_dobbsThis is the first in a series of mysteries set in London after World War I.  I am not a fan of recurring detectives because characterization in these books is minimal, and the plots usually fairly predictable.  Here, too, I found the mystery element only so-so, but the atmosphere is so finely wrought the book is well worth reading. Maisie becomes a maid for Lady Rowan Compton after her mother dies.  Lady Compton gets her a tutor, Maurice Blanche, a man who is also an investigator, when she discovers Maisie is smart.  A good student, she earns a spot at university.  Alas, war breaks out.  Maisie volunteers as a nurse at the front where she meets an officer and falls in love.  After the war, she apprentices with Blanche, eventually opening her own detective agency.  Her first case involves The Retreat, a suspicious home for disfigured war veterans.  Lady Compton’s own son signed over his fortune to them.  With the help of a war veteran in her office, Maisie solves the mystery and resolves her war-time love affair.

The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris

sotl-jpgI loved this book — one of the first to delve into the psychology of serial killers and behavioral profiling.  Buffalo Bill is a psychopath who is murdering women.  The FBI sends young Agent Clarice Starling to interview Dr. Hannibal Lector, a brilliant psychiatrist who is incarcerated and just happens to be a cannibalistic, murdering psychopath himself.  I love this quote from the book:  “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”  The FBI believes Lector might open up to Clarice and provide insight as to how to capture Buffalo Bill.  Lector agrees to cooperate, but only if Clarice shares intimate details of her own life.  She does, reluctantly, forcing her to face the tragedy of her past.  The two develop a rapport and Lector provides Clarice with invaluable clues.  She uses this knowledge to help stop Buffalo Bill in a sequence of events which prove absolutely terrifying, even as Dr. Lector manages to escape.

The General’s Daughter – Nelson DeMille

GeneralThe rape and murder of Captain Ann Campbell, West Point graduate and daughter of the base commander, is the premise of this well-plotted murder mystery.  Warrant officers Paul Brenner and Cynthia Sunhill are assigned to investigate the case — a case made more difficult by the fact that the body was found bound and naked on the firing range.  It doesn’t help either that Brenner and Sunhill once had an affair.  Then too, there are multiple suspects, people who were sexually and emotionally involved with the murder victim, as Brenner and Sunhill uncover evidence she was leading an unsavory double life. The military aspects of the book feel especially authentic as the author delves beneath the neatly pressed uniforms and honor codes to reveal all is not what it seems.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

the_girl_with_the_dragon_tattoo.large_This book has one of my favorite heroines ever!  I loved Lisbeth Salander, as much as I loved this atmospheric Swedish mystery. It starts slow, but it’s worth the wait.  A powerful industrialist uses a scandal to coerce Journalist Mikael Blomkvist into helping find his missing niece.  Forty years ago, she disappeared from a family gathering.  Her body was never found.  Her uncle is convinced she’s dead, and the murderer a member of his family.  Mikael must search through years of evidence, finally seeking help from tattooed, ruthless computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth has few social skills as the result of an appalling childhood, and must endure an abusive court-appointed guardian.  Yet she manages to exact revenge for abused women everywhere!  Eventually, Lisbeth and Mikael link the niece’s disappearance to a series of grotesque murders as they unravel the family’s sordid history putting themselves in extreme danger along the way.