Review : Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada ( translated by Louise Heal Kawai )

Plot Summary :

The Crooked House sits on a snowbound cliff overlooking icy seas at the remote northern tip of Japan . A curious place for the millionaire Kozaburo Hamamoto to build a house , but even more curious is the house itself – Hamamoto ‘ s Ice Floe Mansion is leaning at an angle of about 5 or 6 degrees – but that might be the least bizarre thing about it . It ‘ s interiors featuring sloping floors with furniture having legs cut to fit the slope of the floors , strangely situated staircases , a floor plan which somewhat resembles a maze and the owner ‘ s collection of clockwork toys , masks and antique dolls would do much better at shocking any visitor . It ‘ s Christmas time and the eccentric owner of the Mansion is entertaining a party of house guests . Soon , when a man is found dead in one of the mansion ‘ s rooms , murdered in seemingly impossible circumstances , the police are called . But they are unable to solve the puzzle , and powerless to protect the party of house guests as more bizarre deaths follow .

Enter Kiyoshi Mitarai , the renowned sleuth , famous for unmasking the culprit behind the notorious Umezawa family massacre . Surely if anyone can crack these cryptic murders he will . But with Shimada , no information is ” classified ” information – the police force , the detective and the reader have the same clues and he challenges the reader to beat his detective to the arrive at the identity of the person behind this string of bizarre deaths . . .

My thoughts on the book :

As with any closed circle mystery , there is a LOT happening in terms of dynamics between the different characters – I specially enjoyed reading about the tussle between the daughter of the house and one of the visitors ‘ young mistress ( the all – too – familiar tussle between social standing and beauty ) and the conversation between a couple where the wife chides the husband for sucking up to his boss too much only to do the same when she herself comes face – to – face with the same man . . . The dialogue is witty and the crisp narrative keeps one turning the pages . The descriptions of the Crooked House and certain items from it ‘ s eccentric owner ‘ s collection offer something different than the regular mansion mystery . . .

While Shimada ‘ s English counterparts seem to have delighted at making the police their butt of jokes , Shimada decides to attribute their getting help to a sense of duty to protect the inmates of the house from a serial killer . . . They are also more vocal about their frustrations and openly acknowledge that the case is becoming too difficult for them to crack open without some external help ( I don ‘ t remember Japp or Lestrade doing the same – in fact , too often , their confidence peaks only when they are concocting some outrageous theory about the crime . . . ) .

The renowned detective makes his appearance only in the last part and I loved his introduction . If there is one standout thing about this novel for me , it is the entry style of the detective . The detective took it upon himself to provide some comic relief seeing that the officers are not doing much by way of detection or easing the minds of the mansion inmates . . . Holmes would have turned his nose upon this man for his antics but do not under – estimate this man – he is a master at deception . . .

The final denouement is something that not even Christie would have dreamed of . But , truth to be told , I am glad she didn ‘ t because it crosses the line into the preposterous solutions territory . . .

Still , I have to concede that in my opinion , it is a never – before – thought – of – solution in a mansion / locked – room murder mystery . . .

If you have already read the book , please let me know in the comments if you know any other books where the solution is similar to the one in The Murder in the Crooked House . . . Also , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book and this review . . .

Rating : 4 / 5 **

** The rating has been bumped up from 3 . 5 to 4 because Shimada has introduced a new trope in country manor suspense genre . . . Read the book to find it out . . . And I have been seeing some downright absurd endings that I am ready to accept Shimada ‘ s solution without dissecting it too much . But if you are a stickler for logic with a no – compromise policy , then this might not be for you . . .

Until the next review then . .

Review : Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Plot Summary ( from Goodreads ) :

A chilling tale of psychological suspense and an homage to the thriller genre tailor-made for fans : the story of a bookseller who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started using his list of fiction’s most ingenious murders .

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders , those that are almost impossible to crack — which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders ” — chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders , Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train , Ira Levin’s Death Trap , A . A . Milne’s Red House Mystery , Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity , John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner , and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History .

But no one is more surprised than Mal , now the owner of the Old Devils Bookshop in Boston , when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February . She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list . And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading . The killer is out there , watching his every move — a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal ’ s personal history , especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife .

To protect himself , Mal begins looking into possible suspects — and sees a killer in everyone around him . But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake . Suddenly , a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead — and the noose around Mal ’ s neck grows so tight he might never escape.

My thoughts on the book

Rules for Perfect Murders started off very promisingly with a great setting and an interesting premise . I especially enjoyed reading the book store descriptions and scenes which brought to mind the traditional bookstore ( not the retail chains which have taken to selling games , stationery and even accessories to cash in on our consumerist frenzy ) . Malcolm ‘ s narrative tone with his frequent references to suspense fiction titles and life of a bookseller in this digital age was very engaging . Often he threw up some very obscure authors and titles ( like Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout ) and these references had me checking out the Wikipedia page or the Goodreads page . ( While there are some books which I will be checking out , several seem to have seen the last of their heyday and I am not planning to check them out ) . Swanson has maintained the suspense quotient high throughout the book but that does not save the book ‘ s ending from becoming an absolute disaster . .

Let me explain why I hated the ending – I don ‘ t understand our crime authors ‘ obsession with ” psychological suspense ” . A random character who had seemed sane till the previous chapter turns out to be the serial killer who had discovered the joy of killing people . Duh !! Till the previous chapter , the same guy was a decent chap who seemed to have everyday problems and a regular life . Now suddenly he reveals the Mr . Hyde side and I can ‘ t buy the downright joke of a reason Mr . Hyde came into existence in the first place . I can excuse a book if it is not working out for me from the beginning – I will plod on till the 100th page to see if it shows any signs of working out . If it does not , it goes to the DNF pile . But with this book , I felt cheated . It ‘ s a sin for any crime writer to keep the reader hooked with the most delicious twists and turns and finally giving it a ludicrous finish like the one Swanson had given for this one . . .

Rating : 2 . 5 / 5

This is my first Swanson read . As this book seems to be the first in the Malcolm Kershaw series , I don ‘ t think I will be giving Kershaw a second chance . Speaking of second chances reminds me of a recent read and why second chances might not work every time . . .

A quick rant about Lucy Foley ‘ s The Guest List

I recently gave Lucy Foley a second chance seeing that she seems to be a favourite with a book blogging community . However , I was disappointed once again with her writing and the characters reminded me too much of the characters in her debut . Except for the change of setting , the characters and the group dynamics seemed to be pretty much a rip off from her previous outing . There were one or two glaring plotholes and the ending reminded me very much of the ending from Tides of Memory ( Sidney Sheldon & Tilly Bagshawe ) . The problem with Foley ‘ s writing is that she seems to pay more attention to the narrative structuring than writing – there are multiple POVs , the timeline jumps and “guess – who – is – the – victim ” style of narrative ( which Foley first introduced in her debut ) which do NOT work with the run – of – the – mill writing . . . She seems to be under the impression that the inclusion of ” mass – appeal ” elements like sexually explicit scenes , the everyday slangs and the over – the – top drama will work like a charm on her readers . And I concede that it seems to be working big time . . .

There would not be a third Lucy Foley read for me . . .

If you have already read Rules For Perfect Murders or The Guest List , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the books  . Hopefully I will have some reads which I can actually recommend when I post the next time . Until the next review then . .

Review : The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Plot Summary ( from Goodreads )

In a peaceful retirement village , four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved killings .

But when a local property developer shows up dead , ‘ The Thursday Murder Club ‘ find themselves in the middle of their first live case .

The four friends , Elizabeth , Joyce , Ibrahim and Ron , might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves . Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late ?

My thoughts on the book :

The retirement home setting where the everyday pace of life is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and the bunch of amateurs eighties – pushing sleuths is such a refreshing change from the deranged murderers , psychological profiling of the disturbing characters , cliques with secrets , unreliable narrators and everything in between that the current gen suspense fiction can ‘ t seem to do without . What is even better is the fact that the gang has two murders to solve . . .

The narrative is highly engaging and the author manages to keep the suspense quotient up despite the easy tone of the narrative . A good two – thirds into the novel , the author starts playing with the reader by throwing the red herrings left , right and centre and except for very few , the reader wouldn ‘ t guess them for what they are ( atleast I didn ‘ t identify several of the red herrings . But , it did not bother me at all and I was only too happy to let the author surprise me . . . ) .

Another thing I loved about the book is it ‘ s character sketches – especially those of the eighty plus amateur sleuths . Richard ‘ s amateur sleuths are not spry just because they happen to be the protagonists – they have their own fears about possible memory decline and concerns about each other ‘ s physical and mental well – being .Only a brave author could do what Richard has done with these four – creating characters with weaknesses and showing the readers how they have learned to live with them . Aside from the sleuthing , the dynamics amongst the residents of the retirement home offers a poignant picture into old age and it ‘ s hopes , fears , regrets and everything else it entails . . .

It is a breezy read – there is suspense but without the tension that comes with the regular supense fiction narrative . In these times , I think we would like a mood booster read and I guarantee you that this IS one . If you are a hardcore suspense fan who is loath to pick up any other genre but still need a change from the gore , police procedurals and detectives with egotistic tendencies , unreliable narrators , shades of disturbing psyches etc etc , then this is the book which you didn ‘ t know you needed . . .

I am looking forward to #2 and #3 in the The Thursday Murder Club series . If you are checking out Audible version , it has the author interview by Marian Keyes as a bonus . . .

Rating : 4 . 5 / 5

If you have already read The Thursday Murder Club , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . . . Until the next review then . .