Book Reviews

Three mysteries and a fun, witty 1960s novel

By Lynda Rego
Posted 3/3/23

A few more books for winter reading (although it’s not very wintry lately).

“A Lesson in Dying” (1990) and “Murder in My Backyard” (1991), the first two books in the …

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Book Reviews

Three mysteries and a fun, witty 1960s novel

Posted

A few more books for winter reading (although it’s not very wintry lately).

“A Lesson in Dying” (1990) and “Murder in My Backyard” (1991), the first two books in the Inspector Ramsay series. Stephen Ramsay is a detective inspector. His wife has left him in the first book and he’s a bit of a mess. His men (especially the younger ones) think he’s past it. He’s a bit of a loner, doesn’t enjoy hanging out with the guys after work, and behind his back they say he married well and thinks himself better than them. He’s not a flashes-of-brilliance detective. He’s more of a plodder. But, he gets the job done even if it’s a little irregular sometimes.

At the beginning of the second book, he buys a house in Heppleburn, the scene of the first book (and a case he considered a disaster). The disliked headmaster of the school was hanged in the playground on All Hallow’s Eve, unearthing a mess of secrets, lies and more death.

Ramsay is fleshed out better as a character in the second book. He moves into a whitewashed cottage he fell in love with at first sight on the edge of the village. But, then in the village next door, a popular older woman is stabbed to death. She was embroiled in a protest against a development of upscale houses behind her property. Again, the investigation will uncover fraud, adultery and other various crimes among the villagers. His sergeant is a drip. He thought the police would be more exciting, likes to drive fast and rushes through the day so he can go out at night. He thinks Ramsay should retire and let someone younger take his place.

There are six books in the series (all written in the 1990s) and I will probably spend some more time with Ramsay. While not of the caliber of the Vera Stanhope and Shetland series, they are enjoyable in their own way.

 

“Lessons in Chemistry” (2022) by Bonnie Garmus is the best book I’ve read this year (and probably for the rest of the year). Elizabeth Zott, a chemist in the early 1960s, has had a hard life so far with shyster parents, and horrible treatment from every man she’s had to work with, from her thesis advisor in college to her current boss at Hastings Research Institute in California. But, her life changes when she meets fellow chemist and Nobel Prize-winner Calvin Evans. Soon, they and their dog Six-Thirty (who shares his thoughts, too) are happy, rowing competitively and immersed in their jobs.

Yet, life won’t prove that easy for Elizabeth. As a single mother without a job, she agrees to host a cooking show on afternoon TV with another chauvinist in charge. Despite his desire for a sexy housewife type in a domestic kitchen, she wears a lab coat and describes salt as sodium chloride. One of the funniest scenes is how she gets rid of all the clutter in the studio kitchen. And, her show will revolutionize how other women think and feel about themselves.

This book is set before the “Me Too” movement, when there’s no recourse for a smart, beautiful woman who just wants a career in a field that’s considered a man’s domain.

But, Elizabeth perseveres and you cheer every success and friend she makes while you boo every jerk she has to deal with. And the writing is so clever and laugh-out-loud hilarious. I can’t wait for Garmus’ next book.

 

Bleeding Heart Yard (2022) by Elly Griffiths. I love her Ruth Galloway books, but her stand-alone offerings are just as riveting. This is the second featuring DI Harbinder Kaur, who is now in London with her new rank and in charge of a Murder Investigation Team. She likes not being the only person of color on the bus and in the streets, but misses her family (and her mother’s cooking) in Sussex. She is DS Cassie Fitzgerald’s boss and Cassie has a secret. When she and her friends were at Manor Park School they killed a fellow student. Right?

When Cassie and her husband Pete attend a school reunion they reconnect with the Class of 1998, which now includes two MPs, a doctor, a pop star and an actress. Also the school’s head and Anna, an English teacher in Italy. When one of the MPs is found dead in the bathroom at the reunion, DI Kaur is called in. Is it a drug overdose or something more sinister? He was getting letters with a bleeding heart and an arrow through it.

As we meet all the suspects (everyone at the reunion), and the police start delving into backgrounds, the earlier death comes to light. A student apparently fell onto a railway track after celebrating the end of exams. The one witness? The dead MP.

Cassie is obviously off the case. But, chapters in the book are alternately narrated by her, Kaur and Anna. A second murder takes place, we learn more about the popular clique and secrets are uncovered. I like DI Kaur. She’s gay, a Sikh and knows what she likes and dislikes. But, she needs to broaden her knowledge of popular living and London. I hope Griffiths will bring her back for more detecting.

Visit Lynda Rego on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lynda.rego where she shares tips on cooking, books, gardening, genealogy and other topics. Click on Like and share ideas for upcoming stories.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.