* Murder in School

It’s not what you think!  I’m innocent!

Murder in School is the second in a fantastic detective series by Bruce Beckham.  Murder in School

DI Daniel Skelgill is the unlikely name of the Cumbrian Detective who reminds me very much of Sherlock Holmes.  Skelgill is simply brilliant, and of course, totally eccentric  He doesn’t much care about social skills but inspires fierce loyalty in his two assistants, DS Jones and Leyton.  Skelgill has an insatiable appetite for bacon biscuits and tea, often at Leyton’s expense.  He is an avid fisherman, solid bowler (in cricket), and expert climber/rescuer of the Lake District.  Skelgill is often acerbic and swings wildly between humility and pride.  He’s one of those men who seems old before his time, perhaps because of his expert knowledge- or is it because he is rather set in his ways?

Murder in School showcases Skelgill’s oblique but intuitive approach to solving mysteries.  He is called upon to investigate the apparent suicide of a master at Oakthwaite School, which is followed by yet another suicide, with no shortage of possible suspects.  The situation worsens when the Chief’s son disappears and a hooded figure reveals a century-old cabal.  We watch Skelgill, such a humorous and sneaky bugger, reconnoiter crime scenes, scarf scones, and race the clock to rescue that poor student.

I greatly admire the writer, Bruce Beckham, who not only brings the Fells to life, but animates this page-turner with clever characters, wry humor, and an ending that defied my imagination.

I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

* Mark of the Plague

mark of the plague

A student just finished “Mark of the Plague,” the second in Kevin Sands’ Blackthorn Key series.  What a winner!  As in the first book, Christopher, an apothecary’s apprentice, gets caught up in mystery and death, with self-sacrificing best friend, Tom.  Christopher also renews a casual relationship with Sally, another former orphan from Cripplegate.

The year is 1665, the city is London, and the plague death toll is already 30,551.   The wealthy folks of London have fled and the remaining population lives mostly indoors, in dread of contracting “the sickness.”  Christopher is struggling to make ends meet after the death of Master Benedict and reverts to his usual love of pyrotechnics.  When an old friend, Isaac, gives them a paltry sum for shopping, he also describes a prophet who’s come to London, some extraordinary figure who can predict the course of the plague.  Isaac also shocks them by revealing that Master Benedict has left Christopher a hidden treasure, one that must be solved by following impossibly cryptic clues.   The boys head to the market, eventually rescuing Sally from ruffians on the streets, at least temporarily.  While at the Exchange, they are amazed by an apothecary, Galen, who claims to have a free plague cure.  From that point on, the three young friends find themselves in serious danger from all sides.

“Mark of the Plague” is an excellent mystery for middle schoolers and up, with complex characters and a battle against evil machinations and a devastating illness.  There are a number of significant themes in the book, drawn against a backdrop of bizarre plague remedies, minds overwhelmed by grief, and cruel greed.  The author faithfully represents this time of despair while leading his main characters through life-and-death struggles and into a newfound freedom.  Students will marvel at the complexity of the plot, which is equally likely to stump adult readers.  And the ending?  Even more remarkable than the previous book.

I highly recommend “Mark of the Plague” and await the third in The Blackthorn series, “The Assassin’s Curse.”  

* Soho thriller

The book I’m reviewing is called “Soho Dead,” but I didn’t want that title blaring across the screen because I have many British readers.  You have suffered so much horror and loss in the past months and we are all saddened on this side of the puddle.  Tough times.

I’ve just finished “Soho Dead” by Greg Keen and now must wait over a year for the next installment of this thriller series.  Boo hoo!  The protagonist is Kenny Gabriel, a far-from-angelic skip-tracer with a core of integrity under a cloud of depression.  We view Soho and its motley citizens through Kenny’s clever, bleak, and self-deprecating humor.  At 57, his bank balance is low, he relies on his brother for a place to live, and has a no-talk, all-sex relationship with Stephanie.

As the book opens, Kenny is trying to decide whether he should take an antidepressant.  In short order, after agreeing to hunt down a missing daughter, Kenny’s life becomes an unpredictable boxing match.  With Kenny wearing a blindfold.  Will he go down for the count?  Kenny’s entangled in his own past relationships and mistakes, all the while hunting for a killer among a diverse group of suspects.  At one point, Kenny himself is charged with murder.  I was stunned at the ending because the author is that clever.  I also like happy endings and this one delivers just enough hope to sustain me until the sequel is published.  Keen lives in Soho, so the book rings true in every scene.  This would make a marvelous movie, in part because the author adds a strong visual component, not to mention action at every turn.

Soho Dead” is a terrific read, perhaps a much-needed distraction for folks in the midst of genuine disasters.

Soho Dead