The Auschwitz Detective | Book Review


The Auschwitz Detective is Jonathan Dunsky’s sixth murder mystery featuring Adam Lapid. (I reviewed the previous novels here, here, here, here, and here; along with a Lapid short story here.) Whereas those mysteries were set in Tel Aviv in the years immediately following Israel’s independence, for which Lapid fought, The Auschwitz Detective is set in July 1944 at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Lapid, a Hungarian Jew, is a prisoner. It is, in my opinion, Dunsky’s best story so far.

Auschwitz was the chief murder factory of the Nazi regime, and it operated at peak killing efficiency from May–July 1944. Lapid arrived weeks before novel’s weeklong action begins, and his wife and two daughters were ripped from his arms upon arrival, then immediately gassed and cremated. Imminent death threatens Lapid and the other prisoners on every page, casting a pall of hopelessness and futility over the entire novel.

When Lapid learns that another inmate has been killed—not by the Nazis but by a fellow prisoner—his detective insights kick in, and he begins to work the case. (Before the Nazis overran Hungary, Lapid had served as a police officer.) It is the search for a murderous needle in the midst of a field of murderous haystacks, but Lapid’s sense of justice demands the mystery be solved.

It is in this quest that we find the humanity amidst Auschwitz’s bestial horrors. There are, in addition, friendship, love, and occasional moments of mercy in the story, They present glimmers of hope beyond the doom that we know is coming for the prisoners, though not, we know, for Adam Lapid. The Auschwitz Detective thus serves as a prequel to Dunsky’s previous stories, providing pathos and texture to Lapid’s personality and motivation.

I ask two basic questions when I evaluate murder mysteries: Did the story keep me turning pages to find out what happens next? And did the story push too hard against my willing suspension of disbelief? A yes and no answer, respectively, makes for a successful mystery. By that standard, The Auschwitz Detective succeeds wildly. I read it in one sitting, and its grim portrayal of life in that horrible concentration had the ring of authenticity.

So, five stars from me for Jonathan Dunsky’s latest Adam Lapid story, and I look forward to the next, which I understand is already in the works!

Book Reviewed
Jonathan Dunsky, The Auschwitz Detective (Self-published, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Snakes and Ladders | Book Review


Snakes and Ladders is the third installment in Victoria Selman’s murder mystery series featuring Ziba MacKenzie, former British Special Forces officer, now “freelance offender profiler and serial killer expert,” as one character describes her in the book. (See my previous reviews here and here.)

It is four stories rolled into one: First, Ziba’s collaboration with New Scotland Yard as they hunt for the Pink Rose Killer, so called because PRK places a pink rose next to victims’ bodies. Second, PRK’s backstory, told in flashback sequences, which explain the motive behind the murders, at least partially. Third, Ziba’s interactions with Dr. Victor Sange, the Butcher of Balliol, a hyper-intelligent Oxford don with a penchant for murder, who claims to know PRK’s identity and who likes to cultivate disciples, even from prison. Sange is serving time for murder in England but awaiting extradition to the U.S. for capital crimes committed there. And, finally, Ziba’s evolving relationship with Jack Wolfe, the only journalist to whom PRK corresponds, but whose relationship with Ziba keeps putting him in personal and professional danger.

All told, this was a well-crafted murder mystery that kept me turning pages, my number-one requirement in books of this sort. At first reading, I didn’t see any plot holes and didn’t experience any moments where my willing suspension of disbelief was challenged. However, one character, introduced at the start of the story, struck me as a bit “off,” and toward the end of the story, even Ziba took notice. I’m sure that “offness” will play a role in Selman’s next book, since that character announced a last-page plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all.

I look forward to the fourth installment in this series, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites as old warhorses like Jack Reacher and Walt Longmire are losing my interest. Highly recommended!

Book Review
Victoria Selman, Snakes and Ladders (Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

A Killing at the Creek | Book Review


“All in the world Elsie Arnold wanted was a murder case,” and in A Killing at the Creek, Nancy Allen gives her one.

This is the second crime novel in Allen’s series of mysteries set in fictional McCown County in southwest Missouri. Like the first novel, The Code of the Hills, Allen’s writing is pitch-perfect in its depiction of the Ozarks, right down to a throwaway mention on page 116 of the Assemblies of God—“No drinking, no cussing. No dancing”—which is headquartered in Springfield. (I’m an AG minister and Springfield resident.)

Elsie Arnold is an assistant prosecutor in McCown County, and she wants to try a murder case to advance her career. The problem is that her boss, Madeleine Thompson, hates her and takes the case herself, assigning second chair to Chuck Harris, the newly hired chief assistant from Kansas City. (Newly hired in no small part to block Elsie’s advancement.) But when police capture a suspect, who’s a 15-year-old juvenile from St. Louis, Thompson and Harris get cold feet and had Elsie the legal briefs.

The suspect, Tanner Monroe, is an unlikable kid who insists on an ODDI defense (“other dude did it”). His cagey defense lawyer, Billy Yocum, seeks a “MD or D” defense—“mental disease or defect”— since there’s no evidence of the other dude, but Monroe refuses to cooperate. What starts out as a strong case gets weakened due to questionable prosecutorial decisions and Elsie’s romantic entanglement with Bob Ashlock, the detective running the investigation. Will these errors doom Elsie’s prosecution, or will she close the case?

I liked this novel in most respects. What Sue Grafton did for Santa Barbara in her Alphabet Mysteries is like what Nancy Allen is doing in these Ozark Mysteries. The book has a strong regional flair, the plot is believable, and the legal ups and downs of the story reflect the author’s years as a Missouri prosecuting attorney.

Even so, the last few pages have a deux ex machina feel to it. Allen drives the story line forward and then, seemingly out of nowhere, she takes the solution of the case in a suddenly different direction. To this reader, that ending just didn’t set right.

Still, I liked the novel and read it in one sitting. I look forward to reading the remaining two books in the series and hope more are forthcoming.

Book Reviewed
Nancy Allen, A Killing and the Creek: An Ozarks Mystery (New York: WitnessImpulse, 2015).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Review of ‘X’ by Sue Grafton


xSue Grafton, X (New York: Putnam, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

X is the twenty-fourth installment in Sue Grafton’s long-running Kinsey Millhone mysteries. Set in Santa Teresa, California—a lightly fictionalized Santa Barbara—the novel follows two story lines: Kinsey looking for a client’s long-lost son and trying to close out a late colleague’s still-open case. There’s also a contretemps with her annoying, elderly neighbors.

I am a huge fan of this series, having read each of the novels in order, beginning with A Is for Alibi. Patrick Anderson has written, “Grafton’s Millhone books are among the five or six best series any American has ever written.” I agree. Kinsey is likeable, whip-smart, and plucky. You cheer for her as she sees justice through in each case.

That said, X is the best novel of the series. (I wonder if it has to do with the difficulty of finding a suitable crime to include in the title. The other novels follow the A Is for Alibi title formula. Here, there’s no X Is for _____.) It opens with one story line but spends the bulk of the novel focused on the other story line. The lines never come together, and the annoying neighbors seem like a distraction too. The neighbors get what’s coming to them in the end, but of the two major storylines, only one reaches a satisfactory resolution.

X may not be the best novel in the series, but it’s always good to hear from Kinsey. I’m already looking forward to Y.

—–

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: