PhDeath by James Carse

Synopsis:

9781623160661_1eb3ePhDeath is a fast-paced thriller set in a major university in a major city on a square. The faculty finds itself in deadly intellectual combat with the anonymous Puzzler. Along with teams of US Military Intelligence and the city’s top detective and aided by the Puzzle Master of The New York Times, their collective brains are no match for the Puzzler’s perverse talents. Carse, Emeritus Professor himself at a premier university in a major city on a square shows no mercy in his creation of the seemingly omniscient Puzzler, who through a sequence of atrocities beginning and ending with the academic year, turns up one hidden pocket of moral rot after another: flawed research, unabashed venality, ideological rigidity, pornographic obsessions, undue political and corporate influence, subtle schemes of blackmail, the penetration of national and foreign intelligence agencies, brazen violation of copyrights, even the production and sale of addictive drugs.

Review:

The jacket copy calls this a thriller but I’d say it’s a mystery.  There’s been a string of murders at an elite university and the police, Feds, and a committee of professors are on the case.  Each death is preceded by a ten part puzzle from the murderer, hinting at the next victim.

The good:

  • Several of the murders are creative and spectacular in a fun way.
  • Puzzles!  You’ll probably be able to figure out a couple parts as you go, and some are quite interestingly put together.
  • The Puzzle Master of the New York Times does indeed make an appearance, and it’s glorious.
  • The scene where the Puzzler is unmasked is amazing.  I was thrown for a loop – it’s a double reveal and I was blindsided on both counts.  I went “Wait… what?  HOW?” before flipping back to see how I possibly could have missed it.  Well done.
  • Whys and wherefores are fully explained in detail once the criminal is identified.  Only one detail I was curious about wasn’t expounded upon, which is pretty good.

The not-so-good:

  • The number ten is big in this book so each of the ten puzzles has ten parts.  All ten clues have a similar theme, so once you figure out the first few you can almost skip the rest, as the method has become clear.  However each part is painstakingly covered with answers and reasoning given, even for an arithmetic puzzle.  Judicious skimming helped me get through.
  • Looking for a breezy mystery?  This isn’t it.  If you like this sort of thing you’ll call it cerebral, but it veers towards “lecture about dead white guy philosopher” too much for me.  Here and there it’s interesting, but in other places it goes on too long.

Go in to PhDeath knowing it’s a philosophizing mystery.  Enjoy the crazy deaths, skim over clues that don’t interest  you, and watch out for that reveal – it’s a doozy.

Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye by Victoria Laurie (Psychic Eye Mystery #1)

Synopsis:

574955Abby Cooper is a P.I., psychic intuitive. But her insight failed her when she didn’t foresee the death of one of her clients-or that the lead investigator for the case is the gorgeous blind date she just met. Now, with the police suspicious of her abilities and a killer on the loose, Abby’s future looks more uncertain than ever.

Review:

I picked this book hoping for a quirky cozy mystery but ended up in romantic suspense hell.

Abby Cooper is a psychic intuitive that can call on her spirit guides for advice and wisdom. She uses her ability to run a successful business advising people on everything from cheating lovers to financial matters. I like the general idea of a psychic but man, she was spot on all the time. Any little tidbit Abby spit out would be verified sooner or later, allowing her an “I told you so” smile.

In this vein many times Abby would do a reading for someone she thought didn’t believe her. A simple, “…and you should get that knee checked out, the next time you lift something heavy it’s going to pop” would have sufficed but no, she had to tell them about their wives and daughters and upcoming vacations. Always right, always on the nose, often annoying. In fact, the only time she ran into trouble was when she didn’t listen to her “crew”… they’re infallible, of course.

That time she didn’t pick up the “intuitive phone”, along with any other fishy happening, felt like it had a neon sign with “THIS IS FORESHADOWING!” painted on top. Grah.

A few lines that bugged me:

“I looked at the painted decal on the back hood.” Hoods are in the front. Trunks and tailgates are in the back. Decals and stickers are usually put on by owners, insignia and logos by the maker.

“I knew immediately that I’d have to tip the mailman extra big come Christmas.” Postal workers are federal employees and are legally obligated not to accept cash tips over $20. Getting some extra nice chocolate or maybe knitting a pair of convertible mittens would be fine, but not an extra big tip.

“In my next lifetime I wanted to come back as a guy. They always seemed to get the upper hand.” No irony, no nothing.

And I haven’t even gotten into the romantic or suspense bits. Abby goes on a date with a guy she met online who happens to be a cop. Of course, Dutch ends up being the lead investigator of a case that ends up falling into her lap. If he ends up doing anything Abby perceives as less than perfect she storms off, vows she’s done with him, and screams like holy hell the next time they meet. Yet he is still attracted to her.

I don’t get it, either.

As for the mystery surrounding an apparent suicide, Abby’s leads us via one perfect hunch after another to the bad guy. I felt zero suspense because the perfect spirit guides would never let her fail. Don’t they get annoyed with her, too? Wouldn’t they want to slip her a bum piece of info about something trivial and have a good laugh? I would, but maybe that’s why I’m not a spirit guide.

Not bad enough to abandon halfway through, but also not deserving of more than one star.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Translated by Ross MacKenzie and Shika MacKenzie

Synopsis:

25541152Japan, 1936. An old eccentric artist living with seven women has been found dead- in a room locked from the inside. His diaries reveal alchemy, astrology and a complicated plan to kill all seven women. Shortly afterwards, the plan is carried out: the women are found dismembered and buried across rural Japan.

By 1979, these Tokyo Zodiac Murders have been obsessing a nation for decades, but not one of them has been solved. A mystery-obsessed illustrator and a talented astrologer set off around the country – and you follow, carrying the enigma of the Zodiac murderer through madness, missed leads and magic tricks. You have all the clues, but can you solve the mystery before they do?

Review:

I’m not a huge mystery person, but when I read one I want to be given all the clues up front. It really annoys me when an author holds back some essential bit of information that prevents you from figuring out the whodunit. Continue reading “The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada”

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey #1)

Synopsis:

18006728Lord Peter Wimsey spends his days tracking down rare books, and his nights hunting killers. Though the Great War has left his nerves frayed with shellshock, Wimsey continues to be London’s greatest sleuth—and he’s about to encounter his oddest case yet.

A strange corpse has appeared in a suburban architect’s bathroom, stark naked save for an incongruous pince-nez. When Wimsey arrives on the scene, he is confronted with a once-in-a-lifetime puzzle. The police suspect that the bathtub’s owner is the murderer, but Wimsey’s investigation quickly reveals that the case is much stranger than anyone could have predicted.

Review:

I knew I would love Sayers as soon as I read the dedication:

Dear Jim: This book is your fault.

Then add in the awesome Lord Peter Wimsey, about whom everything has already been said by people more eloquent than I, and I was in love. Continue reading “Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey #1)”