Posts Tagged Mystery

This Season’s Dark and Twisted Mysteries

By Marcia Allen,  Manhattan Public Library Collection Development

I always look forward to the latest that favorite mystery writers have to offer.  Like so many readers, I anticipate what the next story line might promise, and I thoroughly enjoy reading about my longtime favorite characters.  That’s why the latest crop of new tales has really caught me by surprise: my recent picks have revealed some really nasty details.  We’re talking about some exceedingly heinous crimes.

Consider author Lee Child, for example.  Jack Reacher, a perennial favorite at the library, most recently appears in Child’s Make Me, a disturbing story of unbelievable crime.  You know Jack Reacher: the quiet loner who always manages to get involved in protecting underdogs in out-of-the-way locales.  This story opens with his arrival in a tiny hamlet called Mother’s Rest.  Why is Reacher there?  Because the name of the town made him curious.  Thus, Child takes us on a pulse-pounding investigation into suspicious cover ups.  Reacher is aided by private investigator Michelle Chang who also arrives in the town, hoping to locate her missing partner who vaguely resembles Reacher.  Child’s villains are always disgustingly sleazy, and this book has its share of those repugnant criminals.  And their involvement in sordid Internet websites leads Reacher to discoveries he’d rather not have made.  But the real shock is in the nature of the serial crimes that Reacher gradually uncovers.  This is one for the many Jack Reacher fans, as well as those who like some nasty surprises in their crime fiction.  The final chapters of this book will make you cringe in horror.

If that doesn’t appeal, you might try Jonathan Kellerman’s latest mystery, The Murderer’s Daughter.  You know Kellerman: the favorite author of the ever-popular Alex Delaware series?  While Delaware is mentioned in this new book, he is but a peripheral character barely mentioned in past dealings.  The real story is that of Grace Blades, a highly respected psychologist who has a particular flair for helping to heal patients tormented by past violence.  Her expertise is one thing, but the fact that she is actually a sociopath with her own childhood history of violence and loss is what kicks off the story. We learn of Grace’s loss of incredibly bad parents, and we also learn of a compassionate psychologist who takes an interest in the young Grace, as he sees in her the potential for a great future.  When Grace later suspects that a violent child from her past is now a thriving adult killer, she sets off in hopes of righting that wrong.  Recurring flashbacks reveal why Grace is able to plan her movements so coldly, and her lack of remorse makes the story a real shocker.  This is one for those who like a good character study with their mysteries.

And finally, I discovered talented mystery writer, Julia Heaberlin.  Heaberlin’s third mystery, entitled Black-Eyed Susans, is the disturbing story of Tessa Cartwright, the only survivor of a serial killer’s crime spree some twenty years earlier.   Tessa’s memory of the ordeal is vague, but she does recall the field of wildflowers in which she was found.  More recently, she had gone through years of therapy due to that experience and now has a good life as a single mother of a teenage daughter.  But over the years, someone has chosen to plant black-eyed Susans in her yard as a reminder of the crime.  While the convicted killer has spent years on death row, the ongoing flower plantings make Tessa question whether the wrong man was convicted.  This is an unsettling read, perfect for those who like psychological suspense in their crime reading.

As always, we have lots of other mysteries new to the library that just might appeal if the edgy stories I’ve mentioned don’t grab your interest.  If you love mysteries as so many do, you’re bound to find an undiscovered treasure at your library.

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Promising Books from New Authors

by Marcia Allen, Collection Development Librarian

We all know that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is the book to read this summer.  We’ve seen the reviews, both good and bad, that make the title very tempting, and the high number of requests at the library attests to the demand for this newly published tale about Maycomb, Alabama. We’ve also seen the latest by perennial favorite authors such as Daniel Silva, Mary Higgins Clark, and Stephen King.   The newest spy thrillers, puzzling mysteries, and shocking tales of horror are readily available from those old favorites. But there are also lots of promising new stories from authors who may not be so familiar to readers looking for something different.  A sampling of fiction titles just received at the library reveals the following potential hits:


  • The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo. This one’s a nice selection for those who are fans of the Nevada Barr series.  Special Agent Ted Systead, who works for the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, is one of few trained to investigate crimes committed in parks in the western half of the U.S.  He has a particular interest in homicides, like the one that has just brought him to Glacier National Park.  His trouble is that he witnessed the mauling and death of his own father during a grizzly attack some years ago.  This recent murder would also seem to have the same savagery of that long ago grizzly attack, but the victim is found tied to a tree.  Ted will have to deal with his own nightmarish memories, as well as the reticence of the locals.  Author Carbo has a clear talent for realistic descriptions of the Glacier setting, so this mystery’s rich with atmosphere.


  • Buell: Journey to the White Clouds by Wallace J. Swenson.  In the Idaho territory of 1873, young gunman Buell Mace has become something of an outcast and heads off to the gold fields to offer protection to those whose claims are threatened.  Buell is hired by Emma Traen to protect her gold interests, but there are lots of others willing to seize her claims in desperate ways.  Buell has new friends on which to rely, but they, too, are in danger, and he will learn what loss is.  This is a violent western, depicting a young man’s struggle in an untamed country.


  • The Lost Concerto by Helaine Mario.  Here’s a thriller from a debut author.  The book  opens with the doomed flight of a mother and her small son.  Their brutal follower  manages to kill the mother to regain the boy, but in the confusion and mist of the mountain shrine where the runaways are cornered, the youngster disappears.  The        boy’s godmother, Maggie O’Shea was a famed pianist, but recent losses of loved ones have sidetracked her career.  The discovery of a photo of the missing boy leads her on a journey that will reveal lost artifacts as well as another chance for a fulfilling life.  Romance, intrigue, and new discoveries make this an unforgettable read.


  • The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka.  Eric Argus is a quantum physicist with a serious problem:   He was at the top of his game as a university research physicist, but the work dragged him through a serious breakdown.  Now he’s been given another opportunity to do research with an old friend.  In the course of his experiments, he discovers impossible truths:  until an observer notes results, the result remains only probability.  Hence, we have terms like “retrocausality” that are of major concern.  This is a thoughtful work of science fiction, one that questions the nature of the real and the role of human understanding in the universe.


  • One final title worth mentioning is Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.  This lovely piece of fiction has made various bestseller lists,  and it has to be among the most heartwarming books of the summer.   It concerns one Monsieur Perdu, the proprietor of a floating bookstore, who helps customers select purchases based not on wants but on what he feels  those readers need in their lives.  A remarkable book.

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The Hillerman Prize: The Best of Western Mysteries

by Marcia Allen, Collection Development

Tony_HillermanI still miss having a fresh, new Tony Hillerman mystery to read.  I never tired of reading the latest adventures of law officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, as they patiently sorted out the facts of murders and thefts that took place in the Southwest.  To me, and to so many other long-time fans, the characters and situations that Hillerman so skillfully described in each tale were among the best in American mystery writing.

The range of awards that the author earned was astonishing.  The Anthony, the Edgar, the Macavity, and the Nero were among his accolades, some of them received multiple times.  And one special honor was earned in 2002 when Hillerman received the Agatha Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement for having written novels in the spirit of Agatha Christie.

While Hillerman died in 2008, the spirit of his creativity lives on.   The Tony Hillerman Writers Conference is held each year in Santa Fe, New Mexico during the fall.  Workshops led by award-winning writers and promotional activities supporting the writing of any genre are conducted.  One of the highlights of the event is the announcement of the year’s Hillerman Prize.  The lucky winner has the opportunity to meet the editor of St. Martin’s Press with whom he or she will collaborate on that first novel.  The author also wins a cash prize of $10,000.

Among other prbad countryize guidelines, the author must have never before written a published mystery or be under contract with a publisher, and the debut mystery must take place in the Southwest.  The crime itself must be murder or other serious crimes, with a focus on solution rather than the actual details of the crime.

Which brings me to C.B. McKenzie, the 2013 Hillerman winner.  I had never heard of the author, but the bold “Winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize” logo on the cover caught my attention.  Bad Country seemed promising, so I began to read of the adventures of Rodeo Grace Garnet, private investigator/warrant server in a desolate corner of Arizona called El Hoyo (The Hole).  The action begins when Rodeo discovers the battered body of a Native American near his home.  Further investigation reveals a whole string of violent murders, all committed against various tribal members.  Told by law enforcement to avoid involvement, Rodeo begins piecing together the similarities of the crimes.  Full involvement begins when a grandmother of one of the victims asks for Rodeo’s help, yet she displays no sympathy or compassion toward her deceased grandson.

What makes this mystery one-of-a-kind is a flawed but caring main character.  Rodeo has made a lot of mistakes, like his relationship with the treacherous Serena Ray Molina, but he also cares deeply about justice and the victimization of helpless characters like Samuel Rocha.  The mystery itself is a complex tale of deception and violence, with a hit-and-run accident that has far-reaching implications.  And the ending of the book is explosive.  Understated tones and short passages pack a wallop of a finale.

If you like this territorymystery, you’ll probably want to check out other Hillerman award winners.  MPL also has Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints (the 2011 winner).  This mystery takes place in Salt Lake City in the 1930s when and unusual pair of crime-solvers must discover the killer of a socialite.  Or, you might try the 2010 winner, The Territory by Tricia Fields.  This tale explores the nasty interactions between the inhabitants of a West Texas town and violent drug cartel members.  The 2008 winner, The Ragged Edge of Nowhere by Roy Chaney, concerns ex-CIA Agent Bodo Hagen, who turns to crime-solving when his brother, who somehow possesses an ancient relic, is murdered in the desert.

So, there you have it.  A variety of different styles and storylines that share only a focus on Southwest crime, but each special in its own way.  These are, after all, the prestigious winners of the Tony Hillerman Prize.

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Rizzoli and Isles are back!

lastThe new season of the TV series Rizzoli and Isles returns tonight. This cop/forensics drama is based on Tess Gerritsen’s series of books, beginning with “The Surgeon”. The series, featuring Detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles, continues with the tenth title “The Last to Die.” A quick taste of this latest book: For the second time in his short life, Teddy Clock has survived a massacre. Two years ago he barely escaped when his entire family was slaughtered.  Now, at fourteen, in a hideous echo of the past, Teddy is the lone survivor of his foster family’s mass murder. Orphaned once more, the traumatized teenager has nowhere to turn–until the Boston PD puts Detective Rizzoli on the case. Determined to protect this young man, Jane discovers that what seemed like a coincidence is instead one horrifying part of a relentless killer’s merciless mission.

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Fall into a Cozy Mystery!

Linda Henderson, Adult Services, Manhattan Public Library

Mysteries are a very popular literary genre. People think of mysteries as dark, scary thrillers full of graphic violence, sexuality, and strong language. “Cozy” mysteriesare gentle reads, containing little violence, coarse language, or sexual themes. Death and criminal activity happen mostly off-stage.

For a fun, intriguing read that engages the mind and provides fast-paced entertainment with unexpected twists and turns, try a cozy. Cozies come in many flavors: they are set in tea shops, bed-and-breakfast inns, and renovated homes; they deal with cats, dogs, and horses; they involve cooks, nuns and gardeners. There are paranormal cozies, Victorian cozies, religious cozies, and many other varieties. Many grow into extended series, letting readers follow likable characters through new adventures.

Cozies often take place in small towns. The hero might be an amateur sleuth, or just a bright, educated, or witty person, such as a teacher, store owner, librarian, or homemaker. These characters may happen to know people with access to information, such as detectives, police officers, or medical professionals.

Book of MurderFINALCOVERCozies are often family stories. In “Little Black Book of Murder, Nora finds wealthy Swain Starr brutally murdered in his barn. Her harassing boss wants her to scoop the police, but family ties make things complicated in the ninth book in Nancy Martin’s Blackbird Sisters series.

Father Knows Death by Jeffrey Allen is a “stay-at-home-dad” mystery. Deuce may not be an expert on running a concession stand at a small town fair, but he knows that dead bodies don’t belong in the freezer.

In “Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman, the well-known author of many mysteries set in Washington, D.C., the White House staff and the President are stunned when they find the Secretary of State strangled in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs, follows the owner of a tea shop, Theodosia sweet tea revengeBrowning. Always a bridesmaid but never a bride, she is asked to be in her best friend’s wedding. But, the groom will never make it to the altar. He doesn’t just have cold feet – his whole body is cold.

Many cozies have quilting, scrapbooking, and knitting themes. In Terri Thayer’s “Monkey Wrench,” shop owner Dewey Pellicano prepares to launch a quilter’s crawl when her assistant’s boyfriend and a quilter turns up dead. Laura Child’s “Postcards from the Dead” opens as French Quarter scrapbook shop owner, Carmela, is getting ready for a busy Mardi Gras when she finds TV reporter Kimber Breeze dead, hanging from a balcony.Continue Reading Fall into a Cozy Mystery!

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Celebrate Hispanic Heritage with Mystery

by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

Each year from September 15 to October 15 we recognize National Hispanic Heritage Month “by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” What better time of year to explore mysteries written by Hispanic or Latino authors of many nationalities?

Mexican-American writer, Rudolfo Anaya, for example, features New Mexico private investigator Sonny Baca in a seasonal quartet whose titles include Zia Summer, Rio Grande Fall, Shaman Winter, and Jemez Spring.  Sonny Baca is not your average private investigator. A divorced former high school teacher, he’s the grandson of a legendary lawman, whose backup includes an extra-large sociopath, coyotes, and a curandera (folk healer).  Sonny routinely deals with drug dealers and medical experiments, as well as the mysticism and magic of Chicano culture.

Marcos McPeek Villatoro brings El Salvadoran policewoman Romilia Chacon to life in a series of novels that take her from the Nashville Police Department to the FBI in Los Angeles, as the Latina detective hunts for her sister’s killer. Titles in the series include Home Killing, Minos, A Venom Beneath the Skin, and Blood Daughters.

Inspector Espinosa is the protagonist in a series by Brazilian writer Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Lush in setting, these mysteries take place in steamy, exotic Rio de Janiero. Titles in this Rio-noir series include Silence of the Rain, December Heat and Pursuit. Inspector Espinosa is an everyman character, a public servant, a solitary individual, who does not consider himself a hero. Garcia-Roza has created an ethical policeman often out of his depth in the seedy world he serves.

Cuban-born writer Leonardo Padura is the author of a colorful series featuring Police Lieutenant Mario Conde. Havana Gold, Havana Red, Havana Blue, and Havana Black blend dark police procedurals with vivid images of contemporary Havana. Lieutenant Conde is a cop who would rather be a writer, feeling himself drawn to other writers, crazy people, and drunks.

For thrillers with a mystery twist, Spanish author Juan Gomez-Jurado offers several titles written with both energy and a sense of the cinematic. The Traitor’s Emblem involves a daring rescue at sea, a mysterious gold emblem, Nazis, Masons, and a son’s search for the truth behind his father’s death. Other titles by Gomez-Jurado in English include God’s Spy and The Moses Expedition.

Michele Martinez is a Puerto Rican-American attorney and former federal prosecutor in New York who shares many characteristics with her protagonist, Melanie Vargas. Martinez features Vargas and FBI agent Dan O’Reilly in several novels. In Most Wanted, the first book in the series, Melanie Vargas takes the case of a prominent New Yorker found tortured and murdered in his posh townhouse. Other titles in the series include The Finishing School, Cover-Up, and Notorious.

Cayetano Brule is the private investigator in a series of mysteries by Chilean author Roberto Ampuero. In The Neruda Case Cayetano meets the poet Pablo Neruda at a party in Chile in the 1970s. The dying Neruda recruits Cayetano to help him solve the last great mystery of his life. The novel is set against the dangerous political world of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin.

Cuban expatriate Jose Latour delivers a suspenseful, atmospheric novel of intrigue set in contemporary Havana and Miami in Comrades in Miami. As Colonel Victoria Valiente, the Havana-based spymaster of greater Miami, her husband, and $2.7 million in stolen money set sail for Key West, little do they know that the FBI is on their trail. This novel gives an insider’s view of the Cuban regime’s darker corners.

Learn more about National Hispanic Heritage Month at

September is also “Library Card Signup Month.” Visit the library to sign up for your card today, or click the Library Card button on our web page to register online. Your library card will open up a world of adventure, information, and knowledge, not to mention mysteries by Hispanic authors.

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Some Humor for the End of Summer

index (53)It is the quietest time of year in Manhattan.  Most of the summer activities have come to an end and we still have some time before the energy of returning students and school starting up.  The recent heat has caused us all to be a bit wilted.  A good laugh can help you through the end-of-summer doldrums so you can be cheerful when all our new residents come pouring in.

You might have heard of Lisa Scottoline’s suspense novels.  What is less well known is that she partners with her daughter to write nonfiction that will crack you up.  Her latest, Best Friends, Occasional Enemies: the Lighter Side of Life as a Mother and Daughter talks about the close and challenging relationships in families, while making sure to see the humor in life.  Another nonfiction favorite is Bill Bryson, known best for his travel memoirs.  Whether he’s on a trip across the pond in Notes from a Small Island or traveling back in time with The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid Bryson’s work is known for causing annoyance to those near readers because of the constant chuckling and the repeated phrase “You’ve got to hear this.”

Romance is a genre ripe with scenarios of people making idiots of themselves for our reading enjoyment.  In Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D’Alessandro, Jamie Newman escapes New York for the beach in an attempt to regroup after a failed relationship, only to face a run-down shack, an ever-present family, and a difficult (but of course attractive) neighbor/landlord.  The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig takes us back to the French Revolution with the story of Amy Balcourt.  Amy heads out to France with hopes to become a spy with the league of the Purple Gentian.  Secrets, misunderstandings, and clumsy spying attempts don’t bode well for her career, but the Purple Gentian finds that he wants her close by anyway.

If you like your romance heavy on the humor but light on spice, you might like these Christian authors.  A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist tells the story of Washington settler Joe Denton who needs a wife to keep his land and Ana Ivey who unknowingly signs off as a bride when she just hopes to escape to the west to find a job cooking.  Full of witty dialogue and likeable characters, Gist’s books are a treat.  In Fancy Pants by Cathy Marie Hake, Lady Syndey Hathwell escapes to her long lost uncle’s ranch disguised as a man.  Ranch manager Tim Creighton is disgusted by his new ranch hand’s hardworking but inept and weak attempts to live up to his expectations.

For humor with a more mysterious turn, you might try The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, takes up the case when characters suddenly begin to disappear from great works of literature.  A mix of fantasy and mystery is delightfully witty.  Alan Bradley takes you into the world of the engaging Flavia de Luce, eleven year old chemist in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  When she discovers a dying man in the garden, she revels in the joy of investigation.

Some of us like our humor to be a little otherworldly.  In A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, neurotic hypochondriac and recent widower, Charlie Asher, is faced with the challenges of a new baby and a new and unwanted job as a merchant of death.  Scott Rockwell has adapted Terry Pratchett’s Discworld into Graphic Novel format, maintaining the bizarrely humorous feel from the original novels about a parallel world that rests on the backs of four elephants balanced on a giant turtle hurtling through space.

When the hot, slow days start to get you down, just remember the words of MarkTwain, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

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More International Mysteries

indexby Susan Withee, Adult Services Manager
Last year I wrote about how the bestselling novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, had fueled an explosion of interest in Scandinavian crime novels and in international mysteries in general. They continue to be in high demand with readers, and publishers have responded with more and more hot titles from around the world.  Mysteries with an international setting combine exposure to unfamiliar cultures, the atmospherics of an exotic locale, and the intellectual challenges of a crime story into an absorbing and satisfying reading experience.  Here’s a list of more great international mysteries at Manhattan Public Library.
Greece:  Murder in Mykonos by Jeffrey Siger.  Newly promoted to police chief of the island paradise of Mykonos, Andreas Kaldis must catch a killer while navigating the island’s convoluted local politics and religious orthodoxy, and without risking the island’s tourism.
Turkey:  The Kiss Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer.  Called “a delightfully over-the-top drag queen campfest” by one reviewer, this unexpected and entertaining mystery set in Istanbul features a transvestite sleuth, a quirky and refreshingly human cast of characters, and delicious dialogue.
Denmark:  The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol.  A noir mystery investigating criminal mistreatment of women and children, written by two women and starring female characters.  The New York Times called this “another winning entry in the emotionally lacerating Scandinavian mystery sweepstakes.”
Mongolia:   The Shadow Walker by Michael Walters.  It’s winter in post-Soviet Mongolia, and Minister Negrui, Harvard MBA and head of the Serious Crimes Unit, is working with a visiting British police inspector to find a serial killer. Booklist recommends this series for readers “who like plots filled with global political complexity.”
Canada:  Still Life by Louise Penny.  Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigates a murder in the tiny village of Three Pines, south of Montreal.  This is a traditional procedural mystery, full of clues hidden in plain sight, red herrings, engaging characters, and complex relationships.  Author Penny has been compared to P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, Martha Grimes – and even Agatha Christie.
Ghana:  Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey.  Darko Dawson, police inspector in Ghana’s Criminal Investigation Division, has been sent to investigate the murder of a young female medical student and AIDS worker in a village outside the city of Accra. There he confronts powerful traditional beliefs, brutal local authority, and a long-standing mystery in his own life.
France:  Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker.  One reviewer wrote, “If you can’t afford that vacation in the south of France this year, Bruno may be the next best thing.”  In the quiet, friendly village of St. Denis, chief of police Bruno Courrèges, formerly with UN forces in Bosnia, hopes to find a peaceful life, but crime and the problems of contemporary French life inevitably intrude.
Israel:  The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Rees.  For many years, Omar Yussef, a good man in a tragic and difficult place, has taught history to the children of Bethlehem.  When Israeli snipers kill a PLO soldier, one of Omar’s former students, a Palestinian Christian, is accused of being an Israeli collaborator and faces almost-certain retribution. Omar determines to save his friend, and his investigations take him deep into the complicated, violent, and corrupt world of the occupied West Bank.
Botswana: A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley.  Game park rangers in the Kalahari come across a hyena feasting on a human corpse, and Detective Kubu (“Hippopotamus”) Bengu is called in to investigate.  Kubu, like his namesake, is huge, amiable, determined, and ferocious.  Publishers Weekly said, “The intricate plotting, a grisly sense of realism, and numerous topical motifs (the plight of the Kalahari Bushmen, diamond smuggling, poaching, the homogenization of African culture, etc.) make this a compulsively readable novel.”
Saudi Arabia:  Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris. In this literary mystery-thriller set in contemporary Jeddah, the teenaged daughter of a wealthy family disappears days before her marriage and is soon found dead – and pregnant.  Her family turns to conservative Muslim Palestinian Nayir al-Sharqi to investigate the death, and he turns to Katya Hijazi, medical examiner and highly-educated modern woman, for assistance.  An engrossing look into the complexities and cultural struggles of modern Saudi society.
India:  The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall. Vish Puri is India’s Most Private Investigator and the Indian answer to Rumpole or Precious Ramotswe in this series full of humor, food, and delightful dialogue.  Nicknamed “Chubby,” Vish is “portly, persistent, and unmistakably Punjabi,” and he draws on up-to-date investigative techniques as well as ancient Indian principles in order to solve mysteries in modern Delhi.

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