by Paul Thurlby
by Paul Thurlby

A few days off mean more time to read. Right? Even between all the travel, parties and meals, we bibliophiles can usually find a few secret hours to read. Here are my suggestions on what to read (and what to skip) on your winter break.

the big black lizard big book of locked-room mysteries

Edited and with an introduction by Otto Penzler

Locked RoomDo read this giant compendium of these impossible crimes. Well, seemingly impossible. There are more than 900 pages of stories by old stand-bys and new favorites. There are even some by writer’s you know but wouldn’t expect a mystery from.

Penzler breaks the collection into sections, sorted by theme. He kicks it off with the tried-and-true, as he calls them, “the most popular and frequently reprinted impossible-crime stories of all time,” including Poe, Collins, Chesterton and Conan Doyle. The is a section for stabbings in a locked room, for jewel thefts from a guarded room, for a baffling lack of footprints leading to or from the victim and more.

One of my favorites was a story called The Bradmoor Murder, by Melville Davisson Post. It is reminiscent of A Study in Scarlet in that the narrative is broken into two sections, seemingly unrelated, that come to dovetail perfectly.

As the description notes, the collection features:

• Unconventional means of murder
• Pilfered jewels
• Shocking solutions

It offers this and much, much more.

Many thanks to Knopf/Doubleday for the review copy.

Edited by Otto Penzler
Series: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original
Paperback: 960 pages
Publisher: Vintage (October 28, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307743969
ISBN-13: 978-0307743961
Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches

midnight in siberia

By David Greene

Veteran NPR journalist spent a handful of years as the Russian correspondent for the national news organization. In this book, he uses the Trans-Siberian railway journey to revisit the people he met and the stories he covered.

midnight-in-siberiaDo read his tender remembrances of a complicated and proud people. While the trip is cold, bleak and agonizingly long, the stories he tells along the way are anything but.

Greene offers both piercing insight and a macro view of the vast country.

Calling it a cafe is generous.

The parking lot is empty, and the gas pumps haven’t worked for years. There is a one-story wooden building, with a ramshackle outhouse attached. Sergei and I walk inside to find four wooden tables, no customers, and a woman watching an old TV behind the register. She and another woman back in the kitchen look up at me and Sergei as if we’ve arrived from outer space. … I try to act natural, inspecting a pink, creamy salad that’s available for purchase in a glass case. Sergei tells me it’s a Russian dish called “herring under a fur coat” — it usually has herring, mayonnaise, beets, egg yolk, and garlic. The salad is wrapped tightly under plastic wrap. A handwritten note says, “Don’t touch with your hands.” Wouldn’t dream of it actually. ~Pg. 198

And yet, for better or worse, Rose and I spent our three years living our daily lives in the “Moscow” Russia, the world of trendy cafes and fat paychecks. My reporting took me to speck-on-the-map villages and brought me in touch with people living on the brink. But living in central Moscow, socializing in journalism and diplomatic circles, we generally met Russians who were part of the urban elite… . They are educated, have travelled the world, and find democratic principles and values appealing. Then again, they’re still pulled by the cultural forces in their country that have defined their thinking and who they are. And what’s more, at the end of the day, any complaints they have about the state of Russian society must be weighed against the fact that they themselves are doing quite well. ~Pg 238

Many thanks to WW Norton for the review copy.

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (October 20, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0393239950
ISBN-13: 978-0393239959
Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches


By Anthony Horowitz

The author of The House of Silk is back with another Sherlock-inspired novel. In this book, Horowitz visits the immediate aftermath of The Final Problem. Sherlock and Moriarty are dead  after going over Reichenbach Falls and the town of Meiringen is in shock.

9780062377180Inspector Althelney Jones (introduced to readers in The Sign of Four) and an American Pinkerton detective team up to track the Napoleon of Crime and his syndicate.

Skip this one. While I am often excited by the possibility of classic-inspired sequels, I am almost always let down. It’s tempting, but difficult and dangerous to revisit beloved characters. Though Horowitz’s work is the only to have received the official thumbs-up from the Conan Doyle estate I have never been able to enjoy it. I tried with House of Silk and didn’t care for it. I tried again here but I just couldn’t find anything to hang my hat on.

There was nothing more that Mary Stagg could tell us and, after warning her not to reveal what had taken place to anyone, Athelney Jones sent her home in the company of the constable. The good woman clearly could not wait to get out of the house and I rather doubted she would ever return.

‘Could Moriarty have done this?’ I asked.

‘Moriarty is dead.’

Thankfully, Horowitz does not try to embody Sherlock and Watson, but the magic of their adventures is nowhere to be found in these pages. Even setting aside their massive influence, I didn’t find it to be a very engaging Victorian-set mystery on its own merits either.

Many thanks to Harper for the review copy.

ISBN: 9780062377180
ISBN 10: 0062377183
Imprint: Harper
On Sale: 12/09/2014
Trimsize: 6 in (w) x 9 in (h) x 1.01 in (d)
Pages: 304
List Price: 26.99 USD

The Hundred-Year House

By Rebecca Makkai

9780525426684MZee and her husband had moved back home. They live in the guest house on her parents’ property, a sprawling multi-building compound that was an artist’s colony in the 1920s. He is a struggling writer and she is a college professor. Both are trying to kick-start their careers. Throw two renters into the mix and let the dysfunctionality ensue.

Skip this personal drama that promises more than it delivers. For one thing, both the description and the story itself allude to a ghost that never appears or does anything. For someone like me, who loves ghostly stories, it was incredibly frustrating. It was more like a new adult book with self-consciously quirky characters being hip at the same time. Even the second section, which focuses on the activities of the artist’s colony is too thin to save the novel. It comes too late.

Thanks to Viking Penguin for the review copy.

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (July 10, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 052542668X
ISBN-13: 978-0525426684
Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches


Downton Abbey: Rules for Household Staff

By Mr. Carson

9781250066329Written by Mr. Carson himself, this guidebook touches on everything from the hierarchy of staff to how to be a footman. Ironically, some of the elements are still useful, especially the recipes for stain removers made from common household ingredients.

Do read these amusing tips.

Guests’ luggage shall be unpacked in the luggage room. At this point, it is imperative that Maids compare dresses planned to be worn, lest anything too similar be worn at the same time.

If your master’s pocket watch is losing time, the fumes of paraffin will help to ease its workings. Simply place a thimbleful of paraffin next to the watch and place under a glass bowl. Leave it there for a day to allow the fumes to be absorbed. When removed, the watch should be up to speed again.

Read via NetGalley, from St. Martin’s.

St. Martin’s Press
St. Martin’s Griffin
November 2014
Paper Over Board
ISBN: 9781250066329
ISBN10: 1250066328
5.00 x 7.13 inches, 128 pages