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Notable Books | Four mysteries reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Biblical callings," Dec. 4, 2010

The Case of the Missing Servant

Vish Puri is a private detective in Delhi, India. He's a master of disguises and wields his deductive powers in a way that rivals Sherlock Holmes. This is the first in what promises to be a delightful comic series set in modern day India with all its complexities of caste, corruption, rapid growth, and extremes of poverty and wealth. The Hindu Puri's bread and butter cases are matrimonial ones, usually with parents checking out prospective mates for their children. In this episode Puri deals with a couple of those cases along with the main case-a prominent lawyer accused of raping and murdering a servant girl who has gone missing. Although slightly edgier than Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, it is in the same vein.

Murder on Lexington Avenue

Turn-of-the-century New York City is the setting for a series of "Gaslight" mysteries by Victoria Thompson. She's not interested in describing in great detail the sounds and smells of the period. Instead she focuses on the relationship between an Irish police detective who is raising a deaf son alone after his wife died in childbirth, and a widowed midwife, daughter of a prominent man, who is raising an orphan. Here they collaborate to solve the murder of an unlikable businessman who has a deaf daughter who hates him, a wife who has had an affair, a business partner who isn't honest, and several other suspects. Thompson makes the man's eugenic beliefs and competing ideas about deaf education central to her plot.

A Corpse at St. Andrew's Chapel

The story takes place in 1365, during a period of peace between England and France. When Lord Gilbert is away from his castle, his bailiff Hugh de Singleton must keep order. Master Hugh is also a surgeon, who studied under Tyndale at Oxford and pursued surgery in France. When he isn't setting a broken bone or doing surgery on a wound, he has to solve the murder of the village Beadle, using very low-tech 14th-century investigative techniques. As he walks or rides a plodding old warhorse to nearby villages, he muses about human nature and the views of his Oxford mentor. Starr's mysteries share with Alexander McCall Smith's an interest in ordinary life and the evil that arises out of sins like greed and gluttony.

City of Veils

This novel set in Saudi Arabia centers on two cases, the murder of a young Saudi woman and the disappearance of an American security man. The story's several main characters-the American wife of the missing man, a secular Muslim detective, an observant Muslim desert guide, and a woman who works alongside men in the coroner's office-reveal tensions within individuals as they navigate the demands of a rigid culture, and between people who either flaunt or respect the religious laws. Ferraris, who lived in Saudi Arabia, offers a fascinating and nuanced peek into a closed culture. She lifts the veil to show how rules intended to guard against sin actually arouse it. Some bad language.

Spotlight

I could have used a copy of Sandy Coughlin's The Reluctant Entertainer (Bethany House, 2010) when I was first married. She explains how bad ideas about hospitality-I don't know how to cook, I'm too busy, my house isn't up to par-sap the joy out of it. She counters them with her Ten Commandments of Hospitality, a list that "keeps me grounded in what hospitality is all about, helps me push past fears, and basically gives me a pep talk that says, "I can do this!" The book is part how-to and part why-to and contains more than 40 family-tested recipes.

Rachel Jankovic has five children under the age of 6, including a set of 2-year-old twins. Loving the Little Years (Canon Press, 2010) is a slender book of short essays that presents an honest and sometimes funny glimpse into her life and the wisdom she's learned in the trenches.

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