Tag Archives: Mystery

MESA VERDE CAMPFIRE STORY

(This was for a hitrecord.org challenge to write a campfire story in regards to our National Park system.)

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill creating Mesa Verde National Park. Situated in Southwestern Colorado, the park houses handfuls of canyons that cut the through the dry mesa revealing the ancient clay cliff dwellings that are built into its sides. Although varying in size, none of the structures come short of extraordinary. The limits of construction and accessibility to create these hidden Ancestral Puebloan palaces is wonder of its own to observe.

Guided by park officials, you can walk through the abandoned abodes, manageable only through a series of ladders and steep canyon ledges. And yet, as you pass through the key-holed doorways and circle the ceremonial Kivas, one tends to get the feeling that another may be watching, hidden within the dark caverns that you don’t explore.

There are many theories as to why Ancestral Puebloans left their skillful and strategic homes. Though it is called Mesa Verde, green is far from the color you see when exploring this park. Overrun with mountain shrubs, junipers, and pinyon pines, the mesa appears to thirst for water. Is that what drove the people away?

Or is there another reason? Evidence shows that many of the “spiritual doorway” of the dwellings had been sealed shut and even Kivas burned. Was there something these people sought to destroy or escape from but found the only way out was to leave? Perhaps fear drove them out of these magnificent homes? And if that’s true, could this dark spirit still remain among the ruins?

Some say to never stay close to the canyon’s edge on a full moon’s night. For when the moonlight crosses the doorways left unsealed, something shadowy rises from beneath it. Upwards, it climbs the vertical walls, clinging to the gasping roots that sprout from the clay. They say it seeks the living to partake in a drink of the soul.

The unsuspecting are always the first to be caught in its murky haze. Left paralyzed by the darkness, they surrender to the spirit, joining it to forever dwell in maze of caverns below the solid ground. Never again to look upon the face of the sun.

JUST FINISHED: Where They Found Her

Author: Kimberly McCreight
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

While summers tend to get me in the mood for westerns and literary classics, the fall makes me long for mysteries and thrillers. Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight fits right into that mystery calling.

This is a fast-paced popular fiction read starts with an affluent town being rocked by the murder of a newborn child, found partially buried in a creek.  The story circulates around four women’s perspectives, each carrying their own piece to the puzzle. There is Molly – city girl turned small town journalist with a sad history. Sandy – teenage dropout with a sad-looking future. Barbara – the know-it all supermom with the truly sad life. And lastly Jenna – a character known to the reader through cryptic journal entries and from Sandy’s thoughts.

One fact that I enjoyed about this book – and also hated – was the idea that everyone is connected somehow. A play on the six degrees of separation, if you will. Why the hate, too?

**SPOILER ALERT**

Well, personally, a murder plot such as this one would never unfold so closely tied. Everyone, I mean everyone played a crucial role in order for the murder to even play out. It is one of those impeccable timing conundrums that I’m never too big of a fan of.

**END SPOILER ALERT**

If you’re in the mood for a murder-mystery quickie with some small-town drama, this read may be for you.

FEVERISH

PART 1

Sweat perspired on my forehead, glossing it like a shiny plastic doll. The heat was rising out of my head at an alarming rate, warming my thoughts to mush. I couldn’t think straight; everything was a magical blur of words and sounds.

The hard toe of my black Salvatores gently tapped the grey berber that covered the room. Puh. Puh. Puh. The rhythm brought some comfort to me. Something familiar, consistent.

There was a lady across the way. Mid-thirties, blonde, attractive. She wore a short navy blue skirt and polished white top. Her neck was curved to the right as she flipped through a magazine. Her long nails scratched the surface.

“David?”

I looked up. A woman stood at the door of the office entry, questions posed on her face. A pleasant face though.

“Yes,” I got up tugging my briefcase along, “yes, that’s me.” I smiled briefly and offered my hand. She returned it with a casual shrug and motioned for me to follow.

We filed past rows of glass doors. Each tightly closed with people inside bent over desks, their eyes constricted to screens. I caught a glimpse of one office that housed a plant. It’s bright red flowers a striking contrast to the bleakness that surrounded it.

“Here we are.” She stopped abruptly at a door labeled ‘Conference.’ “Good luck,” she said with a smirk.

I pushed on the faux gold handle and entered the room. A draft of cool air surrounded me as I looked around. The long windows at one side had been covered by a dark curtain, secured neatly at the sides. A long boardroom style table held most the space with recessed, circular lights along the walls perimeter. At the end sat a man slumped over a stack of papers and writing feverishly.

“Sit,” he commanded, not bothering to look up.

I made my way to the opposite end and drug out a chair. It was surprisingly comfortable. I rubbed the soft arm rests with my hands, flushing the material. It occurred to me after some time that the man had stopped writing and was observing my behavior. His face was cold and wrinkled. His glasses barely hung onto his paunchy face, his body an overflowing tub of grease.

“David, is it?” His voice separated by the effort to speak.

“Yes, sir. David Urnst.” I sat up and straightened my tie.

He made a mark on the paper in front of him. “Ohio?”

“Yes, Cleveland. Born and raised there.”

He grunted. “Kids?”

“No.”

“Wife?”

“No.”

“Family?”

I paused and looked at the grisly man. “At one point.”

His laughed stifled into a cough and he continued. “Past?”

“Accountant.”

He nodded and continued to write. “I could have guessed that. Future?”

I bit my lip. This answer was the crucial one. A wrong answer here and I would lose it. Or at least that’s what they told me. It would mean back to the grunge. Just another day, like everybody else.

“Tester.”

The man looked up, surprise covering his face. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” I smiled.

He raised his eyebrows and wrote down a long note. “Very well then. You may go.”

I looked around. “That’s it?”

He nodded. “See yourself out. Veronica is not the best at knowing when these little things are over.” He ginned, exposing his yellow teeth.

I got up but paused at the door. “When will I know?”

“Two weeks or so.”

“How?”

He sat back in his chair and looked at me for a moment. “You’ll know. There won’t be any toe tapping for home after that point, though.” He winked. “No such thing as a home really.”

I nodded and went out the door. No such thing as a home repeated in my head.  What did that mean?

At the end of the hall Veronica waited with door help open into the waiting room. I noticed the bright red flowers were now wilted as I passed.

JUST FINISHED: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Genre: Mystery/Fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Girl on the Train is winding tale centered around Rachel, a recently divorced, mentally unstable drunk. Rachel is so ashamed of her life that she rides the train every day to London and pretends to work just to avoid telling her roommate that she is no longer employed. Along the ride, the train makes it typical stop where it skirts around some houses not so far from the one she used to inhabit with her ex-husband, Tom. But a few houses before, there is couple that she has so-named “Jess and James” that seem to have the perfect life. Breakfast on the patio, sweet smiles at one another, ‘good morning’ kisses and hugs. Every day she sees them and puts on an imaginary play of what their lives are like that seems to bring a little happiness to herself, only to be stilled once the train pulls past the house that is now occupied by her ex-husband’s mistress and their child.

This is a typical day in the life of our poor Rachel until the morning she sees Jess outside kissing another man. Raging with anger and fuming with alcohol that Jess could tear apart her family and leave her husband feeling as distressed as Rachel is now, she exits the train to have a word. But unfortunately that is all her memory will allow her when she wakes up the next morning with bruises and cuts all over and a crushing hangover. And to top it off, Jess’s face is on the news and in the paper. She’s missing as of last night.

This was a great mystery novel. It was so refreshing for me to come across one that kept me guessing on what actually happened up until the end. Hawkins not only uses the perspective of the lead, Rachel, but also the missing woman (who is actually named Megan), and the mistress, Anna, with varying timelines to weave the different pieces of the story. The plot moves at a very quick pace and will be sure to not let you set this one down. If you are in the mood for a fast read with timing puzzles and memory games, this one is for you.

JUST FINISHED: Sacrifice

Author: SJ Bolton
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Well, I have to say that it was nice to read a faster paced book for once. My last few had been on the slow-going end; this one, not so much. Sacrifice starts off with Tora Hamiliton finding a women’s body in her field after beginning excavation for her horse’s grave. Being on the local hospital staff, her interest is piqued as she has to examine the body to find that the women had recently given birth in addition to having her rib cage cracked open and heart removed. Of course, finding something of this magnitude on your own property would surely warrant extra interest. Who’s to say the killer isn’t still around?

The story follows Tora’s exhausting quest to solve who exactly the women was and where she had come from. Bolton brings the odd and somewhat squeamish ‘folk’ tales of Shetland Island’s history to life all while also giving way to fairly accurate medical and current day procedures. The plot moves at a riveting pace which makes it a very quick read.

(Slight spoiler ahead!)

My only complaint (why it’s short of 4 stars) is that I feel like the mystery itself wasn’t too hard to guess at. I feel like Bolton gave away too much, even dragging out the story to fit in all the little tidbits. In fact, about half way through, I had the case one hundred percent solved before the main character. I know that I have a habit of looking for specific clues that author’s drop and tend not to fall for the ‘wrong guidance’ that is sunk in the text, but I feel like this one was a little too easy. What kept me reading though, was wanting to know how it all ended and how proof could be brought to the surface.

If you like medical mysteries, spooky English folklore, and words that move like steam engines, this is a book for you.

JUST FINISHED: The House at Riverton

Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The House at Riverton is a fictional history of a prominent English family from the viewpoint of a housemaid named Grace. An interesting twist on the storytelling is that it is done from present day Grace in the last of her days in an attempt to relinquish the grief she has carried from the family. Many memories are spawned back to her as a movie director that has decided to make the family’s life into a film begins meeting with her about details of the house at Riverton. Telling the story in this manner reminded me greatly of another novel I had read by Morton, The Secret Keeper, which tells me that this type of POV writing is a favorite.

Grace’s life is greatly changed as she entered service as a housemaid, becoming completely engaged at the curiosities and energies exhibited by the Hartford children: Hannah, Emmeline, and David. Full of new notions and a familiar feeling that Grace cannot shake off, she become enamored and falls in love with the family.

The novel begins with a frightening scene told as Grace’s nightmare which is slowly pieced together throughout with the true turn of events revealed at the end. While that is the main line that keeps this book interesting, there is also the ongoing mystery of what will finally bring it all to the end, as in the dispersion of the family. The Hartford children create problems for themselves at a rate that is increasingly dramatic as they age. Much like a freight train on crash course with no brakes.

An interesting historical topic that this book deals with is the changing of times
after World War I and into the 1920s. During this time the English Elite were starting to diminish as the middle class began to take hold of the world. The book delves into this issue showing the changing attitudes of the people. One particularly notable change that occurs is that when Grace begins her life of service her position is held highly but by the end many would not even dare take a job as a lady’s maid. That life offered only diminishing returns and no freedom.

If you enjoy Downton Abbey and books built around parasitic relationships, you should check this one out.

JUST FINISHED: Crooked River

Author: Valerie Geary

Genre: Mystery

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Two young girls find a dead body of a woman floating in a river near their home. The sight of the woman evokes a sense of questionable fear and resurfaces their feelings of sorrow from their own mother’s death only a few weeks before. Clues start surfacing and everyone begins to point the finger at their own father. But neither girls believe that their father could do such a thing and begin in their own way to unravel the mystery, sometimes helping and sometimes worsening the whole situation.

Geary produced an easy read filled with flowing imagery that explores the concepts of grief, love, and forgiveness. What I enjoyed about this novel was the slow, nostalgic way that Geary writes. It draws you in and keeps you there.

The negative items were the “too big clues” and irrational character decisions. What I mean by “too big clues” (SPOILER ALERT) were items that obviously point towards the truth behind the murder motive and murderer before it should be unveiled. The murderer’s son, Travis, trying to plant a lighter in the meadow. Travis catching Sam trying to throw away the jacket. The rude reaction of Mrs. Roth when Sam and Ollie are at the Attic store. The crazy talk from Mr. Roth to Ollie. I shouldn’t be able to pin point the murderer by the fourth chapter. Moves like that make that plot point not as intriguing.

Irrational character decisions is a pet peeve for me. An adult who realizes he may have a jacket belonging to a murder victim turns it in immediately if they are innocent. They don’t hold onto it, waiting for a child to do an adult’s job. I realize Bear himself was still growing, but still, really? The second big irrationality was on the Roth’s. You burn evidence left from your murder victim. Or dump it somewhere. You don’t randomly keep it locked up in your work basement or carry her lighter around in your pocket and use it. Especially in front of the person-who-you-are-trying-to-frame’s daughter. The third is deciding to kidnap a little girl and convince her sister to come alone to free her on the condition that she’ll confess a false story. No, no it just doesn’t happen like that. If you received a call that someone confessed to having your sister and for you to come alone, you call the police. You would never go to a possible murderer’s house alone. I mean seriously, what are your chances of coming out alive? And as the kidnapper, how irresponsible do you get? Why even kidnap a little girl who found some evidence? No one would believe a little girl who doesn’t talk! Just kick her out and burn it! You also would not keep the kidnappee in a maniac’s workshop if you intend to let her live….there’s just way too many things near the end that are “movie syndrome.” Doing the impossible and illogical to finish the plot.

Overall this was an alright novel. Not the greatest of mysteries, but at least enough to keep me interested.