E Is for Evidence by Sue Grafton
Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone must solve a murder in order to restore her professional reputation, and she must do so without smart phones and with no internet to aid the detective work. She must rely on interviews and logic to figure things out. She records notes and compiles reports on her portable Smith Corona typewriter, and you realize very quickly how far we have come in just a few decades. E Is for Evidence was published in 1988.
On the very first page you are made aware of the time frame because a bank statement comes in an envelope with a window that reveals the yellow carbon copy inside. (I shuddered to recall carbon copies.) On reading this, Millhone discovers an unexpected $5,000 deposit in her bank account and so she calls her bank to let them know this must be a mistake because she did not make the deposit. She then forgets about it, but the money turns out to have much more significance than she had anticipated.
This PI does not find it necessary to soften her rough edges, which is probably why she has two ex-husbands. One of those exes shows up in this story and she should have known that was not good news. Despite her brash attitudes, her vulnerabilities (both emotional and physical) become apparent in this story and make her a strangely sympathetic character.
It is a fast-paced story that involves more than one murder, industrial arson, and document searches using real documents. There is a diverse cast of characters and intrigue that will keep you guessing until the very end.
A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths
Set in Norfolk, England, A Room Full of Bones succeeds in solving a murder, confronting English social class disparities, indulging in a little romance, and exposing the scandalous theft of cultural artifacts from a former British colony. You might think this was too much for one novel to accomplish but it is a surprisingly easy read. I enjoyed following all the threads and wondering how they all fit together, and I loved how the conclusion was both a complete surprise and completely logical.
Ruth Galloway is a forensic archeologist, a single mom, and a university professor. Many a reader will empathize with her struggles to get the toddler to the babysitter while simultaneously taking phone calls to provide expert advice and trying to get to class on time.
The mystery begins when a small local museum becomes the site for the opening of the coffin of a medieval bishop. This would be exciting enough, but the museum’s curator upstages the event by dying on the floor beside the coffin. The cause of his death is not clear, but a window is open, there is a snake nearby, and a book lies open on the floor near a single shoe.
Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson joins Galloway in trying to figure this out, but he is preoccupied by his efforts to find out the ways in which large quantities of drugs are being trafficked through the town.
At the same time, an Australian with an interest in Aboriginal artifacts moves into the house next door to Galloway, and the owner of the museum, Lord Smith, is insistent that he owns the bones that are housed therein and that they should not be repatriated.
All of these various relationships and social issues give a lot of food for thought and the reader will enjoy seeing them through various eyes. A fascinating read.