One of my favourite Mary Burchells, specifically for the way the heroine's younger sister Judy precipitates the denouement. I admit I frequently go ba...moreOne of my favourite Mary Burchells, specifically for the way the heroine's younger sister Judy precipitates the denouement. I admit I frequently go back and read just from that point to the end of the book.(less)
**spoiler alert** The hero's physique on the cover looks a little odd, but inside the book where it matters he is not in any way deformed physically....more**spoiler alert** The hero's physique on the cover looks a little odd, but inside the book where it matters he is not in any way deformed physically. He appears to the heroine to be gorgeous, lazy, and frivolous; she appears to him to be merely a little too serious, so he amps up the laziness and frivolity to try to loosen her up, which only makes things worse. It's because of the sad state of 1980's Harlequin Presents that I think it worth mentioning that he never threatens her, assaults her, or kidnaps her before informing her that he behaves like a brute only because he loves her, and she is in fact a competent professional (as opposed to a dazed young woman with either no career plans or an oddly specific home decoration specialty). The conflict that delays the happy ending is a combination of her prickliness and some intrigue and insanity on the part of the people around them. (less)
**spoiler alert** My expectations for this book were clearly far too high. I don't remember what review prompted me to buy it, but the combination of...more**spoiler alert** My expectations for this book were clearly far too high. I don't remember what review prompted me to buy it, but the combination of lexicography and mystery with a positive review seemed like a winner. There's a blurb on the back that should have set off alarm bells right away: "Charming and witty are not the usual adjectives used to describe a mystery novel". Maybe if you mostly read from the gritty end of the mystery genre, but I would say that my favourite mystery novels are by definition charming and witty. Even if the ignorance of the blurber might be forgiven if the novel was in fact charming and witty, I should have been suspicious that they didn't manage to get blurbed by someone who knew anything about charming and witty mystery novels.
The narrator, Billy, is pretty bland. There are a lot of characters who are mentioned and never develop into anything. There are a few characters who are slightly developed but in the end there is no reason to be interested in them or care about them -- which is very fortunate, because there is basically no growth or resolution to any aspect of their lives. The resolution of the "mystery" of The Broken Teaglass is dull. When Billy's coworker Mona brings The Broken Teaglass to Billy's attention, it seemed like it could be interesting and clever, and I spent far too much time trying to come up with anagrams of teaglass that could lead somewhere. The characters in the book didn't even mention the idea of looking up the entry for teaglass in the dictionary until halfway through the book and even then it turned out that Mona had thought about it and done it long before mentioning it to Billy and it had led nowhere. Anagrams were never even discussed. Billy's neighbour and the neighbour's never-seen wife were irrelevant. The Korean War was apparently irrelevant, unless I was supposed to infer that Red was actually Mary Anne's biological father. Billy's recovery from Hodgkin's disease could possibly have been interesting if it hadn't been treated obscurely until 2/3 of the way through the book. Nobody appeared to love words or have any interesting thoughts about lexicography.(less)
There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book -- the information about the political situation in Burma was very interesting, and sections were...moreThere were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book -- the information about the political situation in Burma was very interesting, and sections were very powerful. However I have to admit that the romance part did not resonate with me, so although I enjoyed the epilogue, most of the last third of the book didn't quite work for me.(less)
**spoiler alert** The first-person-plural narration was handled brilliantly. Although the office life depicted was obviously over-the-top in some resp...more**spoiler alert** The first-person-plural narration was handled brilliantly. Although the office life depicted was obviously over-the-top in some respects, the sense of the interpersonal relationships and office gossip felt very true-to-life.
I didn't love the sections that switched to Lynn Mason's POV as much. It almost felt like cheating, to go from the "we" perspective to such an intimate, internal 3rd person. I wonder whether I would have liked it better as a first person singular, distinct from the plural narrator and privy to information that the plural narrator would not have had? I have to admit that the times that I most liked the character of Lynn Mason were when the POV was still plural and she displayed a sort of robust refusal to take refuge in bland corporate inanity. I would have liked to like her that much from her own POV.
Occasionally I would forget that the book was set in Chicago and not NYC, so there was a point where the oblique references to 9/11 made me think that it was going to turn out that the office had been in the World Trade Center. As it turned out 9/11 had no particular significance in this story.(less)
I had fully expected to like Flavia and was very disappointed not to. I knew she wasn't going to be warm and fuzzy, but she's hard and cold in ways th...moreI had fully expected to like Flavia and was very disappointed not to. I knew she wasn't going to be warm and fuzzy, but she's hard and cold in ways that didn't appeal to me. It's also not very satisfying to read page after page of internal monologue where Flavia racks her brain to puzzle out the next clue with constant exhortations to herself to think. Personally I think she would have benefited from a Watson, or at least some more human contact.
Part of my lack of enjoyment of the book may have been due to the fact that at one point I apparently closed it with my bookmark at the wrong place in the book. When I started reading again I wound up reading the pages where Flavia makes a startling key revelation and therefore when I realised my mistake and went back to the correct place I couldn't understand why Flavia didn't already know the vital information I had clearly read.