I was really up for this book as this is one of my favorite plots -- a current day individual solves a mystery from the past, with ghosts thrown in. AI was really up for this book as this is one of my favorite plots -- a current day individual solves a mystery from the past, with ghosts thrown in. Add to that a great setting -- London -- and what could hold more promise?
The good stuff first. Beverly Swerling is a decent writer, her characters are emotionally consistent, she clearly has a good grasp of history and the academia surrounding it. Even the plot, though of course unrealistic and over-the-top, kept my interest, because unrealistic and over-the-top is what I expect in this sort of fiction.
Here is where it fell short: the characters felt cliched, and therefore flat. Annie Kendall, the heroine, is a spunky former alcoholic, eager to redeem her reputation by scoring a historical coup; but somehow she never emerged as a quirky, three dimensional and unpredictable individual. Her boyfriend was an absolute cliche of the romantic hero: a celebrated political talk show star, incredibly handsome and of course sensitive, witty, considerate, AND a great lover. His immediate interest in Annie, soon evolving into love, just didn't feel realistic in a guy who would have had women falling at his feet. And of course there was his spunky mother, another too-perfect character, the wise rabbi who assists them -- none of them sprang to life for me.
Most readers seemed to have preferred the portion of the book that takes place in the medieval era, but I found Dom Justin, the monk who gets involved in the Avignon pope conspiracy, unpleasant and sanctimonious at best. He succumbs once to the attractions of Rebecca, daughter of "The Jew of Holborn" and then spends all his time lashing himself, and her, for his lapse -- basically not caring that she is carrying his child, and protecting himself, as the "superior male" while she takes the risks and does the thinking.
The villain, or villains, are not adequately fleshed out, nor was the denouement the least scary to me, as I had no doubt but what Annie would defeat the bad guys handily and get her man, in the time honored fashion of this genre.
The challenge of a writer in this situation is to create characters sufficiently real that you forget what the rules of the genre dictate and let yourself get swept away in the moment. That never happened to me.
So an adequate, B- experience when it could have been an A....more
On the whole, I enjoyed this well enough that I am giving it four stars. The history/research bits that annoyed other readers I quite enjoyed. The senOn the whole, I enjoyed this well enough that I am giving it four stars. The history/research bits that annoyed other readers I quite enjoyed. The sense of place was good and I thought it was clever of the author to graft a made up story on true essays written by Thomas De Quincey. Also quite liked him and his daughter, who was the antithesis of the fainting helpless Victorian female and bracingly took charge on many an occasion.
Weak points: Excessive lingering on violent, bloody scenes; dialogue and description that sometimes sounds authentic and sometimes not even English, let alone Victorian English. (The author, it seems, is Canadian, but is a long time resident of the United States.) And a denouement that left me somewhat confused. De Quincey, it seems, predated Freud and Proust in some of his perceptions on the human psyche, -- a nice touch if true -- yet when he has his showdown with the murderer, the accusations he hurls at him don't satisfactorily reveal the deep down trauma that led the man to perpetrate the murders. I was left wondering, "What the h---??" Maybe if I went back and read that section it would click into place, but I should have felt that satisfying, "Ah-ha!" right away.
Still, entertaining. Kept me intrigued. Not true of many books!...more
I love Y.S.Lee. She does such a good job with her characters and her era. She does such a good job of creating this female detective who could never hI love Y.S.Lee. She does such a good job with her characters and her era. She does such a good job of creating this female detective who could never have existed in the real Victorian era, and making it perfectly plausible nevertheless. The mystery wasn't as good in this one as in the first, but I love the interplay between Mary and James and I just bowled along, thoroughly entertained....more