Phryne doing what she does best, seducing young men and solving crimes. As always, Phryne comes across cold and somewhat mocking of the men in her lifPhryne doing what she does best, seducing young men and solving crimes. As always, Phryne comes across cold and somewhat mocking of the men in her life, though she is not as unlikeable with it as in the previous book.
Greenwood's depiction of the jewish community in the early 20th century Melbourne is colourful and very enjoyable. The mystery is steeped in the culture, allowing for discussions of early century zionism, jewish mysticism and other rabbinic studies, and the yiddish language.
On the whole it was light, entertaining and you might even learn a few things....more
I have a lot of books on my to-read list so it is rare that I am "waiting" for a book to come out. However, I find myself growing excited when I hearI have a lot of books on my to-read list so it is rare that I am "waiting" for a book to come out. However, I find myself growing excited when I hear a new Matthew Bartholomew novel is due for release, and for the first time in quite a few years, found myself dropping it straight to the top of my read pile on release.
Gregory does not disappoint. The twenty-first entry in the ongoing mystery series and Matthew is showing every bit of the wear from the previous books, completely disillusioned with love and personal matters but holding strong to the core of him, the love of healing.
Cambridge is once again nearly aflame as the always-simmering tensions between town and university are once again encouraged, this time by a devious and remarkably clever antagonist. With half of the university pushing to decamp from cambridge for the fens, and a large portion of the town calling for exactly the same thing, everyone is at each other's throats. Add to this a strange disease running rampant through the town, an arrogant but incompetent doctor recently arrived, a noxious dyeworks opened in the city by Bartholemew's own sister, Michaelhouse's near financial ruin and a steadily increasing bodycount, and the stage is set for what could well be the end of the university, if not the entire town.
With such high stakes, and tempers flaring all over Cambridge, not even priests are safe from attack.
There is a lot to love in this book for fans of the rest of the series, with one stand-out being a more visible role being played by Dickon, the Sheriff's wild son, now ten years old and dying his face red like a devil, with his hair fashioned into two tiny horns. He patrols by day with his father, terrifying scholar and townsman alike.
Anyone who is a fan of historical crime novels will love this book, though if you've never read any of this series before do yourself a favour and begin, as they say, at the beginning. The journey is worth it....more
A wholly enjoyable murder mystery, written as a deliberate pastiche in the classic "golden age" style, whilst simulataneously subverting the rules (foA wholly enjoyable murder mystery, written as a deliberate pastiche in the classic "golden age" style, whilst simulataneously subverting the rules (for instance, there is certainly a Chinaman involved in the story. Two, in fact.)
I sometimes find it difficult to like Phryne Fisher in these novels, and so it was in this book, particularly in the way she flaunts her short affair with Gerald in front of Lin, her chinese lover and her guest at the house in which they are staying.
It's a small thing, and an important piece of characterisation for the character, which is in keeping with how she has been written throughout the series. It's also good to see a strong, female lead character who isn't at all ashamed of acting like many of her male counterparts - and at the very least, less deviously than most of them.
However hard it can be to like her sometimes, it's never difficult to admire her. She bursts into full life in every story and this is no exception - even her enjoyment at playing at Poirot in the ending is obvious and fitting.
In golden age fashion, every major player has a secret in this story, and though not all of them are surprising by the time they are revealed, there are enough sudden twists and surprise reveals to make it a delight to read. ...more
GraphicAudio is a fantastic concept really, a throw back to the old radio dramas of the 30s and 40s, making use of modern technology to create amazingGraphicAudio is a fantastic concept really, a throw back to the old radio dramas of the 30s and 40s, making use of modern technology to create amazingly well produced full cast audiobooks. With the right source material, it's going to be a gold idea every time.
John Zakour's series about the last Private Eye is wacky, ridiculous and hilarious - a perfect match for GraphicAudio and a stunning, highly entertaining package over all.
The twists and turns never really stop from the first page onwards, and underneath the anything goes humour is a very cleverly crafted story that plants seeds early on and pays them off with style. It's not long but the pace never slackens and the ending ties everything up in a very satisfying way.
I decided to give the series a second go after not really enjoying the first, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn't particularly enjoy the second bookI decided to give the series a second go after not really enjoying the first, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn't particularly enjoy the second book in this series either. I really wanted to, and tried hard, but in the end, no. I even put it down for several months before deciding to finish the final third of it, in the off-chance it got better. It didn't.
You can read my previous review for a full explanation of what bothers me about this series, despite loving the genre intensely most of the time. I think the short version is simply this. It's not really a historical mystery.
It looks like one, certainly. Has all the trappings, medieval town, smelly streets, religious friar as a protagonist, the occasional historical tidbit thrown in (like a whore shaved bald and marched about the streets with a sign around her neck, or the suicide buried at a crossroad with a stake in his heart). But it's all just a set, like an elaborate costume party where everyone dresses in period costume but are still themselves underneath.
That's what has been niggling at me as I read these books - the author completely fails to adjust his own modern attitude to suit the time he is writing about, and it comes out not just in some of the characters, but nearly all of them.
It's difficult to write a sympathetic protagonist with an alien viewpoint to the reader's, which is one of the reasons so many protagonists in historical fiction are themselves quite exceptional. A perfect example of this is Matthew Bartholomew, from Susanna Gregory's excellent series of the same name. He is a middle ages doctor with a far more modern (though not entirely modern) outlook on medicine and life. He doesn't worry overmuch about astrological charts, he doesn't bleed his patients, performs surgery when requried, and he even washes his hands (shock of shocks).
The reason for all this? He studied and travelled with an Arabic master; the Arabs at that time had forgotten more medicine than the English knew and things like washing and anatomy were not unknown or anathema to them. Matthew pays a massive price for his oddity however, and throughout the series has been attacked (verbally and physically), accused of witchcraft, and often been in danger for his life, simply for his differing views.
Contrast this with Brother Athelstan, a very modern thinking man - who has absolutely no reason to be, at least none given in the first two books. His attitude is very unlike the prevailing at the time, particularly for a man with a religious vocation, a member of a strict order. Likewise, he never suffers for his oddity, but rather most everyone else either doesn't notice, or shares his views. Those close to him, his allies, all have very modern outlooks on the world, and it grates terribly against the suspension of disbelief.
I wont rule out reading book three sometime in the future, to see if it grabs me. It seems a shame since Doherty is very competent, even clever, in his mysteries themselves and the writing. The characters can be quite endearing at times, and I find myself buying into the soap opera when it comes to the struggles of their lives, particularly when it comes to Cranston the coroner. However, I wont be hurrying back, for I find the irritation of the modern characters in historical skin outweighs enjoyment of the plot at this point....more
This is the probably the most mixed review i've had to give a book in quite a while. Anyone who follows my reviews knows that i'm not overly difficultThis is the probably the most mixed review i've had to give a book in quite a while. Anyone who follows my reviews knows that i'm not overly difficult to please - I simply like to be entertained when I read a story, however right up until the last page I was set to give this one only 2 stars, possibly my first 2-star review for the year.
So first, the bad:
I expected a lot from this book as I'd seen Doherty praised, a lot, in mystery lover circles, and historical crime novels - particularly those set in middle-age England - are among my favourite story indulgence. This was however his first novel, so perhaps I am being overly harsh, but for such a short book it really draaaags.
The central story of Nightingale Gallery is quite a clever little locked-room mystery, with a few Christie-like flourishes and an entertaining cast of characters. However, the key to a good, entertaining historical mystery is to have a complex, well research setting as a background to the story itself. Background being the key word. Whilst you expect the setting, differences in culture and law and the like to play major parts in the story, Doherty indulges himself in this novel, showing off his research in endlessly tedious and pointless scenes.
As an example, one long extended scene over quite a few pages simply has the main character walking from one place to another, and describes the route he takes (street by street) and everything that happens along the way. The story doesn't benefit from this scene at all - nothing that occurs has any relevance to the story itself, it is just an excuse for the author to play with his historical toys for a while, forcing us to watch as he does so.
Maybe i'm not the target audience for this novel, but I am familiar with history in broad strokes, and some parts in detail. I read works of historical non-fiction and find them quite entertaining, and I have read many works of historical crime fiction, because as I said before they are one of my favourite indulgences.
The point is, I already know that in the 14th century, London's streets were paved in shit. That it smelt bad, that people were poor and unhealthy, that the rats were numerous enough to form their own union for better wages and so-on. Had that entire lengthy multi-page love letter to his research notes been entirely omitted and replaced with "Athelstan spent the morning pushing through the crowds to X", the story wouldn't have suffered in the slightest.
In fact, if you remove all of the indulgent padding, what you're left with is closer to a short story than a full novel, and probably would have felt tighter and more satisfying if it had been one. If the setting material had instead been crafted in smaller chunks, with more subtlety, maybe it would have made a nice novella.
Unfortunately, the mystery section fell flat for me as well. Although it was, as I said previously, a clever little mystery - Doherty, at least in this book, doesn't "play fair" as fans of Dame Christie would know it. Instead, he uses the annoying little tricks and smirks at the reader to try and build up tension. Letters get read by the characters that "suddenly explain things", but their contents are not revealed to the reader. The protagonist, while meditating, "suddenly realises what he saw and what it means" but this realisation isn't presented to the reader until later chapters. One of the major telling pieces of evidence that gives away the murderer is a wood carving that is described in quite a lot of detail, however the single most important detail of the carving is withheld from the reader, for the protagonist to dramatically reveal in the final scenes. The details are withheld, of course, because if available to the reader the mystery would be no mystery at all - the answer is obvious. Which then leads to the obvious question; What took them so long to figure it out? There are no real twists in this story, the only surprises come from things that were noticed or told to the sleuths but never to the reader.
The reason I gave this book three stars instead of two, can be narrowed down to a single quote on one of the last pages:
"A moment later Athelstan header him roaring to Cecily the courtesan that he didn't care how pretty her arse was, she was to get out of his saddle!"
For all its faults, there is a certain amount of charm in the book, primarily in some of the colourful characters. They are not always believable - it may be that i'm just coming off "Lamentations" by Sansom, whose portrayal of the real terrors of life in the final years of King Henry VIII are a work of claustrophobic genius, but I find it very difficult to accept characters or relatively low station (or in the case of Athelstan, _very_ low station; a dominican parish priest isn't that much up the social ladder from a mendicant) feeling perfectly nonchalant in close quarters with the Regent of England, and his charge the young king. Doherty, who spends pages describing how ordure builds up in the alleys, doesn't even have his main characters bow to the most powerful men in the land. As Athelstan the dominican friar happily gives his Poirot-like rambling accusation story, he speaks to these lords as equals.
For this reason among others, Athelstan, the main protagonist, is probably one of the least sympathetic characters in the book. It was disappointing, I expected Susanna Gregory's Bartholemew, but I got a cardboard cut-out that doesn't quite fit instead.
And after all that, i've actually talked myself back down to two stars after all. I will try more novels in the series, to see if they improve over time, but I doubt i'll ever be back to re-read Athelstan's first steps.
TLDR; -- Not a terrible book, but when your alternative choices include Susanna Gregory's Bartholomew stories, Candace Robb's Owen Archer stories, Ellis Peters' Cadfael stories and C. J. Sansom's Shardlake series - i'm not sure why you'd bother. ...more
A strange notice in the paper, advertising a murder before it takes place. A woman standing to inherit millions, and the people who would inherit if sA strange notice in the paper, advertising a murder before it takes place. A woman standing to inherit millions, and the people who would inherit if she were to die prematurely. A small village, with fascinating characters. Once again, classic Christie, class Marple.
I've noted in previous reviews that the Miss Marple mysteries are very different from the Poirot's, and that as well as exploring small village life and humanity through that lens, each often seems to have particular themes in mind. This one certainly does, the theme being the change in village life, post-war. In particular, the change in demographic that led villages that were previously populated by generations of the same family who all knew each other from childhood to the grave, to suddenly become populated by expatriates and relocatees, people whose history was only know as they presented it.
With this as the key theme of the novel, it's not surprising to find that a large number of the cast aren't what they same. Some are under assumed names, have hidden pasts, and some have stolen the identities of others. A mixed cast where no-one is what they seem, and where even knowing and expecting this, the final identity of the murderer can still come as a surprise....more
The moving finger is interesting as it is billed as a Miss Marple novel, and indeed Miss Marple does play a significant role in solving the mystery, bThe moving finger is interesting as it is billed as a Miss Marple novel, and indeed Miss Marple does play a significant role in solving the mystery, but more than two thirds of the story is over before she makes her first appearance.
As with all Christie novels, the real star of the novel are the people and the place, living and breathing as real as fiction people can ever be. The core puzzle of the novel involves a series of nasty anonymous letters being sent out to everyone in a village, and the deaths that result. Is it a spiteful writer, taking out their hate on the world at large? Or is something more sinister at work.
There isn't much to say that I haven't already said in earlier Marple books, Similar themes on the evils of village life and human nature abound, and she does what she does with a panache i've never found in another mystery author....more
A particularly clever and twisty, if nasty, mystery involving two deaths and the usual gang of fascinating characters, including several of the villagA particularly clever and twisty, if nasty, mystery involving two deaths and the usual gang of fascinating characters, including several of the village characters from the previous two books, Sir Henry and of course, Miss Marple herself.
From the first Miss Marple book, I loved her. But it was in this one, the second book and a short story collection at that, that I really fell in loveFrom the first Miss Marple book, I loved her. But it was in this one, the second book and a short story collection at that, that I really fell in love with the character. So calm, so humble, and with a gentle smile as she reveals the twists and turns that "she's just sure they have seen as well."
The core conceit of the book revolves around a couple of dinner parties, in which the attendants amuse themselves by telling the unusual situations that have been in or observed, and challenging the others to solve the mystery. The characters telling the stories are themselves as amusing and well-drawn as those in the mysteries they tell - a particular favourite being Miss Marple's nephew, a writer of "particularly clever books" who is very impressed with himself, quite obnoxious, and sure that his aunt, stuck in a village all her life, couldn't possibly know anything about capital-L Life.
It is through these stories that Sir Henry, ex-chief of Scotland Yard, comes to hold great respect for Miss Marple, something that leads to her invitation into other mysteries, and allows her a certain sway above what is usual for a simple elderly village spinster, whose opinions would normally simply be ignored by those who "know better". A clever device for enabling her involvement in future crimes as well, I suspect in the following books to see a fair bit more of Sir Henry.
Likewise, the dinner parties mentioned are quite an entertaining way to present the core short mysteries, and in a way that doesn't necessarily require Miss Marple's attendance at every strange event.
Needless to say, and to the astonishment of the other guests, she unerringly solves every mystery - even the one that has yet to occur! - each time relating the crime back to a parallel event, some village scandal or village resident that just happens to point to the correct solution.
Highly entertaining, Agatha Christie doing exactly what she always did best. ...more
I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie, in particular the Poirot novels and stories, and it goes without saying that she was, and still is, the grand mastI am a huge fan of Agatha Christie, in particular the Poirot novels and stories, and it goes without saying that she was, and still is, the grand master of the art of the puzzle mystery. Each story and crime made up of interlocking events, motives and clues, all combining by the end into a finished tapestry with no loose ends or threads of any kind.
Where Christie really excelled however was in building these puzzles out of very real, living, breathing people, each of which a study in character whose story is fascinating and unique, some exotic, some exciting in richness of their very banality.
This was the first Miss Marple mystery I have read, and it was a shining example of exactly the sort of thing she was best at. A small village, teeming with entertaining characters, an interesting and very relatable narrator, an intricate and well written murder at the center - and of course, Marple herself. A marvelous old biddy with an eye for detail as sharp as Poirot or Holmes, a mind like a steel trap and an excellently dry sense of humour.
There is a reason that Christie ranks high even now amongst fan of crime fiction, and that her books, some 80 years or more after publication, remaining best sellers. Plain and simply, she was, and still is, an entirely entertaining storyteller. ...more