After the rather disappointing The Green Mill Murder, Phryne is back on form in Ruddy Gore, this time investigating a murder set in a theater during aAfter the rather disappointing The Green Mill Murder, Phryne is back on form in Ruddy Gore, this time investigating a murder set in a theater during a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore. The cast of characters is amusing and diverse, but we're also introduced to someone who sounds as though he'll be sticking around for the next few books, a lovely Chinese man by the name of Lin Chung who becomes Phryne's lover and confidant. I don't think it's necessary for me to go into detail as far as the synopsis; after all, this is a Phryne Fisher mystery. Going in, you know there'll be a mystery in which nothing and no-one is what or who they seem, truths will be uncovered, secrets will be kept by the sphinx-like Phryne as she deems prudent, and Dot will fret. And, as always, there'll be a secondary mystery in addition to the main one which will allow Phryne to fully flex her investigative muscles.
The one thing I noticed (and I can't remember if I ran into this problem in the previous books) is a strange bit of formatting with regards to the dialogue. Several times someone's response would be in the same paragraph, sometimes even the same sentence, as the other person's dialogue, making it confusing as to who was speaking. There were times when I had to reread something a couple of times to differentiate who exactly was doing the talking. Yes, there are times when you can have two people speaking in the same paragraph, usually with some exposition in the middle, which is okay as it usually denotes an immediacy to the conversation. But when it's done repeatedly or, more importantly, when someone's response comes right after the first person's dialogue, and I'm talking about in the same sentence, it makes the exchange unnecessarily confusing and, well, rather sloppy.
Aside from that formatting issue, though, once again I enjoyed becoming immersed in the Australia of the 1920s. Because of my particular peculiarities, I especially enjoyed all the details involving Phryne's (and to a certain extent Dot's) costumes and shoes. I'm a girly-girl that way. Not to mention the descriptions of the meals made by Mrs. Butler or served in the restaurants frequented by Phyrne made my mouth water (and Greenwood mentions food often, meaning I'm constantly slobbering as I read her books) and long for a life where I could have the luxury of snacking on homemade dishes prepared by a skilled cook. Basically, to live like Phryne. And who wouldn't want to live like that?...more
As often happens with novels I rate at 3.5 stars, I have mixed feelings about what I've read. On the one hand, the book as a whole was an eas3.5 stars
As often happens with novels I rate at 3.5 stars, I have mixed feelings about what I've read. On the one hand, the book as a whole was an easy read. The story moved at a quick clip--I never felt a drag in what was actually being told, regardless of how it pertained to the plot--the dialogue is crisp, and the story was entertaining. Yet, despite how entertaining the book was, it felt slightly misleading.
We start with young Maisie Dobbs as she opens up a detective agency and receives her first big case. Maisie, a young lady who was trained by a Hercule Poirot-type mentor and sponsored by a bored but socially-conscious aristocrat, treks through 1929 London to figure out if her client's wife is cheating on him, and in doing so discovers an even larger mystery involving the real "Walking Dead", those soldiers who returned from the Great War disfigured in more than just body. It took a while for the "mystery" of this mystery novel to finally unfold, and when it did, it was slightly disappointing. Anyone familiar with even the basic tenets and M.O. of a cult would've seen the denouement coming from a mile away. Not only that, but shortly into Maisie's investigation of this "mystery", the novel shifts and we spend time in Maisie's past where we discover how she came to the attention of her mentor and sponsor, and how the Great War shaped and affected her. Now, contrary to some, I like a good backstory: I like seeing where a character comes from, how they came to be who they are and discover their raison d'etre. And I understand why Winspear gives us that insight into Maisie--it allows us to understand a bit better how Maisie relates to the surviving soldiers she needs to deal with. The way Winspear did it, though, seems a bit clumsy and disruptive to the main plotline; with the mystery at the heart of the novel being so weak, it seems it would've profited from a direct telling rather than the interrupted one it got.
I also got the overwhelming sense of something "Mary Sue" about the whole book, not just the protagonist; every character was just so . . . nice. There's nothing wrong with nice, don't get me wrong, but even the villain wasn't bad per se, just thoroughly destroyed mentally by the terrors he'd gone through in the first World War. The few people that Maisie didn't "rub along with" were never out-and-out mean to her; any antagonism sprang from the other person's anger/disappointment/fear of something happening in their life, not from any personal dislike of Maisie herself. And the other characters in Maisie's life were overwhelmingly supportive of her, willing to cross any social/financial boundaries in order to assist her. Which is just so wildly unrealistic. I admit, I'm the "glass half empty" type of person. (Actually, I'm the "the glass is half empty because the glass is cracked and leaking and will cut me if I pick it up" type person.) So I have a natural aversion to anything too perky or sweet. But to have a good story is to have friction and drama, which only comes when things don't go easy: when people are mean to you, maybe for no good reason, maybe for every reason; when things are hard and no help is forthcoming from those who could ease the way, making the struggle that much more of an uphill battle. A life in which things go too easy, where everyone is on your character's side and they get all the help they need or want from those around them, has the potential to be a rather boring story.
From the author's notes and mini interview at the back of the book, the main theme of Maisie Dobbs was a personal one based on Winspear's curiosity of WWI-era Britain as well as family history/stories of that time period. Considering the violence and social upheaval the first world war engendered, perhaps Winspear didn't want to add any fictional conflict from the actions of her characters. Maybe she wanted to present a more idealized image of the ordinary citizen to counteract all that violence. Who knows. It just seems to do a disservice to the reader in my opinion. After all, even in the midst of chaos, life goes on: Good people still do good deeds, evil people still do evil deeds, and most people reside somewhere in between as they work their way through life. That's where your conflict comes from. And that's where the stories come from....more
First of all, I have to give kudos to the authors: It's obvious they did their research and did it well. They managed to layer a wealth of informationFirst of all, I have to give kudos to the authors: It's obvious they did their research and did it well. They managed to layer a wealth of information into the novel, immersing the reader in Byzantine Constantinople without impeding the flow of narration or cutting it off altogether with large info dumps. All other considerations aside, the novel does a wonderful job of bringing that chaotic and rich city to life. That said, the story itself is thin. According to the biography, the authors, a husband and wife team, have previously written short stories concerning the main character of the novel, John the Eunuch. I think they should stick to that format, as the book felt to me as though they'd taken a short story and padded it out in order to create a full-length novel, with little success. The mystery, such as it was, was not very mysterious and the search for its conclusion was constantly interrupted by side tales of tertiary and other even more minor characters. While those short interludes gave us glimpses into assorted lifestyles, from the lowest of the poor to high-end courtesans, they didn't do anything to advance the story. In fact, they did the opposite, by delaying the action and any suspense, of which there wasn't much, which might've built up. While I agree that a short description is a good thing--after all, these minor characters are witnesses and victims, so it's always good to know where they're coming from--it was completely unnecessary to go into such lengthy descriptions of their day-to-day lives. In fact, such detail was given that I came to know more about them than I did about the first victim, the one who drove the whole story. If a mystery has any chance of being compelling, we, the reader, have to care about the victim, or at least care about why s/he was murdered. The victim of One For Sorrow, Leukos, is a virtual cipher as there was almost no information given about him or his history; even when I finally reached the end of the book, I still didn't have a clue as to why I should care that he was murdered. We're also supposed to care about the protagonist, John the Eunuch, and while we did discover some of his backstory and history, it didn't seem enough. In the end, after the first few chapters, I ended up skimming the book as I just couldn't connect to any of the characters; none of them seemed like flesh-and-blood people and I didn't care what happened to them....more
A good historical fiction mystery set in the Roman town of Ostia, in 79 CE, aimed at the pre-teen age group. The story contains quite a bit of detail,A good historical fiction mystery set in the Roman town of Ostia, in 79 CE, aimed at the pre-teen age group. The story contains quite a bit of detail, so it's educational, yet the information is well-distributed, so the reader doesn't feel as though she's sitting in a stuffy classroom, listening to a boring history lesson. The history lives. What pleased me the most was the map of the city, as well as a floor plan of the houses in which the main characters live. As a visual person, being able to trace the routes the characters took during the story really pulled me into the tale. The plot itself as well as the characters and the mystery are well done, not overly complicated but detailed enough to be quite satisfying, even for an adult reader such as myself. There's also a handy glossary at the back, with pronunciation guides, for those who might be unfamiliar with the terms and people encountered in the ancient Roman world. The only quibble I had was the religious lesson/moral introduced towards the end; it was brief, but still had a proselytizing feel to it. All in all, a lively and engaging read....more