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 a...moreAfter 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?(less)
I really wish I could like this book more than I did. After all, considering the amount of time (ten years!) and effort Michael Ennis put int...more2.5 stars
I really wish I could like this book more than I did. After all, considering the amount of time (ten years!) and effort Michael Ennis put into writing it, to not like seems like a supremely douche-y move on my part. Yet I can't help myself. Now before I break down what it was about the novel which made me dislike it, let me list some things about the book I liked.
First off, those ten years of work clearly shows. This particular period of Italian history hasn't necessarily been brought to life (there's not much focus on anything or anyone beyond that which impacts the plot), but it has been rendered with a depth of detail that creates a passable simulacrum. Part of this might be because all the events used as the backbone of the plot actually occurred; the only fictional bits are the murders and the reactions of the players to those murders. Now, I tend to have mixed feelings about novels which blend real, historically-based figures and/or events with fictional storylines as, frankly, the results can be a mixed-bag, ranging from imaginative to god-awful dreck. It takes real skill to weave a murder-mystery or romance or whatever into an established timeline of events and make that whatever not stick out like a sore thumb. This is a skill Ennis has in spades: He managed to fit a series of gruesome murders seamlessly into an already violent background and make it seem believable that the novel's players, in addition to actions which are on historical record, scampered around the Italian countryside in order to solve those murders. Plus, despite its problems, the story does move along at a nice clip, keeping the reader involved without bogging them down in endless exposition or info dumps.
There's no argument that Ennis is a fine storyteller who is able to create a vivid and compelling tale, and is skilled in the craft of writing. I have no issue with that. If you look at the bare bones of the novel, it's got everything needed to be an engrossing murder-mystery: well-drawn characters (I can say that even while not liking the way they were drawn), action, some gruesome murders, a bit of romance, intrigue, a conspiracy or two, and interesting locations where all this takes place. The problem is, I can't get behind the story Ennis has created or the motivations and characterizations he's given the players, especially after some new research and reading which throws the regurgitated history of the Borgia family right out the window, and (I think) deservedly so. Even without this new information, I still couldn't get behind Ennis's take on Cesare/Valentino's motivations or mental processes, and his depiction of Machiavelli as some sort of love-sick puppy dog who's only motivation seems to be following Damiata around the country so he can crawl back into her bed is grating and a disservice to the real Machiavelli. Even Leonardo da Vinci occasionally came off as more of a caricature: though he's portrayed as eerily prescient about certain technologies and obsessed about discovering the workings of the natural world, which fits in with historical record, there were times when instead he came off more like Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movie franchise. Damiata was the only reasonable, sympathetic voice of the novel and we lose her a third of the way in; the novel starts out with her narrating events in a letter to her son, who is being held captive by Pope Alexander VI until she finds out who murdered Alexander's son, Juan, Duke of Gandia. She ends the letter, believing herself to be near death, and lets Machiavelli pick up the narration, (view spoiler)[yet she manages to survive all the events of the novel. (hide spoiler)] So my question has to be, why? Why get rid of her as a narrator and use Machiavelli in her place? I understand that Machiavelli is close to both da Vinci and Valentino in the story and, as such, can provide us some insight, I guess, but if it were me, I would've found a way for Damiata to have had a similar closeness in order to keep her as narrator; through her, the story flowed with more action, more intimacy, and more immediacy.
In the end, while I appreciate all the work Ennis put into the novel and can honestly say he's a skilled writer, I just can't agree with the story he put together. Perhaps someone with less knowledge of the Borgias or less interest in a truthful representation of historical figures might, but that's not me.
One minor note: Though others have complained about the Italian sprinkled throughout the book and the lack of translation (which isn't quite accurate as Ennis usually writes the English translation right after the Italian), I didn't have a problem with it. It's not that I speak Italian, and not to be smug, but I took Latin in high school, so it was easy for me to extrapolate what the words meant from their Latin bases.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Ah, Flavia, how I do love thee! I still say I'd love to have her as my child, if it weren't for my fear that she would continually get the best of me....moreAh, Flavia, how I do love thee! I still say I'd love to have her as my child, if it weren't for my fear that she would continually get the best of me. Her intelligence and perspicacity are terrifying.
Once again, death has come to the village of Bishop's Lacey. However, Flavia's already involved with a dead body, that of St. Tancred, whose tomb underneath the village church (which also bears the saint's name) has become the subject of an archaeological dig. Flavia has managed to insert herself into the proceedings, to no-one's surprise, so her eyes are the first to light upon the contents of St. Tancred's tomb. However, what she finds is not the moldering body of a saint, but the very recently deceased corpse of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist. As always, Flavia, with the help of her trusty 2-wheeled steed Gladys, takes it upon herself to solve the murder, though she's kind enough to leave a few clues for her frequent sparring partner, Inspector Hewitt, to solve. As Flavia unravels the convoluted web of deceit, family secrets, and greed at the heart of Mr. Collicutt's murder, an even more shocking secret is revealed, culminating in a doozy of a cliffhanger ending.
This novel, though it was still filled with Bradley's trademark wit, not to mention an engaging mystery, felt more intimate than previous entries in the series. The connections between Flavia and her family are explored in greater detail, allowing us to see the affection, hidden though it may be most of the time, which exists within the de Luce family. Don't worry, there's still plenty of hissing and sniping between Flavia and her sisters Ophelia (“Feely”) and Daphne (“Daffy”), but there are also some genuine moments of emotional bonding. And this is due to the overarching family drama running through the background of all these mysteries finally coming to a head. As we learned in the previous novels, Buckshaw, the de Luce's family home, actually belonged to Flavia's mother, Harriet. When she disappeared while mountaineering in the Himalayas, Flavia's father has struggled to maintain the large house in the years since. Now, though, those struggles have come to an end: The money's run out and all that's left is to sell Buckshaw and move the family to a smaller place. Naturally, this comes as quite a blow to everyone, none more so than Flavia, who struggles to deal with the loss of the old pile and especially her laboratory, a magnificent space kitted out with all the very best chemistry equipment by her uncle, Tarquin de Luce. Not only is it a place where Flavia carries out her chemical sleuthing, it is her sanctuary, her place of escape when she's suffered at the hands of her tormenting sisters and dreams up gruesome deaths by obscure poisons in revenge. But now, with the big reveal at the end of the novel, what will this all mean for the de Luce's and for Flavia? I can't wait to find out! Bradley has been signed by Delacorte to write five more Flavia novels, which is just fabulous news, as that means they'll be plenty more Flavia adventures to come!
On a side note, I have mixed emotions concerning the news that Sam Mendes has bought the rights to produce five two-hour television movies based on the series. Or, at least that's the plan. On the one hand, Mendes is good at what he does and the fact that he'll be working with a television/mini-series format as opposed to a big screen/movie series one is reassuring. It means more quality control and less chance of things falling apart. On the other hand, I cannot think of any young actress today who could embody the precociousness, the intelligence, the bull-headed, impish, shrewd nature of Flavia and actually pull it off. Not to mention the potential changes a scriptwriter or even Mendes himself might or will make to the story terrifies me. What if they think that the 1950's setting isn't exciting enough? What if they decide to update it, set it in London, or, god forbid, set it in America? Oh, man, I'm going to have nightmares!(less)
After a rather slow start, this became a truly well-done mystery novel. Featuring a disparate cast of characters and a series of gruesome murders, Mon...moreAfter a rather slow start, this became a truly well-done mystery novel. Featuring a disparate cast of characters and a series of gruesome murders, Monkeewrench will keep you on your toes until the very end.
I have to say, I had a little bit of trouble with this at first. Reading it was like looking at a completed jigsaw puzzle of, say, kittens playing with yarns balls. All of a sudden I'd run into a section which jarred me, like running into a section of the puzzle featuring robots boxing. Then the story would even out and pick up speed. A little later I'd run into another interruption, this one perhaps of hot air balloons. It wasn't until a little after the halfway point that the various threads of the story began coming together and I realized I wasn't looking at a picture of kittens and yarn balls at all. It was a actually a picture of a bathtub filled with rubber duckies, which you could only see if you crossed your eyes and squinted. Once I understood that, I began to enjoy the care which had been taken to build up the layers of this story into a cohesive and well-done mystery.(less)
I can't say this is the best of the Phryne Fisher series. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm rather disappointed in it. While it had all of Greenwoo...moreI can't say this is the best of the Phryne Fisher series. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm rather disappointed in it. While it had all of Greenwood's typical style and verve, the story was quite poor. Phryne never solved the main mystery. Or, to be more correct, she solves it, but then she flies off to solve another case and leaves the reader hanging as to who committed the Green Mill murder. Perhaps Greenwood is counting on clever readers to figure it out for themselves and to deduce how it was done. Well, right now, I'm not feeling so clever and would like for someone in the story to spell it out for me.
Edit of 7/22/2013: Okay, I reread the book because the unsolved mystery bit has bothered me ever since I first read it. Was I high when I first read The Green Mill Murder? Was I sleepy and somehow dozed off when the murderer was revealed? Talk about frustrating! However, now that I've read it (and read it with eagle-eyes, to make sure I wasn't missing anything) I've realized I was right all along. The first murder, that of Bernard Stevens, the murder which sets off the action in the book (not to mention the titular Green Mill murder), is never solved. Or, more correctly, it's never implicitly solved. Det. Jack Robinson comes to Phryne just before she flies off to find Vic and confesses that he can't figure it out, but he's sure that Phryne has. Phryne assents, telling him that she has a good idea of who the murderer is and she'll tell him her theory when she gets back from her trip. However, the book ends with her flying successfully out of the Australian bush, after she's solved the issue involving Vic and Charles. We don't get to see her follow-up visit with Robinson, we don't get to hear who she believes the murderer to be. We're left with only hints and clues to, apparently, figure it out ourselves. (view spoiler)[From the way things were left, Charles was cleared, and most of the band was cleared. However, we know Tintagel Stone removed the knife from the crime scene to protect his friend who's also the killer. From all the info we're given, that has to be Ben Rodgers, the cornet and trumpet player. For what reason I don't know, but since the victim was a blackmailer, I'd have to say he had something on Ben or Ben's girlfriend, Nerine, the singer. (hide spoiler)] I'm sorry, but no matter how clever I think I may be and how confident I am that I've solved the case, I still want the culprit clearly identified somewhere in the story. BTW, thanks to a helpful comment from a fellow reader, this edit also covers the implication that I blame Greenwood for the error. This is clearly not the case as others have obviously read a copy of this book which includes all the chapters, including the actual final ones in which the mystery is clearly and explicitly solved. No, this problem rests square at the feet of Greenwood's publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. They need to do some housecleaning as this hasn't been the first editing/printing issue I've run across.["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Murder comes once again to the attention of Dubric Bryerly, castellan of Faldorrah Castle. The decapitated bodies of livestock have been found in the...moreMurder comes once again to the attention of Dubric Bryerly, castellan of Faldorrah Castle. The decapitated bodies of livestock have been found in the downtrodden village of Quarry Run, followed by the decapitated bodies of human beings. Dubric and his team scour the countryside searching for clues, each one seeming to point at a more sinister menace behind the string of disappearance and death, Dubric's old bane, the poisonous taint of a dark mage.
From dark secrets locked behind the walls of a local sanatorium to sinister influences poisoning his home and new love, Dubric must put together each new puzzle piece and solve the mystery before a treacherous evil rises again.
In a way, I'm rather disappointed with this, the third book in the Dubric Bryerly series. I'm not disappointed with the writing, which is as taut and enthralling as ever, nor am I disappointed with the story, which was the richest and most complex of the three books. No, I'm disappointed by the fact that upon reaching the end of the book, there seems to be no more follow-up novels in sight. Which is quite frustrating as the end of the book did in no way end the stories of the characters involved. Quite the reverse. I am left hanging, eager to continue following the lives and adventures of these characters and saddened by the knowledge that, for the foreseeable future and to the best of my knowledge, I won't be allowed to do so.
Don't let that discourage you from reading this book, though. Though murder is once again the main feature, it somewhat downplayed, the novel instead focusing more on the relationships, personal and political, of the people driving the story. It felt as though the book was preparing itself as a springboard for a whole new arc of stories, by laying down more of the history of Faldorrah, the Mage Wars, and the political machinations which have brought Dubric into the position he currently holds. I've sent out a call to Tamara Siler Jones not to leave us readers hanging and she's listened. In fact, she has plenty more tales of Bryerly and company to tell, but if she doesn't get more support from the reading public, publishers won't know to publish her. You can do your part and support her by buying as many of Siler's books as you can; send publishers a message that she's a talent which needs to be supported and heard.(less)
***WARNING******WARNING*** If you are easily disgusted, if you are at all squeamish, if you are put off by graphic descriptions of violence, do not, I...more***WARNING******WARNING*** If you are easily disgusted, if you are at all squeamish, if you are put off by graphic descriptions of violence, do not, I repeat, DO NOT read this book. To quote a review from the Sequential Tart, "For a nice, Mid-West housewife, Jones is a sick lady. I mean that in the nicest way."
In The Reach, the semi-wild outer lands of the kingdom of Faldorrah, young men are disappearing, being taken by someone, something unknown. Two molested and mangled bodies have washed up onto the shores of the local river, prompting Dubric Byerly and his investigative team to travel north, into The Reach and into the grip of dark and malevolent magic.
Searching for the latest missing boy, Dubric, haunted as he is by the ghosts who've died unavenged, soon realizes the deaths are far more in number than he could've imagined. Now, more than one boy's life hangs in the balance. The safety of Dubric's pages, Otlee and Lars, two young men ripe for the taking, is endangered by the plague of evil magic, once thought to have been wiped off the face of the earth, which threatens to rise again. Following the tangled skein of clues leads Dubric into a confrontation with the most venomous of evil mages, a foe Dubric fought once before many decades ago in the soul-scarring Mage Wars. Will Dubric have the strength to vanquish this evil once and for all, before it destroys everyone and everything he loves?
I thought the first book was quite graphic and gory, but it was just a prelude to the violence depicted in Threads of Malice. Now, for me, that's not a problem as I'm not a squeamish person, but I'm not kidding about the warning I posted above. If you've got a strong stomach, then by all means, go ahead and read this book. If not, please don't, although you will be missing out on some mighty compelling and powerful storytelling. Jones' books are not all about the violence; each story weaves a complex mixture of romance, faith, family, and ordinary heartbreak into the horrendous crimes which sit at the heart of each book. One might not think that tender scenes of budding love and innocent courtship could fit amongst scenes of such brutal horror, yet they do, providing a balanced counterpoint of lightness to the weighty bleakness of the crimes. Tamara Siler Jones isn't a familiar name in the fantasy genre, but I think it's high time she gets some well-deserved notice.(less)
Take the heinous crimes of Jack the Ripper, ramped up a notch or two, add the thrills and chills of a well-written crime novel, mix in the oppressive...moreTake the heinous crimes of Jack the Ripper, ramped up a notch or two, add the thrills and chills of a well-written crime novel, mix in the oppressive atmosphere most often found in dark fantasy novels, and what you come up with is Ghosts in the Snow, a superbly crafted and seamless mix of seemingly disparate genres.
Dubric Bryerly is the castellan of Castle Faldorrah, responsible for the safety and well-being of his master's, Lord Brushgar's, domain. When an unknown killer begins savagely murdering servant girls, more than Dubric's reputation is on the line. Cursed by the Goddess Malanna after his wife's murder some forty years ago, he is haunted by the ghosts of the dead...literally. They appear before him in a flash of blinding pain, wailing silently, lamenting their deaths. And until Dubric finds their killer, the ghosts remain with him, tormenting him as they grow in boldness and strength.
Used to dealing with murders born out of drunken rages or domestic disputes, the recent spate of murders baffles him. The murderer eludes Dubric's grasp, leaving no clues and no witnesses. All Dubric knows is that an innocent linen maid, Nella, has become the object of the murderer's twisted desire. Nella has a protector, however, in the dashing Lord Risley. Unfortunately, as bodies continue to pile up, the few clues Dubric and his team have found point to Lord Risley as the prime suspect. Now Dubric must decide if he's willing to gamble his life and the kingdom he vowed to protect on Risley's guilt, for if he's right, Faldorrah will be thrust into war, and if he's wrong, another innocent life will be lost when the real killer strikes again.
When I read this book for the first time, somewhere around 2005, I didn't know it was the first of a trilogy. All I knew was that it was an exhilarating, if gruesome, breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre. I'd never heard of anyone combining a forensic-style crime storyline with the fantasy genre. Heck, if anyone'd asked me, I wouldn't have had the first clue how to go about doing that. Somehow, Tamara Siler Jones' twisted little brain (and I mean that in the best of ways) managed to concoct this unique and inventive tale and I congratulate her for it.(less)