Jo Walton's Farthing imagines an England that, left without any support in 1940, made a separate peace (Peace with Honor) with Nazi Germany. The novelJo Walton's Farthing imagines an England that, left without any support in 1940, made a separate peace (Peace with Honor) with Nazi Germany. The novel is set up as a classic country house mystery, but it is really an exploration of how easy it is to manipulate a populace that seeks its own comfort and safety over everything else. The novel has its weaknesses: the eventual revelation of the plot is a bit neat, and England's slide into fascism is a bit too quick. I don't question that what Walton posits could have happened, I just think it wouldn't have happened quite that abruptly.
It's a difficult novel to read because this is an England that seems without hope. The decent people are without power and balancing on the thin edge of the knife. The venal, the corrupt, and the bigoted are at once vicious and complacent. There are characters whose fate the reader does not learn (such as Mrs. Smollett), but whose stories are unlikely to end well. As the novel proceeds, the atmosphere becomes increasingly frightening, but also claustraphobic. There is little to lighten the mood as the novel draws to its grim conclusion.
But she writes compelling characters. Inspector Carmichael is a man who compartmentalizes his life, and does not cringe when his colleagues utter bigoted comments. The choices he makes may not always be admirable, but they are understandable. Lucy Kahn, who introduces herself as somewhat flighty and unorganized, reveals herself to have a clearer understanding of the world than most of the people around her. She ends up being one of the most admirable characters in the book. David Kahn, her assimilated Jewish husband, stands in for all of the Jews who never believed that their countrymen could turn on them with such hatred and fury. And there is a wonderful scene, about two-thirds through the book, when he is challenged on that assumption by one who truly knows. It's not clear that, even in that moment, he appreciates the bigotry that surrounds him. And Lady Eversly could teach Lady Macbeth a thing or two about ruthlessness.
This isn't a perfect book, but it is engrossing, chilling and thought-provoking. I am very interested in reading the remaining books in the trilogy--Ha'penny and Half a Crown....more
This is a truly brilliant book. I first read it over 30 years ago, and I've re-read it several times since. It spurred my interest not only in RichardThis is a truly brilliant book. I first read it over 30 years ago, and I've re-read it several times since. It spurred my interest not only in Richard III but in the way that historical sources could be/are used to shape the narrative of events, both contemporaneously and in the future. Probably the two most striking examples of this in Western European history are Richard III and Joan of Arc.
I just finished re-reading The Daughter of Time, this time after reading the other Alan Grant mysteries (which I had not read before). I am again struck by the extraordinary structure of this work. Tey used the historical sources of her time to not only challenge the dominant narrative but also to explore the biases--both obvious and unconscious--in historical writing. There's a moment, about 60% of the way in, where Alan reads a letter from a cousin in Scotland; in relating her own tale of false history that has become the dominant narrative, Laura notes how strongly people resist challenging a narrative with which they've become comfortable. It's easy to see that reluctance today when it comes to things like political or religious ideologies, but it's important to remember that historical narratives shape our view of the world without our conscious knowledge, and it is these unconscious biases that can be so debilitating to our ability to see the world from others' perspectives.
Tey's gift for characterization is again present. It's important to remember that all of the "action" takes place in Grant's hospital room, where he is confined to bed. And yet the novel is never claustraphobic. Once again, Alan Grant is a thoughtful and sympathetic entry to this mystery, and it's lovely to interact again with Marta Hallard (if Tey had continued writing, would she and Grant have paired romantically, as well as platonically? it's clear, in To Love and Be Wise, that Grant has given the matter some thought, even if he isn't sure it would work out). But it's the characters that we won't see again--the Midget and the Amazon, the matron, the surgeon, and the adorable Brent Carradine, who becomes Grant's enthusiastic partner--and the characters that emerge from Grant and Carradine's research and discussions--Richard, Morton, Henry VII, Elizabeth Woodville--who come so delightfully alive and make the reader forget that we've never left Grant's hospital room.
There's a reason that the British Crime Writers' Association named this the greatest mystery of all time. It is beautifully constructed, argues well the evidence known at the time, brings to life individuals who died over 450 years before, but doesn't neglect the "side" characters who are not critical to the mystery but do permit Tey to explore certain themes....more
I've always loved The Daughter of Time, but I hadn't read any of Tey's other Alan Grant mysteries. A Shilling for Candles is enjoyable, largely becausI've always loved The Daughter of Time, but I hadn't read any of Tey's other Alan Grant mysteries. A Shilling for Candles is enjoyable, largely because Tey writes lively and direct prose and creates some great characters. Grant is intelligent and thoughtful, but he's not perfect. He has a healthy respect for imagination but that imagination consistently takes into account the facts. Erica Burgoyne is another interesting character; she's a teenager who is independent and lives a bit in her own head. The reader gets the impression that she is socially awkward and doesn't have a lot of friends her own age. But her independence and self-confidence (which are never precious or precocious) lead to an important turning point in Grant's investigation. And Grant's genuine liking of Erica, and his appreciation of her ideas and actions, makes him a more endearing character.
I think a real triumph of this book is the way Tey explores celebrity and brings alive the character of the victim, Christine Clay, who is dead when we first meet her. There are no flashbacks or revealing letters hidden by the murder victim and then later discovered; Christine Clay is revealed (and, sometimes, hidden) through the reminisces of her theatrical colleagues, her husband, people she knew as a child, and--the only direct evidence we have from her--through her will and a codicil. Yet somehow, as the mystery draws to a close, I felt that I had gotten to know and like Christine, and that her death was a cruel and pointless thing.
The resolution of the mystery does rely on Grant's discovery of some last-minute clues that are indicated to, but not shared with, the reader. That irritates me a bit; part of the fun of a mystery is learning along with the detective, and seeing if you put the clues together to get to the same result. It feels like a bit of a cheat to have the detective learn something that isn't shared with the reader, but which is the key to revealing the murderer. Still, this is an enjoyable and satisfying read....more
I purchased this book in a Kindle sale, believing that I had read it before, but I think I confused the title with an earlier Rutledge mystery. I enjoI purchased this book in a Kindle sale, believing that I had read it before, but I think I confused the title with an earlier Rutledge mystery. I enjoyed it, though I'm not sure I'd seek out other Rutledge mysteries if this was the only one I'd read.
Here, Rutledge is sent north to the Lake Country, to a small village that has just been shocked by the brutal murder of a young family, and the oldest child has gone missing during a freak snowstorm. Rutledge faces the familiar challenge of trying to tease out the truth from locals who don't want to share secrets or imagine a killer in their midst. The pace of this mystery is slow, and I think that's because Rutledge is thrust into a largely sedentary role. He arrives at least 3-4 days after the murders, during a storm, and after the locals have been searching for the missing boy for a couple of days. He can't go with the searchers because he doesn't know the land and will be more of a hindrance than a help in the snow. Instead, he is forced to remain in the village, getting reports and trying to tease apart the truth from the lies, as he repeatedly talks to the same few people. Even his excursions from the village have a repetitive quality.
It's not an unrealistic course of action, given the setup, but it becomes a bit tedious. The claustraphobic feeling that Rutledge feels in the valley is mirrored in the narrow set of characters and locations that he visits.
I also found the reveal a bit frustrating. The killer isn't obvious, and I'm glad of that, but the motive isn't clear, either. There's a crucial dynamic between the killer and a victim that is critical to the plot but is never explained. Certain things can be inferred, of course, but it's a bit frustrating, particularly when, after Rutledge discovers who the killer is, and he thinks that another investigator, "digging into the past," would have found something out. But there's no indication of what was in the killer's past that would have revealed his culpability. It's not a cheap resolution to the mystery, just an incomplete one....more
I found this on my parents' bookshelf when I was visiting over the holiday. I am glad that I decided to give it a try. Miyabe writes an absorbing mystI found this on my parents' bookshelf when I was visiting over the holiday. I am glad that I decided to give it a try. Miyabe writes an absorbing mystery about stolen identities and the harsh consequences of debt in early '90's Japan. I have mixed feelings about the ending; it is a brilliant stroke, given the development of the mystery, but part of me wishes Miyabe had written one more chapter.
I also liked the detective she developed, and I'm disappointed that Honma and his family (biological and extended) are not ongoing characters in Miyabe's other books (at least the ones I've been able to find summaries of). All in all, a well-written and compelling story....more
This is a phenomenally disappointing book. Technically, George is a great writer; but she used to marry that technical skill with interesting andUgh.
This is a phenomenally disappointing book. Technically, George is a great writer; but she used to marry that technical skill with interesting and believable plots and characters. Now, her strong writing style just emphasizes the many and glaring plot holes, inconsistencies, imbecilities, and out-of-character actions that make up the story.
In order to fully explain my disgust, I have to reveal spoilers because so much of the offensive content is concentrated in the last quarter of the book. For those who don't want to read any spoilers, be prepared for George to ask you to excuse Deborah's unjustified, unreasonable, and invasive behavior--and the horrific consequences--because Simon and Lynley do so (and the idea that Lynley would respond as he does in this book contradicts what we learned about him in the very first novel of this series, A Great Deliverance). Be prepared for Lynley to continue to be selfish when it comes to his interactions with Havers, and for Havers to continue to put Lynley's interests before her own. I could accept that pattern in the initial aftermath of Helen's death, when Lynley is understandably immersed in grief, but 8 months out, I expect him to remember that Havers and he are partners, and she's not his devoted servant (though that dynamic is increasingly played out between them). Be prepared for George to write a family so dysfunctional that almost everyone in it is prepared to sacrifice the happiness/well-being of another member in order to protect his/her own interests.
I share many reviewers' objections to the way that George portrays the sexual minorities in the book, the bizarre child pornography leading to suicide-as-murder story (and the unbelievable "happy" ending to that plot), Lynley's out-of-character and icky relationship with Isabelle Ardery (who becomes, somehow, even more unlikeable), and Deborah's horrific conduct and the offensive absolution that she receives from Tommy and Simon. I'd like to focus on two other issues: one concerning the unbelievably contrived reason for Lynley's investigation, and the other concerning Lynley's conduct towards Havers and his absolution of Deborah (and the implications for his character).
The major problem with the book's plot isn't that there is, in fact, no murder at the heart of it. It's that the wealthy mother of a recovering meth addict--who apparently is worried about his potential for relapse--would manipulate her unfaithful husband into getting Scotland Yard to covertly investigate an accidental death by implicating the known-to-be-innocent son in order to expose said unfaithful husband's lies. I think George expects us to be sympathetic to this 67 year-old mother who is betrayed by her husband and one of her daughters. But this same mother already knows about her husband's infidelity and its result before the book even starts. She just wants to expose and--using her words--humiliate him in front of his family.
So, instead of hiring a private investigator to expose the man that she plans to condemn before, ultimately, taking him back, she waits for the accidental death of that husband's nephew (a death she knows is accidental), and then initiates a convoluted plan to get an unofficial official investigation, all the while using her supposed doubt's about her own child's innocence as an excuse. Any sympathy I would have otherwise have for this character dissolves into loathing over the callous disregard for her son (all the while claiming, of course, that she never meant to hurt him). "Really, son, I don't think you're a murderer--I just wanted Scotland Yard to think that so that someone could expose your father's double life."
Oh, and no one from Scotland Yard even suggests to her that this was an inappropriate use of limited police resources.
I could have gotten by that plot point, however, if George didn't continue to assassinate Lynley's character and the Lynley-Havers' relationship. One of the most infuriating things about this book--and the previous ones--is that Tommy pays more attention to the needs and concerns of virtual strangers (that idiotic potential love interest from Careless in Red, and now Isabelle Ardery) then he does to his long-term partner's, even though that partner has been unfailingly loyal and did, in fact, save his life. So, Lynley doesn't even notice that Barbara's teeth have been fixed, though he certainly noticed their poor condition when he first met her. He provides no support to her in connection with Ardery's "suggestions" that Barbara get a makeover--not even the support of saying that she looks good.
And then he asks Havers to do a lot of investigation when he knows that he has no authority to ask for her help and that her help could get her in trouble with Ardery. Tommy knows that Barbara will help, even if it gets her in trouble, which, of course it does. But does he show her any of the same loyalty? No. He takes no steps to protect Barbara from Ardery until it's too little and too late. And when Barbara calls him at the end of the book, with a legitimate crisis of her own, he can't step away from his roller derby watching (and, really, are you kidding us, George?) long enough to find out what she needs or why she's calling.
Finally, there's Tommy's reaction to Deborah. Deborah spends most of the book focused on someone who is never identified as a suspect, all because Deborah found a fertility magazine in the person's home. Deborah's relentless pursuit continues past all reason and sense--including the certain conclusion of her forensics expert husband that no crime was committed and Tommy's own judgment that Altaea's fertility issues aren't a factor in the investigation--because Deborah is still obsessing over her own fertility problems. So, she continues a ridiculous charade as a Met sergeant and hounds a woman to death. And when she finally evinces some introspection that she's behaved abominably, Lynley rushes in to assure her that Altaea's death wasn't her fault but the result of the "secrets and lies" Altaea carried. He then smiles "fondly" at Deborah and drives her home. Well-justified, if way too late, crisis of conscience, possibly leading to a less selfish and histrionic outlook, successfully averted!
Contrast this with Lynley's reaction in A Great Deliverance when Havers runs away with her assumptions about the victim's eldest daughter and ends up alienating and traumatizing the daughter--who has vital information that will help Lynley solve the case. Lynley blames Havers and makes it clear that he doesn't trust her or her judgment. But for all that Havers messes up, her actions don't result in death, and the witness is able to eventually provide the necessary information. So is it just red-headed neurotics that Lynley used to sleep with who get to act on wild assumptions and hound people to death?
I used to wonder why Lynley ever wanted to marry Deborah and why he continues to trust her judgment. Given the recent character assassination, I'm beginning to feel that Lynley and Deborah should get together so that they can feed each other's egos, and Simon and Havers can start a private detective business based on mutual respect and friendship--what I once thought Havers and Lynley had.
**spoiler alert** A disappointing continuation of the Lynley-Havers series (spoilers).
When I first started reading Elizabeth George's Lynley mysteries**spoiler alert** A disappointing continuation of the Lynley-Havers series (spoilers).
When I first started reading Elizabeth George's Lynley mysteries, I was caught not only by the crimes and motivations of the secondary characters, but of the interesting dynamic between DI Lynley and (then) DC Havers. Havers remains an interesting character who I want to learn more about, but Lynley is becoming more boring by the book. His need to rescue women is becoming irritating, especially when it leads him in the direction that it does in this book. The connection created with Acting Superintendent Isabelle Ardery is contrived and nonsensical; not only is it hard to believe that Lynley, five months after his beloved wife's murder, is hooking up with his superior officer (who's pretty unlikeable), it's even more inconceivable that a woman as ambitious and politically savvy as Ardery would engage in--let alone initiate--a sexual relationship with a subordinate.
Havers continues to be the interesting, dogged, and difficult character that she is, with more potential heartbreak in hand. And that's my other main problem with George. I've always thought she was a strong writer, but I begin to wonder whether she's as good as I believe. It appears that the only way she knows to keep her characters interesting is to make sure that any happiness that they might achieve is torn away from them. Characters don't have to live soap opera lives (abducted by serial killers, runaway wife returning) in order to be interesting, but it seems that George doesn't realize that or doesn't have the confidence to try it. I haven't written off the series entirely, but I can't imagine continuing to read George if this is the best she can do....more
Not surprisingly, this is very well written and gripping, but I felt the ending to be a cheat. After such an involving read, I was disappointed by LehNot surprisingly, this is very well written and gripping, but I felt the ending to be a cheat. After such an involving read, I was disappointed by Lehane's choice of ending and probably more disappointed than I would have been if Lehane was a lesser writer....more