I loved this series when I was a kid but had never read this installment. It was cute but not at all as strong as the earlier books, and the ending wa...moreI loved this series when I was a kid but had never read this installment. It was cute but not at all as strong as the earlier books, and the ending was really abrupt.(less)
Malliet's books are really fun, though the plot twists she includes make it a little hard to parse out/follow along on one's own. I like mysteries to...moreMalliet's books are really fun, though the plot twists she includes make it a little hard to parse out/follow along on one's own. I like mysteries to lay enough cards on the table that I can at least attempt to figure out the puzzle. I'll read more of her St. Just books for sure, though.(less)
In the most traditional of traditional Victorian upper-middle class homes, where newspapers and certain books are prohibited to women, no one wants to...moreIn the most traditional of traditional Victorian upper-middle class homes, where newspapers and certain books are prohibited to women, no one wants to talk about murder. Outspoken Charlotte Ellison lives with her two sisters, Sarah and Emily, her brother-in-law Dominic, for whom she's been carrying a secret torch, her mother, and her rigid, exacting father. Her world is carefully circumscribed, limited to tea, painting and needlework, doing good works in the parish, enduring the sanctimonious righteousness of the vicar and his wife, and sneaking newspapers and "unsavory" books when her father's back is turned. Her battles are small; she has never had to seriously confront poverty, violence, or sorrow. But all this is shattered when someone begins garotting and mutilating women along her street, among them a servant in the Ellison's own household, and the police arrive (much to the family's horror--so distasteful and scandalous!) and begin to ask questions. At first everyone believes it to be the work of an outsider, an insane member of the criminal underclasses, but as time goes on and the body count continues to climb, Charlotte and the rest of the upstanding inhabitants of Cater Street are forced to consider that the killer may be one of them.
The Cater Street Hangman is Anne Perry's first novel, and the first in her long series featuring Charlotte and Inspector Thomas Pitt of Scotland Yard, an untidy policeman with beautiful diction and disturbingly accurate insight and empathy. I enjoyed this immensely. Having started it two nights ago, I finally got to the point where I couldn't put it down and had to read through till the end, in spite of having taken a NyQuil. The mystery itself was very well done, though if I may toot my own horn I guessed whodunit pretty early. The characters were vivid and engaging. I felt like I knew them and was immediately invested in what happened to them. So why only three stars? I had two major gripes, each to do with pacing: one was the love story, which came together far too abruptly. One minute Charlotte is repelled by Pitt and the next she's head over heels (since the book is labeled "Charlotte and Thomas Pitt #1 I wouldn't call that a spoiler). It felt rushed. The other was the completely lack of denouement. The book ends immediately after the killer is unmasked, which again was just too abrupt. The way the end is plotted (no spoilers, I promise) made it seem as if chance more than deduction led to the Reveal. We also never get a completely satisfying understanding of the killer's motive, though it is addressed and it is compelling. Really more like 3.5 stars.
This is a book about violence against women. There is physical violence, the murder and mutilation of young women, and there is philosophical violence, the subjugation of women. The novel's strong feminist undercurrent was, to me, very appealing. Perry, though her characters, rages against the double standards of Victorian society, which demanded of women pristine moral characters while permitting men all sorts of indiscretions and insisted absolutely on women's essential inferiority. Some of the best moments in the book were those where male characters were forced to consider both their own failings and the failings of their patriarchal beliefs--how they and society had failed and damaged the women they professed to love.
Another major theme is the denial of the alterity of killers. ("They're just like us!") The Cater Street Hangman, the Ellisons are forced to realize, looks like them, talks like them, acts like them, lives among them--possibly is one of them. "What are you trying to say, Charlotte," Dominic asks, "that we wouldn't know if someone were as mad as this?" "Well would you?" she replies, "if it were so easy to see, wouldn't those who know him have said something, done something by now?" At one point, one of the characters wonders if the killer might in fact be him/herself, if s/he might be carrying out the dreadful crimes with no awareness or memory of it. About twenty years ago, Anne Perry was revealed to be Juliet Hulme, one of two teenaged girls convicted of murder in one of the most sensational cases of matricide in New Zealand (enshrined in the popular imagination by the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures). I cannot help but wonder, in her first published novel, how much Perry was thinking of herself, now rehabilitated and living under a new identity in a new community half-way across the world. Might Perry, not in a macabre or perverse way, have been grappling with her own secret? Have been trying to make peace with her own capacity, since renounced, for violence?
For a long time I resisted Anne Perry's books precisely because of her past. I was troubled that someone who had murdered now made a profit writing about fictional killing. Reading The Cater Street Hangman alleviated many of my qualms. What I perceived of Perry, reading this novel, was someone ultimately humane, who has had to come to grips with a terrible, terrible deed and to atone for it. I look forward to reading much more from her.(less)
More 3.5 stars but I can't bear to give Deanna Raybourn anything less. The novella format is just harder to get into and I really miss the full-length...moreMore 3.5 stars but I can't bear to give Deanna Raybourn anything less. The novella format is just harder to get into and I really miss the full-length Julia novels--come on, Harlequin/MIRA, bring them back! (less)
Picking up a Jill Mansell book is like getting into my comfiest (and most worn) jammies after being caught out in the rain and curling up with hot tea...morePicking up a Jill Mansell book is like getting into my comfiest (and most worn) jammies after being caught out in the rain and curling up with hot tea. There is something very warm, soothing, safe, and familiar about them. They are engaging but never challenging, and sometimes that is just what I need: good old British chick-lit. In this romp we have Lara, now 34 or so, who has come back to Bath for the funeral of her estranged father who booted her out of the house when she was 16. We have her super-hot former boyfriend (is there any other sort?) named, of course, Flynn who is a successful wine merchant after having enjoyed an equally successful stint as an Olympic-level skier (again, duh) and whom Lara had not seen since the night she left town. And we have her teenaged daughter...well, you can connect the dots. Added to the mix are the usual suspects: the best friend with Man Trouble, the cozy aunt, the Cad, the Misunderstood Man, the Precocious Daughter, the celebrity with Hidden Depths, the wicked stepmother, the several other parental older adults, and other zany types.
Much about this book, including the central romance, was charming if predictable (then again, part of the point is a familiar plot trajectory that contains only a few surprises). I was also pleased to see Mansell, who while ostensibly modern in her plots, characters, and scenarios appears to me to be somewhat conservative in her social views, include same-sex relationships. Recently I read an article about one of my favorite British cozy mystery series, Midsomer Murders (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisf...), in which the author pointed to the tacit racism (and, one might imagine, by extension other types of fear and discrimination) of the series, which hardly ever includes non-white characters. The reason for this omission, according to one of the show's producers, is a desire to portray "traditional" Britain, which sounds a lot like the racism currently expressed by conservative Americans who refer to "real" America when opposing immigration reform, voting rights, multiculturalism, etc. (and who subsequently make me want to throw things). The ensuing controversy over the producer's remarks ultimately led to his suspension.
All this got me thinking about the ways in which portrayals of the cozy and familiar--in my beloved Anglophile universe and in other contexts--often contain prejudices and stereotypes, casting the diverse as Other and the modern/progressive as just a bit scary. These prejudices may be overtly stated or they may be more subtle, articulated only by the absence of such characters. The cozy world of "traditional" England in books like Mansell's, single working mothers and all, is a very white and very heterosexual one. And so it was with some discomfort that I read Mansell's comedic descriptions of the several people who thought the rap star and his entourage were going to rob them ("how silly, we assumed you were going to shoot us because you're black, terribly sorry old chap"), alongside her parodies of "urban" diction. The two moments when a black man, walking into a shop, is first taken to be a criminal rather than a customer are even less funny in the wake of the real life assumptions that led to the murder of Trayvon Martin. Equally problematic, minor spoiler, is Mansell's assumption expressed through her characters, that while we adore our gay friends of course their sexual orientation isn't something that they'd want known in certain circles, and that of course in certain careers and cultural arenas to be gay would ruin you--that no one could accept that a gay man could also be a masculine one. Rather than challenge or problematize, even gently, the insistence of one character that he must remain closeted or else risk total professional and personal/familial ostracism, Mansell's other characters accept it without question. After the many public figures who have come out as gay in and since 2012, when the book was published, these views seem not "cozy and traditional" but sad and outdated. I applaud Mansell for journeying this far, but she (and society as a whole) still has a ways to go.(less)
This was my first foray into the Maisie Dobbs series and, while I enjoyed it a good deal, it took me some time to get situated in Maisie's world and t...moreThis was my first foray into the Maisie Dobbs series and, while I enjoyed it a good deal, it took me some time to get situated in Maisie's world and to get caught up on who was who and what their background was. Perhaps had I started at the beginning I might have had an easier time of it in the early chapters. That said, I like Maisie immensely as a heroine and will enjoy reading more of her adventures. The mystery itself was well plotted but, while I appreciate a good red herring, there were some loose ends left hanging and the resulting whodunit was therefore not entirely satisfying. Looking forward to more, and maybe this time I'll start with the first installment.(less)
Like Stella Gibbons's more well-known novel Cold Comfort Farm, Nightingale Wood begins with the installment of a bereaved and homeless ingenue in the...moreLike Stella Gibbons's more well-known novel Cold Comfort Farm, Nightingale Wood begins with the installment of a bereaved and homeless ingenue in the rural home of eccentric relatives. Viola, a widow at twenty-one, has come to live with her in-laws, the aptly named Wither family, at their painfully bland and joyless house in Essex. We meet Mr. Wither, a fussy old miser who has managed the difficult feat of creating a dull garden, his long-suffering, vapid, and equally judgmental wife, and their two spinster daughters. Madge, almost forty, bears some resemblance to Honoria Glossop: a stout, healthy girl who enjoys golf, tennis, and driving, she longs desperately for a dog (romantic love is for the feeble-minded). Tina, thirty-five, is her opposite, neurotic and bookish, and not having succeeded in finding a husband or an occupation at art school, journalism school, or anywhere else, she manifests her starvation for love, happiness, and any real sort of life in anorexia. We also meet Saxon, the Withers' handsome young chauffeur who has caught Tina's fancy, a dipsomaniac Hermit, and the wealthy Spring family who live just across the wood. Victor Spring, the son of the house, is the local prince charming and has been the object of Viola's fantasies ever since she was a girl, but his intentions towards her, it turns out, are not quite honorable.
But here nearly all resemblance to Cold Comfort ends. Unlike the capable Flora Poste, Viola, a former shopgirl, is beautiful but artless, with no idea of how to navigate her new world--or any world for that matter. She is kind but shallow, aspirational but common and classless, earnest but dull. And unlike Flora, Viola is not here to tidy up or organize the Withers; no, rather, they intend to manage her, an interest dampened considerably by the revelation that Viola's late husband, Teddy, had not in fact left her any money to speak of. Indeed, much of the action of Nightingale Wood is sprung out of people's misperceptions of Viola, whether about the state of her finances, her heart, or her morals. What ensues is a comedy of errors as Viola pines for Victor Spring, as Tina pines for Saxon, as Madge pines for a puppy, and as Mr. Wither pines after cold hard cash (and some dashed respectability).
I very much enjoyed Nightingale Wood which has the tone of a wry, farcical fairy tale. Also compelling was the subtle social commentary Gibbons makes on the limits placed women in the 1930s and on the classist, money-obsessed circle-jerk of British society. It's like Jane Austen except more or less everyone is terrible--even the most sympathetic characters. There is not a single character who is not flawed, be it Victor, who believes women should only be ornamental, his horrid fiancée Phyllis, Viola, who hasn't a clue and can't seem to grow up, Hetty, Victor's cousin who reads "deep" books and longs to escape to Bloomsbury and who you'd think would be sensible but is just as silly as the rest of them. Like Austen's novels, Nightingale Wood gains much of its appeal from these characters' timeless familiarity. We all know a Mr. Wither, a Madge, a Viola, a Victor, a Hetty. I'm eager to read more of Gibbons's novels! (less)
My only complaint is that this novella leaves some maddening cliffhangers that make me unbecomingly desperate to get my paws on the full novel. Gimme!...moreMy only complaint is that this novella leaves some maddening cliffhangers that make me unbecomingly desperate to get my paws on the full novel. Gimme!!!(less)
An anthology of essays, some really poignant, others somewhat less pointed, but all of them charming about the real life love stories of romance autho...moreAn anthology of essays, some really poignant, others somewhat less pointed, but all of them charming about the real life love stories of romance authors. A wonderful selection of "mini-break" reads: sit down for 15 minutes and remember that, as the ever-adorable and earnest Hugh Grant says, "love actually is all around." (less)
Oh, goodness, this was silly but fun. I was relieved that this was not quite the Pants Optional Bang-a-thon that City of Dark Magic was (I'm a repress...moreOh, goodness, this was silly but fun. I was relieved that this was not quite the Pants Optional Bang-a-thon that City of Dark Magic was (I'm a repressed Episcopalian, OK?) and the rest of the story was engaging.(less)