The Temple of Death is billed as ghost stories (or "Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural") by A. C. And R. H. Benson. These are the lesser-known (for...moreThe Temple of Death is billed as ghost stories (or "Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural") by A. C. And R. H. Benson. These are the lesser-known (for good reason, I think) brothers of E. F. Benson of Mapp and Lucia fame. The back of the book says that these weird and chilling ghost stories have been undeservedly neglected for too long. But I can't say that I think that's necessarily true. I probably could have gone on just as well without ever having read these. Oh, they're decent enough stories....particularly those by A. C. Benson. But they're not strictly ghost stories--religious ghost stories, perhaps. So, I guess "tales of the supernatural" would describe these best. All of the stories have a very religious, moral tone. In each, you have an element of good needing to triumph over evil--whether that be the evil of paganism and the Dark Arts or the evil doings of the human heart.
The stories of R. H. Benson have far less substance than those of his brother--fortunately, there are fewer of them. A. C. Benson's tales (synopses below) have more narrative and more depth. The former's tales range from the "killer instinct" of a man compelled to shoot a thrush ("The Watcher") to two boys lost on a road who encounter a gypsy ("Blood Eagle"). There isn't much haunting to be found and I can't say that R. H. does much for me in the story-telling line. Of A. C.'s stories, the best by far are "Out of the Sea," "Basil Netherby," and "The Uttermost Farthing." I don't say that you need to run out and find this collection, but if you do happen upon it then be sure to read these three if you read no others. Three stars. Just.
Stories by A. C. Benson: "The Temple of Death": Paullinus, a Roman follower of the Christian faith, gets lost on his travels and finds himself at the pagan "Temple of Death." Will his faith help him overcome the dreadful beast that is lord of the temple?
"The Closed Window": The evil Sir James de Nort died under mysterious circumstances in the turret room. Since that time, the window has never been opened. What will happen if his grandson and grand-nephew decide to do so? What odd vision of the world will be revealed?
"The Slype House": Anthony Purvis, owner of the Slype House, dabbles in the Dark Arts...and winds up in a battle for his very soul.
"The Red Camp": Walter Wyatt inherits the ancestral home. On his land, there is a dense wooded area known as the "Red Camp"--so-called because of the terrible battle that took place there. Wyatt must lay to rest the souls killed on this terrible spot.
"Out of the Sea": A ghastly beast comes out of the sea to haunt a wealthy fisherman and his son--a fate they must endure because of their actions towards a survivor of a shipwreck.
"The Grey Cat": A young boy is in a fight for his very soul....with of all things, a harmless-seeming grey cat.
"The Hill of Trouble": Gilbert is happy in his life as a scholar at Cambridge--he's close to finishing the book that has been his life's work. But then he goes visiting in the country, wanders onto the "Hill of Trouble" and has his future revealed to him by the spectre of the hill.
"Basil Netherby": Basil is a musician of some little talent. He takes up residence at a house with evil connections. His music changes--and so does he. Can his friend help rescue him from the evil influence of the house's former owner?
"The Uttermost Farthing": Three men race against the ghosts of two evil men to uncover hidden secrets. Are the secrets better revealed or destroyed?
Lady Fortescue Steps Out by Marion Chesney is like sitting and eating bon-bons. Wrapped in a cozy comforter. In a chair pulled up just the right dista...moreLady Fortescue Steps Out by Marion Chesney is like sitting and eating bon-bons. Wrapped in a cozy comforter. In a chair pulled up just the right distance from a crackling fire. This novel set in Regency England was just what was called for at the moment. Light and breezy. Funny and outlandish. Adventure and romance. It is the absolutely charming first novel in Chesney's The Poor Relation series.
The Poor Relation is the name which Lady Fortescue and her happy band of fellow poor relations give to their new hotel. Having tired of depending on reluctant relatives for handouts, small allowances, and infrequent invitations, Lady Fortescue meets up with Colonel Sandhurst and they decide to pool their resources. Soon they are on the look-out for other suitable impoverished gentry and the idea of the hotel is born. They will make the elite pay through the nose for the pleasure of being waited on by nobility. And the elite do pay.
Although the establishment is an immediate hit with the cream of London's citizenry, Lady Fortescue's nephew, the Duke of Rowcester, sets himself on a mission to end the endeavor--through buying out the six partners if necessary. He feels that his aunt's descent into trade will smear the family name--until he meets Miss Harriet James, a young woman who bewitched him in a previous Season before disappearing into obscurity on the death of her parents and loss of her fortune. Miss James has accepted Lady Fortescue's offer to be the hotel's chef. Once Rowcester sees Miss James he moves into the hotel--supposedly to keep an eye on his aunt. That's when the fun begins.
Marion Chesney tells a rollicking good story with plenty of period detail. There's romance without it turning into a bodice ripper. There's adventure without highwaymen. And there's good clean fun and lots of humor. I look forward to reading more of this series in the future. Three and a half stars for a good, solid read. (And, for whatever reason, I just love that cover.)
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.(less)
Miss Tonks Turns to Crime is only the second of Marion Chesney's The Poor Relation series but I already feel like we're heading into a serious rut. In...moreMiss Tonks Turns to Crime is only the second of Marion Chesney's The Poor Relation series but I already feel like we're heading into a serious rut. In the first novel we have is a group of "poor relations" who have banded together to run a hotel ("The Poor Relation"). The hotel does really well and it looks like these society cast-offs will make good. Then the hotel has a fire and they are starting from scratch again. In the second novel, poor Miss Tonks, the most timid of the group is sent off to steal something valuable from her rich relations so the hotel can get on its feet again. The story itself is very amusing and I like the characters...but
after Miss Tonks manages to pull off a very nice little coup and bring home not only a diamond necklace, but a tiara as well...the money from the stolen goods gets stolen. And at the end of the book we're in the same place as where we began. So, guess what....another member of the happy little band is going to be sent off in the next book to do it all again. I'm sure Chesney will come up with a different twist...but please. Can we not have the hotel run successfully for a whole book and find some other challenge for our heroes to overcome?
Two stars out of five.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.(less)
Check-Out Time is the fifth book in Kate Kingsbury's other mystery series featuring the Cecily Sinclair and the Pennyfoot Hotel. It is also the second...moreCheck-Out Time is the fifth book in Kate Kingsbury's other mystery series featuring the Cecily Sinclair and the Pennyfoot Hotel. It is also the second book in my "read two books by the same author" entry for the Autumn Semi-Charmed Challenge. The Pennyfoot Hotel books are set during Edwardian times and Cecily's hotel is the place to be for London aristocrats looking for a little seaside holiday. Except it also appears to be the place to be if you want to commit murder. Cecily is as bad as Jessica Fletcher at attracting dead bodies.
In this outing, Sir Richard Malton has taken a nose dive off of his top-floor balcony...and, no, there wasn't a swimming pool below. The local police would like to call it a simple suicide or at least the result of a drunken binge--but it wasn't just a jump over the edge or a drunken slip. Sir Richard hopped up on the railing, walked it like a tightrope artist, and then topped the performance with a little jig. The man was known as a teetotaler who drank milk when he went to the local pub and certainly didn't have acrobatic aspirations. What could make a middle-aged man do such a daring and deadly thing?
Cecily doesn't trust the local police to get to the bottom of things before her clientele move on to quieter and less-deadly lodgings. So, she and her right-hand man Baxter set out to discover what really happened. They'll wind up at a vaudeville-like variety theater before the case is closed (much to Baxter's shock and dismay--madam does not belong there!)--and there will be a last-minute rescue of an unwitting witness before all is well at the Pennyfoot again.
This one wasn't quite as good as the Manor Mystery book I just read (Death Is in the Air). The story seemed very contrived and I'm not buying the murder method. I just don't believe it could be done...and certainly not in such a short period and so little contact. I can't say more without giving it completely away. The ending is rather nice and the heroics make it a bit exciting (which lifts the book to two star status)--but it's not the best Kingsbury I've read. I've sampled a couple of her Christmas-themed Pennyfoot books in the days before blogging and found them to be more interesting. If you're looking to try the series--I'd suggest giving one of those a go.
The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin is first book in a series starring railway man Jim Stringer. It is billed on its cover as "an ingenious and at...moreThe Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin is first book in a series starring railway man Jim Stringer. It is billed on its cover as "an ingenious and atmospheric thriller" (Daily Express, London) and "a masterful novel about a mad, clanking fog-bound world (Simon Winchester, author of The Professor & the Madman), but quite honestly ingenious, thriller and masterful aren't the words that come to mind. Atmosphere....now I will admit that it's got plenty of that. There are bits where the atmosphere is perfect--the reader is plopped down in Edwardian England and it feels right. But then there's that dream-like, misty-edged, through-the-looking-glass atmosphere that makes the reader stop and flip back through several pages, look up, and say to oneself, "What the heck just happened there?" It doesn't help that all sorts of unfamiliar terms (mostly railway, but not all) are thrown about like everyone knows an encyclopedia's worth of railway jargon.
The story is, on the surface, an interesting and inventive one. It's 1903 and Jim Stringer, a butcher's son from Yorkshire, dreams of being an express driver--he do love him some speed. His dad would prefer that he follow in his footsteps, but sees the trains in his son's eyes and agrees to railway work...as a porter. But Stringer meets Rowland Smith, a man with connections to the London and South Western company, and it looks like he's on his way to fulfilling his dream.
He heads to London where he meets nothing but trouble. He isn't assigned to the section of the railway he expects. Instead, he's going to be serving on engines that transports coffins along the "graveyard line." And his railway mates aren't--matey, that is. He's not sure if they just don't like him because he seems to have an "in" with the bosses or if they think he's there to spy on them or because he's come from the country and doesn't fit in with their ways. And then he discovers that his predecessor just disappeared....and there seem to be an unusual amount of railway deaths related to the Necropolis Railway. The more he hears about his predecessor, the more he wants to find out what happened to him....and his questions and investigations soon put his life in danger. Will he find out the truth before he receives his own one-way ticket on the graveyard train?
When I saw this book at the Friends of the Library Bookstore and I read the synopsis, I was instantly intrigued. I wish I could say that the book lived up to its promise--but it didn't. The best parts were the atmosphere (the good, historical atmosphere) and the last-minute twist at the end. And the few good quotes I was able to glean. The negatives: 1) Jim Stringer really isn't a character that I ever got terribly interested in. I kept reading because I wanted to finish the book, not because I just had to know what happened. 2) I hate ambiguous endings. Yes, we find out who did it. But will justice be served? Who knows. What's in store for Stringer? Beats me. 3) Railway jargon out the wazoo. Unfamiliar terms are okay as long as they're explained--either overtly or through context--and the reader's not inundated with them.
Overall: Decent mystery buried in the weird, dream-like atmosphere and excessive railway terms. Okay, but not terrific for two and a half stars.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks.(less)