I decided to finish up my 2012 reading with a slam-dunk book. Even though I started Accent on Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge late on Decemb...moreI decided to finish up my 2012 reading with a slam-dunk book. Even though I started Accent on Murder by Frances & Richard Lockridge late on December 30, I knew how quickly their books go so I had no worries about finishing before the New Year came bursting in. Then I got sick with something that includes an "exploding" headache which made reading just a bit of a challenge. BUT with a little help from my friendly cold medicine, I managed to sneak it in by 11 pm last night and promptly went to sleep. So....this is actually the last review of 2012.
Accent on Murder falls into one of my favorite mystery sub-genres: the academic mystery. Academic according to my rather loose definition--a mystery involving a scholar, teacher, professor,university librarian, etc. (as amateur detective, villain, victim or just very prominent character) OR set at a school, university, library, etc. This Lockridge offering features one of their series detectives, Captain Heimrich of the New York State Police, but it also features Walter Brinkley, emeritus professor of English whose hobby is the distinction of pronunciation within the United States. Dr. Brinkley is rather a dear little man--described by his younger neighbors as a "woolly lamb"--a pink, round little man who seems to bounce wherever he goes. The book is worth the read just for the final scenes where he rushes off in a concussed state to take care of "a thing of vital importance which he should have done hours ago." But I get ahead of myself.
When Dr. Brinkley's neighbor Paul Craig comes back to Westchester County with his new bride, the good doctor decides to give a cocktail party to welcome them home. He has no idea that his sociable gesture will mix the ingredients for a rather nasty series of murders as well as cocktails. Among his guests is Caroline Wilkins, former Navy "brat" and current wife of an often absent naval officer. A naval officer who arrives in time for this particular party. Also present are her lovely young cousin, the Misses Monroe and other long-time residents of Westchester County like Mrs. Belsen, the Sands, the Thayers and the like. And Captain Heimrich.
Later that week, Caroline is dead--shot while sun-bathing in a secluded place--although not quite so secluded as she and her cousin thought. Only a few days earlier Dorcas, her cousin, had an elderly man rant at her about the sinful nature of her au naturel sun-worshipping. Dorcas blames herself for not remembering to warn Caroline about the addled voyeur. But Heimrich is not convinced that the elderly man is the culprit. He and Lieutenant Forniss begin searching in Caroline's past and discover a former husband who just happens to be in the area and who just happens to have connections to a big scandal magazine. But before they can decipher the meaning of these new facts, the ex-husband is dead...again from a shotgun blast.
Meanwhile, Dr. Brinkley is quite sure that he noticed something that Heimrich ought to know. When he finally remembers what it is, the captain and his lieutenant prove to be difficult to track down. The villain of the piece has also remembered....and is ready to kill one more time to keep the doctor from contacting the police.
The Lockridge books are generally light and breezy--particularly those written by the husband/wife team (Richard leans more towards the suspense/thriller side when writing on his own). This one still has its lighter, funny moments (the final scenes mentioned above, for instance)--but the murders this time round are a bit more brutal than usual. Oh, not brutal by modern mystery standards--nobody who has a steady diet of up-to-date blood and gore thrillers will blink an eye--but a close-range shotgun death is certainly more brutal than the average Lockridge murder.
That didn't lessen my enjoyment of the mystery. I still had a good time with my friends Heimrich and Forniss...and Dr. Brinkley is one of my favorite secondary characters in the Lockridge world. A fast-paced, quick read with a nice little surprise ending. Three and a half stars.
Being an academic mystery fan I can't resist snatching them off the library shelves when I see them. I should have left this one on the shelf. The wri...moreBeing an academic mystery fan I can't resist snatching them off the library shelves when I see them. I should have left this one on the shelf. The writing is not crisp and the story just did not hold my interest. I did finish it...just.(less)
Spent the last couple days dipping into an academic cozy mystery--Murder Most Puzzling by Lillian S. Robinson. Dr. Margaret James, known as Jamie, has...moreSpent the last couple days dipping into an academic cozy mystery--Murder Most Puzzling by Lillian S. Robinson. Dr. Margaret James, known as Jamie, has just returned to the U.S. after separating from her French husband. They had found each other during the '60s at Berkeley, but when he inherited the title of Count his values and hers no longer meshed. She is trying to sort her life out when she gets a request from a life-long friend to come to Ebbing College and fill her teaching assignment as a professor of poetry. Becca Parsons has been diagnosed with cancer and Jamie is more than willing to help her friend out.
Jamie also takes over Becca's duties in sorting through the Ebbing family documents and comes across a 19th-century journal by one of the family's matriarchs. It tells of forbidden love between Elizabeth Ebbing Brock and her best friend Helen "Nell" Breckenridge. A family scandal resulted when the girls were "outed" by Lizzie's brother and there is also a mysterious fire that wipes out most of Nell's family right at the time they are trying to get her psychiatric treatment for her "diseased mind" and set her up with an appropriate marriage.
Jamie just begins to grapple with the difficulties of getting the manuscript published when it disappears. Who wants to suppress the documents? Then one of the other professors (and a distant relative of the Ebbing family) is killed. Both she and Jamie had been involved with the Dean of the College, and the police settle on Jamie as the prime suspect....a woman scorned and all that. Jamie is determined to find out who has stolen the manuscript and who has murdered Professor Sharon Reilly. And if those are the same person. She's also doing research into the 117-year old scandal and fire to try and determine if the motive for the modern day crimes lie in the past.
This is a fairly decent academic mystery. Certainly not the best one ever--but the characters are great in limited ways. I particularly like Jamie's friendship with Becca and her mentoring relationship with three of the students at the college. I wasn't particularly taken with Jamie's left-over swingin' sixties habit of jumping in and out of bed with just about every man she comes across in the book. As one of her friends notes, it's a little difficult to "follow [her] love life without a score card." She comes back to the States and takes up with a fellow she used to know named Nick (who has a wife, but they're in a non-monogamous relationship, so it's okay) just long enough to bring him into the story and then abandon him in California when she heads to Pennsylvania and Ebbing College. There she meets and falls into bed with Walt (the dreamy Dean, who also has a wife--but she's an alcoholic and crazy and in an institution, so that's okay too). Meanwhile, she goes up to a local inn a couple of times and meets another man who she'd happily go to bed with if it weren't that her soon-to-be-ex-husband shows up hoping to reboot their marriage....and....you guessed it, she can't resist a couple of rolls in the hay with him for old time's sake. Or something.
Honestly, I just think Robinson was beating the reader over the head with sexual freedom and how different is supposedly is now (1980s in the book) as opposed to the 1800s and their views of "unnatural lusts." But then, it's not really all that great now, because we still have homophobic people running around upset over this journal....not to mention Jamie's other friend Erin who comes to teach history when Sharon Reilly is killed (and who happens to be a lesbian). A lot less effort on that front and more attention to making the mystery more of a mystery and we'd have an all-out winner. There weren't really any red herrings to speak of and it doesn't do a lot for the detective novel when your villain is telegraphed mid-way through--at least that's when I figured it out. Two and a half stars.
O' Artful Death is the debut novel in a mystery series by Sarah Stewart Taylor. The series stars Sweeney St. George, an art historian from Boston who...moreO' Artful Death is the debut novel in a mystery series by Sarah Stewart Taylor. The series stars Sweeney St. George, an art historian from Boston who teaches on the art of death. She has had a life full of difficult, emotional relationships and prefers to put all her energy into teaching and her interest in cemetery art. Her best friend shows her a picture of a beautifully carved gravestone that looks more like a statue than a headstone and Sweeney is immediately intrigued by the oddities of the piece. The headstone incorporates imagery that is out of place for the time (Victorian era) and she is even more interested when she finds that there are rumors that the young woman whose grave it marks may have been murdered.
Her friend reveals that the stone is located in a cemetery near his home and he invites Sweeney to spend Christmas with his family and friends. Reluctant to be mixed up in a family atmosphere, she first calls the descendent of the dead woman to find out more of the story. Their conversation is interrupted and when Sweeney calls back the next day, she finds that the woman has died--apparently of a self-inflicted gun shot. The art historian decides that there are too many mysteries for her inquisitive scholarly mind to pass up and she heads wither her friend to a mansion in the historic Byzantium Art Colony. She plans to investigate the local archives and question any long-standing residents to see if she can hunt down the artist who created the piece. She doesn't expect to stir up ancient crimes with a link to those of a more modern nature....and she certainly doesn't expect to find her self in danger of joining the dead in the mysterious graveyard.
This is a very decent first novel. Sweeney is a flawed central character with lots of backstory and lots of emotional issues to work on in future novels. She's a smart woman and walks the fine line between the classic damsel in distress (walking into all sorts of danger without letting anyone know what she's doing) and the ultra-confident, "expert" amateur who can take on whatever villain may come and never have a problem. There are several red herrings--one commenter seems to think there's only one and it's TOO obvious--but for anyone paying attention, there are more. I managed to latch on to the main clue/s and knew who the culprit was before the grand finale, but I didn't figure out quite all of the story. Kudos to Ms. Taylor for maintaining some of the mystification until the end. I look forward to reading more of the series. Three stars.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.(less)
This was an interesting story of the discovery of a woman's decomposed body in the unused barn located on an Oxford don's estate. Smith, of course, ha...moreThis was an interesting story of the discovery of a woman's decomposed body in the unused barn located on an Oxford don's estate. Smith, of course, had me from the moment I knew this was an academic mystery (my big weakness). And she tells an excellent tale in a solid and entertaining mystery. I liked this one better than the first Loretta Lawson story I read (A Masculine Ending). Loretta's motives regarding her involvement (or, rather, her lack of involvement) with the police are much more believable. Three and a half stars(less)