I was so very pleased when the offer of a paperback review copy for Deborah Crombie's latest mystery came up from my friends at Partners in Crime Virt...moreI was so very pleased when the offer of a paperback review copy for Deborah Crombie's latest mystery came up from my friends at Partners in Crime Virtual Tours. It had been a while since I had last visited with Detective Superintendent Duncan Kinkaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James. I have to confess that I haven't read every single entry in the series, but such is Crombie's writing that I was able to slip into the story with very little trouble--yes, the kids are a bit older and there is a new foster daughter added to the mix but not being up to speed on the family life did not detract from the reading experience at all. As I've mentioned in previous reviews of Crombie's novels, there is no doubt that she can write. And can write is such a way that will draw the reader in and not let her go until the last word has been read. One of her strengths is her descriptions of people and place--and particularly the relationships between people. Watching Kinkaid interact with his foster daughter as well his friends is delightful. And seeing Gemma's interactions with her team was interesting as well. I also appreciate the way she handles her continuing characters--there are enough real-life changes to make the characters believable without major catastrophes and shocks that might cause too much upheaval.
The mystery itself is satisfying with ties to the past and several suspects that must be investigated. I enjoyed following up the leads along side Gemma and her team (and Duncan in the background). My two small quibbles--1. everybody seemed to have connections to everyone else (even Gemma and Duncan have connections to some of the suspects) and 2. The cliffhanger at the end...there were teeny (tiny, really tiny) indications that something was in the air, but, really, to leave it like that? That's one way to make sure I'll read the next one...and I will, trust me, I will.
The Kincaid and James series is recommended reading for anyone who likes cozy police procedurals and mysteries with recurring characters that you learn to like and enjoy watching the relationships grow. 3.75 stars--rounded up to 4 on GoodReads.
This book was given to me through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. I have received no payment of any kind for my review. This review was first written for my virtual tour post on my blog (less)
To Kingdom Come is the second book in Will Thomas's Barker and Llewellyn historical mystery series set in Victorian England. Thomas Llewellyn has been...moreTo Kingdom Come is the second book in Will Thomas's Barker and Llewellyn historical mystery series set in Victorian England. Thomas Llewellyn has been in the employ of enquiry agent Cyrus Barker for a mere two and a half months--only one month has passed since the events in their debut novel, Some Danger Involved, and already the stakes have gone up dramatically.
Two bombs have gone off in London--destroying a portion of Scotland Yard and the Junior Carlton Club. Members of the Irish Republic Brotherhood claim responsibility and threaten more attacks to come if Parliament does not grant Ireland liberation from English rule within a month. Barker offers his service to the Home Office and comes up with a plan to discover and infiltrate the cell of the IRB responsible for the bombings. He and Llewellyn pose as explosive experts in order to win the group's confidence. But will they be able to maintain their cover long enough to allow Scotland Yard to arrest the dissidents without actually blowing up Parliament and the Prince of Wales?
Once again Thomas gives us an interesting, believable historical mystery set in the Holmsian period with far more action than most of the Holmes stories. The writing and description are up to par, but I have to say that I did not find the mystery or the story overall to be nearly as captivating as the debut. I still enjoy the interactions between Barker and Llewellyn...as well as with the other supporting characters and Thomas portrays the Irish resistance with just as much flair. But the first story was a more authentic mystery--the hunt for the killer of a young Jewish scholar with all the suspects and clues to follow of a standard detective novel. That is far more to my taste than the cloak of espionage that covers our heroes. Infiltrating the IRB and spending time manufacturing bombs just really didn't interest me as much. It also didn't help that the mastermind behind the group was obvious from about the midpoint of the book
However, slight misgivings about the topic aside, Thomas has produced a lively second novel--one that is a quick read and full of atmosphere and historical detail. I will definitely continue the series. Three and a half stars.
**spoiler alert** Our story takes place in the 1920s. Dandy Gilver is a sharp-witted aristocrat with nursing experience from the Great War. She has fo...more**spoiler alert** Our story takes place in the 1920s. Dandy Gilver is a sharp-witted aristocrat with nursing experience from the Great War. She has found herself in mysterious circumstances and played the amateur sleuth in four other outings. This particular adventure opens with a letter from Lollie Balfour. Lollie is convinced that her once loving husband is plotting to kill her and she begs Dandy to come to her as a lady's maid and see if she can get to the bottom of Pip Balfour's strange behavior. Once Dandy is installed, she soon finds that every member of the household from the butler to the chauffeur, from the cook to the scullery maid has reason to fear and loathe the head of the house. And that's just during Dandy's first day on the job. The next morning, Pip Balfour is found murdered in his bed with a nice, big carving knife sticking out of his neck. Everyone has a motive, but it seems that few had an opportunity. How did the killer get in? Why did no one hear him (or her)? Why did Pip leave such a strange will? And will Dandy be able to maintain her cover long enough to answer all the questions?
I decided to read Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains for two reasons--first, I needed to read a 2012 Award-Winning Book for the Monthly Motif Challenge (Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award--2012 Macavity Awards) and Catriona McPherson is originally from Scotland (and the book is set in Edinburgh) so it totally counts for the Read Scotland Challenge. And...it sounded like a good read, the blurb on the front announced "Agatha Christie lives!" and the blub on the back told me "Readers who can’t get enough of Dorothy L. Sayers, Barbara Pym, and Dorothy Parker will definitely find a new favorite in Catriona McPherson’s smart and original mystery." I'm afraid I have mixed feelings on this one.
Be forewarned...there will are spoilers ahead. There is no way to explain some of my misgivings without them. Here on the blog, I will disguise them with faint text color as best I can....
Let's begin with the problem areas. First off--Dorothy L. Sayers, McPherson is not. She does not display the literary knowledge, fluent writing, and intelligent banter among the characters necessary to wear that mantle. I wish critics and reviewers would stop comparing new authors to Sayers and Christie (and other Golden Age writers). It is extraordinarily rare to have one measure up--and when they don't, it usually detracts from what the author does well.
Second, Dandy's impersonation of a lady's maid shouldn't fool anybody. It's bad enough that she admits that her "vowels keep slipping"--but even with that, she says she could explain it away by telling the other servants that she's gently born, but come down in the world. Except she doesn't. She says she will tell them, but there is never an indication in the text that she did. We don't need the conversation. A simple sentence referring to the revelation when they're all sitting round the table for dinner would do it. But, no, we just have the servants snickering at her lofty ways. Then, whenever she's questioning anybody, it seems one minute they're suspicious of her questions or just wondering why this person who has only been in the house one day is so forward in her opinions and then the next minute they're all confiding in her.
Third (here be spoilers, skip now if you don't want to be spoiled--highlighting the apparent empty space will reveal all)--McPherson uses two of the oldest tropes in the mystery business. The butler did it and....not only did the butler do it, he is really a long-lost black sheep cousin come to do evil to everyone he meets. Seriously? AND he accomplishes his evil plots by hypnotizing every single member of the household. Every. Single. One. Suspension of disbelief is one thing--but the reader is really, truly supposed to believe that not one of the servants was impervious to the power of suggestion?! What are the odds that all of them...including our intrepid amateur detective....is susceptible?
Now...for the good points. This is a fun story. Zany has been used by other reviewers--and it fits, in a good way. The characters are fun and likeable and I enjoyed watching the story unfold and wondering what Dandy was going to do next. McPherson represents the 1920s well. If the award given had been for historical fiction alone and not for historical mystery, I would be 100 percent in favor. She also manages to provide lots of red herrings and false trails...it is unfortunate that the method employed by the villain of the piece to produce those red herrings wasn't believable. It would have been more effective if those red herrings would have had plausible explanations. Overall--good historical setting, interesting initial premise, likeable characters all add up to a decent three-star read.
Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, literary luminaries from Argentina (and, incidentally, husband and wife),...moreWhere There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, literary luminaries from Argentina (and, incidentally, husband and wife), was first published in 1946. It was translated into English for the first time in 2013. Casares and Ocampo managed to produce an interesting mystery in the "British country house" style that is a clever murder mystery, a witty parody of those same Golden Age novels, and a highly literary piece of fiction all rolled into one. Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Ernst Powell have done an excellent job of translation with just a few minor passages having a slightly off-kilter feel.
Dr. Humberto Huberman, physician, writer, and inveterate busybody, has gone to the Hotel Central at seaside Bosque de Mar for a literary vacation. He is in search of a quiet place to work on his adaptation of Petronius. But instead of peace and quiet, he finds himself in the middle of murder. A pretty, young translator named Mary is found dead on the very first night of his stay--apparently poisoned. There had been ripples of jealousy between Mary and her sister Emilia over Emilia's fiance. There is also the matter of Mary's missing jewels. Although the police are immediately on the scene, Huberman takes it upon himself to investigate and give the officials pointers when he thinks it needed.
The police are quite sure that Emilia is the guilty party--even when notations in her sister's hand are found that make it seem that Mary has committed suicide. Then the owner's young son goes missing as well as Emilia's fiance (who winds up being a top-level Inspector). Is anyone who they seem to be? And what really happened to Mary and her jewels?
This short piece is a fine little self-aware novel. It makes no bones about being aware that it is a mystery story about mystery stories. We have the police inspector who apparently takes the amateur into his confidence and who, apparently, is taking in all of Huberman's suggestions....but then goes on to ignore them. We have Huberman who finally comes round to the official view of the mystery...only to find they are all proved wrong. It is a very interesting look at the makings of a mystery story. Not terribly complex and good reading detectives will know who the culprit is. But I don't think this detracts from the fun. Four stars.
Lola Summerville is jealous of all the chick lit authors who are signing book deals right and left and having their books optioned for movie deals bef...moreLola Summerville is jealous of all the chick lit authors who are signing book deals right and left and having their books optioned for movie deals before the printer has finished spitting out their first run. It doesn't help that everyone from taxi drivers to policemen are being asked to "tell their story" and make mega-bucks. And it's not like Lola hasn't written a book. She has and it's a good one--but no one seems to notice. And she hasn't heard from her agent in ages.
Then, up-and-coming chick lit authors start dying faster than the deals have been made. And Lola has to wonder if the murders are connected--is there a chick-lit-hating madman on the loose? Will Lola be next? And, if she isn't on the hit list....well, then, why the heck not? Lola begins poking around when one of the suspects asks for her help and it isn't long before she's high-heels-deep in the mystery. She figures that if she can point the way to the killer, then she'll be able to sell the story in print and for a mega-bucks movie deal. She'll finally get the attention she deserves. But that won't happen if her investigations make the killer notice her first.
This is a fun, light-hearted mystery that pokes fun at the publishing world and the chick lit genre without lampooning or being too sarcastic. There are a lot of snappy, one-liners and a great deal of worry over relationships and impending mommy-hood--but all in good fun. This is definitely the book for anyone who wants to mix their mysteries with a chick lit flavor. There are several red herrings and a nifty twist to the plot before the culprit is caught. And a nice little happy ending for Lola and her long-suffering hubby. Three stars for a pleasant, fun read.
Maybe I'm getting crotchety in my old age. Or I'm just feeling more critical here in January. So far, I'm handing out an average of 2.7 stars to books...moreMaybe I'm getting crotchety in my old age. Or I'm just feeling more critical here in January. So far, I'm handing out an average of 2.7 stars to books read in 2014. And I feel kind of bad about this one because two of my favorite bloggers, Yvette (in so many words) and Sergio (Tipping My Fedora), both thought pretty highly of Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (1932)--and I'm all, Yeah, it was okay. Decent little read.
My primary difficulty with the book is that we have two very different things going on even though it's all one story. In the first section, we have a classic locked room, academic mystery. Mr. Beedon, a don of St. Barnabas, has been found shot to death in his locked room. To all appearances, he has committed suicide--but complications arise when a student (who is not one of Beedon's students and apparently unknown to him) is also found dead from a gun shot. And he has been shot by the same gun. The famous police surgeon from Scotland Yard says that Beedon has obviously shot the student and then shot himself--in remorse or some such thing. Enter Inspector Buller who is convinced that it is a case of murder all round. And...barely half-way through the book, we find out he's right and who the murderer is. But there's no evidence to prove it. The murderer is so full of how brilliant and uncatchable he is that he knocks off another victim (who might have been able to provide a bit of proof) right under Buller's nose. Buller is so disgusted with himself and his inability to prevent the last murder as well as his inability to bring the crime home to the culprit that he resigns from the force. Thus endeth the first lesson.
At this point the story goes through a transformation. Gone is the cozy, locked room, college atmosphere. Presto-chango, we're off on a "catch-me-if-you can" game of hide and seek in a rambling country mansion (which, by the way is Pemberley and is in the hands of Elizabeth & Fitzwilliam's descendents) and a high-speed car chase just to make things interesting. There will be an ingenious new gas to try and rid the house of lurking murderers, crawling about the roof with ropes, and escapades in the chimneys. Buller will be in danger of being roasted alive before the murderer finally gets his due. Plenty of adventure and excitement--and, of course, a rather sweet little romance between Buller and the female Darcy heir.
The locked room murder is a decent little mystery with a rather clever method of misdirection. The characters are interesting and engaging. And I enjoyed White's prose. I just wish the book hadn't had a split-personality going on--it was like reading two books in one. Three stars for a good vintage read.
Initially I picked up The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton for two reasons: 1) It's got a lovely "X" right there at the beginning and that knocks off a...moreInitially I picked up The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton for two reasons: 1) It's got a lovely "X" right there at the beginning and that knocks off a rather difficult letter for the Alphabet Soup Challenge and 2) It's set in Mexico, so it works for the Around the World Challenge. It also counts for a whole boatload of other challenges, so I thought it was all good. But geez, Louise, it was difficult to finish this rather blah, rather predictable book. First problem: It's written in the first person. Man, I hate those. It's rare that a first-person narrator works well for me. This one doesn't. Second problem: Too much introspection on the part of the narrator (bad divorce, no love-life, blah-blah-blah). Third problem: this supposedly "smart enough to run her own business (pre-divorce) and smart enough to go back to school as a graduate student" woman immediately starts blabbing about why Dr. Hernan Castillo asked her to come to Mexico to the first impressive male stranger she comes across. Bet that's going to work out well for her. But remember--she's told us that she dresses in "student uniform" of denim, khakis, and black to keep the men away ('cause the bad divorce was a thing, you know). Right. She's not interested or impressed by men at all. Uh-huh.
But you want to know what this is about, right? Whether the mystery is interesting. Well, you'd think so from the blurb:
After receiving a cryptic phone call from Dr. Hernan Castillo, an expert in Mayan history, Lara McClintoch travel to Merida, Mexico, to help him with a mysterious project that he has undertaken. But on arriving in Merida, Lara sees no sign of the good doctor--until his lifeless body turns up in his office at the museum. Retracing the doctor's recent footsteps, she is drawn into the jungles surrounding Merida. For in this lush paradise are the temples of Mayan gods--and the camps of modern-day rebels fighting to save their Mayan heritage. As the body count escalates, Lara must uncover the secrets of the Mayan underworld known as Xibalba--and journey into the very heart of darkness....
I know I thought so. But even though I know in these cozy mysteries we have to agree to believe the amateur detective is going to outsmart the police, I just couldn't do it this time. Because quite honestly, I don't believe Lara is smart enough. She does some really stupid things and trusts people that she has no reason to trust. And Hamilton gives no explanation in the storyline to make me believe that she should have a reason. One star.
Despite the fact that my library has The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy shelved on the mystery "New Arrivals" shelf....a real mystery it is not. In fac...moreDespite the fact that my library has The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy shelved on the mystery "New Arrivals" shelf....a real mystery it is not. In fact, for a good long while (try 214 pages out of 265 total) there isn't a terribly good indication that there's going to be a mystery at all--beyond the mystery of a missing Michelangelo candlestick. But certainly not the kind of mystery that crime fiction fans are used to. And when the mystery shows up it doesn't take anyone who has been paying the least bit of attention much brainpower to figure out A. who the mummy really is; B. who killed the person who became the mummy; and C. who turned the victim into a mummy. But...I get ahead of myself.
So...what we have here is Professor Lizzie Manning, professor of St. Patrick's College in Boston, who has just landed the assignment of a lifetime. She will have full access to an art and cabinet of curiosities ("Wonder Chamber") belonging to family related to the college founder. This is a collection dating back to the Renaissance which holds everything from natural treasures ("unicorn" horns and "dragons") to a beautifully preserved Egyptian sarcophagus. Professor Manning has already written a book about the college founder and now the college president and the family want her to oversee the organization of a special display of the family treasures in time for the centennial celebration.
She goes to Italy to survey and catalogue the proposed exhibit pieces and becomes interested in the Gonzaga family's history--particularly in Maggie, wife of Lorenzo Gonzaga and daughter of the college founder. Her interest takes her through the turbulent years of World War II and she becomes aware of events that will require a modern day explanation. For when she examines the sarcophagus, instead of an empty coffin she finds a very real mummy. But the mummy is not as old as its container. Who is it? And how long has it been hidden in the sarcophagus?
As I mentioned above...as a mystery, this story falls short of a mystery lover's expectations. It take forever to get to the real puzzle. And when you get there, there isn't much of a puzzle. There's no real build-up; there's no real conflict; and the denouement leaves a bit to be desired. If this had been billed as a straight fiction story (with a bit of mystery flavor), then it would rate higher. There is a lot of interesting historical information about Italy during the Second World War. There are some fascinating passages about curiosity collections. There are some fine character interactions between Lizzie Manning and the modern day members of the Gonzaga family. For the most part I like Lizzie and the descriptions of her researches are well done. I do find it difficult to believe that someone as smart as she is would not have seen the implications of the monologue (for lack of a better description without giving away what little mystery there is) which she recorded and the effect it might have on the person who translated it. There's no way she could be that obtuse. Given that I was expecting a mystery--and an academic mystery at that!--I'm afraid that The Wonder Chamber rates a less-than-wonderous two stars--an okay read that could have been much better.
...he was never afraid, not even when he should be. That was why he got involved in things; not scrapes that you could laugh at later, but serious tro...more...he was never afraid, not even when he should be. That was why he got involved in things; not scrapes that you could laugh at later, but serious trouble where death whispered, and which you tried never to remember after. (p. 17)
If I hadn't been determined that Dorothy B. Hughes's The Bamboo Blonde was going to be my last read of 2013 (and the last book needed for my final challenge of 2013), I would have given up on it. It is a fairly unsatisfying, semi-hard-boiled mystery involving fifth columnists and self-centered murderers. The whole story is told from the viewpoint of Griselda Satterlee who has just remarried her beloved Con. She's been promised a proper second honeymoon--joyous and romantic. What she gets is a visit to the Navy town of Long Beach and the fist thing Con does is pick up a drunken blonde at the Bamboo bar (thus the title). The blonde winds up dead. Con winds up suspect number one. There are several more deaths, a mysterious major, ties to the navy, secrets about radio transmissions, and a great deal of rather boring descriptions to go along with it. And I don't care for the way Con treats his wife. Yes, the book was written in the '40s. But we've got Dare Crandall portrayed as an intelligent, strong woman...why in the world does Griselda have to be portrayed as such a ditzy blonde with thoughts like "Con would die never knowing that her love for him was great enough to permit without question ever again his vagaries. He would never know that Dare's doorkey wasn't important if she herself might only have a small share of him." Please. Spare me. And the mystery behind all this isn't enough to make up for Con's ditzy wife who just wants "a small share of him." It didn't take long at all to spot the murderer.
The best I can say of the book is...it allowed me to Outdo Myself and...more importantly it allowed me to finish the last category for my Vintage Mystery Challenge--Blondes in Danger. Yep. I finished all 37. Now to get ready for Vintage Mystery Bingo in 2014! Two stars.