Currently (at least on Facebook) there is a major debate raging over Sophie Hannah's forthcoming Hercule Poirot novel. A large number of diehard ChrisCurrently (at least on Facebook) there is a major debate raging over Sophie Hannah's forthcoming Hercule Poirot novel. A large number of diehard Christie fans are up in arms and who can blame them? All of the promotional material I've seen shows the cover with "Agatha Christie" emblazoned in huge letters at the top of the book.* Many commenters have initially been confused--asking if this has recently been found among Christie's papers. I have to say that it gives every appearance of the Christie estate trying to hoodwink readers into thinking that this is an Agatha Christie story. It's not. And this sense of being tricked is what really puts me off. Of course, I also am not terribly keen on authors trying to take up the mantle of a much beloved novelist. It rarely goes well. (The sequel to Gone With the Wind, anyone?) There are a fair number of good Sherlock Holmes pastiches--but there are also a multitude of poor ones. But to my knowledge none of them try to pass themselves off as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. [*Please note how tiny the "Based on the characters of Dorothy L. Sayers" is on the cover to the right.]
Which brings me to The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh. The Lord Peter Wimsey novels which have sprung forth from Paton Walsh's hand would be a prime reason why I am very reluctant to pick up The Monogram Murders by Hannah. I dearly love Dorothy L. Sayers's novels and was, quite honestly, thrilled to hear that she was going to use DLS's notes and partially finished work to give us Thrones, Dominations. What LPW fan wouldn't want more adventures with our lordly sleuth? That book was okay--not even close to the brilliant gem it could have been if Sayers had completed it, but okay. And when the next one came out I read that too in the hopes that Paton Walsh would be more comfortable with the characters and begin to come into her own with them. It didn't happen and, in fact, the second novel was much weaker than the first--probably because there was even less Sayers material to work with. So, why, you may ask, have I continued with the series when I have been disappointed with the results so far? Because I cannot resist the Wimsey charm even when it hasn't been properly represented. The same reason that I've already started the most recent LPW/Harriet Vane adventure, The Late Scholar. Resistance is futile...I don't want that to happen with Poirot. So....unless an overwhelming majority of reviewers I know and trust give rave reviews to The Monogram Murders, I won't be touching it.
And now....on with the review.
The titular Attenbury Emeralds have been the focus of mystery for quite some time. In 1921 Wimsey, just making his entrance back into society in his recovery effort after the war, is involved with the hue and cry that goes up when the famous large stone of the set goes missing. It is his maiden venture into the realm of amateur detecting and his handling of it and the publicity around the recovery of the gem launches him into the career that serves as the most efficacious cure for his shell-shocked nerves. Years later, after the Second World War, another crisis arises with emerald and the newest Lord Attenbury asks Wimsey to investigate. With all the changes after the war, most immediately the heavy death duties he faces on the passing of his father, the new lord would like to sell the emerald and save his estate. But a claimant has popped up--asserting that the emerald held in the bank vault is not Attenbury's at all, that somehow it has been switched. The bank will not allow Attenbury to remove the stone for sale until proof can be supplied that it is, indeed, the family's property. Wimsey with the assistance of Harriet and Bunter must track down the crucial moment when the stones may have been switched....but the case takes a more diabolical turn when they discover that each time the emerald was removed from the vault a death followed.
**************** This novel, as with the first two, contains flashes of Wimsey and his lady that are true to form but they are too few and far between. The entire first quarter of the book reads like a bad drawing room comedy between two people who are doing their best to appear that they know and love each other but don't really. Peter and Harriet's literary quote filled banter always had a thread of joy and sexiness running through it that is sadly lacking. Bunter's relationship to the two is also slightly askew. Granted, the times they are a-changing and the relationships between the gentry and servants may not be the same--but Bunter is too old-school to ever change and Paton Walsh's efforts to indicate this make Bunter into a wooden version of himself throughout a large portion of the book. The person who comes off best is the Dowager Duchess--she still isn't quite as Sayers wrote her, but she is the closest rendition we have.
The story has a very self-aware feel especially in the first third with coy references to "if this were one of my detective novels" and "not nearly as good as Christie or Sayers." Let's just announce in a loud voice that "Hey look, we're amateur detectives in a mystery novel" shall we? I should also make reference to the quite awful method of delivery for the previous emerald incident. Sitting round the fire for "story hour" was bad enough, but then we follow Peter and Harriet around from tea shop to kitchen table and back to the fireside for installments (like this is a radio serial story or something). There must have been a better way to tell the back history. Peter could have started out in story-teller mode...fade to black and whoosh we're in 1921 and following events...fade back to present with wrap-up comments/questions and Bob's your uncle. Tally-ho and let's play hunt the emerald in modern times. I don't know. All I do know is the first half of the book does not work well for the reader or the characters involved. [Speaking of Bob and his uncle, since when does Peter say "old chap" except perhaps in deliberate and obvious irony?]
The mystery itself is convoluted and full of coincidence. The investigation itself is fairly well done but the plot leaves a lot to be desired. Paton Walsh does a much better job with her own Imogen Quy series--most likely because the characters are hers and she doesn't have to worry about writing in the shadow of such a fabulous author. She can just tell her story and concentrate on the plot construction.
★★ purely for my beloved characters and the chance to visit with them despite their imperfect renderings.
Ruth Rendell's 13 Steps Down is a psychological thriller based entirely on obsession. Mix Cellini is obsessed with two things murder and beauty. Or, rRuth Rendell's 13 Steps Down is a psychological thriller based entirely on obsession. Mix Cellini is obsessed with two things murder and beauty. Or, rather, the murders of serial killer Reggie Christie, hanged over fifty years ago for the murders of eight women or more, and the beauty of supermodel Nerissa Nash. He has read everything available on Christie and recently moved into a flat in a decrepit house in Nottinghill--the old stomping grounds of Christie. He's thrilled to pieces to find out that Gwendolen Chawcer, his landlady had some sort of connection to the killer and he develops his own theory what that connection might have been. Nerissa he worships from afar and he develops elaborate plans to find a way to meet her. But will his obsessions be his undoing?
Gwendolen Chawcer has a few obsessions of her own--reading and dwelling on the only man she ever loved, Dr. Stephen Reeves. She's sure that Reeves would have asked her to marry him if fate hadn't interfered. And when she learns that he has recently become a widower she's certain that he'll come back to her...if she can just find the right words to write to him.
Nerissa Nash is a supermodel who only wants to settle down with the boy next door. Or rather, the boy who grew up next door to her when she lived at home with her parents. But--despite her fame--he doesn't seem to know she exists. When she notices the man stalking her, she hopes it's a blessing in disguise...a way to get Darel Jones to come to her rescue so they can live happily ever after.
Danila Kovic works at a health spa that Nerissa seems to frequent. Cellini sees Danila as a way to get into the spa and get close Nerissa. And Danila thinks she's found a boyfriend at last. When she discovers Cellini's interest in the supermodel, she makes a few inadvisable comments out of jealousy. But will she lose more than a potential boyfriend?
The obsessive forces at work in Cellini's life bring these four people together and it is obvious that trouble is brewing. Very psychological and suspenseful--depending entirely on a view of each character's thoughts and fantasies to bring about the final tragedy. Ruth Rendell writes a compelling story...but bleak. Oh so bleak and creepy. I couldn't put it down, but I can't say it was enjoyable. But that is something Rendell is very good at--creating stories that make the reader uncomfortable; stories that give us a peek at the unpleasant side of human nature; stories that we'd rather not know about...and making them so compelling that we have to know what happens.
Kate Ivory is an author of historical fiction who is used to receiving letters from her readers--usually telling her all the mistakes she's made. ButKate Ivory is an author of historical fiction who is used to receiving letters from her readers--usually telling her all the mistakes she's made. But then she receives a package with a gold knot-ring and no explanatory note. She has little time to think about it though, because she also receives a phone call from her publicist asking her to take part in a last minute bookshop tour to promote her latest novel. Never mind that the tour was really intended for another author--Kate should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to push her book. She won't be alone on her mad dash around England though--she'll be appearing in tandem with Devlin Hayle, author of a series of historical bodice-rippers and known as "The Man Who Understands a Woman's Heart."
What Kate understands is that Hayle is a boozing, gambling womanize who seems to have a collection of bookie's tough guys, irate husbands and brothers, and others hot on his trail. A whirlwind of mayhem follows them wherever they go. There are a couple of attacks on Hayle, but when murder finally strikes, it happens to someone much closer to Kate than her book tour companion. Was Hayle really the object of the arsonist and the would-be killer or is there another agenda? And does it have anything to do with her unknown admirer?
Once upon a time I read the first "Oxford" series book by Veronica Stallwood (Death and the Oxford Box) and apparently thought it was good enough to assign it three stars (that would be in the days before blogging, so I don't really remember it all that well). I also thought enough of it to pick up Oxford Knot in 2011. I have to say, I'm not quite sure what the great appeal was. Kate is a fairly likeable character, but certainly not the most memorable. Slogging through the first chapter where she's trying to work on her book and her friends and neighbors keep interrupting got old real quick--totally could have skipped that part and headed straight to the tea party and opening the box with the ring. So, the writing is not all that crisp and engaging.
There's also not a whole lot of crime-solving going on in this "mystery." The police make a brief appearance when the murder occurs and Kate spends more time trying to figure out how many of Hayle's stalkers are in the audience at each stop on the book tour, than she does trying to figure out who sent her the ring and then who killed the person close to her. The mystery really just solves itself. Speaking of that murder, Kate speaks for me when she says that it would have made a lot more sense if Hayle had been murdered. The death that occurs is so senseless. I realize that often happens in real life--but this isn't real life. This is fiction and the point should be to produce a murder that the reader cares about seeing solved and which makes a certain sense in the grand scheme of the book. Given who the victim is (I'm trying not to spoil things here), I definitely want the killer caught, but the wrap-up is so disappointing and murder so senseless that there is little joy in the denouement. ★★ and I doubt I'll be reading any more of the series.
A Finer End by Deborah Crombie begins in Glastonbury. Glastonbury is known as the site of an ancient abbey and is the mythical burial place of King Ar A Finer End by Deborah Crombie begins in Glastonbury. Glastonbury is known as the site of an ancient abbey and is the mythical burial place of King Arthur and Guinevere. The Tor is believed to be a source of druidic powers and a focus for those who believe in goddess worship. Strange forces seem to be swirling around the ancient city and Inspector Duncan Kincaid's cousin Jack is at the center of it all.
Jack, a down-to-earth architect finds himself experiencing episodes of what seems to be automatic writing. Latin messages flow from his hand unprompted--purported to be from a monk by the name of Edward who lived over a thousand years ago. Edward seems to have an urgent message on his mind. Something do with a terrible and bloody moment in the abbey's history. Something very special and sacred is missing and Jack--and those in the town who believe in the spiritual power of the place and Jack's message--must discover what it is and recover it so Edward's spirit can rest.
But Jack isn't the only one experiencing promptings from beyond. Fiona, a local artist, paints in a trance-like state. Paintings that feature violent images and one child over and over again. But are these really messages from past--or is there a very modern force at work? Tensions mount and it isn't until Jack's love, Winnie, nearly dies from a hit-and-run accident and another woman is murdered that Kincaid and Inspector Gemma James get involved. Ostensibly, Duncan and Gemma are on holiday and on an errand of mercy to lend support to Jack and Winnie. But the detective team can't resist helping the local law enforcement--especially when it seems that the local inspector is determined to lock up an innocent man. Clues both past and present come together with a grand finale on the storm-swept side of the Tor.
There's no denying that Deborah Crombie can write. Her stories are always elegant and lyrical. The descriptions of both people and place--especially place--are lovely. The mystery is intricate--although I was able to get at least part of it right fairly early. I do question the whole mystical side of things though. And the answer to that mystery was just a little too pat....not sure I'm believing that the secret would have survived all that time. Still, a well-told tale and worth a good three and a half stars.
Sir John Appleby, Inspector at Scotland Yard, is on holiday in Italy and decides to stop in and see an acquaintance who is also abroad. Lewis PackfordSir John Appleby, Inspector at Scotland Yard, is on holiday in Italy and decides to stop in and see an acquaintance who is also abroad. Lewis Packford is a well-known, if flamboyant, Elizabethan scholar with a penchant for quoting Shakespeare at the most interesting moments. Packford often puts together spectacular discoveries and springs them on his colleagues with much glee--sometimes with hints and portents beforehand and sometimes all at once. Appleby's conversation with Packford at the Italian villa would seem to indicate that another such literary bombshell is about to drop.
When he returns to England, Packford invites several of his colleagues to his country house--presumably with a view to impressing them with his latest bit of scholarship. But before Packford can produce his most recent surprise, a shot rings out in the library and he is found dead with a brief note written in his own hand beside him. The note reads: Farewell, a long farewell. A Shakespearean reference which is taken to be an apt suicide note for such a scholar. The police are satisfied with the suicide verdict--particularly since Packford had just been exposed as a bigamist. But Packford's solicitor is not and, when the solicitor brings the matter to Appleby's attention, neither is Appleby.
Appleby's investigates and finds that Packford had apparently acquired a rare book purportedly annotated by William Shakespeare. The scholars and bibliophiles who make up the house party (and who are still present well after the funeral is over) might have killed to get their hands on the precious book. One of Packford's wives may have killed him in a fit of passion. And then there's Packford's brother--who inherits the family home. It's up to Appleby to figure out who was desperate enough to shoot the Shakespearean scholar.
I do love the academic mysteries--particularly when there are dotty dons littering the landscape. We've got several here--and they are being as eccentric and inscrutable as one could wish. On top of that there are some fine red herrings, interesting conversations, and a midnight farce in the library. Four stars.
An excellent mystery that kept me guessing right to the end. It has enough twists and turns to make one pick a culprit, then discard him/her, pick anoAn excellent mystery that kept me guessing right to the end. It has enough twists and turns to make one pick a culprit, then discard him/her, pick another, and then keep picking and discarding all through. And I still didn't get it right in the end. This one is every bit as well-written as her Dreaming of the Bones and just as lyrical, albeit with a different rhythm.
My main quibble is that quite a bit is made in the blurbs about Kincaid's relationship with his newly-discovered son....but not a lot of head-way is made. Kincaid's interaction with Kit is really interesting and I'd like to see a lot more of it. Maybe in the next one....
There's no place like home for the holidays. And no place for a murder, either. Especially in Georgette Heyer's period mystery, Envious Casca. Uncle JThere's no place like home for the holidays. And no place for a murder, either. Especially in Georgette Heyer's period mystery, Envious Casca. Uncle Joseph has convinced his curmudgeonly brother Nat Herriad to allow all the family and their guests to come home to Lexham Manor for a good, old-fashioned English Christmas. Nevermind that none of the relatives really get on with each other and that Nat would rather quarrel than raise a glass of good cheer. It's going to be jolly--at least until someone decides to stab dear old Nat in the back. In a locked room, no less. It isn't long before suspicion falls rather solidly upon the presumed heir and Nat's nephew, Stephen. But Inspector Hemingway from Scotland Yard will have to find a way for the murderer to have gotten out of the locked room before he can bring anyone to book.
This is another of Heyer's fine 1930s/40s mysteries. You have your cast of stock characters in the country house, but they are so well-drawn that she gives new life to each and every one. There are just enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing and plenty of Golden Age atmosphere to keep vintage mystery fans happy. This was a re-read for me (as I endeavor to read all of Heyer's mystery stories for the Georgette Heyer Reading Challenge), but even knowing the culprit ahead of time didn't dim my enthusiasm. Envious Casca is still a good solid read. Three stars out of five.
Antony Maitland, lawyer and sometime sleuth, and his wife, Jenny, are looking forward to a holiday visit with old friends in the little village of BurAntony Maitland, lawyer and sometime sleuth, and his wife, Jenny, are looking forward to a holiday visit with old friends in the little village of Burton Cecil. Despite having run into a murder there some seven years before, they certainly don't expect more of the same when they come to stay with their crime-writing hostess Emma Antsey. But just before they arrive a young woman by the name of Dilys Jones is strangled and Emma's nephew Stephen Antsey is lined up to advise (and possibly instruct counsel for the defense of) the girl's boyfriend Peter Dutton. The stubborn Inspector Wentworth, appointed to the case from Rothershaw, has fitted Dutton up as suspect #1 and doesn't seem willing to pay much attention to other options. Nearly the entire village believe in Dutton's innocence and want to blame Philip Wainwright, a newcomer who is rather eccentric and who has ran shy of getting acquainted with his new neighbors. After all, nothing like this happened until he arrived.
Stephen has just recently started practicing and has little experience, so he (with Emma's encouragement) approaches Maitland for help and guidance. Maitland is willing to help, but quite frankly tends to agree with the authorities that Dutton does look to be the most likely candidate. But when a second young woman and then a third are strangled in just the same way, Maitland agrees that while he could see the young lover killing his girl in a fit of passion, Dutton doesn't fit either the homicidal maniac profile or the role of cool, calculating murderer killing additional girls to distract from his motive for Dilys's death. Wentworth, however, is very attached to that idea and ultimately arrests Dutton. It isn't until Antony sees the pattern with its inspiration in the murders of the past that he is able to convince the inspector to investigate another far more suitable suspect.
First published in 1986, Nor Live So Long by Sara Woods certainly comes on the scene long past the Golden Age of detective novels. But the small village setting and the various drinks and dinner parties definitely give the novel a Golden Age atmosphere. There is also the very amateur detective feel to Maitland's investigation. For even though he is a lawyer by trade, his questioning of various villagers comes off as very casual inquisitiveness rather than a representative of the court cross-examining them and this makes the novel seem more cozy than crime.
Not that there isn't crime and dark deeds to be had--very nasty strangulations and fearful villagers bearing pitchforks and burning things down throw a very dark shadow indeed. In the hands of a lesser author, the pitchfork scene might even seem a bit over-the-top, but Woods uses it effectively to convey atmosphere of fear and mistrust that has taken over Burton Cecil in the wake of the murders.
Woods always entertains and delivers solid mysteries with interesting characters. It was nice to see Antony and Jenny on holiday--a busman's holiday as it turns out. Good classic feel.
Malice Domestic (1962) is the second book in the Antony Maitland series by Sara Woods. Woods is the most recognized pseudonym of Lana Hutton Bowen-JudMalice Domestic (1962) is the second book in the Antony Maitland series by Sara Woods. Woods is the most recognized pseudonym of Lana Hutton Bowen-Judd (March 1922-1985), a British mystery writer who also wrote under the names Anne Burton, Mary Challis, and Margaret Leek. Her series character Maitland is a English barrister who, more often than not, plays detective to ferret out details that will allow his uncle, Sir Nicholas Harding, Q.C., to more ably defend the (obviously) innocent clients that Maitland convinces him to represent.
This time Maitland wants his uncle to defend Paul Herron against a charge of murder (and attempted murder). The Cassell family has more than its share of twins. Paul and Timothy are one set and their Grandfather Ambrose and Great-Uncle William are another. William has been living abroad for almost twenty years and returns to the family home just in time to be shot and killed in Ambrose's study. Paul is caught red-handed outside the room with the gun in his hands and a bewildered look on his face.
Ambrose, who takes the family name and standing seriously, would like his grandson to plead insanity--because madness is somehow easier to swallow than cold-blooded murder. There had long been bad blood between Ambrose and his grandsons and he's quite sure that Paul mistook his identical twin for the grandfather with whom he'd argued one too many times. Paul insists that he had been sleepwalking and woke up with the gun at his feet--picking it up without thinking. When Maitland hears the details, he becomes certain that Paul is innocent and assures his uncle that he'll be able to defend the young man on a "not guilty" plea. Now Antony has to put his money where his mouth is and dig up proof that someone else fired the deadly shot. The proof just might be in the closet with the family skeletons and no one, not even Paul, wants Maitland rattling those bones. Even if an innocent man has to hang for it....
Malice Domestic provides an interesting question for the armchair detective to consider as he reads--who was the intended victim? Everyone in the family except Paul had met Uncle William and knew that he and Ambrose were identical twins--so it would seem that only Paul could have killed William in mistake for his brother. But was the killer so used to seeing Ambrose at the desk in the study that they simply assumed that was who was seated there? Or could there possibly be a reason to kill a man who hadn't set foot in England for twenty years and someone is counting on the assumption of mistaken identity?
Maitland makes for a determined detective. He doesn't mind ruffling feathers in his search for evidence to prove the client's innocence. His relationship with his uncle is amusing. Despite Sir Nicholas's bluster and complaints about Maitland's methods, it's obvious that there is great affection between the two. Characterization is not Woods's strongest point, but she does very well with these main characters and her plotting balances out any deficiencies in character development. An enjoyable entry in a series I've neglected for too long.
And just what are we covering up? Art world skulduggery? Drug smuggling? Murder most foul? Lizzie Thomas, housewife and queen of the art of gossip, anAnd just what are we covering up? Art world skulduggery? Drug smuggling? Murder most foul? Lizzie Thomas, housewife and queen of the art of gossip, and John Webber, retired police inspector turned private investigator, are on the case and ready to find out.
Joseph Greenwood takes a hefty sum of money with him on a quiet drive to English countryside. He's heard that a valuable unknown painting by Stanley Spencer may be hanging in the Flaxfield hide-away of one-time actress Victoria Varley. Greenwood barely has time to look the painting over before he's dead and the cash has disappeared. Not long after, the actress has done a disappearing act of her own. There are American art "dealers" looking for the painting, Greenwood's wife looking for the missing cash, a fellow policeman suspecting drugs smuggled in frames, and Lizze & John looking for answers to all the niggling questions that surround what looks at first to be a simple death by natural causes.
This is a fairly middle-of-the-road mystery. Oliver's strong suit is his characters. John and Lizzie are well-defined, interesting, and, most importantly, believable people. Lizzie is, as mentioned about, the queen of the art of gossip. And we know this because Oliver makes it plain in her interactions with the other characters. I've read mysteries before where a certain character supposedly just had this "quality" that made others confide all sorts of secrets to them...but I never got a real feel for why that was. I certainly never thought that I'd be spilling the beans myself. With Lizzie, it's different. I could see her plopping a cup of tea and some biscuits down if front of me and in no time at all she'd know everything I had to tell. I thoroughly enjoy the way Lizzie and John interact and form a team.
The weakest part of Oliver's story is the continuity. If I flip back through the story, he doesn't really jump around all that much....but it certainly feels that way. There's a bumpy, erratic feel to the storyline which makes it just a little difficult to stay the course. Fortunately the mystery itself and the characters are interesting enough to keep reader going till the end. A solid three-star outing.
Death Is in the Air is a cozy little English village mystery by Kate Kingsbury. It is set during World War II in the village of Sitting Marsh. ElizabeDeath Is in the Air is a cozy little English village mystery by Kate Kingsbury. It is set during World War II in the village of Sitting Marsh. Elizabeth Hartleigh Compton is the Lady of the Manor--the first woman to lead the village alone in hundreds of years. She is just earning the villagers respect when she does the unthinkable and allows American officers to be housed in the Manor. Feelings run deep--the locals and the British soldiers both take it hard that their girls are running after those "Yanks." Lady Elizabeth works on a plan--a dance!--to try and bring the two sides together, but soon they are brought together by something far more sinister....murder and mayhem!
A German pilot crash-lands near the village and manages to escape into the woods. That very night, a local land girl is found murdered in those very woods. Soon soldiers from both sides of the Atlantic and the remaining local constabulary are joined by a militant band of village housewives bearing kitchen cutlery in a hunt to bring the murderous German to justice. But Lady Elizabeth caught a glimpse of the terrified young boy in the pilot's uniform and is not so sure that he's to blame for the girl's death. There's a bit of jealousy running rampant among the men who sought her affections and the girls who thought she'd stolen their fellows. The culprit may be closer to home than the villagers think....
This was a very pleasant weekend read. The pace is quick and the characters are quite likeable. I definitely enjoyed the growing friendship between Lady Elizabeth and Major Monroe. The mystery isn't a particularly deep or complex one--but the motive is believable. No heavy-duty thinking necessary--I spotted the murderer and the reason fairly early--but it was great fun watching Lady Elizabeth figure it out and bring the crime home to culprit.
This is actually the second on the "Manor House Mysteries" by Kingsbury, but I didn't feel like I had missed anything in not having read the first one. I'm sure there was some background that might have been useful--but nothing that was absolutely necessary to the mystery itself. The setting and the characters are good enough to ensure that I'll look for the next installment. Three stars for a nice cozy mystery.
Lament for a Maker (1938) would seem--from ratings on Goodreads and in the opinion of such fellow mystery writers as Nicholas Blake and Michael GilberLament for a Maker (1938) would seem--from ratings on Goodreads and in the opinion of such fellow mystery writers as Nicholas Blake and Michael Gilbert--to be considered one of Michael Innes' best books. While I will agree that the mystery itself is quite nicely twisty and surprising, the journey he takes the reader on to get to that brilliant, twisty ending is a rather arduous one. The tale is told through the narratives of various characters--five in all, including his detective John Appleby--and wading through the Scots dialect of the opening narrative nearly put me off entirely. There is also a bit too much extraneous detail about matters that don't really move the story along to suit me.
At the heart of the book is the death of the eccentric recluse Ranald Guthrie the laird of Erchany who falls from the ramparts of his castle on a wild winter night. Suspicion initially rests on the young man who wished to marry Guthrie's niece, but the stories told by each of our narrators prove that there is more to the events of Christmas Eve than meets the eye. Did Guthrie commit suicide in the hopes of ruining the young man? Who was the shadowy figure seen by Miss Guthrie, the American cousin? Why was Guthrie's man Hardcastle looking for the Doctor when Miss Guthrie and Noel Gylby (stranded travelers in a snowstorm) approached Erchany? It will take the narratives of five people involved in the mystery to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Each time Appleby thinks the picture has been completed, another handful of puzzle pieces are brought to the table.
Worth reading for the mystery itself, but not, to my mind, one of Innes' absolute best. I've rated Death at the President's Lodgings, The Weight of the Evidence, and The Long Farewell each higher. I did enjoy being fooled by the final twist and I found the narrative threads by Noel Gylby and Appleby to be the most entertaining. Overall: ★★★
Julia's intrepid friends--consisting of her colleagues in chambers as well as Oxford don and sometime sleuth Hilary Tamar are the recipients of Julia'Julia's intrepid friends--consisting of her colleagues in chambers as well as Oxford don and sometime sleuth Hilary Tamar are the recipients of Julia's letters from abroad and soon learn that she is suspect number one in the murder of the beautiful Ned Watson. They determine to track down clues and haunt the fellow Art Lovers until proof can be found to persuade the Italian authorities of Julia's innocence. Somehow just the fact that the murder was too tidy for Julia to be responsible is just not as convincing to the Italian police.
Thus Was Adonis Murdered reads like a cross between Jane Austen, British drawing room comedy, and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest written as a murder mystery. There are so many scenes that make up this upper-crust-sounding, yet slightly slap-dash amateur investigation so much fun to read. From the letters written by Julia that give us a firm idea of her intellectually sound but common sense starved self as well as the background for the murder to the barristers' shameless pumping of art aficionado Benjamin Dobble to Cantrip's interview with Major Linnaker, a shady art and antiques dealer, there are delights all along the way.
I really must share this tidbit from Cantrip (about the interview):
Was it really only two hours? It seemed much longer than that. Much longer. Much, much longer. The Major's known a lot of women. English women. Italian women. Arab women. Serbo-Croatian women. The right sort of women, the wrong sort of women. Women who would, women who wouldn't, women who might have. He told me about them all. Are you sure it was only two hours?
The light touch and light banter between the barristers make for a quick and entertaining read. I thoroughly enjoyed the dry British wit and sarcastic humor. There are also several very apt descriptions of the academic life and mind. Very appealing, fun, and interesting.
Back in 2011 when I read The Shortest Way to Hades, I made mention of the fact that nowhere in the story do we learn whether Hilary Tamar be male or female (and that I didn't really notice this until John at Pretty Sinister Books pointed it out). I had assumed that Hilary was a woman because Hilary is generally a feminine name in the US. And certain ways in which the other characters addressed our law-type scholar made me think s/he was female as well. This particular reading makes me think that Hilary is a man. There's something about the way s/he addresses fellow characters. Darn it. Caudwell is pretty good at this keeping a secret and mystifying the reader business. Now I'm curious to see which way I lean in book number three.
I love the Edward Gorey covers on these....one of the main reasons I first grabbed them up. I'm so glad that the stories live up to the covers.
I've got a very late 50s edition of John Dickson Carr's Till Death Do Us Part. If you go by the blurb on the back--listed--(and the cover picture abovI've got a very late 50s edition of John Dickson Carr's Till Death Do Us Part. If you go by the blurb on the back--listed--(and the cover picture above--see her pouring the poison), you'd think that Lesley Grant was the ultimate femme fatale--causing the deaths of husband and lovers right and left. See:
Here's how the story really shakes out:
Dick Markham, a playwright who specializes in "psychological thrillers" and who lives in Six Ashes, has fallen in love with the lovely young Lesley Grant. Lesley has recently moved to the English village and has turned the heads of half the men in town. She looks 18, admits to 28, but according the fortune teller at the county bazaar is really a 41 year old poisoner. The fortune teller reveals himself as Sir Harvey Gilman, Home Office pathologist visiting from London. He has a scene with Lesley followed by a session with Markham. Gilman just begins to talk to Markham when he is accidentally shot by Lesley.
Word is that Gilman is at death's door and he asks the doctor to bring Markham to him so he can finish his conversation. Markham finds that the pathologist is not nearly as hurt as supposed and is even more shocked when Gilman tells him that the love of his life has been married twice and engaged once more--and that all of the men in question have died of prussic acid poisoning while behind locked doors. Each death was ruled a suicide....but Gilman and the police believe them to be very clever murders. He wants Markham to help prove (or disprove) that Lesley did, indeed, polish off three men.
But before the final plans can be made Gilman is found dead--from prussic acid--behind the locked doors of his cottage. Is Markham's lady love truly a poisoner four times over? Or is there more to this case than meets the eye? When Dr. Gideon Fell is called in to untangle the clues, you know there's more going on than may appear. Revelations are made about Gilman and Lesley, but that won't answer other important questions. What is the significance of a box of drawing pins found scattered beside the corpse? Who fired a rifle into the murder room in the early hours of the next morning? It takes another murder before Dr. Fell reveals the identity of the murderer and the method by which the room was locked.
This is a fairly satisfying locked room mystery by the master. There is plenty of misdirection, lots of red herrings, and several people who aren't what we think (or what we're told at first). I certainly didn't figure out the locked room method. And, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Gideon Fell figure out the clues. My only quibble is that I don't think we're given enough information to really be able to sort the killer. I didn't pick up even a whiff of the motive--not even when looking back after being presented with the culprit. One could, I suppose, figure it out simply by process of elimination--but I'd still be baffled as to the why. Three and 3/4 stars--rounded to four on GoodReads.