Tag: crime


Review – Strong Poison

Posted 6 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. SayersStrong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers

I can’t quite remember what the bad mood was that triggered this return to Strong Poison, so soon after I listened to the radioplay version. Fortunately, given Sayers’ witty, clever and allusive writing, it’s never going to be a chore, especially since this is one of the stronger books of the series — and it was a pleasure to realise how strong the fidelity of the radioplay version was, skipping very little of the original novel.

You see, in Strong Poison, Peter falls in love… with a woman who is almost sure to be convicted of the murder of her ex-lover. Knowing she’s innocent, pretty much because he thinks she’s pretty and her character as described doesn’t support the murder theory, he arranges to meet her, immediately proposes to her, and gets her out of the murder charge by finding the real murderer while he’s at it. The banter between them is delightful, as are the moments where Harriet is more vulnerable — she’s not immune to the situation she’s in, as she shows by breaking down in front of Peter.

The actual mystery is fun as well: in retrospect it’s very obvious, because of certain precautions a particular character has taken, but the unfolding of the hows and whys is still interesting, particularly because Bunter and Parker feature fairly strongly alongside Peter. And there’s also the delightful bit where Peter encourages Parker to propose to Lady Mary…

Still a favourite — even if my eyes popped a little at the point where Peter complains how horrible it is seeing Harriet in the dock… to Harriet. And she sympathises with him and says it must be beastly. Gah!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Gaudy Night

Posted 6 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, audio versionGaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Featuring Joanna David as Harriet Vane and Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey

Gaudy Night is the odd one out in both the radioplays and the books. It was recorded later, I think, and it shows — Ian Carmichael sounds almost winded half the time, though it does get better as the book goes on. It’s quite a different tone, too, because it’s from Harriet’s point of view. In the audiobook, this involves a fair amount of first person narration of her thoughts and feelings, which was never a feature of the other audiobooks, which makes it stand out as well.

That said, it’s a pretty good adaptation, drawing together all the key features well and giving clues through the voice acting as well as the plot. In audio, it’s a little hard to keep track of all the female dons, but that doesn’t seem to get in the way too much. And Harriet’s realisation of her feelings for Peter is well done; I think I prefer Sarah Badel’s take on it in Busman’s Honeymoon, but it works.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Nine Tailors

Posted 3 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, audio versionThe Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers

Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Peter Jones as Bunter

The Nine Tailors is a book I think about fondly, although I can’t quite think of why. Some of it is the atmosphere, I think: the Englishness of this little village in the Fens, and the music of the bells woven all through the story — or, not music exactly, but the complex mathematical patterns of British bell-ringing. In a way, that’s how this mystery feels, too: it’s complex, with several mistaken identities and a long unsolved mystery. It’s also a sad one, because a family gets shattered through almost no fault of their own.

And the Reverend and his household are dear characters, of course.

The audio adaptation is pretty good, managing to make all the complex threads come together well. Ian Carmichael’s voice acting is great most of the time, though maybe a trifle overblown during the scene in the belfry. I guess it’s difficult to portray that scene without Peter constantly vocalising, though.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Whispers Under Ground

Posted 30 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Whispers Under Ground by Ben AaronovitchWhispers Under Ground, Ben Aaronovitch

This series remains fun, and the interactions between Lesley and Peter are just A++. I think I found the pacing a bit off reading this for a second time; I couldn’t really remember the plot, but it seemed to be taking an awful lot of time to get to the sewer scenes I remembered. All the same, it’s a worthy entry in the series, with Lesley taking a more active part again, and featuring a less comic-book like amount of violence. Instead, the threat is more personal, more like what you would expect from routine police work… if routine police work required you to notice the vestigia on a murder weapon, and try to track where it came from. Still, this is definitely the most police-procedural-ish of the three books so far; that may or may not appeal to you!

There are some great atmospherics in this book, though, given the sewer excursions (incursions?) and the visit to the Quiet People. And, though I don’t remember it being mentioned specifically before, Peter Grant’s former interest in architecture — the way he can describe buildings and features just adds a little something.

What is driving me mad is that the library had one UK edition and one probably US edition, which spell Lesley’s name differently. I don’t even know anymore. Help. Which does the UK version use?

Not my favourite of the series, anyway; I think if I remember rightly, that’s probably the next one, Broken Homes. Wish me luck going back into that heartbreak, is all I’m going to say.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Murder Must Advertise

Posted 26 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers audio versionMurder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers

Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey

This is a fun story in terms of the whole idea of Peter being undercover, actually working for his living in an advertising company. Here it makes perfect sense that he’s great at it, and the way he pokes around shamelessly is a delight. I’m not so enamoured of any of the secondary characters in this one, though: Parker barely appears, Bunter and Harriet are entirely absent, and the other characters are all new (and confined to this mystery). It remains fun, but it’s not one of the ones that get me emotionally engaged.

It doesn’t help that in the radioplays, Gabriel Woolf no longer voices Parker; it’s someone else, whose voice doesn’t fit half so well. It might if we’d never had Woolf, but as it is, it’s very distracting. I know exactly how the real Parker would say those lines, and this guy is all wrong… It’s much worse than the changing voice actors for Harriet, somehow.

The ending is an interesting one, in terms of Peter’s moral responsibilities. Several times he ends up having pity on the people who have, after all, committed crimes, and giving them an easy way out. They don’t escape to live perfect lives, of course, but all the same, Peter doesn’t hand them over to justice and punishment. It’s something only a gentleman detective could or would do, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Moon Over Soho

Posted 24 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Moon Over Soho by Ben AaronovitchMoon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch

Rereading the second book confirmed that this series is definitely deeply British, usually funny, and with a bit more depth than I originally feared. Reading it this time, I was really interested to note how Peter and Nightingale clashed when it came to understanding the magical creatures around them. Nightingale is a decent guy, and yet he wasn’t prepared to give the ‘jazz vampires’ a single chance, despite all the evidence that they couldn’t help what they did, and didn’t even understand it either. But Peter, an ordinary cop, steps up and says hey, no, we’re meant to protect these people too. They have rights too. He’s the kind of idealistic cop that would greatly better the police forces the world over — he’s not just idealistic, but he also says something.

Granted, he’s also thinking with his dick again, given his personal connection to the case and the fact that women are involved. But it’s still notable that he does the right thing.

It’s also fun that his background, and his dad’s jazz career, are key to this mystery. And it really does leave you wondering how the heck Nightingale managed without an apprentice all that time. Again, despite the fact that he’s generally a good guy and well meaning, I think it shows that Nightingale has been a bit blind.

Also, hey, who doesn’t enjoy the lines like this?

For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.

Well, okay, the “NO HOMO” tone it takes sometimes is less fun, but the lack of hugging because English… yep.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Troublemaker

Posted 18 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Troublemaker by Joseph HansenTroublemaker, Joseph Hansen

Reading this a second time, I’m definitely sure it’s not my favourite Brandstetter novel. Some of the characters are just… such gay stereotypes, and I prefer it by far when Hansen steers away from that — which, luckily, he does with Dave and Doug. The mystery itself was interesting enough, with plenty of red herrings, but I felt like the background stuff was lacking — the best bit was when Doug calls Dave for help with his mom, and that’s kind of ruined by the fact that Dave can’t even go to help because he’s too busy somehow trying to save someone’s life.

(And how, how does Dave always end up involved in these cases?)

Still, Hansen’s writing and plotting is always solid, and though it isn’t one of the standouts of the series, it’s a worthy installment.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Have His Carcase

Posted 16 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Have His Carcase by BBC AudioHave His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers

Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Maria Aitken as Harriet Vane

I’ve always loved this book, particularly for the first lines:

The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.

The rest of it continues as delightful, and while the BBC radioplay version doesn’t include the narrative stuff like that, it does include a lot of the delightful back and forth between Harriet and Peter — and, beautifully, the wrenching conversation they have when she wants to fight about it. Maria Aitken and Ian Carmichael do an excellent job, and honestly, that partnership is more the attraction when it comes to this book than the mystery plot. Though there are some fun puzzles and red herrings in that too, of course. Still, objectively, Sayers’ books were better when Peter was engaged emotionally, and it isn’t just a puzzle-plot like Five Red Herrings, and that shows with my affection for this one.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death Claims

Posted 13 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death Claims by Joseph HansenDeath Claims, Joseph Hansen

The first time I read this, I commented on the descriptions — saying that at times they were laid on too thick — and style, and also that Hansen somehow manages to make you care about the characters, even minor ones. I disagree with the first one now, perhaps because I knew going in what Hansen’s style was like: it still reminds me very much of Chandler, even if he doesn’t have quite the same knack for the well-placed word or reference (no “shop-worn Galahad” here). And I still agree with the second one: a particular character doesn’t show up for most of the story, and yet I very much cared about how things worked out for him, and about what he tried to do.

I also commented on the subplot between Doug and Dave, which I loved: I loved the fact that they’re both damaged and imperfect, that their past lovers (both dead, and therefore idealised) get in the way, and their responses to that. I love that Dave decides it’s time he did some work to keep the relationship going, and then he does — but also that he’s a self-righteous ass about some things, not some paragon of virtue. Their relationship feels real, both in the way they disappoint each other and in how they match.

I can’t remember the individual books well enough to decide where it sits on my mental ranking of the series; I look forward to discovering that in the rereads to come, I think. But it’s solid and I enjoy it, and especially for Dave’s life outside the cases, even where it’s relatively background. He has a life outside the cases — much more so even than another favourite detective of mine, Peter Wimsey, whose life outside cases is mostly spent discussing the case anyway, or touches on it. Perhaps that’s part of why I love Dave Brandstetter so much.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fadeout

Posted 6 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fadeout by Joseph HansenFadeout, Joseph Hansen

It’s been a while since I read these, and when I noticed they’re now available for Kindle, I kind of fell upon them. Hansen’s writing is really readable: something like the economy of Chandler, and the turn of phrase, but somehow more streamlined and quick to read. And somewhat less problematic in terms of the representation, since we have a gay detective and generally more up to date models of how people interact and what women are capable of, etc. I can’t recall any exact examples where I wasn’t comfortable, though I think the handling of the Japanese pool boy incident felt a bit off, and maybe some other references to racial issues.

The main character — Dave — is completely unstereotyped. He misses his partner, whom he loved, and he’s not ashamed of that fact — and okay, his partner was a bit of a cliché and rather camp, but the point is that there are a lot of gay people in these books, and they’re all different. They have different interests and different ideas about how to live their lives. Dave is comfortable with himself, and not compensating either — he doesn’t mind people knowing he’s gay, he doesn’t overcompensate, etc. He’s just himself and lets people take him as they find him — and finding a character like that in a mystery novel that otherwise feels pretty hardboiled is a lovely thing.

The plot itself is convoluted, of course, and it’s amazing how Dave’s cases always manage to be about gay people. If you’re straight, apparently you don’t get life insurance from Dave’s dad’s company? Or if you do, your death isn’t investigated by Dave? Of course, all the cases where Dave signs off on it without lengthy investigation aren’t mentioned either, so… Perhaps it’s just that Hansen was interested in how a gay detective made his way in that societal climate, and how being gay affected how people treated you, and how gay people interacted.

I love the series, personally; it’s really easy to read, but there’s depth here (like Dave’s grief for Rod, and in later books, his relationships with other men) and I have no doubt I’ll come back to Dave again in the future. (As I type this, I’ve already gone on to reread the second and third books, as well.) If there is a flaw, it’s perhaps that (at least at this point), I’m more focused on Dave and the whole fact of gay representation in hardboiled crime fiction, and much less on the actual mystery. On the other hand, I focus more on Chandler’s prose than his plot, too, so there’s that.

Rating: 4/5

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