Tag: crime


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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Review – Strong Poison

Posted 4 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Strong Poison by BBC audioStrong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers

Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter Jones as Bunter and Gabriel Woolf as Inspector Parker

For some reason, I can’t find the name of the person who voiced Harriet, and my Audible file doesn’t seem to include that intro. Blast. Still, Strong Poison is mostly not about Harriet, and she appears comparatively little — really, it’s about Lord Peter getting to be a knight in shining armour, and he really starts escalating toward sainthood in his actions here, how he comes to save her and doesn’t push and so on. If you look at it with a cynical eye, it’s all rather obvious lionising of the character.

Still, if you’re a fan of Lord Peter, you can lay that aside and just enjoy him sleuthing away on the trail of the real murderer, plus his sudden feelings for Harriet. The voice acting is excellent, as usual: Ian Carmichael is the perfect Peter, and there’s an awesome little scene with Inspector Parker about Mary which I just had to listen to twice for the fun of it. The adaptation is pretty good, with most details preserved — even down to whole sections of piffle from Wimsey and his mother, and the exact content of various scenes — and though the mystery is a little trimmed down here and there, I think you could almost switch off between the book and the radioplay scenes without losing anything in understanding.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Fair Game

Posted 11 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Fair Game by Josh LanyonFair Game, Josh Lanyon

Fair Game is reasonably typical of Josh Lanyon’s books, which is to say it delivers a mystery plotline twinned with the life of a non-stereotyped homosexual protagonist, without dealing solely with his love life (for example, in this book, Elliot’s relationship with his father is another key point — it isn’t just about him and Tucker, although it is about that too). Elliot is an ex-FBI agent who is rebuilding his life after a suspect shot out his knee, and I enjoy the fact that his physiotherapy is mentioned, that he can’t just get up and go go go as if he were still an FBI agent, even though emotionally that is something he hasn’t come to terms with yet.

The mystery itself, well, I guessed where it was going solely because I found a particular character irritating, after one or two red herrings. But that isn’t rare for me, and I was still interested in how Tucker and Elliot worked it out.

I really enjoy Tucker’s character, too. To begin with, he seems like a macho guy who maybe doesn’t want to accept that he’s gay or deal with his feelings, but in fact he’s readier to do so than Elliot is. He’s willing to put himself out there, to apologise for what he’s done wrong, to make the effort to meet Elliot more than halfway. It makes a nice contrast to the couple in Lanyon’s Adrien English stories, for sure. (And the sex scene did not contain any metaphors which made me spit my drink, which is also an improvement, entertaining as those could be.)

I need to get round to reading the sequel, Fair Play; I do like the couple, both individually and apart, though I’d like to see more of Tucker and his life where it doesn’t revolve around Elliot or his job.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Surgeon

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

Cover of The Surgeon by Tess GerritsenThe Surgeon, Tess Gerritsen

Originally reviewed May 7th, 2012

Trigger warnings: rape, mutilation, medical details (both descriptions of stuff like cancer and descriptions of accidents/operations).

That had to come first, because I spent much of this book wishing I had something firm and indestructible to crawl into, to keep me safe. The details are just horrifying — it reminds me very much of my experience with Val McDermid’s work. And, as with that, I had to read to the end to find out who the killer/torturer was, before I could begin to feel okay again. (The part of me that’s done a course in Crime Fiction remembers that the end of a crime novel typically ends with the criminal being contained or killed, and therefore that provides a feeling of safety and the reassertion of the rules of society, for a reader.)

I wasn’t really a fan of the characters’ attitudes to rape. The idea that rape makes the victim belong to the attacker in some way is just repugnant, and the idea that what makes a woman a woman is their womb is just — ugh. It seemed to be an ongoing theme in the story, rather than an opinion expressed by just one or two of the characters.

Overall there was a lot that upset/troubled me, and despite Sasha Alexander being in it, I don’t think I’m going to watch the tv series. It’s not actually a bad crime/mystery book: it’s very good in that sense, and I’d recommend it to people who like, for example, Val McDermid. But it was just not the kind of thing I should be reading at all, and I’m going to steer clear.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Death Among the Marshes

Posted 24 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death Among the Marshes by Kathryn RamageDeath Among the Marshes, Kathryn Ramage

Death Among the Marshes is quite short — more a novella than  novel — and essentially a modern take on the Golden Age staple of a country house mystery. The detective, Freddie, bears some resemblance to Sayers’ Lord Peter, in his aristocratic ties, his war-buddy turned valet, etc, and indeed Ramage references Freddie reading Dorothy Sayers’ work, which made me smile.

Unlike the Golden Age country house mysteries, though, this novella is quite frank about the existence of gay people; one couple come under suspicion as their family tries to put a wedge between them and persuade them to be more socially appropriate, and there are possible hints that Billy, Freddie’s manservant, might have feelings for him. All the characters are well-drawn and, if not exactly likeable, understandable in their support of each other, their squabbles, their faultlines.

I found Death Among the Marshes enjoyable and well-structured, and I’ll definitely read any other books by Ramage which feature these characters. This review does more justice to it than mine, I think!

Rating: 4/5

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