Murder on the Ballarat Train, Kerry Greenwood
Another enjoyable outing with Phryne, and this one starts to really bring together her found family with the addition of Jane and Ruth. While I’m noticing some inconsistencies in characters that aren’t Phryne (Dot’s surname changes, for example, and apparently the hair colours of Jane and Ruth too), it’s still fun and those are only really noticeable because I’m reading the books all more or less together, in one glorious reread.
(Note: this is still an excellent way to consume them, though I’m now on book seven and taking a bit of a break.)
My main quibble is still with the mentally ill murderer who suddenly loses it and snaps, ruining all his plans and exposing himself badly. The whole mentally ill killer thing is just so stereotypical; so easy a way out. I mean, it happens, but not usually in this premeditated, coldly planned way. That’s more in the line of a psychopath, which is not quite how the character read. And, people so often forget the real fact: people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime, not to be perpetrators.
Flying Too High, Kerry Greenwood
I can’t believe I didn’t notice, first time round, that Phryne manages to move into house number 221… and then adds a B. I love the little references to other detectives — like the Megatherium Trust, for example (a reference to Sayers). Phryne, I love your wit. Or is that Greenwood?
Anyway. Flying Too High is another fun instalment, which I enjoyed rereading. I love that Phryne can fly a plane and that it’s a part of several later stories, and I love the women that come into her story being awesome in their own ways. Dr MacMillan, in the first book, and in this book, Bunji Ross. One’s a female doctor, the other’s one of the most daring fliers in the area. Just gotta love it.
Not all of Phryne’s found family has joined her yet, by this book, and so it’s missing a few of the domestic comforts I love. But it does have Mr and Mrs Butler, who are just perfect. And I adore the loving way Phryne’s clothes and food are all described. She’s so unashamedly feminine, and so unashamed of enjoying the good things in life.
Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates, Kerry Greenwood
This is my third read of this book, which is kinda surprising given I loathed it the first time. I’m not even sure why anymore. I love Phryne, her self-assurance and her kindness and the fact that Greenwood never gives in to the urge to soften her edges and make her conventional — not as a woman, not as a detective. This first book introduces the reader to Phryne and the beginnings of her found family, while also tackling pretty serious issues like back street abortions and the sexual assault that often accompanied them.
Okay, part of the background is directly from Sayers — the arsenical poisoning plot — but it’s what Greenwood does with it. It’s Phryne’s sexuality and femininity, her strength and poise… It’s fun, and I suspect this won’t be the last time I revisit this series. And, o, what joy! So many more books ahead in this reread, and those only for the second time ever. I look forward to the journey… but if you didn’t find Phryne enchanting in this book, you won’t enjoy the others. She remains the same sort of figure — perhaps a little too perfect for some tastes, a little too ready for anything.
It’s okay; I’ll forgive you if you don’t love her too. She might be a bit of an acquired taste, after all. It took me some time.
The Toll-Gate, Georgette Heyer
I don’t normally get along with cases of instantaneous love, but some authors can make me go along with it. Heyer is one of them, and this mystery/romance works well. Both the male and female lead are capable and likeable, and they treat each other with respect (unlike in, say, Faro’s Daughter). All in all, it’s an appealing combination, and Heyer shows off her research in her use of thieves’ cant and dialect. If your favourite Heyer novels tend to be the ones with mysterious highwaymen, capricious noblemen who don’t mind pretending to be commoners, etc, then it’s definitely one for you — more like The Talisman Ring than The Grand Sophy.
The only problem for me was that I’m not very knowledgeable about period-appropriate dialects and thieves’ cant. Some of it I didn’t follow very well, and at times it does hinder you in understanding exactly how a certain character gave themselves away, etc. But for the most part, it becomes obvious if you keep reading.
Heyer writes with humour and flair, as ever, and the afternoon I spent devouring this was well worth it.
Grey Mask, Patricia Wentworth
Received to review via Netgalley; republished 28th June 2016
So far I’ve only read the first of the Miss Silver Mysteries: Grey Mask, which was published originally in 1928, and features mostly some young people whose lives have been messed up by a criminal network. Miss Silver is, in this book at least, a background character who comes in to solve all the problems, while Charles, Margaret and Margot are the characters who we mostly follow. Margot’s rather silly, but the aborted romance between Charles and Margaret is sweet — I found myself rooting for them before long.
I figured out the culprit pretty easily, but I was still interested in learning all the hows and whys, and there is quite a sense of tension in the last couple of chapters.
It’s fun, but not groundbreaking at this point; I’ll read more of the Miss Silver books, but I’m not hooked. If you’re a fan of Golden Age detective stories, this fits into that subset of crime/mystery novels well and will be of interest to you! Especially, perhaps, if you’re a fan of the genteel lady detective, Miss Marple style.
Fair Chance, Josh Lanyon
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st March 2017
Fair Chance is a follow-up to other books featuring Elliot and Tucker, Fair Game and Fair Play. As such, no wonder I wanted to get my hands on it! I enjoy the relationship between Elliot and Tucker. The lack of stereotyping in their relationship is refreshing. It doesn’t hurt that I also like the background characters around them. Elliot’s dad Roland is a key figure, for example. Elliot and Roland still have a fascinating bond, despite the events of the previous book.
The emotional connections feel real, and the mystery feels urgent. Particularly in this book, where Tucker is the one in real danger. I enjoy that though he’s stereotypically masculine, he expresses his feelings more than Elliot. He’s the one more prepared to discuss and compromise and figure things out. And better, Elliot is beginning to really trust this. The doubts are still there, but he’s getting used to the idea he can rely on Tucker. The deepening emotional closeness adds to the urgency.
Like I said, development.
It also feels good that at the end of the book, Elliot gets a shot at going back to the life he wanted originally. I did enjoy that he was ex-FBI, that he was a professor and had adjustments to make. All the same, it’s satisfying to see him ‘come home’ and find a new place for himself, doing what he wanted all along.
The resolution of the mystery isn’t too obvious or anything like that. I feel it relies too heavily on coincidence, and Elliot’s ability to connect the dots. It’s still a satisfying conclusion to that thread of the story. Or at least, one hopes it’s the end of that story, and Elliot’s now finally done with Corian.
On a final note, the sex scenes are okay: not too awkward, anyway. They make sense as part of depicting Elliot and Tucker’s relationship. They’re also skippable if you’re just here for the emotional content.
Natural Causes, James Oswald
I’m not entirely sure why I originally picked this up; I think it might have been one of those deals where you can get a book for £2.99 if you buy The Telegraph, or whichever other newspaper. At the time, I was regularly buying the newspaper for my grandmother, and if her choice of paper wasn’t available, I’d pick something else more or less at random. A newspaper that offers a cheap book alongside it is always going to win with me, of course.
Anyway, so I knew little about this book going in. It seems to have caused no little frustration for some people: though marketed as a crime fiction novel, in fact the cause of the murders turns out to be supernatural. The murder can’t be solved unless you assume the presence of a demon which jumps between different people’s bodies, despite the fact that the rest of the story builds up clear chains of evidence, links together cases, etc. I don’t mind that, but I do think there’s a bit of a sense this book was mismarketed — though equally, I don’t think it’d appeal to the more fantastical crowd either. It’s no Rivers of London or Storm Front. The two elements sit oddly side by side here, and to me, it’s not clear where it’s going to go as a series. Is McLean going to become a supernatural investigator? Or was this the one strange case of his career? Presumably not the latter, since this is the first book of a series, but it’s not obvious.
The pacing is relatively sedate: it feels like a police procedural. I think that’s the problem — it’s a police procedural with supernatural trappings, and that just doesn’t seem to wash. It’d have to be more integrated — something like, to harp on it, Rivers of London.
I’m not that interested in reading other books, though it wasn’t a bad experience. Shades of fridging, though: the main murder victim is an innocent young girl whose case consumes the inspector’s thoughts because of her youth and innocence, a young PC dies to protect the main character (presumably mostly for his sense of guilt), and the most important woman in McLean’s life is his comatose grandmother, who dies partway through. Hm.
The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of, Joseph Hansen
This is one of those mysteries where you can’t root for the mystery to be solved for the sake of the victim, a man who was a bully, a racist, and thoroughly unpleasant in almost all his interactions. Instead, the characters surrounding them need to get their hooks into you, and in this case that didn’t really work for me. Much more central was Dave’s sadness over his father’s illness, his disconnection with Doug, and the connection he does form with Cecil — one that rather surprises a reader familiar with Dave, who doesn’t seem like the type to be very appreciative of cheating, and yet does so himself.
It gets a little bit too convoluted in solving the mystery, in order to bring in a bunch of red herrings and implicate several different characters. That made it frustrating, and not quite as smooth a read for me as the earlier books. It’s still enjoyable, but not a favourite.
In the Woods, Tana French
I know I’m very much in the minority on this one, but I really didn’t enjoy it that much. The set-up is awesome: the whole mystery of what happened to the main character as a child is so tantalising, I think it’s probably why I picked the book up in the first place. We get so many concrete details, the whole crime scene report. It feels like a set-up for a mystery to be solved, particularly when elements of it crop up in the case that the protagonist is involved in now.
Spoiler: it isn’t solved.
I don’t necessarily demand that a murder mystery solves all the questions raised during the book — sometimes that even feels artificial. I’m not an advocate of adherence to Father Knox’s ten rules, or anything like that. But the fact that the book sets up such a compelling mystery, with so many concrete details, is just infuriating when you discover you’ll never know. Especially since the main character leaves the Murder Squad, and subsequent books do not address the issue either.
The mystery that is solved, by contrast, is too prosaic and easily solved, and I don’t care about it nearly as much. The relationship dramas of the main characters don’t attract me, and honestly, nor does the consciously literary style. It feels slow, and that doesn’t work for me as a stylistic decision. It feels like a slower, more contemplative novel about psychology and things that can’t ever be known, bolted awkwardly onto a standard police procedural — the combination is what fails to work, because each component of the story sets up an expectation about the other.
It’s odd that this worked for friends of mine so very well, and not at all for me; it might be partially the fact that I’ve actually studied stuff like the structure and set-up of crime novels, meaning I have stricter ideas of what I want from a detective novel. It’s probably worth checking out the book anyway if you want a fairly literary crime novel; other people love it, and it seems to be some vagary of personal taste leading me to dislike it so much.
Which is sad, because I was really hoping Tana French would be the next author whose books I’d tear through, a la Sayers and Greenwood.
Busman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Sarah Badel as Harriet Vane and Peter Jones as Bunter
Busman’s Honeymoon, or: the Wimseys will never, ever catch a break.
Honestly, despite the fact that it is a murder investigation, this one is fun. It has plenty of Peter-Harriet banter, plenty of Bunter being the ridiculously amazing manservant that he is, and plenty of heart as well. Peter and Harriet have finally got married, and they’re letting each other in, and Busman’s Honeymoon sees their first hiccups of married life — where Peter’s work as a detective makes Harriet feel like a traitor to friends who are under suspicion, and they have to decide who compromises… I like Sarah Badel’s version of Harriet, laughing and teasing, but warm too.
It’s not just about the relationship, though: there’s a solid mystery at the back of it, which is fun in its own right. And at least with this one, you really feel no pity for the criminal…