Tag: mystery


Review – Murder and Mendelssohn

Posted 11 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry GreenwoodMurder and Mendelssohn, Kerry Greenwood

The last Phryne book so far! Not quite sure what I’ll do without her; in fact, I’m vastly tempted to just pick up Cocaine Blues and begin again, the same way I do with Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter books, sometimes. Murder and Mendelssohn is a strong entry in the series because of the side characters, who no doubt most readers will recognise — the war-damaged John Wilson, and the genius investigator Rupert Sheffield.

They very much follow the BBC Sherlock interpretation of the characters, and if you know anything about the fan community surrounding that show, you can guess what Greenwood does with them. It’s a little weird at times because it feels downright voyeuristic, but of course Phryne plays Cupid and makes Sheffield realise that, in fact, he can’t live without Wilson and that — though he never realised it — he’s attracted to him, and even possessive of him. There is a very… weird scene involving Phryne and Sheffield, and really that whole side plot might not attract readers who aren’t so interested in queer love stories, but I think Phryne’s tenderness for her former lover was compelling, and their shared memories of the war likewise.

The main mystery was not so compelling, relying on Phryne’s sparkle; as usual, Greenwood’s Australia, or at least Phryne’s circle there, are full of queer people, unexpected people, big characters… and small petty killers, too, of course. I figured out the murder method very quickly — I’m trying to think if I read a similar plot somewhere else, or something like that. To me it was just way too obvious, somehow.

I’m very sad to leave Phryne behind, all the same: the mysteries might not always have enchanted, but Phryne and her found family certainly did. I’ll be first in line if there’s ever another book in the offing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sick of Shadows

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

Cover of Sick of Shadows by M.C. BeatonSick of Shadows, M.C. Beaton

I’m not sure what there’s even left to say about these books. The first two just about cover it: characters who we’re told are intelligent behaving like idiots, coincidences, despicable families who are at this point losing all vestiges of sympatheticness because they’re just that callous…

It’s still kind of fun, in that really light way, but I wouldn’t have bought it or the last book on the strength of the first two; I only read them because I owned them. I really didn’t enjoy the Agatha Raisin books, and while it turns out Snobbery with Violence was a bit more fun than those for me, I think it was more by contrast and good timing.

And yes, you’re probably going to see pretty much this review again when I get round to reviewing Our Lady of Pain.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Hasty Death

Posted 25 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Hasty Death by M.C. BeatonHasty Death, M.C. Beaton

Hasty Death is very much like the first book in tone, style and mystery. A series of coincidences seems to be all that keeps the characters from disaster — one particular chain of lucky coincidences involving a corpse who becomes unidentifiable before being found constitutes a whole side plot which just doesn’t feel satisfying, because it relies so much on sheer luck. Likewise, the detective skills of Harry Cathcart and Lady Rose are about on that level: it’s a wonder they manage to get anything done, but fortunately they’re a bit more intelligent than the police superintendent, Kerridge, so they do propel the plot along somewhat.

Despite that negativity, it is quite fun to read. I knew it was paper-thin the whole time, of course, and even the will-they-won’t-they of the love story is conducted with the same chain of coincidences (this time involving misinterpretation and misunderstanding, of course). And yet. It’s light enough fun.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Unnatural Habits

Posted 22 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Unnatural Habits by Kerry GreenwoodUnnatural Habits, Kerry Greenwood

Unnatural Habits is one of the more memorable entries in the series, in that it has a lot of social commentary and some really appalling details which are, as far as I can tell, historically accurate, like the laundry run by nuns, the lying in homes where unmarried women had their babies and they were taken away, white slavery, etc. There’s also some interesting stuff with the Blue Cat Club — a gay club which apparently really existed — and the newspaper office where Polly Kettle, wannabe ace reporter, works. Phryne gets into quite a lot of trouble in this one, and the expanded circle of her minions, including Tinker, stand her in good stead.

The book also has the delightful side plot that someone is going around in a nun’s habit, knocking men out, and very skillfully and carefully operating on them so they can’t have any more children, in cases where they mistreat their wives/children, don’t provide for them, etc, etc. It’s problematic, of course, because it’s an assault, but it’s also just glorious poetic justice in a fictional context, so I don’t feel too bad for laughing about it.

The ending is predictably dramatic, and Phryne predictably kickass in bringing things to a neat conclusion. And I love the glimpses we get beyond her armour in her reaction to the laundries and what she sees in the lying in home.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Snobbery With Violence

Posted 15 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Snobbery With Violence by M.C. BeatonSnobbery With Violence, M.C. Beaton

I wasn’t a fan of M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series at all, so I was quite prepared to dislike Snobbery With Violence intensely. That might have been better for my TBR list, but it turned out that Snobbery With Violence hits the spot for me. It’s not Sayers, of course; it’s lacking in that incisiveness and depth of characters. But it is a fun quick read with characters you can more or less get along with: sometimes Rose is too spoilt, and Harry Cathcart too… blandly typical. I actually liked the side characters of Beckett and Daisy more; I like their relationship to each other and to their bosses.

Lady Rose’s family, well, they’re pretty colourless and despicable in a hands-off, self-absorbed way that is neither engaging nor particularly original. In general, the characters around the main four feel like props. The mystery, too, felt like that. It’s all relatively by-the-numbers. Sometimes the things which happen are just too silly — the example I can think of is from the second book, but at times there’s a cascade of events like a comedy of errors which just… makes the book feel like it’s intended to be a comedy somehow.

All of this is essentially damning with faint praise: I wouldn’t particularly recommend these books to someone specific, but since I have them, I’m reading them all and enjoying them. If you’re looking for something light with a bit of historical romance and a bit of mystery, this might be your thing. Objectively, it should probably be a two-star rating, but subjectively, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Dreamer’s Pool

Posted 8 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierDreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier

I should’ve got round to this ages ago, I know. I usually enjoy Juliet Marillier’s work, though I don’t always love it (I think Wolfskin and Foxmask didn’t work so well for me), and I read some very enthusiastic reviews about this one. There were one or two aspects that made me pause (a minor character is a victim of pretty serious abuse and rape) and a few people did note that there’s a fair amount of ‘slut-shaming’ in the story, i.e. shaming a female character for being at all interested in sex. It’s not surprising in a medieval-esque setting, as it often comes with the territory, but off-putting in a fantasy world with no reason to include it.

Still, it’s essentially a fairytale set-up: Blackthorn makes a bargain with a fairy to get out of prison, with a number of conditions placed upon it. This frames the story and sets up her relationship with Grim, her obligation to help people, and her slow road to recovery after the depredations of prison and injustice. That then combines with the story of the side characters, Oran and Flidais, who have an arranged marriage but communicated via letters. Yet, when she arrives amidst the tragedy of losing one of her maids, her faithful dog suddenly hates her and she doesn’t behave at all like the bride he expected.

I found the actual mystery aspect of that really obvious; given the mythological, Celtic-ish setting, it was a little tedious waiting for everyone else to catch up to the obvious. There was one issue which surprised me a little, involving the dog Bramble, though I was pleased by that development and how the plot worked out. Flidais and Oran are sweet and naive, and it seemed like everyone would be miserable if things didn’t work out properly. It’s difficult to discuss the plot and the sex/abuse issue without giving any spoilers, so skip the next paragraph if you haven’t read the book and might want to work things out for yourself!

There is a character who has been abused and raped, but it is essential to the story for the things it brings out in various different characters — in Oran and his wife-to-be, in Blackthorn and Grim in their determination to give the girl justice. Likewise, the issue of sex isn’t as straightforward, in my opinion, as other people think. The problem is not that a particular character is interested in sex, but that she acts out of character about it. It’s as important that she isn’t sympathetic to a victim of rape as that she’s proactive about having sex with Oran. It all comes together into a picture of a woman who just isn’t the woman Oran thought he knew from the letters, and that is the important thing. Honestly, the most important clue about her identity is not the sexual aspects, but in her lack of interest in reading and poetry, and her indifference to her formerly beloved dog.

There’s a lot of time spent on the characters of Oran and Flidais, but Blackthorn and Grim are really the core of the story: Blackthorn’s trauma, her need for justice, her geas to help people in exchange for freedom. I expect that the second book is going to spend more time with Blackthorn and Grim, and dealing with their partnership and friendship, and I’m all for it. And I really enjoy that Blackthorn’s relationship with Grim is emotionally important to both of them, gives them both stability, and has nothing to do with sex or romance. I hope it continues that way.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dead Man’s Chest

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

Cover of Dead Man's Chest by Kerry GreenwoodDead Man’s Chest, Kerry Greenwood

Dead Man’s Chest takes Phryne from the comforts of her own home to an attempted holiday, much in the vein of Peter and Harriet’s honeymoon in Sayers’ Lord Peter books, that is to say: a busman’s holiday. For all that, it’s a reasonably relaxed mystery, without too many dead bodies or late night attacks. There’s one or two nastier elements, but for the most part it focuses on Ruth getting to play house. In fact, the nastier element is almost entirely glossed over…

In this book, a new character joins the cast, and I rather hope he’ll be a recurring one. Enter Tinker: a young boy who spends most of his time gadding about and isn’t any too clean or conscientious, until Phryne gets her hands on him. He quickly finds a place in the household, and it doesn’t feel forced; I quickly found myself interested in what Tinker was up to and what was going to happen to him. (And poor Gaston, the dog.)

Some of the usual elements are missing here — I don’t think there’s a single sex scene? — but for the most part, it’s what you’d expect from a holiday with Phryne. It captures the feel of a long warm day pretty well, too — and I’d say you can almost taste the gin and tonic, but I have no idea what that tastes like (and not much inclination to find out).

I think these books have essentially stopped surprising me at all, and instead become something comforting that comes out more or less as I’d expect, and deals with characters you can mostly sympathise with and like. There’s a place for that kind of reading, and I’m not disparaging it at all: it’s just that the Miss Fisher mysteries do somewhat lose their spice as they go along, because you get used to it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The City & The City

Posted 13 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The City & The City by China MiévilleThe City & The City, China Miéville

Originally posted 30th November 2010

I read this one in bits. The last half or so was all in one go, on a long train journey, but for the most part, I just read it in bits, a few pages at a time, and didn’t really get involved with it. I didn’t really care how it ended, for most of the time. I did get tense during the last parts, and I was sad for the main character about the ending, but I didn’t really care, for the most part. I wanted to care more about Corwi and Dhatt, but I didn’t really see enough of them, or enough positive about Dhatt…

I suppose it was pretty realistic, in that, but what actually kept me reading was the core idea — and, to some extent, the mystery. I’ve always said that cities were the most interesting thing about Miéville’s work: he’s really good at making them feel alive, I think. Less the individual parts, more the whole life of the city. This is a particularly interesting one, especially the way he navigates it: nothing here is overtly fantastical or sci-fi ish, really. I mean, it sounds completely far-fetched, but we know how deeply cultural conditioning can affect people, and if you just take it as a thought experiment…

Still, I like the idea — and Miéville evokes his worlds well — but it really didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, or caring about the characters, or needing to read more.

Rating: 4/5

 

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Review – Lady of Mallow

Posted 8 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lady of Mallow by Dorothy EdenLady of Mallow, Dorothy Eden

In my quest for books like Mary Stewart’s, I think I’ve found another winner. The tone is much the same, and the set-up: there’s inevitably a touch of Nine Coaches Waiting (for me) when the protagonist becomes a governness – but this time, she’s deliberately there as a spy and she has her own motivations. I actually really liked following the twists of this and trying to make my own judgements, and I like that the conclusion wasn’t simple, wasn’t black and white.

I don’t know what it is about this sort of book I find so comforting and satisfying: the smart, proactive heroine, sometimes in a time/situation where she’s meant to follow a particular role; the fact that a happy ever after is more or less assured; perhaps the safe unsafeness of the male characters who seem a little wild but are, in the end, justified and acting for the best? Regardless, I found Lady of Mallow a fun entry in the more-or-less cosy mystery genre, and I’ll look for other books by Dorothy Eden.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Murder on a Midsummer Night

Posted 1 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry GreenwoodMurder on a Midsummer Night, Kerry Greenwood

Murder on a Midsummer Night is not the most striking entry in the series, but if you’re here for Phryne and her found family, her lavish lifestyle and her relationships with the people around her, it’s just what you’d expect. Lin Chung gets to use some of his talents from past books, setting up a creepy seance using his magician’s tricks, and Dot has her own sleuthing work to do on one case, while Phryne deals with another.

At this point, I find the mysteries themselves relatively forgettable: it’s Phryne I read for, her unflappability and good sense, her ability to see right through people and situations. And her family, of course: Jane’s fascination with all things biological, and her interest in becoming a doctor in particular.

Well might people complain that Phryne is too perfect, too privileged. But really she’s the answer to Lord Peter, with an extra heaping of sexuality and feminism. She’s supposed to be impossibly awesome, and it shows us that female characters can be too. I won’t complain!

Rating: 3/5

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