Tag: mystery


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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Review – A Surfeit of Lampreys

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

Cover of Surfeit of Lampreys, by Ngaio MarshA Surfeit of Lampreys, Ngaio Marsh

There’s stuff to like about A Surfeit of Lampreys; the character portraits, the commentary on the family, the fact that it brings in Bathgate and ties some of that stuff together… but overall, I’ve totally lost my motivation to read Ngaio Marsh’s books. There’s a same-y feel to them, the characters aren’t nearly as brilliant as, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’, and it comes out feeling a little too heavy and flat, with not enough payoff. The mysteries are intricate, but everything just unravels so slowly.

I know other people think Ngaio Marsh is amazing, and I did enjoy some of the earlier books, but Inspector Alleyn feels kind of stale now.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Our Lady of Pain

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

Cover of Our Lady of Pain by M.C. BeatonOur Lady of Pain, M.C. Beaton

This is no worse (or better) than the other books in the series, really. It manages to keep up a ridiculous will-they-won’t-they about both main couples, and the same string of coincidences, the same issue where the supposedly smart main characters make silly mistakes. Daisy’s storyline is more interesting than Rose’s, really, but in the latter half of the book I was just rooooolling my eyes at the manufactured drama.

This isn’t a good series. It’s fluff, fine if you like this sort of thing and okay for a quiet evening, but it’s not substantial enough for me in any way — not plot, mystery, character development or setting.

Rating: 2/5

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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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