Tag: mystery


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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Review – Blackbirds

Posted 29 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Blackbirds by Chuck WendigBlackbirds, Chuck Wendig

Originally reviewed 20th April, 2012; received to review via Netgalley

I got Blackbirds from Angry Robot on Netgalley, to review. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it from the description, and the pre-existing reviews, but I wanted to give it a go because the idea is something relatively simple that could be turned into a really good story. The core idea is that a girl (Miriam) gains a power which means the first time she has skin-on-skin contact with someone, she sees how they die.

I enjoyed the character of Miriam: she’s a tough talking girl who swears like a sailor and does whatever she has to do to get through life, trying to tell herself that all these deaths she witnesses (and can’t prevent) don’t matter to her, and that she can’t do anything about it. There’s a lot that isn’t explained about her gift, which is equal parts frustrating and intriguing: I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel, to fill in the gaps that Blackbirds has left.

I liked the other main characters, too: Ashley and Louis. Well, Ashley is kind of unlikeable, but I like what was done with him, and Louis… well, you can’t help liking Louis and rooting for him, even though the story is telling you the whole time that nothing good is going to come of this.

There are a couple of things that I didn’t find convincing enough: the motives of the people who were after her; Louis’ attraction to her; the whole Ashley thing. Some of that might be resolved in the next book, but either way, the momentum of the story carried me past anything that gave me pause. I read it in one sitting — if it sounds interesting to you, then I’d say go ahead and pick it up, as long as you can get past the fact that there’s graphic violence, swearing and sex!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death at the Bar

Posted 27 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Death at the Bar, by Ngaio MarshDeath at the Bar, Ngaio Marsh

I don’t quite understand people who like Marsh’s books as much as, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’. Alleyn just doesn’t have the same depth of characterisation as Wimsey, and while the character of Troy is quite fun, she doesn’t seem to have come into it as much as Harriet. It is true that Wimsey books go buy without Harriet, though usually there’s Parker and Bunter, the Dowager Duchess and plenty of other supporting characters who pop up repeatedly. In these books, it seems to often be just Alleyn and Fox, and the possibilities of that partnership are limited.

The mystery itself is… okay. It takes some time to build up a set of characters to theorise about first (though I hope they’re not intended to be likeable as such, because most of them are not), which at least adds a bit of interest; I do like the way crime/mystery stories can be used as a character study. I found the ending ridiculously drawn out; enough red herrings, let’s have the culprit, please.

I think Ngaio Marsh’s books, properly spaced out, will keep me entertained well enough, but I’m probably going to avoid reading them back to back. They’re just too dry, and Alleyn isn’t enough of a person to me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Liar

Posted 22 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Liar by Justine LarbalestierLiar, Justine Larbalestier

Originally reviewed 6th January 2011

I first heard of Liar when everyone was talking about the controversy surrounding the original cover. I filed it away in the back of my mind, thinking of picking the book up when it came out. I was reminded of it recently when friends started to talk about it again — through having read it, now — and put it on my last minute Christmas list. Cue me getting it in the mail yesterday, and being almost unable to resist the lure of the first page, which starts with the hook, “I was born with a light covering of fur.”

If you don’t enjoy unreliable narrators, step away right now. Micah is as unreliable as you can get, and the whole book peels back — or layers on — more of her lies.

For the first part of the book, it could be the story of a normal teenager — one who has had bad things happen to her, and who is a loner, yes, but one who is essentially like those around her. It doesn’t stay like that, though: if you’re not a fan of fantastical elements, you probably want to step back now.

The thing with this book is that there are at least two ways of reading it. It’s a delicate balance to walk, but Larbalestier does, in my opinion, walk it well. It wasn’t wholly unpredictable, but I have been spoiled a little by reading other people’s reviews. If you can, and this book sounds interesting to you, then try to go into it knowing as little as possible — just knowing that Micah is a liar (not a spoiler: it’s in the title).

The other thing that pleased me was the fact that the book has non-white characters — chiefly non-white characters, in fact — and LGBT content, plus a generally sex-positive attitude. There’s totally non-explicit sexual references, there’s an understanding of teenagers feeling and dealing with desire, and I didn’t get a ‘sex is bad, hush, we don’t talk about sex’ vibe from it.

(It irks me that there are likely people reading this review thinking, ‘I’d better not give this to my teenage daughter.’ There’s nothing in this that would have damaged my fragile fourteen year old psyche. It’s just people.)

I realise this doesn’t tell you much about how I, personally, felt about this book: I read it within the space of an afternoon, and kept stopping myself after every fifty pages so I could drag it out more and enjoy it for that bit longer. When I put it down, I already had a list of people I want to recommend it to.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Stormy Petrel

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

Cover of Stormy Petrel by Mary StewartStormy Petrel, Mary Stewart

Stormy Petrel isn’t my favourite of Mary Stewart’s romance/suspense stories, though I do love that the main character is a science fiction writer, a poet, and a don at Cambridge. Her relatively self-sufficiency is great, and there aren’t too many damsel-in-distress moments. The romance is relatively light, and doesn’t treat us to the ridiculousness of marrying a guy you’ve only just met — sometimes it works for me, in Stewart’s writing, but all the same, I prefer a lighter touch. Especially when it means that the romance isn’t forced, which this would’ve been; kind of like in Rose Cottage, where the romance seemed to come in at the end to round things off.

As usual, the sense of place is great and makes me almost want to visit this area off the coast of Scotland. On the other hand, the midges sound like a pretty solid deterrent.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Before I Go To Sleep

Posted 11 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. WatsonBefore I Go To Sleep, S.J. Watson

Originally reviewed 19th January 2012

I picked this up somewhat on a whim. A couple of people had been talking about it, and I saw it in the Kindle store, and I just thought… fine, okay. I’ll go for it. I read it in about four chunks. It’s pretty riveting, actually. The unreliable narrator is reasonably well handled and as long as you’re prepared to go along for the ride, it works reasonably well. I guessed the big twist fairly swiftly, then thought I’d got it wrong, and then it turned out my first guess was right. That was pretty fun, I suppose: the guessing game.

One thing that annoyed me was a fairly big thing, though. The antagonist is a total cliché. The minute he starts talking about her being in a coffee shop, and how he scrutinised what she was eating and tried to figure out the “rules”, the ending was obvious. It’s every media stereotype. And seriously, I promise you. If you went out today, you passed a mentally ill person. Driving past you, walking along the pavement behind you, in front of you… And you were in no danger. They don’t care about whether you eat your snack before or after 2pm. They’re not going to rape you and try to kill you, then steal you from your care home and lie to you. They’re just going to buy some bread and milk, maybe some things for dinner. They’ve got a meeting later. Whatever. Most mentally ill people are perfectly normal people. And even the ones that you don’t understand, the ones that try to figure out weird “rules”, they’re probably harmless too. It’s not that there aren’t people who are dangerous and mentally ill, but mentally ill people are not automatically dangerous. In fact, mentally ill people are at a higher risk of being victims of violence, not perpetrators.

Still, clichés aside, if you’re interested in a mystery/thriller type thing that’s basically a sinister 50 First Dates (I can’t believe I’m admitting to ever having seen that), this might be up your street.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Murder in the Dark

Posted 9 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Murder in the Dark by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in the Dark, Kerry Greenwood

Wait, what? The thing that really threw me with this book is that this is Phryne’s first Christmas in Australia?! This is the sixteenth book or so, and eventful as Phryne’s life is, it seems a little bizarre that everything that’s happened so far has taken less than twelve months. Especially given the time passing during Lin Chung’s trips and such in Death Before Wicket. And this would mean Dot’s courtship with Hugh Collins isn’t that long after all — which seems odd, having got the feeling they were going at a glacial pace!

Still. This was pretty fun, although the setting was bizarre. Not because it was Christmas-in-July-weather, though that is a weird thought, but the whole house party and the sex parties and the general sea of implied queerness; at times, I wondered if it was just going to degenerate into a story all about sex, though it never quite went there. (No more than the other books, anyway.) This time, Phryne has to deal with a serial killer, but weirdly that didn’t change the tone much.

Overall, I’d have to say I found this instalment a little uneven — it’s fun to read, but I know some of the other books are better.

Rating: 3/5

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