Tag: mystery


Review – Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates

Posted 29 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry GreenwoodMiss Phryne Fisher Investigates, Kerry Greenwood

Aka Cocaine Blues. I did actually try to read this once before, and really didn’t get into it — I don’t think I read more than a couple of chapters. Looking at that review now, I think I must’ve been really cranky that day, because all I complained about was adjectives. Which, yes, are present… but not nearly as bad as I seemed to think back then. Perhaps a case of finding the right book at the right time, because reading this during the readathon, I loved it!

Even the first time, I was impressed by Phryne’s character: the fact that she’s a flapper, that she’s independent, clever, capable. This time through, I also noticed her kindness a lot: her treatment of Dot, her concern about other people. She’s also a shrewd judge of character. In fact, there’s very little we see by way of flaws in Phryne, which could get annoying… but for now, I just loved the amount of agency she has, the strength she has, the fact that she’s unequivocally a sexual person and nobody can take advantage of her because she owns that fact.

The mysteries were kind of secondary to that for me; they come together well, though, and give us a varied cast. Nobody is involved in everything, but each person has ties to the next. I quite liked that.

If it’s any measure of my enthusiasm, I immediately ordered the second book (in time for it to be delivered — and pounced on — the next morning by Amazon Prime, on a Sunday!) and reserved more from the library.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Murder Past Due

Posted 27 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder Past Due by Miranda JamesMurder Past Due, Miranda James

Murder Past Due is a reasonably fun but unremarkable cosy mystery. The main draws would be the cat, Diesel, who is a main character, and the fact that it’s set partially in a library. But the cat isn’t the detective and isn’t the main character, and the library is just where the main character works, so it’s not that niche. I didn’t find any of the characters or their relationships particularly compelling, though the small-town USA atmosphere was kind of interesting — I kept being surprised when there were computers and email, because it seemed more old-fashioned than that in terms of the way people related. More Agatha Christie than Val McDermid et al.

I was not, however, surprised by the resolution of the mystery.

Overall, this was fun brain candy, but I’m in no hurry to read more of the series, and I wouldn’t particularly recommend it unless you’re a connoisseur of cosy mysteries.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Made to Kill

Posted 20 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Made to Kill by Adam ChristopherMade to Kill, Adam Christopher
Received to review via Netgalley

You might know from my reviews of another Angry Robot alumnus, Chris Holm, that I kind of love the hardboiled pulp mystery fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. This is basically exactly that… except you add a robot and his equally electronic handler, Ada; the robot has a limited 24-hour memory because his memory’s on tapes; and the electronic handler has a prime directive of “profit” and nothing to keep her on the straight and narrow.

There’s an interesting story in the background, too: Ray discovering what he does during what are essentially blackouts; the whole background with Ada and Ray’s creator; the manipulations of Ray’s memory by Ada; Ray’s discovery that he’s being used as a murder weapon… Wisely, I think, this fascinating stuff is kept as background. It keeps you wondering what exactly Ada’s up to, it means you know about Ray’s limited memory and how he can be manipulated, but it focuses on an immediate mystery and leaves all that background to keep you wondering and coming up with your own red herrings.

Adam Christopher doesn’t quite have the style and originality of Chandler (there’s no phrases like “shop-worn Galahad” to delight the senses), but the writing is slick and functional in the best way. I read the whole thing in just over an hour, without stopping, without ever catching up on a snag that made me want to stop. He uses the robot nature of his protagonist in great ways to add detail, uses the limitations of the character to convey expressions and emotions. The robot technology is also kept at just the right level: sure, Ray can take pictures using his eyes, but they’re stored on film and he only has four rolls of film at a time. Ada runs on tapes. The technology is clunky, old-fashioned.

The plot itself is classic and I’m not gonna spoil it by giving you any clues. There’s some staples of pulp fiction here, though, and it’s good for a knowing smile, makes you want to wear a trenchcoat and a natty hat.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Ask a Policeman

Posted 18 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ask A Policeman by the Detective ClubAsk A Policeman, John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy

I think the books and stories the Detection Club did together must have been a lot of fun to do and to share around with other writers, but they come off less well for someone outside that context, and particularly given that many of the authors and detectives are no longer well-known. Sayers/Lord Peter were the only ones I knew from this bunch, so the parody and playing in other people’s sandboxes doesn’t really interest me.

Going through the same murder in however many different ways just… didn’t interest me enough. The parody of Sayers was quite fun, since I know what Wimsey is like, but other than that, I found this fairly boring. Alas.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Bookburners: Badge, Book and Candle

Posted 8 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Badge, Book and Candle by Max GladstoneBookburners: Badge, Book and Candle, Max Gladstone
Received to review via Netgalley

I like the idea of this serialised novel business; I’ll be checking it out again when Ellen Kushner’s Tremontaine world gets a serialised outing. But Bookburners didn’t really grab me; it doesn’t help that the file that ended up on my Kindle was a mess, of course, with the formatting all over the place, but there was nothing special about the style or set-up, as far as I was concerned. It’s a fairly typical urban fantasy opening, and there’s just not enough to hook me and keep me following it through the serial format.

It’s cool that this isn’t a damsel in distress or ‘fridged’ woman plot, that the victim and motivating factor is in fact a female cop’s brother. And there were some pretty cool details about the world-building, like the idea that demons (essentially) can get into you through anything that links one person to another, like a book. But… not convinced to subscribe and follow this particular story.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Wildfire at Midnight

Posted 5 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Wildfire at Midnight by Mary StewartWildfire at Midnight, Mary Stewart

It was a grey and drizzly day, this morning — even if it brightened up later — so I felt like turning to one of my comfort reads. Wildfire at Midnight isn’t one of my favourite Stewart novels, and indeed the sense of dread and atmosphere in the book makes it perhaps a touch darker than the others, especially with the moral conflict in the last part where Gianetta thinks she knows who did the crime.

The crime itself is pretty chillingly awful; I can’t remember if any of Stewart’s other novels features a mentally ill antagonist, but that’s how it winds up in this one. And he is pretty unsettling, when you compare his later behaviour with all the rest of the book, and think about what lay under the surface… Not a comfortable thought, certainly. It’s also not the warmest in terms of romance, since that’s barely there — there’s one or two great scenes which establish something, but not enough to really make you root for the relationship to happen.

So overall, definitely still not my favourite. But it’s Mary Stewart: the writing is atmospheric, the heroine is self-sufficient, and the ending is, for the heroine at least, a happy one.

One thing I would like to know, from other readers — there’s a scene early on where Gianetta is talking to the actress, Marcia. They’re talking about the two schoolteachers who are there together: the rather sullen older one, Marion, and the younger one, Roberta. Marcia calls them “schwärmerinen”. That seems to mean something to Gianetta, and she treats it as something scandalous/libellous — what on earth’s the implication meant to be? I have the feeling I’m too young to know context.

Rating: 3/5

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The story behind The Killing Kind

Posted 1 October, 2015 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

You might know I’m a bit of a fan of Chris Holm’s work — you can find my reviews of his Collector trilogy here, and of his new book The Killing Kind here — and we’ve had some great interactions (including some signed bookmarks for the Collector series, featured in my review of that trilogy!), so I was excited to be contacted and asked if I wanted to feature a post from him about the journey behind writing The Killing Kind.

It’s a bit of a jump from publishing SF/F Chandler/Hammett pastiche with Angry Robot to writing a book set in reality (albeit the dark underside of reality I wouldn’t want to visit, unless guided by an author like Chris in a safely fictional vehicle)… but as you can see from Chris Holm’s post here, maybe it has something in common with the Collector trilogy after all.

It just wouldn’t die, you see.


The Story Behind THE KILLING KIND
Chris Holm

It began, as many criminal enterprises do, with a layoff—with a man, suddenly out of work, nearing the end of his rope.

Writers don’t often talk about their day jobs, but I’m a scientist by training. For a time, I thought I wanted to be one of those bug hunters the CDC dispatches whenever there’s an outbreak of something deadly and exotic. (My wife, as you might imagine, was thrilled.) I was serious enough that I enrolled in a microbiology PhD program at the University of Virginia—but ultimately, it didn’t stick. A field that challenging demands one’s full attention, and I couldn’t bring myself to shelve my dream of becoming a published author. So I dropped out of grad school, took a job as a researcher for a small biotech startup, and got writing.

Nine years, one unpublished novel, and a handful of short stories later, that startup folded—and for the first time since I was sixteen, I was jobless. So when my buddy Steve Weddle told me he was launching a new print magazine and asked if I’d like to contribute a story, I said sure. He couldn’t afford to pay me, but I didn’t care. I needed something to do to keep me from climbing the walls while waiting to hear back on all the resumes I sent out.

I pitched Steve couple story ideas. One was lean and mean at maybe 3,000 words—the sort of story I was known for (inasmuch as I was known at all). The other was a monster, a behemoth—an idea so ambitious that I worried it’d get away from me, and wind up too long to print. When I told Steve so, here’s what he replied:

“The problem with online writing (which I love and have nothing against and love and did I make it clear that I love online?) is that folks have a tough time scrolling through a 10k word blog post of a story. So if you have a piece that’s longer than 5k, being in print would be the way to go, I think. AHMM and EQMM and those folks have limits to size. I mean, they can’t just run 20k of something because it’s cool. Needle can. It’s what we were built for. Yeah, some quick punch is great. But something longer, developed, intricate, high-concept would be great to see in print.”

So, caution thrown, I sat down and wrote “The Hitter”—a hard-bitten tale of violence, loss, and redemption, featuring a hitman who only hits other hitmen. It came out fast. Crazy fast. And at 11,000 words, it wound up more novella than short story.

“The Hitter” appeared in Needle’s second issue. To my surprise and delight, people really responded to it. It was nominated for an Anthony Award, and selected to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. I’m pretty sure that means I owe Steve a beer.

But for some reason, the story still nagged at me. Unlike all the other shorts I’d written, it felt unfinished—which was odd, since it was already longer than the lot of ’em. I told myself to leave it be. That I shouldn’t mess with a good thing. Then, one day, I woke up with an idea that changed everything. I could pull back the camera. Shift the narrative from claustrophobic first-person to sprawling third. Show not just the (hopefully redemptive) journey of the hitman protagonist, but also that of the antagonists who want him dead, and those who hope to bring him to justice. A few months later, I’d finished the first draft of THE KILLING KIND.

Whether the transition from short story to novel was successful isn’t for me to say—but so far, buzz has been good. THE KILLING KIND received the first starred review of my career, from Kirkus. I’ve gotten glowing blurbs from writers I admire. In one of the more surreal turns of my life, the legendary David Baldacci called it “a story of rare, compelling brilliance.”

I’m grateful, if a bit befuddled. All I was trying to do was make this story finally shut up. I’m nearly finished with book two, and it hasn’t yet. It’s almost enough to make me wish I’d been laid off ages ago.

Almost.

***

Chris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. His critically acclaimed Collector trilogy made over forty Year’s Best lists. His latest novel, THE KILLING KIND, is about a man who makes his living hitting hitmen, only to wind up a target himself. For links to Chris on Twitter and Facebook, visit www.chrisholmbooks.com.

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Review – Overture to Death

Posted 22 September, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Overture to Death by Ngaio MarshOverture to Death, Ngaio Marsh

It’s a solidly entertaining mystery, I suppose, aware of the genre and making sly little jokes at its expense. It doesn’t really sparkle, though; I felt that the culprit was made obvious by their behaviour, and not just because they acted guilty — also because they had that whole cliché Freudian repressed sexuality going on, which seems to crop up in crime fiction of that period far too much. Gaudy Night is another example, though it does sparkle, because of the character development that’s going on too. In this one, despite his engagement, and the appearance of some regular characters, it isn’t really about Alleyn or development of him or the minor characters. In fact, the POV characters are pretty much two young lovers who we may not even see again.

The repressed sexuality stuff is worthy of an eyeroll, but the machinations of the murder set-up are quite interesting to follow. It gets a bit repetitive, and does that irritating holding-back-of-details that means you can’t solve the crime for yourself (or, in this case, be sure about it), but as a murder mystery it’s alright. I just hope somebody kicks Alleyn into a higher gear…

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Raven’s Head

Posted 25 July, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Raven's Head by Karen MaitlandThe Raven’s Head, Karen Maitland
Received to review via Netgalley & Bookbridgr

I forgot I’d requested this on Netgalley, and ended up getting it via Bookbridgr as well. Oops! Especially oops considering I wasn’t a big fan of Maitland’s last book, and I was starting to think her recipe was getting a little past its sell-by date. There were ways in which this book was just as predictable for Maitland if you’ve read her other books, but something about the writing/tone kept me going, and I did enjoy it.

It’s full of dastardly characters, of course, and if there’s a sordid torturous thing you can think of, one of the characters has probably done it. Even one of the most innocent characters has a downright chilling moment. But there are things which got my attention and evoked some pathos, too: the friendship of Felix and Regulus, Gisa’s care over Peter, Gaspard’s fear for Vincent.

I think Vincent’s voice was really well done — as long as Maitland was intending him to sound like a sociopath, anyway. The way he manipulated people, only saw his own gain, twisted every situation to be about himself… Well, there are people like that.

Overall, more enjoyable than I found the last couple of Maitland’s books, but the medieval historical fiction with touches of paranormal that might just barely be explained away, plus awful characters doing awful things, and dire secrets, etc, etc… It’s getting a little old.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

Posted 22 July, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan BradleyThe Dead in their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley
Received to review via Netgalley

Very late, I know; I have to be in the right mood to read this series, which is the only excuse I can think to offer. Unfortunately, with this book, I couldn’t even get into it when I was in the mood, because it feels like it’s well and truly jumped the shark. It’s always been a bit of a ridiculous series, and I accept that, but this one was just too much. The whole idea Flavia had about resurrecting her mother was just… Flavia is a precocious little thing with some very odd ideas, but it’s beyond believable even for this series that she would think she could bring back someone who was, what, ten years dead? With ATP and thiamine.

Add to that the whole pomposity of the de Luce family spy ring, and the sheer casual callousness of the murder in this book — a plot device, one which wasn’t even really investigated — and the fun has gone out of this for me. I’m not going to read the next book.

Rating: 1/5

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