I picked this up on a whim because it looked like it could be my sister’s thing, and I never object to more random information about all kinds of topics. Angela Gallop is a well-known forensic scientist who has worked on several famous murder cases; this is a sort of professional memoir, barely touching on her personal life, but digging into her opinions on forensic science, her part in expanding forensic science services in the UK and eventually worldwide, and her involvement (sometimes tangentially) in various cases.
It’s a little bit of everything, really: she talks about setting up her business, and that butts up against the horrible details of bloody murders and the less than fascinating references to board meetings. It feels rather unfocused, sort of like there’s the kitchen sink at all: there’s certainly plenty of interesting anecdotes, but the wealth of examples sometimes bogs down her theme. Where you expect her to be contrasting two cases, they turn out to be remarkably similar and prove the same point. It’s not terribly written, but I’d tighten it up ruthlessly and make her add in an organising theme.
She does have something she wants to say about forensic science: “it’s more complicated than you think, it needs funding, it needs to be impartial, and it needs to be done in context”. But those cautionary notes for the understanding of and the future of forensic science get a bit lost when suddenly she’s complaining about the perils of borrowing money to start a company and how things could have gone wrong there. The book’s neither fish nor fowl; it’s not just about digging into the story behind investigating specific crimes, but it’s so heavy on those details that it feels like maybe that was the original point.
That said, the details are interesting and her style isn’t bad, just a bit flabby. I mildly enjoyed it, but felt it could’ve been more impactful if it knew what it was.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
Fiction: Fell Murder, by E.C.R. Lorac. Normally I quite like Lorac’s books, as far as I’ve experienced them from the British Library Crime Classics reissues, and this one is appealing in several ways. My brain just isn’t doing fiction right now.
Non-fiction: When The Dogs Don’t Bark, by Professor Angela Gallop. It’s kind of bitty and disorganised, though roughly chronological through her career. I’m finding it interesting, but wouldn’t say I recommend it, because it’s pretty shallow and in some ways repetitive.
What have you recently finished?
The second Brother Cadfael book, which was a reread. I don’t think I’ve read the third book, so it’s all-new territory from here. I think. I do enjoy the historical setting of it, the fact that it could only be set exactly when it is. I don’t know how accurate the portrayal of anybody real might be, but it worked for my level of knowledge.
What will you be reading next?
I don’t know, but I picked up Susannah Cahalan’s new book this week, so that’s a possibility. The Great Pretender is about a famous study of psychiatric wards by a guy called Rosenhan, which portrayed the wards as a place where perfectly sane people sounded mad. Cahalan was curious about how the study participants felt about it, but found that she couldn’t find them… and eventually concluded they may not have existed. A lot of people on Litsy seem to hate it, which gives me pause; I guess it depends on how she presents the relevance of this study now, for me.
The second Brother Cadfael book is more deeply rooted in the historical period it’s set in, with everything in it being touched by the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. We see quite a bit of Stephen in this book, in fact, since he is actually in command of the forces that enter the town and kill the garrison. Cadfael gets himself involved first by sheltering a daughter of the local nobility (dressed as a boy and acting as a novice) and then by investigating the murder of the mysterious extra corpse hidden among the bodies of the garrison.
It’s an interesting and nuanced vision of the time; Cadfael is pretty non-partisan (which I believe was actually very difficult to maintain at the time, but he’s a fictional monk, so he can do as he likes) and ends up aiding both sides of the fight through his interest in individual people. I shouldn’t say too much about the characters, because it deliberately takes quite a while to figure out where everyone stands: I ended up feeling very affectionate toward one particular character, in a way that’s very cleverly done.
The idea of a monk solving mysteries sounds kind of gimmicky, perhaps, but the strong roots in the time help make it feel realistic and serious. Both mysteries so far have been uncontrived — a crime of passion in the first book, and this one in a historical framework where the death makes sense and the only wonder is that someone cares — and Cadfael getting involved feels natural. There are so many books in the series that of course it could get a bit Daisy Dalrymple-ish, but it helps that in Cadfael’s times everyone was closer to the fact of death.
(I don’t mean to pick on Daisy too much, because I genuinely enjoy Carola Dunn’s books, but by this point my only explanation for how many independent murders she manages to involve herself with is that some mastermind is tugging the strings to involve her “accidentally” in dozens of otherwise unconnected murders. I somehow doubt that Daisy has a Moriarty, though.)
Definitely enjoyable, and I do rather hope to see some of these characters again.
This series is just so more-ish and adorable. I can’t help but love both Charlie and Nick and their relationship. It’s not always perfectly fluffy and happy — bullying is a theme, and there are several instances of homophobia; in this volume, there’s also disordered eating and references to self-harm. But the two of them are great to each other, even as they’re feeling their way through a serious relationship for the first time, and navigating issues with parents, siblings, school friends and teachers.
This particular volume also features more development from some of their friends, including Tao and Elle… and also a cute little snippet of another potential love story between two of the teachers. None of the characters are perfect; they make mistakes and do stupid things… but they’re good, they show up for each other and they think over their issues and they learn. Even when they get things wrong (as Tao does in this volume, and arguably as Charlie does in trying to handle several situations), they’re not monsters… and even the worst characters have the potential to learn. It has such heart.
It’s also kind of nice to read something British, because the experience is close in some ways to what I had. Not all — I went to a tiny private school, and had no particular friends there… but still, there are things in common that are… not nostalgic, for all kinds of reasons — if I say everything I thought about my old school they’d probably want to sue me — but sort of like that. Study leave! School trip to France!
I helped to crowdfund this so was very excited to see my copies arrive yesterday! Small Robots is a Twitter account which regularly posts drawings of robots designed for very specific tasks. For instance, Booksbot swoops in and hides your new books so you don’t have to feel guilty about adding to the pile of books you already have waiting on your TBR! Teabot brings you tea (and only tea). Guestshowerbot helps you figure out the arcane controls on your friend’s shower.
This book contains 100 robot friends, along with crochet patterns for two of them (I haven’t tried the patterns yet). The drawings are adorable and often funny; sometimes the bots are uplifting (like Hopebot) and sometimes they’re bizarre (Bingliesbot); this collection includes commentary on their purpose and designs which is also often adorable and/or funny. It’s a chunky little book and one which can be dipped into at will.
True story: my copy fell open at Booksbot when I first picked it up, and given I hadn’t even previously been aware of this bot, it felt like fate. I need a bookmark with this friend on, at the very least…
G’day, folks! This has been a much quieter reading week, but that’s also fine. I’ve been busy with work and with playing video games, and that’s fine. I’m still working on not criticising myself when I feel less like reading — it’s not like yelling at myself makes me read more, it just makes me unhappy.
Books read this week:
Reviews posted this week:
–Sword of Destiny, by Andrzej Sapkowski. I didn’t think this was as good as The Last Wish; it’s more a collection of stories in the world, though it does sort of move towards setting up the novels. 3/5 stars –Gilded Cage, by K.J. Charles. I wasn’t convinced I was going to enjoy this because I didn’t love Templeton Lane, but I trust Charles and she didn’t steer me wrong. 4/5 stars –That Could Be Enough, by Alyssa Cole. I didn’t really believe in the relationship here. It was okay because it’s so short, but more and I might’ve given up. 3/5 stars
–WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly check-in, mostly about a book about Byzantium, one of E.C.R. Lorac’s British Library Crime Classics, and K.J. Charles.
Out and about:
–NEAT science: ‘All about that base.‘ A friend asked me to explain why humans have butts. I had a go.
That Could Be Enough is a novella set in the post-Civil War US, following the story of Mercy Alston, maid to Elizabeth Hamilton and aiding her in putting together the stories of the men of her late husband’s battalion as a legacy for him. Despite all her writing in that cause, Mercy’s own writing is stilted and all but out of reach, as a legacy of a disastrous love affair. Into Mercy’s life comes Andromeda Stiel, a seamstress who goes her own way, loving as she wishes, without censure from the people she lives amongst. Sparks fly, despite Mercy’s intentions, and Andromeda quickly draws her into a relationship and out of her shell.
It doesn’t go smoothly, and that’s partly due to Mercy’s character and past, and partly because of bloody lack of communication, my least favourite trope ever. Just. Communicate! “I accidentally read this piece of paper and it says you’re going to be married, can you explain?” There! It’s that simple.
I did see another review that talked about not being sure what Mercy brings to the relationship, and despite the character’s individual qualities — her writing, her charitable work, etc — I have to agree. Andromeda is sufficient unto herself, even if she wants Mercy, and nothing Mercy has is something Andromeda lacks… while at the same time, Andromeda is picking apart Mercy’s trauma, encouraging and supporting her, pushing her to do better. Mercy’s affection is grudging, and her trust non-existant. It’s hard to believe the two can get along happily for long with that kind of imbalance.
Cole’s end note with sources helps somewhat with my feeling that they can’t be this blatant as a couple in this time period, but I’m still not convinced. Speaking from experience, even now, people will tolerate you as long as you don’t “rub it in their face”. Say the words “my wife” in casual conversation while being female and you can watch someone’s attitude change in an instant, even if you know this person must have realised before. Andromeda and Mercy aren’t just quietly getting on with it — Andromeda is blatant. I question it, knowing it’s hard enough now sometimes.
Overall, I didn’t love this as much as I might have; Andromeda’s great, but Mercy just doesn’t come alive for me. She sounds great on paper, but… I can’t see what she brings to Andromeda, or really believe there’s a beating heart behind the words on the page. Because it’s so short, it’s still entertaining, but I don’t know if I could have stuck with a longer story.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts. This week’s check-in is here!
What are you currently reading?
Non-fiction: Michael Angold’s Byzantium: The Bridge from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, which is kind of slow and not really capturing my imagination. Ever since I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium, I’ve wanted a really good book on Byzantium, but I’ve never really found one that hits the right note for me. I guess I need one that’s heavily about the reign of Justinian I…?
Fiction: E.C.R. Lorac’s Fell Murder. I’m not very far into it, but it has a really strong sense of place already, and a rather likeable arrangement of characters — even the crotchety old guy is actually rather honourable and decent, in his own way.
What have you recently finished reading?
The last thing I finished was K.J. Charles’ Gilded Cage; I wasn’t sold on Templeton as a hero, but she made it work. Which is not surprising — even when it takes me a while to warm up (as with Jackdaws), Charles always delivers a solid story and twists me round her little finger as far as characters go.
What will you be reading next?
Insert shrug emoji here! I don’t really have a queue right this second. I have a list of books I “should” read soon that’s as long as my arm, which makes the list kind of pointless. I just asked the oracle (aka held up one of the bunnies) and maybe it will be The Voodoo Killings (Kristi Charish) or Exhalation (Ted Chiang)…
Gilded Cage is the follow-up to Any Old Diamonds, featuring Templeton Lane. From the first book he didn’t appeal to me too much, although the defenestration thing in The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter was great; Jerry felt the more compelling of the two characters to me, and I wasn’t sure I could get to like Templeton. Well, I didn’t, really; he still seemed like a thug with the emotional awareness of a brass doorknob… but the history of James Vane as revealed in Gilded Cage did work for me. It felt like a bit of a quick flip from the thug to the sensitive, thinking, feeling man, and the transition didn’t entirely work for me… but predictably, Charles was able to pull me along and sell it to me anyway.
It helps that Susan Lazarus is awesome, and that this book features a lot of brief glimpses of the characters from Sins of the Cities (and of course from the other Lilywhite Boys stories). I loved seeing Justin again, and I’d have loved to see more of Mark and Nathaniel as well, but I suppose they would have stolen the show. Susan is relentlessly practical, determined, and closed-off; it’s a delight to watch her realise that she can trust James after all, and to see them open up and talk about their feelings and actually figure things out.
The plot also ties together both other books in this series, and gives a satisfactory ending to a certain adversary of the Lilywhite Boys — satisfactory in that someone gets Susan’s hairpins in very tender places, and also gets captured and trialled.
It all works out well, and we get a happy ending that feels true to who Susan is. We also get some glimpses of Jerry and Alec’s life, which is nice. All in all, I suspect and hope there’s little more to be said for the Lilywhite Boys: they both have their happy endings. That said, I wouldn’t object to Jerry and Alec and Susan and James having to come together to heist their way out of trouble again, so I’ll slam the preorder button hard if that comes about!