Tag: crime


Review – The Hanging Tree

Posted 18 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch

The Hanging Tree does a hell of a lot, gathering together some plot points, revealing some secrets, teasing some future potential, humanising (well, sort of) characters like Lady Ty we might be tempted to just despise… It’s one of the plot-heavy entries to the series, featuring the Faceless Man and Lesley prominently, so predictably it gets a bit frenetic near the end. Characters flit in and out of sight; Peter stumbles into bad situation after bad situation; lots of property damage is incurred.

For the most part, it really worked. The tension ratcheted up as I realised exactly what was at stake, and new characters revealed things I’d wondered about (like a tradition of British women doing magic). Little ironies came up — if the Folly hadn’t been such an old boys’ club, and the new characters had been involved, would Lesley be with the Faceless Man at all? Could he have really tempted her?

And no doubt if this had ended the ongoing plot, I’d have been disappointed that it was so ‘easy’. Yet the ending seemed a little toothless: we know more about the Faceless Man and what he can do, but do we really have information to stop him? It feels like this series could easily go on another six books in this way: a book off and then a book that ends with Peter grappling with the Faceless Man, only for him to get away… I think I wanted a little more forward progress by the end.

There has to be space, though, for appreciating how much I love the new pathologist and Guleed’s involvement. I’m surprised she’s not being trained up at the Folly yet (but then, it’s also cool that she isn’t just following the same path as Lesley, like some “better” Lesley — she’s definitely her own character, with her own approach to problems)…

Despite my slight quibbles, it’s a fun read and a more than worthy entry to the series. Bring on the next! Sooner rather than later, please.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Away With the Fairies

Posted 5 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Away With the Fairies by Kerry GreenwoodAway with the Fairies, Kerry Greenwood

Phryne’s answer to Murder Must Advertise, and loaded with references to Sayers’ work (Nutrax Nerve Food, you say? smuggling clues in magazine copy, really?) — but also very much a novel in its own right, as Phryne goes above and beyond any of the on-screen heroism displayed by Lord Peter by rescuing her lover, Lin Chung, from pirates. Yep, pirates. As ever, it’s the usual mix for a Miss Fisher novel: a bit of mystery, some very fashionable clothing, some sex, a murder or so, and daring rescues featuring guns and requiring Phryne to get her kit off.

It kind of sounds formulaic when I put it that way, but it doesn’t feel that way when reading. It remains a ‘cosy’ mystery despite the guns and murder, even when it’s not a reread, because you know Phryne’s going to fix things in the end, with only minor damage to those around her. (Though I admit to being sceptical that Lin Chung’s replacement rubber ear is that realistic.)

The mystery part of it is fairly staid in comparison, though I do love the engagement with then-current politics (i.e. the mild background commentary on Mussolini).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A is for Arsenic

Posted 2 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A is for Arsenic by Kathryn HarkupA is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie, Kathryn Harkup

I avoided picking this up for quite a while, mostly because I’m just not that interested in Agatha Christie’s work — she wrote some great mysteries, but I’m more interested in characters, and I’m not overly fond of any of hers. (Poirot and his mannerisms drive me mad, sorry.) It turns out that while this does talk a lot about Christie’s work, it also relates her ideas to actual chemistry — of which she’d have been aware of as an assistant in a dispensing chemist — and actual murders that she may have found inspiration from.

All in all, it becomes a rather entertaining little package, not just focused on recounting the plots of Agatha Christie’s books. The chemistry involved was pretty easy for me to follow, but bear in mind that I am in my last year of a science degree! It might get a little too involved for people who are interested in this from the Agatha Christie end of the equation (while not, I think, being worth reading just for the explanations of how poisons work, because there’s a lot of social info and stuff about Christie and her plots as well). Fortunately, if you are a fan of Christie, Harkup doesn’t spoil any of her plots — or in the rare cases she has to for the sake of explaining things properly, she warns you in advance.

I still would’ve liked to see it be about the Golden Age crime fiction in general, and then Harkup would’ve had a great one to analyse in the shape of Sayers’ Strong Poison… but that’s beside the point.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Very British Murder

Posted 8 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Very British Murder by Lucy WorsleyA Very British Murder, Lucy Worsley

A Very British Murder is an extremely readable, sometimes gossipy survey of the development of crime/mystery literature in Britain, up to the Golden Age of Sayers and Christie. It examines why people loved a good murder story, and what kind of murder story they wanted, while also reflecting on some of the real murders that occurred and the anxieties surrounding them.

I especially enjoyed Worsley’s sympathy for Sayers and Christie, and her defence of Gaudy Night against a male critic’s boredom about it. Quite right, too!

It’s not deep lit crit, or a totally in depth micro-history, but there’s interesting stuff and it’s entertainingly written.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – An Unsuitable Heir

Posted 14 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. CharlesAn Unsuitable Heir, K.J. Charles

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017

I’m somewhat cautious when it comes to picking up LGBT fiction sometimes, because the quality often leaves something to be desired. Frankly, sometimes you wonder how some of it is published while some glorious writers stick to fanfiction. Still, I liked the sound of this book – and others by this author have been praised by friends – and I am, in fact, very glad I read it. It doesn’t feel like a book just written to get a pair of hot gay men together: it feels like plot and character come first, and the fact that these particular characters are attracted to each other and fall in love is second. Not secondary, because it is important to the story, but it feels natural.

Also, one of the couple has one hand due to a birth defect, and the other is non-binary, feeling that neither gender entirely suits him. Not that he has a word for it or a pronoun, given the setting, but the exploration of his gender identity is also integral to the story, explaining how he reacts and what he’s willing (and unwilling) to do.

The sex scenes, though not something I’m interested in per se, are tastefully written and avoid being just “insert tab A into slot B” – it’s not mechanical or forced, but feels natural to the story and characters and where they are in their relationship.

I imagine if you’ve read the previous books in the same series, you’ll enjoy the cameo appearances of a couple of other gay couples. For me, I’ve gone ahead and bought those books on the strength of this one, and I’m looking forward to it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Clouds of Witness

Posted 17 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. SayersClouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers

What do I even have to say about these books anymore? This is the second Wimsey book, and it ups the emotional involvement somewhat by bringing in Peter’s family, and therefore higher stakes. I love all the stupid, unreliable, ridiculous characters, and the clever ones too, since they’re often one and the same character. I love the fact that if you pay attention, there are clues throughout — if you know your literature. (I refer to the references to Manon Lescaut.)

Yes, it’s Golden Age detective fiction, with everything that implies. At times, things don’t seem to be moving along much further, things get confused and convoluted, and you just long for people to do some straight talking. It’s Peter and Bunter that carry it, along with some help from the Dowager Duchess — I read these books originally because they’re classics, but I came back again (and again, and again) for the characters and the cleverness of Sayers’ writing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Killing Is My Business

Posted 4 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Killing Is My Business by Adam ChristopherKilling Is My Business, Adam Christopher

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 25th July 2017

I’ve enjoyed the other books and stories in this series a lot, and this is no exception. Take a Raymond Chandler-esque world, and apply one robot trained as a PI who has been somewhat repurposed as an assassin. Add the complication that he runs on limited tapes of memory — 24 hours at a time, no more storage than that. Add his AI handler, Ada, who very clearly has her own agenda — one which doesn’t always align with what their creators envisioned for them.

And, in this book, add the mafia.

I started it when I couldn’t sleep, and finished it an hour and a half later, without stopping once. Adam Christopher writes crisply, precisely; there’s no dead patches where you feel like you can put the book down, because if you did, well; something interesting might happen while you aren’t looking. I love the way Christopher uses Ray’s limitations to create parts of the mystery. This isn’t just a book with a detective/assassin who happens to be a robot; the fact that Ray’s a robot is vital to the whole thing.

Raymond Chandler’s probably rolling in his grave at the comparison, given he had no great opinion of sci-fi, but I’m not going to worry too much about giving him an unquiet rest.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Whose Body?

Posted 17 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Whose Body by Dorothy L. SayersWhose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers

A beloved reread, as you might expect, this time occasioned by having watched the Edward Petherbridge adaptations with my wife (who has, at least in BBC adaptation form, been converted to the love of Lord Peter). Whose Body? is a neat little mystery, and it’s given some depth by the fact that it already deals with Peter’s difficulties about whether he can do detecting as a hobby, or if there’s something wrong with that, etc, etc — and also with his shell shock, which retreats into the background in later books but is a key feature for how he reacts in this book.

He’s a little too perfect, of course, but I knew that going in. I don’t think Sayers had quite settled into what she was doing when she wrote this book, but it’s entertaining and, if you’re not interested in romance, long before Harriet Vane arrives on the scene.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death Before Wicket

Posted 20 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Death Before Wicket by Kerry GreenwoodDeath Before Wicket, Kerry Greenwood

Death Before Wicket takes Phryne away from her home turf of Melbourne, bringing her instead to Sydney — where despite her promises to Dot, several mysteries await. This isn’t one of my favourites, as I found it rather slow and over-sensational; the whole mysticism angle didn’t work for me, particularly not when it actually helped solve the mystery. I did enjoy Dot’s subplot, involving finding her sister and reuniting her family. It shows that she’s a good soul at heart, despite her judgementalness: she’s ready to accept her sister no matter what (although she’s relieved to find that her sister seems to be relatively innocent).

A skippable story, but entertaining all the same. It’s Phryne — it’s rarely boring.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Raisins and Almonds

Posted 15 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Raisins and Almonds by Kerry GreenwoodRaisins and Almonds, Kerry Greenwood

I try not to think too much about the way Phryne’s lovers are described at times — Lin Chung and Simon (Chinese and Jewish, respectively) are described as exotic and beautiful and… yeah, I’m starting to get uncomfortable the more I think about it. Likewise, there’s a certain amount of stereotyping that goes on with the Jewish and Chinese characters in particular. It’s not negative, but it is so… generalising and annoying.

On the other hand, the first time I read this I enjoyed it because it puts one of Phryne’s lovers in serious danger, and there’s an incredibly powerful family scene which just felt completely raw and not “cosy” at all. I felt the same this time, and that somewhat mitigated the rather lower star rating I’d have given.

Plus, while I do find aspects of these books problematic, I still adore the idea of Phryne’s character, the way nothing gets in the way, the way she controls her own sexuality and uses it. There’s still a lot of fiction that pretends women are more asexual by default, and it’s annoying. (Yep, even to me, even though I have no actual interest in reading about Phryne having athletic sex.)

Rating: 3/5

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