Tag: crime

Review – The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith

Posted March 4, 2022 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith by Patricia WentworthThe Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith, Patricia Wentworth

The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith is a fun little one-shot mystery with some of the staples: two girls who are so nearly identical in appearance that one can impersonate the other and briefly fool even her own father, a plucky girl getting into deadly danger for the sake of the realm (even though she has no training and very little knowledge of the situation), a love story (or two) featuring jilted lovers reunited through circumstance, secret underground passages, etc.

Jane is pretty much what you’d expect here: practical, plucky, determined, and a bit pig-headed about being asked to be careful (even though it all turns out okay in the end, and of course that’s because she disobeys and goes off-script). Most of the other characters are bit-parts, even the love interest, though Lady Heritage is surprisingly vibrant — if anything she has more life than Jane through her depth of feeling, which is fairly apparent on several occasions. (By contrast Jane rather suddenly decides Henry is her darling, after previously having turned him down for what we presume are good reasons, given her usual practicality.)

It’s a bit of fun, and being written by a woman, it isn’t quite so bad as a lot of classic mysteries in the way it handles female characters. Jane’s a bit scathing about other girls for not having the same interests or bravery, but she and Lady Heritage aren’t a bit like the rather silly, inconstant girls of some of the mystery fiction written by men. (Hello, John Dickson Carr is calling!)

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Crossed Skis

Posted February 12, 2022 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Crossed Skis by Carol CarnacCrossed Skis, Carol Carnac

Carol Carnac is perhaps better known (at least since the British Library Crime Classics started coming out) as E.C.R. Lorac — one of my preferred writers from that series of reissues. It’s not that her plots are particularly original or different, and in fact they’re usually easy to work out, but it’s the way she writes about people and places, bringing out the atmosphere of place and writing well about ordinary, decent people (for the most part — aside from the criminal).

All in all, her books epitomise the sense of things being set to rights that’s common to a lot of Golden Age crime fiction, and that can be rather comforting if that’s your thing. They’re a reasonable puzzle, and the detectives are generally likeable (unlike, say, John Dickson Carr’s); more Agatha Christie than Dorothy Sayers on the scale of literary pretension. This book is exactly what you’d expect, as a consequence: a decent sense of place, a series of thumbnail portraits about decent, pretty ordinary people in a pretty ordinary situation, and a couple of red herrings.

I found this one a tad obvious, because I very quickly narrowed the field down to two possibles, from all the descriptions and actions of the characters. The setting, though, is lovely — you get the sense of the crowded trains, the cold air, the bubbly enthusiasm of the group of Brits getting away on a skiing holiday together, slightly lacking in inhibitions because it’s not Britain and they don’t all know each other well. The characters are mostly sketched in because the group is so large (16 characters in the traveling party), so I didn’t find it quite as good at bringing characters to life, here.

It all sounds a bit like I’m damning Lorac’s books with faint praise, but I genuinely pounce upon each one that gets reissued, and enjoyed this one too — but it’s like enjoying food from the fish and chip shop rather than a fancy restaurant. Solid and satisfying, but usually not surprising.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Crime at Christmas

Posted December 31, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Crime at Christmas by C.H.B. KitchinCrime at Christmas, C.H.B. Kitchin

I got this book from my advent “calendar” and thought, well, I’d better crack on with this one since it’s seasonal! Again, an author I knew nothing about before, though this one is set in Britain. The narrator is a rather neurotic young man who has had a previous brush with the police after the murder of his aunt, and who is consequently rather overset when he finds a dead body on Christmas morning, and then another a day later. Well, you can’t blame him, exactly, but his narration is rather waffly, and he’s rather self-absorbed.

There is some rather good stuff here, all the same, with a character who manages to be both sympathetic and sinister. The ramblings of the narrator start to make the plot clear once both corpses are finally on screen (so to speak), and it trundles along to a dramatic conclusion with a final traditional exposition by the detective, followed by a confession and a final dramatic moment…

Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there but then has a really weird coda, with a dialogue involving the reader and the main character. It’s more than a bit odd.

Anyway, the plot isn’t too unusual or sensationally surprising in a crime novel of the period, with of course a weird privileged position for the narrator in the detective’s investigation that makes no real sense (although the detective has the sense not to trust him too far and has his calls tapped — good call). I read it in a day, so though I sound lukewarm, for someone who’s interested in reading crime fiction of that period it’s an interesting one.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Murder After Christmas

Posted December 31, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder After Christmas by Rupert LattimerMurder After Christmas, Rupert Lattimer

You know, I don’t really know what to make of this one. There is something energetic and compelling about it, and yet I also wanted it to just get to the point already! I think it makes itself feel more convoluted because of the various different comic turns various different characters do, and that makes it both lively and frustrating.

The plot hinges on who had a motive for an old man to die after Christmas, when everything seems to point to the fact that it would really have been more convenient for most suspects if he’d died before Christmas. Despite the inquest bringing in a verdict of accidental death, nobody’s quite satisfied because of all the weird coincidences and red herrings… and it takes an unconscionably long time to get everything sorted out because everyone’s flinging out more red herrings with every word.

I feel like the comic speeches lost their amusement value after a while; there are some really fun character sketches, but in the end it’s just too convoluted (and we spend too much time hearing from the detectives about how convoluted it is — scenes which seem to be intended to help the reader keep things straight, but which definitely kill the pace). So… fun, but outstayed its welcome.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Dead Dead Girls

Posted December 30, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa AfiaDead Dead Girls, Nekesa Afia

Dead Dead Girls is a mystery story set in 1920s Harlem, in which a young black girl who previously freed herself from a kidnapping gets arrested for attacking a police officer while drunk, and offered freedom if she’ll help them solve a murder. I found it difficult to go along with that as a plot point, especially with the detectives treating her like a valued consultant half the time, but the story rolls along pacily enough.

Maybe too pacily, to be honest: there were a few events that should’ve been more affecting than they were, and things I ought to have cared about as a reader, but it felt like everything ticked past too smoothly for me to feel it — and it doesn’t help that there’s something quite simple and matter-of-fact about the narration. It’s a style that works for me sometimes, but didn’t here, and it led to things feeling choppy, disjointed, and sometimes just incongruous. One particular character starts out as an asshole and then… I don’t really understand why he does what he does toward the end of the book.

It’s not a bad read, but it didn’t work for me and it’s not something I feel super-tempted to come back to.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Comeuppance Served Cold

Posted December 27, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Comeuppance Served Cold by Marion DeedsComeuppance Served Cold, Marion Deeds

Received to review via Netgalley; release date 22nd March 2022

I think this was first described to me as “Phryne Fisher with magic”. It’s not quite, since it’s not a detective story, but I can see why the comparison: there’s something very Phryne-like in Dolly’s matter of fact certainty about things. But don’t downplay the magic element when you’re thinking about this book: there’s a whole rich world outside the novella, happening before and after it, and giving it a context. There’s stuff going on that isn’t really explained, that just stands there as background, and it makes me hope there are going to be more books following Dolly/Comeuppance.

Everything about this is remarkably well-handled: telling a non-linear story in such a way that everything comes together with a snap at the end is a pretty good trick. You get just enough information to not quite trust everything, but not to put all of it together at once.

I enjoyed the characters a lot, in the end — even Fiona, to my surprise. I feel like there are two or even three strands of the story I’d like to follow in future books: I’d love to see more of Gabe, Philippe and Violet, as well as more of Dolly, or of her associates.

It comes together really well, tells a complete story, and leaves me wanting more. What more can you ask?

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Book of the Lion

Posted December 22, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Book of the Lion by Elizabeth DalyThe Book of the Lion, Elizabeth Daly

One of my Christmas gifts from my wife was actually an “advent calendar” — of books! Classic crime/mystery fiction, to be precise. That means I’ve been getting a bit of an education in different crime/mystery work, much of which I’d never heard of. So with Elizabeth Daly’s Gamadge, a series detective who mostly seems to investigate fakes. There was some of this book which was a bit difficult to keep up with, because it related to relationships and explanations covered in previous books — but for the most part this one can be picked up and enjoyed on its own.

Gamadge’s attention is drawn to the crime by the fact that there seems to be some elaborate fakery in order to cover up something about letters belonging to a dead poet, murdered during a drunken ramble through the city. Certain suspicious actions grab his attention, and he’s not willing to let it go… which, as ever, leads to more trouble than might’ve occurred if he’d left well alone.

It works out pretty well, and my only problem is really that I didn’t know the setup of why he’s into detecting, how he knows people who appear to be recurring characters, etc. Enjoyable, and I’d actually rather like to find the first book of the series and give that a go.

Also, points for teaching me something I didn’t know about Chaucer.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Silence of Bones

Posted December 21, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Silence of Bones by June HurThe Silence of Bones, June Hur

This one is a little out of the beaten path for me: it’s a mystery, but set in a historical place and period I know nothing about, set in Joseon, Korea, in the 1800s. I found the setting and role of the main character pretty fascinating: Seol is a damo, a female indentured assistant to the police, who can handle female corpses and search women’s rooms with propriety, giving them information to assist their cases. Seol is a curious girl, with a secret mission of her own to seek out her older brother, who long ago left for the city.

There are some turns of the story that I found very predictable, which I shouldn’t say anything at all about for fear of immediately spoiling the mystery for someone! I didn’t notice the person I should be suspecting, though, so the central mystery did hold up. There are some quite graphic descriptions of violence, gore, torture and dead bodies, but all described in a rather matter-of-fact way, so it didn’t make me too squeamish.

I thought I hadn’t really got attached to the characters, finding Seol a bit annoying in her impulsiveness and inability to think things through all the way to the end, but the ending did actually come through for me. I think the setting was probably the thing that interested me most going in, and that held up for sure: I’d be interested to read more about it, non-fiction in particular!

I’m finding it a bit difficult to settle on a rating, as I don’t feel very passionate about it one way or another: it was enjoyable and made me curious, but not something I couldn’t put down.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Fugitive Telemetry

Posted December 6, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Fugitive Telemetry by Martha WellsFugitive Telemetry, Martha Wells

And here I am at last, caught up! And it didn’t even take me as long this time (I think)! It turned out that Murderbot was the ideal (mostly) bite-size companion for the stressful month of November, and the novellas in particular were eaten up in the space of a day in most cases. Fugitive Telemetry took me a bit longer, but it wasn’t the book’s fault. It’s a very fun detective story, with Murderbot getting to use its skills in ways much more like it was designed for, and it gives us a glimpse of how Preservation works, how people (and free bots) behave there, and how Murderbot is beginning to find its place.

It is set before Network Effect, and I think for some people that made it a touch disappointing, since Network Effect was a step up in scope. For me, though, I was relieved to sink back into a monster-of-the-week type adventure — I couldn’t take a season finale in every book! And I think Murderbot shines here, grumpy and yet unable to help caring, and unable to help forming attachments despite its best efforts.

There is also a great line where Murderbot calls Ratthi and Gurathin when it needs witnesses/accomplices, on the grounds that Ratthi will help them do a thing and Gurathin will come along in order to tell them they’re doing it wrong. (This is a paraphrase so as not to ruin the context or the moment, but those who’ve read the book will know.) I’d happily read a lot more of Murderbot hanging out with Ratthi and Gurathin!

Actually, there are a bunch of great lines, of course, but that one really struck me.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Winter Garden Mystery

Posted November 28, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola DunnThe Winter Garden Mystery, Carola Dunn

I started this right after Death at Wentwater Court, since I was in the mood for a bit more time spent with Daisy. In this one, she calls in Alec to help when the local police wrongfully (in her view) accuse someone of murder. She’s present at the discovery of the victim, and quickly forms her own opinions about who did it — or at least, in typical Daisy-fashion, who didn’t.

I enjoy this one a lot. There are a number of supporting characters that feel like friends very quickly (Ben Goodman, Bobbie Parslow), and references to rather sweet familial and romantic relationships. There are a few villains, of course, and Lady Valeria in particular is really well drawn — her overbearingness, her attitudes, her self-importance. And then there’s Alec, wholly unprofessional in his dealings with Daisy, of course, but caring for the truth and trusting in her judgement (even as he complains that others do that too much!).

The formula’s still reasonably fresh at this point, and the cast of characters enjoyable, so all in all I had fun. I loathe the attempt to render the Welsh accent phonetically, though.

Rating: 4/5

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