In this book, Lady Emily is now engaged to Colin, and gets drawn into his world of espionage in her quest to clear the name of someone close to her. The trip takes her to Vienna, where she consorts with the best and worst… and with a woman Colin once loved, and who still wants to be with Colin herself (despite her marriage). Jealousy isn’t a good look on Lady Emily, and I was embarrassed for her when she slipped and revealed her lack of trust in Colin. I joke about being the relationship advice Dalek, but really, communicate!
Aside from the plotline of jealousy, it turns out someone else is in love with Emily (groan), so there are two jealousy plotlines here, both involving unrequited love. I admit that this book is not my favourite so far because of that, though the investigation plot was actually fairly engaging. I enjoyed Emily’s dip into espionage, even if it all got a little melodramatic.
In the end, it’s a fun read, just didn’t quite capture me the way the previous books have!
I didn’t think this book was going to come together well, after reading a couple of chapters. It consists mostly of character sketches, which constitute little thumbnails of lives which might (maybe) give the characters motive, means and opportunity for the murder which occurs at the start of the book. They’re quite disconnected, and they go some very different places — one cobbler ruined by a scam who turns to pickpocketing and then goes straight again; one mini-spy story in which a German refugee is rescued by a determined but naive and rich young Englishman; one miniature love story chronicling an adulterous affair…
And in a way, they don’t really pull together, in that the various stories barely touch at all, but they do manage to achieve something: I very much knew who I wanted to be the murderer, and I knew who I didn’t want to be the murderer. I won’t spoil anything about who is who, but it’s perhaps useful to know going in that the effect does work in the end! I wouldn’t say it’s a favourite, but it comes out as surprisingly solid.
I remember quite enjoying one of Berkeley’s other books, but in this one he got the weirdest bee in his bonnet about a particular young female character needing to be spanked, because she tried to act cool and sophisticated in front of a somewhat-famous author. I’m talking a girl old enough to be socialising with grown women and giving them an introduction, so probably an adult or almost an adult… and Berkeley has her older, married male cousin give her a spanking once, and empower his author-friend to give her a second spanking as well.
I was mildly interested in the mystery, and there’s some witty chat between various characters that sometimes reminded me a bit of Lord Peter, but it just isn’t worth the sheer weirdness of the male characters continually being ready to spank a female character. It’s just… weird. So yeah, DNF.
Unusually for the British Library Crime Classics series, this is a book that was never published before, lightly edited and prepared for publication now given the popularity of Lorac’s books within the series of reissues. It features not one of her usual detectives, but a new group of characters — and on the detection side of things, I have to say I prefer her actually-published books. This felt like it was missing a bit of the warmth and humanity that you feel (however muted) from her usual solid and decent detectives.
I do wonder if I’d have preferred it if Lorac had actually prepared it for publication herself, rather than it being pulled out of the archives and published for the first time. I think she’s likely to have had some changes to make, at least.
That said, it works as a story, shuffling the puzzle pieces around until — click! You’ve completed the puzzle. You have most of the info you need to solve it, but there are a few surprises lurking. I suspect I was partially surprised because this is Lorac, and I’d expected certain things of her characters, too.
I can’t say it’s one of my favourites, but it was enjoyable, and features her usual attention to place and how a place can affect a crime and those all around it.
Something about the setting and set-up of this reminded me of a previous book of Lorac’s that I’ve read (Bats in theBelfry, I think), but it’s more of an atmosphere thing than a repeat of the plot or something like that. I actually guessed what had happened in the end fairly early on, just from the way certain things were emphasised and leaned on, but I enjoyed the ride of how it gets unravelled and the culprit caught.
E.C.R. Lorac’s books always have a pleasant quality I find it hard to put my finger on. Part of it is competence, and the fact that I can trust her to work out the story in a satisfactory way. Part of it is that she doesn’t usually dwell on the characters who are awful, but on the decent and hardworking people who are trying to put things right, or adjust to the awfulness of whatever crime has been committed. Her detective is always so conscientious and decent — such a complete fantasy, but one I enjoy.
This book was really not for me, in the end. It’s narrated by Dayna, an out of luck actress who latches on to investigating a death in a hit and run accident which she happened to witness very briefly, without initially really noticing. Her motive: to receive the reward for turning in information that leads to a resolution in the case.
I don’t mind her motive so much as I mind the whole way she decides to go about it. She doesn’t take it very seriously, and she has clearly no idea about what to do, or any kind of process of problem-solving. Or any kind of reality. She expects to be able to phone up with a piece of evidence and then for an arrest to be made the next day, and she blunders in and accuses people herself without much by way of proper evidence, assuming the police to be incompetent. In this case, lady, it’s not them, it’s you. Very definitely you.
It’s light-hearted and it might turn out quite funny, but I can’t bear incompetence as humour (I get vicariously embarrassed) — so I noped out.
Lady Emily married quickly to get away from her parents — or mostly her mother, who is overbearing and absolutely obsessed with getting her married off safely before she loses her looks. (Ugh.) She barely had time for the honeymoon, though, before her husband went away on an expedition… and never returned, with his friends sending back the news that he was dead, leaving her in possession of all his things, a lot of money, and a lot more freedom.
Over the course of the book it turns out that he was deeply in love with her, and she begins to read his journals and understand the kind of man he was, beginning to explore his interests and what she might have shared with him. This leads to her falling in love with him too, despite knowing he’s already gone. At the same time, strange things are happening and it seems that he may have been involved in something strange, or perhaps even dangerous, a tangle that Lady Emily decides to unravel.
I ended up enjoying this a lot, enough that I immediately got the next book (and by this point I’m gleefully onto the third). I liked the idea of how Emily falls in love with her husband posthumously — it’s feels surprisingly tender and real, and it’s a surprising touch, especially given she does go on to have a new love interest. She’s anachronistic, of course, though not quite so much so as Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell — the book does show some of the ways in which that disturbs people and that makes it feel a bit more real. No surprises that I’d feel a kinship with a heroine who loves books, anyway…
This review is inevitably spoilery for certain things, so look away now if you want to be unspoiled — I couldn’t think of a way to comment on some of this book without spoilers.
I was wondering what Raybourn would do now that the will-they-won’t-they potential should, in theory, be over with after the ending of the last book. Turns out, it’s actually “go straight into another book with very little time difference, meaning they haven’t had chance to consummate their relationship… and they’ll dither for another book about whether they’re going to do it or not”. Granted, that does give her chance for a good payoff scene near the end which is everything you need for the couple getting together; anything else might have felt a bit flat.
In the meantime, the plot goes ahead and entangles Veronica further with the Royal Family and even Jack the Ripper (of course, given the era). It barrels along at a cracking pace, of course, with some anxious moments for certain characters, and the inevitable emotional complexities of Veronica’s every interaction with any member of her family. I enjoyed it a lot, and raced through the book.
I don’t know if maybe the shine isn’t wearing off a little on this series for me, though. Not because the main characters are together, but just because it’s ever more unrealistic for Veronica to be this deeply entangled in the Royal Family’s affairs, and this trusted to untangle them without question… without much payoff, on her part. I kind of want her and Stoker to tell ’em to sod off, and ride off into the sunset. Somewhere that Veronica can catch butterflies and also screw Stoker silly on the regular, since that’s what she really wants.
Not that I’m stopping reading the series in the least — it’s highly entertaining. but I hope Veronica gets some payoff for her tireless efforts on the behalf of a family who regard her existence as an embarrassment and will never give her any official recognition whatsoever.
This is one of the British Library Crime Classics, by an author I’ve read before, under another name — Anne Meredith. I don’t recall loving her other book, but I enjoyed this one a bit more, despite there being a fairly strong note of melancholy in the ending, and some real awfulness between the characters.
The mystery was okay: it took some untangling, and I didn’t call the final twist. I wasn’t in love with the characters and their attitudes toward each other — okay, I disliked it quite a bit — and the narrator is pretty much a non-entity (aside from being a Moaning Minnie about everything), and Jeremy seems like a dick. There is something interesting about the mildness of Dennis placed beside his obvious competence and self-assurance, though. I did find the character of Eleanor to be an interesting study, really: that strange utter selfishness about preserving her relationship with her husband, alongside the narrator’s obvious reverence for her.
In the end, it was an entertaining enough read, but not one that will stick with me in any way.
Julian Symons was, I think, a good writer — just one I don’t get along with very well. He plays well with perspective and voice, and he can certainly put together a story — which is not an impression another repeat British Library Crime Classic author I detest gives me (John Dickson Carr, sorry folks) — but I just don’t enjoy his books. This is the third book of his I’ve read, and I think I appreciate them less with each successive book I read. It doesn’t matter that I know he did his research, or even that I’m curious about the true story that germinated the idea for him. I just… don’t like the book.
Which I hate to say, because I’ve enjoyed most of my tour into Golden Age crime fiction to one degree or another (E.C.R. Lorac’s books very much; Gil North’s, not at all)… but Symons’ work just doesn’t work for me. I’m always feeling like I picked up a smooth dry-looking stone and found a craggy wormy maggoty mess under it. It just leaves me feeling icky. There’s no characters you can really unambiguously enjoy, either because they’re fun caricatures or because they’re people you can root for: everything’s just complicated and messy, and the ending feels like a relief just because it’s over with (though it’s not a relief because it ends on a massive downer).
Not the era/genre of crime fiction that tends to end with the world set to rights, clearly!