Killing is My Business is very much in the same vein as the first book: Raymond Electromatic is one of the world’s last robots, originally designed as a private investigator, and co-opted by his partner Ada to become a hitman. He has a little limitation: he can only remember the past 24 hours, along with the background information that’s hard-coded and gives him his skills.
The feel is very Chandler-esque, and the story slips by quickly. The one frustrating thing for some people might be the fact that some things are obvious to the reader before they’re obvious to the narrator, due to the gaps in his memory. Personally, I thought that was well-handled, but if all you care about is getting to the answer then you might feel like shrieking a bit.
I’ve never read the third book, and I’m looking forward to it now; the ending of this book does some really nice setup for the truth to come out.
It took me a bit longer to get into Tears of Pearl than with the other Lady Emily books, and partly that’s because Emily arrives in Constantinople and is promptly a total British tourist and has the most typical imaginable reactions to everything, including her opinions on the treatment of women. Sure, it mentions the relative freedom some of the women have, but… it all felt really shallow.
It’s also a bit weird to read this book and find it so similar to Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamour in Glass in terms of Emily’s thoughts and fears about pregnancy and childbirth. It makes total sense that it was a preoccupation for women at that time, and these books already inclined more toward historical mystery than romance, so an exploration makes sense… and even the end of the book makes total sense as the obvious thing to happen (trying to be vague here, because of spoilers), but I’ve read that plot before in a book that I love, so it kind of hit weirdly for me.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll stick with Lady Emily; I do enjoy her preoccupation with classical things, and her unconventionality, and her warmth for her friends — and of course her funny dialogue with Colin. But I struggled to get started with this one, and got involved more with how the mystery was solved than with the emotional stuff going on. It’s too soon to say if I’ve fallen out of the series, and I’ll give it another book at least — especially since I read two-thirds of this book almost all in one go… but I’m wondering.
I don’t love this book as much as I love The Goblin Emperor, but that would be very difficult, and there is a lot to love about this book all the same. It follows Thara Celehar, and has very little to do with the first book, except in expanding what Celehar does and showing us his witnessing first hand. It also expands the world far beyond the court, so that we get to see how ordinary people live and interact — a thing which Maia will never, ever see, and which I think he would find fascinating.
The book is a murder mystery, essentially — actually, several — and also features more directly obvious magic than in the first book. There are ghouls and ghosts, and Celehar’s ability to commune with the dead is also a much bigger part. Inevitably, the various stories come together to some degree, but it doesn’t come together in too neat a knot; they aren’t all related. (For fellow mystery fans, I have to say that I don’t think you can actually work this one out for yourself; we don’t have enough information about a particular character to be able to discern their motive, means or opportunity.)
Celehar is just as tortured a character as he seemed from the previous book, and it should be noted that (in this book at least) there’s comparatively little comfort for him. There is a short scene where another character does manage to lighten the burden of his conscience, and he also makes a friend… though the friendship — and the potential that it could be more — also frightens him, because he isn’t over the secret he confesses to Maia in The Goblin Emperor. If you’re looking for something that feels as hopeful as The Goblin Emperor, then this isn’t it; Celehar is deeply guilty, and though his care for his work and his compassion for the dead are as sincere as Maia’s goodness, he is not driven by the same need to be mindful, to be good. He’s a very different character, and it gives the book a different mood and flavour.
In a way, this is a mash-up of Addison’s other books, The Goblin Emperor and The Angel of the Crows, and I don’t love it quite as much as either. I think it suffers somewhat from brevity — at 275 pages, I was wondering how it could possibly be tied up by 314 pages, and the answer is that a couple of the story threads feel rushed — but despite that, I liked it a lot.
If you like Raymond Chandler’s work and you like SF/F, then this is the fusion you’re looking for! It was a reread for me, and I remembered liking it very much, but not the details of the plot. Adam Christopher manages to pastiche Chandler’s style pretty well: he doesn’t manage to coin as many phrases, and there’s nothing to beat ‘shop-worn Galahad’ and other pithy descriptions in the way that Chandler excelled at… but nonetheless it captures the style and pace of a Chandler story.
Mind you, this isn’t a Philip Marlowe retelling, or something like that. It’s basically “what if Chandler wrote science fiction?” — meaning the main character is a robot. Raymond Electromatic was created as a detective, but after the intervention and tweaks by Ada, who runs the agency, he’s a hitman. Those detection skills come in handy, though, when someone actually shows up at the office with a bag full of gold bars and a pretty face, asking him to kill someone. Ada and Ray don’t normally get jobs like that… but the gold is pretty hard to resist.
What unfolds is a detective story that unfolds in a pretty classic way. There’s a good helping of pulp in this, and that makes it a joyful romp — as long as you aren’t expecting it to be too serious. It’s meant to be fun, and for me it works.
At first, reading The Murder Next Door felt like reading the nth book in an ongoing series. There were references to previous investigations, and bits of one of the protagonists’ past were peeping through, and it just felt like there was a whole previous book or even series being referenced. I knew it was the author’s debut, though, from other reviews, so I stuck with it and can confirm that the information you need is all contained within this book, that you don’t need to know about the previous investigations (aside from that they were ill-received by the local police), and that the characters and their motivations all fully make sense by the end.
The story itself is not so unique: the couple next door have always seemed a little haughty and aloof, but beneath the surface, the husband was abusive and unfaithful, and the wife was terrified and fed up. Louisa and Ada become involved when the husband suddenly dies, and it’s clear it was poison: Ada saw the wife fleeing with her young son, and is haunted by another woman who was once arrested for murder.
Where it becomes a little less typical is the fact that Ada and Louisa are a couple, with Ada acting as Louisa’s ‘companion’ in order to hide the truth of their relationship. What’s more, Louisa is actually asexual (though she doesn’t have that word for it), and her relationship with Ada is a balancing act of trying to read cues she doesn’t understand, and trying to ensure the relationship is also satisfying for Ada. That aspect of the book was handled pretty well: that navigation between them rings true.
Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable story once I got into it and felt sure that all the pieces would be present in the same book (and that I wouldn’t have to find some other book to figure out why Ada was so affected by the case). I did find the characters a little… wooden, I suppose, in some ways? There were some scenes where things definitely rang true, and then others where it felt that the characters were arguing or agreeing solely because that’s what the plot needed in order to proceed. Sometimes it felt like a bit of a shortcut, I suppose.
So I guess the upshot is that it was enjoyable, just not brilliant.
This could easily have felt really prurient and invasive, given its focus on the various bloody murders that fascinated Victorian society — or too bloodless and dry despite the topic, if it got too academic. I found that Flanders steered a perfect path; it might still be too dry for those who are mostly interested in the murder part of it, but I found it really fascinating, especially as someone who studied the development of crime fiction in novel-form (mostly in the following century).
Flanders does hop about in time a little bit, which gets frustrating and a little confusing. It’s partly because the chapters are grouped thematically, which mostly does work, though since it marks a progression over time then maybe it could have been managed a little better. There are lots of examples to illustrate the trends being discussed, plus images where appropriate as well.
There’s lots of referencing at the end, which is always reassuring in a non-fic work like this. All in all, I’d be happy to read more by Flanders.
If this was just any book, I might rate it a little higher, given that I tore through it in three sittings, and would eagerly have done so in one. But because it’s a book in this series, I have to compare it in my mind to the other mysteries, and I don’t think it quite matched up.
The thing that bothered me, really, was that Stoker really doesn’t want to be dragged into the mystery, and yet Veronica insists she knows what’s good for him, dragging him into danger again and again. That’s been the case for a while now, but in this book he genuinely didn’t seem that intrigued or happy to be dragged into a mystery. His worries about Veronica and her need for adventure rang very true, while Veronica just steamed ahead pulling him with her into any mess she could conceivably manage to traipse through.
However, the danger didn’t seem nearly as real in the other books, and the way they stumble out of the final danger just felt so unbelievably convenient and contrived. It took the whole book to get there, and they’re barely in trouble for a chapter before it’s all fixed up — and most of the time they are in trouble, they spend it having a lovers’ tiff.
This all sounds very critical, but I gulped this book down. The pace starts a little slow, but the mysteries are tantalising enough to drag you into it — and there is some genuine pathos and a little character development, mostly toward the end. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s good fun; it’s just not the best.
I basically sat down and devoured Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Chianti Flask in two sittings (one before dinner, one after). It’s not very typical of the British Library Crime Classics, being deeply interested in character and motivation, and it felt rather… mournful. The main character’s despondence and depression is rather vivid, and the love affair too. It’s much less about the crime and more the aftermath of it. In some ways, it felt almost like a romance, albeit one scarred through the middle by the mystery which hangs around it.
Given the trial setting at the beginning, and the accusation of a woman of being a poisoner (and dealing with that even after having been acquitted), it has a couple of similarities to Sayers’ Strong Poison in theme, but it is not the usual comfortable, well-worn Golden Age mystery I tend to expect from the British Library Crime Classics. (That’s not a bad thing! I go to them because they’re mostly Golden Age or Golden Age-esque, and I can expect a mildly interesting mystery and the world being set to rights.)
I don’t know how much I liked it, actually: the depression of the main character is really compelling, and then the romance is rather intense (and sometimes wretched). But it almost doesn’t matter if I liked it: I rather admired it — despite not loving the writer’s style at first. I certainly don’t regret spending the time on it, which is an experience I’ve had with some of the other atypical British Library Crime Classics (The Spoilt Kill comes to mind).
This was a mostly unremarkable mystery, except that the focus was on characters of the lower classes, and on an area and professions that most books of the period avoid. I knew nothing about the laws for the relief of the poor before I read this book, and you get a bit of a flavour of what that was actually like, because the book is set so firmly in that world.
Otherwise, I didn’t find it too remarkable, and I found the misunderstandings between the characters a bit infuriating (Dalek voice: comm-un-i-cate! comm-un-i-cate!) — so all in all it wasn’t hugely enjoyable for me, beyond being a bit curious about how it all worked out and about the setting.
It did also include a very gruesome discovery of a body that I’d like to stop thinking about now, thanks.
Calamity in Kent is narrated by a journalist who happens to stumble across an amazing scoop — a really unique murder case — while recuperating at the seaside. In a further amazing stroke of luck, the Scotland Yard man assigned to the case is someone he already knows, and they swiftly strike a bargain to help each other. Thus does Jimmy manage to inveigle himself into the investigation, and provide some of the key pieces of evidence… while phoning it all in to his paper, of course.
I didn’t much like Jimmy, really, and the pile-up of coincidences that made the story run right from the start were annoying. Still, as a locked room mystery, I found it entertaining enough, and of course, I wasn’t picking up a classic crime novel expecting complex motivations and realistic plots! For what I expected, it delivered: a puzzle of a mystery, the pieces to put it together, and a Golden Age-typical ending where all’s well at the end. I know that sounds like damning it with faint praise, but I don’t think all of these crime novels are intended to be works of art. They’re entertainment, and that’s what you get.
(There certainly are crime novels which are works of art, and novels in this series of reissues which are better than others — E.C.R. Lorac’s always have a finer touch about them, for instance. But entertainment is a worthy end too.)
It’s perhaps not my favourite of the series, and I don’t think I loved Rowland’s other novel in the series either, but I wouldn’t sniff at reading another of Rowland’s books if it gets brought out in one of these editions.