In The Hollow Man, some thinly characterised people try to work out a locked room mystery, probably less paper-thin than they seem for some readers since it’s actually the sixth or so entry in a long running series, but really not sufficient for someone just starting out. Various implausibilities are discussed, unlikely red herrings crop up, and in the end there’s a shocking reveal, the trick is explained, and no one of any consequence to the reader has changed or grown at all.
As a puzzle story, it’s not bad, but I don’t quite get the hype about John Dickson Carr if this is typical of his work. It feels like the story and characters are thin layers of papier-mâché covering what the author really wanted to do, which was just play with that puzzle. It’s not unusual for a Golden Age crime novel, but from the enthusiasm of other readers I assumed there would be more to it than this. I’ll probably try another book or so by Carr — series detectives like his Gideon Fell can be a difficult proposition, but other books not featuring this character might be okay (reader, I hate Poirot, but Agatha Christie is really not bad when you leave him out of it). This wasn’t bad, I just didn’t care.
A Kiss Before Dying is basically about a charming psychopath, and it feels same-y because I find that whole concept really overdone and boring at this point. The story is cleverly structured, and Levin’s writing isn’t bad or boring, but… the choice of topic and the twists are just kind of meh. Basically, a young man is dating a girl because her father has money. He has her totally hooked, everything’s in the bag, and then she gets pregnant. Her father’s old-fashioned and would’ve disowned her, so he knows that the jig is up — and he can’t ditch the girl, because then her father would probably ruin him. So he decides to kill her.
We jump forward to the girl’s sister investigating her death, sleuthing around the campus where her sister died and generally threatening to open up a whole can of worms for the killer. After that — well, this is one of those books where you probably want to read the reveal for yourself, so I won’t spoiler. (Everything I’ve mentioned so far is pretty surface-level stuff that might even be in the summary, don’t worry!)
I did enjoy looking out for the scene that Chelsea Cain, in the introduction, says is completely innocuous to someone who just opens the book at that page, and is a shocker for anyone who has been reading the whole thing. She’s right, it is a pretty awesome moment, if you’re keeping an eye on the details.
So meh, because I’m bored with the allure of a charming psychopath, but the writing and structuring is good, and it’s probably right up a lot of people alleys.
My Sister, The Serial Killer follows the main character, Korede, as she cleans up after her sister, Ayoola. That’s pretty much entirely literal: you see, Ayoola has developed a bad habit of killing the men she dates, and Korede has become sucked into the role of an accomplice. Everything in her life is just so, but then Ayoola storms on in with her problems, and Korede finds herself handling dead bodies and confessing only to a comatose man in the hospital who is expected never to recover. And then, gasp — Ayoola comes to the hospital where Korede works, and sets her eyes on the young doctor Korede has a crush on.
For the most part, I found this kind of pedestrian. Korede gets jealous about Tade (the doctor) and Ayoola; obviously, in trying to call Ayoola out, she just sounds jealous and unhinged. The comatose man to whom she’s been making her confessions wakes up and (of course) remembers the things she said. Ayoola is unfaithful and capricious. And yet, the sisterly bond is still there, and Korede can’t bring herself to break it: she’s meant to look after Ayoola…
I don’t know: for the most part this all just struck me as inevitable and I got a little impatient with it. I did check back in a little for the end of the story, wondering exactly how it would wrap up — and it avoided being completely banal and obvious.
I do enjoy the setting of this book, and the fact that Braithwaite makes no concessions for people who are unfamiliar. She just talks about the local food, local customs, and expects the reader to keep up. (Not that it’s particularly difficult, but I think the temptation is there sometimes for people to cater to the Anglo and American readers a little too much.) The story is shaped by the setting — the Nigerian police force don’t go about the case like an episode of CSI, giving the story about the sisters space to breathe, but there are other pressures on them from the people around them, from the relationship with technology (Snapchat is important in the story, for instance)… In that sense, it works quite well.
I’m afraid I’m still left rather “meh” overall, regardless. It’s easy to read, but it’s also easy to put down (for me, anyway).
In this book, Daisy gets involved in a whole new kind of case — one that involves her with the police in America, along with whispers of corruption in the local government, vast amounts of gun crime… and a babysitter arranged for her while Alec is away to try and stop her getting into trouble. (Spoiler: he doesn’t succeed.) This is a very different setting for Daisy and it feels much less cosy, because she’s in a lot more genuine danger at times.
At the same time, there’s a whole section of the book that finally picks up on Alec having been a pilot, featuring an air chase across the US. Pretty epic stuff.
I feel like the this book was somewhat lacking because it has so few familiar characters. Ms Genevieve/Eugene Cannon is pretty awesome, a now-retired former crime reporter who wrote under a male pseudonym for acceptance, but otherwise I missed Daisy’s friends and family, and Alec’s team at the Yard. I’m quite, quite ready for Daisy to be home now. I worried about this series getting too formulaic for me, but with more variation in the background, I missed some of the more routine characters.
I just wish Daisy would go ahead and become a PI, honestly. At least that would put a figleaf over the glaring fact that nobody accidentally finds so many corpses!
Death at Bishop’s Keep follows mostly two characters: the first one being Kathryn Ardleigh, a thoroughly modern and independent American lady, and the second being Sir Charles, an English gentleman with an interest in… well, all kinds of things, from murders to mushrooms. It opens with Kathryn, though, as she’s offered a job with her heretofore unknown British aunt, and travels across to England in order to become her secretary. She quickly finds that though the situation sounds ideal — with a generous salary — she has two aunts, one of whom is repressive and cruel, and plans to treat her like a servant instead of as family. All is not well in the household, as it’s clear that her Aunt Jaggers has some kind of hold over her Aunt Sabrina, and disapproves of the work Sabrina has employed Kathryn to do.
Meanwhile, Sir Charles finds himself investigating a murder, since the local police seem unlikely to do anything about it. Between that and neighbourly visits, he finds himself thrown into Kathryn’s company a lot. They don’t quite investigate together, but their paths keep crossing, and when Kathryn’s aunts both die violently of poisoning, Charles finds himself eager to help Kathryn discover exactly what happened.
The best thing about the book is the possibly too anachronistic Kathryn, who also happens to be a writer of lurid short stories (which is her motivation for getting involved in any trouble or intriguing situation she can — she mines it for her books!). The writing is mostly workmanlike rather than particularly exciting, and the solution to the mystery was pretty obvious from the moment a certain plot element was introduced.
Nonetheless, it was a fun enough read — though not one where I’m eager to read the rest of the series. Part of that is because I’m told Sir Charles becomes the main character to a greater degree, and part of it is that there was just something fairly pedestrian about this in the end. Kate’s an interesting character, but not in the same way as my other favourite mystery heroines. If the other books are on Kindle Unlimited, I might pick them up sometime, but I’m not in a hurry.
In this book, Daisy and Alec have got married and they’re off on a cruise to the US. Because Daisy is Daisy, she quickly runs into a murder, and Alec is unwillingly drawn into the case because he’s the only policeman on board, and everyone turns to his experience (not to mention his rank). We get to spend some more time with Gloria and her father, and endure one of those typical “gold digging girl from the stage marries a millionaire with ill-intent” plots.
Mostly meh, in retrospect, though Daisy and Alec’s relationship and interactions remain fun.
Busman’s Honeymoon isn’t the most substantial story, though it does have insights into married life and the kind of compromise necessary to couples. Harriet and Peter talk out the problems they encounter, and it’s a delight. In this book they finally get married — mostly covered in excerpts from letters and diaries, including some delightful glimpses into Peter’s mother’s life and way of thinking — and go off to spend their honeymoon in their new house, a place Harriet knew as a child. When they arrive, the owner is unexpectedly absent, and things are all at sixes and sevens… and of course, it turns out that the owner is actually dead.
Naturally, Harriet and Peter are drawn into the investigation, finding that it quickly disturbs their married bliss… and that they can find a way through it by communicating, being patient with one another, compromising (although never in a way that compromises their values). Anyone who knows my usual rants about the issues with romance novels and indeed with people in general will see how that delights me!
And as always, it’s cleverly and often wittily written, full of allusions and references. Sayers isn’t afraid of making you work at it, sometimes, and that’s also fun.
I read this around Christmas, because it’s seasonal, and why not? It’s a set-up with tonnes of atmosphere: heavy snow falls, trapping trains on the tracks where they stand, and a group of travellers leave to try and walk to their destinations, or a working station, or just because of sheer boredom. The weather worsens, however, and one of them twists an ankle, and so they end up sheltering in a house they find empty, but open and ready as if for visitors. The mystery grows as a couple of other people join them, and as they explore the house. This is even one of the sort of mystery novels where there’s a hint of the supernatural, as a paranormal investigator is one of the group, and another susceptible member of the company finds herself experiencing weird episodes of pain and fear.
In the end, there’s some down to earth murder going on as well, and a touch of romance. To be honest, although I’ve enjoyed Farjeon’s other books, this one rang a little hollow for me and I wasn’t as keen. He does the atmosphere pretty well, but the characters are an odd bunch who wear their flaws rather openly, and I honestly just got confused by the comings and goings and mysterious happenings. It relies on coincidence a bit too much, and just… doesn’t in the end quite work for me. Sad, since I was sure it’d be a good one!
Gaudy Night looks to be the chunkiest of Sayers’ novels on my bookshelf: in effect, it’s a book-length musing on women and education, on equality in a relationship, and in doing the thing that you’re best suited to do — and making the sacrifices that may entail. Although there’s another book after this, it’s really the culmination of the series in some ways, resolving the romance between Peter and Harriet, and finally bringing the two of them into balance.
The plot itself takes Harriet to Oxford, a place she’s avoided since before she was tried for the murder of her lover. She didn’t think she could go back, after both taking a lover and being tried for his murder (even if she was acquitted), but she quickly finds there’s still a place for her there, and a life that has its charms of quiet contemplation and good hard work. She’s asked to stay there to help them track down something rather odd going on in their midst, a cross between a poison pen and a poltergeist, bent on causing disturbances that will reflect badly on the good name of the college — something that could be a pretty harsh blow to women’s education. In the meantime, she gets embroiled in various rivalries and misunderstandings, meets Peter’s nephew, and generally gets herself into trouble.
Really, the mystery isn’t as important to this book as Harriet’s struggle to forgive herself, and to begin to trust again after what happened to her. Although it’s been some time since the trial, she hasn’t really been confronting the demons and letting the wounds heal, and this book makes her do so. It also makes her really look at Peter, and discover how she actually feels about him.
It’s a book that dramatises badly: the BBC television adaptation is by far my least favourite of the three with Edward Petherbridge, despite the manifest delights of both him and Harriet Walter’s performance. The BBC radioplay is actually narrated by Harriet, and sticks much closer to the book, and so is more successful as a cohesive listening experience, though perhaps less so as a dramatisation. It’s a pretty insular book, and I think you may have to love Harriet, Peter, Oxford, or all of the above, to really appreciate it.
I really do. The thing that excites me most about Harriet and Peter as a couple is the fact that from their first meeting, everything hinges on them becoming equals and seeing each other as such — this isn’t a relationship where either of them subordinates their own wishes. Both are fully formed people, and Peter wants it that way — and Harriet doesn’t know or believe that he does, instead believing that any relationship will involve the subjugation of one to the other. Her realisation is beautiful, and Peter’s patience with bringing her there likewise. I think that aspect of the books has aged well, even if the concern about educating women to a high level seems much less relevant.
Styx and Stones is basically the same as the other Daisy Dalrymple books in its basic outline: somehow, Daisy ends up finding a dead body, and getting embroiled in the case to discover exactly what happened, despite Alec’s best efforts. In this case, she gets involved because her brother-in-law asks for her help in a little matter of someone writing poison pen letters to him — and perhaps to various other people in the village. Taking Alec’s daughter Belinda with her for a holiday, Daisy charges right in to see what can be done.
It’s a generally enjoyable book, with Daisy enjoying the quiet village life and poking her nose in everywhere. Her reactions to the local Scarlet Woman are, as you’d expect from her character and the fact that she’s designed to appeal to a modern reader, tentative but overall positive. As usual, she quickly decides who can’t have done it, based on personal feelings, and lets that colour her whole view of the case — and lead her somewhat astray at times.
My enjoyment of this book is mostly marred by the fact that there is a patently ridiculous chapter in which Alec decides Daisy’s been dragging his daughter into danger, Daisy has a tantrum about it and returns the engagement ring, and then they swiftly make up because Belinda gets sad about it. I’m not sure Alec ever really deals with the fact that he’s mad about Belinda getting into danger, and Daisy never really answers the accusation that she got Belinda into a nasty atmosphere (because I do think Alec has a point that maybe a village where someone is writing nasty and potentially threatening poison pen letters is maybe not the best place to take a child), and basically proper communication and discussion never really happens. I mean, it’s cute and all, but hmm. If there was an issue to begin with, it never does get resolved.
That being said, still a mostly enjoyable book, with a couple of little twists on the subject of who is writing the letters and who did the murder, for variety.