Tag: mystery

Review – The Murder Next Door

Posted September 15, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Murder Next Door by Sarah BellThe Murder Next Door, Sarah Bell

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic Bleeds

Posted September 14, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Bleeds by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bleeds, Ilona Andrews

NB: this is posted out of order from my other Kate Daniels reviews, as it was in the backlog! 

Magic Bleeds is the fourth book of the series, and some things are finally really heating up — not just Kate’s relationship with Curran, although that happens, but also Kate’s secrets, her problems with the Order, her growing attachment to her friends and acquaintances. She’s in a hell of a mess, and the mess is coming for everyone she cares about.

Of course, I was also attracted by the various plagues that break out or attempt to break out in this book. The practically sentient syphilis really caught my attention, as you’d expect, and was a hell of a start to the story. Kate’s not exactly built to contain a real plague, but magically-virulent ones she can actually fight.

The book also features the arrival of a certain furry asshole, and I’m not talking about Curran.

Normally I remember the third book most fondly, but actually, I think this one is probably better. Everything starts getting somewhere, and there’s development in characters and relationships which is really important to the story.

Of course, there are also some really funny moments, but I won’t spoil the jokes.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Winter’s Orbit

Posted September 11, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Winter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellWinter’s Orbit, Everina Maxwell

I don’t know why I waited on Winter’s Orbit, because it was everything I hoped it would be. I suspect it won’t appeal much to someone who hates either the SF/F genre or the romance genre: there’s both here, intertwined, and if you don’t find both satisfying then you probably won’t enjoy the book. If you’re in fandom, you’ll immediately feel at home, I think — it feels like fanfic, in the sense that it has a certain joyful use of tropes that fanfic specialises in. “There’s Only One Bed”, “Mutual Pining”, “Sharing A Sleeping Bag For Warmth”, “Arranged Marriage”, etc, etc. There’s a lot of warmth and joy that arises out of the relationship between Jainan and Kiem, and it’s lovely.

That said, I don’t want it to sound like this book is pure fluff, because it isn’t (much as I might enjoy pure fluff with these two characters). It’s quickly obvious that Jainan has been abused in the past, and that his life has been very tightly controlled… Obvious, that is, to everyone but his new partner, who thinks he’s grieving, tries to give him space, and generally tries to be decent. They talk at cross-purposes and it leaves Jainan deeply unmoored, not sure of what to do, how to behave, or where the thin ice is. That theme runs throughout the book, yet overall I’d call the tone hopeful. And that’s mostly because of Kiem, who is a sweetheart.

The story is so enjoyable because the romance is a little bit of a slow burn: the misunderstanding at first, and Jainan’s fear, mean that the initial easy route into “oops, they’re in love” is blocked, and instead there’s a fairly natural development of their relationship into awkward friendship and more. That said, the “slow burn” has nothing on the 70-parter fics you can find in fandom!

I got really invested in this, which is why I decided to bump the rating up to 5 — I rate based on my enjoyment of books, after all, not some objective measure. At one point I kept having to put the book down to make stressed noises at my wife because eeep! Eeeep! It all came together really well for me.

I get the comparisons to Red, White and Royal Blue, and also the comparisons to Ann Leckie. For once, I can’t disagree. It’s not quite the same kind of book as Ancillary Justice et al, but there are some things that feel similar.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – An Unexpected Peril

Posted September 8, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of An Unexpected Peril by Deanna RaybournAn Unexpected Peril, Deanna Raybourn

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic Slays

Posted September 7, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Magic Slays by Ilona AndrewsMagic Slays, Ilona Andrews

Magic Slays is the fifth book of the series, so I really don’t recommend jumping in here. You need to understand the dynamics of the Pack, have caught up on Kate’s ancestry, understand her relationships with Julie and Curran, etc. If you have all that info, then this book is one hell of a ride.

It’s not obvious that it’s going to be that way from the first pages. Kate’s newly created detective agency, Cutting Edge, is in trouble (totally classic for a private investigator) and she’d have trouble paying the bills if it weren’t for the advance she got from the Pack. She does get a call where Ghastek needs a favour, and naturally ends up in deep shit, at which point Andrea shows up.

So far, so good; it’s entertaining, but where are the big guns? Hold on, it’s all building up to something — and once it does, all hell breaks loose. As you’d expect from a book in this series, to be honest.

My favourite part about this book is actually not the epic stuff, though. It’s the moments where Kate and Curran clash and spar, even though they’re together now — and then they talk and work things out and support each other. Kate thinks about running, but doesn’t; Curran thinks about being the autocratic bastard he is to Kate, but doesn’t. They’re still figuring out how to fit together, but they both think it’s worth it.

And then that epilogue. Oof!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Chianti Flask

Posted September 4, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc LowndesThe Chianti Flask, Marie Belloc Lowndes

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).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Port of London Murders

Posted August 16, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Port of London Murders by Josephine BellThe Port of London Murders, Josephine Bell

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Calamity in Kent

Posted August 13, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Calamity in Kent by John RowlandCalamity in Kent, John Rowland

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Cheltenham Square Murder

Posted August 12, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Cheltenham Square Murder by John BudeThe Cheltenham Square Murder, John Bude

The Cheltenham Square Murder is a pretty standard Golden Age murder mystery, without major surprises and tending towards being a police procedural, given that the two detectives are both police — and not even Scotland Yard, but local police, albeit one of them displaced from his usual area by a holiday — and the plot follows the step by step by step of their assembly of suspects, witnesses and evidence. There’s even a map!

I’ll admit I jumped ahead to the solution by guessing who seemed most unlikely and who had the absolute best alibi, because that’s how it goes with a lot of the Golden Age novels. It ends up being fun enough, a little puzzle with low stakes for the reader, without great attachment to the innocence or guilt of any particular character. Needless to say, at the end order is restored and justice will be done — and all ends very comfortably like that.

So, not inspiring or surprising, and the writing quality doesn’t elevate it (as I would argue E.C.R. Lorac manages with most of her novels) — but fun enough if you know that’s what you’re getting, which is exactly why I picked it up!

Rating: 3/5 

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Review – A Fatal Waltz

Posted August 3, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Fatal Waltz by Tasha AlexanderA Fatal Waltz, Tasha Alexander

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!

Rating: 3/5

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