A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem, Manda Collins
A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem is a light mystery-romance, where the romance feels like the more important element of the two. Kate Bascomb is a reporter, the owner of a newspaper she took over after her husband died, and she’s determined to champion women and shine a light on things women are kept sheltered from in England of 1865. Andrew Eversham is a detective inspector, and her investigative reporting endangers his career as she quickly finds a witness his team entirely neglected to speak to, with crucial evidence about a string of murders.
Naturally, the two get drawn together personally, particularly after the killings start getting very close to Kate, who discovers a body while on a visit to a friend’s country home. The murders were confined to London at first, but suddenly they seem to have followed her… and thus so does Eversham. The sparks of attraction between them are very obvious, and this was the shakiest part of the book for me: they leapt from lust to love in mere pages, with very little provocation. I’d expected a bit more will-they-won’t-they, but it was remarkably straightforward. At least they mostly managed to communicate like adults, which can be a big bugbear for me.
I thought it was light and frothy and fairly inconsequential, and for the most part, I was fine with that. Kate and her friend Caro were fun, and I appreciated the friendship between Kate and Val, as well — I was very relieved when there was no sign of sexual interest or jealousy on either of them’s part, and their quasi-sibling relationship was rather fun. Much of the setting and characters are sketched in fairly lightly; historical fiction this is not, if that’s what you’re hoping for… and the mystery was fairly light too.
When I try to sum it all up, it all seems pretty thin and like I’m damning it with faint prize, but it was a genuinely fun reading experience, and a nice way to spend my day, picking it up here and there to read a chapter whenever I could. It’s unlikely to stick in my head, but I’d happily read another Manda Collins book or even another book in this series.
He’d Rather Be Dead is another of George Bellairs’ Inspector Littlejohn stories; I’m not reading them in any kind of order, just picking them up as I come across them or find them on Kindle Unlimited, and luckily that doesn’t matter — you can jump in anywhere. Littlejohn’s character doesn’t really change or develop: it’s purely about the mystery he’s investigating. In this case, it’s the death of the local Mayor, who died at a banquet surrounded by potential enemies made due to his corruption and efforts to revitalise the town in a way the inhabitants see as vulgar.
As with The Case of the Famished Parson, which I read recently, a lot of the opening detail is a red herring: the events of the banquet are relatively unimportant, and Boumphrey — who gets a decent introduction — quickly fades into the background and even becomes rather a suspicious character.
I do enjoy that with George Bellairs’ work, you can usually follow Littlejohn’s reasoning. As the evidence comes to light, the reader gets to see it too. He’s no Sherlock Holmes, all ego and long explanations of his own cleverness; he’s decent and honest, and basically what an ideal policeman should be.
The kind of odd thing with this particular instalment was that it ended with several chapters of the killer’s diary, which just went over information we already knew, in a rather florid style. It doesn’t add much, and honestly… I’d skip it. Otherwise, an enjoyable enough mystery, with George Bellairs’ usual qualities.
I got this because a) someone in the Legendary Book Club of Habitica guild on Habitica named it as one of their favourite books for a group readalong, and b) I’ve been meaning to try Dorothy Gilman’s books for a while (albeit I usually get recommended the Mrs Pollifax books). At the beginning, Amelia finds a note hidden in a hurdy-gurdy in the antique shop she’s recently purchased.
Amelia’s had a life half-sheltered by adults (her father, and then a psychiatrist her father paid to help her) and half-wrenched awry by the suicide of her mother when she was a child; she’s very naive at times, and yet surprisingly strong and driven once she finds something to care about… and she quickly comes to care about the contents of that note, which allege that the writer was held captive and forced to sign some kind of document she didn’t want to sign, and that she knows she will soon be killed. Amelia wants to find her, wants to know what happened, and she sets about doing just that.
I found myself caring a lot about Amelia and her quest; it all fell together almost too neatly, the coincidences all lining up to provide clues and to hook Amelia closer into her little quest… but something about her frank tone and determination won me over. Joe’s less knowable, given the narration, but the way he decides to help her with her little quest makes his character work for me as well. The relationship between them is a little quick, but it’s kind of like in Mary Stewart’s novels — in the context, I don’t really question it.
Pretty enjoyable, anyway! And I will have to read more of Dorothy Gilman’s work.
Blood and Circuses didn’t quite satisfy the hunger for rereading Phryne’s adventures, since it’s atypical in some ways. I joked on Litsy that I was rereading the series for the delicious dresses and beautiful food (with the adjectives that way round!) — and there’s certainly a good helping of that here, along with the first appearance of Phryne’s Chinese lover, Lin Chung. I can’t speak for how accurate or respectful his portrayal is; Greenwood is certainly sympathetic to the Chinese people living in Melbourne at the time, but there’s a fair amount of exoticisation going on there (as there is with Phryne herself, of course, but still).
Never having really known a serious actor personally, I find the way Greenwood portrays them bewilderingly malicious at times. I mean, Sir Bernard isn’t so bad, and Mollie Webb, but there’s so much spite, vanity and callousness flying around… particularly in the person of the beautiful Leila Esperance.
In any case, it’s a pretty fun one, and especially entertaining to see Greenwood portray a Welshman (even one who’s such a cad).
Blood and Circuses is, of course, a reread for me — the book in which Phryne Fisher joins the circus to work out a mystery, at the pleading (and goading) of her carnie friends… while at the same time, a horrible murder has taken place which Jack Robinson must investigate. It’s always interesting to see Phryne out of her element, because that’s when she has to be her most resourceful, and the circus is a whole new world for her.
There’s also Lizard Elsie, and her adventures with Miss Parkes and Constable Harris, which keep things entertaining (to say the least).
It always feels like it takes a while to heat up, and then suddenly flies by once Phryne’s there in the circus. It’s surprising to realise how fast it goes. I always enjoy this one, and I’m particularly entertained (as ever!) by the scene in which the clown and the carnie have to cuddle Phryne to help her get over her shock…
I really need to read more of the Xuya stories and novellas all at once, because I like the world but it always takes me some adjustment time. The Citadel of Weeping Pearls stands alone, though, and once you get your head around the fact that it’s based on Vietnamese culture and customs (but in a space empire), it flows along smoothly. Bright Princess Ngoc Minh has been missing for years, along with her Citadel, after her mother the Empress sent armies against her. Grand Master Bach Cuc has been searching for her, and seemed to be close to a breakthrough, but now she’s missing — and Diem Huong, a commoner who lost her mother on the Citadel, is also about to conduct an experiment that may send her to the Citadel.
I found that the only thing that bothered me was the number of POVs, and that was mostly while I was settling into the story. It was obvious why we needed the various POVs by the end; without them, the Empress seems just horrible (instead of a woman who makes horrible decisions believing they are for everyone’s good, which is a different sort of horrible), Ngoc Ha seems too wishy-washy… but together they all work out and show a sad story, examining the bonds between families, and the terrible things an Empress might do for the good of everyone (or not).
It works really well as a novella; I think it’s perfect at this length.
Inspector Littlejohn is supposed to be on holiday, taking a break after running himself into the ground on too many cases. As ever, a busman’s honeymoon is sure to follow, and Littlejohn finds himself investigating the murder of a parson, found in an astonishingly emaciated state with his head bashed in. Needless to say, it isn’t a very restful holiday, and Littlejohn even finds himself shot while he’s still making routine inquiries…
When I first read one of Bellairs’ books in the British Library Crime Classics, I thought it was fun, and I’ve definitely found that to be so with all his books. Maybe not the most inventive or technically brilliant, but likeable. I feel like Bellairs really enjoyed writing these books, these competent mysteries where the world is restored to rights by the finding and apprehending of the killer — without police violence, without prying too deeply into people’s psyches. Somehow cosy, even when the crimes are horrible. The Case of the Famished Parson fits well into that mould, and I enjoyed it very much.
I do have to say that I’d expected something a bit more weird, from that title. In the end, the fact that the man was starving is the least part of the mystery — easily sorted out, though it does have a part to play in explaining what happened.
I probably won’t be picking up another book by Bellairs immediately — but I’ll definitely be picking one up again in the near-ish future. They’re even on Kindle Unlimited!
I was really in the mood to reread one of Mary Stewart’s novels, and I felt pretty nostalgic about The Gabriel Hounds. I thought I’d remember it pretty well, but there was actually a bit in the middle I was more vague on and that I could swear had happened in a different Mary Stewart book… In any case, The Gabriel Hounds follows Christy, separated from her group on a package tour of the Lebanon. Reminded that her great-aunt lives in the area, and surprised by the legends that seem to have grown up around her, Christy resolves to see the old lady — and thus finds herself plunged into a whole mess.
As ever, Stewart had an excellent way of bringing the landscape to life, not just the sights (I can’t imagine those anyway) but the smells and the impressions, and even somehow something of the light and the quality of the air. She’s very good at invoking an idealised, picturesque landscape — and some real nastiness, as well, of course, but that’s more commonplace. She’s not so bad with character, either — spoiled, sharp Christy; kind Hamid, who almost felt like he should be a bigger character or get some much better reward out of the story; poor Lethman…
I should warn readers that the love interests are full cousins, whose fathers were twins; cousin-marriage happens a couple of times in Mary Stewart’s books, but this one is closer than most, and lays particular emphasis on the two growing up like siblings. It might gross you out, so I mention it even though it’s a spoiler.
The actual plot is fairly obvious, and the romance almost perfunctory… but it has a kind of magic anyway.
Holy moly, this is lovely. I was urged to get this to do a review on it for Postcrossing (check out my others on the Postcrossing blog!), so it was one of the things I bought with my Christmas gift cards… and I’m glad I did. It’s an epistolary story, showing both the fronts and backs of postcards and — in little pouches, from which you have to pull out actual letters which are handwritten (Sabine) or typewritten (Griffin) — letters sent between Griffin (an artist who creates postcards) and Sabine (an artist who illustrates stamps).
Sabine has been seeing Griffin’s art in her dreams for years, and reaches out to him via a postcard once she finally finds out who he is and how to contact him (through running across his artwork). After just a few postcards are exchanged, she proves to him that she knows his art like no one else can, and they quickly forge a connection despite the physical distance between them. It’s a love story, and a mystery: how are they connected? Why are they connected? What does it mean?
It’s a lovely reading experience; the pouches are a nice gimmick, and they really give you a sense of discovery. I’m not super great with visual detail, but the fronts of the postcards (illustrated by Griffin and Sabine, in the story) and the decorations on envelopes and letters add quite a bit. It’s a very short read, but worthwhile — and that ending! I’ve ordered the next two books.
Wow, this book is such a complete downer. It features a divorced private detective who is investigating the theft of intellectual property (special designs for the items produced) at Shentall’s Pottery, who stumbles into a much darker mystery of the death of someone at the firm. It’s both a whodunnit and a who-was-done-in, with a structure that has the body discovered at the start, then a flashback to the investigation of the thefts, and then the aftermath.
It’s difficult to say much about the story without spoilers, but perhaps the least spoilery thing is that the detective falls in love with one of the people he’s investigating. When she finds out the truth, she’s less than pleased — even though she was keeping her own secrets all along, of course. The structure and this “love” story (which comes across as fairly creepy, since he snoops among her things and takes her out places on false pretences) are the story’s pretensions to a literary mode, rather than a paint-by-numbers crime story… but honestly, I prefer the paint-by-numbers. This is undoubtedly better written, but it’s grubby and psychological and slow.
Maybe if I was in it for the kind of story it turns out to be, I’d have enjoyed it more, but it lacks what many of the British Library Crime Classics have. It’s not a ‘cosy’ for me, as many of this series of reissues are; feels way too personal and definitely far too drear. There’s a certain attention to detail, of understanding the industry that she’s writing about, which makes this book stand out… and some of the psychological stuff and the interplay between the detective and the beloved would work better for me in a different context — but I can’t say I enjoyed it.