Tom is a copper, a decent one who doesn’t take bribes and keeps his neighbourhood safe. He’s hiding a past of violence and betrayal, something he walked away from for everyone’s safety. Cicero is a familiar, a shapeshifter, who works with the local magical police for protection, but hasn’t yet agreed to bond with a witch. They’re thrown together to solve two murders — which stir up horrifying echoes for both of them, of pasts they’ve tried to put behind them — and at first it seems like they’re oil and water. Cicero constantly makes assumptions about Tom based on his job and appearance, but slowly, of course, sparks start to fly.
There is of course a wrenching part of the romance (as so often) where the secrets Tom is keeping come back to haunt him, leaving Cicero feeling lied to and abandoned. Obviously there were so many opportunities to do better and to communicate with Cicero — but at least it seems to make sense that he doesn’t. He doesn’t realise his past is relevant to the case, and he’s committed to a better future, one with Cicero in it; the smart thing would be to ‘fess up, of course, but… that’s difficult, and didn’t seem important. It makes sense.
A lot of people mention not loving this book as much as the Widdershins books, but I disagree. That’s partly down to my pet peeves: Whyborne’s obsessive lack of self-esteem over the course of several books drives me nuts, and the lack of communication between him and Griffin comes back again and again and again. For that reason, this clicked better for me (which is not to say that I find nothing to enjoy in the Widdershins books).
There are some gruesome bits of this story, just as a warning. There’s also some period typical homophobia, though not amongst the main characters or anyone who matters. I’m looking forward to glimpsing Cicero and Tom in the stories of the others…
Murder at the Theatre Royale was just as much fun as I’d hoped after reading Murder Most Festive. It’s not related to the first book at all, except in that it’s set at Christmas, and the narrative positively flies by — even more so than Murder Most Festive, I’d say. I’m a little disappointed there’s nothing else by Ada Moncrieff for me to inhale, because I had a lot of fun.
The main character of this one is more appealing than Murder Most Festive, through her determined industry at an actual paying job (rather than living off an estate) and her enthusiasm for her work. Daphne King is an agony aunt for a newspaper, but she wants to branch out and do more, her appetite whetted by a little mystery she solved involving a kidnapped person writing in to her column in code. Given the opportunity to do a little work for the culture section, she jumps at it, and finds herself embroiled in the mystery of the murder of an aging actor.
Veronica, who over time becomes Daphne’s Watson, is pretty cool too — not as sharp as Daphne, but a working woman trying hard to make her way, and a good companion for a little mystery-solving adventure…
I didn’t, in this case, figure out the culprit or the true motive for a while; I had my eye on a different character, because they seemed so unlikely at first (and the unlikely answer is often true). I should’ve thought more about the information I was being given about another character!
A solid not-for-me, here. It shows its age in the attitudes to women and people of colour, and in the open portrayal of the police as being unashamedly violent, arbitrary, and prone to going around the law to get a conviction.
I feel weird about the one-star rating, given I finished it and found it absorbing enough… but would I have picked it up at all if I hadn’t already owned it, from an “advent calendar” of Golden Age crime fiction books? No, probably not. As usual, I’m rating based on my enjoyment, not the literary merit I think the book has — though that’s small enough in this case, too.
One thing that was portrayed well was the attitudes of the men on Death Row. Their reactions and interactions were interesting, their fear well-drawn, even as they themselves were still unpleasant. The horror of their situation is clear, even if their actions were reprehensible.
I found Murder Most Festive a really enjoyable quick read — maybe not something I’d come back to, but definitely a fun way to while away the last day of the year. In the best Christmas mystery tradition, most of the characters aren’t great people, the victim included, and the flawed nature of family is well on display… but there are a few highlights, like Lady Westbury (far from perfect, but kind, and brave at a particular crucial moment) and Hugh Gaveston. Lydia, too, has an interesting development, finally realising that she’s been shutting her eyes to something she should act upon, and goes ahead.
I don’t agree with people who criticise mysteries for the killer being obvious early on; I chose a character to suspect early on, and I was quite right too — in part just because I’ve read a lot of mysteries, and seen a lot of the tricks in the book, and I keep my eyes open and remember that everything is potentially significant and it’s often the most unexpected character, the one with no apparent motive, who has done the deed.
But a mystery isn’t all about the whodunnit, anyway: it’s also about the howdunnit and the whydunnit, and sometimes the when and even wheredunnit. (Dorothy L. Sayers’ Whose Body?, for example, is all of those things!) And even after all that, sometimes it’s just the howdiscoverit and howtoproveit — and even after that, there’s just the characters and how they behave to each other, how they react to being under suspicion, etc.
All this to say: I don’t think Murder Most Festive is the best mystery novel I’ve ever read, or a favourite that’s likely to stick with me, and it didn’t have me in great suspense… but it was entertaining, and sometimes that’s all we need to ask of a book.
Guardian Spirits wraps up the plot arc from the first two books beautifully, answering questions from both books and bringing our protagonists to a good place in the process. Of course, given the context, it involves dragging them through a bad place first — though this is primarily due to the outside circumstances, rather than the relationship between them. After finally communicating with each other in the second book, Henry and Vincent are ready to be supportive of each other, and to face pressure without crumbling.
We get a couple of new characters, including a love interest for Lizzie, which is cool. I find myself longing for more of Jo, though!
While I figured things out before the characters did, their blindnesses made sense and didn’t feel frustrating… and like Jordan L. Hawk often has characters communicating badly, with crises leaning on misunderstandings, that was much less the case here. (It’s a pet dislike of mine.) So that was nice too.
Overall, enjoyable end to a trilogy, or a stepping-off point for a longer series. I don’t know if Hawk is planning to write more or not, but if not, I’m okay with that.
Unfortunately for me, Dangerous Spirits features one of my least favourite tropes: the spur of the moment lie that brings all communication into a logjam and eventually splits people apart. I joke about being the relationship advice Dalek (COMM-UN-I-CATE! COMM-UN-I-CATE!) but really, it’s important, and while it’s often interesting to watch how characters and relationships break under the pressure of a lack of communication… it’s difficult for me to read.
That said, I still enjoyed many other things about this book: Henry does take some lessons to heart and grows up a little (in the end), Jo’s still amazing, Lizzie’s still amazing, and we learn more about Lizzie and Vincent’s lives, and see the arc of the trilogy bending along…
It sets things up for a better relationship in the next book, and for the third book to wrap up some of the mysteries and fears that surround the group.
Dangerous to Know really disappointed me: I picked it up and was finding it really enjoyable, having given the Lady Emily series a bit of a break. However, part of why I love the series is Emily’s independence and free thinking, and Colin’s efforts to stifle her feel out of character in their suddenness (he’s been protective before, several times, but not in the sense of flat-out saying “I’m your husband now and you’ll do as I say”).
It was nice to meet Colin’s mother (who wouldn’t approve at all of what he’s doing, I’ll add), and to have Cécile around for much of the story, and I was happy for the return of Sebastian Capet, of course. The cast and mystery remained pretty much what I would expect… it’s just Colin who was disappointing.
I’m giving him one more book to behave himself, since I own the next book, but if he really hasn’t learned his lesson, then I’m moving on from this series. I’m not looking for realism here, at least not to that extent.
In Restless Spirits, there’s an appealing cast of main characters: Henry, an inventor, and his assistant and ward, Jo, and then Vincent, a medium, and his friend, Lizzie, also a psychic. They’re all assembled at the site of a haunting as a contest between the mediums and the inventors, to prove who can best dispel a haunting, with money at stake for the winners — which each group badly needs. Needless to say, Henry and Vincent are powerfully attracted to each other, though the humiliations of Henry’s past risk coming between them.
This is very much a first book, with the ending only a “happy for now” — there’s a lot that the characters have to work out. I’m looking forward to reading more, because I completely tore through this. I was worrying that it would feel a bit too much like Whyborne and Griffin’s adventures, but no: there are some similarities, but the characters’ hangups are very different, and the relationship doesn’t have (so far, at least) the desperate insecurity that is the initial cause of rifts between Whyborne and Griffin. Henry and Vincent are made of different stuff.
On a slightly spoilery note, I did see another review complaining about Henry, and I get it, but at the same time… as a boy, he was taken advantage of by someone his family trusted, including sexually. His life was taken apart by the guy, leaving him with deep-seated trust issues. Sure, he doesn’t behave the best (and he’s incredibly naive about what his revelation to the group will do to Lizzie), but it’s partly ignorance, partly because he has a good heart and fails to see the worst of others, and partly due to the betrayal he’s felt.
Subtle Blood brings an end to the adventures of Will Darling and Kim Secretan — at least for the reader, though it’s fairly clear they’re going to go off and get into trouble together again, as soon as possible. It beautifully resolves much of their issues with Zodiac, and features Kim being much more open, less willing to lie (at least to Will), and totally committed to the future he’s realised he can have. It’s adorable and satisfying, as adorable as anything can be when it involves this pair.
It was pretty much everything I wanted from the finale of this series, and everything I wanted for these characters. What more can I say?
Don’t forget to read the coda free on Charles’ website — particularly if you know who Daniel da Silva is. (If you don’t, hie thee to a purveyor of books and grab Think of England first.)
I didn’t quite know what to make of Rosebud, honestly. It has a slightly weird format with some odd sort-of-ish time travel stuff going on, plus it’s written in a very stream-of-consciousness sort of way with an oddball cast that change how they’re represented a couple of times. I felt like I could do with a dramatis personae or something to help me keep track, and I normally stubbornly ignore those. Like, Bob is a balloon (seriously), but also a tiger… and Huge If True is a whole mess of hands, but then also Bob Ross? Etc, for each character.
It also has this whole subplot about the whole world being awful for queer people, including flashbacks to a trans woman being made to dress as male in public while being sort-of-but-not-really executed and tortured, which… is mentioned somewhat in a content note at the start, so I can’t say I wasn’t warned, but it sits funny because it’s off-hand, somewhere in the background of the story. Partly that’s in the same way that Brexit is in the background of the Lychford books, for instance… and I do get the urge to write about the way the world is right now (especially in the UK) to comment on it, but it didn’t quite work for me.
It didn’t quite come together for me, I guess; I did like the ending, and thought there was a lot of cleverness going on, but I spent too much of it not really engaged with what was going on because I was having trouble keeping track of characters.