I read something that compared Ruth Ware’s work to Agatha Christie’s, and I can definitely see the influence here. The Death of Mrs Westaway is a bit of a thriller. The main character, Hal, has been working on the pier as a fortune teller since her mother’s death, barely making ends meet, and has taken out an unwise loan to boot. So she’s tempted when she receives a letter informing her that she’s due to receive some money in the will of a Mrs Westaway, her grandmother. It seems like a dream come true, but there’s a catch — her grandmother died a long time ago…
The temptation proves too much: Hal has a lot of skill with cold reading, the art of figuring out what a client thinks and wants from little cues and leading questions. If anyone can pull off pretending to be the real heir, surely it’s Hal… so off she goes, and quickly finds herself folded into the family.
It’s not as simple as all that, of course, and it slowly becomes clear that there’s something else going on. I found the pacing a little bit odd, in retrospect; it takes quite a while to reveal that there is something deeper going on, and that it’s not just going to be a case of mistaken identity. I can’t really say too much about the twists and turns, of course. I did enjoy the fact that Hal’s family are both unpleasant in their own ways, snappish and snobbish, and yet also welcoming and deeply glad to see Hal for the sake of their lost one. It rings true: families can be awful to each other and yet turn around as a united front half a minute later.
I didn’t get deeply absorbed into it, so I wouldn’t say this was a mega-favourite, and I don’t feel called to read more of Ruth Ware’s work — but it was an enjoyable enough reading experience, and I definitely cared enough to finish it rather than write it off. In these distracted days, that’s definitely something!
The third Whyborne and Griffin book is rather fun! My main issue with the previous books was a sort of general squick about Whyborne’s total lack of self-worth, which translates into a lack of trust in Griffin. I’m pleased to note that that’s a bit better in this book, though I shan’t say too much about it because sssh! Spoilers!
In any case, this book features Griffin facing a number of things about his past. One is his adoptive parents, who are coming on a visit and mustn’t know about his relationship with Whyborne. And another is a doctor at an asylum who has ruled that Griffin’s client’s brother, accused of murdering his uncle, is insane. He happened to do the same for Griffin at the end of his career with the Pinkertons, you see. So Griffin has all that on his plate — and Whyborne is hallucinating about a vast underwater city…
A couple of things didn’t turn out as expected, which is always nice, and Whyborne and Griffin move forward a bit with their relationship and find some more comfort and security with one another, which is lovely. I could always do with more communication (talk! about! your! problems!) — but it was a good step forward, and a believable step in them figuring out their relationship.
So I think my issues with the earlier books are, if not completely shelved, then partially assuaged. (I should emphasise that that’s a very personal nitpick, and not necessarily something that will bother other people.)
Proper English is the story of Pat and Fen, who I previously encountered in Think of England — this book is set before that, but reading them in either order is completely fine, because you don’t need to know much from either book to appreciate the other. It opens with Pat and her brother travelling to a shooting party at a country house, where it transpires that there’s a whole party invited, including their host’s fiancée, Miss Carruth. She turns out to be a sweet but apparently fairly silly girl, rather prone to giggling and girlishness: a pretty stark contrast to Pat, who is a women’s shooting champion, and expects to be treated practically as one of the men.
Most of the rest of the company aren’t nearly that nice, and it quickly becomes apparent something is very wrong, as their host allows his brother-in-law to lord it over everyone and say awful things, while clearly hating that it’s happening. Pat tries to just enjoying the shooting, but quickly finds that Miss Carruth (Fen) is a lot smarter than she likes to let on. Also, Pat is not at all immune to her charms, despite the differences between them. Their friendship and romance is adorable, and they quickly find that they’re not so much opposites as complementary to each other.
Because this is a K.J. Charles novel, of course, that’s not the end of it: in classic country house mystery style, on a miserable rainy day when no one can go out or leave, one of the company is found dead. Pat and Fen are all too aware of all the secrets in the house, one of them being their own, so they decide to figure it out and try to present the police with a fait accompli…
It’s all very fun, exactly as I would expect from K.J. Charles, and I’m a little disappointed I’ve finished it already.
Dead Man in a Ditch is very much like the first book in many ways: Fetch gets in over his head, does questionable things because he can be led around by his nose, makes a mess of everything and resolves to do better, with questionable results. I’m amazed by the way these two books have made that work for me, in that I keep reading in the blind desperate hope that somehow he will stop doing the wrong thing. You know he’s not going to, and yet you still really, really hope he will.
Part of that in this book is because there are no great choices, it’s true. But I do have trouble feeling that Fetch is growing, because the whole point of him is that he keeps making the same damn mistake again — that’s been engaging for two books, but could it sustain more? I don’t know if more is planned, and I’d gladly read another book because it’s good pulpy noir-ish fantasy fun, but I’m lacking a certain level of satisfaction.
I could tell you more about the plot, but it really amounts to what I said. Fetch tries to investigate things, like weird accounts of magic that cannot be magic, and it leads into a larger plot that sees his vacillation writ large and messing things up for other people, across a fantasy city after all the magic is gone. (That’s Fetch’s fault, too.) He is just the ultimate loser, in so many ways, and I really do have to reiterate that I completely applaud the way the author still makes me care about him despite that.
So, if there’s another book, I’ll read it for sure; after that, I guess it depends where Fetch’s personality drifts off to next. This keeps sounding like faint praise, but I really enjoyed reading it — I sped through it!
I normally love Susanna Kearsley’s work, in much the same way as I love Mary Stewart’s, but The Firebird didn’t really work for me. I stalled out halfway through, and then eked my way through a couple of hundred pages before I found my way back into it again. Partly it might have been mood, but partly I think it was the structure: The Firebird follows Nicola, in the present, as she searches out the history of an item for a client, and a girl called Anna, in the past — the girl who once was given the item, a firebird, by the Empress Catherine.
I was interested in both the historical fiction and in Nicola figuring out her issues — including her psychic talent, which sits sort of awkwardly next to the grounded reality of the historical plot — but… well, that’s the problem, I think: for me, it sat oddly. The time wasn’t evenly divided between the two, with odd stops and starts of action and then long, long stretches spent with the past.
I don’t mind the past/present juxtaposition in principle, and there are books that pull it off. This one, though, just didn’t come together for me, and I didn’t remember enough about the other books this one is related to in order to be pleased by the cameos and references, either. A bit sad, honestly; I wanted to love it. I think there’s a lot there for other folks, particularly those interested in the Scottish and Russian parts, and there’s a solid romance as well, in both the historical story and the part set in more-or-less the present.
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
There’s no book in this series that doesn’t have its pleasures, and there is much wittiness and cleverness and warmth in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club… but to me, it isn’t one of the more distinctive of the series. When I think about individual elements, like the way it throws Peter into confusion around potentially betraying one of his own class (a fellow sufferer of shellshock, too), it seems pretty good… but it doesn’t shine for me.
It particularly bothers me that I don’t think Sayers ever really examined her noble hero’s tendency to try and let people take their own way out (i.e. suicide) by warning them or talking them into it. Of course, Peter’s not wrong in the people he accuses, and we know he never really will be because Sayers made him a little too perfect… but if he were real, he could be wrong, and justice would not be served if that happened, and he caused someone to confess and take their own life because they felt backed into a corner.
I think that’s a big part of my unease with this one, and this time I reread it I actually stalled on it for quite a while!
I quite liked a previous book by Julian Symons, and this had quite a similar feel: more literary and polished than some of the other crime novels in the British Library Crime Classics series, which just attempt to be good stories. And another experience has led me to conclude that, well… I don’t really like his work, on balance: I find it has a certain self-conscious feel, a knowledge of its own cleverness, that I find somewhat offputting.
That’s more the case with this one that with The Colour of Murder: the narrator is an older man recounting something that happened when he was just barely an adult, describing his naive young stumblings-about and pretentiousness with an older, more temperate eye… and in the meantime showcasing how very clever he was in some ways (like wordplay and random intuitions to dash across to France). The tone felt fussy and slow as a consequence.
The whole family are pretty unpleasant here, as is traditional, and I didn’t really get majorly involved in the mystery: parts of how it would work out were much more obvious than I think the author would’ve liked! It’s just not that clever, and something about that smarmy narrator (both his young and adult selves) just gets up my nose. Bah.
As a piece of writing, I think it’s well done, pretty well-plotted and structured and so on. The neat sketches of the characters are mostly unkind, but do conjure up people quite vividly… But overall, meh for me.
A Dangerous Collaboration is the fourth outing in the Veronica Speedwell series, and is much like the other books: a quick, fun, fairly anachronistic read which somehow still manages to sink its claws into me and make me desperate to read more. Veronica and Stoker continue to be absolute soulmates, and the obvious romantic arc continues beautifully here… though we also get to see more of Stoker’s elder brother, Tiberius, and what really moves him.
(The bit about their obvious romantic arc is not to say that I don’t wish they could’ve remained platonic. Reading Veronica as aromantic would make a lot of sense with some of her previous statements and dalliances, and it’s always kind of cool to read something where a man and a woman can just be friends. That said, Deanna Raybourn was obviously going to go there, so it’s misplaced to fret about wishing it’d steer away from the romance!)
The setting is fun as well, being relatively constrained. No dashing about London here, but instead an exploration of an old castle on an island, and the old mystery of a young bride who disappeared on her wedding day a few years before. I’ll admit I kind of called it, for no reason other than a kneejerk reaction, because I immediately suspected a character so ubiquitous and *nice* sounding.
It’ll be interesting to see how the events at the end of the book impact the next. I’m hoping it isn’t bloody Jack the Ripper, though. That would be a cliché too far for me, most likely… though who knows? I practically eat these books up with a spoon; it’ll take something egregious to shake me.
I was kind of reluctant to read this one, though it’s been out for quite a while and I’ve picked it up in shops a few times already. Football in itself doesn’t interest me at all, so I wasn’t interested in the gimmick of it being set in Arsenal’s stadium or featuring real Arsenal players and staff of the time. It’s a bit of a curiosity, but not more than that. However, I’m not that interested in lawyers’ offices or farms or advertising offices, really, and I see plenty of those in fiction and read it anyway… so I decided to give it a go.
So in case anyone else is worried, there’s really no need to know anything about football. As with the farms and advertising firms, it’s mostly set dressing, and the motivations are love, hate, self-interest, vengeance, obligation, fascination… all the usual stuff. A player is killed during a game, and one of his teammates looks like the perfect culprit… too perfect, perhaps, thinks Inspector Slade from Scotland Yard.
It’s one of those where I didn’t really see the culprit coming; I knew who it wasn’t, from the clues and so on, but not who it was. The story spends so much time on the red herrings that I’m not sure the clues given for the real murderer are fair play. That said, I found it pretty enjoyable.
The Man Who Didn’t Fly has a fairly unique set up for a mystery: a plane has crashed, with three men and the pilot aboard. There were supposed to be four men, but one didn’t fly. The bodies are lost… so who exactly died, and who survived? And why has the survivor stayed quiet all this time?
It’s an intriguing set-up, but it doesn’t end up really working for me. Most of the book is recounting the everyday life of a family who are involved with the case, as it slowly reveals clues to what happened, who exactly died… and what crime was committed. It took a while to see the solution, for sure, but that’s partly because it felt rambly, and because so much time was given over to Hester mooning over one of the male characters. Said male character being an obvious scrounger and pain in the butt, who goes from one house to the other in search of freebies and handouts, it was not a very enjoyable experience.
I just couldn’t believe in the supposed depth of feeling there… and there is another romance in the book, and it comes more or less out of nothing. The whole emotional life of the book is lacking, and it leaves the ending pages hollow. Like, who cares?
Aside from the premise, I can’t say I really liked this at all. I ended up reading to the end because I wanted to know how things turned out, but I felt like I’d been blundering around in a directionless morass. I don’t find Hester particularly likeable, though there are glimpses of likeability (she wants to study medicine; she honestly cares for her father, even as they fight) — and there’s something just so… irritating about the prose. Solidly not for me, despite the effusive preface and the award this book almost won at the time.