Tag: mystery

Review – The Progress of a Crime

Posted March 1, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Progress of a Crime by Julian SymonsThe Progress of a Crime, Julian Symons

Julian Symons was, I think, a good writer — just one I don’t get along with very well. He plays well with perspective and voice, and he can certainly put together a story — which is not an impression another repeat British Library Crime Classic author I detest gives me (John Dickson Carr, sorry folks) — but I just don’t enjoy his books. This is the third book of his I’ve read, and I think I appreciate them less with each successive book I read. It doesn’t matter that I know he did his research, or even that I’m curious about the true story that germinated the idea for him. I just… don’t like the book.

Which I hate to say, because I’ve enjoyed most of my tour into Golden Age crime fiction to one degree or another (E.C.R. Lorac’s books very much; Gil North’s, not at all)… but Symons’ work just doesn’t work for me. I’m always feeling like I picked up a smooth dry-looking stone and found a craggy wormy maggoty mess under it. It just leaves me feeling icky. There’s no characters you can really unambiguously enjoy, either because they’re fun caricatures or because they’re people you can root for: everything’s just complicated and messy, and the ending feels like a relief just because it’s over with (though it’s not a relief because it ends on a massive downer).

Not the era/genre of crime fiction that tends to end with the world set to rights, clearly!

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Wish You Were Here

Posted February 28, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae BrownWish You Were Here, Rita Mae Brown, Sneaky Pie Brown

Wish You Were Here is another of the books I read to potentially review for the Postcrossing blog someday. It will fit in perfectly there, because the main character Harry is the postmistress of a small Virginian town, and one major clue in the murder investigation she gets wrapped up in is the delivery of a postcard showing a gravestone, with the message “wish you were here”, to each of the victims.

The mystery was okay, but I didn’t get too much into it because the behaviour of the cats and dogs bothered me. I have bunnies; I get the temptation to anthropomorphise them — truly, they make it too darn easy. But that doesn’t mean it works for me written down on the page, and sometimes the cats and dogs felt like an opportunity for the author to grandstand about very human concerns. (Though with what I assume and hope are nods toward canine and feline sensibilities in the repeated theme of the cat and dog thinking that mentally ill people should be killed as children, as they would cull sick kittens/puppies from their own litters. This doesn’t come off, really, and I dearly hope I’m correct in attributing this as an attempt to make their narration sound a bit more like a dog or cat.)

Even putting that aside, I also didn’t think the antics of the animals added much to the story. Not much could be communicated between their side of the investigation and Harry’s, and it didn’t read as believable behaviour when they did communicate.

Also, a relatively small niggle, but at one point the police officer in charge of the case goes to the retired doctor to ask him questions about the mental health of everyone in town, which he readily answers, with detail. I’m fairly sure a retired doctor must still uphold medical confidentiality — and even if it isn’t a law, I wouldn’t trust a doctor or retired doctor who didn’t. As a person, let alone as a doctor.

I had a number of niggles like that, like wondering how Harry’s nickname is Harry, even to her close friends since childhood, when it comes from her ex-husband’s surname (not her own).

All in all, it just didn’t come together for me, partly because one of the central conceits left me cold. Fun as a one-off, but I won’t be continuing the series.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire

Posted February 27, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire by M.R.C. KasasianBetty Church and the Suffolk Vampire, M.R.C. Kasabian

I liked the sound of Betty Church, a female Inspector in Britain, in 1939. She’s been injured in the line of duty, losing her arm, which her superiors are trying to use to get her out from under their feet… but she doesn’t want to go, so she has a favour called in and gets sent back to Sackwater, the town where she grew up. So far, so good — and in fact I followed her through her first days back in Sackwater, until her constable arrived.

At which point I tuned out, since her constable is a girl smart enough to cheat her way into the police by using starch in her hair (to make herself look a bit taller) and weights in her petticoats (to make herself a bit heavier)… but silly and childish in every other way. It just doesn’t match up, and it immediately grated on me. It grated on me so much that shortly after she’s introduced, I gave up.

I don’t mind a bit of humour, and up to that point it was fine… but ugh! After that, I just didn’t want to spend any more time with that girl.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem

Posted January 28, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda CollinsA 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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – He’d Rather Be Dead

Posted January 23, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of He'd Rather Be Dead by George BellairsHe’d Rather Be Dead, George Bellairs

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Tightrope Walker

Posted January 17, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Tightrope Walker by Dorothy GilmanThe Tightrope Walker, Dorothy Gilman

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Ruddy Gore

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

Cover of Ruddy Gore by Kerry GreenwoodRuddy Gore, Kerry Greenwood

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).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Blood and Circuses

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

Cover of Blood and Circuses by Kerry GreenwoodBlood and Circuses, Kerry Greenwood

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…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Citadel of Weeping Pearls

Posted January 13, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de BodardThe Citadel of Weeping Pearls, Aliette de Bodard

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Case of the Famished Parson

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

Cover of The Case of the Famished Parson by George BellairsThe Case of the Famished Parson, George Bellairs

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!

Rating: 4/5

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