Tag: mystery


Review – Madam, Will You Talk?

Posted 31 March, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary StewartMadam, Will You Talk?, Mary Stewart

Not my favourite of Mary Stewart’s novels, but it’s what the library had when I felt like revisiting. It probably hasn’t really been long enough since I first read them, but ah well: they’re still fun. Stewart was brilliant at establishing a sense of mood and place: a hot French town, dust on the roads, shade under the trees, a cool breeze when you drive fast but sticky and heavy when you’re stuck in traffic… I enjoy Charity’s character, her past, and the fact that despite that tragic past, she uses what her husband taught her about life and love to move on, and Stewart never implies that her love for either the new love or the old diminishes the other.

The relationship itself, well. The constant descriptions of the love interest as dictatorial are exactly right, and one can’t help but think the whole relationship a little off-putting. She’s terrified of him at first, she thinks he’s a murderer, and he’s violent to her, and yet… There’s a passion in the relationship, which is something I do like to see, but his violence was waved away all too easily. A different era, I know… and yet.

The mystery itself, well: it’s melodramatic, all kidnapping and attempted murder and links to Nazism. But it works as long as you’re in the right headspace, and I was, since I’m well used to Stewart’s work.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Elizabeth is Missing

Posted 23 March, 2015 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma HealeyElizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing is a very interesting play on the unreliable narrator. Maud isn’t unreliable because she’s lying or because she has anything to hide – or not exactly. She’s unreliable because she can’t hold onto her memories or make coherent sense of the things around her. It might sound a bit like a weird mystery novel: you could imagine it like that, with Maud being really sane but being gaslighted by the people around her into believing she’s crazy, and that’s why none of them will listen to her when she talks about Elizabeth. But it’s more mundane than that, at least for one strand of the plot.

The real mystery is in Maud’s memories of her sister, Sukey, who went missing. There’s a great sense of time and place here, putting it so firmly in post-WWII Britain in the same way as those youthful memories are the most vivid for elderly people. There’s a lot of really great description, too, which is partly facilitated by the fact that Maud doesn’t remember things right. You can make the most mundane things fresh and new if they’re a surprise to the narrator; you can tilt the world slightly off-balance like that. Healey does pretty well with that, and with the narration; to me, she balances a lot of things very well.

For example, it’d be easy to show the impatient daughter who just won’t listen to her senile mother. But it’s not like that in real life for most people; it’s just that people are impatient, and will say a sharp thing or roll their eyes or utter something sotto voce just to help themselves cope with what’s going on. And we see Helen like that; we see her trying to be patient, trying to understand, and sometimes coming up short. If there’s a carer in the world, especially a family member, who doesn’t feel like that, well, get them sainted.

It’d also be easy to really mess up the narration, over-exaggerating the things Maud forgets, making her memory come and go too conveniently for the story, smoothing over the edges of the illness to give us a tidy ending. Healey doesn’t fall to that temptation, either.

I can see why you might find it tedious, too painful to read, too disjointed; I liked the slow unfurling of the mysteries, even when I expected the endings, and I laud Healey for writing an elderly heroine with patience and understanding.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Speaking from Among the Bones

Posted 21 March, 2015 by in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan BradleySpeaking from Among the Bones, Alan Bradley

I do like this series — and tear through the books — when I get round to reading it, but I don’t particularly feel a pressure to keep up. There’s just something too precious about Flavia, and indeed the whole portrayal of idyllic British country life after the Second World War. My usual pet peeves with this series are firmly in place, in that sense.

But it is nice to just relax into it and enjoy the family’s weirdnesses, the unusual set up for the mystery, the intrepid Famous Five feel you get from Flavia — and the fact that hey, she’s a young girl who is great at chemistry, who deserves and demands respect from the people around her for what she can do. Sometimes she overshoots (and, ah, I think I do recognise myself in that; I was quite a mature kid, but also very aware of it and keen for people to know, which then veers toward being immature again), but mostly she’s quite right that she deserves some respect. I do enjoy her little crush on the inspector, too.

The last line is clearly set up for Things To Change, and I’m quite looking forward to that. There’s a formula now to these books; I hope the next book breaks it, at least somewhat.

Rating: 3/5

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