Tag: mystery


Review – Death Claims

Posted 13 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death Claims by Joseph HansenDeath Claims, Joseph Hansen

The first time I read this, I commented on the descriptions — saying that at times they were laid on too thick — and style, and also that Hansen somehow manages to make you care about the characters, even minor ones. I disagree with the first one now, perhaps because I knew going in what Hansen’s style was like: it still reminds me very much of Chandler, even if he doesn’t have quite the same knack for the well-placed word or reference (no “shop-worn Galahad” here). And I still agree with the second one: a particular character doesn’t show up for most of the story, and yet I very much cared about how things worked out for him, and about what he tried to do.

I also commented on the subplot between Doug and Dave, which I loved: I loved the fact that they’re both damaged and imperfect, that their past lovers (both dead, and therefore idealised) get in the way, and their responses to that. I love that Dave decides it’s time he did some work to keep the relationship going, and then he does — but also that he’s a self-righteous ass about some things, not some paragon of virtue. Their relationship feels real, both in the way they disappoint each other and in how they match.

I can’t remember the individual books well enough to decide where it sits on my mental ranking of the series; I look forward to discovering that in the rereads to come, I think. But it’s solid and I enjoy it, and especially for Dave’s life outside the cases, even where it’s relatively background. He has a life outside the cases — much more so even than another favourite detective of mine, Peter Wimsey, whose life outside cases is mostly spent discussing the case anyway, or touches on it. Perhaps that’s part of why I love Dave Brandstetter so much.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fadeout

Posted 6 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fadeout by Joseph HansenFadeout, Joseph Hansen

It’s been a while since I read these, and when I noticed they’re now available for Kindle, I kind of fell upon them. Hansen’s writing is really readable: something like the economy of Chandler, and the turn of phrase, but somehow more streamlined and quick to read. And somewhat less problematic in terms of the representation, since we have a gay detective and generally more up to date models of how people interact and what women are capable of, etc. I can’t recall any exact examples where I wasn’t comfortable, though I think the handling of the Japanese pool boy incident felt a bit off, and maybe some other references to racial issues.

The main character — Dave — is completely unstereotyped. He misses his partner, whom he loved, and he’s not ashamed of that fact — and okay, his partner was a bit of a cliché and rather camp, but the point is that there are a lot of gay people in these books, and they’re all different. They have different interests and different ideas about how to live their lives. Dave is comfortable with himself, and not compensating either — he doesn’t mind people knowing he’s gay, he doesn’t overcompensate, etc. He’s just himself and lets people take him as they find him — and finding a character like that in a mystery novel that otherwise feels pretty hardboiled is a lovely thing.

The plot itself is convoluted, of course, and it’s amazing how Dave’s cases always manage to be about gay people. If you’re straight, apparently you don’t get life insurance from Dave’s dad’s company? Or if you do, your death isn’t investigated by Dave? Of course, all the cases where Dave signs off on it without lengthy investigation aren’t mentioned either, so… Perhaps it’s just that Hansen was interested in how a gay detective made his way in that societal climate, and how being gay affected how people treated you, and how gay people interacted.

I love the series, personally; it’s really easy to read, but there’s depth here (like Dave’s grief for Rod, and in later books, his relationships with other men) and I have no doubt I’ll come back to Dave again in the future. (As I type this, I’ve already gone on to reread the second and third books, as well.) If there is a flaw, it’s perhaps that (at least at this point), I’m more focused on Dave and the whole fact of gay representation in hardboiled crime fiction, and much less on the actual mystery. On the other hand, I focus more on Chandler’s prose than his plot, too, so there’s that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Strong Poison

Posted 4 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Strong Poison by BBC audioStrong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers

Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter Jones as Bunter and Gabriel Woolf as Inspector Parker

For some reason, I can’t find the name of the person who voiced Harriet, and my Audible file doesn’t seem to include that intro. Blast. Still, Strong Poison is mostly not about Harriet, and she appears comparatively little — really, it’s about Lord Peter getting to be a knight in shining armour, and he really starts escalating toward sainthood in his actions here, how he comes to save her and doesn’t push and so on. If you look at it with a cynical eye, it’s all rather obvious lionising of the character.

Still, if you’re a fan of Lord Peter, you can lay that aside and just enjoy him sleuthing away on the trail of the real murderer, plus his sudden feelings for Harriet. The voice acting is excellent, as usual: Ian Carmichael is the perfect Peter, and there’s an awesome little scene with Inspector Parker about Mary which I just had to listen to twice for the fun of it. The adaptation is pretty good, with most details preserved — even down to whole sections of piffle from Wimsey and his mother, and the exact content of various scenes — and though the mystery is a little trimmed down here and there, I think you could almost switch off between the book and the radioplay scenes without losing anything in understanding.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Heresy

Posted 1 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Heresy by S.J. ParrisHeresy, S.J. Parris

I’ve had this on my to-read list so long, it’s ridiculous. And finally I got round to it! In tone, it’s very like C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake books, but I have to confess that I think I enjoyed those more. Giordano Bruno’s role in this book was just… he was seeking out secret Catholics, to betray them to Walsingham, okay. But he was a Catholic and he faced the Inquisition, and he was well aware of what would happen to the people he betrayed — some of whom trusted him. It doesn’t sit well with me, and he barely even tried to justify it. It’s not as though he fervently believed that the Catholics were actually going to harm Queen Elizabeth; quite the reverse.

The historical setting and the mystery both work reasonably well, but I found it difficult to care about. There were few characters I wanted to care about; the only one was Sophia, and she was badly treated by the plot and just about every other character. Oh, and Cobbett, the alcoholic but devoted doorkeeper of the college.

If you’re interested in the period and into mystery stories, I’d give it a try — there’s a lot to enjoy about the way the mystery is set within the historical plot. I wouldn’t read the rest of the series personally, but it was okay for a one-off.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Fair Play

Posted 15 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fair Play, by Josh LanyonFair Play, Josh Lanyon

Confession time: a long time ago I received this to review, and did not get round to it (partly because I hadn’t read Fair Game yet). So in the end I bought it. But in the interests of full disclosure, I did originally receive a review copy.

I really don’t know what took me so long, apart from the sheer length of my damn to read list. Fair Play is kinda great: I’m not so much talking about the plot of the mystery, though I did also enjoy that. No, what I enjoyed most was Tucker and Elliot’s negotiations about their relationship, the way they had to work around each other, the way they hurt each other sometimes but still cared. And I especially enjoyed that they’re both masculine and open about their sexuality, and open about their wants and needs (at least with each other). Even better, the more emotionally intelligent of the two is Tucker, who would otherwise be a stereotype of a buttoned up cop with issues. Instead, he’s open with his emotions and not afraid of them, and he doesn’t let Elliot run away. It’s great.

Less great is their persistent miscommunications and head-butting sessions, but it does make sense for the characters and where they are in their relationship.

I did enjoy the mystery/thriller plot too; not so much the plot itself, I guess, as the way it made Elliot reflect on his father’s life, on the relationship it revealed between Roland and Elliot. That was already interesting in the first book, and it’s great here too. Again, emotional openness between masculine manly men. And, okay, it was kind of interesting reading about the sort of anti-Vietnam protests that Elliot’s father was involved in. It’s not a world I know much about, given that I’m British, and I liked the way it set the stage. The two books work together really well, and it’s not just about the romance between Tucker and Elliot — the other characters are important too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fair Game

Posted 11 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Fair Game by Josh LanyonFair Game, Josh Lanyon

Fair Game is reasonably typical of Josh Lanyon’s books, which is to say it delivers a mystery plotline twinned with the life of a non-stereotyped homosexual protagonist, without dealing solely with his love life (for example, in this book, Elliot’s relationship with his father is another key point — it isn’t just about him and Tucker, although it is about that too). Elliot is an ex-FBI agent who is rebuilding his life after a suspect shot out his knee, and I enjoy the fact that his physiotherapy is mentioned, that he can’t just get up and go go go as if he were still an FBI agent, even though emotionally that is something he hasn’t come to terms with yet.

The mystery itself, well, I guessed where it was going solely because I found a particular character irritating, after one or two red herrings. But that isn’t rare for me, and I was still interested in how Tucker and Elliot worked it out.

I really enjoy Tucker’s character, too. To begin with, he seems like a macho guy who maybe doesn’t want to accept that he’s gay or deal with his feelings, but in fact he’s readier to do so than Elliot is. He’s willing to put himself out there, to apologise for what he’s done wrong, to make the effort to meet Elliot more than halfway. It makes a nice contrast to the couple in Lanyon’s Adrien English stories, for sure. (And the sex scene did not contain any metaphors which made me spit my drink, which is also an improvement, entertaining as those could be.)

I need to get round to reading the sequel, Fair Play; I do like the couple, both individually and apart, though I’d like to see more of Tucker and his life where it doesn’t revolve around Elliot or his job.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Gillespie and I

Posted 3 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Gillespie & I by Jane HarrisGillespie and I, Jane Harris

This book had a really weird effect on me: after I finished, I sat there wondering if I was like the narrator — self-deluding, manipulative, not able to see what I’m doing or worse, knowing and yet somehow still managing to tell the story as if I’m the victim. There was something just so well done and so unpleasant about the way the narrator tells her profoundly skewed version of events, and the slow way the hints pile up about that. The little details you need to keep in mind, because they suddenly reveal something huge.

The main character is not likeable, though she is at times pathetic in a way that makes you pity her; the others around her are much more alive and genuine, though you only see them through the biased eyes of Harriet. Again, you have to watch for the gaps to see why she’s so fascinated, how these characters really feel about her, what is really going on. It’s not a mystery novel, not really, and yet in some ways you need to read it like one, watching out for the gun in the first act that must go off by the fifth.

The narration and set-up is really clever; I enjoyed the book a lot, though I wouldn’t recommend it for people who like a quick payoff. It takes a while to really see where the novel is going and what it’s doing. Worth it, but not everyone’s cup of tea.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Surgeon

Posted 26 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Surgeon by Tess GerritsenThe Surgeon, Tess Gerritsen

Originally reviewed May 7th, 2012

Trigger warnings: rape, mutilation, medical details (both descriptions of stuff like cancer and descriptions of accidents/operations).

That had to come first, because I spent much of this book wishing I had something firm and indestructible to crawl into, to keep me safe. The details are just horrifying — it reminds me very much of my experience with Val McDermid’s work. And, as with that, I had to read to the end to find out who the killer/torturer was, before I could begin to feel okay again. (The part of me that’s done a course in Crime Fiction remembers that the end of a crime novel typically ends with the criminal being contained or killed, and therefore that provides a feeling of safety and the reassertion of the rules of society, for a reader.)

I wasn’t really a fan of the characters’ attitudes to rape. The idea that rape makes the victim belong to the attacker in some way is just repugnant, and the idea that what makes a woman a woman is their womb is just — ugh. It seemed to be an ongoing theme in the story, rather than an opinion expressed by just one or two of the characters.

Overall there was a lot that upset/troubled me, and despite Sasha Alexander being in it, I don’t think I’m going to watch the tv series. It’s not actually a bad crime/mystery book: it’s very good in that sense, and I’d recommend it to people who like, for example, Val McDermid. But it was just not the kind of thing I should be reading at all, and I’m going to steer clear.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Death Among the Marshes

Posted 24 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death Among the Marshes by Kathryn RamageDeath Among the Marshes, Kathryn Ramage

Death Among the Marshes is quite short — more a novella than  novel — and essentially a modern take on the Golden Age staple of a country house mystery. The detective, Freddie, bears some resemblance to Sayers’ Lord Peter, in his aristocratic ties, his war-buddy turned valet, etc, and indeed Ramage references Freddie reading Dorothy Sayers’ work, which made me smile.

Unlike the Golden Age country house mysteries, though, this novella is quite frank about the existence of gay people; one couple come under suspicion as their family tries to put a wedge between them and persuade them to be more socially appropriate, and there are possible hints that Billy, Freddie’s manservant, might have feelings for him. All the characters are well-drawn and, if not exactly likeable, understandable in their support of each other, their squabbles, their faultlines.

I found Death Among the Marshes enjoyable and well-structured, and I’ll definitely read any other books by Ramage which feature these characters. This review does more justice to it than mine, I think!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Surfeit of Lampreys

Posted 18 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Surfeit of Lampreys, by Ngaio MarshA Surfeit of Lampreys, Ngaio Marsh

There’s stuff to like about A Surfeit of Lampreys; the character portraits, the commentary on the family, the fact that it brings in Bathgate and ties some of that stuff together… but overall, I’ve totally lost my motivation to read Ngaio Marsh’s books. There’s a same-y feel to them, the characters aren’t nearly as brilliant as, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’, and it comes out feeling a little too heavy and flat, with not enough payoff. The mysteries are intricate, but everything just unravels so slowly.

I know other people think Ngaio Marsh is amazing, and I did enjoy some of the earlier books, but Inspector Alleyn feels kind of stale now.

Rating: 2/5

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