Tag: mystery


Review – Murder on a Midsummer Night

Posted 1 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry GreenwoodMurder on a Midsummer Night, Kerry Greenwood

Murder on a Midsummer Night is not the most striking entry in the series, but if you’re here for Phryne and her found family, her lavish lifestyle and her relationships with the people around her, it’s just what you’d expect. Lin Chung gets to use some of his talents from past books, setting up a creepy seance using his magician’s tricks, and Dot has her own sleuthing work to do on one case, while Phryne deals with another.

At this point, I find the mysteries themselves relatively forgettable: it’s Phryne I read for, her unflappability and good sense, her ability to see right through people and situations. And her family, of course: Jane’s fascination with all things biological, and her interest in becoming a doctor in particular.

Well might people complain that Phryne is too perfect, too privileged. But really she’s the answer to Lord Peter, with an extra heaping of sexuality and feminism. She’s supposed to be impossibly awesome, and it shows us that female characters can be too. I won’t complain!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Blackbirds

Posted 29 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Blackbirds by Chuck WendigBlackbirds, Chuck Wendig

Originally reviewed 20th April, 2012; received to review via Netgalley

I got Blackbirds from Angry Robot on Netgalley, to review. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it from the description, and the pre-existing reviews, but I wanted to give it a go because the idea is something relatively simple that could be turned into a really good story. The core idea is that a girl (Miriam) gains a power which means the first time she has skin-on-skin contact with someone, she sees how they die.

I enjoyed the character of Miriam: she’s a tough talking girl who swears like a sailor and does whatever she has to do to get through life, trying to tell herself that all these deaths she witnesses (and can’t prevent) don’t matter to her, and that she can’t do anything about it. There’s a lot that isn’t explained about her gift, which is equal parts frustrating and intriguing: I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel, to fill in the gaps that Blackbirds has left.

I liked the other main characters, too: Ashley and Louis. Well, Ashley is kind of unlikeable, but I like what was done with him, and Louis… well, you can’t help liking Louis and rooting for him, even though the story is telling you the whole time that nothing good is going to come of this.

There are a couple of things that I didn’t find convincing enough: the motives of the people who were after her; Louis’ attraction to her; the whole Ashley thing. Some of that might be resolved in the next book, but either way, the momentum of the story carried me past anything that gave me pause. I read it in one sitting — if it sounds interesting to you, then I’d say go ahead and pick it up, as long as you can get past the fact that there’s graphic violence, swearing and sex!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death at the Bar

Posted 27 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Death at the Bar, by Ngaio MarshDeath at the Bar, Ngaio Marsh

I don’t quite understand people who like Marsh’s books as much as, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’. Alleyn just doesn’t have the same depth of characterisation as Wimsey, and while the character of Troy is quite fun, she doesn’t seem to have come into it as much as Harriet. It is true that Wimsey books go buy without Harriet, though usually there’s Parker and Bunter, the Dowager Duchess and plenty of other supporting characters who pop up repeatedly. In these books, it seems to often be just Alleyn and Fox, and the possibilities of that partnership are limited.

The mystery itself is… okay. It takes some time to build up a set of characters to theorise about first (though I hope they’re not intended to be likeable as such, because most of them are not), which at least adds a bit of interest; I do like the way crime/mystery stories can be used as a character study. I found the ending ridiculously drawn out; enough red herrings, let’s have the culprit, please.

I think Ngaio Marsh’s books, properly spaced out, will keep me entertained well enough, but I’m probably going to avoid reading them back to back. They’re just too dry, and Alleyn isn’t enough of a person to me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Liar

Posted 22 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Liar by Justine LarbalestierLiar, Justine Larbalestier

Originally reviewed 6th January 2011

I first heard of Liar when everyone was talking about the controversy surrounding the original cover. I filed it away in the back of my mind, thinking of picking the book up when it came out. I was reminded of it recently when friends started to talk about it again — through having read it, now — and put it on my last minute Christmas list. Cue me getting it in the mail yesterday, and being almost unable to resist the lure of the first page, which starts with the hook, “I was born with a light covering of fur.”

If you don’t enjoy unreliable narrators, step away right now. Micah is as unreliable as you can get, and the whole book peels back — or layers on — more of her lies.

For the first part of the book, it could be the story of a normal teenager — one who has had bad things happen to her, and who is a loner, yes, but one who is essentially like those around her. It doesn’t stay like that, though: if you’re not a fan of fantastical elements, you probably want to step back now.

The thing with this book is that there are at least two ways of reading it. It’s a delicate balance to walk, but Larbalestier does, in my opinion, walk it well. It wasn’t wholly unpredictable, but I have been spoiled a little by reading other people’s reviews. If you can, and this book sounds interesting to you, then try to go into it knowing as little as possible — just knowing that Micah is a liar (not a spoiler: it’s in the title).

The other thing that pleased me was the fact that the book has non-white characters — chiefly non-white characters, in fact — and LGBT content, plus a generally sex-positive attitude. There’s totally non-explicit sexual references, there’s an understanding of teenagers feeling and dealing with desire, and I didn’t get a ‘sex is bad, hush, we don’t talk about sex’ vibe from it.

(It irks me that there are likely people reading this review thinking, ‘I’d better not give this to my teenage daughter.’ There’s nothing in this that would have damaged my fragile fourteen year old psyche. It’s just people.)

I realise this doesn’t tell you much about how I, personally, felt about this book: I read it within the space of an afternoon, and kept stopping myself after every fifty pages so I could drag it out more and enjoy it for that bit longer. When I put it down, I already had a list of people I want to recommend it to.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Stormy Petrel

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

Cover of Stormy Petrel by Mary StewartStormy Petrel, Mary Stewart

Stormy Petrel isn’t my favourite of Mary Stewart’s romance/suspense stories, though I do love that the main character is a science fiction writer, a poet, and a don at Cambridge. Her relatively self-sufficiency is great, and there aren’t too many damsel-in-distress moments. The romance is relatively light, and doesn’t treat us to the ridiculousness of marrying a guy you’ve only just met — sometimes it works for me, in Stewart’s writing, but all the same, I prefer a lighter touch. Especially when it means that the romance isn’t forced, which this would’ve been; kind of like in Rose Cottage, where the romance seemed to come in at the end to round things off.

As usual, the sense of place is great and makes me almost want to visit this area off the coast of Scotland. On the other hand, the midges sound like a pretty solid deterrent.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Before I Go To Sleep

Posted 11 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. WatsonBefore I Go To Sleep, S.J. Watson

Originally reviewed 19th January 2012

I picked this up somewhat on a whim. A couple of people had been talking about it, and I saw it in the Kindle store, and I just thought… fine, okay. I’ll go for it. I read it in about four chunks. It’s pretty riveting, actually. The unreliable narrator is reasonably well handled and as long as you’re prepared to go along for the ride, it works reasonably well. I guessed the big twist fairly swiftly, then thought I’d got it wrong, and then it turned out my first guess was right. That was pretty fun, I suppose: the guessing game.

One thing that annoyed me was a fairly big thing, though. The antagonist is a total cliché. The minute he starts talking about her being in a coffee shop, and how he scrutinised what she was eating and tried to figure out the “rules”, the ending was obvious. It’s every media stereotype. And seriously, I promise you. If you went out today, you passed a mentally ill person. Driving past you, walking along the pavement behind you, in front of you… And you were in no danger. They don’t care about whether you eat your snack before or after 2pm. They’re not going to rape you and try to kill you, then steal you from your care home and lie to you. They’re just going to buy some bread and milk, maybe some things for dinner. They’ve got a meeting later. Whatever. Most mentally ill people are perfectly normal people. And even the ones that you don’t understand, the ones that try to figure out weird “rules”, they’re probably harmless too. It’s not that there aren’t people who are dangerous and mentally ill, but mentally ill people are not automatically dangerous. In fact, mentally ill people are at a higher risk of being victims of violence, not perpetrators.

Still, clichés aside, if you’re interested in a mystery/thriller type thing that’s basically a sinister 50 First Dates (I can’t believe I’m admitting to ever having seen that), this might be up your street.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Murder in the Dark

Posted 9 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Murder in the Dark by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in the Dark, Kerry Greenwood

Wait, what? The thing that really threw me with this book is that this is Phryne’s first Christmas in Australia?! This is the sixteenth book or so, and eventful as Phryne’s life is, it seems a little bizarre that everything that’s happened so far has taken less than twelve months. Especially given the time passing during Lin Chung’s trips and such in Death Before Wicket. And this would mean Dot’s courtship with Hugh Collins isn’t that long after all — which seems odd, having got the feeling they were going at a glacial pace!

Still. This was pretty fun, although the setting was bizarre. Not because it was Christmas-in-July-weather, though that is a weird thought, but the whole house party and the sex parties and the general sea of implied queerness; at times, I wondered if it was just going to degenerate into a story all about sex, though it never quite went there. (No more than the other books, anyway.) This time, Phryne has to deal with a serial killer, but weirdly that didn’t change the tone much.

Overall, I’d have to say I found this instalment a little uneven — it’s fun to read, but I know some of the other books are better.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Death By Water

Posted 18 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Death by Water by Kerry GreenwoodDeath By Water, Kerry Greenwood

Ah, Death By Water is a satisfying one, for me. For all that I love the extended family that Phryne has made, it’s also interesting to go off and meet other characters, and visit some other environs. Death By Water takes us on a cruise and has a glimpse into Maori culture, and though I’m no expert, it seems respectful and interesting. Given the setting, the Maori village and so on is a bit like sightseeing, and the non-Maori white professor who has been practically adopted by the Maoris seems like wish fulfillment, but never mind, for the most part it works.

The cast of this one is both charming and dastardly, in the right amounts, and I enjoyed watching Phryne playing each person off against the others and working out the mystery. It’s made that bit less predictable by the fact that there are new characters — we know how Jack Robinson will react to Phryne’s interference, but another detective might raise an eyebrow (and does). We know Bert and Cec are to be relied upon, but what about on a cruise ship where Phryne can’t rely on them for muscle? Etc.

It also helps that the book takes her away from Lin Chung, and though he’s referenced once or twice, he isn’t her sole interest. And the word “concubine” doesn’t occur once, also a relief (to me, anyway).

I can’t put my finger exactly on what makes this so much better than, say, Death Before Wicket, but it had the right feel somehow. And it did give me a chuckle by referencing the Attenbury Emeralds! If only the Honorable Miss Fisher would one day run into one Lord Peter… Maybe they even knew each other as kids, who can say?

(Well, I know it mentions Sayers and Wimsey as fiction in one of the books, but hush. Hush.)

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Rose Cottage

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

Cover of Rose Cottage by Mary StewartRose Cottage, Mary Stewart

Rose Cottage is a quiet mystery/romance, not too heavy on either, with no dramatics of the sort you find in The Gabriel Hounds or Touch Not the Cat. It’s all fairly quiet and peaceful; a restful sort of book, with only brief moments of unease, no madly evil people (though one at least who is very flawed), no great tragedy, and an ending that brings everyone neatly together in a perfect reunion.

Given that I’d definitely choose the word “gentle” to describe it, and the romance is just barely there in the last half, this isn’t the most pacey, exciting story. It’s a cosy one, of homecoming and heart-healing and family, needing and wanting no heroics. It’s a post-war story, but the war is just a shadow in the background; it’s a family mystery, but the important thing is not so much the mystery, the not-knowing, but almost the end of the story, when people come together.

This all might sound like faint praise, and it’s true that Rose Cottage isn’t one of my favourite of Stewart’s books. But it’s enjoyable, and especially good if you don’t want high drama, just some village life and a happy ending.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

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

Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy SayersThe Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers

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

This has never been my favourite of the books, though it does touch on some of the horrors of war (in the figure of George Fentiman) and there are some interesting moral issues — particularly because this is one of those books in which Peter chooses to offer someone a “gentlemanly way out”. On the one hand, it bothers me because the guy is basically painted into a corner: his guilt has been figured out, and now here comes Lord Peter to make him write a full confession and then gently hint that he should shoot himself, rather than face due process and be condemned by a jury. Of course, the death penalty is probably his ultimate destination, and yet… who is Lord Peter to decide? To offer a way round the law?

It’s one of those stories in which Peter is asked whether he’s a detective or a gentleman, and he pretty much dodges the issue.

The radioplay is a fun enough adaptation, though the pacing is bizarre. Just as you think it must be approaching the denouement, it turns out that no, there’s still half the story to go. It feels very odd, even when you know it’s coming.

As usual, the voice acting is pretty excellent, and there was no desperate overacting by extras in this one, either. Hurrah.

Rating: 3/5

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