Tag: mystery

Review – The Tea Master and the Detective

Posted December 14, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Teamaster and the Detective by Aliette de BodardThe Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard

This is basically a Sherlock Holmes retelling, set in de Bodard’s Xuya universe of short stories and novellas, where Watson is actually a sentient ship, and the mystery involves a body dumped into the equivalent of hyperspace, through which humans can’t travel without a ship to protect them and a cocktail of drugs (served in teas, traditionally, though presumably the format doesn’t necessarily have to be a tea) to keep them from going insane.

Of course, the ship, The Shadow’s Child, is less blindly fascinated by the Holmes character (Long Chau) than Watson is in the original stories, and there’s a certain friction between them throughout. The ship doesn’t like Long Chau’s attitudes (she can be abrasive) and is suspicious of her past. The Shadow’s Child has her own tragic past, in which she lost her crew, her family, in an accident — in those deep areas of space that the mindships are able to navigate and from which humans need protection. Naturally, the mystery — and Long Chau’s incisive commentary on her understanding of The Shadow’s Child — end by drawing the ship into the space she fears, in order to prevent further tragedies. Likewise, there are links to Long Chau’s own history and her past disgraceful involvement in the disappearance of a young woman she was tutoring.

Ultimately, the story is perhaps less about the actual mystery and more about that interplay between the two personalities — and The Shadow’s Child eventual decision to face her fears in order to rescue Long Chau and another human, at the conclusion of the mystery. There’s definitely room for more in this world (of course, since it’s part of a whole series of not-necessarily-connected stories) and with these characters: I’ll be interested to read whatever might come of that in future.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Murder on the Flying Scotsman

Posted December 11, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola DunnMurder on the Flying Scotsman, Carola Dunn

This installment of the Daisy Dalrymple series features Alec’s daughter prominently: she decides to run away and find Daisy as she’s getting on a train to Scotland, and ends up witnessing key facts in a murder case (of course). The murder takes place on the Flying Scotsman, so of course Scotland Yard have to be called in, and of course, Alec is in the neighbourhood and concerned because of his daughter. There’s the usual sort of cast of characters with perhaps a few more unpleasant folks than usual, with the leavening ingredient of Dr Jagai. I had my eyebrows raised a little over him using yoga to help treat a shellshock case (not that it’s a bad idea, but seemed like it was a bit of a stereotype and had the potential for being a magical Negro type moment), but it mostly came off okay.

Alec’s interactions with Daisy remain delightful, and this book includes some slightly steamier scenes (insofar as these books ever get steamy) — the biggest indicator being Alec rather firmly going off to take a specifically cold bath. I laughed at that bit, I must confess. Belinda makes a fun addition too, though she was also used as a bit of a prop for a “diversity is good” moment (on race instead of sexuality, which was covered in The Winter Garden Mystery; yeah, I know, I’m getting cynical in my old age).

I hope I don’t get tired of this series, because it does delight me in the same sort of way as the Phryne Fisher books, albeit with a more conventional (i.e. less sexy and more sexually inhibited) female main character. It’s nice that Daisy has to get by on her wits, too — no pearl-handled revolvers for her.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Division Bell Mystery

Posted December 7, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen WilkinsonThe Division Bell Mystery, Ellen Wilkinson

I was fascinated to read about the background of the author of this book: she sounds like a really interesting person, one of the first female MPs, and really dedicated to her work and her constituents. Respected across party lines, too! I was a little worried that her work was included for the novelty of the author being an actual MP writing about a mystery set in the Commons, but it’s competently done and the little personality sketches feel so real. She didn’t overwhelm the work with her actual knowledge, but she definitely used it to advantage.

The mystery itself isn’t exactly revolutionary, and her female femme-fatale style character (and the male reactions to her within the story) were so very, very typical of the period, but the ending brings in a surprisingly real note of pathos, and the setting is somewhat unique. It comes together into an enjoyable little amateur detective story, with some funny lines, some interesting details, and some surprisingly vivid thumbnail sketches of a few characters. I enjoyed it enough to rank it a cut above the sort of baseline enjoyment I’ve had with other British Library Crime Classics.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Requiem for a Mezzo

Posted December 4, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola DunnRequiem for a Mezzo, Carola Dunn

The Daisy Dalrymple books are definite cosies: mostly victims the reader will dislike, while the real culprit is never someone the reader is meant to like, or had a really good reason if they are; a ‘clean’ romance, with Alec and Daisy decorously falling in love with only hints here and there of physical lust; blood and guts minimised. Requiem for a Mezzo continues in that vein as expected, with the poisoning of a woman who rather made the lives of everyone around her miserable — a literal diva who has made a career for herself as a singer at the expense of her sister. The villain is not quite as expected, mind you — but I won’t spoil that part for you.

The investigation goes along as expected: various suspects, the weird complication of a Ukrainian terrorist group (an issue mostly skirted around and not used to full potential), plenty of red herrings. Daisy remains likeable, though not someone I’d ever invite round to my house (someone would be sure to die). She’s a little bit too perfect, despite her unfashionably rounded figure and her freckles (it all just makes her sound comfortable and cute to the modern reader), but she gets away with it. Alec isn’t too clever, but avoids ever relying hopelessly on Daisy’s help. It’s all within the bounds of tolerability — this makes it sound like I’m damning the books with faint praise, which is not my intention: I deeply enjoy them for the cosy mysteries they are.

I found the resolution of this one maybe a little too pat. I don’t believe in the motive, and feel like we ended the book without an answer as to who was the real culprit. But it’s still fun, and there were some lovely character moments: not just Daisy and Alec, but little glimpses of other people’s thoughts and feelings that make it feel a little more real.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Magpie Lord

Posted November 23, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Magpie Lord by K.J. CharlesThe Magpie Lord, K.J. Charles

As always with Charles’ work, this book is entertaining, sometimes funny, and an almost distressingly quick read. I wanted more! Not that the story isn’t complete: that isn’t it. It’s just that I ended up wanting to spend more time with the characters: not just Crane and Stephen, though the tension between them and their back-and-forth is undeniably fun, but Crane’s man Merrick as well. Crane is the remaining scion of a dissolute family; Merrick has been with him since he was banished to China, and is as faithful to him as a hound. They’ve been through all kinds of adventures before Crane is ever cursed, so he trusts Crane and wants to save him from the curse. Stephen Day, a magician who says he can help Crane, hates him on principle due to the depredations of his father and brother.

Of course, Stephen quickly finds out he’s wrong to assume the present Lord Crane is the same as his family, and he finds himself drawn into Crane’s orbit as he struggles to figure out the magic that surrounds him and unwind the hatred and dark magic that seems to be choking Crane and his estate. As an additional draw, Crane turns out to be the descendant of a powerful magician, one all English practitioners know of. Also, surprise surprise, he’s physically attracted to Crane. (If you know Charles’ work, this shouldn’t be a surprise at all — nor is it a spoiler that they get together.)

The background story is pretty dark and icky, and there’s one awful scene — well-written, but horrible to read — in which another magician forces Crane to choke on his own cut hair. All’s well that ends well, though, with plenty of room for more stories. Which I know exist, so I’ll be off in search of those now.

Obviously not one for people who aren’t into LGBT romances, but a fun fantasy-mystery for those who are. There are sex scenes, which didn’t seem to be absolutely necessary for the plot, but did add to character development.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Winter Garden Mystery

Posted October 28, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola DunnThe Winter Garden Mystery, Carola Dunn

No surprises that I picked up the next Daisy Dalrymple book pretty quickly — they’re just the perfect length for a long soak in the bath followed by a lazy evening, which is exactly how I’ve been reading them. I continue to enjoy the fact that Daisy’s a worker (although helped significantly by her class), and her relationship with Alec and his team; Phillip Petrie is rather a dear, despite being rather daft. His class-conscious snobbery fades away quickly as soon as he talks to someone for a while and discovers some things in common.

The new characters for this book are rather fun too: Lady Valeria is, of course, a battleaxe, while Roberta’s stubbornness is a joy. I called Sebastian’s relationships with various characters: it seemed very obvious up-front. I didn’t expect to like him, actually: he displays a pretty weak will to begin with, and a tendency to be led astray from what he should hold to — but in the end, he displays a bit of backbone and it really works. Ben was my favourite of the new characters, perhaps predictably: he sees some of the loneliness in Daisy’s past and is one of those people who reaches out and starts to help heal the wounds a little (brought on by her late love having been a conscientious objector, killed while driving an ambulance, and the way most people viewed him as a coward).

The mystery itself is solid enough providing you care enough about the characters to care about the outcome. When viewing the country house to write an article about it, Daisy sees a dead rosebush and comments on it. Once it has been dug up, however, a dead body is revealed — the body of a housemaid everyone thought had run off with a travelling salesman, who turns out to have been pregnant when she died. Daisy involves herself immediately on behalf of the young Welsh gardener (ugh, I was not convinced by his phonetically rendered accent) first accused of the murder, and calls Alec straight in. Of course, it’s a bit contrived — even twice all but falling over a dead body while visiting a stranger’s house for work is kind of unbelievable, so I do hope that there’ll be some variation on how Daisy gets involved as time goes on!

The central relationship of the books remains obvious, though it doesn’t develop too fast. Right now, Daisy and Alec are still thinking of the relationship as a possibility, despite their attraction to each other and the telling hints that they really do care. I’m looking forward to seeing this continue to develop.

All-in-all, still a fun cosy mystery, and Daisy is compelling enough a character for me to keep following the series — helped by the fact that I also care about Alec (as opposed to Amory and Milo in Ashley Weaver’s books, for example).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death at Wentwater Court

Posted October 23, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover Death at Wentwater Court by Carola DunnDeath at Wentwater Court, Carola Dunn

I really wanted another detective series, a little along the lines of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher (without being a total clone, of course — that’s just boring). I tried Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, and I found the first book less than satisfying — the writing choices took any possible tension out of it, while I found Maisie herself rather a cold fish, and more in the Sherlock Holmes line than the kind of sleuth I prefer. Reading my review of that book back now, I can’t even remember one of the major things that bothered me!

So, digression aside, did Daisy Dalrymple fit the bill for me? Thankfully, yes! She’s the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, which is the same rank as Phryne, which made me go “hmmmmm” at first — but in many other ways she isn’t like Phryne, being rather less fashionable (she hasn’t even bobbed her hair!), and pretty rather than having major sex appeal. She works for her living rather than relying on endless amounts of money, and her past is not quite so dramatic as Phryne’s (no ambulance-driving during the war). Likewise, her romantic choice is fairly clear. Her inspector isn’t so far from Phryne’s Jack in temperament and such, but he’s a widower with a child, which introduces another interesting element to the personal side of the story.

The plot itself is fairly typical for a cosy. Daisy goes to photograph a rich family’s home and write an article about it, and during her time there a singularly unpleasant person is murdered. Daisy finds herself constantly trying to help the police, and ultimately has totally divided loyalties. There’s nothing new or startling about the plot, but it works as one of those books I read in the bath, and Dunn is good enough with characters that I sympathise with them, worry about whodunnit, and generally get involved enough to make it worth the time invested.

Having finished it, I ordered up the next few books, and dove straight into the second, which I luckily had on hand. I think it’s a good bet Daisy’s here to stay, at least for a few books more. (Then we’ll see if the formula gets repetitive, or keeps working despite being repetitive, and all that sort of thing.)

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Mystery of the Skeleton Key

Posted October 14, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Mystery of the Skeleton Key by Bernard CapesThe Mystery of the Skeleton Key, Bernard Capes

I didn’t know anything about Bernard Capes before reading this, only that this was a reissue of a Golden Age crime fiction book, much in the same line as the British Library Crime Classics. Good enough for me, at least when I’m in the mood to tune out and just read an old-timey mystery: this pretty much delivered on that, though it’s hardly the most original or the most exciting of that line I’ve read.

It actually takes a long time for the story to explain why it’s The Mystery of the Skeleton Key; at times, I was actually tempted to check the right book was inside that slipcover! After a long preamble involving some of the characters meeting in Paris, and a bit of mystery about a Baron who plays chess for half-a-crown and frequents the oddest places, eventually there is actually a murder to be investigated. The wrong people are accused, the timings are all mixed up, and the son of the house (because if it’s not quite a country house mystery, it’s definitely set in a country house) is implicated because the girl who gets murdered — killed with a shot from his gun — was pregnant with his child.

In the end, the solution relies on coincidence, spurious old-fashioned science (a man inherits an injury-induced mannerism from his father due to the fact that his mother saw his father with the injury while pregnant with him), and various people not being quite who/what they say they are. I think it’s actually quite interesting in terms of who the culprit turns out to be — not a common solution, and against Knox’s Ten Commandments in a sense — but otherwise there’s not much to set it apart, and in tone it’s fairly dry and without any sense of urgency. My main feeling was mild curiosity, and that’s about it. Nothing terrible, but nor is it something I’d recommend.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Book of Hidden Things

Posted October 11, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco DimitriThe Book of Hidden Things, Francesco Dimitri

I wasn’t sure about this book from the blurb, but some trusted reviewers (e.g. Mogsy of Bibliosanctum) thought extremely highly of it, and I kept seeing it on the shelves, so when I finally spotted it at the library I thought I’d give it a go. I have to say, I’m not sold on it, but I also feel like I need to talk through my thoughts before I really decide.

So, what’s it about? It starts with the Pact: a group of four friends, who knew each other from childhood and grew up in the same Italian town, have agreed that every year they will meet again in the same place, back in their hometown, to eat pizza and talk and stay in contact, no matter what. They can’t call each other to set it up, they don’t necessarily stay in contact in the meantime, but every year, they meet there. The first point of view character is Fabio, a struggling photographer who hates his hometown, going back only to see the others. He missed the previous year out of shame for his less-than-spectacular career, and he’s not entirely sure what’s going to happen.

Two of his friends, Mauro and Tony, show up just as agreed. Mauro’s a lawyer, married with kids, and Tony has since they grew up come out, while maintaining ties to his home town and especially his sister. Art… has not turned up. Worried that this might be linked to their friend’s mysterious disappearance as a child, which had the three of them suspected of murdering him and which he never could satisfactorily explain, the three start to dig into what happened to their friend, talking to the local crime group, the police, anyone who might have information.

The book walks a line the whole time between the supernatural elements and the mental illness explanation, and it’s up to the reader really which you decide it was. The four characters are all fairly unlikeable in their own ways: one can sympathise with Fabio half the time, and then he — well, that’s probably too much of a spoiler. Mauro and Tony aren’t wonderful either, although Fabio is the most annoying. They’re all such boys, too, trying so hard to be macho. It’s realistic, but I tend to prefer likeable characters if I haven’t latched onto the plot/world, and I didn’t really latch on here.

And Art… is a whole ‘nother thing. In the words of Marvel’s Bruce Banner, speaking of Loki: “That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats, you can smell crazy on him.”

In the end, I just didn’t love it, I think. There are some amazing bits evoking the area they’re in, the food, the sense of community. And there are great bits of interaction and banter. But in the end, the whole business of walking the line between fantasy and madness-based mystery isn’t an original one, and I’m not that interested in reading about people being depicted as crazy in stereotyped ways that explain why they go and kill. (Most violence related to mental illness is against the mentally ill person, not committed by them.) Meh.

I’m torn between giving it two stars because I really didn’t feel it, and being coaxed up to three because people did love it and I can see why… but in the end, I rate based on my enjoyment.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Lake District Murder

Posted October 8, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Lake District Murder by John BudeThe Lake District Murder, John Bude

For all the praise of the series’ editor in the introduction, I don’t think Bude is that great a writer. His work is certainly enjoyable, but I found some aspects of this mystery painfully obvious, and he steers clear of having a particular character be front-and-center, totally indispensable in that Great Detective sense. His main character is a working man, and his prose is rather workmanlike to go with it. That’s not necessarily a criticism, and if you want to experience the Golden Age of Crime Fiction there’s no doubt it’s worth a read… but if you were to pick just one of the British Library Crime Classics, or just one Golden Age novel, I wouldn’t recommend one of Bude’s to be it.

This particular novel follows Inspector Meredith as he investigates the apparent suicide of a garage owner. There’s a few telltale hints, though, that the suicide might be staged: for example, the man’s hands are totally clean (when they should have been dirtied in setting up the suicide), and he’d lain the table for dinner, even putting the kettle on. As Meredith investigates, some kind of smuggling case becomes apparent in the background — something the dead man was involved in, and wanted to get out of.

The police spend most of the book stumped and trying various convoluted ways to figure out what’s going on, without figuring out a principle that occurred to me right away. I won’t explain what it is, of course — maybe you want the pleasure of working it out for yourself — but I really found myself rolling my eyes. Also, once the why was apparent in the form of this smuggling ring, the who and even the how were fairly obvious.

There are no sparkling characters who can’t be resisted, and to be honest I didn’t think there were any brilliant set-pieces describing the landscape, or delving into the human psyche. It’s just a mystery, moderately well investigated by a bland policeman, and moderately well-written. Not bad to while away some time with, but I couldn’t possibly describe it as unmissable.

Rating: 3/5

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