Reading this a second time, I liked it more; I think my theory the first time I read it that it’d lost some of its freshness because I’d been reading too many Phryne books in a row was probably true. It gives us a glimpse of a different Phryne, and the experiences that made her the person she was, covering her life in Paris just after the war, and that’s pretty interesting — you can see it informing the way she chooses her lovers in the present-day of the books, and how she really became tough as nails.
It’s also nice because the book gives us a little more focus on Bert and Cec — a little more of a glimpse at their history and their bond, and some of their friends.
Against that, the plot with the girl who was going to marry a chef feels very light, almost inconsequential. It does help keep the book moving along when there’s a lot of other emotions that could make it heavy-going, but it’s not memorable or especially interesting in itself.
The Rabbit Back Literature Society, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, trans. Lola Rogers
There’s some interesting elements to this book: the mysterious book viruses, which changes the plots and corrupts the narratives of various books in the Rabbit Back library; the disappearance of Laura White; the mystery of the original tenth member of the society. But mostly it felt unfocused, because there’s a lot going on: the society, the game they play, their pasts, the disappearance, the main character’s experiences with her family…
And honestly, the more I read, the more I felt like I was reading the fantasies of your stereotypical dirty old man. I felt like he undressed all the characters in his mind, in more ways than one, and took delight in displaying that to the reader. It felt prurient, and I was grossed out by some of the revelations. Also, I don’t think people honestly walk around being so conscious of their own nicely shaped lips in the way that his main character does.
The resolutions to the mysteries — the ones we actually get, since there isn’t a resolution to Laura White’s disappearance, for instance — are kind of anti-climatic. I did keep reading, because I wanted to know how it would all come together, but… I kind of regret bothering. It just never comes to anything. There’s some clever writing and some intriguing ideas, but it’s all surface.
The Hanging Tree does a hell of a lot, gathering together some plot points, revealing some secrets, teasing some future potential, humanising (well, sort of) characters like Lady Ty we might be tempted to just despise… It’s one of the plot-heavy entries to the series, featuring the Faceless Man and Lesley prominently, so predictably it gets a bit frenetic near the end. Characters flit in and out of sight; Peter stumbles into bad situation after bad situation; lots of property damage is incurred.
For the most part, it really worked. The tension ratcheted up as I realised exactly what was at stake, and new characters revealed things I’d wondered about (like a tradition of British women doing magic). Little ironies came up — if the Folly hadn’t been such an old boys’ club, and the new characters had been involved, would Lesley be with the Faceless Man at all? Could he have really tempted her?
And no doubt if this had ended the ongoing plot, I’d have been disappointed that it was so ‘easy’. Yet the ending seemed a little toothless: we know more about the Faceless Man and what he can do, but do we really have information to stop him? It feels like this series could easily go on another six books in this way: a book off and then a book that ends with Peter grappling with the Faceless Man, only for him to get away… I think I wanted a little more forward progress by the end.
There has to be space, though, for appreciating how much I love the new pathologist and Guleed’s involvement. I’m surprised she’s not being trained up at the Folly yet (but then, it’s also cool that she isn’t just following the same path as Lesley, like some “better” Lesley — she’s definitely her own character, with her own approach to problems)…
Despite my slight quibbles, it’s a fun read and a more than worthy entry to the series. Bring on the next! Sooner rather than later, please.
Phryne’s answer to Murder Must Advertise, and loaded with references to Sayers’ work (Nutrax Nerve Food, you say? smuggling clues in magazine copy, really?) — but also very much a novel in its own right, as Phryne goes above and beyond any of the on-screen heroism displayed by Lord Peter by rescuing her lover, Lin Chung, from pirates. Yep, pirates. As ever, it’s the usual mix for a Miss Fisher novel: a bit of mystery, some very fashionable clothing, some sex, a murder or so, and daring rescues featuring guns and requiring Phryne to get her kit off.
It kind of sounds formulaic when I put it that way, but it doesn’t feel that way when reading. It remains a ‘cosy’ mystery despite the guns and murder, even when it’s not a reread, because you know Phryne’s going to fix things in the end, with only minor damage to those around her. (Though I admit to being sceptical that Lin Chung’s replacement rubber ear is that realistic.)
The mystery part of it is fairly staid in comparison, though I do love the engagement with then-current politics (i.e. the mild background commentary on Mussolini).
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st August 2017
I picked up Harkworth Hall thanks to Bob @ Beauty in Ruins’ review; it sounded like a fun piece of Gothic romance with horror along the lines of William Hope Hodgson, rather than, say, Stephen King. All in all, pretty much up my alley — and even better, it features a relationship between two women (about which I’d better not say too much; Bob’s review already has a minor spoiler). I loved the women of the story: yes, they’re of their time, but they’re not completely circumscribed by the most strait-laced options available to women — Caroline has an independent streak, for one.
As for the horror aspect, it doesn’t go into that too much. It’s more of a sense of unease, of something uncanny, rather than all-out gore and cheap thrills (though there is a scene or two in which the threat is realised!).
I have just one quibble. At one point, two women are talking about being sensible, in the sense of being responsible and not rushing into danger, etc. Then one comments that they lack “sensibility”. Nooooo, that’s not what that word means! “Sensibility” is about appreciating and responding to emotion, not “being sensible” in our modern sense. Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is contrasting the two in its title, not pairing two like words.
That said, I’m looking forward to reading more of Caroline’s adventures, for sure.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017
I’m somewhat cautious when it comes to picking up LGBT fiction sometimes, because the quality often leaves something to be desired. Frankly, sometimes you wonder how some of it is published while some glorious writers stick to fanfiction. Still, I liked the sound of this book – and others by this author have been praised by friends – and I am, in fact, very glad I read it. It doesn’t feel like a book just written to get a pair of hot gay men together: it feels like plot and character come first, and the fact that these particular characters are attracted to each other and fall in love is second. Not secondary, because it is important to the story, but it feels natural.
Also, one of the couple has one hand due to a birth defect, and the other is non-binary, feeling that neither gender entirely suits him. Not that he has a word for it or a pronoun, given the setting, but the exploration of his gender identity is also integral to the story, explaining how he reacts and what he’s willing (and unwilling) to do.
The sex scenes, though not something I’m interested in per se, are tastefully written and avoid being just “insert tab A into slot B” – it’s not mechanical or forced, but feels natural to the story and characters and where they are in their relationship.
I imagine if you’ve read the previous books in the same series, you’ll enjoy the cameo appearances of a couple of other gay couples. For me, I’ve gone ahead and bought those books on the strength of this one, and I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve been vaguely aware that this book existed for ages, but never picked it up — I’m pretty sure I didn’t know anything except the title, in fact, because I wasn’t sure what to expect when I did pick this up. I know it’s supposed to be a bit of a classic and it won awards and all, but I didn’t really get into it. The mystery is so-so and there’s too many characters crammed into a small number of pages — and yet I found myself wondering when it’s be over.
Turtle is a fun character, for sure, and I found myself a little bit caught up in how she and her sister navigated their issues… but otherwise, I mostly didn’t get into this at all, care about the characters or really wonder about the mystery. Meh?
What do I even have to say about these books anymore? This is the second Wimsey book, and it ups the emotional involvement somewhat by bringing in Peter’s family, and therefore higher stakes. I love all the stupid, unreliable, ridiculous characters, and the clever ones too, since they’re often one and the same character. I love the fact that if you pay attention, there are clues throughout — if you know your literature. (I refer to the references to Manon Lescaut.)
Yes, it’s Golden Age detective fiction, with everything that implies. At times, things don’t seem to be moving along much further, things get confused and convoluted, and you just long for people to do some straight talking. It’s Peter and Bunter that carry it, along with some help from the Dowager Duchess — I read these books originally because they’re classics, but I came back again (and again, and again) for the characters and the cleverness of Sayers’ writing.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 25th July 2017
I’ve enjoyed the other books and stories in this series a lot, and this is no exception. Take a Raymond Chandler-esque world, and apply one robot trained as a PI who has been somewhat repurposed as an assassin. Add the complication that he runs on limited tapes of memory — 24 hours at a time, no more storage than that. Add his AI handler, Ada, who very clearly has her own agenda — one which doesn’t always align with what their creators envisioned for them.
And, in this book, add the mafia.
I started it when I couldn’t sleep, and finished it an hour and a half later, without stopping once. Adam Christopher writes crisply, precisely; there’s no dead patches where you feel like you can put the book down, because if you did, well; something interesting might happen while you aren’t looking. I love the way Christopher uses Ray’s limitations to create parts of the mystery. This isn’t just a book with a detective/assassin who happens to be a robot; the fact that Ray’s a robot is vital to the whole thing.
Raymond Chandler’s probably rolling in his grave at the comparison, given he had no great opinion of sci-fi, but I’m not going to worry too much about giving him an unquiet rest.
A beloved reread, as you might expect, this time occasioned by having watched the Edward Petherbridge adaptations with my wife (who has, at least in BBC adaptation form, been converted to the love of Lord Peter). Whose Body? is a neat little mystery, and it’s given some depth by the fact that it already deals with Peter’s difficulties about whether he can do detecting as a hobby, or if there’s something wrong with that, etc, etc — and also with his shell shock, which retreats into the background in later books but is a key feature for how he reacts in this book.
He’s a little too perfect, of course, but I knew that going in. I don’t think Sayers had quite settled into what she was doing when she wrote this book, but it’s entertaining and, if you’re not interested in romance, long before Harriet Vane arrives on the scene.