2 stars, crime & mystery

John Bude: The Lake District Murder

30082530Title: The Lake District Murder
Author: John Bude
Series: Inspector Meredith #1

When a body is found in an isolated garage, Inspector Meredith is drawn into a complex investigation where every clue leads to another puzzle: was this a suicide, or something more sinister? Why was the dead man planning to flee the country? And how is this connected to the shady business dealings of the garage?

Rating2star

This book comes with a new introduction that proudly proclaims “This book may be a product of the Golden Age of detective fiction, but it is a world away from the unreality of bodies in the library and cunningly contrived killings in trans-continental trains.” And it’s true. Meredith is no Poirot who invites all the suspects in one room at the end and lays open the sins of every single one before explaining who really committed the murder. Neither is he a detective in the vein of the pre-golden age geniuses,  who takes one look at the body and exclaims that this can’t have been a suicide because of the way the victim’s fingernails look. The case itself has also no big stakes. No innocent person will hang if the real killer isn’t caught. The fate of the world (or worse: the British Empire) isn’t in danger, either.

In fact, the whole case isn’t what you would expect from a typical Golden Age mystery. There’s no group of suspects and an inspector who has to figure out motive and opportunity. Quite early on Meredith discovers that the victim had more money than he could have made by legal means and he suspects that this lead to his death. So the whole investigation focusses on figuring out in what exactly he was involved. This involves coordinating which sergeant observes which location, in-depth discussion of various theories as to what illegal activities it could have been and a fair number of other things that are, quite frankly, boring. (One chapter is called The Inspector of Weights and Measures. Seriously).

Now, not every crime-novel needs a plot like Murder on the Orient-Express, a sleuth with Poirot’s flair for the dramatic, or Lord Peter Wimsey frantically investigating to save his brother from the gallows. In fact, I have read many mysteries that featured perfectly ordinary characters in perfectly ordinary plots. But The Lake District Murder isn’t just ordinary; it’s bland.

Meredith is an inspector. He’s married and his wife isn’t happy about her husband working for the police and really doesn’t want their teenage-son to also end up as a cop. That doesn’t stop Meredith from sending said son on errands connected to his investigation. That’s as far as his characterisation goes. There’s also a superintendent that gets involved in the case and a sergeant that Meredith usually works with. I couldn’t tell you anything about either of them.
The victim’s fiancee genuinely grieves about him but since she is only around for a few pages I couldn’t feel for her or the murder-victim. And while I do appreciate that the bad guys weren’t cartoonishly evil (as sometimes happens in mysteries), it also meant that I didn’t have that feeling of Finally they get what they deserve once they were caught.

Another thing the writer of the introduction tells us is that the title isn’t just a cheap advertising-ploy. This book is really set in the Lake District. Only it didn’t feel like that to me. Apart from a few mentions of ‘Coastal Towns’  it could as well be set in Midsomer County. No comparison to Inspector Morse’s Oxford that’s always so present it’s almost its own character and that made me want to go to see it for myself. If I ever visit the Lake District it will be because of the charming descriptions of it in one of my mysteries with a body in the library and a detective that invites all the suspects in the salon in the last chapter, not because of Inspector Meredith.

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2 stars, historical, romance

Rose Lerner: In for a Penny

In for a Penny - Cover

Title: In for a Penny
Author: Rose Lerner

Young Lord Nevinstoke enjoys every moment of his deep-gaming, hard-drinking, womanizing life. Then his father is killed in a drunken duel, and Nev inherits a mountain of debts and responsibilities. He vows to leave his wild friends and his mistress behind, start acting respectable—and marry a rich girl.

Penelope Brown, a manufacturing heiress, seems the perfect choice. She’s pretty, ladylike, good at accounting, and looking for a marriage based on companionship and mutual esteem, not love. In fact, the only rash thing she’s ever done in her life is accept Nev’s proposal.

When the newlyweds arrive at Nev’s family estate, they discover that all the respectability and reason in the world won’t be enough to handle a hostile next-door neighbor, mutinous tenants, and Nev’s family’s propensity for scandal. In way over their heads, Nev and Penelope have no one to turn to but each other—but to their surprise, that just might be enough.

Rating2star

She ached in places it wasn’t ladylike to think about.

I was so on board with this story at first. Nev enjoys drinking and gambling with his friends more than anything that looks like genuine work. When his father dies suddenly and Nev discovers the mountain of debt he inherited it shocks Nev into sobriety. He swears off drinking, gambling, and his friends, offers for the rich heiress and promises her not love but to be a good friend and companion. Penny agrees but there’s trouble on the horizon. Nev is leaving behind a mistress, he genuinely cared about. Penny has an almost-fiancee who takes the jilting not well. Nev’s mother and sister are convinced he heroically sacrificed himself and agreed to marry a horrible woman just to save the family and they have no intention of welcoming her with open arms. Once they are at the family estate Nev and Penny discover that it’s in a worse state than they feared and both begin to worry that the other might regret the marriage.

And that right there is already enough for one book but the problems don’t stop there. The neighbor and the parish priest both miss only a black cat they can stroke to be proper cliche villain-evil.

Cardinal Richelieu stroking his black cat

The estate isn’t just in a bad state due to incompetence, there’s something more sinister going on. The tenants are so discontent that they might rebell. Nev’s sister has more problems than not being fond of her new sister-in-law. Poachers are everywhere. Both the ex-mistress and the ex-almost-fiancee make their reappearances at the most inconvenient time. And of course, everybody else is also just at the wrong place at the wrong time so that every mistake or misunderstanding has the worst possible consequences. Considering I have read books by Rose Lerner before and enjoyed the absolute lack of this kind of melodrama, that was very disappointing. The characters in her other books are all refreshingly reasonable. There’s no ‘I overheard only parts of your conversation and now I refuse to let you explain the context’ or any of those cheap soap-opera plotlines.

Some gothic novels are name-dropped during the story and Penny firmly proclaims how ridiculous they are, only to end up in a situation that could be right out of one, which made me wonder if the book wants to be a parody or at least poke fun at some gothic tropes. But for that, the book just isn’t funny enough. Because when Nev and Penny aren’t caught up in ridiculous drama the worries they have about not being good enough for the other or dealing with bigger problems than they can handle are genuinely moving. And the author gives both Nev’s mother and one of the villains a good reason for their hostility but then they act again like the cliche evil mother in law or the mustache-twirling villain. I can’t just read one page of a book as serious romance-novel and the next as over-the-top parody but I had the impression that this was what how the author wanted me to read this.

4 stars, fantasy

Carol Berg: Restauration

618198Title: Restoration
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Rai-Kirah, #3

By the time Seyonne survived sixteen years of slavery, reclaimed his life, and watched it slip away again he had undeniable evidence of the gods. Now, exiled from his homeland, he is left to face the demon inside his soul. Meanwhile, the Hamraschi have sworn to destroy Prince Aleksander and anyone who shelters him. Assassins abound. And when Seyonne journeys across the borders of the world to finally confront his own haunted dreams and put them to rest, he discovers instead something both unreservedly terrifying and thrilling. Soon he will become all that he ever feared… 

Rating4star

There is no evil one human will not work on another.

I rarely say this about fantasy novels but: this book would have worked better if it had been longer. And had had more POV-characters. Now usually I appreciate it when fantasy-authors manage to keep their stories short(ish) and limit their POV-characters but in this book, there was too much major stuff going on off-screen.

Seyonne continues his journey from the last book. After all, he made an irreversible decision in the last book, one that went against everything his people believed. Now things are happening that make him question if he really did the right thing. And because having only one thing to worry about would be boring there’s more: Even if he did the right thing, his work isn’t done. And he is scared of the consequences of him taking the next step.

But Seyonne isn’t the only one with a problem. The unrests Aleksander had to deal with in the last book have turned into a full-blown rebellion. A massive one. And now he is well and truly fucked and has to think and act quickly if he doesn’t want to end up as head on a spike. And he and Seyonne are together for large parts of the book and we see how both of them are working on their problems. But for about the last third they are separated and we only see what Seyonne is doing. And in that last third, the major things happen. For Aleksander, that means major win-your-kingdom back battles and various other problems you can guess if you’ve read the previous books. And all of that happens off-screen which is disappointing. Even if the finale we actually got to see was still epic.

But in the end: what drew me into the series was the beautiful friendship of Aleksander and Seyonne in book one. And I appreciated how Berg completely turned my expectations about where the plot was going on its head in book two. But I also missed that friendship because they spent most of the time apart. Now, Restauration again has lots of interactions between them and I loved them. (And that epic finale I mentioned? I still can’t even). So even though I would have loved to see more off Aleksander’s storyline, I still got all the things I came to this series for.


Review of Revelation (Rai-Kirah #2)
Review of Transformation (Rai-Kirah #1)

podcasts

The Inevitable True Crime Podcasts Post

I like podcasts. I’m interested in true crime. Currently, everybody and their pet-dog has started a true crime podcast. So it’s inevitable that I talk about my favourites.

All Killa No Filla

1400x1400_10064095Comedians Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard-McLean discuss serial killers. And go off on hilarious tangents. While they discuss many well-known cases like Bundy, Dahmer and Brady/Hindley they also attempt to include older cases or some from outside the UK/US.
Now sometimes their tangents are genuinely hilarious but for a while, it got too much. A few episodes seem more like ‘two women tell jokes and occasionally mention serial-killers’ and a few of the episodes after the 30st feel exhausting rather than funny. But they managed to get back on track and now I’m again excitedly awaiting each new episode.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: Peter Kürten, the three-parter on Fred and Rose West, Graham Young

 


Wine and Crime

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Each episode three friends tackle a different crime-related topic. That means they start off with some background on the topic, which can mean ‘Canada’s crime-stats’ in the Crazy Canadians episode, some psychological insight into the person who commits a certain type of crime or a more scientific approach when the topic is forensics. Then two or more cases that fit the topic are discussed.
The episode-topics are wide-ranging and so far have included necrophilia, international abductions, evil twins and much more. In general, I’m drawn to the more concrete topics (‘Missing Persons’ or ‘Odd MO murders’ are just topics that are so vast that a single episode can only scratch the surface) but the podcast is always fun.

You also get a wine-recommendation in each episode but even if you like the idea of drinking the wine that’s paired with the Necrophilia-episode, non-US listeners will have a hard time finding most of the wines.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: any of the forensic episodes, ax-murders, crimes of passion.

 


S’Laughter

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Two teachers each pick a crime-case from the UK or Ireland and tell the other (and the audience) about it. While ‘crime’ usually means murder there have been episodes on various con artists, Ronnie Biggs, and a (less humorous but very good one) on Jimmy Saville. Often they pick less well-known cases which can be a strength but also a weakness. It’s nice to hear about people that haven’t yet been discussed in several podcast-episodes and documentaries but some stories are also simply not very well-known because they are not that interesting.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: Herbert Rowse Armstrong, Paul Glen & The Black Panther

 


Real Crime Profile

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Unlike the previously mentioned ones, this is a much more serious podcast. Profiler Jim Clemente, profiler and victim advocate Laura Richards and Criminal Minds Casting Director Lisa Zambetti discuss various true crime-related subjects. They started off with an episode-by-episode analysis of Making a Murderer and The People vs. OJ Simpson and still discuss TV-shows in detail but also other cases that grabbed headlines (like the murder of Meredith Kercher and that of Reeva Steenkamp). They do jump around a fair bit so you sometimes get a few episodes on one topic, two one-offs about completely different topics and then get back to the first one which can be confusing.
And, as said, they are not light-hearted. I still enjoy listening to them more than to any other of the ‘serious’ true crime podcasts. They are less detached and – yes this does sound like a cliche now – I believe them that they actually care about the topic they are talking about. Besides,  two people with lots of expertise in law-enforcement and one person who is simply interested in true crime make for a great combination of hosts. They can go deeper than podcasts that are hosted simply by interested amateurs but don’t get too technical.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: the series on The People vs. OJ Simpson, the episodes on Meredith Kercher

 


Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories

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Another podcast that is not like the above. Unsolved Murders is completely scripted. Not something I usually like, since the spontaneous banter is what draws me towards podcasts. And while the discussions the hosts have are interesting and funny, you will never forget that this isn’t spontaneous. But they also have something else: full-cast reenactments. Not cheap ‘Somebody says Hey who are you and then screams loudly *gory sound effects*’ but well-written scenes that introduce the victim(s), the suspects and the circumstances. And, as somebody who loves audio-dramas, I enjoy that way to introduce a case more than one person just rattling down the facts.

Listen to them: here
Suggested episodes: The Axman of New Orleans, Benjamin Siegel, The Villisca Ax-murders

 

1 star, crime & mystery, historical

Lynn Brittney: Murder In Belgravia

37481550Title: Murder In Belgravia: A secret group of detectives solving crime in the seedy underbelly of World War 1 London
Author: Lynn Brittney
Series: Mayfair 100 #1

Set against the backdrop of WW1, Mayfair 100 is the telephone number for a small specially-formed crimebusting team based in a house in Mayfair. London, 1915. Just 10 months into the First World War, the City is flooded with women taking over the work vacated by men in the Armed Services. Chief Inspector Peter Beech, a young man invalided out of the war in one of the first battles, is faced with investigating the murder of an aristocrat and the man’s wife, a key witness and suspect, will only speak to a woman about the unpleasant details of the case. After persuading the Chief Commissioner to allow him to set up a clandestine team to deal with such situations, Beech puts together a small motley crew of well-educated women and professional policemen. As Beech, Victoria, Caroline, Rigsby, and Tollman investigate the murder, they delve into the seedier parts of WWI London, taking them from criminal gangs to brothels and underground drug rings supplying heroin to the upper classes. Will the Mayfair 100 team solve the murder? And if they do, will they be allowed to continue working as a team?

Rating1star

Grimdark cozy-mysteries are apparently a thing now. Often cozies are rather clean: the victim wasn’t a good person anyway. The only bad things that ever happened were because of the victim (and possibly the killer). Once the murderer is caught everything is fine again. Or at the very least the (well-adjusted) sleuth has figured out the perfect way to help the person who is still suffering. (To be clear: I don’t mind that. We all need a bit of escapism now and then and many people, myself included, find that in cozies.)

There are cozies that try to break that mold. They use a set-up that is more a cozy than ‘serious’ crime novel but don’t shy away from the fact that there are issues like addiction or racism, you can’t solve in 300 pages. Some are rather subtle about it and/or don’t want to go too deep into it (and while I frequently proclaim my love for the Lady Daisy mysteries, I do wish in a 20+ book series there’d been more than one gay couple and 3 or 4 POC-characters. Though the way she deals with the fallout and consequences of WWI is done very well).

This book has no such qualms. The set-up, with an unofficial team with one-half cops one-half amateurs, is something you’d expect in a cozy. But two of the protagonists are veterans who were seriously injured in the war. The story itself involves sexual assault, PTSD, addiction, pedophilia, and prostitution. Oh and the whole book is set during World War One, and halfway through the story, London is bombed. I had almost forgotten about that, which tells you all about the impact it had on me. But sentences like “Billy explained all about the damage, the dead bodies, the smoke, fire, explosions and general horror he had experienced.” don’t evoke many emotions in me. But throughout the book, the prose is like this: bland, unemotional and no character has a distinct voice.
And even if that wasn’t an issue: the book crams all these horrors into it and features some characters that suffered terribly but they find the perfect solution for all of them. And they all lived happily ever after. I just can’t buy this after tons of misery were piled on them.

And because all this isn’t enough, the book reads like it was written by an author who thinks her readers are really stupid. There is no other reason why the most obvious facts are explained at length and why information is repeated over and over again. Like when one character discovers something and then instead of a simple ‘And then he told X what he discovered that morning’ we get half a page of ‘And then he told X about event A, discovery B, and event C’. Despite the fact that we just read about A, B and C in the previous chapter.
On another occasion, two characters visit a lawyer because they wish to see a document. The lawyer, being a lawyer is reluctant at first but can be convinced that this would be in his client’s interest. Still, he is aware that he shouldn’t really be doing this so he asks one of the characters to leave the room with him to look at a painting. Anybody who has ever consumed any form of fiction now knows what is happening there. The book feels the need to explain to us that “she was being asked to leave the room with Sir Arnold on a pretext so that Beech could look at the documents on the desk.”

Something else? Oh, right the premise of this book is an unofficial police team with women (before they were allowed in the police-force) that deals with cases where e.g. a witness doesn’t want to talk with a man. For that, the men in it were often pretty sexist. And of course, those were different times and having heroes with suspiciously modern views is not the best solution. But neither is not doing anything. The men are happy because women have their “curves in all the right places” or because “being a bodyguard and making arrests appealed to his strong sense of masculinity” and have questionable views on women’s rights, votes for women etc. and all this goes unchallenged. At no point had the characters a serious discussion about this. At no point did I have the impression that the author weighed in on it. She just wrote down what the men said and thought.

ARC received from NetGalley

challenges

2018 Challenges – Masterpost

Every year I tell myself I want to do something about my tbr-pile and by now I have slowly begun to realize how my reading-mind works and what is a good way to challenge myself:

  • just saying ‘read X books from your pile’ is not good. If I aim too low and finish after half a year I’ll just end up going ‘yay! I finished! Let’s reward myself by buying more books’ and if I aim too high and realize I’ll never finish it I’ll just get anxious and not read at all
  • most reading-challenges out there have a theme of ‘broaden your horizon’ which is great but not what I want. I don’t have that book for squares like ‘post-apocalyptic novel’ or ‘GR choice award winner’ and I don’t want to buy new ones because that’s not why I challenge myself.

So I was very happy when I found this group on Goodreads that lets you mix and match from a selection of yearly, quarterly and monthly challenges. So I went and picked some and intend to combine those with a personal one just for myself:

Continue reading “2018 Challenges – Masterpost”

16 tasks, challenges

16 Tasks Round up

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The challenge is over. The story so far. I have 20 points


Square 2: Guy Fawkes Night/Bon Om Touk

Tasks for Guy Fawkes Night: Which kind of tea is your favourite? Tell us why.

Tasks for Bon Om Touk: Post a picture from your most recent or favorite vacation on the sea (or a lake, river, or any other body of water larger than a puddle), or if you’re living on the sea or on a lake or a river, post a picture of your favorite spot on the shore / banks / beach / at the nearest harbour.

both are here

2 points

Square 4: Thanksgiving

Tasks for Thanksgiving Day: Be thankful for yourself and treat yourself to a new book – post a picture of it.

here

1 point (3)

Square 7: International Human Right’s Day

Tasks for International Human Rights Day: Post a picture of yourself next to a war memorial or other memorial to an event pertaining to Human Rights. (Pictures of just the memorial are ok too.)

here

1 point (4)

Square 9: Winter Solstice

Tasks for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Grab one of your thickest books off the shelf. Ask a question and then turn to page 40 and read the 9th line of text on that page. Post your results.

here

1 point (5)

Square 10: Pancha Ganapati

Tasks for Pancha Ganapati: Post about your 5 favourite books this year and why you appreciated them so much. –OR– Take a shelfie / stack picture of the above-mentioned 5 favorite books.

here

1 point (6)

Square 12: Festivus/Saturnalia

Tasks for Festivus: Perform the Airing of Grievances: name 5 books you’ve read this year that have disappointed you – tell us in tongue-lashing detail why and how they failed to live up to expectations.

here

Tasks for Saturnalia: If you could time-travel back to ancient Rome, where would you want to go and whom (both fictional and / or nonfictional persons) would you like to meet?

here

2 points (8)

Square 13: Christmas

Tasks for Christmas: Post a picture of your stockings hung from the chimney with care, –OR– a picture of Santa’s ‘treat’ waiting for him. –OR– Share with us your family Christmas traditions involving gift-giving, or Santa’s visit.

here

1 point (9)

Square 15: St. Stephen’s Day

Book themes for St. Stephen’s Day: Read anything where the main character has servants (paid servants count, NOT unpaid) or is working as a servant him-/ herself.

Elizabeth Peters: Crocodile on the Sandbank

1 point (10)

20 points + 10 points makes 30. That is nice, especially since I had totally expected to fail spectacularly