3 stars, crime & mystery

Mystery in White

23350057Title: Mystery in White
Author: J. Jefferson Farjeon

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

Rating

“Sergeant,” said the inspector solemnly, “if you’re not very careful, you will become intelligent, like me!”

This book is absurd in a way only a proper Golden Age mystery can be.  The premise makes even And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express seem quite harmless. And the following coincidences that need to happen for our main cast of characters to get involved and eventually solve the mystery go beyond anything I’ve ever read. Or perhaps I should rather say ‘beyond anything I’ve read and still worked’ because I’ve read lots of books with plots that only worked thanks to outlandish circumstances. And I could never forget those. Meanwhile, I read Mystery in White and was vaguely aware that there are a surprisingly high number of people out in a snowstorm who then coincidentally end up in the same place but I never cared that much.

Here, it worked, because under all this ridiculousness there is a very engaging mystery that is populated by characters that go beyond the typical stock characters. I’m not saying that they have great depth (there isn’t too much space for depth with so many characters in a book of that length) but it’s not one of those cases where you read one chapter and can already tell who is going to be the murder victim and who will fall in love with whom.

Sadly one of the characters is also the weak point of this novel. The guy who did most of the sleuthing in this book was thoroughly unlikeable. He reminded me of the way Holmes is written in bad pastiches or on Sherlock. He misses nothing and makes brilliant deductions but is also constantly rude (unlike the real Holmes who just doesn’t bother too much with social conventions when he deems them unnecessary) and doesn’t care if he upsets the people around him.

But, since this book was just a one-off and the author’s other books have different detectives/sleuths I will definitely check out more by him.


is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

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Book themes for Saint Lucia’s Day: Read a book where ice and snow are an important feature.

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4 stars, crime & mystery, historical, romance

Think of England

34715257Title: Think of England
Author: KJ Charles

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Rating4star

I had not planned to buy any new books for a while but then I read the author’s post about the inspiration for this book and just couldn’t resist. I did grow up with the Edgar Wallace-movies and still love them. Now I only know Wallace’s mystery stories that involve beautiful heiresses and dastardly villains who are after their fortune and I don’t know any of his spy-stories (or any of the other authors she mentions as inspiration) and Think of England is clearly a spy story.  Admittedly, not a genre I would have picked up normally and the blurb also made expect something that it would eventually turn into a more ‘conventional’ mystery (with a murdered country house guests) that just had some connection with the treason/spy part.

It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I regret reading this book. Rather the opposite: I had a lot of fun. The plot is fast-paced and takes the characters from one seemingly hopeless situation to the next while never going so far that you wonder how any human can cope with all that. But during all that, there was still time for the characters to develop their feelings for each other without it feeling rushed.

The way the book handled the issue that ‘true’ Edwardian pulp fiction tends to be rather full of homophobia, racism and various other-isms was also done very well. Neither is Curtis the single person in the whole novel who miraculously is tolerant of everything (as some historical fiction tends to do with their main characters) nor is he full of the worst prejudices that magically disappeared once he met Daniel. He starts off with a fair share of them but the circumstances soon force him to reconsider them. And he doesn’t just go ‘Well, Daniel is a foreigner but also a good guy so clearly everything I ever thought about foreigners being cowardly and evil is wrong.’ It’s a process that takes much of the book (and a lot of the time in which he isn’t occupied with escaping from mortal danger he spends reevaluating all the things he so far accepted without question).

The only downside to this is that while the scenes with Curtis and Daniel were intense and the development of their relationship believable there also weren’t that many of them and I really wished there had been more. And especially with the teasing at the end that they might have more adventures together, it’s a bit disappointing that this is a standalone. There’s certainly potential to develop their relationship further but alas…

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This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

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Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish (Daniel)

As well as:

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Tasks for Bodhi Day: Perform a random act of kindness. I tweeted the author to tell her how much I had enjoyed the book. Because I know reviews are a great way to help authors and I always try to write them in a way that they are also helpful to other readers who are trying to decide if they should pick up the book or not. But sometimes it’s just nice to tell an author how much you enjoy what they’re doing.

3 stars, crime & mystery, historical, romance

An Unseen Attraction (Sins of the Cities #1)

30517107Title: An Unseen Attraction
Author: KJ Charles
Series: Sins of the Cities #1

Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship…

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding… it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

Rating3star

Greater Love hath no man than he share the last ginger biscuit.

After The Magpie Lord and The Spectred Isle this is my first non-fantasy novel by KJ Charles and it’s…well different. Beyond the obvious lack of malicious spirits trying to kill the main characters. (Although…it depends on your definition of malicious spirit I guess). Both books felt like fantasy novels with strong romance elements to me. I’m not trying to slag off romance novels (and I gushed over the relationship in The Spectred Isle a lot). I’m just saying that the main plot was about the characters trying to defeat an evil supernatural being. They happened to fall in love along the way but the main threat wasn’t their relationship not working out but getting killed by aforementioned supernatural evil.

An Unseen Atraction is more a romance with a murder mystery in the background…and it occasionally tries to be a murder mystery with a strong romance plot and the end result left me somewhat unsatisfied. There was more focus on the building relationship and the troubles they face along the way than in the average ‘sleuth falls in love with a witness during the investigation’-mystery. Clem and Rowley argue. They have things they don’t want to share with each other. There are misunderstandings and their different backgrounds sometimes cause tension. All of these conflicts are well-written, realistic and not just arguments for the sake of filling pages. But the resolution sometimes falls short when suddenly the mystery pushes the romance in the back seat again.

And then the mystery plot goes beyond ‘romance where the heroes conveniently fall over some clues’ but also is never a ‘proper’ mystery because the actual sleuthing that they do is rather limited. So despite loving historical romances and historical mysteries, the book couldn’t quite win me over. I still enjoyed it and am curious enough to give the second book a try (even if there hadn’t been the sequel hook at the end) because even this romance that I wish had been more time to develop is more convincing than many of the ‘they meet, they find each other hot, they fuck, there is a ridiculous misunderstanding, it is resolved, happy end’-variety. *glances at some past reading choices*. (But yes, there’s also the sequel hook. Damn you *hmpf*)


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This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season challenge:

Winter Solstice/Yaldā Night: Read a book where the cover is a night-time scene.

1 star, crime & mystery, historical

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock Holmes #2)

33835806
Title: A Conspiracy in Belgravia
Author: Sherry Thomas
Series:  Lady Sherlock Holmes #2

Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deducti.on to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body that surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

Rating1star

First: if you plan to read this series start with the first book A Study in Scarlet Woman. This is not a series that can be read out of order. I was puzzled during the first chapters because I took all the mysterious hints for allusions to the events that were to come in that book but at least some of them were allusions to things that happened in the previous books.
Second: The even more sensible choice would be to not read this series at all and instead re-read A Scandal in Bohemia. Or The Adventure of Solitary Cyclist. Or one of Lyndsay Faye’s pastiches. Anything that is actually good instead of this mess. The book tries to be a crime novel that is also a Holmes-pastiche/meta and an examination of Victorian morals/hypocrisy/the role of women/the treatment of anybody who doesn’t fit in but fails spectacularly on every count.

Charlotte was involved in a scandal and is therefore not welcome in polite society (or her family) anymore. That’s not a problem for her though. She has benefactors who make sure that she has a place to live and enough money to buy French pastries. She even still gets a marriage proposal. Not for love, more as a marriage of convenience that would also make it possible to help her sisters (who are still stuck with their hypocritical parents). That gives Charlotte ample reason to explain that love-marriages are a stupid idea anyway because love is a fickle thing…and postpone her answer to the proposal over and over again…
The possibility that her parents could abduct her and lock her up somewhere to lessen the ‘shame’ she has brought over her family is brought up but thanks to her oh so superior intellect that means she can foresee anything she is never in any danger of that.

The people who are suffering because of Charlotte’s actions are her sisters who are still stuck with her parents. Livia, who is also clever but less confident and who misses Charlotte but can only exchange occasional letters with her. And Bernadette who has an unspecified mental disability and who after having lost Charlotte as attachment figure has gotten worse. (The danger that their Dickens-caricature-horrible parents would lock her up in an asylum is conveniently non-existent). But we see Charlotte barely bothered by any of this. Emotions are for other people.

As Holmes pastiche, it also doesn’t work. I need a proper ‘Watson’ as narrator for that but A Conspiracy in Belgravia jumps from one 3rd person narrator to another. Including an inspector that ends up doing nothing to solve the case. But even if you’re less pedantic about that: the few deductions Charlotte makes are ridiculously far-fetched. (And yes, I’m aware that this is also an issue in the original stories, but they still look tame compared to what Charlotte figures out). The case gets solved through a series of the most convenient coincidences.

Which brings me to my final complaint: the mystery is also shit. You can play any of the following drinking games and always end up completely wasted before the book is over:

  • convenient coincidence that helps bring the investigation along
  • a chapter ends with an ominous cliffhanger that later gets resolved in two lines
  • weird time-jumps for no reason
  • current POV narrator keeping information about things happening in front of them from the reader

I would not advice combining two or more of these unless you want to end up with alcohol poisoning. But then I would not advise reading this book at all.

 

ARC recieved from NetGalley

5 stars, crime & mystery

Carola Dunn: Superfluous Women (Daisy Dalrymple #22)

25069276Title: Superfluous Women
Author: Carola Dunn
Series: (Daisy Dalrymple #22)

In England in the late 1920s, The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher, on a convalescent trip to the countryside, goes to visit three old school friends in the area. The three, all unmarried, have recently bought a house together. They are a part of the generation of “superfluous women”—brought up expecting marriage and a family, but left without any prospects after more than 700,000 British men were killed in the Great War.

Daisy and her husband Alec—Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher, of Scotland Yard —go for a Sunday lunch with Daisy’s friends, where one of the women mentions a wine cellar below their house, which remains curiously locked, no key to be found. Alec offers to pick the lock, but when he opens the door, what greets them is not a cache of wine, but the stench of a long-dead body.

And with that, what was a pleasant Sunday lunch has taken an unexpected turn. Now Daisy’s three friends are the most obvious suspects in a murder and her husband Alec is a witness, so he can’t officially take over the investigation. So before the local detective, Superintendent Crane, can officially bring charges against her friends, Daisy is determined to use all her resources (Alec) and skills to solve the mystery behind this perplexing locked-room crime.

Rating5star

“Sorry but one simply can’t turn off one’s brain!” Underwood heaved a deep sigh. “No, I suppose it’s too much to expect of the modern woman.”
This is book number 22 in this series. I’ve read the previous 21 books and intend to read number 23 once it comes out.
I could simply stop here. After all, I can’t say that about many series. And even fewer if you ask which of those I genuinely enjoy and don’t only continue reading because I’ve grown so fond of the characters, that I’ll follow them through the shittiest plots. Carola Dunn has managed to keep the quality of this series steady for a long time and that deserves applause.
It also means I have run out of things to say. Daisy and Alec’s relationship is still refreshingly drama-free. The new characters are still charming. (I really wouldn’t mind if Willie and the others turned into recurring characters as some earlier guest-characters have done). Now some of the ‘evil’ characters had less depth than those in previous books but they still didn’t turn into caricatures.

That leaves me with the mystery plot. Which was great. Now I’ve read a lot of mystery novels. I often figure out the killer long before the characters do and not necessarily because the book is badly written. I just know what I have to look for and what hints disguise themselves as unimportant. Only, this time, I figured the killer out only a few pages before Daisy did it. I was distracted by some very well done red herrings and something stopped me from suspecting that character earlier. The exact same thing that stopped Daisy and the others from suspecting them. Saying more would be a spoiler but It was very well done.

On to the next 22 books 😉
2 stars, crime & mystery

Tears of Pearl (Lady Emily #4)

8124190Title: Tears of Pearl
Author: Tasha Alexander
Series: Lady Emily #4

Even before Emily steps off the Orient Express in beautiful and decadent Constantinople, she’s embroiled in intrigue and treachery. The brutal death of a concubine in the sultan’s palace allows her first foray into investigating a crime as an official agent of the British Empire–because only a woman can be given access to the forbidden world of the harem. There, she quickly discovers that its mysterious, sheltered walls offer no protection from a ruthless murderer.

Rating2star

 

“I don’t think I could survive if anything happened to her. She’s been beside me my whole life.”
“You would. I’d make you.”
“I’m not sure I’d thank you for it.”
“You forget how persuasive I can be.”

In which Emily is worried about her best friend dying and Colin is slightly creepy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure he means well…but couldn’t he have said how he’d help her through it instead of ‘I will make you survive’? Also, two lines later they are talking about their sex-life again in that cutesy Victorian wink-wink-nudge-nudge way that did have me grin the first two or three times they did it but once every private conversation they head led to the same I wanted to yell ‘Can you screw each other without constantly talking about it?’.
The mystery was just ridiculous. It involved so many coincidences that I just couldn’t stretch my suspension of disbelief that far. And yes, cozy mysteries are books in which the main characters just keep stumbling over dead bodies or met people who just have but even for that genre the coincidences were over-the-top.

I did like that death in childbirth was a topic since I can’t remember many novels that are set in an era where that is an issue that talk about it. (No matter if they were written in that era or in the present day). But the way it was discussed left me mostly unmoved. Emily’s fear of it was told rather than shown. The only results were some long internal monologues and her not telling Colin about the fact that she thinks she might be pregnant. (And even that can just as easily be attributed to the fact that she fears Colin would stop her from doing more dangerous things once he knows).
Ivy’s storyline again did nothing for me. This book makes it painfully obvious that Ivy is just the foil to Emily. Ivy is the ‘good Victorian woman’ in the eyes of her contemporaries, while Emily is the one with too many strange ideas for her pretty little head. Ivy will always do what she is told and she’d never dream of demanding answers. Even if the answers concern her and even if she’s scared.
Ivy is there to tell the reader how Victorian women were expected to behave and how much the good old days sucked. Ivy is there so that Emily can worry about her. Ivy is not in any way a character in her own right with interests, hopes or anything. She’s a symbol, somebody Emily can angst over and occasionally a plot device.

Talking about characters that aren’t really characters: Every single woman from the harem. They were there so that Emily could have discussions with them about whether women in the West are better or worse of than their counterparts in the ottoman empire.
And while I think that that it’s not intentional, it has some unfortunate implications that the only woman who is unhappy in the harem is the one who is secretly Christian. Because only if your religion tells you it’s wrong, you’d be unhappy in such a place. Now that brings me to my biggest gripe with the book.
Spoiler alert. It’s not directly about the mystery part but it is intertwined with it and it concerns events at the very end of the book so read at your own risk.

Continue reading “Tears of Pearl (Lady Emily #4)”

5 stars, crime & mystery, historical

Dust and Shadow

4543979Title: Dust and Shadow
Author: Lyndsay Faye

In Dust and Shadow Sherlock Holmes hunts down Jack the Ripper with impeccably accurate historical detail, rooting the Whitechapel investigation in the fledgling days of tabloid journalism and clinical psychology. This astonishing debut explores the terrifying prospect of hunting down one of the world’s first serial killers without the advantage of modern forensics or profiling. Sherlock’s desire to stop the killer who is terrifying the East End of London is unwavering from the start, and in an effort to do so he hires an “unfortuate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims. However, when Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel attempting to catch the villain, and a series of articles in the popular press question his role in the crimes, he must use all his resources in a desperate race to find the man known as “The Knife” before it is too late. Penned as a pastiche by the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson, Dust and Shadow recalls the ideals evinced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and world-renowned characters, while testing the limits of their strength in a fight to protect the women of London, Scotland Yard, and the peace of the city itself.

Rating5star

I have a complicated relationship with Jack the Ripper fiction. I really want to like it but I rarely do. In fact, the only one I really enjoyed was Melanie Clegg’s From Whitechapel and you could argue that it is more a novel that uses the case as background than an actual Ripper-novel.
My track-record with Holmes meets the Ripper fiction is even worse. In the best case, I found them totally forgettable but mostly they were so horrid that I wanted to rip them into little pieces.
Dust and Shadow is different. I love it. It’s a great Holmes-pastiche. Faye catches the voice of Watson perfectly. I also didn’t feel that her Watson was too stupid or her Holmes too cold, both are things that often ruin Holmes pastiches for me.
It’s also a great fictional account of the Ripper killings. With the focus on fictional. I don’t mean that Faye didn’t do her research (she definitely did), but in reality, there was no Sherlock Holmes involved in the investigation. The fact that here he was does change some minor things because the Ripper reacts to Holmes’ involvement. I think only absolute purists can object to the way this was handled. I found it very well done (and I have often grumbled over stuff like this).
The whole subject is also treated with the respect it deserves. Of course, this is the true story of the brutal killings of several women and you can certainly argue that it is always ghoulish to read/watch/listen/play anything inspired by something like that. I know that there are people who wouldn’t do that under any circumstances and I am aware that my enjoyment of these stories might be a bit questionable…
But there are different ways to treat this case (I actually read a story once in which the author thanked Jack the Ripper in the foreword because he inspired so many authors…really). This book never forgets that the victims were people and the characters act accordingly.

Then there is, of course, the question of the ending. It won’t be a spoiler when I tell you that this book doesn’t stray so far from the historical facts that the Ripper is caught and everybody is happy. I’ve seen various ways the question ‘Why didn’t they say anything when they knew who it was’ (if in fact, they found out…) was handled and I have to say that I liked this one best so far. It made sense and was not out of character for Holmes.