logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: A-to-Z-Mysteries
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-05-22 19:38
Lion in the Valley / Elizabeth Peters
Lion in the Valley - Elizabeth Peters

The 1895-96 season promises to be an exceptional one for Amelia Peabody, her dashing Egyptologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, and their precocious (some might say rambunctious) eight-year-old son, Ramses. The long-denied permission to dig at the pyramids of Dahshoor has finally been granted, and the much-coveted burial chamber of the Black Pyramid is now theirs for the exploring.

Before the young family exchanges the relative comfort of Cairo for the more rudimentary quarters near the excavation site, they engage a young Englishman, Donald Fraser, as a tutor and companion for Ramses, and Amelia takes a wayward young woman, Enid Debenham, under her protective wing.

 

I do love Amelia Peacock Emerson. It’s a plus that there is a mystery to solve in each book, because that gives the excuses for the wonderful dialog between Amelia & her husband and for Amelia to start rounding up the strays that she finds along the way during her investigations. They will be assisted whether they want it or not!

A number of people in this installment end up smothering laughter while dealing with the overly serious and literal Amelia, but all seem to realize that her overbearing-ness is coming from a good heart! She believes that marriage should be an equal partnership (and despite his grumbling, Emerson seems to agree with her) and now that she has unexpectedly found her match, she wants the same joy for the others in her life, hence her constant meddling in the love lives of her collection of waifs and strays.

She is also brave, willing to face personal hardship and injury, in pursuit of the truth and the solution to whatever mysterious happenstance is currently on the go.

I adore Emerson, who is always trying to ditch his son and the rest of the archaeological party, in order to get his wife to himself! Their son, Ramses, has developed an intense curiosity about sex and they spend quite a bit of time trying to dodge his prying, making for quite a bit of hilarity. And I was moved when Emerson says, “Have I mentioned to you, Peabody, that one of the reasons why I adore you is that you are more inclined to beat people with your umbrella than fall weeping on your bed?”

I must also put in a good word for ‘de cat Bastet,’ who displays many uncanny abilities and often un-catlike behaviours. While she is on the case, young Ramses will always be safe.

I am ever so glad that I still have many volumes of their adventures in my future.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-05-22 19:14
A Curious Beginning / Deanna Raybourn
A Curious Beginning - Deanna Raybourn

London, 1887. Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb. She thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But the baron is murdered before he can reveal her secrets. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker must flee from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

 

I can hardly wait to meet this author in August at the When Words Collide conference here in my city! I really enjoyed this novel and have already requested book two from my public library.

I appreciated the main character, Veronica Speedwell, a great deal. It’s very much the trend now, to rewrite female characters during the Victorian era, giving them bigger ideas and more autonomy. I think of The Lie Tree and Jane Steele, both of which I have also enjoyed a great deal. I’m also reminded of the Amelia Peacock character in Elizabeth Peters’ series, about a feminist female archaeologist in the Victorian era (this series began in 1975, so it could probably be considered the grandmother to this current batch of novels). Veronica is determined to remain single and support herself through providing natural history specimens to collectors. She is also enamoured with foreign men, enjoying dalliances while abroad to collect those specimens.

Stoker is a very attractive love interest for Miss Speedwell, despite the fact that she has decided against marriage and has rules about not getting involved with Englishmen. (Actually, her pursuit of sexual liaisons while abroad seemed the most unlikely part of this novel, for me, there being no reliable birth control during that period). He is bad tempered, less than cleanly, and often surprised by Veronica’s sass. He also sports tattoos that make him a little too 21st century to be entirely believable, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt because I enjoy his character. Plus, he has great potential to clean up well.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, but I don’t think I am alone in thinking that the very slow-burn romance between Veronica and Stoker is the best aspect of the book.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-05-20 20:43
The Book Stops Here
The Book Stops Here - Kate Carlisle

Brooklyn complained that she was running out of work and her friend, Ian, tells her about being a specialist on "This Old Attic" that helps people learn about the things they have and how much they are worth. Her first book is an old friend to her. It Frances Hodgson's "The Secret Garden" and she values it for more than the woman thought it would be worth. Suddenly after a blurb on the local tv news, she is being hunted by some very large men who want the book. Also, the host of the show is under attack by a stalker and some of the attacks on him have put her in danger. Derick is afraid for her safety and starts trying to stay close to her. Her new friend and neighbor, Alexandra, is also afraid and teaches her some things she can do for herself to keep safe while these men are trying to get her. 

 

Fun story, there were moments that I was laughing out loud and other places where I felt that something was off, but the story did have me guessing until the end. 

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-05-20 06:08
Charmed Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery, #18)
Charmed Bones - Carolyn Haines

They can't all be winners, but man, this one was extra-disappointing.

 

I don't care for romance for the sake of romance, but I do enjoy a good sub-plot, if the characters have chemistry and it's well written.  Many books ago, Sarah Booth had an almost-romance with a character, and I was hooked on their dynamic, and bummed when it didn't work.  Then after many, many books and many other romantic interests, I finally got my wish; sadly the joy was dinged by one of the most badly edited stories I've seen on paper in a long time (not being a reader of self-published books).

 

This could have been an amazing story: witches, spells, poisonings, there's-something-in-the-woods, huge claw marks on doors, old houses with secret rooms and tunnels, and my favorite romantic interest back in the saddle.  But if this story wasn't rushed to press, it was definitely neglected by management; major re-writes took place and nobody followed up with proofing to check for continuity.  The results include characters who explicitly remain behind only to suddenly be participating in conversation, and Sarah Booth commenting on kicking the bad guy, giving him a limp, when she never actually kicked him.  Unfortunately, these are just the two I remember - there were others, including a scene where characters change mid-paragraph).

 

Continuity errors aside, the plotting was a little bit of a mess too: too much going on and not tightly enough written, so the reader really has no hope of following events.  To be fair, Sarah Booth struggled too, so maybe this was deliberate and I just don't care for the device.  I also don't care for the plot twist at the end; it's the second time in as many books where it's been used, and it leaves me feeling played.

 

If not for the characters, whom I love (although I'm over Tinky and her baby angst), and the familiar landscape of Zinnia, the rating for this would be so much lower.  It's obvious that Haines didn't phone this in: nobody just phones in a plot as convoluted as this, but her editors and Minotaur screwed her and her readers by printing this half-finished effort.  And that's tragic; Haines is worlds better than this and after 17 books, readers deserve better.

 

Here's hoping #19 reflects previous efforts, and 18 is just an aberration.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-05-18 13:12
Should come with several prescriptions / warning labels:
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

The first caveat, obviously, being "don't ever try this at home."  Most of the poisons Harkup discusses are much harder to obtain these days than in Agatha Christie's time, so for most of them the risk of being used as a murder weapon may have been mitigated in the interim, but that's not true for all of them -- belladonna, phosphorus, opiates, ricin, and thallium are still scarily easy to obtain (or distill) if you know how and where, and the story of Graham Young (aka the stepson from hell) is a chilly reminder that (1) it may not actually be a particularly wise idea to present your 11 year old son with a chemistry set for Christmas for being such a diligent student of the subject -- particularly if he has taken a dislike to your new spouse -- and (2) there are still poisons out there, thallium among them, that are but imperfectly understood and may, therefore, be misdiagnosed even today.

 

My second caveat would be to either read this book only after you've finished all of Agatha Christie's novels and short stories that are discussed here, or at least, let a significantly large enough amount of time go by between reading Harkup's book and Christie's fiction. (Obviously, if you're just reading this one for the chemistry and have no intention of picking up Christie's works at all, the story is a different one.)

 

There are exactly two instances where Harkup gives a spoiler warning for her discussion of the books by Agatha Christie that she is using as "anchors" for the poisons under discussion (morphine / Sad Cypress and ricin / Partners in Crime: The House of Lurking Death), and in both instances, my feeling is that she is using the spoiler warning chiefly because she is expressly giving away the identity of the murderer. 

 

In truth, however, several other chapters should come with a massive spoiler warning as well; not because Harkup is explicit about the murderer (she isn't), but because she gives away both the final twist and virtually every last detail of the path to its discovery.  As Harkup herself acknowledges, a considerable part of Agatha Christie's craft consists in creating elaborate sleights of hand; in misdirecting the reader's attention and in creating intricate red herrings that look damnably convincingly like the real thing.  But in several chapters of A Is for Arsenic, Harkup painstakingly unravels these sleights of hand literally down to the very last detail, making the red herrings visible for what they are, and even explaining just how Christie uses these as part of her elaborate window dressing.  The effect is the same as seeing a conjurer's trick at extreme slow motion (or having it demonstrated to you step by step) -- it completely takes away the magic.  Reading Harkup's book before those by Christie that she discusses in the chapters concerned makes you go into a later read of those mysteries not only knowing exactly what to look for and why, but also what to discard as window dressing -- the combined effect of which in more than one instance also puts you on a direct trail to uncovering the murderer.  This applies to the chapters about hemlock (Five Little Pigs, aka Murder in Retrospect -- see my corresponding status update), strychnine (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), thallium (The Pale Horse), and Veronal (Lord Edgware Dies); as well as, arguably, though perhaps to a lesser degree, to the chapter about belladonna (The Labours of Hercules: The Cretan Bull).  In fact, in at least one of these chapters

(Veronal)

(spoiler show)

she as good as discloses both the murderer and the final twist before she's ever gotten to a discussion of the drug used in the first place.

 

As a result, Harkup's book loses a half star in my rating on this basis alone, and I'm left with one of the odd entries in my library where I'm checking off the "favorite" box for a book that I'm not rating at least four stars or higher.  Because the fact is also that I immensely enjoyed Harkup's explanations just how the poisons used in Christie's novels work (and where they occur naturally / what they derive from), which has both increased my already enormous respect for Christie's chemical knowledge and the painstaking way in which she applied that knowledge in her books, and also served as fascinating background reading and a chemistry lesson that is both fun and instructive.  I just know that this is one of the books I will come back to again and again in the future, not only when revisiting Christie's catalogue but also when reading other books (mysteries and otherwise) involving poison -- from the beginning of this read, I've had repeated flashbacks to books by other writers (and I'm gratified that Harkup hat-tips at least one of them, Ngaio Marsh's Final Curtain, in her discussion of thallium, even if I'd also have liked at least a little word on the effect of the embalming procedure described Marsh); and I'm fairly certain that particularly my future mystery reads involving poisons will prompt some considerable fact-checking at the hands of A Is for Arsenic.

 

Which in turn brings us back to caveat No. 1, I suppose ... don't ever try this at home!

 

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?