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Search tags: British-Mysteries-and-Crime-Fiction
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review 2018-12-27 22:58
24 Festive Tasks: Door 18 - Winter Solstice / Yuletide, Task 2 (Neverending Book)
Murder at the Old Vicarage: A Christmas Mystery - Jill McGown

I'm going with the book I read yesterday for this: Mind you, this is by no means a bad book (I gave it 3 1/2 stars); the characters are well-developed, the story gets going fairly quickly, and while it does, it's an engaging read -- even if I didn't like all the characters I was supposed to like quite as much as the author probably hoped.  Also, if you haven't made up your mind early on about the "who" (and the probable "why"), and if you like an author twisting your tail round and round until you get to the solution, you'll certainly get your fill here.  Alas, the latter wasn't true for me in this instance, though; and as a result, from a certain point onwards the story's twists and turns felt a bit like the manipulations of one of those "three caps and a pea" shell game operators, but one where you've twigged the main sleight of hand early on and are just half-heartedly following the motions and waiting for the big reveal.  As a result, the final 100 or so pages of the book took me about twice as long as they would have if I had still been fully engaged at that point -- and in a 230 page book, that equates to almost half the contents.

 

Side note: While PanMacmillan's (and it always seems to be them) insistence on republishing mysteries set during or even only in the vicinity of Christmas with a new title (and matching cover) shouting "Christmas mystery", "cozy", and "Golden Age tradition" is seriously getting on my nerves at this point, here they've actually hit the bull's eye in a sense -- which will become clear very fast to any reader who's also read the book after which this mystery's title is obviously fashioned, and to which it pays hommage to a certain extent; i.e., Agatha Christie's first Miss Marple mystery.  Unfortunately, the new title indirectly also shines a light on precisely those clues and constructive elements of the book that, to me, made it clear fairly early on where we were headed ... and of course now I'll never know whether, if I had read the book under its original title (Redemption), those clues would have stood out to me quite as much as they actually did.

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review 2018-12-23 22:01
24 Festive Tasks: My Final Books (Doors 16, 17 and 19 -- Human Rights Day, St. Lucia's Day, and Festivus)
A Christmas Guest - Anne Perry,Terrence Hardiman
Skandinavische Weihnachten: Die schönsten Geschichten von Sven Nordqvist, Hans Christian Andersen, Selma Lagerlöf u.a. - Hans Christian Andersen,Selma Lagerlöf,Various Authors,Sven Nordqvist,Josef Tratnik,Dirk Bach,Jens Wawrczeck
A Woman of No Importance - Full Cast,Oscar Wilde
Model Millionaire - David Timson,Oscar Wilde


Anne Perry: A Christmas Guest

The third book in Anne Perry's series of Christmas novellas, each one of which has as their protagonist one of the supporting characters from Perry's main series (William Monk, and Charlotte & Thomas Pitt).  This installment's starring role goes to Charlotte Pitt's vinegar-tongued grandmother, who -- like another remote relative, recently returned to England after having spent most of her adult life living in the Middle East -- finds herself shunted onto Charlotte and her husband Thomas at short notice, because the family with whom she had been planning to spend the holidays have made other plans.  While Grandma pretends to despise her widely-traveled fellow guest, secretly she develops a considerable amount of respect for her, so when the lady is unexpetedly found dead, grandma takes it upon herself to seek out the people who had unloaded her on the Pitt household; convinced that something untoward is afoot.

 

As Perry's Christmas novellas go, this is one of my favorite installments to date, and i loved seeing it told, for once, not from the point of view of an easily likeable character, but from that of Grandma, who is a major pain in the neck to others (even though you'd have to be blind not to recognize from the word "go" that her acerbic tongue and pretensions are merely part of her personal armour).  I also wondered whether the murder victim's character might have been inspired by pioneering women travelers like Gertrude Bell, even if the story is set a few decades earlier than Bell's actual life.  I had issues with a couple of minor aspects of the plot (and characters / behaviour), but they didn't intrude enough to seriously impinge on my enjoyment of the story.  And since Grandma, for all her overblown pretenses, is certainly a strong woman character -- which she shows, not least, by eventually admitting to her own fallibilities -- I am counting this book towards the Human Rights Day square of 24 Festive Tasks.

 

 

 
Various Authors: Skandinavische Weihnachten

A charming anthology of Christmas short stories and poems from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland; chiefly geared towards children, but more than enjoyable by readers and listeners of all ages and generations.  I knew some of the entries (no Scandinavian Christmas anthology without Andersen's Little Match Girl, I suppose), but many of the stories were new to me, and they made for delightful listening on this 4th weekend of Advent. -- Set in Scandinavia, and thus I'm using it as my book for the St. Lucia's Day square.

 

 


Oscar Wilde: A Woman of No Importance

Wilde's second play; an acerbic take on the narrowness of fin de siècle English morality; or more particularly, supremely hypocritical perceptions of women's role in society.  Unlike in Wilde's later plays, the beginning comes across as a bit of an over-indulgence in the author's own clever wit, with a veritable fireworks of sparkling onelines and repartees following in quick succession without greatly advancing the plot (which is what earns the piece the subtractions in my star ratings -- it's the perfect example of too much of a good thing); but once the plot and the dialogue centers on the opposing protagonists, it quickly finds its feet. -- As Festivus books go, it's rather on the dark side, but it's a satire nevertheless, so I'm counting it for that square ... and though (unusually for Wilde) the last line is telegraphed a mile and a half in advance, I nevertheless enjoyed saying it along with the play's heroine from all my heart.

 

 


Oscar Wilde: Model Millionaire

My encore enjoyment to follow up A Woman of No Importance; a story that couldn't be any more different in tone and intent -- the tale of a gentleman who believes he has done a kindness to a raggedy beggar modelling for his artist friend ... only to find that he could not possibly have been any more mistaken, and that in fact it is he who is ultimately at the receiving end of an unexpected kindness.

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review 2018-12-04 21:50
24 Festive Tasks: Door 20 - Christmas, Book
The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories - Martin Edwards,Various Authors
The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories - Gordon Griffin,Anne Dover,Martin Edwards,Various Authors

The third annual edition of the British Library's anthologies of unjustifiedly-buried Golden Age Christmas mystery short stories, again edited by Martin Edwards.  Great fun and a great way to segue into the holiday season, one story at a time.

 

I'm using it as my book for, guess what, the Christmas square of 24 Festive Tasks.

 

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review 2018-12-03 01:57
24 Festive Tasks: Door 10 - Bon Om Touk, Book
The Sinking Admiral - The Detection Club,Simon Brett
The Sinking Admiral - The Detection Club,Simon Brett

In 1931, "certain members" of the Detection Club -- in fact, none other than its leading lights Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, Victor L. Whitechurch, Freeman Wills Crofts, Henry Wade, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Edgar Jepson, Ronald A. Knox and Clemence Dane -- published the club's first round robin crime novel, The Floating Admiral.

 

To mark the 85th anniversary of The Floating Admiral's publication, "certain members" of the Detection Club in its current incarnation, instigated by its president (until 2015), Simon Brett, published a round robin of their own, paying tribute to the original novel not only in its title, The Sinking Admiral, but also by the fact that all the suspects and the two policemen in their collaborative concoction are named for one of the authors of the original book -- and The Sinking Admiral's other characters (most prominently the two amateur sleuths) are named for first generation Detection Club members as well.

 

However, whereas the original book was named for a person (the eponymous admiral, or rather, his corpse, floating downriver in a small boat), the tribute is named both for a person and the pub run by him, both of whom are "sinking" metaphorically as a result of the fact that the pub is in dire financial straits.  (Though, yes, the Admiral is still the person whose murder sets the book's investigation in motion.)  Moreover, whereas the original group of authors all wrote their respective chapters without revealing their own solutions to the group beforehand -- even such a solution was required to have been worked out by each contributor by the time their chapter was written -- the writers of the tribute book hashed out a plan for the entire book beforehand, and then distributed the chapters among themselves according to their respective specialization.  I confess I liked the second approach better: it simply made for a more coherent book.  The 1931 group probably had tons of fun keeping each other guessing as much as the reader, but the result is a bit of a hodge-podge, which at some point simply gets in the way of enjoyment.  Then again, in order to add another level of mystery, the new group did not unveil the identity of the respective authors of their book's individual chapters -- but I frankly couldn't be bothered to try and work this one out, though based on subject matter familiarity alone there can hardly be any doubt as to the author of at least one of them, and anyone inclined to dig deeper would probably be able to attribute the authorship of most or even all of the chapters to one particular contributor.

 

For a round robin -- especially one written by a group of authors all specializing in different types of mysteries -- The Sinking Admiral is remarkably coherent in style and tone, and most of the Detection Club in jokes it contains come off fairly well.  In that respect, it works very well as a tribute.  However, it occasionally tries to be too many things at the same time: maybe one topical specialization or two should have been sacrificed; even if this would almost certainly have meant jettisoning the contribution of one of my favorite writers; but there's a historical deviation in the whole thing that simply feels forced, out of place and just general "de trop" (and the odd other arabesque or two could probably have been cut out as well).  Similarly, the extent to which the two cops -- or, well, the senior cop at least -- are your proverbial country bumpkins who are just screaming to be bested by the two intrepid amateur sleuths just beggars belief.  In that respect, the book feels more like a parody of a well-known Golden Age mystery trope than a tribute.  But by and large, this is quite an enjoyable exponent of crime fiction tribute writing, and it certainly reads like its creators had a ball concocting it.

 

Since upon closer inspection the blue stuff on the book cover is supposed to be water, I'll be using this book as my read for the Bon Om Touk square (a book with water on the cover).

 

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text 2018-12-01 19:54
24 Festive Tasks: Door 12 - St. Andrew's Day, Task 4 (Books Featuring Golf)
4:50 from Paddington - Agatha Christie
Murder on the Links - Agatha Christie
Why Didn't They Ask Evans? - Agatha Christie
The Clicking of Cuthbert - P.G. Wodehouse
Goldfinger - Ian Fleming
Murder in the Mews and Other Stories - Agatha Christie
The Mystery of the Blue Jar: A Short Story - Agatha Christie
The Sunningdale Mystery: A Short Story - Agatha Christie

Golf is key to a number of books by Agatha Christie (not only in the Poirot series -- Hastings is not the only character by Christie who is an ardent golfer).  So my list of favorites is largely a mash-up of BrokenTune's and Obsidian's:

 

Agatha Christie favorites:

1.  4:50 From Paddington

2.  Murder on the Links

3.  Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

 

Honorable mentions from my TBR:

 

1.  P.G. Wodehouse: The Clicking of Cuthbert (short stories)

2.  Ian Fleming: Goldfinger (I've seen the movie but have yet to read the book)

 

... and a few Christie short stories:

 

1.  Murder in the Mews (Poirot)

2.  The Mystery of the Blue Jar (standalone)

3.  The Sunningdale Mystery (Tommy & Tuppence)

 

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