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review 2017-07-21 04:18
The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories
The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories - Michael Sims

Up front, I didn't read all the stories; there are 22 stories in this collection, and I didn't have time to read the whole thing, so this review only represents a small percentage of them. 

 

But, of the stories I read, none of them were bad.  In fact, they were all uniformly excellent and I'm looking forward to reading more of the collection at a later date.

 

Quick thoughts about each of the stories I read:

 

The Secret Cell by William E. Burton - The story itself is not only great, but so is its backstory:  Burton, the author, wrote it in 1837, before Poe wrote what is widely regarded to be the first detective story, Murders in the Rue Morgue. He wrote it for the magazine he himself founded, The Gentleman's Magazine, and the editor he hired was a certain Edgar Allan Poe (who published Rue in 1841.  While Dupin's standing as the first genius detective is safe, it's likely Poe read this story; whether or not it served as an inspiration can only be guessed at.  But it's a fun story with strong writing, lots of detective legwork, fisticuffs, disguises, abductions, nuns, asylums and hidden rooms.

 

On Duty with Inspector Field by Charles Dickens - Dickens and I are fair weather friends at best, but for downright vivid descriptions of poverty-stricken Victorian London, I'm not sure you could find better.  Not really much of a plot to this one at all - just a 'tour' through the dregs of London in the middle of the night as the police go about their rounds.  This story does not disprove my suspicions that Dickens was paid by the word.

 

The Diary of Anne Rodway by Wilkie Collins - As the title suggests, this story takes the form of diary entries, but the narrative is very smooth.  There's a real mystery here and it's engaging, but the solution felt somewhat abrupt and the coincidences verging on supernatural (a device, I'm guessing, Collins enjoyed using). 

 

You Are Not Human, Monsieur D'Artagnan by Alexandre Dumas, pere - This is an except from the final Three Musketeers book, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, but it feels fairly complete as it stands alone, even to a reader for whom the general story of the Three Musketeers comes strictly from the movies and popular culture.  In this short piece D'Artagnan plays the part of Sherlock Holmes as he uses sharp observations, empirical evidence and genius detecting to shed light on a shooting.

 

The Dead Witness; or, The Bush Waterhole by W.W. (Mary Fortune) - I didn't set out to read this one, but as I was flipping through, a mention of Australia caught my eye, so I stopped.  Turns out this is the first known detective story ever written by a woman.  Fortune was a prolific writer in Australia, although sexism being what it was, she was forced to write under a pseudonym kept so tight a secret that no one knew Mary Fortune was W.W. until decades after her death.  Her life was not a happy one, but it was not for want of talent if this story is any judge.  It's a short one, but it's vivid and well written and the end, while a bit fantastic, is also deliciously grotesque.

 

The Assassin's Natal Autograph by Mark Twain - Another except, this one from Puddin' Head Wilson.  This one is slightly harder to follow, as there are characters named that are obviously important, but missing any backstory at all, but in most aspects it works really well.  It's Twain, so the setting (a courtroom) is full of detail and suspense; the focus of the scene is the power of fingerprints and the denouement, even without the backstory is climatic.

 

The Stolen Cigar-Case by Bret Harte - Another one that caught my eye, this time because I saw "Sherlock Holmes" in the introduction.  This is a parody of the Greatest Detective of all time, as well as a parody of his long suffering Watson.  It started off hilarious - laugh out loud funny - but by midway, it felt a bit hateful.    Parodies are supposed to mock, but reading this one gets the impression that Harte really hated Watson and Holmes both.

 

An Intangible Clue by Anna Katherine Green - The author of the first known detective novel by a woman (Mary Fortune, above, wrote only short stories) and the author of The Leavenworth Case, this was my first introduction to her work and Miss Violet Strange.  I hope it won't be my last; Miss Strange has claims to Sherlockian abilities in her own right, and I found the story both intricate and slyly funny.  The mystery itself was complete enough, but I was left wanting more when it came to Miss Strange and her mysterious employer.

 

If you're a fan of the old-style detective stories, I don't think you can go wrong with this collection. They just don't write them like they used to.

 

I read this for BookLikes-opoly and completed a total of 202 pages.

 

 

 

 

 

Total pages read:  202

$$: $6.00

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review 2017-07-07 05:34
The Secrets of Wishtide
The Secrets of Wishtide - Kate Saunders

I've previously started this book at least 3 times and never gotten past the first page - or even gotten to the first page before being distracted by something else so this time I was determined to get this book read.

 

It turns out that once I could actually sit down and read more than a handful of words, getting it read wasn't a problem at all.  It was a great read!  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

The book starts out like it's the middle of an on-going series; it doesn't bother to lay down a bunch of background or drag the reader through Mrs. Rodd's start as a discrete detective.  But never as the reader was I confused, or felt left in the dark, or plopped into the middle of things.  Small moments here and there fill in quite a few blanks; others just aren't that necessary (or perhaps are being saved for future books?) and there's plenty of mystery to take up the pages; the author doesn't need filler.

 

The widowed Mrs Rodd works through her brother, a distinguished defence attorney, and is called upon to look into the background of a young window deemed thoroughly unsuitable by the rich father of the young man who wants to marry her.  But unbeknownst to them all, there are far bigger problems blossoming for the family, and Mrs. Rodd finds herself in the thick of happenings rather diabolical.

 

According to the author, readers of David Copperfield will recognise her inspiration for this book (I've not read DC).  Whatever her inspiration, the characters and setting were pitch perfect and I just enjoyed every minute I spent with Mrs. Rodd and company.  Although I sussed out the plot twist very early on, I was too engrossed in the read to notice or care, and the pace remained brisk from beginning to end.

 

The only niggle I had is a small one:  Mrs. Rodd is the widow of an archbishop, so there's every possibility that the heavily spiritual/religious bent to the narrative is just part of her character.  It totally fits and it's never, ever preachy, but it's just dominant enough that it could also be the author using the book as a platform to evangelise and that possibility sours, just a tiny bit, what would have been my complete enthusiasm for the book.  Thankfully, Mrs. Rodd remains smart, sensible, non-judgemental and with enough humour for the niggle to remain tiny.

 

The cover implies this is the first of a new series; if so, I'll eagerly be in line to purchase the next one.

 

 

 

 

 

Page count:  332

$$:  $6.00  $9.00 - with location multiplier applied

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review 2017-07-02 17:12
A Rustle of Silk
Rustle of Silk, A: A new forensic mystery series set in Stuart England (A Gabriel Taverner Mystery) - Alys Clare

A Rustle of Silk is ... OK, I guess.

 

It's 1603, Elizabeth I is dead and England awaits the arrival of their new king, James VI of Scotland, who will be James I of England.  Meanwhile, Gabriel Taverner, a former sailor in the Royal Navy, and now a doctor (he claims to be a physician, but knows more about surgery), is trying to set up a practice in his old home town.  Someone's leaving him vile little "presents" of dead animals on his doorstep, and they don't suspect a cat.

 

And then a man is found dead.  It turns out to be his brother-in-law, a silk merchant.  Was it suicide, or murder?

 

The prose style and characterization were good. 

 

On the other hand, the mystery didn't make much sense at a certain level, and we had a villain with talking disease.  (No cat in his lap this time, though!)  Taverner seemingly can't decide if he's a physician or a surgeon, which were two very different jobs in the period, performed by different people of different experiences and social ranks.  (A physician learned his craft at a university, and observed clients and made prescriptions.  He might inspect their urine, but physical interaction with patients' bodies was usually limited to bleeding them due to an "inbalance in the humors."  A surgeon, on the other hand, was of a lower class in society, did not need to go to a university, and had the practical experience of removing limbs, with more or less success.  Physicians were far more respected than surgeons, who often did double duty as barbers.)

 

Also, the occasional word choice struck me as non-period ("opportunist" would not be in use for some 200 or 250 years after this is set), and in the understandable desire to avoid info dumping, Clare has Taverner unaware of some things he really should have known, despite having been 15 years at sea.  (In particular, that suicides could not receive a decent Christian burial in a churchyard.)

 

I might read another in the series, but I doubt I'd go out looking for one in particular.

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review 2017-07-02 10:51
Dangerous to Know (Lilian Frost and Edith Head Mystery, #2)
Dangerous To Know - Renee Patrick

So far so good; this series continues to impress for atmosphere, characterisations and plotting.

 

Some of this, I know, is because of the inclusion of so many real life, prominent characters of the time - 1938 Hollywood, but the writers are faithful enough to each of the stars they include that I, at least, never felt like I wasn't reading about the real life actor.  Extra points go to the authors for including Hedy Lamarr; not for her acting accomplishments, but for her scientific ones. 

 

The fictional characters hold their own too, although the authors struggle with romantic tension; introducing another love interest (which given the era doesn't feel quite as triangle-ish somehow) doesn't help either.  Although I sort of like the new guy better than the old guy.

 

The story didn't get the full five stars because it did drag just a little; the plot is a complex one that is intricately enmeshed with another, so that around the mid-book mark it felt like the story wasn't really getting anywhere - things were happening, but they didn't seem to mean anything to either the characters or the reader.  It all comes together in the end, of course, and it's so damn interesting I forgave the exercise in patience.

 

An author's note at the end takes the time to not only separate the fact from the fiction, but recommends several non-fiction books that go in-depth into the real life events borrowed for Dangerous to Know.  At least two of which, one about Hedy Lamarr and her work as an inventor - not an actress - and one about the Hollywood-funded spy ring in place to watch the Nazis, are definitely going on my list.

 

This was my Free Friday read (#3) and was 336 pages (including the author's note, which was a must read, in my opinion).

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review 2017-06-27 06:42
Come Hell or Highball
Come Hell or Highball - Maia Chance

Prohibition era; Lola's husband dies of a heart attack and she discovers he wasn't as rich as she'd thought.  She and her cook Berta are without house and home, and while hiding out in her husband's heretofore unknown love nest in the city, agree to retrieve a film reel for one of her late husband's mistresses.  Thus begins what is supposed to be a madcap and hilarious adventure into mystery and mayhem.

 

Eh.  Either I was off my game or the book was.  Nothing struck me as madcap so much as it did silly (and there's a subtle difference, in my opinion).  Lola failed to elicit much sympathy from me, her mother was annoying in all the wrong ways, her brother in law unrealistically meddlesome (he kept trying to gaslight Lola) and Berta was sorta weird.  The romantic tension that was supposed to exist between Ralph and Lola was absent.  The mystery plot was all over the place; incredibly complicated, and hinged on unknown information until the very end.  

 

Now that I've beaten the poor book to death, for all that it wasn't a bad read.  It kept me entertained enough to keep reading, it just didn't hook me, or bond me to the characters in any way that will result in my desire to read any additional books in the series.  Which is a shame, because I do love the Prohibition-era setting.

 

 

 

 

 

Page count: 307

$$: $6.00

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