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review 2018-02-21 01:13
The Essence of Malice (Amory Ames, #4)
The Essence of Malice - Ashley Weaver

Meh-ish.  It would have been much, much better if Weaver hadn't dragged me through Amory's marriage angst for most of the story.  I'd rather thought we'd left all that crap behind, but I was wrong.  Milo's an ass.  She absolutely should have dumped him for the guy in book 1; there might have been less passion for Amory, but the readers would have had to put up with a lot less fretting.  I hate fretting.

 

Beyond all that trying nonsense though, is a good mystery and setting.  When Amory wasn't wringing her hands over her ass of a husband, she was interacting with interesting characters in 1920s/30s Paris.  Even better, the story centers on the perfume industry, which I found intriguing.

 

The plotting was...  it was good but also a cheat.  Weaver cheated.  She didn't write a mystery readers can solve because she withholds information from both her characters and her readers.  This doesn't generally bother me when the story is good, but it is cheating, strictly speaking, and it was so blatantly done one can't help but notice it.  

 

So:  good story marred by a lot of anxious fretting, an ass of a romantic interest, and a mystery nobody has a hope in hell of solving.

 

Oddly enough after reading through this, I'm still on board for the next book.  If Amory and Milo can't sort their shit out and grow up though, I'm out.

 

 

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review 2018-02-16 09:30
A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)
A Treacherous Curse - Deanna Raybourn

I love Veronica Speedwell.  Her character is almost everything I admire in a person, with the exceptions of her penchants for collecting butterflies, necessitating her killing them, and her need to verbalise her sexual liberty.  This isn't hypocrisy on my part; I think it's distasteful when men make their sexual needs topics of casual conversation, and it's no less so when a woman does it.  Boundaries.  Good fences make good neighbours and all that.

 

But these are very minor niggles.  Everything else about Veronica is excellent and Stoker doesn't suck either.  Raybourn has found that perfect balance of rawness, gentility, intelligence, anger, and grace in her hero (although I have to say, what's up with the eye patch? Is that really considered sexy?  I see one and have to resist the urge to pull it and watch it snap back).  The dialog between the two of them is snappy and sometimes electric.  There's no doubt as to where these two are headed, but Raybourn is taking her time sending them there, and doing it well enough that I, for one, feel no impatience for them to get on with it already.

 

The mystery plot is the only thing that held this book back a bit for me.  It succeeded in terms of leaving me guessing until the very end, but honestly it was so convoluted that I stopped trying to figure it out about halfway through and just focused on the characters until the end.  That's not necessarily a criticism; this is a strong book just on the merits of being an engrossing work of historical fiction.  But my enjoyment came from the story first, with the mystery an afterthought.

 

Sadly, I'm going to have to wait an entire year for the fourth book.  But I'll be looking forward to it with anticipation.

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review 2017-10-26 05:28
This Side of Murder (Verity Kent, #1)
This Side of Murder - Anna Lee Huber

I love Huber's other series, the Lady Darby mysteries, and I was eager to read this one, set later in time, immediately after WWI.  It was slow to hook me, as I remember The Anatomist's Wife was, but it did.  And then I got to page 165.  Oh hell no.

 

Because for the first 164 pages, she sucked me in and I became invested in Verity.  But not just Verity, but Verity and Max.  Max is awesome.  Max is the OED poster-man for hero. But nooo... we couldn't just enjoy that slow burn, she had to introduce a love triangle:  

 

By brining Verity's DEAD HUSBAND BACK FROM THE DEAD.  Is she kidding me with this?  GAH!

(spoiler show)

 

So, while the story was amazing - old crimes never punished, ciphers, secrets, revenge, the whole lot wrapped up in an almost Christie-esque island setting (with the requisite storm, of course), and a VERY strong and capable heroine, Huber seriously knocked the wind out of my sails with page 165's revelations.  My enthusiasm continued to dim as, frankly, my wish for the 'other' man's imminent demise remained unfulfilled.  Some might find this story to be a truly HEA affair, but all things considered, that twist knocked a 5 star read down to a 3 star for me.  Because of all the different love triangles an author can torture her readers with, this one is just the worst kind of crap.

 

The cover says "A Verity Kent Mystery", implying a series, but I don't know if I can read another one, no matter how damn good the story is.  If another does come out, I'll be reading all the spoilers I can find before deciding.

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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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