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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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review 2017-05-17 03:19
Mycroft Holmes
Mycroft Holmes - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,Anna Waterhouse

The title of this book was the first thing to catch my eye; the second was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's name on the cover as one of the authors.  How can I possibly pass this up?

 

As an avowed fangirl of Sherlock Holmes, I've learned to stay away from almost all pastiches and mysteries featuring my fictional hero, but his brother... Mycroft makes few enough appearances in the canon that I thought perhaps it might work for me.

 

I thought wrong.  I've realised reading this book that in my mind Mycroft is a distillation of Sherlock; a purer essence of all the things that make Sherlock so formidable.  Put another way, Sherlock is Mycroft with an added touch of humanity (just a touch).  The canonical Mycroft is only ever found in his home, and in his club.  His club, the Diogenes Club, of which he is a founding member, is described thusly in The Greek Interpreter:

 

There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. [...] It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. 

 

So a Mycroft that hares off on a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas with his best friend, in pursuit of the love of his life and fiancee, is rather an anti-canonical Mycroft.  Sure, he has the stunning faculties the Holmes family is renowned for, but he's also a romantic and, even if this book takes place when he's quite young, entirely too social and emotional a creature to truly call himself Holmes.

 

BUT... boy is this a good story.  In spite of all my grumpiness above, I could not put this book down.  I don't know exactly how accurate it is from a historical perspective, but it certainly felt very, very accurate.  The authors didn't shy away from some of the less savoury aspects of the Victorian age, but thankfully didn't beat the reader over the head with it either.  The atmospheric picture of Trinidad, from balmy weather to superstitious panic felt almost like a character itself. 

 

I don't want to touch too much upon the plot, because the dawning reveal of the plot is, I think, somewhat central to the success of the book.  Suffice it to say that it's a fitting subject for the Victorian time it takes place in, but probably not one that would immediately come to mind when thinking about Victorian fiction.

 

There are some rather extraordinary action scenes, especially at the end; extraordinary in the sense that they are wholly unrealistic and require the reader to suspend disbelief, but I suppose from a statistical point of view, it is almost impossible for an adventure mystery written by a man to begin and end without fisticuffs, gunfights and explosions.

 

If you know nothing about Mycroft Holmes, or can divorce yourself from the canonical Mycroft, definitely check this out if you're in the mood for a fun action adventure.  I truly enjoyed it for that alone, in spite of myself.

 

 

 

 

Total pages: 336

$$:  $3.00

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review 2017-03-30 00:02
The Name of the Rose
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

I'm not sure there's much I can say here that I didn't already say in my status updates.  

 

This book is long; perhaps not by page count, but psychologically, it often felt endless.

 

Eco is a very talented writer if the only measurements of talent were creating a sense of place, bringing many characters to life, and plotting out a good story.  But he writes excessively.  His sentences run on well past anybody's idea of reasonable, he cannot stop himself from creating lists in narrative form that often run over a page long, and the theological lessons were excessively excessive.  All up, if you could go back and edit the book to include only plot related scenes, I'm not sure the book would be 200 pages long.

 

But those 200 pages would have made a spectacular read.  The abbey, the labyrinthine library, the passages, the codes, the books... the murders.  So much atmosphere, so much potential!

 

The book is broken into 7 days and most of the plot snowballs and takes place in days 6 and 7.  Here William of Baskerville once again channels his inner Sherlock, and the showdown is magnificent.  And tragic.  Days 6 and 7 earned this book the third star.

 

I'm not sorry at all that I read this; I complained a lot along the way, but a lot of it stuck with me.  Still, unless you enjoy a richly written verbosity in your reads, I can't recommend this one.  If the setting and plot sound like your thing - and I can't believe I'm going to say this - watch the movie instead.

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