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Search tags: MbDHistoricalMystery
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review 2018-07-25 08:23
Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael Mystery, #3)
Monk's Hood - Ellis Peters

I finished this two days ago, which means the details are fuzzy at this point.  It's excellently written, of course, and the plotting equally well done.  Peters was clever; obfuscating the murderer with ease and subtlety.  

 

I resisted this series for a long time; I like historical mysteries, but tend to prefer Victorian time periods.  The middle ages don't interest me in general, but Ellis Peters' storytelling transcends the time frame its written in.  I'm reading it wondering what happens next, not cringing over the living conditions.  

 

I like Brother Cadfael quite a bit; he's not pious with all its negative connotations; there's no preaching or evangelising.  He's devoted to his faith and his calling to monastic life (a devotion that is tested in this book) but he's not trying to be a martyr to either.  I was a little disappointed that Hugh didn't have more page time, as he brings a spark to the pace, but overall, this was an excellent mystery.

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review 2018-04-16 08:45
The Essex Serpent
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

What an odd book.  I liked it, but I'm struggling to say why.  I suspect I've just been fed literary fiction disguised as something more palatable and mainstream, wrapped in an irresistible cover.

 

The two most overwhelming impressions I took away from the book are poetry and allegory.  Poetry in the form of the prose in the opening pages of the story, where it's so heavy with lyrical verse as to be cloying, and again in the opening pages of each section, where it's dialled down but still more melody than verse.  Allegory, because the story feels like the author's way of working out the balance between faith and empiricism, if not for the reader, then perhaps as an exercise for herself.

 

On a literal level, the story is, as I said, odd.  The reader is held at such a remove from the characters, it's hard to feel any emotional investment in any of them.  I liked Cora and Will and Stella, but the rest?  I'm afraid I really don't understand the point of Luke's part, and for me, Perry utterly failed to convince me that Frankie was anything more or less than a selfish and spoiled boy.  Martha, too, struck me as nothing more than a narcissist, caring more about her duty than the people she is fighting for.  For me, the most convincing character of the lot was the pan-handler, Taylor.

 

Still, it's a beautiful, richly told story, if one is willing to experience it as the distance the author holds it.  Looked at too closely, it's flawed, but hold it back far enough to fuzz the edges and it's gorgeous.

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review 2018-04-11 09:36
Murder at Half Moon Gate (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery, #2)
Murder at Half Moon Gate - Andrea Penrose

I like these books; the first one had some plotting problems towards the end, but this one offered a much tighter and surprising story.  The author does an excellent job with atmosphere and setting too, although I can't comment on historical anachronisms.  Penrose does include an author note at the end discussing the backdrop of the story and offering some non-fiction titles for further reading.

 

There's a stronger element of romance to these books than there were in the previous historical mysteries by Penrose, but it's not at all overbearing, and the characters are much more sympathetic.  I was worried the author was going to drag Charlotte's big dreaded secret out even longer into a 3rd book, but she pulled it out right at the end (and spoiler - it's not even a little shocking).  I continue to like the two waifs Charlotte has taken under her wing too; I generally don't like kids in my mysteries much, but they work here and they're never purposefully cute or cloying.  

 

I'd put this series in just about the same class as the Lady Darby series by Anna Lee Huber - so if you like those, you might enjoy these.

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review 2018-03-28 00:48
Murder on Black Swan Lane (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery, #1)
Murder on Black Swan Lane - Andrea Penrose

This is one of those books that I liked in spite of demonstrable problems; a good example of when characters can overcome the flaws in a plot.

 

Lord Wrexford is an accomplished chemist and has the means to devote his time to it in the privacy of his own home.  He has a rather black reputation, although it's never specified why; only off hand references that include womanising, a disrespect of protocol, and a dismissive attitude about social conventions.  He has a valet named Tyler that acts as his lab assistant and all-around Bunter, only with a sharper tongue.  I like Tyler.

 

Mrs. Sloane is the widow of the famous satirist A.J. Quill.  An even better artist than her late husband, she secretly picks up his pen after his death to stave off certain penury; she also allows two homeless waifs known only as Raven and Hawk to shelter in her downstairs, feeding them when she can, and attempting to educate them and give them a bit of polish.  Mrs. Sloane is up to her eye-balls in secrets, her new profession seeming to be the least of them.  She reads and speaks Latin, and has a copy of DeBrett's in her desk drawer.  Half this book's weight is comprised of hints about Mrs. Sloane.

 

Wrexford has been verbally and publicly sparring with an influential member of the church.  When the man is found dead with chemical burns on his face and his throat slit, Wrexford is the obvious suspect and is set upon by a Bow Street Runner.  And all the while Quill has been faithfully satirising the events, with details that are frighteningly accurate.  Wrexford sets out to find out who the mysterious Quill is, and when he does, strikes a bargain with her:  His continued silence in exchange for access to her information network in order to prove his innocence.

 

So far, so good.  Even though this isn't a new premise, I can't help but get sucked in.  Unfortunately Penrose's plot doesn't really work.  It's two different plots that she attempted to merge into one with a single weak scene.  What could have been a very tight and gripping plot ended up being undermined by the forced connection, and left clunky and underwhelming.  This, combined with much too heavy-handed hints about Mrs. Sloane's 'mysterious' past resulted in a book that was good, but not great, and only mildly entertaining when it could have come closer to edge-of-your-seat stuff.  Penrose also qualifies for the dubious award for most overused idiom.  I love the phrase "pot calling the kettle black", but using it a dozen times in the same book is an excessive display of exuberance.

 

Still, Penrose has put together a great cast of characters and I'm interested in finding out what happens to them next.  I'm hoping, too, that subsequent books (there's at least 1 more out now, and 1 planned, I think) will see her finding her groove and writing stronger stories.

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review 2018-03-22 03:54
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions (Kopp Sisters Novel, #3)
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions - Amy Stewart

This was my favorite of the three thus far, and oddly, it's because there really wasn't any single plot that stretched from beginning to end.  In fact, it's a stretch to call it a mystery.

 

Some background for those unfamiliar with the books:  This series is based on the life of Constance Kopp, one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the United States, and the first to be granted a shield, gun, authority to apprehend, and be paid the same wage as her male counterparts (likely the last one too, on that score).   Amy Stewart uses historically accurate events and characters, with as many details as she can find, then fictionalises the spaces in between.  At the end of each book, she includes a detailed accounting of what is factual and what is fictional, along with a detailed list of notes and sources.

 

While the first two books had, more or less, a single story line as the focus, ...Midnight Confessions is more a collection of smaller stories, each centered on a real person and event, that Stewart has woven together into a cohesive narrative.  

 

All of these smaller stories have a single theme: the very real vulnerabilities women had, and the rights they didn't.  We're all vaguely aware that society really frowned upon "loose morals" – a state unique to women, as men weren't expected to have any morals – and we've all made jokes about the "morality police", but when you read about a woman over 18 who is arrested because she left home to move into a strict, all-female boarding house to work in a powder factory so she could contribute to the war effort...well we've certainly come a long way in 100 years.  Waywardness this was called - and guess who brought the charges against her?  Her mother. 

 

Anyway, there are a few characters in this book that all have to face this lack of agency, whether they deserve the charges against them or not. (Deserve, as in guilty or innocent of the charges, not morally deserving.)  All of their stories play out over the course of the book, but there's no sense of tension or climax. Some might find that disappointing, but it worked really well for me; it kept the pace snappy, and I didn't feel like Stewart was manufacturing drama for the sake of drama.  I was able to enjoy and appreciate these women's stories on their own merit; if she'd tried to twist them and manipulate them to create some fictional plot, I doubt I'd have liked the book half as much.

 

She ends the book with an election year just beginning and an inevitable shake-up in the local politics.  I'm looking forward to the next book, scheduled for September, to see what happens to Constance and Sheriff Heath.

 

This book works for the Kill Your Darlings game card COD:  shot with an arrow.  It's written by an American woman.

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