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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-23 09:37
Murder Off Miami
Murder Off Miami - J.G. Links,Dennis Wheatley

Well, after a day preparing for having friends around for dinner yesterday, I wasn't able to get back to this until today.  


(Full disclosure: I'm not all that concerned about spoilers here, given the unique nature of the tome and the knowledge that the only other person I know to have a copy of it has already read it - and taken way better notes.)


The good news is I was right - I guessed the killer.  The not as good news is that I did it almost immediately.  The entire thing hinged on a false assumption made at the start, around page 15 or so.  If the reader picks up on that false assumption, the rest of the file is really rather extraneous.  In fact, I was more than a little nervous about looking at the solution because I felt like I had to be missing something.  It turns out I was, but only a handful of smaller clues that supported the answer.  I'd have really liked having to rely on those clues; solving the mystery would have been a lot more fun if I'd had to search them out.  As it was, I was so certain about the twist, I didn't look very hard at the evidence.


There's one caveat to my gripes though; if I'm being objective (and I try to be), I have to say that this mystery file probably suffers to a greater degree because I've read another - one written later and by another author - first.  That one, File on Fenton and Farr, was far more intricately plotted, and strung the actual clues out far longer, than Murder Off Miami, leaving me tossing theories around until almost the very end.  I got that one right too, but I had to really work for it, and if anything, that's what disappointed me about this one.

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review 2018-04-12 06:37
The Bad Book Affair
The Bad Book Affair - Ian Sansom

I can see the merit in the writing, but I didn't like it much.  My reasons are purely subjective:  Israel got on my nerves, as did Ted.  I liked both at first, but too much of a good thing is annoying.  Cloying.  Unsympathetic.  I don't care how depressed Israel is, a librarian should be able to string together a complete sentence at least once in a book.  Ted's gruffness and selective deafness never ended up revealing anything deeper and his conversational circles started off fun and amusing but soon became just tiresome.


There's a whole bookmobile full of expository writing here, and it's so well done, but again, there's soooo much of it.  Halfway through the book I found myself skipping large swathes of it because, enough already.


Lastly, there's really no mystery plot here at all.  Zip.  It might be the most anticlimactic 'mystery' I've ever read.


I might have missed something - some character building or world building that would have made the story more compelling; this is the first book I've read in the series, and it's the 5th, I think; in between finishing the book and writing this review, I had to drop off books for a library sale, and my copy went into a box.  I wouldn't steer anyone away from reading it - the writing is good, the characters quirky, the setting Irish.  But it was sadly not my jam.

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review 2018-03-29 07:36
4.50 From Paddington (What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw)
4:50 from Paddington - Agatha Christie

Ah Christie, you cunning minx you.  I knew my earlier guess had low odds for being right, but I never saw that coming.  I probably should have given the book a higher rating, but it started off slow and frankly, I don't feel confident yet that Christie didn't pull a rabbit out of her hat here.  I need to let the story sit with me for awhile, and I may adjust the rating 1/2 star later.


I say it started off slow, but that's not really the case; it's much more about what happens when an original idea becomes over-used.  Witnessing a murder taking place in a passing train was likely original - or at least fresh - when Christie used it, but 60 years later it feels trite.  I'm also impatient with the idea of dismissing people because of their age.


Once Lucy Eyelesbarrow arrived on the scene though, things started to pick up.  From that point I was pretty well glued to the pages, getting lost in the setting and the characters.  And apparently allowing myself to become completely seduced by Christie's red herring.  For the record, I think my ending would have been much more twisted.


This book works for the Kill Your Darlings game card: Crime Scene: Orient Express.  (Train on the cover of my edition.)

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review 2018-03-26 09:34
The Moving Toyshop (Gervais Fen)
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin

Martin Edwards sums up The Moving Toyshop perfectly:

"Few crime novels can match Edmund Crispin's most celebrated mystery for sheer exuberance."


Exuberance is the perfect word for this book; it's comic without being comedic, and it's obvious (to me, anyway) that the author had a great time writing it.


I loved the premise from the start: a man stumbles into a toyshop at night and finds a dead body, but before he can do anything about it, he's knocked unconscious.  When he comes to, he finds himself in a closet with a locked door and an open window.  When he escapes out the window and brings the police back, the toyshop is gone and a grocery store is in its place.


In a bounty of blessings, the entirety takes place in Oxford and much of it inside the hallowed halls of the University itself.  Lear's limericks play a part in the plot, and there are a multitude of literary references (including a few disparaging comments about Jane Austen's work, which I'm going to try to forget about as everybody is wrong about something in life).  


I loved this book.  The writing was a joy to read and I can't remember the last time I read a book that had me running to a dictionary to look up words.  I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read an entertaining mystery that isn't written at fourth grade literacy levels.


It was not quite a 5-star read; for a reprint some 80 years after publication, it had a startling number of grammatical and copyediting issues, but the main quibble I have is the ending.  Hilarity aside (and truly, the mental image of a chase involving shop-girls, undergraduates, university dons and proctors, publishers, doctors, bikes, and cars has to be experienced), the solution to the mystery relied on the most frustrating (for the reader) technicality.  After all the fun I had reading this mystery and trying to figure it out, the solution left me saying "oh, come ON!" at the book, and the cats giving me the side-eye.


Doesn't matter - this book is a winner regardless, and while I don't always agree with Martin Edwards' take on what makes a classic crime novel, he gets my full agreement here.  The Moving Toyshop deserves it's place in the ranks of the best.

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review 2018-03-19 10:04
Miss Silver Comes to Stay (Miss Silver mysteries, #15 or 16)
Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth

This was my second Miss Silver mystery; the first one I read was the first in the series, and frankly, it left me dubious about reading the rest, but I found this and one other on the bottom shelf at a local used book store and threw caution to the wind. 


My brief googling has this book at either 15 or 16 in the series, and it shows.  It was so much better!  90% less sappy puppy romance, 100% better plotting and characterisations.  And the writing... the writing felt fresh and a little edgy, in that way that third person POV does when it's done correctly.  An occasional and very subtle breaking of the fourth wall added to that feeling that I was reading a very accomplished writer's work.


I've heard that Wentworth was rather fond of using wills in her story lines, and this one doesn't disprove the rumour, but ... no, I'm not going to go further - I'm not sure it doesn't skirt the boundaries of spoiler-ville.


The mystery plotting... masterful.  I was sucked into the story thoroughly; totally hooked and I missed it all, until it was so late in the game that it made no difference.  I like Miss Silver; she's Miss Marple without the pretence of fluffiness and helplessness, so losing to her didn't bother me in the least.  I only wish she'd stop coughing all the time.  Someone ought to give that woman a cough drop.


I hope the other Miss Silver book I grabbed at the same time is as good, and I'll definitely be taking the time to look at the series' books again, though I might completely break rank with my life long habits and skip the first few books.  Now I know how good she can be, I'd rather not suffer through Wentworth's growing pains if I can avoid it.


This book is the perfect fit for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD: Arsenical Toothpaste.  It is a mystery, and it's main character is a woman over the age of 55.  There should be bonus points for the knitting.  ;-)

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