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review 2018-10-13 00:04
What the hell did I just read?
The Devil at Saxon Wall - Gladys Mitchell

This was my second Mrs. Bradley mystery, after The Saltmarsh Mystery, and I think that I can say at this point that Mrs. Bradley is quite unlike any of the other golden age mystery series that I’ve read so far. The book begins with a long preliminary tale about the ill-fated Constance who marries the enigmatic, possibly psychotic, Hanley Middleton.


The first section of the book is identified as “First Manifestation: Domestic Interior,” which describes the abusive marriage of Constance and Hanley, and the ultimate death of Constance in child birth after she returns to her home in Saxon Wall, having previously fled back to her parents. Hanley follows Constance in death a short time later.


The second section of the book is titled “Second Manifestation: Conversation Piece“. I have no idea why it’s called this, actually, because there is precious little intelligent conversation in this book, and a whole lot of garbled confusion. At the beginning of the section, we are introduced to the main character of the book, one Hannibal Jones, described thus:


Hannibal Jones had earned a dishonest livelihood for seventeen years by writing sentimental novels. It was the less excusable in Jones to get his living this way in that he knew—none better, since he had lectured in Abnormal Psychology for a year or two in an American university before taking up his rather more nefarious career as author—that such novels as he wrote tended to encourage morbid daydreaming on the part of their readers, and that cooks and dressmakers, mothers of families, spinsters in all walks of life—even his own female relatives—were developing, because of him and his works, a Cinderella-complex of the most devitalising, time-consuming type.


Hannibal, who is quite rich as a result of his success as a writer, has some sort of a nervous breakdown when he accepts a large publishers advance for a book he doesn’t really want to write. He consults Mrs. Bradley, and she gives him advice to “get out your third-best car and travel until you find a sufficiently interesting and secluded village. Make yourself part of it. Study the people, but resolve never to write about them in a novel. Love them. Quarrel with them. Begin a lawsuit. Play village cricket.”


Somehow, he has the misfortune to end up in Saxon Wall, which must be the most terrible place in all of England, full of villagers who are downright creepy, baby-switchers, a psychotic vicar, and a drought which means that they are all, apparently, going to die of dehydration. Jones realizes that he is in the middle of some kind of devilish psychodrama and invites Mrs. Bradley in to help him solve the crimes, of which there are many.


The plot of this book made almost no sense. It was so convoluted that I couldn’t follow the thread at all, much less unravel it. Saxon Wall is a singularly horrible place, and the denizens of Saxon Wall are singularly horrible people. There wasn’t a single non-horrible person living there. Jones himself was confounding – why he didn’t just get in his car and drive the hell out of that place I cannot begin to imagine. Mitchell brings in witchcraft, folklore, and beer to add to the altogether strange tale. Mrs. Bradley shows up at about the 50% mark to untangle the skeins of the mystery, but even at the end I was left somewhat puzzled by everyone’s behavior.


“The temperament,” repeated Mrs. Bradley. “Yes, child. As good psychologists, we ought not to lose sight of that important item. The temperament for murder—an inexhaustibly interesting subject. I have it, you have it, the vicar has it. Mrs. Tebbutt has it, Doctor Mortmain has it. To how many other people in Saxon Wall would you say it has been vouchsafed?”


Everyone, dear reader. Everyone.


The third section contains some brief End Notes, which try to explain the book. They clear up a few things. But only a few things.


One of the most curious and interesting features of the general mentality, if such a term is permissible, of the inhabitants of Saxon Wall, was a noticeable inability to distinguish between essential good and essential evil.


I can’t say that I really enjoyed this book, but it did keep me interested, even if it was totally bananas.

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review 2018-10-04 15:44
Eternity Ring by Patricia Wentworth
Eternity Ring - Patricia Wentworth

I have really started to develop a soft spot for Patricia Wentworth, which is awesome because she wrote so many books that I'll be busy with her backlist for years. Decades, maybe.


Eternity Ring is nominally a Miss Silver mystery, although she barely appears in the book at all. The main investigator is Frank Abbot, who is a likeable Scotland Yard Inspector. As has been in the case in the two prior Miss Silver mysteries that I've read, this one also had a strong romantic subplot, with a young married couple, Cicely and Frank Hathaway who have separated before the murders begin. When the shadow of suspicion begins to fall on Frank, their future is seriously in jeopardy. 


I figured out the murderer pretty early in the book by process primarily of elimination. It's a good mystery, though, and has some tense moments of real danger near the end of the book. I enjoy Wentworth's romantic subplots more than Georgette Heyer's romantic subplots (in her mysteries), and wonder that she never wrote straight up romance. I think she would've been pretty good at it, actually.


I still think that I liked Latter End a bit better than this one, and the first one I read, Grey Mask, remains my least favorite of her books. I have a few more on my kindle, and my library has about 25 available, so it'll be a while before I exhaust my ready supply.

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review 2018-10-02 15:42
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

I've never read Rowling's other piece of adult fiction, The Casual Vacancy, and I haven't heard anything about that causes me to put it on my mental TBR list, so in my own mind, at least, I had written her off as a bit of a one-trick pony. A really, really good one-trick pony, a one-trick pony who wrote the most popular series in the history of, well, forever, but a one-trick pony nonetheless.


She has proved that this assumption was absolutely incorrect. She is at least a two-trick pony - the woman can write mysteries.


I really should've known better, because the things that make Harry Potter shine are easily transferable to other genres. Her characterizations are, always, delightful. She has a gift for creating memorable supporting characters who feel both quirky and real. She also has a gift for creating main characters who are flawed and likeable. She knows how to build suspense and reveal clues. Now that I spent more than a few seconds thinking about it, of course she can write mysteries. Harry Potter was one big mystery. With magic.


This book was gross. I mean really, stomach churningly gross. The murder is not for the faint of heart. But, if you can get past the grossness, there is a ripping good story here, almost Shakespearean in its vengefulness. Owen Quine, the victim, was a truly awful human being, mythic in his misogynistic terribleness. He was abusive to every woman who ever encountered him.


She also has a lot to say about the publishing industry, little of it very flattering. She paints a picture of industry that is self-satisfied, smug and endlessly white and male. I'm sure that there are lovely people in publishing, and I'm equally sure that J.K. Rowling has the advantage of picking and choosing from those lovely ones, but the ones we meet in The Silkworm are pretty universally horrible.


Cormoran Strike (have I mentioned that she has a near-Dickensian way with names) continues to impress. He is a seasoned, talented investigator. She seems to be taking her cues on Strike from the old golden age authors (did I mention that she simply must have read Gladys Mitchell? There is no way that "Bellatrix Lestrange" is a coincidence) with her proclivity for the dramatic reveal. Cormoran, working behind the scenes, shows up the police as deliciously as Hercule Poirot ever did, although Dame Agatha would cringe at the disgusting nature of the murder itself.


Cormoran's trusty assistant, his modern Miss Lemon as it were, continues to develop in ways that I am really enjoying. My affection for her fiance, Matthew, was pretty thin towards the middle of the book, although he somewhat redeemed himself at the end. Perhaps he isn't quite the ninny I thought he was. I still think that, given Robin's rapid emotional and intellectual growth, he'd better step up his game or he'll be gone, but at least he has a chance of holding onto Robin.


I was going to read this for Modern Noir, but I picked up an audiobook by Anne Holt, so I'm using it for Darkest London, instead.

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review 2018-09-23 20:47
We did the mash, we did the monster mash. Up.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss

This book was sort of adorable. The main character is Mary Jekyll, daughter of Dr. Jekyll. Over the course of the book she goes broke, learns her father's secrets, teams up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, saves the life of Justine Frankenstein and solves the Ripper murders.


The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter was a mash up of so many Victorian early sci fi classics, name checking The Island of Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula (both Dr. Seward and Renfield make an appearance) and the short story Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It's almost too much, and I think that much that is enjoyable about the book would be lost on readers who are unfamiliar with the classics that provide the undergirding for the story.


I am not a Holmes purist, so I was fine with the addition of Holmes and Watson, although I don't think that their presence really added that much to the story. I would've preferred for the lady monsters to do all of their own mystery solving.


The conceit behind the book is beguiling, at least to me, although I'm not sure that the author's execution was as good as her idea. Some of the communications between the characters, breaking the fourth wall, were a bit distracting. I did like the asides about dress reform and women's suffrage, though.


Overall, this is a solid 3 1/2 stars for me, and I have already got a hold on the sequel, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman.


I read this book for the Supernatural square, although it would also fit: Gothic, Darkest London, Amateur Sleuth, Murder Most Foul, and Deadlands, 

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review 2018-09-23 18:07
Reading progress update: I've listened to 1350 out of 1350 minutes.
Lethal White - Robert Galbraith,Robert Glenister


Wow.  What a book.



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