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review 2019-03-22 14:54
The Five Red Herrings / Dorothy L. Sayers
Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers

The body was on the pointed rocks alongside the stream. The artist might have fallen from the cliff where he was painting, but there are too many suspicious elements - particularly the medical evidence that proves he'd been dead nearly half a day, though eyewitnesses had seen him alive a scant hour earlier. And then there are the six prime suspects - all of them artists, all of whom wished him dead. Five are red herrings, but one has created a masterpiece of murder that baffles everyone, including Lord Peter Wimsey.

 

Give this volume about 3.5 stars, I think. For me, it has been the least enjoyable installment of Lord Peter Wimsey. And still, it had its great moments. Dorothy Sayers is the only author that I have read who had produced Scots dialog on the page that hasn’t annoyed me to death! I found it was effective and even a bit humorous from time to time.

Where this book fell down for me was the intricacy of the clues. I know that Sayers prided herself on not “cheating,” giving the reader all the clues that they needed to solve the mystery right along with Wimsey (see Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds). However, I would have needed to make myself a detailed flow chart if I was going to solve this mystery! So I just drifted with the flow of her writing and enjoyed other details along the way.

The last few pages, including the re-enactment of the crime, were absolutely the best part of the book. I don’t usually laugh out loud when I’m reading, but I know for a fact that I produced several outbursts as I enjoyed this production! Well worth enduring all the train time tables!

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review 2019-03-12 15:29
Quartet in Autumn / Barbara Pym
Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym

This is Pym's poignant story of four elderly single people who work in the same office. Their work is their chief point of contact with each other and with the outside world. When the two women retire, the equilibrium of the quartet is upset. Quartet in Autumn is a gently compelling story of human dignity in the midst of hopelessness.

 

This little novel probably appealed to me so strongly because these four people are in the zone that I currently inhabit—they are reaching retirement age and wondering if they are ready for this next phase of life.

I’m currently flailing around, trying to determine if I have the financial resources necessary to pull the plug, because like Letty and Marcia, I never married and I’m now responsible for my own future. But how times have changed—I’m no longer at the mercy of the government pension to determine how my future unfolds, and I’ve been able to plan better things for myself.

Still, I understand the uncertainties of retirement. How will my days be structured? What activities will fill my time? Will I still be able to afford many of the activities that I currently enjoy? Poverty in old age is a perennial worry, something that has soaked into my bones. I think single women of my vintage have a horror of becoming bag ladies and having to eat cat food. Financial advisors rarely understand this worry—they don’t live on the same financial edge that many older single women do.

I remember when one of my friends was looking for housing for her elderly mother in the U.K. She told me she looked at too many places where “You wouldn’t want to leave your coat, let along your mother.” I think we’ve all heard horror stories of homes for the elderly where they are abused and/or neglected. The problem of where to live is the big one. Does one stay at home and go odd, like Marcia? Or take small steps towards taking control, like Letty?

I’m hoping to be in the Letty camp—once I’m retired, I hope to start looking around for the next living situation and plan out the next number of years. I think most of us still feel younger than we are in our own heads—referring to myself as elderly seems ridiculous to me, but I’m sure I seem that way to the younger people in my life. Still, I need to get planning adventures for the post-work phase of life and this book has been both a comfort and an inspiration for that.

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review 2019-02-04 22:02
The Hanging Tree / Ben Aaronovitch
The Hanging Tree - Ben Aaronovitch

The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don't change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world's super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.

 

I must admit that I just enjoy hanging out in Peter Grant’s London. I enjoy each and every one of these novels and the graphic novels in varying degrees, all positive. I adore the diverse set of characters—and I don’t get the feeling that Aaronovitch is actively trying to have “diversity” of cultures, languages, or skin colours. My conclusion is that this is how London is now and he’s just reflecting his city. I’m loving how much Guleed is figuring in this installment and I’m glad to see the River goddesses back in full force. I love both Peter’s Sierra Leonean Mama and his Caucasian jazz-man father.

Not only does Aaronovitch create a diverse police force, but he is gradually assembling quite the range of supernatural people/creatures for Peter et al. to cope with too. Nightingale has been playing his cards pretty close to the vest, not letting Peter know what else might be lurking out there until he has to share. Probably a good way not to send your apprentice screaming away into the scenery.

Peter is acknowledged as a “cheeky bugger” and his internal dialog gives a lot of humour to the series. I love his assessments of police work and those folks that his work brings him into contact with. I love that Aaronovitch gives us these asides, guiding what we think without just clubbing us over the head with his opinions. Plus, I adore Peter's experimenting with his magical powers, testing exactly what distances from electronics are safe, for example.

I’m now caught up to date and the next volume awaits me at the library. Life is good.

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review 2019-01-24 18:43
Strong Poison / Dorothy L. Sayers
Strong Poison - Dorothy L. Sayers

Can Lord Peter Wimsey prove that Harriet Vane is not guilty of murder--or find the real poisoner in time to save her from the gallows?

Impossible, it seems. The Crown's case is watertight. The police are adamant that the right person is on trial. The judge's summing-up is also clear. Harriet Vane is guilty of the killing her lover. And Harriet Vane shall hang.

But the jury disagrees.

 

Change is afoot in the world of Lord Peter Wimsey. People are asking Peter to stay the way he is and it is chilling his soul. Not only does he envision his own altered future, but he sees the societal changes taking place around him, and he knows that change is inevitable.

Enter Harriet Vane. She is an author in the mystery genre, she has lived with a male author without the benefit of matrimony, and she is on trial for that man’s murder. It is said that Harriet is an alter-ego for Dorothy L. Sayers herself. I have a hold on a biography of that wonderful woman at my public library and am eagerly awaiting my chance to investigate! Especially since Harriet proclaims,

”Philip wasn't the sort of man to make a friend of a woman. He wanted devotion. I gave him that. I did, you know. But I couldn't stand being made a fool of. I couldn’t stand being put on probation, like an office-boy, to see if I was good enough to be condescended to. I quite thought he was honest when he said he didn't believe in marriage -- and then it turned out that it was a test, to see whether my devotion was abject enough. Well, it wasn't. I didn't like having matrimony offered as a bad-conduct prize.”


Ms. Sayers writing is divine and methinks she was a force to be reckoned with!

Also shining brightly in this volume are Miss Climpson and Miss Murchison, part of Lord Wimsey’s army of unattached women, whose talents are being put to full use! Whether they are learning to pick locks or staging séances to uncover evidence, they take great pleasure in being underestimated by the stuffed-shirt men who stand in their way.

Sayers is recording the shift that is leveling the social classes, allowing Wimsey to pursue his authoress and his sister to snag her policeman, and the beginnings of the escape of Western society from Victorian values that continues to this day.

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review 2019-01-16 18:54
The Advent Killer / Alastair Gunn
The Advent Killer - Alastair Gunn

Christmas is coming. One body at a time. Three weeks before Christmas: Sunday, one a.m. A woman is drowned in her bathtub.  One week later: Sunday, one a.m. A woman is beaten savagely to death, every bone in her body broken.  Another week brings another victim.

As panic spreads across London, DCI Antonia Hawkins, leading her first murder investigation, must stop a cold, careful killer whose twisted motives can only be guessed at, before the next body is found. On Sunday.  When the clock strikes one . .

 

Somehow this murder mystery didn’t grab me the way some of them do. I started it in late December, but then had a long hiatus until finishing it in early January. It’s a solid enough story, with enough red herrings to keep me from being positive who dunnit until close to the end of the book.

My problem was that I didn’t really connect with the main character, Antonia Hawkins. She seemed to me to be rather thin-skinned and inept for someone who had risen as high in the ranks as she had. And I really disliked her tendency to mix her work and private life indiscriminately. I know that it can be hard to keep those lines from blurring, but Tonia seemed to just heave herself precipitously back into a work relationship with no self-reflection at all. And there’s far more snotty weeping that I care for in a main female character!

Nevertheless, it’s not a bad book and was certainly appropriate for the Christmas season. A few good murders keep the holiday from getting too saccharine sweet.

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