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review 2017-10-19 08:23
Blunt Instrument
A Blunt Instrument - Georgette Heyer

Here's the thing about most Golden Age mysteries:  the puzzle is all.  No matter how witty or clever or brilliant the writing is, it's almost never about the characters themselves, but about the murder mystery puzzle.  Which is, of course, why I read mysteries; I love the puzzle and I love trying to solve it.  But unfortunately, if the reader does solve the murder/puzzle, there's not a lot of characterisation to fall back on; solve the puzzle and the remaining story can be tedious.

 

I solved this one on page 88-89.  I don't think I did anything particularly clever, just that a certain passage hit me a certain way and it all became clear to me.  The only thing I ended up getting wrong was the relation of the murderer to one of the characters and then only because I imagined the murderer to be the wrong age.

 

I didn't dnf, or skip to the end to see if I was correct solely because, when Heyer is 'on' with her writing she is on, and this is one of her better writing efforts, even if the plotting went astray (and I've found out her mysteries were all plotted by her husband).  The story behind the mystery plot is a farce and Heyer thoroughly caricatures everyone except Hannasyde.  The dialog was electric and even though I was thoroughly impatient with Neville at the start, I thought him wildly entertaining by the end.  I wanted to keep reading just to see what he'd say and do next. 

 

So, 2 stars for the plotting because... page 89.  There was never any doubt on my part that I was wrong.  But an extra star because the characters are Heyer at her wittiest and most hilarious.

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review 2017-10-11 07:00
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection (Audio)
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

Sherlock Holmes is my fictional crush; I know he'd be no damn good for me, but I'd still willingly follow him until the wheels fell off.  Proof of this being that I started listening to this audio in April and have since been devoted to it whenever I've been in the car - no cheating on it with Wilkie Collins or Kevin Hearne - and I've never gotten bored or developed a wandering ear.

 

Huge credit goes to Stephen Fry too, because my adoration of Holmes makes me picky and prickly.  If he'd portrayed him as nasally or supercilious I'd have been righteously indignant and all up in his business (metaphorically speaking).  But Fry gives him the perfect voice, which is, oddly enough, close to Fry's own (although I almost never heard 'Stephen Fry').  Condescending, a tad bored, but warm and tinged with a bit of humour at himself as well as others.

 

Where Fry really goes above and beyond though, in my opinion, is his portrayal of Watson.  He nailed Watson and he did it for 4,260 minutes without ever losing track of his voice or allowing it to wander into being someone else's.  It would have been an easier job to give his own voice to Watson instead of to Sherlock, but it works better this way; Watson sounds exactly like the kindly, naive, generous sort of man Conan Doyle created.  

 

If you've already read the Sherlock Holmes stores but would like to revisit them, this is an excellent way to do it.  If you haven't already experienced the brilliance that is Sherlock Holmes, this is a perfect introduction.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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review 2017-10-06 12:39
Unseemly Pursuits by K.B. Owen
Unseemly Pursuits: A Concordia Wells Mystery - K.B. Owen

Concordia Wells is back for another year of teaching and trying to keep mischievous students’ pranks to a minimum. Hartford Women’s College has a new lady principal, Olivia Grant, who already has a reputation for being overly strict and who seems to hate Concordia in particular. Then there’s Madame Durand, a spirit medium who has started a “Spirit Club” on campus and who Concordia worries is taking advantage of her mother’s grief over the death of Concordia’s sister.

Everything takes a turn for the worse when an Egyptian amulet donated to the college is stolen and the man who donated it, Colonel Adams, is murdered. His daughter and Concordia’s best friend, Sophia Adams, confesses to the murder, but Concordia is convinced she didn’t do it. Finding the real killer will involve finding the amulet and learning more about her own father’s unexpected past as an Egyptologist.

I read the first book in this series almost 3 years ago. Although I didn’t love it and generally thought its mysteries were too obvious, it was a smooth and appealing read that made me want to continue on with the series. I feel much the same about this second book. Concordia was still an enjoyable character, and I liked the historical details, although I wondered whether Lady Principal Grant would really have had the power to confine Concordia, an adult and professor, to the campus the way she did. The women’s college setting continued to be fun and interesting, even though I found myself wishing that it went beyond the occasional mention of student pranks and grading papers. It would have been nice if Concordia had had more on-page conversations with individual students.

After finishing the first book, I was interested in seeing how Concordia’s familial and romantic relationships turned out. This book gave me a lot of the former and not much of the latter. A large portion of Unseemly Pursuits was focused on Concordia’s rocky relationship with her mother, who didn’t approve of her decision to become a professor, and her relationship with her late father. I loved Concordia’s gradual realization that she’d possibly put her father too much on a pedestal. I was less thrilled with the easy way Concordia’s years worth of issues with her mother seemed to resolve themselves in the end. Hopefully the next book makes it clear that it isn’t quite as simple as Concordia and her mother having a few heart-to-hearts.

I’m somewhat wary of Concordia’s romantic subplot, due to my worry that any sort of more serious relationship might lead to Concordia having to quit her job. However, even I was taken aback by the complete lack of mention of David, Concordia’s most likely love interest, for much of the beginning of the book. Him not being around campus was one thing, but she didn’t even idly think about him from time to time. His appearances in this book were few and mostly unmemorable, although there were a couple developments that make me think the romantic subplot might become more prominent (and awkward?) in the next book.

One character who was around more than David: Lieutenant Capshaw. I honestly can’t remember what he was like in the first book, but I really liked him in this one, and David’s general absence made me wonder if the author was planning on shifting Concordia to a new love interest. David seemed like a nice enough guy, but Capshaw could spend the series scowling at Concordia’s amateur sleuthing, doing his best to keep her out of harm’s way, and falling in love with her over the course of several books’ worth of encounters. Sadly, his interest lay elsewhere.

As in the first book, Unseemly Pursuits’ mysteries were a bit too obvious at times. Thankfully, Concordia seemed to catch onto things a little more quickly this time around - I usually only had to wait a page or two for her to realize things I’d already figured out myself. The biggest exception involved a character whose sudden change in behavior somehow didn't clue Concordia into that character's likely involvement in the overall mystery.

While I did enjoy seeing how all of the book’s seemingly unrelated mysteries fit together, there was so much going on that the story tended to feel a bit cluttered. That said, I liked it overall and will probably be continuing on with the series.

Additional Comments:

I noticed one or two continuity errors. The one I’m most sure about involved Dean Pierce. At one point he brushed his hair out of his eyes. However, earlier on he was described as being bald. I don’t think there was enough time between those two parts for him to grow hair long enough to get into his eyes.

The one I’m less sure about: Madame Durand was initially described by one character as having an odd accent, somewhat like that of a Romance language speaker but with occasional Slavic language speaker aspects. Concordia thought of her accent as “exotic.” However, later on Madame Durand’s dialogue was peppered with French words and seemed more specifically French. I thought it might be a sign Madame Durand was slipping up, but Concordia never noted a shift in her accent.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-09-25 06:50
Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries
Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries - Martin Edwards

One of the British Library Crime Classic anthologies recently published, this is a collection of - as the title says - short mysteries that take place at country houses of the nominally wealthy.  I haven't read the whole of the collection, but what I have read was almost uniformly excellent.

 

Below the list of stories I read, along with a few quick thoughts about each:

 

 

The Copper Beeches - Arthur Conan Doyle:  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It's Sherlock Holmes, of course it's excellent.  It's one of the more far out story premises, but it's fantastic.  If you haven't read Sherlock Holmes yet... um, why?

 

The Problem of Dead Wood Hall - Dick Donovan: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

One of two I liked the least.  It's an inverted mystery, so really, not a mystery as far as I'm concerned.  There was no puzzle to be solved here, only what feels like an opportunity for the detective to boast.

 

Gentlemen and Players - E.W. Hornung - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ok, I'm going to kind of contradict myself now, because there's no mystery here either, but it's Raffles!  I've been wanting to read a Raffles story for ages, and I've finally got my chance.  It was fun, the writing was amusing, the pace quick and lively and the ending... I saw that ending coming but it was still everything I hoped it would be.  I need more Raffles in my life.

 

The White Pillars Murder - G.K. Chesterton - ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The other one I liked the least.  Chesterton and I are not destined for the author/fan dynamic.  I did not like The Haunted Bookshop because it took me forever to figure out that it wasn't a ghost story, and that what little plot it did have was drowning in the author's exposition.  I didn't like this one either; the prose was less superfluous, but the plot was... I don't know what the plot was.  I don't know what his point was in writing this, honestly; a cautionary tale to all P.I. hopefuls?  A slag off at Holmes?  Who knows, but it's strike two against this particular Golden Age writer for me.

 

The Same to Us - Margery Allingham - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

More 4.5 stars.  Very short story, and again, less mystery than a satire, but it was incredibly well written and humorous. There was never any doubt in my mind from the start what the ending was going to be, but that last 1/2 star was purely for the last line of the story.

 

The Murder at the Towers - E.V. Knox - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Martin Edwards mentions this story in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books in the chapter "Making Fun of Murder" and it's one of the stories I particularly wanted to read.  It did not disappoint.  It was hilarious; Knox doesn't try to be subtle, his humour is... well, to quote the first line of the story:

 

"Mr. Ponderby-Wilkins was a man so rich, so ugly, so cross, and so old, that even the stupidest reader could not expect him to survive any longer than chapter I. Vulpine in his secretiveness, he was porcine in his habits, saturnine in his appearance, and ovine in his unconsciousness of doom. He was the kind of man who might easily perish as early as paragraph 2."

 

I was in love from the start - and laughing.  The rest is also pure farce, but Knox manages to get a humdinger in at the very last line, and it left me laughing and shaking my head.

 

There's a few other stories in this collection that I want to make a point of reading in the near future; some authors that I'm only learning about whose work I want to check out.  I'll definitely be coming back to this one soon, and I'm looking forward to reading the other anthologies Edward has put together.

 

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review 2017-09-21 15:10
Halloween Bingo Update 5: The Virgin in the Ice
The Virgin in the Ice: The Sixth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael - Ellis Peters

The Virgin in the Ice is set in the "dark, dark woods."  Perhaps not so surprising when it's 1139, there's a civil war on, and Brother Cadfael is on the road to another monastic house (in his capacity as healer).

 

For the Forest of Cree is full of ice and snow and wind, and murder and mayhem, as well.

 

 

It would also work for Amateur Sleuth or Murder Most Foul.

 

 

Read and Called:

 

Werewolves: Marked in Flesh, by Anne Bishop

In the Dark, Dark Woods: The Virgin in the Ice, by Ellis Peters

Locked Room Mystery: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie

Ghost: The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar Wilde

 

Read, but Uncalled:

 

Supernatural: Murder of Crows, by Anne Bishop

 

Called, but Unread:

 

Genre: Horror

Diverse Voices

Murder Most Foul

Witches

Cozy Mystery

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