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review 2019-01-01 01:51
A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (Brother Cadfael 0.5)
A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael - Ellis Peters

My mother gave me this book when I was last home (I come by my tendency to buy duplicate books honestly), and it wasn't until I was shuffling through my TBR a few days ago that I actually stopped and looked at this one.  I wanted to know which books I needed to find to complete my collection of Brother Cadfaels.  Flipping through this one, I discovered it's a compilation of three prequel stories that Ellis Peters wrote over the years.  Bonus: one of them took place over Christmas.

 

I love this book!  It's illustrated with beautiful color reproductions of medieval (or medieval-style) prints, and there's an introduction by Ellis Peters, explaining a few basic details behind the Cadfael series, like how it got started, how he got his name, and why she'd never written any stories about his crusading days.  She's also very clear, in a manner that feels purposeful, that Cadfael never converted; his entrance to the abby was just the next step in his life; a life that was always one of faith and belief.  It was a wonderful introduction, and I got a very real sense that Peters knew her character to his bones, understood him, and wanted to make sure his readers did too.

 

As for the stories themselves, the first one, A Light on the Road To Woodstock, does indeed take place before Cadfael's entrance into the abbey.  In takes place as he returns to England for the first time after the wars, facing imminent unemployment, and looking to move on to a new phase in his life, though he doesn't know yet what it might be.  His last assignment for the lord who employs him takes him to Richmond during a court dispute with the Shrewsbury Monastery.  Here he meets the Prior of the Abbey and is confronted with a mystery concerning the Prior's disappearance.  

 

This is not a fair play story; the mystery is solved by Cadfael's observance of the people he knows and the human nature he's familiar with, but he does not share those observances with the reader.  Still, it's a lovely introduction to the man, and the story is a good one.

 

The second, my favorite of the three, is The Price of Light, the Christmas story.  Here Cadfael has been a monk for 15 years. A man of means, whose life has been a waste, is beset by ill health and realises he must do something to 'earn' his redemption (read: buy it, as cheaply as possible).  He gifts Shrewsbury Abbey with the rent from one of his holdings, and a pair of beautiful silver candlesticks, both for the betterment and maintenance of their Lady Chapel.  The gifts are made on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas Day, the candlesticks have been stolen. 

 

What follows is far more of a fair play mystery, with Cadfael poking about, observing, finding clues and sharing most of it with the reader.  The plot is pretty good for a short form mystery, and the story itself is just really lovely.  Ellis Peters understood the true grace that lies behind Christianity and faith, and she writes it beautifully - never, ever preaches it - but Cadfael and most of his brothers are written in a way that is consistent to both true Christianity and humanity, and the struggle between the two is a never-ceasing one.

 

The last story, Eye Witness, is a much more bog-standard short story mystery.  It falls back on a few of the standard tropes.  Man goes out to collect the rents, is bashed on the head and robbed, thrown into the river to drown, rescued, and cannot shed any light on who tried to kill him.  His son is a suspect, of course, and Cadfael gleans the truth not only through observation, but by the time-worn tradition (in mysteries) of laying a trap!  

 

The most pedestrian of the three, it's still a good story, and adds to the fuller picture of life at Shrewsbury.

 

My edition was done by Mysterious Press, and if you're a Cadfael fan who does not yet own this, I recommend it highly, both for the stories and the charm of the edition itself.

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review 2018-12-30 03:36
A Shot in the Dark (Constable Twitten Mystery)
A Shot in the Dark - Lynne Truss

I'm a fan of Lynn Truss' writing, though I haven't read all of it, and when this was announced it went on my wishlist because it's Lynn Truss *and* a mystery.  

 

It was only after I'd finished reading it that I discovered it's a novelisation of something she'd written for BBC Radio 4, so there are those out there who may already be familiar with Constable Twitten, Sergeant Brunswick, and Inspector Steine.  These people might be better able to describe this book; the closest I was able to come for my husband was to say it's a little bit like 'Allo 'Allo, but not really.  For those not acquainted with British television, I have no parallel to offer.  Maybe Hogan's Heroes without Hogan and his heroes?

 

Set in Brighton in the 50's, this is a comedic mystery; it says so right on the tin.  Inspector Steine is basking in the reflected glory of the Middle Street Massacre of 1951, where the two criminal gangs of Brighton gathered one day for a showdown, and every single gang member killed in the subsequent shootout.  A shootout that only happened because Inspector Steine and his men stopped along the way to the scene for an ice cream.  Now, he believes there is no more crime in Brighton, and is deeply offended by Sergeant Brunswick's insistence that there is.  Constable Twitten in new on the scene and brings a level of precociousness and obnoxiousness to the station house that threatens to unravel Steine.

 

If there's a straight man in this trio, it's Sergeant Brunswick, but even he has his quirky weaknesses, including one for the variety shows and another for a 19 year old seductress who likes to play the criminal element against the law for kicks.

 

The mystery beings when a theatre critic from London arrives to view the preview showing of a new play called A Shilling in the Meter.  There's animosity between the playwright and the critic, but as the reader soon finds out there's animosity between the critic and pretty much everybody - even those that don't know him, due to an unfortunate body odour issue.  So it's no surprise to anybody except Twitten when the critic is shot and killed in the theater on opening night.  What happens from here is an intricately plotted, but convoluted mystery involving several deaths, both murderous and accidental.

 

The story is hilarious as only the British can really be, I think; it's a style of humor that won't work for everybody, especially those that don't care for an air of silliness, not even the staid, stiff-upper-lip kind.  I enjoyed it, though I didn't love it; there's a genius in Truss' plotting, and in her solution to several character problems.  The humor skirted the edges of whack-a-doodle at times, and the police are played for laughs, but Truss made it work for me.

 

I'm not sure who, if anyone, I'd recommend this book to.  It's bound to be one of those that people either enjoy or get fed up with.  I'll gladly read another if she writes it; I found the characters charming even when they were being dim, and the story made for a nice break from reality.

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review 2018-11-06 06:14
Ask Me No Questions (Lady Dunbridge Mystery, #1)
Ask Me No Questions - Shelley Noble

I got an uncorrected advance reader copy at Bouchercon this year, but it was from a freebie table, meaning there is zero chance of bias.

 

Up front this is definitely an uncorrected ARC and I sincerely hope that someone not only corrects the grammatical and punctuational errors, but the huge, gaping plot error.

 

Briefly as possible:  Lady Dunbridge's friend's husband is murdered.  Lady D and friend find a hidden safe deposit box key in a safe, and checking the box they find thousand of dollars in cash, which they take out and hide.  At the denouement it is revealed that he had this cash with him when he died, that the murderer took it after shooting him.  Which would make it impossible for Lady D and friend to find it in his safe deposit box afterward. I mean, I'm pretty sure the murderer didn't kill him, take his money, and then return it to the victim's safe deposit box for the two women to find.

(spoiler show)

 

Those issues aside, it's not a bad read.  Lady Dunbridge is an interesting mix of traditionalist and modernist, in much the same way I'd bet a lot of women were at the turn of the century, just before WWI.  Her morality has left the Victorian Age behind, but her pragmatism has her actively searching for a new husband who can maintain her in the lifestyle befitting her Countess title.  That she decides to do that in America is a slight twist on an old theme. 

 

Some of the secondary characters are all written to be interesting in their own right, with Lady D's ladies maid being a downright lady of mystery with some mad and disconcerting skills.  Others are more cardboard prop-ish; either they have more development planned in future books (?) or they weren't meant to be more than props.

 

There's no romance, although the Countess is plenty interested, and there's heavy foreshadowing of mysterious men and sadly, a possible love triangle.   Nothing specific, just inferences that can be made from inescapable tropes.

 

The plot, other than the train-sized hole running through the end of it, was pretty interesting.  In a very weird coincidence, the book centered on horse-racing; the Belmont Stakes, specifically.  (I was completely unaware of this when I picked it up to read.)  It was an interesting story, and I loved the tie in with Doyle's Silver Blaze (which, towards the end of the book became Silver Blade, something I really hope they catch before publication).   It could have been a tighter story - it did drag a bit in the middle - but overall, it held my attention.

 

I'd probably read another one if it comes across my radar; there's enough here to show promise.

 

I'll use this book for my Melbourne Cup Day Festive Task, since it's been handed to me.  (Read a book about horses or a horse on the cover.)

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review 2018-10-18 10:00
Treacherous is the Night (Verity Kent Mystery, #2)
Treacherous Is the Night - Anna Lee Huber

This series is driving me crazy; I love the author's writing, the characters, the settings, the mysteries.  But I hate one of the major plot points.  

 

Verity Kent's husband died during WWI - except, he didn't.  He was wounded but allowed himself to be listed as killed in action, hiding while he hunted out the traitor in his unit.  Well over a year later, after Verity has started moving on, and falling for another man - a man designed by the author to make readers fall for him - her dead husband decided to let her know he's in rude health for a corpse and not understanding why she's not happier to see him.

(spoiler show)

 

I'm not sure how to reconcile this, really.  I want to read them, but they piss me off at the same time.

 

With that disclosure, it's a good book, although a bit rambling.  I notice tis with a lot of Kensington books, so I think it's more an editorial style than a failing on the author's part.  A tighter editing would have resulted in a faster paced mystery and less exposition about the devastation of WWI.  Don't get me wrong: the exposition was interesting, but it was a tad repetitive.  My biggest complaint, and again, something that could have been avoided by a stricter editor, was Verity's constant, constant, mention of Her Big Secret and how she should tell her husband; it's revelation is inevitable; they can't move on unless she does; really, it would be best to come clean... but not now.  Never now.  Then, finally, the revelation.  And all I could think was omg, who cares?.  I realise people were a lot touchier about things in 1918, but give me a break; without spoiling things, her husband didn't have a leg to stand on and she really ought to have just told him to suck it up and deal with it.

 

I don't know if I'll read the third one when it comes out or not.  If I do, I'm pretty sure I'm stuck with that plot point and, well, I just don't know that I care enough about Verity as things stand.

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review 2018-10-11 09:05
A Lady's Guide To Etiquette And Murder (Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #1)
A Lady's Guide To Etiquette And Murder - Dianne Freeman

I bought this book at Barnes and Noble, just before going to Bouchercon, where Kensington was giving away free, signed copies, and the author was speaking on several panels.  Doh.  As luck would have it, I enjoyed the story enough that I don't begrudge the royalties the author earned from my lack of foresight in the least.

 

Lady Harleigh is just coming out of her one year's mourning following the death of her husband, the Earl who exchanged his title for her American fortune.  Throwing off the widow's weeds and fleeing from the in-laws who intend to bleed her dry of her private fortune, she settles in London with her daughter.  But someone has sent an anonymous letter to the police claiming she killed her husband, and a string of small jewel thefts from the ton put her on a different suspect list after she finds one of the stolen pieces in her purse after a party.

 

First things first - those who enjoy historical accuracy should avoid this book.  Not that the author didn't do her research; I don't know if she did or didn't as I'm not well versed enough in 1899 England to spot inaccuracies, but the narrative has a distinctly contemporary voice.  I also remember that Freeman was on an historical fiction panel I attended and she was not one of the sticklers for historical accuracy (I remember her sort of falling in the middle of the spectrum).  

 

But my historical ignorance was bliss in this case.  I just enjoyed the story for what it was: a fun mystery with strong female characters, a likeable romantic interest, and few, if any, TSTL moments.  it was also a very, very clever plot.

 

For those that like Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness, this series has a similar feel, though a slightly more mature MC and less charming narrative.  It's a great start to what could be a very fun series.

 

I read this for my last square in Halloween Bingo: Darkest London.  Blackout!  

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