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Search tags: mysteries-thrillers
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review 2017-10-16 17:26
The High Window / Raymond Chandler
The High Window - Raymond Chandler

A wealthy Pasadena widow with a mean streak, a missing daughter-in-law with a past, and a gold coin worth a small fortune—the elements don't quite add up until Marlowe discovers evidence of murder, rape, blackmail, and the worst kind of human exploitation.

 

 

I read this book for the “Noir” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

I didn’t enjoy The High Window quite as much as I loved The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely, but I still really liked it. Marlowe is a great main character—he’s idealistic, realistic and cynical, all rolled into one. I think someone close to the end of this book calls him a “shop-soiled Galahad,” and that really struck me as accurate. I also loved a couple of the literary allusions that he made, just assuming that the reader would be able to follow him. I love it when an author expects sophistication on the part of his readers!

The plot in this one seemed a bit simpler to me, although there was still a bit of a surprise at the end. Of the three of Chandler’s books that I’ve read, this one seemed the least noir to me, although it certainly still fits in the genre. Chandler is an exceptional writer and I am so glad to have found his novels!

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review 2017-10-05 16:14
Help for the Haunted / John Searles
Help for the Haunted - John Searles

It begins with a call in the middle of snowy February evening. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation, helping "haunted souls" find peace. And yet, something in Sylvie senses that this call is different than the rest, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep only to wake to the sound of gunfire.

Nearly a year later, we meet Sylvie again struggling with the loss of her parents, and living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened the previous winter.

As the story moves back and forth in time, through the years leading up to the crime and the months following, the ever inquisitive and tender-hearted Sylvie pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night, as she comes to terms with her family's past and uncovers secrets that have haunted them for years.

 

I read this book to fill the “Haunted Houses” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

As in any good ghost story, there is a lot of ambiguity in this tale of family strife and striving. Can Sylvie’s father see ghosts or not? What are her mother’s capabilities? Are they helping people or just fooling their clients and themselves?

Sylvie is a typical “good kid.” She is co-operative, obedient, studious—even when she doesn’t want to be any of those things. And her sister Rose is the typical “bad kid.” She questions everything, does what she wants to, and makes life as miserable as possible for the rest of the family. Rose and their father clash a lot—probably because they are a lot alike. That’s generally how these things work. My father & I butted heads occasionally because we were both quiet people with strong ideas and more that our share of stubbornness. Other than that, I was pretty much the stereotypical good kid, so I could relate to Sylvie quite well.

I had to wonder about what kind of person would choose a career of helping those with supernatural difficulties. Why would you put your own family into such a situation, where your own children often took a backseat to the children of others? It’s almost a truism that preacher’s kids will get in trouble, often as a way to plead for attention from their parents and that seems to hold true with any of the religious & quasi-religious professions.

In the end, it seemed that it maybe wasn’t the house that was haunted, but the family. Haunted by things left unsaid, paths left untrod, people left behind.

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review 2017-09-18 16:24
Nine Coaches Waiting / Mary Stewart
Nine Coaches Waiting (Rediscovered Classics) - Sandra Brown,Mary Stewart

Read to fill the “Romantic Suspense” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

This Bingo was a great excuse to revisit an old favourite, which only been slight worn by the passage of time. It is very much a gothic romance, with the heroine having the usual attributes—she is an orphan, she needs to pay her way in the world, and she is hired by a French family to school a young nobleman in English. The young Comte is nine years old and it takes a bit for Linda Martin to make friends with him and get him acting like a real small boy, but they manage to make the connection just before sinister things begin to happen. Has Linda been chosen because she is an orphan with no real connections in France? Will she be the scapegoat when young Philippe is killed?

Add the complication that Linda has fallen in love with Raoul, her employer’s son, who manages another large family estate. Raoul is as sophisticated as Linda is naïve, which causes much of the romantic tension, as the reader wonders whether he is serious or just playing with Linda. Stewart actually uses Cinderella imagery to reassure the reader—there is an Easter ball, of course, for which Linda sews her own dress and during which she dances with Raoul and they agree to become engaged. She has promised to visit her charge, Philippe, in “the dead of night” so he can feel included in the event, so she & Raoul take a “midnight feast” pilfered from the buffet table up to the little boy’s room. On her way up to the nursey, Linda’s shoe comes undone and she almost loses it, completing the Cinderella reference.

Nor is that the only literary reference. The book’s title comes from the poem The Revenger’s Tragedy, a tale of lust and ambition suited to the story line of Nine Coaches Waiting. Each of the chapters is referred to as a coach and Linda takes some kind of conveyance (train, car, plane) in each. The poem also includes a tempter’s list of pleasures: coaches, the palace, banquets, etc., all of which decadent indulgences may lure our heroine to overlook the attempts on her student’s life.

One of the joys of the book for me was the description of the French countryside and communities. These descriptive interludes extend the tension of both the mystery & the romance and give the reader some time to assimilate the clues and try to see the road ahead. It also gave me breathing room to assess the very whirlwind nature of the romance, something that I would usually find unrealistic & therefore off-putting (and which I never noticed as a teenager reading this novel).


I am delighted to report that I enjoyed this novel almost as much forty years later as I did when I first read it.

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review 2017-09-14 20:06
Monk's Hood / Ellis Peters
Monk's Hood - Ellis Peters

Gervase Bonel, with his wife and servants, is a guest of Shrewsbury Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul when he is suddenly taken ill. Luckily, the Abbey boasts the services of Brother Cadfael, a skilled herbalist. Cadfael hurries to the man's bedside, only to be confronted by two very different surprises. In Master Bonel's wife, the good monk recognises Richildis, whom he loved before he took his vows. And Master Bonel has been fatally poisoned by a dose of deadly monk's-hood oil from Cadfael's herbarium. The Sheriff is convinced that the murderer is Richildis' son Edwin, but Cadfael is certain of her son's innocence. Using his knowledge of both herbs and the human heart, Cadfael deciphers a deadly recipe for murder...

 

I read this for the “Murder Most Foul” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

Brother Cadfael has not disappointed me yet. In this book, one of his herbal potions is used for evil instead of for good and the Brother feels he must right the wrong caused by his tincture. A very young step-son is blamed for the murder and since Cadfael is sure the boy is innocent, he pursues the matter all the way to Wales.

Cadfael is such a steady, sensible character. It’s a joy to watch as he methodically put together the pieces, assesses the people involved, and uses his opportunities to solve the mystery, while still managing to (mostly) obey the rules of the Abbey. This situation has probably perturbed him the most because of his reconnection with Richildis, the woman he loved before he went to the Crusades and joined the religious order. One poignant scene has him looking at her son and thinking “That child could have been mine if I’d returned to her.”

This is a very quietly enjoyable series and I will look forward to the next installment with anticipation.

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review 2017-09-11 19:53
Three Bedrooms, One Corpse / Charlaine Harris
Three Bedrooms, One Corpse - Charlaine Harris

Deciding if she wants to go into real estate becomes a life-or-death choice for Aurora "Roe" Teagarden. A naked corpse is discovered at her first house showing. And when a second body is found in another house for sale, it becomes obvious that there is a very cool killer at large in Lawrenceton, one who knows a great deal about real estate-and maybe too much about Roe.

 

 

Read to fill the “Cozy Mystery” square for 2107 Halloween Bingo.

I wonder if Aurora Teagarden was in some ways a practice run by Charlaine Harris for her Sookie Stackhouse character? They’re both small town girls, seemingly not outstanding in any sense, feeling that life is passing them by. Both of them are attracted to dangerous men. Both of them take unreasonable risks for those men.

Also like Sookie, Aurora changes male partners fairly frequently. I was glad to see the pastor get the boot in this book. By the looks of things, Roe has found the one she intends to keep—but nothing is sure with Harris’ characters, so I will undoubtedly read the next book!

I like that Aurora is a little more independent that she is willing to give herself credit for. She’s not going to settle for just anyone because of societal small-town pressure to get married. Nor is she going to let the opinions of others prevent her from doing exactly what she wants to, whether that’s buy a house just outside of town or take a date to bed (or not). These choices are much easier for the single woman living in the city—we only have our relatives & friends who consciously or unconsciously push us to make certain decisions! We don’t have weight of community judgment hanging over us. Very seldom do our family members or friends live right next door, so we can generally get away with doing EXACTLY what we want to.

One does have to suspend disbelief over the number of murders that Roe runs into in such a small community—not that murders don’t occur in towns, but they do seem to be rather more numerous in Lawrenceton than one would truly expect outside of the city.

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