Another solid entry in what's been a very dependable, well-written series. The mystery itself was a little predictable, but I can't be certain the author didn't intend that, as the clues weren't subtle; a story about PIs wouldn't really work with subtle and still be fair to the readers.
There's some character development in this one, as well as references to a previous plot that make this less than ideal as a standalone, and it's wroth the time to start at the beginning with book 1.
The second of Alex's books, and the best of the two by a clear margin. This one takes place in Australia, and the author nails the setting, while taking the mickey about (northern) Australia's natural population's inherent desire to kill everyone. Half-off Ragnarok struggled to get this cultural uniqueness right, in my opinion, so it was a relief to see the improvement here. Shelby still remained elusive as an individual, but her family members more than compensated.
Shelby's family is why I didn't like this book even more; they're over-the-top asses to Alex and it teetered on caricature.
The plot was good; while I wasn't shocked by the turn of events, I didn't see them coming, either. I love how the author and Alex brought in the wadjets, using this angle to work in the injustice of ‘otherness’, though the Yowie's (who I loved) circumstances turned what was a subtle but effective highlight on that injustice into something more like a sledgehammer.
The Aeslin mice are here but I did not appreciate the turn of events the author took with them. Maybe she'd argue it was necessary to the story line, but she'd never convince me. Luckily it was a relatively short scene.
With every book of McGuire's I've read, I have both enjoyed them and found them problematic. That I mostly keep coming back (I've skipped a few) for more Price family antics suggests she gets it right more often than she doesn't.
I knew this was a ghost story, of sorts, so I started it bright and early yesterday morning, and became so engrossed in the story that I almost, almost, finished it last night. leaving nothing but 3 of the last 4 conclusion chapters for me to read today.
Mary Roberts Rinehart was an excellent writer; that her genius has been so far forgotten today is a tragedy. The Red Lamp was originally written in 1925, and putting aside the lack of technology and the beautifully elegant writing that today might be considered a tad verbose, the story holds up perfectly; it would take very little to make this story 'modern'.
The Red Lamp is complex to the point of labyrinthine though. Like the main character, I stumbled through the story in ignorance. Some of this was by design, as the mc is meant to be a spectator not an active participant in solving the crimes, but some of it was because there was just so much going on and that beautifully elegant writing of Rinehart's made for easy camouflage of any clues.
The book is, with the exception of the introductory and final 4 chapters, purely epistemological, with no chapters, just journal entries. This style doesn't always lend itself to a submersive experience for the reader, but these journal entries are detailed enough that it makes almost no difference from a first person narrative.
The ghostly part of the story, in spite of the enormous potential for scarring the spit out of me, were subdued enough that they never raised so much as a hair. This was a wee bit disappointing, I admit, but it didn't adversely affect the story; they were never the point of the book, it was always about the mysterious killings and there was never doubt that those killings were done by a very corporeal being.
All in all, this was an excellent mystery. I'd recommend this to anyone curious about Golden Age Mysteries who might be hesitant fearing dry or dated story-telling. While not perfect, The Red Lamp is most assuredly neither dry nor dated.
I am not a fan of horror, but I'm a big fan of old-fashioned ghost stories, when read in broad daylight. I've been a big fan of Simone St. James' ghost stories since I first found The Haunting of Maddy Claire, the first of ... five?... historical ghost stories. She branched off in a new direction with The Broken Girls, going with a dual time-line plot, which I read hesitantly, but enjoyed thoroughly. The Sun Down Motel is another such book: a dual time-line mystery firmly rooted around a haunted place, this time a hotel that was pretty much doomed before it ever opened its doors.
I'm still a fan of St. James - I think this was a riveting read, and I devoured it in 2 sittings (daylight hours, all of them), but it wasn't as good as some of her others for two reasons, both purely subjective. The first was the heavy handedness of the message: that women have always been, and sadly will always be, to some extent, vulnerable and expendable. This is as unavoidable a fact as it is an inexcusable one, but more subtle writing would have had more powerful an impact. Instead, there were times - just a few - that I felt like I was the choir and I was being preached at. This wasn't a massive issue; it was just enough to pull me out of my head and the story a time or two.
The second reason is almost silly: the ghosts. They were almost exactly my right level of scary, but, and it took me some time to figure this out, they didn't have quite the effect on me as the ghosts in her previous books, because they never really focused on the main characters. These hauntings were almost the remnant-kind: they were there acting in an endless loop, whether anyone witnessed or not, although there was a trigger. The main ghost communicated with the historical time-line mc, but only once without being pushed into it by Viv. The other ghosts communicated with the present day mc, Carly, but benignly. They were spooky, absolutely, but at a remove, so that they fell just short of spine-tingling.
And I guess, as I write this I was left unsatisfied by Nick's story; it felt like it should be going somewhere and it didn't. I'm also disappointed that there was never an explanation for the present-day entry in the guest book of one James March who registered the day Carly and Nick had their first real experience with the Sun Down Motel. That was a BIG little thing to leave hanging with no follow up.
But overall, it was a good story; I liked that both Viv and Carly had solid friendships in their timelines; I liked that Nick was her support from pretty much page 1, and I liked the investigatory process of the mystery plot, even if I thought Viv was a reckless idiot. The story sucked me in, and I remain a solid fan of St. James' books.