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review 2020-05-18 03:21
A Sprig of Sea Lavender
A Sprig of Sea Lavender - J.R.L. Anderson

I bought this a few years ago, when Otto Penzler was selling his collection through his bookshop, Mysterious Books.  It's a review copy of an author I'd never heard of, but the short catalog blurb made it sound interesting: mysterious death on a train, unknown works by Gainsborough, Turner and Constable found with the body, along with a  sprig of - you guessed it - sea lavender. 


This is a mid-century mystery, and it suffered from the usual quirks of that age:  instant, yet chaste, romance, and a complete disregard of the fair-play rules of mystery plotting.  As such, the reader, by the end, is presented with a fait accompli in both the romance and the mystery's resolution, without having any idea whatsoever how the main character got there, although he does explain it all at the very end.  


By today's standards, it's all a bit thin, naive and 2 dimensional, but I had fun with it nevertheless.  It wasn't trying to be anything other than an entertaining mystery and, while I've read others that are greater successes, it generally achieved its goal.  

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review 2020-05-12 06:59
Stick Together (Awkward Squad, #2)
Stick Together - Sophie Hénaff,Sam Gordon

I can't remember how I discovered the first book in this series, The Awkward Squad, but I thoroughly enjoyed it; it felt fresh and it amused me, and I chalked up any small irritations to the translation from the French.


This second book was much the same, although there were more straight-up translation issues this time; errors that should have been caught in editing - like saying the "France people" instead of the "French People" in one spot.  And a few things were just cultural references I didn't understand, not being French myself.  Glossing over them didn't affect my understanding of the plot or the mystery, though undoubtedly I missed a layer of enjoyment.  


The series focuses on a department of the police judiciaire, which was occasionally referred to as PJs, which made me giggle more than it should have.  This department was created as a repository for all the misfits that couldn't be fired; they were established in an old office building offsite with all the cold case files that have never been solved, and then left to fend for themselves. 


I didn't expect this to work as well as it does, but I enjoy reading about the individual misfits and how their odd contributions further the pursuit of criminals and solve cases.  It's far-fetched, sure, but it never feels silly or slapstick, somehow.


It's not perfect, but it's highly enjoyable, and I sincerely hope the author continues to write more in the series, and that they continue to be translated into English.

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review 2020-04-29 08:38
The Man that Got Away (Constable Twitten Mystery, #2)
The Man That Got Away - Lynne Truss

I'm not an expert, but to me this book and its predecessor is just quintessentially English.  I've been a fan of Truss' non-fiction for years, and always found her writing and wit excellent, and I genuinely enjoyed her first Constable Twitten book A Shot in the Dark. So I snapped up this sequel as soon as I heard about it.  


If you've ever watched Yes, Minster, or Black Adder, or even Benny Hill, and laughed, you may enjoy this mystery series.  But you absolutely have to suspend disbelief because there's a lot of silliness and dry mockery; the reward is not only the chance to be amused in a time of little amusement, but an impressive, intricately plotted mystery.  There were so many balls in the air, and Truss kept them all up there without any apparent effort or stumbling.  It started slow for me, but it gained momentum as this complexity revealed itself.  


A lot of fun and I remain a big fan of Truss.  

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review 2019-09-17 03:10
Envious Casca
Envious Casca - Georgette Heyer

That half star is because my expectations, based on previous Heyer mysteries, were completely blown away.


Envious Casca is both a text-book Country House Mystery and Locked Room Mystery, and it's far and away the best Heyer mystery I've read so far.  It's a slow burn, certainly; almost half the book goes by before anyone dies, but Heyer placates her audience - at least this one - with the acerbic humour and no-holds-barred verbal warfare that takes place amongst the family members, written brilliantly by Heyer.  These people are so vile to each other the only wonder is that the blades didn't come out sooner; at one point, tea was served and I thought to myself "I wouldn't drink that if I were you. Any of you."


It feels like it would be too easy to give away important plot points here, so I'll just say the murderer wasn't who I thought it would be (although I was close), some of the characters were a little too vile to be believed, and I'd have preferred at least one more paragraph, preferably a page, at the end.  There's a small romance, because it's Heyer, but I'm not sure it isn't launched and HEA'd all on the same page, so it's really not more than a small also-ran.  That it would end the way it did felt inevitable, but there was never any actual romancing.


The more I type, the closer I get to spoilers, so just read it if you like anything you've ever read by Heyer (she's hit and miss in both romance and mystery) and you're in the mood for a slow read with great, biting dialogue.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.


I read this for Halloween Bingo's Country House Mystery square.

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review 2019-08-19 05:51
Murder in the Bookshop
Murder in the Bookshop - Carolyn Wells

A re-issued 'classic' that I really, truly wanted to love, but am rating 3 stars only because I feel like I have to give it the benefit of the doubt.  The writing might have been farcical; it might have meant to be satiric.


If it was either of those things, I didn't get it.  Instead the writing came across as profoundly amateurish and at times, dare I say it, twee.


I've been sitting on writing this review for weeks, and of course I've forgotten a lot of relevant bits, but amongst the things I can remember:


The scene of the crime is an antiquarian bookshop, which the deceased and his librarian have just broken into.  When the owner of the shop appears to find the man dead, the librarian standing over the body, he assures the police that 1.) no way the librarian did it, and they should just skip investigating him, and 2.) yes, they broke into his shop, but he was sure they had a very good reason.


If this had been written by a man, we'd have called him a misogynist.  There's a lot of something akin to mansplaining going on here, where the deceased's wife should be a suspect but really isn't - or, at least, the PI investigating the case can't bring himself to suspect her, because she's so wonderful, and fragile, and beautiful.  Nothing in the text would give testament to the former two, and the latter - who knows?  


The 'mastermind' was a joke.  Think villain from Scooby Doo kind of joke.  And don't even start me on the finale.  If not for those meddling kids...


Everything, in fact, was so blown out of proportion that I have to believe I've missed something; some tone, rhythm, inside information contained in the writing.  Otherwise there's no way this is something that qualifies to be re-issued.


Other evidence that I'm missing something here:  there's a short story at the end about a mystery concerning a first edition Shakespeare that is good.  Clever, if simple, and much more competently written; the only female character is the mind behind the solution too.


So in short, I don't know what the hell I read; tread at your own risk.

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