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review 2016-08-03 10:01
Review: Tears of Pearl
Tears of Pearl - Tasha Alexander

Even before Emily steps off the Orient Express in beautiful and decadent Constantinople, she's embroiled in intrigue and treachery. The brutal death of a concubine in the sultan's palace allows her first foray into investigating a crime as an official agent of the British Empire--because only a woman can be given access to the forbidden world of the harem. There, she quickly discovers that its mysterious, sheltered walls offer no protection from a ruthless murderer.

 

"I don't think I could survive if anything happened to her. She's been beside me my whole life."
"You would. I'd make you."
"I'm not sure I'd thank you for it."
"You forget how persuasive I can be."

In which Emily is worried about her best friend dying and Colin is slightly creepy. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure he means well...but couldn't he have said how he'd help her through it instead of 'I will make you survive'? Also, two lines later they are talking about their sex-life again in that cutesy Victorian wink-wink-nudge-nudge way that did have me grin the first two or three times they did it but once every private conversation they head led to the same I wanted to yell 'Can you screw each other without constantly talking about it?'.

The mystery was just ridiculous. It involved so many coincidences that I just couldn't stretch my suspension of disbelief that far. And yes, cozy mysteries are books in which the main characters just keep stumbling over dead bodies or met people who just have but even for that genre the coincidences were over-the-top. 

 

I did like that death in childbirth was a topic since I can't remember many novels that are set in an era where that is an issue that talk about it. (No matter if they were written in that era or in the present day). But the way it was discussed left me mostly unmoved. Emily's fear of it was told rather than shown. Its only result were some long internal monologues and her not telling Colin about the fact that she thinks she might be pregnant. (And even that can just as easily be attributed to the fact that she fears Colin would stop her from doing more dangerous things once he knows). 

Ivy's storyline again did nothing for me. This book makes it painfully obvious that Ivy is just the foil to Emily. Ivy is the 'good Victorian woman' in the eyes of her contemporaries, while Emily is the one with too many strange ideas for her pretty little head. Ivy will always do what she is told and she'd never dream of demanding answers. Even if the answers concern her and even if she's scared. Ivy is there to tell the reader who 

Ivy is there to tell the reader how Victorian women were expected to behave and how much the good old days sucked. Ivy is there so that Emily can worry about her. Ivy is not in any way a character in her own right with interests, hopes or anything. She's a symbol, somebody Emily can angst over and occasionally a plot device.

 

Talking about characters that aren't really characters: Every single woman from the harem. They were there so that Emily could have discussions with them about whether women in the West are better or worse of than their counterparts in the ottoman empire. 

And while I think that that it's not intentional, it has some unfortunate implications that the only woman who is unhappy in the harem is the one who is secretly Christian. Because only if your religion tells you it's wrong, you'd be unhappy in such a place. Now that brings me to my biggest gripe with the book.

Spoiler alert. It's not directly about the mystery part but it is intertwined with it and it concerns events at the very end of the book so read at your own risk.

 

Roxelana, the unhappy Christian in the harem wants to flee. Because she hates her life in the harem and because she has a lover outside. And she wants Emily's help. After some reluctance Emily agrees. The escape fails and Roxelana has to return to the harem but - for contrived and absolutely nonsensical reason - she won't be punished further. Her lover (who is an idiot and screwed up badly in the course of the book) considers that a fitting punishment for his screw ups. Yes, you read that right. He will now suffer the punishment of not being able to screw the hot chick.

 

 

Meanwhile, the girl (full disclosure: she was also was stupid and screwed up...she was also terrified) is going to remain a sex-slave. Which she will hate because her religion tells her it leads to eternal damnation. (So does suicide so that wouldn't be a way out either). And she will be so popular with the other women after her attempt to flee, I'm sure.

But it's important that the guy has accepted that he has to put his dick somewhere else and this is going to be a bit bad for him.

 

(spoiler show)
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review 2016-07-27 08:59
Review: Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane
Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder: The First Unsolved Murder of the Victorian Age - Paul Thomas Murphy

On April 26th, 1871, a police constable walking one of London’s remotest beats stumbled upon a brutalized young woman kneeling on a muddy road—gashes were cloven into her skull; her left cheek was slashed open and smashed-in; her right eye was destroyed; and above it a chunk of the temporal bone had been bashed out. The policeman gaped in horror as the woman held out her hand before collapsing into the mud, muttering “let me die” and slipping into a coma. Five days later, she died, her identity still unknown.

 

Within hours of her discovery on Kidbrooke Lane scores of the officers of Greenwich Division were involved in the investigation, and Scotland Yard had sent one of its top detectives, John Mulvany, to lead it. After five days of gathering evidence, the police discovered the girl’s identity: Jane Maria Clouson, a maid in the house of the renowned Pook family . . . and she was two months’ pregnant with Edmund Pook’s child when she died.


Murphy carefully reviews the evidence in the light of 21st century forensic science in order to identify Jane’s killer as Edmund Walter Pook. Using a surprisingly abundant collection of primary sources, Murphy aims to recreate the drama of the case as it unfolded, with its many twists and turns, from the discovery of the body to the final crack of the gavel—and beyond.

 

 

 

The blurb of this book is misleading. I had expected a straight true-crime story but the book goes beyond that. That’s because the murder wasn’t ‘just’ a murder. The author has to go beyond that and also delve into Victorian society and explain why it was such an issue that a middle-class man was put on trial for murdering a working class girl (that used to be his family’s servant) but not convicted. Without more context, some of the events following Jane’s death are incomprehensible to the modern reader.

 

However, the author overdoes the ‘going beyond the case’ sometimes. There are quite extensive details of two other trials that made headlines back then but the only connection to Jane’s murder trial is that they had some of the same personnel. A few sentences about that would have been enough. Instead, we get almost a chapter that just deals with these cases and none of it adds anything to the story of Jane’s murder. And it doesn’t remain the only aside where I couldn’t see the point of (though the others aren’t quite as long).

Well, and for the “Murphy carefully reviews the evidence in the light of 21st-century forensic science in order to identify Jane’s killer”-part. Well…the forensic evidence consists of blood-stained clothes that we don’t have anymore so the author has to rely on descriptions that might or might not be accurate. Granted, together with some eyewitness testimony that wasn’t accepted as evidence in the trial he makes a good case. I’ve had authors try to convince me that a certain person is Jack the Ripper on much less but the blurb makes it sound as if the author had identified the killer beyond reasonable doubt and that is certainly not the case. (To be fair: that is pretty much impossible in such an old murder).

 

Overall the book was interesting, and I don’t even mind the ‘wrong packaging’ because some social context is necessary for understanding the case. But not as much as the author gives.

 

ARC received in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2016-03-12 13:30
Review: Dust and Shadow
Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson - Lyndsay Faye

I have a complicated relationship with Jack the Ripper fiction. I really want to like it but I rarely do. In fact, the only one I really enjoyed was Melanie Clegg's From Whitechapel and you could argue that it is more a novel that uses the case as background than an actual Ripper-novel.

My track-record with Holmes meets the Ripper fiction is even worse. In the best case, I found them totally forgettable but mostly they were so horrid that I wanted to rip them into little pieces.

Dust and Shadow is different. I love it. It's a great Holmes-pastiche. Faye catches the voice of Watson perfectly. I also didn't feel that her Watson was too stupid or her Holmes too cold, both are things that often ruin Holmes pastiches for me.

It's also a great fictional account of the Ripper killings. With the focus on fictional. I don't mean that Faye didn't do her research (she definitely did), but in reality, there was no Sherlock Holmes involved in the investigation. The fact that here he was does change some minor things because the Ripper reacts to Holmes' involvement. I think only absolute purists can object to the way this was handled. I found it very well done (and I have often grumbled over stuff like this ^^).

The whole subject is also treated with the respect it deserves. Of course, this is the true story of the brutal killings of several women and you can certainly argue that it is always ghoulish to read/watch/listen/play anything inspired by something like that. I know that there are people who wouldn't do that under any circumstances and I am aware that my enjoyment of these stories might be a bit questionable...

But there are different ways to treat this case (I actually read a story once in which the author thanked Jack the Ripper in the foreword because he inspired so many authors...really). This book never forgets that the victims were people and the characters act accordingly.

 

Then there is of course the question of the ending. It won't be a spoiler when I tell you that this book doesn't stray so far from the historical facts that the Ripper is caught and everybody is happy. I've seen various ways the question 'Why didn't they say anything when they knew who it was' (if in fact they found out...) was handled and I have to say that I liked this one best so far. It made sense and was not out of character for Holmes.

 

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review 2016-02-20 10:17
Review: Jane Steele
Jane Steele - Lyndsay Faye

Reader, I murdered him. Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors. A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household's strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him - body, soul and secrets - and what if he discovers her murderous past?

 

This book gets advertised as 'What if Jane Eyre was a serial killer?' and while there are parallels to Jane Eyre and will appeal to lovers of the book and of a somewhat morbid humour, 'serial killer' isn't the right word to describe Jane. And this is exactly where I had some issues with the book: from today's viewpoint, only one or two of Jane's killings can really be classified as murder (and even those only just so), the others would be cases of manslaughter, accidents and also cases of self-defense (or defense of others).
Now, of course, this book isn't set in the present and back then most judges wouldn't have cared for the exact circumstances but it never crosses Jane's mind that she would be dead if she hadn't acted in the way she did. She just always refers to herself as a murderer and a horrible person. Again, you might blame the morals of those days on it but I would have wished for at least a few sparks of 'Well I'd be dead if I hadn't killed him' even if those thoughts had ended in 'But it doesn't matter. I took someone's life and the church/society says this is wrong and therefore I am a bad person.'

Eventually, somebody else tells her this and she then accepts it very quickly, which would have been more believable if she'd had thought about this herself before.

 

Now I really wish I could talk about why I love this book at least three times as much as I have talked about the problem I had with one aspect of it because I did love it. It was funny, the chemistry between Jane and Mr Thronfield is glorious. The supporting cast is amazing (basically, I want novels about all of them because they are so interesting and I'd love to learn more about them). But somehow I always find it much harder to talk about what I liked than about what I disliked, so don't let my complaints stop you from reading (and hopefully enjoying) this book yourself. I do not feel that I'm nitpicking when I'm talking about this issue since it's not a small thing, but it's also just one thing, while I found everything else done brilliantly.

So: read the book! Do it!

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review 2016-01-24 07:57
Review: The Baker Street Phantom
The Baker Street Phantom - Morag Young,Fabrice Bourland

In the spring of 1932, with Londoners terrorised by a series of brutal murders, the private detective agency of Messrs. Singleton and Trelawney quietly opens its doors in Bloomsbury.

The first person to call on their services is a worried Lady Arthur Conan Doyle. She tells of mysterious events at 221 Baker Street – and a premonition that the London murders signal terrible danger for mankind.

Their investigation will take our intrepid heroes into a world of séances and spirits. Aided by the most famous detective of all time, they must draw on their knowledge of the imaginary to find the perpetrators of some very real and bloody crimes before they strike again…

 

 

It almost has to be admired how the author takes an awesome idea and tells it in almost the most boring way imaginable. Because of magic characters from famous Victorian novels appear on the streets of London. There is Sherlock Holmes - which is very cool - and there are Dorian Gray, Mr. Hyde, Dracula, and Jack the Ripper (it makes sense in context even though he is not a character from a novel) -which is less cool because they just continue what they did in the novels: kill people.

How do you mess such a great idea up? Easily: you take out any conflict and therefore, any excitement. The majority of the murders have already been committed by the time the novel starts and Singleton, our hero, just reads about them in the newspaper. (Conveniently all the murders are summed up in one article, despite there being huge differences in the MO). Since the paper also mentions where the murders have been committed he immediately makes the connection between that an 'all these places are mentioned in Dracula, Dorian Gray etc.' 

Of course, that does not mean that he immediately goes 'clearly novel characters have been going round murdering people' but it doesn't take him long to get there. Shortly afterwards he attends a séance, despite not believing in the spiritual things and that one séance is enough to change his opinion on everything. Mediums are not all fake. A connection to the afterworld is possible. And not much later: the killer was probably Dracula.

And everything in the book is like this. There never is time for you to worry if the characters will get out of a dangerous situation/get somewhere in time because those are all resolved as quickly as the characters change their minds on long-held beliefs.

Talking about characters: they also couldn't save it. They remained so colourless that I could barely remember their names while reading the book.

 

ARC received from NetGalley.

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