Stuff and Nonsense: mysteries & thrillers

Showing posts with label mysteries & thrillers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mysteries & thrillers. Show all posts


The Marsh King’s Daughter

After a traumatic childhood, Helena moved away from her family, changed her surname, and created a new life that (she thought) kept her safely under the radar. Helena was content.

Then Helena’s father escapes from prison and she has no doubt he will come looking for her. A murderous psychopath, kidnapper, and rapist -- the man is definitely not someone Helena wants anywhere near her husband and daughters. So, using all the tracking skills he taught her, Helena hunts her father.

The Marsh King’s Daughter is an atmospheric and mesmerizing psychological thriller about a woman whose secret past catches up with her and threatens to destroy the life she has built for herself. The book alternates between the past and the present, steadily ratcheting up the nail-biting dramatic tension as the parallel story-lines progress. Child Helena, ignorant of many truths, adores her father intensely. Adult Helena, knowing the truth about her parents’ relationship and recognizing that her childhood was completely fucked-up, still longs for her father’s approbation ... even as she understands she’s going to have to kill him.

With The Marsh King’s Daughter Dionne has crafted an absolutely riveting story -- the characters and the plot are very well developed and the marsh feels like a very real, very familiar place. Rankin’s narration is also spot-on and I cannot tell you how many times I willingly considered being late for work so I could listen to “just a little bit more.”

Be warned, though, that there’s a lot of violence in The Marsh King’s Daughter -- both the constant, oppressive shadow of it and the fully-realized bloody kind. However, this is no torture porn. Violence is there, because it is the way of things in the marsh, but there’s no glorification or sensualization of it. I’m just saying that, if you’re sitting in a parking lot listening to this with your car windows down on your lunch break, you might get some curious looks!

The Marsh King’s Daughter written by Karen Dionne & read by Emily Rankin. Penguin Audio: 2017.


Murder on the Orient Express

Seeing Kenneth Branagh's production of Murder on the Orient Express last fall made me itch to read Christie's novel again, but copies were thin on the ground as every library patron seemed to have the same idea. I reckoned I'd pick it up again once the interest died down, but then simply forgot about it entirely (as one does when constantly surrounded by other equally tempting books).

Happily, The Husband was paying attention and gave me a copy of Audio Partners unabridged production read by David Suchet. Suchet was my formative Poirot -- Masterpiece Mystery! introduced me to the Belgian detective years before I read any of Christie's novels -- and will forever live in my heart as the only Poirot that matters. Whether I read the books or listen to Hugh Fraser narrate the audio books, David Suchet's Poirot is the detective I see in my head.

Unsurprisingly, this unabridged recording of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express is just superb. As always, David Suchet demonstrates an impressive range of vocal talent -- his voice for each character is distinct and appropriate to the character. Yes, some of the characters might be a little over the top, but I feel Christie might have meant them to be? To me, at least, Christie's characters tend to seem full of stereotypes and it seems like she's deliberately having fun with this in Murder on the Orient Express.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Suchet's reading and found myself always eager to know what the next scene would bring ... even though I've read Murder on the Orient Express twice and watched two adaptations now.

Murder on the Orient Express written by Agatha Christie & read by David Suchet. Audio Partners: 2001.


Eeny Meeny

A voyeuristic psychopath drugs and kidnaps pairs of people, imprisoning them together in seemingly inescapable locations with a gun containing a single bullet, but no food or water. Release is promised to whichever victim kills the other. Investigating these gruesome kidnappings is Helen Grace, a tough and capable detective inspector tormented by a dark childhood she has done her best to bury, and her intrepid team of stock character coppers.

The timeline for the book is confusing -- I really struggled to figure out how much time was passing between chapters, because it was impossible to understand just how dire the situation was for each pair of victims without knowing how long they had been imprisoned. The time the victims spent in the kill rooms felt like, based on their psychological and physical deterioration, weeks which meant the entire novel should have played out over months. However, the investigation’s timeline -- including the discovery of the various sites -- seems to glide along over a few weeks, reaching its denouement perhaps a month after the first pair was discovered.

When I found myself reading reference articles about the life cycle of flies, I knew I was getting too obsessed with chronology and needed to dial it back. Accept Eeny Meeny as a gruesome bit of fluff and just go with it.

So I went with it ... right through to the ending that left me angry, disappointed, and flipping back pages to see if I'd missed anything. The story had moved along so steadily, consistently escalating the tension with a variety of twists and red herrings as it lead to Helen’s inevitable confrontation with the clever murderer. And then ... ehhh. The confrontation felt disjointed and rushed. And then Helen walks off into the rain? How is that an ending?

And yet, for all my annoyance, I would definitely watch this if it were made into a short-run mystery-drama-thriller television series. Helen walking off into the rain, her stereotypical coworkers, the "twists" and red herrings ... I wouldn't mind them spread over three one-hour episodes with an overly dramatic soundtrack and desaturated colors.

Eeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge (New American Library, 2015)


The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Once there were four boarding school girls who did something terrible one night and then lied about it. Fifteen years later, the truth is finally coming to light. Will they stand together, united in their lie? Do they even really know what happened that night?

I enjoyed Ware's In A Dark Dark Wood very much and was really looking forward to The Lying Game. Overall ... it was okay. It's possible my expectations were too high, but I felt like The Lying Game started with so much promise and so many hints at a deep, rich story ... and then failed to follow through. The hints were never fleshed out. I never knew enough about Kate, Thea, or Fatima to really care about them and Isa, as narrator, was pretty shallowly etched, too. While I liked that The Lying Game was a slow-burning mystery, neither the characters nor the central mystery were enough to keep me invested in it and I kept putting it aside for other books.

I'm also (still and ridiculously, I know) grumpy that the girls didn't actually do a murder. As soon as I realized where the story was headed, all my enthusiasm evaporated. I think I wanted a brooding, atmospheric Gothic mystery, but what I got was ... underwhelming. Yes, there were secrets and lies and people died for love (or something) in big fire in a suitably Gothic structure, but I was not emotionally connected enough to any of it to care much. I just felt very ehhhh about the whole thing.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Scout Press, 2017)


The Girl Before

Clara is living a seemingly normal life with her husband and daughters on a beautiful rural estate when her home is invaded by masked gunmen and she discovers her life is built upon lies. Her husband and his family are human traffickers and Clara is one of their victims.

But Clara doesn't feel like a victim. Mama, Papa G, and Glen are the only family she's ever known -- or loved. If they are not Clara's family, if they do not love her, if they have lied to her with every breath for as far back as she can remember ... then who is she? And the beautiful daughters she has lovingly raised and prepared for their bright futures with Papa G's customers ... does that make Clara a monster, too?

While The Girl Before was not an easy read, it was certainly a compelling one. I enjoyed Olsen's choice to alternate between the past and present in a thoroughly non-chronological, but thematic way. This meant, of course, I had to pay attention to what I was reading and at a few points, had to flip back to an earlier section of the book, finally realizing how the bits knit together. This did not put me off in the least, as I was glued to the pages and finally finished this book in the wee small hours of a workday morning.

Admittedly, Clara's ... obtuseness ... was sometimes frustrating. Readers only know what Clara knows and what Clara knows is that she had a perfectly okay life before federal agents took her husband and daughters away. She's mourning, she's scared, and she's uncertain who to trust, so she clings to what she "knows." And thus, sometimes, I found myself shouting unsympathetic things like "your daughters are sex slaves, you stupid woman!" while Clara struggled to come to terms with both what had been done to her and what she had done to others.

Overall, an uncomfortable read, but a good one. I look forward to reading more by Rena Olsen.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016)


Iron & Velvet

In an alternate London where magical creatures secretly live amongst humans, a werewolf has been found murdered in the alley behind a vampire night club. Kate Kane, private investigator, is hired to identify the murder or murderers before war breaks out. The vampires blame the mages, the mages claim it wasn't them, and the werewolves are just well pissed. It seems to be a complicated case ... and Kate's sleeping with her (hot lesbian vampire) boss probably isn't helping matters ...

The beginning of the novel was stuffed with so many references to untold backstory that I wondered if I had skipped a book, but I checked twice and, no, Iron & Velvet is definitely the first book in the Kate Kane: Paranormal Investigator series. The repeated references to characters and events I knew nothing about became increasingly irritating and I began to wonder if the book would be a DNF.

However, Kate Kane, snarky violet-eyed half-fairy lesbian with a weakness for femme fatales, began to grow on me a little bit and the world-building, disjointed as it felt, kept being just interesting enough to keep me going. I wanted to know what was going on in the woods at Safernoc Hall and who had initially conjured the toothy tentacled beastie from beyond the stars. Was one of the Princes playing some deep game? Trying to start a war or unseat a rival? Was Werewolf Granny's bite worse than her bark? Would there be a half-fairy, vampire, werewolf ménage à trois? I needed to know.

Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall (Riptide Publishing, 2013). Kindle edition.


Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery

After foiling a robbery at a posh English party, the Honourable Phryne Fisher is asked to investigate the probable poisoning of a society woman in Australia. Bored with society and at loose-ends, Phryne agrees to travel to Melbourne and find out the truth behind the woman's illness, but strictly on her own terms. Arriving in Melbourne, Phryne quickly begins a series of adventures that will introduce her to the heights (and depths) of Melbourne society ... and to the mysterious King of Snow who so mercilessly runs Melbourne's cocaine trade.

Cocaine Blues was a light and entertaining romp through 1920s Melbourne, full of interesting characters and beautiful descriptions of clothes. Its lightness and sheer entertainment value is a little surprising considering the heavy topics dealt with in the novel -- back-alley abortions, drug trade, domestic abuse, street life, communism, sexism, etc -- and I applaud Greenwood for pulling it off so deftly. I enjoyed Cocaine Blues very much and look forward to reading the other nineteen books in the series.

If you haven't watched ABC's Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, starring Essie Davis, you're missing quite a treat and I strongly recommend you get them out from your library or watch them on Netflix. Yes, they are rather different from the books, but that just means you now have two new things to enjoy.

Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood (Poison Pen Press, 2006)


Dying In The Wool

Dying In The Wool is the first in a series of cozy-but-not-twee post-World War I mysteries set in the North of England. The protagonist, Kate Shackleton is a widow (husband missing and presumed dead, although she has difficulty accepting that) who has had some luck helping other women track down missing sons, brothers, and husbands and is now trying her hand at her first paid case. Her friend, Tabitha Braithwaite, is getting married, but before she does so she wants Kate to find her missing father. An easy enough case, except Joshua Braithwaite went missing six and half years ago so his trail, such as it was, has gone quite cold. Also, he might not have been the aboveboard mill owner society painted him. And many (too darn many) characters seem to be keeping secrets which may (or may not) be relevant to his disappearance. It's all a dreadful snarl. Will Kate manage to tease the truth out before time runs out?

Considering there are already nine books in the series, I think I'm not giving anything away by saying "yes, Kate gets to the bottom of Braithwaite's disappearance." I did enjoy Dying In The Wool -- it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon in bed -- and do look forward to reading the rest of the series. The characters were all quite well-fleshed and interesting and I greatly enjoyed Kate's straight-forward working relationship with Sykes. If you're into it, and I am, there's lots of window-dressing about clothes, photography, landscape, and the like. Indeed, the descriptions of North Yorkshire and the Braithwaite mill made me yearn to re-read Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South (yes, I know it predates Dying in the Wool by sixty odd years).

Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody (Minotaur Books, 2009)


In A Dark, Dark Wood

Seemingly out of the blue, Nora is invited up to a cottage in the wilds of Northumberland to celebrate the forthcoming nuptials of a once-friend. She's reluctant to attend, but Florence (the woman organizing the hen) is very persistent and it turns out one of Nora's current friends is going so ... why not go?

Because someone at the party has arranged a murder, that's why.

What a delicious thriller. And, yes, I'm saying that as someone who doesn't read many thrillers or mysteries so ymmv, etc, but wow. An absolute page-turner. Not at all creepy, but very psychological with lots of unreliable characters (including the narrator) doling out dribs and drabs of the story until a truly startling denouement when all those bits come together. In some ways In a Dark, Dark Wood felt like a rather old-fashioned mystery -- a house party murder à la Agatha Christie or Georgette Heyer -- but if that was ever Ware's intent, then it's a well-done homage.

tl;dr: I cannot wait to read Ware's latest, The Woman in Cabin 10.

Ware, Ruth. In a Dark, Dark Wood. Scout Press, 2015. Kindle file.


A Taste for Nightshade

Transported to Australia for trying to swindle a young gentleman, Mary Jebb eventually escapes the nightmarish hellhole that is the Australian penal colony system, makes her way back to England and reinvents herself as Peg Blissett and find work in the kitchen of the young matron, Grace Croxon.

Grace’s husband, Michael, is the brother of the gentleman Mary Jebb swindled. He married Grace for her huge tracts of land, which he intends to raze and build a mill upon. He doesn’t love Grace. Indeed, he barely seems to tolerate her and spends much of his time at “his” mill or the local inn. No wonder then that Grace, very naïve and lonely as she is, becomes quite attached to her new cook. Who has, quite probably, some rather terrible plans for Grace.

If you’re a fan of the BBC dramatization of Sarah Water’s Fingersmith or ITV’s The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, I think you’ll enjoy reading this book. Mind you, it is a definite chunkster and the story is unevenly paced – it seemed to take forever to get going and then it felt as if Bailey was trying to pack enough action for two novels into the last third of the book. Even though I went back and reread a few chapters, I still feel I didn’t adequately grasp some characters’ motivations or actions. This made the big, Gothic “sturm und drang” type moment at the mill a little less thrilling for me than it might have been otherwise because I was left asking “but why?” Overall, though, I found A Taste for Nightshade to be a hugely enjoyable novel and I will be reading Bailey’s first novel, An Appetite for Violets, which also features a cook, receipts, and a murderous conspiracy!

A Taste for Nightshade by Martine Bailey (St. Martin's Press, 2016)


Mystery Stories of Violet Strange

Fell down the rabbit hole that is the Internet again one afternoon and, in a long and roundabout way, eventually came to an old article, “Invisible Ink: No 216 - Anna Katharine Green,” from The Independent. Anna Katharine Green, American poet and novelist who may be called the mother of the detective novel. Her most famous novel, The Leavenworth Case, was published in 1876 which snuggles in quite nicely between Wilkie Collins’ 1860 detection novel, The Woman in White, and the first print appearance of Sherlock Holmes in 1887. The Leavenworth Case is a classic locked room (Manhattan mansion, in this case) murder mystery focusing on the death of a wealthy, prominent New York merchant. Suspicion falls on his two nieces, one of who stands to inherit a pretty packet.

Alas, I could not immediately find a copy of The Leavenworth Case in my library system. I do have a copy on hold, but delivery being as it is right now, I do not expect it before May. I could read the Project Gutenberg copy, but I want to hold a proper book. Ridiculous as it sounds, I prefer to read books written before 1920 in a physical format. It just feels more “right.” It as an affectation, I know, and a weird one at that.

Anyway, I did find a collection of Green’s Violent Strange stories on CD. Produced by Tantor Media and read by Shelly Frasier (my most favorite audiobook reader of all time), Mystery Stories of Violet Strange includes all nine Violent Strange stories -- "The Golden Slipper," "The Second Bullet," "The Intangible Clue," "The Grotto Spectre," "The Dreaming Lady," "The House of Clocks," "The Doctor, His Wife, and the Clock," "Missing: Page Thirteen," and "Violet's Own."

So who is this Violet Strange? Violet, in addition to have the best name ever for a detective, is a pretty, young New York debutante who has to keep her detective work on the down low, because much of her skill at detection is based upon her intimate knowledge of behind-the-scenes upper-class New York and her ability to innocently be welcomed into places and situations a male (detective or otherwise) could not so innocuously enter. Yes, so Violet plays her gender and class cards pretty hard ... but in a way I found deliciously subversive. To the greater world she seems inconsequential -- a “silly little chit” and “that airy little being.” But in truth, Violet is cunning, poised, and entirely sure of herself. Violet isn’t detecting merely for detecting’s sake -- although it’s clear she enjoys her work -- she has a clear goal in mind and that goal is to support her sister, whom their father has disowned, through her own agency and enterprise. Unsurprisingly, I was complete smitten with Violet.

The stories themselves are very much products of their time, but I think if you enjoy Edith Wharton’s short stories or Wilkie Collins’ more thrilling pieces, you’ll find some pleasure in Mystery Stories of Violet Strange. My favorite was probably the second story “The Second Bullet,” in which Violet is hired by a widow whose husband and child were killed in what the insurance company calls a suicide, but what the widow is sure was a murder ... and she really needs it to have been a murder, because she’ll be left absolutely destitute otherwise. It’s a classic locked room mystery with a very realistic look at marriage and the strain an infant can add, as well as the precarious financial/class position a single woman (widowed or otherwise) occupies.

Mystery Stories of Violet Strange written by Anna Katharine Green & read by Shelly Frasier (Tantor Media, 2009)


A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

A coworker, who reads almost nothing but historical mysteries starring lady detectives, encouraged me to start reading Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series as she thought it was quite good and definitely something I would enjoy. And, you know, I was all set to take her advice, but then I was passing through the New Book room, saw Raybourn’s newest work, A Curious Beginning, on display, and was so smitten with the cover that I decided I’d start right there with Raybourn.

Maybe I expected too much of A Curious Beginning, but I found it just okay. The premise is an interesting one and I enjoyed much of the banter between characters, but overall the story left me feeling ... meh. Indifferent. Unenthusiastic. Despite all the to-ing and fro-ing and threats to Veronica’s life, the solution to the central mystery of the novel -- the death of the Baron -- simply didn’t take up enough of the book or feel developed enough. Also, and quite unfortunately, I guessed what direction the story was going in early on and so watching the characters slooooowly come to the same conclusion was, delicious banter aside, a bit frustrating.

Also, god love a duck, Veronica has purple eyes. (Which, okay, with that name she’d have to. But she is also literally a secret princess).

My coworker has not read A Curious Beginning and still stands by her recommendation, so I will have to take the first Lady Julia mystery, Silent in the Grave, to lunch soon.

A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery by Deanna Raybourn (New American Library, 2015)


The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

On the day he was due to retire, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant ...

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is a slim, quick read with an uncomplicated plot and characters. It feels a bit like it wants to be a cozy mystery, but (imho) there's a little too much death and violence for that. Khan's description of Mumbai -- its smells, sounds, and textures -- are well wrought and gave the book a very distinct sense of place. Sometimes, you know, I read a book set in New York City or London or Tokyo and the story feels as if it could have been set in any large city, anywhere. Reading The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, I really felt like I was in Mumbai.

I only wish Khan had put as much energy and skill into characterizing Chopra's long-suffering wife, Poppy, as he did into Mumbai. Poppy seems, at best, under-developed, and, at worst, simply ridiculous. I tried to tell myself that, in a detective story that co-stars a baby elephant, it is perfectly reasonable Poppy should behave like a character in a Bollywood potboiler. But her histrionics grew wearying and Chopra's evasive interactions with Poppy soon began to get on my nerves.

Excluding my difficulties with the under-developed and histrionic Poppy, I greatly enjoyed The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra and will certainly keep an eye out for the next book in the series. Which is likely to be a while as this book only releases in the US on September 15. (My copy of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is an advanced reading copy I received at BEA. It is perfectly possible the ARC differs in some ways from the official print edition, so my experience reading the book may differ from yours).

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan (Mulholland Books, 2015)


Agatha Raisin & the Quiche of Death

“What a horrible woman.” That’s pretty much what I kept muttering to myself while reading Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. She just so ARROGANT and SELF-CENTERED and generally AWFUL that I couldn’t possibly see how there could be so many more books in the series. And then I came to the end of the book and had to admit Agatha, a wee bit reformed, was showing genuine promise as a human being. Or maybe I’d just been numbed by all her awfulness.

Seriously, excluding a few characters (mostly, the vicar’s wife and the kitten), I would gladly have poisoned everyone in the book (and certainly got away with it as Carsley’s constabulary are a bit thick). Many of the bits that I think were supposed to be quirky or funny, just irritated me. I really resented the treatment of Roy, who first comes across as a horribly stereotypically flamboyant gay man, and then morphs into an equally horribly stereotypical Essex man. (I guess I should say “Well done, Beaton, for that surprise switch! Pulled a fast one of me! Aren’t I ashamed for thinking you meant Roy to be a flaming f—?” but I AM TOO ANNOYED).

Never again, Agatha Raisin. NEVER.

Agatha Raisin & the Quiche of Death (Agatha Raisin, Book 1) by M.C. Beaton (St. Martin's, 2006)


The Black Path

While I read The Blood Spilt, I kept hoping Rebecka would give up any thought of going back to the law firm (and Måns -- even though I really wanted her to be someone's beloved) and end up working with police inspector Anna-Maria Mella as a (financial) crime fighting super woman.

And ... that's kind of what happens in The Black Path. Also, for the first time in the series, Rebecka doesn't get beat to hell. Indeed, you might say her story has a happy ending!

Which makes me suspicious. Rebecka allowed to heal from old wounds? Grasping at romance with both hands? What are you up to, Larsson? I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Which is not to say The Black Path is without violence. The last few chapters practically run red with blood and the murder that kicks off the novel is no mild thing. But no religious people or pets were killed. So, hurrah? Instead we have a story about creepy upper class people getting up to shenanigans to maintain their class, penniless upstarts getting rich, unhappy marriages, the human consequences of colonialism, international political conspiracies, addiction, fraud, love, lust, and murder. It's delicious.

The Black Path written by Åsa Larsson & trans by Marlaine Delargy (Bantam Dell, 2008)


The Blood Spilt

Nearly two years since the murders in Kiruna and Rebecka Martinsson is still picking up the pieces of her life. On sick leave from the law firm, she's been hanging out in one of the partner's summer cottages, making compost, and puttying window frames. And definitely not remembering what happened in Kiruna. But then, of course, she's drawn back to the area and the mystery surrounding the murder of another controversial, charismatic priest.

I love the characters of Rebecka Martinsson and police inspector Anna-Maria Mella. They're both so clearly drawn, so real, and such perfect foils for each other. And Sven-Erik, missing but pretending not-to-miss his cat! Why are these books not a television series? They'd be perfect -- great characterization, secrets, scandal, truly terrible doings, and just the smallest dash of kindness to keep everything from being completely unbearable.

For, while I'm loving the series, I have to admit it is emotionally draining. Both book in the series have featured a dead religious figure, tortured animals, and Rebecka Martinsson getting beat to hell. Is that what I have to look forward to in the next book, The Black Path? If so, I'm going to need a good eight-week break between books -- short enough that I'll still remember the previous plots, but long enough that I'm no longer emotionally wrecked.

The Blood Spilt by Åsa Larsson w/ trans. by Marlaine Delargy (Delacorte Press, 2007)


The Monogram Murders

I was tremendously excited to hear a new Hercule Poirot mystery was coming and put myself on hold for it at the library as soon as a catalog record showed up for it. Months of waiting. Months of anticipation. Months of catching up with missed seasons of Poirot. And then the book came to me.

And it was ... meh. A definite Did Not Finish. How far did I get? Page 86 of 373.

I wasn't expecting any of the familiar sidekicks in this new Poirot mystery. All the prepub propaganda I'd seen was very much Poirot-driven and so I fully expected something like, say, Death on the Nile with its disinterested third-person point of view. So when this new Scotland Yard fellow, Edward Catchpool, pops up on page 13 and takes over the narration I was rather perplexed.

If the story needed a sidekick narrator, why not bring Japp or Hastings in? After all, The Monogram Murders' 1920s London setting puts it smack in the middle of Poirot's chronology so shouldn't he know Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard? Most recently from The Mysterious Affair at Styles or, maybe, The Big Four?

And yet we get Edward Catchpool. And he's completely regrettable. Or maybe the problem, really, is that I keep thinking of him as a Japp-Hastings analogue, because he's an inspector who occasionally says things that sound awfully Hastings-ish. Alas, is no Arthur Hastings.

Ah ce cher Hastings, at this moment, today, I miss him!

And Poirot! All this talk of grey cells and yet he seems to act on intuition and some kind of amazingly ability to make connections between disperate points with no evidence. A hysterical woman tells Poirot she will be murdered and, indeed deserves to be murdered. And then three guests are found murdered at the Bloxham Hotel. None are the woman or related to the woman, but it's all to do with her. Poirot just knows.

To be fair, if The Monogram Murders weren't an officially sanctioned Poirot book, but simply a 1920s British crime drama featuring a rather fussily-mannered gentleman detective and his annoyingly thick Inspector friend ... well, I think I would have made myself read to the end. And I might have enjoyed it. But as it stands, this is not the Poirot I was waiting for.

The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow, 2014)


Sun Storm

The Paradise Boy, leader of a growing and locally powerful fundamentalist Christian church in Kiruna, is discovered murdered and brutally disfigured. Under suspicion by the police, his thoroughly unreliable sister calls her former friend, Rebecka, for help. Rebecka, a junior lawyer whose work seems to focus more on tax law than criminal cases, reluctantly promises to come north for a few days to see what she can do for her not-really-a-friend-anymore. She ends up neck deep in secrets and lies.

I don't generally read thrillers or crime novels, because I feel there are real brutal crimes and terrible acts in the world without us needing to create fictional ones. But I read an article, "On Dead Women In Crime Fiction," Larsson wrote for the Huffington Post that really made me want to pick up one of her books.

I rather liked Larsson's handling of Viktor's murder. We know he's not alive before the disfigurement takes place and Larsson doesn't pad out the story with gory-yet-titillating descriptions of the mutilation. In some ways that was worse -- my imagination was free to run amok with visuals -- but the characters' individual reactions to the corpse served as a good shortcut introduction to their different personalities. I really enjoyed how enormously pregnant Anna-Maria and ridiculously mustached Sven-Erik Stålnacke worked together and watching Rebecka come to grips with her past while, possibly, ruining her professional future was strangely exhilarating. (On the other hand, I had a difficult time with Larsson's treatment of little Virku and was not sure I wanted to keep reading ... but, clearly, I did keep reading because here I am writing about Sun Storm).

The story, in general, was problematic for me. It was quite obvious early on that the murder was likely to be one of two people (or, possibly, the two working together) and so all the other suspects were just ... in the way. Yes, they were all hiding secrets of their own, but few had anything directly to do with the murder. And then making the murderer a mentally ill person off their meds! Nopenopenope. And did we ever actually determine whether Viktor was sexually abusing anyone? Or was that suspicion just there to muddy the waters? And the "neat," no-need-for-trial ending! And Sanna! Please tell me she later turns out to be a psychopath.

All that said, I already have the next book in the Rebecka Martinsson series, Blood Spilt, checked out from the library!

Sun Storm written by Åsa Larsson & trans by Marlaine Delargy (Delacorte Press, 2006)


Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance

Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance is the first book in The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries series by Gyles Brandreth and was my library's July book discussion selection. I've always been tremendously fond of Oscar Wilde and a novel in which he stars as an amateur detective sounded like just my cup of tea.

It was ... okay. The period detail is well done with a good feel for London at the end of the Victorian Age. The scandalous hints of sexual impropriety are treated delicately and appropriately for the time (even if it is a bit frustrating for the modern day reader). Meeting fictional versions of Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Sherard was vastly entertaining. Wilde, a little less so. I enjoyed him very much as a character when he was being Oscar Wilde the Poet, Playwright, and Epigrammatist. But Oscar Wilde as Sherlock Holmes was a disappointment.

When Oscar is acting as Holmes, we are treated to stereotypical scenes of Holmesian brilliance. You know, the scene where we encounter a new character and Holmes immediately starts saying brilliant things he should have no way of knowing about the person? Often it has little to do with the overarching story and everything to do with showing of Holmes' scintillating deductive skills. There's nothing wrong with a scene like that, if it is carefully and sparingly used, but there's too much of it in Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance and it often seems to come out of the blue. Switch off Wilde. Switch on Holmes. Switch off Holmes. Switch on Wilde.

Also, as the clues Wilde-Holmes bases his deductions on in such scenes are frequently not made evident to the reader it makes it impossible for the reader make similar deductions. It forces reading to become a very passive experience -- with the reader just along for the ride -- and I am an active reader. My brain is constantly firing away, trying to figure out character motives and plot direction well ahead of whatever and/or whenever the narrator may chose to tell me. Riding along on Sherlock Holmes' or Oscar Wildes' coattails is just downright frustrating. It makes me say nasty things like "Oh, no, here come's another Mr. Clever Dick moment."

And yet, for all the clever dick moments, neither the motive behind and nor the means of murder were particularly clever or believable. There was also a definite squick factor to the murder's aftermath that jarred with the delicate way Wilde and friends' sexual improprieties were handled.

Will I read more in this series? No. Am I full of regret for having read it? No. Three out of five vermillion-coloured ties.

Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth (Simon & Schuster, 2007)


The Crow Trap

Netflix kept recommending the series Vera to me and I was all "Blarg, Netflix, I don't want to watch more UK detective dramas. Weren't the umpty-million I already watched enough?" and then I saw it was based on a series of novels by Ann Cleeves and immediately went out and borrowed the first novel, The Crow Trap, because that is what I do. Complain about something in one format and then happily ingest it in another.

The Crow Trap was phenomenal. And I say that as someone who doesn't usually read mystery/detective novels, so make of that what you will. I loved the way much of the novel was told through the eyes of the three women at Baikie's Cottage. I loved that the detective, Vera Stanhope, doesn't turn up until the last third of the novel. I loved that the resolution of the case had as much to do with background sleuthing of the women as it did with Stanhope's police work. In short, I am now a fan of Ann Cleeves and Vera Stanhope.

The Crow Trap is quite a chunkster and I thought for sure the story would be larded with details not necessary to the story. But it wasn't. While Cleeves provides lots of detail, she doesn't tell you anything that isn't eventually relevant to the story and I really enjoyed the cyclical nature of her storytelling -- the way something might be briefly mentioned, then seemingly dropped, only to pop up again later. I thought it was most obvious with Grace and the striped pillow case, but that's probably because that's where I first noticed it.

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves (Pan Books, 1999)