Mondays (and in this case, Thursdays) are for Murder: Date with Death…

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Well, last time I was complaining that Monday had come around too fast.  This time, it’s come so quickly that it’s got to Thursday before I can put up Monday’s post.  Sorry about the delay this week, but the week was busy, then when I sat down to blog I realised the keyboard had decided to retire without telling me, so I had to track down a new, more enthusiastic keyboard that was willing to work with no pay and under the constant threat of tea spillage and here we are, it’s Thursday.

Today’s book is the opener of a new cosy mystery series set in the Yorkshire Dales and although it has a punny title, I really enjoyed it.  We received our copy of Date With Death (Book 1 in the Dales Detective Series) by Julia Chapman from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Samson O’Brien has been dismissed from the police force, and returns to his home town of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales to set up a detective agency while he fights to clear his name. The people of Bruncliffe, however, aren’t that welcoming to a man they perceive as trouble – and he is greeted by his old friend, Delilah Metcalfe, not with an hug but a right hook that sends him sprawling.

Delilah, meanwhile, is besieged by financial concerns and struggling to keep her business, the Dales Detective Agency, afloat – all while trying to control her wayward Weimaraner dog Tolpuddle. Then when Samson gets his first case, investigating the supposed suicide of a local man, things take an unexpected turn, and soon he is discovering a trail of deaths that lead back to the door of Delilah’s agency. With suspicion hanging over someone they both care for, the two feuding neighbours soon realise that they need to work together to solve the mystery of the dating deaths – and working together is easier said than done.

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Plot Summary:

Delilah is in deep debt and struggling to hang on financially until her dating agency business gets off the ground. When Samson O’Brien returns to the Dales in disgrace, Delilah’s only financial option is to let him rent out her ground floor office for his new detective agency…a timely move indeed because it seems someone in their community is picking off members of Delilah’s agency one by one.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of a tricky one because there isn’t anyone in the village (or beyond) who particularly stands out as someone who would happily be serial killing members of a dating agency.  As the story moves along, instead of actual people as suspects our protagonists try to build up a mental picture of who such a person might be.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is quite a refreshing aspect of the book because in your usual murder mystery you at least have a few suspects to work with.  It takes a little while to prove that the deaths are indeed murder, and then the hunt involves some rather tricky and dangerous tactics.  As well as attending the odd speed dating night out.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the amount of dutch courage needed to get through a blind date with a farmer whose personal hygiene habits receive only passing attention

Despite the fact that this is definitely a cosy and there is a lot of time spent on developing the characters, both main and secondary, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would certainly be interested in following the series.  Delilah is the only girl in a family of manly men and is determined to make her business successful after a recent divorce.  Samson is the black sheep of the village, having left his alcoholic father in dire circumstances (in the opinion of the town) to swan off to London and bag a high paying and dangerous job with the Met.  When Samson returns home, his welcome is not particularly warm and he discovers that many things have changed drastically since he’s been away.  Samson’s return coincides with a little problem at work which he wants to keep hidden from the villagers at all cost.

I quite enjoyed the premise of the murdered folk all being from the same dating agency (although I’m sure this has been done before in some way, shape or form in other cosies) as well as the way in which Delilah and Samson (eventually) go about sorting it out.  It seems rather far-fetched that no one would bother to inform the police about their suspicions, but it works for the story and makes the eventual hunt far more suspenseful, knowing that Delilah and Samson are on their own.

As one who likes my mysteries twisty and my murders happening in quick succession, I did find the long sections developing characters, backstory and village life a little distracting, but I accept that this is obviously one of those series where the relationships between the characters and their relationship with their environment is of utmost importance.  The book also sets a bit of groundwork for other books in the series.  There are definitely some shady characters getting around Bruncliffe that will no doubt play a part in nefarious doings further down the track.

There’s a lot going on here that will satisfy those looking for both an exciting mystery and a story about coming home and reinventing oneself.  I must give a shout-out to the collective folk of the retirement village, of which Samson’s father is part, for lifting the mood whenever they appeared.  I’m glad to see that they will feature heavily in the next book in the series.  I would certainly recommend giving this one a go as your next holiday read, or, if you happen to live in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the perfect book to snuggle up under a blanket with on a rainy, lazy weekend…for whenever the humidity decides to bugger off for good.

I will be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge under the category of “author using a pseudonym” because Julia Chapman is the pen name of Julia Stagg. You can check out my challenge progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Chalk Pit…

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As promised, here is my second Murderous Monday for February – and it’s a cracker of a read for those of you who enjoy serial police procedurals.  We received a copy of The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths, the ninth book in the Ruth Galloway series, from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they are recent – the boiling not the medieval curiosity she thought – DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard of a vast network of old chalk-mining tunnels under King’s Lynn, home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

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Plot Summary:

Bones are found at the site of an underground development. A homeless woman goes missing (or does she?).  Two homeless men are murdered.  A young mother vanishes without trace, leaving her four young children behind.  Is there a link?  Only time (and thorough investigation) will tell.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of an unusual read in terms of suspects, because for the majority of the book, the police don’t have any.  Well, any suspects with any particular evidence attached to their names.  While this does make it difficult for those wishing to guess ahead to who the murderer might be, it did up the suspense and mystery factor because these things seemed to be happening completely out of the blue.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

While there are murders in the story, the hunt is mostly geared toward finding the links between various happenings…because as I mentioned above, the police don’t really have any suspects.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the heavy sigh of someone being murdered in their sleep

I will admit to loving a good police procedural, and this is a good police procedural.  I had no idea when I requested it that it was number nine in a series and it certainly doesn’t read like a story in which the characters are mired in backstory that is impenetrable to the reader new to the series.  It is obvious that there are many connections between each of the characters, but these are discussed just enough to ensure that you know who’s who and how they are related, but not so much that it drags the focus off the investigation.  Essentially, Ruth is an archaeologist, Nelson is a policeman, they have a past, now let’s get on with it.

The investigation is expertly paced and involves multiple interlinked events culminating in an unexpected and sort of tabloid (but satisfyingly so) ending.  The focus is so much on the various events that happen – discovering the bones, the two separate murders, the missing lady and so forth – that the tension is continually building as the investigation continues and the pieces start to fall into place.

I enjoyed this as a story that I could just fall back into every time I picked it up and I will definitely seek out more from this series in the future.  Have you read any of Ruth Galloway’s previous adventures?

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

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It’s our final Monday Murder for the year, so I thought I’d go a bit festive and bring you Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, a collection of six short stories with all but one featuring Poirot.  The odd one out features Miss Marple in a remarkably brief appearance.  The book also has a foreword by Agatha Christie, which I found delightful, recounting, as it does, Christie’s memories of Christmas time as a youngster.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Agatha Christie’s seasonal Poirot and Marple short story collection.

First came a sinister warning to Poirot not to eat any plum pudding… then the discovery of a corpse in a chest… next, an overheard quarrel that led to murder… the strange case of the dead man who altered his eating habits… and the puzzle of the victim who dreamt his own suicide.

What links these five baffling cases? The little grey cells of Monsieur Hercule Poirot!

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Plot Summary:

The six stories contained herein are the titular Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, The Under Dog, Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds, The Dream and Greenshaw’s Folly (which features Miss Marple).  All but the first feature murders being solved ingeniously by either Poirot or Marple.  The first story, however, is about the theft of a priceless jewel.  

The Usual Suspects:

As there are so many different stories here, I can’t really go into detail about the suspects, but you can rest assured that the stories include all the old favourites, from long lost brothers returned from the African continent, to people pretending to be someone else, to people in disguise, to people hoping to inherit the murdered person’s worldly goods.  

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, specific details vary, but for the Poirot stories, our favourite Belgian is generally called in by the police or an interested party, does his questioning bit, and then casually reveals the killer before the story abruptly finishes.  Similarly, in Greenshaw’s Folly, Miss Marple only experiences proceedings second-hand, yet still manages to pick motive, method and murderer, having never laid eyes on the scene or the players.

 

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the cheery thought of a traditional Christmas party peopled by thieves and murderers.

It’s been a while since I read a Christie mystery so it was jolly good fun to jump back in with Poirot and Miss Marple and kick around some theories about who done it.  I really enjoyed the fact that these were short stories too, because I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with end of year busyness just now and the short tales meant that I didn’t have to remember names and roles across a whole novel.  I did get close to the answers in a number of the stories, guessing part, if not the whole solution, which is always satisfying and cause for a smug internal smile.  I also found it interesting that the TV adaption of Greenshaw’s Folly that I saw earlier this year (or it could have even been last year) was much more in depth than the story here.  It’s put me in just the right frame of mind to gear up for the The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that gets shown on telly here every Christmas Eve (or maybe the day before Christmas Eve).  I’d definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a mildly festive foray into murder in short, easily-digestible chunks.

Finishing this book is especially satisfying because I pulled it from my TBR shelf and so….that’s another chink from Mt TBR!

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Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Magpie Murders…

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I’m bringing out the big guns for our sojourn into humanity’s dark underbelly today, with the much-anticipated new release Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. We received our copy from Hachette Australia for review, and while the blurb is intriguing enough, it’s nothing compared to the twisty-turny-ness that goes on in the pages.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway…

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the vintage crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

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Plot Summary:

It’s going to be quite difficult to tell you much about the plot without disturbing the intended reading experience, so I’ll keep this bit brief.  Susan Ryeland is an editor at a semi-successful publishing house that is kept from going under mostly due to the best-selling titles of one Alan Conway.  Conway writes the wildly popular Atticus Pund detective series, and while he is a complete pill to work with – demanding, selfish and generally unpleasant – he nevertheless delivers on providing his manuscripts bang on time.  It is after Conway has dropped off the manuscript of the ninth book in the series, Magpie Murders, to Cloverleaf books, that life begins imitating art and secrets that have the potential to shed a whole new light on the books and Conway himself are both revealed and kept back.  Even though Conway’s books are keeping her in a job, Susan wishes she had never laid eyes on Conway or Atticus Pund.

The Usual Suspects:

Okay, this section isn’t going to work particularly well for this novel because in essence you are getting two mysteries for the price of one.  You see, one section of the novel is devoted to the manuscript – yes, the entire manuscript – of the ninth Atticus Pund novel, so the reader gets to experience a vintage-style, golden age of crime, sleepy English village mystery, written by Conway, as well as a contemporary amateur sleuth mystery, narrated by Ryeland.  Incredible value for money, when you think about it!  I can tell you that the Pund manuscript features all the usual suspects you would expect from a Christie-esque mystery: the Lord and Lady of the Manor, various lackeys in the form of housekeepers, groundsmen and their families, the village doctor, the sister of the Lord of the Manor, a Johnny-come-lately store owner, a shady Reverend and his wife, a young couple trying to make a go of things…

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, there are two separate, but intertwined mysteries going on here, so I will focus on the Atticus Pund manuscript.  Again, this follows exactly the formula of a vintage British crime novel.  Atticus Pund is essentially Poirot, but German (indeed, Poirot, Marple and various other crime writers are mentioned throughout the contemporary part of the novel, and the reader is supposed to get the sense that the Atticus Pund series has been deliberately written in this style).  The detective and his young assistant come into town and question the appropriate people, Pund smugly lets on that he knows the answer to the mystery, the mystery is revealed in the typical fashion.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the utter bewilderment of trying to solve two mysteries simultaneously

I’m finding it hard to really get to the nitty-gritty of this novel and express what I thought about its quirks and twists, because I don’t want to give anything away. There are two major plot points that I think would really detract from the reading experience if you were to find them out before reading the book, so if you know any reviewers who are fond of spoilers, it might be best to steer clear until you’ve read it.  Suffice to say that if you are a fan of murder mysteries of the contemporary or historical variety, you should definitely give this a go and see what you think, because the format will most likely be different to anything you’ve read before in this genre.

The story itself has layers upon layers, with puzzles and sideways references hidden throughout.  In terms of solving the mystery/s along with the characters, it is decidedly tricky to do because there are so many clues that are given piecemeal, or only make sense in the context of information that is revealed later.  Having said that, I certainly came across a few clues that had me thinking “Yes! I’ve got it!”.  I was proved wrong, of course, but not in the way I was expecting.

One of the strange things that I experienced, that most readers probably won’t have to contend with, is the fact that I was reading an uncorrected manuscript of an uncorrected manuscript, so I was trying to find clues where no clues were intended! My review copy was an ARC (or advanced readers copy, or uncorrected proof copy for the uninitiated) and therefore contained minor errors – typos mostly, and in one case, the wrong name assigned to a character – and as the Atticus Pund manuscript within the novel also contains minor errors (deliberately, I suspect, to make it look like a first draft manuscript), I was thinking that the errors in the contemporary bits might have some hidden meaning.

They didn’t.

But it certainly made reading the book a bizarre, code-cracking experience.

Horowitz has done a brilliant job of creating two complete mysteries within the one novel.  I enjoyed the Atticus Pund manuscript very much, given that it is in the vintage style that I prefer.  In fact, Horowitz has done such a good job with making Pund like Poirot that I wish he had been given charge of the new Poirot stories, rather than Sophie Hannah.  The contemporary part of the novel was a little bit slow for my liking, mostly because we have already been presented with what is essentially an entire book within the greater story, so I just wanted to hurry things along and get to the dual reveals.

Horowitz has proved once again what a fantastic mastery of writing he has with Magpie Murders.  We on the Shelf have long been fans of his work,  and although there were some parts of the book overall that don’t sit quite right with me on reflection, Magpie Murders is a wonderful, quirky and unexpected addition to the murder mystery section of the shelf that will have readers trying to puzzle out clues within clues.

Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

Monday is for Murder: First Class Murder (+ a little extra!)

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It’s Monday, so it’s murder time and today I am catching up on a series I just love to bits. I’ve also got a little extra today, with a short story from the same series.  First Class Murder is book three in Robin Stevens’ wildly popular Wells & Wong series for younger readers that harks back to the golden age of British murder mystery fiction.  I am desperately trying to keep pace with the series, but am still one book behind (soon to be two, as Mistletoe and Murder is to be released before Christmas in a fetching and festive red cover!!).  Let’s battle on then, with the blurb from Goodreads:

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen – almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery – and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.

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Plot Summary:

First Class Murder is a tribute to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, not a retelling for juniors, so while there will be familiar aspects – the unexpected stoppage, for example – don’t expect the story to unfold in exactly the same fashion.  The girls find themselves on the train and under the ever-watchful eye of Hazel’s father; the grown-ups seem to think that the girls have got themselves into enough mischief and danger to be going on with and a change of scenery and civilised society should do them a world of good.  Even before the murder happens, Daisy is determined to scent adventure, and after the incident Daisy and Hazel must employ all of their wits and cunning to continue detecting under the nose of a variety of meddling adults.

The Usual Suspects:

There’s a real collection of weirdos colourful characters on the train, including an elderly and angry Russian Countess, a writer of appalling crime novels, a spiritual medium, a world famous magician, a purveyor of diet pills, a wealthy heiress and a familiar face in unfamiliar clothing.  All of them have a motive for murdering the poor unfortunate victim and all seem to have skills that could lend themselves to a classic, locked room mystery!

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The detecting aspect of the case has an added element of fun in this book because the girls have been expressly forbidden to engage in any detection by not one, but two, authoritative figures after the murder takes place.  This means that a lot of listening at doors and hiding under tables is required in order to get the juicy clues.  The prospect of competition is raised too, as the bumbling Doctor Sandwich and his much cleverer sidekick Alexander, are officially “on the case”.  There are some red herrings left lying about in plain sight as well as a few hints that clever clogs should pick up on fairly early on, but the entire puzzle should remain a mystery until the reveal.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the cheering prospect of being murdered in first class luxury

First Class Murder felt like the most fun of the three books I have read of this series.  There’s the light-hearted feeling of adventure from going on an unexpected holiday, the vaguely amusing collection of characters on the train and the lengths to which Daisy and Hazel must go to ferret out the murderer/s.  I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Alexander and the mention of the Junior Pinkertons, as I think the girls can handle a little competition and this sets things up nicely for later books in the series.  It was also a wonderful twist that the book doesn’t just become a retelling of Murder on the Orient Express, because it means that the reveal isn’t a given for anyone who has read that other classic story first.  Overall, this was an excellent, slightly quirky addition to the series and I can’t wait to back up with book four, Jolly Foul Play.

I’m submitting this book under category seven of The Title Fight Reading Challenge: a book with a word or phrase implying victory in the title.  Only one more category to go to complete this challenge! To find out more about the challenge (and join in – there’s still plenty of time!) just click on this large attractive button:

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Now I told you there’d be a little extra on this post, so I will now mini-review The Case of the Blue Violet by Robin Stevens.  It’s a little ebook novella – book three-and-a-half in the series, if you will – featuring Daisy and Hazel back at school at Deepdean.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

I am the Honourable Daisy Wells, President of the Detective Society, one of the greatest detectives ever known – and also a fourth former at Deepdean School for Girls.

Violet Darby – one of the Big Girls – recently asked me to solve a most puzzling romantic mystery. I knew I’d be able to crack the case, and I did, in just a day and a half. It was one of my greatest triumphs (Hazel Wong, my Vice-President and best friend, is telling me that this is boasting, but it is also the truth). Hazel didn’t believe I would have the patience to write the account of it, but of course, she was wrong. I did write it down, and it came out very well.

I now, therefore, present to you: the Case of the Blue Violet.

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This novella can be knocked over in under half an hour if you’re quick and is the perfect teaser for when you are in-between the novels.  There’s no murder in this one, but instead a mystery relating to the love interest of an older girl at Deepdean.  I won’t say much about the plot because, this being such a short story, I would give too much away, but the puzzle is just as satisfying to solve as the more complex ones found in the novels.  Keen-eyed readers may have an inkling as to which way the wind is blowing here, but the brevity of the story means it’s loaded with fun and the pace is quick.  I’d definitely recommend this as a perfect pick for when you need a brain-break, or as a great taster for the series as a whole.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Mondays are for Murder: The Secrets of Wishtide…

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Time to get our murdering on again and for the second month on the trot I’ve got a historical cosy mystery for you – and what’s more, three of the words of the title are exactly the same.  The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders is the first of a new series featuring spritely, middle-aged widow Laetitia Rodd.  I will admit that this first offering saw we shelf-denizens taking quite a shine to Mrs Rodd and we thoroughly enjoyed this first adventure (a digital copy of which we received from the publisher via Netgalley).  Let’s crack on – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Mrs Laetitia Rodd is the impoverished widow of an Archdeacon, living modestly in Hampstead with her landlady Mrs Bentley. She is also a private detective of the utmost discretion. In winter 1850, her brother Frederick, a criminal barrister, introduces her to Sir James Calderstone, a wealthy and powerful industrialist who asks Mrs Rodd to investigate the background of an ‘unsuitable’ woman his son intends to marry ? a match he is determined to prevent.

In the guise of governess, she travels to the family seat, Wishtide, deep in the frozen Lincolnshire countryside, where she soon discovers that the Calderstones have more to hide than most. As their secrets unfold, the case takes an unpleasant turn when a man is found dead outside a tavern. Mrs Rodd’s keen eyes and astute wits are taxed as never before in her search for the truth ? which carries her from elite drawing rooms to London’s notorious inns and its steaming laundry houses.

Dickensian in its scope and characters, The Secrets of Wishtide brings nineteenth century society vividly to life and illuminates the effect of Victorian morality on women’s lives. Introducing an irresistible new detective, the first book in the Laetitia Rodd Mystery series will enthral and delight.

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Plot Summary:

Middle-aged widow Letty Rodd is called to the countryside to investigate the past of a woman who is the object of the affections of a rich young gentleman. Just when Mrs Rodd believes she has got at the truth, events take a gruesome turn and Mrs Rodd is suddenly plunged into the thick of a murder investigation, in which a young man’s life hangs in the balance.  As the bodies mount up, Mrs Rodd knows that she is dealing with a ruthless killer, yet without the hard evidence required by the slightly irritating Constable Blackbeard, Laetitia is not certain that she can clear Charles Calderstone’s name and spare the family the horror of losing their son.

The Usual Suspects:

There are quite a slew of possible suspects here and they all seem to have shady connections to the deceased and each other.  There is, of course, young Charles Calderstone, last seen arguing with his beloved before a brutal murder occurs, there’s the blackmailer and his or her potential lackeys, there’s Sir James Calderstone, who has his own reasons for not wanting his son to marry the object of his affections, and also a collection of persons unknown who may have an axe to grind against Sir James and his wife.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

I have to say that the hunt for the murderer/s was expertly done, with fantastic pacing and the added excitement of extra, unexpected murders to spice things up (and shake up the list of suspects).  Often I find that novels of this sort have problems with pacing in that too much is revealed too early, leaving the story to drag, or not enough is revealed early on, leaving the reader wishing the intended would hurry up and be killed.  I had no troubles at all with this book however and was thoroughly engaged from start to end.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the sordid satisfaction of dirty linen aired in public

I found this to be an impressive series opener, and I am glad that it is the start of a series because Laetitia Rodd is a thoroughly likeable protagonist.  The mystery elements were complicated enough to be interesting, without being so twisted as to be impossible to untangle.  The characters all seemed to have colourful pasts, which makes guessing who the murderer/s might be jolly good fun.

There were a couple of idiosyncrasies to the writing that threw me a bit.  Throughout the narration, Laetitia continually references investigations in which she has previously participated, and this had me a bit confused until I could reassure myself that this was in fact the first in the series and I hadn’t accidentally picked up the second or third by mistake.  Also, I simply could not picture Mrs Rodd as the middle-aged woman that she is supposed to be.  I’m not sure if it is the picture on the cover that led me astray or her buoyant, energetic manner, but my mind insisted on imagining Laetitia as an early-twenty-something. Regardless, I couldn’t help but fall into step beside her and attempt to assist in catching the murderer/s.

The only area in which this fell down a little was the fact that the ending was far more straightforward than I expected it to be, but for a first crack at a new character, it was more than enough to be going on with.  I will be definitely keeping an eye out for Mrs Rodd’s further adventures.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Secrets of Gaslight Lane…

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Today’s foray into the underbelly of human society is The Secrets of Gaslight Lane, by M.R.C. Kasasian, which is the fourth book in the Gower Street Detective historical, humorous mystery series.  I have not read any of the previous books in the series, but saw this one on Netgalley and decided to have at it because the blurb looked reasonably enticing.  Allow me to present said blurb, from Goodreads:

London, 1883: All is quiet at 125 Gower Street. Sidney Grice is swotting up on the anatomical structure of human hair whilst his ward, March Middleton, sneaks upstairs for her eighth secret cigarette of the day. The household is, perhaps, too quiet.

So, when a beautiful young woman turns up at the door, imploring London’s foremost personal detective to solve the mystery of her father’s murder, Grice can barely disguise his glee.

Mr Nathan Garstang was found slaughtered in his bed, but there is no trace of a weapon or intruder. A classic locked-room case. But what piques Grice’s interest is the crime’s link to one of London’s most notorious unsolved murders. Ten years ago, Nathan’s uncle aunt and servants were murdered in their sleep in the very same house.

Now, it seems, the Garstang murderer is back…

the secrets of gaslight lane

Plot Summary:

Before I get into the plot of this one, I should probably explain that Sidney Grice is an established personal (not private!) detective who lives with his ward and goddaughter, March Middleton, and a half-witted maid named Molly who is too stupid to be believed as a character.  There is also a cat.  Clearly, there is an enormous amount of relational information between the two main characters that has been dealt with in the previous books and despite the fact that none of it is rehashed here, I found it fairly easy to understand what was going on and who was who.  So, to the plot.  Essentially, a murder takes place in the same house and in the same fashion as a previous murder, and suspects are scarce.  That’s all you need to know, really.

The Usual Suspects:

Given that this is set up in the manner of a locked-room mystery, the suspects are limited to those who were in the house at the time and those who may have possibly had access to the house at the time.  This includes the daughter of the deceased, all the household servants, including one who had been present during the first murders many moons ago, and a missing lunatic who had also been one of the household retainers during the time of the previous murder.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

I wouldn’t say the hunt for the murderer/s is convoluted, because it is fairly easy to follow, but it is extremely drawn out.  Grice conducts his investigations, much like Poirot, by talking to all concerned and then some, and this pretty much comprises the whole of the novel.  I would have to say that the final reveal was a little anti-climactic after all this talking and searching as the murderer/s decide to come quietly and relate their part in the dastardly deeds at some length.

Overall Rating:

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Three poison bottles for the simple blessing that dead men tell no tales

I don’t really know what to make of this one as a whole.  It had some appealing elements, but overall it was, in my opinion, at least two-thirds longer than it needed to be.  It’s one of those tomes that I describe as “hefty” – when applied to books read on a digital device, this refers to stories that one feels as if one has been reading for hours upon hours, yet the little percentage counter at the bottom of the screen barely ticks over.  Had this book been considerably shorter, I would have enjoyed it much more.  The bits that I would have liked to have seen cut out were the pointless interactions, mostly featuring Molly – the idiot maid – that seem to have been included for comic relief.  The fact that Molly was so dense that it was difficult to believe such a dunderhead could exist soured these exchanges for me somewhat.

On the other hand, the banter between Grice and Middleton was quite funny and kept me turning the pages beyond the point at which I would normally have given up.  Grice has no consideration for the feelings of others and so much of the comedy rests on his insulting the other characters.  Middleton makes up for this somewhat and plays the straight man to Grice’s outrageous behaviour, yet also manages to keep some outrageous behaviours for herself.

The ending is reasonably complex, with aspects from the earlier murder playing a part in the second, as one might expect.  The story is not really written in a way that invites the reader to guess along as to who the murderer might be, but instead, I felt, focuses more on the relationships between the characters.  While overall I am reasonably ambivalent toward this particular mystery, I would be interested in reading the first in this series to discover the beginnings of this unlikely duo.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Mondays are for Murder: Peril at End House…

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I’ve fallen back on an old favourite this month, since it’s been ages since I last got into a Poirot mystery.  The copy of Peril at End House by Agatha Christie that I borrowed from the library had obviously been subjected to a series of borrowers who clearly enjoyed a cigarette (or seven thousand) while reading, and I subsequently suffered a reading experience that included itchy eyes, runny nose and a general pervading stink…but I soldiered on and quite enjoyed the story.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Hercule Poirot is vacationing on the Cornish coast when he meets Nick Buckly. Nick is the young and reckless mistress of End House, an imposing structure perched on the rocky cliffs of St. Loo.
Poirot has taken a particular interest in the young woman who has recently narrowly escaped a series of life-threatening accidents. Something tells the Belgian sleuth that these so-called accidents are more than just mere coincidences or a spate of bad luck. It seems all too clear to him that someone is trying to do away with poor Nick, but who? And, what is the motive? In his quest for answers, Poirot must delve into the dark history of End House. The deeper he gets into his investigation, the more certain he is that the killer will soon strike again. And, this time, Nick may not escape with her life.

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Plot Summary:

It’s a classic Poirot-comes-out-of-retirement story here, with Poirot and Captain Hastings inadvertently stumbling onto a life-threatening mystery while on holiday.  The standard set-up applies: a strange event draws Poirot in, a murder happens despite his best intentions and then Poirot goes full bloodhound mode until the murderer is found and the iconic “get everyone in a room and reveal the murderous fiend’s identity” unfolds to the delight of the reader.

The Usual Suspects:

This one has a good range of expected suspects.  There is the slightly mysterious and cold best friend of the threatened protagonist, her rich (or is he?) boyfriend, the true-blue Aussie renters on the block with some connection to the previous master of the house, the beyond-reproach military man who is fond of the protagonist, the family lawyer with a possible claim on the protagonist’s residence, and a collection of servants who may or may not be acting as the “person on the inside” for the killer.  Poirot actually writes a handy list of all the suspects at one point, including a mysterious unknown person who may or may not be involved.  Or actually exist.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

I’d have to say that this is a pretty straightforward example of a Poirot mystery, with exactly the expected amount of red herrings.  If this was the first Christie you had ever picked up, I expect you would be drawn in by various twists and turns, but for the seasoned Christie fan, the hunt unfolds just in the way you would expect it, with plenty of clues dropped that will allow canny sleuths to form a viable theory of who the murderer/s might be.  Prepare for a lot of self-flagellation on the part of Poirot and the usual amount of Hastings-baiting.

Overall Rating:

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Three poison bottles for the truth in the old saying that bad things happen in threes.

Since it’s been such a long time since I’ve picked up a Poirot, I probably enjoyed this more than I would have otherwise.  It’s a textbook Christie, with all the plot twists you would expect (if you’re an experienced Christie reader) and a reveal that I probably could have guessed had I really pressed the little grey cells, but was completely satisfied with regardless.  The strange thing about this book compared to other Poirot stories I’ve read is that Christie seemed to leave obvious clues in plain sight.  I actually picked a few up as I was reading them, rather than my usual of thinking back to them later in the story as things start to come together.  Even though there was a bit of a sense of “been there, read that” with the story, I still found it really enjoyable as the characters are personable enough and the dialogue of the Australian characters was faintly hilarious.

I’d recommend this as a good starter if you haven’t read any Poirot mysteries before, or if you are looking for a fun Poirot romp that won’t make you work too hard, but will leave a satisfying aftertaste nonetheless.

I’m also submitting this one for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Beloved Poison..

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I honestly didn’t think we’d get a Murderous Monday in this month.  Things were looking a bit shaky – time was running out, I’d had a crack at two separate candidates and found them lacking – but then along comes Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson, kindly provided by Hachette Australia for review, and all of a sudden we have a dark, stench-laden, historical, medical, gender-bending murder mystery on our claws.  Brilliant!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

Six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgottenpast – with fatal consequences.

In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. Murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.

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Plot Summary:

Jem Flockhart is a young woman pretending to be a young man, working in the apothecary of (architecturally) condemned hospital St Saviour’s, under the guidance of her father and a host of unsavoury medical men.  When Will Quartermain rolls up as the man in charge of overseeing the relocation of interred residents of St Saviour’s graveyard, prior to the hospitals’ demolition, Jem is annoyed at having to share her sleeping quarters and worried that personal secrets may come to light.  While showing Will around the hospital chapel, Jem unknowingly unearths some strange, disturbing relics that will set off a chain of events that threaten nearly everyone Jem holds dear.  One murder follows another and unless Jem and Will can make some links between the past and the present, Jem may well end up accused of the crimes and facing the gallows.

The Usual Suspects:

Pretty much everyone who works at St Saviour’s hospital is a suspect in this unusual murder mystery.  The main doctors, Magorian, Catchpole and Graves, all have motives and shady pasts; the wives and daughter of two of the doctors may well have their own reasons to commit murder; and there are servants, prostitutes and street urchins who could all have played a part.  Given that this is a historical fiction with certain darkish overtones, nobody is entirely blameless of wrong-doing of one sort or another and most of the characters are hiding some sort of secret they’d prefer was kept from the public.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is a bit of an unusual pursuit, given that the first murder doesn’t happen until quite a way into the book.  Before that, the focus is more on figuring out the meaning behind the strange relics that Will and Jem discover.  Once the first murder occurs though, people start dropping like flies and the hunt is on in earnest.  It’s tricky to pinpoint the killer/s ahead of time though, because salient information is drip-fed throughout and relationships between characters are all important in unravelling the mystery.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the steady drip, drip, drip of an alchemist’s retort

If you love a good murder mystery format but are looking for something with a sinister twist and more secrets than you could poke a rag-covered stick at, then I definitely recommend picking up Beloved Poison.  There is so much more going on here than in your typical murder mystery that it actually took me a while to figure out that this was actually going to involve hunting for a murderer.  There’s cross-dressing, graveyard excavation, limb amputations, lady almoners, poisons and potions, degenerative diseases, executions, bizarre rituals, mental asylums, prostitutes, ghostly presences and surgery practiced without regard for cleanliness and hygiene.

If I had to boil this one down though, I’d say that it was about secrets and masks.  We find out early on that Jem is playing a gender-swapping role for reasons that are fleshed out (although not, in my opinion, entirely believable) as the story unfolds, and is assisted in this by a large facial birthmark.  Jem’s father has some secrets of his own, not least of which relating to the death of Jem’s mother in childbirth.  The doctors of the hospital are all playing their own agendas, and each have habits, mannerisms and methods of working that are decidedly unpalatable, and their wives and lovers are just as bad.

The best thing about this book is the pervading atmosphere of bleakness and unrelenting gloom that Thomson has set up.  The historical aspects are faithfully recreated and some of the medical details described in stomach-churning detail.  While the atmosphere is thick with a pervasive miasma of sinister goings-on, the book itself isn’t a depressing read.  Jem and Will, and even apprentice apothecary Gabriel and servant Mrs Speedicut, inject a certain sense of fervour and hope that provides a neat counterpoint to their unsavoury surroundings.  Even if you don’t pick this one up for the murder mystery aspect there is plenty to uncover as you peel back the mud-encrusted layers of the lives of St Saviour’s residents.

I was also happy to see that this appears to be a standalone novel.  After all the shocks and “blergh” moments in this one, I don’t think I could stomach a second foray into London’s stinky historical underbelly any time soon!

I am also submitting this one for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Mondays are for Murder: A Death at the University

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Ah, Murderous Mondays, you roll around so fast!

This time around I have the first book in The Bookshop Mysteries, set in Canada: Death at the University by Richard King.  We received a copy from Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

For fans of Agatha Christie and Midsomer Murders, A Death at the University is the first book in a new cosy crime series, introducing Sam Wiseman. Sam Wiseman runs an independent bookshop in the heart of Montreal. He leads a simple life – until the day he apprehends a shoplifter and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Gaston Lemieux, the investigating officer in the case. Later, when Sam discovers the body of professor Harold Hilliard – a long-time customer of the store – dead in his office at nearby McGill University, clutching a special order form from the bookshop, he is implicated in the murder. With the help of Lemieux, Sam must investigate the murder, and clear his name.

a death at the university

Plot Summary:

Sam is an unassuming, laid back kind of a guy – so much so that he is happy to leave the business he owns for hours at a time in order to help the police investigate the murder of one of his clients. While detective Gaston Lemieux does the official business, Sam potters around trying to sniff out leads and find that extra bit of information that may prove crucial to the whole operation. While Sam’s involvement in the murder is dismissed quickly, the body count begins to rise (slightly) and as unsavoury rumours about the deceased circulate, it’s up to Sam and Gaston to unravel the threads and find the killer.

The Usual Suspects:

This one has the quirky aspect of featuring Sam as a suspect early on, but this is put aside almost immediately, which I thought was unfortunate because it could have added some much needed suspense to the plot. Apart from Sam, the murder victim’s colleagues, students and multiple lovers are in the firing line.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Unfortunately, I found this to be tedium itself. There is very little in the way of danger in the investigation and Sam seems to be able to wander into any suspects circle of awareness, ask some questions, get some reasonable answers and report them back to Gaston. The ending is also a bit lacklustre, with only the most minor of minor twists, which I imagine will be pretty disappointing to avid murder mystery fans.

Overall Rating:

 

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 One poison bottle for the friendly warmth and hospitality of a bookshop run by Canadians

This book was a disappointing read. I would say “bitterly” disappointing, but I can’t even muster up enough emotion about it to be bothered being bitter. I was initially excited to read a murder mystery set partly in a bookshop in Canada, as I felt this was an interesting variation from my usual British cosy mysteries. The writing, and, it must be said, the main character, are as bland as the Americans would have us believe Canadians were born to be. There was far too much “telling” instead of showing in the narrative style and while Sam obviously has to have a big part in the investigation, being the protagonist, it beggars belief that a detective would let some ordinary Joe (or Sam, as the case may be), go around doing police work. One would think that this would prejudice the case somewhat.

I can’t really recommend this book simply because there are far more engaging examples of the genre floating around. If you have a specific interest in Canadian murder mysteries however, you might find something to enjoy here.

Until next time,

Bruce