Monday is for Murder: The Moving Toyshop…

6

image

It’s been a while since our last Murderous Monday – apologies for skipping August’s instalment – but I will hopefully redeem myself today by bringing you a decidedly humorous and downright silly classic murder mystery by Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop. I’ve had a bit of trouble selecting a murder mystery to get stuck into recently, and after a few false starts I decided to give Crispin’s work a go, given that it has been described as both clever and funny. The Moving Toyshop is the third adventure for Oxford Professor of English Literature and hobbyist detective, Gervase Fen. I haven’t read the first two in the series, but decided to take a punt on number three, due to the intriguing blurb. Thankfully, I don’t think jumping in midflow has caused any trouble in getting to know the character of Fen at all.

But let’s get on; I’ve kept you waiting since July after all! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

One night, Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon-vivant, finds the body of an elderly woman in an Oxford toyshop, and is hit on the head. When he comes to, he finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store. A quirky and appealing mystery for fans of classic crime.

the moving toyshop

Plot Summary:

Richard Cadogan is travelling late at night to Oxford, and in an act of incredible coincidence and bad luck, wanders into a toyshop along the way (to investigate a door left open, mind) only to discover the strangled corpse of a harmless looking old lady. After being unexpectedly whacked on the head by person unknown, Cadogan awakes, escapes the vacant scene and dispatches himself to the police to report what he has seen. Upon returning to the toyshop, Cadogan is astounded to note that a grocers stands in its place. Of course, finding a grocers with no sign of a dead body causes the police to attribute Cadogan’s story to a recent blow to the head. Once Cadogan relates his story to friend Gervase Fen however, the cogs begin to turn and the two quickly become embroiled in a mystery that takes in spotted dogs, an unnaturally thin physician, a seedy solicitor and one eccentric old lady whose dying wishes seem to have led to no end of bother.

The Usual Suspects:

There is rather a closed pool of suspects in this particular hunt, and all of them relate to various nonsense poems by Edward Lear. I quite enjoyed this little twist as it was both amusing and a nice change from the usual cast of retired Colonel/disgruntled adopted child/estranged former business partner etc that usually appear in classic mysteries of this vintage.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is where Cripsin’s work really stood out from the crowd of murder mysteries that I have read.   For starters, all of the witnesses and suspects in this particular story were quite incredibly verbose and forthcoming, so there wasn’t much need for intellectual puzzling over red herrings and possible clues hidden in coded speech . Also, the hunt for the murderer/s involved some hysterically funny bicycle/foot chases that were quite ridiculous but added greatly to my enjoyment of the whole affair. As well as Fen and Cadogan (and a bunch of ragtag hangers on, Wilkes being my decrepit favourite) chasing the suspects, the police are chasing Fen and Cadogan and it all becomes quite silly but I did appreciate the action.

Overall Rating:

 poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art

Four poison bottles for the breathless anticipation of an unexpected bequeathing of extreme riches

I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure because while it has all the hallmarks of a classic English murder mystery, it never takes itself too seriously and there are plenty of light-hearted shenanigans to bump things along. Crispin has a way with vividly amusing imagery – I’m still giggling at the image of a withered old professor sitting on Fen’s knee during an overcrowded car ride – and I will certainly be putting the others in this series on my reading list. I suspect that these books would be the perfect choice for those times when you feel like a murder mystery, but don’t want to have to work too hard at figuring out who did what to whom for what reasons.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

ARC Read-it-if Review and GIVEAWAY: Jackaby…

22

image

Greetings fiction fans! Today’s offering got me quite excited – it has a little bit of mystery, a little bit of magic, a little bit of investigatory detectivism, a historical setting and a fun, pacey plot.  It’s YA fantasy/paranormal detetctive novel Jackaby by William Ritter.  Stay tuned at the end of my review for your chance to WIN one of TWO SIGNED COPIES of Jackaby thanks to the publisher Algonquin – woot!

It’s 1892 and Abigail Rook is fresh off the boat in New Fiddleham, New England.  In her search for work, Abigail comes across a sign advertising the position of assistant to a detective of sorts.  On answering the advertisement, Abigail meets one R. F. Jackaby and is immediately drawn into a grisly murder investigation with a paranormal twist.  Jackaby, while being masterfully gifted in the ability to miss obvious social cues, is also possessed of a sight that allows him to see beyond the bounds of regular vision and notice all manner of beasties that inhabit reality, but exist outside the vision of ordinary humans.  And it is clear to Jackaby that this particular murder has been perpetrated by a supernatural being.  Unfortunately the local constabulary do not concur with Jackaby’s expert analysis, and Abigail finds herself scorned, threatened with arrest and locked up before the police finally come around to Jackaby’s way of seeing things.  With a handsome, but mysterious, young constable catching Abigail’s eye, a banshee heralding the death of all and sundry, an assortment of odd new housemates (including, but not limited to, an exotic flatulent frog and a man who has been transformed into a duck) and the whirlwind that is Jackaby, it’s a wonder that Abigail can keep any part of her mind on the job.  But if she and Jackaby can’t unravel this mystery in a hurry, Abigail could well meet a sticky end on her first real adventure.

jackabyRead it if:

* you liked Holmes and Watson but you always wished that at least one of them had magic powers…or that their villains did

* you are, or ever have been, a plucky young girl in search of an adventure, preferably one requiring the use of a leather-bound detective’s notebook

* you are the sort of person that, on being warned “not to stare at the frog”, take it in the spirit of a well-intentioned optional guideline, rather than a piece of prudent advice given with concern for your future welfare

* you enjoy rollicking adventures with cheery, cheeky banter, a mysterious, dangerous murderer and an oddment of fascinating characters

I was pleasantly surprised by Ritter’s work here and even though this is touted as a young adult book, I would happily place it in the adult fiction category without a second thought.  There’s nothing here that marks it out as specifically for YA and I quite enjoyed not being constantly reminded while reading that this was a story for a teenaged audience.  About a third of the way in, I was favourably comparing Jackaby with Lockwood & Co by Jonathan Stroud as both books seemed to have a similar pace and style of humorous banter between the main characters.  While this remained true throughout the book, Jackaby had a much greater focus on the intellectual, investigative part of the story, and the development of relationships between various characters than Stroud’s book, and also had fewer wild action sequences. By the end of the book, I was impressed with the way that Ritter managed to balance the various elements of the plot to produce a really engaging read and well developed characters within a historical detective story with a supernatural twist.

While I enjoyed the murder mystery part of the book, I did manage to guess the killer before the reveal.  This did diminish that part of the story a little for me, and if there had been a few more suspects to pick from, this might not have been the case.  On the other hand, as this could potentially be the first in a series (and I really hope it is!), a less complicated murder mystery allowed Ritter to give more space to character and world development, which definitely worked to the book’s advantage in my opinion.

If you are a fan of detective stories and murder mysteries, historical fiction or paranormal fiction, I think you should put this book on your radar.  It is the perfect book for snuggling up with under the covers, and as the book is being released in September this year, it’s just in time for you Northern Hemisphere mob to do just that! For us Southerners, we can spread out with it in front of the fan instead.

Now, to the WINNING! Algonquin have kindly supplied us with two, yes TWO, signed, yes SIGNED copies of Jackaby to give away.  This giveaway is open internationally and all you have to do to enter is fill out the rafflecopter below.  No cheating either. I’m watching you.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Until next time,

Bruce

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

Mondays with Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage…

5

imageWelcome one and all to the inaugural go-around of my new feature, Mondays with Marple.  It’s a bit self-explanatory really.  I read a book featuring Agatha Christie’s gardening, knitting, amateur sleuth extraordinairre, then tell you about it. On a Monday.

I decided to begin Mondays with Marple as I really hadn’t got into any of Christie’s Marple mysteries, being, as I am, more of a Poirot fan. So this is only the second Marple I’ve read, the first being A Murder is Announced, for the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge in which I participated last year.

So, to start at the beginning, with Miss Marple’s first case, I present to you my thoughts on The Murder at the Vicarage.

murder at the vicarage

Plot summary:

After uttering the supposedly throw-away remark that “anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world a large service”, St Mary Mead vicar Len Clement is chagrined to discover that in a matter of days, someone has done just that. In Len’s own study, no less.  Now there’s a turn up for the books!  Now it’s up to Len, the local constabulary, and one elderly neighbourhood spinster to put their heads together to uncover which of the many worthy suspects could have commited such a dastardly deed – human nature being what it is, of course.

The Usual Suspects: (basically, who’s in the book…)

The unassuming and well-intentioned vicar (our narrator), his younger, attractive wife, the vague, head-in-the-clouds (or is she?) daughter of the deceased, the handsome, man-about-town artist, the wife of the deceased (wife number two), the village doctor with humanitarian ideals, the collection of gossipy old ducks, the visiting archaeologist and his delightful young secretary…and of course, the obstinate, overbearing Inspector and his foil.

Level of Carnage:

Only one murder in this book.  Shame really. I quite enjoy the Christie’s that have multiple murders.

Level 0f Wiley-Tricksy-ness of the Plot:

As usual, I fell for all the red herrings.  Honestly, you’d think I’d be able to pick the ending at least once, but nope.  She’s too good.  This one is satisfyingly complex, with enough clues dropped out to make you think you might have it before the final reveal….but you’ll probably be wrong!

Overall Rating:

imageimageimageimage

4 out of 5 knitting needles…mainly because I enjoyed the voice of Len Clements as the narrator.  I would have liked to have seen Miss Marple make more of an appearance, but I’m sure that will happen more within the later books.

In closing, here is a picture that I found on the interwebs that I think is both highly amusing and appropriate to this post. Enjoy.

keith richards

Until next time,

Bruce

Follow on Bloglovin

TumblrButton

my read shelf:
Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

ARC Read-It-If Review: Knightley and Son…

16

Afternoon all! I received a digital copy of Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review – thanks!

Knightley and Son follows the exploits of 13-year-old Darkus “Doc” Knightley, son of well-known, if somewhat eccentric investigator Alan Knightley.  When Knightley (senior) wakes up from a four-year-long coma and promptly disappears from his hospital room, at roughly the same time as numerous ordinary citizens simultaneously rob banks while carrying copies of chart-topping self-help book, The Code, Darkus knows something big is going down.  After Knightley (senior’s) all important case files are mysteriously stolen, Darkus is promoted to assistant detective, and sets off to assist his father in foiling the machinations of mysterious crime syndicate known as The Combination.  Add to the mix a large, Scottish secret agent and Darkus’s hair-dye-happy step-sister Tilly, and the crime world will wish that instead of setting off to do crimey things this morning, it had stayed in bed with the covers over its head.

knightley and sonRead it if:

* you’ve been wishing and hoping that someone would write a version of “The Da Vinci Code” for teens

* you believe that the reason “The Secret” was such a bestseller could be because the authors used some kind of ancient evil to control the minds of those who merely picked it up in mildy interested fashion while browsing at their local bookstore

* you like a good, complicated mystery with lots of twists, turns, codes and puzzles to work out

* you enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s use  of accent-based dialogue for every utterance made by Hagrid, and feel the desperate need to read some more accent-based dialogue – lots more – but this time with a Scottish twang.

Keen-eyed readers may have already picked up that I haven’t employed my usual chirpy, cheerful read-it-ifs today, instead opting for a bit of thinly veiled sarcasm.  The reason for this is….I really didn’t like this book all that much.  Now, I really hate giving out bad press unnecessarily, so allow me to explain.

I was really looking forward to this book.  The cover art is awesome (big, BIG book-by-its-cover judge, me), the blurb was interesting, the mystery/crime element appealed greatly given that there aren’t a whole lot of books of that genre getting around middle-grade and YA fiction right at the moment.  I think I first heard about this book round about the time I was reviewing Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase, and for some reason I linked the two in my brain.  But while Lockwood & Co was an unequivocal five star read, Knightley and Son was just okay.

I felt the execution, particularly with regard to character development, was somewhat lacking.  Darkus, at thirteen, is somewhat of a child genius – he has memorised all of his father’s case notes, is able to make accurate deductions about behaviour and people’s movements based on minute details that he observes in the environnent, and he dresses in tweed, like a miniature of his father.  Great. But WHY?  We receive no explanation as to why or how he got this way, and as the plot unfolded and Darkus was involved in more and more complicated interactions in the investigation, my annoyance at this increased and I found it almost impossible to suspend my disbelief.

In fact, I found pretty much all of the characters in this book to be fairly two-dimensional which distracted me from the story.  I couldn’t go along with the more fantastical elements of the plot because I didn’t even believe the ordinary people, doing ordinary things, were authentic.  Going hand in hand with the flat characters was the unfolding of the plot in a whole host of pat and convenient ways.  Things just seemed to work out too simply for my tastes.  I didn’t feel that there were enough major setbacks for the characters to overcome, as solutions to problems seemed to conveniently pop up just when they were needed in ways that didn’t require the characters to struggle particularly hard.  Given the complicated nature of the actual crime that was being investigated, once again, things just didn’t ring true.

And that, in the end, is what ruined this book for me.

Now, for you, this may not be a problem.  For the average middle-grade or teen reader, in depth character development may not be the first thing they look for in a novel.  The fun and intrigue of the code-cracking and the crime-foiling and the mysterious-book-exploring may well be enough to have them clamouring for the next in the series.  Unfotunately for me though, I will see the next book in the series, with its no-doubt eye-popping cover art, and will be reminded of the disappoint-ivity that blossomed into great blossoming clouds as I delved deeper into this book. Sigh.

A note though.  Please do not allow my pessimistic rantings to dissuade you from picking this book up.  My lack-of-fervour for this title may well stem from the long build up of anticipation that occured while I was waiting t0 get my paws on it.  If you think the blurb sounds interesting (as indeed, did I) and the cover catches your eye (as indeed, it did mine) I urge you to give it a go and decide for yourself.  Perhaps this is all just a ruse so I can keep all the copies with their lovely, lovely covers to myself….*

Aside from all that, it would fit perfectly into category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge…just something to think about.

Until next time,

Bruce

* It’s not a ruse. I genuinely found this book annoying, sadly.

TumblrButton

Follow on Bloglovin

my read shelf:
Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

What’s in a Name Challenge: Death in the Clouds…

2

poirot moustache cat

 

Obstacle number four….possibly five….I forget…in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge – Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (cue ominous music).

Taken from: the Christie Listie

Category: One – A book with up or down (or the equivalent) in the title

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Christie Listie review, so in case you had forgotten, I am basing my reviews for this list on five main criteria:

Rate of Moustache-Twiddlage (for Poirot novels) or Stitch-Droppage (for Marple novels): This refers to the expected level of engagement with the plot as measured by the extent to which anxious body language emerges in the reader…

Red Herring Haul: relating to the level of mis-clues present…

Butler-osity: which refers to the complexity of the revelation at the end (based on the foundation level of non-complexity in which the Butler is identified as the one who did it)…..

Common-or-Garden-ness: the formulaity of the plot set-up, cast of characters and reveal. Otherwise known as the Retired-Colonel-Ometer…

Rate of Contextual Controversy: or the extent to which racist, sexist or other generally a-bit-off-by-today’s-standards references are casually scattered about the text

death in the cloudsAn ordinary group of air travellers are stunned to find a murder has been committed in their midst during their flight. Police are even more stunned to find out that apparently nobody witnessed what they assume to be a very visible and attention-catching mode of dispatching a victim.  Luckily the famous Hercule Poirot happens to be one of the passengers on the flight of death and fiscal misfortune (as I like to think of it)….let the shenanigans commence!

Moustache-Twiddlage: starswhite5-md 

I was thoroughly gripped throughout, and inevitably thought I had the killer figured out well before the reveal.  Even more inevitably, I was wrong….although not far off.  Part of the fun of this one was the fact that I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, and was therefore quite content with any of them turning out to be a devious, cold-blooded murderer.

Red Herring Haul: starswhite4-th

From annoying buzzing insects to isolated South American tribesfolk, this book has a veritable trawler-load of mis-clues to keep you guessing.

Butlerosity: starswhite4-th

The reveal to this one was very….revealing….   If you are able to predict who the killer/s is/are in this one prior to the reveal, then I honour you as a certified Christie genius.  Honestly, it was almost impossible to deduce the circumstances surrounding  this death, which could be highly satisfying or endlessly annoying depending on your viewpoint.

Common-or-Garden-ness:      starswhite3-md

While there is a fairly predictable cast of characters, there is no retired colonel, which was a bit of a disappointment for me.  Thankfully, this was made up for with the inclusion of a fantastically caricatured crime writer and at least one person pretending to be someone else.

Contextual Controversy: starswhite1-md

Very low. A few passing references to the shadiness of foreigners.

The Plot in a Poem:

Ingesting some dodgy airline curries

turned out to be the least of their worries.

Overall:

A thoroughly enjoyable romp and some of Poirot’s finest cogitations. Although not having read an awful lot of Poirot novels, please be advised that I may not be fully  qualified to pronounce on Poirot’s cogitations with any great certainty.

Until next time dear readers,

Bruce