Tag: Murder Mystery

Having Read Sayers and Greer

Five_Red_HerringsWhen you read a lot of bad prose as a high school English teacher, you hunger for the good stuff, which is how I ended up reading two books this brutal work week (reports to write, papers to grade, meetings to attend, you get the picture), Dorothy Sayers’ Five Red Herrings and, in one Saturday-into-Sunday swoop, Andrew Sean Greer’s Less. I didn’t think, going from one to the other, they had anything in common and they don’t, except attractive, blond, wiry, irrepressible protagonists and scenes of macabre or absurd humour.

I’m on a two-year best-laid plan to reread Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books, Five Red Herrings (1931) followed one of my favourites, Strong Poison. Herrings is Vane-less, sadly, and contains a significant number of scenes sans Wimsey too; ONLY ONE HILARIOUS BUNTER SCENE, a tragedy, because we can never have too much Bunter.

I don’t care for the whodunnit variety of murder mystery: one murderee, an artist named Campbell, a hateful dude, truculent and dour, and five suspects, also artists, implicated in hating/resenting/plain-disliking Campbell. Set in a Galloway artists’ colony, Lord Peter Wimsey is taking a hol, doing some fishing (thank goodness he doesn’t seem to ever play golf), and solving a murder. Bunter is nonplussed by what the Scots call their cuts of meat and Sayers’ talent to draw character and write vernacular are brilliant. And yet, I didn’t love it. A paucity of Wimsey scenes and the detailed rendering of plottish points about who was where, which train they took, and who saw them when, take narrative precedence.   (more…)

2021: Some Reading, Much Listening, Very Little by Way of Watching …

Well, folks, it’s been a year, hasn’t it? Another year, another covid variant, or two, or three… And here we are again, Zoom-bound and footie-pyjamas-donned, growing more feral and introverted. At least I am.

This year, I gave up any attempt to bake bread and Twitter. While I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to, I regained some reading focus, got through more grading, and started to take a daily walk, all formerly abandoned by mindless Twitter scrolling. I gave up trying to raise my Netgalley stats by reviewing ARCs and stopped requesting them. (I have an ARC “backlist” stretching to “the crack of doom,” so you’ll still see me review one occasionally. At this end of another pandemic year, I have a diminishing desire to read romance; sad, but there it is.)

I ordered more books and maintained a TBR I might get through if I have a future as Methuselah. I saw a friend and went to a café (at the same time; I don’t do things by halves, when I go, I go BIG), something I haven’t done in two years. I haven’t been to a museum, restaurant, or movie, and don’t think I ever will. I did read some books, not as many as I wanted to (see Twitter addiction, now broken), but 2022 looks good reading-wise.

I did a lot of cooking and baking and listened to podcasts while I did. Emerging from lockdowns meant commuting again, so I listened in the car too. Here’s my listening and reading year, or at least what I remember of it. (I used to watch films; this year, I managed two: News of the World, which I loved, and Nomadland, which I hated. I did watch my southern neighbours cut through the Gordian knot of their democracy on January 6th and, to mix my allusions, remain convinced no one can put Humpty-Dumpty back together. I also watched, with deep shame and horror, the revelations of my own country’s reprehensible treatment of indigenous peoples. Again, like most, I watched covid news with equal parts dread and hope.)    (more…)

Reading Tana French’s IN THE WOODS

Morning_Sky_Dec_16_2021Three sleepless nights and I finally turned the last page of Tana French’s In the Woods. It was my first, and will not be my last French, because it surprised me. When you’ve been reading as long as I have, well, not much does. Which can be comforting (romance serves this purpose well), or boring as heck. I was in thrall to French’s writing (rare in mystery, rarer in romance), which was horrific, funny, and penetrating all at once, at her broken, flawed, knowable and unknowable detectives, and her daring in solving one crime and leaving another hanging. (Note: I took the accompanying picture of the morning sky on Dec. 16, 2021.) (more…)

Review: Susie Steiner’s REMAIN SILENT (Manon Bradshaw #3)

Remain-SilentSusie Steiner’s third Manon Bradshaw mystery is set in an England bloated by bigotry, pettiness, and violence against migrant workers. It’s a Brexit-world we’re in. Her protagonist? DI Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire police, more irreverently acerbic than ever. In book #1, Missing Presumed, Manon was a copper with a deep belief in her ability to solve a crime and bring justice to whom it’s due; in book #2, Persons Unknown, Manon is pregnant, sidelined, and drawn into a case because it involves family; in book #3, copper Manon is back, not by will, want, or ambition; she’s assigned to the possible murder of an illegal Lithuanian migrant worker (conditions akin to slavery, really, as Manon notes). That sense of completion, if not vindication, or justice, is nebulous at best and, by the end, we leave a Manon disheartened with policing. At the same time, of Steiner’s three Manon mysteries, Remain Silent is the funniest, tipping to black comedy, thanks to Manon’s dark humour, which I LOVED.

The blurb will supply some plottish detail for us:

Newly married and navigating life with a toddler as well as her adopted adolescent son, Manon Bradshaw is happy to be working part-time in the cold cases department of the Cambridgeshire police force, a job which allows her to “potter in, coffee in hand and log on for a spot of internet shopping–precisely what she had in mind when she thought of work-life balance.” But beneath the surface Manon is struggling with the day-to-day realities of what she assumed would be domestic bliss: fights about whose turn it is to clean the kitchen, the bewildering fatigue of having a young child in her forties, and the fact that she is going to couple’s counseling alone because her husband feels it would just be her complaining. But when Manon is on a walk with her two-year-old son in a peaceful suburban neighborhood and discovers the body of a Lithuanian immigrant hanging from a tree with a mysterious note attached, she knows her life is about to change. Suddenly, she is back on the job, full-force, trying to solve the suicide–or is it a murder–in what may be the most dangerous and demanding case of her life. (more…)

REVIEW: Susie Steiner’s PERSONS UNKNOWN (Manon Bradshaw #2)

Persons_UnknownAfter a run of great books, Matthews’s Gentleman Jim, Griffiths’s Stone Circle, Bliss’s Redemption, I could not settle for less, so I grabbed Susie Steiner’s Persons Unknown from the night-stand. If it could be half as good as Missing, Presumed, I was in for another winner. It was and wasn’t. I still gave up sleep and human companionship to read non-stop, resisting the pull of obligation and meals. I still loved the characters, though Manon grated in this one, but Davy was as lovable as ever. I still loved how Steiner made her “coppers” pursue justice and even occasionally mercy and manage to have messy, at times pathetic, personal lives. (By the end, Davy’s speed-dating!) But the crime and Manon’s place in it were wrenchingly difficult to read about; Manon was difficult to read, weepy, hugely pregnant, cumbersome emotionally and physically.

Now to the blurb-summary to get the procedural details (my reviewer’s Achilles’ heel, I am rubbish at keeping track and am the reader ever-duped by red herrings):

As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound. He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life.

DI Manon Bradshaw can’t help taking an interest — these days, she handles only cold cases, but the man died just yards from the police station where she works. 

She’s horrified to discover that both victim and prime suspect are more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. And as the Cambridgeshire police force closes ranks against her, she is forced to contemplate the unthinkable: How well does she know her loved ones, and are they capable of murder?   (more…)

REVIEW: David Stafford’s SKELTON’S GUIDE TO DOMESTIC POISONS (Skelton’s Guides #1)

Skelton's_Guide_to_Domestic_PoisonsDavid Stafford’s Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons is what you get when you cross a Golden-Age mystery with P. G. Wodehouse, which would be high praise indeed if not for caveats.

Set in a 1929 England ignorant of the economic cataclysm to come, Stafford’s mystery centres on a loveable, of-working-class-stock barrister and his efforts to exonerate Mary Dutton, accused of poisoning her abusive husband; the novel’s blurb offers some further details:

Before propelled to front-page fame by winning the case of the century, Arthur Skelton was a fairly unremarkable barrister. Now, he is enjoying the attention that being dubbed a hero by the press brings – namely practising his distinguished pose and his autograph – much to the amusement of his wife.

But January 1929 brings another high-profile case. Mary Dutton is accused of murdering her husband, although there are few people who dispute her guilt. The case is considered unwinnable; however, despite the odds, Skelton agrees to defend her – a decision that has absolutely nothing to do with her resemblance to a beautiful Hollywood actress …

With an army of flappers set to cast their inaugural votes in the looming general election, both sides of the political divide are keen to secure their support by turning the case to their advantage and begin to lean on Skelton. Aided by his trusty clerk Edgar, Skelton faces mounting pressure to find the truth. But will that be enough to save a young woman’s life?

Stafford’s quasi-comic, quasi-tragic mystery may be divided into disparate parts: the marvelously comic characterization and dubious mystery. (more…)

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s ONE WAS A SOLDIER

One_Was_A_SoldierThere are books I hoard until I know another one is imminent. But the wait for another Russ Van Alstyne/Clare Fergusson mystery was seven years in the offing. I kept One Was A Soldier and Through the Evil Days piled on the night-table, winking and beckoning and giving me the come-hither-reader. But I resisted. Now, with, finally, after a seven-year wait, a new Russ/Clare novel, Hid From Our Eyes, I decided to go whole hog and catch up on all of them. With covid-work and sundry tasks, reading-time has been at a premium, usually consisting of three sleepy-eyed pages and then oblivion until the alarm chirps. Nevertheless, I was glad, even piecemeal, to sink into One Was A Soldier, though it was as unlike the previous books in the series as I’d ever expected. Oh, I liked it, loved it for Russ and Clare, but it did come as a surprise. For one thing, Spencer-Fleming played with her narrative timeline and frankly, for another thing, I barely recognized Clare and Russ, their personalities usually running along the lines of serene wisdom to street-smart a-whole-lot-o’-mess respectively, suddenly turned on their head. Reverend Clare was a hot mess and Russ, an island of calm and reasonableness … until I started reading Through the Evil Days, but that’s for another post. (Be warned, what follows contains spoilers, so continue if you’re already a series fan and have read up to the present volume.)
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MINI-REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s A MURDEROUS RELATION

Murderous_RelationAnother volume in a beloved series, read in two days, and now I have to wait till next March for the next one … (be warned, if you haven’t read the series, and you ought, there be spoilers ahead).

Lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her partner-in-adventure and love-of-her life, Stoker Templeton-Vane, are caught up in another intrigue involving her half-brother, Prince Eddy, a diamond, a brothel, its procuress, and ever more threats to the British royal family. At its opening, comfortably ensconced at their friend’s, Lord Rosemorran’s estate, Bishop’s Folly, in charge of curating his vast collection, Veronica and Stoker enjoy a respite from their adventures in the best way they know, bantering, bickering, and anticipating love-making. Raybourn has introduced a new tenderness in their exchanges, especially on Veronica’s part, the more hard-assed of the two. A new-found peace and rightness are between them. Raybourn doesn’t disappoint us in this volume: Veronica and Stoker, after kidnappings, extortion, villains on their tail, save the day once again and FINALLY, FINALLY achieve their HEA. (The novel is also set against the backdrop of the Whitechapel murders and Raybourn includes one vibrant, creepy, masterful scene with the Ripper.)
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Summer Reading: A Wow Book

Say_NothingDespite a week of family and work obligations, I spent most of it rushing back from an errand, or logging off a Zoom meeting eager to return to Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. (If you read one nonfiction text this year, make it this one.) It’s remarkable and, rare in nonfiction, written with spare, clear, elegant prose. It is, as the subtitle makes obvious, an account of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland, from the 1970s conflagrations to present-day; vague images of fires and bombs on the television news as I was growing up. Radden Keefe brought things home: I grew up in a society divided along fraught, linguistic lines; one who, like Northern Ireland, stood on the brink of chronic sectarian violence. (In 1970, as I walked to school, Canadian soldiers manned every street corner: the FLQ kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner, James Cross, ironically Irish-born, and deputy premier Pierre Laporte. Unlike Northern Ireland, though Laporte was killed and Westmount mailboxes bombed, Quebec slid into sullen stability: the English fled; the French stayed; allophones endured; language laws passed; separatist referenda, defeated. Quebec continues playing chicken with Canada and Canadians, for the most part, politely tolerate it.) I compare apples with oranges and ignore the matter at hand, Radden Keefe’s amazing book, my digression a testament to how thought-provoking it is. (more…)

REVIEW: Ann Cleeves’s THE LONG CALL

Since my last review, life has changed, everyone’s life has changed, a hundredfold. My work moved online, but I still have it and am able to pay my bills. My family is well and the pantry, well-stocked. As an introvert, staying at home is the easiest thing our Canadian government could ask of me. Nevertheless, the changes to our society are cataclysmic and it is surreal and difficult to process what we’re living, especially as families lose loved ones. As someone who has readily lost herself in a book daily since I learned to read, I have, at best, read sporadically and listlessly, punctuated stabs at the Kindle with endlessly watching the news and scrolling through Twitter. I grappled with the idea of continuing with this review blog. Am I, like Nero, fiddling as Rome burns? In the end, I decided to forego the Nero metaphor and go with the Titanic musicians who continued to play as the ship went down until they went with it. I continue to teach poetry online and respond to my students’ writing. I check in with them for questions and discussion and I read and write reviews. I am neither a “front-line worker” nor possess any skills beyond the ones exercised here. I continue to do as my government asks of me (wash my hands, stay home, and social-distance) to ensure my family’s, friends’, colleagues’, and fellow citizens’ well-being and I offer these humble opinions to readers. I don’t know where the ship is headed, but we’re all on it and will go down with it … and we need to keep making whatever music we have in us.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading Ann Cleeves’s The Long Call, first in a new series, “Two Rivers.” It wasn’t lurid, or tense, or anxious; it was well-written, methodical in its movement towards revelations of truth and justice and, for the most part, with a few quibbles, I loved reading it … when I could immerse myself in it.  
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