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 family’s 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.
Readers may be familiar with Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway and Stephens/Mephisto mysteries. I listened to the first Galloway, The Crossing Places, and enjoyed it. I have the next two queued, but you know, too many books, so little time: a reader’s lament. I did make time, on the other hand, for Griffiths’s latest, a stand-alone murder mystery and homage to gothic lit. There’s a sly nod to Georgette Heyer: all the wins. The darn thing kept me reading in waiting rooms (nose stuffed while Kindle pressed to it), through half-hearted lunch-time sandwich-eating, and curled up in my reading chair till late. The Stranger Diaries is a heck of a engrossing read; even when the mystery faltered, Griffiths’s love of gothic lit, uncanny knowledge of teacherly ways, especially English teacherly ways, and insight into love-gone-mad-and-bad obsession saw me hitting those Kindle pages furiously.
Giving you a sense of what The Stranger Diaries is about makes for convoluted retelling, but spoilers will be avoided. Divorcée Clare Cassidy lives in West Sussex with her 15-year-old daughter Georgia. She teaches English at Talgarth High and works on her book about Talgarth High’s founder, the fictional Victorian writer, R. H. Holland, whose short story, “The Stranger,” frames Griffiths’s narrative. Continue reading
Miss Bates read Phillippi Ryan for the first time, having noted time and again Phillippi Ryan’s name on the Agatha Awards nominee or winner lists. Phillippi Ryan’s murder-mystery-thriller-police-procedural narrative structure brings a wheel’s hub and spokes to mind. The novel opens, most dramatically, with a back-stabbing murder in the midst of a hot, tourist-laden June day in Boston’s Curley Park. This central incident radiates outwardly to a number of characters and situations, which come together in a masterful dénouement. The Curley Park murder scene draws hero and heroine, Jake Brogan, BPD detective, and Jane Ryland, unemployed journalist and Jake’s secret-lover. Jane freelances for a local TV station, working to resurrect her defunct career. A student-photographer claiming to have pics of the murder waylays Jane. Jake and DeLuca, his partner, run into an alley to discover a security expert wrestling the perp to the ground. Jane and her new photographer-friend follow. The scene is chaotic; neither Jane, representing the media, nor Jake and his partner, representing law enforcement, can tell the crime’s why or who. Meanwhile, in the mayor’s offices above Curley Park, teen-age Tenley Siskel, whose mom, Catherine, Mayor Holbrooke’s chief of staff, got her a job working the security video, may or may not have recorded the murder. Moreover, Jane responds to a call from her sister Melissa who’s frantic with worry over the disappearance of her nine-year-old step-daughter-to-be, Grace.