Mini Reviews- Crime Time

Apologies for my absence (again!). I should really consider moving to a place where the weather doesn’t spontaneously go from 16°C to 30°C and give me the worst migraines as a result. It seems doubtful that I’ll ever get caught up on my reviews, but I want to at least try to make a dent in the list, so here’s another mini reviews post. Hope you’re all avid crime readers! (but since the argument can be made that all reading is clue-hunting and interpretation is sleuthing, every bookworm is a detective 😉 ).

 

I know, you’ve probably read too many thoughts on this one already, so I’ll make it short. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is (insert your favorite superlative) and I can’t recommend it enough. Apart from being a suspenseful account of a true crime, it is  a study of the 19th century and the beginnings of the detective branch in England. If you ever wanted to know how quickly people then could expect to arrive by coach or train, how news were dispersed, what attitudes were prevalent towards the police and especially the new detectives, then this should be your read. Also, if you want to know more about how the new detectives were regarded and how they shaped literature, look at The Moonstone and other detective stories of that age. I found the reconstruction of 19th century England and the Road Hill Murder very well-done and hats off to Summerscale for combining serious research (the bibliography made me drool) and scholarship with great storytelling!

Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Amy Reads

Bibliojunkie

Farm Lane Books

A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third Flavia book and Bradley has yet to disappoint. Apart from having another great title, this instalment is at least as great as the ones before. Flavia is her usual charming self, gypsy lore abounds, we get to know more about chemistry and I especially loved Flavia’s relationships with her sisters and the inspector. Also, gotta love Flavia’s lively commentary :

Alone at last! Whenever I’m with other people, part of me shrinks a little. Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company.

I really should reread it!

Other thoughts:

Nonsuch Books

The Case of the Missing Servant is a cosy crime set in India (you see, I am broadening my horizon etc). Vish Puri, most private investigator, is something of an Indian Poirot, if you like these sort of comparisons. He is small, round and his little gray cells are definitely in working order. Usually he screens prospective marriage partners for the families but then he is asked by a lawyer to look into the death of his maidservant, of whose murder he is accused. This book is not only a cosy mystery, it is also very funny and provides us with a great look at present-day India without falling into the trap of presenting the country as the exotic other. I’ve also read that India Today finds Hall’s look at India convincing (which had me a bit worried as at one point, a character in the book can’t phone the police since their line isn’t working likely due to not having paid their bill! You can’t let Germans read that without a warning! 😉 ). Needless to say, I’ll be reading the sequel soon.

Other thoughts:

Bibliojunkie

Nishita’s Rants and Raves

As always, let me know if you’ve reviewed these books, and I’ll add a link!

Review: The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad has been on my tbr list for quite some time and I wanted to read it for our Read a Myth challenge. Luckily Bellezza and Col hosted a readalong, and I finally moved this book to the top of my list. I’m a bit late with posting the review, but better late than never I guess.

Now, first up a confession: I have not read The Odyssey. However unforgivable that might be, I like to think that I know enough of the stories to ‘get’ The Penelopiad. This is the fourth book by Atwood that I’ve read, the others are The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin and Oryx & Crake. And they are all absolutely amazing.

The Penelopiad is Atwood playing around with the character of Penelope, Odysseus’ long-suffering wife. Atwood gives a voice to virtuous and constant Penelope and imagines her side of the story. We learn about Penelope’s life before her marriage, about her thoughts on her husband’s adventures (the cyclops here becomes a tavern owner and their fight about an unpaid bill, and Circe’s island a whorehouse) and her relationship with her cousin Helen. Poor Penelope, her husband is off fighting and sleeping around, Helen can be relied on to make a mess of things and her son grows up to be one annoying teenager. Still, somehow she manages to run a household and more official affairs.

Penelope’s narrative is interrupted by the chorus of the twelve maids, who seem to have been on Atwood’s mind a lot. No wonder, considering they were raped, slaughtered and hanged! While Penelope’s status in a patriarchal society is quite low, she is still a princess and much better off than her maids. Their rape is nothing unusual apparently but not asking their master’s permission is unacceptable. The maids are female slaves and as such their murder is all about property.

I enjoyed Atwood’s retelling and her emphasis on class and gender issues, but The Penelopiad is actually also a very funny novella and the last chapter is more than a little ironic. I hope I’m not alone in that opinion but since I also find American Psycho funny, my sense of humor might be considered a bit weird by some people.

Other thoughts:

Bibliojunkie

Dolce Bellezza

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Review: The Weed That Strings the Hangman´s Bag

After having to wait much too long (I think I can finally empathize with those desperate Harry Potter fans) for the second installment in Alan Bradley´s Flavia series, I finally got my copy last weekend and practically devoured it. And yes, it´s just as perfect as the first book, if not better (the first book in a series I love is always special to me so the following books can really only be just as good 🙂 ).

Now for the plot: After having successfully solved the murder of the man in the cucumber patch, Flavia does not have to wait long for the next exciting thing to happen. The great puppeteer Rupert Porson comes to Bishop´s Lacey and is persuaded to give a show for the villagers. Unfortunately he has a deadly “rendevous with electricity” and Flavia has a front row seat. There is also the matter of his troubled assisstent Nialla, the unsolved death of a young boy, poisoned chocolates, sleeping pigs, a Bronte-loving pow, television, and Mad Meg.

Doesn´t it sounds fantastic already? Flavia is as precocious and macabre as usual, and again leaves the police stumped. What I loved about The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, among other things, is that we get to know a lot of the villagers better. There is of course Mrs. Mullet and her awful cooking but helpful gossip, the vicar and his wife, musical tearoom ladies, aunt Felicity and Mad Meg. Bradley really brings the village and its inhabitants, which are appropriately eccentric, to life. As the year is 1950 and one of the characters is a German prisoner of war, there is the reference to the war and its influence on people. I think this also helps bring out a great side of Flavia, especially when she runs into Dogger in his episodes.

The mystery is more complex than in the first book, this time I didn´t guess who did it, which is partly due to the connection of the recent murder of the puppeteer and the older death of a young boy. Of course guessing at the solution does not spoil the fun of these books!

So this book is another great favorite which I will no doubt be rereading soon. I actually started rereading the first book because  I didn´t want to leave Flavia´s world. Highly recommended, I don´t think any fan of the first book will not love the second installment just as much. In case you´re new to the Flavia series, it´s a fantastic cozy crime series that starts with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (which I reviewed here).

A few of my favorite passages:

`You wouldn´t happen to have a cigarette, would you? I´m dying for a smoke.´ I gave my head a rather idiotic shake. `Hmmh,´ she said. `You look like the kind of kid who might have.´ For the first time in my life, I was speechless.” (16)

On Beethoven´s The Fifth: “I remembered that the end of the thing, the allegro, was one of those times when Beethoven just couldn´t seem to find the `off´ switch. (. . .) It was like a bit of flypaper stuck to your finger that yo couldn´t shake off. The bloody thing clung to life like a limpet.” (49)

`You are unreliable, Flavia,´ he said. `Utterly unreliable.´ Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself.” (112)

Much of my life was given over to holding the oven door of the Aga as Mrs. M fed heaps of baking into its open maw. Hell, in Milton´s Paradise Lost, had nothing to compare with my drudgery.” (274)

This book also counts toward Jennifer´s Canadian Authors Challenge 2010.

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I recently finished Alan Bradley´s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and enjoyed it so much that I´m willing to write a review to help it find more readers. I don´t know how well-known this book is in the US or UK but in Germany it is a new hardback release titled “Murder in the Cucumber Patch” (my transl.) featuring a cover of a girl a la Emily the Strange or Wednesday of the Addams Family. I´ve seen it a lot of times in stores and at the train station but I tend to judge books by their covers, and this one seemed to me just another fantasy book for children of which there are just too many bad and boring ones already.It was only when I saw the English edition on the internet that I lingered and read the summary and numerous reviews. And from then on I coudn´t wait to read it!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a detective story featuring an eleven year old girl, Flavia de Luce (yes, that name initially scared me off too!) who lives in an English mansion with her two older sisters and her father in the year 1950. Flavia is, of course, astoundingly intelligent, but she is also very likable and endearing in an obnoxious way. I would even call her cute, if you can call a character who is a chemistry genius with a passion for poisons that.
Flavia´s life is entirely too boring in her mind. Her father is never quite there, always thinking of their mother Harriet or his stamp collection; her sisters are either busy with their looks (Ophelia), or reading (Daphne), or shoving Flavia into closests, bound and gagged. So when she finds a dying man in the cucumber patch, Flavia, in true gothic girl fashion is intrigued and excited rather that scared. This is something I most enjoyed about her, Flavia is a great heroine even at the age of only eleven.

The story further features a dead bird, infamous stamps, custard pie, a father´s school memories of intrigue and mystery, sibling rivalry, a resigned inspector (think the inspector in Margaret Rutherford´s Miss Marple films), and a triumphant heroine!

I loved this book, it is an easy read, real fun and I´d lable it cosy crime.

And for everyone who enjoys this story, it´s a series in the making. Book 2 will be released in <march!

More about the author and Flavia.

Also reviewed by:

Coffee Stained Pages