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 Moving Toyshop

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin is the third book in a series around the sleuthing Oxford don Gervase Fen, set in England in the late 1930. It’s the first Fen mystery I’ve read but I don’t think it’s important to read this series in order, there’s no larger back story or development.

So, in this one, the poet Richard Cadogan is in a bit of a midlife-crisis and decides to go to Oxford for a bit of change of scenery and some adventure. And boy, does he get one. He arrives around midnight and comes across a toyshop, in which he promptly stumbles upon the body of a strangled woman, and is then knocked out. The police don’t believe Cadogan’s story, but who can blame them when the toyshop, body and all have disappeared. Cadogan turns to eccentric amateur detective Gervase Fen who takes everything in stride, even moving toyshops (for the toyshop turns up soon enough, albeit in a different location and sans body).

Are you intrigued yet? I don’t want to give too much away. But it gets even nuttier, in that charming and whimsical British way. Also, since the setting is Oxford, and its main characters are an English professor and a poet, everyone is always playing literary games (e.g. least readable book) or quoting (even truck drivers). And I really doubt that I got half of the literary references but I had fun guessing.

While reading, I couldn’t help wondering if The Moving Toyshop is what would have happened if P.G. Wodehouse had decided to write mysteries. That’s how good this book is. Also, this mystery has the best chase scene I’ve ever read (my very favorite chase scene is from the film The Pink Panther; cars, gorilla costumes and Clouseau!), let’s just say it involves a villain on a bicycle.  I really can’t recommend reading it in public, I’m sure the people next to me thought I was crying, I was shaking from the effort of not screaming with laughter 🙂 The mystery itself is a puzzle but at times I found it a bit difficult to track. Not that I really minded, there was so much fun going on, figuring out whodunit was only part of what kept me reading.

I really don’t have that much to say about this book, I had the greatest time reading it and now I’ll just have to complete my Crispin collection. I have one other Fen mystery, Holy Disorder, which sounds promising already. Hope it’s as barmy and fun as The Moving Toyshop which, obviously, I can’t recommend enough!

The title by the way comes from Pope’s The Rape of the Lock:

With varying vanities, from every part,
They shift the moving toyshop of their heart

 

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

Seasonal Reading: Fall/ Winter

Last week, one look out the window made me decide not to set foot outside all day if possible. No, it wasn’t pouring, but grey and foggy and slightly wet. The kind of weather which always makes me think of bodies being thrown into the Thames in Victorian London. So I stacked some pillows, got out the quilt, made a pot of tea and curled up with Julia Franck’s Die Mittagsfrau (The Blind Side of the Heart). Only the cosy reading mood didn’t set in, even though I had carefully prepared. So what was wrong? I was reading the wrong book! Now, Die Mittagsfrau is really interesting so far and I was enjoying it the day before, but it isn’t the type of book to curl up with on a cold, foggy day. So I put the book down and dug out one of my mother’s Maigret books and tried the whole curled-up -with-a-book thing again, and it was perfect!

That me think about seasonal reading, specifically fall/winter reading. I know it’s only just fall, but more often than not this means grey and wet days and long dark evenings. Seasonal reading is really only made up of two seasons for me, and with yesterday’s experience I think I’ll begin making a pile for my winter reading. The RIP challenge is in full swing, so I think I’m not too early with my books-to-curl-up-with post. As regular readers know, mystery is my go-to-genre and I don’t really need a special occasion to indulge, but winter is perfect for reading mysteries, and in my case cosy ones. These are some mysteries that go on my winter reading pile:

These are some cosy classics so you can expect me to go on a mystery binge soon. Apart from cosy mysteries, the colder season also calls for gothic reads and classics, and preferably classic gothic stories 🙂 And don’t these editions just make you want to grab a pile of them? Some titles I really want to curl up with:

I haven’t read any Gaskell yet, and Iris suggested starting with North and South. But this great penguin edition makes me want to read Lois the Witch instead. I guess I’m easily distracted 🙂 As for DuMaurier, apart from Rebecca and a couple of short stories I haven’t read anything by her but I’m guessing it’ll fit with my seasonal reading. Let me know of I’m better off with another of her novels though! I loved The Woman in White and We have Always Lived in the Castle so more by Collins and Jackson is obligatory . I’m also trying to work up the nerve to start Bleak House. It seems like a perfect way to spend long evenings but I don’t have the best record where Dickens is concerned.

This is just a list of what books I’m craving at the moment, now that I’ve put it together I might get sick of those and start reading something completely different. Sometimes making a list is more the end of a particular reading mood than the start of it in my case.

What about you? What books do you crave this season?

Review: After the Armistice Ball

After the Armistice Ball was a gift from my mom, who thought it looked like something I might enjoy. Obviously the judging a book by its cover thing runs in the family 🙂 But I love that she took a chance and she loves that she was right for once. And that means I’ve got another series of cosy mysteries, perfect since winter isn’t too far off.

After the Armistice Ball is Catriona McPherson’s first book in a murder mystery series, set in Scotland after WWI. Dandy Gilver, the heroine of this mystery, is bored with her life. Her volunteer uniform is growing musty in the attic, her two sons are away at school and her husband has rather become an afterthought to her. So when her friend Daisy asks her to look into the disappearance of the Duffy diamonds, Dandy jumps at the chance of adventure and earning some of her own money. But taking a closer look at the Duffy family, sweet soon-to-be married Cara, cold Clemence, their dominant mother Lena, and quiet father Gregory, Dandy soon finds herself uncovering the secret of a death at the family’s cottage with Cara’s fiance Alec.

What I found refreshingly different about this mystery is that the amateur sleuth Dandy really is an amateur, and not a detective genius in disguise. For most of the time, Dandy really doesn’t have a clue whodunit, and she and Alec talk at length about who could have done what and every time they exchanged their theories, I was more confused than before. I guess their talks are another kind of red herring. The mystery is quite good and suspenseful but it is Dandy who makes this book so appealing. While she bumbles along trying to solve this mystery and finding her place as a sleuth, Dandy narrates her adventures with a dry wit and never takes herself too seriously, but she also has a real interest in the other characters. The combination of middle-aged Dandy and the younger Alec also works well, and I’m looking forward to their next adventure. Much of the comic relief is provided by Dandy’s interactions with her maid, Grant. Grant comes from a theatrical family and her “face-painting still tends toward the dramatic”. I also loved the way that Dandy’s interactions with her family was written. For example, going on a picnic with her sons, she is told: “‘You look dreadful, Mother,’ he said, reminding me very much that he was his father’s son.” My experience with children isn’t that great, but I find this much more realistic than many other representations I’ve encountered. Dandy’s marriage, too, is interestingly written. Her husband Hugh is more interested in the estate, fishing and the like, than having an active social life outside of his home with his wife. And Dandy finds that after a while, husbands seem to fade into the background. Not much relieve from boredom there, and Dandy repeatedly states that she isn’t very sensitive or maternal, but in her friendship with Alec, Dandy finds someone lively and interesting and their banter is great fun.

McPherson also seems to have researched the twenties quite thoroughly, although I’m no expert. After the freedom for women in WWI, Dandy is now bored with domestic life, and by helping her friend Daisy, she not only sees a chance of adventure but also for earning some money. The years after WWI affected the wealthy landowners and the gentry, and the resulting changes in their financial situation are mentioned in this book. The description of the manners of the twenties, the fashion and the language convinced me, and I had a great time with bumbling but charming Dandy.  Even if you’re not usually drawn to mysteries, give After the Armistice Ball a try.

The Dandy Gilver series now comprises five books, and there’s a website with more information.

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

Review: The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy

The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy is the perfect read for everyone who is feeling nostalgic for the classic whodunits. Anderson has created a pastiche of Golden Age detective stories, combining all the necessary ingredients for a classic mystery: An estate in the country, an unexpected guest, a secret passage and the gathering of all suspects for the revelation of the murderer.

Like in any good Agatha Christie mystery, there´s a cast of characters and a map of the estate provided, and it does come in handy while trying to keep track of the many characters and their movements (especially at night). Anderson´s approach is of course tongue-in-cheek but while he pokes fun at the classic whodunit, he does so with good humor and it shows clearly that he himself was a fan of the genre.

After the weekend party at the Burford family estate turns into murder and mayhem, and everything than can happen has happened, Anderson introduces his detective, Inspector Wilkins. Wilkins wants to make it clear that he is no Poirot:

`Don´t expect me to solve anything´

is the first thing he says as he is asked to investigate. Obviously, with the theft of a diamond necklace, antique pistols, a Texan millionaire, secret agents, and a body in the lake, one can empathize with Wilkins´ feelings.

The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy is fast-paced, with wonderful characters and a great many twists and turns, and really the only thing one could fault Anderson with is that perhaps he was having a bit too much fun and put in too many characters and plot devices. But since I was having a blast, I won´t complain. I´ve been looking for Christie-like mysteries for a long time, and it feels like Anderson could relate and chose to recreate the Golden Age detective story in his own book.

The great thing is that this book is the first in a trilogy. All three books have been republished as paperbacks by Allison & Busby with wonderful vintage covers.

So if you´re a fan of the classic whodunnit, look no further. And yes, there really is a bloodstained egg cosy! 🙂