Tag Archive | murder

Book review: The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce #9)The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Six months after the death of their father, Flavia de Luce and her sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, are on a summer boating holiday with family retainer Dogger, in a desperate attempt to jolt themselves out of their gloom and come together as a family once again. As luck would have it, and as one has come to expect when 12-year-old Flavia is involved, a body turns up — in this particular instance, it’s snagged by Flavia herself as she trails her hand in the river while they are punting along.

The boating party pulls ashore and Dogger goes off to fetch the local constabulary. While Daffy and Feely stand watch on either side of the soggy corpse, a delighted Flavia begins her investigation. And thus we’re off on another romp through our intrepid sleuth’s thinking process as she sifts clues and calculates advantages and outcomes.

Lots of lovely secondary characters here: I was nearly as enamored with Hob, the undertaker’s son, as Flavia was. He seems to be cut from the same jib as our young heroine: determined, spunky, and with a little larceny in his soul.

Yes, with each book, Flavia becomes a little more devious, I think, in the sense that she recognizes there are certain things the adults mustn’t know or they won’t let her continue with her favorite hobby. She generally wracks herself with brief moments of guilt over these little deceptions, but the ends always seem to justify the means. She’s more than a little frightening, actually. But she’s also starting to grow up here: she’s seeing her sisters in a more forgiving light, which is a good thing since they’re orphaned and have only each other now (leaving aside Aunt Felicity, of course).

Oh, almost forgot. Of course Flavia solves the mystery. Because she wouldn’t be Flavia otherwise.

I look forward to the next installment.

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Double book review: The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse; Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d

The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse  (Flavia de Luce, #6.5)The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse by Alan Bradley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Flavia de Luce is as charming as ever in this short story.

Young Flavia is hired – hired! – by a student to solve the mystery of the death of a teacher, discovered in a bathtub by that same student, who had recently expressed a desire to see said teacher dead. In fear that he would be accused of murder, he reaches out to the resident underage sleuth in an effort to clear his name before adults and other responsible members of society learn of the recently departed. Flavia sets to her task with her usual gusto, intelligence, and forthrightness.

If you’ve never read any of Flavia’s adventures, this is a good stand-alone place to start. For those of us who’ve been with her since the beginning, it’s lagniappe, a little something extra to tide us over between novels.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been, um, invited to disenroll from the exclusive young ladies’ academy in Canada to which she had been sent, Flavia de Luce arrives home in England only to discover her father is gravely ill. Thwarted at every turn in her attempts to visit him in hospital, our intrepid young sleuth runs an errand for the Buckshaw household and, amazingly enough, stumbles over the body of yet another individual who appears to have met a suspicious end. Solving this mystery serves to occupy Flavia’s mind and time while she waits for her opportunity to see her father and reassure him and herself that all is well.

She solves the mystery, of course, but trouble still awaits.

As with all Flavia novels, we are treated to the delightful inner workings of the young lady’s precocious and highly intelligent mind, as well as her perambulations about the countryside on her faithful Gladys, and her frequent (and unaccompanied!) trips to London on the train. (Flavia has bottomless pocket money, it seems, or the family has a running account with the railway.) I suppose that’s my only quibble with this series — Flavia has a massive amount of unsupervised time for a girl of 12. But I also have to remember that this is set in the late 1940s/early 1950s (years actually not closely specified), and children were left to their own devices much more then than they are today. Still, quibble aside, another enjoyable installment in the series.

But Alan Bradley is on my naughty list for the last two pages.

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Book review: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

JuneJune by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summer 2015: A persistent knock on the door and a ringing bell rouses 25-year-old Cassie Danvers from an alcohol-induced haze. Cassie, grieving a number of things — the end of her engagement, the demise of her photography career, and, most recently, the death of her beloved Grandmother June — stumbles to the dusty foyer and opens the door of the decaying family mansion to be greeted by handsome young Nick Emmons, who promptly informs her she is the sole heir and, allegedly, the granddaughter of Golden-Age Hollywood movie star Jack Montgomery, and would she mind giving a DNA sample to verify?

Summer 1955: Hollywood comes to St. Jude, Ohio, to shoot a movie. Lindie, age 14, is determined to get involved somehow; and she wants her best friend June to come along too. June is a few years older and already engaged, but Lindie disapproves of her fiancé — he’s too stodgy and undeserving of June’s beauty. June reluctantly agrees to visit the movie set, where she meets Jack Montgomery. And all manner of complications arise from there.

I’m a sucker for stories that take place in two separate time periods. I love seeing the connections, and how long-ago actions affect present-day circumstances. Add a dreaming house, visions of ghosts, back-stabbing intrigue, murder, and quiet heroism to the mix, and you’ve got a fabulous page-turner of a story that satisfies right up to the surprising conclusion.

Excellent story. This is Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s fourth novel. I’ll certainly be looking for the other three.

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Thank you to LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

Book review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth PetalThe Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

25 years after she witnessed the murder of her mother and two other women, Callie Cahill returns to Salem to aid her Aunt Rose, who is suspected of being involved in the death of a teenager. Callie, raised in foster care after the events of that fateful night, had thought Rose dead, and rushed to her side the moment she saw a news report.

In the years between Callie’s childhood tragedy and her return, Rose Whelan, once a noted historian, suffered a mental breakdown and became homeless. Rose is well-known to the Salem townfolk; while most of them ignore her, a few look out for her, and a few see her as an easy target. The boy who died was one of the latter. The circumstances linking Rose to the boy’s death are damning, and her freedom is in jeopardy.

Callie tries mightily to help Aunt Rose recover her memory of the night of the boy’s death while she herself is slowly recovering her own memories of her childhood. And in the meantime, she finds herself falling for Paul Whiting, the son of one of the wealthiest families in town.

Behind all of this lurks the still-unsolved “Goddess Murders,” as they are known, for which Rose was also briefly a suspect. What part did Rose play? How does Rose’s obsession with the legend of a banshee connect? Where does Salem’s history of witch trials fit in? And why do links to those long-ago murders keep turning up in the current investigation?

Brunonia Barry’s third novel is better than her second, but still not as good as her first. I appreciated being back in Salem with some familiar characters, and meeting some new ones. And the story moves along well enough. Still, the final twist to the mystery was too abrupt and, to me, completely out of left field. (Look, I understand authors don’t want to telegraph who the “bad guy” is and lay red herrings in the reader’s path as diversions, but this reveal was totally unexpected. Did Barry write herself into a corner and only belatedly realize she had to come up with a villain? Don’t know.) Also, major quibbles with how Paul’s character turned out.

Look, it’s a good read. And if I hadn’t ever read The Lace Reader, I’d probably give it four stars. But I have, and I know Barry is capable of much better.

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Book review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2003 Review

Neil Gaiman is one of the most original writers currently publishing. He defies category: how does one classify an author whose work ranges from SF to horror to social commentary to parable and back, all within the pages of one book? His style is reminiscent of Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison, perhaps with a touch of Lovecraft thrown in for seasoning.

AMERICAN GODS tells the story of the war brewing between the “old” gods of the United States — the piskies and brownies and vrokolaks brought over from the Old Country by immigrant believers — and the “new” gods of technology and progress worshipped by the descendants of those immigrants. One human, an ex-con called Shadow, is enlisted by a man calling himself Wednesday to help unite the old gods in resisting the new. Shadow, at loose ends after the sudden loss of his wife, agrees to work for Wednesday, and is plunged headlong into intrigue and strangeness, where people are not who they appear, time does not track, and even the dead do not stay in their graves.

A haunting tone poem of a novel. Highly recommended.

2017 Re-read

Although I had been intending to re-read this book for years, the impending debut of the Starz series (April 30!) finally got this book down from the shelf and into my hands in mid-April.

Seasons of ReadingIt’s funny how time can distort the memory of a once-read novel. I remembered this story as being mostly a road trip with Shadow and Wednesday. While there is definitely a great deal of travel involved, I had completely forgotten the events that take place in sleepy, quiet, wintry Lakeside. I had also forgotten the outcome of Wednesday’s machinations, and how truly noble Shadow turns out to be.

Now I’m prepared for the TV show. It better not be awful.

2017SFFReadingChallenge(Side observation: I expect researching this novel is what eventually led Gaiman to write Norse Mythology.)

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Read as part of the Spring Into Horror read-a-thon.  This is the only book I managed to finish during the time frame.  Join us next time!

Also read for the 2017 Award Winning SF/F Challenge.  You can still join in on that one.

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R.I.P. XI Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Holly Mackey, a 16-year-old student at St. Kilda’s School in Dublin, walks into the police station early one morning and hands a PostSecret type card to Detective Stephen Moran. The card — actually, a photograph — showing a candid shot of Chris Harper, a young man who had been murdered the previous year, had been pinned to a school bulletin board with the caption “I know who killed him.”

RIP 9 Peril the Second

Detective Moran immediately takes the card to Antoinette Conway, the detective who had been in charge of the fruitless investigation into Chris Harper’s murder. Conway reluctantly decides to include Moran in her renewed investigation and together they descend upon St. Kilda’s in the hope of turning up something more concrete than a blurry photograph and an enigmatic caption.

Once at the school, Moran and Conway quickly narrow down the list of students who had opportunity to place the photograph on the bulletin board to two sets of cliques: the “mean girls”, Queen Bee Joanne and her minions; and the “weird girls”, including Holly Mackey herself. Throughout a long day and well into the evening hours, the detectives interview the girls, one at a time, digging and probing and prodding, doing their best to penetrate a shield of teenage obstinacy and purposeful misdirection.

In between the present-day interviews, the story pops back in time to detail the events leading up to Chris’s murder, with a chilling countdown to death each time the young man makes an appearance on the page.

RIP 11Who placed the card? Who killed the boy? Tana French kept me guessing right up to the last moment, and did so in a spectacularly well-written fashion. I have yet to read one of her novels and be disappointed.

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Reviewed for R.I.P. XI “Peril the Second” Challenge. Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.

Book review: A Murder In Time by Julie McElwain

A Murder in TimeA Murder in Time by Julie McElwain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kendra Donovan, FBI agent, darts into the secret staircase of an English manor house to escape an assailant. Woo, oh, I’m so dizzy and nauseated, and my god my head hurts, let me open this door, and ta da! Now she’s in the 19th Century.

I hate time travel novels that have no explanation for the time travel other than woo. It’s one of the reasons I stopped reading the Outlander series. Also, for all the smarts Ms. Donovan supposedly possesses, it takes her forever to figure out and accept that she’s no longer in the 21st century.

Those caveats aside, this is a well-written, fast-paced mystery that kept me guessing the identity of the bad guy right until the reveal. I won’t go looking for further volumes of this series as they’re published, but all in all, not a bad way to kill some commute time.

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Book review: Sometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite

Sometimes the WolfSometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had put this on a list of “must reads” and requested it from the library, but to save my life, I can’t remember why. The only thing I can think of is I must have read a highly favorable blurb somewhere from some person or on some website I respect. It’s probably a good thing I don’t remember because that respect would be diminished.

“As muscular and laconic as anything by Cormac McCarthy” says the cover blurb. I’ve only read one book by McCarthy (The Road) and I did not enjoy it. This should have been my warning when I picked it up.

My quibble is not with the story.  The story’s fine: A disgraced sheriff is released from prison to the custody of his adult son, now the deputy sheriff of the same small town, but the FBI agent who investigated his previous crime still doesn’t believe justice has been served; family drama ensues.  All the twists and turns are quite well done.

My quibble is with the writing itself, most especially with the constant incomplete sentences that make up the majority of the paragraphs. At times I found myself saying, out loud, “For crying out loud, just put a verb in there, would ya?” I also rewrote sentences in my head as I read them, adding punctuation here, joining clauses and making complete sentences there, so the paragraphs weren’t so choppy and disjointed. This is not “muscular and laconic”, this is lazy writing and turn-a-blind-eye editing.

Look, I’m all for authors developing their own style, and use of the occasional subordinate clause in place of a full sentence is fine for effect — emphasis being on “occasional” — but generally speaking, the conventions of sentence and paragraph structure must still apply, or else why bother?

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Book review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although Sharp Objects is my third Gillian Flynn novel, it’s Ms. Flynn’s first, for which she won a well-deserved Edgar. It’s beautifully written, deeply disturbing, and knock-your-socks-off holy-cow-what-the-hell-just-happened good.

Camille Preaker is sent by the editor of the tiny Chicago daily where she works back to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, which is little more than a wide spot in the road, to cover the story of two murdered girls and the potential story of a serial killer. Camille left Wind Gap years ago to escape her toxic family and save her own life. She’s not sure she’s managed to do either; in Chicago, while she may have been suicidal, at least she wasn’t carving words into her own skin. Still, Camille is severely damaged. When we meet her mother and stepfather, we begin to understand why.

Because her newspaper doesn’t have the budget to put her up in a motel while on assignment, Camille must stay in her family home while she is in town. Her mother Adora, with an eye to “what would the neighbors think?”, grudgingly grants Camille shelter but insists she keep “all that unpleasantness” out of her house. All that unpleasantness encompasses not only the murders of the two girls, but anything unpleasant that has ever happened, up to and including the death of Camille’s younger half-sister Marian when Camille was 13. Camille has another much younger half-sister, Amma, whom she barely knows, who at times seems just as sickly as Marian was, but at others is robust enough to excel in her “Mean Girl” “Queen Bee” role at the local middle school. Throw in Alan, Camille’s ineffective and virtually silent stepfather, and this dysfunctional family is complete.

We see all this through Camille’s eyes; we are privy to her inner dialogue with all its twists and turns and justifications and attempts to make sense of how she ended up back in the same hellhole she tried to escape. As she reacquaints herself with Wind Gap, she recalls incidents from her past associated with each place. In the park where one girl, Natalie, was last seen alive:

The dirt from the baseball field hovered a few feet above the ground. I could taste it the back of my throat like tea left brewing too long…Garrett Park was the place everyone met on weekends to drink beer or smoke pot or get jerked off three feet into the woods. It was where I was first kissed, at age thirteen, by a football player with a pack of chaw tucked down in his gums.

And getting ready for Natalie’s funeral:

My mother was wearing blue to the funeral…She also wore blue to Marian’s funeral, and so did Marian. She was astonished I didn’t remember this. I remembered Marian being buried in a pale pink dress. This was no surprise. My mother and I generally differ on all things concerning my dead sister.

Camille is more resilient than she knows, but not quite as strong as she needs to be. She drinks too much and too often. She writes the names of the murdered girls and other words on her skin, using ballpoint pen and lipstick instead of a knife. She has questionable judgment in sex partners. And investigating these murders eventually leads her deep into her own history with devastating consequences.

In Camille, Gillian Flynn has created a deeply flawed protagonist who makes bad decisions out of weakness, out of trauma, out of a desire to flee from raw emotion, and she makes us cheer for her even while we shake our heads in dismay at her poor choices. And in the end, I loved Camille and wished her the very best future she can possibly make for herself.

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Book review: Let’s All Kill Constance by Ray Bradbury

Let's All Kill Constance: A NovelLet’s All Kill Constance: A Novel by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My favorite author in the world can write clunkers, or so it seems. How else to explain why it took 11 days to finish a novel that barely cracks 200 pages?

On a dark and stormy night (literally — that’s how the novel opens), circa 1960, Constance Rattigan bursts through the door of our narrator’s rustic beach house — panicked, incoherent, completely rattled — and tosses two phone books at him. Ominously, some of the names in the phone books are scratched through, and some are circled. Those scratched-through names are already dead. Those circled, our narrator surmises, soon will be. But Constance is gone too quickly to be questioned, and thus our narrator sets off on his quest to (a) solve the mystery of the circled and scratched-through names and (b) find Constance. This quest takes him from his peaceful retreat in Venice Beach to the rattletrap Grauman’s Chinese Theater projection room, to the depths of the storm drains running beneath the City of Angels, and many odd points between.

Along the way, our narrator picks up various cohorts, including a police officer, a film producer, and a blind man, and involves each of them in his quixotic search. Copious quantities of alcoholic beverages are consumed, clues are gathered, and Exclamation! Points! That! Don’t! Make! Sense! Pepper! All! Dialogue! (Admittedly, as much as I usually admire the man’s writing, this is a Bradbury trademark that I’ve never liked.) All is revealed in an homage to Agatha Christie locked room mystery, with our narrator as Hercule Poirot and all the players gathered in one room for the dénouement.

The pacing is breathless and breakneck, and much of the story seems to rely on a subtext that I just couldn’t get. I will give The Great Man this much credit: flashes of his customary brilliance shine through here and there, in character descriptions, in some of our narrator’s internal musings, and especially in the “locked-room” bit near the end of the story. Mostly though, I was thoroughly confused.

Thus only two stars for “It was OK.” And I can’t tell you how much it pains me to give my beloved Bradbury only two stars.

P.S. In reading through some of the other reviews of Let’s All Kill Constance, it appears this is the third book in a series, which may explain why I was left scratching my head at times.

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