Tag Archive | mystery

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.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Book review: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Truth: I forgot I had this book. I don’t remember when I picked it up, or where, but it was probably on a book exchange shelf at one of the local coffee shops. So when Netflix made a series out of it, the title languishing on the bookshelf upstairs caught my attention, prompting me to pick it up for a read-through before jumping into the TV show.

I won’t be jumping into the TV show.

Okay, it’s a good story, a well-written story, a cyberpunk take on an old-fashioned noir detective story: Takeshi Kovacs is an elite military operative, currently inhabiting the “sleeve” (read: body) of an incarcerated “Bay City” (read: San Francisco) police detective. Kovacs — well, his consciousness, at any rate — has been brought out of cold storage and sleeved into this detective at the request of an extremely wealthy individual who wants Kovacs to solve a murder: his own. See, the wealthy individual apparently shot himself in the head, and then was re-sleeved into one of his clones; once re-sleeved, he insisted his death had to be murder because he would never EVER have committed suicide, especially knowing that he had standing orders to be re-sleeved from his backup consciousness upon the demise of whatever current sleeve he was wearing.

Yes, there’s a lot of body-swapping going on here, and much discussion of the technology involved, which I found fascinating. It’s far-fetched, but it makes sense in the context of this world some 200 or 300 years in the future.

Anyhow, along the way to his discovery of the truth, Kovacs runs afoul of some very powerful and dangerous people. Much violence ensues. Much. Violence. And torture. Plus murder, rape, and other assorted mayhem. Thankfully, Richard Morgan leaves at some of the violence and mayhem to the reader’s imagination, but it’s graphic enough that I winced and grimaced and skimmed my way through those sections….thus bringing me to why I’ll skip the Netflix series. Because (according to friends who have watched it) the TV show took those scenes and made them graphic to the point of verging on torture porn. No thanks.

So if you’re sensitive to violence, rape, and torture, skip both the book and the series. If you can handle skimming certain passages of ultra-violence, read the book.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

Book review: ‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

'Til Death Do Us Part‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every so often I indulge in a fluffy historical romance as a palate cleanser after a steady diet of more serious fiction. But I want well-written fluff, so I’m choosy about which authors to read.

I’ve long been an admirer of Amanda Quick‘s (*) work, and picked this one up, expecting another of her light-hearted Regencies. ‘Til Death Do Us Part is not a Regency, and not so light-hearted, either.

Calista (a name which I cannot encounter without thinking of Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal fame) Langley has a stalker. She thinks this person may be someone she rejected as a client for her “introductions” agency, and engages the brother of another client to help her find out the stalker’s identity and put a stop to his sinister gifts.

Trent Hastings approached Calista at her business, thinking she was running some sort of scam on his vulnerable younger sister. Realizing she was on the up-and-up, and recognizing the danger she’s been placed in, he volunteers to use the deductive skills he’s honed as a writer of detective fiction to locate her tormentor.

Much action, danger, and Victorian-era repressed romance ensue.

It’s been…oh, several years at least since I last read an Amanda Quick novel. She doesn’t disappoint. The mystery hangs together fairly well; the final twist is indeed a surprise, although I had begun to suspect all was not as it seemed with that particular person somewhere around the second or third time the character showed up in the story. The romance between Calista and Trent is medium-warmish, but not knock-your-socks-off don’t-let-the-kiddies-read-this-book steamy. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Personally, I don’t want an “insert Rod A into Slot B” sex scene, so I appreciated the, uh, discretion with which these episodes were approached.

Yes, it’s fluff. But it’s fluffy romantic suspense done well.

(*) AKA Jayne Ann Krentz

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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

R.I.P. XI Catch-up: Screen time

RIP 9 Peril on the Screen

How did I let two weeks go by without posting anything?  It’s amazing how quickly times runs past me these days.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve imbibed a few Perils On The Screen to quickly discuss.

longmireThe new season of Longmire came out on Netflix a couple of weeks ago.  This show was originally on some cable channel, got cancelled a couple of years ago, and Netflix picked it up to continue making new episodes.  It’s a contemporary Western that tells us the story of Walt Longmire, a widowed sheriff who, on top of investigating the murders that take place in his rural Wyoming county, deals with political maneuverings, shady businessmen, and tension with the neighboring Native American reservation.  Sheriff Longmire is played by Robert Taylor, an Australian actor with a pitch perfect American West accent; Katee Sackhoff plays one of his deputies; and Lou Diamond Phillips plays his best friend.  A host of other recurring characters and guest stars rotate through this well-acted series.  Highly recommended.

aftermathI watched the pilot of SyFy‘s new show, Aftermath, the other night.  Oh dear God, what a jumbled mess.  According to the show’s blurb, “When people start disappearing and disasters start to indicate the end of the world is at hand, the Copeland family – Karen, Josh, Dana, Brianna and Matt – must fight for their survival while piecing together clues on how to save what’s left of humanity.”  Mom (Karen, played by Anne Heche) is a badass ex-military pilot; Dad (Josh, played by James Tupper) is a wimpy academic; and the kids are one-dimensional.  To be generous, perhaps the idea was to plop the viewer right down in the middle of the apocalypse with the Copeland family, who themselves have little idea what’s going on, but this was done better in Cloverfield — and that movie had at least some exposition or background chatter (in the way of TV/radio snippets) that gave the viewer a vague idea of the circumstances.  I’ll give episode two a try, because it might get better.  But I don’t have much hope.

slitherLast night, spouse and I watched Slither, a worthy addition to the “Bad Movie Night” list.  It’s bad, but it’s fun bad, because it’s just so absurd AND it doesn’t take itself seriously.  A meteor crashes to Earth somewhere in North Carolina, a creepy crawly from that meteor takes over the body of a human being, and then multiplies itself in an effort to take over more humans.  Featuring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker.  And a number of gross-out scenes, so if you’re sensitive to that, beware.  (I watched a couple of them through my fingers, but mainly turned my head and closed my eyes.)

maltese-falcomFinally, the 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon graced our flat-screen a few weeks ago.  Humphrey Bogart is at his snarling sardonic best as the world-weary private dick Sam Spade; Mary Astor is luminous and beguiling as the damsel in distress; and Peter Lorre plays as sniveling a criminal character as he can muster.  Great fun to watch, but set aside any modern feminist sensitivities when you do.

RIP 11Reviewed for R.I.P XI “Peril on the Screen” Challenge.  Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.

Save

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.

View all my reviews

Save

Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rachel’s daily commute takes her past the neighborhood where she once lived, when she was married. The train frequently sits for several minutes at a railstop right behind the back yard of a young couple whom often Rachel spies sitting on their patio; she has built up an elaborate fantasy existence for these two, fueled by the unfulfilled wishes of her own failed marriage. One day Rachel sees the woman kissing someone other than her husband, shocking her out of her fantasy. Shortly after that, she hears that this woman has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Convinced the strange man being kissed has something to do with the disappearance, Rachel goes to the police, only to be dismissed because of her well-known drinking problem. Undeterred, Rachel continues to investigate the disappearance on her own, in the process raising the spectre of her dead marriage and the issues that led to its failure.

The story itself is well-written and, although I started to get an inkling of how things would shake out somewhere about 2/3 through the book, the final twist isn’t telegraphed and still managed to surprise me.

But none of these characters is likeable. Except one. Rachel, the ex-husband, the new wife, the husband of the missing woman, all of them were simply awful. The only person who seems to have any compassion and goodness of character is Rachel’s roommate, who is treated shabbily and still shows Rachel kindness. And while that may make these people more realistic and human, it also makes them difficult to side with: even Rachel, who is her own worst enemy and manages to sabotage herself at every turn. (Having struggled through and overcome a substance abuse problem myself, I am predisposed to empathy for her; even so, I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shout at her more than once. If nothing else, she made me realize how incredibly patient and loving my loved ones were with me when I was in the throes of addiction.)

So, to sum up, a good story, an engaging story, but one peopled by unlikeable characters being unkind to each other. Such is the drama of the London suburb.

View all my reviews