Review 2008: The King’s Evil

This third book in the James Marwood/Cat Lovett series begins with James hearing that Cat’s cousin, Edward Adderly, has found out where she is hiding. Since the first novel, in which Edward raped her and she put out his eye, she has been hiding at the office of Mr. Hakesby, an architect, and working for him as a drafter and maid. James finds Cat on Saturday and warns her she must go into hiding. She finds refuge with Dorcas, a connection of Mr. Brennan, a draftsman she works with.

However, on Sunday Edward Adderly is found drowned in the well at Clarendon House, where Cat was working with Hakesby on a project. Clarendon has recently been removed from his offices at court, and his enemy, Buckingham, has been trying to stir up the public against him. One of James’s bosses, Mr. Chiffinch, tells him to dispose of the body. Cat is accused of murder and a warrant put out for her arrest.

James is charged with finding out who murdered Adderly, but he is also dispatched by Charles II to accompany Lady Quincy, Cat’s aunt, to Cambridge. This errand has to do with fetching a child back to court, but in both his investigation and his trip to Cambridge, James keeps encountering a mysterious man called the Deacon and his fat friend. James begins to believe both his errands are related.

I think this series is proving every bit as good as Sansom’s Shardlake series, and perhaps doesn’t have such a heavy feel to it, although neither main character seems to have much of a sense of humor. James finds himself pulled helplessly into the affairs at court while Cat into the arms of Mr. Hakesby, who has offered marriage. The plots are interesting and complex and the characters believable.

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Review 2007: The Book of Mirrors

I searched for Romanian authors on Google because I was interested in reading more books from other countries and came up with the name E. O. Chirovici. What was my surprise then to find that The Book of Mirrors is set in Princeton, New Jersey. I don’t know why this should have been a surprise, it just was.

Literary agent Peter Katz receives as a submission the fragment of a manuscript purporting to tell the true story of the murder years ago of a renowned Princeton professor, Joseph Wieder. When he attempts to contact the author, Richard Flynn, who at the time had been a student suspected of the murder, he finds Flynn is in the hospital, and he soon dies. Searches by Flynn’s partner for the complete manuscript turn up nothing, so Katz hires a journalist friend to try to find the truth.

The friend, John Keller, finds that all the witnesses seem to have their own ideas of what happened. Although Flynn, for example, kept his housemate Laura’s name out of the investigation, Keller comes to believe that she was manipulating him. Laura claims that Flynn murdered Wieder out of a mistaken jealousy. Wieder’s caretaker claims that Laura was at the scene of the crime.

Keller isn’t able to either find the manuscript or get to the truth, so the task falls from one person’s hand to another until it is finally solved.

It’s hard to describe this book. Because of its basis in the past, it doesn’t have much action—it’s just a series of interviews. Chirovici has a broader sort of philosophical point to make here, but it’s nothing very profound. I found the novel somewhat clever and interesting, but my attention flagged at times.

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Review 2006: Susan Settles Down

Susan Parsons has been leading a wandering life keeping house for her naval officer brother Oliver, but Oliver was badly injured in a fall months before and has left the Navy, still suffering a limp and not his old self. Then Oliver inherits a small estate in Southern Scotland. It’s not in good condition and the Parsons haven’t much money, but Oliver decides to make it their home.

While Susan struggles to get some help in the kitchen and repair the worst problems of the house, Oliver begins supervising the farm work and almost immediately meets Jed Armstrong, the farmer next door. Although they immediately become friends, Susan finds Jed rude and uncouth.

Soon, the two siblings become involved in village activities. Susan befriends Peggy Cunningham, the parson’s young daughter, who has been receiving unwelcome attentions from the organist. The Parsons become fast friends with the Cunninghams, and all try to avoid the Pringle sisters, three mischievous gossips.

This novel is a lovely tale of village life in pre-World War II rural Scotland, featuring two romances. The descriptions of the landscape are beautiful, the characters are attractive, and I enjoyed it very much. However, I continued to find problems with Furrowed Middlebrow blurbs. Twice now the main character’s name has been misspelled, and this time the blurb places the novel in the Highlands.

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Review 2005: Rose Nicolson

It’s 1575. Mary Queen of Scots has been ousted from the throne of Scotland in favor of her young son James and a series of regents. This revolution has been mostly a religious one, with Queen Mary a Catholic and James (referred to as Jamie Saxe) being raised Protestant. But there is also a struggle between the Calvinists and milder forms of Protestantism.

This struggle is reflected in the home of young William Fowler, whose father is a Calvinist and whose mother, with contacts in Queen Mary’s court, is French and Catholic. However, William’s father is accidentally killed during a siege on Embra. Now William is off on the Sonsie Quine to school at St. Andrews. On the ship, he meets a red-haired boy who asks to borrow his dirk. This meeting proves fateful, as William finds out years later that the boy is Watt Scott of Buccleuch. (For Dorothy Dunnett readers, I believe this is the grandson of the man of the same name in the Lymond chronicles.)

William has an affinity for poetry, and at school he befriends another scholar, Tom Nicolson. He struggles within himself over the religious issue as he feels pressure to commit one way or the other. He also falls in love with Rose Nicolson, Tom’s beautiful sister, a fisher girl with a remarkable mind.

As the King gets older, the Catholics and Protestants compete to control him. The country remains Protestant with the Calvinists gaining power while the Catholic side gains strength at court with the arrival of a favorite from France.

As he approaches graduation, William wants to marry Rose, but she is betrothed to a fisherman with the influence to protect her. She needs this protection because her remarks have been misunderstood as evidence of witchcraft.

William, despite himself, is forced closer to deciding between the two religions and finally decides that Protestantism is the least bad alternative. He also meets Scott again and is drawn into political intrigue.

This is not dry stuff. Greig is great at depicting the realities of living in this difficult time and place. I was fascinated from page one. This novel became part of my Walter Scott prize project by getting on the shortlist, but being a fan of Greig, I had already read it.

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Review 2004: Classics Club Spin Result! Phineas Finn

When I put Phineas Finn on my Classics Club list, I was just looking for a book by Trollope that I hadn’t read. I didn’t realize it was the second of the Palliser novels, so now I’m going to have to go back and read the first.

Against the advice of his father and his mentor, Mr. Low, Phineas Finn has been persuaded by friends to run for Parliament even though he has just recently finished his law studies. The difficulty is that he has no money and Parliamentary representatives aren’t paid, so his father, who is a country doctor, will have to continue to support him unless he can get a paid government position.

Nevertheless, he goes ahead and gets “elected” as member for an Irish pocket borough, where the lord who awards it has feuded with his son, the incumbent. So, Phineas begins his career.

One of his friends who has encouraged him in politics is Lady Laura Standish, a young woman who takes a great interest in politics. Although she had some fortune, she gave it away to her brother, Lord Chiltern, to pay off his debts in the hopes he can reconcile with his father, the Earl of Brentford. Both the Earl and Lady Laura are encouraging about Phineas’s career, and Phineas finds himself in love with Lady Laura. However, he has a rival, Mr. Kennedy, who is stiff and formal but very rich.

The novel details Phineas’s Parliamentary career as well as his friendships with several young ladies as he looks for a wife. It is thoughtful about the choices for women at this time and deals with the consequences when Lady Laura makes the wrong choice of husband. Another character, Laura’s best friend Violet Effingham, is wealthy in her own right and wants to remain single and run her own household but finds she is not allowed to. Finally, there is Marie Max Goesler, an intriguing character. She is a wealthy widow who is known for her select parties. She is an admitted social climber, but she takes a great interest in Phineas’s career.

Phineas himself is a likable fellow who sometimes seems a little suggestible but by and large works hard and leads an ethical life. I enjoyed this book very much. The only thing I found disappointing was that of the four women he considers marrying, he ends up with the least interesting and most insipid.

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Review 2003: The Museum Guard

I have been a big fan so far of Howard Norman’s quirky novels. However, I had a slightly more mixed reaction to The Museum Guard.

DeFoe Russet has lived in the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax ever since his parents died in a freak Zeppelin accident when he was eight. As a boy, he was cared for by his uncle Edward, if you can call it that. Edward is an irresponsible, gambling, drinking womanizer with a lot of opinions.

DeFoe works as a museum guard in the small Glace Hotel, where his uncle also works when he bothers to show up. DeFoe is very much in love with Imogen Linny, the caretaker for the local Jewish cemetery. However, although they are lovers, Imogen is difficult and seems often to tolerate DeFoe.

DeFoe doesn’t seem to realize how stuck he is in his life. He has no plans except to continue working as a museum guard and to persist with Imogen. He is interested in listening to the tours of the museum given by Miss Dello, a local professor, and likes to think about the paintings.

Edward has been making himself obnoxious about DeFoe’s relationship with Imogen, whom DeFoe has kept from meeting Edward. But Imogen has recently become fascinated by a painting in the museum, Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam by Joop Heijman. Then there is a fateful meeting between Imogen and Edward in the museum. Imogen essentially dumps DeFoe and begins spending a lot of time with Edward, who without permission lets her into the museum at night to be with the painting. Soon, the novel takes a bizarre turn as Imogen begins to believe she is the woman in the painting.

The novel is set mostly in 1938 and 1939 against the background of what is happening in Nazi Germany. DeFoe tells us on the first page that he steals the painting for Imogen, and the novel is about what causes him to do that and what happens afterwards.

I guess this novel is about stepping out of ordinary life. However, a lot of time is spent on DeFoe’s obsession with Imogen, maybe a bit too much, and the novel just gets weirder as it goes along. I’m not saying I disliked it, just that it wasn’t one of my favorites of Norman’s novels.

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Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order: #15 Peace Breaks Out + #14 Miss Bunting Wrap-Up

Thanks to all who joined in with reading or commenting on Miss Bunting, which was the book for July. They were

The book we’re reading for August is Peace Breaks Out. We can guess part of what happens in that book! I’ll be posting my review on Wednesday, August 31. I hope more of you will join me!

And here’s our little badge.

Review 2002: Water Weed

American Virginia Carew has been living and traveling in Europe when she meets an old friend, Glenn Hillier, who has been in England studying architecture. Glenn makes a date to meet her and her father for lunch but then cancels. He seems to be in the party of a wealthy and beautiful but much older widow, Mrs. Fenmore, whose friends call her Cuckoo.

Glenn keeps missing appointments, and then Mrs. Fenmore’s daughter Pam invites Ginny to stay. Ginny observes that Glenn is madly in love with Cuckoo and being kept in line by her ill health.

But shortly after Ginny goes to stay with her English cousins, Cuckoo is found strangled. Glenn is missing and presumed to be the murderer. Only Ginny is certain he is innocent.

I’m really enjoying these Alice Campbell mysteries. I liked this mystery even better than Juggernaut. It has a persistent, feisty heroine and a clever plot. I was only disappointed by Ginny’s ultimate romantic choice. She should have stuck to the reporter!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 2001: The Heron’s Cry

In this second Matthew Venn mystery, DSI Jen is at a party when she meets Nigel, who says he wants to talk with her professionally. He apparently decides she is too inebriated and tells her he’ll call her.

The next day he is found stabbed to death with a shard of glass from a vase made by Eva, a glassmaker, in her studio at Westacombe, a farm owned by wealthy Frank Ley. Also living on the premises is Wesley, another artist, and the Grieve family, who work the farm and dairy.

When Jen goes to question her friend Cynthia, the hostess of the party, she finds herself faced with a stiff and uncooperative person. Soon, the team finds out that Nigel was investigating the suicide of a young man and trying to find out whether the mental health system was at fault. It turns out that Cynthia’s husband Roger was dismissed from a position elsewhere as a result of a similar suicide. Soon, though, Wesley is found dead at the Woodyard, Matthew’s partner Jonathan’s workplace, also stabbed with a shard of glass, and Eva has been tricked into discovering the body.

On the personal front, Matthew’s estranged mother is coming for her birthday dinner to his home with Jonathan. Matthew is anxious.

Although I enjoy Cleeves’s Vera and Jimmy Perez series, I’m still not sure about this one. Matthew is so stiff and self-contained that he seems to have no personality. I just don’t feel I’m getting to know him.

Also, although Cleeves’s mysteries are hard to guess, I don’t think she gives any clues to the identity of the murderer in this book, which doesn’t seem quite fair.

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