Day 1279: Harriet

Cover for HarrietHarriet is a novel written in 1934 based on a true crime that occurred in 1875. As such, it is suitable for the season as well as for the R. I. P. Challenge and the Classics Club Dare.

Harriet is a woman in her 30’s who has her own fortune of £3,000 with prospects of 2,000 more. She is a “natural,” which I take to mean having some sort of mental incapacity. Although her mother, Mrs. Ogilvie, cares about her, she boards her periodically with poorer relatives, allowing them to make a little money and giving herself and her husband a little break from Harriet, who can be difficult.

Mrs. Ogilvy sends Harriet to stay with her cousin, Mrs. Hoppner. Mrs. Hoppner lives with her spoiled daughter, Alice. Visiting her are her older daughter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s husband, Patrick Oman, an artist. Also visiting is Patrick’s brother, Lewis, a clerk. Patrick and Elizabeth are devoted to Lewis.

Although the charismatic Lewis is courting the delicate and beautiful Alice, he turns his attention to Harriet. He is soon engaged to her and marries her despite Mrs. Ogilvie’s objections. In fact, Mrs. Ogilvie tries to get Harriet made a ward of the court to block the marriage, but this backfires when Lewis finds out and tells Harriet she wants to have her committed. Once they are married, Lewis proceeds to strip Harriet of her money and possessions.

After Harriet has a child, he boards her at his brother’s house and moves into a nearby house with Alice. Up until then, Lewis’s actions are marginally legal if morally repellent. It is after this that the behavior of the two brothers and two sisters becomes criminal.

This novel is chilling in its psychological depictions of the two sisters and brothers. Jenkins was fascinated by the case and uses people’s actual Christian names, imaging the thoughts and activities of the characters. This novel was one of the first fictionalizations of a true crime.

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Day 1271: Mistress of the Art of Death

Cover of Mistress of the Art of DeathHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge with a very appropriate cover!

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I recently realized that of Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar series, the only book I had not kept was Mistress of the Art of Death, the first one. This realization made me immediately buy another copy, which made a good excuse to reread it.

In 1171 Cambridge, someone is brutally murdering children. The locals have decided to pin these murders on the Jews, despite their having been locked up in the castle for safe keeping after the first death.

King Henry II has asked the King of Naples for help. An investigator is requested, as well as a Master in the Art of Death, a medical doctor who investigates the causes of death, trained by the University of Salerno. To everyone’s surprise and some dismay, along with Master Simon, the fixer, comes a woman, Adelia Aguilar, a doctor trained in Salerno.

Adelia finds herself in a relatively barbaric country where her identity as a doctor must be concealed for fear she will be accused of witchcraft. To be able to treat people, she passes off her Moorish manservant, Mansur, as a doctor, while she pretends to be his assistant and translator.

Her party enters Cambridge in the company of some pilgrims returning from Canterbury. Soon discoveries lead Adelia to fear that the murderer may be among the pilgrims she traveled with.

I think I enjoyed this novel even more this time through. The first time, I was skeptical that there were woman doctors in the 12th century. Now that I know Ariana Franklin better, I’m more confident that she did her research.

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Day 1265: The Edge of Dreams

Cover for The Edge of DreamsHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge!

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Sometimes a wrong detail will bother me so much that it detracts from my enjoyment of a book. This happened from the beginning of The Edge of Dreams, from Bowen’s Molly Murphy series, when Bowen’s heroine Molly and her baby son are caught in a train accident and she cracks some ribs. The plot requires Molly to have someone else take care of her baby while she investigates crime—that’s the only obvious reason for this incident until late in the novel—so her husband, Daniel, asks his mother to help.

Bowen has evidently never had cracked ribs, though, or she might have picked some other ailment. My husband has, and he says it hurts so much that all you can do is lie there and cry. Although Molly remarks that it hurts to breathe, she clearly doesn’t understand what this means and gets out of bed almost immediately, begins calling on friends, and investigating crime. This mistake was irritating as the novel continues to mention Molly’s injury while she takes trains and travels all over New York City.

Daniel is investigating a series of crimes that at first are linked only by letters Daniel receives at the police department. In fact, some of the incidents had already been treated as accidental. But the killer promises to continue.

Molly is more interested in the case brought to her by her friends Gus and Sid. A young girl’s parents were burned to death, and she was found asleep outside with no memory of what happened or any sign of having been near the fire. An eager young police lieutenant thinks she killed her parents. She is having nightmares, and Gus thinks an alienist skilled in the interpretation of dreams can help her.

Predictably, the cases prove to be connected. I was well ahead of the book’s sleuths when it came to identifying the murderer, if not the murderer’s identity.

If you think I wasn’t exactly charmed by this mystery, you’d be right. Aside from a slew of rather flat characters, it has such a ridiculously unbelievable solution that I didn’t buy it at all.

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Day 1245: Moriarty

Cover for MoriartyDespite not being a fan of Sherlock Holmes-based contemporary mysteries, I read Moriarty because I recently enjoyed Magpie Murders. In this case, Sherlock Holmes does not appear, and the only link to the older mysteries, aside from a few characters, is Moriarty himself.

The novel begins right after the Reichenbach Falls incident, when both Holmes and his nemesis, Moriarty, are assumed dead. The body of one man, identified as Moriarty, is found.

Shortly after the incident, two detectives arrive on the scene. One is Frederick Chase, an investigator from Pinkerton’s in the United States. The other is Inspector Athelney Jones from Scotland Yard. Chase reports that he has been following Moriarty with information that he was meeting with Clarence Devereaux, a criminal mastermind from New York who purportedly wants to join forces with Moriarty. No one has ever seen Devereaux, but the Pinkertons understand he suffers from extreme agoraphobia. Chase and Jones team up to find him.

This, however, is not an easy quest. Every time the two men get a lead, someone is murdered. Soon, the two investigators must fear for their own lives.

I found this novel clever, but there was something missing from it. I don’t know how else to describe my reaction. I was just a little underwhelmed, even though there were twists and turns.

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Day 1172: The Long Drop

Cover for The Long DropAlthough it too is set in Glasgow, The Long Drop is a departure from Denise Mina’s usual crime series. Instead, it is an account of the crimes and trial of Scotland’s first serial killer, Peter Manuel. In the 1950’s, Manuel was tried and found guilty of the murders of two families and a woman. Although he likely killed other women, a charge against him for the murder of another woman was found not proven.

The novel follows two paths—testimony about the events of a night following the murders in which Manuel met William Watt, a man whose family were Manuel’s victims and who almost certainly paid to have his wife killed, and the actual events. Pretty much everyone in the court is lying.

This novel is billed as a thriller, but it is more of a court procedural. Although it is interesting, it suffers from not having a single character you can feel sympathy for. The wild city of Glasgow in the 1950’s is very atmospheric, however.

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Day 1169: A Treacherous Curse

Cover for A Treacherous CurseA Treacherous Curse is the third Veronica Speedwell novel by Deanna Raybourn. I don’t think much is lost in reading the novel out of order. Background information is provided as you go.

Veronica Speedwell is apparently a woman well ahead of her time. She is a scientist and a feminist who believes in free sex. She wears trousers and picks locks. She is also the illegitimate daughter of the Prince of Wales. Is she a very likely character for 1888? Not so much.

Veronica and her professional partner, Stoker, are working with a collection of artifacts when they begin hearing about a curse on the Tiverton expedition to Egypt. Soon, the news of the expedition affects Stoker, whose wife deserted him for John de Morgan, a member of the expedition. De Morgan and his wife left the expedition, apparently with the diadem, one of its most important finds. His wife has returned to her parents, but de Morgan is nowhere to be found.

The police want to question Stoker about de Morgan, because their enmity is well known. The story has reopened all the rumors of Stoker’s disastrous expedition to the Amazon, where he was left for dead by his wife and de Morgan, and the lies they told about his relations with his wife. So, Stoker decides he must find de Morgan to clear his name. Any notion that he is going to do this without Veronica’s assistance, he must speedily dismiss.

Concerned parties are the Tivertons and their assistant, Mr. Fairbrother, and Caroline de Morgan. Stoker and Veronica begin looking into the incident, but they can find no trace of de Morgan beyond his landing in Dover. Oddly, though, apparitions of the god Anubis, which haunted the Tiverton expedition, have now relocated to London.

For some time, I followed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series, a mashup of the mystery and romance genres. I tired of the series because of the cliché of the couple always arguing about the wife taking part in the investigation. Apparently, Raybourn has decided to hold the couple of Stoker and Veronica apart indefinitely, maybe hoping to avoid this problem.

link to NetgalleyBut I don’t like Veronica nearly as well as I did Lady Julia, and there is something about the breezy, sometimes slightly racy narration that I find irritating. Too many young men are stripping to the waist for no apparent reason, for one thing, in a time that was much more modest than our own. As I mentioned before, I find Veronica not very believable for the time period.

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Day 1152: The Ghost of Christmas Past

Cover for The Ghost of Christmas PastI was amused by the sprightliness and humor of Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness novel that I read recently, so I thought I’d try one of her Molly Murphy novels. I saw this one listed on Netgalley and requested it.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is the 19th Molly Murphy novel, so it’s hard to say if I’d have been more impressed with an earlier book in the series. The series has won Agatha awards, so I assume so.

Molly is an Irish immigrant who by this novel is married to Daniel, a New York City police captain. Molly is in a depression. Her husband had problems with Tammany Hall, causing him to take some work in San Francisco from a government agency in the previous book. She followed him in time for the 1906 earthquake and lost her baby. Daniel’s employment prospects are up in the air, and Molly does not want to move away from her close friends in their New York neighborhood. And Bridey, an Irish girl she took in and learned to love, is being reclaimed by her father to return to Ireland. Finally, Molly returns from taking care of her mother-in-law to find that the Christmas she expected to have with her neighbors will not be because Gus and Sid are going away to spend it with friends.

Molly and Daniel get an invitation to spend Christmas with her mother-in-law at the stately home of Cedric Von Aiken in upstate New York. There, they find a gloomy family, haunted by the disappearance of the couple’s three-year-old daughter ten years before. Molly thinks it unlikely that the little girl supposedly dressed herself, put on her coat, opened the heavy front door, and walked out by herself. But her footprints and hers alone were found in the snow going to a nearby creek.

Of course, Molly decides to try to figure out what happened. Of course, we have the dynamic of the protesting husband that has made me tired of other series featuring a crime-solving wife.

link to NetgalleyAside from there being no sign of the other series’ humor and lightness, the plot of the novel is just too unlikely and the solution has been used before. Spoiler, although I will not be specific: an unexpected arrival is oddly time to coincide with Molly’s visit to the house. But that’s not the biggest coincidence.

Finally, the novel and dialogue are fleshed out just enough to propel the plot along, and when we come to the problem of Bridey, the behavior of those involved and their remarks are comic in their obviousness. Not one of my favorite books, for sure.

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