Day 1117: Heartstone

Cover for HeartstoneI’ve been slowly making my way through C. J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series just to read Heartstone, which is on my Walter Scott prize list. Although I enjoy the period and Sansom’s thorough research, I will have to consider whether I want to follow the depressive Shardlake’s adventures further.

In Heartstone, Shardlake is summoned by the queen, who by now is Catherine Parr. She asks Matthew to investigate an allegation related to the Court of Wards and Augmentations, which is notoriously corrupt.

Michael Calfhill was employed as tutor to Hugh and Emma Curteys until their parents died. Their wardship was sold to Nicholas Hobbey, their neighbor, even as Michael and the vicar were trying to track down an aunt to take charge of them. Emma died from smallpox and Michael was dismissed, but he worried about Hugh. So, a few weeks ago, he went to visit him unannounced. He returned distraught, claiming he had found out something frightful and wanting a lawyer to sue to remove the wardship from Hobbey. But a few weeks later, he was dead of an apparent suicide. Bess Calfhill, his mother, was once servant to the queen and has gone to her for help.

Matthew is also interested in looking into another mystery. In the last book, he befriended Ellen Fettiplace, a resident of Bedlam. When he examines the records to see who is paying for her support, he learns that she was never committed there. Matthew has heard stories about Ellen that involve a rape and a fire. Since his business with Hobbey takes him near to her village, he decides to find out how she came to Bedlam.

This novel is set with the background of Henry VIII’s war with the French. Throughout the novel, the main characters encounter preparations for a French invasion, and Matthew’s investigations take him to Portsmouth just before the Battle of Solent.

I was easily able to guess the big secret in one case (although I’m not sure it was obvious), but I was mistaken about the other. Certainly, the mysteries are not the most important aspect of Sansom’s novels—they are just the force that drives it forward. Sansom has a talent for immersing readers in the period. Still, Matthew is lonely and sad, and his life seems to consist of one loss after another. In this novel, he decides to change his life, and I may read the next one just to see if he does. (I believe there is only one more.)

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Day 1109: The Sussex Downs Murder

Cover for The Sussex Downs MurderJohn Rother sets off from Chalklands Farm for a holiday, but later his car is discovered not far from home. There is evidence of a struggle, and his bloody cap is found next to the car. But has John been kidnapped, attacked? There is no way to know.

Superintendent Meredith can’t help suspecting that John’s brother, William, had something to do with John’s disappearance. The two brothers co-own the farm and a lime-burning concern on the property, and rumor has it that John was flirting with William’s wife, Janet. But Meredith can’t prove John has been harmed.

Then one of the Rothers’ lime customers reports finding a bone in the lime. The bone is found to be a human tibia. When Meredith’s men go through the lime shipped since the murder, they find more bones. Moreover, Janet was spotted taking a package out to the lime kilns.

From the minimal information they start with, the police begin to collect more, but it doesn’t make sense. A strange man is seen fleeing the area where John’s car was found. Was he an accomplice? A bogus message lured William out on the night of his disappearance. Still, it looks like William murdered his brother, and Meredith is about to arrest him when he is found dead, an apparent suicide.

This mystery is fairly complicated, but I had an inkling of what was going on almost from the beginning and never changed my mind. I turned out to be right. As with the other Bude mysteries, the emphasis is on the puzzle. The characters, except for Meredith, are cyphers.

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Day 1106: Unnatural Habits

Cover for Unnatural HabitsPhryne Fisher meets Polly Kettle, a journalist on the track of a story about pregnant women disappearing from the Abbotsford convent, where they work in the Magdalene laundry. Phryne thinks that Polly is too naive and foolhardy and that she will soon run into trouble. And she is right—almost immediately, Polly disappears.

When Phryne looks into it, she learns that several girls have disappeared from the laundry. She also hears that a shady employment agency is offering actresses parts overseas and that her friend, Doctor MacMillan, has been asked to verify the virginity of a surprising number of young women lately. Could a white slavery ring be practicing in Melbourne? But why would they want pregnant women?

link to NetgalleyI am finding with Greenwood that things that appear to be related usually aren’t. As with the other Phryne Fisher novels I’ve read, there is more than one criminal involved, which I feel is a cheat.

Also, Phryne is beginning to seem a bit cartoonish to me as she battles evil and sexism. For light reading, these novels are enjoyable, but I think I have read enough of them.

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Day 1099: The Moving Toyshop

Cover for The Moving ToyshopI am sure I previously read one of Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries and was not impressed, but lately several bloggers I enjoy have recommended The Moving Toyshop. So, I decided to try him again.

Richard Cadogen has decided to give himself a holiday in Oxford. When he ends up stranded partway because of the cancellation of a train, he decides to hitchhike the rest of the way. So, he arrives in the outskirts of Oxford at 1 AM.

Curiosity makes him investigate a toy shop that he finds unlocked. Upstairs in the living quarters, he discovers the dead body of an older woman, strangled. Then someone hits him on the head.

When he awakens, he is locked in a closet. He gets out by the window and reports the crime to the police. However, when they arrive at the store, it’s a grocery. The apartment is different than the one he remembers and there is no body. The police think he is crazy.

Cadogen turns to his friend, the eccentric Oxford don, Gervase Fen. Their inquiries begin to turn up a plot to defraud the victim of her inheritance. The problem is, first they have too many suspects and later too few.

This novel has a complicated, fairly unbelievable plot, but it is characterized by a wacky sense of humor, as Gervase and his pals chase bad guys all over town. At one point, he is assisted by a hoard of undergraduates, and the novel ends with an exciting chase on a fast-moving carousel, a la The Third Man. I found the novel fun to read and the characters engaging.

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Day 1091: Raisins and Almonds

Cover for Raisins and AlmondsThis ninth Phryne Fisher mystery is set in the Jewish community of Melbourne. It begins when a young scholar, Simon Michaels, dies in a book shop. He is quickly found to have died of strychnine poisoning, and a bottle of strychnine has disappeared from the shop. Miss Lee, the shop owner, is immediately arrested, but Phryne has been retained by Mr. Abrahams, Miss Lee’s landlord, to find the real killer.

Phryne soon figures out that the death my have something to do with a formula developed by Yossi Liebermann, a gifted chemist, who has been studying alchemy and the Kabala. Apparently, this formula has gone missing, and Phryne has it, but it is in code. No one except Yossi knows what it is for.

In the meantime, unpleasant events are happening. Someone ties up a woman in her house, and there is a break-in at Phryne’s.

link to NetgalleyIt was difficult for me to tell whether the perpetrator was hard to guess, because I saw this first as an episode of the “Miss Fisher Mysteries,” and they stuck fairly closely to the book (unlike with Murder in the Dark). On the other hand, the guilty party barely appears in the novel, which is a form of cheating, and as in Murder in the Dark, there is more than one guilty party.

Also, as I mentioned before, I’m not really fond of descriptions of sex mixed with this genre. In this novel, Phryne cavorts with the young Simon Abrahams. Jack Robinson is more of a presence than in the previous book I read, but his bad grammar tells us that he is not going to be a romantic interest, as he is in the television series.

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Day 1088: The Trespasser

Cover for The TrespasserBest Book of the Week!
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series just gets better and better. One thing that makes it stand out is that it doesn’t feature a specific detective. Instead, the main character in each novel was a more minor character in the previous novel.

This novel, like the previous one, features Steve Moran and Antoinette Conway, but The Trespasser is written from the point of view of Conway rather than Moran. She and Moran are in a difficult position on the squad. Moran is a rookie, and Conway thinks that everyone on the squad wants her off. She has been faced with blatant sexism, and some of her cases have been threatened because of missing evidence or messages that have purposefully not been passed on.

Just as she and Moran are getting off shift, the boss sends them on what appears to be a standard domestic violence case. A young woman, Aislinn Murray, has been found dead in her flat, apparently the victim of a beating. Conway and Moran are taken aback because their boss insists that Detective Breslin also be assigned to the case.

Smelling a rat, Conway and Moran begin trying to work the bulk of the case behind Breslin’s back. Although they have an immediate suspect in Rory Fallon, the man Aislinn had a date with that night, he claims Aislinn never opened the door when he arrived. Breslin seems awfully set on focusing on Rory, and Conway catches Breslin discussing her and the case with his partner McCann, in a way that makes her suspicious.

I haven’t always liked French’s recent novels as well as I did her earlier ones, but this one is right up to form. She has created two fascinating characters with the belligerent Conway and her easy-going partner, Moran. The dialogue is really well done, and the conundrum of Aislinn’s life is interesting. This is a gripping novel.

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Day 1072: The Cornish Coast Murder

Cover for The Cornish Coast MurderI have to admit, I’ve been picking out these British Library Crime Classics by their beautiful covers. The last couple I’ve read have been based on vintage travel posters.

The Reverend Dodd is the vicar of the village of Boseawen. Each Monday he and Doctor Pendrill have dinner and exchange library books, mostly mysteries. But this evening is interrupted by a terrific storm off the coast. Then the doctor is summoned to the house of Julius Tregarthan.

When the doctor arrives, he sees there is nothing he can do. Tregarthan has been shot from outside the window. Reverend Dodd notices that there were three shots at different heights through three different windows.

When Inspector Bigswell arrives to investigate, he quickly surmises that the shots must have come from the cliff path. This idea makes things look bad for the victim’s niece, Ruth Tregarthan, who was one of only two people whose footprints were found on the path and who argued with her uncle that night. More suspiciously, her lover, Ronald Hardy, has gone missing.

This novel shares the Golden Age fascination with puzzles and doesn’t focus much on characterization. Unfortunately, I was about 100 pages ahead of Dodd on one of the biggest puzzles. I would also say that there is a cheat in the murderer’s identity, but I don’t want to say what it is.

So, not the best of the classic mysteries I’ve read recently, but certainly one for those who like puzzles.

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