Review 1411: The Crossing Places

Even though I often tire of series fiction, I still enjoy finding a promising series, and Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series is off to a good start. I selected this mystery to have a suitable review near Halloween and also for Readers Imbibing Peril.

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist who lives by the Saltmarsh near Norfolk and teaches at the nearby university. Detective Inspector Harry Nelson asks her to help him with some bones that were found on a beach near where she participated in a dig five years ago. Harry Nelson was involved in the case of the disappearance of five-year-old Lucy Downey several years ago and fears they are her bones, but Ruth finds they are from the Iron Age.

A few months later, another little girl disappears from the area. Nelson begins consulting Ruth about the case, showing her the letters he received during the first case. Now, new letters are arriving.

Around this time, friends from the dig five years ago begin to resurface. Ruth’s professor Erik travels in from Norway, and her old boyfriend, Peter, reappears.

This novel is very atmospheric, using the bleak Saltmarsh effectively as a setting. The characters also are colorful yet believable. Although I guessed the identity of the criminal fairly early, Griffiths threw in some interesting red herrings. I’ll gladly read another Ruth Galloway book.

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Review 1407: Murder at the Vicarage – #1930Club

I decided to reread Murder at the Vicarage for the 1930 Club, but it also applies to Readers Imbibing Peril. It is the first Miss Marple book, and for much of it she seems like a minor character.

The novel is narrated by Len Clement, the vicar of St. Mary Meade. He is called away one evening by what proves to be a false call for help. He arrives home late for a meeting with Mr. Protheroe, a wealthy man who is disliked by many. In his study he finds Protheroe dead, shot in the head.

Of course, there are lots of suspects and red herrings. Mr. Hawes, the curate, is behaving oddly. Mrs. Protheroe had just decided to part from Lawrence Redding, who is in love with her. Lettice Protheroe has inconsistencies in her alibi. Rumor reports that a local poacher has a grudge. A team exploring the local barrow seems to be up to something besides archaeology.

No sooner does Inspector Slack appear on the scene when first Lawrence Redding then Anne Protheroe make confessions of guilt. Miss Marple lives next to the vicarage so has some testimony to offer about its comings and goings. And she also has some interesting ideas about who may be guilty.

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Review 1406: Strong Poison – #1930Club

There are those who feel that Dorothy L. Sayers ruined her Lord Peter Wimsey series with the introduction of the character Harriet Vane. I am on the fence about this. On the one hand, I don’t really enjoy Peter’s sappiness as he courts and marries Harriet. On the other hand, I like Gaudy Night, the mystery that Harriet solves herself.

I also enjoyed Strong Poison, the novel in which Harriet is introduced. Harriet, a mystery writer, is accused of poisoning her ex-lover, Philip Boyes, with arsenic. In 1930, when the book was published, no one quite understands why Harriet broke off with Philip. Philip convinced her, against her principles, to live with him without marriage, stating that he did not believe in it. Then he turned around and asked her to marry him, which Harriet views as his having tried her out. Her resulting anger seems to be the police’s motive. Lord Peter doesn’t believe it for a moment. He thinks Harriet is innocent and wants to marry her himself. Luckily, there’s a hung jury, so Peter has a month to investigate.

At first, Peter can’t get anywhere, because he can find no motive. Yet he is struck by the precautions Philip’s host at dinner took when Philip was taken ill to preserve the food. Peter is even more struck by the precautions he took not to be left alone with Philip or give him medicine when he was ill. But this host, Mr. Urquhart, Boyes’s cousin, had no opportunity to administer the poison, and Harriet did. Moreover, Harriet purchased arsenic as research for her book.

About halfway through, this mystery becomes more a puzzle about motive and opportunity than the identity of the killer. It skillfully unwinds, however, and does not cheat by hiding information from the reader.

I reread this novel for the 1930 Club and Readers Imbibing Peril, and was glad I did. I had forgotten the witty dialogue and the deft characterization.

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Review 1400: The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

Here’s another review for Readers Imbibing Peril!

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Like many others, I devoured Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. I didn’t seriously consider reading David Lagercrantz’s continuation to the series until I picked up this novel on impulse. I have skipped one book in the series, but this one didn’t seem difficult to understand even though I hadn’t read the last.

Lisbeth Salander is in prison on charges related to events in the last book. There she has observed an inmate, Faria Kazia, subjected to routine abuse by another inmate, Benito, a gang member, with no intervention by authorities. In fact, although Warden Olsen came in with good intentions, he’s been held in check by Benito’s threats against his daughter.

Faria is in prison for shoving her brother out the window. She has said nothing in her defense, but Lisbeth is inclined to believe the death is related to an honor killing.

Lisbeth is also engaged in research into her own past. She asks the journalist Mikael Blomkvist and her elderly guardian Holger Palmgren to find some information for her. Soon, Palmgren is found dead under suspicious circumstances.

I know that Stieg Larsson wrote outlines of several more Salander novels before his death. What I don’t know is whether Lagercrantz is working from Larsson’s outlines or not. Lagercrantz is no Stieg Larsson, however. I don’t think Larsson was a great writer—he was too inclined to go into extensive detail on political issues—but he was a master of the gripping tale. The bones of one of his complex stories is here, but Lagercrantz fails to construct the fully realized world of Larsson’s novels. Further, he writes choppy subject/verb/object sentences that don’t flow well, and he gives away most of his plot points fairly early on.

So, no more Lisbeth Salander for me, which is a shame.

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Review 1396: Kingdom of the Blind

Here’s another review that is suitable for Readers Imbibing Peril!

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Although I’ve enjoyed many of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series, I had stopped reading them. However, on impulse I picked Kingdom of the Blind up at the library.

Having skipped one book in the series caused a problem, as the last book apparently climaxed in a major event that forced Gamache to allow a new drug onto the street, a killer. Now, Gamache is suspended and under investigation, a familiar situation for him. And that’s one problem for me. Since the beginning of the series, different figures in law enforcement have been out to get him. Each time this plot line seems to be wrapped up, it isn’t. I’m frankly tired of it.

This novel centers on two plot threads, something common to Penny’s books. In one, Gamache is among three people asked to execute the will of a woman they don’t know. Why were they selected, and why has the woman, who worked as a house cleaner, left money and property she doesn’t seem to possess?

The second thread is related to the search for the drugs. It begins when Gamache has one of his proteges, Amelia, dismissed from the police academy for possession of drugs.

It wasn’t very hard to figure out what was going on in one of these plot lines. The other was more difficult.

But really, my problem with this series relates to its sameness, the reason why I almost always quit reading series. First, the same ancillary characters go through the same routines. Second, Penny doesn’t really trust her audience. If someone says half of a well-known phrase, someone else has to finish it. She constantly tells us what to think about exchanges between characters. There’s a certain heaviness to Gamache, whom she depicts as almost like a saint, so that despite some kidding around, everything feels heavy. And anyway, the jokes are always the same.

Finally, there’s the writing style. Penny uses lots of short sentences and sentence fragments in this novel, particularly when hammering home a point that the reader doesn’t really need hammered. I don’t remember her using this style before, but perhaps I just didn’t notice it in the previous books.

This all sounds like I hated the book. I didn’t. I am just tired of the series, as I often become tired of series. This series started out as a really good one, so if you’re interested, I suggest starting at the beginning. Penny almost always links story lines from one book to the next, so it’s best to read them in order.

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Review 1390: End Games in Bordeaux

I had already planned to post this review today, but last week I noticed that September 1 was also the beginning of Readers Imbibing Peril, where participating readers read mysteries, horror, suspense, and so on between September 1 and October 31. I usually read a fair number of books in those categories anyway, not to mention trying to read something suitable for Halloween. So, here goes. Let me count this book as my first entry!

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Those who select the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize have an annoying tendency to choose books from the middle or end of a series. I read five long Matthew Shardlake novels just to read Heartstone for my project and then felt it wasn’t necessary to have read the other books. I didn’t realize that The Quality of Mercy was the second of two novels until I began reading it, but I found that it was easy enough to figure out what I had missed.

So, when it came time to read End Games in Bordeaux, I reasoned that since it was a mystery, it probably wasn’t necessary to read the preceding three books. That turned out to be a mistake. Not only does the novel check in periodically with a plethora of characters whose relationship to the main character is not explained, but an understanding of the plot relies heavily on the cases covered in the previous books. So, I was fairly well confused the entire time I was reading the book.

World War II is winding down. There are rumors that an invasion by the Allies will come soon. Superintendent Lannes is suspended from duty by order of the Germans for reasons that are not clear.

Count St.-Hilaire asks him to find a young girl who has run off with a ne’er-do-well, Aurélien Mabire. When Lannes finds Mabire, however, the girl isn’t with him. Mabire is, in fact, gay, and he lured the girl away with a promise to meet her father, long estranged from the family. Mabire was working at the bidding of Labiche, a crooked advocate whom Lannes despises.

The situation begins to deteriorate as people begin changing sides preparatory to the end of the war. Lannes finds himself being threatened and rumors being spread about him.

I had to wonder if I would have liked the book better if I had understood who some of the characters were and what the background was. I’m not sure I would have. The novel is narrated in terse little blocks of text while we skip from one situation to another, which doesn’t give me confidence that I would have found it much more understandable. Perhaps Massie was relying on readers’ knowledge of the other works in the series, but novels need to stand on their own. In the case of a series, therefore, some reiteration is necessary. Furthermore, the writing style makes me not want to go back and read the books in the series that I missed. One quote on the cover says the characters are evoked vividly. Well, maybe they are if you’ve read all the books. I didn’t find that to be the case.

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