Review 1760: The Turning Tide

I’ve started to feel as though Catriona McPherson’s approach to a mystery is to throw clues at you until you’re impossibly confused. That’s probably why I prefer her cozy thrillers. Still, I like her characters Dandy Gilver and Alec Osborne, so I keep reading.

Dandy’s daughter-in-law has given birth to twins when Dandy and Alec finally decide to respond to a third letter asking for help. One reason they decide to come is they have just heard of the death of a family friend, Peter Haslett, that seems to be connected with the case. The Reverend Hogg has asked them to find out what is wrong with Vesper, the Cramond Ferry girl, who appears to have gone mad and now blames herself for Peter’s drowning.

When they arrive in Cramond, they are confused by a meeting with three people who seem to have different agendas, Reverend Hogg, Miss Speir, who runs an uncomfortable inn, and Miss Lumley, who owns a local pub. They also hear different versions of Peter’s death. Most say he fell off the ferry and drowned, but one person says he came off the path and had his head crushed in the mill race.

He supposedly was visiting some friends, agricultural students doing an experiment with potatoes, but when Dandy and Alex meet them, the students make nothing of the fact that they have planted the potatoes upside down. When Dandy and Alec meet Vesper, she certainly seems mad, half naked and babbling about Mercury and snakes. But soon, Vesper too is dead.

I think I defy anyone to figure out McPherson’s crime novels. Still, they’re fun to read.

Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

Dandy Gilver and the Unpleasantness in the Ballroom

The Reek of Red Herrings

Review 1758: Too Good To Be True

In looking for more to read by Ann Cleeves, I wasn’t aware that I had ordered something between a short story and a novella, packaged under the name of Quick Reads. This little volume cost almost as much as a regular paperback and took about a half hour to read.

At the request of his ex-wife Sarah, Jimmy Perez travels to the border town of Stonebridge. Here a young teacher, Anna Blackwell, has been found dead, an apparent suicide. Sarah is concerned because the village rumor mill is alleging that her husband Tom was having an affair with Anna. Sarah hasn’t helped the situation by heading a drive to remove her from her position.

When Jimmy investigates the crime scene, he finds some evidence to indicate that Anna may have been murdered. Also, a mysterious stranger seems to be following him.

I am not really a fan of mystery short stories, because I enjoy all the things that the short story in that genre has little time for, character development, atmosphere, and so on. As it turns out, the motive for this murder seems unbelievably flimsy. I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any more of these Quick Reads.

White Nights

Wild Fire

Thin Air

Review 1749: The Life of Sir Walter Scott

I happened to read a comment that Sir Walter Scott had led a sad life, which made me realize that I knew nothing about him. So, I looked for a biography, but I might have done better to look for a used book. I was concentrating on not getting a print on demand book but ended up with one anyway. Boy, I hate those things.

I wouldn’t necessarily call Scott’s life sad. He overcame childhood disease that sounds like polio and resulted in a withered, weakened leg. However, because of strenuous exercise, he became remarkably fit until the strains of later life.

He was also crossed in love but overcame that as well, and two years later formed a lifelong attachment to his wife, Charlotte. He remained warm friends with the man who married his first love, Wilhelmina Stuart.

In actuality, Scott was successful at everything he did until the stresses of later years resulted in several strokes. Even then, he was amazingly productive. However, a collapse of a series of businesses, for which he was in no way responsible but took responsibility for, resulted in the ruination of him and his partner in a printing company, and he was doggedly repaying his debts the last few years of his life.

The book is interesting enough for about half the time, but the problem with it is that the author is obsessed with the biography written by Scott’s son-in-law, Lockhart. Although Wright frequently criticizes Lockhart’s wordy, “journalistic” writing style, this book would have been half as long if Wright wasn’t concerned to refute practically everything Lockhart said about Scott, even to the point of repeatedly calling Lockhart a liar. The problem with this for readers who have not read the Lockhart book is that they therefore don’t care.

As for my edition by Borgo Press, it was full of typographical errors and oddities, probably as a result of an old text being machine-read with no subsequent human editing.

Charles Dickens: A Life

Jane Austen: A Life

Thomas Hardy

Review 1741: Classics Club Dare 2.0: The Bride of Lammermoor

If you’re not familiar with the plot of The Bride of Lammermoor, you might be wondering why I picked it for the Classics Club Dare 2.0, Time to Get Your Goth On. It’s not a gothic horror story common for the time but one of Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels about a doomed love. However, the ending, which I’m not revealing, puts it in a more appropriate category as do the dark local legends and prophesies of withered old dames (perhaps witches), not to mention the ruined tower.

Edgar, Master of Ravenwood, is from a proud Scottish family of distinguished lineage. His profligate father, however, did his best to waste the family estate and finished things off by fighting on the wrong side of the revolution. With other parties in power, lawsuits filed against the estate by William Ashton, Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, have resulted in almost all of the Ravenwood property being turned over to Ashton and in an early grave for Ravenwood’s father. The impoverished Master has sworn vengeance against Ashton.

Ashton, however, is a politician, and he hears that the political situation is changing. Things may be looking up for the Marquis of A___ and thus for his relative, the Master. After the Master saves Ashton and his beautiful daughter Lucy from a wild bull, Ashton tries to befriend him, even encouraging him to spend time with Lucy and Ashton himself considering the benefits of a marriage between the two. Against the Master’s better judgment (and supernatural warnings), he begins to fall in love with Lucy. They become betrothed, but Lucy wants it kept secret from her family.

Some meddling from a neighbor who is not a friend of the Master’s leads Lady Ashton, staying with friends away from home, to hear the rumors that her daughter is engaged to him. She is his implacable enemy, so she swoops home to Ravenwood Castle just as the Marquis of A___ comes for a visit. The Master has been residing there at Ashton’s invitation, but Lady Ashton unceremoniously throws him out. He has already agreed with Lucy, however, that he will consider himself betrothed until she herself releases him. Then he goes off to make his fortune.

This novel was quite hard going for me at times, particularly in the sections and whole chapters that are in Scottish vernacular. These are the parts concerning the common people, and some of them are supposed to be funny, especially the ones about the machinations of Caleb Balderstone, the Master’s only servant, as he tries to hide what everyone already knows—that his master is destitute. I just felt they slowed down the action as well as being hard to understand and not that funny.

The action, however, eventually gets going and really picks up toward the end of the novel. I read the second half twice as quickly as the first.

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Review 1721: Winter and Rough Weather

According to the Foreword of Winter and Rough Weather, it is related to two other books by D. E. Stevenson, Vittoria Cottage and Music in the Hills. It has been a long time since I read Vittoria Cottage, and none of the characters in Winter and Rough Weather rang a bell. I finally had to look up my old review to find the link between the two is James, who is a minor character in this novel.

Jock and Mamie Johnstone are preparing for the arrival of their nephew, James Dering Johnstone, and his bride Rhoda. James and Rhoda will be occupying Boscath, the farm adjoining the Johnstone’s Mureth, except separated by a river that can at times be raging.

Rhoda has abandoned a promising career as an artist to marry James and at first finds herself unhappy in their remote farm that doesn’t have a telephone and can be cut off by weather. After a while, though, she makes friends in the area and begins painting again and teaching a promising youngster named Duggie, who is the son of Lizzie, the Mureth cook.

This novel has a firm sense of place in the border country of southern Scotland and has a host of mostly likable characters. It is about everyday post-war life there, although it has a few subplots—Adam and Nan Forrester, the village doctor and his sister, both have unhappy love affairs. The neighboring farm to Mureth, Tassieknowe, has been bought by a rich man whom everyone dislikes and who is running his farm poorly.

I enjoyed this novel and mean to look for the other one, Music in the Hills, which I believe comes before this one.

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

Vittoria Cottage

The Baker’s Daughter

Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

Review 1671: Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

In 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars , Captain John Lacroix returns from Spain ill and wounded. As he recovers, something is troubling him, but we don’t know what. Before he has fully recovered, he is summoned back to his regiment, but instead of returning, he sets out on a journey to the Scottish islands.

Back in Spain, a tribunal is being held about the sacking of a Spanish village by British troops. On the word of one man, Corporal Calley, the tribunal finds Captain Lecroix guilty of being the officer in charge of those troops and the man who cut off the hair of an innocent woman. The Colonel then sends Calley to find and kill Lecroix accompanied by a Spanish officer, Lieutenant Medina, to make sure he does it.

As Lacroix unwittingly travels to a small island and becomes involved with the people living there, Calley pursues him, behaving like a deranged animal to the innocent people he thinks may know where Lacroix is. Lacroix certainly has a shameful secret about war, but is it what he is being pursued for?

This novel is atmospheric and deeply engaging. As it nears its conclusion, it is also truly exciting. Although I did wonder how likely it was that the army would have sent an execution squad against one of their officers, the novel is a wonderfully written adventure story that reflects on the nature of war and redemption. I read it for my Walter Scott prize project.

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Review 1659: The Less Dead

When Margo gets in touch with her birth family, her Aunt Nikki, Nikki tells Margo that her mother, Susan, was a prostitute and a junkie who was murdered in an alley at 19. Then she tells Margo she knows who did it and tries to get her to help find evidence. She is asking Margo to break the law and endanger her position as a medical doctor. Margo is horrified by the story and the request and gets away as fast as she can. What she doesn’t know is that meeting Nikki has brought her to the attention of Susan’s murderer. Soon, she has received a threatening letter like the ones Nikki has been getting.

Although set in the gritty neighborhoods of Glasgow like most of Mina’s fiction, The Less Dead is less grim than her earlier work, populated by likable characters such as Margo’s ex-boyfriend Joe and her bestie Lilah, as well as, eventually, Nikki and her friends. It is definitely creepy, though, and a satisfying thriller. Mina always knows how to spin a tale.

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Review 1633: The Distance Between Us

Jake, a Hong Kong Brit who has never been to Europe, is out with friends on Chinese New Year when they are caught in a crush. His girlfriend Melanie’s best friend is killed, and Melanie is gravely injured. Doctors say she will not live, so when she asks him to marry him, he reluctantly agrees even though he has only known her for four months. Of course, she does not die. The next thing he knows, he is in England staying at her parents’ house, and her mother is planning a formal ceremony for them. Having always wanted to find out about his Scottish father, he leaves for Scotland.

Stella’s too close relationship with her sister Nina is one she has to escape from sometimes. The roots of this lie in a horrible incident years ago. On one of her escapes, she takes a job at a hotel in Scotland.

This novel travels back and forth to relate incidents in both Jake and Stella’s lives and in the lives of their parents and grandparents. O’Farrell has a way with making you care about her characters as well as a gift for lyrical prose. This is another great book for her, and thus for her readers.

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Review 1631: Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

It turns out that Mrs. Tim Gets a Job is part of a series. Unfortunately, because I’d rather read series books in order, I never find this out until I mark that I’m reading it in Goodreads. Luckily, the novel seems to stand perfectly well on its own.

The Second World War is over, but Mrs. Tim’s husband is still stationed in Cairo and won’t be getting home anytime soon. Mrs. Tim’s two children are off at school, and she finds herself at loose ends. So, without really consulting her, a friend arranges a job for her at a hotel in Scotland. At first, Mrs. Tim is inclined to turn down the job, but then she gets a letter from her landlord giving her notice to move out.

With trepidation, she sets out to work for Miss Clutterbuck, who she understands is a difficult person. Miss Clutterbuck has been forced to open her family home to the public, and she has a rude manner. Mrs. Tim finds that part of her duties is to talk to the guests, because Miss Clutterbuck can’t bear them.

This novel is written in a light style as a diary, reminding me very much of the Provincial Lady series except gentler and with less overt humor. We follow Mrs. Tim’s progress as she grows to appreciate Miss Clutterbuck, learns how to deal with a housemaid who hates her, and straightens out a guest’s love life. I enjoyed this book very much.

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Review 1605: The Hunting Party

Before I start my review, just a little note to let you know I am so far ahead on my reviews (lots of reading going on and not much else) that for a while, at least, I am returning to posting four times a week. I picked now to do it since it’s right after my anniversary post. The new posting day will be Friday, so that you can expect posts on this blog on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for at least the next few months.

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The setup of The Hunting Party felt an awful lot like Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood—a group of old friends getting together in a modern open-plan house out in the middle of nowhere, mayhem to follow. However, I found this book to be much more suspenseful.

For one thing, almost immediately upon the novel’s opening, a death is reported by Heather, an employee of the lodge. But we don’t know who has been killed or under what circumstances. Then the novel alternates in time—in the present with Heather’s point of view and in the past with that of the others.

I won’t enumerate all the guests, because there are nine, and some of them also seem oddly familiar if you’ve read Ware’s novel. There’s Miranda, beautiful but accustomed to getting her own way and horribly bitchy at times, and her husband Julien, who has some secrets. Emma is Miranda’s imitator and admirer, and her boyfriend Mark has a thing for Miranda. Katie, Miranda’s best friend, has been remote of late, to Miranda’s resentment. Aside from several other members of this party, there are an Icelandic couple, described as feral. Oh, and in case that’s not enough suspects, the gamekeeper, Doug, has periods of memory lapse and a violent past, and there is the Highland Ripper out there somewhere.

In any case, this novel pretty much nails you to your seat as it proceeds at a rip-roaring pace. Lots of nasty characters, lots of fun to read.

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