reviews: the fourth bear, the last days of newgate and the thief taker

29 06 2009

Three more mysteries read this week.  First, I gave Fforde another try with The Fourth Bear, the second in the Nursery Crimes Division series.  It was a bit hit and miss for me just like the first one.  There was so humour and lots of in-jokes, but I never felt like I had a real shot at figuring out the central mystery, which is fairly key for me when reading a mystery.

The next two mysteries both have to do with a thief-taker character.  The Last Days of Newgate follows Pyke, a bow street runner as he interacts with the underbelly of London in his attempts to bring some of their number to justice.  Thief-takers like Pyke work both sides of the system: helping to punish some while also using the system to benefit their own interests.  In the course of a separate investigation, Pyke becomes involved in the murder investigation of a young couple and their newly born baby.  This investigation involves Protestant and Catholic tensions and leads Pyke into Newgate itself.  I enjoyed Pepper’s novel quite a bit.  It was a page-turner and I read about 3/4 in one sitting.  Pyke is very much an anti-hero, and that creates good tension throughout the novel, though there are some points where he shows less remorse than I really expected. This was just the first in a series, so I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the others.

When I went to pick my next book, The Thief-taker caught my eye.  Agnes is a cook for the Blanchard family.  She takes on the role of detective after a valuable wine cooler is stolen from the Blanchard’s showroom the night before it is to be delivered and an apprentice is murdered.  The kitchen maid has also disappeared and Agnes tries to find out where she is and if she had any role in the theft of the wine cooler.  Agnes may seem at first an unlikely detective, but Gleason makes sure to give her the mind of a sleuth and to also provide her with a backstory that makes her a sympathetic character.  There’s some romance and the thief-taker in this novel is much more on the dastardly side than Pyke.  Another interesting aspect of Gleason’s novel is the class dynamics – between the Blanchard family and the servants and the hierarchy within the servants themselves.  It was a fairly enjoyable read, though the resolution scene seemed a bit predictable.


reviews: The Big Over Easy and The Case of the Missing Servant

21 06 2009

There’s several signs that summer is just about here.  The weather isn’t really one of them as it has still been rainy and a bit cool.  No, for me the true signs that summer is here is (multiple) weekly trips to the theatre and a craving for whodunnits.  Even with finishing up my marking, I’ve managed to finish two mysteries this week.

The first was Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy.  I’ve read the first two books in Fforde’s Thursday Next series.  I struggled quite a bit with the first one (starting it three times before I finally got through the first few chapters), but I did enjoy the second a bit more.  The Artsy Mama had read The Big Over Easy and recommended it to me, and despite my sketchy history with Fforde’s work, I decided to try it.

The Big Over Easy begins with Detective Sergeant Mary Mary joining the Nursery Crimes Division run by DI Jack Spratt.  Jack’s been struggling to keep the division going and the loss of his murder case against the three pigs hasn’t helped matters.  Jack and Mary spend most of the book investigating the murder of Humpty Dumpty, while also trying to keep DCI Chymes from stealing the case from them.

There are humourous moments in the book and Fforde plays with many nursery rhyme conventions (including having Jack known as a giant killer and the inclusion of some magic beans).  I did struggle a bit with it, and I think that I have difficultly suspending my disbelief with the worlds Fforde creates, always wondering why he changes certain things, but not others.

The next mystery I picked up was the first in Tarquin Hall’s new series of detective novels featuring Vish Puri, India’s most skilled private investigator.  The story follows the owner of The Most Private Investigators agency as he tries to track down a missing maid servant and also runs a side investigation for a Brigadier who thinks his granddaughter’s financee has something to hide – not to mention having to deal with an attempt on his life.

I really enjoyed Hall’s novel.  It had good pacing throughout and the three key mysteries kept me interested.  There’s something about Poirot in Vish Puri in Hall’s physical description of him, and his mannerism, and his panache when dealing with the outcome of his cases.  There are differences though, particularly in that there is some focus on Puri’s personal life (family and friends) and also the range of employees that assist him in solving the cases.  Hall also seems very focused on capturing modern India and the struggles between progress and materialism and traditional values – the loss of which Puri laments in a few places throughout the novel.

This is definitely a series that I will keeping an eye out for.

photo of the day: new life on the avon

15 06 2009

I would write about what I’ve been reading this week, but since it primarily involved essays and exams, I don’t think anyone would be that interested.

Here instead is one of the new baby cygnets gracing the Avon River this week.

photo of the day: withering heart

7 06 2009

review: interred with their bones

7 06 2009

I picked up Interred with Their Bones last weekend because I was looking for something a bit more escapist in my reading this week.  Whenever I want something escapist I turn to mysteries and I’d been wanting to read this Shakespeare-related mystery ever since I saw it in a bookstore several months ago.

The novel focuses on Kate Stanley, a former academic who is busy rehearsing a production of Hamlet at the Globe theatre.  Her former advisor, Roz, arrives, telling her she’s found something and needs Kate’s help.  Roz is found dead (in the manner of Hamlet’s father) later that evening and that sets Kate on the path of finding out exactly what Roz discovered before the killer gets to her.  Her journey focuses on a “lost” play by Shakespeare and also raises questions about the authorship of the plays.

There is certainly quite a bit of action and it did keep my interest throughout.  There’s plenty of interesting facts about Shakespeare’s life and theories about his authorship, and at certain points in the novel, there are scenes set in the 1600s that help heighten the mystery.  I found it hard to suspend my disbelief in several sections though, and I just had trouble believing that Kate would continue with her search with almost all of the innocent people she encounters in the book ending up dead.  Though I suppose there are those that take their Shakespeare very seriously…

photo of the day: little ants

2 06 2009

review: the winter’s vault

2 06 2009

I posted my review for The Winter’s Vault on LibraryThing because I received it as part of their Early Reviewers program.  I added my review there on Sunday, but didn’t get around to pasting it here until today because end of term marking is making it hard to find the time and to be on the computer (since I mark on the computer).

I received The Winter Vault as part of the Early Reviewers program. Michael’s first book has been on TBR list for quite some time, but has never made it to the top of the pile so this is my first experience with her work.

What captured me about this book was the language. It is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, with such vivid and, at points, disturbing imagery. One of the most powerful and difficult sections for my to read was the description of the winter vault and the winter dead, which made a profound statement about the cost of war.

I would have to agree with lyricalconversations about ultimately being disappointed with the book in some ways. While I thought it was a beautiful book and had much to say about loss and memory, by the end it seemed to feel as if the characters were crafted to suit ideas and themes and images.

I did enjoy my reading of The Winter Vault, but that was primarily for the language itself rather than for the plot or for a connection with the characters.

I’m definitely planning on moving Fugitive Pieces back up towards the top of the TBR pile, though right now I’m more in the mood for escapist and comfort reading.  I’ve started Interred with the Bones, which seems appropriate since the Festival’s season is starting this week (more on that in a later post, I hope).