photo of the day: red rose

15 07 2009


review: messenger of truth

15 07 2009

The Artsy Mama has fallen hook, line and sinker for Maisie Dobbs.  I can’t remember her reading a book so quickly since Harry Potter.  I quite enjoyed the first three books in Jacqueline Winspear’s series when I first read them – though I did read number two before number one and that wasn’t a wise thing to do as I missed much of Maisie’s backstory.  Somehow I left Maisie fall off the reading radar though.

Inspired by the Artsy Mama’s readings, I decided to make the fourth Maisie Dobbs book my next read.  In this volume, Maisie is asked to look into the death of Nick Bassington-Hope.  It has been deemed an accident by the police, but his twin sister, Georgina, has suspicions that it was murder rather than an accident.  Nick was an artist and he fell to his death while preparing for an exhibition of a mysterious work about the war that no one had seen.  Set against the case is the economic struggles of the period – ones that impact on Maisie’s assistant Billy very directly.

I was quite impressed with Messenger of Truth, and it is probably my favourite in the series so far.  I still find myself a bit distracted by descriptions of the way in which Maisie regulates her behaviour, but the central mystery in this one kept me very interested.  I was able to figure out the why and what quite early, though it took me a bit longer to figure out the right who.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the central moment from Nick’s past experiences that Winspear uses is both horrific and quite moving and emphasizes the pure insanity of WWI.

I think the next two in the series will be next in the TBR pile – if I can wrestle them away from the Artsy Mama that is.

photo of the day: little bee

11 07 2009

reviews: the physick book of deliverance dane and

11 07 2009

I finished Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane several days ago, and I’m still not sure what I think about it.  When I read the description in the book jacket, I couldn’t resist.  It’s another one of those stories about a modern-day academic finding evidence of some historical mystery with narratives that alter between the present and the past.  I seem drawn to these, but I haven’t found many recently that are satisfying as I expect them to be.

In this case, Connie, a graduate student studying history at Harvard, is asked by her new-age mother to spend the summer living and cleaning her grandmother’s long neglected house so it can be sold.  Connie finds a Bible with a hollow key that contains a rolled up bit of parchment that says Deliverance Dane.  Her quest to discover the meaning of those words leads her into a history of witchcraft – one that connects to her own family.

As I’ve already said, Connie’s narrative in the present is interspersed with narratives from the past.  I found that it was the latter that interested me the most.  If anything, I would have preferred more glimpses into the past and less of a focus on Connie’s present.  Her journey didn’t really interest me or surprise me, and I also found the writing in those passages more jarring than the most historical tone used in the passages that narrated moments related to Deliverance Dane and her female descendants.

Next, I turned to the second novel in Andrew Pepper’s Pyke series: The Revenge of Captain Paine.  A few years have passed and former Bow Street runner Pyke has settled into his new role of banker.  A headless body is found and his assistance is requested.  That investigation leads him into the newly developing railway, the fight for workers’ rights, and to the British monarchy.

Pepper did a good job of pacing the book, though the last third had Pyke doing less and just explaining the central mysteries, and the revelation of the true evil-doers came a bit early for me.  In fact – spoiler alert – there weren’t enough characters introduced that didn’t have some role in the crimes Pyke is investigating and that would be my main problem with the narrative.

There were some twists, and I do find Pyke a really intriguing creation.  As in the first book, he is very found of taking matters into his own hands, and while it makes for a thrilling narrative, I am starting to wonder how long he can continue down this path.

photo of the day: little bee

8 07 2009

review: the birth of venus

5 07 2009

I decided to take a break from my recent diet of mysteries and turn to some historical fiction, but in spite of my good intentions, the opening scene of the novel introduces a mystery that isn’t resolved until the conclusion of the novel.

Durant’s The Birth of Venus is set in Florence during the Renaissance.  Alessandra Cecchi is a young girl, with a mind of her own and a yearning for freedom and a thirst for knowledge and art that conflicts with a woman’s expected role during this period.  Her father brings home a painter to work on the frescoes in her family’s chapels and Alessandra is immediately drawn to him.  Their love story takes place against the backdrop of fundamentalist monk Savonarola’s rise and fall in Florence.

The novel had a few twists and turns, but nothing that was entirely unexpected.  The sense of mystery that was built in the opening scene didn’t carry out throughout the novel, and the horrific murders that are described in the novel and which could have put the story into the thriller category didn’t seem to be as developed or as present as I expected they might be.  The characterization of Alessandra is strong and there are some interesting relationships, though the most interesting to me was the one between Alessandra and her servant, Erila.  The descriptions of religious extremism and suppression were also strong and probably the most interesting element of the novel for me.

Next up: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

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.