Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Quoth the Raven: Jane Haddam

Quoth the Raven is the 4th book in a long-running series about Gregor Demarkian, retired FBI agent, living in Philadelphia. I discovered this series by Jane Haddam in 2005 and read the first 20 books in three months. This one is set in rural Pennsylvania at a small college, where Gregor has been invited to give a lecture.

Summary from the Mysterious Press website:
Since Father Tibor Kasparian escaped the Soviet Union, he has done his best to keep his philosophy to himself—not out of fear, but because he knows that few people could stomach an honest account of life under Stalinism. When he gets an invitation to spend a semester teaching philosophy at Independence College, Kasparian hesitates, but his friend Gregor Demarkian, a former FBI investigator, convinces him to accept. They will both wish he had decided to stay away. 
At Independence, Halloween is the biggest party of the year—it’s also the anniversary of the day that the school’s colonial founders pledged themselves to the American Revolution. 
Gregor Demarkian is an ex-FBI profiler (retired) who is often pulled back into detection (as a consultant). He was married, but at the opening of the series he is a widower. He has returned to the Armenian-American neighborhood in Philadelphia that he grew up in. Due to his experience with the FBI, Gregor has been invited to give a lecture at the college, and he will be speaking on Halloween night.

As the summary above states, Halloween is a major event at the college and there will be the annual lighting of the bonfire the same night. This book takes place in the two days before that event. This is the perfect book for fall and the Halloween season, so I read it for the second time as a part of my R.I.P. reading event. I liked the academic setting, and the mix of students and faculty as characters. I would caution that I don't think this is a very accurate picture of a small college, but it is still an interesting one.

I like this series because the books have interesting, sometimes quirky, characters and are often centered around interesting issues. I usually find that the author presents the issues from both sides, although it may be clear which side she favors. Each book begins with a few chapters at the beginning setting up some of the characters that will be involved in or affected by the events, providing some idea of where they fit in. I have always liked this approach and it is one of my favorite aspects of Haddam's books.

As far as whether I would recommend this book or others by the author, I will just say that the series is popular with a lot of people and then there are other mystery readers who don't like the books at all. Reviewers often describe Haddam's books as traditional mysteries, but the plots are not really fair play puzzles. There is plenty of mystery and plot for me, but the focus is more on the characters, and that type of mystery is not for everyone.

There are now 29 books in the series. I have not read the last five, but I will someday. I do love the first books in the series, even though they are more on the cozy side. The further into the series one gets, the darker the stories get. But there is always the Armenian-American neighborhood in the background to soften things up.

The first books in the series all were set around holidays; by about book 11 that theme was left behind for the most part. The very first book, Not a Creature Was Stirring, is set at Christmas and is one of my favorite mysteries of all time. A wonderful book. There is a good review at Murder by Type.

Quoth the Raven has been reviewed recently at Joe Barone's Blog.

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Publisher:   Bantam Books, 1991 
Length:       276 pages
Format:      Paperback Original
Series:       Gregor Demarkian, #4
Setting:      Pennsylvania
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.


15 comments:

  1. I also liked this book very much. It was the first I read in the series because it happened to be Halloween. They are very literate mysteries, not quickly read IMO, and often I savor certain sentences. I love how the characters are introduced at the beginning of each book with vignettes to tell us who they are. I have many more in this series to read but have never been disappointed by the ones I have read. Trying to read in order now. Thank you for your review.

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    1. Lucky you, Jacqueline, to have so many more books to read in the series. Reading in order does make them more enjoyable in my opinion, although probably not necessary.

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    2. LOL. I've collected these in paperback ever since she began writing them. Only now that I'm retired do I have the time to finally read them.

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  2. That's the thing about series such as Haddam's, Tracy. Most people really aren't generally neutral about them. In a way, that makes them all the more interesting, really. I ought to do a spotlight on one of her books, I think...

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    1. It always amazes me to find such differences in opinion about an author, Margot. But then we all enjoy different aspects of books and reading.

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  3. I think I would really enjoy this series, but it's going to be some task getting a hold of them all - and in the right order. I'm definitely going to buy Not a Creature was Stirring and read it around Christmas. Sadly her books aren't in libraries here.

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    1. It is too bad that Jane Haddam's books are not easily available there, Katrina. Definitely good to start with Not a Creature was Stirring, though. If you don't like that one, her others would not appeal. I think. You never can tell.

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  4. Looks like fun, Tracy. I like the cover, too.

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    1. I like this cover too, Mathew. The early paperback original covers in this series are very nice.

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  5. I don't think I've ever read any books by this author, Tracy. Or if I have, I've so forgotten it that I might just as well not have bothered. At any rate, I like the idea of a mystery set around Halloween so maybe I'll try and get my hands on this one. Might try one of the Christmas ones too.

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    1. I think this author is worth a try, Yvette, just to see if she is to your tastes. If I had time I would read one for each holiday over the next year... but I don't.

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  6. I do like the espionage theme, but I don't think I'll be trying this series. Definitely not all 29 of them anyway!

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    1. It is not really about espionage, Father Tibor's earlier experiences are in the background. I don't know if you would like these, Col, although they are far from cozy. The deaths in this one were really gruesome, which is unusual for the series. But ... anyway, like you say, 29 books.

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  7. Seeing your picture of the cover took me right back to when I was reading these books in order, with those covers, at a very happy time of my life. I love the way she has so many characters, and tries to show you something about their lives and feelings, as well as having a good mystery plot, and also her long-running characters and settings around Cavanaugh Street in Philadelphia. One thing confuses me - can you tell me exactly when two of the main characters get together romantically? I don't know if I missed something, but they were friends friends friends, then suddenly something more, and I didn't seem to have got the transition. I don't know if I missed a book out along the way....

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    1. That is a very good question, Moira, and coincidentally I had been wondering the same thing as I reread this book. Specifically because the previous Demarkian book I read, the couple were preparing to get married. And that was the 24th book in the series.

      As best I can remember (and checking some reviews at other blogs), it takes 10 books for Gregor to even acknowledge to himself that there is something to his relationship wih Bennis. And then forever for them to get together. The type of thing that normally drives me away from a series. (I can name at least two series that I quit reading... long ago... because the author would dangle a relationship for books, and then it would be over.)

      But with this series, it is like an old friend who is very irritating but I love he or she anyway and put up with all the irritations.

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