Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Chief Inspector Gamache series, books 5 and 6

I am now a full-fledged fan of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series. When I read the first book in the series I did not care for it enough to continue to the next book. Later, I was encouraged by good reviews to read more of them. Books 2 and 3 in the series had their good points, and I found the 4th book, A Rule Against Murder (also published as The Murder Stone), to be especially good. But now, having read The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead in the same month, I am committed to reading the rest of the series.

Ideally I would have read The Brutal Telling in late summer or early autumn, as that is the time of year that the story takes place. It is a lovely time in Three Pines, but a dead body is found on the floor of the Bistro, owned by Olivier Brulé. No one in Three Pines admits to knowing the mysterious man found in the Bistro. The reader is aware that Olivier knows him, but he does not admit this until he is forced to.

Of course, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team are called in. The story centers around finding out the identity of the dead man, and determining who could have killed him, and who would have had a motive. By the end of the book the man has not been identified, and someone has been charged with the murder and convicted, but the ending feels open at that point.

In The Brutal Telling, three new characters are added to the Three Pines cast. The old Hadley house has new owners, Marc and Dominique Gilbert, and they plan to turn it into a spa / bed and breakfast. Marc’s mother, Carole, lives with them.

Bury Your Dead takes place in February of the following year, in Quebec City, when Quebec Winter Carnival (or Carnaval de Québec) is about to begin. It continues the story of the murder of the man called "The Hermit," when Chief Inspector Armand Gamache requests that Inspector Beauvoir reopen the investigation of that crime in Three Pines. Meanwhile Gamache is helping with an investigation in Quebec City, the death of a man fanatically obsessed with finding the burial site of Samuel de Champlain, who founded Quebec City. Gamache is in Quebec City to rest and recover from physical and emotional wounds due to an attack by terrorists. This story is slowly revealed to the reader as Gamache remembers the day of the attack, and his rush to save an agent who is being held hostage. So this book has three story lines, a structure I liked very much.

I did not love both of these books equally. Although both books were about the same length and neither was over 400 pages, The Brutal Telling seemed too long to me. The investigation felt never ending, and I kept waiting for something to happen to change the direction of the book. I also did not like the ending of the book. Bury Your Dead, however, seemed like the perfect length and maybe that was because it had three stories to tell and the balance between the three story lines was perfect. Together, the two books were a wonderful reading experience.

Louise Penny writes beautifully, and the characters and the settings she uses are very well done. The recurring characters in Three Pines are often either very strange and/or have negative characteristics, which seems an unusual choice for an author to make. But it is nice for the characters to be less than perfect and not always likable. I also enjoyed learning more about Quebec and its history in Bury Your Dead.

It was Bill at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan who recommended reading The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead as a pair, and I did that. That greatly enhanced my reading of Bury Your Dead, because I would have forgotten key elements of the previous book if I had waited.


Pub. data for The Brutal Telling

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2009
Length:      372 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Inspecter Gamache, #5
Setting:      Three Pines, Quebec,  Canada
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2010.

Pub. data for Bury Your Dead

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2010
Length:      371 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Inspecter Gamache, #6
Setting:      Quebec,  Canada
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy April 2020.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times No. 6

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme, hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. This time I am looking at newly purchased books. I have bought a lot of books recently and these are just a few of them. Two of them I bought from Daedalus at a discount, but they still were not cheap. Two have only been recently published and they were bought from a local bookseller, Chaucer's Books, with sidewalk pickup. We have done two orders that way since the stores have been closed.

The first book is ...
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, originally published in 1950.

I don't know much about this book except that it is set (at least in part) in Australia. I read On the Beach in 2019; it was on my Classics Club list. I liked that book very much so I asked for recommendations for other books. This was one that was recommended by several bloggers.

Per the back of the book, the heroine is Jean Paget, and the book starts out in Malaysia during World War II and ends up in the Australian outback.

Next is...
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, published this year.

I bought this book because I enjoyed Station Eleven so much, and I read good things about this book. 

The Glass Hotel focuses on two people, a female bartender named Vincent and Paul Alkaitis, who is running an international Ponzi scheme. The financier is based on Bernie Madoff, but other than that the story is entirely fictional. It is not apocalyptic fiction like Station Eleven. But I think the writing style is similar.

The next two books are spy fiction...

A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming, published in 2017

I consider Charles Cumming to be a promising new spy fiction writer (to add to my list of favorites). But the jury is still out. He has published nine novels, starting with A Spy by Nature in 2001, but I did not read any of his books before 2011, when I read The Trinity Six (which was just OK in my opinion). But that might have just been due to my lack of knowledge of the Cambridge spies. Now I know a little more about the subject.

Then, in 2018 I read A Spy by Nature (Alec Milius #1) and in 2019 I read A Foreign Country (Thomas Kell #1). I liked both of those novels and this month I read Thomas Kell #2, A Colder War, and was also impressed with it. Thus I purchased A Divided Spy, to continue reading about Thomas Kell.

Cumming is a Scottish author, and his character in this series is an MI6 agent who is on extended leave with pay due to an incident still under investigation. He is occasionally called in for special assignments.

The next spy fiction author I am featuring is from the US.

The Last Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, published this year.

Olen Steinhauer is already on my list of favorite spy fiction authors. He has published 12 novels and I have read 10 of them and I liked them all. His first five novels were historical novels (the Yalta Boulevard series set in a fictional Eastern bloc country) and not strictly spy fiction but there were some espionage elements.

The Last Tourist is the 4th book in the Milo Weaver series. Weaver is in the CIA; in the first book he is in the "Tourist" division, a group that does dirty work for the CIA. I loved that series so of course I have to read this book. Soon, I hope.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Boundary Waters: William Kent Krueger

Boundary Waters is the 2nd book in the Cork O'Connor series. I bought this book as soon as I finished Iron Lake, the first book in the series. Not only did I want to know more about what happens with Cork O'Connor, but the writing was very good. And I was not disappointed. This book was different and just as good.

This is the description at the author's web site:
The Quetico-Superior Wilderness: more than two million acres of forest, white-water rapids, and uncharted islands on the Canadian/American border. Somewhere in the heart of this unforgiving territory, a young woman named Shiloh—a country-western singer at the height of her fame—has disappeared.
Her father arrives in Aurora, Minnesota, to hire Cork O’Connor to find his daughter. Cork joins a search party that includes an ex-con, two FBI agents, and a ten-year-old boy. Others are on Shiloh’s trail as well—men hired not just to find her, but to kill her.

This book is a thriller with excellent pacing, more like an adventure story than a mystery. Of course there is the mystery of who is trying to find Shiloh and kill her, and which of the people seeking her are truly trying to help. There are multiple groups interested in finding her.

I praised the first book for the characterizations, and that is true in this book also, although the most fully defined characters are Cork and his family members. While Cork is on the trail, his family is back at home in this one, but is still featured. Another great character is the young Anishinaabe boy, Louis Two-Knives, the only one who can lead them to the cabin Shiloh was staying in.

Cork's estranged wife plays a part in this story, once she is aware that the rescue mission and its members may not be all that it seems. She knows that at least one member of the team is a traitor but cannot communicate with the team. The chapters alternate between Shiloh's struggles as she tries to return to civilization, Cork's adventures, and Cork's wife's activities in Aurora.

The physical setting of northern Minnesota and the exploration of the Anishinaabe culture is a bonus. In this book, Krueger focuses on the Anishinaabe storytelling tradition.

One thing I noticed while reading Boundary Waters was a prevalence of violence (more than in Iron Lake, and that story was not tame). The opening scene was somewhat shocking (although no explicit violence there). Overall, it did not bother me and I felt like it fit the context of the story, but I did wonder if the rest of the series was like this. William Kent Krueger answers that question in a blog post from 2009. (Boundary Waters was published in 1999 and Krueger had published nine books in the series by that time.)  Per the author, only two other books in the series (to that point) were as violent as this one. So I take that to mean that there is good variation within the series, in that area and others.


Publisher:  Atria Books, 2009, orig. pub. 1999.
Length:    402 pages
Format:    Trade Paperback
Series:     Cork O'Connor #2
Setting:    Minnesota
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    On my TBR since December 2019.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times No. 5

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts this meme: Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times. The idea is to look through a bookshelf or a bookcase or stacks of books and share some thoughts on the books. And of course you can be inventive and talk about books in any context.

I have returned to looking through boxes of uncatalogued books, mostly purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, in 2018 or 2019. I am pretty sure the books I found this week are books from the 2019 sale. Only purchased about 6 months ago, yet still I am surprised by some of them.

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin
I have been interested in this book for years but never went out of my way to find a copy. It was originally published in 2007 in Sweden, but published in English translation in 2008. Publishers Weekly calls it a "deeply disturbing debut" but reviews I have read are very positive. It takes place on the Baltic island of Öland and is book 1 in the Öland quartet. The subject is the disappearance of a five-year-old boy 20 years previously.

Dark Fire by C. J. Sansum
This is the second book in the Matthew Shardlake series, published in 2004. The first book is Dissolution, in which Shardlake is a lawyer helping Thomas Cromwell to close down the monasteries in England. Shardlake is sent to investigate the murder of a royal commissioner living in one of the monasteries. The history of this time (1537) is very interesting. In the past I had not read much historical fiction set before the 1900s. Dark Fire is set in 1540 and I am not sure where it takes Shardlake but I liked the first one so I expecting this one to be very good too.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
This is Carson McCuller's first novel, published in 1940 when she was just twenty-three, and it is on my classics list. I don't know much about it and I prefer to leave it that way until I read it. 

The Witch Elm by Tana French
I had completely forgotten that I had bought this book at the sale. It is French's first standalone novel, published in 2018, after publishing six books in the Dublin Murder Squad series. I have read four books in that series and liked them all, and I had planned to hold off on this one until I read the last two in the series. But I found The Trespasser (book 6 in the series) and The Witch Elm at the book sale but not The Secret Place (book 5). So I may break down and read this book sooner than planned.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Classics Club Spin #23

One of the events offered by The Classics Club is The Classics Club Spin. Spin #23 has just been announced, which is perfect timing for me. A number will be announced on Sunday, April 19,
and the goal is to read, review and post about that book by June 1, 2020.

Members who participate list twenty books from their classics list that they have not read. I am mostly using my list for the previous spin, replacing the three books that I read since that spin and making a couple of other changes. I wanted to be sure that I had every book on the list easily available to read since I may not be able to get a copy as easily now.

So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin.

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe 
  2. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte 
  3. The Master and Margarita (1967) by Mikhail Bulgarov
  4. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  5. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  6. And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie
  7. Anna Karenina (1878) by Leo Tolstoy
  8. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene
  9. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
  10. In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes
  11. Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov
  12. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  13. Show Boat (1926) by Edna Ferber
  14. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  15. The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford
  16. The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy
  17. Much Ado About Nothing (1598) by William Shakespeare
  18. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley 
  19. Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen 
  20. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker
I have no favorites on this list, but some would be easier to read than others.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Mysterious Affair at Styles: Agatha Christie

I first read Agatha Christie mysteries when I was very young, probably in my teens and twenties. Then I went many years without reading her books. The first book I tried later was The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 2007, and I did not care for it at the time. The circumstances were not good; I was visiting my family in Alabama and my father was very ill. It was not until five years later, after I started blogging, that I tried reading Christie's mysteries again, and I had much better success.

Thus, for the #1920 Club I decided to read Agatha Christie's first mystery novel again. I have learned to love the Hercule Poirot series in the last few years, so why didn't I like this one when I read it before?

This summary is from the back cover of my paperback edition:
Styles Court was a magnificent English country estate which should have been left to John Cavendish. But instead it was left to his stepmother, Emily Cavendish, who promptly married a fortune hunter... and promptly met her death! Dapper, brilliant Monsieur Poirot knew he was the only man who could catch her killer.

Arthur Hastings narrates this book and is staying at Styles Court. Hastings explains how he ended up visiting Styles Court at this time...
I had been invalided home from the Front; and, after spending some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home, was given a month's sick leave. Having no near relations or friends, I was trying to make up my mind what to do, when I ran across John Cavendish. I had seen very little of him for some years. Indeed, I had never known him particularly well. He was a good fifteen years my senior, for one thing, though he hardly looked his forty-five years. As a boy, though, I had often stayed at Styles, his mother's place in Essex.

Hastings is invited to stay with the Cavendish family in early July. By the middle of the month, John's stepmother Emily is dead, killed by strychnine poisoning, and Hastings has brought in Hercule Poirot to investigate. Hastings had met Poirot earlier, and coincidentally Poirot has been living along with other Belgian refugees in a house on the Cavendish estate.

This is the first description of Poirot:
Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.
There are many characters. Emily Inglethorp and her two stepsons, John and Lawrence Cavendish. Emily's second husband, Alfred Inglethorp. John's wife, Mary, and a young woman living with the family, Cynthia. Evelyn Howard, Emily's companion and a distant relative to Alfred Inglethorp. Dr Bauerstein, a toxicologist, who lives near to Styles. Most of these were at Style Court when the murder took place and are suspects.

My Thoughts:

This mystery is nowhere near the top of my list of Agatha Christie novels or Hercules Poirot novels, but it is still a good read. It does have a different flavor than many of the later novels, but as it was Agatha Christie's debut novel, that is to be expected.

What did I like?

  • Hastings is the narrator. I wish he had narrated more of the novels. He always adds humor to the mysteries when he is present.
  • Christie provides a drawing of the floor plan for Styles showing the placement of the bedrooms, and also one of Emily Inglethorp's bedroom, where she dies.
  • The country house setting.
  • The World War I setting. I have read a lot of mysteries which take place during World War II, but far fewer that involve World War I.

What did I dislike?

  • There were casual racist and ethnic slurs. There was not a lot of this, but it was offensive. Although I usually successfully ignore this in books of this age, and there were not many instances, they were extremely offensive and bothered me in this case.
  • Too many red herrings for my taste, and the resolution was too drawn out.

I read this book on the Kindle because I could not find my copies of the book. My copies were found later and I have included scans. The Bantam edition has a cover illustration by Tom Adams. The other edition is a very early Avon paperback that is falling apart.


Publisher:   Bantam Books, 1983. Orig. pub. 1920.
Length:      182 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Hercule Poirot, #1
Setting:      Essex, UK
Genre:       Country House Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2017.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times: from my husband's shelves

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts this meme: Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times. The idea is to look through a bookshelf or a bookcase or stacks of books and share some thoughts on the books. And of course you can be inventive and talk about books in any context.

Two weeks ago I featured books from my son's shelves, this week it is my husband's turn. My husband reads a mix of nonfiction and fiction books. He has many books I want to read but haven't gotten to yet.

The first two books are fairly recent purchases. The other two have been on his shelves for a while.

The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson
Chinatown is one of my husband's favorite movies. Thus he was interested in this book about the making of the movie Chinatown. It focuses on the four men primarily involved: Robert Towne, Robert Evans, Jack Nicholson, and Roman Polanski. From what I understand, the story is much more than a blow by blow look at the making of the movie, but delves deep into these men's lives. It also depicts Hollywood filmmaking at a time when many changes were coming to the production of movies.
And it has a great cover.

The Awkward Squad by Sophie Hénaff
Translated from the French by Sam Gordon
A police detective, Anne Capestan, has been suspended for six months and expects her superior, Buron, to end her employment. Instead he gives her a new department and the mission is to follow up on unsolved cases. She is given a crew of misfits to work with. This premise sounds similar to that of The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen (set in Denmark). This one is set in France, and from what I understand it is more humorous in tone. 
My husband must have liked this first book in the series because he just purchased the next book in our second curbside pickup order from our local independent bookseller, Chaucer's Books. I plan to read this one soon.

The Black Camel by Earl Derr Biggers
This is the fourth of six books by Biggers that featured Charlie Chan. I am sure that I will like this book, because I have read four others in the series and enjoyed all of them. Charlie Chan is an awesome character. He always entertains.
Although we are also fans of the Charlie Chan movies and have watched most of them, Charlie Chan in the books is different from the movie character. 
The Charlie Chan novels were published between 1925 and 1932. The only disappointment I have had with them is that they are not always set in Hawaii. This one takes place in Honolulu of the 1920s and I am looking forward to that.
Another great cover. Actually all of these books have nice covers.
And this is one of my husband's books that I just finished reading...

The Provincial Lady Goes to London by E.M. Delafield
Diary of a Provincial Lady is a fictional account of a middle-class wife and mother, living in an English village, and dealing with money problems, servant problems, etc. This book, published in 1931, follows up with her life after her book has been published to much success. She takes a flat in London to have time and quiet to work on the next book she is writing. Both books were a lot of fun to read, but I enjoyed this one more because I had adjusted to the style and tone of the first one.
 This book ends with the provincial lady planning a trip to America and I will be reading The Provincial Lady in America soon.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Coffin in Malta: Gwendoline Butler

Description from the book cover:
The varied inhabitants of Valletta, Malta's ancient, beautiful, and usually calm capital, are all too involved with one another to be trusted to find the murderer of the laundress's retarded son. It falls to outsider Detective Inspector Coffin, brought in from London's Scotland Yard, to be the catalyst that leads to the truth in this inbred and guilt-ridden community.
The New York Times Book Review said: "Makes the island of Malta and its people vividly alive to the reader..."

John Azzopardi, a lawyer who lived in London for several years, is as much the lead character in this story as Inspector John Coffin. Azzopardi has moved back to Malta, welcomed by family and friends. Very shortly after he moves into his apartment, there is a murder nearby. He awakes in the middle of the night, hears someone screaming, and hastens outside to see what is going on. Thus he gets pulled into the murder investigation. His cousin, Joseph de Bono is leading the investigation. But after much questioning, the police can get no answers from the people who were nearby when the crime was committed. Everyone seems to be afraid to talk but it is unclear who they are afraid of.

My thoughts on this book are very similar to my reaction to the first John Coffin book I read, Death Lives Next Door. The format of the mystery is unusual. The death does take place close to the beginning, but there is a large portion of the middle focused on questioning of suspects that goes nowhere. John Coffin shows up to help in the investigation but not until the last third of the book. There is more emphasis on personal relationships and interactions within the community than on the solving of a crime. Nevertheless I enjoyed the story and liked the writing style.

I would not necessarily recommend this particular book to anyone who hasn't already read books by Gwendoline Butler. The crime is horrific, but not described graphically or dwelled upon. However, the book does provide a good picture of Malta and its people, at least the Malta of the 1960s. The only other book I have read set in Malta (The Information Officer by Mark Mills) was set during World War II and the characters were mainly military people stationed in Malta at the time.

I do plan to try later books in this series although they are not easy to find. The John Coffin series was published over 4 decades, the 60s through the 90s. Gwendoline Butler wrote another series under the pseudonym Jenny Melville. The main character in that series was police sergeant Charmian Daniels.


Publisher:  Walker and Company, 1985 (orig. pub. 1964).
Length:    224 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     John Coffin #11
Setting:    Malta
Genre:     Mystery / Police Procedural
Source:    On my TBR pile since 2005.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

March 2020 Reading Summary

In March, most of my reads were crime fiction (and spy fiction, which I include under that umbrella).  I also read two books of historical fiction and a classic novel from the 1930s.

As the month wore on and the coronavirus situation got more scary, my reading leaned more to the comfort books. For me, spy fiction is included in comfort reading, so my reading of that genre may increase.

General Fiction 

Diary of a Provincial Lady (1930) by E.M. Delafield
This book is a satirical and humorous look at the life of a married woman with two children (and a cook, a French governess/nanny, and a maid or two), living in an English village, and dealing with money problems and the foibles of others. The diary format took some getting used to, but I liked it, and I am reading The Provincial Lady in London right now.

Historical Fiction

Bring Up the Bodies (2012) by Hilary Mantel
This is the sequel to Mantel's Wolf Hall; it explores the downfall of Anne Boleyn, from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell. I liked this book even better than Wolf Hall.
Margaret the First (2016) by Danielle Dutton
This very short novel tells the story of Margaret Cavendish, an unconventional 17th-century Duchess who dared to write and publish all types of literature when it was unthinkable for women to do this. I enjoyed the story very much, and learned more about those times.

Crime Fiction

A Quiet Place (1975) by Seichō Matsumoto
Crime fiction set in Japan, by a Japanese author. This book portrays culture and working life in Japan in the 1970s very well. My review here.

The Expats (2012) by Chris Pavone
A spy fiction thriller set in Luxembourg, although not your standard spy fiction story. I loved it. My review here.

Rest in Pieces (1992) by Rita Mae Brown
This is part of a mystery series that features a cat (Mrs. Murphy) and a dog (Tucker) as characters (in addition to humans). Not my usual type of mystery, but I enjoyed it. My review here.

Miss Silver Deals with Death (1944) by Patricia Wentworth
Miss Silver #6. As I noted in my review, this book has one of my favorite  settings for a mystery... London during World War II. And the mystery story is well done too.

October Men (1973) by Anthony Price
This is the fourth book in the David Audley series, a cold war espionage series set in the UK (and sometimes other countries) and usually featuring some historical element. In this case, Audley is in Italy. Although Audley is the central character throughout the series, each book is different and may place the focus on other characters. My review here.

Snow Angels (2009) by James Thompson
This is the first novel in the Inspector Vaara series. A very interesting setting: Finnish Lapland, a hundred miles into the Arctic Circle. There was too much violence, described graphically, for me. My review here.

The Second Confession (1949) and
In the Best Families (1950) by Rex Stout
When I embarked on comfort reading this month, Rex Stout was one of the first authors to come to mind. These two books are books 2 and 3 in the Zeck Trilogy; And Be a Villain is book 1 in the trilogy. Arnold Zeck is Nero Wolfe's archenemy, and in these two books Wolfe encounters Zeck once again.  

Dark Provenance (1994) by Michael David Anthony
Second book in the Canterbury Cathedral series. The protagonist, Richard Harrison, is an ex-Intelligence Officer who has taken on the position of Secretary of the Diocesan Dilapidations Board for Canterbury. By coincidence, a man he worked with in Germany at the end of the war is found dead nearby, and that man's daughter refuses to believe it is suicide. I enjoy these books more for the picture of life at Canterbury Cathedral than the mystery; this book was a good read.

Coffin in Malta (1964) by Gwendoline Butler
I read my first John Coffin novel earlier this year and enjoyed it very much. This book takes Coffin to Malta to investigate a crime and, like the earlier book I read, it features Coffin only later in the book.

Tiger in the Smoke (1952) by Margery Allingham
Albert Campion #14. Set in London a few years after the end of World War II, this is more of a thriller than the typical detective novel that Campion is involved with. My review here.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Rest in Pieces: Rita Mae Brown

This is the 2nd book in the Mrs. Murphy series. With a cat (Mrs. Murphy) and a dog (Tucker) as important characters (in addition to the humans), this was not my usual type of mystery, but I enjoyed it. I had read the first book in the series years ago, and only decided to give this book a try because it is set in Virginia and I could use it for my USA States challenge. It does give a good picture of rural Virginia, with farm life, horses, and hunting.

Mary Minor Haristeen (nicknamed "Harry") is the postmistress of the small town of Crozet, Virginia. She owns a farm, with horses, and has a grey tiger cat and a Welsh Corgi. Many of the residents of Crozet and the surrounding area are odd and quirky to say the least. In Crozet, everyone knows everyone and there is a lot of gossip.

There is a newcomer, Blair Bainbridge, a male model from Manhattan who has just purchased the farm next to Harry's. He and Harry become friends and she gives him advice on setting up his farm. Parts of a dismembered corpse show up near to their properties.

The animals have an important role in the story. They do not detect, but they do try to attract Harry's attention to clues, etc. They interact with other animals: Simon, the opossum; a barn owl; and Pewter, a neighbor's cat. Initially I found their conversations silly and distracting, but as I got used to the idea, sometimes their conversations sounded much more intelligent that the humans.

This could be described as a cozy mystery, but there is a good bit of profanity, which I thought was frowned on in cozies. That did not bother me, but just like to mention that for other readers. The Cozy Mystery site describes the series as "Deep South Cozy with talking pets." There is plenty of cursing in the Deep South, for sure.

I thought the mystery plot was pretty good, but it meandered because there were so many subplots. There did not seem to be a sleuth, although everyone wanted to know the identity of the dead body. Until much later, when an identifiable body shows up, and the action speeds up. I was very surprised by the ending, and I like it when that happens. I liked the humor in the writing, and the lovely drawings by Wendy Wray are a bonus.

If you like seasonal reads, this story starts in October and ends around Christmas. It could be read for either autumn, Halloween, or Christmas.


Publisher:  Bantam, 1993. Orig. pub. 1992.
Length:     347 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Mrs. Murphy Mystery, #11
Setting:     Virginia
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     On my TBR pile for a long time.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times No. 3

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness has started a new meme: Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times. The idea is to look through a bookshelf or a bookcase or stacks of books and share some thoughts on the books. You can find more details here and here at Judith's blog.

For my Bookshelf Traveling post this week, I have picked three books I bought or received in 2017 (and have not read).

Rough Cider by Peter Lovesey
This is one of Peter Lovesey's earlier novels. Published in 1986, it is set in 1964, and involves events that took place during World War II.
A university lecturer, Dr. Theo Sinclair, is approached by a young woman, Alice, who has questions about a murder that occurred 21 years earlier in 1943. When Sinclair was nine years old he was sent to Somerset during the Blitz; while he was there he provided evidence for a murder trial. Alice's father was convicted of murder at that trial. 
See reviews at the Historical Novel Society site and At the Scene of the Crime.

Miss Darkness: The Great Short Crime Fiction of Fredric Brown
This collection of short stories by Fredric Brown was selected and edited by Jonathan Eeds, and published in 2012. Except for a few short stories from this collection, I have not read anything by this author. He was an American science fiction and mystery writer, publishing short stories and novels from the 1940s through the 1980s. I know I have read blog posts on books by this author but not sure where. I would love to hear from anyone who is familiar with his writing.

Doan and Carstairs: Their Complete Cases by Norbert Davis
(with an introduction by Evan Lewis)
I first heard about Norbert Davis and the Doan and Carstairs series at Neeru's blog, A Hot Cup of Pleasure, in 2013, when she reviewed Holocaust House. At the time I planned to read something by this author, but never did that. In 2017, this omnibus version was published by Argosy House, with the introduction by Evan Lewis. Evan has many posts about Norbert Davis at his blog, Davy Crockett's Almanac; here is a link to a post on The Mouse in the Mountain, one of the three novels in the series.
The series was published in the 1940's. Doan is a detective and Carstairs is a Great Dane. The stories are hard-boiled mysteries with a lot of humor. See an overview at The Thrilling Detective Web Site.
I still haven't read any of the books and none of them are very long. I have really got to do something about that. I have read one of Norbert Davis's short stories, "Watch Me Kill You!", in The Complete Cases of Max Latin. My post is here

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Tiger in the Smoke: Margery Allingham

I recently realized that I started my journey towards reading this book in 2015, nearly five years ago. That was when I decided to start with Death of a Ghost (Albert Campion #6) and read the series in order up to Tiger in the Smoke (#14). Along the way I have become a big fan of Margery Allingham's writing.

I was a bit hesitant to read Tiger in the Smoke because it is usually described as very different from Allingham's other mysteries (although I have always found that there was much variation within the series). This is definitely a thriller as opposed to the usual detective novel, and fairly early on we know who the killer is. The only mystery is how (or if?) he will be stopped.

A brief summary:

A relative of Campion's, Meg Elginbrodde, is about to remarry five years after losing her first husband in World War II. She has been sent photos of her first husband which seem to indicate he is alive and in London. Campion and Inspector Charlie Luke look into this.

The "tiger" threatening London is Jack Havoc, recently escaped from prison. The "smoke" is the fog/smog hanging over London throughout this story.

My thoughts:

I did like this mystery a lot, although it is not my favorite book by Allingham. What I like about Allingham's Albert Campion series is how she tells a story, her writing style, and her skill with characterization, especially with some of the unique secondary characters that don't show up in every book. All of that was there in this book, so I was very happy with it.

Canon Avril is my favorite character in this story. He is Meg's father, "the priest in charge of the Anglican church of St Peter of the Gate in Portminster Row in London." (see Clerical Detectives) He becomes very involved in the investigation and ferrets out important details that might never have been discovered otherwise. And he is such a wise and wonderful person. The parts with Canon Avril alone made the book worthwhile for me.

Some reviewers note that Campion is not much involved in this story or the investigation but I don't see it that way at all. He was there when he needed to be and he played an important part.

See posts at Clothes in Books (here and here). At Past Offences there are multiple posts on this book, starting here.


Publisher:   Felony & Mayhem, 2010 (orig. pub. 1952)
Length:      290 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      London, UK. France.
Genre:       Thriller
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2011.