Posts filed under ‘Mystery’

‘Career of Evil’ by Robert Galbraith

career_of_evil_oct_2015Okay, folks, I’m calling it: I’m done with Robert Galbraith.

In times of reading slumps, I often find myself turning to mysteries as a way to kick-start my reading habits. Mysteries usually quick and fun with just enough mental stimulation (whodunit?!) to make them feel worthwhile and slightly better than zoning in front of a movie.

In such times, I tend to veer towards Victorian-era mysteries of the Elizabeth Peters, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Anne Perry variety, but a couple of years ago I widened by net to include Robert Galbraith. Galbraith’s books are utterly unlike the kind of mysteries I usually enjoy: they’re contemporary, they have a surly male protagonist, and are often very violent.

So, why the exception? Because, improbably, Robert Galbraith is the pen name of J.K. Rowling. And I mean it when I say “improbably.” I can hardly think of something less probable than Robert Galbraith’s dark and violent books being written by the same person who invented Chocolate Frogs, Quidditch, and Diagon Alley.

And yet, they somehow are. So, I gave them a try. (more…)


September 27, 2016 at 6:31 am 1 comment

‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton

This post is part of our on-going 2016 Spring Reading Spree. Kick off your own reading spree this spring by giving some love to the unread books on your shelf!


As Kate has previously noted in her post on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, it is incredibly hard to write about big, excellent books. Where do you start when you love something so lengthy and for so many reasons? What do you do when you finish an epic book and want to talk about everything and everyone in the book?

Like The Count, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is a hefty tale, largely fueled by revenge and other sorts of nefariousness, that takes its time unraveling its plot and the relationships between its characters. Additionally, The Luminaries is akin to the Victorian mystery novel, but instead of having a Father Brown or a Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple to do the mystery-solving, the responsibility of figuring out what actually happened is divided amongst thirteen people. They all want to solve the mystery and they each have a specific piece of information that might do the trick, but they are often hampered by their own blind-spots and prejudices.

But more than the triple mystery at its heart, The Luminaries is an insightful exploration of character and New Zealand’s own history. (more…)

May 18, 2016 at 6:09 am 1 comment

‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

audleyMy co-blogger Kate recommended Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon to me many, many years ago and, while I did buy a nice copy back in 2012, it mostly sat on my shelf looking pretty and collecting dust. It was on the list to be read during my last spring reading spree in 2014 and, for my second, I was determined to actually read it.

Lady Audley’s Secret has a lot to recommend it, in my view: it’s a Victorian suspense novel along the lines of Wilkie Collins, but written by a woman and featuring numerous, and distinct, female characters. And author Braddon herself is an interesting historical figure. Like George Eliot, Braddon had an unconventional personal life, although hers would, appropriately enough, not be out of place in one of her own novels: the wife of her publisher (and future husband) was locked away in an insane asylum, so, when Braddon and the publisher fell in love, the pair ignored the insane wife, moved in together, and proceeded to act as though they were married. (All their servants quit in protest at such flagrant moral depravity.) Meanwhile, Braddon continued to write and her would-be-husband (they did later marry, after his wife died) happily published her popular novels.

You have to figure with a biography like that, Mary Elizabeth Braddon probably knows her way around a gothic suspense novel.

And she doesn’t disappoint! Lady Audley’s Secret is a wild ride of a narrative with all the frequent twists, betrayals, secret histories, and love affairs that you’d hope for in the genre. Braddon does her precursor Ann Radcliffe proud in this one (more…)

May 13, 2016 at 6:51 am Leave a comment

‘Still Life with Murder’ by P.B. Ryan

114029Rarely have I been as captivated by a mystery as I was by P.B. Ryan’s Still Life with Murder, the first in her Nell Sweeney series. Combining a few tropes familiar to readers of historical fiction with a willful, wonderfully flawed heroine and gorgeous trappings — as well as a tightly-knit plot — this novel is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in quite some time.

The premise is simple: Nell Sweeney, a physician’s assistant, is hired as a governess-cum-nursemaid for the infant Gracie, the daughter of a chambermaid in a Boston Brahmin household. In a move that surprises and shocks Boston society, the matriarch of the family adopts the little girl as her own. The woman has lost two of her four sons to the Civil War, and tells all who will listen that she’s always wanted a daughter, so why pass up this one?

Nell, however, infers that it’s not the whole story. Raised in the Irish-Catholic Boston slums, she knows that when a chambermaid hasn’t seen her husband in a year and a half, the baby she just gave birth to definitely isn’t his. And since the baby was so readily accepted by this high-brow family, Nell knows the baby must be one of the sons’, somehow.

Turns out, she’s right — but that’s not all. The son in question, William Hewitt, was thought to have died during the War, but he is actually alive, addicted to opium and charged with murdering a man in a boarding house known for card games and prostitutes. Amazing. On behalf of her employer, Nell is sent to determine Will’s innocence and somehow keep him from being hanged. (more…)

April 19, 2016 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

A reading pickle: Despising the characters, intrigued by the story

air-and-shadowsThis week’s reading pickle began when I checked Michael Gruber’s The Book of Air and Shadows out of the library. It’s one of those books billed as a “literary thriller,” which usually have something to do with antiquarian books and a literary celebrity.

In this case, the main plot mover is the (possible) discovery of the world’s only extant Shakespeare manuscript. As hackneyed as the lost-Shakespeare-manuscript construct is, I was willing to along with it because I’m a sucker for bookish mysteries. (Seriously. It’s an on-going problem in my reading life.)

So I started in on The Book of Air and Shadows vaguely hopeful. However, about 150 pages in (of 466), I sat up and realized I found pretty much every single character detestable. (more…)

September 10, 2015 at 2:53 am Leave a comment

Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell Series

So I’ve been having a very mystery-centric few weeks. beekeeperFirst, there were the Cormoran Strike books, chosen because my Nantucket book club decided on The Cuckoo’s Calling as its February read.

At the same time, I got The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King out of the library. And, at about the same time, there was a massive blizzard, cutting me off from the outside world entirely (not to mention cutting me off from “luxuries” like heat, power, and cell service) and leaving me no choice but to submerge myself in the land of mystery with these two books.

(It must be duly noted that having two snow days off from work with nothing to do but snuggle under a blanket with my dog and some good books was no true hardship!)

While the Cormoran Strike books are textbook contemporary mystery, during the blizzard I made the happy discovery that Laurie King’s Mary Russell series is more stereotypically-Corey-ish reading, the kind that features an independent, whip-smart, wildly anachronistic young woman who solves crimes in England in the late Victorian, Edwardian, or otherwise pre-WWII era. Unsurprisingly, as a result, I loved The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

In this particular series, beyond the independent/anachronistic young woman (Mary Russell), there is an additional bonus in the identity of the titular beekeeper: Sherlock Holmes, in these books presented as a real person thoroughly perturbed at being fictionalized (ineptly, as far as King’s Holmes is concerned, and regrettably aided by a classically incompetent Watson) by Arthur Conan Doyle.

While the addition of such a famous character may seem a bit fanfiction-y, I hasten to assure prospective readers that it really is more fun and less hagiographic than you might expect. Mary herself is the focus of the books, although Holmes’ presence along with cameos from Watson, Mycroft, and Lestrade certainly enliven the proceedings. (more…)

March 3, 2015 at 7:00 am 2 comments

The Cormoran Strike novels

cuckooIn an attempt to kick-start my reading habits after my January of readerly apathy, I recently turned to an old favorite genre: mystery. I used to read mystery novels constantly, starting with the Amelia Peabody books as my gateway drug and veering from there off into Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne Perry, and Sharon Kay Penman. These books were, for me, the equivalent of a movie as far as pastime went: entertaining, unchallenging (mostly), and quick.

I haven’t read mysteries in a while, so I forgot how purely enjoyable they could be. They are the most satisfying kind of “comeuppance stories” — the villains are inevitably caught by our intrepid and intelligent heroes and heroines, who, in turn, live happily in the satisfaction of a job well done with another adventure to look forward to. (For mysteries are, almost without exception, series. There is something irresistibly serial about a mystery solved well.)

The past few weeks, I expanded my scope a little bit and moved into from my comfort zone of historical mysteries into the contemporary mystery/thriller genre. The last time I delved down this particular path, I came away rather disappointed and a little disgusted (somehow contemporary mysteries really favor the more gruesome and the hyper-violent). So this time I hedged my bets a little by going to a familiar and favorite author for my dose of contemporary crime: J.K. Rowling, albeit writing as Robert Galbraith.

I read both The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, the only two books in Rowling/Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series thus far, and found myself rather enjoying them. Even though there was very little on-paper to appeal to me about the series (both books are about a wounded war veteran-turned-private detective and his eager secretary trying to outsmart the police and everyone else), book Cuckoo and Silkworm were somehow better than their loglines might suggest.

February 16, 2015 at 7:17 am 10 comments

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