We interrupt this holiday for a little book review. Actually, a bunch of little book reviews. One of the joys of having time off is getting to read books just for the sheer joy of it, not for any business purpose or ulterior motive. So I did.
There’s not much “holiday” in this holiday reading list. It’s just the bagful of books I gathered at the library to entertain myself with during my week off. But since I was reading them anyway, I thought I’d offer a short opinion on each. Yes, they’re all mysteries. I picked up one non-fiction title but haven’t gotten to it yet.
The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion
Billed as a “culinary mystery” this book promised a combination of fabulous food (the detective’s husband is a restaurant critic), fashion (her wardrobe budget apparently equals her entire salary as a “flic”), and a nice juicy murder. Alas, the overwhelming corruption of the French police left a bad taste. Minor characters are portrayed as violent buffoons who live for the moment they can abuse a prisoner; their superiors have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude. Facts? Evidence? Justice? Why bother? Just beat somebody into confessing and let’s go have dinner.
Verdict: Disappointing and faintly disturbing. Very glad I don’t live in Paris, even if they do have amazing croissants.
Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely
This delightful novel is hits all the right notes for a cozy mystery, especially for fans of Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. The author clearly reads the same books I do (a sign of superior taste, no doubt) and has a witty way with words. Excellent plotting, a plucky heroine who manages not to be completely stupid (as so many cozy mystery heroines are wont to be), a plethora of nicely-drawn characters, and a rather fabulous setting on Cape Cod round out the book. I trust this will be the first of a long series and look forward to reading more by this author.
Verdict: Practically perfect in every way.
The Bohemian Girl by Kenneth Cameron
As our story begins, our hero (who, like Inspector Morse, eschews his given name) has just returned to early 1900’s London after a sojourn in a Transylvanian jail. (It’s a long story.) Fortunately for Denton, he’s a writer—so it’s all material. Back home he finds himself looking for a missing art student, while trying to woo a prickly female (even longer story), rewrite his novel (the Carpathian police impounded his ms as evidence), and avoid a stalker. Fans of Dorothy Sayers will see echoes of Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter in the relationship between Denton and his manservant. It’s an interesting story, with realistic characters from every level of society.
Verdict: A good read, but not the kind that leaves me scouring the shelves for more.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Are you familiar with Edward Gorey’s deliciously sinister line drawings? If they were a novel set in 1950’s England, this would be it. Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce lives in a huge, decaying old mansion with her hermit-like father and two self-absorbed older sisters. Left to her own devices, Flavia taught herself chemistry—there’s a fully-stocked lab in one wing, thanks to a scientifically-inclined de Luce of a previous generation. So when she stumbles across a dying stranger in the yard, Flavia’s trained mind goes into overdrive. Peering over her shoulder as she solves the mystery, dashing around on Gladys (her trusty bicycle), is a delight.
Verdict: Wicked good. Can’t wait to read the sequel.
Murder Melts in Your Mouth by Nancy Martin
Nora Blackbird is a Philadelphia debutante fallen on hard times—mostly due to her family. Her parents spent the entire family fortune, swindled everyone in sight, and skipped the country. Sisters Libby and Emma (not to mention Libby’s five children) are more hindrance than help. Meanwhile, Nora’s mobster boyfriend has called for a little alone time. But the real excitement begins when a financier jumps to his death after an argument with Nora’s best friend. Or was he pushed? It’s a light, charming, high society tale with several nicely plotted twists.
Verdict: Charming in an amoral kind of way.
S is for Silence by Sue Grafton
I have followed the adventures of Kinsey Milhone since she started with “A is for Alibi” and 18 books later, the series does not disappoint. Beautifully crafted mystery, excellent characterization, easy to read. My only quibble is that I’m a little tired of the standard “Kinsey in danger” ending to the story. Can’t she catch a killer without running for her life? It’s well done and all, I’m just kind of over it.
Verdict: Another solid entry in the series. Sorry to see the end of the alphabet looming.
There would be more, but I’m having a party and have to go vacuum now….
What have you read lately? What did you think about it? Any recommendations to share?