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Readingomnivore Reviews

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by readingomnivore, Mar 25, 2014.

  1. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    INFORMATION RECEIVED is the first book in the Bobby Owen mystery series written by E. R. Punshon. It was originally published in 1933, when it received a glowing review from Dorothy L. Sayers, part of her campaign to move the crime novel away from Edwardian melodrama toward more psychological realism and authentic depiction of police work. It was reissued in e-book format in 2015.

    Something is amiss from the time Sir Christopher Clarke, ruthless millionaire businessman in the City, demands his solicitor Basil Marsden of Marsden, Carsley, and Marsden, turn over the securities and accounts for the Belfort Trust. Marsden is loath to do so and, after Clarke insists and leave with the file, he confesses to his partner that he's embezzled funds and ruin is eminent. That night, Sir Christopher is found shot to death at home with the Belfort securities and a cache of diamonds missing from his safe. The situation is complicated by the secret marriage of Marsden's partner, young Peter Carsley, to Clarke's daughter Jennie. To prevent the marriage, Clarke burnt his old will; the new will he dictates to Marsden will leave Jennie penniless if she is married at the time of his death. He plans to settle some £40,000 on his stepdaughter Brenda Laing instead of dividing the estate equally between the women. Is the timing of his murder significant? An elderly man had been lurking about Clarke's home, making vague threats. Why does the gift of tickets to the new hit production of Hamlet at the Regency Theatre, for two stall seats, sent to his City office, to his home, and to the solicitor's office, spook Clarke so much?

    Most elements--victim and his family and associates, sketchy setting, central plot situation--of INFORMATION RECEIVED are typical of a puzzle plot. In the denouement, Punshon uses three major confessions to explain the disparate plot components. The device used to establish the alibi for Sir Christopher's killer may not be original, and the motive for his murder comes from so deep in the past that it is not adequately foreshadowed.

    The protagonist Bobby Owen is the key difference. Owen is an Oxford graduate, but with only a pass degree, athletic ability his major talent, very ordinary, who "...began to realize that in sober fact the detection of crime is not a matter of individual genius, of brilliant and dramatic improvisations on a given theme, but rather the slow collecting of and feeding of facts into a great machine that in the end slowly and ponderously churns out the legal proof required. And he saw that the process is often as dull and tedious a job as that of sitting all day on an office stool, adding up figures--or as he had found his own evening at 'The Green Man,' drinking beer that he did not want and exchanging commonplaces on subjects that didn't interest him with people who interested him still less." (144)

    INFORMATION RECEIVED is central to the development of the modern crime novel, but its interest lies more in its transitional nature than to its plot or characters. I doubt that I will follow up on the series. (B)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    PROGRESSION, V. 1 is the first of two continuations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was written by Jodi L. Covey and published in e-book format in 2014.

    PROGRESSION, V. 1, opens during the double wedding in Meryton of Charles Bingley to Jane Bennet and of Fitzwilliam Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy guests are scarce; only his sister Georgiana and cousin Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam attend, Darcy having failed to follow protocol in presenting his affianced wife to Lord and Lady Matlock for approval and refused Lady Catherine's edict to end the engagement altogether. It continues through the first year of the Darcys' married life, as both adjust to their marriage, entertain their combined families at Pemberley during Christmas, and prepare for both Georgiana and Elizabeth's presentation to Society during the Season. It stops with the Darcys established at Darcy House in preparation, Elizabeth newly pregnant.

    Without doing spoilers, PROGRESSION, V. 1, tries to cover too much territory, giving at least vignettes of all the major characters in Pride and Prejudice, plus introducing two major new villainous males: Stephen Fitzwilliam, Lord Ashbourne, Colonel Fitzwilliam's elder brother; and Lord Thornhaugh, oldest son of the Duke of Bedford, who's courting Caroline Bingley. Anne de Bourgh and .Charlotte Collins both face challenges, and Colonel Fitzwilliam leaves the militia to volunteer as a cavalry captain in General Wellesley's forces on the Peninsula. It's all too much. There is no conclusion, no sense of closure on any of the multitude of story lines. I much prefer a more concentrated story telling that focuses on a few of the major characters and completes the tale to this shotgun approach.

    Several things bother me. One is the improbability of such an ill-assorted house party at Pemberley at Christmas. Would Elizabeth invite her whole family including Lydia to a week's visit at the same time as the Matlocks, when it is the first time she's entertained Darcy's aristocratic relatives? Formatting often leaves words run together, not a serious flaw but distracting. Covey writes in an odd mixture of formal English, some of it Austen-like but minus her wit and irony, and slang, cant expressions, some anachronistic. The combination jars. She refers to Colonel Fitzwilliam leaving for "the Peninsular"--he is going to the Iberian Peninsula where Arthur Wellesley leads the British forces fighting Napoleon in the Peninsular War.

    PROGRESSION, V. 1, would benefit from judicious editing to tighten story lines, to reduce the number and develop the characters. (C)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    SONG OF THE LION is the latest to date in Anne Hillerman's continuation of Tony Hillerman's Navajo Nation mystery series. It was published in print and e-book editions in 2017.

    Bernadette Manuelito is off duty and enjoying the homecoming basketball game between alumni and current Shiprock High School basketball teams when an explosion rocks the gym. The BMW belonging to alumni stand-out Aza Palmer blows up with extensive damage to surrounding vehicles and the death of a young Navajo Richard Horseman. Is he collateral damage, the intended victim, or an inept bomb maker? Because she's first responder, Bernie becomes part of the interagency investigation of the bombing. Does it have something to do with Aza Palmer's upcoming mediation of highly controversial plans for development on the rim of the Grand Canyon on land owned by the Navajo Nation? Is he the bomber's target? Jim Chee is assigned to chauffeur and guard Palmer as the investigation continues and the conference opens to well-publicized protests.

    Hillerman does an excellent job of keeping the motive and thus the identity of the bomber hidden, though she does include some foreshadowing. The role of the mountain lion seems a bit contrived. Sense of place is good but not so well developed as in her earlier novels. icat

    Two things I particularly like. One is that Bernie is full, equal partner in police work to husband Sgt. Jim Chee, also of the Navajo Tribal Police. She is quite capable of taking care of herself and rescuing victims as necessary. She is agreeably complex, a dedicated, professional cop but also a loving daughter who cares deeply about her aging mother. The other is Joe Leaphorn's involvement in solving the case. Leaphorn still has trouble with verbal communication, particularly in Englsh, but he's become adept in computer research and use of e-mail to communicate and, of course, his memory and his contacts make him a valuable resource. He's impaired but definitely functional.

    SONG OF THE LION is satisfying. (B+)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Catherine Bilson's INFAMOUS RELATIONS is one of the more original fan fiction variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in e-book format in 2016.

    ~~~MINOR SPOILERS~~~

    When Fitzwilliam Darcy gives Elizabeth Bennet his letter of explanation for the misdeeds she charged him with following his disastrous proposal at Hunsford, she is caught in the rain and does not read it before running back to the parsonage. There, in removing her coat, she drops it; Mr. Collins picks it up, recognizes the Darcy seal, and reads it. The impropriety and the insult to Lady Catherine de Bourgh's plans inflames him to molest Elizabeth sexually. She flees back into the storm, falls and hits her head, to be found by Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. Collins takes the letter to Lady Catherine, who tries to use the knowledge of Georgiana's projected elopement to blackmail Darcy into marrying Anne. Charlotte Collins and neighbor Dr. Daniel Trent are desperate to keep the assault on Elizabeth secret since public knowledge would ruin her reputation even though she was not raped. The story continues as Trent treats Elizabeth, Lady Catherine demands her immediate expulsion from the parsonage, Darcy and Fitzwilliam defy their aunt and learn of the assault, and the four gradually determine the location of the attack and the attacker's identity. Both self-perceptions and judgments about others change dramatically during this process. Once Elizabeth regains consciousness, she and Darcy soon reconcile their misunderstandings. What happens with Collins and Lady Catherine is exquisitely ironic.

    Bilson makes important changes in several characters, though Darcy, Elizabeth, and Charlotte are essentially unchanged. When Jane Bennet arrives at Hunsford to nurse Elizabeth, Colonel Fitzwilliam quickly is impressed with her beauty, manners, and spirit. Understanding from Elizabeth's unconscious mutterings that Darcy is the assailant, Jane slaps him not once but twice across the face at first sight. Jane also decides she could not possibly be happy with a man who allowed his sisters and a friend to determine whom he should marry. Mr. Bennet demands more appropriate behavior from the younger Bennet sisters and forbids Lydia's trip to Brighton. Jane and Elizabeth take more active roles in guiding their sisters' public conduct. Anne stands up to her mother and blocks her attempt to blackmail Darcy. All satisfying changes, with Dr. Daniel Trent an interesting addition.

    I do have a few reservations. Editing could be better. The Gardiners' address is given as "Gracechurch-street." Mr. Bennet calls Mr. Gardiner "Edward," but he introduces himself as "Edwin." Colonel Fitzwilliam refers to General Arthur Wellesley as 'Wellingon" before he was created Duke of Wellington. Too many expressions and gestures are described as "arch." Darcy smirks. Bilson has him quote Rhett Butler when he tells his aunt, "Frankly, Aunt Catherine, I don't give a damn" when she denies future association with him. My biggest problem comes back to the entail. With Mrs. Bennet's obsession about being thrown out into the hedgerows when Mr. Bennet dies, it's hard to believe that the succession to Longbourn in the case of failure of the male line had not been thoroughly examined beforehand.

    INFAMOUS RELATIONS is one of the more original, more satisfying variants. Recommended. (A-)
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MISS SEETON SINGS is the fourth book in Heron Carvic's mystery series featuring Miss Emily Dorothea Seeton, retired art teacher of Plummergen, Kent. She is on retainer from Scotland Yard as a civilian artist because "...wherever Miss Seeton has been in contact with or... put in touch with any form of crime, she has unconsciously, maybe one should say she has unwittingly, had the effect of one of those lawn weed killers which startle the plants into excessive growth until the plants, in this case the crimes, have blown themselves up, distorted themselves and finally solved themselves or killed themselves through their own overstimulated energy." Originally published in 1993, MISS SEETON SINGS was issued in e-book format in 2016.

    Under pressure from the Foreign Office, Scotland Yard reluctantly seconds Miss Seeton to the Banque du Lac in Geneva as part of its investigation of huge quantities of forged £5 notes passing through the Swiss accounts of Greek shipping millionaire Herakles Stemkos. The counterfeit notes are part of a conspiracy to destabilize the British economy along with side criminal enterprises of embezzlement, art thefts, and jewel robberies. Seeton-induced chaos begins at Heathrow, when she inadvertently prevents the transfer of forged notes between couriers and takes the flight to Genoa; she proceeds to Milan en route to Switzerland, encountering the criminals again and confounding them, before arriving in Geneva where everything goes pear-shaped. Stemkos demands Miss Seeton in Paris, where she accidentally becomes the star of a new hit nudist review. She, of course, is neither nude nor in costume; gentlewomen don't behave so. It's only when she returns to Heathrow that the final threads of the conspiracy unravel.

    I am whimsy impaired, but I have no problem in putting aside disbelief and enjoying the silliness. I admire the skill with which Carvic develops the truism that "the guilty flee when no man pursueth." Probable events, no; good fun, yes.

    Carvic carefully establishes settings as Miss Seeton moves about in Europe, nowhere better than in his evocation of Geneva: "Geneva: city of intrigue; where Machiavelli would have felt right at home; where delegations come from every other land and every delegate is other than they seem; where informers sell to spies and spies are counterspies and only unite to undermine the United Nations; where dubious financiers put doubtful gains into unnamed accounts and use the city as a springboard to new lives in brighter sunshine at their shareholders' expense; where deviation from accepted standards is accepted as the norm; where infiltration is the order of the day and honesty is more suspect than the lie."

    MISS SEETON SINGS (the title refers to "Song of India" by Rimsky-Korsakov, the humming or singing of which is the password between couriers of the forged notes) is over the top, even by the standard of earlier books in the series, but it's an amusing read. (B)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    PROGRESSION, V. 2 is the second volume in Jodi L. Covey's continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It continues the changed story lines introduced in the first volume and, like it, resolves none. It was published in e-book format without a copyright date. The ending assures us of a volume 3. I do not plan to continue the series. I feel cheated that in a total of 61 chapters over two full-length novels, NOT ONE of the plot lines has reached closure.

    ~~~SPOILERS~~~

    Volume 2 deals with Darcy, Elizabeth, and Georgiana jumping through the hoops as prescribed by Lady Matlock and the Lady Patronesses of Almack's as necessary for admission to Society. Since none of the Darcys are interested in living in London or participating in the activities of the Ton, it's not clear why they subject themselves to the gossip, backbiting, and hostile machinations. At the climax of the ball at Almack's that marks Georgiana and Elizabeth's debut, Darcy introduces Georgiana's pianoforte recital with a prolonged heartfelt public proclamation of his feelings for his wife, to whom the performance is dedicated; Georgiana plays a waltz to which Elizabeth and Darcy dance, further scandalizing their audience. The waltz previously had been forbidden at Almack's because it is too intimate and risque for public performance.

    Covey continues the shotgun approach, dealing with the on-going animosity between Darcy and Lord Thornhaugh, who ruins Caroline Bingley and moves to engage Anne de Bourgh's interest. Richard Fitzwilliam is invalided home following a battlefield injury, while his older brother Stephen, Viscount Ashbourne, is gravely ill with pneumonia. Younger brother Matthew has received clandestine letters from Kitty Bennet, with whom he's fallen in love, though she loves Christian Lucas. Anne de Bourgh plans to live with the Matlocks until she can refurbish the de Bourgh townhouse in London. Charles and Jane Bingley purchase an estate in Derbyshire near Pemberley, to which they plan to move. They are encumbered with Caroline, who's delusional, believing Thornhaugh will claim her as his wife, pregnant with his heir. His father the Duke of Bedford has exiled Thornhaugh to India; his second son Lord John Russell meets Georgiana at the ball and is much taken with her. Charlotte Collins returns to Hunsford to her husband, bearing the news to Lady Catherine that Anne plans never to return to Rosings.

    Besides the lack of resolution, slang anachronisms and infelicitous word choice jar. Since I do not care for the introduced inconsistencies in major characters, and I resent the lack of resolution (which seems a deliberate ploy to enforce sales), I shan't continue the series. (C-)
     

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