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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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    "Nuptial Sacrifice" is the final story in Andrea Frazer's Falconer File stories. It was published in 2017 in digital format.l

    Detective Inspector Harry Falconer is getting married. Dr. Honey Dubois proposed some three months before, and the wedding is arranged at The Manse, the exclusive country-house hotel run by Jefferson Grammaticus. Falconer has history with Grammaticus based on his hiring of ex-convicts. All is set; the day moves through the ceremony, the reception, and the dinner without catastrophe until time for serving the wedding cake. Reverend Aurelius Snipe, the elderly vicar who performed their ceremony, is dead, stabbed in the back, face down in the cake. Falconer violates all police protocol by trying to continue the wedding celebration as he, DS Davey Carmichael, and DC Tomlinson hunt the killer.

    This is not much of a mystery story. The killer is totally unconnected to anyone in the wedding, and there's no foreshadowing about identity or motive. Instead it is a neat little reprise of established characters as Falconer's carefully orchestrated wedding day dissolves into farce. His mother's bigoted comment on Honey as "a coloured" strikes a discordant note in a romp.

    I regret the passing of this series. (B+)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE HONOURABLE MR. DARCY is a novella variant by Caroline Bryant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    In THE HONOURABLE MR. DARCY, just as Elizabeth Bennet rejects Mr. Collins's marriage proposal, Mr. Bennet suffers an attack from which he is not expected to live. He revives sufficiently to enjoin Elizabeth to provide for her mother and sisters by marrying Collins, then dies that night. That day Caroline Bingley's letter about their removal to London ends hope for Jane's expected marriage to Charles Bingley. Thus immediately after her father's funeral, the engaged Elizabeth leaves for Hunsford chaperoned by Aunt Phillips, for approval by Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth is unhappy but without other options. While at Hunsford, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrive for their annual visit to Rosings; Darcy, still attracted to Elizabeth and hating to see her spirit diminished by her boorish fiance, intervenes unexpectedly to rectify the Bennets' situation and win Elizabeth.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    While THE HONOURABLE MR. DARCY received many positive reviews, Elizabeth Bennet is not faithful to Austen's original. She relinquishes her future to obey her dying father's behest, subdues her personality to mollify the boorish fiance, then refuses to end her engagement when the Collins marriage becomes unnecessary. The scandal resulting from her jilting him would disgrace her family. Self-sacrifice is generally considered a virtue, but Bryant's Elizabeth ranges well into the masochistic. Her emotions are reported, not shown, while her change in feelings toward Darcy receives scant attention.

    Two real-life issues in the plotting bother me. One is the question of Collins continuing as parson at Hunsford after he inherits Longbourn. His new role as a landed gentleman far outstrips his status and income as a clergyman; it seems improbable that he would remain at Hunsford, yet that is his apparent plan. The second involves his selling of the Longbourn estate. Bryant gives no details about how this could be done legally. It seems unlikely to occur because the purpose of entail in the male line was to prevent land passing from the bloodline through marriage of a female heir (whose husband would become its owner unless protected under a prenuptial marriage settlement) or by sale. Breaking an entail involved consent of successive heirs, so Collins could not have sold Longbourn unilaterally.

    When Lady Catherine calls at Longbourn to demand that Elizabeth end any relationship with Darcy and refuses to leave until she receives the promise, Elizabeth's response--to ask the housekeeper to prepare a room for Lady Catherine's long stay--echoes the scene from the 1940 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.

    THE HONOURABLE MR. DARCY is nothing special. (C-)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THREE MYSTERIES, despite its title, is an anthology of four short stories published by Daphne Coleridge in digital format in 2010.

    Three stories center on Laura Mortimer and Rupert Latimer, longtime friends who marry in the third story. Neither is much characterized, and both seem moved into the twenty-first century from a Golden Age mystery or an early romantic suspense novel by Dorothy Eden or Mary Stewart. Only the third story involves a crime.

    In "The Treasure at Claresby Manor" Laura has inherited Claresby Manor, home to the Mortimers since before 1066, but not the money required to keep it. Unless she and Rupert find the family treasure reputed hidden from Cromwell's men by her ancestor Gerald Mortimer, she will be forced to sell. Their only clue is Mortimer's deathbed statement, "treasure is in the pictures." The solution is so simple that it's hard to believe no one from the previous generations of treasure hunters found the hiding place.

    The second story "Pickled Toad with Diamonds" features a Golden Age staple, the weekend house party with guests variously at odds with one another. Laura, who studied art history for one term at Cambridge, is repaying invitations from an assortment of artistic friends; she displays an uninsured Sebastian Fullmarks artwork "Pickled Toad with Diamonds" worth £1,000,000. The following morning it, an actual toad preserved in sweet wine and embellished with diamonds, is missing. With no signs of a break-in, clearly one of the guests must have taken it. The explanatory scenario is highly unlikely in real life.

    On Rupert and Laura's wedding day in "An Uninvited Guest," they return to Claresby Manor to celebrate, only to find an unknown dead man seated at the head table in the Great Hall. Cause of death and identity are unknown, but the man had been dead for a day or two. Rupert's best man Martin swears that he'd talked with the dead man outside the church just before the wedding. Then the police discover an identical second body, recently dead, in the churchyard. Again, the concluding explanation seems contrived.

    The final story "The Painting with Two Faces" is easily the strongest though it's the only one with a supernatural element. It has only three named characters: shop girls Rowena and Emma and a young male artist Jude. Rowen goes away with Jude over Halloween weekend, allowing him to paint her portrait. What she sees in the painting leads to murder. The actual events are improbable, but Coleridge makes it easy to suspend disbelief.

    The Rupert-Laura stories are nothing special, but "The Painting with Two Faces" helps to redeem the collection. (C+)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DISTURBING THE DUST is Ivy May Stuart's variant of Jane Austen's Persuasion. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    Stuart is faithful to Austen's original, revealing emotions and motives for behavior of the established characters. Anne Elliot early recognizes that she's shut down her emotions since ending her engagement to Frederick Wentworth years before and determines to renew her enjoyment of life. It's refreshing to see Anne appropriately angry at Wentworth's treatment after she cares for Louisa Musgrove's injury at Lyme; it's satisfying when she decides Bath will open a life separate from her father and sister. Wentworth's hurt feelings and his desire to flaunt his success to Anne are understandably human.

    Another major character embellishment involves the personality of Elizabeth Elliot. Stuart explicitly shows the disrespect and hectoring Elizabeth uses to dictate Anne's behavior and to express her resentment of Anne's popularity in Bath as her own diminishes. Stuart introduces wealthy, handsome, intelligent Francis Beaumont as a potential suitor for Anne, though he had been a suitor for Elizabeth during her first Season. After marked attentions to Anne, he suddenly returns to Elizabeth and, within a week, they are engaged. Elizabeth's sudden decision to change her personality, as well as Beaumont's declaration after years of observing her behavior, makes their happy ending seem contrived. Elizabeth doesn't deserve one, and Beaumont is unlikely to experience one with her.

    The single most gratifying element of DISTURBING THE DUST is the letter to Elizabeth in which her toadying companion Mrs. Penelope Clay announces her elopement with William Elliot, Sir Walter's heir whom Elizabeth had confidently expected to marry.

    DISTURBING THE DUST is an enjoyable retelling that provides revealing glimpses into the canonical characters. (A-)
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Don't know if I've ever written a positive review for a book that I don't finish, so this is a departure for me.

    POOR HANDS is the third book in Oliver Tidy's Booker and Cash mystery series. Published in digital format in 2017, it reads well as a stand alone novel.

    POOR HANDS is well-written. The protagonists are engaging. David Booker, the first person narrator, owns the book-themed coffee shop Booker's in Dymchurch, on the southeast coast of Kent; Jo Cash is a former police detective, now a private investigator whose office and living quarters are above the shop. David is in love with her, but they are platonic friends. Both are believable.

    Tidy excels at using sense of place to reinforce characterization: "The landscape was carved up and criss-crossed by scores of winding country lanes and hundreds of narrow dykes known locally as sewers--there to keep the Marsh drained, to prevent it flooding and reverting back too something resembling its name and its past. The hills at Lympne rose out of the landscape to our right. A mile to our left the English Channel shouldered against the sea wall. The land was a riot of crops. The hedgerows a forager's larder. The dykes a haven for wildlife. The sights, smells and sounds of the countryside crowded my senses and lifted my spirits. I had the sun on my back and a warm breeze caressing my exposed skin. Not for the first time since my return to Romney Marsh I was forced to wonder why I'd felt the need to leave." (26-7)

    The plot focuses on two cases. In the first, for an American attorney's anonymous client, Jo seeks to identify living descendants of Shirley Moor, an unmarried woman who died in childbirth in 1835 in nearby Ivychurch, leaving twins Emily and Daniel. No other parish records mention them. In the second, a young Eastern European woman uses Booker's to escape a following thug; after David finds her sleeping on the beach, he and Jo offer Maria a part time job in Booker's and a place to stay. She works one day but then disappears, the caravan in which she was staying torn up in a struggle. Police explain she's almost certainly an illegal immigrant, part of the human smuggling common along the Kentish coast, most likely lured to the UK by sex traffickers. Both story lines are realistic.

    So why am I giving up about a third of the way through POOR HANDS? I do not have the emotional stamina to deal with some topics: slavery, the Holocaust, religious and ethnic atrocities, child abuse, and human trafficking. Since I have never handled these well in nonfiction required for course work, I know to avoid them in fiction read for pleasure. The fault lies not in POOR HANDS but in me. No grade because not finished.
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    LADY CATHERINE IMPEDES is the second novella in Zoe Burton's The Darcy Marriage series based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2017. It is more properly an installment in a serial publication since it contains only a slight resolution to one of the story lines. It ends abruptly with the unexpected arrival at Netherfield of Caroline Bingley, who walks in berating her brother for wasting their father's money on a hovel.

    LADY CATHERINE IMPEDES begins two weeks after DARCY'S WIFE SEARCH. Elizabeth and Darcy remain guests of Charles Bingley at Netherfield. Mrs. Bennet, whose temper burns brighter at the arrival of William Collins, still refuses to allow Elizabeth to enter Longbourn. When Collins meets the Darcys, he expresses news of the marriage to Lady Catherine. Blaming her mother's failure to coerce Darcy into marrying her, Anne de Bourgh orders her mother to "fix it," then secretly orders Collins to "remove" Elizabeth by whatever means he chooses. Lady Catherine's attempt to buy Elizabeth off reveals dark secrets at Rosings that require intervention by the Earl of Matlock and his sons. At Netherfield, Collins stalks Elizdabeth and is himself stalked by a young woman intent on marriage.

    Burton uses current expressions, some of them Americanisms (e.g.,"fired" instead of "sacked"). She shifts modern fear of addiction to opiates into a period that used laudanum, or tincture of opium, as a panacea. Burton depicts a woman developmentally delayed due to brain damage suffered as a baby, as integrated into local society; the Regency period did not mainstream mental patients of any kind. Rapid shifts between the focal characters makes for choppy flow of action. As in DARCY'S WIFE SEARCH, the plot's potential far exceeds the delivery.

    ~~~SPOILERS~~~

    Several characters in LADY CATHERINE IMPEDES are more modern than Regency in attitude and behavior. The plot focuses on Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh's reactions to Darcy's marriage, taking both personalities far beyond anything Austen suggests. Lady Catherine plans to pay Elizabeth to leave her husband and move out of England so that her death can be faked, freeing Darcy to marry Anne. She's desperate to placate her daughter because she fears Anne's wrath. Anne plots revenge on whoever angers her, and she lashes out with verbal abuse and physical violence against whoever happens to be nearby. She has injured servants as well as her mother, breaking Lady Catherine's arm and, on another occasion, giving her a concussion. Burton's Lady Catherine is an enabler, a stereotypical abuse victim who covers up for her abuser, while Anne is a candidate for a Dr. Phil episode on out of control teens or a riff of Jane Eyre's Bertha Rochester.

    Burton's William Collins combines his eternal toadying to social superiors with a desire to hurt physically those he considers inferior. Not just a creeping toad, he is a sexual predator, planning to abduct and hold Elizabeth at Hunsford to "enjoy her" for several weeks before shipping her out of the country. (Shades of Elizabeth Smart!) That Collins receives no punishment except Darcy's verbal dressing down, despite his conspiring to kidnap and/or kill Elizabeth, is offensive.

    I cannot recommend LADY CATHERINE IMPEDES to anyone who treasures Austen's wit and skilled characterization, but I confess I'll continue the series just to see how much more soap opera it can get. (D-)
     
  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Judith A. Yates's "SHE IS EVIL!": MADNESS AND MURDER IN MEMPHIS is the account of the murder of Pakistani-born Ejaz Ahmad by his wife Leah Joy Ward-Ahmad in 2003. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    Ejaz Ahmad immigrated to the United States to fulfill his mother's dream for his education. A devout Muslim who practiced the moral and charitable life ordained by his religion, he was warm, generous, hardworking, financially successful, and blessed with many friends, a devoted father. Bonnie Garrett, the mother of his son Jordan Tariq Ahmad, acknowledged that her insecurities and independent nature caused their divorce, not Ejaz; he remained emotionally close to both her and her mother Ernestine Marsh, who regarded him as a son.

    When he met Leah Joy Ward, an addict prostituting herself for drug money, with a criminal record and a history of mental illness, Ejaz tried to help her get her life in order. Knowing only what she told him about her past and ignoring all warnings, Ejaz and Leah married in a Memphis mosque 5 October 2002. Within days, he'd realized his mistake, but he endured her lying, sneaking out of the house at night, staying away for days, using drugs, accusing him of adultery and spousal abuse, stealing from him, and showering him with verbal and physical abuse until he disappeared sometime in April 2003. Leah accounted for his absence with a variety of stories to Jordan and his relatives and to Ejaz's friends. When Jordan and his grandmother visited Ejaz's house on Sea Isle Street 1 May 2003 trying to locate him, the stench from a small metal storage shed in the backyard led them to discover his decomposing body, decapitated, with external genitalia missing. Alerted to the state of Ejaz and Leah's marriage and to her suspicious activities during April, police questioned Leah on 5 May 2003, when she confessed to shooting Ejaz, claiming self-defense as he was attacking her.

    Leah Joy Ward-Ahmad's trial began in Shelby County Criminal Court Division 10 on 1 November 2005, Judge James C. Beasley, Jr., presiding, with Assistant District Attorney Patience "Missy" Branham as prosecutor, assisted by Pamela Fleming. Leah was represented by public defenders. Both sides completed their cases on 4 November 2005; the jury deliberated for just over two hours before finding Leah guilty of first degree murder. She was sentenced to life, guaranteed to serve 51 years in prison. She is currently incarcerated at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.

    Yates structures 'SHE IS EVIL!" like many other true crime accounts. She opens with the discovery of Ejaz's body and the police investigation, then recounts his life up to his meeting with his killer. Yates traces Leah's history and lays out her activities during the time Ejaz was missing, following with the legal maneuvers and the trial. Yates uses psychiatric and medial records Leah submitted to the court to support a multitude of legal motions that challenge her conviction and incarceration, thereby making them part of the public record, to develop her background in great detail.

    The problem is, despite all the information Yates gives on Leah Joy Ward-Ahmad, Leah never crystalizes as a person. She came from a middle-class, hardworking family with strong Pentecostal roots, but many close relatives abused alcohol or struggled with mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia. She began acting out in the fifth grade, gradually worsening her behavior so that, by age thirteen, she was failing classes and fighting at school, drinking and smoking marijuana, sneaking out the window during the night to party, and having unprotected sex. Before age 21, she had undergone three involuntary commitments for variously-diagnosed mental disease and served a term in prison. Leah was still only 27 years old when she was arraigned for Ejaz's murder. Perhaps this inability to bring Leah into focus grows from Yates's lack of speculation about Leah's immediate motive for murdering her husband except that implied in the title, 'SHE IS EVIL!" The closest Yates comes is her summary of Leah's character: "Everything Leah did, it seemed, was manipulation by an egocentric woman who thought she did no wrong, and appeared to be so shortsighted that perhaps she just did not think things through." (196) It's never clear the degree to which Leah was genuinely the victim of mental illness and how much she was faking to play the system.

    Yate's writing style is accessible, at least in part because she includes only the most essential of secondary characters. Still, a list of names and identifications would have helped. Thoroughness of research is obvious, but she gives no bibliography and only one note to sources at the end of each chapter. Nothing is said about possible accomplices or accessories after the fact, though it's impossible that the men helping Leah move out of Ejak's house following his death could fail to notice the smell of decomposition that permeated the house. Pictures are clustered at the end of the book, most of them too small to be studied. Maps showing the small towns in West Tennessee and locations within the Memphis area would enhance to the sense of place. (B)
     
  8. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Rose Servitova's THE LONGBOURN LETTERS: THE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN MR. COLLINS AND MR. BENNET is the best variation on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that I've read this year and maybe ever. Novella length, it was published in digital format in 2017. I recommend it highly.

    The epistolary novel can be a hodgepodge, but Servitova handles the genre well. Her prologue describes the letters between Mr. Henry Bennet of Longbourn, near Meryton in Hertfordshire, and the Reverend Mr. William Collins of Hunsford, near Westerham in Kent, giving their provenance; it reads as the first entry in a genuine manuscript collection in an archive. The letters cover the period from 15 October 1791 through 1 February 1798.

    Servitova is faithful to Austen's originals in her depiction of Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins, giving each man an appropriate and distinct voice. Moreover, both are dynamic characters, evolving as their relationship gradually grows into genuine friendship and respect. Mr. Bennet's irony and encouragement of Mr. Collins's worst traits gradually fade away, while Mr. Collins, though he never stops adoring Lady Catherine de Bourgh, becomes less pompous, self-satisfied, and judgmental. Still laughable, Mr. Collins is no longer a fool. Servitova introduces few new characters, but each is individual.

    The plot is slice of life, recounting happenings in each neighborhood and events in the families: marriages of the Bennet girls and Anne de Bourgh, births of children and grandchildren, deaths of Sir William Lucas and George Wickham, machinations against Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine. Humor abounds. I want the full story of Mr. Collins dancing exuberantly on a sprained ankle at the Longbourn harvest festival, breaking Mrs. Hill's antique trifle bowl when it falls off his head, coming home drunk at dawn minus his shirt, unable too account for his whereabouts. The final letter is Mr. Collins's generous and loving condolences to Mrs. Bennet on the sudden death of her husband.

    If you read only one piece of Jane Austen fan fiction, THE LONGBOURN LETTERS should be the one. (solid A)
     
  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Deborah Crombie's A SHARE IN DEATH is the first book in her Duncan Kincaid-Gemma James mystery series. Originally issued in 1993, it was published in digital format in 2010. Duncan is a newly promoted Chief Superintendent and James his Sergeant at New Scotland Yard.

    Exhausted from a heavy case load, Duncan Kincaid uses a cousin's otherwise nonrefundable week at upscale time share Followdale House near Woolsey-under-Bank, Yorkshire, for a holiday. Assistant manager Simon Ward gives Kincaid a guided tour of the house and its current occupants; Kincaid likes him. The next morning, he discovers Ward's body in the Jacuzzi section of the pool, electrocuted. Chief Inspector Bill Nash, not at all pleased to have Kincaid on scene, calls it suicide and warns Kincaid off; Kincaid and local Inspector Peter Raskin question this theory. Kincaid engineers official status on the case, and when forgetful elderly guest Penny MacKenzie dies from a blow to the head, he realizes she knew something about Ward's murder, but what? Who else may be a target?

    The structure of A SHARE IN DEATH belongs to the hotel / cruise ship / house party subset of mysteries in which a disparate group of individuals are together in a restricted location with mayhem ensuing. A second essential feature of this subset involves hidden connections, often from years in the past, between victim and fellow guests. Crombie uses readers' preconceptions about this format to hide the killer in plain sight, though she foreshadows fairly. I can't say more without doing a spoiler.

    Sense of place is outstanding. Crombie skillfully uses elements of setting to establish character. "Before her [Hannah Alcock] Rievaux Abbey lay cupped in a natural hollow at the foot of Rievaux moor, held like a jewel between brilliant green grass in the foreground and the red-golds of the trees covering the slope of the moor. The morning's sun had given way to a soft, low overcast, and the moisture in the air seemed to saturate the colors with an elemental vividness. She crossed the lawn slowly, her eyes on the soaring arches of the choir. Six hundred monks had lived here, eating, sleeping, praying, tending their sheep and their gardens. She could almost hear them singing as they worked, such was the timeless, dream-like quality of the place. She knew for a fleeting instant how close they must have felt to their god, and a shaft of envy stabbed through her." (176)

    Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are appealing protagonists. Kincaid is young (35 +/-), a fast-tracked Bramshill graduate and rising star at New Scotland Yard, professional, physically attractive, a decent human being. He is guilty of one major TSTL when, discovering Hannah Alcock unconscious on the stairs with her head at an awkward angle, he moves her and encourages her to test the extent of her injuries (198). Gemma James is younger, a single mother with two-year-old son Toby, with a working class background, fiercely ambitious, a gifted interviewer. Both have believable baggage. Inhabitants at Followdale House are individuals.

    A SHARE IN DEATH is a solid beginning to a long-running series. (A)
     
  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    PRUDENCE AND PRACTICALITY is C. J. Hill's variation on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She calls it a back-story, but it is a retelling of the story from the point of view of Charlotte and the Lucases, with occasional glimpses through William Collins's eyes. It was published in digital format in 2012.

    Hill changes none of the events in the original Bennet plot but references them only, adding slice of life action as Charlotte and Collins meet and move through their engagement and the first year of their marriage, including the birth of their son. She leaves the personalities of most major characters as Austen drew them, though she changes some biographical details. Lady Catherine is not the daughter of an earl but of the Greville family, gentry in similar circumstances to the Bennets. She and her sister Anne both married men of higher wealth and social status. Lady Catherine's two sons had been killed in war, leaving Anne her only surviving and thus overprotected child.

    The biggest biographical change comes from Hill's development of William Collins's background. Charlotte concludes his personality comes from a childhood lacking socialization and education, resulting in his overcompensation, trying to fit into society and company with which he's unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Hill connects Collins first to the Grevilles to explain why Lady Catherine appointed him over more experienced clergymen. Explaining the Collins-Bennet connection and the Bennet entail, however, confuses more than informs. His back story does make Mr. Collins more understandable, even appealing as he dotes on his infant son.

    My problem with PRUDENCE AND PRACTICALITY is with Charlotte Lucas Collins. She is a suitable companion to Lady Catherine de Bourgh since they share many unpleasant traits. Hill's Charlotte is hypocritical. While professing deepest friendship, she feels superior to Elizabeth, secretly believing her simple in her plan to marry for love, and smug when her assessment of Wickham is more accurate. She tells her mother that society's idea of appropriate womanly behavior to attract a suitor is deception, which she scorns. Yet when Charlotte is certain that Elizabeth will not accept Mr. Collin's proposal, she goes after him with every weapon in Lady Lucas's arsenal even though he disgusts her--she later recalls his husbandly attentions with abhorrence (Hill's word). Charlotte's helpful advice to friends and family is judgmental and dictatorial, including her instruction of the older Bennet girls on how to deal with suitors and correction of her sister Maria's behavior. She spies on Darcy's interactions with Elizabeth, then teases her mercilessly (again, Hill's words) about his intentions, keeping his "only tolerable" insult fresh.

    Charlotte's determination to know her husband's family history reflects her selfishness more than concern for him. She justifies her snooping by the need, should anything happen to him, to know what financial support she can expect from his family. She is a skilled manipulator.who constantly corrects the oblivious Mr. Collins, trying to prevent his embarrassing her, and uses him as a catspaw to advance her agenda. Lady Catherine is led to accept Charlotte's views as her own ideas. Charlotte exposes the Lydia-Wickham scandal to Mr. Collins to spread, and she herself reveals another marriage proposal after Elizabeth's refusal of Mr. Collins, setting up Lady Catherine to discover and oppose the Darcy-Bennet engagement. Her unilateral decision to return to Lucas Lodge for her confinement not only forces Collins to choose whom to support, his wife or Lady Catherine, but also allows her to renew her friendship with Elizabeth. After all, as she reminds both her husband and Elizabeth, Darcy has several church livings in his gift and will act to please his wife.

    To be fair, Charlotte does greatly improve the quality of Mr. Collins's life and character. Her maneuvering Lady Catherine improves conditions for tenants of Rosings and inhabitants of Hunsford village. Charlotte offers needed charity and begins a Sunday School. She influences Anne de Bourgh to develop a degree of independence from her mother's control. But she does good to enhance her own self-satisfaction more than from unselfish motives.

    Editing problems include mistaken use of apostrophes in plurals and possessives of names and overuse of semicolons. Convoluted sentences sometimes interfere with comprehension. The story reads unnecessarily long.

    PRUDENCE AND PRACTICALITY might appropriately be subtitled, "What's Love Got to Do with It?" (B)
     
  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    GONE GULL is the latest to date in Donna Andrews's Meg Langslow mystery series. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    Meg is teaching blacksmithing at her grandmother Cordelia's newly-opened Biscuit Mountain Craft Center near Riverton, Virginia, and serving as general dogsbody. During the first week of classes, several acts of vandalism destroyed student work and, at the beginning of the second week, Meg discovers the blood-stained studio and stabbed body of painting instructor Eddie Prine. A relentless womanizer with ill-wishers going back years to his part in the demise of the Dock Street Craft Collective in Richmond, he'd most recently quarreled with Meg's grandfather Dr. Montgomery Blake, noted zoologist, television celebrity, and environmental activist. Blake challenges the authenticity of Prine's painting of a gull; Prine provides photographs of the subject. After Prine's death, Blake finds it an Ord's Gull, thought extinct since the 1920s. Irma Venables, an unscrupulous birdwatcher known for heedless pursuit of rarities for her life list, is a guest. Can she be involved in Prine's death? The following morning Meg discovers one of the students Victor Winter, aka Victor the Klutz, killed in what seems a booby trap intended for Meg or for the pottery instructor Gillian Marks. Is the vandal associated with the Jazz Hands Art Academy near Charlottesville, whose owner Calvin Whiffletree threatens legal action against Cordelia for stealing his idea, or with Smith Enterprises, whose owner Charles Rahn wants to buy Biscuit Mountain for development? Is one person both vandal and killer? Or are there personal motives for the deaths?

    GONE GULL disappoints me. The Southern storytelling voice is gone, and sense of place is generic. Humor, such a strength in the early books, is mostly absent. Other than Meg's twins Josh and Jamie growing older (they are now eight years old), there's no new development of established characters unless one counts Meg's growing lack of common sense. A threat to the twins moves them to a different location with bodyguards, so Meg decides to sleep with Spike (aka the Small Evil One, the remaining humorous element) in their gypsy caravan parked in a secluded spot on the campground. When Meg ignores Spike's barking at a prowler, she sets herself up to be the next victim. New characters remain mostly names with 3x5-card backgrounds, and their number far exceeds that necessary to carry the story.

    The plot of GONE GULL focuses so much on red herrings that the identity and motive of the killer are poorly foreshadowed. Meg does not solve the case. The killer self-reveals by going after Meg, taunting her before sending the caravan off the side of a mountain. The motive for Prine's murder seems inadequate; Winter's death is superfluous, its sole purpose to confuse the police. I would prefer an author to kill a series rather than let it deteriorate to this degree. (C-)
     
  12. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    FRIENDSHIP is E. A. Batten's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    Elizabeth Bennet refuses the marriage proposal from her repulsive cousin William Collins and suffers her furious mother's banishment from Longbourn. Following the Bingleys' removal from Netherfield, Jane and Elizabeth visit the Gardiners in Gracechurch Street. There the young women meet and become friends with Georgiana Darcy; through her Jane meets the Darcys' cousin Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, and Elizabeth alters her reading of Fitzwilliam Darcy's character. Without impediments, both courtships advance apace, though both couples become involved in Lord Matlock and Anne de Bourgh's health problems. Wickham plots an initially successful revenge on Darcy, a scheme countered by the Colonel when he arrives in Meryton to seek Mr. Bennet's consent to marry Jane. Both couples are soon married.

    Editing problems include apostrophes and occasional word choice problems caused by SpellCheck. Batten relies on having a significant event recalled by a participant rather than showing it as it happened. This distances the reader from the action. Frequent changes between focal characters make for choppy flow without adding greatly to characterization. The tell-all epilogue carries into anticlimax with the marriages and offspring of all the characters. Everyone gets a happy ending, including the raped maid Sally Linwood.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    Batten's changes are interesting departures from the original plot of Pride and Prejudice. Colonel Fitzwilliam, far from requiring a wealthy wife, owns an estate in Staffordshire worth £3,000 annually, and he will inherit a substantial fortune at his mother's death. The cause of Mrs. Bennet's lifelong antipathy to Elizabeth emerges. The Bingleys play no significant part, and Lydia does not elope. Some situations reflect modern rather than Regency concerns. Lord Matlock and Anne de Bourgh are laudanum (tincture of opium) addicts and undergo rehabilitation. His father punishes a misbehaving young Darcy by grounding him in his room and denying his riding privileges, at a time when "spare the rod and spoil the child" was taken literally. William Collins is a predator who physically and sexually abuses both his wife Charlotte and a young maid in his household. The Fitzwillliams and London society welcome Elizabeth and Jane and readily accept the Gardiners despite their taint of "Trade."

    A couple of practical details are questionable. Would Mr. Bennet wait some months following William Collins's death to discover who becomes heir presumptive to Longbourn? Wickham deserts from the militia and later breaks into Darcy House in London to steal; caught by Darcy red-handed, Wickham winds up with the choice of Australia or debtor's prison for life. Would not court martial for desertion and/or larceny charges take precedence over Darcy's lenient punishment?

    FRIENDSHIP is light on angst and action. (C+)
     
  13. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Otto Eisenschiml published WHY WAS LINCOLN MURDERED? in 1937, establishing the theory that Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War in Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet, was a party to John Wilkes Booth's assassination of the President. He accuses Stanton of deliberate mismanagement of generals and the Union Army through 1863 to prolong the war until Lincoln and the Union were forced to accept the abolition of slavery as essential to victory. He says Stanton's obsessive accumulation of power had two objectives: Congressional Reconstruction of the Confederate States dictated by Radical Republicans to eliminate the power of the South in national affairs, and his own election in the blaze of military glory as President of the United States in 1868. He expected to control Andrew Johnson and U. S. Grant and to tarnish William T. Sherman as a political rival, but one man stood in his way--Abraham Lincoln.

    Eisenschiml succinctly states why Lincoln had to die: "The Wade-Davis manifesto [July 1864] had made it clear that Congress meant to deal with the problem of Reconstruction without interference from the White House. The President, on the other hand, ...was determined to restore all civil and political rights to the Confederate States immediately upon their return into the Union. He therefore decided on a shrewd move. He arranged matters so that the generals in the field should conclude an armistice that practically amounted to a peace without penalties; the nation would then be confronted with a fait accompli against which the rage of the politicians would beat in vain. The people were with Lincoln--the election of 1864 had demonstrated that--and in the general ecstasy of joy accompanying the end of hostilities, all opposition would be drowned out. Congress was not to meet until December, and by then it would be too late to undo what had been accomplished." (363-4)

    Eisenschiml states explicitly that no direct evidence links Stanton to Booth and the conspirators' plans first to kidnap, then to murder the President. Rumors that Lincoln was in danger swirled through Washington, D.C., throughout the last year of the war, and Stanton with total and autocratic control of the city knew of them. He made no provision for appropriate civilian or military guards for the Presidential party and, by advising General and Mrs. Grant not to attend as planned and by denying the President's specific request for his famously strong aide Major Thomas T. Eckert, he set the stage for Booth's unopposed entry to the Presidential box.

    Stanton immediately assumed control of the search for the killer. Within two hours of the shooting, seventeen people had identified John Wilkes Booth to the Metropolitan Police, yet his name was not released to searchers immediately. Stanton sent patrols in every direction except the most logical one, due south over the Anacostia Bridge toward Richmond. Booth and Herold were the last men to cross the Potomac before the bridge was closed, thus holding pursuers in the city. Telegraph lines, under total control of the War Department, mysteriously went out for two or more hours, delaying effective pursuit. Authorities in Richmond did not receive news of Lincoln's death until the next day.

    Stanton and his minions directed every detail of the hunt for Booth and Herold in the days to follow. In direct disobedience to Stanton's orders, Booth was shot to death during his capture, yet his killer was never punished. Booth's diary was in Stanton's possession for more than a year and, when he released it, some eighteen pages had been removed. Stanton ordered the captured conspirators imprisoned under Spanish Inquisition conditions, forbidden communications, denied due process and adequate legal representation. He suborned perjury, tried civilians in a military court, and executed them within two months of the crime.

    Eisenschiml uses War Department dispatches, trial transcripts, Metropolitan Police records, newspaper accounts, and a multitude of diaries, memoirs, and histories written by Lincoln's associates to construct his theory. He footnotes his sources, piling fact upon fact to build a believable case, one much more detailed than I can summarize in a review. Maneuvering before and during the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson led many Washington insiders to publish their belief that the full story of the assassination never emerged. Eisenschiml obviously concurs but concludes that the truth is now non-recoverable.

    I highly recommend WHY WAS LINCOLN MURDERED? as accessible and well-researched. I am not sure whether I agree with the full scope of Eisenschiml's charges against Stanton, but it is hard to ignore the effects of directives coming from his War Department following Lincoln's assassination. They imply aid, collusion, and coverup. (A)
     
  14. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Kwen D. Griffeth's KELLYNCH is a sequel to Jane Austen's final completed novel Persuasion. It was published in digital format in 2015.

    Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth, married for three years, live at Kellynch Hall. Sir Walter Elliot sold his interest to Wentworth, and his heir William Elliot set aside his claim as heir to the entail as a wedding gift to Anne. He has generously mentored Wentworth financially, summoning him to Lyme unexpectedly on business. Action flashes back to early days in Anne's marriage when Wentworth decides to walk the entire estate to familiarize himself with its tenants and terrain and to win the farmers' loyalty. Anne elects to accompany him even though the walk will require some weeks and frequent overnight camping, carrying daily supplies on their backs.

    I am giving up at seventeen percent of KELLYNCH. One reason is the change in the characters of Anne and Wentworth. Anne is obsessively modest, not allowing her maid to see more than one bare limb at a time as she is bathed. She is eager to see her cousin William Elliot, absurdly grateful to him for giving up Kellynch, completely forgiving his having taken Mrs. Clay as mistress. Anne still allows her younger sister to lecture about inappropriate behavior and to impose guilt about neglect of Mary Musgrove's needy self. Despite Mrs. Smith's warnings about William Elliot's character and financial habits, Anne and Wentworth are foolish enough to trust him. I don't have to read more to know the enterprise will end badly. Wentworth presents as ignorant and awkward, not Austen's poised, self-confident Captain. Estrangement between the Wentworths grows because they are still childless. The final straw is early morning skinny-dipping and lovemaking in a Roman-built canal, too much.

    KELLYNCH just does not appeal. No grade because not finished.
     
  15. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    LESSONS OF ADVANTAGE is Michael Sand's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    Sometimes a book makes me wonder if I'm reading the same volume reviewed by others. LESSONS OF ADVANTAGE is one such. Its Amazon rating is 3.8 out of five stars, with the majority of the reviewers awarding five stars. I cannot agree.

    LESSONS OF ADVANTAGE offers little new insight into characters. Sand gives George Wickham a background that explains the favors granted by the Darcy family. He simplifies Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, and Bingley to the point of ineffectuality. Jane is almost simple-minded in her determination to see and expect only the best of people in the best of all possible worlds, while Bingley is oblivious to the feelings and activities of people about him. Elizabeth and Darcy spend their time agonizing over what might happen, what does happen, what does it mean, what will the other do next, and what ought I think, feel, do, in response. The whole scenario of their relationship is repeated ad infinitum.

    Austen use of a three-volume format for Pride and Prejudice seems the only reason for Sand's doing the same. Events in the story are not modified in any significant way. Characters' ruminations reveal happenings; direct action is sparse. There is little direct dialogue between characters and none that sounds like genuine conversation. They talk in set speeches. No one uses a simple word when a multi-syllable or obscure one is available. Connotations are often ignored. Archaic spellings, such as "sopha," "shew," and "teaze," abound; the Kindle dictionary does not define all unfamiliar terms ("hamman").

    LESSONS OF ADVANTAGE features a third-person omniscient narrator who is both intrusive and unreliable, a device common in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels. Punctuation is unusual with overabundant use of dashes set off by commas or end punctuation. Each paragraph contains at least one parenthetical expression, often included within an expression set off by dashes. Run-on sentences obscure meaning. It's difficult to tell if the style is deliberate imitation of the earliest novels or just bad writing.

    Avoid LESSONS OF ADVANTAGE if you value Jane Austen's characters or writing style. (F)
     
  16. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DEAD TO BEGIN WITH is the latest to date in Bill Crider's long-running series featuring Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Blacklin County, Texas. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    Jake Marley has emerged from fifty years of self-imposed isolation to purchase and renovate the old Opera House In Clearview, formerly an opera house/theater, then a movie theater, then deserted for decades. He's commissioned a Texas adaptation of A Christmas Carol for its grand reopening a year from Christmas, casting himself as Marley's Ghost and four of his late sister's high school friends as Scrooge and the three Ghosts of Christmas. When Marley's body is found, neck broken, Dan Rhodes believes that he had help in falling off the catwalk high above the stage. But who wanted him dead, and why? What caused Marley suddenly to begin renovating the theater as the first step in a hoped-for renaissance of downtown Clearview? As he deals with ordinary day-to-day police calls and investigates the killing, Rhodes concludes that the death originated when Marley's older sister Gwen died in a poorly investigated car wreck while Jake Marley was still in high school.

    I like this series. It is realistic in showing the wide range of crimes and misdemeanors with which a small Sheriff's Department must deal on a daily basis while operating with few deputies, less forensics, and limited budget. Many of the calls involve human foolishness as much as criminal behavior. Humor leavens the action, as when Elaine Tunstall, off her meds, calls on the Beauty Shack with an eight-pound sledgehammer, intent on payback for a bad haircut. Blacklin County is believable in its geography and in its evolution over time. Crider's story telling voice is Southern without being exaggerated.

    The continuing characters are old friends with whom it's good to sit a spell. Skillful use of limited third person narration develops Dan Rhodes as an attractive protagonist, ironic, self-deprecating, honest, professional. In DEAD TO BEGIN WITH, Crider keeps Rhodes firmly focused on Gwen Marley's death and hides the killer and the motive in plain sight.

    My quibbles are secondary to my appreciation of the series. New insights into established characters would refresh them. Continuing characters not essential to this plot diffuse the action. At least once, editing failed to catch the mistaken use of a name. Still, these are minor. (B+)
     
  17. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MR. DARCY'S BLUESTOCKING BRIDE is the first book in Rose Fairbanks's new series Pride and Prejudice and Bluestockings. It was published in digital format in 2017. As the number of Pride and Prejudice variants grows, writers of Jane Austen fan fiction must devise new situations and new characters to justify their work. Rose Fairbanks changes the original story line drastically.

    The day before she leaves to visit Charlotte Lucas Collins at Hunsford, Elizabeth Bennet accidentally overhears George Wickham telling other militia officers his plan to seduce Lydia and Kitty Bennet. Having seen Fitzwilliam Darcy's interest in Elizabeth, Wickham expects them soon to be engaged. Then he will elope with Lydia and extort money from Darcy to avoid scandal involving the Bennets. Aware of Darcy and Wickham's respective reputations in Hertfordshire and knowing her father's inertia and warped sense of humor, Elizabeth does not expect to be believed, so she does not tell Mr. Bennet. Recognizing Darcy's need to know, she informs him when they accidentally meet in London and then again at Rosings. The main story line follows the development of Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship as they work to foil Wickham's plot. Secondary story lines include previously undisclosed scandals in the Fitzwilliam and Darcy families; Darcy's inheritance of a barony and fortune from his spinster great-aunt, the tenth Baroness Darcy (one of the few titles in the peerage not entailed on the male bloodline); and the Baroness's insistence that Darcy personally reestablish the Bluestocking Club for intellectual women who are artists and patrons of the arts.

    The family tree required to understand the complicated Fitzwilliam-Darcy connection is not legible in the Kindle diagram; the written version covers several pages without clarifying generational connections. Giving each generation the same few Christian first names, then referring to the individuals by middle names or nicknames adds to the confusion. Darcy, for instance, is Fitzwilliam Benjamin Conyers Darcy, but Anne de Bourgh consistently calls him Conor and Elizabeth decides to call him Ben. Colonel Fitzwilliam's father is referred to as the Earl of Fitzwilliam, not as William Fitzwilliam, fourth Earl of ______.

    Other editing problems include inappropriate word choice: "smirk" is overused; "melee" is not a verb; "caffoy" (from the context, cloth or tapestry of some sort) and others are not in the Kindle dictionary. Apostrophes in plurals and possessives of names are often used incorrectly. Personal correspondence from the late eighteenth century would be written on rag-based paper, not parchment.

    MR. DARCY'S BLUESTOCKING BRIDE reads long, in part because Elizabeth looks for faults about which to attack Darcy; each argument produces a long rumination in which Darcy concludes the attack justified. This device to advance the plot quickly gets old. Play-by-play of a cricket match at Knole Hall, in which Elizabeth plays and scores for two that win the match for Darcy's team, is tangential and anachronistic. Darcy with an erection while holding Elizabeth is WAY too much information.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    Most of the characters Fairbanks introduces are sketchily developed, including Baroness Darcy who forces Darcy to reassess his marriage requirements and the Duke of Dorset who offers Jane Bennet a better choice than Charles Bingley. Fairbanks changes other characters significantly. George Wickham, depraved beyond Austen's original, deliberately targets women close to Darcy for purposes of extortion and revenge. Charlotte Lucas Collins, coarsened by marriage to the repellant Collins, criticizes and condescends to Elizabeth. Charles Bingley not only abandoned Jane without a word when he left Netherfield but, after her greeting him in a shop in London, gives her the cut direct; when it's published that Darcy will inherit the barony, Bingley immediately makes every effort to ingratiate himself with Georgiana Darcy, heir presumptive to the title. Caroline Bingley's few meetings with Elizabeth are venomous, so it's satisfying when the Dowager Duchess of Dorset deliberately cuts Caroline while honoring Elizabeth and Jane. Mr. Bennet is more indolent and less engaged with his family, including his favorite Elizabeth whose urgent letters from Hunsford he receives but does not read.

    Fairbanks qualifies many of the younger females for the Bluestocking Club: Anne de Bourgh writes for a ladies' magazine as Mrs. Mabel Fairweather, mistress of hearts; Lydia Bennet begins writing her first play; Georgiana Darcy performs on the pianoforte and composes music; Jane Bennet studies horticulture and botany; Elizabeth Bennet loves historic buildings and makes skilled architectural drawings. Attitudes about intellectual equality between the sexes, especially in Elizabeth, Darcy, and the Baroness, are modern.

    MR. DARCY'S BLUESTOCKING BRIDE reads more like a first draft than a polished manuscript. I doubt that I will follow the series. (C-)
     
  18. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE HANGMAN was published in digital format n 2010 by Louise Penny. It is part of the Good Reader series in which major Canadian writers create high-interest stories aimed at ESL or basic literacy readers.

    Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is in Three Pines investigating the hanging death of a guest at the Spa and Inn registered as Arthur Ellis. Despite the death being staged to look like a suicide, with a suicide note written by Ellis found in his room, Gamache concludes that he has been murdered; there's no evidence of Ellis's climb on either tree or body. Ellis had been in Three Pines for two days, asking questions about young men who have moved into the village. Gamache learns that Arthur Ellis had been the pseudonym used by the last official executioner (hangman) for Canada. Inspector Beauvoir discovers that the dead man is James Hill, an employee of the Department of Records, archive for tax, passport, and court case records on Canadian citizens. Hill's wife and daughter had died some twenty years before when their car was struck by a pickup truck carrying four teenagers, none of whom were ever prosecuted. Two of them died years and miles apart from apparent suicide by hanging. Is this a coincidence?

    THE HANGMAN is simply written, easily understood, first-rate storytelling. Its brevity (somewhere between long short story and short novella) does not preclude Penny's development of character. Her use of limited third person narration makes Gamache an appealing protagonist. She adequately foreshadows who killed Ellis and why. She presents Three Pines and its people as a unique community. Mystery writing, especially with such restrictions on style, vocabulary, and length, does not get better than this. (A+)
     
  19. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE NETHERFIELD AFFAIR is the fist book in Penelope Swan's Dark Darcy series of variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2015. Each book of the four incorporates a stand-alone mystery and continues the developing relationship of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.

    THE NETHERFIELD AFFAIR opens in a howling gale the night of Jane Bennet's ride to visit the Bingley sisters at Netherfield. The servants now believe Netherfield Park haunted by the spirit of a sexually exploited servant girl. Valuable items go missing; servants hear strange noises and see strange dark figures in the attics. Lydia and Mrs. Bennet are excited by potential danger from Wicked George the Highwayman, a handsome, charming, gentlemanlike bandit active in Hertfordshire for several months. Even though she discounts both ghost and brigand, Elizabeth believes that something strange is happening at Netherfield. On her first approach to the house, she heard a shriek of terror and saw an unearthly face staring at her from an attic window. She encounters Wicked George in Netherfield's gardens late one night. When Miss Bingley's diamond and amethyst brooch and his heirloom fob watch go missing, Darcy summons thief taker John Keech to recover the stolen goods and catch the thief, while Caroline denounces Elizabeth as the guilty party. Can Elizabeth and Darcy discover the truth before scandal erupts?

    Swan uses atmospheric description to make Netherfield Park seem haunted, but she sets up a believable non-supernatural explanation. Swan telegraphs the identity of the thief and the reason for Wicked George's presence, making Elizabeth's solution dependent on a reference book on the language of flowers that fortuitously arrives just when needed. The mystery is simplistic. Wicked George escapes, doubtless to reappear in later volumes.

    Swan makes Elizabeth and Darcy more modern rather than Regency except for their obsession about scandal. Despite their knowing that Caroline Bingley spies, they meet repeatedly in potentially compromising circumstances. Elizabeth judges everyone but especially Bingley's compliant nature, even as Darcy usurps Bingley's duty when he hires the thief catcher without consulting his host. Elizabeth hunts reasons to denounce Darcy, while he deliberately conceals his own activities from her. When Elizabeth and Jane leave Netherfield, Elizabeth's opinion of Darcy has softened somewhat, though Caroline Bingley's continued presence guarantees that the course of true love will not run smooth. (B-)
     
  20. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    ALL SHALL BE WELL is the second book in Deborah Crombie's police procedural series featuring Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his Sergeant Gemma James of New Scotland Yard. Originally published in 1994, it was reissued in digital format in 2010.

    Jasmine Dent is dying of lung cancer. She has only weeks to live, dependent on morphine to manage the pain and increasingly unable to eat. She has refused for six months to see her younger brother Theo, so her immediate circle is four individuals: Meg Bellamy, who brings food and quiet companionship; nurse Felicity Halloway, who tends her health care needs; neighbor Major Harley Keith, who shares the garden in near silence; and neighbor Duncan Kincaid, who appreciates her unique personality. When she dies unexpectedly soon, Kincaid is suspicious and asks for an autopsy; the report shows a lethal dose of morphine as the cause of death, but there were no empty morphine vials in the flat, which was not locked as usual. Is it an assisted suicide, or is it a murder?

    Crombie provides a beautiful red herring to focus attention away from the killer and motive. She discloses them only after Kincaid and Gemma delve into Jasmine and Theo's childhood in Calcutta during the Partition and their subsequent unsympathetic rearing in Dorset by an aunt. Foreshadowing is subtle but effective. James and Kincaid move tentatively toward a personal as well as a professional relationship.

    Kincaid and Gemma are believable, attractive protagonists. Each carries baggage. Gemma struggles as a single mother financially strapped because ex-husband Rob left her saddled with an expensive, run-down house, does not pay child support, and now has disappeared without leaving a forwarding address. Her parents are willing to help, but they criticize her career and threaten her much-valued independence. Kincaid shows unexpected kindness when he adopts Jasmine's black cat Sidhu even though he doesn't care for cats. He is self-deprecating. Crombie adeptly uses shifts in focus to individualize other major characters.

    Crombie uses setting to reveal character. "The motorway took him as far as the New Forest... He crossed the theoretical line demarcating the forest on the map, and any anticipation he might have had of primeval trunks and leafy, green tunnels were quickly put to rest. A wide expanse of moorland stretched away on either side of the road, broken only by gorse and distant shaggy shapes he though might be New Forest wild ponies. He decided he'd just as soon they stayed in the distance--he hate to suffer further disappointment by discovering that they were only small, hairy cows." (249) She excels at creating word pictures of London streets.

    ALL SHALL BE WELL continues a strong series. (A-)
     

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