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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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    TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE: THE TRAGEDY AT MAYERLING AND THE END OF THE HABSBURGS is Greg King and Penny Wilson's account of the deaths of Rudolf, Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Mary Vetsera, his young mistress. TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE was published in 2017.

    Many treatments of the apparent suicide pact or murder-suicide stress the romantic element--the married Rudolf, unable to bear the burden of his position without the help and support of the woman he loved, chose death instead. King and Wilson go beyond this sentimental approach, dividing TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE into four parts: Part One discusses Rudolf and Mary's backgrounds up to 28 January 1889; Part Two details the last day of their lives, the discovery of their bodies, and the following few weeks of massive coverup; Part Three offers alternative theories for the deaths; Part Four gives the authors' interpretation of the tragedy. An epilogue follows the subsequent careers of many other involved individuals.

    TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE is well-researched and well-written. It contains 34 pages of closely printed endnotes, a three-page bibliographical essay with a seven- page, small-font listing of sources, Dramatis Personnae with eight pages of well-chosen photographs, and a thorough index. Most official records dealing with the events at Mayerling have disappeared, though King and Wilson make impressive use of newspaper accounts, personal letters, surviving journals and diaries, and published memoirs to reveal Court activities and what Viennese society believed. They indiate the reliability of these materials. Two minor omissions are a map showing sites discussed and a diagram of the Mayerling lodge complex showing the whereabouts of its guests and servants the night of 28-29 January 1889.

    No single factor can be cited as the direct cause of Rudolf's murder-suicide. He was the product of generations of inbreeding in both his father's Habsburg and his mother's Wittelsbach families; each family had produced numerous mentally unstable, intellectually challenged individuals; adding to the genetic overload, Rudolf's parents were themselves first cousins. Rudolf's childhood was one of isolation from both parents and from other children; his first official guardian was sadist who abused him physically and emotionally. He suffered unrelenting pressure for perfection. His education was unrealistically intense but so fragmented that he never learned to analyze and evaluate information. He became sexually precocious and promiscuous, fascinated by death from an early age, married unhappily to Stephanie, daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium. He was infected with gonorrhea, addicted to pain medicines and alcohol, allowed no meaningful official work, and frustrated by his father's rigid political conservatism. King and Wilson discuss in detail Rudolf's symptoms that could justify a modern diagnosis of bi-polar disorder.

    The "perfect storm" scenario didn't exist in his day, but events in late 1888 and January 1889 created one in the unstable Rudolf's life. He suffered frequent flare-ups of his gonorrhea and possibly also suspected syphilis, with its prognosis of insanity. In Vienna, a culture where newspapers, gossip, and influential French novels like Madame Bovary created a culture that glamorized melodramatic love and suicide as atonement in death, Rudolf talked of suicide throughout the autumn. Saying he must die to save his honor, in December 1888 he asked staff members and his mistress Mitzi Caspar to die with him. Circumstantial evidence indicates that Mary Vetsera, already the subject of much gossip, told Rudolf on 13 January that she was pregnant. Rudolf's confrontation with Franz Josef on 24 January probably disclosed that Mary could be Rudolf's half-sister, fathered by Franz Josef during his 1870-1 affair with her mother. Franz Josef refused Rudolf's request to seek annulment of his marriage to Stephanie (on the grounds of her sterility, caused by his infecting her with gonorrhea). Such scandal could bring down the monarchy.

    Rudolf's producing an heir was essential because of his involvement with Magyar nationalists to establish autonomy within the empire, with Hungary to be ruled by Rudolf as its hereditary king. To found a dynasty requires legitimate heirs and, despite her romantic fantasies, Mary could never be an acceptable queen (even if Rudolf still desired her), and she was not apt to allow a discreet end to their liaison. The father-son confrontation on 25 January apparently stemmed from Franz Josef's learning of Rudolf's role in the conspiracy. The Hungarian parliament voted down the independence movement on 28 January. Rudolf received the news after dinner at Mayerling. He was technically guilty of treason. While Rudolf might have survived one of these situations, their coming as a cluster overwhelmed him.

    TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE is a surprisingly easy read for such a dense study. (A)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Karen Aminadra's ROSINGS is the second in her Pride and Prejudice Continues series of sequels to Jane Austen's classic. It was published in free or inexpensive digital format in 2013.

    Alienated from Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy by her own actions, Lady Catherine de Bourgh loses Reverend and Mrs. Collins to a living at Pemberley. Lonely, bored, and determined to reassert control over her world, she decides that Anne should marry. To that end, she develops a list of suitable gentlemen to be invited to a house party at which Anne will choose one as husband. Only five men accept: partners Charles Warrington and Walter Stapleton, Montague FitzHerbert, and his Society cronies Ernest Gibbs and Horace Felton. The trio's mockery of her lack of social skill and accomplishments repel Anne, but she feels totally helpless when her mother chooses FitzHerbert. Warrington and Stapleton protect her as much as they can, but her main comfort and support comes from new rector James Watkins and his father, India merchant Henry Watkins. Can Anne summon the fortitude to defy her mother?

    ROSINGS is presented from the viewpoints of Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh, so naturally they are the best developed of the characters. I have problems with both. Lady Catherine becomes the victim of her marriage to Sir Lewis de Bourgh, who neglected her for mistresses; premature deaths of loved ones produces abandonment issues and paranoia about losing Anne that fuel her obsession with her daughter's health and her overprotectiveness. She just wants to keep Anne safe and happy. Influenced by bluff, self-made Henry Watkins, she mends her ways. Her change is not believable. Jane Austen's Lady Catherine would never accept Henry Watkins as a friend, much less allow him to alter her thinking.

    Despite her being the center of the action in ROSINGS, Anne de Bourgh is nebulous. In Austen, she is Darcy's age chronologically; based on Aminadra's interpretation, she is a very young teenager. She has no interests (though she did defy her mother's strictures enough to learn, with Mrs. Jenkinson's aid, to dance and to play the pianoforte) and spends most of her time in her room sleeping. She knows nothing about the ownership or management of Rosings. Faced with her mother's determination that she marry FitzHerbert, she wrings her hands and moans, revealing her situation and feelings only to Colonel Fitzwilliam, who's stationed in Spain. Instead of appealing to Darcy or to her uncle for aid, she conceals her circumstances. Anne is so emotionally helpless and passive, her abrupt declaration of independence is implausible.

    Attitudes and behavior are an uneasy mixture of current and Regency. While Anne's submissiveness to her mother's governance is Regency, the rest is modern. Early on, Aminadra has Lady Catherine accept a luxurious Kashmiri shawl from Henry Watkins, when gifts (especially of clothing) from an unrelated male to a woman were compromising. All use given names, shortened forms, and endearments in direct address. Warrington and Stapleton are a socially accepted gay couple, at a time when practicing homosexuality was criminal.

    ROSINGS generates little drama or suspense. (C)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    FOR PEACE OF MIND is Leenie Brown's 2014 variant of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    Because Mrs. Bennet's wrath against Elizabeth makes Longbourn unbearable, Mr. Bennet sends her with Jane to visit the Gardiners, where previously unknown connections are revealed. Mr. Gardiner, former business partner to Bingley's father, has done business for years with Charles, Fitwilliam Darcy, and his uncle Lord Matlock. They had not know of his relationship to the Bennets, but all three men regard Gardiner as a trusted friend. When Darcy, Bingley, and Colonel Fitzwilliamis meet the Bennet sisters and Charlotte Lucas in London, romance soon blossoms. Mrs. Gardiner's exposure of George Wickham's history at Pemberley and Lydia's careless scandalmongering set Elizabeth and all those for whom Darcy cares in danger.

    FOR PEACE OF MIND is unfocused because it comes to include five couples: Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane, Collins and Mary Bennet, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Charlotte, and Thaddeus Fitzwilliam (elder son of Lord Matlock) and Anne de Bourgh. Marriages for the Fitzwilliam men seem more quick closure than authentic relationships. The epilogue is unnecessarily inclusive.

    External conflict is minimal--two altercations between Elizabeth and Wckham, a bit of sniping from Caroline Bingley, who's ignored, and only token resistance to Darcy's marriage from Lady Catherine. Lord Matlock's authority as head of the Fitzwilliam family and Mary's audacious plan for managing her soon bring Lady Catherine into at least token acceptance. There is little angst in Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship. He experiences no doubts, and her feelings for him change rapidly and completely. Lord and Lady Matlock's enthusiastic acceptance soon quiets Elizabeth's concern about being a proper mistress for Pemberley.

    Many attitudes and much behavior are more current than Regency. Courting and engaged couples have much unchaperoned privacy, and Brown hints that Jane and Bingley anticipate their vows. Adult social situations include precocious youngsters treated like modern children. Brown makes young Elizabeth a tomboy who fought neighboring boys, still twice able to subdue Wickham physically. A woman skilled in unarmed combat, expert with guns and sword, is a definite anachronism. (B+)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    TSUNAMI WARNING is the second book in Brent Purvis's Jim and Kram series set in Craig, Alaska. It was published in digital format in 2015.

    Alaska State Trooper Lieutenant Jim Welke has been in charge of the station on Prince of Wales Island some seven months, and things are jumping. He now has two troopers working under him, Craig has a new part-time chief of police to mentor, and the old Snag Cove Resort is being renovated. Scion of an Idaho-based crime family, Bobby Delisoro plans a secure, luxurious venue where mob bosses can confer face-to-face without fear of surveillance by authorities. While investigating a plane crash on a nearby island, Welke discovers a briefcase with $500,000 in used, non-sequential bills. Former smalltime crook and budding entrepreneur Phil "The Phiz" Hondo brings the Cisco and Sons Third World Extravaganza circus, complete with Gonzo the gorilla, to town. The body of Louise Lafayette turns up in the Tlingit longhouse; she'd been killed by blunt force trauma to the head and placed faced down in a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal. Then things start to get weird.

    Someone who enjoys suspension of disbelief may enjoy TSUNAMI WARNING, but I'm whimsy-challenged and find it all too much. Jim and Kram, the major characters, are not developed beyond MINK ISLAND. Long backstories on Phil Hondo, Bobby Delisoro, Rebecca Hartze (FBI), and Irwin Zeigler (aka "Poodle Boy") are padding rather than information relevant to the plot. Focus shifts between individuals without revealing their natures, which range from mildly eccentric (Welke) to outre ("The Phiz") to outright bonkers (Kram). None are realistic.

    The plot combines Murphy's Law with "pile it on," beginning with ill-conceived plans that go wrong to set up improbable ramifications. Coincidences abound. The tsunami warning of the title is extraneous. There is no subtlety in fore-shadowing. The first hint of the killer's identity and possible motive lands like a punch in the face due to Welke's earlier TSTL failure to ask the logical question to elicit the information. Much of the setting seems cut and paste, all similar scenery in the same wording.

    I have doubts about the animals in the story. In the Alaska Bush in late March-early April, how likely is Gonzo's survival? Captive bred, cared for all his life by humans, Gonzo would suffer hypothermia caused by constant rain and low ambient temperatures and intensified by low caloric intake from lack of forage so early in the season; insects garnered from woodpiles outside houses could not sustain an adult silverback for long. What bothers me more is Oscar, the female mink who shares Mink Island with Welke. I don't mind that name and gender don't match or that much exposition comes from his monologues to her. It does bother me that Welke has supposedly semi-domesticated her by feeding her crackers as treats. Minks are carnivores.

    I won't be reading more of the series. I can't be objective about TSUNAMI WARNING, so I assign no grade. You will have to judge for yourself.
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Four Days in April" is Maria Grace's short story variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2015.

    The four days is 9-12 April 1812 when, at Rosings and Hunsford, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy clear their misconceptions of the other's character and feelings. Darcy is so infuriated at Elizabeth's disrespectful rejection that he commits the impropriety of writing to her to explain his actions. Reading his letter convinces Elizabeth that she greatly wronged Darcy in the manner of her refusal; she responds with her own letter of apology. Each agrees to delay departure from Kent for a fortnight and, under Lady Catherine's nose, arrange to meet on an early morning walk. During the walk, they resolve their misperceptions and begin anew.

    Point of view shifts between Darcy and Elizabeth to reveal the internal conflict each suffers as perceptions and behavior change. Since only Colonel Fitzwilliam sees their mutual interest, there's no opposition and only minimal angst. Characters are faithful to Austen.

    Pleasant enough, but offering little new. (A-)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE ELIZABETH CONSPIRACY is Jennifer Joy's 2017 variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    Unbeknownst to her, while Elizabeth Bennet burns with anger and furiously rejects Fitzwilliam Darcy's marriage proposal at Hunsford, Anne de Bourgh settles her immediate future. As if they are intimate friends, Anne insists that Elizabeth remain indefinitely as a house guest at Rosings; Lady Catherine welcomes the opportunity to correct the deficiencies in Elizabeth's upbringing. Elizabeth means to refuse, though Charlotte plays on Elizabeth's friendship to convince her to placate Lady Catherine by accepting. Elizabeth reluctantly agrees to remain three weeks. During her first day at Rosings, Anne informs Elizabeth that she is to replace Mrs. Jenkinson, her elderly companion; she also announces an end-of-visit ball to exhibit Elizabeth's polished accomplishments and formally to announce upcoming Darcy-de Bourgh nuptials. During Elizabeth's first night, Anne de Bourgh dies. Convinced of her daughter's murder, Lady Catherine suspects are Darcy and Elizabeth.

    Darcy, Elizabeth, and Collins are least changed of the characters. Hints of Darcy's lack of affection from both parents, especially his father's unwavering belief of George Wickham's stories even when faced with Darcy's direct evidence to the contrary, help explain his impassive public facade and his distrust of people. Elizabeth's too-rapid change of heart about Darcy and her submission to emotional extortion by Charlotte, Anne, and Lady Catherine are questionable. Some of their misunderstandings seem contrived. Most changed are Anne de Bourgh, whose cousins despise her manipulative, destructive, self-serving behavior, and Charlotte, who does not hesitate to use Elizabeth for her own ends. Usual problems with plural and possessive forms of names and word choice ("ostracism" of a family name) occur.

    I don't know in detail Regency-era legal procedures for unexplained deaths, but I question how Anne's death is handled in THE ELIZABETH CONSPIRACY. Because the magistrate is away, to control public knowledge of family business, Lady Catherine refuses that Anne's body be examined by a physician, the coroner, or the constable. It's not clear whether anyone except the maid, Lady Catherine herself, and possibly Mrs. Jenkinson ever see the body. Anne is buried without a coroner's inquest or any official investigation. Lady Catherine sets servants to prevent Elizabeth, the Colonel, and Darcy from leaving Rosings and later, without evidence and on her own authority, orders the constable to arrest Elizabeth. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam allow her free rein. Good possibilities to develop the mystery exist without being actualized. The conclusion of the mystery story line is rushed.

    THE ELIZABETH CONSPIRACY could have been so much more. (B-)
     
  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MR. CAMPION'S ABDICATION is the fourth book in Mike Ripley's continuation of Margery Allingham's long-running mystery series featuring Albert Campion. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    Heronhoe Hall, between the villages of Heronhoe and Sweetheartings in East Suffolk, is the focus of much activity growing from events long-past. During his time as Prince of Wales, David (Edward VIII, then The Duke of Windsor) visited Heronhoe Hall to engage in point-to-point riding with its owner Gerald Wemyss-Grendle. Many visits included a clandestine female companion. In 1935, already deep in the secret affair with Wallis Warfield Simpson, the couple make an unpublicized appearance at the excavation of a ship burial on the Heronhoe estate. This visit, well known to locals, creates the legend of a treasure, either found in the dig or bestowed by an abdicated king grateful for discretion about his liaisons. Because Albert Campion had made a preliminary security survey before the Prince's visit, he is at Heronhoe Hall in 1970 as consultant for an Italian television crew producing a documentary on the abdication. Everyone involved with Heronhoe Hall since 1935 denies the existence of any treasure. However, given his history, Campion's presence seems confirmation that a hunt is under way. As the diggers recreate the excavation trench for the filming, they find the long-buried body of reporter Sam Salt whose story on the Prince's visit would make his name in the national newspapers; he'd disappeared the night of the Royal visit. More recent history involves Campion's failure to act expeditiously in 1955 when consulted about a young Italian girl, found beaten to death in Clerkenwell's "Little Italy." Can all these events be related?

    MR. CAMPION'S ABDICATION never seems to jell. It's unclear why, after fifteen years, Campion becomes so concerned about the Italian girl. It's never explained why the television company insists on Campion's participation in the production or why Campion sees the need to be involved. He is, after all, coming up on his seventieth birthday, his involvement in the 1935 visit was minor, he has no vested interest, yet he apparently funds much of the expenses of the faux dig. The plot ambles toward the climax, then gallops through the conclusion. Campion's finding something of value is anticlimax, and none of the story lines end with justice being served. Ripley does not develop the continuing characters, including the Campions, Charles Luke, and Lugg, beyond Allingham's originals, and he leaves the introduced ones as stereotypes.

    When I read continuations of established series written by someone else after the death of its creator, I allow hope to override experience. Seldom do I find a new installment that reaches the level of the least-effective original. MR. CAMPION'S ABDICATION does not change this pattern. (C-)
     
  8. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Joana Starnes's MISS DARCY'S COMPANION is a 2016 variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    Mr. Bennet dies unexpectedly before the story opens, and the Bennet family breaks up, with Mrs. Bennet and the three younger sisters living with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips in Meryton, while Jane and Elizabeth go to the Gardiners. Unwilling to impose on their generosity, Elizabeth find employment, first as governess at Malvern House to the Fitzwilliam offspring, grandchildren of the Earl of Malvern. There she meets and impresses Fitzwiliam Darcy, who employs her as companion to his younger sister Georgiana, despite his family's objections to Elizabeth as a young, unmarried woman in the bachelor household at Pemberley. Friendship grows between Darcy and Elizabeth and blooms into love, concealed by both as each tries to avoid unrealistic expectations of marriage. Compli-cations, especially when George Wickham arrives, multiply.

    Some changes in Austen's story line are positive, even though having Elizabeth working for a living increases its Cinderella element. Charles Bingley controls Caroline's behavior, trusts his own judgment and marries Jane Bennet without consulting Darcy. That she'll have a safe and loving home with the Bingleys relieves pressure on Elizabeth. The altered Georgiana-Wickham scenario is believable. However, the structure of the plot is lopsided. Starnes establishes the Fitzwilliam family (except the Colonel) to be major opponents to Darcy's marrying beneath himself, then shows their only countermeasure as a boycott of the wedding. Despite Darcy's fury and planned reprisals against Wickham, nothing happens. Wickham just disappears from the story. The conclusion, covering Darcy and Elizabeth's engagement, wedding, and first weeks of marriage, is rushed.

    Starnes uses limited third person point of view to illuminate Darcy and Elizabeth, though she repeats ad nauseam their love, their doubts, their frustrations at the social inequality that makes marriage impossible. Wording is at times almost verbatim. Not one of the introduced characters is essential to the plot, and none of them are developed beyond a sentence or two. Most have no reported given name.

    MISS DARCY'S COMPANION has good possibilities, but execution falls short. (B-)
     
  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    BECOMING ENTANGLED is Leenie Brown's 2017 novella sequel to her UNRAVELLING MR. DARCY, itself a variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    Anne de Bourgh and Alistair Pratt, son of Lord and Lady Metcalfe, are both under pressure to marry soon, but not each other. Lady Catherine de Bourgh intends Anne for Fitzwilliam Darcy, while Lady Metcalfe, doubting Anne's ability to produce heirs given her delicate health, dispatches her son to a house party in Warwickshire to find a suitable wife. Fearful that Alistair will be compromised there and forced into marriage, Anne devises an elopement scheme, only to have it preempted by Alistair's vengeful acquaintance Clifton Conrad. Can she escape her own compromise?

    ~~~SPOILERS~~~

    The irony in Anne's being compromised while trying to prevent Alistair's compromise is heavy-handed. Most events in the plot are predictable; those unpredictable are unlikely or coincidental. Attitudes about a woman's reputation are inconsistent. Society demands that a "compromised" woman immediately marry or face eternal ostracism, yet when Lord Matlock and Colonel Fitzwilliam discover Anne literally in bed with Conrad, Alistair ignores it. A bad cold is the only consequence of Anne's behavior.

    None of the introduced characters seem genuine, especially Alistair Pratt, presented as a sensible, scholarly, conventional, methodical man of unusual maturity. His compliance with Anne's fantastic elopement scenario is unrealistic. Only the villainous Conrad is essential to the plot though, given his personality, his leaving Anne innocent is incongruous. Other new characters serve as padding.

    The major inconsistency is in Anne de Bourgh. Described as overprotected by her mother's obsession with her delicate health, Anne nevertheless walks, dances, and at will careens about Rosings and Hunsford in her phaeton. Austen's Anne and Darcy are contemporaries, but Brown makes Anne not quite twenty years old, incredibly naive or perhaps stupid. Though previously unacquainted with Conrad, after he accosts her in the street in Hunsford, Anne talks freely, does not question his claim to be Alistair's friend, and agrees to a private meeting the next day. She reveals her elopement plans and accepts Conrad's escort because he knows the location of Warwickshire. Duh! She ignores the implications of their unchaperoned two-day (by coach?) trip between Kent and Warwickshire until they must overnight at an inn where Conrad claims only one room is available. She accepts this story, allows him to ply her with wine, and permits him to help her undress. Yet after rescue by her menfolk, Anne is so incensed against Conrad and his lies that she challenges and duels him with foils defeating him soundly. This warrior aspect is unbelievable given her previous twit-ish behavior.

    I fail to see the point of BECOMING ENTANGLED. Besides the use of Austen's character names, the only circumstance from Pride and Prejudice is Lady Catherine's determination on the Anne-Darcy engagement, which she promptly abandons. Don't waste the time. (F)
     
  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE NIGHT SHE DIED is the first book in Dorothy Simpson's long-running series featuring Detective Inspector Luke Thanet of the Sturrenden, Kent, CID. Originally published in 1981, it was reprinted in 1994 as part of the INSPECTOR THANET OMNIBUS, readily available in inexpensive secondhand print editions.

    When Julia Holmes is stabbed to death in her house, the only fingerprints on the knife are her own, but the coroner is adamant that the wound could not be self-inflicted. She and her husband had been seeing a marriage counsellor, who tells Thanet that Julia had begun experiencing night terrors some two week before her death; Thanet ties their origin to Julia's attending a retrospective of the works of painter Annabel Dacre. Dacre had been murdered some twenty years before, her killer never identified, and the toddler Julia had witnessed the murder. Thanet's convinced that Julia's murder stems from Dacre's death. Did Julia recognize the killer after all these years?

    Simpson skillfully uses DI Thanet as the focus of her limited third person point of view, revealing him as an appealing protagonist. Details of family life show Thanet as a loving husband and devoted father, carrying no significant personal baggage. He's thoroughly professional, a mentor to young DS Mike Lineham, considerate toward his colleagues. No superhero or thinking machine, Thanet experiences doubt and frustration, gets off-track, and has trouble keeping himself emotionally uninvolved in his case. In other words, he's believably human. So are the other major characters.

    The plot is interestingly structured, going contrary to one of the current trends in mystery fiction. I can say no more without doing a spoiler. Information is revealed as Thanet learns it, and Simpson shows his thought processes fairly. The killer's motive and identity are logical, and the conclusion realistic. Physical setting is well-established.

    THE NIGHT SHE DIED is a good, old-fashioned (in the best sense) police procedural. (A-)
     
  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MOTHERS KNOW BEST is Iris Lim's variation on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was originally published in early 2017, then in a second digital edition in late 2017.

    Disgusted by matchmaking Society mothers who've spread rumors about his behavior toward women, Fitzwilliam Darcy declares himself off the marriage market. His mother Lady Anne Darcy has other ideas. Having met Lady Frances Bennet and her daughter Elizabeth at a modiste's shop, she insists that Darcy meet and dance with Elizabeth at an upcoming ball; Mrs. Bennet coerces Elizabeth into agreeing. They meet, and sparks fly. Each behaves to repel the other. Despite the flawed beginning, Lady Anne invites Elizabeth to visit Pemberley, where relaxed contact and Elizabeth's care and concern when Mr. George Darcy falls seriously ill, bring about changes in the feelings of both. Then Lady Bennet's uncontrolled matchmaking interferes. Can the couple come together despite their mothers' interference?

    ~~~SPOILERS~~~

    Lim changes much from Austen's original story. She gives no explanation for elevation of the Bennets' social standing. Elizabeth's parents simply are introduced as Sir Thomas and Lady Frances Bennet of Bennet House in London and Longbourn in Hertfordshire. Their meeting is referred to, but how Elizabeth so impressed Lady Anne remains undisclosed. Lim reveals no specifics about Darcy's questionable reputation. Both Darcy parents survive, so Darcy is not Georgiana's guardian. Her overprotective family leaves Georgiana incredibly naive. Though it hardly seems possible, Lady Bennet is more raucous and embarrassing than Austen's Mrs. Bennet.

    Lim's grossest change is in the personality of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Obsessed to paranoia about fortune hunters, he behaves boorishly in public, seeming deliberately to offend. He is extreme in both the speed and the negativity of his judgments of people and their motives. Darcy's inordinately proud of the logic in his deliberation he acts, yet when infuriated by Lady Catherine's response to his father's illness, he impulsively fires off such a critical letter that it convinces Bingley to end his courtship of Jane Bennet.

    Most of all, Darcy's sticky-sweet professions of love for baby sister Georgiana do not match his behavior. Recalled from Ramsgate after danger of infection has passed, Georgiana acknowledges receipt of the instructions but communicates no further. She does not arrive at Pemberley as arranged. After some unspecified time passes, Darcy moves to Darcy House in London, where still no one has seen or heard from Georgiana, then waits at least two more days before leaving for Ramsgate to investigate. He plays no part in saving Georgiana, even leaving Wickham's fate to Colonel Fitzwilliam. Brotherly love in action?

    MOTHERS KNOW BEST makes me wonder if I read the same text as the people who wrote glowing reviews for Amazon. (F)
     
  12. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    FIVE LITTLE PIGS is one in Agatha Christie's immortal Hercule Poirot series, also printed under the title MURDER IN RETROSPECT. Originally published in 1942, it was reissued in digital format in 2011.

    FIVE LITTLE PIGS differs in several ways from other Poirot stories. For scenes in which he is present, Christie uses strictly limited third person point of view. This adds depth to Poirot's previously rather flat character. By focusing on Poirot's individual in-depth interviews, Christie develops other characters far beyond the norm for her puzzle-plot novels. Her creation of a distinct voice for each witness adds verisimilitude.

    Christie's original title MURDER IN RETROSPECT marks this as an early example of a current trend in mystery fiction--a modern dilemma or crime arising from an event from the distant past. Plot structure is straightforward. In the Introduction, Carla Larchmont comes to Poirot to discover the truth of her mother's guilt or innocence in her father Amytas Crale's murder sixteen years before. Book One details Poirot's interviews with officials involved in investigating and prosecuting Caroline Crale, as well as those with each of the five eyewitnesses to the situation surrounding the murder. Book Two gives each witness's written statement to Poirot of his or her memory and interpretation of the events. Book Three brings Poirot to the usual revelatory conclusion, satisfactory because the identity and motive of the killer are thoroughly based on characterization. It is also realistic to doubt that the killer can be successfully prosecuted.

    Witnesses' evolving recollections remind us that people filter events through their emotions, preconceptions, and experience to reach their version of Truth. The subtlety with which Christie implies this theme makes FIVE LITTLE PIGS one of my favorite Christie novels. (A)
     
  13. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE LONGBOURN WILL is Carolyn Whyte's 2015 variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    The premise on which THE LONGBOURN WILL is based is original and explains much of the backstory to events from Austen. Thomas Bennet's older sister Elizabeth insists on marrying Mr. Collins to gain her own household; she's mistreated, causing estrangement between the brothers-in-law. Because Thomas Bennet has four daughters, his dying father George Bennet entails Longbourn to prevent its leaving the Bennet family. If Thomas Bennet has no surviving sons, Longbourn passes to the oldest surviving son of Elizabeth Bennet Collins and his male descendants; if the Collins line fails, a more distant Bennet cousin and his male descendants inherit. Should this line be extinct, Thomas Bennet may will Longbourn to one of his daughters. Determined to heal the rift between the Bennet and Collins families, Bennet Sr. includes a condition in his will: William Collins inherits only if he marries one of Thomas Bennet's daughters. Collins Sr. bribes the Bennet solicitor James Wickham to suppress this provision, leaving his brother-in-law in ignorance; years later on his own deathbed, Collins informs his son of the condition and advises that, to be safe in case the original will at some point come to light, he marry one of the Bennet daughters. In the meantime, on James Wickham death in Meryton, his effects are sent to his brother, the steward on a large estate in Derbyshire, where on his death, his papers eventually come to the attention of James's nephew. Hence William Collins's descent on Longbourn and his refusal to take "no" to his marriage plans.

    This backstory makes Collins more believable without making him less repellant. It adds humor, especially in Collins's solemn proposing to three different Bennet sisters on three successive days. It further develops George Wickham as devious and depraved. It increases social, physical, and emotional dangers to the Bennets as two fortune-hunters and three honest suitors vie for sisters.

    So, what's the problem? The story is unfocused, way too long, trying to do too much with too many characters extraneous to the main conflict. It piles improbability (Wickham's escape after capture) onto coincidence (his unknowing choice of the Darcys' coach to rob on their wedding day) to separates the climax and the turning points. The plot slides off into anticlimax, with a rushed conclusion.

    Don't get me wrong. THE LONGBOURN WILL is one of the best variants on Pride and Prejudice that I've read. It just could have been so much more with tighter revision. (B+)
     
  14. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE RED TELEPHONE BOX is the fifth book in P. F. Ford's Detective Sergeant Dave Slater series set in Tinton, Hampshire. It was published in digital format in 2015.

    When the flat of partner Detective Sergeant Norman Norman* is torched by an arsonist, Slater waits anxiously to discover his friend's fate, only to be told that Norman had not been at home and that he's not responding though he's on-call. Norman has gone missing. Two days before, he had been threatened by a teenager caught setting fires in trash bins. Are the fire and his disappearance related to that case? Detective Inspector Marion Goodnews is seconded to Tinton to lead the investigation; she and Slater bump heads but soon settle into a working partnership to trace Norman's movements. Norman's behavior picked up on CCTV seems to indicate he was lured into a kidnap situation. Ex-con Tommy Howes, now living with Norman's ex-wife Joan, always claimed Norman framed him and stole her away while he'd been in prison. Ex-Detective Inspector Jimmy Jones of the Hampshire Serious Crimes Unit, had been brought down for corruption by Slater and Norman; has he arranged a hit? There's also a mysterious "Russian" who'd been watching Norman's flat for weeks before the fire, a link to the Serbian mobster known as Slick Tony who'd escaped Slater and Norman in the Serious Crimes Unit fiasco, a case which Norman's continued to work with Interpol. Slater's car is torched and he's specifically warned off. What is going on?

    I generally dislike series that carry an unresolved story line from book to book. THE RED TELEPHONE BOX continues the Serbian mob theme without major development, giving only minimal reference to its events. Not recalling details of the original case lessens its impact. Ford does an excellent job of focusing attention away from the motive and identity of the kidnapper. He's fair about giving information as it is found and theories as thinking changes.

    One of the strengths of the series is the law-enforcement community at Tinton CID. Nobody's perfect, everybody's different, but together they function with reasonable success frustration at rising crime rates, diminishing police manpower, and disappearing funding. Ford rings in believable changes that help keep the series fresh. Detective Constable Steve Biddenford is back from his disciplinary assignment at least temporarily, while new Duty Sergeant Sandy Mallison brings needed professionalism to the night-shift uniformed branch. Station chief Detective Chief Inspector Bob Murray seeks early retirement, Norman hears rumors of a "new broom" coming to Tinton, and Slater doesn't react well to change.

    THE RED TELEPHONE BOX is satisfactory in both its current case and in the promise of interesting developments to come. (B+)

    *not a typo
     
  15. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A LADY'S PRIDE is Jennifer Kay's 2017 variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    At the Netherfield ball while Elizabeth suffers humiliation at her family's uncouth behavior and quarrels with Darcy as they dance, Thomas Bennet collapses. In the midst of hysterics, lamentations and chaos, Mr. Collins announces his choice of Elizabeth to be his wife, proclaiming his generosity that will prevent the Bennet women from having to leave Longbourn. Though hounded by Collins and her mother, Elizabeth refuses to answer his proposal until her father can give his consent to the marriage. However, Mr. Bennet's survival is uncertain and, should he die, she will have to marry Collins for the family's security. George Wickham pressures Elizabeth to elope with him when the militia leaves Meryton, then Darcy offers his disparaging proposal. Fortunately Mr. Bennet recovers. Through a letter explaining her concern about Darcy and about Wickham's attention to Elizabeth, Georgiana's confession of her foiled elopement begins the change in Elizabeth Bennet's heart.

    Kay uses some modern expressions--for instance, "okay"--that grate when juxtaposed with Austen's prose. She refers to Sir William Lucas as "Sir Lucas." She sometimes uses a word with an acceptable denotation in a context where its connotation does not fit. Despite these minor problems as fan fiction writing goes, Kay's is some of the best.

    Kay rearranges some of the events and incorporates large segments of conversations and letters from Austen; individuals are consistent with their originals though some are exaggerated: Collins, a potential abuser; Mrs. Bennet, emoting on the imminent prospect of the hedgerows without asking about her husband's condition; Lydia, a simpleton; and Caroline Bingley, beyond viperish. Lady Catherine de Bourgh makes only a token appearance.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    There is a major hole in the plot. When Caroline Bingley shoves Elizabeth into the path of a runaway horse in Hyde Park, everyone in the party sees it. Only Darcy's catching Elizabeth saves her from serious injury or death. The only reaction is a halfhearted apology from Louisa Hurst, who says Caroline can't deal with not getting what she wants. NOTHING is done about the attack, and Caroline suffers no consequences. Grrr! (B+)
     
  16. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    SIX FEET UNDER is the second book in Dorothy Simpson's Inspector Luke Thanet series set in Sturrenden, Kent. Originally published in 1982, it was reprinted in INSPECTOR THANET OMNIBUS in 1994, readily available in inexpensive secondhand paperback.

    In SIX FEET UNDER, Thanet faces two problems, one professional and one personal. The personal issue involves Joan Thanet taking a job when son Ben begins school in a few months; Thanet dreads the changes that her doing so will bring, and she senses his promise to support her decision is halfhearted. The professional case is the murder of Carrie Birch, who's caregiver to her horrible crippled mother, cleaning woman, and general dweeb. She'd been hit on the head, suffocated, and her body placed in an outdoor privy. Investigation discloses that she'd been a compulsive snoop, with nearly £1,000 in cash, expensive clothing, cosmetics, and a blonde wig hidden away. She lied about cleaning the church on Thursday evenings. Where does she go, what does she do, and where does the money come from?

    Strong characters are a strength in SIX FEET UNDER. Simpson's use of strict limited third person narration creates an appealing protagonist in Thanet. "Social-worker Thanet at your service, he told himself wryly... It was the old, old problem: how to tread the tightrope between entering too fully into the lives and minds of the people he came across in the course of his work, and remaining too detached from them. He had constantly to be on his guard against the emotional involvement which could, he knew, cripple his judgement." (112-3) Simpson's delicate balance between Thanet's home life and his current case makes him very believable. His self-awareness and his lack of debilitating emotional baggage are refreshing in this day of the anti-hero.

    The identity and motive of Carrie Birch's killer comes as a surprise but one that Simpson has foreshadowed fairly. The thought process by which Thanet solves the case is believable, as is his epiphany about the importance of Joan's job, which makes for a satisfying denouement. Highly recommended. (A)
     
  17. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING is Harriet Knowles's 2017 variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in digital format.

    Elizabeth Bennet awakens in the middle of the night to discover Longbourn on fire. She awakens the family. Jane and her parents leave the house, but Mary loses her spectacles and cannot see to escape, as Elizabeth goes to Kitty and Lydia's room to rouse them. She is able to reach only Kitty, unconscious inside the door, and to guide Mary, hit on the head by a falling beam, from the conflagration. While Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Jane make no attempt to help her sisters, Elizabeth heads back into the house for Lydia, the roof collapses. Kitty dies minutes later; Mary is badly burned, her face disfigured, and she is blinded. At the fire and for months following, Mrs. Bennet hysterically proclaims to all and sundry that Elizabeth left Lydia to die in the flames because she was jealous of her younger sister. She forbids Elizabeth and Mary living with the family, restricts her husband and Jane's contact with them, and dictates minimal provision. Mary and Elizabeth live alone in a rundown tenant cottage on the Longbourn estate, with inadequate supplies and no household help; Mr. Bennet pays for only a few visits from the apothecary immediately after the fire, leaving Elizabeth, herself burned, to dress her sister's horrific wounds. Both suffer PTSD. Fitzwilliam Darcy discovers them in this condition and, moved initially by compassionate charity and then by love for Elizabeth, becomes involved in providing care.

    I detected a few incongruous word choices (e.g., "she disturbed a look in his eye") and a mix-up oaf parts of speech. One takes a bath (noun), or one bathes (verb). Knowles uses apothecary and doctor interchangeably. In modern terms, a Regency doctor is a physician; an apothecary is a pharmacist. Darcy's charitable behavior is more modern in tone than Regency. Meryton's failure to condemn Mrs. Bennet's post-fire malevolence is unrealistic. As fan fiction goes, LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING is exceptionally well written.

    Most of Knowles's characters, especially Darcy, Elizabeth, and Mary, are believable extensions of Austen's originals. Mary accepts her handicaps, works to lessen her dependence on Elizabeth, and finds creative interests. Elizabeth must overcome her pride to accept Darcy's help, and Darcy must overcome his distaste for her unfeeling family members. Though both suffer uncertainty, angst is minimal and, given their situation, realistic.

    ~~~SPOILERS~~~

    I despise Knowles's versions of Jane and Mrs. Bennet. Jane abandons her sisters, not visiting regularly, offering no practical or emotional support, not even inviting Elizabeth and Mary to her wedding. She does condescend to attend Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage the day after her own. She deserves Caroline Bingley as a live-in sister. Making Cinderella and Snow White's stepmothers look warm and fuzzy, Mrs. Bennet effectively ostracizes Mary and Elizabeth from family and friends as she continually, publicly blames Elizabeth for Lydia's death. When Elizabeth and Darcy marry, she's eager to reconcile, but Elizabeth is understandably reluctant to forgive. Brava, Elizabeth!

    Most despicable is Mr. Bennet who, for the sake of his own peace, allows his wife to dictate the conditions which Elizabeth and Mary survive for months. He makes no attempt to control Mrs. Bennet's viciousness or to discharge responsibly his own fatherly duties. Despite her heroism during the fire and caring for Mary, despite Elizabeth supposedly his favorite child, he seldom visits and then only from duty. He's embarrassed and resentful when Darcy makes suitable provision, more concerned about what his neighbors may think than his daughters' welfare. That Mary will live at Pemberley with the Darcys must be written into the marriage settlements. He's so cowed that he conceals his consent to Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage from his wife, then has the unmitigated gall to ask to participate in the wedding ceremony. Darcy should have spit in his eye!

    LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING is a unique retelling of Pride and Prejudice, most excellent reading. (solid A)
     
  18. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A RECKONING IN THE BACK COUNTRY is the seventh book in Terry Shames's series featuring Police Chief Samuel Craddock of Jarrett Creek, Texas. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    When the story opens Thanksgiving week, Samuel Craddock is having a quiet time, the only problem three disappearances or thefts of pet dogs. Then Lewis Wilkins, one of the "lake people" (owners of vacation homes on the shores of Jarrett Creek Lake) is reported missing. A socially prominent orthopedic surgeon from San Antonio, he and wife Margaret recently moved to Jarrett Creek to stay, their finances and his career destroyed when he lost a self-insured malpractice suit. When his body is found in the back country bordering the lake, the cause of death is a dog attack involving two animals, with clear evidence that his hands had been bound behind his back--deliberate murder. Craddock finds $200,000 in cash, a selection of pills, and a passport showing Wilkins's picture but the name Leonard Wilson, concealed in his SUV. Where had the money come from? Rumors about dog-fighting operations in the rural area, theft of pets to use as bait dogs, Wilkins's death by canine, discovery of the cane corsos (Italian mastiffs, guard and attack dogs descended from Roman war dogs, more dangerous than pit bulls because more unpredictable) that killed Wilkins, and the SUV finds coalesce to carry Craddock into a world of high stakes gambling and major criminal activity.

    Samuel Craddock as the first person narrator tells the story in conversational style, regional without being overblown. Sense of place is excellent. "The houses line the west side of the road, on big lots. Most are modest vacation places, but some of them are grander. At the near end, they back up onto fenced pastureland, but halfway down the pastures end abruptly, giving way to back country--acres and acres of thick brush, post oak trees, and poison ivy. Although a lot of foliage is gone by this time of year, it's still a thicket and looks even more intimidating with the brown leaves of the trees hanging against a gray sky. Before the dam that created the lake was built, it was all bottom swampland, and it's still alive with critters, mostly snakes, opossums, raccoons, and mosquitoes. People report seeing the occasional bobcat as well. Legend has it that a panther attacked a child here back in the 1930s and dragged it away into the swamp, and the child was never seen again. I have my doubts."

    Definitely a senior citizen in age, Craddock's not old in thought or activity. He takes his job, though not himself, seriously. Shames keeps his character fresh with personal details--he's torn between friendship with Ellen Forester and sizzle with Wendy Gleason, he adopts a puppy, he remembers his alcoholic father taking his ten-year-old self to a dog fight. Continuing characters evolve and new ones behave believably. My only complaint is that their number exceeds plot requirements.

    Shames directs attention away from killer and motive while being strictly fair in providing foreshadowing that makes their eventual revelation reasonable and logical. Shames also plays fair in showing Craddock's theory of the crime as it evolves without concealing information. Though dog fighting is essential to the plot, Shames reveals it through its influence on Craddock, not by graphic details.

    A RECKONING IN THE BACK COUNTRY is another outstanding story. (A)
     
  19. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DISRUPTION AT PEMBERLEY is Emily Russell's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    While they are holiday in Derbyshire, three highwaymen rob the Gardiners' coach, injure Mr. Gardiner, and mean to kidnap Elizabeth Bennet. Fortunately Fitzwilliam Darcy, traveling ahead of his party, comes upon the scene in time to drive off the robbers. Because the coach is too small to accommodate the two women and the unconscious man, Elizabeth must ride on horseback with Darcy to nearby Pemberley, her dress torn so that she can sit astride, dirty from being shoved into the road. Both ignore propriety in the emergency. When Darcy offers the Gardiner party hospitality at Pemberley until Mr. Gardiner is declared fit to travel, Elizabeth is torn, aware that her feelings have changed dramatically since Darcy's proposal in Kent, but with no hope that Darcy will renew his offer. After she identifies one of the robbers in nearby Bakewell, Darcy learns that rumors about Elizabeth's dress on arrival at Pemberley and their presumed engagement circulate locally, as well as in Bath and London. To preserve both their reputations, they must marry; though they love each other, neither wants a forced marriage. Lydia's eloping with George Wickham adds to their doubts and problems.

    Characters are reasonably faithful to Austen's depiction, though Russell's Elizabeth lacks impulse control. FOUR separate TSTL choices of behavior endanger herself and others. She jumps to the conclusion that Darcy plans to use Lydia's behavior to justify ending their betrothal. After all, when Lydia's scandal breaks, Elizabeth's loss of reputation becomes a minor detail in the family's ruination while Darcy escapes the debacle unscathed. Darcy adds to Elizabeth's pain by emotional withdrawal, isolating himself in his study without telling her that he's working continually to locate the runaways, then he has hurt feelings that she doubted him. Bingley finally grows the spine to deal with Caroline.

    I detected a few minor glitches. Mrs. Reynolds at one point is called Mrs. Jenkins. "Saloon" and "salon" may share denotation, but their modern connotations are distinctly different. In Regency England, a millinery shop sold women's hats; a haberdashery or a linendraper's shop sold dressmaking fabrics.

    DISRUPTION AT PEMBERLEY's juxtaposition of internal conflict with external events makes for an engrossing read. (A-)
     
  20. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A FINE AND BITTER SNOW is the twelfth book in Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak mystery series. Originally published in 2002, it was reissued in digital format in 2010/

    Dan O'Brian may be replaced as head ranger of the Park because he opposes exploratory drilling for oil in the ANWR, contrary to current Presidential policy. His experience and expertise are essential to the healthy survival of the Park. Kate Shugak, ardent conservationist and very much the designated heir of Native power-broker Ekaterina Moonin Shugak, organizes the Park rats to protect his job. Among those she approaches are ecotourism pioneers Dina Wilner and Rutha Bauman, owners of Camp Roosevelt, and John Letourneau, owner of up-market Letourneau Guides, Inc. When Dina is murdered and Rutha left for dead in their cabin, Kate is thrown into the midst of the investigation, forcing her to confront her past association with the women who'd helped raise her and her current situation with Alaska State Trooper "Chopper Jim" Chopin. They discover that Letourneau and Dina had been married briefly; Letourneau refuses to discuss it, leaves a note saying he killed Dina, and suicides. Or did he?

    The evolving relationship between Kate and Chopper Jim overshadows the mystery element in A FINE AND BITTER SNOW. Kate realistically knows she must move on with her life, but she's not yet emotionally ready. She still harbors Johnny Morgan, Jack's son who's run away from his mother's custody. Both personal story lines progress believably without being resolved. Stabenow's subtle foreshadowing of the killer's identity are easy to overlook in the complete absence of a motive. This makes for an unsatisfying conclusion.

    Characterization is one of the strong points of the series. Stabenow keeps her people fresh with bits of back story that help explain their present personality. Many of the characters are dynamic, shown as they reassess the past, encounter new people and circumstances, and adapt, and therefore believable. The Park rats are a motley but appealing crew.

    Stabenow excels at using details of daily live to reveal character: "She was alone a lot of the time, she was used to it, she liked it, and she was good at it. She preferred autonomy to dependence. At the homestead she had books to read and music to listen to, bread to bake and snow to shovel, fish to pick and traps to check, a rifle to clean and moose to hunt, butcher, and pack. People seldom knocked a her door. Her nearest neighbor was, at any given time, a bull moose or a grizzly sow or the big bad gray wolf that kept trying to seduce Mutt into forsaking Kate and civilization for him and the call of the wild. The great thing abut the moose and the grizzly and the wolf was that they had not been gifted by their creator with the power of speech. They couldn't make conversation. The moose might kick your ass and the grizzly might rip it off and the wolf might eat it, but they wouldn't talk you to death while they got on with the job. The main thing Kate had against people was that they talked too much and said too little."

    A FINE AND BITTER SNOW is a fine read. (B
     

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