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Readingomnivore Reviews


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WHEN JANE GOT ANGRY is the latest to date in Victoria Kincaid's novella variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

When Caroline Bingley finally returns her call in London, Jane Bennet realizes that Elizabeth had been right in her appraisal of that woman's character--Miss Bingley has not ever been her friend. Jane doubts that Charles Bingley even knows that she is in London, so she and the Gardiners' maid Maggie, who happens to be walking out with Bingley's valet Harvey, formulate a plan whereby Bingley "accidentally" meets Jane on the street. Not strictly proper, but Jane is irritated. Bingley is delighted, affections unchanged, despite his anger at both Caroline and Darcy for interference. There's another hiatus in the resumed relationship, perhaps engineered by Caroline, but Bingley evades her scheming.

The title is misleading, because Jane and Bingley's justifiable anger is little shown. Kincaid develops both's reluctance even to feel angry and their ambivalence about expressing it to the smallest degree. Action is summarized, not shown. Both major characters are so repressed that their anger is unbelievable.

The plot through Bingley's proposal and Jane's acceptance is reasonable, but the final chapter, in which they (accompanied by Mrs. Gardiner, for propriety's sake) hie themselves to Kent to prevent the disastrous proposal-refusal at Hunsford, is not. The epilogue includes Maggie and Harvey in the happily-ever-after.

WHEN JANE GOT ANGRY has an intriguing premise--what would happen if Jane confronted and acted on her feelings--that is sadly undeveloped. (C)


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THE IVORY DAGGER is one of Patricia Wentworth's long-running series of mystery novels featuring former governess Miss Maud Silver, now a private enquiry agent. Originally published in 1950, it was reissued in digital format in 2011.

Sir Herbert Whitall is a wealthy, middle-aged businessman who collects ancient ivory carvings. He's engaged to marry in a week's time 22-year-old Lila Dryden, whose beauty, pale skin, and light gold hair make her a fitting addition to his collection. Taking advantage of Lila's previous fiancé Bill Waring's lying unconscious for a month in America following a train accident, Lila's honorary aunt, Lady Sybil Dryden insists on the marriage between Lila and Whitall, though Lila is physically repulsed by the very idea of his touching her. In addition to his obsession with acquiring items coveted by others, Whitall enjoys knowing things that allow him to control people, including Lady Sybil, his heir Eric Haile, his butler Marsham, and his secretary Millicent Whitaker. So it isn't surprising when Lila, sleepwalking after reacting hysterically reaction to Lucia di Lammamoor, is later found in Whitall's study in her blood-stained nightgown, blood on her hand, and him stabbed to death. To protect Lila, Lady Sybil sends for Miss Silver, who soon discovers things are not as they seem.

The Miss Silver mysteries are a comfort read for me. They all follow a pattern, most often involving a damsel in distress, of good breeding but generally without much money, and a chaste romance. In this case, the heroine is Ray Fortescue, Lila's cousin, who's been in love with Bill Waring all her life,who's at Vineyards to help Waring rescue Lila from Whitall and Lady Sybil. As perceives her clearly, Waring realizes he does not love marry Lila, who seems to have both the spine and brain of a jellyfish, he turns to Ray. Needed information is secured through Miss Silver's adroit handling of a servant. The plot is tight and depends on close observation, deduction, and knowledge of human nature rather than forensic fireworks. No graphic violence, no profanity, no sex crimes. Wentworth evoke a quieter, more ordered world, even for murder. (B+)


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UNEXPECTED AFFECTION is a novella-length variant by Cassandra Knightley based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2017.

During her visit to Hunsford, Fitzwilliam Darcy has spent time and walked with Elizabeth Bennet, changing her opinion of him enough that, when he proposes to her, she accepts. She's not in love with him, but she enjoys his company and is definitely attracted; marrying him will provide security for her mother and sisters when her father dies, and it will relieve her mother's pressure on Jane to marry whomever she can as soon as possible. If Elizabeth can't marry for love as she'd dreamed, she can see that Jane has the opportunity. However, Darcy does not come to Longbourn as promised to seek Mr. Bennet's consent. Instead, Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives to offer legal aid to break the entail on Longbourn, dowries for her sisters, and an allowance for her mother. if Elizabeth breaks the engagement. Wickham instigates Elizabeth to attempt a reconciliation between himself and Darcy, resulting in a major quarrel between the lovers. Can Elizabeth recognize her feelings and heal the breach?

UNEXPECTED AFFECTION is comforting. There's little suspense; angst is minimal, given the circumstances. The Fitzwilliams, except for Lady Catherine, welcome Elizabeth with open arms. After Lydia has hysterics to get her way, Darcy gives Elizabeth a choice: he must determine her younger sisters' education and conduct, or she must give up all contact with her family. This demand and her surrender to it bode ill. Only the argument between Darcy and Elizabeth over Wickham conveys much emotion.

There are editing problems. Knightley uses the American spelling for Anne, and Elizabeth's aunt and uncle are the Gardeners. The anachronistic term "run at the mouth" glares. It's unclear whether the militia decamps for Bath or for Brighton. There's nothing much wrong with UNEXPECTED AFFECTION. There's just nothing much memorable. (C)


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A PECULIAR COURTSHIP is Alice Morgan's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

When Elizabeth Bennet reads Darcy's letter of explanation following his proposal at Hunsford, she is troubled by her faulty perception of his character. She asks and he agrees that they will meet and walk privately, during which time they will alternate asking a series of five questions to be answered with total honesty. Elizabeth wants to see how she came to misjudge both Darcy and Wickham, and Darcy hopes to change her mind on the proposal. Their relationship begins anew and continues after Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam escort Elizabeth and Maria Lucas to the Gardiners' home in Gracechurch Street. Darcy's escort of the Gardiner party to the theatre is practically an announcement of their engagement, with both parties fully in love, when George Wickham intervenes to extort money from Darcy. Lydia's elopement can ruin the Bennets' reputation, and he threatens to disclose Georgiana as well. Can Lydia be retrieved, Jane and Bingley's engagement preserved, and Darcy and Elizabeth find happiness?


This is the point at which the plot falls apart. I had doubts when Georgiana Darcy is so pathologically shy that she hyperventilates at the mere mention of her entertaining Elizabeth, Jane, and Mrs. Gardiner to tea. Then when Wickham sets up his scheme and the menfolk rush off to deal with him, she comes up with a TSTL stunt in which she blackmails Elizabeth ("go with me or I'll go alone and I won't tell you where") to go in search of Wickham themselves. The plan includes their dressing as prostitutes and playing Three Card Brag (apparently related to blackjack) in the tavern owned by Mrs. Younge's brother, money against information on Wickham's whereabouts. Elizabeth's TSTL is to agree to Georgiana's plan, and Jane's is to follow after them when she discovers it. Can anyone foresee the outcome? Their rescuers arrive just in time, producing a confrontation resulting in the deaths of seven men, which Colonel Fitzwilliam manages to explain to the police (the London police force was not yet in existence) without involving Darcy, Bingley, or Gardiner. After this, Lady Catherine's last ditch attempt to coerce Darcy into marrying Anne becomes anticlimax. Most frustrating of all, Wickham sells Lydia to a brothel for £50 (she's rescued before delivery); taken in disguise to see what her fate might have been, to reform her character, Lydia still shows little sign of remorse for the elopement.

Initially editing is good, but it breaks down in the second half of the novel, where anachronisms, questionable word choice, and homophones become common. The dawn meeting from the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is reenacted daily as Darcy and Elizabeth meet to walk and talk, and the wet shirt scene from the 1995 miniseries is reprised with Elizabeth joining Darcy in his bedroom at Pemberley for closer inspection. There's also a problem with Darcy's horse--first a mare with a white boot (stocking), then referred to as it, but subsequently called he, all this within the space of a few sentences.

A PECULIAR COURTSHIP isn't worth the time. (D)


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MY FALKLAND ISLANDS LIFE: OUR FAMILY'S VERY BRITISH ADVENTURE is Jen Carter's account of two years, 1986-1988, in the Falkland Islands while husband Andrew worked as a trained agronomist for the Falkland Islands Development Corporation. It was published in digital format in 2017.

Never having together at once the money, the time, and the health for real-life world travel, I am an armchair rover. I enjoy travel memoirs, stories of moving into a new way of life like Carol Drinkwater's Olive Farm and Frances Mayes's Tuscan ventures, novels with unusual settings. So I was enthusiastic to find MY FALKLAND ISLANDS LIFE--new place, time just after the Falklands War, distinctly different way of life.

Unfortunately, I am disappointed. Nothing creates a distinctive sense of place. Places and people are named, a few details of daily life given, the need for community spirit, self-sufficiency, and a "can do" mindset emphasized, but without a sense of immediacy or reader involvement. Almost nothing is said about islanders' experiences during the war. Everything is bland and generic. I can't recommend MY FALKLAND ISLANDS LIFE. (F)


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THE FLAXBOROUGH CRAB is one of Colin Watson's long-running Flaxborough police procedural series. Originally published in 1969, it was reissued in digital format in 2018.

Something stranger than usual is going on in Flaxborough, where outrageous behavior is commonplace. Reports of voyeurism and theft of undergarments have increased, and a series of attacks on women has begun. The attacker is a sexually aroused, elderly man who, when chased away, runs sidewise like a crab, hence the nickname. No one has recognized him, though Dr. Augustus Meadow, who helped rescue young Brenda Sweeting outside his surgery, saw him up close and under a streetlight. When Alderman Steven Winge dies by misadventure while making another such attack, it appears that the problem will stop. The inquest on his body reveals that Winge had been a patient of Dr. Meadow, who'd prescribed the new drug Juniform; Winge had supplemented it with an herbal revitalizer "Samson's Salad" ordered through the post. But the attacks do not stop, and Dr. Meadow dies unexpectedly of what's thought to be a massive coronary. Or is it?

I like the Flaxborough series. I appreciate its humor. The account of the annual outing of the Trent Street Darby and Joan Club to Gosby Vale is worth the price of the book. Most characters are decidedly quirky, with Inspector Purbright and Sergeant Sid Love as the calm center of the action. I like the old-fashioned detective work based on observation, deduction, and knowledge of human nature, rather than forensics. I appreciate the lack of psychological baggage so common in many current crime novels. The plot, as outré as the Flaxborough Crab may seem, hangs together believably. Sense of place is outstanding.

I'll read more of the series. (A)


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BRICKS AND MORTALITY is the third book in Ann Granger's Campbell and Carter police procedural series. It was published in digital format in 2013.

When Key House, empty and long abandoned home of ex-patriate Gervase Crown burns to the ground, firemen find the body of a man in the ruins. He'd been struck in the head but died in the fire. First impressions suggest that Crown, disliked and ostracized in the village of Weston St Ambrose for drinking and driving that years before left young Petra Stapleton permanently confined to a wheel chair, is the corpse. Then Crown arrive from Portugal to deal with the aftermath of the fire. So who is the victim? Was he killed in mistake for Crown?

I like Inspector Jess Campbell and Superintendent Ian Carter. Both are believable characters with details of personality and off-duty life that lend verisimilitude. BRICKS AND MORTALITY introduces Carter's ten-year-old daughter Millie, gives some details of his back story as well as providing indirect characterization. Millie suggests a personal relationship may eventually develop between Jess and Carter, but to date they share only a professional life. The cadre of police and auxiliary personnel is realistic.

The impetus for the crime originates in Crown's past and, given the long memories of villagers, makes sense. Granger offers several plausible motives and hence suspects, though one relevant piece of information emerges only in the killer's confession. The plot moves slowly. Several characters serve no essential purpose.

Sense of place is strong, with neat bits of atmospheric description: "The beam of the flashlight played over the blackened walls and fallen internal structure, the cracked beams poking up like spars of a wrecked ship, the heaps of three-hundred-year-old stone tiles... Inside the building the walls provided only partial shelter. Cold night air blew in through the open roof and through the holes where windows and doors had been. It ricocheted around the walls and rustled the cinders, snatching up handfuls of ash and tossing them in the air... The wind had a voice, too. It whistled through narrow chinks and sighed around him. There was a constant background movement, odd bits falling and wood creaking and snapping. It was, he imagined, like being at sea in one of the great wooden sailing ships, the fabric a living thing, constantly calling for your attention."

BRICKS AND MORTALITY is a good continuation of a solid series. (B)


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MR. DARCY'S TROUBLE WITH OFFICERS is Elizabeth Goodrich's first variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennet while she's at Netherfield tending Jane; summoned to Rosings by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he suggests their marriage as a solution to both their problems. She indignantly refuses and continues to evade her mother's matchmaking with Mr. Collins. Collins has intelligent opinions and pontificates on Lady Catherine only when nervous and unsure of himself. He's in love with Lydia, who's caught up with the militia officers stationed in Meryton. Elizabeth's plan to have Collins attract Lydia through his own military career (he'd been an officer, released for partial disability when a cannon exploded and damaged his hearing) goes awry, leading to a quick wedding when Lydia and he are compromised at the Netherfield ball. Can Jane and Elizabeth find happiness after such a scandal?

I don't know whence the title comes. The trouble with officers is more to do with Elizabeth's plan to interest Lydia in Collins than interaction with Darcy. Wickham and Denny disappear from the text after setting up the compromise. Two others stationed at Hunsford come to tea at the parsonage and meet Anne de Bourgh, though neither plays any further role. Colonel Henry Fitzwilliam is more plot device than character. Most of Elizabeth's angst is self-imposed. Usual editorial problems include poor word choice ("accolade" instead of "accommodate"), incorrect plural for the name "Collins" (Collinses), and change of speaker in one of most important conversations in the whole story.


I wonder at some of the changes. Colonel Fitzwilliam is unrelated by blood to Anne de Bourgh. Fostered by the Matlocks since early childhood, his identification as "the youngest son" began as a family joke. No other information is given. Goodrich reverses the birth order of Lydia and Mary Bennet, explicitly identifying Lydia as the middle daughter and Mary as the youngest. This makes Lydia's Charlotte-like approach to marrying Collins more believable, but the increased age makes her behavior with the officers more egregious. Her settling into marriage and intimate friendship with Anne are less probable, reported rather than shown. We're simply told she is happy and a successful parson's wife. It appears Sto me that Lydia Bennet Collins has morphed into her mother and uses her status as Lady Catherine's proxy to establish a social role.

MR. DARCY'S TROUBLE WITH OFFICERS is okay, but it's nothing special. (C)


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TEMPT YOU TO ACCEPT ME is one of Cassandra B. Leigh's variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in 2013 in digital format.

Two days after leaving Hertfordshire following the Netherfield ball, Darcy returns in haste to Longbourn to propose to Elizabeth Bennet. Surprised by his profession of love and infuriated by his condemnation of her family, she refuses. Mr. Bennet admits his defects as a father to Darcy and points out the younger man's own shortcomings as a suitor. Counseling Darcy not to give up, he promises to support Darcy's courtship. Thus ensues a developing relationship in which Elizabeth learns Darcy's character, while Darcy reconsiders his perceptions of the Bennets.

TEMPT YOU TO ACCEPT ME is well-edited. Anachronisms are not obvious, and awkward word choices few. The plot is slice of life: daily interactions, gradual revelation of feelings, change of opinions. Angst is minimal. There's little external conflict: an encounter in which Wickham comes off much the worst, a last-ditch attempt on Darcy by Caroline Bingley, halfhearted support for Elizabeth that turns into open admiration as the Earl of Matlock recognizes her ability to handle Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The story moves very slowly, most of it from Darcy's point of view. Leigh gives the complete text of every song (Darcy has a rich baritone voice and in company frequently sings to Georgiana's accompaniment), poem, letter, and note, making the story feel padded. Lydia's projected elopement is gratuitous.

Characters are reasonably faithful to the originals, though Darcy is so taken up with Elizabeth that her mother and sisters' behavior previously condemned becomes charmingly lighthearted. Mrs. Bennet's obsession with marrying off her daughters willy-nilly is, after all, based on anxiety over the entail. Two characters do not ring true, however. Lady Catherine is unlikely to give up her anti-Elizabeth campaign after one skirmish. Christian charity from Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Phillips towards George Wickham in the distress brought about by his own behavior seems insufficient to bring about a change in his character.

TEMPT YOU TO ACCEPT ME is pleasant enough, just not very memorable. (C)


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DEATH IN A WHITE TIE is the seventh book in Ngaio Marsh's long-running police procedural series featuring Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard. Originally published in 1938, it was reissued in digital format in 2013.

It's the London Season, and when Mrs. Halcot-Hackett comes to Scotland Yard because she's being blackmailed, Alleyn asks old friend Lord Robert "Bunchy" Gospell, who knows everyone in Society and goes everywhere, to keep watch for the pickup of Mrs. Hawlet-Hackett's payment at a concert. He agrees, in the meantime demanding that his nephew and heir Donald Potter resume his medical studies and give up his hanging-about with Captain Maurice Withers, a wrong'un currently running a gambling den at Leatherhead; he's convinced that longtime friend Lady Carrados is also a blackmail victim. Lord Robert identifies the courier in the payoff and calls Alleyn to say he knows the blackmailer. Their call is interrupted before he gives the name, and Lord Robert is murdered that night. Blackmail, illegal gambling, affairs, long-lost secrets--whence comes the murder?

DEATH IN A WHITE TIE is one of the stronger Alleyn mysteries, in particular because it gives insight into his relationship with painter Agatha Troy. He's a friend from childhood of Lady Carrados, about whom he's concerned; he feels personal responsibility for Lord Robert's death since he'd brought the elderly man into the blackmail case. He's an attractive protagonist, part of the aristocratic sleuth tradition begun with Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion; his cases mostly involve the upper social echelons where, as the son of a baronet, he belongs. An appealing warmth exists in his relationship with his long-time subordinate Inspector Fox ("Brer Fox").

Characters are more fully developed than in many Golden Age mysteries. Marsh is skilled in using atmosphere to expose personality traits: "It was very misty down there near the river. Wreaths of mist that were almost rain drifted round them and changed on their faces into cold spangles of moisture. A corpse-like pallor had crept into the darkness and the vague shapes of roofs and chimneys waited or the dawn. The air smelt dank and unwholesome. A vague huge melancholy possessed Alleyn. He felt at once nerveless and over-sensitized. His spirit seemed to rise thinly and separate itself from his body. He saw himself as a stranger. It was a familiar experience and he had grown to regard it a a precursor of evil."

The plot is well set up, with multiple motives and several believable suspects, weakened by only one amazing coincidence essential to the solution of the case. The conclusion involves the classic confrontation between detective and the suspects, in which all is explained. DEATH IN A WHITE TIE is one of the better examples of its time and place. (A)


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THE SHINING YEARS is one of Emilie Loring's late books, originally published in 1972. It was reissued in digital format in 2018.

Loring was one of the creators of the romantic-suspense genre in the mid-twentieth century. As a then teenaged and young adult reader, I read every Loring title I could find. The world of high Society, wealth, fashion, with plucky heroines and handsome heroes, was as exotically different for an impoverished small-town Southern girl as Timbuktu; the stories were contemporary fairy tales. Years have passed, my reading tastes have expanded and matured, and the world has changed, so when I saw Kindle recommendations for reissue of the books, I could not resist.

My impressions have not changed much. I am fascinated by the time capsule reflection of American culture represented by THE SHINING YEARS. I noticed right away the youth of protagonist Sherry Winthrop. She's twenty years old and already engaged; when her fiancé returns, she must choose between his desire that she be "just a housewife" and work for the local newspaper. Sherry's Major Carleton, active duty military when the story opens, disappears on a secret mission with no mention of which war or any civilian activities associated with the military. The movement to expose Communists and other subversives is essential to the plot, but the only politicians named are Dick Nixon and Barry (Goldwater?). There's a ten-year age gap between Sherry and her true love Stanley Holbrook, unusual before trophy wives; most first partners were closer in age. Almost everyone smokes, and premarital sex is suspected only by the most prurient gossip. Relationships are as stylized as those of the Regency period. Sherry, engaged to Carleton before he disappears, falls in love with Stanley; Carleton returns planning to marry Sherry but falls in love with Stanley's widowed sister-in-law Eve. Four intelligent people so duty bound as to make themselves unhappy for the rest of their lives because of failure to communicate? Loring's world is surely a different place.

The plot by modern standards is simplistic with the villains clearly identified from the beginning and unmistakeable foreshadowing of the romantic realignments. Positive characters are too perfect to be believable (noblesse oblige personified), while the negative characters are almost invariably social climbers. Though she's one dimensional, Ellen Davis Murgatroyd may be the most admirable character in THE SHINING YEARS. She, unhappy living with her son and new daughter-in-law, considered too elderly at sixty-five to need a social life or activities to occupy her time, on impulse writes to Stanley Holbrook, offering to make his castle into a home, thereby changing all the protagonists' lives for the better. Brava, Ellen!

THE SHINING YEARS fairy tale has not aged well. (C)


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KILLING FOR YOU: A BRAVE SOLDIER, A BEAUTIFUL DANCER, AND A SHOCKING DOUBLE MURDER is Keith Elliot Greenberg's account of the murders of Samuel Eliazer Herr and Juri "Julie" Kibuishi by Daniel Patrick Wozniak in May 2010. The case had all the ingredients to turn into a media circus: victims a decorated veteran of Afghanistan and a talented dancer; two close-knit families, each intent on seeing justice done; defendants a well-regarded actor and his Disney princess fiancée Rachel Mae Buffett (Ariel, The Little Mermaid, Disneyland); a heinous crime, the motivation for which seems totally inadequate; and a 5.5 year campaign of defense motions that delayed Wozniak's trial. He was finally convicted 16 December 2015 and sentenced to death on 11 January 2016. Rachel Buffet, whom many believe the mastermind behind the murders, was charged with three counts of accessory to murder after the fact; she was recently convicted on two counts, with the penalty phase of her trial to begin 8 October 2018. To date, her sentence has not been determined. KILLING FOR YOU was published in digital format in 2017.

I'd not seen anything about the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi before a recent rerun of Rachel Buffett's interview with Dr. Phil McGraw, originally aired in 2013. When she appeared on his program, she had not yet been convicted. My impression was of a skilled actress trying to spin her story to minimize or eliminate her culpability, portraying herself as Wozniak's victim. After reading KILLING FOR YOU, I am no wiser. Greenberg's discussion explains Buffett's conviction as an accessory and makes it difficult to believe that she did not know what Wozniak was doing. Unfortunately, there was no evidence to prove her a coconspirator.

Perhaps because Greenberg ends KILLING FOR YOU with the sentencing of Wozniak, the story seems incomplete. It seems padded with tangential recollections of Wozniak as an actor, the theater in which he acted, history of the death penalty, defense delaying tactics, and back stories on the police department, prosecutors, and attorneys. No motive beyond theft of Sam Herr's combat pay ($62,000) has been given. There's little sense of Wozniak and Buffett as people, nothing to explain how they emerged from seemingly happy families with strong religious backgrounds capable of their crimes. Greenberg gives few details of the police investigation and pads to cover the long period between the arrest and Wozniak's trial. There are no notes of any kind, no citations to sources other than social media and television, and no maps.

KILLING FOR YOU leaves me convinced that the whole story of the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi has not been told. (C-)


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PAINTING MR. DARCY is Grace Hollister's novel-length variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

Before Darcy at Hunsford tells her he must talk with her, Elizabeth Bennet receives a letter from Mr. Bennet that he is gravely ill and needs her home at Longbourn at once. Alarmed, without talking more to Darcy, whom she despises, she rushes home to discover her father in excellent health. Mrs. Bennet had sent the lying letter, signed by her father without reading it, to bring Elizabeth home to meet a suitor, Prince Gabriel of France, who'd seen and fallen in love with her at the Meryton assembly. Mrs. Bennet pressures Elizabeth to marry him forthwith; Mr. Bennet tells her to marry a man she loves and promises support should she decide against Prince Gabriel. Elizabeth, confused by her doubts about the prince and by her continued thoughts of Darcy, eventually agrees to an engagement, but Darcy has followed her to Meryton and refuses to accept defeat until he hears from Elizabeth there is no hope.

The only suspense in PAINTING MR. DARCY is how Elizabeth's engagement to the prince will end, because we all know she and Darcy will overcome their difficulties. The title comes from Darcy's attempt, since he has trouble verbalizing his feelings to Elizabeth and knows her love for art, to produce a series of paintings to show his emotions visually. (He's not a very good painter, but Elizabeth finally gets the message.)

A genuine French prince appearing in Hertfordshire at the Meryton assembly is fantastical. While there were many French refugees in England during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the likelihood of a high-status individual incognito in Meryton approaches zero. His breaking a previous engagement because he cannot forget Elizabeth is unlikely--royal and aristocratic French marriage formalities were at least as rigid as the English. Prince Gabriel's mother is said to be English, with the family traveling frequently between England and France, scheduled to return to the Continent when he and Elizabeth are married by special license. Only his sister is a character in the story. In addition, no one attempts to check the prince's bona fides, and nobody mentions settlements, marriage contracts, or living arrangements. I refuse to believe Mr. Bennet so grossly negligent of the future of his most beloved daughter.

Two things besides the premise bother me. One is the use of modern terms--"invite Mrs. Bennet over for tea," being "upfront," Darcy and Mr. Bennet taking "swigs of port."" The other is Jane's being more doormat than ever for Bingley, who neglects to call for days after his return with Darcy to Netherfield despite being assured she'd welcome his visit. Grow a backbone, girl!

PAINTING MR. DARCY does not impress me. (D)


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THE RELIGIOUS BODY is the first book in Catherine Aird's long-running police procedural series featuring Detective Inspector C. D. ("Seedy") Sloan of the Beresbury Division of the Calleshire Constabulary (The Calleshire Chronicles). Originally published in 1966, it was reissued in digital format in 2015.

Sloan and PC Crosby are called to the scene when Sister Anne of the Convent of St. Anselm is discovered at the foot of the cellar stairs. With a depressed fracture on the back of her skull but no bleeding under the body, Sloan quickly concludes she'd been killed elsewhere and her body moved. Who needed a cloistered nun dead, and why? Sloan soon discovers that under a curious will by her grandfather, if Sister Anne survives her mother, she will inherit half of a very successful chemical company that is on the verge of going public with its stock, greatly increasing its value. Her cousin Harold Cartwright, managing director of Cartwright's Consolidated Carbons and residual legatee with Anne, happens to be in the neighborhood to see Sister Anne. Coincidence? But how and why do an old habit from the convent and Sister Anne's distinctive spectacles show up on the Guy atop the neighboring Agricultural Institute's bonfire?

I like Inspector Sloan. He's mature, professional, happily married, with an ironic sense of humor often triggered by Crosby or his boss, the muddled Superintendent Leeyes. Aird makes effective use of humor in her characterization: "For one wild moment [Sloan} contemplated asking the superintendent to cover his head with a large handkerchief to see if he would pass for a nun, but then he thought better of it. His pension was more important."
Sloan's relationships with his wife (only lightly touched on) and his colleagues are believable.

It's hard to explain what frustrates me so much about THE RELIGIOUS BODY without doing a spoiler, but I'll try. Aird so focuses readers' attention on one theory of the crime and hence one suspect that fails to foreshadow the identity and motive of the killer, making for an unsatisfying surprise conclusion. There is literally nothing to suggest a connection between the killer and Sister Anne. Not fair! (C)


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AT DARCY HOUSE is Jane Grix's novel-length variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2016.

AT DARCY HOUSE opens with a prologue in which Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose father George has been dead for three months, receives a letter addressed to "Mr. Darcy." It is from Darcy's fifteen-year-old god-daughter Elizabeth Bennet, thanking him for a year's French lessons. George Darcy and Thomas Bennet, himself dead for two years, had corresponded since University days, with Darcy sending generous gifts of books, lessons, and magazines for the girl. Reading over the years' collection of Elizabeth's letters, Fitzwilliam Darcy is impressed by her wit, vivacity, and intelligence; he decides to continue the gifts as if still coming from his father. His mother Lady Anne Darcy cautions him not to raise expectations or compromise Elizabeth's reputation with his gifts. They've never met, but Darcy is much attracted to Elizabeth. Some three years later, he finally meets her without disclosing his identity at her Uncle Gardiner's shop, where she designs and carves decorative boxes; he's impressed but not sufficiently to overcome his distaste for her association with Trade. However, his impression changes dramatically at the Netherfield ball, for which Mrs. Bennet has summoned Elizabeth and Jane from the Gardiners' home, where they have lived since Mr. Bennet's death, to Meryton so that Jane can attract Charles Bingley. Thus opens a story considerably different from the original.

This initial premise, Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth through her letters, is reminiscent of Jean Webster's 1912 epistolary novel Daddy-Long-Legs, in which orphaned Judy Abbott corresponds with her unknown benefactor, eventually falling in love with him. This may also be a Regency reflection of on-line dating, where moderns "fall in love' through social media with people they've never met. Other changes include characters: Mrs. Bennet's passing off Jane, Elizabeth, and Mary as stepdaughters, to encourage the attentions of a slightly younger suitor (you'll never guess who she marries); Jane's doing interior design in Gardiner's shop to prove she's more than just a pretty face; Elizabeth's drawing and carving. Nor will you guess who besides Lydia and Georgiana had her own elopement situation. The dichotomy existing between Darcy's disgust with Trade and the Bennet sisters' desire for satisfying work, not just social frivolities, feels strange.

AT DARCY HOUSE seems much more modern than Regency, largely because Grix uses current expressions frequently; for example, Elizabeth Bennet "cleaned up well" (appearance improved); the sisters "sleep in" following the ball; and joy de vivre, not used in literary contexts before the mid-19th century. And one usually casts a die (singular form for dice), not dye. Still, if one ignores the anachronisms, AT DARCY HOUSE is quite readable. (B+)


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A LOVER TOO MANY is the first novel in Roy Lewis's police procedural series featuring Scotland Yard Inspector John Crow. Originally published in 1959, it was reissued in digital format in 2018.

The coroner at the inquest on Jeannette Marlin clearly indicates that Peter Marlin is alibied and not a suspect in his wife's death but names Shirley Walker as Marlin's lover during the seven months when the Marlins were living apart. Jeannette had returned as abruptly as she'd departed, the affair ended, and she murdered. The coroner's court verdict is "murder by person or persons unknown." Inspector Crow takes over the investigation. Marlin, solicitor in the firm Martin, Sainsby and Sons and one of three trustees of the Gaines Trust, supports the takeover of Noble and Harris by Amalgamated Industries Ltd. The fate Trust's holdings in Noble and Harris make fellow trustee Sam Gaines suspicious, Senior partner Stephen Sainsby uses Marlin's damaged reputation to force his leaving the firm; his secretary Joan Shaw goes to Crow and rescinds her support of Marlin's alibi; Billy Sneed, the private detective hired to investigate Jeannette's murder is beaten to death in Marlin's house with an injured Marlin unconscious with the murder weapon in his hand. Then blackmail and political influence on Crow's investigation enter the mix. Can Crow straighten out the mess?

I enjoy police procedurals, especially the earlier series in which detective work depends more on observation, deduction, and knowledge of human nature than on a science laboratory, so I'm impressed by Inspector Crow. Characterization is strong: "In Peter's experience there were occasionally men whose name summed up their appearance. Inspector Crow was one of them. He was over six feet in height, but could have weighed little more than nine or ten stone. His dark suit was well cut but hung on his thin frame carelessly. His domed head was hairless, his eyes deep-sunk, heavy-browed, his prominent nose jutted out from fleshless cheeks. From bony wrists were suspended narrow hands and thin, long fingers. But his eyes were young and lively... Hi voice also possessed a youthful quality." A professional, he resents a superior's limiting his investigations, yet he's able to empathize with some criminals; few colleagues are indicated.. The only personal information given is that Crow has been happily married to plump wife Martha for twenty years

Most of the action in A LOVER TOO MANY is from Marlin's point of view, Lewis plays fair in foreshadowing the killer's identity while keeping readers' attention away from the surprising motive. Sense of place is adequate but not extensively developed. I will be reading more of this series. (A-)


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THE LONG ROAD TO LONGBOURN is the latest to date of Renata McMann and Summer Hanford's variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

THE LONG ROAD TO LONGBOURN opens with George Wickham's accidentally becoming involved with smugglers, to whom he gives information about Fitzwilliam Darcy and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, thinking he's setting them up to be robbed. Instead, the evening at Hunsord when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth and she refuses him, both are kidnapped at pistol point and hidden on the smugglers' boat to be held for ransom. Wickham is imprisoned with them, though both Darcy and Elizabeth are suspicious of his presence--fellow captive or spy? When the ship runs aground in a storm, the three make it to shore with only the clothes on their backs, no identification, no money, presumably somewhere in Scotland. The action consists of their encounters on the long walk to civilization and the immediate aftermath of their arrivasl, first at Pemberley, then at Longbourn.

Characters are reasonably faithful to the originals, though Georgiana Darcy is spoiled, resentful of Darcy's preventing her elopement with Wiickham, still besotted with him, calling Elizabeth a liar when she hears the truth of Wickham's behavior. I resent even a conditional happy ending for Wickham. Few characters are introduced, most reasonably well characterized. Angst is minimal because Elizabeth, locked up, then walking across Scotland with Darcy and Wickham, soon discovers the truth of each's character and whom she loves.

McMann and Hanford include the now obligatory wet clothes scene begun in the 1995 miniseries, though this has Elizabeth also soaked. Modern terms include "clean up well" (personal appearance), "manicured" (late nineteenth century), and even a bit of modern Australian slang, "good on you." Elizabeth should keep her own "counsel" rather than a "council." The biggest problem is little sense of real danger or suspense; action is reported, not shown. Still, not a bad read for a chilly night with a cup of hot cocoa. (B)


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Barbara Fradkin's THE FALL GUY is one of the Rapid Reads series sponsored by the Canadian government and Canadian publishers. Designed for use by ESL and students building reading skills, the books are short, high interest stories with easily understood vocabulary, distinct plot structure, and a limited number of characters. THE FALL GUY was published in digital format in 2011.

Do not be put off by the description of the series. Fradkin is a skilled writer, and THE FALL GUY is strong on any terms. First-person narrator Cedric Elvis O'Toole is an outstanding storytelling voice.He's an inventor who makes his living as a handyman (most jobs on the cash market to avoid taxes) and lives on an isolated hardscrabble farm. He's believably eccentric: "I've never really liked technology. It takes you too far away from nature. Blame it on my Mom, who spent more time with Elvis and Dynasty reruns than she ever did with real life. I like to hear the sounds of the birds and even the goat chomping my daisies more than the sound of the latest rock band. I like to sit on my front porch watching the sunsets and the hay turning golden in the all more than I like to sit in a dark, stuffy room. Television is about ridiculously pretty people making morons of themselves. I own a TV and a phone, like I said, but I never bothered with radios or CD players or computers. Don't get me started on computers." (92)

The plot is simple. Jeffrey Wilkins hired O'Toole to build a deck on his lake cabin, off the books--no specifications, license, or inspections. When his wife falls to her death when the railing on the new deck collapses, Wilkins sues O'Toole for criminal negligence, claiming substandard work. To clear his name, O'Toole goes looking and discovers the railing sabotaged with deck screws replaced with shorter units. He loses the incriminating screw when someone runs him off the road at a dangerous bridge, so he must find the killer himself. But was Lori-Anne Wilkins the murderer's target or collateral damage?

THE FALL GUY is a good story. (A)


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MR. BENNET'S GAMBIT is Don H. Miller's use of character names from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in a much different story line. It was published in digital format in 2018.

Determined that Elizabeth find a suitable husband, Thomas Bennet decrees that either she or Jane must marry Mr. Collins and gives them three days to decide who will do so. He promises to expel Jane, who's of legal age, from Longbourn without financial support should she refuse; Elizabeth, still a minor, will have no choice. He expects to negotiate a Season in London for Elizabeth in exchange for not forcing the marriage. Elizabeth, not knowing his intent and having already felt her mother's pressure to accept Collins, has a plan--Jane will live with either the Phillipses or the Gardiners, while she runs away until her twenty-first birthday, 4 March 1808. Fortunately, their relatives and friends help her flee to Scotland where she is already of age and cannot be compelled to marry against her will. Thus ensues the long wait, during which she experiences for the first time the support of a happy and loving, if surrogate family.


I have no objection to the change in the story line. By definition, a variant should differ from the original. My problems include the inordinate length to which Miller expands the story, moving beyond Elizabeth and Jane to pair up Kitty, Mary, Georgiana, and Colonel Fitzwilliam by the epilogue, and to provide a horrific ending for Lydia. Elizabeth's devastation at her father's betrayal and Darcy's promises to wait for her to love him are repeated several times nearly verbatim as everyone discusses their situation, and the story line is padded with details of daily life. Do we really need to know the names, order, and dates of the arrival in Scotland of Darcy and Elizabeth's wedding guests? Or the events of the Highland Games sponsored by the Earl of Kairn? MR. BENNET'S GAMBIT is not listed as part of a series, but multiple loose ends leave questions. What is the basis of the Carlsons' care for Elizabeth, begun when she was thirteen and they lived at Netherfield? How came about the unique relationship between Elizabeth and Ramon, the Spanish manservant-bodyguard who accompanies her on her flight? What led the Gardiners, the Carlsons, and two titled ladies to establish a £20,000 dowry for Elizabeth? Revision to omit the repetition of mundane details and either to develop or to reserve the secondary courtships for subsequent books is needed.

Miller introduces s a plethora of Elizabeth's friends, their families, spouses for the unmarried, and an almost fairy godmother in Lady Elise McPherson. Most are not much developed. All think Elizabeth Darcy's ideal wife and promote their marriage. Miller's Elizabeth is a paragon. She deals with the steward to manage and enrich Longbourn and treats injuries (including stitching wounds, setting a broken finger, and repositioning a displaced joint); she reads and understands all the Romance languages and speaks Spanish fluently, helps in the Gardiners' book shop, and does charity work that has her known in London society; she's learned self defense and knife-throwing from Ramon. The speed with which Elizabeth comes to terms with her parents' perfidy belies the depth of psychological damage expressed in such detail.

I dislike Miller's Thomas Bennet intensely. He completely ignores Elizabeth's protest at marrying Collins, using her loyalty to Jane to manipulate her into accepting what he thinks best for her.He plans for a daughter's son by Collins to keep Longbourn in the Bennet family, meaning that heir to take the hyphenated surname Collins-Bennet. He later excuses his action to Elizabeth by "the end justifies the means." His partiality for Elizabeth rests on her usefulness to his comfort, not unselfish parental love. Miller's epilogue statement is explicit: "Mr. Bennet died a happy man in 1826, believing to the end that his gambit had succeeded. Yes, he had suffered through many months of estrangement from his family, and, yes, his youngest, Lydia, had suffered a tragic death, but the former was not as long as he feared it might be, and he was convinced the latter might very well have occurred, no matter how he had treated Elizabeth. However, all his ambitions for Elizabeth came true..." Loving father? I don't think so.

Other problems include plural forms of family names, extensive use of modern expressions and attitudes, setting the story earlier than the original is usually datd, and the Scots speaking Scottish, not Gaelic. Is Lady Elise the aunt or the friend of Lady Inez? An arrow is nocked on the string of a longbow, not cocked. No one thinks, all "cogitate." The hammer thrown in Highland Games competition is mounted on a wooden staff, not a chain as in modern competition; only the arms and hammer swing around the head; the whole body does not rotate. Elizabeth and Ramon have £67 for living expenses for about six months. During the Regency, a family's annual income was generally £25-30 (Wiki, Google searches). so her worry seems unlikely. MR. BENNET'S GAMBIT needs at least one more thorough revision to reach its potential. (D)


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PATROLLING THE HEART OF THE WEST: TRUE TALES OF A NEVADA STATE TROOPER is a collection of tales of Steve Raabe's long career as a Nevada State trooper. It was published in digital format in 2018.

Raabe's stories are brief vignettes rather than plotted stories. Some are humorous, some touching, a few horrific. He pays tribute to his respected colleagues and speaks frankly about politics within the force. His tone is informal, conversational. My favorite story is his account of the two men who, stealing a fat ewe from a traffic crash in which many sheep escaped, being assigned to round up the survivors.

PATROLLING THE HEART OF THE WEST: TRUE TALES OF A NEVADA STATE TROOPER is not great literature, but the insight into Raabe's daily activities is interesting. (C+)