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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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    SO ROUGH A COURSE is the first in Laura Hile's three-volume Mercy's Embrace sequel to Jane Austen's Persuasion. I appreciate that its three-volume structure is clearly indicated. It was published in digital format in 2009, available free through Kindle Unlimited.

    SO ROUGH A COURSE overlaps slightly with Persuasion. Sir Walter Elliot, established in Bath to retrench, wants oldest daughter Elizabeth, now almost thirty years old, married and off his hands forthwith. Though he ignores dunning letters, his finances are a disaster--except for a few hundred acres of unentailed land and some personal possessions, he has nothing; he uses an unexpected illness to conceal himself in a private sanitarium to avoid society and his creditors. In the meantime, because Captain Wentworth is recalled to active duty, he and Anne Elliot elope to Scotland where they can marry without a waiting period. Elizabeth, desperate for her own establishment, defies propriety to attend a house party without her father, to be removed in disgrace by Lady Russell. The Wentworths are obliged to house her, but they promptly leave her behind in Bath, with vulgar, social-climbing cousin Estella Stevenson-Bragg as companion and chaperone. Elizabeth must come to terms with her reduced status, almost nonexistent finances, and immediate need for a wealthy suitor.

    Characters from Persuasion are faithful to their originals, especially Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and William Elliot. All three are introduced as contemptible, with only Elizabeth showing any sign of ability to adapt to her changed circumstances. Sir Walter plays ostrich to his financial situation while his heir schemes. The Musgroves and Captain Benwick are minor characters, as are almost-divorced James Rushworth and his mother (Mansfield Park) and Augusta (Hawkins) Elton (Emma). Many characters are introduced, some only tangential to the plot of SO ROUGH A COURSE, presumably to be featured in subsequent volumes. Best developed of these is Admiral Patrick McGillvray, whom Elizabeth thoroughly snubs as an upstart risen in Society as a result of his Royal Navy career. Frequent shifts of focus between these characters make for choppy reading.

    Geographical names are about the only indication of setting, with no precise dating beyond Elizabeth's criticizing Admiral McGillvray for the Navy's allowing Napoleon to escape Elba. The story line moves Austen's characters beyond the original story line in a believable manner and ends without any attempt at resolution. Editing allows a few anachronisms and plural possessive family names to slip through, though not enough to interfere with reading. Hile's narrative voice is occasionally unreliable. I will continue the novel. (A-)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    SO LIVELY A CHASE is the second installment in Laura Hile's three-volume Mercy's Embrace, a sequel to Jane Austen's Persuasion, with included characters from Mansfield Park, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2009. It is essential to read the segments in order.

    SO LIVELY A CHASE begins immediately following So Rough a Course and ends at the climax of the main story line for the entire novel. Problems in all the subplots (as many as in a Dickens three-decker novel) worsen: Sir Walter's financial woes to which he remains indifferent to the point of delusion; Penelope Clay's plan for marriage; William Elliot's determination to marry Elizabeth, an "appropriate" mistress for Kellynch Hall; Mary and Charles Musgrove's unhappy marriage; and Elizabeth's response to her multiple crises. She's broke, living on the charity of the Wentworths, pursued by multiple distasteful (but wealthy) gentlemen with marriage or a carte blanche her only escape, the subject of vicious gossip, in love with a person (he works in a bank so, by definition, not a gentleman). She becomes so desperate as she learns of her father's bank loan and his imminent arrest for debt that she goes to confront the dreaded, unknown Admiral Patrick McGillvray, owner of the bank, to offer what's left of her jewels and try to negotiate repayment. SO LIVELY A CHASE ends as McGillvray's office door opens to admit him.

    Hile's decisions on where to break the installments in Mercy's Embrace are good. No way is any reader going to fail to read the third segment! My only problem is the improbability that, with the restricted number of individuals in Bath Society, Elizabeth has never clearly seen Admiral McGillvray. Though engaged in Trade as a banker and impatient with Society's superficiality, he moves in its highest circles and, though observed with Elizabeth by both William Elliot and Captain Wentworth, he's not identified to her.

    The secondary story lines are a mixed lot, some of which have little direct connection to Elizabeth's situation. They hint at modern problems not generally addressed in Austen's time: an emotional affair outside marriage, retail therapy, addiction to syrup of poppies (laudanum, tincture of opium), child sexual abuse, narcissistic behavior, entitlement. Religious ideation increasingly affects Elizabeth's responses to her situation There are few anachronisms (i.e., "get uo' for clothing), the most notable of which is Admiral McGllvray's quoting "Tomorrow is another day," from Gone with the Wind (1936, 1939). I will read the final installment. (B+)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE LADY MUST DECIDE is the third and final volume in Laura Hile's novel series Mercy's Embrace, based on characters from Jane Austen's Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2010, and all three volumes are available through Kindle Unlimited. It is important to read the series in order. The volumes are not constructed to stand alone.

    >>>POSSIBLE SPOILERS<<<

    THE LADY MUST DECIDE draws together most of the story lines from the previous two segments, some with humor, some with more realistic endings. Lady Russell thinks better of her plan to save Sir Walter Elliot from his creditors; Charles Musgrove honors his marriage vows; Wiinnie Owen does her duty; Anne and Captain Wentworth leave her family to their own devices and go off happily to visit friends; Admiral McGillvray and Elizabeth Elliot overcome their misconceptions and wed. However, Mary Musgrove remains determined to always be the put-upon center of attention, while Sir Walter Elliott has learned nothing from his time in the sponging house.

    Other subplots are left unresolved. Rushworth disappears after the scandal of Elizabeth's repudiation of their engagement announced by Sir Walter to force her hand. The Admiral threatens undisclosed revenge on Sir Henry Farley for disrespect toward Elizabeth. His behavior toward Elizabeth leads McGillvray to punch out William Elliot (action not included), and he disappears from the story, pursued by pregnant Penelope Clay, intent on marriage. A fire she causes reveals the extent of Mary's addiction to laudanum, but without followup.

    Taken as a whole, Mercy's Embrace is one of the best continuations of Austen I've read. However, there are problems. One is the increasing intrusion of Christian religious teachings and excerpts from the Bible. Another is Yee, the Wentworths' Chinese butler, presuming to instruct Elizabeth Elliot on Christian attitudes. Other non-Regency attitudes include the relationship between classes (do Lady Russell and her butler Longwell become "friends with benefits"?) and the propriety of Elizabeth's meetings twice a week, unchaperoned, in a lower class teashop with a man she thinks a bank clerk.

    The main problem is in the character of Elizabeth Elliot. Nearly thirty years old, Elizabeth Elliot and desperate for independence and security, she nderstands better than her father their financial situation but at first makes no effort to adjust her expectations or lifestyle. Elizabeths sense of entitlement is slow to die, even when she is forced to walk because she does not have cab fare. The whole Patrick Gill-Admiral Patrick McGillvray disguise is contrived (think Shakespeare's undetected masquerades in As You Like It and Twelfth Night) and lasts an unbelievably long time, at least in part because they make assumptions about each other rather than talking. It's hard to imagine what the Admiral sees in Elizabeth besides her sex appeal; her reformation is more stated than shown, so her literally sailing away into the sunset with the Admiral following their wedding remains problematical.

    THE LADY MUST DECIDE (B+) Mercy's Embrace (B+)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    WHEN ALL THE GIRLS HAVE GONE is Jayne Ann Krentz's romantic suspense novel published in digital format in 2016. Krentz's novels once were an automatic, hard cover, day of issue purchase for me, but WHEN ALL THE GIRLS HAVE GONE reminds me why no longer.

    I quit reading after about a fifth of the story. Reason: no romance and no suspense. Neither protagonist--Charlotte Sawyer nor Max Cutler--is appealing. Both present as stolid, methodical, suspicious. Charlotte is so boring that five days before their wedding, her ex-fiancé Brian ended their engagement. There's no chemistry between Charlotte and Max.

    Suspense is killed by obvious foreshadowing of the connection between Charlotte's stepsister Jocelyn and Jocelyn's friend, murder victim Louise Flint. Files found in Louise's storage locker set up a serial killer theme, then the killer is named. I prefer mysteries in which I can deduce along with the investigator. No grade because not finished.
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MELVILLE IN LOVE: THE SECRET LIFE OF HERMAN MELVILLE AND THE MUSE OF MOBY-DICK is Michael Shelden's account of the love affair between Herman Melville and Mrs. Sarah Ann (Huyler) Morewood and its influence on his writing. It was published in digital format in 2016.

    Melvile had a long association with the Broadhall farm in the Berkshires near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He spent summers as a child at the farm, working with his uncle Thomas Melville, its owner. On Thomas's death, his son Robert operated the mansion as a summer guesthouse / retreat for those wishing to escape the heat of the cities. Herman returned to Broadhall in summer 1850, a young literary celebrity after two best-selling travel novels, Typee and Omoo. He'd married Elizabeth ("Lizzy") Shaw, daughter of Bostonian Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 4 August 1847; their first son Malcolm was born in February 1849. Lizzy and the baby spent the summer in Boston with her parents.

    Sarah Anne Huyler married wealthy English businessman John Rowland Morewood in April 1845. Rowland was tied to his business and church activities in New York, but Sarah preferred country life. Following a difficult pregnancy, she discovered the Berkshires, spending summer 1849 at Broadhall, where she carried on a summer romance with Alexander Gardiner, Clerk of the United States Circuit Court for New York. In love with the Berkshires and Broadhall, she convinced Rowland to buy the property, returning the next summer acting as its hostess even though the sale was not yet complete. One guest was Harvard's Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior, so attracted to her that he based his novel Elsie Venner on Sarah. Her major conquest that summer was Herman Melville.

    Melville was not happily married. Lizzie was plain, devout, domestic, reserved, uninspiring. His mother (ultra-religious even for New England), his younger brother and his wife, and four unmarried sisters lived with them. He was struggling on The Whale, meant to carry him from popular novelist to literary giant. Sarah was ethereally beautiful, active, an eager hostess dedicated to being unconventional. Moreover, she had literary interest and wrote lyrical poetry published in the Pittsfield Sun. Rowland seemed complacent, ignoring gossip that swirled about Sarah, her escapades, and her men friends. Apparently Melville and Sarah's affair was consummated in August 1851. Sarah bore two children--Alfred in 1852 and Rachel Anne in November 1853--whom Rowland accepted as his own, though circumstantial evidence shows that Melville is more likely their father.

    Shelden asserts that the affair's effect is responsible for the power of Melville's Whale, published in 1851 as Moby-Dick, initially praised (especially by Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose good opinion Melville avidly sought), then condemned as, among other criticisms, blasphemous. In desperate need of money and to redeem his literary reputation, he blazed through Pierre in summer and early autumn 1851, using his guilt and frustration to fuel its themes of adulterous love in the face of New England respectability and incest. The novel effectively ended his career as a novelist (Billy Budd was written only after nineteen years as a customs officer and was not published until 1924, years after his death); he wrote a few great short stories after Moby-Dick (most notably "Barnaby, the Scrivener" and "Benito Cereno") and some bad poetry with occasional brilliant gleams.

    MELVILLE IN LOVE is accessible reading. Shelden effectively limits the cast to those in position to know about Melville, and he makes it easy to keep their identities clear. Shelden's premise that Sarah Morewood was a pivotal influence on Melville's life and writing seems well supported by their contemporaries and by their own writings. While absolute proof is unlikely, it makes sense. Notes for specific facts and an extensive bibliography of mostly primary sources, provide for further reading. My only problem involves using the Kindle edition--the art section photographs are too small. Otherwise, very well done. (A)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Mr. Bennet's Illness" is Timothy Underwood's farce based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The short story was published in digital format in 2018. The New Oxford American Dictionary (online) defines farce as "a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations." Underwood's story meets its conditions.

    Mr. Bennet, having undergone a life-threatening illness, recovers incredibly sensitive to the noise of his household of women and obsessed with reading all the books ever written. Because their clamor interferes with his reading, he decides to marry off his daughters (except Lizzy, who reads and can talk to him about books), then to encourage Mrs. Bennet to divide her time between her wedded daughters, leaving him in peace to read. To that end, he meets and encourages Charles Bingley, of whom he thinks little; when William Collins arrives and falls in lust with Lydia, he promises that she will marry his heir despite her initial refusal.

    The story plays out as Collins's courtship (to use the term loosely) of Lydia: "...Mr. Collins had walked them into Meryton, incessantly plying his attention upon Lydia who happily ignored him. To increase his love for her by suspense, Mr. Collins approvingly became more convinced of her affections the less attention she paid to him. By the point she affected to not even hear him when he spoke to her. A more certain sign of desperate passion could not b imagined." The resolution is indeed a farce.

    Underwood has written enough fan fiction to get Sir William Lucas's title right ("Sir William,"not "Sir Lucas"). Mr. Bennet's reiteration of "Noise" early in the story is reminiscent of the Grinch at the opening of Dr. Seuss's beloved classic. I dislike use of an intrusive narrator. Okay, but nothing special. (C)
     
  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    IN TIMES LIKE THESE is an Emilie Loring romantic suspense novel originally published in 1968. It was reissued in digital format in 2018. Her novels helped form my reading habits, so I have been eager to return to my roots. IN TIMES LIKE THESE and The Shining Years (reviewed separately) are like time capsules from a much different past.

    Loring's works reflect attitudes from the 1930s through mid-twentieth century. Both and, as I remember her other novels, most reflect a theme of enemy infiltration or subversion, political, military, and industrial espionage, and overt praise of "the American Way." All important characters are WASPs, with ethnic characters all lower class workers or criminals.

    Each heroine is a damsel in distress: plucky, beautiful, and pure, undergoing hard times through no fault of her own, self-sacrificing for those she loves. Her hero is always handsome, wealthy, and worthy, a do-er, not a drone. Loring uses the same cast of characters repeatedly: the majestic older woman; the heroine's antagonist, an experienced femme fatale; an unsuspected villain; often a comic-relief but loyal servant. The books are strictly formula. Only the names and physical descriptions change.

    Even when the Loring novels were new, the life they depicted was about as realistic as Cinderella. (C)
     
  8. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Black Doctor" is Arthur Conan Doyle's non-Holmes short story originally published in Strand magazine in 1898. It is the opening title in SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES, an anthology edited by Martin Edwards and published in 2016.

    Set in the village of Bishop's Crossing, some ten miles from Liverpool in Lancashire, its title character is Dr. Aloysius Lana, antecedents mostly unknown (medical degree Glasgow, European features but dark enough to be Indian), who appears in the village and becomes a professional and social success. After a mysterious letter arrives for him from Buenos Aries, Argentina, he abruptly beaks his engagement to Miss Frances Morton, sister of the local squire; some days later, Lana's body is found in his study, murdered. Arthur Morton is arrested and tried for the murder, but the plaintiff's barrister mounts an unusual defense.

    I dislike that Doyle uses an intrusive narrator, but "The Black Doctor" is a neat story, well set up. its surprise ending comes not as a detective's "reveal all" revelation but in a courtroom scene. Doyle uses a plot device fairly common at the time of its composition. Excellent quick read. (A)
     
  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Murder by Proxy" is one of the earliest locked room mysteries, written by M. McDonnell Bodkin and published in the 6 February 1897 issue of Pearson's Weekly. It was republished in 2016 in the SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES anthology edited by Martin Edwards.

    Squire Neville of Berkly Manor, Dorset, quarrels violently with nephew and heir John Neville the night before, then is found shot to death in his room on 12 August. His Manton muzzle loader still smoking when John enters the room, and his massive head wound is still bleeding, witnesses outside both entrances swear no one entered or left after nephew Eric Neville observed him sleeping on the sofa. The position of the wound makes suicide impossible. John Neville sends for local Constable Wardle and for detective Paul Beck from London. Servants' gossip make John Neville the chief suspect, and Wardle arrests him, but it takes Beck only a short time to discover the killer.


    I dislike that Bodkin gives no background on Paul Beck. He's apparently not police but does almost all the investigating as well as directing the coroner's inquest. When Bodkin describes the scene in the Squire's undisturbed room, an experienced reader may remember Melville Davisson Post's much-anthologized Uncle Abner story "The Doomdorf Mystery" (1914). Well worth the reading time. (A-)
     
  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Genuine Tabard" is E. C. Bentley's short story reprinted in the SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES anthology edited by Martin Edwards and published in 2016. Featuring Philip Trent, the story was printed in 1938 in Bentley's Trent Intervenes collection.

    Trent dines in company with the Langleys, a wealthy American couple touring Europe for the first time, and during table conversation shares with Mrs. Langley an interest in old churches. She recounts the couple's visit to the church at Silcote Episcopi where George Langley, an enthusiast for all things relating to the American Revolution, buys the Herald's tabard worn by Reverend Verey's great-grandfather Sir Rowland Verey when, as Garter Principal King of Arms, he made the first proclamation of the Treaty of Versailles (1783, ending the American Revolution). Trent is immediately suspicious of both Reverend Verey and the tabard. Why, and what's going on?

    There is a crime in "The Genuine Tabard," Trent does explain what had come about, but there's no resolution. Characterization and sense of place are minimal. The vital clue that alerts Trent involves arcane knowledge of a minor Oxford college. Still, it's satisfying that an experienced reader will immediately sense something bogus. (B)
     
  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Fad of the Fisherman" is G. K. Chesterton's non-Father Brown short story included in the SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES anthology edited by Martin Edwards and published in 2016. Originally published in June 1921 Harper's Monthly, "The Fad of the Fisherman" also appeared in Chesterton's The Man Who Knew Too Much and Other Stories in 1922. It features Horne Fisher as the detective.

    Various notables, including the Prime Minister Lord Merivale, Attorney General Sir John Harker, the Duke of Westmoreland, and Fisher Horne, gather at Sir Isaac Hook's estate Willowood Place for dinner and talk before the Prime Minister travels on. He's to make a major speech the next day in Birmingham, announcing the British position in a territorial dispute between Sweden and Denmark. Hook, who prides himself on eating only fish he has caught himself, fishes sunrise to sunset from an island in the river, unresponsive to interruptions. When he does not leave the island at sunset, his nephew and heir James Bullen finds Hook cold and dead from ligature strangulation. Who killed him, and why?

    Chesterton is noted for use of paradox in his writing, and "The Fad of the Fisherman" is no exception. Horne, not much otherwise developed, meditates on a paradox of human nature: "...I am a trifle tired...of the Simple Life and the Strenuous Life as lived by our little set. We're all really dependent in nearly everything, and we all make a fuss about being independent in something. The Prime Minister prides himself on doing without a chauffeur, but he can't do without a factotum and jack-of-trades... The duke prides himself on doing without a valet, but for all that, he must give a lot of people an infernal amount of trouble to collect such extraordinary old clothes as he wears... And here we have old Hook, pretending to produce his own fish...he may be simple about simple things like fish, but you bet he's luxurious about luxurious things, especially little things." (57) Regarding the murder, Horne explains how the suspects who had motives are not guilty and the actual killer has no motive. My objection is not so much the plot paradox as the fact that there's no hint of the reason behind the killer's motive.

    What I appreciate about "The Fad of the Fisherman" is all Chesterton's ability to set a scene atmospherically, not often found in short stories. (B)
     
  12. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Herbert Jenkins's short story "The Gylston Slander" is included in SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIME, an anthology edited by Martin Edwards issued in 2016. Jenkins published "The Gylston Slander" in his 1921 collection of short stories, Malcolm Sage, Detective. Sage is a former civil servant turned private investigator.

    Robert Freynes, K.C., enlists Malcolm Sage's aid when his client Reverend Charles Blade is accused of writing anonymous letters. Curate to Reverend John Crayne, popular vicar in Gylston, Hampshire, Blade's accused of improper conduct with the older man's nineteen-year-old daughter Muriel. Scandal enthralls the district, especially after a letter threatens violence if the writer's passion for Muriel is not reciprocated. When someone tries to assault Muriel, she identifies Blade. He's arrested and committed to trial, certain to be convicted because the police believe him the letter writer, carrying out his threat. Sage investigates and sets a trap to identify the writer.

    I'd never heard of Herbert Jenkins or Malcolm Sage, and I'm impressed. Sage is comes out of the Sherlock Holmes-Hercule Poirot tradition but lacks their eccentricities. Chief Inspector Murdy of Scotland Yard shares Inspector Lestrade's role with Holmes and Inspector Japp's with Poirot--amused acceptance of his "amateur" help because Scotland Yard gets credit for solving the crimes. Sage is unusually well drawn for a short story character. He refers to a French poison pen case as arousing his suspicions of the writer's identity, but an experienced reader may well discern the guilty before Sage reveals it. His trap for the letter-writer is believable. I will read more of Jenkins's work. (A)
     
  13. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Long Barrow" is H. C. Bailey's short story involving Reggie Fortune, a qualified physician who acts as a consultant to Scotland Yard. It is available in the anthology SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIME, edited by Martin Edwards and published in 2016. The story originally appeared in the London Magazine in 1925 and was reprinted that year in Bailey's collection Mr. Fortune's Trials.

    Fortune's curiosity is roused when Isabel Woodall, secretary to archaeologist Joseph Larkin comes to him for help. Larkin and she are intent on excavating a long barrow near Larkin's home Restbarrow, in Stoke Abbas, Dorsetshire, but someone or something is trying to scare them away. She's being followed and dead animals left in her path when she walks on the moors. Fortune agrees to look into what's going on. Meanwhile, Larkin goes to the Honourable Sidney Lomas, chief of Scotland Yard CID, for the same problem. He's been followed, and he hears strange noises outside the house in the night. Local police refuse to take the complaints seriously. Fortune arrives to check out the situation and soon discovers the source of the noise and the animals, but he discovers someone in Larkin's household is communicating secretly through coded messages hidden in booksellers' catalogs. Fortune is convinced something criminal is going on, but to what end?

    "The Long Barrow" is well written. Reggie Fortune is an appealing protagonist. There are bits of humor. Sense of place is good, with interesting hints of survival of Neolithic beliefs in an isolated rural environment. The action centers on whether Fortune will uncover the scheme in time to prevent the crime. Excellent reading. (A)
     
  14. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Naturalist at Law" is R. Austin Freeman's Dr. John Thorndyke short story included in SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES, edited by Martin Edwards, published in 2016. In 1929, Freeman included the story in his anthology The Famous Cases of Dr. Thorndyke.

    Dr. John Thorndyke is a specialist in medico-legal jurisprudence, in modern terms, an expert witness. Hired by Cyrus Pedley's brother and heir Wilfred, Thorndyke's role is to refute claims that Pedley committed suicide, thus negating a substantial insurance policy on his life. Pedley's body had been found in a water-filled ditch, the inquest rules cause of death to be drowning, with no marks of violence or incapacitating conditions, leaving the circumstances open. Something arouses Thorndyke's suspicions so that he carries on to solve Pedley's murder.

    "The Naturalist at Law" is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes stories. Freeman uses as first person narrator Thorndyke's colleague Jervis who, like Watson, reports his own shortcomings: "In my own mind I had dismissed the case somewhat contemptuously as a mere commonplace suicide. As my friend had truly said, I had accepted the obvious appearance and let them mislead me, whereas Thorndyke had followed his golden rule of accepting nothing and observing everything. But what was it that he had observed? I knew that it was useless to ask..." (164-5) Use of Bradshaw and deductions based on train schedules are important. An international criminal enterprise is involved. Most of all, solution depends on Thorndyke's esoteric knowledge, in this case of natural history, similar to Holmes's specialized expertise in so many areas.

    The mystery in "The Naturalist at Law" comes from Thorndyke's proof that Pedley's death had been homicide; he does uncover its motive and the circumstances, but the perpetrator(s) remain without name. The process of detection is more important than the product. (B+)
     
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    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "A Proper Mystery" is Margery Allingham's non-Albert Campion short story chosen by Martin Edwards for inclusion in the SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES anthology he edited and published in 2016. The story originally appeared in the May 1942 issue of The Lights of Essex magazine; it was reprinted in the October 1986 issue of Essex Countryside magazine but not previously anthologized.

    "A Proper Mystery" involves the destruction of almost all the garden plots of would-be competitors in an Essex village Garden Show. Mr. Light's cattle, unwisely allowed in an adjoining field separated from the allotments by a stout hedge, had crashed through and trampled or eaten the entries. Feeling still run high weeks later since all sorts of inappropriate people won much-coveted prizes. But who weakened the hedge to encourage the cows to roam?

    There's no murder, possibly not even a crime, involved in "A Proper Mystery." The only detection comes from the local constable who discovers the hedgerow sabotage. The perpetrator's identity and motive are readily discernible. What makes this story memorable is its wonderfully conversational narrative voice, great storytelling that reveals deep understanding of human nature. (A)
     
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    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Direct Evidence" is Anthony Berkeley's short story featuring Roger Sheringham that Martin Edwards chose for the SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES anthology he edited and published in 2016. "Direct Evidence" was previously published as part of The Roger Sheringham Case-Book compiled by Ayresome Johns.

    Claire Meadows, champion tennis player and devoted sister, comes to Roger Sheringham to help her younger brother James. He's under arrest for the murder of Mona Greyling, some eight years his senior, a fem fatale with a jealous husband; she and James had been involved in a relationship some two years. Mrs. Greyling was shot in the head on the main road in Monckton Regis, Dorset, in sight of multiple witnesses, all of whom identify James Meadows and whose stories match exactly, and passing motorists who noted the license numbers of his automobile. James Meadows swears he was in Tommy Deaton's Hole, an isolated wooded area, awaiting Mrs. Greyling's arrival, but he has no one to corroborate his alibi. Sheringham takes the case more to comfort Claire than in expectation of finding evidence of James's innocence, though he succeeds in doing so.

    There's little characterization in "Direct Evidence," No one, including Sheringham, presents as believable. Sense of place is lacking. Common sense makes the explanation for the witnesses and the identity of the murderer obvious. I am thoroughly unimpressed. (D)
     
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    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Inquest" is a short story by Leonora Wodehouse in SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES, an anthology edited by Martin Edwards and published in 2016. The story originally appeared under the pseudonym Loel Yeo in the Strand magazine in 1932.

    The first person narrator is Dr. Mellan, who frequented Langley Abbey (in Langley, Norfolk) when it belonged to the Neville family. After its purchase by John Hentish, a thoroughly nasty recluse, he treated Hentish often. Naturally, he is called to testify at the coroner's inquest when Hentish is found dead after a mysterious telegram causes him to disinherit his nephew and leave his fortune to fund cancer research. The coroner rules Hentish's death suicide while his mind was unsound, but was the truth told at the inquest?

    Prompted by an accidental encounter with a person involved in the inquest on John Hentish, Mellan's narrative voice is conversational, musing on and relating events some two years in the past. He's interestingly self-revelatory: "He [John Hentish] was, without exception, the most unpleasant, disagreeable old swine I have ever met. Practically the only pleasure I ever received in his company was derived from jabbing the needle into his arm." (216) However, the killer's motive is fantastic and his identity not foreshadowed. No explanation for Mellan's concealing the truth at the inquest is never explained. Atmosphere is better developed than in most stories this length.

    I feel the story was included mainly because Leonora Wodehouse was the adopted daughter of P. G. Wodehouse. (C+)
     
  18. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Scarecrow" is a short story by Ethel Lina White, included by editor Martin Edwards in his SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES anthology published in 2016. I found no history of the story's previous publication.

    Kay is nearly strangled by a rejected lover Waring, who's confined to a mental hospital but escapes three years later. Convinced that Waring will come after her, Kay's fiancé Dr. William Tree offers to take her and her mother away from their isolated chicken farm. They refuse. After a harrowing night, Waring is captured but escapes again still intent on Kay. Can he be caught before he reaches her?

    I like White's use of atmosphere to enhance characterization: "Towards evening, the wind rose yet higher, driving before it sheets of torrential rain. In spite of her common sense, Kay dreaded the hours of darkness. Their ugly matchbox bungalow seemed no protection against the perils of the night. She heard footsteps in every gust of wind--voices in every howl. Sleep was out of the question, and she made no attempt to go to bed. 'If I have to die, I'll do it in my boots,' she resolved." (240) White makes Kay's scarecrow that protects the cherry orchard an uncanny presence, a definite character.

    Despite the reference to common sense, both Kay and Dr. Tree make TSTL decisions. Kay's refusal to leave the farm when she knows a madman is on the loose and looking for her defies logic. Tree's accepting her decision, his leaving the women alone overnight, then failing to tie securely the captured Waring, are equally dumb. At no point are numbers of searchers or the police involved in the search. The plot is not believable. (D)
     
  19. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Clue in the Mustard" is Leo Bruce's brief short story telling of Sergeant Beef's first murder case as a young constable in Long Cottrell in the home counties. Originally published in the 24 March 1950 issue of Evening Standard, it has also been printed under the alternate title "Death in the Garden." It's the penultimate story in the SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES anthology edited by Martin Edwards and published in 2016.

    When wealthy, elderly, fragile Miss Crackliss dies suddenly, only a small sticky smudge on her upper lip and bruises on her forearms arouse suspicion. but she definitely died of a heart attack. By evening of that day, village gossip paints her unpopular nephew and heir Rupert Crackliss as her killer. After inspecting the garden and hothouses at Mill House, Beef agrees.

    The excellence of Clue in the Mustard" rests on two plot elements: how Miss Crackliss is killed and the unique clue that provides Beef with that information. I will not do a spoiler. If you read only one story from SERPENTS IN EDEN, this is the one. (A+)
     
  20. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Our Pageant" is Gladys Mitchell's brief short story concluding SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES, edited by Martin Edwards and published in 2016. Information on its previous publication is sketchy. Though Mitchell is most noted as the creator of Mrs. Bradley, that exotic lady does not appear in "Our Pageant."

    Told by an unidentified narrator, "Our Pageant" recounts a village murder motivated by jealousy over a woman and over which of two men will perform a Morris jig in the pageant. Teddy Pratt is stabbed to death while performing, but his rival had quit the dancers before the pageant, when he'd been passed over for the solo. So who did it, and how?

    Foreshadowing makes the explanation of how the murder occurs obvious for an experienced reader. No character is much developed. Sense of place is lacking. The strongest element of the story is the conversational story-telling narrative voice. (C)

    Taken as a whole, SERPENTS IN EDEN: COUNTRYSIDE CRIMES is stronger than many of the themed anthologies edited by Martin Edwards in the last few years. (B)
     

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