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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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    Zoe Burton's DARCY OVERHEARS is a novella variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    As they are leaving a dinner with the militia officers in Meryton, Darcy, Bingley, and Hurst overhear George Wickham planning to ruin Elizabeth Bennet as revenge on Darcy. The men warn Mr. Bennet of Wickham's intent, but Mr. Bennet chooses to ignore the situation. Determined to protect Elizabeth, Darcy sends for Colonel Fitzwilliam and personally warns Meryton's shopkeepers about Wickham's bad debts. The men help Elizabeth and Jane formulate protective measures; Darcy and Elizabeth talk frankly and are soon engaged. Wickham, unsuccessful at seducing her, devises another plan to ruin her. Can he succeed?

    The only Regency part of DARCY OVERHEARS, besides the names of Jane Austen's characters, is the absolute obsession with a woman's reputation. Other attitudes and behavior are modern. Characters are up to date versions of the originals, though Burton gives Bingley backbone, improves Lydia's behavior, and makes Hurst active and observing. Angst is confined to Elizabeth's suffering over the scandal and doubt whether Darcy will continue their engagement.

    Problems include anachronistic words, conflicting statements of time between events, quotation marks, and a scene of Elizabeth swinging, as in the 2005 film adaptation. It's hard to believe the resolution of the scandal story line.or the happily ever-after epilogue. I refuse to believe Caroline Bingley blessed with a love match.

    DARCY OVERHEARS is a quick easy read without much depth. (C)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THOUGH NOT DEAD is the eighteenth title in Dana Stabenow's long-running Kate Shugak series set in bush Alaska. It was published in print and digital formats in 2011. Although it contains crime and detection, THOUGH NOT DEAD deals primarily with family, what constitutes family, and what individuals do to and for their families, an apt illustration of William Faulkner's dictum, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

    It opens just days after the death of Old Sam Dementlieff, the Alaska old fart who helped rear Kate after the deaths of her parents, as she begins to execute his will and carry out his final wishes. Her lover Alaska State Trooper "Chopper Jim" Chopin is called to Los Angeles because his father, whom he'd not known was ill, has died of Lou Gehrig's disease. Each receives an unusual legacy that causes investigation of family history. Throw in illegitimacies, Alaska during and after the 1919 influenza pandemic, World War II in the Aleutians, a venerated Russian icon, the largest gold nugget ever discovered in Alaska, a hitherto unknown manuscript by Dashiell Hammett, and a powerful man imprisoned through Kate's efforts, for a savory stew of mayhem and murder.

    The current-time story line is intercut with episodes from Old Sam's life, making for mystery based more on Kate's investigative process than on the identity of the criminal(s). Though motives are complex, they are believable, as is the surprise conclusion.

    Stabenow excels at characterization, able to create an authentic individual in a few sentences: "Jane Silver was older than god and had been the lands clerk for the Park since before Kate had been born. She was a tough old bird with a sharp tongue and an encyclopedic memory, and held the record at the Alaska State Fair for the most blue ribbons won in a row for jam making. Her speciality was rhubarb butter, just the memory of which make Kate's tongue prickle and her mouth fill with anticipatory saliva."

    Sense of place is outstanding, often offering insight into character. "An image of the dirt roads of the Park flashed through [Jim Chopin's] mind, the wide, gray Kanuyaq running beside them, the great, ferocious peaks of the Quilaks elbowing their way over the eastern horizon, backed up by the hot pinks and nugget golds of a rising sun. He thought of the peace, the clear, almost pure silence, that came with that view. He had never used the siren on his rig. He couldn't remember the last time a Park rat had used his horn. There was no road rage because even if you were mad at someone who cut you off--and where on a Park road was there enough room to cut someone off?--you knew and he knew you and you weren't going to flip off someone who would be buying you a beer at the Roadhouse that evening."

    THOUGH NOT DEAD is well up to standard. (A)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    ASSESSING MR. DARCY is one of Leenie Brown's Dash of Darcy series of novella variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018. However, calling it a variant is a misnomer because it is a story of moderns using Austen characters' names.

    The fundamental change in ASSESG MR. DARCY is that William Collins, orphaned at ten years old with no relatives closer than Mr. Bennet, is reared at Longbourn as son and heir. He loves his sisters, especially Elizabeth, and takes the surname Bennet. He's regarded, treated, and acts as their brother. When the Bingley party arrives at Netherfield, he attempts to keep Jane and Elizabeth away from the men because he knows something about Darcy that makes him, and thus friend Bingley, unsuitable for his sisters.

    I have no problem with the idea of the Bennets rearing the young Collins, who turns out much better in Brown's version. (See, for example, Frank Churchill in Emma.) The characters are all modern. Elizabeth would be considered outspoken today. Courtships are rapid even in modern terms, with both couples freely expressing their feelings and engaged within a few days of meeting. Couples meet to walk and ride without being chaperoned. There's a suggestion of middle-school young love as messages are relayed between the four. Darcy ignores differences in status, and Bingley takes a firm line with Caroline's assumptions of social superiority.

    >>>POSSIBLE SPOILER<<<

    The problem is, how does William Collins/Bennet know George Wickham's story about Darcy and the living at Kympton? The implication is that they met at University. However, University would have been before the episode, and surely Wickham's reputation and behavior there should have aroused suspicion about his truthfulness. There's no indication of a continued relationship between the men after University but, when Collins/Bennet after confronting Darcy in a duel goes to London to beat the truth out of Wickham, he's back at Longbourn successful in two days. How does he know where to find Wickham?

    ASSESSING MR. DARCY isn't a bad story, as long as you don't expect it to resemble Austen. (C)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    HENRIETTA WHO? is the second novel in Catherine Aird's police procedural Calleshire Chronicles series featuring Detective Inspector C. D. "Seedy" Sloan and his legman PC Crosby. Originally published in 1973, it was reissued in digital format in 2015.

    When postman Harry Ford finds the body of a supposed hit and run victim in an isolated road outside Larking in Calleshire, the woman is identified by her daughter Henrietta as Mrs. Grace Jenkins. Problems arise when the autopsy revealed that Mrs. Jenkins had never borne a child, probably had never been married at all, and had been run over not once, but twice. Moreover, there's no record of Henrietta's birth, no record of Grace's marriage or source of income, and no apparent reason for her murder. So there is much to be discovered before Sloan can identify her killer.

    I like "Seedy" Sloan, whose duties include dealing with a self-protecting Superintendent Leeyes, and PC Crosby, whose driving speed greatly exceeds that of his thinking. I enjoy Sloan's self-deprecating sense of humor. I like that detection involves more observation and deduction than forensics. I appreciate the village, almost cozy ambiance of the series, and that Aird plays fair with foreshadowing.

    HENRIETTA WHO? is a solid entry in a well-written series. (B+)
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    COINCIDENCE is Jann Rowland's 2017 variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in print and digital versions.

    Suppose Darcy realizes that Elizabeth Bennet dislikes him and that to propose to her at Hunsford would result in a disastrous refusal. That is the premise from which Rowland develops COINCIDENCES. Darcy, encouraged first by Colonel Fiitzwilliam and Anne de Bourgh, than also by Georgiana Darcy and Charles Bingley, engineers a series of "coincidental" meetings with Elizabeth as he deals with his own doubts and works to change her opinion so that he may court her. To this end to rescue Anne from Lady Catherine, he and the colonel follow Elizabeth to London, where Bingley eagerly joins in the matchmaking as he endeavors to reestablish himself with Jane Bennet. The whole party--Darcy, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Anne, and Bingley--follow the Bennet sisters home to Hertfordshire, then to Brighton, where the entire Bennet family summers as a peacekeeping compromise to prevent Lydia's going alone to visit Mrs. Forster. Of course, the path of true love never does run smooth.

    >>>POSSIBLE SPOILERS<<<

    COINCIDENCES is a pleasant read, though it could have been tightened considerably by omitting some of the repetitions of Darcy's angst over past behavior, the colonel and Bingley's advice to Darcy, and Elizabeth's looking for reasons to question her own feelings as well as Darcy's. The liberation of Anne is well-conceived, but Lady Catherine]'s opposition is too minimal to be consistent with her character. I like Rowland's handling of Lydia and Wickham's foiled elopement, including Lydia's receiving some measure of punishment (though insufficient for her offense) and her blaming it on Elizabeth. Rowland states explicitly that, while Lydia becomes more conforming in her behavior, her nature does not change.

    Editing is better than in most Austen fan fiction, though some anachronistic words slip through, including use of "blow out" for quarrel and "hassle" for trouble and confusion. Homophones include "court marshal" instead of court martial and "just desserts" for just deserts (which Wickham finally receives). (B+)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    KIDS WHO KILL, CASE 1: JOSHUA PHILLIPS is Kathryn McMaster's account of the murder of Madelyn "Maddie" Rae Clifton in Jacksonville, Florida, 3 November 1998, and the subsequent trial and appeals of Joshua Earl Patrick Phillips. Found guilty of first degree murder, Joshua was fourteen years old when he killed eight-year-old Maddie; he was sentenced to life without parole. The book is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    In three separate attacks, each of which would have been fatal, Phillips beat Maddie's head with a baseball bat, slashed her throat twice, and stabbed her nine times in the chest and abdomen, then he hid Maddie's body inside the base of his waterbed and slept on the bed every night for a week while Jacksonville searched frantically for the missing girl. McMaster's choice of this case seems based on the ages of the victim and her killer and on the depravity it displayed. Phillips confessed to police when picked up after his mother found Maddie's decomposing body. Forensic evidence is not detailed. Defense attorney Richard Nichols offered no defense--no defense witnesses, no detailed cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, no claims of mental instability. Phillips did not take the stand. Nichols did apply for and receive a change of venue from Jacksonville (Duval County) to Bartow (Polk County). Nichols's strategy apparently relied on opening and closing statements to create reasonable doubt about first-degree murder, to lead the jury to find Phillips guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. At no point did Phillips's defense deny his having killed Maddie. Though inadequate legal representation was claimed later on appeal, Phillips and his parents agreed to Nichols's strategy. All appeals to date have been denied.

    I have major problems with KIDS WHO KILL, CASE 1: JOSHUA PHILLIPS. McMaster's author note says she used "legal evidence, statements, eyewitness accounts, court transcripts, testimony....., personal interviews, individual research, and media resources." However, the investigation, trial, and appeals are covered in bare-bones summary only. There are no notes to specific facts and no list of specific sources. Missy Phillips, Phllips's mother, wrote a chapter that many may find distasteful, painting herself and her son as fellow victims with the Cliftons. McMaster makes little attempt to detail evidence given on appeal as to motive, and she ignores two key questions regarding the police investigation. The first is, how it was that Joshua Phillips's interrogation was not recorded in some form, as was common practice by 1998. The second is, how did experienced police officers search the Phillips house multiple times during the week Maddie was missing without smelling her putrefying body? By all accounts, the stench was powerful. Admittedly, the month was November, but this was in Florida in a small, one-family cement block house.

    My biggest problem is as much with modern society and the legal system as with KIDS WHO KILL, CASE 1: JOSHUA PHILLIPS, an issue McMaster skims in passing. What motivates a fourteen-year-old boy with no previous record of school or police problems brutally to kill an eight-year-old girl, a neighbor who described him as one of her best friends. How can society recognize these individuals before they kill? And what is appropriate punishment for children who kill?

    Don't bother. KIDS WHO KILL isn't worth the time. (F)
     
  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Carriage Ride" is Mary Lydon Simonsen's short story variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    A week after Darcy's proposal and his letter of explanation, Elizabeth Bennet travels to London from Kent. At the inn in Bromley, she finds Fitzwilliam Darcy, himself en route to London following an extended stay in Kent to visit other relatives, stranded by a damaged carriage. Elizabeth offers accommodation, and he reluctantly agrees. As they travel, for the first time since the letter they interact, discussing family histories, preferences, childhood memories, all the things that matter. By the time they reach Gracechurch Street, they have reached an understanding.

    "The Carriage Ride" offers interestingly different insights into the de Bourgh, Fitzwilliam, Bingley, and Bennet families. (Did you know that the de Bourgh and Fitzwilliam family fortunes were based on smuggling?) Elizabeth and Darcy are faithful to the originals. It's a pleasant read, even if the action is mostly internal. (B+)
     
  8. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Originally published in 1964, FALLING STAR is the fifth book in Patricia Moyes's long-running Inspector Henry Tibbett series. It was reissued in digital format in 2018.

    Anthony Croombe-Peters, aka Pudge, narrates the story in first person. He, set designer Keith Pardoe, Pardoe's novelist/screenwriter wife Biddy Brennan, and director Sam Portman are the Board of Directors for the Northburn Films. Pudge as primary investor is executive producer of their first project, Street Scenes. Weather problems, health issues (sex symbol female lead Fiametta Fettini in a snit), and Portman's habit of ignoring budget restrictions have the production, hence the company, on the verge of bankruptcy when male lead Robert Meakin falls to his death under an incoming train in shooting a scene. Saved by the insurance! However, when Continuity Girl Margery Phipps abruptly quits the production and falls to her death from her seventh-floor apartment, Pudge involves Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett, a social friend. The death of Meakin's dresser Murray is clearly murder, with Pudge held "assisting the police" in Tibbett's investigation.

    Pudge is an interesting creation. He's young (28 years old), recruited as the "money man" because much of his father's great wealth has been turned over to him to avoid death duties. He's the administrative arm of the board, looked down upon by the artistes Pardoe, Brennan, and Portman. Moyes gives him a consistent, believable voice as he juggles the vagaries of film making, artistic temperaments, and budget. It's clear that he often doesn't understand all that he observes.

    I like Henry Tibbett. He's professional, rather colorless except for his "nose," the instinct for crime that makes him good, pleasant, self-effacing. Though he does not work alone, there's no specific colleague with whom he shares his thought processes, which makes for a police procedural that reads more like a cozy. It also means less foreshadowing. An experienced reader may well pick up on the killer and motive early, though the mechanics of Phipps's death require waiting for Tibbett's concluding explanation. (B+)
     
  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A PEMBERLEY HAUNTING is a short story by Lindsay Beaudine included in her PRIDE AND PREJUDICE--VARIATIONS AND CONTINUATIONS published in digital format in 2018. More accurately, it is a story using the names of Jane Austen's characters.

    Fitzwilliam Darcy invites the Bennet family, the Bingley siblings, and the Collinses to a brief house party at Pemberley. Georgiana has requested their presence at the celebration of her sixteenth birthday. He has written his letter of explanation to Elizabeth but decides to hand it to her only after arrival. On their first evening, Darcy performs as the ghost of Hamlet's father in a theatrical entertainment; questioned about ghosts in the ancient house, Darcy responds with the story of Bess, the shoemaker's daughter who suicided in the library when Restoration-era Darcys forbade son and heir Sir William Darcy to marry her. She's said to walk Pemberley as the "White Lady," summoning those to whom she manifests to the scene of her death. William Collins, Caroline Bingley, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh all experience her presence.

    Timing for A PEMBERLEY HAUNTING is not certainly established. It's explicit that Elizabeth previously has visited Pemberley and met Georgiana, which in the original is the summer after the proposal at Hunsford, but the lakeside activities on Georgiana's birthday also imply summer. Mrs. Bennet knows that Elizabeth refused a proposal from Darcy, and Lydia is with the family. Same year? The epilogue is tangential at best. Explanation of the "hauntings" is obvious. Characters are reasonably faithful to the original, though attitudes are more modern than Regency: mealtimes and menus, privacy without chaperone for Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth's wandering in her night clothes, Darcy's referring to her and Elizabeth's referring to herself as "Miss Bennet." Lady Catherine's name is given as "de Bourg."

    A PEMBERLEY HAUNTING is reasonable, as long as you don't expect much Austen. (C)
     
  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    HALLOWEEN AT PEMBERLEY is the second novella / short story in Lindsay Beaudine's anthology PRIDE AND PREJUDICE--VARIATIONS AND CONTINUATIONS. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    During a visit to Bingley in Hertfordshire in autumn following the Hunsford proposal, Fitzwilliam Darcy discloses that Halloween has never been celebrated at Pemberley; Elizabeth challenges him to do so. Darcy agrees on condition that the Bennets come, with Elizabeth specifying that the Bingleys, the Collinses, and George Wickham be invited. Elizabeth knows that Wickham and Lydia Bennet have been much in company. Unacquainted with the Darcy-Wickham history, but cautious about her sister, Elizabeth is surprised when Darcy complies with her request.

    Characters are reasonably faithful to Austen's originals, though Mrs. Bennet's gluttony is emphasized. She's inordinately proud of her "new" powdered hair style, an anachronism in Regency England. The whole circumstance of Halloween at Pemberley is anachronistic. While celebrated in the Celtic portions of the British Isles, it was not widely observed in England itself.* There's also the improbability of the Bennets making a two-day journey to Pemberley, arriving 30 October and departing 1 November, for another two-day journey home. Travel was too expensive and too exhausting for such a brief visit.

    There's no resolution in HALLOWEEN AT PEMBERLEY except that Elizabeth finally learns the truth about Darcy and Wickham and that both will keep a watch on George Wckham and Lydia. Finis. Why bother? (F)

    *https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/halloween-in-the-regency/
     
  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DARCY AND LIZZY'S CORNISH ADVENTURE is the third novella in Lindsay Beaudine's 2018 anthology PRIDE AND PREJUDICE--VARIATIONS AND CONTINUATIONS.

    Some six months after their wedding, both Darcy and Elizabeth are tired and want a holiday, so they decide to tour Cornwall. To add to the adventure, they will travel as fancy leads them, with no advance planning. Stopping at Longbourn overnight proves a mistake because it convinces Mrs. Bennet that the couple will enjoy their travels much more with the Bennet family along. In a few days, they are off to Cornwall in pursuit of the Darcys. Places visited and people met by both parties make up the bulk of the story. There's no resolution.

    I dislike Beaudine's Mrs. Bennet. She is totally self-centered, intent on having her own way, a whiner and complainer who revises history to satisfy her needs of the moment, a glutton who constantly belittles unmarried daughters Mary and Kitty. Mr. Bennet is an enabler. It seems unlikely that the Darcys would travel so informally--no travel plan, no advance reservations, no servants except the coachman. Lizzy and Darcy are anachronistic in their democratic acceptance of innkeepers, up to and including John Wickham, George's older brother with whom he and Lydia have taken refuge after absconding on their London creditors. The most pleasing aspect of DARCY AND LIZZY'S CORNISH ADVENTURE is that John Wickham has put George to hard labor in his tin mine and garnisheed part of his wages to pay his creditors.

    Minor problems include a Darcy wet-shirt scene at the beach (Colin Firth has much to answer for in Austen fan fiction!) and confusion of nominative and objective case pronoun. Beaudine has the Darcys stay at the Jamaica Inn near Truro without incident at a time when it was still a base for smugglers and wreckers. I suspect the choice based more on Daphne du Maurier's 1936 novel Jamaica Inn than on history. (See Wiki.)

    Elapsed time between events is unclear. It seems the Wickhams visited Longbourn hoping for asylum there immediately before the Darcys arrive en route to Cornwall. Yet John Wickham refers to his brother and Lydia being at his home for months, long enough that much of their debts have been paid. So how long? More significant, the Darcys have been married not quite six months. Their honeymoon included Paris, Rome, Florence, and Sicily, and they've been back at Pemberley long enough to need a holiday. Given mode of transportation (and war between France and England), this itinerary seems greatly to exceed the amount of time available.

    Again, there's nothing wrong with the story, it just doesn't go anywhere. (D)
     
  12. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A PEMBERLEY CHRISTMAS is the fourth and final novella in Lindsay Beaudine's 2018 anthology PRIDE AND PREJUDICE--VARIATIONS AND CONTINUATIONS.

    The first Christmas after their marriage, Fitzwilliam Darcy wants a quiet, simple celebration while Elizabeth wants to be surrounded by her family. They invite Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Kitty and Mary, Charles and Jane Bingley, John and Agnes Wickham (George's older brother and wife met on the trip through Cornwall), Lydia Wickham (George is specifically told not to come), Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and the Collinses. Action consists of events on the journeys to Derbyshire and slice of life activities, enlivened by the arrival of George Wickham. in the days leading up to and through Christmas Day. Collins provides comic relief.

    Beaudine is consistent in her presentation of characters through the four novellas of the anthology. However, I find it difficult to believe that the Darcys would invite the John Wickhams to a family house party, even if needed to escort Lydia, or that Lady Catherine would deign to associate with them. Nor do I see Lady Catherine and Mrs. Bennet engaging in sledding and snowball fights in the snow. Christmas activities at Pemberley seem more Dickensian than Regency, especially Bingley's closing response to Collins's announcement of his special sermon as a Boxing Day treat: "God help us, every one."

    A PEMBERLEY CHRISTMAS is comfortable but in no way outstanding. (C) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE--VARIATIONS AND CONTINUATIONS as a whole (C)
     
  13. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    CASE FOR THREE DETECTIVES is the first book in Leo Bruce's Golden Age series featuring Sergeant Beef, a John-Bullish village bobby who claims only following procedure and common sense. Originally published in 1936, it was reissued in digital format in 2014.

    When Mrs. Mary Thurston is found dead in her bolted bedroom at the end of a house party evening, the crime seems insoluble. The door had been bolted top and bottom, there are no hidden passage or places to hide, the room's windows are twenty feet above the ground and some ten feet below those of the floor above, and there is no disturbance in the flower beds below them. Sergeant Beef is the officer in charge, but he's instructed to stand aside for three noted amateur criminologists to investigate the murder: Lord Simon Plimsoll, complete with photographic assistant/manservant Butterfield; Monsieur Amer Picon, obsessively neat; and Monsignor Smith, a rumpled little priest given to obscure statements. Townsend, the first person narrator, relates their investigations, unimpressed by Sergeant Beef's repeated assurances that he knows who killed Mary Thurston.

    An experienced reader of Golden Age and/or locked room mysteries may well discern the method of the murder. Bruce weaves in a possible extramarital affair, a mad vicar, a ne'er-do-well stepson, and blackmail, but if one stays focused on the physical facts, the murderer becomes obvious. Characterization is typical for the period in which CASE FOR THREE DETECTIVES was written, and its setting is fully within the "house party, country manor" tradition.

    What makes CASE FOR THREE DETECTIVES worth reading is Bruce's sendup of three literary detectives: Lord Peter Whimsey, Hercule Poirot, and Father Brown. Each examines the scene and the evidence, evolves an elaborate theory based on small details, and confidently names the killer. The only trouble is, each has a different theory, a different motive, and a different guilty party. CASE FOR THREE DETECTIVES is dated, but it's good fun. (B)
     

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