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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)
     
  14. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    BITTERNESS OF SPIRIT is Lory Lilian's latest to date novel variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was issued in digital format in 2018.

    BITTERNESS OF SPIRIT stays reasonably close to the original story line with the evolving relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth. However, its prologue begins in 1785 with Wilson, a tenant's son who saved George Darcy's life, leaving Derbyshire, brokenhearted that the woman he'd thought loved him has only been having fun. Skip ahead twenty-five years to the sudden reappearance of Gilbert Drake Wilson, Madeleine Wilson Gardiner's much older half-brother returned from wanderings through the world, now fabulously wealthy, generous to a fault, friend of the Duke of York, and determined to build connections through Mrs. Gardiner to the Bennets, through the Bennets to the Darcys, and through Darcy to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the Earl of Matlock. Both Darcy and Elizabeth suspect a hidden agenda, but what is it, and why is Wilson so intent on it?

    BITTERNESS OF SPIRIT is well written and better edited than most Austen fan fiction. Darcy and Elizabeth suffer much self-imposed angst as each seems to look for reasons to doubt the other's intentions and motives. Their spending nights together at Pemberley with heavy petting but not anticipating their vows, is modern (though maybe not very realistic), not Regency, and the final chapter with stroke-by-stroke detail of their wedding night is gratuitous. Mrs. Bennet is a revised edition, there being no way Austen's character would have allowed Mr. Bennet to take the three younger girls to London to join Elizabeth and Jane for the Season, leaving her alone at Longbourn.

    I like the introduced character of Gilbert Drake Wilson, a frank man who says and does what he thinks best, letting chips fall as they will. He has no difficulty in pointing out defects in Darcy's behavior, including his enabling Wickham to develop and continue his wicked ways. Wilson's story is an interesting insight into the Fitzwilliam family and relationships between members of different social classes during the Regency period.

    BITTERNESS OF SPIRIT is one of the best variants I've read this year. (A-)
     
  15. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    JOHNNY UNDER GROUND is the sixth book in Patricia Moyes's mystery series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett of Scotland Yard and his wife Emmy. Originally published in 1965, it was rereleased in 2016 in digital format.

    When Emmy receives an invitation to the first reunion of personnel who served at R.A.F. Dymfield in 1943, Henry encourages her to attend. At age nineteen, Emmy (then Blandish) had served as an air traffic controller, in love with the married Battle of Britain hero Beau Guest, whose disappearance was attributed to suicide by airplane. By all accounts, he tried to fly a new high-performance plane on which he was unqualified and without permission. At the reunion, now married to his wartime rival Vere Prendergast, Beau's widow Barbara hires former colleague Lofty Parker to write a history of Dymfield, bulldozing Emmy into doing his research. The project quickly evolves into a romanticized biography of Beau, centering on the mystery of his death. Someone kills Parker, setting his death up as a suicide and taking the materials gathered. As Tibbett investigates, he discovers the death of Beau Guest is not as straightforward as portrayed.

    I am of two minds about the plot in JOHNNY UNDER GROUND. On the one hand, I admire the ease with which she keeps attention focused away from the killer, setting up for an unexpected denouement. On the other, I dislike that she gives no clue to the motive for Guest's death until the final confrontation with Tibbett. The backstory connection between Guest and Parker's death is unbelievable.

    I also dislike what Moyes does with Emmy in JOHNNY UNDER GROUND. Emmy has two TSTL episodes. Knowing Parker murdered and that the killer is connected with the book on which they were working, she blithely goes along with various of the Dymfield gang for over twelve hours, unsuspicious as a newborn kitten, leaving no messages and questioning nothing. After a trip to Scotland Yard for interview with the Dymfield lot, Henry leaves her in the canteen for coffee while he finishes, only for Emmy to go wandering off to an off-site coffee shop where she's abducted. Shame me once, shame on you; shame me twice, shame on me!

    Still, JOHNNY UNDER GROUND is a comfort read. (B-)
     
  16. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    AN UNPLEASANT SORT OF MAN is Nicky Roth's latest variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in digital format.

    Fitzwilliam Darcy has much reason for his unsocial behavior at the Meryton assembly; he has an infected gunshot wound from his rescue of Georgiana from George Wickham some four months before, and he's waiting for news of her possible condition. Elizabeth overhears his insult but, meeting Darcy on her next-morning walk just after he's received news of his worst fears for Georgiana and as he burns with fever, she takes him to Longbourn for treatment. They become acquainted and courtship ensues, complicated by Georgiana's predicament, Wickham's blackmail and schemes, Mrs.Younge's employment as governess for Lydia and Kitty Bennet, and Caroline Bingley's temper tantrums.

    AN UNPLEASANT SORT OF MAN makes Darcy a wimp for the first half of the story, too paralyzed by fear that Wickham will reveal Georgiana's ruin that he meekly submits to blackmail (£2,000 paid in first four months following Ramsgte with no end in sight). It is Colonel Fitzwilliam who makes practical arrangements for Georgiana and points out ways to circumvent Wickham. There's little angst and no opposition to Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship, even Lady Catherine approving Darcy's choice of bride.

    Some small things I noticed included use of slang-sounding expressions ("get a hold" for "reach" or "contact"; "gab" used as a noun). Names vary in spelling ("Forester," "Young"). Wickham is compared to Narcissus. Roth uses names from Austen in allusions: Caroline Bingley is confined to Mrs. Elton's School for Intractable Young Ladies in Surrey (Emma), while Mrs. Younge's friend Mrs. Ferrars (Sense and Sensibility) fosters her young daughter. A reference to a highwayman being "hanged, drawn and quartered" is inaccurate since that dread punishment was visited only on males convicted of high treason; a convicted highwayman would be hanged.

    It's easy to overlook the small problems in AN UNPLEASANT SORT OF MAN. (B+)
     
  17. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE LYRIC WORE LYCRA is the fourteenth book in Mark Schweizer's Liturgical Detective series featuring as first person narrator Heyden Konig, chief of police in St. Germaine, North Carolina, where he is also organist and choir director for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. It was published in digital and print editions in 2017.

    Life is relatively calm as Konig deals with two upcoming events. One is the early calendar beginning for Lent, the first season for which new rector Dr. James Hook will make preparations; the other is the impending birth of the Konigs' daughter. Owner of the Slab Café, former mayor Pete Moss deals with the longstanding problem of the overabundance of ducks in the Sterling Park lake by putting duck on the menu, prompting a protest by activists from Asheville, the Friends of Ducks. One of the protestors is Bonnie Pickering, who'd been in a music class with Konig years before at UNC, but the woman denies the acquaintance. After the demonstrators leave, a body is discovered in the car Pickering had arrived in, though the body belonged to Sabrina Bodkin, another of the Friends of Ducks but also former leader of a labor and childbirth class in St. Germaine. She'd been strangled with the fake human umbilical cord from her demonstration newborn. Things get even more complicated when Pickering also turns up dead, run down by a car. Then add in affairs, blackmail, identity theft, BLaM (Blueridge Ladies of Murder crime club), the St. Barnabas policy on transgender bathrooms, heat-packing checkers at Piggly-Wiggly, self-improvement programs during Lent, to the normal craziness of St. Germaine.

    The Liturgical Detective series is as much slice of life in a highly eccentric community as it is mystery, and because of Meg Konig's pregnancy, THE LYRIC WORE LYCRA is more humor than mystery. The plot has several holes, including lack of foreshadowing of Bodkin's killer(s) and motive, and, despite Konig's being certain of the identity, no resolution of that murder. There's simply no evidence.

    Humor, however, abounds. One of Schweizer's skills as a writer is his ability to use humor effectively to characterize: " ...I was distracted by a You Tube video of a priest giving communion on a hoverboard. I watched the whole thing, praying for the hoverboard to explode, but it never did. Sometimes, God just does not answer prayer." I particularly enjoy Konig's stories, published on the programs of service for the St. Barnabas choir as he pursues his mastery of Raymond Chandleresque writing, in which Schweizer spoofs of both the hard-boiled detective novel and some of the more outré manifestations of Christianity: "I'm a Liturgy Detective, duly sworn in by the diocese, empowered by my life coach, and consecrated into twenty-seven denominations including the Full-Gospel Predeluvians, the Orthodox Anglican Monophysites, and the Lutherans. I had a gun, a badge, a copy of the Watchtower, and a Gideon Bible stuffed in my pants, and I wasn't afraid to use any of 'em, especially on those Lutherans."

    Schweizer has created a quirky community that I enjoy visiting. (A-)
     
  18. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Catherine Bilson's A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE AT LONGBOURN is her 2018 holiday variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in digital and print formats.

    Events from the original story are changed minimally. Time is shortened, events occurring between the Bingley party's leaving Netherfield and Christmas. Ramsgate happened only a few weeks before Darcy's excursion to Hertfordshire and largely is responsible for his unsociable behavior. The essential plot change is that Georgiana Darcy, who is still madly in love with Wickham, overhears her brother and Colonel Fitzwilliam discussing the lieutenant's presence in Meryton. She sets off alone, traveling post, to rejoin her beloved. When she's stranded in Hatfield some dozen miles from Meryton, she's fortunate to meet Mrs. Fanny Bennet, Elizabeth, and Mary, in town buying Christmas supplies. They offer her transport to Meryton. Darcy and the colonel catch up and accept the Bennets' help to cover Georgiana's escapade. She, chilled, exhausted, and stressed, becomes dangerously ill, unfit to travel from Longbourn. Thus ensues the chance for Darcy and Elizabeth to develop a better understanding.

    >>>POSSIBLE SPOILERS<<<

    A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE AT LONGBOURN is a pleasant Christmas-themed read with minimal angst. Characters are reasonably faithful to the originals. Darcy's protecting Georgiana by concealing Wickham's fortune-hunting explains her continuing love for the scoundrel. Mrs. Bennet remains an inveterate matchmaker and gossip but shows great discretion in protecting Georgiana.

    An excellent choice for a quiet evening with a good fire and a cup of hot chocolate! (A)
     
  19. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE DEAD SHALL BE RAISED is the second in George Bellairs's mystery series featuring Detective Inspector Thomas Littlejohn of Scotland Yard, Originally published in 1942, reprinted in 1943 as Murder Will Speak, it was reissued in 2017 in an inexpensive Kindle bundle with The Murder of a Quack.

    Christmas Eve 1940 finds Inspector Littlejohn en route to join his wife, convalescing from minor injuries in the Blitz of London, to friends in Hatterworth in the Pennines. Christmas Day the local Home Guard, conducting maneuvers on the moor, unearth the skeleton of Enoch Sykes, who'd disappeared some twenty years before as the suspected killer of his friend Jeremy Triskett. It's clear both men had been killed the same evening, and a very cold case is reopened. Littlejohn is drafted to help the local police, leading to revelations of shady dealings involving Sir Caleb Haythornthwaite at the time. Memories are long, blackmail lasts longer, and the crucial witness is poisoned before Littlejohn can interview him. Can the truth still be found?

    I like Littlejohn. He's patient, professional, empathetic without being sloppy, made believable by touches of personal life and memories. The plot is fair. The identity of the Enoch Sykes's murderer is adequately foreshadowed, and the conclusion hangs together logically though the circumstances of the murders are unexpected.

    Best of all in THE DEAD SHALL BE RAISED is Bellairs's skillful infusion of Christmas spirit into a setting that inspires a real sense of time and place. I love his description of the village performance of Handel's The Messiah on Christmas Day. "A spirit of ecstatic good will filled the place. Glowing, homely faces met his gaze wherever he looked. The weariness of everyday things fell from the countenances of the poor and overworked; the harassed grew calm; the stiff-necked and starchy seemed to relax and shed their pride; and the humble held up their heads. A cornet-player scrambled from the orchestra and self-consciously established himself at Haworth's side.... The orchestra played the opening bars of 'The Trumpet Shall Sound,' and the couple got into their stride. The cornet, second-best for the silver trumpet of full-dress performances, spoke with precision and the little man blowing it was transformed. Not one out pf place, not a second behind-hand, the notes came forth like bubbles of iridescent sound and seemed to burst over the heads of the congregation." (27)

    I like this series and recommend THE DEAD SHALL BE RAISED highly. (flat A)
     
  20. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Amid the Winter's Snow" is a Christmas-themed short story by Tasha Alexander, published in Kindle edition in 2018.

    Lady Emily and husband Colin Hargreaves are at their home Anglemore Park in Derbyshire for Christmas when a delegation from Dunsford Vale, one of the estate villages, calls with a serious problem. Villagers are alarmed because food and blankets have been stolen, two sheep have been taken, and there have been repeated sightings of the barghest, a giant black dog demon whose appearance foretells death. As the Hargreaves couple check out the stories, they conclude something is going on, but neither attributes it to a dog, especially when Julia Fletcher, who saw the barghest outside her window, receives an anonymous Christmas gift of beautifully carved and painted flowers. Lady Emily is able to interpret the gift and help engineer a Christmas miracle.

    Beautifully written, set Christmas week 1900 with a good sense of time and place, sweet (though the theme's been done before), what's not to like? (A)
     

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