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Readingomnivore Reviews


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BRYANT & MAY: HALL OF MIRRORS is the most recent of Christopher Fowler's crime novels involving Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Because he began the PCU series with both protagonists already working well past required retirement, I'd wondered how Fowler would eventually deal with the age issue. His device is to have Bryant, mentioned in many of the PCU novels as writing his memoirs, recount to his editor a case from 1969, when the PCU was young and London's brief hippie renaissance had begun to fade. BRYANT & MAY: HALL OF MIRRORS was published in digital format in 2018.

After blowing up a barge in the Regent's Regatta while pursuing a criminally insane hit man Bryant identified as an escapee, Bryant and May are assigned to bodyguard Monty Hatton-Jones over a long weekend. Scheduled to testify against former friend, celebrated architect Sir Charles Chamberlain, who's accused of bribery of a Westminster Council officer in an attempt to cover up use of substandard materials on a contract. Hatton-Jones insists on going to Tavistock Hall as scheduled, so that he can meet Donald Burke, tycoon industrialist and entrepreneur. May and Bryant accompany him to a unique house party.

It's interesting to see Bryant and May's younger selves, already much different with May as the au courant optimist and Bryant aware of the coming collapse of dreams of change. "Bryant accepted that life would never be as easy for him as it was for John. There was a class gap between them, not much more than a crack, really, but enough to separate their lives and cause a touch of resentment after a few drinks." (51) As always, Fowler uses humor and details of setting effectively to develop character. The supporting cast consists of stereotypical country-house-novel guests. I particularly liked the touch of Harry, Lord Burke-Marion, aging hippie owner of Tavistock Hall, accompanied by his pet piglet Malecrida, who wears a diamond necklace "borrowed" from his mother.

The plot of BRYANT & MAY: HALL OF MIRRORS is over the top with unlikely coincidences, including live-fire army maneuvers and road flooding that isolate the Hall for the weekend, unexplained "accidents" to Hatton-Jones, attempted and achieved murders, and threatened dissolution of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. It's hard to say more without doing spoilers, but one hint: don't overlook any character or any event in the story. While the setting is important, because the story occurs in Kent and the men are much younger, there is less sense of deep history. As always, Fowler makes it easy to suspend disbelief. (B)


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Another episode of America Unearthed (History Channel) dealing with the possible Welsh colonization of North America prompted me to read John Oxenham Goodman's PRE-COLUMBIAN DISCOVERIES OF THE NEW WORLD BY ASIANS, AFRICANS AND EUROPEANS AND SOME ANCIENT NATIVE AMERICAN VOYAGES TO EUROPE, AFRICA AND ASIA, second revised edition. This edition was published in digital format in 2015.

While many writers on cryptozoology, conspiracy theories, and alternative history go off the deep end into fantasy, Goodman has produced a brief, coherent, accessible, balanced account of pre-Columbian contacts between the Old and the New Worlds. He follows the same pattern in each of his fourteen chapters: a brief summary of what is reported about the group's contac, references to sources and dating, evaluation of sources, examination of artifacts and influences, and criticism of the evidence. The concluding chapter gives his summary and conclusions. He lists 364 specific endnotes and an eleven-page bibliography to provide for easy follow-up reading.

Goodman discounts many of the legends about pre-Columbian European contact with North America, including those of fifth-century Irish under Saint Brendan and twelfth-century Welsh under Madoc. He bases his conclusions on the paucity and questionable reliability of documentary sources, lack of archaeological evidence, and lack of cultural influences. He concedes that unintentional contacts based on ships being blown off course, lost or unable to return, and thus to be unrecorded. He thinks strongly possible or probable Phoenicians, Chinese, Arabs, the voyage of Nicholas of Lynn (1360), Africans (fourteenth-fifteenth centuries),the Zeno-Sinclair voyage (1398), and various Basque (1372), Frisian (1390), and English (Bristol, 1480) fishermen. Viking contacts are certain, supported as they are by both documentation and the excavation of the settlement in Newfoundland. Goodman states his conclusion clearly: "...by far the greatest influence on Native American cultures came from China. Though much less than that from China, there appears to have been influences also from Africa, India and perhaps from ancient Egypt, and medieval Arab kingdoms. Non-Muslim European influence on pre-Columbian Native Americans is either non-existent [sic] or so small as to be negligible." (117)

Goodman does alternative history right. (flat A)


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THE MAIDEN'S STRATAGEM is Margaret Gale's latest variant of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was issued in digital format in 2019.

William Collins is surprised and offended when Elizabeth Bennet refuses to marry him. Her father's lack of preparation for the future of his wife and daughters makes Elizabeth responsible for saving the family by marrying Collins. Mr. Bennet allows her a week in which to develop an alternate solution before he requires her acceptance of Collins. The same day, Jane Bennet receives Caroline Bingley's letter announcing the permanent removal from Netherfield and her plans for Bingley's marriage to Georgiana Darcy. Because her best chance to avoid marriage to Collins is Jane's immediate engagement to Charles Bingley, thereby providing security for the Bennet women, Elizabeth insists that they confront the Bingley siblings. Seeing Darcy as a preferable to Collins and under the pressure of time, Acutely aware of the looming deadline on Collins's proposal, Elizabeth plans to compromise him into an immediate engagement. After revelation of her letter and derogatory remarks about Georgiana, promised that Darcy will cut her socially, Caroline also plans to compromise him. Let the games begin.

THE MAIDEN'S STRATAGEM is well written. I found a few modern-slang words but no editing problems. Gale introduced no new characters and made minimal changes in the story line. Most characters are faithful to the originals, though she makes Mr. Bennet less sympathetic. Unwilling to disturb his comfortable life, he's perfectly willing to make Elizabeth pay the price for his disregard of paternal responsibility. Angst is minimal, limited to Elizabeth and Jane; My favorite touch in THE MAIDEN'S STRATAGEM the irony of Caroline's attempted compromise, which brings the end she least desires. A neat, quick, comfortable read. (A)


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The title THE SUPPRESSED HISTORY OF AMERICA: THE MURDER OF MERIWETHER LEWIS AND THE MYSTERIOUS DISCOVERIES OF THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION of Paul Schrag and Xaviant Haze's book reveals much. It consists of two sections of unequal length with little direct connection between the events and people except the presence of Meriwether Lewis. It was published in digital format in 2011.

I almost did not read past the Foreword by Michael Tsarion, who rants on the suppression of evidence of America's pre-Columbian history. He is explicit: "...in the late 1800s...John Wesley Powell and his colleagues [at the Smithsonian Institution]...decided that, for humanity's good, they had best systematically destroy the vast amount of accumulated evidence proving that several Native American Indian tribes were most probably descended from ancient European visitors to the New World. Yes, in the minds of duplicitous psychopaths, destruction is always sanctified by some dubious pretext." I was put off by the tone and by Tsarion's reference to the Ainu as the prehistoric people of China [actually, of Japan], but I persevered.

Schrag and Haze's longer section of THE SUPPRESSED OF AMERICA is disjointed, moving through diffusionist and independent inventionist theories of the development of Native American cultures, Jefferson's "solution" to the Indian problem that became the basis for the 1830 Indian Removal Act, politics and Social Darwinist beliefs incorporated in the foundation of anthropology as a discipline, evidence of various non-Native groups sad to have visited pre-Columbian America (including the Welsh in whom Jefferson was specifically interested), Kennewick Man and the legal battle over the remains, Chinese influence on the Northwest tribes, human presence in North America tens of thousands of years or more before commonly accepted, and races of Native American giants encountered by earlier explorers. Interspersed are snippets of information on places visited by the Corps of Discovery, along with segments where Lewis did not maintain his journals and his missing diaries. Jefferson's actions are called into question, as is the eventual role of the Smihsonian: "Letting the Smithsonian investigate theories of pre-Columbian visitors to America's shores is like letting Charlie Manson investigate the Sharon Tate murders."

There's no clear connection between the diffusionist-independent invention debate and the alleged policy of suppressing evidence of pre-Columbian contacts. There's no critical evaluation of that evidence; for example, Shrag and Haze accept nineteenth=century newspaper accounts of finds by laymen as authentic and correctly identified.

The section on the murder of Meriwether Lewis is better integrated, covering the snake pit of federal politics at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis, appointed as governor of Louisiana Territory operating out of St. Louis, fully intended to clean up its corruption. Doing so created powerful enemies, any one of whom might have wanted him dead. Most modern historians have few doubts that Lewis's death, covered up as a suicide, was murder. Shrag and Haze discuss several candidates for First Murderer but offer no conclusion of their own. If Lewis's death was not murder during a robbery but a conspiracy, it's hard to disbelieve General James Wilkinson was involved. The evidence for Lewis's suicidal state was provided by his enemies. It's also hard to believe that Lewis shot himself in the head (piece of skull gone, brain exposed), shot himself in the chest, and cut himself with razors, then took over two hours to die. Despite the Lewis family's request that Meriwether Lewis's body be exhumed for forensic examination, the National Park Service has refused. Why, if there's nothing to hide?

Still, too many conjectures and possibilities are accepted as fact, without proof being cited, to take much seriously. (D)


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THAT OLD SCOUNDREL DEATH is the final installment in Bill Crider's long-running police procedural series featuring Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Blacklin County, Texas. It was published in digital format in 2019. Crider passed in 2018.

THAT OLD SCOUNDREL DEATH follows the pattern of other books in the series, in that Rhodes deals with all the "normal" policing in the county seat Clearview and the county while dealing with at least one major crime. "Normal" calls include Mrs. Purcell's report of complaint of "things" flying over her house and stealing her electricity and Bailey Dalton's self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face caused by a ricochet off an armadillo's shell. The major crime is the murder of Lawrence Gates, an incomer whose research for the blog Digging That Blacklin County Dirt has focused on the fate of the old Thurston Schoolhoue. The influential family of multi-generational war heros, the Hunleys, are leading the preservation faction, while the two wealthiest families, the Falkners and the Reeses, want it demolished.

Crider's plot and characterization in THAT OLD SCOUNDREL DEATH keep attention focused on the wrong motive, effectively concealing the killer's identity, plus giving a surprise ending that is carefully set up to be logical. Rhodes and the supporting cAst of deputies, townspeople, and perps are believable. Rhodes is an appealing protagonist who doesn't take himself seriously. Crider's uses limited third person point of view and the story-telling voice effectively.

A strong element in his work is use of setting to emphasize character: "The inside of the house was just about what he'd expected. The heat radiated downward from the rusty tin roof, and he felt as if he were baking in an oven. The place had the peculiar odor of old houses, overlaid with the smell of fast food. Ben and Glen had been living here for a while, sleeping on an old mattress on the floor. Greasy fast food wrappers and Styrofoam containers were strewn all around. Housekeeping wasn't one of Ben and Glen's virtues. In fact, Rhodes wasn't sure they had any virtues worth mentioning." (70)

THAT OLD SCOUNDREL DEATH is a fitting conclusion to one of my favorite series. Bill Crider, R.I.P. (A)


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FORCED TO MARRY is Bella Breen's novel-length variation on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was issued in digital format in 2018.

Walking off her fury over Fitzwilliam Darcy's clumsy proposal, Elizabeth is thoroughly compromised when, after falling over a tree route, injuring her hands and knee, with her dress caught and pulled up exposing her chemise and legs, she's found by Darcy, also walking off his rage. He assists her but is seen by Mr. Collins, two of Hunsford's leading ladies, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Collins, acting as Elizabeth's closest relative, demands Darcy marry her; as a ruined woman, Elizabeth has no choice but so to do. Collins tells Lady Catherine de Bourgh of the situation, and she, while Darcy travels to London to obtain a special license, ejects Elizabeth from Rosings and Hunsford, having her dumped at the nearest posting inn with no escort or chaperone, to find her own way by common post coach. Captain Fitzeilliam rescues Elizabeth from the inn and escorts to the Gardiners in London, where she and Darcy are married in two days time. Then the situation becomes even more complicated with hurt feelings and failure to communicate.

FORCED TO MARRY deals more with the adjustments following Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage than to its preliminaries. Both feel trapped (though Darcy's displeased more by the circumstances than the result) and, for some time, every conversation turns into an argument in which Elizabeth throws accusations and Darcy becomes more overbearing. It requires a dangerous carriage accident to wake them up to their feelings.

Editing is good, though a few modern words slip through: "mavens" (1960s, Yiddish), "lucked out," "hooligan" (late 19th century). My only problem is with what happened to Wickham vis-à-vis the militia. He's in Brighton with the regiment when he and Lydia elope, but there's no further mention of his connection with the militia. After he and Lydia are married, they depart for northern Scotland where Wickham has a job in a shipyard. Why wasn't he taken up for desertion? FORCED TO MARRY is a quick, comfortable read, enough changed to be interesting without becoming implausible. (A)


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DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH is one of Andrea Carter's Inishowen mysteries, set in Glendara, on the coast of northeast Donegal. After issue in the United Kingdom in 2015, it was published in digital format in 2018.

Benedicta O'Keeffe, "Ben," a solicitor, acts for Ray and Alison Kelly, owners of the deconsecrated church at Whitewater, formerly a sea-faring village that gradually disappeared after the 1985 IRA bombing of the Engish ship Sadie. In the process of checking the boundaries, she and surveyor Paul Doherty discover the a skeletonized man in the old crypt. He's thought to be Conor Devitt, who disappeared over six years before, on his wedding day,and believed dead because there'd been no contact with his family. When DNA tests discloses the man not Conor Devitt, it opens a convoluted caee full of hidden secrets and clandestine relationships.

The plot involves so many crimes and possible miscreants that it becomes implausible, covering as it does the unsolved bombing of the Sadie that caused the deaths of three Whitewater men, the disappearance of Devitt, a rash of burglaries, drug possession and possible dealing, stalking, and blackmail. After I've read the denouement twice, the logic of moving the body into the crypt eludes me. The depth of detail of daily life seems calculated to establish the community of Glendara, but it goes on much too long with events, people only tangential to the main story, and frequent hints of Ben's troubling past.

Ben has potential, but she's very much a work in progress. Her exact age is not given, but she's been in practice over ten years and still behaves more like a teenager than an experienced woman. Considerable guilt over the her murdered younger sister, to whom she introduced the killer, led to her retreat to Donegal from Dublin and a change of name. Much of her involvement is more curiosity than business. She pulls a major TSTL when, after she's solved the case and Molloy is not available, she does not leave the message at the station. Instead, she goes tearing off to Whitewater Church for the showdown.

While Donegal, Ireland, has the potential to be an enthralling setting, it receives relatively little attention. Language and voice are generic with little indication of the storytelling tradition common in the area. DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH has potential but it needs a tight revision. (C)


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EVENINGS WITH DARCY is Jane Grix's latest novella-length adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2019.

After Charles Bingley's departure from Netherfield and Caroline's letter to Jane and a month's denunciations of Elizabeth for refusing Mr. Collins, the older Bennet sisters make a prolonged visit to the Gardiners in London. Receiving no response to her note announcing her arrival in London, believing her letter went astray, Jane and Elizabeth make a cold and rushed call on the Bingley sisters. Fortunately, as they leave, Bingley and Darcy enter and so learn of their stay in Town. Then follows a period in which Darcy rectifies his bad advice to Bingley regarding Jane and reconciles his own feelings for Elizabeth with his duty and status.

Characters, especially the four lovers, are faithful to the originals, and their behavior is consistent with the Regency period. Angst is minimal, mostly confusion as Elizabeth's opinions change, with only token opposition from Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The Gardiners actively aupport Jane and Elizabeth socially, while the other Bennets remain offstage at Longbourn. It does bother me that there are no repercussions for Caroline's behavior toward Jane. Another problem is Darcy's having Georgiana write a letter to explain George Wickham to Elizabeth, rather than doing it himself in person. Is it his usual practice to hand off distasteful tasks for others to perform?

EVENINGS WITH DARCY is pleasant enough, well edited, but rather bland and generic. (B-)


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THE FLEUR DE SEL MURDERS is the latest to date in Jean-Luc Bannelec's series of police procedurals set in Brittany and featuring Commissaire Georges Dupin. Originally published in Europe in 2012, it was translated by Sorcha McDonagh in 2017, then published in digital format in 2018.

When his friend Lilou Breval, investigative reporter for the Ouest-France, calls Dupin with a tip involving the salt marshes of the Guérande and mysterious blue barrels, he goes to check it out. At the marsh, he's shot at repeatedly and suffers a bullet graze. There's no sign of barrels, the paludier to whom the salt marsh belongs denies all use of barrels, and Lilou has gone missing. Then her body is found the next day in the Gulf of Morbihan near the White Land and all her research for the past six months is gone. Major motives must be involved. Investigation reveals competition between the independent producers, those belonging to the Cooperative, and the major European producer of sea salt, Le Sel; ecology issues; preservation of age-cold techniques of harvesting salt; personal relationships; political ambitions. But how do these motives connect with blue barrels?

The plot in THE FLEUR DE SEL MURDERS unfolds slowly and logically. Dupin, Commissariat de Police Concarneau, is seconded to work with Commissaire Sylvanie Rose, Commissaire de Police Guérande, Départment Loire-Atlantique, thus offering a contrasting investigative technique. Foreshadowing of the motive is subtle, so it and the denouement are credible.

Dupin is an interesting protagonist. Transferred from Paris to Brittany, much characterization involves his adapting to Breton customs and attitudes. He carries believable emotional baggage without allowing it to dominate his life. Bannalec uses strictly limited third person point of view, so snippets of that humanize Dupin emerge naturally: he loves frogs, and his favorite birds are penguins. While well aware of the importance of forensics, his own method is more old-fashioned, a mixture of questioning, checking and rechecking the scene, brainstorming, following every lead wherever it goes.

My favorite element in the Brittany series is Bannalec's use of setting. Brittany is seldom written about, with customs and a people whose mindset differs greatly from that of other parts of France. References to history, legends and myths, customs, old sayings, food and drink--Bannalec uses them all to establish Brittany's unique ambiance and to reveal depth of character. "[Dupom] cut off a piece of the fig, which was ripe but not too soft, picked up a piece of baguette to slice off a corner of the terrine. It tasted exquisite, the hearty meatiness combined with the fruity sweetness. He took a drink; he probably ought to have ordered water too, he hadn't drunk much since yesterday, and unlike in Paris, water wasn't automatically served in Brittany. 'L'eau c'est pear les vaches.' water is for cows was the Breton view." (142)



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"A Third Proposal" is Mark Brownlow's short vignette based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

En route home from London, Mr. Bennet finds the road to Meryton blocked by snow and ice, so he must spend the night at the Swan in Shenley. With all bedroom taken, he sits through the night in the taproom, sharing a booth with Mr. Palmer of Cleveland (Sense and Sensibility). As they talk and empty the brandy bottles, they discuss the problems and disappointed hopes in their marriages. To Mr. Bennet's surprise on his arrival home, Elizabeth receives a letter from Darcy questioning the eventual happiness of their marriage, his doubts created by her father. What is going on?

There's really no suspense. That Darcy and Elizabeth will overcome the doubt and marry is not in doubt. The question is how will Mr. Bennet talk his way out of the situation he generated.

What bothers me is doubt that Bennet and Palmer, total strangers meeting by chance, would discuss intimate details in their marriages in a public room full of other strangers. I also doubt that her father would, under those conditions, delineate Elizabeth's character traits that will cause her unhappiness in marriage. Elizabeth is too quick in forgiving her father's careless talk.

There;s not much wrong with "A Third Proposal," but it offers little new. (B)


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"A Floury Apron" is Margaret Gale's short story variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2019.

Caught in the scandal of Lydia Bennet's elopement from Brighton with George Wickham, Elizabeth is blamed constantly by Mrs. Bennet for causing the elopement. She'd refused to marry Collins and, if she'd accepted as she ougt, Lydia would have been safe at home caught up in preparations for Elizabeth's wedding, not in Brighton to be seduced. Aware of her changed feelings for Darcy and the impossibility of Darcy's choosing to associate with scandal and Wickham, Elizabeth is pleased to spend time in Gracechurch Street. There she is embarrassed to answer the door to Darcy, she in work clothes and an apron floury from baking. She's surprised that he's been involved with the search for Lydia and Wickham from the beginning and that he's located them. Setting up Lydia's wedding and settling Elizabeth and Darcy's engagement make up the rest of the story.

"A Floury Apron" has little to do with the main story line. Elizabeth learned to bake from Mrs. Hitchins, the Longbourn cook who took Mrs. Bennet's ignored young daughter under her wing. Cookery is, however, the only deviation from the canon's events and characters. Again, Lydia shows no concern and suffers no consequences for her action.

"A Floury Apron" is a comfortable, quick read, but it adds little new to the original story. (B)


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INHERIT THE EARTH is the eleventh title in J. J. Salkeld's Lakeland police procedural series set in and around Kendal, in Cumbria. It was published in digital format in 2019.

Some week after she's last seen him, Celia Smith reports to the police that her lover, Sir Ian "Bunny" Braithewaite, is missing, along with some clothing, his father's Purdy shotgun, and £50,000 in cash. He'd sent her an e-mail that he was changing his life and would be gone indefinitely. Detective Chief Inspector Andy Hall begins a low-key check both because Bunny is a peer and because the shotgun worries him. Investigation reveals that Bunny has followed his father's life style of wild spending, feuding with the neighbors, and sleeping with their women. He has many detractors--many cuckolded husbands, bitter ex-wife Lady Ann who's dependent on his alimony, alcoholic current wife Lady Mary who has loves of her own, illegitimate half-brother Robert Crawford who runs the nearly bankrupt estate, and property developer Bill Unthank whose plans for developing new housing in Staveley Bunny fights in court. Bunny's certain to lose his case against Unthank, leaving him liable for court costs of over half a million pounds. Is that the reason for Bunny's disappearance, or does someone have a different agenda?

My favorite part of the Lakeland series is the cadre of believable officers who make up the Kendal CID. Salkeld wisely limits their number in each book, revealing new insights that keep each fresh. Who would have thought that hard man Sergeant Ian Mann tends the sweet peas planted by his recently-deceased father and shares them with the team? Individuals seem to have personal lives that extend beyond the bounds of the books. Bechause the stories are character-driven, it's good to read the titles in order.

Salkeld plays fair with foreshadowing and disclosing information as it's uncovered. Several red herrings keep the reader focused away from the killer and motive. Sense of place is well developed. Formatting does not indent new paragraphs, making reading difficult. (A-)


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INSPIRATION is another of Maria Grace's variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2019.

Change to the canon is minimal. Grace's Darcy is a talented painter, active since school days. Following his annual visit to Rosings at Easter some six months before, when Lady Catherine increased pressure for his immediate marriage to Anne, his creativity is blocked. His friend Charles Bingley is worried and convinces Darcy that a sojourn in Hertfordshire will inspire him. Darcy sees Elizabeth Bennet at the Meryton assembly and, in his mind, she becomes his Muse. His dependence on her for inspiration precipitates his changing attitudes and demeanor as the story line continues as Austen wrote.

Grace tells the story from Darcy's point of view, so the angst is his and, for most of the story, more concerned with his inability to paint without Elizabeth's inspiring him. It frequently seems that his arranging Lydia and Wickham's marriage is more to keep Elizabeth as the spur to his creativity than to comfort her.

Editing is good. Almost all conversations are cut-and-paste from Austen, in the same circumstances as her original. INSPIRATION is an enjoyable read, but it offer little new insight. (B)


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TRAPPED AT ROSINGS is Emily Russell's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2019. Editing is good. Much of the dialogue is cut and paste from the canon.

Determined for Darcy to marry her daughter, Lady Catherine de Bourgh hires a villain and designs a compromise to force Darcy, as a man of honor, to marry Anne forthwith. But it is Elizabeth Bennet, visiting Mrs. Collins at Hunsford, who's locked in the deserted cottage overnight with Darcy. Darcy knows he's in love with Elizabeth and had planned to propose that day, but Elizabeth believes his insult at Meryton and his aloof behavior indicate his profound distaste; she has no alternative to marrying Darcy, the only means to prevent scandal's ruining her sisters' chances for marriage. Courtship advances slowly as Elizabeth comes to recognize Darcy's character and feelings, George Wickham decides to cause trouble, and Caroline Bingley plots to separate Darcy and Elizabeth before the wedding.

Russell reinforces the main story line (Elizabeth and Darcy coming to terms with their forced marriage) with the story of Anne's escape from Rosings and her subsequent romance and with the repercussions of Lady Catherine's plot (it's so hard to find an honest thug). Anne's story deserves its own separate treatment. Russell's title is both ironic and literal. It's literal in that Darcy and Elizabeth are trapped into marriage while visiting Rosings. It's literal for Anne de Bourgh, confined in Kent in her mother's dictatorship; for Lady Catherine, left alone by all her family when Anne departs and refuses ever to return; even for the Collinses, obligated to Lady Catherine for their living. I love the irony of Lady Catherine's plot that defeats forever her own greatest desire and of George Wickham and Caroline Bingley's fates. Go, Karma, go!

Only one important character is added. Darcy and most of the remaining major characters are largely unchanged. Bingley is more diffident about reuniting with Jane Bennet, so thoroughly he had been convinced of Jane's indifference. Mr. Collins, on the other hand, shows unexpected courage and moral fiber when, disobeying Lady Catherine's direct order, he supports Darcy's obligation to marry Elizabeth.

Russell's Elizabeth is most changed. Darcy's not telling his history with George Wickham explains Elizabeth's slowness to recognize him as a blackguard, but Russell's Elizabeth is also more emotionally entangled with Wickham than the original. She regrets his engagement to Mary King and muses more than once "what if?" she'd had a fortune or been locked in with Wickham overnight. She's slow to recognize his attempts to manipulate her feelings. She's quick to assume the worst of Darcy and reluctant to change her mistaken ideas. Worse, she pulls a major TSTL when, to explain her furious letter about his interference with Bingley and Jane, Elizabeth goes dashing off to Kent, alone, on the post coach, dressed as a boy, thus putting herself into a dangerous situation with Lady Catherine's henchman. (A-)


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MR. BENNET TAKES CHARGE is Jann Rowland's short variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

Henry Bennet of Longbourn decides that he has been remiss in his parenting, especially of his youngest daughters, and resolves to improve their behavior. He allows Lydia to visit Brighton with the colonel's wife Mrs. Forster, while he puts in place an improvement plan to begin on her return home. Elizabeth suffers two disappointments--her father ignores her belief that Lydia is too ill-behaved to be trusted away from home, and business affairs cancel the Gardiners' Lake District summer holiday. When Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy return to Netherfield, Mr. Bennet surprises them both with his stringent questions of behavior and intentions. The same day, Kitty reveals Lydia's upcoming elopement with George Wickham. Mt. Bennet, along with Darcy to help search and Elizabeth to control Lydia, joined en route by Colonel Fitzwillim to utilize Army connection to deal with Wickham, travel all night, with confidences shared, ending with Darcy and Elizabeth committed to a new start. Catching the couple in Epsom, Mr. Bennet reveals previously concealed facets of his personality.

The major change in MR. BENNET TAKES CHARGE is Rowland's making Mr. Bennet dynamic and persevering. Henry Bennet fenced at University and served in the army so that, despite his seeming indolence, he's adept with both sword and pistol. He's definitely in charge of dealing with Wickham, and he perseveres in his plans for the younger girls.

Other characters are mostly faithful to te originals, and Rowland adds no important characters. Elizabeth is confused by Darcy's arrival in Hertfordshire, since she'd expected never to see him again after refusing his Hunsford proposal, but the angst is minimal. Mr. Bennet keeps Lydia's elopement secret from his wife, he knowing her indiscreet talk. It's not clear that she ever learns about her favorite's folly. It irks me that Darcy bribes Lydia with London society to ensure even token compliance with Mr. Bennet's plan. At least Elizabeth does smack her good once.

MR. BENNET TAKES CHARGE is well-written, offering a new perspective on Austen's passive father. (A-)


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THE DARK HEART: A TRUE STORY OF GREED, MURDER. AND AN UNLIKELY INVESTIGATOR is Joakim Palmkvist's account of the Swedish murder in 2012 of Göran Lundblad. Originally published in 2017, it was translated by Agnes Broomé in 2018 and published in digital format in 2018.

Lundblad, multimillionaire farmer and forestry owner, a reclusive, miserly, controlling man, was killed by his older daughter Sara and her lover Martin Törnblad. Lundblad disapproved of Martin, the son of a tenant farmer who, according to Lundblad, was only after her money. As common in villages all over the world, everyone knew that Sara was Lundblad's heir. Bribery and threats didn't bring Sara to give up Martin, so in months before his disappearance, Lundblad finagled Sara out of all the property in her name, persuaded an elderly aunt to disinherit Sara, and changed his own will to divide his estate between Sara and his younger daughter. Suspicion of foul flourished from the time he went missing, but without the corpus delicti investigation was cursory at best. Bits of information turned up to strengthen the suspicions, though the case stalled until Therese Tang, head of Kalmar's branch of Missing People Sweden became involved. She is credited with being the first private investigator to solve a murder in Sweden.

I try to be cautious in evaluating the writing style in a translated book because it's impossible to know the influence of the translator on the text. I find THE DARK HEART disorganized. It contains numerous flashbacks, references to other Swedish murders and missing persons unrelated to the Lundblat case, reconstructed conversations, and repetitions galore. Information on the Swedish legal system and police procedures exceeds the need to know. Shifts between locales and characters make reading choppy.

I have grave reservations about Therese Tang as she's portrayed in THE DARK HEART. As head of the local organization of volunteers trained to locate missing persons or their remains, she'd been involved in the first volunteer search for Lundblad, but when the case went dead, she remained obsessed with finding his body and reopening the investigation. Palmkvist presents Tang as a cross between Miss Marple and one of Charlie's Angels, using her seductive power to create a sense of intimacy that induces Martin to confess to his and Sara's murder of her father, including where they'd buried the body. Convinced as she is that he is a murderer, knowing that he is mentally unstable and under great stress, Tang's interactions with Martin, with multiple interviews, phone conversations, and finally meeting him alone for hours with no backup, are TSTL.

There are no notes to so specific information in the text, though the sources for conversations and excerpts from police records are often named. The bibliography is generic: "legal documentation, such as police logs" (only two specific records named), "articles, news reporting, and documentaries," "interviews with Therese Tang 2015-2017." Most frustrating of all, Palmkvist opens his afterword with "This book constitutes one of many possible versions of a long and complex history and a gruesome crime." (305) Why mention alternative theories if not discussing them? (By the way, Sara and Martin were convicted and each sentenced to sixteen years in prison, parole possible in 2026.)

THE DARK HEART isn't worth the time. (F)


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THE BENEFITS OF EXTENSIVE READING is the latest to date of Lory Lilian's variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2019.

The important change from Austen's original is setting up an accidental compromise of Elizabeth Bennet while she's at Netherfield nursing Jane. After a drunken Hurst falls into the door and breaks its latch so that it cannot be opened from the inside, Darcy remains the library and falls asleep; Elizabeth, unable to sleep, goes to the library to select a book and, nearly falling over a log holding the door open, removes the block and effectively locks them in. Hoping to avoid a marriage based on a compromise, Darcy and Elizabeth talk while waiting to be liberated. Darcy already knows that he loves her and their incarceration only strengthens his feelings, while Elizabeth's perceptions on Darcy. Bingley and Darcy's valet rescue them and promise to keep the situation secret, but Bingley and Hurst together make comments that arouse Caroline and Louisa's suspicions. Bingley's exuberance lets it slio to Mrs. Bennet The remainder of the story covers Darcy and Elizabeth's angst over their misunderstanding of the other's feelings and the attempts to prevent a forced marriage.

THE BENEFITS OF EXTENSIVE READING is an enjoyable read, well edited. Characters except one are faithful to the originals. Mr. Bennet's role in bringing Darcy and Elizabeth together is larger, though his nature is unchanged. Charles Bingley, however, is a heavy drinker, one who can't control his tongue; to celebrate Jane's acceptance of his proposal, he returns to Netherfield, where he gets drunk before breakfast and confirms his family's suspicions about the compromise. I don't like this Bingley, (B+)


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MATCHMAKING AT PEMBERLY is Carrie Mollenkopf's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in digital format.

MATCHMAKING AT PEMBERLEY opens in September 1820. Darcy and Elizabeth have been married five years and have two children; Bingley and Jane, after three miscarriages, are excited because Jane is near term with mother and baby physically healthy. The trouble is Caroline Bingley, who lives with the Bingleys at Neherfield, where she reigns supreme. After Jane prepared the nursery, Caroline redecoratea it; she's even chosen the baby's name. Worried about the effect of stress on Jane, Elizabeth decides to invite Caroline for a long visit at Pemberley, to get her away from Netherfield until after Jane's delivery. To insure she won't return to bedevil Jane, Elizabeto decides to find Caroline a husband and, since this will mean many eligible males at Pemberley, arouse interest in marriage in Georgiana, now almost 21 years old. Thus ensues reunions, entertainments, misunderstandings, malice, and unexpected romances.

Mollenkopf produces interesting changes to the story line. As an Amazon reviewer commented, MATCHMAKING AT PEMBERLEY really belongs to Caroline Bingley; so many additions weaken its focus. Caroline Bingley is more malevolent than in Austen, determined to cause trouble between the Darcys, En route to them, she stops to buy a contraceptive device (apparently a diaphragm which, when she found it uncomfortable, she replaced with a package of "French letters"--condoms) to use at Pemberley, preferably with Darcy, or with any other attractive male(s). She has no intention to marry. She does her best to ruin Georgiana's reputation, I resent the potentially happy ending Mollenkopf gives her. The romance between Georgiana and Robbie Brackleburn and between Lady Agnes Brackleburn are interconnected and deserve separate treatment. Adding Georgiana in a convent and a pair of highwaymen is way too much.

MATCHMAKING AT PEMBERLEY needs revision. Spell Check cannot replace careful proofreading. Problems with plurals and possessives of names and use of commas with nouns of direct distract. More important are contradictory details. How many miscarriages has Jane suffered--three, two, or only one before the birth of baby Theodore? Is Lady Agnes older or younger than her brother Robbie? What is the timing of events in Georgiana's almost elopement with George Wickham, and how does it tie in with the breakup of Lady Agnes's courtship with curate Gideon Lawlor of Lambton, who refused to marry thirteen-year-old Georgiana. References to Lady Agnes say she and Lawlor had been separated for twelve years and "over a decade," with her not knowing for an extended period where he'd gone. The elopement was seven years before 1820, with Darcy helping Lawlor in gratitude for his warning of Wickham's plot. The inconsistencies are as annoying as a hangnail. (B-)


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FOUND IN THE SNOW is Jaeza Rayleigh's variant of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Published in digital format in 2019, it may more accurately be described as a story using Austen's characters.

There's a fine line between not changing an Austen's story line sufficiently to justify the rewriting and changing it so much as to become something new. Rayleigh is well into the second category, with so many new episodes added that the plot devolves into a series of anticlimaxes. Detailing the courtships/marriages of each of the Bennet sisters, with an epilogue that covers all their children, harms focus. Modern attitudes bring FOUND IN THE SNOW closer to the soap opera To Have and Have Not than to original Austen.

Changes open when Elizabeth Bennet, visiting Aunt Gardiner's mother, Lady Helena Mosse, at Mossyrock, some dozen miles from Lambton, finds a young girl in the snow. The unidentified girl, thrown from her horse, then running until she collapsed, tells Elizabeth, "don't let him get me," then lapses into unconsciousness; she's treated for pneumonia for a week while Lady Helena makes discreet inquiries to identify her. In the meantime, Georgiana Darcy has gone missing from Pemberley, and Darcy searches frantically. When he learns of the unknown girl at Mossyrock, his demands to see her cause a profound negative reaction from Elizabeth since she does not know Darcy, who could be the "he" the girl fears. Their hostilities are resolved, but troubles continue, piled up and running over with relatives behaving badly, mental illness, vandalism, arson, kidnapping, elopements attempted and one completed, suicide, and death by overdose.

Rayleigh adds many new characters, most notably Lady Helena, Darcy's cousin Timothy Darcy, and Colonel Bart Corbin. Most of the characters from Austen are reasonably faithful to the originals, just more modern. I like that Collins is good-hearted and wise enough to value Mary, and I enjoyed Jane and Mary finally calling out their mother on her ill-mannered behavior toward Elizabeth and Lady Helena; I'm irritated that again Lydia receives leniency when she merits stringent correction for her vicious behavior. So many characters and cuts between their points of view make for choppy reading.

Repetitions of virtually identical social scenes and exchanges between characters (Darcy's "stone mask" and Elizabeth's correcting him) became tedious and make FOUND IN THE SNOW read long, as does giving the full text of many of the letters mentioned. Usage problems are comma use with nouns of direct address and confusion of "discretely-discreetly." FOUND IN THE SNOW is enjoyable, if you don't expect much of Austen's plot. (B+)