These books are a huge pleasure of mine - I won't say guilty pleasure, because I refuse to be guilty about anything I read. Nonetheless, they are like a bit of cotton candy, tasty but without much substance. This is the 18th in the series of books centered around Joe Pickett, erstwhile Wyoming Game Warden and man who has destroyed more state cars than anyone in fiction or reality.
Box has a formula for the Pickett stories - Joe is in the doghouse with his agency brass and is dispatched by the Governor to handle some problem that really has nothing to do with being a game warden, but which needs a man of discretion and integrity to deal with it. Shit goes badly wrong. Joe blows up a house or destroys a truck, or both, some bad guy or another ends up dead, and a conspiracy at the highest levels of business or government is uncovered, Joe is again persona non grata and he fears that his family will starve. His mother in law, a truly awful person, tries to get his wife to leave him.
Before the Trump administration, these huge conspiracies felt a whole lot more fictional. But, I digress.
Anyway, this one follows the formula. There's a new governor, as Governor Rulon has lost the election to a fancy pants ivy league rich guy Republican who looks the part of Governor, but has the grasping heart of any one of the Trumps, which is to say, he likes money and doesn't much care where it comes from. There's also a missing British woman who was vacationing at the very exclusive, very expensive, very five-star vacation ranch, a game warden who has just up and disappeared, and a puzzling situation with Nate Romanowski, master falconer. Joe is instructed to find out what happened to Kate, the missing woman, without making too many waves.
Joe makes waves. It ends predictably, which is to say badly.
I don't think that it would really be possible to pick this series up on book 18 and make a lot of sense out of the various characters and plot lines without the backstory of the preceding 17 installments. Nonetheless, it's a solid entry into the series, and an afternoon with Joe Pickett is always good fun.
I've read a lot of these, but not all of these. It looks like a pretty good list!
Taking a brief break from vintage fiction to read something brand new! This is one of the few series that I stay current on - along with Ruth Galloway, Inspector Gamache & to a slightly lesser degree (because I'm stuck on book 14 and I can't quite get myself past it) Harry Bosch.
Not much of a haul this week:
1. Minute for Murder by Nicholas Blake was on sale for $2.99, so I bought it. 2. The Disappeared by C.J. Box is the 18th installment in the long-running Joe Pickett series, which is a favorite in my family - my mom, dad and husband all read these as well as myself. I've not gotten to it yet, but will soon, no doubt. 3. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James: St. James writes modern gothic style romances, similar to Susanna Kearsley. I generally really like them, and the cover on this one is gorgeous! 4. The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards: I already read this one, and really liked it.
I had a pretty good reading week this week. I finished up The Hog's Back Murder by Freeman Wills Croft, and made significant progress on the Detection Club bingo, finishing The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, Latter End by Patricia Wentworth, The Secret Adversary and The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie, and The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr. I also read The India Fan by Victoria Holt, which was mediocre, and A Brush With Shadows by Anna Lee Huber, which is the 6th book in the Lady Darby series.
That's 8 books. I guess I'd probably call that a really good reading week!
I'm also still working my way through A World Come Undone - I've passed the 50% mark, and expect to finish it sometime in April. It's a good book, but is not an easy read.
Plans for next week:
I think that I will focus a bit on gothic romance next week, since I've been devouring classic crime at such a ridiculous pace. I'm planning on The Broken Girls for sure, as well as a couple of backlist titles that I've had sitting on my tbr for a while: This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart, and The Legend of the Seventh Virgin by Victoria Holt. I'll probably also read The Disappeared by C.J. Box, and I'll work on the WWI history - I'd like to get to 75% before the end of March, although that seems unlikely at this point!
A special thank you to Tigus who steered me towards this particular Miss Silver mystery, as it is by far the best of the three that I've read so far.
The set up for Latter End has been used dozens of times before - Lord of the Manor (Jimmy Latter) marries Lois, a jumped up younger woman slash self-centered floozy who decides to be the new broom that sweeps out the old. She proceeds to throw out the old retainers and impoverished relatives, then gets into a blazing row with the husband after he finds her trying to rekindle an old flame with his cousin, Antony, who is having none of it, realizing that he made a narrow escape indeed, and ends up dead of poison in her Turkish coffee. The suspect list is loooooong, indeed, because everyone had cause to hate Lois. Including Jimmy, he's just too obtuse and taken with her fragile form to figure it out. She was truly awful.
Not Mrs. Boynton from Appointment With Death awful. More like "I'm so pretty and young and everyone should do exactly what I demand otherwise I will get bored and mope around and behave generally like a spoiled child. Oh, and I'm the center of the universe, so no one else's needs are important at all."
Frank Abbott, one of Miss Silver's old pupils who is now the younger half of a Scotland Yard detective team shows up with DI Lamb to investigate the crime. Jimmy, distraught, hires Miss Silver to come to the country house and dig around because he is convinced that the lovely Lois committed suicide because she was upset about the fact that he'd been giving her the silent treatment for two days after he found her practically mauling cousin Antony in her negligee. Did I mention that Jimmy is obtuse? Jimmy is obtuse.
Miss Silver's contribution to the mystery is very Marple-esque - she uses her knowledge of human nature and her sharp eyes to figure out when the various and sundry occupants aren't telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and then worms it out of them in the nicest way possible. I am pretty sure at this point that I like Miss Silver more than I like Miss Marple, although continued investigation is required to confirm.
I came up with a solution at 70%, which turned out to be right on. It was a pleasing solution because this is one of those mysteries where the victim is extremely hateable, and everyone else actually seems pretty nice, if a bit dramatic at times.
The Miss Silver mysteries do not seem to need to be read in order, so I'd recommend this one over either of the other two I read.
I'm sorry, but did Mr. Herscheimmer just seriously suggest re-enacting the sinking of The Lusitania in an effort to cure someone of amnesia?
So, first of all, the edition that is attached to this post is not the edition I am reading. Mine was a freebie that I picked up on amazon, which is published by some unknown random ebook publisher. The oddest thing about it is that it bills itself as "illustrated," but the illustrations have NO RELATIONSHIP WHATSOEVER to the text. One of them is a picture of a snowy river. There is no snowy river in this book. It's freaking bizarre. Moving on, though - this is basically The Seven Dials Mystery, with the Bill Eversleigh character represented by Tommy and Bundle Brent represented by Tuppence, right down to Tommy hiding out while the members of the international crime syndicate, who are only identified by numbers (instead of times), meet in secret. It is an entertaining romp, but it is thin indeed on substance and plot.
"'Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused.' How would that strike you if you read it?"
I think that Tommy & Tuppence are the final recurring Christie characters that I've never read. I'm skeptical of this one, but it looks like a bit of a romp, and might be fun.
I read this for the free square in Detection Club bingo.
This makes a great companion to Martin Edwards other "encyclopedia" style book about classic crime, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 books. Between the two of them, they are roughly 900 pages of information about classic crime writers and their books.
tGAoM takes a deep dive in to the three primary members of The Detection Club - Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and Anthony Berkeley Cox. We also get information about many of the additional members, both early and late, including Christopher Bush, E.L. Punshon, Christianna Brand, E.C. Lorac, Nicholas Blake and John Dickson Carr, among many, many others.
The approach is somewhat scattershot - definitely not chronological - and Edwards takes anecdotes and weaves them into concepts and then name checks and book checks his way through the section. This doesn't always work perfectly, but overall, he does an unbelievably skilled job of keeping the book moving forward at a good clip. I never got either bored or bogged down.
Martin Edwards has been almost single-handedly responsible for igniting my interest in classic crime fiction. Both tGAoM and TSoCCi100B, along with his wonderful anthologies published as part of the British Library Crime Classics series, have appeared at precisely the right moment that publishers like the British Library, Mysterious Press, and Harper Collins have begun reissuing books that are long out of print - many of them for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. This serendipitous fact, coupled with the Poirot project from a few years ago which rekindled my love of Agatha Christie (even her bad books are better than much of the tripe that is published today. Except for Passenger to Frankfurt. That book is an abomination), means that I've been obsessively seeking out and finding new authors to read, many of whom I had never heard of until I read Edwards two non-fiction additions to classic crime canon.
I'm not sure that this book will have wide appeal. I think it is more likely that it will have strong appeal to a narrow audience. As part of that narrow audience, I found it so much fun - like sitting down with a friend for a good gossip about some people whom we admire but who are altogether human, flawed, interesting, strange and occasionally brilliant.
Reading Victoria Holt's India Fan brought to my mind M.M. Kaye, who is best known for her massive, sweeping epic romance of India during the twilight of the British Raj, The Far Pavilions. Along with that book, she wrote two additional pieces of rather massive historical romance – The Shadow of the Moon and Trade Winds. In addition to those three books, she wrote a brief, entertaining series of mysteries set in exotic locations.
While this is now nominally marketed as a series (Death In . . . ), each of the books is 100% stand-alone, with different characters entirely. There is a slight overlap between Death In Zanzibar and Trade Winds, which is really only interesting for fans of M.M. Kaye.
I remember reading at least Death in Zanzibar and Death in Kenya as a teenager. I first read The Far Pavilions, which was one of my favorite books for many years, probably very soon after it was published in 1978, when I was 12. I would estimate that I took off of my mother’s bookshelf at around the age of 16, because I read a lot of historical romance of varying quality during those years, and had a definite affinity for epic historicals. After reading the three historical romances, I definitely picked up a few of Kaye’s mysteries. The covers would have been very different from Minotaur’s bright colored, almost Picasso-esque covers – something more like this:
Like Georgette Heyer, who also wrote at least a few mysteries, Kaye seems to be primarily a writer of romance, so all of her mysteries have a strong romantic sub-plot. In each, the main character is a young, unmarried, attractive woman who finds herself embroiled in a murder case in some capacity. These pairings tend to be quite regressive, and often involve the sort of interfering, (some might say controlling) overly-protective male love interest that is seen in other romance novels of the time period (Death in Kenya, the first of the mysteries, was published in 1953, while Death in the Andamans, the last of them, was published in 1960). This can be jarring to readers who’ve grown up with fiction (and reality) where the relationships are far more egalitarian.
Kaye had a fascinating life – she was born in Simla, in British India prior to Indian independence – her father was a British officer in the Indian Army. She married an officer in the British army as well, and spent her marriage in 27 different postings over 19 years, many of which she used as settings for her novels. She wrote a multi-part autobiography, which given how fascinating and insightful her fiction is, appears to be well worth checking out.
Since 2017, I’ve reread all of Kaye’s crime fiction and enjoyed them all with varying levels of enthusiasm. Over time, I’m sure that I will get reviews posted for all of them – they are well worth reading for people who enjoy romantic mysteries set in exotic, faraway places.
So, I didn't actually hate it.
Let me begin with a gif, though.
That's Drusilla, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And, sadly, that is what I pictured every single time I read the name of the main character. It was . . . distracting.
Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I shall talk about the book.
When I read a gothic romance, I expect two things. Gothic. Romance. This was a very low key romance - so low key, in fact, that I do not believe that the two romantic leads actually ever touched each other until the hero proclaimed his undying love for the heroine. There was basically no chemistry between them at all.
What does "gothic" really mean? To me, it absolutely requires a certain aesthetic that invokes gloom, dread and a sense of supernatural possibility and danger. I suppose that the titular India fan was supposed to offer that "gothic" feeling, but it really didn't work because sensible Drusilla just didn't buy it and so the reader didn't buy it, either. The other dangerous elements - specifically, Drusilla becoming embroiled in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1858, wasn't even remotely gothic.
As a piece of historical fiction, it rather reminded me of The Shadow of the Moon, by M. M. Kaye, which I quite enjoyed. Unfortunately, Holt simply does not write at the level of M. M. Kaye. I didn't find it to be awful, but there was nothing special about it.
I'm at Part 5 of this fascinating book. I totally understand why this won the Edgar award, because it is such a fast and fun read, that delves into the lives/work of various Golden Age authors that goes much beyond the usual suspects of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. In addition, Martin Edwards has spent some time profiling the various true crimes that had an influence over these writers.
Even though it is quite long, it reads really fast and is thoroughly entertaining.
The backstory of this book felt like it took fully half of the book to develop. I've just now gotten to the point where the main character, Drusilla, has inherited the titular India Fan. There is very little gothic going on at this point. I don't dislike it, necessarily, but when I read a Holt gothic, I'm looking for some sense of suspense or brooding mystery, which is not the atmosphere so far.
Having read a number of Holt books over the last couple of years, I feel like she is just retelling Jane Eyre over and over with varying levels of success, by plucking elements out of Bronte's classic and plugging them into her current writing book. This isn't a criticism so much as it an observation, since this particular device worked really well for her, and when it is done with panache and delicacy it can be very effective. Unfortunately, in this one, her main Eyreian (yes, I just made up that word) device - the mysterious woman in the attic - is pretty clunky and doesn't generate the suspense that it should have in order to work.
Anyway, now that we've - hopefully - gotten to the point, I shall read on.
Edited: A Note On Points
For team players:
Upon further reflection, I've decided that it would be a handicap to not allow each player to collect the available ten points for a correct guess, since I'm dividing your points totals by three. So, for the two teams, each member can claim the ten points for each crime element by collecting the card.
For all players:
If you have collected all of the cards for your own game and want to continue to add points to your total, you can either collect 5 points for "unused" cards by reading them, or you can invade one of the other games and claim 10 points from their crimes by reading and collecting their cards. This would allow you to duplicate cards you've already collected by reading another book that qualifies for the specific card.
If you've read a book since the beginning of the game that you've not already used to play a card, this is your chance to up your points total!
Race to the finish line!
You might remember that Obsidian read this one a few months ago and found it to be a total shit show. I'm ready to find out if I agree!