The Filigree Ball

The Filigree BallThe Filigree Ball
by Anna Katherine Green
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1903
Pages: 418
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

 

I just finished this book and I have to forgo sleep to get this review down so I don’t forget any details overnight.

5 star read.  My first this year, I think.  Absolutely amazing story from start to finish, but oh man!  The finish!

I’ve been enjoying Anna Katherine Green’s books since first discovering her The Mayor’s Wife; I was entranced by how such an old story could rivet me, the reader, with what would have had to have been the birth of many tropes we get jaded about it today’s mysteries.

I admit to buying this one with some hesitancy though.   I assumed, by the title, that the mystery would involve a grand ball, someone being killed during a waltz, or over dinner, or perhaps just after an illicit assignation in the garden behind the ballroom.

HA!  I could not have been more wrong!  From start to finish, I had a creepy house with a history of death in the library, always by the same mysterious means; a house considered haunted by its history if not its actual ghosts.  Dark, abandoned mid-wedding, when the last body was found, right down to leaving the food on the tables and the cake on the floor where it was dropped during the stampede to escape the house’s curse.  It’s all very gothic.

Then there’s the bride, dead by seemingly her own hand, just a fortnight after her marriage, but surrounded by inconsistencies that make murder a possibility. Her heartbroken husband and her distraught sister, both of whom have shaky alibis and strange reactions to the events as they unfold, making them look more suspicious than bereaved.

Then there’s the narrator, who at times I swear foreshadows the Noir genre, with his quiet investigations on the side, to try to prove his theory that more was going on than met the eye.  His dedication to doing so to save the woman, who is, throughout the book, put upon a pedestal of all that is perfect in woman: beautiful, proud, self-sacrificing, suffering with utmost dignity.   Alas, we were missing just a bottle of whiskey and possibly the use of “Dame” in the narrative and we could have credited AKG with the first noir mystery.

The puzzle pieces come together, disjointedly, as our nameless narrator plod through, putting clues together, ferreting out further information and even chasing one witness to Tampa, Florida.

And the ending, omg the ending was so good.  So well crafted, and such a sucker punch.

The books perfection might have been heightened, in my opinion, by the exclusion of the final chapter, chapter 27.  It’s truly extraneous to the book in all ways except for those readers who want their loose ends tied up in a HEA bow.  I did not mind it, I would not have missed its absence either.

Truly, one of the best mysteries I’ve read in ages, vintage or otherwise.  I’d happily recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good vintage mystery (with the caveat to expect a few offhand and cheerful references to the casual racism that was part of the times in which this book was written.)

 

I read this because I’ve been meaning to for the last few weeks anyway, but also because the new Halloween Bingo 2021 square Vintage Mysteries is one of the re-vamped squares that has lifted its restrictions on what constitutes a qualifying mystery.  As AKG predates the Golden Age, it wouldn’t have necessarily qualified before.  I’ll be using it for Vintage Mysteries but if anyone else is interested, it would also qualify for Gothic, and I think, given the questions concerning all the murders that take place in the book, it would also work for Locked Room

Murder Most Fair (Verity Kent, #5)

Murder Most FairMurder Most Fair
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781496728494
Series: Verity Kent #5
Publication Date: August 31, 2021
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

 

I think this book ended up with a 4 star rating because I liked the ending.  Looking back as I write this there were several things that probably put this more at 3.5 stars.

There were some editing issues; I’m pretty sure the German Aunt central to this plot started out being on Verity’s mother’s side (references to her mother’s German family) and then suddenly, she’s Verity’s father’s Aunt.

But mostly the story was just so melancholy.  It fits with the time period – post WWI – and all the books have been tinged with an appropriate air of pain, confusion and recovery, but Huber just piled on in this book.  We have the veterans trying to adjust to life after the trenches, we have Lord Ryder wallowing, passed-out drunk in the uncertainty that his father might not have been a loyal peer of the realm before his death, we have the culmination of a 5 year breach between Verity and her family, and Verity’s inability to confront her grief over the loss of one of her brothers during the war.  It’s all very heavy.

Buried underneath all this depressiveness is, actually, a really good mystery, albeit a very slow moving one under the weight of all the above, about the murder of her German Aunt’s personal maid, during a holiday gathering at the family estate in the Yorkshire Dales.  Huber touches on the bigotry in the aftermath of war, and the inability for some to differentiate between a person and a government.  It was a well-crafted plot, too, in that I should have seen the killer before I did, but missed it.

So, really probably a 3.5 star read, but laziness will keep it at 4.  A good story bogged down by what would be normally be compelling side lines on their own, but taken together felt altogether too depressing for a cozy mystery.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it fits the Country House Mystery square, as it’s set at the family estate in the Yorkshire Dales.

Halloween Bingo Update, September 15

Since my last update, I’ve read:
Donna Andrews’ Murder Most Fowl for Gallows Humor;
Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews for my Cryptozoologist square;
Kevin Hearne’s newest, Paper & Blood; it takes place in the Dandenong Ranges here outside Melbourne (AU), and it definitely fits In the Dark, Dark Wood;
Carolyn Haines’ Independent Bones, which I’m using for the Dem Bones square.

Squares on my card that have been called:  Black Cat, Tropical Terror and Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses

Accumulative reading table with links to reviews below the card.

The spreadsheet:

Bingo Square Date Called Book Title Date Read
Row #1
X Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses Sep. 7 Naked Brunch Aug. 30
Stone Cold Horror/Creepy Carnival Wild Ride Sep. 1
Vintage Mystery
Dem Bones Independent Bones Sep. 14
Read by Candlelight/Flashlight
Row #2
Murder Most Foul
Lethal Games No Nest for the Wicket Sep. 1
Spellbound The Once and Future Witches Aug. 31
X Black Cat Sep. 15 Thornyhold Sep. 13
Relics and Curiosities On the Edge Sep. 8
Row #3
Shifters Naked Brunch Aug. 30
Terror in a Small Town Agnes and the Hitman Sep. 3
X FREE SPACE Like a Charm Sep. 7
Psych / Highway to Hell Archive of the Forgotten Sep. 3
Truly Terrifying The Cannonball Tree Mystery Sep. 5
Row #4
Noir
Genre: Mystery The Alchemist’s Illusion Sep. 2
Country House Mystery
X Tropical Terror Sep. 4 The Mimosa Tree Mystery Sep. 4
Locked Room Mystery
Row #5
Splatter Carpe Jugulum Sep. 9
Cryptozoologist Bayou Moon Sep. 11
Plague and Disease Scourged Sep. 3
In the Dark, Dark Woods Paper & Blood Sep. 12
Gallows Humor Murder Most Fowl Sep. 10
  Wild Card Spell
  Amplification Spell
  Bingo Flip Spell
  Cell Conversion Spell
  Transfiguration Spell
  Double Trouble Spell

Independent Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #23)

Independent BonesIndependent Bones
by Carolyn Haines
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250257871
Series: Sarah Booth Delaney #23
Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Pages: 357
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

Whew – I had concerns after the last book, Garland of Bones, was such a poor entry to what is normally a reliable series.

This one starts right off with a bang – a rather graphic display of domestic violence at the grand opening of Zinnia’s new public park, during a speech by a professor passionate about women’s rights.  The next day, the abuser is found dead, and the police find two other murders with the exact same MO in two other cities, and the professor is a suspect in all of them.

The fight-the-patriarchy rhetoric was strong, and at times, way too thickly laid on.  Given Sarah Booth and Tinkie’s apathy for their client, the professor, I think it was done on purpose with the idea of illustrating that too much of anything – good or bad – can have disastrous consequences.  This made the rhetoric, which was mostly in the first half of the book, at least useful to the plot.  It still detracted from my enjoyment overall though.

What I did appreciate an awful lot, along with the faster pace and the lighter tone, was that the author also took the time to point out that the characters series readers know and love already have quietly, and in their own unique way, ‘fought the patriarchy’ and carved out their own independence and power.  Balance.

Sarah’s resident haint, Jitty, also played a far less annoying part that usual; Sarah Booth has finally, after 22 books, stopped being taken in like an idiot, by her frequent appearances as historical figures.  This time around, the figures she appears as are all powerful women throughout American history, who fought the constraints of their times to achieve agency over their own lives.  And all of them outlaws.  One of the messages being, that before our current generations, the only way women had their own agency was to be outlaws, in one way or another.  These interludes were interesting and I found myself far less impatient with them than I’ve been in the past.  They felt less silly and more relevant.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that for the last few years the writing has been on the wall for American women, as the feeble, power-hungry men we helped elect have been systematically making noise about taking away a woman’s agency, but the timing of this plot feels especially prescient, as the publication of this book came almost at the exact same time as events in Texas unfolded.  Because behind the scenes of this story is a new, secret, well-funded, political movement unfolding across the US, with the goal of unwinding the rights of women back to pre 1900’s, where women couldn’t work any meaningful jobs, or have control of their finances, never mind their bodies, and their husbands were legally free to ‘correct’ their behaviour as they saw fit.  That bit of the story doesn’t end with a tied-up bow and a justice-wins-the-day at the end, which is fitting.  The pendulum of humanity swings wide, but slow.

 

I read this book for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Dem Bones square.  Every book in the series has “Bones” in the title, and a skeleton, or part of one, on the cover.

Thornyhold re-read

ThornyholdThornyhold
by Mary Stewart
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781444715064
Publication Date: May 26, 2011
Pages: 220
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Books

 

I originally read this back in 2016, and my review from back then pretty much stands up after the second read with one small caveat.  I said, in essence, that while a very enjoyable and atmospheric read, nothing really happened, that it lacked any discernible plot.

That’s not true; there is a plot, but it’s so … mild? half-hearted? And there is a climatic showdown, but until the very last bit I still couldn’t discern whether or not Agnes was trying to be friendly, or not.

The instant love is still there and geez, Gilly goes from meeting the guy once to planning her life based on being married with children.  To him.  She tries to remind herself this is silly and presumptuous, but really, it’s just for form.

Still it’s a very readable book somehow.  It sucks you in and draws you into this gently told tale and makes you (me) wish to move to a cottage and be an herbalist.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 for the Black Cat square.  Gilly has a black cat that could be called her familiar with very little effort, and he plays a part as protector and alarm bearer throughout the story.

Paper & Blood (Ink & Sigil, #2)

Paper & BloodPaper & Blood
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780356515243
Series: Ink & Sigil #2
Publication Date: August 12, 2021
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit

 

Well, this was fun.  The follow up to the first book, Ink & Sigil, takes place in Melbourne, Australia, my current residence of record.  Specifically, in the Dandenong Ranges, one of my favorite places here, as it’s primarily rain forest.

This is not a mystery in any sense, but more a quest.  Al and Buck arrive in Melbourne to assist the apprentice sigil agent there with finding her master, who felt a disturbance in the wards, went to investigate, and never returned.  On their way to her last known location, they pick up a hitchhiker, Al’s receptionist, who should be in Scotland but isn’t, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite, and meet up with Connor, a/k/a Atticus, the Iron Druid.  Once they get to the trail, they pick up a few more adventurers, some old friends and some new.

This is the rag-tag band that goes out to save the missing sigil agents, if they can be saved, and battle the ever stranger beasts, unimagined chimeras, that spring up in their path.  The only unanswered questions are how the entity arrived and why, but those are answered 2/3rds of the way through rather matter-of-factly, so there’s really no buildup of suspense – just a few minor skirmishes, a perilous passage, and finally the epic battle royale and showdown with those responsible.

Quests have never been my jam, so there was an element of unmet expectation for me.  By dint of my reading tastes, I unconsciously kept waiting for a climax or big reveal.  But other than that, which the setting more than made up for, I enjoyed the story.  The characters felt less over-the-top for me this time around and the humor slightly less adolescent-male, though the hobgoblin, Buck, made up for the quantity with some stunning quality here and there.  I could wish that were toned down a bit more.

I happened to read the Acknowledgments that are at the end, first, and noted that Hearne had every intention of visiting Australia to do the research for this book until the Pandemic we all know and love (to hate) reared its ugly head.  He was forced to get the details second hand and I have to say, having been to all the places he’s mentioned, he and his sources, did a bang up job of getting it right.  The only two tiny details I caught, and only because they vexed me when I arrived here 14 years ago, was in the scene at the Healesville Hotel.  The first is that, unless things have changed, there is no table service at the bar.  The vast majority of casual dining/drinking establishments here don’t have table service.  You order at the counter and then pay at the counter before you leave.  The second is that Ya-ping ordered an iced tea.  I’d kill to be able to order iced tea here – the flavoured stuff is becoming popular here now in a niche way, but they still think iced black tea is a sacrilege.  Both of these things are entirely inconsequential, and I mention them only for the opportunity to vent about them.

I suspect I’m not strictly the target demographic for this series, but I enjoy it anyway and I’m looking forward to the third book, where, hopefully, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite will once again play a role.  I like her.

I read this for Halloween Bingo and it is the perfect book for In the Dark, Dark Woods as you can see in the above pictures I took in the Dandenong Ranges. It would also work for Cryptozoologist, as the story is littered with chimeras that include a dragon-turtle-spider and a cassowary-cobra to name but two.

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)

Bayou MoonBayou Moon
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441019458
Series: Novel of the Edge #2
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Pages: 480
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

I’d been told ages ago that The Edge series got better as it went along.  And this second entry was certainly different from the first.

We start off with just one of the characters that played a part in On the Edge, the werewolf, William.  He’s approached by the Weird’s version of the CIA to retrieve something from another clan in another part of the Edge, in the Louisiana territory, where shifters are killed on principle.

Cerise’s family is old and used to part of the aristocracy of the Weird, but was banished generations ago.  They live in a constant state of feud with another old family, and her parents have been kidnapped in the feud’s latest volley.  But there’s another hand running this latest skirmish and it’s after the knowledge Cerise’s grandparents took with them to their graves.  Or maybe not.

This book has a much more sci-fi feel than any of Andrews’ other books save for the Innkeeper series, which came along later.  It’s not science fiction in the strict sense, because what’s done by the antagonist of the story is done entirely with magic, but the scientific processes are applied to these magical ‘experiments’.  The results are cryptozoological creatures that are a horrifying mix of plant, animal and human.  I’m not, generally, a fan of this kind of thing, and it was the part of the book I liked the least.

The characters overcame this though.  There was just something about Cerise’s huge family that was endearing; all of them vastly different from each other and as a whole a lot of fun to read about.

The final battle was … unsatisfactory.  The thing they overlooked seemed too big a thing to overlook, especially for William who fought this antagonist twice before. And the ending was too fairy tale for my tastes, coming within sight of being twee.

It’s sort of a weird book for me, because I was enjoying it as I read it, but after finishing remembered as many of the bits that I didn’t like as I did the bits I did.  But overall, a good read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it definitely fits the Cryptozoology square, with its characters that are human/plant/animal hybrids.  It would also work for Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, as well as Terror in a Dark Town, and Shifter.

Murder Most Fowl (Meg Langslow, #29)

Murder Most FowlMurder Most Fowl
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250760166
Series: Meg Langslow #29
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

It had to happen at some point, right?  And 3.5 is not a bad rating, and it’s not that the book isn’t up to snuff.  It’s more that the setting has appeared in previous books in one incarnation or another (historical re-enactments), and at some point it starts to feel re-cycled.

The story was also lighter on the humor than previous books and a couple of the more eccentric family members were absent.

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the book – I definitely did – but compared to other books in the series it lacked that certain … something.  It’s still written better than your average cozy mystery though.

 

This book is a shoe-in for my 2021 Halloween Bingo Card’s Gallows Humor, or Murder Most Foul squares, but I’m holding off assigning it to a square until I read my next book; I need In the Dark, Dark Woods and this one might just squeak in on that square if my next book fails me.

Halloween Bingo Update, September 9

Since my last update, I finished Carpe Jugulum, which takes care of my Splatter square, Like a Charm, for my Center / Raven square, and On the Edge for my Relics and Curiosities square.  Without intending to, I’ve read for my middle row, across.  Yay!

I’ve started Donna Andrews’ Murder Most Fowl today.  My intention was to use it for Gallows Humor, but it’s just possible that it might fit Dark, Dark Woods; I’ve only read one chapter so far, but they’re in the woods where a camp of MacBeth re-enactors.  I’ve also got Kevin Hearne’s new one Paper & Blood that takes place in the Dandenong Ranges here outside Melbourne (AU), I’ve been there many times and it definitely fits Dark, Dark Wood, but how much of the story takes place there remains to be seen.

Squares on my card that have been called:  Tropical Terror and Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses

Accumulative reading table with links to reviews below the card.

The spreadsheet:

Bingo Square Date Called Book Title Date Read
Row #1
X Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses Sep. 7 Naked Brunch Aug. 30
Stone Cold Horror/Creepy Carnival Wild Ride Sep. 1
Vintage Mystery
Dem Bones
Read by Candlelight/Flashlight
Row #2
Murder Most Foul
Lethal Games No Nest for the Wicket Sep. 1
Spellbound The Once and Future Witches Aug. 31
Black Cat
Relics and Curiosities On the Edge Sep. 8
Row #3
Shifters Naked Brunch Aug. 30
Terror in a Small Town Agnes and the Hitman Sep. 3
FREE SPACE Like a Charm Sep. 7
Psych / Highway to Hell Archive of the Forgotten Sep. 3
Truly Terrifying The Cannonball Tree Mystery Sep. 5
Row #4
Noir
Genre: Mystery The Alchemist’s Illusion Sep. 2
Country House Mystery
X Tropical Terror Sep. 4 The Mimosa Tree Mystery Sep. 4
Locked Room Mystery
Row #5
Splatter Carpe Jugulum Sep. 9
Cryptozoologist
Plague and Disease Scourged Sep. 3
In the Dark, Dark Woods
Gallows Humor
  Wild Card Spell
  Amplification Spell
  Bingo Flip Spell
  Cell Conversion Spell
  Transfiguration Spell
  Double Trouble Spell