The Big Over Easy Re-read (Nursery Crimes, #1)

The Big Over EasyThe Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde
Rating: ★★★★★
Series: Nursery Crimes #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 398
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

 

My original review pretty much sums up my general feelings about this book.  I still think it’s the most highly quotable book I’ve read, I still think the satire is spot-on, both of the media and murder mysteries and I still think Prometheus adds just that little something of surprise depth to the narrative, if only briefly.

Re-reading it, it’s held up perfectly.  Fforde’s amazing at writing these intricate plots and clever dialog, but it’s all the small details that continue to leave me gobsmacked.  The excepts at the opening of each chapter, the small jokes and wordplays scattered in the text, and the “ads” at the back of the book all are unnecessary to the plot, but make the book all the richer for their inclusion.

Though I gave it, and stand by doing so, 5 stars, the heinous plot revealed in the mystery is gross in that way that British humor excels at.  Gross and sublimely silly.  Which makes the story better, in spite of the “UGH, yuck!” moments towards the end.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Noir square.  It’s not a traditional fit, but there’s a clear argument that along with satirising mysteries and the press, there’s a very noir-satire vibe in the story,

Death in the Vines (Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery, #3)

Death in the VinesDeath in the Vines
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143122449
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #3
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

Better than the last book; the multiple POVs here work better and Death in the Vines didn’t feel as slow to start as book 2.

Three brutal murders just 1 week apart, all women.  Two of them identical attacks of young women, but the third is an old woman showing signs of dementia.  Proximity and timing make all three related but no one can find the connection.  This series is, at its heart, a police procedural so the story moves along in stops and starts as new evidence is collected and more information is run-down.  The unmasking was a little bit abrupt, but perhaps that’s how some cases end up, who knows?

In the midst of this we have little vignettes of the supporting characters that are mostly charming; an odd twist with Marine Bonnet didn’t quite work for me, but I suppose it worked to move their relationship a bit.  But the biggest non-plot news is Verleque’s mysterious secret in his past is revealed – and it’s a doozy; in a completely unexpected way.  Very interesting ground the author is treading here; the big reveal doesn’t really happen until almost the end, and it’s not followed up on, so I don’t know where she’s going to go from here, if anywhere.

But I have book 4 ready to go, so I won’t have to wait long to find out.

How the Finch Stole Christmas (Meg Langslow mystery, #22)

How the Finch Stole ChristmasHow the Finch Stole Christmas
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250115454
Series: Meg Langslow #22
Publication Date: October 24, 2017
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I’m an unrepentant fan of this series, but I got about half way through this book and sort of resigned myself to a good read, but not a great read.  Admittedly, to my way of thinking Duck the Halls is a pretty hard book to beat in terms of holiday spirit and humour, as well as a solid mystery.

The mystery in this one is, it pains me to admit, weak.  The lady doth protest too much, sort of, and it made the culprit feel obvious.  But I suspect that if you got Andrews drunk, she might admit that the mystery wasn’t the point of this story.  The series has always been about the characters, and to a lesser degree, about animals, but How the Finch Stole Christmas is almost all about the animals.  The front flap leads a reader to think it’s about the town’s holiday play of A Christmas Carol and the shenanigans of the lead actor, but from the beginning the story really revolves around:

View Spoiler »

This is where the finches in the title come into play, and at least one of them plays a much larger role towards the end of the book.

So the book was good, but not great.  Until the very end.  And Andrews’ managed to get me in the feels.  I’m not sure how, because the scene isn’t one I’d normally be moved by, so credit has to go to her writing, I think.  No matter the reason, I found myself a little misty eyed as I finished, and once again feeling like she’d given me exactly what I was looking for: a Christmas mystery full of Christmas spirit.

 

By the way, this book works PERFECTLY for the Bodhi day square: Book themes for Bodhi Day:  Read a book which involves animal rescue.  (Buddhism calls for a vegetarian lifestyle.)  I, however, am counting it towards Book themes for Saint Lucia’s Day: Read a book where ice and snow are an important feature.  — A snow storm and impending deep freeze causes all sorts of havoc with rescues, murder victims, and suspects and is the primary complication in the plotting of the mystery.

 

Death Comes to the School (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #4)

Death Comes To The SchoolDeath Comes To The School
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781496702081
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #5
Publication Date: November 28, 2017
Pages: 273
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

I caught a cold a few weeks ago that I thought I’d kicked to the curb after only 4 days, only to have it come raging back a week later in the form of a cough that will. not. die.  I’ve sounded like a barking seal for the last 8 days and yesterday, to add insult to injury, I got a skull cracking headache, too, leaving me feeling like every time I coughed I was going to end up like those people in the X-files, whose brains exploded out their ears.

So even though I have 3 other books currently going, I needed something very easy on both my brain and my eyes.  Death Comes to the School was a perfect fit with it’s on-the-large-side-of-average typeface and it’s very familiar backdrop and characters.  It allowed me to forget for a time about the icepack wrapped around my head and the cough lozenges that have stained my tongue purple (black elderberry).

The story starts off 3 years after the last book;  why don’t authors of series do this more often?  It makes everything that happens so much more believable; rather than have a village of death, you’re backdrop is just a village where normal stuff happens.  Anyway, the murder happens fairly quickly, to a school teacher nobody liked, and it happens rather oddly, with a hat pin in her neck and a pen in her eye.  From this point, the author has a bit of fun twisting the character stereotypes of the time around and using them to her advantage.  The mystery plotting of the book is really very good, although the motivation tie-in at the end was a tad weak.

The character angst though, I could have done without.  I really like Robert and Lucy, both individually and together but this book … this book turn them into cardboard cliches, all because Lucy has yet to produce an heir.  This is an historically accurate issue; childbirth was a treacherous business and entailments created situations where entire villages depended on one poor woman to produce a son.  I get that.  But the whole emotional miscommunication thing that bogged down this story was stupid; for two characters that talked and argued about everything incessantly in the first three books, the whole “doesn’t she want me?” “he doesn’t desire me anymore, I’m a failure” let’s-not-talk thing was just annoying.

There was more to like than not, though, and as a nice bonus, the book takes place during Christmas, so it was seasonal too!  This has been a solid series so far and I’m already looking forward to the next one, which will undoubtably continue to revolve around heirs and spares, but hopefully without all the silly angst.

Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set  before the age of electricity.

 

 

The Curse of La Fontaine (Verlaque and Bonnet Mysteries, #6)

The Curse of La FontaineThe Curse of La Fontaine
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143110941
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #6
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

This one was better than #5, but not quite as compelling as the first few.  But I think that’s to be expected as a series progresses: familiarity with the characters and the storytelling creates a higher set of expectations.

Love has made Verlaque soft.  This isn’t a bad thing, but I’ll admit he’s slightly less interesting now that the sharp edges have been softened.  Marine had far fewer pages in this book, which was a little bit of a disappointment; I liked her presence and contributions to earlier cases in previous books.

There were several plots going at once, all interwoven together and delightfully – and believably – muddying each others’ waters.  Almost all of the stories were interesting (one was a bit meh) and the resolution concerning the murder victim’s drug usage/dealing was  so very cheeky; I loved it.  In the background runs the Curse of La Fontaine, adding a touch of atmosphere to everything.

I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and am very pleased there’s another one on its way; I’m really looking forward to its release.

 

This works for the Book themes for Advent: […] or a book featuring 4 siblings.   The murder victim is 1 of 4 brothers, and at least one of the other brothers plays a significant part in the book; the other two brothers appear frequently as well.

 

(With this cover, it also works for the Pancha Ganapati book theme: the cover is entirely yellow, with orange text and black illustrations.)

 

The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne (Verlaque and Bonnet, #5)

The Mystery of the Lost CezanneThe Mystery of the Lost Cezanne
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780143128076
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #5
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

Something went wrong somewhere in this book, and I don’t know what it was or where it happened.  Ok, yes, I know where part of it went wrong; I knew who the murderer was reaching page 80, but that shouldn’t have mattered much to my overall enjoyment.

The book is about the discovery of a lost painting of Cézanne’s, which right away I love; I even enjoy the flashback POV chapters, a device that I’m at best ambivalent about.  The setting is Aix en Provence and it sounds as wonderful as it always has in Longworth’s books, and Verlaque and Bonnet get more and more likeable with each book.

But at some point after about 2/3 of the way through, it fizzled.  I don’t like to say it’s because there was no perilous climax, but it might be.  Everything was tied up neatly at the end, but it still felt unfinished, or more accurately, un-satisfying.

Still an enjoyable read I always wanted to get back to, but not nearly as well constructed as the previous 4.

Murder on the Île Sordou (A Provençal Mystery, #4)

Murder on the Ile SordouMurder on the Ile Sordou
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143125549
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #4
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

I hovered over the 4.5 star mark for a second or two before settling on the 4 star.  This is a really good entry in the Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal series.

On holiday in a new resort 15 miles off the coast of Marseille, Verlaque and Bonnet are trying to keep a low profile, but the resort only has guests in 7 rooms and they all become friendly, until one morning after a storm, one of them is found dead on the shore.

Verlaque is definitely the main focus of this book; Marine Bonnet is there every step of the way but there’s very little told from her POV.  Verlaque has come a long way from the overly aloof, even arrogant, judge he was at the start and even he worries he is becoming too soft.  This is a relief, given that the reader spends most of the time with him.

In spite of the murder, Longworth made me wish I could be there with them; dead body aside it sounded divine:  great food, gorgeous setting, wonderful staff and friendly guests.  And the way she wraps up the mystery (which was heartbreaking), I wouldn’t have even minded sharing my week with the killer.

(This would qualify for a locked room type mystery, and at a stretch, a ‘country house’ mystery; only the guest and staff, and the old lighthouse keeper are on the island, with no access on or off, and no cell phone reception. This would also work just fine as a stand-alone.)

Murder in the Rue Dumas (Verlaque and Bonnet, #2)

Murder in the Rue DumasMurder in the Rue Dumas
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #2
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Pages: 296
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

The second in a (so far) 6 book series, this one started off much more slowly for me, as the author takes the time to set the murder scene, introduce the suspects, and hint at motivations before we ever hear from our two MCs.  I recognise the value of this, but I mostly find it tedious.

Once the body drops, the pace starts to pick up, albeit slowly, and Bonnet makes very few appearances until the last half of the book.  From this point on, I once again fell into Aix-en-Provence – and Umbria Italy! – and lost myself in the mystery, the setting and the characters.

The mystery plotting was very good, although I think Longworth could be accused of over-complicating it.  But I totally didn’t see that ending coming and when it came it was tense.

Murder in the Rue Dumas wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but it was still better than most cozies available now – it’s got a much more ‘traditional mystery’ feel and I can’t wait for book three to arrive in the post.

This was my Free Friday Read #5 and was 296 pages long.

Death at the Chateau Bremont (Verleque and Bonnet Mystery, #1)

Death at the Chateau BremontDeath at the Chateau Bremont
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780143119524
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #1
Publication Date: June 28, 2011
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

Let me get the most egregious bit out of the way:  the editing was bad.  I’d go so far as to say no human being copy-edited this book.  Missing words, wrong words (it instead of is or to instead of so), words in the wrong order, and my favourite:

“She lingered under the shower, watching the hot water roll over her tummy, which was beginning to protrude a bit, down to her toes.”

If your stomach is protruding down to your toes, it’s probably protruding more than a bit.

And finally, I hate the word ‘tummy’ the same way so many hate ‘moist’, and it’s used a lot in this book.

But it was a delightfully great mystery in a more traditional, rather than cozy, style.  I had my doubts because frankly, I’d never heard of it or the others in the series and since it was a Penguin publication, I had to wonder why it didn’t seem to receive much in the way of marketing love.

Verleque is an ass; he comes from great wealth and has grand ideas about food and wine and cigars, while his ex, Bonnet is cheerful and kind and universally loved.  The death of Bonnet’s old childhood friend brings them back into each others’ orbits as Verleque investigates the death and relies on Bonnet’s connections and memories to sort out what happened.

This is not a book for anyone with a low tolerance of character building; a lot of the book (third person pov) is spent getting to know Verleque and Bonnet as individuals before seeing them work together.  What would feel like extraneous filler in other books seems necessary here to make Verleque sympathetic; he’s still a bit of an ass, but by the end it seems more understandable, and a great personal secret lurks in the background, presumably to be revealed in a later book.

The mystery was really well plotted; so many possible avenues, a killer I didn’t see coming and a not entirely neat and tidy ending.  And the atmosphere:  Aix-en-Provence – what is it about French countryside settings?

If you want a good, traditional mystery that spends time creating rich, complex characters, I definitely recommend this – but if you read digitally, maybe check out the ebook version in hopes that the editing debacle has since been corrected.

 

Page count:  311

$$:  $9.00  (location multiplier applied)

Secrets in the Mist

Secrets in the MistSecrets in the Mist
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780997939620
Series: Gothic Myths #1
Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Pages: 378
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Brightstone Media

2021 Update:  I actually enjoyed this more the second time around, enough to give it a 4 star rating over the original 3.

——–

Hmm… how to sum up my thoughts about this book?  Mostly, it needed a harsher editor.

I’m a huge fan of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series, and the writing in this is equally as good, but it’s just too long.  The story dragged for at least the first half of the book, and as Ella is a poster child for co-dependency, a situation that was played to the hilt, the reading was tedious at the start.

Once it got going though, the reading became much easier, even at times, exciting.  Huber never goes for the fantastical and cliched plotting choices, but still weaves an impressive story.  The ending felt a bit abrupt, but I can’t say that’s a fair call; I think I tried to anticipate how the end would happen, and being completely wrong is what felt abrupt.

I’m not sorry to have read it – it was a good story (and a good romance) – but it \ could have been a more amazing story with tighter editing.

This was my Free Friday Read for BLopoly and it was 378 pages.