The Sherlockian

The SherlockianThe Sherlockian
by Graham Moore
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780446572583
Publication Date: January 1, 2010
Pages: 351
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Twelve Books (Hachette)

In December 1893, Sherlock Holmes-adoring Londoners eagerly opened their Strand magazines, anticipating the detective's next adventure, only to find the unthinkable: his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed their hero off. London spiraled into mourning-crowds sported black armbands in grief-and railed against Conan Doyle as his assassin.

Then in 1901, just as abruptly as Conan Doyle had "murdered" Holmes in "The Final Problem," he resurrected him. Though the writer kept detailed diaries of his days and work, Conan Doyle never explained this sudden change of heart. After his death, one of his journals from the interim period was discovered to be missing, and in the decades since, has never been found.... Or has it?

When literary researcher Harold White is inducted into the preeminent Sherlock Holmes enthusiast society, The Baker Street Irregulars, he never imagines he's about to be thrust onto the hunt for the holy grail of Holmes-ophiles: the missing diary. But when the world's leading Doylean scholar is found murdered in his hotel room, it is Harold-using wisdom and methods gleaned from countless detective stories-who takes up the search, both for the diary and for the killer.


This book and I had problems.  Well, half this book and I had problems.  The other half was amusing if completely unrealistic.

The Sherlockian is a story told in two timelines: one that begins in 1893, when Conan Doyle makes the fateful decision to kill off Sherlock Holmes, and covers the events that happen though 1901; the other timeline takes place in the ‘present’, which is 2010, in this case.

The Holy Grail of Sherlockians has always been what happened to a cache of Conan Doyle’s papers that were missing after his death, including one of his journals, so the present day timeline is the search for that journal and the answers to who killed the Sherlockian who claimed to have found it, while the Conan Doyle timeline follows events that would have been recorded in the missing journal.

As I mentioned above, I found the present day timeline amusing in a mad-cap caper kind of way – the kind that requires a complete suspension of disbelief, as well as operating on the pretence that law enforcement, for all intents and purposes, no longer exist.  This story line is entirely about the thrill of the puzzle, the hunt, the process.

But here’s my beef, and it’s about the other timeline; the historical one.  This is a work of historical fiction, and the author is quick to point out at the end that all the events are fabricated.  Fine.  I read that type of historical fiction frequently – real people in fictional settings.  But usually the author has a greater respect for the real-life people he uses in his fictional story lines.  There’s an expectation that the author adhere to a character’s basic … character.

That categorically did not happen here.  Moore obviously did not care a whit for maintaining Conan Doyle’s integrity, because most of the historical timeline had him doing things so completely out of character as to drive me to yelling at the book.

If I knew nothing about Conan Doyle, I’d have found him and Bram Stoker dressing up as women and crashing a suffragette meeting mildly amusing, but I do know something about Conan Doyle.  Enough to know that it beggars belief to think of him doing anything of the sort.  If an author is going to write a fictional story using real historical people doing fictional things, those historical persons should do those fictional things the same way they’d do the factual things – otherwise, it’s not the same person and the author (and reader) would have been better served using a fictional character instead of maligning the real one.  (“Malign” does not refer to Conan Doyle dressing as a woman, but to a different event that to share would be a massive spoiler.)

So.  Half the book was amusing.  The other half … ok, the other half might have been amusing for someone who doesn’t know, or hold in such high regard, the real life people used for fictional purposes, against their basic characters.  If you know nothing about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and are in the mood for a bit of madcap mystery, go for it.  If you do know and admire ACD, you’ve been warned.

The Jewels of Paradise

The Jewels of ParadiseThe Jewels of Paradise
by Donna Leon
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780802120649
Publication Date: October 1, 2012
Pages: 244
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Atlantic Books

Donna Leon has won heaps of critical praise and legions of fans for her best-selling mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. With The Jewels of Paradise, Leon takes readers beyond the world of the Venetian Questura in her first standalone novel.

Caterina Pellegrini is a native Venetian, and like so many of them, she s had to leave home to pursue her career. With a doctorate in baroque opera from Vienna, she lands in Manchester, England. Manchester, however, is no Venice. When Caterina gets word of a position back home, she jumps at the opportunity.

The job is an unusual one. After nearly three centuries, two locked trunks, believed to contain the papers of a baroque composer have been discovered. Deeply-connected in religious and political circles, the composer died childless; now two Venetians, descendants of his cousins, each claim inheritance. Caterina s job is to examine any enclosed papers to discover the testamentary disposition of the composer. But when her research takes her in unexpected directions she begins to wonder just what secrets these trunks may hold.


A compelling, yet weird, no-body mystery that reminds me in many ways of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time.  Set in modern Venice, Italy with our MC researching the recently discovered papers of Baroque composer and bishop Agostino Steffani, in an attempt to settle a centuries old dispute over who inherited.

So much of this book is research, which was sometimes interesting but never what you’d call fast-paced, and while I love classical music, I dislike opera (no singing please, just the music), so at the beginning I worried for my attention span.  It soon becomes clear that the letters have very little to do with his ‘side’ career as composer and more to do with his diplomatic mission for the Vatican.  Even that sounds more exciting that what you get, but it is interesting.

The writing is good but the structure is wobbly and the characters all fail to set and feel half-formed or as though Leon couldn’t commit.  Leon obviously has issues about her own faith that bleed out through the pages.  The book remains an academic exercise until just past the mid-way point, when suddenly Leon throws connections to Opus Dei in, but never explains them, nor develops them.  Morretti’s motivations are never explained; we’re supposed to believe he’s a ‘bad guy’ but with no tangible reason or proof.  But she also seems unable to commit to whether this was going to be a suspenseful mystery, or an academic one.  A scene of menace is jarring and effective for its psychological impact, but nothing ever becomes of it and its eventual explanation is ineffective, at best.

I loved the ending though – such a perfect twist on importance between the secular and the religious.  The ending was almost perfect.

It was a good read, though as a standalone, it left too many threads dangling, and the author was too transparent about her own feelings about faith in my opinion; I thought it was good, but had it been better balanced and better executed it could have been amazing.

Behold Here’s Poison

Behold, Here's PoisonBehold, Here's Poison
by Georgette Heyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 0434328448
Publication Date: January 1, 1972
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Heinemann

This is a book I should have enjoyed more than I did.  The dialog between characters is scathing, often hilarious in a ‘I can’t believe he/she said that out loud’ kind of way, and the murder was clever and the karma both just and tragic.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, so much as I think I might have been better off choosing something else at that moment, with the result that I was impatient with the reading of it.  It’s a weird place to be when you’re reading thinking this is good and are we done yet? at the same time.

Heyer’s strong point in writing wasn’t her detectives; Hannasyde is flat and Hemingway needs to switch to decaf, but the rest of the cast of characters are all vividly written, and as I said, the dialog scorching.  Mrs. Lupton came on the scene with a speech that had me laughing and wanting to stand and applaud and the rest of the case all have a shot at each other at least once or twice.

The romance, arguably Heyer’s raison d’être, just … failed.  To put those two together with so little development or subtlety makes me wonder if Heyer hated these characters and wanted them so suffer.  I mean, there’s playful verbal sparring, and there’s what these two were doing.  Me? I don’t find anything romantic about being called a little idiot.

Murder on Brittany Shores (Inspector Dupin, #2)

Murder on Brittany ShoresMurder on Brittany Shores
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250112439
Series: Brittany Mystery #2
Publication Date: November 28, 2017
Pages: 380
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Ten miles off the coast of Brittany lie the fabled Glénan Islands. Boasting sparkling white sands and crystal-clear waters, they seem perfectly idyllic, until one day in May, three bodies wash up on shore. At first glance the deaths appear accidental, but as the identities of the victims come to light, Commissaire Dupin is pulled back into action for a case of what seems to be cold-blooded murder.

Ever viewed as an outsider in a region full of myths and traditions, Dupin finds himself drawn deep into the history of the land. To get to the bottom of the case, he must tangle with treasure hunters, militant marine biologists, and dangerous divers. The investigation leads him further into the perilous, beautiful world of Glénan, as he discovers that there's more to the picturesque islands than meets the eye.


Another solidly told story and an excellently plotted mystery.  I’m especially loving the plots, and where the first book’s mystery shined in clever suspense, this one shines in sheer complexity and tragedy.

Murder on Brittany Shores takes place on an archipelago off the coast, on the Glénan Islands.  Very remote, and at one point, very And Then There Were None vibes.  Bannalec either has his tongue firmly in cheek, or he is a born-again convert to all things Breton, as he uses every opportunity to gush about the superiority of all things Breton, repeatedly using phrases like the best in the world, and comparing the Glénan Islands to the Caribbean, having them come out at least as equals in some respects and, of course, Glénan superior in the most important bits.  This is sometimes too obvious and over-bearing, but it’s probably only wasting about 5% of the story overall, so can be forgiven, mostly.  There was one spot I rolled my eyes and skimmed.

I like Dupin – he’s the opposite of his namesake; abrupt, concise and not prone to long speeches, or even medium sized sentences.  Terse.  Sometimes crabby, and I particularly enjoy the way he’s constantly avoiding phone calls with his superiors, like a sneaky kid trying to avoid hearing the call to come inside and bathe.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the books I’ve read so far, but I don’t feel like I need to rush out to read the next one – it will likely be on the a future library list sooner rather than later, when I feel the need to be reminded about how great Brittany is.  😉

The Singing Sands (Inspector Grant, #6)

The Singing SandsThe Singing Sands
by Josephine Tey
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780749310639
Publication Date: January 1, 1992
Pages: 246
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Mandarin

En route to a holiday in Scotland, Inspector Alan Grant is drawn into a local police investigation when a fellow passenger is found dead on his train. Although it looks like a simple accident, Grant is unconvinced, and, at the expense of his vacation, he undertakes to determine what, exactly, happened to Charles Martin.

Unpublished at the time of author Josephine Tey’s death, The Singing Sands was recovered from her papers and released posthumously. It is today recognized as one of the author’s finest works.


My second Inspector Grant mystery, and the last one Tey wrote, discovered amongst her papers after her death and published posthumously.  My first Grant novel was Daughter of Time and given the uniqueness of that story, I had no idea what to expect of this one.

What I got was one of the most enjoyable mysteries I’ve read in awhile, even though there’s really no mystery to it in the sense of ‘whodunnit’.  Instead I’d call this a soul searching police procedural; ‘soul searching’ because, at a guesstimate, fully half the book is about Grant’s struggle to recover from exhaustion and anxiety in the highlands of Scotland.  What might have felt like a stagnant meandering book in the hands of others, just worked here, although I have to admit to not really understanding Wee Archie’s role in the plot beyond an un-needed reference point for vanity.

The police procedural part, oddly enough, is the part that lagged a bit for me.  This surprised me, but I suppose on reflection it makes sense; there’s only ever one suspect and I grew impatient with wanting the evidence to present itself.  It did, of course, eventually, and in an unexpected manner, providing a tidy ending that still worked and managed to be satisfying, even if it wasn’t perfect justice.

Knowing this was Tey’s final work made the ending a bit bittersweet, as Grant seems ready and raring to go on further adventures that were sadly not destined to happen, but at least there are still 4 others waiting out there for me to enjoy.

The Night of Fear

The Night of FearThe Night of Fear
by Moray Dalton
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781912574896
Publication Date: March 1, 2019
Pages: 195
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Dean Street Press

Together they looked down at the inert sprawling figure of a man fantastically dressed in red-and-white-striped pyjama trousers, with a red sash belt and a white silk shirt open at the neck.

A Christmas gathering of young and old in a great country house in England—a masquerade—and the lights are turned off for a game of hide and seek. Silence—then a man’s cry for “Lights!” The lights come on, revealing Hugh Darrow, blind since the War, standing in the main hall, fresh blood dripping from his hands and covering his white Pierrot costume. He tells the story of having discovered a dead man, stabbed through the heart, lying in a curtained window embrasure next to the one in which he was hiding. The murdered man proves to be Stallard, one of the visitors, and a writer of mystery tales. There follows a thrilling tale in which the life of an innocent man hangs in the balance. A grand and baffling tale for the mystery lover.


 

After a rocky start, with a choppy narrative that was very difficult to fall into, the book evened out about 1/3 of the way in and once PI Glide showed up, I found it very difficult to put the book down until I’d finished it.  I can’t say it’s because I liked Glide – I really didn’t care for him one way or the other, but the I got caught up in the events and the fast pace, of the story, and I warmed to Mrs. Clare.  I generally don’t like courtroom dramas, but this one kept a nice edge of tension going; even though I felt confident about the murderer, I had no idea how Glide was going to pull off the proof of it.

I got 2 out of 3 of the murders correct, but I totally missed the Diane prediction I made  – or more accurately, I was right, but with entirely  the wrong person.  I’m laughing to myself because that critical scene towards the end over tea – I knew how that was going to turn out because I’d seen the same thing done way back in the 80’s on, of all things, the soap opera General Hospital.  But the scene at the zoo?  I didn’t see that coming, and it was a delightful little twist to the story.  My biggest complaint about the story is the fate of Sergeant Lane – I dislike being made to like someone only to have them ripped away.

I won’t say no to more Dalton, but I’m not sure I’d make a concentrated effort to get me hands on more of them.

The Cannonball tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #5)

The Cannonball Tree MysteryThe Cannonball Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781472132031
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #5
Publication Date: June 3, 2021
Pages: 313
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

 

Blame it on being written, and punished during a pandemic, maybe, but this one wasn’t nearly as good as the last, The Mimosa Tree Mystery.  There were serious issues with editing and continuity, both within the story and with the overall series.  In the previous book, Hideki tells Su Lin her mother was the youngest of the cousins, but in this book he is said to have looked upon her as “an older sister or mother figure”.  The first murder victim in this book is the sister of Su Lin’s aunt by marriage, but the victim is referred to several times as Su Lin’s Aunt and as ‘being married to your uncle’.

There are at least half a dozen more instances where a character does or says something on one page and then is said to have said/done the exact opposite a page or two later.  I don’t know if this is poor story editing, or if it’s meant to reflect the hysteria of war time in an occupation where anybody could be shot for simply now bowing deeply enough.  If it’s the latter, then the editing still failed as the narrative left me confused about my confusion.

The storyline itself also failed to compete with the compelling storyline of Mimosa Tree, which involved war time codes, rebel forces, POW’s, treasures and a murder that happened just hours before the story started.  In this one, the first murder didn’t take place until well over 100 pages of household drama – pretty horrific household drama, I’ll grant, but overall, not worth the 100+ pages it was written on.  The last 200 pages have moments that are far more interesting, but not enough to really shine; I kept reading because I kept waiting for interesting things to happen, and they rarely did.

Most disappointing of all was the absence of Le Froy, a primary character of the series, obviously modelled after Sherlock Holmes.  While absent for 99% of Mimosa Tree he was a guiding and motivating force for Su Lin and the plot.  Here, his name was barely mentioned and only then in passing introspective thoughts.  It’s as if with the absence of Le Froy, the story – and the author – lost it’s focus, organisation, and its logic.

But then again, this book takes place in 1944, when the axis countries started to fall apart, and perhaps this books disorganisation is a reflection of the unraveling  of the Japanese Empire towards the end.  Who knows?  I only know it wasn’t nearly as good a story as I know the author is capable of.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021.  I’m using it for my Truly Terrifying square by invoking my Amplification spell card.  Ovidia Yu is a Singaporean author and qualifies as a diverse voice from an historically marginalised community.

The Mimosa Tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #4)

The Mimosa Tree MysteryThe Mimosa Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781472132024
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #4
Publication Date: June 4, 2020
Pages: 311
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

 

Even though I’ve enjoyed the previous three entries in this series, I hesitated over this one.  The first three were pre-WWII, but The Mimosa Tree Mystery moves the series into Japanese occupied Singapore.  I couldn’t see how Yu would be able to write a story that maintained the gentility of a traditional mystery in the middle of a Japanese occupied war-torn setting and maintain any semblance of authenticity.

Yu not only managed, she outdid her previous efforts.  There’s no sugar-coating the atrocities perpetuated by the Japanese during that time – Su Lin and her family are Chinese, and the story starts in the middle of a roundup into a killing field – but by focusing on Su Lin and the murder mystery the author avoids the story being overwhelmed by the horror of the times.

I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this story.  I liked the previous ones, but I had a hard time becoming invested in the characters.  This time around it wasn’t a problem – the story was riveting enough and the pace fast enough that whether I became wholly invested in the characters didn’t matter.  My only complaint was the denouement scene.  I understand that the point was the murderer wasn’t rational, but Yu did the job too well and it became extraordinarily difficult to follow along with who supposedly was working with whom and who ordered what, etc.  It was a small thing in the overall enjoyment of the story, but it was at the end, so it stuck.

I now find myself eager to dive into the next book, The Cannonball Tree Mystery to find out what happens next with Su Lin, her family, and (former) detective, now POW, Le Froy.

 

I read this for 2021 Halloween Bingo.  It fits the Tropical Terror square rather well, as it is set in Singapore (Tropical) during the WWII Japanese occupation (Terror).

The Virgin in the Ice (Brother Cadfael Chronicles, #5)

The Virgin in the IceThe Virgin in the Ice
by Ellis Peters
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780708825839
Series: Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #5
Publication Date: March 12, 1984
Pages: 220
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Futura Books

Not the best Brother Cadfael I’ve read, but Hugh was back and that was worth 1/2 a star.  I might just even be in a grumpy reading mood, because, really, the mystery was crafted well enough, if the resolution was a tad weak.  The murderer had very little in the way of evidence against him, and yet Brother Cadfael and Hugh were quick to be certain.

Mostly, I disliked the protracted capture and battle scenes, especially as the captured was a 12 year old boy.  A different time and place, to be sure, but still not my cup of tea to read about the torture of children.

The ending was rather sweet though.

This was my third Christmas mystery in a row, and I’m beginning to feel like I should put a tree up.

 

The Gazebo (Miss Silver Mystery #27)

The GazeboThe Gazebo
by Patricia Wentworth
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: Miss Silver Mystery #27
Publication Date: January 1, 1958
Pages: 255
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Hodder And Stoughton

For Althea Graham, suffering the whims of her malevolent invalid of a mother, the old family home is a prison. So when two strangely competitive offers for the Graham's house are made to her it suggests that house may hold some dark rewarding secret.

Then old Mrs Graham is found murdered in the gazebo . . .


Best Miss Silver I’ve read yet!  Though, to be fair, I’ve only read 2-3 others, so I’m not in a position to judge too objectively thus far.  Still, a great mystery with rational characters (unlike her earliest books) and while there’s still a romance at the hinge of the story, it’s not a soppy one.  Mostly.

There were obvious references to previous books, but no spoilers; tangential characters in earlier mysteries are now the focus of this one.  The murder could not have happened to a more deserving victim, and generally, the plotting was rather weak, not that I think about it.  The murderer becomes rather obvious so that there’s no real reveal, just a crises averted and justice served.  There’s also a connection to the Gordon Riots which lends an air of fun to the story, though when I write it like that it doesn’t make sense.  Nothing fun about the Gordon Riots, except the link to the present day story is, but I can’t be more specific than that without spoiling.

A fun, traditional mystery.