Review: Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson ~ Lyndsay Faye

Dust and ShadowISBN ~ 978-1416583301
Publisher ~Simon & Schuster
No. Of Pages ~325 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster

From the gritty streets of nineteenth century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper.

As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late.

2 Thumbs-UpFor a debut novel, this book was OK.  Yes, I said OK as I had a love hate relationship with this book from the very first chapter.

For anyone to take on writing about the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson takes guts, but if it is pulled off well as in the case of the House of Silk (reviewed here) it can be a glorious thing, that was not the case here.  Despite a valiant effort, this Author was unable to capture all the character nuances that combine to make the detective readers of other Holmes missives have come to know and expect.  By writing the book from the perspective of Dr. Watson a lot of the internal debates and musings Holmes has with himself are lost along with a lot of his eccentric qualities.  In this book Holmes comes across as an arrogant, pretentious ass that has no lovable qualities to his name at all.  Unfortunately, Dr. Watson does not come out of this novel unscathed; as a character I’ve always seen as being the stable and steadying force behind Holmes, here he is depicted as bumbling fool who would be well pressed to dress himself in the morning.  The portrayal of Jack the Ripper was also flimsy, and would have benefitted greatly with a lot more fleshing out and back story.

The novel is extremely dry, the language at times definitely at odds with the era in which it is set.  The Author does a good job of portraying Whitechapel at the time of the murders but apart from that there was very little to keep me interested, and this was definitely not the page turner that had been promised.  For me there was not enough tension, and the discovery of who the Ripper was became obvious about partway through the book; surely not a mystery worthy of calling in Holmes to solve.

If you like Sherlock Holmes, you may enjoy this book; as for me I don’t think I will be reading anymore by this Author despite their valiant attempts to recreate the works of Arthur Conan Doyle.

divider

Review: Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #1) ~ Laurell K. Hamilton

Guilty PleasuresISBN ~ 978-0425197547
Publisher ~  Berkley Trade
No. Of Pages ~ 355 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Guilty Pleasures

Anita Blake may be small and young, but vampires call her the Executioner. Anita is a necromancer and vampire hunter in a time when vampires are protected by law—as long as they don’t get too nasty. Now someone’s killing innocent vampires and Anita agrees—with a bit of vampiric arm-twisting—to help figure out who and why.

Trust is a luxury Anita can’t afford when her allies aren’t human. The city’s most powerful vampire, Nikolaos, is 1,000 years old and looks like a 10-year-old girl. The second most powerful vampire, Jean-Claude, is interested in more than just Anita’s professional talents, but the feisty necromancer isn’t playing along—yet.

4 Thumbs-UpI had this book recommended to me, and I have to admit I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to read it; after all it has a romantic overtone to it, contains vampires and well just isn’t my usual read or even one I would have thought to pick up.  In this case I am glad I did as despite being classified as romance, it really wasn’t at all.

The main protagonist is the Anita Blake mentioned in the title of this review, and I thoroughly enjoyed her and her character make up immensely.  She is a strong-willed woman, very independent and has a sarcastic tongue that really helped me connect with her.  She has flaws too, she is judgmental and extremely abrasive but these only add to her appeal and make her a character that both male and female readers can get to grips with, even if they cannot relate to her.  I found it absolutely hilarious, and like so many people I know to discover that this character had never developed a working filter between her brain and her mouth.  Through great descriptive writing I was able to build an image of this main lead in my mind’s eye, and this is something that some Authors are unable to do.  All the other characters are treated with equal measure in this book, and are all given their personalities and flaws that the reader will either be drawn to, or dislike instantly.

This book is a quick read and, although gory at times, well it does contain vampires so go figure, it is full of mystery and irreverent humour.  However, I have to mention as a warning to those sensitive souls out there that the Author has managed to include a great deal of implied and actual eroticism in the storyline, so if this is not for you I would advise you to give the book a miss.  My reason for the 4 thumbs review was the dialogue, and I felt at time that the Author was trying to see how many times they could have the speaker use the interlocutor’s name; another reason is that although this is a darned good read it would never go down in the annals of classic writing and, if you want to enjoy them but don’t want to be seen doing so it would be a book to hide in something more ‘high brow’.

As for me I’ll definitely be reading some more in this series and I would highly recommend this book to any reader is looking for a light read, but one that has some substance to it.

divider

Review: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place ~ Julie Berry

PrickwillowISBN ~ 978-1596439566
Publisher ~ Roaring Brook Press
No. Of Pages ~ 351 Pages
Links ~ Barnes & Noble, Amazon

3 Thumbs-UpIf you like farce you will love this middle grade book; yes, it is aimed at children, but adult readers would get a chuckle out of reading it too.

The character descriptions are very basic and, as in most children’s books not full of the in-depth backstories that readers have to cope with as they get older.  To make the characters more memorable to the age group this book is aimed at, the Author associates traits to them and then uses these traits in the naming protocol for the characters throughout the book.  As fun as this was, and a middle grader would probably enjoy it immensely, this was the weakest link in this book for me, and the reason it only gained a three thumbs review.  All the characters are nicely stereotyped though, and as with all things farcical this fits the overall tone of the novel very well indeed although it did bring up the problem for me that, as I read through the book, all the schoolgirls tended to ‘speak’ with the same voice.  Again I couldn’t see this been a big issue with the audience the book was aimed at, and put it down to my ancient age.  As the book progresses though, despite the Authors attempts to keep the main characters tied to their adjective laden names, their true characters begin to leak through and the reader gains a small insight into the backgrounds and home lives these girls have.  One thing that comes through loud and clear, and ties all these girls together  is that none of them want to return home, and this is major driving force behind the book.

Although this is a complete farce, with murder, mystery and a few thrills thrown in, it is also a cleverly written historical novel which brings to light the societal perception of women in the nineteenth century.  Not only does the reader subtly learn of how society perceived women, but it also gives them a look at what it meant to be a young woman/girl in this time, and how the ‘rules’ affected the way they not only saw themselves but the world around them.  The book itself is a very effective period mystery that has been well researched and then had the facts woven together with fiction in a clever way.  However I do feel that this may receive a better reception if aimed at the high school age group rather than middle school, as they would be more attuned to picking up on some of the nuances than a younger reader may be.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, apart from naming protocol, and read through it in a weekend.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys farce, and also those who are looking to introduce younger readers in their circle to something new.

divider

What to read next.

After finishing a good book in the early hours of the morning I often find myself with the problem of what to read next.  I usually go through my ‘to be read’ stack in the order of which books were added to it, but sometimes the book on the top of the pile doesn’t appeal to me at the very moment I need a new read.

This flowchart, found on Upworthy.com may help me, and others in the same predicament, head in the right direction and find something we are in the mood for.  Just because it says summer in the chart doesn’t mean you can’t use it anytime of the year, after all what better way is there to spend a rainy day than curled up in your favourite spot reading?

101_books_to_read

Review: Search The Dark (Inspector Ian Rutledge #3) ~ Charles Todd

Search the darkA mind-damaged veteran comes home from the Great War to be told his wife and two children were killed in the bombing of London. Refusing to believe the news, or unable to, the man thinks he spots them on the platform of the station of a small town in Dorset. Then a woman’s body is found there, and Rutledge is sent by his jealous rival at the Yard to locate the children.

 

4 Thumbs-UpI came across this book by accident, hiding on my shelf and opened it to scan the first page; later that day I closed the cover and sat back feeling I have used my time wisely.

The main protagonist in this book and all the other in this series is a Scotland Yard policeman.  Newly returned from the Great War, he has his own personal demons to deal with as well as helping those who are also dealing with their demons from fighting in this war.  Add to that the stress of trying to find the criminals, and it could make for a very unstable and highly strung character but the Author manages to avoid this wonderfully.  Instead he uses this character as a vehicle to bring the reader’s attention to the unseen horrors that many carried with them when they returned home.  This character is vulnerable, unsure whilst at the same time being very capable of doing his job and bringing the wrongdoer to justice.  I felt for this character as I don’t usually do in a cozy mystery, and wished there was some way I could help him find peace in his life.  In this one character the Author managed not only to show the inner turmoil of those who returned from the fighting, but he also shows in the other people he encounters in his enquiries the change in society that had taken place while he was away.  These range from total indifference to the way these returnees were feeling and going through, to those who wanted to cosset them and keep them wrapped up from the hurts that may come their way in everyday and finally to the group of people who refused to believe that, mentally, their loved ones would never return to normal.  This book is not loaded down with a bunch of secondary characters which helps the book move along at a steady clip and keeps the reader on track to the end.

What an end it was.  This is the kind of book I love.  I thought I had spotted the bad guy, then no it took a twist, and another, then another until the end I had no idea who the real criminal was, and when the reveal came I was blown away as I never thought it was this person.  Add to this the feeling of flying down country roads in a little old car when horses and carriages were still in good use, and it all combines to the kind of book that I just couldn’t put down.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of cozy mysteries, and those who enjoy a great read that will keep you guessing until the end.  I will definitely be reading more in this series.

divider

Review: The Sunne in Splendour ~ Sharon Kay Penman

SunneA glorious novel of the controversial Richard III—a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III—vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower—from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

5 Thumbs-UpI’ve either mentioned this book or the Author several times during the life of my reviews so I have decided it was about time I actually wrote a review on the book itself.  This was the debut novel for this Author.

I was first introduced to both the book and the Author by my History Professor whilst taking my Masters in History many years ago.  She recommended it to me on the basis of it being the most accurate account of the times she had read in fiction form.  Being a Yorkshire woman by birth and therefore, a staunch Yorkist, I was slightly apprehensive when I picked this up as most accounts of Richard III and the House of York are based on Tudor propaganda from the times, and are slewed very much in their favour.  I found none of this when I read this long 936 page book.

The book itself could be broken down into thirds; the first brings into the light that confusing history of the Wars of the Roses, and for readers who are not up to speed with the ins and outs of this time it is a great way not only to get to know the key players, but where they fit together in the whole sorry mess.  Yes it does sound a little like a history lesson, but it is given in such a manner that it skilfully and neatly pulls the reader so far into the novel that they have no choice but to read to the end. Just by reading the first part of the novel it can be clearly seen that this Author has done extensive research into the period, and this comes through in way in which locations are described and characters react to their environment.  The remaining two-thirds catalogue the reign of Edward IV and also the life of Richard.

Character development is stunningly done within the pages of this book.  The reader is not thrown huge chunks of back-story and motivational traits, but slowly includes them as the plot progresses.  Their fears are revealed, sometimes surprising the reader, and the political machinations that ruled their everyday lives are uncovered slowly, rather like peeling the layers from an onion.  Obviously the main focus of the book is Richard, and it follows him from a very young age when he is very much in the shadow of his brothers through to his death on the battlefield.  The Author does not portray him the same light as Shakespeare, but rather gives him a more human face than the one constantly given to him of that of monster.  A compelling and believable case is presented regarding his nephews in the Tower of London, which rather makes the reader consider that this could be a case of the wrong people mishearing words said at the wrong time and in frustration, as in the case of Thomas Becket when King Henry II uttered ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest’; we will never know.

I could write for hours on this book, but to do so would have me revealing spoilers and getting into the whole White Rose versus red rose debate (yes the capitalization error was deliberate *smile), so I’m going to leave this review short, and I hope tantalising enough to make someone want to actually pick this up and read it.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good read.  I have read it several times and yes, my History Professor was right it is the most accurate account of the times in fiction form.

divider

Guest Article: Adventures In Crime ~ Anthony Boucher

Over 50 years ago, on January 5th 1964 to be exact, the following article appeared in The New York Times and, as can be seen by reading it the mystery novel was a big thing back then.  I have shared this with you as I found it interesting, but it also made me wonder how much the article would differ from the original if Mr. Boucher were to write it today.

Anthony Boucher

Anthony Boucher

“The past few years have seen something of a revolution in the publishing of paperback mystery novels. From the very beginnings of the paperback industry; murder has been a trade staple, but the emphasis used to rest almost exclusively upon fast‐action novels of violence and sex, with only a very few of the most famous practi­tioners of more reasoned and contemplative detection represented on the newsstands.

Violence‐and‐sex has not disappeared: it will always (and quite rightfully) have its market. But now the paperback repertory cones to embrace more and more of the serious novels of murder and deduction which were once assumed, on no particular evidence, to be com­mercial poison in paperback. This trend is evident not merely in the more expensive “quality” paperbacks (Dolphin, Collier)

Berkley has published, and kept in print, the entire work of the subtly perceptive Josephine Tey. Lancer is well launched on a project of the complete works of the versatile and rewarding Andrew Garve. Ace’s “giant double‐books” each contains two novels by female writers of the enviable stature of Ursula Curtiss, Charlotte Arm­strong and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. And both Ballantine and Pyramid have established carefully edited lines of mysteries for connoisseurs.

Indeed, if any university were so wise as to offer a course in the mystery novel as a branch of literary history, a more than adequate reading list could be built up from paperbacks cur­rently in print—including the obvious major textbook for the course, Howard Haycraft’s splendid critical anthology

Such a reading list would start with any one of the 11 available story collections of the founding master, Edgar Allan Poe. and go on through Wilkie Collins—with the complete text of the “The Moonstone” (Dolphin), and not its truncated form (Pyramid), plus the less detectival “The Woman in White” (Dolphin, Everyman) as collateral reading—to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since most of the Sherlock Holmes stories are now in the public domain, they are to be found in innumerable editions, none of them textually ideal; but the nod should go to the Berkley edition (now almost complete) because it is legitimately authorized and royalty‐paying, and because its jackets, by W. Teason, are the most tasteful that I have yet seen on any Doyle books. And with the stories themselves should go William S. Baring­Gould’s definitive biography, “Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street” (Popular), the one significant work of Baker Street Irregularity to appear in a newsstand paperback.

The first third of this century is not copiously represented in today’s paperbacks; but our imaginary course could get on adequately with R. Austin Free­man’s “Mr. Pottermack’s Over­sight” (Collier), E. C. Bentley’s “Trent’s Last Case” (Ballan­tine), Anthony Berkeley’s “The Poisoned Chocolates Case” (Dolphin) and Dorothy L. Sayers’s “Strong Poison” (Harper)—classics all, though these authors need more representation on the lists—plus two colIections of superb short stories, G. K. Chesterton’s “Ten Adventures of Father Brown” (Dell) and Melville Davisson Post’s “Uncle Abner” (Collier).

From there on, the problem becomes one of selection from stores of treasures. In the classic formal detective story, there are any number of books in print by Ellery Queen (Pocket Books), Rex Stout (Bantam), Elizabeth Daly (Berkley), Ngaio Marsh (Berkley) Mar­gery Allingham (Penguin, Mac­fadden) and Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, each of whom appears on the lists of many publishers. Each of these authors has produced so many of the best works in the genre that the choice would be up to the individual taste of the instructor. Oddly though Carr is everywhere, his alter ego Carter Dickson is rare in paperback: but Berkley is starting to remedy that deficiency. The superlative Michael Innes has not had quite his due in reprints as yet; but he can be well represented, in his Collinsian detectival manner by ”Lament for a Maker” (Collier) and, in his vein of romantic adventure, by “The Case of the Journeying Boy” (Berkley).

It will consider the feminine­gothic novel of romantic terror, from the work of the Brontes (many editions) through Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” (Pocket Books) to Victoria Holt’s “Mistress of Mellyn” (Crest). It will at least touch upon the spy novel, from John Buchan’s still incomparable “The 39 Steps” (Popular) to the contemporary contrast between Ian Fleming and William Haggard (both Signet).

It will look into the exotic of detection: the fine Australian regional novels of Arthur W. Upfield (Berkley), the work of Georges Simenon, especially the revolutionary early Maigret novels (Penguin); the Argentine “Ficciones” of Jorge Luis Borges (Evergreen); the glori­ous Chinoiserie of Robert Van Gulik, whose Judge Dee novels both Dell and Avon begin re­printing in the same week

It will notice the occasional isolated masterpiece by an author who wrote nothing else in the field—such important ice­breaking detective stories as Helen Eustic’s “The Horizontal Man (Dolphin) or Leo Perutz’s “The Master of the Day of Judgment” (Collier).

And it will not overlook, among all these reprints, the original paperback novels, the legitimate heirs to the dead pulps in which Hammett and Chandler flourished—their serious and substantial authors, such as John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Donald Hamilton and Vin Packer (all Gold Medal), and their highly competent purveyors of light amusement, like Carter Brown (Signet), Richard S. Prather (Gold Medal) and Henry Kane (many publishers).

Starting as paperback originals and later as reprints from hard‐cover are the 87th Precinct novels of Ed McBain (Permabooks). all still in print and invaluable for the course as prime specimens of the modern novel of police procedure—to which should be added J. J. Marric’s novels of Commander Gideon of Scotland Yard (Berkley).

Only on fifth Thursdays of the month will the lecturer regret that he is unable to make a point by reference to current paperbacks. There is, for instance, no novel in print by Freeman Willis Croft, the great master of the perfect timetable alibi, or by Craig Rice, the most warmly humorous personality ever to communicate with her readers through murder.

The more I talk about this hypothetical course the more I hope you might enjoy enrolling in it. And why not? It’s available at your nearest bookstore.”

Anthony Boucher, August 21, 1911 – April 29, 1968

divider